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Northern Ireland(Appropriation)

Volume 888: debated on Thursday 13 March 1975

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10.0 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th February, be approved.
This order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. It is a relatively formal piece of mechanics needed to ensure that funds are available for the services of the Northern Ireland Department—those services which were transferred under the 1973 Constitution Act.

Hon. Members who are interested in the Government's plans for public expenditure in Northern Ireland or arrangements for providing money needed for them—such as taxation matters and grants-in-aid in respect of the Northern Ireland Office—should look at the relevant section of the recent White Paper on public expenditure up to 1978–79, and the discussion paper on Northern Ireland finance and the economy which my right hon. Friend issued last summer and which took up the story from the previous administration's White Paper called "Northern Ireland Financial Arrangements and Legislation."

These are important matters. Choice among competing claims for limited resources is the stuff of government. I hope that it will be possible to arrange a debate on this matter in the not-too-distant future in the Northern Ireland Committee, to the establishment of which the House agreed on 10th February. Moreover. I hope that the Convention will take a deep and constructive interest in this subject.

The order is the third—and last—of the appropriation orders for this financial year in the annual cycle of supply legislation for Northern Ireland Departments. The purpose of the order is two-fold. In the first place, it appropriates the Spring Supplementary Estimates and Further Spring Supplementary Estimates for the current financial year 1974–75 and, secondly, it appropriates the sums required on account of expenditure to be incurred in 1975–76.

I propose to deal first of all with the Spring Supplementary Estimates and the Further Spring Supplementary Estimates. The total additional provision which is sought is £75 million. If this is added to the main Estimates provision approved by the House in July 1974—£618 million—and the Autumn Supplementary Estimates provision approved in December 1974—£32 million—the total Estimates provision for 1974–75 is £725 million.

Pay and price increases account for some £48 million of the additional requirements, including substantial additional sums of money for pay increases to nurses and teachers. Some £33 million is accounted for by increases in real expenditure and £5 million by transfers within the public sector. These increases totalling £86 million are reduced to a net total of £75 million for the two volumes of Supplementary Estimates by savings of £11 million on other real expenditure —for example, on schools building and equipment, industrial development, water and environmental services, new construction and improvement of roads. I now propose to describe the more important items making up the £33 million increase in real expenditure.

In Class VII, Vote 2, provision has been made for a grant of £21 million to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to enable its accumulated deficits up to March 1975 to be written off in accordance with the statement made in the House by the Minister of State on 31st January. I should explain that the Executive inherited deficits from the former local authorities of £3 million. In the first year of its operation, 1972–73, it incurred a deficit of £¾ million. In 1973–74 the deficit was £4 million, and a deficit of over £14 million is expected in the current financial year. This large increase is mainly due to the cumulative effects of escalating building and repair costs and high interest rates at a time when rents remained static. No part of the grant will be used to cover the amounts owing by tenants who may have taken part in rent strikes in the past. Every effort is being made to recover these and other arrears.

Rents have not been increased during the current year and in the same Vote provision of £2·6 million is being made to compensate the Housing Executive. which is the sole public housing authority in Northern Ireland, for loss of income resulting from the national policy of rent freeze. It has been agreed that weekly rents charged by the Executive will be increased from April by an average of 60 pence.

Will the Minister kindly indicate how the sum representing the arrears of rents is being carried or met, at any rate temporarily? If it is not being met in this order, how is it being met?

I shall look into that matter and I shall let the right hon. Gentleman have a reply before the end of the debate.

In Class VI Vote 2 provision has been made for a grant of £3·1 million to the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation. In accordance with the primary purpose for which it was set up, the corporation has made loans to, or given guarantees on behalf of, undertakings in Northern Ireland which, in the words of the Statute, might otherwise be forced to reduce their business activities or to close down, with adverse repercussions on the economy. In some of these cases the undertakings concerned have been unable to make the necessary repayments, and this has involved the corporation in either writing off a loan of its own or meeting a guarantee, for example, where the borrowing was from a bank. The funds for both operations are provided under statute by the Department of Commerce.

In Class VI Vote 3 there is provision of £1 million for the payment of compensation to the Northern Ireland Electricity Service and gas undertakings for financial loss incurred in the year 1973–74 as a result of limiting price increases in line with national policy. When the main Estimates were drawn up it was expected that the £17 million provided in them would be sufficient to cover payments to both the electricity and gas services. in the event, however, no payments will be made this financial year to the gas service, but it is now estimated that some £18 million is required to meet the financial losses of the electricity service.

I now turn briefly to the sums required on account. The sums required on account are in the main calculated on the basis of 45 per cent. of the total net estimate provision for the current year and are not related to the main Estimates for 1975–76. The House will have an opportunity to consider the money needed for main Estimates later in the year when the balance of the provision required for 1975–76 will be the subject of a further appropriation order. The total of the sums required on account is approximately £317 million.

Copies of the volumes containing Spring Supplementary and Further Spring Supplementary Estimates and of the paper listing the sums required on account have been made available in the parliamentary Library for the information of Members.

This has been only a brief summary of the contents of the order. I shall do my best to deal with any points which hon. Members may wish to raise either in my reply, if I can manage it, or by letter.

10.8 p.m.

We are grateful to the Minister of State for his last words. He is always most helpful to the House.

