Orders of the Day — Appropriation (Northern Ireland)

– in the House of Commons at 9:13 pm on 24th February 1987.

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Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea 9:13 pm, 24th February 1987

I beg to move, That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 11th February, be approved.

Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

It might be helpful if I made it clear that the debate on the Northern Ireland order may cover all matters for which Northern Ireland Departments, as distinct from the Northern Ireland Office, are responsible. Police and the security are the principal excluded subjects.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

The order is being made under paragraph 1, schedule 1, of the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The draft order has two purposes. The first is to authorise the additional expenditure covered by the 1986–87 spring Supplementary Estimates. That is dealt with in part 1 of the schedule which sets out the details for a further £99 million required from the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland. That is in addition to some £3,256 million which has already been approved by the House for the 1986–87 financial year and thus brings the total Estimates provision for that year to £3,355 million.

Part II of the schedule gives details of the Vote on account of some £1,483 million for 1987–88. That is a normal provision and it is necessary to enable services to continue until the 1987–88 Main Estimates are debated later in the year. Full details of all the provisions sought in the draft order can be found in the spring Supplementary Estimates volume and the "Statements of Sums Required on Account" leaflet. Copies of those two documents have been placed in the Vote Office.

In considering the Supplementary Estimates, particularly those related to industrial development, employment and unemployment, the House will wish to bear in mind the latest economic information about the Province. That represents a somewhat mixed picture. On the positive side, the United Kingdom as a whole is now into its sixth successive year of continuous economic growth. Output in the Province has responded to those developments at national level with total output of the production industries now within almost 8 per cent. of its 1980 level. Also, manufacturing output has almost recovered to its 1980 level. The prospects there are not unencouraging. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently outlined in his autumn statement, growth this year is anticipated to be higher than in 1986.

However, there is a negative side too. Increased output has yet to have an appreciable effect on unemployment in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, seasonally adjusted unemployment has fallen by an average of 700 per month over the past three months. However, unemployment in Northern Ireland remains at what I think the House will agree is an unacceptably high level. In January 1987 the rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland was 19·3 per cent. compared to 11·8 per cent. in Great Britain and 16·9 per cent. in the north of England. I would like to emphasise that the Government remain determined to tackle that problem and substantial resources have been made available to finance the job creation efforts of the Industrial Development Board, Local Enterprise Development Unit and the various training and retraining schemes.

In class I of the Estimates, which covers expenditure on agriculture, fisheries, and forestry, an additional £600,000 is required for Vote 1; £400,000 of that is for agricultural science services and £120,000 is to cover the capital cost of providing accommodation for a computerised system of animal health records. The purpose of that system is to provide a more efficient information base giving the ability to respond faster to any outbreak of animal disease, thus reducing the risk of spread.

There are Supplementary Estimates for three Votes in class II. Vote 1 relates to the activities of the Industrial Development Board. A total of £750,000 is required there. Of that, some £680,000 is directly related to increased administrative costs. In particular I mention the restructuring of the business development division. The strengthening of that division by the addition of 12 staff reflects a change in emphasis by the IDB already outlined in its own strategy document. In future it will take a closer and much more active role in its ongoing relations with Northern Ireland industry in order to encourage the expansion of existing businesses within the Province. That also enables the IDB to develop its sectoral campaigns and, therefore, to concentrate resources on specific areas of industry which show the most potential for development.

For Vote 5, "Functioning of the Labour Market", the additional provision sought is £3·78 million. That is made up of additional expenditure of £6·37 million less savings of £2·59 million. Of the additional expenditure, some £3·43 million is for the action for community employment scheme—ACE. As right hon. and hon. Members will no doubt already be aware, ACE provides temporary jobs for the long-term unemployed. In line with the Government's continuing efforts to respond positively to the special problems of the long-term unemployed it has been possible to increase, during this financial year, the number of jobs provided through this programme. The original target was 5,400. We have increased this by 750 places to 6,150. Increased provision of £1·24 million is also required for expenditure on Government training centres mainly For additional running expenses attached to the setting up of the restart programme for the long-term unemployed, and to carry out necessary maintenance to training centre buildings.

Under the new arrangements for the training on employers' premises scheme, a grant of £65 per week will be paid in respect of each additional eligible employee who is under 25 years of age, or who was unemployed, or unavailable for work, during the previous 12 months. A grant of £52 per week will continue to be paid to all other categories of additional employees eligible under the scheme. This revision to the scheme will cost an extra £200,000 this year and provide assistance at the higher rate to companies during the costly initial training period for new employees. I hope that it will encourage employers to recruit more young people and the longer-term unemployed into new jobs. Also in subhead B4, the new pilot manpower training scheme, which became operative in June 1986, requires £400,000 for this year. This scheme is aimed at developing a cohesive package of training assistance geared to the specific needs of individual Northern Ireland companies operating in the international market place. The early indications are that the scheme will make a positive contribution to the local economy.

A further £678,000 is required for management training. This is a crucial area which is fundamental to the economic well-being of the Province. The aim is to improve both the quantity and quality of resource management. The provision now sought will enable Government to maintain and indeed increase activity in this area. Hon. and right hon. Members might wish to note that the Estimates also provide for the introduction of four new employment measures requiring a total provision of £420,000 at subheads C7 to C10 respectively. Of particular interest is the restart programme. Good progress has been made in this programme since its introduction on 1 July 1986. In the first six months some 31,000 people had received a counselling interview and we are on schedule to achieve our target of 60,000 for the year.

