I beg to move,
That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1986, which was laid before this House on 7th May, be approved.
The order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974.
The order provides the balance of the money necessary this financial year for the services provided by Northern Ireland departments and certain other public bodies. On 11 March, the House approved a total of £1,365 million as "a sum on account". Today, I seek the balance of £1,840 million, making up a total estimate for 1986–87 of £3,205 million. The Estimates volume which gives full details of projected expenditure is available from the Vote Office.
The draft order also appropriates an additional £104,154·01 to cover excess expenditure in the 1984–85 financial year by the Department of Economic Development. This "excess vote" as it is termed, has been examined by the Committee of Public Accounts which I am pleased to report, has raised no objection to it being voted. Details of the excess expenditure is set out in the "Statement of Excess" pamphlet which has also been placed in the Vote Office.
Despite a few encouraging signs on the economic front, unemployment in the Province remains tragically high at 21·7 per cent. These estimates reflect further increases in public expenditure as part of the Government's commitment to the creation of viable jobs, and to support those who are unemployed.
We continue to spend more Government money per head of the population in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The figures for 1984–85—the last full year for which figures are available—show expenditure in Northern Ireland to be £2,776 per head compared with £2,210 in Scotland, £1,927 in Wales and £1,761 in England.
Government expenditure, however, is not in itself the answer to the problem. Rather, our objective is to create the environment in which private enterprise and initiative can thrive in order to encourage the creation of self-sustaining, long-term employment.
In this respect, there have been encouraging results from the small business development unit, LEDU, which continues to foster private sector activity in a highly cost-effective manner. Since its inception in 1971, LEDU has created 26,000 jobs, including almost 4,000 in the last financial year. These estimates provide £17 million for LEDU.
The Estimates now before the House provide £75 million for Northern Ireland agriculture; 1985 was a difficult year for the farming community. This underlines the importance of retaining Northern Ireland's programmes of special aids; for example, the milk consumer subsidy, aid to pig and poultry processing plants and schemes for grassland improvement and beef development.
The extent of our commitment to supporting industry in Northern Ireland is amply demonstrated by the fact that these Estimates provide a total of £190 million for this purpose. In addition to the £17 million for LEDU to which I referred, there is £83 million for industrial development loans and grants aimed at helping industry to advance and diversify, to develop new products and processes and to improve generally its competitiveness.
About £25·2 million is being made available to provide effective support for industry, including the development and improvement of the Province's industrial infrastructure of sites and factories. An important new development is that we plan to open this year the purpose-built technology park at Antrim at a cost of £6·3 million for the initial development phase.
Hon. Members will also note the provision of £37 million for Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff. None of this provision is for the AOR order which the company recently won from the Ministry of Defence on a wholly unsubsidised basis. The provision instead reflects not only the seemingly unending difficulties of merchant shipbuilding worldwide but also Government's recognition of the importance of the company to the Province's economy as the second largest manufacturing employer.
I take this opportunity to welcome warmly the company's success in winning the Ministry of Defence contract, involving the design and building of the first-of-class auxiliary oiler replenishment vessel. Harland and Wolff won the competition on commercial and technical merit and the company's chairman, Mr. John Parker, and his team are to be commended for their skill in putting together the successful consortium bid.
The company's move into unsubsidised naval work represents a real challenge to all who work at the yard. It is now up to the work force to justify the confidence that the Government have placed in them.
Just under £96 million is sought in respect of the Northern Ireland labour market. Of this sum, £31 million is for the youth training programme and £26·7 million for training centres and other training and retraining schemes. The other major item in this area is some £34·5 million on employment services and measures, including action for community employment and community projects and the job creation activities of Enterprise Ulster.
Further evidence of the Government's determination to tackle unemployment in the Province is provided by some new measures designed to help the long-term unemployed. These will be introduced from 1 July 1986. Every unemployed person will be invited to attend an in-depth counselling interview at the local job market. One of the options on offer will be a place on a restart course aimed at those who may have lost the will, motivation or indeed the capacity to seek work. The aim will be to help the long-term unemployed assess their potential and aptitudes, learn more about the opportunities open to them, review their basic working skills and confidence, and help them with the techniques fo finding and applying for a job.
I recently paid two visits to the Ann street job club at the beginning and then at the end of a course. I was especially impressed by the morale of the people and by their belief that jobs could still be found. The methods of tackling planning for these jobs had improved by the time I visited the club at the end of the course. These people were much improved in comparison with the almost broken people whom I saw on my first visit. I hope that everyone invited for interview will make the most of these new opportunities.
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of employment measures, will he tell us whether the Government have any proposals to remove the employment transfer scheme from Northern Ireland as they inntend—as was recently announced in a press release—to remove it from England and Wales?
As my hon. Friend knows, in Northern Ireland we come into line with the arrangements in the rest of the United Kingdom over a period of months. I have taken note of my hon. Friend's comments. I know that the matter is under consideration and I shall reply to him shortly about the date.
Provision is also made for electricity tariff support in line with Government policy to peg tariffs in Northern Ireland to the level of the highest charges in England and Wales. The forecast of £45 million in the estimates was calculated prior to the recent substantial fall in oil prices. Following the recent announcement of proposals for electricity tariff reductions in England and Wales, the Northern Ireland Electricity Service will make similar reductions in line with the reductions being made in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I come to class 5, which covers housing. In recent years there have been increases in public expenditure on housing. These increases have enabled much improvement to be made in the supply and condition of housing in Northern Ireland. The increases in housing expenditure have also involved deliberate decisions to divert public expenditure resources away from other programmes in Northern Ireland. A combination of factors has, however, affected the overall level of resources that will be available to the housing programme this financial year. These factors include declining capital receipts and the pressing requirements of other Northern Ireland expenditure programmes.
