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Budget (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the draft Budget (No.2) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.

The noble Lord said: We are considering this draft Budget Order today due to the continuing suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly. For that reason the Government must come to Parliament to seek approval for the resources and associated cash requirements for Northern Ireland departments.

I think that all of us, without qualification, would prefer to see the Assembly doing the job that it is paid and elected to do; we want decisions on the Budget to be made by local politicians. That would include debating and approving departmental spending plans such as those that will be considered by the Committee today. We want to see that happening as soon as possible. Everyone knows what the agenda is: we want to see the full restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly by 24 November. It is no good anyone coming to us on 23 November saying, “We need another three or four days”. We have repeatedly made it clear that that is the date.

For as long as direct rule continues, we need to allocate public expenditure to help secure our objectives—there should be no complaint about the fact that they must be the Government’s objectives and cannot be those of Northern Ireland politicians—of investment in priority public services and in securing the reform of how those public services are managed and delivered.

The main purpose of the draft order is to authorise the balance of resources and cash in the 2006-07 main estimates for the Northern Ireland departments. These are in addition to the amounts in the Vote on Account approved by Parliament in March of this year. That Vote on Account amounted to approximately 45 per cent of the total provision for the previous financial year. It has enabled funds to continue to flow to public services during the early months of this financial year until the main estimates before us can be considered and approved.

I shall explain the kinds of sums that we are talking about. The balance of the requirements for 2006-07 amounts to almost £7.1 billion of resources and some £6.2 billion of cash. When we add those to the Vote on Account, which has already been approved, it will bring the total amount authorised for 2006-07 to some £13.3 billion of resources and £11.1 billion of cash.

This draft Budget Order also seeks approval for the use of excesses in resource and cash expenditure that occurred during the year ending 31 March 2005. Details are contained in the statement of excesses provided to Members of the Committee. The excesses have already been subject to scrutiny and report by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons, which has recommended that the excesses should be authorised by Parliament by means of excess votes.

The Budget Order before us reflects the expenditure plans announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and by me in December 2005. Those expenditure plans clearly demonstrated the Government’s strong commitment to improving the quality of frontline public services and to ensuring that people in Northern Ireland, now and in the future, are equipped with the education, skills and training they need to respond to the challenges of a national and international economy which places a premium on highly skilled and flexible workforces. To do this, we are targeting resources on key public services, on investment in education and training and on our infrastructure, accompanied by a radical and wide-ranging programme of public sector reform.

Providing a high quality health service remains a top spending priority, and that is reflected in the spending plans before us today. The proposed allocation to current health spending has increased by 7.5 per cent over last year’s allocation. Those additional resources are accompanied by a far-reaching reform and modernisation agenda in the health service. That is being given the highest priority by the department, and we are determined that it will lead to further improvements in waiting times for patients; that is, shorter waiting times for patients.

The proposed allocation to current education spending has increased by 4.2 per cent over last year’s allocation. As with health, this extra investment is being accompanied by a programme of major education reforms that will change and improve what our children learn, how they learn, and the environment in which they learn. They include actions to introduce revised arrangements for post-primary education. These reforms will produce significant benefits for our children, for our society and for our economy. They will allow us to maintain our focus on improving literacy and numeracy standards, particularly among disadvantaged pupils, and to continue to address the requirements of children with special educational needs.

Beyond providing for the improvement of key public services in Northern Ireland, we have also put in place a major strategy to provide for sustained investment in the public sector infrastructure that will extend over the next decade and beyond. This will provide for a potential investment of up to £16 billion over that period, and over the next few years alone our planned capital expenditure is almost £4 billion. This level of investment in Northern Ireland’s future is unprecedented, and its fruits can already be seen on a daily basis by the community, whether in new construction work on hospitals and schools or the major roads improvements under way in Belfast. They are major road improvements, but while they are taking place they cause a slight hiccup from time to time, as some noble Lords have found on a daily basis, and as I discovered over the weekend. Part of that infrastructure is improving they key routes to other parts of Northern Ireland and to the south.

I am aware that the rates increases announced last year attracted considerable comment in the community. I want to make it clear that the increases were to generate revenue for the creation of three new priority funding packages: for children and young people; for skills and science; and for the environment and energy. We make no apology for what was a hefty rate increase of 19 per cent because the money was wanted for those programmes. No one has since said to me or to other Ministers that they think we should not have done the packages or that we should have chopped other expenditure to keep the rates down. We did it so that we can make a difference and we intend to make a difference to improve the prospects and life chances of future generations.