Moving on to Vote 6, which covers the administration and miscellaneous services of the Department of Economic Development, a net increase of some £2 million is sought. During the course of the year, my noble Friend, the Secretary of State for Employment announced a number of initiatives aimed at assisting the long-term unemployed such as the provision of in-depth counselling interviews. These initiatives were applied in Northern Ireland at the same time as the rest of the United Kingdom and additional resources were therefore provided to DED to ensure that the long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland benefited to the full extent.

Before moving away from class II, Vote 5, may I draw the attention of the House to one unfortunate typographical error in the provision for subhead A1 in the Estimates volume? The figure of £10,330,000 in respect of YTP trainee allowances should in fact read £10,200,000. I should make it clear that this does not affect the draft order.

Turning to class IV, Vote 1, which covers the Northern Ireland roads service, a net additional provision of £6·9 million is required of which some £1·9 million has been earmarked for capital works and nearly £4 million for essential road maintenance. The sum of £1·5 million relates to the construction package announced by the Secretary of State last October, and the remainder will further assist the construction industry in the Province. The emphasis within the roads programme continues to be placed on the management and maintenance of the road system. This is right and proper, bearing in mind the importance of a well-maintained road network to the economic and social fabric of the Province. In Vote 3, ports, the further provision of £700,000 is required to fund the upgrading and modernisation of port facilities throughout Northern Ireland under the port modernisation schemes.

Moving on to class V, Vote 1—housing services—a token provision of £1,000 is sought to bring hon. Members' attention to additional expenditure of some £5·5 million to finance increased activity on the general housing association programme and to meet the demand for renovation grants. However, this additional expenditure has been more than offset by a combination of additional housing association receipts from equity sales, surplus rental income and by savings on the revenue grant for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. These savings arise mainly from a reduced requirement for maintenance and from closer control of the level of vacant dwellings.

In class VI, Vote 1—water and sewerage services—the net additional provision is £2·5 million. This includes £1·9 million for capital works. In Vote 2—improvement of the environment — additional expenditure of some £5·6 million relates, in the main, to an extra £3 million for the urban development scheme, £800,000 for grants to the National Trust and £600,000 for the repair and maintenance of historic buildings. However, this additional expenditure has been offset by savings within the Vote and by receipts from the sale of land, leaving a net requirement of £600,000.

For Vote 4 — rating, records registrations, surveys and administration — the net increase of some £1·1 million is attributable largely to additional expenditure on computer systems and running costs, which have been partly offset by savings on the purchase of survey equipment and increased receipts.

Class VII has only one Vote, protective sevices, which covers expenditure on the fire service. An additional £500,000 is sought to cover the cost of an increased allowance to operational staff of the Fire Authority for Northern Ireland.

I come now to education, class VIII, where Supplementary Estimates are being sought in Votes 1, 2, 3 and 4. In Vote 1, a net additional £4·2 million is sought, and £4·6 million is required to meet the increased cost of school teachers' salaries arising from the April 1986 salary award and from the balance of the 1985 award. Hon. Members will be aware that it is established practice for Northern Ireland teachers to maintain parity in respect of salaries and conditions of service with their counterparts in England and Wales.

A further £300,000 is required by voluntary grammar schools for books and practice materials for the new general certificate of secondary education examination. There is a saving of £700,000 on capital grants to voluntary schools where progress has been slower than expected on a number of major schemes and on gas conversion work.

In Vote 2, a token estimate of £1,000 is sought to bring hon. Members' attention to increases which relate in the main to capital expenditure. Increases totalling £1·2 million are required to cover equipment and capital grants to the two Northern Ireland universities. Similarly, capital expenditure at the two teacher training colleges, including investment in new information technology equipment, will require an additional £200,000. These additional requirements are offset by savings of about £1·4 million in the recurrent grants to the universities partly as a result of lower than anticipated rates payments by Queens university, and partly following a revision of block grants on the recommendations of the University Grants Committee. The committee advises the Department of Education in Northern Ireland on the level of funding for the Province's universities based on the principle of parity of provision with elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Under Vote 3 — miscellaneous services and administration—an additional £2·4 million is sought. The additions required cover a wide range of services. In the main they reflect allocations as part of the Belfast urban programme, which were made after the 1986–87 Main Estimates were finalised, and the further measures taken by the Secretary of State in October last to aid the local construction industry.

The final education item is Vote 4, which covers grants to education and library boards. Of the total of £14·9 million sought, £11·5 million is required to cover the cost of a backdated revaluation of the rates on school property.

This follows a recent decision by the Lands Tribunal about the method of assessing schools' rateable value in circumstances where the premises are not fully utilised because of falling enrolments.

Responsibility for the education of mentally handicapped children transfers to the education service on 1 April 1987, and £2 million is required in advance of the transfer to enable boards to carry out essential preparatory work such as the provision of accommodation and the purchase of buses. Increased capital resources of just over £3 million are required for minor works including projects related to the Belfast urban programme, gas conversion and the youth training programme.