We must be aware that there is a set Northern Ireland block and that if in any year we have to increase expenditure, as we have had to this year on industrial development, the money must obviously come from some other Vote in the Northern Ireland block. Nevertheless, the important point is that per capita expenditure on housing in Northern Ireland is nearly four times higher than it is in England. No one can say that we are trying to lower the standard of housing in Northern Ireland or that we are not continuing to bring it up to the same standard as that in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The total amount of money being allocated for education, libraries and arts in £680 million, and £14 million of this is for arrears of the 1985–86 teachers' pay award, which obviously has to be paid. It was not possible to make the payment in the past financial year because of delay in the settlement date. The overall total being allocated to education libraries and arts reflects the priority which the Government continue to give to the needs of schools in terms both of teaching and of other resources in order to maintain classroom standards. The recurrent grants to education and library boards, out of which are met the running costs of controlled and maintained schools, represent an increase of over 4 per cent. compared to 1985–86, against an inflation rate of 3 per cent. and a continuing fall in pupil population.
Capital expenditure on education, libraries, recreation and the arts is in excess of £40 million, compared to £36 million last year. There we have an increase of about 11 per cent. The greater proportion of this increase in expenditure will be required to meet the continuing costs of the substantial programme of major works that have been initiated in the past two years, principally in the schools sector. Although there will be no major new schemes starting in 1986–87, an additional £2 million has been allocated to urgent minor works in schools in 1986–87, including work of a health and safety nature. I always found in my schools' experience that one of the best ways of raising the morale of teachers was to carry out minor works so that something could be done for almost any school in the area—a coat of paint here and an improvement there—and it was felt that something was being done. That is why we have allocated £2 million this year for urgent minor works. I know that some hon. Members would like more to be spent, but credit must be given to the priority that we have given to moving £2 million for the work that I have described. I expect that in 1987–88 it should again be possible to fund some of the most urgent major schemes, with priority continuing to be given to the schools' sector. A large part of the £40 million of capital expenditure this year will be directed to completing schemes that were started in previous years.
For health and personal social services, a net total of £673 million is sought to maintain and further develop existing services. The largest single element of this is the revenue expenditure of the health and social services boards, estimated at £550 million. This represents an increase of 6 per cent. in cash terms over the past year, and it will now be supplemented by an additional contribution towards the review body pay awards in the Health Service. It will include more money for paediatric cardiology services, renal services and cervical screening services. Money will also be earmarked for major campaigns aimed at reducing the incidence of coronary heart disease and preventing the spread of AIDS. A substantial programme of major and minor capital projects, costing in total over £24 million, will be undertaken in 1986–87.
A total of £794 million is sought for social security expenditure. During the year preparations will he made for the reforms of social security., to be implemented partly from April 1987, and mainly from April 1988, in parity with the reforms in Great Britain.
Knowing that many hon. Members wish to participate in the debate, and knowing that it is limited to one and a half hours, I have commented on the major issues and provided straightforward figures in the interests of brevity. I have not dealt with the technicalities of the Estimates, but I trust that I have touched on the main elements of the Appropriation debate. If I have missed anything, I have no doubt that right hon. and hon. Members will be quick to ask questions. I shall do my best to deal with these and others matters that are raised in my reply, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the end of the debate.
It is an ancient constitutional principle that redress of grievances should precede supply. That has traditionally provided a lever by which the House has maintained a measure of control over the Executive. Before providing the Executive with resources to implement its policies, the House has scrutinised the purposes to which it is proposed to apply those resources. It is that exercise in which we are participating tonight.
Libraries have been written about that principle. May I begin with a word about three of its implications. First, it requires machinery for making financial control itself effective. The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), with his customary courtesy, has let me know that he is proposing tonight to draw the attention of the House to the way in which that is now done in relation to Northern Ireland. He presented a very clear analysis on that question when the House considered the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order on 11 March this year. I hope that I shall be forgiven if I do not attempt to anticipate his arguments or to embark upon that theme tonight.
It is possible, if we are to believe all that we read in the press, that in the relatively near future the House will have an opportunity of considering the whole way in which Northern Ireland is administered. It may be possible to consider the right hon. Gentleman's proposals in that wider context. We will listen with an open mind to the right hon. Gentleman's argument, and we on these Benches will judge it, not on its symbolic significance, nor according to any wedge of which it may be the thin end, but on its merits in achieving more effective financial control in the House. If that appears a naive approach, perhaps that is because we are all so accustomed to thinking about the thin ends of wedges that we have forgotten how to judge anything on its merits.
The second implication of the principle that redress of grievances precedes supply is that the House really should consider dispassionately the grievances brought to its attention by hon. Members, and that each Member should bring his independent judgment to bear. Every child knows that that is not really how it is. The Government can usually nullify the House's control of the Executive by sending out marauding bands of Whips or bringing on business when it is most likely to escape attention. The Government can render our procedures less effective by arranging debates in the late hours when only the most committed of hon. Members are in the Chamber. Once again tonight the Government's business managers have demonstrated their contempt for Northern Ireland business.
It is the third implication of the principle that I am chiefly concerned to address the House about tonight. The House may refuse supply for purposes of which it disapproves. There is no corresponding procedure for insisting upon expenditure when the Government refuse to make provision where there is a clear and crying need. All that we can do is to deplore the uses to which the resources are being devoted when every whisper of common sense, every consideration of decency, cries out for them to be spent on solutions for the tragic problems that beset so many families.
It follows that, where the grievance which we are discussing is a failure to make adequate provision, we would be defeating our own purpose if we were to divide the House with a view to denying the Government even the inadequate resources that they seek. We can only voice our disappointment that the Government asks so little of us where the need is so great.
I turn first to class II, item 5, the employment services, and ask the hon. Gentleman whether all ACE funding is to be found among the sums appropriated under that item. I appreciate, of course, that the Government are providing only 40 per cent. of the funding, the remaining 60 per cent. as I understand it, being provided by the EEC. We begin with the premise, therefore, that we get over double value for every pound that we can prevail on the Government to spend.