This order passed through the other place on Tuesday. The debate was short but it ranged from the Foyle Bridge to Bangor Pier, which is alleged still to be in disrepair. It touched on tourism and the TriStar, about which I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) wants to say something should he catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

The debate ranged so widely that it displeased the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State, yet the sums required on account for the financial year 1975–76 cover all the Votes of the Northern Ireland Departments. Therefore, it would seem that hon. Members might be entitled to discuss any item of supply expenditure for which those Departments bear responsibility. If the noble Lord Donaldson was irritated, the fault lies in the constitutional limbo to which Northern Ireland is confined and from which we hope the Convention may help to extract us. No one can pretend that the conduct of Northern Ireland legislation since the Prorogation of the Stormont Parliament does us much credit.

I was glad to note that the Minister referred to the Northern Ireland Committee. It will have the opportunity of some limited debate on some aspects of public spending and public policy. But most of us are still in the dark and are still wondering when the Committee will sit and who will sit on it. If we cannot determine that tonight I hope that the Leader of the House will confide in the whole House and make a statement about the Northern Ireland Committee.

I shall speak briefly and, I hope, responsibly on the order. It is no part of our case to demand increases in public expenditure not required for security and the crushing of terrorism. Nevertheless, the Minister of State will be aware of concern, however unjustified, about the future of the educational programme. It is alleged by some that the education and library boards, for example, will be starved of funds because of difficulties at Harland and Wolff which were touched on at Question Time. I presume that the Government adheres to the principle of parity in education and social services.

I turn now to Class VI. The industry of Northern Ireland has shown itself extraordinarily resilient in the face of blast and murder. It has exceeded the national average in productivity. We should salute all the workers of Ulster. Yet, as I was told in a Written Answer, the numbers of new jobs in manufacturing industry attracted to Northern Ireland has been dropping at the rate of about 1,000 a year. How do the Government propose to make the Province more attractive to investment, particularly from overseas? If I may venture one observation, all hon. Members, whatever their political views, all Assembly men and everyone of influence, whatever his opinions, can help to give confidence to industry, commerce and investment by affording full support to the security forces and making it easier for my Roman Catholic co-religionists to enlist.

I turn from jobs to homes. The Minister of State spoke of the deficit of the Housing Executive. It is extraordinary that rents have not been raised in Northern Ireland since 1971, whereas in England and Wales they have risen by more than 50 per cent. Perhaps the Minister would care to comment on that aspect in winding up the debate.

It is also remarkable that relatively few people in Northern Ireland own their own homes. We would welcome more attention being given to the raising of low standards of private housing and to the encouragement of owner-occupation and of housing associations which help to make that possible.

Lastly, on Class IX, I should like to refer to transport services. The Belfast-Heysham ferry was mentioned at Question Time by English Members and it was also raised on the Adjournment last Thursday by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford). In that Adjournment debate the last words of the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, in reply to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis), were to the effect that if traffic returned to what could be expected with normal conditions in Northern Ireland, the whole question would be opened up. When these troubles are over—we hope that in a measurable time they may be surmounted—trade will boom. Since Ulster is so lovely and her people so friendly, tourists will abound. Does the Minister of State think that the Liverpool boat will suffice? Both English and Ulster Members have joined in support of one of the physical links of Union. I suggest that both the Government and British Rail should think again.

10.14 p.m.

I have looked casually over the appropriation accounts for December 1974 and the new figures for 1975 and there are one or two small points that I should like to raise with the Minister.

I refer, first, to Class V, No. 4, which relates to the expenses of the Department of Agriculture. In the December appropriation account a sum of £23,400 was shown. Now an amount of £650,000 is shown. What has happened in the meantime to raise the requirement of this section of the Department of Agriculture so much?

On Class V, No. 6, I see that last time the grant was £1½ million and this time it is £112,000. I understand that the former sum was for the short-lived beef support scheme introduced in Northern Ireland in lieu of the extra £10 calf subsidy. It did not last long. Are we to assume that it did cost £1½ million and that the money spent on assistance schemes for the Northern Ireland Agricultural Trust, which is a very important body for the future of agriculture in Northern Ireland, is much less than that? Is there any reason why the sum for the use of the trust should not be increased?

This trust is trying to create new employment, crops and systems of working. It should be wholeheartedly supported by the House. It has not been in being long, but it has pioneered things which in the long run will be of great benefit to the entire farming community.

When the last appropriation order was discussed, why did the Minister say that the beef subsidy which was introduced in Northern Ireland
"was introduced to maintain equality of trading conditions with the Republic of Ireland."—[Official Report, 12th December 1974; Vol. 883, c. 914.]
Where is that equality today, when the Government have allowed the green pound to have different values in Eire and Northern Ireland, with the most disastrous effects for the farming community in Northern Ireland? The spin off of those disastrous effects is now hitting hard the ancillary industries such as meat plants and bacon factories. Many meat plants are down to a three-day week, and the bacon factories are threatened with closure.

When will the Government take steps to fulfil the pledge that the Minister gave on 12th December? If something has happened since to cause further inequalities—those inequalities are now evident in Northern Ireland, even if not in London—the Government should take the necessary steps to restore the trading equality which should always exist within the Common Market if we are to stay in.

The February slaughterings of cattle this year were 10,000 more than last year. Is there any good reason for this, other than the lack of confidence which still exists in the beef industry in Northern Ireland? The only difference that there is in the number of cattle in February comes from the extra slaughterings. The exports from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom and Eire are pretty much the same.