Under class IX—health and personal social services—an increase of some £10·6 million is sought in Vote 1. About £6 million of this is for capital expenditure. This substantial increase will enable work to begin on a number of major capital projects, including additional and improved facilities for geriatric patients in Armagh and additional day care provision for mentally handicapped persons in Londonderry and Banbridge. Again, this capital expenditure will have the added benefit of boosting employment in the construction industry. An additional £4·1 million is sought of which £2·3 million is to supplement the provision already made for the pay awards recommended by review bodies for doctors and dentists, nurses and paramedical staff. The balance is to fund service developments at the Belfast City hospital and at Altnagelvin hospital in Londonderry as well as grants to voluntary organisations, and expenditure arising from a major campaign aimed at reducing the incidence of coronary heart disease in Northern Ireland. In Vote 2—family practitioner and other services—a further £3·8 million is sought, mainly to meet the additional cost of dental and pharmaceutical services, where increases in demand as well as in fees and costs have exceeded earlier expectations.

In the social security programme, additional provision of £33·5 million is required in class X, Vote 2, to meet increased expenditure on invalid care allowance, supplementary benefits and housing benefits. The increases are offset by a reduction of £1·7 million in the requirement for severe disablement allowance. I assure the House that I am coming to the end of the extensive list.

In class X, Vote 4—administration and miscellaneous services—an additional £4·7 million is required mainly for salaries and wages and social security adjudication costs. A further £1·7 million is required to accommodate a shortfall in the amounts to be appropriated in aid in respect of administrative costs of the national insurance fund. These increases are offset by a reduction of £768,000 in earlier estimates of requirements, mainly of the amount of the grant to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive for its costs of administering the housing benefits scheme.

And finally, moving on to class XII, Vote 1ßžoffice and general accommodation services—provision is being sought for an additional £2 million to cover the purchase of office accommodation in central Belfast.

In these opening remarks I have tried to cover the main features of the draft order and to draw the attention of the House to a number of new items of expenditure. I know that as usual on these occasions right hon. and hon. Members will wish to express their views on both these and other matters. I shall listen with great interest to the points raised and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will reply in due course.

I commend the draft order to the House.

Photo of Mr Peter Archer Mr Peter Archer , Warley West 9:33 pm, 24th February 1987

We are grateful to the Minister for that exposition of the Government's requirement. I am not sure that I totally endorse the picture which he seemed to be painting at one time, but it deserved to be addressed to a wider audience of both sides of the House.

I have not attempted to count the number of times I have taken part in debates on appropriation orders and supplementary appropriation orders. It is so many that one merges into another in my mind. I no longer embark on these debates with the same sense of adventure with which I once did. Each time, hon. Members refer to the proposals in class II of the schedule and draw attention to the same unhappy stories, the same depressing statistics, the same human problems. Each time, the Minister responds to such of the points raised as time permits, and each time nothing else changes, except that the stories become more tragic, the statistics more depressing and the human problems greater.

Throughout the United Kingdom, those long-term unemployed to whom the hon. Gentleman referred find that the period since they worked becomes longer, the clothing which they cannot afford to replace becomes more threadbare. But it is true that the actual number unemployed as measured by the Government's 18th method of calculating the figures has not increased in the last 12 months. I hope that the Minister will concede that a 12-month period can be less misleading than a three-month period. Many, admittedly, are participating in schemes designed to keep them off the register, but the number has not increased, except in one region—Northern Ireland, where the number unemployed, on the Government's own method of calculation, has risen in the last year from 17·9 per cent. of the population to 19·3 per cent., and it is not confined to any one kind of work.

Each year the Financial Times publishes a league table of universities according to the success of their graduates from the previous year in finding employment. The last annual survey shows that Queen's university, which for many years was well into the top half of the table, is now 40th out of 44 universities. Of its 1985 graduates, 16·4 per cent. had failed to find work in the year following their graduation, against the United Kingdom average of 11·7 per cent.

Those are the figures. They represent a lengthening list of companies where it used to be thought that if one had a job there one was safe for life. Now their names are associated with lay-offs. In the last seven years, 64,000 jobs have gone. Since August of last year, Gallaher records '700 job losses, Hughes Tool 40 job losses, Blue Circle 150 job losses, Harland and Wolff 800 job losses. Metal Box up to 174 job losses, Van Heusen and National Supply Company an unspecified number of job losses. Now, we have reached the point where there are more people officially recorded as unemployed than there are people working—a distinction unique in the whole European Community.

When we speak of the annual subvention to Northern Ireland, it is only fair to point out that the people of Northern Ireland are not allowed to earn the income which would enable them to meet the expenditure of the Province. In 1985, in consequence of the north-south divide in Great Britain, the gross domestic product per head in the south was 109·6 per cent. of the United Kingdom average, as against 93·9 per cent. in the north of England. In the other north, the north of Ireland, it was 74·6 per cent. of the United Kingdom average. And there is little comfort for those in work. The earnings of male workers in Northern Ireland were only 89·7 per cent. of the United Kingdom average.

The Minister very fairly referred to the problem of unemployment but, if I may say so without disrespect, he referred to it as one might refer to some natural, unavoidable calamity such as the eruption of a volcano. It might have been thought that, since those 64,000 jobs have been lost in the last seven years, this had something to do with the policies of a Government who were elected eight years ago. But we are always assured in these debates that none of this is the Government's business. Even in the debate on the supplementary appropriation order last year, the hon. Gentleman — I am sure that he will be informed of what I have said, because at the moment his attention is distracted—had this to say: The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West and other hon. Members alluded to the level of unemployment that we must endure in Northern Ireland. We cannot counter unemployment by Government action alone. We need efficient, competitive and innovative employers in Northern Ireland if we are to tackle the problem. I do not see the outlook for employment in Northern Ireland as being particularly encouraging at present. There are still industries under threat and they may have to endure further redundancies."—[Official Report, 4 December 1986; Vol. 106, c. 1125.]