During Question Time last week my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) asked the Minister about the criteria used by his Department in selecting schemes for ACE funding. My hon. Friend mentioned certain community groups which had been notified by letter that their funding would be discontinued. The letter referred to an answer given in the House by the then Secretary of State to the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) on 27 June last year, to the effect that the Government believe that funding for some community associations might be used to further the aims of paramilitary organisations. My hon. Friend accepted that in principle, but expressed anxiety that to make that allegation about those specific groups may be risking a serious injustice in addition to depriving already deprived communities of a vital life line.
I had already written to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State asking him to supply those organisations with details of the case against them. He replied that the details could not be given for security reasons. I appreciate that certain details cannot be given, for that reason, but I am sure he understands that that leaves them to refute, if they can, allegations that they have been guilty of unspecified actions, which helped unspecified organisations in unspecified ways. So they are left with the difficulty of how to make any defence or refutation.
The Minister may recollect that at Question Time last week I intervened to say that some of us had looked closely at those community groups. If there was evidence that any of those groups were involved with criminal activities we would have no part in any representations, but we have found no such evidence. In the case of Dove House in Derry, our conclusion was endorsed by Bishop Cahal Daly who had written to say that he had already written to a Minister at the Department. He said:
I also stated clearly that, in my view, Dove House is not and was not promoting any particular political grouping—that it is simply offering a bona fide community service.
I stated my belief that Dove House is providing a worthwhile service to the community in which it is located and is engaging a number of people in useful and constructive work.
The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to say that he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State were prepared to review any of the cases that we discussed. Now that he has had time to reflect, I ask him whether he will receive a delegation to make representations on behalf of those groups. Alternatively, will he consider adopting the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Flume) and appoint an independent investigator to look at the evidence?
The topic raises a wider question. It is true that a number of political parties in Northern Ireland—some of them perfectly respectable parties whose representatives in the House are well known to us—provide advisory services in their local communities. That is a highly commendable activity when people's lives are beset by problems which are so numerous, so varied and so complex. Harassed and bewildered individuals are in sore need of advice through the labyrinth of provisions which govern their incomes, their obligations and their freedom, and which sometimes seem almost deliberately designed to ensnare them. The advisory services are provided by political parties and community groups because the Government have failed to make provision for them. There is a vacuum which someone must fill.
We are grateful for the funding provided by the Government for the activities of the Belfast law centre, but that is the only law centre in Northern Ireland. It cannot begin to meet the need for advice. There are 29 citizens advice bureaux, handling about 120,000 inquiries per year. Despite the devotion of their workers—some of them giving their time voluntarily — there are whole areas where people have no access to advice. If the Government provided a proper advisory network there would be no need for hit-and-run, piecemeal provisions.
I turn to class IX, item 1. I have raised with the Minister questions about resources for health and social services so often in correspondence and on the Floor of the House that it has become like a game of chess, where the hon. Gentleman and I know each other's mind for the first 20 moves. I ask him whether he has any proposals to settle the damaging strike of transport drivers at the Royal Victoria hospital. For the past 18 months the Eastern hospital board has suffered intolerable budgetary pressure at the Government's hands, which in turn it has passed on to the hospitals, and which they in turn have passed on to their patients and employees. In particular, the Royal Victoria hospital has suffered in almost every aspect of its services. The staff have more than fulfilled their obligations and have responded beyond the call of duty, but I tell the Minister, in case he has not discovered this fact already, that the whole staff—medical, nursing and ancillary staff—are in despair and that they cannot take much more.
The Eastern hospital board is faced with having to cut a further £5 million from its budget. It decided that £2 million of that should be taken from the supportive services. As I understand it. the intention is to protect the clinical services. That is, of course, commendable; but we are already seeing that the clinical services cannot be provided without the foundation of the supportive services. So the board has imposed cuts on, for example, the cleaning services. It is possible to argue that that is not where the burden of the cut should have fallen. Some one might point out, with reference to the enlightening figures provided by Dr. Robert Rowthorne, that the unit costs for cleaning the main part of the hospital, excluding the specialist units. are already only 51 per cent. of the average cleaning costs for teaching hospitals and only 44 per cent. of the average costs for hospitals generally. The cleaning services were not carrying a great deal of fat to begin with.
As for the administrative budget, the unit costs for administration at the Royal Victoria hospital, as measured by the weighted patient method, are four times higher than the costs in hospitals generally in Northern Ireland. It would be possible for some one to argue that the cuts would have been borne better by the administrative budget than by the cleaning budget or the transport drivers, but the board offered no consultation about how the cuts were to be apportioned.
The board passed on to the transport drivers the treatment that it had itself received from the Government. It took a global sum, without an explanation of how it was reached, and without any discussion, and told them that that was to be cut from the budget for transport drivers. The board then offered to negotiate on how that sum should be apportioned among transport drivers, but not on the size of the sum itself. When the drivers' representatives replied that that was not what they understood by consultation, the board said, in effect, that that was the measure of consultation that it was offering.
The result has been industrial action. No one wants it. No one will benefit. The losers will be the patients and those who depend on the hospital for their services, but it was an inevitable consequence of the threat to their jobs and income. The employees and their union mounted a picket consisting, at the most, of about 24 people. The authorities replied by bringing in the police and the troops. A few days ago, when the drivers were joined by some women workers from the catering staff and other hospital services, they were confronted by a convoy of 17 Land Rovers carrying personnel equipped with machine guns.
Now the dispute is escalating further. Today, I am told, three or four workers in the sterile supplies section have been suspended because of a dispute arising from the coverage expected of them during the strike by the transport drivers. It seems that this has led to industrial action by all the workers in the sterile supplies section. It seems that a further dispute has arisen because the laundry workers have been sent home without pay.