Last night, we heard that we required EEC permission to bring in a £10 subsidy on calves last year, and the House had its own views on that. Do the Government now intend to extend that payment? No such motion is on the Order Paper today, and one begins to live in hope that Ministers' hearts have softened a little.

The £10 subsidy would, of course, be of great benefit to the small suckling herd owner who has suffered so grievously in the past year. I can see no reason why. when the House was able to find up to £1,200 million for food subsidies, it cannot find another £2 million or £3 million for meat subsidies at the other end of the food chain.

The pig industry was in a serious state when I first came here a year ago. Today the disastrous conditions have returned. The pig factories are in a serious state. The Northern Ireland Pig Marketing Board is concerned, and I am sure that its concern has been communicated to the Minister. What steps does it intend to take before July to try to improve the position and to place this important industry on a sound footing once more?

There is also a grievous situation, which is not confined to Northern Ireland, in the egg industry. There was a large lobby by egg producers only last week. The French are not playing fair, and the Government are allowing them to continue their unfair play. I would like to think that something will be done to restore confidence and to see that future egg supplies are safeguarded.

I move on from there to the broiler industry. Is the Minister aware of the difficulties which are foreseen by the producers of broilers? If they fail, it is inevitable that there will be a demand to the House for money to try to correct the situation. A stitch in time saves nine. If we are to maintain a viable agriculture, not only in Northern Ireland but here, it is time the first stitch was put in.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said in reply to a Question I asked on 20th February that his discussions on a long-term policy for agriculture were
"moving into their final phase and I hope to be able to announce our conclusions."— [Official Report, 20th February 1975; Vol. 886. c. 452.]
If there is an industry that needs long-term confidence, it is farming. We have been waiting for at least a year for a move towards a long-term plan for the industry. It has not yet surfaced. I hope that the Minister will say that it will be announced soon. Can he say when?

We are already well into the planting season. Some of the grain is already sown, and some of the potatoes are in the ground. The farmers' plans are made. If there is not a reasonable outcome to this year's cropping and a reasonable footing on which to build next year's plans, home production of food will be entering a new and much more serious phase.

We need not only a long-term plan but long-term hope for the welfare of our people in the industry. I trust that the Minister will give the people of Northern Ireland some hope that that plan will soon be forthcoming.

10.24 p.m.

Tonight, in the brief time allotted to us, hon. Members from Northern Ireland have the opportunity to raise matters which concern the whole administration of Northern Ireland. A noble Lord in another place may complain about a pilgrimage through the land from Dan to Beersheba, but, as representatives from Northern Ireland, we are entitled to deal with matters of great importance to our constituents, matters for which the Departments of Northern Ireland are responsible.

Both this Government and the previous Conservative administration pledged as one of their chief objectives the raising of the standard of living in Northern Ireland until it was the same as in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is a laudable objective. As Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, it is only right that the standard of living there should be the same as in other parts of the Kingdom.

There is great concern among everyone in Northern Ireland, especially the working people there, about what plans the Government may have in mind in order to achieve this very laudable objective. This week a deputation representing the trade unionists of Northern Ireland came here and discussed with many of us the situation as they see it. There is increasing over the Province the dark shadow of unemployment. Will the Minister tell us what the Government's plans are in order to achieve the objective that the Government say they have in mind?

I should like also to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that while it is a laudable thing to have advance factories built in areas where there is unemployment, it is essential to have industries to occupy those factories. Will the Minister tell us what advance factories the Government have now which as yet are not occupied, how long they have been built and how long they have remained vacant? For it seems to me utter folly to build further factories in places where at least one factory is available and has not been occupied for many years.

The time has come for the Government to take a very hard look at this very perplexing and difficult problem. I trust that the Minister can help us especially on that issue tonight.

We have heard tonight the facts about the Housing Executive. Those of us who have been in public life in Northern Ireland for some time are quite aware of the deplorable record of some of the old rural district councils concerning housing in the Province. I myself, in North Antrim, had three rural district councils —Ballycastle, Ballymoney and Ballymena—and their record in housing was utterly deplorable. I can well understand the anxiety of the Housing Executive at having inherited a very unpleasant heritage from those district councils.

Some of the houses in those areas have been absolutely neglected. Some of them have been built for 40, 50 and 60 years and have never had a coat of paint put on them. Of course, at the end 50 years there is no wood left on which to put paint. To bring some of these houses up to any reasonable standard would cost more than it would to build proper accommodation.

The time has come for the Government to declare their policy on this issue. I am very aware that there are property speculators all over the world and certainly in Northern Ireland. I am well aware that the planning legislation gives a person the right to replace a building that is taken down. As many of the cottages which at present are unfit for human habitation stand in perhaps half an acre or three-quarters of an acre of ground, to the speculator they are something which he wants to gain. But surely it would not be beyond the imagination and ability of the Minister and his Department to work out a scheme whereby these cottages could he sold to the sitting tenants, responsibility being given to them to bring them up to the standard required. If that were done, they would have to be sold at a reasonable price.

Today, because of the value of the sites, the valuers have put a price on these properties that is beyond the pockets of the sitting tenants. The Housing Executive has had to drag its feet on this because of the difficulty of raising the necessary finance. This is a vital problem. The people of Northern Ireland are anxious that there should be a firm declaration from the Government about their policy.