We want to see society and the economy transformed by using public spending wisely to invest in the services that make real differences to people’s lives: in health and education; in children and young people; in promoting long-term economic growth through investment in skills and training; and in protecting the environment through the development of new sources of renewable and clean energy.

Investment must also be accompanied by radical reform of the way that public services are managed and delivered to make them even more efficient and responsive to the needs of the citizens who use them. That is why we have begun the process of implementing in full the announcements that I recently made following the Review of Public Administration. It is this combination of investment and reform that will ensure the delivery of public services and a public sector infrastructure that meet the needs and expectations of this and future generations in Northern Ireland. The resource allocations to departments proposed in the main estimates and in the accompanying draft Budget Order will help to ensure that this wide-ranging programme can be taken forward for the remainder of this year.

I will not attempt to summarise the financial detail contained in the Budget Order and supporting documents, as that would not be the normal practice in this unelected House. However, I will of course try to address any specific points of detail that noble Lords may wish to raise on the expenditure covered by the order. I would much rather that I was not doing this and that it was being dealt with by elected politicians in Northern Ireland. I commend the draft order to the Committee, and I look forward to what I hope will be an interesting debate. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the draft Budget(No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.—(Lord Rooker.)

I thank the Minister for laying the order before us so clearly. I agree that we are not well equipped to debate the details of the order in this Committee. Would that it were being debated in Stormont.

I, too, have today read the Hansard debate, and noted a number of the issues raised there. I also noted that that debate did not go into a great deal of detail. Considering the huge amount of money—£13.3 billion—being spent in Northern Ireland, the amount of democratic examination of it is tragic. It is just not right. However, that is where we are today, and let us hope that by this time next year it will have changed.

From this side of the Committee, I have a duty to challenge the Government on how it managed that money over the past year, and look to the Minister to reassure me that things are improving. In particular, the Department of Education was reported for overspend and incompetence by the national audit committee. I may have come on too strong in saying “incompetence”—certainly, it wasted significant amounts of money. We had, and have, a wonderful education system for some. I accept that, and always have. Our education system has failed in what used to be the ghetto areas. They are no longer ghetto areas; they are nice houses, sometimes, sadly, with ghetto-type people—paramilitaries and so on—controlling and managing them. It has been extremely difficult trying to ensure that people in places such as north Shankill—I see the noble Baroness, Lady Blood, in her place—get a fair crack of the whip.

We will have another debate on that at some stage, but destroying what is in place is not the way forward. That must be to spend the education budget wisely: capital spend, new and improved curriculum systems and supporting those who work with children in difficult areas to live in—whether they be Armagh, parts of Derry or east, west or north Belfast. That must be part of the Government’s supervisory role when looking after this Budget.

On the administration of Northern Ireland, the Minister and I agree, by and large, on where we should be going. I am a bit disappointed at the pace, however. I would like some reassurance that cuts in administration services will lead not to a loss of benefits but to more efficiency. I hope that we will see the reorganisation of local government and education processes, and that the fact that the Minister is no longer part of the Northern Ireland team does not mean that impetus will have drifted away. I have great faith in his ability to drive that on at the necessary speed, so I hope that is going ahead.

Once upon a time, in my young days, Northern Ireland probably had the best part of the National Health Service. Now, according to the Secretary of State, it appears to be the worst. Not long ago, he said it was even worse than Wales. I know we are spending extra money, but what action is being taken to carve out the waste? How is the structure to be changed to make better use of this money?

I want to make a point about refuse, particularly technical refuse. I took part, as I think the Minister did, wearing a different hat in a different debate about the Department of the Environment and the WEEE directive, which has come to bite Northern Ireland administrators quite severely once again. It has cost a lot of money, and I would like to know that the necessary systems are in place to manage the meeting of the WEEE directive requirements on refrigerators, radios, batteries and all the other things that have to be disposed of under the directive.