Unless some one at senior level intervenes in the name of common sense, what began as an exercise in meanness and penny pinching will escalate into something that will seriously endanger the hospital services and may leave a further legacy of bitterness and frustration. Just for once, will the Minister not plead that this is not the responsibility of Government? What crisis has to he on us before it becomes the Government's business? It was the Government's policy that led to the problem in the first place.
Class X deals with the sums payable by the Department of Health and Social Services. I wonder whether the Minister can tell us whether the sums mentioned in the order are based on the assumption that the provisions of the Social Security Bill are to be extended to Northern Ireland. It would be wrong to assume that the Government could do that without major opposition in the House and major protest in Northern Ireland. My right hon. and hon. Friends have already exposed the proposals in that Bill for what they really are, and I will not seek to repeat what they have said, but there are some circumstances peculiar to Northern Ireland that would magnify the mischief.
I hope that the Minister has seen the analysis by the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland. For example, if it is proposed to calculate pensions on a lifetime's earnings rather than on the best 20 years that will cause particular hardship to a community where long-term unemployment is more widespread even than in Great Britain—where 36·6 per cent. of the unemployed have been out of work for more than two years, against a United Kingdom average of 26·4 per cent. In an area where three times as many families are receiving family income supplement as in the United Kingdom as a whole, the abolition of family income supplement would have a devastating effect.
The replacement of single payments, and urgent needs payments by loans will mean an intolerable hardship in a region which, with the possible exception of Glasgow, receives the highest number of single payments in the United Kingdom. The Consumer Council and the Equal Opportunities Commission have pointed out that the proposed abolition of maternity grant and maternity allowance and widow's benefit would have a greater effect on women in Northern Ireland, where a greater proportion of women are dependent on welfare benefits, than on women elsewhere.
Even if the Government can steamroller their proposals through the House in relation to the remainder of the United Kingdom, they will have to debate them all again in order to extend them to Northern Ireland. I ask the Minister to warn his colleagues before they paint themselves into yet another corner.
May I ask one final question. In the schedule to the order, under class XI, item 1, I read that over £2 million is required for expenditure on the Northern Ireland Assembly. There are those who believe that the need for expenditure on the Assembly will become less apparent in the near future. If that were to happen, what will become of the £2 million that we are asked to authorise tonight? Will it be returned to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to assist him in reducing income tax on higher incomes, or will some of it be made available to those ACE community schemes where people are giving their time and talents to help make life tolerable in deprived communities? Will some of it be devoted to resolving the escalating problems of the Eastern hospital board and its employees, who feel that their service over the years is unappreciated? Will some of it find its way to provide reasonable retirement pensions to those who have already suffered the deprivations of long-term unemployment, and widow's allowances for those who have already suffered bereavement?
The Government can have their Appropriation order tonight. Our complaint is that we cannot provide more. Will the Minister at least spare the House a commercial on the ample provision which the Government are already pouring into Northern Ireland? The evidence is there on the ground. If he will come with me to Dove House, or to the Royal Victoria hospital, or to the Divis flats, or to some of the resource centres in east Belfast—
This is not the first Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order that the Minister of State has introduced. I dare say that, as he approached the debate, he wondered what new oratorical splendours, what new ingenuities of argument, might be sought, to present again the case which has been presented from this Bench on previous debates on the order. I have to say, to his relief and, I hope, to the relief of the House, that that is not my intention.
The essence of the problem has often been pointed out. There exists, for reasons which are historical, a Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland into which moneys are poured out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, and out of which they issue again under the authority which this Order in Council confers. Hitherto, we have brought our criticism to bear upon the continued existence of that obsolete and, in practice, ineffective Consolidated Fund.
I recognise the courtesy which the Secretary of State has done, which has not always been observed on previous debates on appropriation orders, of attending the debate. Tonight I want to put before him a simpler proposition, one which, bearing very much in mind some remarks which fell from the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), prejudices no separate and larger issues at all.
The proposition is simply this. All the advice that I have been able to obtain from sources which are available to hon. Members shows that it would be competent for the Government to include in the Consolidated Fund and appropriation Bills a provision for the payment out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund of the sums which are set out in the schedules to this Order in Council, and that consequently the passage of the Consolidated Fund and appropriation Bills would secure the effect which these three annual orders separately secure at present for Northern Ireland.
It is not a proposal which has any widely ranging constitutional implications. It applies with equal effect in the duration of the interim period, which it may be the Secretary of State's intention to ask the House to renew for a further period before the summer recess. It does not involve what I believe would require legislation — the abolition of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund itself. What it does is something which hon. Members from this Bench have often claimed is their wish. It puts Northern Ireland and its repesentatives in the House in the same position exactly as the representatives of other parts of the United Kingdom. It certainly would relieve the House of three debates which are only technically necessary and for which I believe the technical necessity can be removed by the simple constitutional device of applying to Northern Ireland the Consolidated Fund and appropriation Bills which have to be passed in any case.
But it might seem curious and paradoxical that a representative of a Northern Ireland constituency should wish to reduce the amount of parliamentary time which is available for considering the affairs of that Province. I address myself to the issue of grievance before supply which the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West planted firmly on the Dispatch Box when he spoke.
The paradox is apparent. It is not real. It would be absurd to claim, for example, this evening, that in the hour and a half which we have available, there is any real opportunity for a serious debate on the detailed policies which are involved in the whole sweep of public expenditure in Northern Ireland, which, in effect, is covered by this appropriation order. The very notion that in an hour and a half we could raise and receive adequate replies to a tiny fraction of the questions of policy which are involved is an insult which no Minister would seek to offer the House.