May I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that many of these houses do not even have a piped water supply. Yet the water supply runs under the roadway outside their homes. I cannot see why, in, say, the village of Rasharkin in my constituency, people have to carry water 200 yards from a standpipe when the water supply runs past their doors. Surely these people are entitled, in the 20th century, to have a piped water supply. For too long promise after promise has been made to these people but they have not been honoured. The Housing Executive has declared that it intends to raise the rents of all houses under its control. The Minister will realise how these people feel.

Let me give an example from the Ballymoney area where there are two housing estates. One has all modern amenities while the other has not. The people living on one estate are having their rents raised by 70p and the people on the other estate face an increase of 75p. But the people who pay the extra 5p have no facilities or amenities at all. There is something wrong here. This is something which the Minister must take on board. There must be an inquiry into this.

I fear that the Minister will find that there will be more refusals to pay these increased rents unless a promise is given and fulfilled or a declaration of policy is made to the effect that a plan has now been devised whereby, in the near future at least a piped water supply will be made available.

The Minister spoke of the money to be paid to the electricity and gas services. In a Written Answer recently I was told that about £700,000 was owing in respect of gas supplied in the Belfast area. This was because the meter readers had not been able to do their job in Republican areas. Can the Minister say whether it is the policy of the Government to continue to supply gas to people who are not paying for it? Is he aware that in other areas where the police have power, and exercise their normal duties, gas supplies are immediately terminated when people do not pay their bills?

I know that there are some people who have difficulties. This must be done in a humane way. But if we continue to supply gas to people and allow them to run up bills, the Government will find themselves eventually having to wipe out the debts incurred. They must face up to this realistically.

I have a question about the money being given to the electricity services. The Minister will be aware that an 80 per cent. increase in electricity prices is being put into effect in Northern Ireland. The ordinary individual in Northern Ireland who pays his electricity bills is well aware that large sections of the community are not doing so. Such individuals are asking whether the increase is to subsidise those who have not paid their bills. The Minister must spell this out in very clear language so that the people can understand the need for this 80 per cent. increase in electricity prices. He must hold an inquiry into the cause of that increase and of the rise in rents of houses without amenities so that the facts shall be clearly known.

If that is done those who have hitherto abided by the law and paid their bills will continue to do so. As long as there is controversy about these dreadful increases, there will be difficulty about collecting the money. There is no point in the authorities running up a debt through non payment. The matter must be looked at and now is the time to do that.

What is the position of the Lisburn gas undertaking which was in the process of being sold to the former Belfast Corporation just at the time of local government reorganisation in Northern Ireland, Has the undertaking been taken over under the strict terms of the law?

When members of the trade unions met representatives of the United Ulster Unionist Coalition they expressed the fear that because the shipbuilding industry needs money to meet its problems there might be a cut-back in Government expenditure on housing and health and social services. They pointed out the seriousness of such a decision. Ministers in Northern Ireland have said that there will be a cut-back in the roads programme with some schemes not going ahead. May we be assured that the cuts will not be made in housing or the health and social services?

At Question Time today hon. Members expressed concern that the former managing director of the shipyard should have received his pay free of tax and that it should have been paid into a Swiss bank. There was also concern about how much was paid to him when his services were terminated. I hope that tonight the Minister will be a little more forthcoming than his colleague was earlier in the day. After all, it cannot affect any proceedings which might be taken in court if the Minister gives us facts. If those facts are disputed by the gentleman concerned that is his affair. We must be given those facts tonight.

I come to the drainage schemes referred to in the order. The Minister has had the result of the River Main drainage inquiry in hand now for a very long time. Can he say what action the Minister of Agriculture will take on it? Is he aware that, as a result of this scheme not having come into operation, there is serious flooding in the Dunloy area? Is he aware that children in the area can no longer go to school by way of the sunk road but have to walk along the railway line? Is he aware of the frustration and concern of the parents of those children? I have asked numerous Questions about it in this House. No satisfaction has been forthcoming. It would be a great tragedy if nothing was done until a child was seriously injured on the railway line. I ask the hon. Gentleman to tell the House what action the Minister of Agriculture intends to take.

I move now to the one inhabited offshore island off our coast, the island of Rathlin, in my constituency. About a hundred years ago there were 1,000 people there. Today, there are fewer than a hundred. They have been neglected seriously. Plans have been referred to for a considerable time for better harbour facilities in Rathlin. The people there wanted better harbour facilities for years. Because of the inadequacy of the present harbour, sometimes people are marooned there for days, even weeks, because there is not a proper harbour. We have been promised many times that this matter would be investigated. We have been given various answers. We have also had various reports about the inquiries of the Minister of Commerce. Can the Minister now say something definite about it?

The link harbour for Rathlin is that at Ballycastle. That, too, needs certain repairs done to it and certain very important works carried out there. Can the Minister tell us more about them?

I have a problem in my own area. In Glenarm, the school was destroyed by terrorist activity. What plans has the education authority for replacing that school, and when is it likely to be done?

There are many other matters which it would be appropriate to discuss tonight. But I know that all my colleagues from Northern Ireland wish to speak in this debate. I have dealt as best I can with the problems on my own mind, especially the general problem concerning the Housing Executive. I trust that the Minister will be able to help us. I appreciate his difficulty. He has to answer for all the Northern Ireland departments. This is a difficult task. We have the strange situation in which all the Northern Ireland departments and the money which they spend have to be discussed here in one and a half hours.