I am afraid that we on this side of the Committee are not comfortable with the Government’s ability to organise and govern this country by direct rule. I am sure that the money is spent wisely—I do not challenge many of the decisions—but I would like to see it managed more tightly, more fiercely and more aggressively in a business sense and producing better results in all the key services. I welcome in some ways the rates and water rates increases. I know that they are unpopular and that they would be difficult to bring through local government in Stormont, but we do have very low rates and we do need more money to be spent on the national infrastructure, and I very much welcome the huge capital expenditure on the Northern Ireland infrastructure today. With those few rather uneducated comments, overall I support the order.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for introducing the order. I also share his view that it would be much better if Stormont was handling it rather than we here in the House of Lords. Like the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, I, too, read the House of Commons debate, which was rather thick on generalities and rather thin on specifics. If the House of Commons is meant to provide the detailed scrutiny and the financial implications for the Budget but is not doing it—we, by convention, are not meant to do it—no one is really doing it. That very serious failing is all too typical of the way in which Northern Ireland business is treated in the Palace of Westminster.

On education and the Council for the Curriculum Examination & Assessment, there is an enormous increase from some £12.5 million in 2004-05 to just over £23 million in 2006-07. I would like an explanation. How is the issue of falling school rolls dealt with, and does this provide an opportunity for increasing the amount of integrated education in rural areas? It seems irrational and pointless to have two systems of education when there are falling rolls, and it is an opportunity to increase the amount of integrated education in Northern Ireland.

This is a mere detail, but nevertheless we had better look at details. The district councils have served a writ of summons of well over £500,000 on the Department of the Environment. Why cannot this sort of thing be sorted out without involving the lawyers? Northern Ireland is terribly prone to giving employment to lawyers, of which this is a classic example.

The spend for the Department for Social Development details the community and voluntary sector funding. Formerly, £47 million came from the EU. Now, £21 million is being voted for the community and voluntary sector. That is a significant reduction by any standards—it is more than 50 per cent. One cares about that because in an economy that is too heavily reliant on the public sector the role of community and voluntary organisations is vital. Yet it is very difficult for them to get funds from such a small private sector. They do not have the opportunity that those in England and Wales, for example, have to get large donations from donors in the private sector, simply because the private sector is so small there, and a great deal of what does exist is dependent on public sector funds.

On the Department for Social Development, what is the reduction, which I think is over 50 per cent and will the community and voluntary sector be able to operate with such a considerable reduction in its funds?

I am most grateful to the Minister for outlining the details of the order. I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, in that I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, is not a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office any more. I always appreciated his plain speaking even if I was at the butt end of it, which I was on a fair number of occasions.

I shall make a few general remarks on the Budget before going into more detail. It would appear that the Department for Regional Development’s expenditure Budget has been cut by £16 million over the next two years. Will this hit road maintenance? That will underline the original transport strategy.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment’s revenue Budget is reduced by £36 million over three years. While Invest Northern Ireland spending is more or less at previous levels, it has significant liabilities from some large projects to contend with over the next few years. The draft Budget provides little scope to support new projects if they arise. Will the Minister comment on that?

Northern Ireland needs to create more wealth and grow the overall tax-take if it is to reduce the overall subvention, currently running at about £6 billion per year. The draft Budget gives no indication that this has been considered. Indeed, the priorities that will help creation and the growth of the private sector have not yet been given the priority they deserve. The draft Budget is too expenditure-focused and no significant thought appears to have been given to the consequences of the Budget on the potential increase of the overall tax revenue.

The governance of the public sector is recognised as an issue, but the Budget is very light on how it will be addressed. Although I recognise that some progress is on the way, it is outsourcing various activities. The public sector is becoming an even more attractive environment to work in. Some of the initiatives of this Budget will create more administration. The Budget does not set out actions, which are to be taken to reduce the scale and scope of the public sector in Northern Ireland. Why?

Last December’s Budget set administrative cost limits of £896 million per year for each of the three years 2005 to 2008. This is an increase since 2003-04 of £138 million; in other words, 18 per cent. However, the priorities in the Budget have increased the administrative limits to £919.9 million per year, then £921.4 million, and £922 million for each of the next two years. That is a further increase despite promises of delivering efficiencies of 2.5 per cent. Will the Government be a little more ambitious in reducing the overall administrative costs?

Perhaps I may now turn to the section that refers to the Department of Regional Development and a topic which I have raised in this forum before; that is, the development of the Northern Ireland railway system. More significant funding is required for Northern Ireland Railways over the next few years. Consideration should be given to the expenditure for the years 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11. The 23 new trains that are now in service have been a tremendous success. Already there is a 30 per cent growth in just over one year on the Portadown and Bangor lines. The additional capacity provided by the new trains has been fully utilised. East Antrim services continue to be operated by old trains and there is no growth on that line. In fact, if the truth were to be told, there is still a decline in passengers.