It did sound a little as though the hon. Gentleman was saying that, if companies cannot sell their goods, that has nothing to do with the economy; it is the fault of employers. May I try once more to explain to him that, if United Kingdom shipowners have no British goods to carry in their ships, they are not likely to order further ships from Harland and Wolff. If farmers cannot afford to buy so many tractors from Hyster, it will not require castings from James Mackie. If people cannot afford to buy the products of Gallaher, it will not order machinery from Molins. Obviously, no industry should be content to rely wholly on the home market, but it is hard for any industry to survive completely without a home market.

A frequent pattern is for a company to cost its products, taking account of development costs and overheads, so as to make a small profit on the anticipated home demand. The substantial profit, which it is hoped will support futher investment and guarantee the company's future, comes from overseas sales. Unless demand can be generated at home, that process is not possible. Either the company must cost its product at an uncompetitive level or, at best, the price of the exports will simply be swallowed up in the break-even process.

I turn to class V of the schedule. Last year the 15th annual report of the Housing Executive revealed a new and disturbing pattern. A decade ago, it was possible to point to the large number of dwellings which lacked some essential amenity—about a quarter of the total dwellings in Northern Ireland. Now an additional problem is developing. Dwellings which do not lack amenities are nevertheless deteriorating for lack of repair. That is particularly true of houses in owner-occupation. People are finding it increasingly difficut on reduced incomes to provide for the necessary repairs to their houses.

The report indicated that 15·5 per cent. of the housing stock required at least £2,500 to be spent on repairs. If those sums are not spent, the stock of modern, properly equipped houses will be at risk. That expenditure on repairs can be achieved only if the Government are prepared to make money available to owners through repair grants and to the Housing Executive through budgetary provision. The estimated sum is £50 million, but far from increasing the money available by that amount, that was the very sum by which the Government cut the budget of the Housing Executive for 1985–86.

In addition, there is still a great need for public sector building. The Housing Executive has nearly 25,000 families on its waiting list. Assuming there are no additions to the list, at the present rate of building some of them can expect to wait until the year 2000 before they are given accommodation.

This year is designated by the United Nations as International Year of Shelter for the Homeless. The Simon Community estimates that there are 7,500 homeless individuals and families in Northern Ireland. They are not people with defective homes, not people facing the problem of housing repairs and not people who are finding it hard to pay their rent, but people who have no home. There are young couples and families, but in terms of numbers the problem seems to be worst among young single people.

In Northern Ireland there is no legislation which recognises their right to a home and no equivalent of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 of Great Britain. I hope that the Minister can tell us when he replies that it is proposed to remedy that.

The burden of what I am saying is that one does not provide homes for the homeless simply by writing down some words and calling the paper on which they are written a statute. One can provide homes only by building them. There are construction workers eating their hearts out for funding to bring the two parts of the equation together.

I realise that in Northern Ireland the construction industry has different problems. We know that there are paramilitary organisations which, even if they cannot agree on anything else, agree on how to divide building contracts — either by territorial demarcation or by allocating the bricklaying to one, joinery to another and electrical installations to a third. We have heard that a contractor with his labour force ready to undertake the work is told, "You won't employ those men. We will provide you with a labour force." Unless he is able to resist the pressure, good workers waiting to do a job are laid off so that their work can be done by the protéges of a paramilitary organisation who will hand over a proportion of their earnings to their protectors. We heard recently of ways in which those groups provide themselves with a bonus by organising frauds with tax exemption certificates, the proceeds of which no doubt also find their way into the coffers of those organisations.

The tragedy is that money is desperately needed to build homes for the homeless, to repair houses that are falling into disrepair and to povide amenities for houses that are unfit. I make no comment as to whether those practices should have been addressed earlier. It cannot be easy for officials who are at risk: gathering evidence is never easy, and police manpower is not always available. However, the Opposition support whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the money goes where it is needed.

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will recognise not only the additional measure to help the construction industry that was announced by my right hon. Friend towards the end of last year, but the fact that, in much of what I announced today in terms of additional provision, there is a substantial construction element that will help to reduce unemployment in the construction industry.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his support on the issue of paramilitary activity. I am under no illusion that it will be possible instantly to choke the paramilitary exploitation of rackets on building sites or elsewhere. However, I can give him an absolute undertaking that the Government are determined to do their best, recognising that, as we choke one channel, the paramilitaries will seek other sources of finance. However, I am grateful for his expression of support for our efforts to prevent them from using existing rackets for their own purposes.

Photo of Mr Peter Archer Mr Peter Archer , Warley West

I, in turn, am grateful to the Minister for his comments. I recognise that some of the funds that we are discussing tonight will assist the construction industry. We must be grateful, I suppose, for a crust, even if we cannot have half a loaf. I hope that he will forgive me if I say that there is still a great deal to be done on both sides of that equation.

One effect of the housing problems that arise from underfunding is that more people need advice about housing problems. Giving people rights is futile unless we also give them the help that they need to understand their rights and make them effective. Last year Shelter (Northern Ireland) asked for help to fund a housing aid service. It applied to the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), who replied that it was not necessary because the Housing Executive already operated a mobile housing advice unit for its tenants. That strikes me as a rather naive answer. First, it is not only the tenants of the Housing Executive who need advice-more to the point, advice sought by the tenants of the Housing Executive is about their rights relating to the Housing Executive.