I close on a matter of principle. It is that Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies have not had an opportunity to look at the public accounts of Northern Ireland.

We have not seen the public accounts of the last Stormont Parliament. No member of the United Ulster Unionist Party is on the Public Accounts Committee. We have not been able to examine the accounts of the Conservative Administration on Northern Ireland under direct rule led by the now Deputy Leader of the party. Something must be done in the future to ensure that Members from Northern Ireland, at least in a representative capacity, have the opportunity to look into the public accounts of the administration.

10.46 p.m.

It is rather disappointing, though perhaps understandable, that the Chamber is so empty tonight. Perhaps the heavy week that we have been through is the reason for this state of affairs.

As we have taken on the responsibility of legislating for Northern Ireland, it is disappointing that the Chamber is so empty. It is a somewhat sobering fact that we have to legislate for Northern Ireland, and it marks the unfortunate and hapless state of the Province. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of the importance of not letting things drift too far because, in the vivid phrase of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), if they do we shall find that there is "no wood to put the paint on".

Will the hon. Gentleman admit that one of the reasons why we legislate separately in this way for Northern Ireland is that over a number of years a separate corpus of law governing Northern Ireland has been built up so that even when it resembles, and even is identical to, that in the rest of the Kingdom we still have the necessity for separate legislation? This is not necessarily a reflection on conditions in the Province.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I know he feels that if things go too far this may be the ultimate solution for continuing the life and government of the Province, but we hope that that situation will not arise.

I cannot possibly have knowledge of the details of life in the Province, but I do hear about the important things going on there and perhaps I may mention a few of these.

First, I understand that more than half the provision for the Spring Supplementary Estimates is accounted for by pay and price rises. To what extent can pay and price rises in the Province be reconciled with the increases in Britain as a whole? If the rises in Northern Ireland reflect the rises in Britain as a whole, to what extent are they due to the failure of the social contract? We have heard not only the Prime Minister but also the Secretary of State for Trade say that the reason for the present rate of inflation is that pay rises are being granted without any control. Does the social contract run in Northern Ireland? If not, what methods are there in Northern Ireland for controlling this situation?

To what extent are the Housing Executive deficits of about £21 million due to the rent and rate strikes? The Minister said that no account is taken of this figure in the Estimates. Perhaps he will add as extra information what this figure is.

I understand that a large element of the £31 million in respect of the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation is due to subsidising a textile firm in Londonderry and that considerable sums have already been put into the firm. Perhaps the Minister will say whether he considers that the firm will be viable in the future or whether further sums will be required.

The method of financing under the order, which is a block grant, is, I understand, a new method of financing in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Minister will say whether the cost of financing Harland and Wolff is included in the overall figures. If extra money has to be given to Harland and Wolff, does it mean that the other services mentioned in the order must be cut? We have heard that there are considerable cuts in education, the road programme, hospital buildings, and sewerage schemes. Perhaps the Minister will say whether these cuts are being made because of the sums which have to be made over to keep Harland and Wolff going.

My hon. Friend said that I might mention the question of TriStar at Aldergrove Airport. Aldergrove Airport comes under the National Airport Authority of Northern Ireland and therefore comes into the Estimates. It is now only two months before the TriStar comes into service. It will carry a maximum of 350 passengers. As yet there is no taxiway for the handling of the aircraft. When the aircraft lands on the runway it will have to be back-tracked all the way down the main runway until it reaches the dispersal area. This means that 20 minutes will be spent from the aircraft's landing at Aldergrove to the passengers' disembarking. This represents 30 per cent. of travelling time on a journey from Heathrow.

In addition, there are no extra passenger handling facilities. With the arrival and departure of TriStars, there will be about 600 people coming in and going out at the same time. What is being done about this? It is absurd that as long ago as 1971 Stormont approved the development plans for Aldergrove in anticipation of the arrival of TriStar. These were endorsed by the former Secretary of State and by the Executive, but so far no funds have been made available.

I understand that about £900,000 will be required to make Aldergrove operationally suitable for the TriStar and that it will take about a year to do the necessary development. There is also a feeling that rather than going on the Belfast run the TriStar could have been used on the Scottish run or the Paris run. There is a feeling, too, that there is no proper instrument landing system at the airport. There is no category III automatic landing system. The system which was to have been installed at Aldergrove has been sent up to Scotland, where alternative facilities already exist at Glasgow and Prestwick.

I am sure that the Minister of State is doing his best for Northern Ireland, as is his right hon. Friend and as did his predecessor. In past White Papers we have had quite a lot of information about the cost to the United Kingdom of running Northern Ireland. Contained in those statements of cost has been the implication that at some time in the future it might become too expensive. I believe that this is not the cost of keeping Northern Ireland going but the cost of keeping the United Kingdom united and together. That is a price worth paying.

10.56 p.m.

I share the hope expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Mather) that the United Kingdom will remain intact. That is what I hope will happen.

My hon. Friend mentioned the social contract and asked whether it applied to Northern Ireland. As he has raised the matter, I shall deal with the question of wages in Northern Ireland. Many wages in Northern Ireland do not compare with wages in the rest of the United Kingdom. Employees in many jobs in Northern Ireland receive less pay, yet the people have to pay more for foodstuffs. Perhaps the Minister of State will explain to the House and to the people of Ulster why they have to pay additional money for essential goods. Perhaps he will contemplate having the matter investigated. The people are complaining. They expect to pay no more than other citizens in the United Kingdom.