Northern Ireland Railways has demonstrated major successes already with these new trains and needs to replace the remainder of the fleet as quickly as possible. I believe that the further 20 plus trains could deliver the 60 per cent growth targets in the regional transportation strategy 2002-12. As a matter of urgency, I would ask Her Majesty's Government to look at an indicative funding requirement of around £100 million over the years 2008-11. I should like to pay tribute to the staff and management of Northern Ireland Railways. Having been set a target of 60 per cent over 10 years, to reach half its targets with the new trains inside 18 months is a tremendous achievement.

On the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, what is being done to fund adequate numbers of GPs and registrars, and adequately fund those appointed to ensure that the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency does not stop GPs and registrars receiving their car allowances after they have been appointed? In Northern Ireland, it is estimated that there is a need for between 75 and 90 trainee general practitioners annually. The department will fund only 50, but is committed to just 49. Then there is a refusal to pay the car allowance of around £4,500 per GP. Will the Minister confirm those figures and comment? When will the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety become part of the Doctors’ and Dentists’ Review Body so that it can give Northern Ireland evidence and accept the recommendations without the annual delay in implementing doctors’ pay awards?

I shall turn now to the sections in Schedules 1 and 2 which refer to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. As soon as July comes, with it comes the annual Civil Service rush to find money from anywhere to pass the West Belfast nationalist festival and its partners in Ardoyne and New Lodge. The past three years’ funds were not made available easily to Unionist groups and were paid at a rate of £9 to Nationalist and £1 to Unionist festivals. Despite assurances from the Minister last year that he would not support any funny-money funding, the officials are at it again. Just for the record, last year the Ardoyne Nationalist festival funding was paid out on the previous year’s application, and the names and dates had not even been changed. Of course, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure does not have a wonderful record of fairness or even good bookkeeping. It once managed to pay far too much unasked-for money to Nationalist festivals. Thisgoes against a background of the impossibility of obtaining meaningful resources for Unionist or Ulster Scots projects from the department. The tricks and double-talk used by DCAL to mess around and withhold funding from projects which are not Irish will be the subject of disclosures at a later date.

This year DCAL is caught banged to rights again. It is supporting a massive £700,000 sponsorship of Rally Ireland, which is of little value to Northern Ireland, while giving only £33,000 to Orangefest each year for three years to turn the Battle of the Boyne celebration on 12 July into a tourist festival, which will benefit us all—£700,000 for a little show against £33,000 for a massive contribution to peace. What is more, DCAL is urgently trying to find extra funding for the Nationalist festivals in Belfast, which already get the best part of £1 million a year. I want to make it clear that I am not opposed to Nationalist festivals. They are entitled to funding and I like to see them get it, but I would also like to see funds being handed out on a fair basis. I am certainly not against the West Belfast festival this year, as I propose to take part in it.

Let us for a minute examine the Rally Ireland event—£700,000 for a rally that few have ever heard of. I support the concept of the tourist trade in Fermanagh but not at outrageous cost—£700,000 for a rally against £33,000 for the Orange Order. Is it any wonder that people in the Protestant community feel aggrieved and marginalised? Let us look at an interesting document produced by the University of Ulster in support of the case for Rally Ireland. As the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, is aware, I have had a relationship with that university over the years. The document makes interesting reading. I am always alerted by a document, especially from an academic institution, which refers to a position as relatively unique. Section 9 of The Case for Rally Ireland makes interesting reading. The report states:

“The majority of those who attended the rally from Northern Ireland were protestant males. Their willingness to cross the border was significant and, in fact, unprecedented”.

Has no one ever heard of the Circuit of Ireland or rugby internationals in Dublin? Besides, how can you calculate that a significant number of the people who watched the rally were Protestants? The follow-up reports for Rally Ireland were based on figures and information provided and paid for by Rally Ireland, therefore removing any independence. The information was not challenged by the university, but accepted.

