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Departments (No 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1982

Volume 431: debated on Tuesday 22 June 1982

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7.57 a.m.

My Lords, I beg to move, That the Departments (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order, the draft of which was laid before your Lordships House on 20th May, be approved. On 2nd March we debated the Departments (Northern Ireland) Order. This, as your Lordships will remember, established a new Department of Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland. That first phase of the reorganisation of departments, following detailed reports on their organisation in the spring of last year, 1981, was completed by 1st April this year, 1982, and strengthened the control functions of the Civil Service.

The present order, the details of which were only decided when the earlier order had reached an advanced stage, and which therefore could not be included in that order, will permit a similar strengthening of the economic departments by amalgamating the present functions of the Departments of Manpower Services and Commerce in a new Department of Economic Development. Further, as a distinct operational arm of this new department, we intend to create a new Industrial Development Board, a distinct and commercially oriented organisation, which in our view is best suited to promote Northern Ireland's industrial development drive. This action, the creation of the new Industrial Development Board, will be much more fully debated when the House considers the Industrial Development (Northern Ireland) Order in the near future. The board, however, will work closely with the rest of the new departments, where functions such as energy, tourism, aircraft and shipbuilding, industrial relations and the new youth training programme are concerned. It will also handle the overall economic and industrial development policy. This new structure will enable us to plan more effectively for the future and to allocate resources where they are most needed. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th May be approved.—( The Earl of Gowrie.)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl the Minister for this explanation of this order. It is an important order as far as Northern Ireland is concerned, and, as I understand it, during the past few months there have been appropriate consultations and discussions with the Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and with other bodies generally affected by the changes arising from the provisions of this order. I understand also that there has been detailed consultation with the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, representing the staff affected by the changes. From these consultations, I gather that there has been general agreement and favourable reaction concerning the Government's objectives in creating this new unified Department of Economic Development. It is generally expected that the new department should enable an improved and a more effective organisation of the Government's involvement in the industrial, commercial and manpower affairs in the Province—affairs vital to the future prosperity of the Northern Ireland people.

While we propose to give approval to this order, there are a few points which I should be grateful if the noble Earl the Minister could clarify, or on which perhaps he could give me some assurances. The noble Earl has mentioned the Industrial Development Board. That is a matter which we shall discuss at length on another occasion and, therefore, I do not propose to deal with it during our discussions on the order which is presently before us.

I should like to ask whether the order will bring about any reduction in the existing levels of staff employed in both departments? If so, in what divisions are the reductions likely to occur? There is no doubt that the new Department of Economic Development faces a colossal task in seeking to deal with chronic high levels of unemployment and in any efforts to surmount the problems and responsibilities of each of the functional divisions at present covered by the Department of Commerce and the Department of Manpower Services. These functional divisions are responsible for the Government's direction and policies over a wide range of matters affecting industrial investment, manufacturing and commerce, tourism, supplies of energy, mineral exploration and manpower policies which include training, employment services, youth employment programmes and industrial relations.

It is inevitable that the merging of the two departments will give rise to new administrative arrangements and staff changes. Can the Minister give an assurance that the momentum and the scope of the functions and services of these divisions can be maintained and improved during the changeover and the amalgamation arrangements? Will there be any changes in the role or the remit of advisory bodies attached to some of these functional divisions?

The Minister will know from his experiences in Northern Ireland of the importance of manpower to the Province. In the process of the changes that are taking place in the setting up of this new Department of Economic Development, may I ask that the noble Earl will use his good offices in seriously exploring the usefulness of setting up a manpower advisory council with a remit to deal with management development, employment services and youth training, along with the other range of manpower matters? I feel that this would be an extremely useful proposal which I know is being examined at present by organisations in Northern Ireland, particularly in the manpower field. With those remarks from this side of the House, we wish to give approval to the order.

My Lords, I am very grateful for the very constructive way in which the noble Lord, Lord Blease, has received the order. On the staff side concerns I should like to reassure him that, while common personnel and financial services will be used by the whole new department where previously there were two departments, and that while this will allow savings of at least 15 posts, there are not enforced redundancies. Throughout the whole exercise there have, in fact, been discussions with the staff representatives about the implications of the changes and their attitude has been extremely constructive as has the attitude and action of all the staff concerned in the exercise.

I shall bring the noble Lord's point about the manpower council to the attention of my honourable friend the Minister of State in another place who has specific responsibilities in that connection. As I noted when I opened, this simple order will permit a rather more effective organisation of Northern Ireland's economic institutions. Of course, we are not pretending in any way that such a reorganisation can solve the very intractable, indeed tragic, economic problems facing Northern Ireland, but it will I think enable us to apply our policies generally more efficiently and effectively and that can only help. As I have said, I am grateful for the way in which the noble Lord has received the order and I commend it to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House be now adjourned during pleasure until ten past eight.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[ The Sitting was suspended from 8.5 until 8.10 p.m.]