With inflation running at over 20 per cent. in 1974 and the probability of it running at over 25 per cent. this year, the Supplementary Estimates in the order are a measure of what inflation means in terms of additional costs and extra money. As I understand it, no new services are being provided—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—which will cost more money. All that has happened is that the cost of the existing services has increased to the extent of £75 million or by nearly 10 per cent. of the original Estimates for the year. With a gap of £6,000 million for the United Kingdom as a whole between Government revenue and expenditure, perhaps the Minister of State will be able to inform the House whether that deficit will be reflected in the separate accounts for Northern Ireland.

I am particularly interested in this as the main item of public income from 1st January 1974 under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act is Northern Ireland's share of the United Kingdom taxes. If revenue in the United Kingdom as a whole is in deficit, will the attributed share for Northern Ireland also be in deficit? Perhaps the Minister can throw some light on that. It could be important for Northern Ireland's long-term financial planning.

To the net cost of Northern Ireland services for 1973–74 the order adds a further £75 million. The additional money is needed largely to meet increased costs, including salaries. I presume that the arrears of salaries due to school teachers in Northern Ireland are included. I note the provision of £11 million under the Department of Education. As I have been pressing, as the Minister of State knows, for Northern Ireland school teachers to be paid all arrears with their March salary cheque, I hope that this order makes the necessary provision.

The general effect of salaries on the Supplementary Estimates is very noticeable. Salaries and related expenses account for about £17 million of the £75 million. Another striking fact is that 35 per cent. of the balance is for social security benefits, family allowances and the Health Service. This is by no means the whole story. Only a nominal sum of £100 is included in the National Insurance Fund where I would have expected a figure of about £5 million. I suppose the reason is that the increases in pensions do not start until 1st April, which is the beginning of the next financial year.

I wish to pursue two particular points. First, what is the effect of a budget deficit on the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund and Supply Services? With assemblies for Scotland and Wales likely to be debated in this House this year, this question could be very important. I am entitled to hope that the reply from the Minister will be that, while Northern Ireland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, has to bear the consequences of budget deficits, it will not mean that issues out of the Consolidated Fund will have to be curtailed on that account, but that all commitments will be met.

My second point concerns inflation and the part that general Government expenditure can play in tackling it. The coincidence of inflation and trade recession is frightening. I have made a number of points to the hon. Gentleman's colleague in the Northern Ireland Office about this crisis. I suggested that there should be a substantial reallocation of resources. We all know that Northern Ireland's net income is fixed for the years up to 1977–78 which were covered by the 1974 White Paper on Public Expenditure. That position has not been changed by the 1975 White Paper so far as I can see.

Since the 1974 White Paper was published there have been two big raids on the Northern Ireland Exchequer funds. The first raid was to find £10 million for Harland and Wolff. I find nothing to complain about there, except to repeat the point that I made in the question that I put to the Minister this afternoon at Question Time relating to Mr. Hoppe's salary and expenses.

Is it necessary to ask for £15 million to be found for the new prison which is to be built? I do not know whether the Minister has carefully considered the financing of that project. Is it not too much to spend that amount on this project when law-abiding people are losing their jobs in the Province because industry has cash flow problems which could often be solved by an injection of public money?

A greater proportion of our available resources must be directed to agriculture, which is our largest industry, to manufacturing industry and to commerce. I regret that there is nothing in the order to indicate that the Government are thinking along those lines. Looking through the schedule to the order, which deals with sums on account for the year ending 31st March 1976, it appears doubtful whether the Government have done any thinking about that vital question.

What has happened to all the talk about a social and economic policy? If the Government are saying that there is not the money available to carry out such a policy at present, why not come straight out and say so? Why be so reticent? I should like to hear something about the implementation of the social and economic policy which received so much publicity a short time ago.

The recent United Kingdom White Paper on Government expenditure over the next five years shows a significant shift in emphasis away from spending on education and defence and towards the social services, industry and aid for the consumer. What we do not know and what we need to hear is whether this is to be reflected in Government spending in Northern Ireland.

Last week education and library boards in the Province were asked to make a 60 per cent. cut in estimated expenditure in 1975–76. Is this a pointer to the way things are moving in the Province? Perhaps the Minister can help by informing the House about the fate of the social and economic policy and of Government thinking on the reallocation of financial resources.

Another matter close to my heart is housing. Reference has already been made to public sector housing, but I wish to refer to the private sector tonight. Perhaps the Minister could say how many houses will be built in the private sector this year, and how that compares with last year's figures. It is essential for the future prosperity of Northern Ireland and the progress of its community that it should be a house-owning democracy. In particular, there is a great need to help first-time buyers in the Province.

It is perhaps not a subject he knows a great deal about, but perhaps the Minister could look at the difficulities faced by house builders in Northern Ireland. I shall give one example. Under the reorganised local authority administration, there are three separate bodies which now control planning in the Province: planning, environment, planning roads and planning sewers. The result is that the length of time required to obtain planning permission has at least trebled since reorganisation. Something must be done if we are to get the houses we need for the people there.

11.7 p.m.

I wish to direct the attention of the House to the important question of housing in Northern Ireland. Before doing so. I should like to call attention to the conspicuous absence of the hon. Members for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maguire). Those who have cried so loud have not come to speak for the people of Northern Ireland.