The spectator figures for the events are grossly exaggerated—2,000 to 5,000 people over three days, but the report claims that there were 34,000. Bed nights were also claimed to be very high, but the Northern Ireland Tourist Board hotel bed-and-breakfast guesthouse survey for that month shows a reduction in occupancy as compared with the same period the previous year. During the event you could still book hotel rooms within four miles of it. That is not a sign that it is attracting tourism. There was an excessive fee of £200,000 for the promoter, which HMG do not normally accept but find acceptable in these circumstances Why? We should look at the internal event expenditure document which DCAL has. A general manager for one event cost €80,000; a finance manager €37,000; a sporting adviser €20,000, the helicopter €20,000; the helicopter co-ordination €10,000 and the police €50,000. To whom did the PSNI funding go? Will the noble Lord give me a breakdown of how much was spent in Northern Ireland? Were the normal tendering procedures adopted at all times? In normal circumstances that information is required by DCAL before payment is made. I calculate that the economic return for Northern Ireland was very low.

The Secretary of State publicly committed funding of €945,000 for the event without consultation with Government officials. Will the Minister explain from where DCAL got the money? This event was a waste of public money and a scandal. The event seems to operate on a political lobbying basis mainly orchestrated by a consultant for Rally Ireland. Accountable issues are being pushed aside. At a time when budgets are being cut elsewhere, this is a complete waste of public money. The case for funding was a joke as the announcement had already been made in front of the Republic of Ireland’s Tourism Minister last October. DCAL went through the motions of preparing a case to secure the money.

I will investigate this case in minute detail. The announcement of £33,000 for the Orangefest event is being used to allow DCAL to give an extra £100,000 funding to the West Belfast festival this year without evaluation or proper process. This announcement is expected to take place before 12 July. Officials hope that it will not be noticed in the lead up to the 12th and that Sinn Fein can make plenty of noise about the money going to the Orangefest to balance it. I will follow this trail as long as it takes. This is more money that is not available to unionists. It is interesting to think of all the people who have been turned down by the Community Relations Council, the Northern Ireland events companies and others—people struggling in small communities to run festivals to show off their culture to best advantage to those from other cultures. Yet the organisers and promoters of this event in Fermanagh, which no one in Belfast has ever heard of, get £200,000 of HMG’s money—and for doing what? Is it any wonder that there is a grievance? Who do you have to know in the Northern Ireland Office to get that sort of funding? Is it the political adviser to Mr Hain?

I am not aware of people who drive around in rally cars creating inter-community strife, and I am not aware that they have caused problems in years gone by. But a lot of us have worked extremely hard with no government support and not even a word of thanks or praise to help to turn 12 July in Belfast into a tourist attraction which we can all enjoy and show off our culture, not being offensive to anybody else, and bring tourists into Northern Ireland. No wonder we are disgusted.

It is still necessary to have expenditure and additional workloads associated with both the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Arts Council for Northern Ireland. In conjunction with the review of public administration in Northern Ireland, has any consideration been given to removing this additional and seemingly unnecessary tier of bureaucracy? It is feasible that the management of art and culture in Northern Ireland could be handled perfectly well by a combination of DCAL and the revised groups of local councils. Indeed there is already some confusion and duplication of the activities of the department and the Arts Council.

If, however, the Arts Council is to remain in existence, can we be assured that its remit will be closely reviewed and clearly spelt out, and its performance regularly monitored? There is growing concern throughout the artistic and the wider community in Northern Ireland that the Arts Council has unilaterally abdicated responsibility for promoting excellence, innovation and most activities generally viewed as high art, and overseen by the British Arts Council. It has instead taken on itself the role of social commentator and community developer and appears to be a government agency intent on spending public money on its own whims without direction or scrutiny.

There is also a strong view, for which I could give endless amounts of evidence, that there is what I would describe as discrimination against the Ulster Scots and Unionist community in the allocation of funds by the Arts Council for Northern Ireland. I am not sure who is in charge of affairs, but it seems that at every turn and cut, it is not possible to promote anything that is not pure Irish. We have the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, which I should tell noble Lords is still paying out grants owed to people for the past two years. How can you run events or create tourist activities in Northern Ireland if you do not get paid by the tourist board for two years?

