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Northern Ireland: Co-Operative Education Unit

Volume 477: debated on Friday 27 June 1986

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11.16 a.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ensure that resources are found to enable the Co-operative Education Research and Training Unit of the University of Ulster to sustain its work in stimulating the growth of new co-operatives in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are not aware that the Co-operative Education Research and Training Unit is facing particular problems in relation to the resources needed to carry on its work. An application for support from European Community funds for the work of the Northern Ireland Small Business Institute, of which the Co-operative Education Research and Training Unit forms part, is being pursued.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I am grateful for that reply? May I first of all ask the noble Lord to join me in expressing appreciation of the initiative taken by the University of Ulster for blazing a trail and establishing a unit of this kind? May I also pay a particular tribute to the Department of Economic Development and its chairman, Mr. Paddy Devlin, for encouraging the formation of credit co-operatives like the ones at Derry and Ballycastle and consumer corps like those at Galleagh and Glencairn and also the Belfast unemployed centre?

Will the Minister also take on board that although there is an excellent co-operative college at Loughborough, the Province is very far removed from there? Will he also accept that there is a real need for the kind of unit we are discussing to be able to provide the expertise and practical advice in the Province to those men and women who can take advantage of it?

My Lords, I shall certainly pass on the encomia which have been set forth by the noble Lord, Lord Graham. Above all, I am very grateful for the tribute to the Department of Economic Development.

The noble Lord mentioned Mr. Paddy Devlin. So far as I am aware, that gentleman is chairman of the Northern Ireland Co-operative Development Agency, which I understand has also been very successful in this field. The noble Lord is, I understand, quite right in saying that the Northern Ireland Small Business Institute is unique in the United Kingdom. It is also a very small and lean organisation with, I understand, a staff of 10 or 12 persons. As the noble Lord has pointed out, we believe that it provides outstanding value. I would reiterate what I said earlier, that we are doing all we can to see that European Community funds will be available for the Northern Ireland Small Business Institute, which is the umbrella organisation for the CERTU.

My Lords, may I reinforce the concern that has been expressed by my noble friend Lord Graham and tell him that there are rumours circulating at the moment that the present level of expenditure may be curtailed in the future and that there is no guarantee that European Community funds will be available to help in the continuation of this most laudable programme? In the event of European Community money not being made available, will the noble Lord give an undertaking on behalf of the Government that they will keep funding this programme because co-operation in any sense of the word can only be welcomed in Northern Ireland?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, the expenditure of block grants and recurrent funds in universities is a matter for the university concerned; but I would stress that the University of Ulster for the 1986–87 academic year will have a recurrent grant of £27·6 million—a five per cent. increase on the block grant for this year. Of course we will take on board the points raised by the noble Lord, and I am sure the University of Ulster will do likewise.

My Lords, I am indeed grateful for the supplementary answers that the Minister has given. May I say he has made it quite clear that he shares my conviction that co-operation is better than confrontation, not least in the context of Northern Ireland. May I ask whether he would ensure that this support for that concept, and also for the work that is being done by the unit, is reflected and made known to the various forums considering its future?

My Lords, I will certainly pass on the noble Lord's words and I am sure that my honourable friend who is responsible for these matters in Northern Ireland will take close account of everything that has been said in your Lordships' House this morning, together with the words of praise and encomium.