Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Randall of St Budeaux: My Lords, first I refer to the Front Bench's comments before I go into the comments made by other Members of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, for the Front Bench on the Conservative side, said that although he found it attractive in many ways he felt that there would have to be discussions on any proposals and that there could not be any support before further talks.

We ought to make it absolutely clear that the Government have taken a position, the Front Benches on both sides have got an agreement and there is a deal. We all need to recognise that. When those deals have been made there is a degree of intransigence and therefore Members of the Front Bench particularly have to see the thing through by hook or by crook. We understand that. We understand what the position is. Any move from the current deal is always quite hard to make. Nevertheless, I believe that if something is flawed it is my duty as a Back-Bencher to point it out.

My very good and noble friend Lord Williams on the Front Bench mentioned the continuation of hereditaries; in proportional terms the very small number who could be around for some time. What he said is absolutely true, but, as I mentioned earlier, when it comes to the interest of the House, I cannot see any strategic significance for rooting out a very small number of people because they are hereditary. The question of not being able to understand the weighting has come up a few times. I am beginning to feel that just multiplying numbers together is not that difficult.

But let me go back to the beginning. First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, and the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, for their kind comments. My noble friend Lady Gould made some interesting points in relation to the manifesto. I sought legal advice on the whole question of the right to sit and vote being ended. That legal advice was to the effect that the whole matter is very open. The initiation of the termination of membership of the House of Lords would be perfectly legitimate within the context of the manifesto. My noble friend also made strong comments in regard to a number of hereditaries remaining here. I cannot see the strategic significance of that.

In relation to the weighted voting and the misunderstandings that arose in that regard, my noble friend quoted out-of-date figures that were considered earlier on. Also, she implied that there may be covert Members of this House who might wish to move to the other side in order to obtain 2.7 votes. I am not sure about that. The other point made by my noble friend Lady Gould concerned the recording and the Clerks. Again, this is extremely detailed stuff but perhaps I should go through it.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, in that case I shall go through it. All one has is the form outside

15 Jun 1999 : Column 198

and where one is a member of the Labour Party, we move it over by about 1.5 centimetres. All that happens is that the names are ticked off in the usual way; we add up the bottom row and then look up a table which converts 322 to 256. It is as simple as that and takes around four or five seconds. So there would be no change in procedure for Peers. We would not need computers or anything. It is extremely simple to add up the figures by just shuffling around the design of the forms for both Lobbies.

My noble friend asked some interesting questions in relation to the commission. They will need answering. I did not think it would be necessary at this stage to say who sits and what the terms of reference would be. But it would be for the purposes of validation only and they would probably complete their work in around half a day. Nevertheless my noble friend made some good suggestions and I shall make sure that they are dealt with.

The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, made some good suggestions in terms of the interpretation of Clause 58. Again, I shall look at that and take advice. I did not understand the point being made by my noble friend Lord Desai. Again, I believe his concern was that he wanted to see hereditaries go in one big bang. I cannot see the justification for that. If one does a simple analysis of it, then there could be significant losses of people who are competent. I did not distinguish between hereditary and life Peers.

I thank the noble Lords, Lord Pearson and Lord Elton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon, for their comments. The point they were making was that the Front Benchers on this side have a job to do; they have to deliver Weatherill come what may, because of the agreement between the two Front Benches and the deal that was made. The probability that I will get anything through with that weight against me is highly unlikely. On the other hand, I am going to keep going until the very end, in case the Weatherill amendment is wiped out for some reason. That will leave an option open. I hope the Government will look at it and consider discussing the matter further with the other side with a view to providing more than one option, so that the House can choose. This is an opportunity, and to shut it down and say, "We are not going to have any further discussion on alternative options" would be short-sighted. My advice would be at least to give this approach fair consideration for the benefit of this House, and also for the benefit of this Government.

The Deputy Speaker (The Viscount of Oxfuird): My Lords, the Question is that this amendment be agreed to. As many as are of that opinion will say, "Content"; to the contrary, "Not-Content".

Noble Lords: Not-Content.

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, the "Not-Contents" have it.

Amendment negatived.