I also find it extremely difficult to understand why tourism which supports Ulster Scots is not more readily available. Some 22 million Scots Irish live in America, all thirsting to come back to their homeland. The only part of the world where you can get Ulster Scots culture is in Ulster, yet when I talk to the tourist authorities, they say that they are promoting Irish culture. You can get Irish culture in Northern Ireland and anywhere else in Ireland, but the only place where you get the Ulster Scots culture is in Northern Ireland. Look at some of our tremendous sites—the battlefield at the Moy, the castle at Castlecaulfield, and the Black Pig’s Dyke. But because these sites do not suit the Irish version of history, we are not allowed to develop them. Of course the major part of tourism is in the hands of a cross-border body. When you are run from Dublin, you cannot expect too much support, but the Northern Ireland Tourist Board should at least be helping to put money into regeneration and creating tours for people who are interested in the Ulster Scots diaspora.

Tourism could be one of the major industries of Northern Ireland, and if tourists are going around the Province, people are not likely to cause trouble or throw stones. If your existence is dependent on tourism, and if you want a lot of Americans drinking coffee in your coffee houses and creating wealth, you are not going to create difficulties in your home town. That stands to sense. Tourism is not just a good industry, it is actually a part of the peace arrangements for Northern Ireland. It is not a couple of cars skipping across the border in South Tyrone every now and again and 3,000 people per day watching them. That is not tourism. That is simply a rip-off.

I have concluded my opening remarks.

I rise only to make certain that the two new Members, the noble Baroness, Lady Paisley, and the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, are aware that, should they wish to say anything in this Grand Committee, this would be the appropriate time to do so. I am conscious that this is their first attendance at our proceedings. I just wanted to make sure that they were aware of that before the Minister replies.

I congratulate the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. I have not yet had a chance to have a chat with them because I was not present at their incoming. I hope that they enjoy the House of Lords as much as I have enjoyed it for the past five yeas. I did not plan to come here either, but nevertheless we have interesting debates.

I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Laird, that I am still answering his quota of Written Questions every day. He must be aware of that because I have just finished another lot before I came to the Moses Room. Indeed, some of the questions I have answered will respond to some of the issues he has raised today. I am not using that to make a point of not giving him a considered response now, but given the amount of detail he raised, it is not possible to answer in full. However, anything that is not answered today he will get from me in writing.

A Division has been called. The Committee will adjourn for10 minutes and we shall reassemble at 21 minutes past four o’clock.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 4.11 to 4.21 pm.]

I shall give a few figures in respect of the headlines for education and health before seeking to answer some of the more detailed questions.

The Northern Ireland budget for education is over 20 per cent of the Northern Ireland Budget of£9 billion, which is second to the health department. It is a substantial part of public expenditure. Since 1997, the funding has increased by more than 60 per cent; and that is with a decrease of about 6 per cent in pupil numbers. Also since 1997, funded pre-school places have doubled, so over 90 per cent of children get a better quality start to their education. Some £210 million is being invested to bring interactive learning into all classrooms. Over the past seven years on capital, there have been 230 major project schemes with an investment of over £1.3 billion. In the past two years, over £600 million has been invested, covering 91 schemes. In 2006-07, the Department of Education allocated £20 million to the education and library boards for maintenance.

There is a problem with surplus places. I do not think that it needs to be addressed here today, but it is a serious issue. There are 50,000 surplus places and two-thirds are in the primary sector. Only 8 per cent of them are in small schools. There are many—too many—small schools in Northern Ireland, but that is not where the surplus places are. The issue is going to get worse with, we reckon, a decline by a further 30,000 places over the next 10 years. In terms of achievements, 61 per cent of school leavers are achieving five or more GCSEs, compared to 57 per cent in England. Some 97 per cent of pupils achieve two or more A-level passes, compared to 95 per cent in England. On both those fairly narrow but important indicators, the success rate is better than England. A lot of reforms are under way, whether it is post-primary education—on which we will have a debate of substance next Monday evening, and the revised curriculum arrangements are included in that—new procurement and delivery arrangements for the schools estate, or a single education and skills authority.

I have few figures on health. I said initially that there is an increase of 7.5 per cent from the 2005-06 into this year. Much of the additional development resources will be spent on tackling waiting times in Northern Ireland. Some £140 million is required to meet the increased pressures on the pay bill. About £217 million will be available for capital development and health and social services.

I was asked about the effect of the money on waiting lists. When the new team of Ministers arrived in May 2005, the waiting list situation was a bit of a surprise to us; we had been quite ignorant about the situation in Northern Ireland. We put additional investment in, and this year there has been a further investment of another £12 million and a further £18 million, to bring the total to £35 million. The major reform programme is under way, and the number of people waiting more than 12 months for hospital treatment has fallen from about 4,000 to zero, so there has been a substantial difference in the past year. Waiting times will be further reduced over the coming year, and by March 2007 our estimate is that no one will be waiting more than six months for surgery. That was a major issue that we discovered in 2005 and, frankly, people in Northern Ireland do not deserve anything less in terms of health than the rest of the UK. The Government have put a lot of effort into reducing waiting times across England, Scotland and Wales and we have started to do that also in Northern Ireland.

