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The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, referred to the Chancellor's initiative and asked about spending on roads and its relationship to the proposals for Belfast Harbour. When the Chancellor made his Statement he made it clear that some of the money--the estimate was £70 million--towards improvements in the strategic road network would come from the proceeds of the sale of Belfast Harbour. The Government believe that the strategic road network is very important and improving it is to the economic benefit of Northern Ireland. We also believe that there need to be changes in the structure and management of Belfast Harbour because it is constrained by its trust board status from competing as effectively as it would wish and it cannot use its money as it would like for the benefit of the harbour. Accordingly, the harbour commissioners came forward with their proposals.
The commissioners consulted the political parties--some were supportive and some were critical--but the final scheme has not yet been produced. However, the issue will be for the Assembly to decide, as the Secretary of State made clear. It will be up to the Assembly to decide how much of the Government's proposals it wishes to continue to pursue--I hope virtually all. It will be up to the Assembly to decide whether it wishes to proceed with the strategic road network as funded by the proceeds from Belfast Harbour; whether it can raise the money for the network from elsewhere; whether the network is not of such a high priority as we had thought. However, that will be a problem for the Assembly.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, also asked about the development or possible expansion of facilities at Aldergrove airport. We have been in discussion with the developers at Aldergrove for some time over their proposals for commercial development. For the most part, the proposals are acceptable, subject to certain road access improvements to cope with the additional number of people who will travel daily to and from the airport. I refer to proposals for call centres, distribution centres and aircraft maintenance facilities. However, the proposed factory outlet centre does not accord with the policy on out-of-town retail developments. We are having further discussions with the developers with a view to addressing an acceptable overall development.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, also asked about Northern Ireland legislation and devolution arrangements. He asked why there are some differences between the plans for Northern Ireland and those for Scotland and Wales. I think he suggested that there might be more uniformity across the three sets of arrangements. The noble Lord will be aware that the devolution arrangements for Northern Ireland flow from the Belfast agreement. The legislation which has come before your Lordships' House over the past year has been based upon that agreement. To that extent, therefore, it is not possible for there to be a commonality of approach between Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, as the noble Lord proposed. Furthermore, in Northern Ireland we are building on the method of government when Stormont was in charge and on some of the arrangements from there. Again, that does not apply to Wales and Scotland.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. In case my remarks misled him, I should point out that I was not thinking of the devolution of powers to the three areas of the United Kingdom but of the very sensitive area of how the financial arrangements for all three will be dovetailed. I gather it is that matter on which the Leader of the House of Commons and the President of the Council are concentrating at the moment.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, given the answer which my right honourable friend the Leader of the House gave in the other place, I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to go into the details. I should be
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked about education funding. I agree that it is sometimes difficult to deduce from this order what is an increase in funding for any particular activity. I appreciate the problem there. However, my understanding is as follows. Education will receive increases of £90 million, £195 million and £259 million in each of the next three years. That represents increases of 3.7 per cent., 4.3 per cent. and 1.4 per cent. in real terms. I can reassure the noble Lord that the Government's commitment to increased expenditure on education is being met, even if the way in which the appropriation order is designed does not spell it out as clearly as perhaps he and I would wish.
The noble Lord also asked about the crisis in the pig industry. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, also referred to that. I hope that I did not misunderstand him. I thought for one moment he was suggesting that I was not taking agricultural problems seriously, but he then made it clear that that was not the case.
I am aware that Northern Ireland agriculture has gone through a particularly difficult time. I refer not only to the pig sector. Unfortunately, many other sectors are simultaneously facing serious difficulties. On a number of occasions the Government have produced packages of help. That has happened both within the past year and a little longer ago. They were geared at the most vulnerable sectors of the industry. They benefited the beef sector particularly as we added to the suckler cow premium, especially in disadvantaged areas. We also provided some help for the sheep sector.
However, the pig industry is in particular difficulty. Following the fire at the pig processing plant in Ballymoney, which accounted for 40 per cent. of Northern Ireland's entire facility for dealing with pigmeat, farmers had the serious problem of being unable to get the pigs off their farms and for sale. The problem was aggravated by low prices and by a general over-supply in the European Union. We took action and introduced a pig welfare scheme last August/September to deal with farmers whose pigs were overweight and could not be removed from the farms. We helped farmers to deal with some 17,000 pigs and each farmer received £30 compensation.
However, we as a government are very limited by the European Union with regard to what we can do. Unfortunately, many of the requests I have received for additional help for the pig industry have had to be given the reply, "We are not allowed to do it; Brussels won't let us." We have been in touch with Brussels throughout the crisis and a senior representative from the Commission has visited Northern Ireland within the past few weeks. My right honourable friend Nick Brown, who is in charge of all the arrangements at MAFF, visited Northern Ireland and saw the situation for himself. However, we are simply not allowed by Brussels to do everything we are asked to do. We are very limited. Indeed, the European Commission has
Certain developments in the European Union have helped. There is now a proposal to provide food aid relief measures for Russia. That will take some pigmeat off the European market. There have also been a number of other schemes. However, I appreciate that the problem in the pig sector is still very serious. We shall have to await the result of the Commission's visit to Northern Ireland as regards taking that further. I could spend a great deal of time discussing the problems of agriculture in Northern Ireland, but it would perhaps take up more time than is appropriate.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked why the costs of the Assembly have increased from £14.3 million to £36.9 million. The initial estimate of £14.3 million was based on the main estimated provision for 1998-99 and it was always accepted that some further provision would be necessary; for example, to take account of the Senior Salaries Review Body's recommendations on Members' pay and allowances and the Members' pension scheme. The figure of £36.9 million is the Assembly commission's estimate of the operating cost of the Assembly in a full financial year. That figure was decided by the Assembly within the past week or 10 days. It includes the cost of 400 administration staff, the SSRB recommendations, committee and party costs, research and IT, and printing and publishing costs. As the commission recognised, the actual cost of operating the Assembly in 1999-2000 will depend on a number of factors, including the date of devolution and when the additional staffing identified by the commission takes up duty.
When the order was prepared, we were not aware of the Assembly's decision leading to the figure of £36.9 million for the next financial year. So we were working on the information available to us at the time. Clearly, it will be for the Assembly to decide how it balances its books in the coming financial year. It is a decision for the Assembly. That is part of the process of devolution.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked a number of questions. I believe that I have dealt with his points as regards agriculture. I believe that the fire training centre is an important provision. I am satisfied that it will be of benefit to the fire service in Northern Ireland and that it will be used effectively with sufficient economies of scale to make it a worthwhile operation. I dealt with that in quite some detail some months ago when I gave the go-ahead for the scheme, but I am certainly happy to write to the noble Earl and give him fuller information on the basis of the question he asked.
As regards spending on the RUC and the assumption that the noble Earl made that there would be a reduction in that expenditure, which I believe is reasonable, given that the RUC represents a level of staffing way above what one would expect in a normal, civilian peacetime situation for a population of the size of Northern Ireland, that assumption is understood by the RUC. Of course, any reduction in expenditure would be made in the light of recommendations from the Chief Constable about the
Of course, in the shortish term redundancy payments will be an expensive cost, as they will be in the prison service. Therefore, I do not foresee a reduction in total spending having a damaging effect on the Northern Ireland economy, which I believe was the thrust of the noble Earl's remarks. I shall make sure that his views are made known to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer as being a concern that the noble Earl has expressed, not for the short, but the medium term.