15 Jun 1999 : Column 199

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving this Motion, may I suggest that we reconvene not before 8.35 p.m?

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

Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1999

7.36 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 9th June be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order before us today authorises expenditure of £4,282 million for Northern Ireland departments in the current financial year. That is in addition to the sum of £3,120 million voted on account in March and brings total estimates provision for Northern Ireland departments to £7,402 million.

We are providing for substantially increased spending in key priority areas in line with our manifesto pledges. The two major beneficiaries are health and education with additions of £616 million and £588 million respectively over the three-year period beginning this year. Other key areas with spending increases include the New Deal for the unemployed, water and sewerage and transport infrastructure.

As noble Lords may recall, Parliament voted to approve sums on account for 1999-2000 to meet the expenditure needs of Northern Ireland departments as part of the normal Northern Ireland appropriation procedures which took place in February and March 1999. The appropriation order itself was then made at the March Privy Council. We had hoped that devolution would have taken place in March or April of this year and the Assembly would therefore complete the appropriation of the 1999-2000 main estimates. However, with the delay in devolution it now seems unlikely that the Assembly will be able to pass an appropriation Bill before the Summer Recess, even if agreement on the timing of full devolution is reached quickly. We have therefore decided that it would be appropriate to seek approval for the main estimates for 1999-2000 from Parliament. This will safeguard the continuity of key public services including the health service, social security, education, economic development, agriculture, environment and so forth. If appropriation was left until after the Assembly's summer recess, there is a risk that some of these services could begin to run out of money. After devolution, the Assembly will of course be responsible for approving all further appropriations for devolved services, including any supplementary estimates for 1999-2000 based on the recommendations of the Executive Committee.

This order covers the services of the Northern Ireland departments which, despite the ongoing political difficulties, we hope will shortly become the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive and

15 Jun 1999 : Column 200

Assembly. I remind your Lordships that the order does not cover the estimates for the Northern Ireland Office on law and order services. As a Whitehall department, the estimates for the Northern Ireland Office are dealt with separately. However, until powers are devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, the public expenditure decisions underlying the estimates for both the Northern Ireland departments and the Northern Ireland Office will continue to form part of the Northern Ireland block allocation. As such the Secretary of State has flexibility to reallocate resources within the block in light of emerging pressures and easements. After devolution the Secretary of State's flexibility will only cover the expenditure of the Northern Ireland Office. The Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly will then have flexibility to reallocate resources among the devolved services.

I am sure your Lordships will join with me in recognising the possibilities for truly momentous change flowing from the establishment of the Assembly and will share with me in the desire to do everything possible to ensure its success. Indeed, given the present difficult circumstances in the Province, I am sure your Lordships will agree that all those who can bring influence to bear in resolving the present situation, should be encouraged to do so.

Following the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review, an estimate of some £14 million was set for the Assembly for 1999-2000. However, it is accepted that following devolution additional provision will need to be made for the costs of the Assembly. My right honourable friend, the Minister of State, Paul Murphy, is discussing this matter with the Assembly Commission. He will be in a position to provide more information when he is introducing the draft appropriation order in another place.

I know that your Lordships continue to take a close interest in the prospects for economic development in Northern Ireland and I should therefore like to say a few words about the local economic situation before turning to the contents of the estimates. The latest available official statistics show that the Northern Ireland economy remains in good health in almost every area. The main economic indicators have, once again, shown very positive results for the Province.

The output of manufacturing and production industries continues to rise at a rate well above that achieved nationally. Over the past four years, Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector has increased its output by almost 12 per cent compared with growth of just 0.5 per cent achieved nationally. There has also been a significant improvement in the Province's gross domestic product relative to the United Kingdom, with GDP per head rising from 76.9 per cent of the national average in 1990 to 80.4 per cent by 1997.

At December 1998 the number of employee jobs stood at 609,480--the highest figure on record. This is reflected in the International Labour Organisation's unemployment rate of 7.2 per cent for the period January to March 1999. This means that unemployment in Northern Ireland is now lower than five other UK

15 Jun 1999 : Column 201

Government regions (Scotland, Wales, Merseyside, London and the North-East) and a significant 2.4 per cent below the EU average of 9.6 per cent, with major economies such as France, Germany and Italy recording unemployment rates of 11.4 per cent, 9 per cent and 12 per cent respectively. In addition, falls in the numbers of both long-term and youth unemployment are particularly encouraging.