It implies no criticism of the Housing Executive to say that public confidence in any advisory service is not enhanced when it is perceived to be operated by the very authority whose obligations may be in question. In fact, part of the problem of what is sometimes called alienation is the feeling that one cannot get past "them". Even if one asks for advice as to how one can, one finds "them" there, because only "they" can advise one. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will think again about his response.

Still in the context of employment I invite the Minister to pay attention to class IV(2). Does it include any provision for any phase of the York road-Central station link that would make an important difference to the comfort and convenience of travellers and to the efficiency of industry and commerce? It would also offer employment to a substantial number of people who are now unemployed.

On class VIII, there is no time this evening to embark on a debate on whether the Government are providing more or fewer resources for education, given the additional expenditure arising from salary settlements. I simply invite the Minister to turn to the evidence which is there for all to see. No figures and statistics are persuasive to school crossing patrol personnel, school cleaners and meals helpers when they are told that they will lose their jobs. Teachers also have been threatened with job losses. Across the public and voluntary sectors, the figure of 300 teaching posts has been canvassed—187 in the control sector. That will not contribute to high morale among the teaching force. There is no greater sense of optimism among university teachers or among university technicians and library staff and those who offer similar services.

I understand that it sometimes makes sense to take a synoptic view of the services provided to the students and to research in a particular geographical area by the universities as a whole. The Chilver report did not meet with a great deal of opposition when it suggested that there should be a body with the knowledge and resources to coordinate and help to plan higher education in Northern Ireland.

There can be no complaint that the Butler working party was given the limit that it was. It is fair to say., too, that the universities were represented on the working party. There is a feeling among teaching staff generally, and among those doing other work in the two universities concerned, that representation by distinguished academics does not necessarily constitute representation of all the interests involved. If animals are represented by the cat, the mice may feel that their view could possibly have been overlooked. It is hardly surprising that such a working group should tend to reflect the establishment. I make no complaint about that. I understand that the working group received written evidence from the trade unions involved, and that there is a feeling that there was no discussion with those interest groups and no meeting of minds before the interim report was published.

I hope that there will be Fuller consultation at the next stage. However, even that will not allay all the fears, if the recommendations in the interim report are intended to close a range of options, and if they themselves are now regarded as beyond further discussion.

Finally, I turn to another service which raises, yet again, the question of employment which I understand is included in the provision for the Department of Economic Development, class II. Item 5 of class 11 makes provision for schemes that are centred on and directly benefit and are part of local communities. At the same time it provides employment for those with something to offer the community who would otherwise be denied the chance to offer it.

On 12 February 1987, during Northern Ireland questions, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) asked about the funding for Action for Community Employment schemes and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), seized the opportunity to say how popular ACE schemes had been. He was quite right to say that. He was then asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood and by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and myself about six ACE workers at St. Matthew's community centre in Short Strand whose funding had been withdrawn. The only reason given by the Government was that it was not in the public interest.

The Under-Secretary of State reminded us of the statement of the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 27 June. I hope that he will forgive me. He said 25 June, but he meant 27 June 1985. That statement referred to groups having sufficiently close links with paramilitary organisations to give rise to a grave risk that to give support to those groups would have the effect of improving the standing and furthering the aims of a paramilitary organisation". —[Official Report, 27 June 1985; Vol. 81, c. 449.] I doubt whether that will ever be awarded a Nobel prize for literature, but it is clear that that form of words was obviously very carefully formulated. Clearly, no one wishes to see public funds used to benefit paramilitary organisations, except possibly the paramilitary organisations themselves.

The problem is that a reference to that formula gives no indication to those who manage the groups or the scheme what is alleged against them. They cannot defend themselves or explain anything which may admit of explanation or correct any mistakes because they do not know what the Government have against them.

On the face of things, it is startling that an Irish language nursery school should be regarded as a back-up for paramilitaries. It seems that a scheme can simultaneously benefit from the Belfast area needs programme and be refused funds by the Department of Economic Development.

The nursery school in question is housed in premises provided by the Belfast area needs programme. That is not all. It has been told by the Government that its funding will be terminated unless it moves from that accommodation and transfers to other accommodation. The Government funding is dependent on the nursery school leaving the premises provided by Government funding. There are no other premises in that locality, even if it were somehow possible to raise additional funding to rent them.

But even that is not all. The very vagueness of the Government's reasons leads to further problems. When it becomes known that Government funding has been withdrawn under that formula, others may believe that there is no smoke without fire. Other sources of funding will dry up and teachers will find it impossible to obtain other employment.

I understand that the Government cannot always give details of sources of information in these matters, but does it have to be left that the Government's reasons are completely beyond challenge for those at the receiving end and completely beyond scrutiny by anyone? Will a Minister at least visit the area and meet some of the people concerned, or is this another instance of people being left to feel that there is no redress or even a listening ear within the constitutional process?

Photo of Mr Nicholas Scott Mr Nicholas Scott , Chelsea

In the Committee discussing the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill we have been debating paramilitary finances and the introduction of a scheme of certification to prevent money from flowing to paramilitary organisations through bogus security firms. I think that in our discussions there the right hon. and learned Gentleman accepted that there could be no appeal and that that had to be an act of the Executive. That was what the then Secretary of State was setting out in his statement in another context. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will take it from me that, as the Minister who was responsible for bringing the Bunscoile Gailge in Belfast into the state system, I can say that there is no hostility to the concept of people being taught through the medium of Irish at any level in Northern Ireland. I can also say that, if the representatives of the nursery schools are prepared to have informal conversations with officials within the Northern Ireland Office, they will get the best advice that is available to them as to the way in which they can rectify their position.