During the intense troubles in the early years of our political crisis the housing programme remained at an encouragingly high rate and our record for new houses compared favourably with the rest of the United Kingdom, more than 50 per cent. having been built since the war.

Two problems have now emerged which need to be resolved in the near future. The first is the high proportion of houses unfit for habitation, because 19 per cent. of all houses in Northern Ireland were found to be unfit, lacking basic amenities. That is a far higher percentage than the rest of the United Kingdom. Most are to be found in the Belfast area, my own constituency having more than its fair share. Housing re- development is therefore a most urgent problem.

The second problem which needs to be resolved is the recovery of perfectly habitable houses which have been blocked up. More than 3,000 of those houses lie in the Belfast area alone. I was encouraged to hear the Minister's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) to the effect that two pilot schemes were soon to be initiated and every effort made to use habitable blocked houses to ease the chronic housing shortage.

The squatting problem in Northern Ireland has become a plague in the last three or four years. It was suggested by the Housing Executive on 20th June 1974 that all squatting would be stopped and those who occupied houses illegally would be the subject of immediate court action. Since then, a directive has gone out to area managers to the effect that this will be done only in those areas where law and order exists.

Will the Government do everything possible to stop squatting and bring about normality and peace? I suggest that all those illegal tenants squatting in Housing Executive property before 20th June 1974 be made legal tenants. Squatters in my constituency do not seem to take pride in their homes. They tell me and other public representatives, "We may be put out shortly, so why should we take care of our homes?" We want to restore civic pride. Could those squatters who have paid rent be made legal tenants?

The curse of vandalism strikes when people leave their homes. A system of pre-allocation would ensure that when a tenant handed in his notice, his property was allocated immediately. At the moment, many Housing Executive properties lie vacant for two or three weeks and are vandalised, and it costs £2,000 or £3,000 each to put them right.

During a recent visit to Ulster, I saw almost 600 modem properties in Armagh which had been vandalised, many of them boarded up. Could my hon. Friend say how they came to be in that condition?

These houses are not immediately allocated to tenants, so the vandals step in and cause thousands of pounds worth of damage. Then they are blocked up and forgotten, and people no longer want to live in the area. If it is to succeed, the Executive must be brought closer to and be made more aware of local needs and desires.

11.14 p.m.

With permission, I shall do my best to answer many of the points raised.

May I tell the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) that I was not looking then at the clock with a view to getting him to shut up. He was being very interesting and was making relevant points. I was trying to indicate that the more he talked, as he was entitled to do, the less time I should have to reply.

We have had a wide-ranging debate. The order seems to be reaching the status of a sort of Consolidated Fund Bill for Northern Ireland. I make no objection to that, but I suggest that hon. Members might like to consider giving notice to the Minister of the points they want to raise. They will see that a series of debates are listed for next week's consideration of the Consolidated Fund Bill. Tomorrow morning Ministers and civil servants will be working on replies. If we have similar notice for these debates, there is more chance of our being able to give full replies.

What the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) said about debating Northern Ireland affairs will be passed on to my right hon. Friend the Lord President. We are in the process of setting up a Northern Irish Committee. My right hon. Friend will want to see what progress is made on that, but I shall draw his attention to the hon. Gentleman's anxieties.

I am happy to be able to speak about the education programmes. There is a measure of shadow boxing here. More money will be spent on education in the next financial year than was spent in the last. I shall not range over the whole gamut of education expenditure but shall take the capital expenditure figures, which have featured in the argument.

In the 1974–75 financial year, it was agreed by my Department of Education that area education and libraries boards could spend up to £11 million in capital expenditure. The current financial year will end on 31st March. In the view of my Department it is highly unlikely that the boards will spend that £11 million. In spite of that, we are prepared to allow them to spend £14½ million on capital projects in the financial year 1975–76.

The argument is because, although the boards were unable to spend £11 million this year, as their administrative and other resources were not sufficient, they asked as a group to be allowed to spend £37 million in the next financial year. If they manage to spend the £14½ million that we shall allow them, they will be doing very well.

I am not complaining about the boards doing this sort of thing. All five of them were independently drawing up their own programmes. They have been in existence for only about 18 months. They have not been through this sort of exercise before, and one would expect teething problems. But to ask for rather more than 200 per cent. more than one has been able to spend is to make a rather grandiose gesture.

I was asked where the shortfall in the Housing Executive income resulting from rent strikes and so on is being made up. We are using the national insurance and supplementary benefits procedure to recover rent arrears wherever possible. The gap between the redress so obtained, which I understand is now about £750,000, and the shortfall of Housing Executive income is being met by borrowing from the Consolidated Fund.

The Housing Executive rents were frozen in 1972 and 1973. That is why housing rents have not risen in Northern Ireland for quite a considerable period. They are being allowed to rise this April now that the rent freeze has ended. But that is the reason why housing rents have been held low in Northern Ireland—though that is by Northern Ireland standards ; by United Kingdom standards rents in Northern Ireland have always tended to be very low.

When the proposed White Paper on Northern Ireland finance is produced, is it intended to include sums provided to meet deficits resulting from policy decisions—for example. standstills in rent and the price of electricity, and so on? If they are to be included, could they be separately identified?