It is true that in previous years, by arrangement with the Government business managers, there has been the custom that in the case of the main appropriation orders —that is, the March and June appropriation orders—much longer periods of parliamentary time would be made available. Indeed, I think there was a run of a number of years in which the average time available for the debate on the Appropriation Order (Northern Ireland) was four or five hours.
Strenuous endeavours were made, and with good intention from both sides of the House, both from the Government Bench and from hon. Members representing Northern Ireland, so to organise those debates that they provided a genuine method whereby in proper debates issues affecting constituencies in Northern Ireland could be raised and answered. Those who have lived through that experience will confirm what I have to say, that we never succeeded in using the debate upon the Appropriation Order in any organised or systematic way in order to provide for an examination of policy and expenditure in Northern Ireland. So, if the Government were to give consideration, as I hope they will undertake to do, to the proposition that I have made in the interests of the House as a whole nothing would be diminished in the interests of Northern Ireland.
This House has for many decades, if not centuries, wrestled with the problem of how it could debate adequately and how it could scrutinise adequately the growing and more and more complex mass of public expenditure. There has been one type of solution which, alone, has been found satisfactory; a solution which the House has adopted since the middle years of last century in the use of the instrument of a Select Committee.
The Public Acounts Committee does already apply itself ex post facto to Northern Ireland expenditure and hon. Members who have studied them will acknowledge not only the value of reports that are laid before the House by the Comptroller and Auditor-General for Northern Ireland, but also the work which is done upon those reports by the Public Expenditure Committee of this House. But that of course, as I say, is only an ex post facto examination. It exposes what has already gone wrong. It is in no position currently to debate policy or currently to debate the trends of expenditure and administration.
For that purpose, the House has evolved in recent years a different form of mechanism for using the principle of the Select Committee. It began with the estimates Committees and their sub committees; it went on with the Finance Committee and finally we have brought it into the form of the departmentally related Select Committees, which have the opportunity to consider the estimates and other aspects of administration in the various departments of State.
I would think, therefore, that it would be an appropriate accompaniment of the decision to lighten the load upon the House to bring Northern Ireland within the scope of a consolidated and appropriation Bill, that there should be for Northern Ireland a Select Committee, as there is for Scotland and Wales, which can specifically address itself on a continuing basis, with the opportunity to send for persons and papers, to the examination of administration in the Province.
Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that to have the equivalent of a Grand Committee for Scotland and Wales would be inadequate but that a Select Committee would be the key? Furthermore, that Select Committee should not merely examine appropriation expenditure but should also have the power in the interests of all those who are affected by proposals emanating from within the context of Northern Ireland to consider the legislation, if indeed the Assembly is dissolved, so that there can be proper scrutiny and amendment of legislation within the House, which the elected representatives of Northern Ireland may attend?
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, and I follow his thoughts closely. There is one section of his remarks, namely, that referring to legislation, into which I do not want to enter, because the case that I have laid before the House is self contained in so far as it goes and in so far as it relates to the granting of Supply. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that the device of a Grand Committee is not the one we are looking for, if we are looking for a means of detailed scrutiny of estimates, supply and policies. I remind him—I do not expect that he needs reminding — that the existing departmentally related Select Committees already have the right to examine matters of policy and administration on the estimates. Indeed, upon the examination of the estimates they can recommend that specific estimates should be specially debated during Supply days.
What contribution have Northern Ireland hon. Members made so far to the Select Committees on which they still hold a place? What will be the effect of their type of approach to Select Committees and participation in the House if it continues? Surely it is a self-defeating exercise?
The hon. Gentleman, my neighbour, may be a little confused. It is not possible for a person who is no longer an hon. Member of this House to remain a member of a Select Committee of the House. In consequence of that, my colleagues and I ceased to be members of the Select Committees on which we have served, and, as we have not been reappointed to those Select Committees, we are not at present serving on any Select Committees. Obviously, it would be an implication of this manner of dealing with Northen Ireland Supply business that for the first time hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies would have a genuine opportunity, on the same basis as hon. Members representing other constituencies, to make their contributions on behalf of those whom they represent. That is something that they would welcome.
My proposition is potentially beneficial to the House as a whole, in that it would enable the House to avoid the expenditure of time on a process which in itself is unhelpful to Northern Ireland and is repetitive in the cycle of the financial procedures of this House. It is also a method in which we should bring hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies on to a parity of footing with fellow hon. Members which has always been the ambition of the party to which I belong. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will be able to indicate that the Government would be prepared to go with an open mind and in detail into the proposition that I have laid before the House.
In common with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), who spoke for the official Opposition, I gratefully acknowledge the courtesy of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) in providing us with a memorandum telling us of the proposal which he has put before the House. The House is looking forward to the opinion which will be expressed from the Treasury Bench when the Minister replies.
This is a short debate, and I wish to confine my remarks to class XI, vote 1, on expenditure for the Northern Ireland Assembly. It seems that the Assembly has fallen out of favour with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Government. Perhaps the question is not whether it should be dispatched but how? It would be possible for it to be abolished or to be dissolved, but abolition would require primary legislation. If the Government did decide upon that course, I do not think there would be the danger of all night sittings and the guillotine which had to be applied against Conservative and Unionist Back Benchers before the Bill, which brought the Assembly into being, passed its stages through the House.
I expect that the Government would prefer to resort to one of their colonial type Orders in Council with a short debate and no amendment possible. I understand that by that means it would be possible for the Government to prorogue or dissolve the Assembly. Thus the Assembly would be kept on ice.
I do not generally come to the aid of the Government in their exercise of direct rule in Northern Ireland, but perhaps I might suggest to the hon. Gentleman that in this case the Order in Council which would be brought forward would be one under a separate statute and not one under the interim period procedure which is disliked so much.
I regret that I do not quite follow the point which the right hon. Gentleman is making. Perhaps I should not remain on that point because time presses and other hon. Members wish to address the House.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West said that it has not been easy to justify this expenditure on the Northern Ireland Assembly and he suggested alternative courses for this expenditure.