Photo of Mr Peter Archer Mr Peter Archer , Warley West

I am grateful for that intervention. I do not suggest that the Government have some political prejudice against the Irish language school. I am not sure that I accepted in Committee—I am still reflecting on it—that it is not possible to build in some way of taking further a refusal by the Executive. But that is not quite what I was suggesting at this stage in this place. I was hoping that someone would listen. I should be grateful if officials would listen. I am not for one moment saying anything against the dedication and open-mindedness of officials, but it would appear to those concerned to be better if a Minister would listen and perhaps even visit the premises and show them what is going on, which is something that I hope to do myself in the fairly near future. I only invite the Minister to reflect on that and I shall not seek to take it further this evening.

I suspect that when the Minister replies he will accuse me of moaning. The purpose of appropriation debates is for hon. Members to have a moan. They are based on the principle of redress of grievances before supply and this is an opportunity to express the grievances of those who have approached us. I draw these matters to the attention of the House because in a parliamentary democracy that is the proper forum to discuss the redress of grievances. If discussion in the House does not lead to their redress, there will be those quick enough to argue that there is no future within constitutional politics and to suggest to the susceptible that other methods may be better. That is why I beg the Government to listen to the debate with an open mind and to demonstrate that it really can lead to change.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest 9:59 pm, 24th February 1987

The House will be relieved to know that I do not propose to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) in his wide-ranging and agreeable speech, but I shall respond to his invitation to have a moan. It is a moan that I have indulged in before now. I do that in relation to class VIII, paragraph 3 — expenditure by the Department of Education on various services including sports and allied services. The sum involved is £2,387,000. I am not sure what is meant by "allied services", but perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will enlighten me when he replies.

I presume that that sum includes grants paid by the Northern Ireland Sports Council through district councils to the Gaelic Athletic Association in Northern Ireland. I have periodically queried that expenditure but not out of any prejudice against its sports. The Government and the House are right to encourage the Irish language, and the House will have noted what the right hon. and learned Gentleman had to say about that and the Minister's response in his intervention. It is right to encourage the Irish language, the Gaelic culture and Gaelic sport in Northern Ireland.

Unionists as well as nationalists used to play a part in the old Gaelic league until it became biased towards one political opinion. I tabled an early-day motion applauding the opening of the BBC's Irish programmes. I join the Opposition in congratulating the Gaelic Athletic Association on its centenary. More recently, at the instance of Sir Oliver Flanagan. T. D., with whom I had the pleasure of being associated briefly in the Council of Europe, I raised the vexed matter of the Gaelic Athletic Association's field at Crossmaglen with my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), who was then Secretary of State for Defence.

In 1981, I first raised the offensive rule 15 under which the Gaelic Athletic Association bans from membership those who serve or have served in the British Army, Navy or police. The rule is too antique to have taken any account of the Royal Air Force. When I attempted to correspond with the hierarchy of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Dublin. I received no reply. I am not the only person to complain of its attitude. There are those in the Republic who have questioned the bigoted behaviour of people at the top of the Gaelic Athletic Association. Attempts have been made to change the rules, but in vain. It has made no difference that Mr. Peter Barry has appealed to Northern Ireland Catholics to join the Royal Ulster Constabulary and that members of the SDLP have praised that gallant force. In The Irish Times of 16 January an article by Mr. Michael Finlan entitled, "Has the GAA got a persecution complex?" described the Gaelic Athletic Association as "prickly".

As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, I referred this abuse to the Northern Ireland standing advisory commission on human rights. The commission has not yet reported on this and the other instances of discrimination which are before it. I understand that the grants made in Northern Ireland are on a reduced scale precisely because of that discrimination. I ask whether the grants should be continued at all, unless the Gaelic Athletic Association can give an assurance that steps will be taken to lift this unjust and bigoted ban in respect of Northern Ireland.

Photo of Michael Fallon Michael Fallon , Darlington 10:03 pm, 24th February 1987

It is a shame that there are not more hon. Members present to scrutinise these formidable powers which have been delegated for some years by the House in the matter of expenditure to the Northern Ireland departments. There is the formidable spending power in total under the territorial block formula and a quite formidable administrative power within that total to switch resources between departments.

I want to raise three points. If my hon. Friend the Minister does not wish to reply, I should be happy for him to comment later. First, what is the overall expenditure policy of the Northern Ireland departments? My hon. Friend the Minister of State confirmed the other day that public expenditure in Northern Ireland is well over 70 per cent. of the Province's gross domestic product —probably nearly twice the Great Britain figure.

Secondly, in terms of public spending per head, according to the latest territorial analysis, spending in Northern Ireland is now 52 per cent. higher than it is in England. The higher figure of 52 per cent. suggests that, within that total, there are huge differences.

I am aware that spending on industrial support, energy trade and employment is now 340 per cent. higher per head in Northern Ireland than it is in England. Spending on housing is 362 per cent. higher in Northern Ireland than in England. For that reason I was rather puzzled by the remark of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) that Northern Ireland had to be grateful for the crusts that it received. If those figures represent crusts, I believe that there are those in England who would be grateful for a few crumbs.