Following the education and library boards’ overspend last year, an inquiry was initiated. The department has been monitoring progress against the action plans agreed with both the boards—the Belfast board and the South Eastern board—and the Jack report made 49 specific recommendations. The review of the implementation recommendations has been initiated and a report is due to be made to the Department of Education’s permanent secretary later this month. I will make sure that noble Lords are made aware of the findings.

Efficiency savings of some £580 million have been targeted for delivery by March 2008. The latest monitoring shows that we are well on target for that delivery and further efficiencies are being pursued by the work streams relating to the Comprehensive Spending Review, which all departments will have to go through. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is right that we want to get efficiency savings, but they must be efficiency savings and not just savings. We do not want to create savings by denuding services.

The noble Lord also asked about the implications of the Review of Public Administration. It is designed to deliver better services. Following the implementation of the review, there should be a clear separation between policy formation and operational delivery in the education service. That should result in the transfer of some functions from the Department of Education to the new education and skills authority. There are major changes. A lot of the PR about the Review of Public Administration centred on local government, but we always made it clear that the Assembly had set up a three-strand approach: education; health and local government.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith, asked about falling pupil numbers. I do not have all the answers. As part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, we have asked Sir George Bain to take a strategic view so that we can look at what school provision can be made to encourage greater sharing, collaboration and achieving higher standards. As I have said before, it is possible to do that, and there are good examples. You can operate more than one school in a building, which at least gives some shared services and a shared community, although you can maintain separate schools. The noble Lord, Lord Smith, asked me about integrated education. In 2006-07, approximately £25 million has been allocated for capital development in grant-maintained integrated schools. The recurrent grant aid totalling £56 million will be paid to the grant-maintained integrated schools in 2006-07. That compares to £3.9 million in 1991-92.

In addition, the Department of Education funds the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education. The grant is a modest £528,000 for 2006-07. That provides support for the sector. It has provided a total of more than £4 million to the Integrated Education Fund. That level of funding is consistent with the Department of Education’s statutory duty underthe education reform order to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education.

The noble Lord, Lord Laird, asked various questions. I have said that I will come back to the questions on Invest Northern Ireland that I am unable to answer today. The 2006-07 budget is £152 million for financial assistance. That is based on the funding requirement for existing contracts with companies coupled with an estimate of the funding needed to support new businesses and those projects which are under negotiation. It covers a very wide range of areas such as start up support, research and development, selective financial assistance and business improvement services. I wholly agree with what the noble Lord said about the small private sector and the ability to give grants to the voluntary and community sector. There is a disproportionately small private sector in Northern Ireland. The economy will never grow while it stays as small as it is; there is no question about that. The Government can do an awful lot. We want to do it not necessarily by cutting the public sector, although there can sometimes be transfers of activity, but by deliberately setting out to grow the private sector in every way we can. I realise that comparisons have been drawn and questions have been asked about the different tax rates that apply in the north and the south and about the various incentives that apply, but certainly there is a positive effort to do what I have mentioned.

Positive Steps is the Government’s response to the report of the Taskforce on Resourcing the Voluntary and Community Sector, Investing Together. The actions in Positive Steps will help to ensure that the voluntary and community sector is better placed to cope with social and economic change. Twenty-one million pounds has been allocated to the voluntary and community sector in 2006-07. The admin costs can look high and the noble Lord, Lord Laird, was quite right to subject the accounts to forensic examination. Although the admin costs appear to rise in 2006-07, that is not the case. If that is not the case, it should not look as if it is. I acknowledge that everything is my responsibility, but nevertheless I do not remember the relevant line. However, the flat line figure for admin costs has been adjusted upwards to take account of technical changes in recognition of superannuation liabilities, which would always have been there. That brings Northern Ireland into line with the accounting approach adopted in Great Britain. It may look as though there is an increase in that regard, but that is not the case. The underlying trend in our view is a real reduction.

I have mentioned the reduction in waiting list times of more than 12 months from 4,000 to zero. Of course, I shall give way.