It is a fact that the rolling devolution intended by my right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) has not come about. No bridge has been built between the Unionists and the Nationalists through the Assembly. The SDLP has pursued the old Irish custom of abstention. Part of the case for what is called integration is that it is here, in this Parliament, that there can be dialogue between Unionist and Nationalist. There are two Northern Ireland Members in their places tonight, the right hon. Member for South Down and the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) — a Unionist and a Nationalist sitting close together.
To be fair, the Committees of the Assembly have been commended in this House for doing useful work of scrutiny whether pre-legislative or of the administration of the Province. I have had the honour of appearing twice before Committees of the Assembly. These functions could however be carried out equally well or better by appropriate Parliamentary Committees. The right hon. Member for South Down referred to the way that could come about. The manner in which it could be done is also prominent in the policy document of the Ulster Young Unionist Council, the "New Agenda". I commend that document to right hon. and hon. Members of the House.
Unionists are often criticised for saying no and for saying that they do not want the Anglo-Irish Agreement but refusing to say what they do want. But how many of those who chide the Unionists for acting thus have studied the proposals that they have made in the "New Agenda" and an earlier document, which is the most positive product of the Northern Ireland Assembly, "Devolution and the Northern Ireland Assembly The Way Forward". I say that it is a product of the Northern Ireland Assembly because, among those who presented it were the hon. Members for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), who are also members of the Assembly. The message of those two documents is equal citizenship under the sovereignty and protection of this Parliament, rational conduct of Northern Ireland business at Westminster and a more democratic system of local government analogous to but obviously not identical to the somewhat differing systems of England, Scotland and Wales.
Perhaps I might quote from "The Way Forward" concerning Northern Ireland Assembly expenditure. It said that the Ulster Unionist party opposed the setting up of the Assembly and that it
has been equally consistent in its declared objective of transforming that Assembly into a worthwhile institution for serving all the people of Northern Ireland. With this objective in view and bearing in mind the necessity for obtaining the widest possible consensus, the Ulster Unionist Party proposes that those functions and powers transferred from County and County Borough Councils to Stormont should be devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly as the nucleus of its responsibilities.
A proportion of the expenditure under class XI Vote 1 is for the Clerkship and other Officers of the Northern Ireland Assembly. As the Assembly passes away, I trust that the careers of the Clerk and other staff will not be prejudiced. They may be needed again when Stormont becomes the seat of a regional council as propounded by the Conservative and Unionist party in the last election manifesto with anything positive to say about the administration of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.
Listening to the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), I found it hard to believe that this was a debate on Appropriation. Part II seemed to be almost completely ignored.
I was intrigued by the right hon. Member for South Down, who told us that there were no constitutional implications in what he said. When he made exactly the same speech on 11 March, he said:
I intend to concern myself, however, as heretofore exclusively with the constitutional aspect of the order."—[Official Report, 11 March 1986; Vol. 93, c. 891.]
There seemed to he a slight contradiction in the disingenuous way in which the right hon. Gentleman ably presented the same concept today.
I tried, rather unsuccessfully, to challenge the right hon. Gentleman on the effect of Unionist representation on Select Committees. The issues considered in Select Committees affect the clerks of the Assembly and people on the dole, those who run small farms in the north of Ireland and those who rear big families and will never work again in their lives. I respectfully ask the right hon. Member for South Down and others what contribution Northern Ireland Members have made to the Select Committee on Social Services, the Select Committee on Agriculture, the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts and others during this Parliament.
I have not been here for the lifetime of the Parliament, but I understand that, since I have been here, there has not been any contribution from an hon. Member from Northern Ireland. It is erroneous to argue that the matter can be cured by appointing hon. Members from Northern Ireland to Select Committees. I leave that for the Secretary of State to consider, because it is worth considering. I would not have to make the points that I propose to make if hon. Members from Northern Ireland were on the Select Committees.
First, I should like to speak about the agricultural Vote, classes I to III. There is a crisis in agriculture in the western counties of Northern Ireland. Because of the bad winter and the had weather last year, there is hardly any grass this year. When the Appropriation measure was first debated I made some points about the milk quota. An increase of £1·3 million in that quota is not enough to compensate our farmers, especially our small farmers. Because of the lateness of sufficient grass and the bad winter, a special additional payment should he made to farmers, equal to the present premium for suckler herds and sheep subsidy.
Secondly, I ask for a special grant for fertilisers so that grass can be brought to the stage at which one would expect it to be at this time of the year. Thirdly, an agency should be set up to try to obtain from EEC financial quarters special rates of interest which will allow Northern Ireland farmers who have suffered from the severe winter at least to get back to a standing start with their farms and stocks.
Fourthly, the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland should not attempt to claw back grants already paid for animals that have died and thus will not be on the land on the qualifying date. Fifthly, drainage grants should be returned to the previous 65 per cent. level so that our farmers, the backbone of society in Northern Ireland, at least have a chance to make some headway in their industry, the biggest industry in Northern Ireland.
I should like to see those points made on a Select Committee, but unfortunately there is no one from Northern Ireland on the Select Committee on Agriculture and I must take this opportunity to make them. Earlier I spoke about the £1·3 million increase in the milk quota. It is not enough for small farmers in Northern Ireland who are going out of business because they cannot pay bank interest. They were enticed into milk production and into expenditure and then hanged on the advice of the Department of Agriculture and the advice of the EEC because grants were cut from their feet.