Yes. I think that the hon. Gentleman was a minute or two late in entering the Chamber at the beginning of the debate. It may be that he missed my remarks about both gas and electricity, and about housing rents. But he will be able to see the figures in Hansard, when it is printed or published, on those particular subjects. I have covered that point.

The closure of the Heysham ferry, of course, is a bitter blow to everyone. We realise that. But the fact is that it has been losing very substantial sums of money over several years. If hon. Members are interested in the actual figures I can give them in correspondence. British Railways felt that it just could not carry on any longer. The Transport Users' Consultative Committee has broadly agreed with British Railways, and, on reviewing the evidence, so has my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport. There really is a very substantial gap between what that ferry is likely to earn in the foreseeable future and what it is actually doing.

The Minister might be interested to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) and I travelled home to Belfast via Liverpool on Tuesday night. The boat on which we travelled was filled almost to capacity. That was on a Tuesday night early in March, at a time when one would not expect any pressure for accommodation whatsoever. Having had that experience, I am really worried that there will not be sufficient transport services to link the mainland and Northern Ireland when the pressure builds up in the coming months.

That is an anxiety which the hon. Gentleman is entitled to express. The Liverpool ferry is run by a different organisation from that which runs the Heysham ferry, and to a different destination. It has different conditions. I suppose that commercially every ferry-boat ought to be filled to capacity for every trip. That is the commercial way to operate.

With regard to the future, I was asked whether I felt that if circumstances returned to normal, shall we say, pre-1969 conditions, the Liverpool boat would be adequate. I am afraid that at this juncture I cannot say anything about that, because obviously we are trying to talk for the future and it is a future which is likely to be highly volatile. What will be normality and when normality will return is something that is not easy to guess at. The Liverpool company is a private company. That is another point, again. It will have to take its commercial decisions as they come.

I do not think that the Minister has appreciated the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker). My hon. Friend is suggesting that even now, in the midst of the great trouble and strife in Northern Ireland, there is the commercial capacity for two services, and we shall be deprived of one of those services. Does the Minister also appreciate that people are not using the Heysham ferry not because they do not want to commute to and from the mainland but because the services offered have been deliberately run down and are much inferior to those facilities provided by the private company? Therefore it does not make sense to argue that there is not any kind of market for this particular ferry. There has been a deliberate attempt to run it down. Will the Minister give an assurance that there will be a public inquiry, because the consultative committee has not published the results of its inquiry, and this is vital to the whole argument that now revolves around the closure.

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to draw whatever conclusions he likes from the commercial figures, but I can tell him that the operating figures for the Heysham ferry would not lead an objective observer to conclude that there was capacity for two commercial ferries to run within that distance of each other across the sea to Belfast. I am afraid that point has got to be faced. The service has been run down because British Rail was finding less money coming in to pay for the service, and was trying to make economies in order to keep the service going. I think my right hon. Friend feels that he has taken his decision in the matter and it will have to be accepted.

The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) asked a number of questions about various items on the Vote and drew attention to financial discrepancies. But I do not think he was comparing like with like. We are dealing with Supplementary Estimates, and therefore there is no standard set of conditions with which he can compare previous Votes, nor a standard period of time. I think that broadly answers the points which he raised.

I remind hon. Members that we dealt with agriculture about three weeks ago in this House in an Adjournment debate, and, given the shortage of time, I hope the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I say that, broadly speaking, the situation which appertained then still holds for all the points which he raised.

On the question of egg supplies, he no doubt saw on 12th February the Press statement by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on this subject. That is broadly the governing position as taken by the Government.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) asked what were the Government plans for assisting in the economic difficulties of Northern Ireland. I can best answer him shortly by saying that Northern Ireland has by far and away the highest regional support in industry in the whole of the United Kingdom. If anything, the available policy —and I am all in favour of it—is enhanced and added to rather than detracted from by any support that has been given to Harland and Wolff. Broadly speaking, in the time at my disposal, that is the answer to that point.

The hon. Gentleman spent a great deal of time talking about housing problems in Northern Ireland. I congratulate him on doing so. They are extremely serious. His hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) also referred to this matter. I can only agree with them that the situation which we are facing in Northern Ireland is serious. Of all houses in Northern Ireland, 38 per cent. need repair or replacement, compared with 24 per cent. in England and Wales. A number of suggestions were made for strengthening this policy. The Government are also pressing ahead with a number of suggestions as well.

There will be a housing order in 1976 in which there will be provision for increased grants for improvements. The Under-Secretary is discussing a rent rebate scheme with the Housing Executive. and it is also intended that in the next five years 57,000 houses—that is the nature of the problem—will be built by the Housing Executive. After the initial starting year, it is expected that housing will go ahead at the rate of about 11,000 a year. That is a substantial improvement. But there is no doubt that the current state of play is that, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland housing has suffered from low housing starts in the past 12 months.

I have dealt with the education programme.

In the matter of health and social services, there will certainly be no cut-back.

On roads, there will be cut-backs in new construction, but not on maintenance of the existing road network which I find is very excellent in Northern Ireland. It is a good facility in providing for industry and convenience for the inhabitants.

I do not wish to add anything to what my right hon. Friend said about the salary of Mr. Hoppe the former Managing Director of Harland and Wolff. He covered the subject this afternoon, and I think I had better leave it as he dealt with it.

The questions raised regarding gas and electricity and the Lisburn gasworks are not covered by the order.

It being half past Eleven o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business).


That the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, a draft of which was laid before this House on 25th February, be approved.