Also 1998-99 has been a good year for investment in the Province. During 1998-99, 49 IDB-supported projects have been announced by companies already established in Northern Ireland, promoting 2,777 new jobs while safeguarding a further 2,817 existing jobs. Over the same period, 21 IDB-backed inward investment projects have been announced, promoting 2,657 new jobs.

Of course, the difficulties surrounding Drumcree last July and the July before have not helped because they possibly deter inward investors and everybody must hope that an accommodation will be reached there before the beginning of the marching season next month.

All of this clearly demonstrates the impressive achievements of the Northern Ireland economy which, coupled with the potential for achieving political stability, provides Northern Ireland with an opportunity for a brighter economic future.

If, as we all hope, devolution of power to local representatives takes place in the very near future, the six main Northern Ireland departments will undergo significant restructuring to form a new 10 department structure, along with the office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. As this will involve the transfer of many services between departments, as an aid to presentation the 1999-2000 main estimates votes have been numbered from one to 26, with the existing department names removed from the vote. I now turn to the main items of expenditure covered by the order as detailed in the estimates booklet. I will refer to votes in line with the revised vote numbering. Figures are generally rounded to the nearest million pounds and I shall be as brief as possible to allow maximum time for debate or questions. I shall start with the Department of Agriculture. In Vote 1, net provision of £17 million is to fund EU and national agricultural support measures.

In Vote 2, £153 million is for ongoing regional services and support measures. This includes £70 million for the development of the agriculture and agricultural products industries and for scientific and veterinary services. Some £20 million is for farm support, enhancement of the countryside, and fisheries and forestry services. Some £18 million is for central administration, including information technology and specialist accommodation services, and £8 million is for the rural development programme. Then £18 million is for the Rivers Agency and £10 million is in respect of processing and marketing, fishing projects and structural funds which are wholly funded by the European Union. This vote also contains provision of £9 million in respect of the European Union Peace and Reconciliation Programme, which incorporates agriculture, rural and water-based projects.

15 Jun 1999 : Column 202

I now turn to the three votes for the Department of Economic Development, where in Vote 3 £153 million is for the Industrial Development Board. The Belfast Agreement, with the prospect of greater political stability, provides a unique opportunity for attracting new investment to Northern Ireland. This major commitment of resources will enable IDB to offer very competitive packages of assistance to both new and existing firms and will build on the IDB's excellent performance in 1988-99.

In Vote 4, £145 million is required. This includes £15 million for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to assist the development of tourism in Northern Ireland. Again the prospect of peace opens up opportunities for promoting Northern Ireland as a tourist destination. In 1998, 1.47 million visitors came to Northern Ireland, an increase of 4 per cent on the previous year. It is anticipated that in 1999, visitor numbers will increase again by 4 per cent to 1.53 million. This aptly demonstrates the potential that exists for attracting tourists and increasing the contribution the tourist industry can make to the economy. At present spending by holiday visitors and domestic holidaymakers accounts for 2 per cent of Northern Ireland's GDP, sustaining in the region of 14,750 jobs. If this could be increased to the levels attained in the Republic of Ireland, currently around 5 per cent, there is the potential to create a further 20,000 jobs.

In Vote 5, £265 million is sought for the Training and Employment Agency and £72 million under the Government's welfare to work initiative will provide 25,000 places in a range of employment and training measures mainly within the New Deals for 18 to 24 year-olds and long-term unemployed. This is a significant increase from some 15,000 places in 1998-99. Employers in Northern Ireland have reacted enthusiastically to the New Deal and to date almost 3,000 have signed agreements to deliver the employment option. Some £61 million is to fund 11,500 training places under the Jobskills Training Programme. A total of £22 million is for other training programmes which will provide some 3,300 places for long-term unemployed adults in projects of community benefit. A further £17 million is to assist companies to improve their competitiveness by developing the skills of their workforce.