On class II I shall be brief. During a previous debate, think on 11 March, I spoke about Enterprise Ulster and its important role. I congratulate the Minister on recognising that role and on giving Enterprise Ulster at least a five-year lifespan. He has allowed one of the most important factors in Northern Ireland's industrial life to continue, and I thank him for that. He was rather bemused by a question I put to him at Question Time last week when I asked about the ACE schemes. I said that they were beginning to help people in Northern Ireland who do not really need such help. That help will be increasingly denied to areas of social deprivation where help is needed There are warning bells there and the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) has started to ring those bells in relation to Dove house. We will never get a pure situation at community level in Northern Ireland. We should not expect that, but if we wish to make headway towards it we should remove the ACE schemes from people who do not really need them.
I turn to the second Supplementary Estimate of £300,000 for the Department of the Environment. I have one request to make of the Department of the Environment. It is a simple, but big and symbolic one: demolish Divis flats; knock them to the ground and rehouse the people where they can have a decent standard of living and a decent environment. I assure the Minister that he will do more to end urban terrorism and civil unrest by that one action than by many of the other things that he is intending to do. The argument that there is not the land available to build such houses is no longer valid. The land is there to build those houses, and I ask the Department of the Environment to do so.
Changes are mooted, of which the first is to community technical aid, which has been important for community and housing groups by giving much-needed technical advice, especially in large housing conurbations. They ask for a small amount of money from the Department of the Environment, some £88,000, and a guarantee that the scheme will be kept going for a further five years. That is a small price to pay for the technical advice which such groups need, and which has already produced such tremendous results in the Divis flats and Craigavon. I ask that that £88,000 be given.
In April 1987, the schooling of the mentally handicapped will be transferred from the responsibility of the Department of Health and Social Services to the Department of Education. I welcome the transfer because that is where the responsibility should have been to begin with. There is an initial danger that there will be a no-man's land between now and the transfer. The education boards may not be properly financed to get this important part of education off the ground immediately. It may fall into a pit for a while. We owe it to those who are physically and mentally handicapped not to allow that to happen. We know that education area boards have had their funds cut, and if more cuts came about, and there was not proper budget planning until April 1987, we would be doing a great disservice to those in our community who are least able to look after themselves.
When the changeover takes place, there is no statutory responsibility to give educational facilities to the handicapped who are over 18. That gap must be plugged, and it must be a statutory requirement. It cannot be left to the discretion of the area boards. We must provide those who are seriously physically and mentally handicapped with the right to education.
I have already voiced my views about the Social Security Bill both here and with the Minister concerned. There is a great problem with this which I call the area board syndrome. On paper, it looks good, and the statistics can be argued favourably, but unless the social fund which will replace the special payment grant is sufficient all the detail falls apart. The Minister with responsibility for the social services in the Northern Ireland Office can tell any area to cut its budget by any sum, and there will be a statutory requirement on it to do so. Coupled with a new 20 per cent. water rate in what is an area of great dependence on social security, it is vital that we tackle this matter. The Government's new social security policy could give rise to serious problems throughout Britain. It could give rise to the greatest problems in Northern Ireland because we who live there are aware of the relationship between social and environmental deprivation and paramilitary activity.
It is noteworthy, in connection with the Northern Ireland Assembly, that since the first appropriation measure on 11 March the sum being spent on that body has increased from £1,452,000 to £2,700,000. I do not know whether the increase is designed to cover the cost of a new telephone system.
My party warned the then Secretary of State that the Assembly as constituted would prove to be a white elephant. We were right. It became not only a white elephant but a rogue elephant. It put itself out of business by trumpeting its way into the basement, the telephone area, of the Northern Ireland Assembly headquarters in Stormont and finally convinced Her Majesty's Government that it was not contributing to welfare or to progress in the north of Ireland.
I urge, as other hon. Members have urged, that that £2 million be used constructively — say, in agriculture, health, education or social welfare—and that we learn a lesson from the measure that is before the House. The lesson is that, if we are ever to create anything positive in the north of Ireland, we must at least get the basis of it right.
I join the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) in noting with approval the presence of the Secretary of State. His presence is a characteristic courtesy which has the approval of all hon. Members who take an interest in Northern Ireland affairs.
I agree also with the right hon. Gentleman in his proposal for a Select Committee, and I hope that the occupants of the two Front Benches will give careful consideration to that suggestion.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) concluded by referring to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Some of my hon. Friends voted against the setting up of that Assembly four years ago, and I cannot conceal from the House that I was no great enthusiast for its establishment. I shall shed no tears if the provision in this instrument on the Assembly in this financial year turns out to be a substantial overestimate.
I urge the Minister to reflect on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). After all, the Secretary of State was a member of the shadow Cabinet which approved the manifesto on which we won the general election of May 1979. I hope
that my hon. Friend the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that I would be right to quote verbatim from the manifesto and say that it promised
In the absence of devolved government, we will seek to establish one or more elected regional councils.
The appropriation order relates to substantial appropriations for administration costs in the Province. I still believe that it would be right to confer modest additional powers on the 26 district councils in Northern Ireland. Although it is seven years too late, we should implement the official policy of the Conservative and Unionist party which existed up to and including the general election on 3 May 1979. It is a matter of continuing regret to me that the policy approved by the shadow Cabinet, included in the manifesto and endorsed by the British people as abandoned by my right hon. Friends who now sit on the Treasury Bench. It will be of great advantage if my hon. Friend the Minister will reflect more carefully than the Front Bench has so far reflected on the wisdom of the policy set out in the 1979 manifesto.
It is now more than six months since I called for a Select Committee to deal with matters relating to legislation in Northern Ireland. The proposals for a Select Committee that I have heard today and that have been proposed in the past month or so go part of the way to meeting my request. However, I fear that unless the vacuum in terms of effective scrutiny and effective monitoring of legislation is followed by a proper process in which a Select Committee for Northern Ireland can be set up, the problem of violence and the seperation of people from their current legislation will get worse. I therefore reiterate my call for a Select Committee to ensure that all those who represent different identities within the tragic Province of Northern Ireland, can voice their feelings and can sit down and calmly consider the problems that face that troubled part of the United Kingdom.