I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Going back to the administration figures that he mentioned, Mr Lidington has referred in the other place to the provision for administrative costs for Northern Ireland departments in 2005-06. If we compare that with the provision for 2004-05, and the actual expenditure for 2003-04, we find a consistent pattern. Actual administration costs in 2003-04 were £802.8 million, rising to£854.7 million for 2004-05 and to £954 million for 2005-06.

Without the benefit of technical advice I am not sure whether the figures are comparable, but certainly I will get an answer to that. Our view on the overall trend is that there is a reduction. There is obviously a paradox there but I shall seek to explain that in writing, as I can probably explain it better in writing than verbally. However, the point is well made by the noble Lord.

The road maintenance budget was mentioned. Funding for road maintenance over the two-year period 2006-08 is £45 million to £57 million. Some reductions were necessary in the structural maintenance budget. I believe that I mentioned that point in an earlier discussion. Last autumn we were faced with a dilemma in putting the budget together. We had to get money from other areas. We had to put the rates up by far more than we had wanted for the reasons that I have given and restructure some priorities, and that budget was one of them.

In the past three years, £735 million has been spent on developing and maintaining the road network in Northern Ireland. Over the next 10 years, £1.9 billion will be invested in roads. We were conscious when putting the Budget together that all necessary health and safety projects are going ahead. We did not cut anything with a specific health and safety rationale.

On festival funding, I realise that festivals come around annually and so do the questions. I suspect that the answers will probably come around annually as well. The noble Lord, Lord Laird, raised a lot of detailed questions, to which it is clearly impossible—even with the number of officials here today—to do justice. Nevertheless, I will get him answers to all his questions. The Northern Ireland Events Company administers the community festivals fund, which was £550 million for 2006-07 and 2007-08, including admin costs.

Perceived community background is not a factor in determining the recipients of festival funding. Assistance is provided solely on the basis of the merits of the individual festival. The first tranche of funding for festivals, between 1 April and 31 July, has been decided. Details of the successful applicants have been announced on the website. There are no plans to allocate any further funding to the Northern Ireland Events Company at this stage.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Can he give an undertaking that there will be no extra money provided to the nationalist West Belfast Festival, Ardoyne or New Lodge? I understand that £100,000 is going to the West Belfast Festival, but it is not coming from the events company. I would be reassured if the Minister can assure me that I am wrong.

I shall have to come back to the noble Lord. Given what I have just said about there being no further plans to allocate further funds to the Northern Ireland Events Company—that is a statement of policy—I do not know if any money is still in the system. Over the past nine years, the slow flow of money through the system when one makes allocations—either as a Minister or, I suspect, in the voluntary sector—has been a mystery to me. I cannot say that there is no money in the events company’s system that would not end up at one of the festivals, but I will seek a proper answer to that.

On health service pay, the Government intend that the Department of Health will join the doctors’ and dentists’ pay review body, and plans for that are in place. I do not have a date, but it will change how pay and ration issues are dealt with.

On Northern Ireland Railways, a programme for replacement of the trains is in place. When completed, the Government will consider the need for further investment in the rail network as part of the regional transport strategy. That does not take matters much further forward, except that it is not finished; we have not said that that is the end. Obviously, we must consider further.

My final note on a detailed answer for the noble Lord, Lord Laird, is on funding for the Ulster-Scots Agency. The budget for 2006 is sufficient for it to meet its objectives and targets laid out in the corporate and annual business plan, which was approved after consultation. I understand that the budget for 2006 is £2.132 million, an increase of 17.9 per cent on 2005. The Northern Ireland contribution is £1.6 million.

There is no discrimination against Ulster Scots in government policy on funding. The Ulster-Scots Agency sought an increase of £487,000 in its budget for the 2006 business plan. My colleague, the Minister David Anderson, agreed an additional £200,000 for the agency as part of a package of confidence-building measures. I understand that the department in the south provided an additional £67,000, in keeping with the agreed funding ratio. It does not quite meet what they asked for, but is nevertheless substantial extra funding.

I am conscious that I have been unable to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on waste and refuse, but I shall come back to him in writing; as, indeed, I shall with other issues on which I have been unable to go into detail today. I know that the rally is the subject of some of the parliamentary Answers I have given the noble Lord, Lord Laird, and I will come back to him on the other points of detail.

On Question, Motion agreed to.