Turning to the Department of the Environment which has five votes numbered 7 to 11, Vote 7 seeks £204 million for roads, transports and ports. This includes £147 million for the development and operation, as well as the maintenance of Northern Ireland's public roads system. Some £20 million is for road passenger services and almost £13 million for continued support of railway services.

Vote 8 relates to housing, where some £266 million will be provided, mainly to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the voluntary housing movement. When net borrowing and the Housing Executive's rental income and capital receipts from house sales are taken into account, the total resources available for housing will be approximately

15 Jun 1999 : Column 203

£605 million. Gross resources for the voluntary housing sector, taking into account some £40 million of private funding, will be around £110 million.

In Vote 9, gross expenditure of £209 million is estimated on the provision of water and sewerage services, of which £90 million is for capital expenditure and £115 million for operational and maintenance purposes, including administration costs. That vote reflects also a recent technical change in presentation. Previously that vote was shown net of a contribution from the regional rate. Now, however, those receipts are not being included and the net overall amount is therefore that much higher.

That technical change will have no effect on the level of activity in water services. We are providing an additional £84 million for water and sewerage over the next three years. That substantial additional provision is needed to put right many years of under-funding in that vital area. We are fully committed to addressing the requirements arising from EU directives and to provide the highest standards in public health.

In Vote 10, £222 million is being sought for environmental and other services provided by a number of agencies, including the Environment and Heritage Service, the Planning Service, the Construction Service and the Rate Collection Agency. Moreover, £30 million will be targeted at areas of social, economic and environmental need through various urban regeneration measures and £31 million will be made available under the EU Peace and Reconciliation Programme, of which £23 million will be funded from EU receipts.

The estimates for the Department of Education seek a net total £1,536 million in Vote 12, an increase of 6 per cent on last year's provision. That includes £882 million for recurrent expenditure by education and library boards, of which £1 million is provided under the Government's New Deal. That comprises £818 million for schools and £64 million for libraries, youth administration and other services.

Vote 12 also provides £48 million for boards' capital projects; £65 million for capital projects in voluntary and grant-maintained integrated schools; and £163 million for recurrent expenditure in voluntary and grant-maintained integrated schools. That amount includes £28 million recurrent expenditure for grant-maintained integrated schools, an increase of £5 million over 1998-99. The provision for boards' and other schools' capital includes some £6 million under the Government's New Deal.

Also in Vote 12, £110 million has been provided for colleges of further education, £125 million for local universities and £128 million for student support, including grants and student loans. The vote also covers expenditure on a range of youth, sport, community and cultural activities, including £17 million for arts and museums, £5 million for the Odyssey Millennium Landmark Project and £4 million for community relations. Some £13 million has also been made available under the EU Peace and Reconciliation Programme.

15 Jun 1999 : Column 204

The next set of six votes relates to the Department of Health and Social Services where £1,666 million is sought in Vote 14 for expenditure on hospitals, community health and personal social services, health and social services trusts, family health services and certain other services.

In Vote 16, £33 million is sought for expenditure on grants to voluntary bodies, training, bursaries and further education and certain other services.

In Vote 17, £146 million is sought to meet the department's administration and other miscellaneous costs. That includes £96 million for the Social Security Agency which also takes into account £3 million in respect of administering the Welfare to Work initiatives. Some £8 million is for the Northern Ireland Child Support Agency; £4 million for the Health Estates Agency and £37 million for the core department.

In Vote 18, £1,811 million is sought for social security benefit expenditure administered by the Social Security Agency. That represents an increase of 7.3 per cent compared with forecast outturn for last year. It covers not only the general uprating of benefits from April 1999 but also an increasing number of beneficiaries.

In Vote 19, £373 million is sought to cover expenditure on the independent living funds, motability, housing benefits and the Social Fund, including substantially increased provision for winter fuel payments and payments into the Northern Ireland National Insurance Fund.

Finally, I turn to the new Northern Ireland Assembly vote where, as I have already advised, £14 million is sought to cover the initial costs of the Assembly in this financial year.

I hope that that short summary of the main components of the estimates is helpful. I commend the order to your Lordships.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 9th June be approved.--(Lord Dubs.)

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page