I part company from the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who clearly does not have much faith in the concept of a Select Committee to deal with the problem. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect carefully on the basis of the argument that has been put forward for a Select Committee in the areas that I have outlined.
I also part company from the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) as I believe that a Select Committee would need to go somewhat further than the rather limited area to which he addressed himself earlier.
The hon. Member is wrong; I did not say that. I said that when hon. Members from Northern Ireland have the opportunity of serving on Select Committees and making an in-put they do not do so. Therefore, basic and fundamental issues are passing through without comment.
I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. The difficulty is, of course—and I refer to class XI.1 of the Appropriation order which deals with expenditure for the Northern Ireland Assembly—that that has not worked, that it will not work and that something must be put in its place. It is not possible to carry on with the existing system.
Order. This is a delicate area, but I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the Appropriation order. We are discussing cash, not constitution, if I may put it in that way. It would be out of order for the hon. Gentleman to discuss the structure of government in Northern Ireland.
I take the point. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was referring to the expenditure of the Northern Ireland Assembly and class XI. I believe that it is essential that the money should be spent fairly for all the people of Northern Ireland and, therefore, I call again for a Select Committee to deal with the range of activities which I believe needs proper consideration.
I am sure that the hon. Members for Stafford (Mr. Cash) and for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) will forgive me if I do not enter into constitutional aspects of the matters which have been raised during the debate. The time will come when we have more time at our disposal and we can have a better and deeper debate on constitutional matters. I shall confine my short remarks to the order, and I shall begin by referring to some of the Minister's comments when he opened the debate.
The Minister spoke of the £2,706 per head that is spent in Northern Ireland, and he compared that sum with the respective figures in Scotland, Wales and England. He said that more money is spent per head on the people of Northern Ireland than on those in the rest of the United Kingdom. That shows the Government's commitment, having been hurried along by the Opposition and supported by the House, to the people of Northern Ireland. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Langbaugh (Mr. Holt) in his place, because he and I know that unemployment rates in Cleveland and Middlesbrough are especially high. The Minister referred to the unemployment rate in Northern Ireland, which is 21·7 per cent. The rate is higher in Cleveland and, therefore, it is right to draw public attention to the fact that more money is spent per head of the population in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Minister addressed himself to education and spoke of the Government giving priority to schools and what he described as the maintenance of classroom standards. He referred to an increase in the recurrent budget of 4 per cent. I have some pleasant news for the Minister. The recurrent budget is £216 million, which is an increase of 5·5 per cent. In other words, the Minister is better than his own figures.
There was some concern about the impact of the South-Eastern Education and Library Board's £400,000 budget and the threatened cut in milk and meals for 1986–87. The board felt that school meals might be discontinued. I am glad to have had an assurance from the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that that is not the position and that existing arrangements to provide school meals free of charge to those eligible to receive them will not be affected.
The Minister said that housing expenditure in Northern Ireland was four times higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom. I can only presume that expenditure in the rest of the United Kingdom is four times lower than it should be. In the context of bids and allocations, the allocation for housing in Middlesbrough is a quarter of the bid that was made. It seemed from the Minister's remarks that housing in Northern Ireland has lost out somehow in the struggle for funds within the Northern Ireland block grants. It may be that because of that the executive for the Belfast city council area planned to cut its housing starts for 1986–87 from 1,000 to 850, and planned cuts in improvement schemes from 1,200 to 400.
I do not wish to deprive the Minister of a few minutes in which to reply to the debate, notably to the issues raised by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and others. The Minister will not have much time at his disposal and that which remains I gladly give to him.
I thank the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) for his brevity. When one waits to reply at the end of a debate, only to find that there is little time in which to do so, there is a feeling of deprivation. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the four minutes that remain.
If the decision is made that there is not to be an election this year, the money — the £2·5 million, which is basically for the maintenance of the Assembly —will go back into the block for reallocation. The answer to the queries about where the money should go—although the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) did not refer to any money being spent—is that we will look at where the money should go.
The question of ACE was raised again, as it was last week during Question Time. I made it clear then— and this was brought out to a great extent in the heading in the Belfast Telegraph — that we are always open to representations. Indeed, since last Thursday I have spoken to those concerned, including at least two of the ACE groups. Money has not been allocated to them, because of what were considered security risks. We are considering the matter now and we will issue information on what we do. I shall keep the right hon. Member for South Down informed of developments.
The Eastern health board is not suffering a cut of £5 million in its budget, but is making savings of £5 million for redevelopment where it believes the money should be spent. This year the board will have over 6 per cent. more money than it had last year.
Reference was made to the strike at the Royal Victoria hospital. The dispute is most regrettable. It is our earnest hope that it will be resolved as soon as possible. However, I must make it clear that the determination of priorities and budgetary allocations within the Royal Group is a matter for the Eastern health board. The board this year has cut back £900,000 on one side, but it has put in £5·4 million on the other side. Its management and its conduct of industrial relations must fall within its remit. Currently the Labour Relations Agency is in discussion with both sides with a view to appointing a mediator to examine the causes of the dispute and how it can be solved. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members wish it well in what it is doing.
Reference has been made to the social security reforms. The intentions is for those to come into operation al the same time as in the rest of the United Kingdom. Obviously there will be an opportunity to debate the matter then.
The point raised by the right hon. Member for South Down, was as always, a constitutional point. I do not say that in any way as a rebuke, because it is a question of how the Province is governed and how the money is distributed. I am grateful for the fact that he gave me warning of the points that he would raise, as did the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer).
On first examination, I do not totally share the confidence of the right hon. Member for South Down that the proposals do not raise fundamental constitutional and administrative difficulties when they are considered, as they must be, in the context of Parliament's view of how best to deal with Northern Ireland's special needs and circumstances. However, the Prime Minister made it clear when she met Unionists leaders earlier this year—