The figure of expenditure of 300 per cent. has increased in the past five years—in 1982 the figure was only 200 per cent. How does the territorial block formula work for Northern Ireland? Are such huge differences accounted for simply by the automatic operation of the formula or are they bargained for, quite correctly and fairly, by Northern Ireland Ministers on the basis of genuine need?

Thirdly, in relation to part II of the order, what compensatory arrangements will he made in the allocation of expenditure between Departments for the financial years in which the international fund for Ireland begins to operate? I understand that at least two of the three purposes of the fund may be classified as purposes of public expenditure. Therefore, I wonder whether we will see from the Northern Ireland departments compensatory reductions in the appropriations that are prescribed under the departmental headings in those two categories.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport 10:06 pm, 24th February 1987

The nature of an appropriation debate tends to be wide-ranging; and tonight's debate has been no exception. Whilst its purpose is to approve the Supplementary Estimate of £99 million for this financial year and a further £1,483 million on account for the next financial year, it affords the opportunity for the House to discuss a wide range of subjects related to Government expenditure.

Public expenditure in Northern Ireland is, of course, high in comparison with the rest of the United Kingdom. That has been noted by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon). That expenditure reflects the special needs of the Province and must also be recognised as a tangible sign of the Government's commitment to Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State, in opening the debate, spoke briefly about the state of the economy, productivity and employment. As the Minister responsible for industry and in the light of the speech made by the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), may I add some comments on our strategy in approaching the economic challenge. We are, of course, seeking to reduce unemployment, but that is only one aspect of our work and by itself it is a negative concept.

If we were to restrict ourselves to that mode of thinking we would be condemning Northern Ireland to continued economic vulnerability, in danger from fluctuation in world trade and in need of continued dependence, on a long-term basis, upon the crutch of Government support.

We shall, of course, continue to alleviate unemployment, and greater resources have been made available to expand the restart and the ACE schemes. However, in a fast changing world, the reduction of unemployment cannot be an end in itself, nor does it constitute a complete and sufficient policy. To be successful in the long term we need a much bolder and more determined approach.

Our industrial policies in Northern Ireland are much more ambitious and much more positive. Our policy is to go for further growth in areas of expansion and to do that by the pursuit of excellence in products and services. That requires a comprehensive approach with many components. I will give only some examples.

We must look for engines of growth through new technology and growth multipliers through better marketing. We need to promote stronger links between education and industry to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit and harness scientific skills to industry. It is fundamental to competitiveness that products should be well designed for economic manufacture and to international standards. There must be a firm insistence on quality and total consistency. We must get out and pursue world markets and make sure that our products are market-orientated.

Increasingly, our policies and schemes are shaped to achieve these aims. We have put greater emphasis on training and re-training to keep the Province's work force tuned to the requirements of local and incoming industry. Government want to help industry to help itself, not simply through financial support but by working with industry and the financial and educational institutions to identify key factors for success and to help strengthen the Province's performance in such areas.

I give some examples of the practical application of these general policy objectives. The Industrial Development Board has launched its quality initiative which has been well received by industry. Similarly, we recently announced a design competition in schools, because design and high quality are essential if Northern Ireland goods are to penetrate export markets. To encourage the development of marketing, the IDB has the 40/30 marketing plan which, in the past 15 months, proved so successful that 65 per cent. of its client companies have taken it up. Innovation in industry is being promoted by IDB's research and development scheme and by the establishment of the Northern Ireland Technology Board. Bright young graduates are being encouraged to go into industry and to start up their own businesses through the graduate attachment scheme and the graduate enterprise scheme. In a similar vein, IDB has established a master in business administration course in industrial development—a unique course—to encourage graduates to address their skills towards the opportunities for economic regeneration. Through the efforts of the Local Enterprise Development Unit and the opportunities afforded by the enterprise allowance scheme, the economy is being renewed by the constant growth of new small companies, many of which will not only survive but grow. The local enterprise programme povides a vehicle for small community-based groups to offer premises and advice for small businesses. LEDU's enterprise grant scheme produced 441 business start-ups in the last financial year.

In parallel with all these Government initiatives I am able to report some significant successes for Northern Ireland through industrial investment. Recently, Lucas Stability in Antrim set up Northern Ireland's first silicon chip factory, providing 200 extra jobs. BIS/Beecom has set up a hi-tech operation in the new science park at Antrim. The Province now has two Japanese manufacturing companies, which will employ almost 300 people at Balleymoney and Mallusk. RFD, a manufacturer of marine rescue equipment, has moved its headquarters to Northern Ireland. Shorts has won major contracts for its aeroplanes and for its high technology Javelin and Star Streak missiles. Temtech, in Bangor, in conjunction with Medphone of the United States, has recently successfully carried out the world's first heart defibrillation by telephone.

They are just some examples, but important ones, and there are many more to show that Northern Ireland's economy should not be viewed in negative terms. I accept the points made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman that unemployment is a serious problem in Northern Ireland—of course it is—andthat this matter should be grasped, but I should like him to balance that judgment with the points that I have made.

The economy of Northern Ireland has endured a great deal over the past years, but there are grounds for optimism that the future could be much brighter.

A number of points were mentioned during the debate, and I shall try to deal with all the specific points that were raised. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West commented on housing expenditure in Northern Ireland and the unfitness of housing. I shall give some examples, in addition to those that have already been given by my hon. Friend in opening the debate, and some facts to put with those that the right hon. and learned Gentleman put before the House.

It is a fact that unfitness levels have continued to fall and now stand at a little over 10 per cent. compared with over 14 per cent. five years ago. The proportion of dwellings that lack basic amenities was halved in the same period and the urgent waiting list for housing was reduced by over one third since 1981.

Private housebuilding as soared to about 2·5 times its 1981 level, reaching record levels in 1983 and 1984 and maintaining its buoyancy in 1985 and 1986. Spending on the improvement of the public housing stock has increased three times since 1981, while grant aid for the improvement and repair of private dwellings in 1986–87 is twice the 1980–81 level. Similarly, expenditure by housing associations in 1986–87 is three times the 1980–81 level. These changes have been made possible by levels of funding for the housing programme that have enabled gross expenditure to rise to a level that is 60 per cent. over the 1981 level. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to put these facts with those that he put before the House.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also asked about improvement and repair grants. Meeting the demand for 6,000 improvement grants and 6,000 repair grants on the worst of the private stock, which is either unfit or otherwise likely to deteriorate, was part of the 1986 strategy review for housing, and that has been fulfilled.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked specifically about the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. I can give him some assurance about that. Following a review of the situation in the Province by the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Government accepted its recommendation that Northern Ireland should have legislation that will place a statutory duty on the Housing Executive to secure accommodation for certain categories of genuinely homeless people. It is intended to publish a proposal for a draft housing order about mid-1987. It will contain homelessness legislation that will be broadly similar to that for Great Britain, and it will include a number of miscellaneous provisions derived from the Housing Act 1985 and the Housing and Planning Act 1986. It is the Government's intention to bring the legislation into operation early in 1988. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will accept that assurance.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman pressed again his point about the funding of the Irish language nursery school that is run by the St. Matthew's tenants association. It is extremely difficult for Ministers to comment on specific cases, but I understand why he commented on the very straight bat that I played to questions at Question Time the other day. My hon. Friend the Minister of State intervened and made some points about consultation. There has been consultation. There is an open door, in terms of discussing the difficulties.

However, the decision that has been taken about the St. Matthew's tenants association has nothing to do with the teaching of the Irish language. At present the Government provide support through the action for community employment programme for eight Irish language nursery schools, located in different parts of the Province, including West Belfast, Omagh and Londonderry. I cannot say more on that subject at the moment.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked about the advice given to tenants and owner-occupiers and specifically about the Housing Executive and the Belfast Housing Aid Society. It provides a service to people with a wide range of housing problems. It is particularly effective in the private rented sector by representing the tenants at rent assessment panel hearings. The Department annually contributes 90 per cent. of the approved running costs of the society, and in the current year has also given a capital grant towards the cost of the society's move to new premises. Similarly, the tenants' participation advisory service that was set up in December 1984 provides an information and advisory service to landlords and tenants in the public and private housing sectors and encourages and develops tenant participation in housing management. The Department has agreed to grant aid 100 per cent. of the cost of the service for a three-year trial period.

Nevertheless, despite these facts, which I hope will be found to be reassuring, the point made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about the lack of opportunity for Shelter to provide advice was new to me. As he has raised that point in the debate, I think that it would be right for me to draw that part of the debate to the attention of the Under Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) who has responsibility for housing matters. I am sure that he will do his best to take account of the representations made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West asked about job losses in the education sector. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who opened the debate, referred to job losses in education and the general level of available resources. There can be no question about the Government's commitment to the education service in Northern Ireland, which is receiving its highest level of funding at more than £670 million this year. The effective deployment of those resources may sometimes lead to the need for rationalisation in certain activities. That is a matter for the providing bodies, especially the education and library boards.

The reductions in the number of teachers have been considerably less than those that would have been created by the rate of decline in school enrolments. As a result, pupil-teacher ratios have improved significantly from 19:1 in 1979–80 to 18·5:1 now. Examination results also bear testimony to the quality of education in Northern Ireland, something about which we can be very proud. A higher proportion of pupils gain A-level passes than in England.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) raised an important issue.

Photo of Mr Peter Archer Mr Peter Archer , Warley West

At the risk of being tiresome, is the Under-Secretary of State able to respond to my point about the York road—Central station rail link? If he is not able to do so, can he write to me later.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

I will do that immediately. I am advised that consultants are undertaking a review of the present transportation strategy for Belfast as an integral part of the preparation of the Belfast urban area plan. The review, among other things, is re-appraising the position on the York road—Central station rail link.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest raised the issue of grants to the Gaelic Athletic Association. The Government have frequently voiced their abhorrence in this House of the Gaelic Athletic Association's rule 15, which inhibits the admission of certain individuals, chiefly members of Her Majesty's security services. Let me once again stress that the Government take account of that in assessing the level of grants and the Gaelic Athletic Association receives a significantly lower level of grant on that account. We continue to hope that wiser and more moderate counsels will soon prevail within the association and it is fair to say that there are already signs of that within the association.

My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington raised a number of very wide points about the funding of the Northern Ireland exchequer. He was kind enough to say that it would be agreeable to him if I wrote to him on those subjects. As the points that my hon. Friend raised were so completely fundamental to the issue of Government funding for Northern Ireland, that would be a sensible idea and perhaps we can have discussions outside the Chamber. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that the funding of the Northern Ireland exchequer is a matter for discussion between Ministers at the Treasury and the Northern Ireland Office. Matters are not decided on a formula basis and are always under review.

Within my limitations, I have tried to answer the points that have been raised during the debate. In commending the order to the House, may I thank the House for its patience in allowing me to make this, my maiden speech, from the Dispatch Box.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 11th February, be approved.