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Lord Lyell: My Lords, perhaps I may add my voice briefly to the debate and thank the Minister for presenting in such detail these appropriation orders. I can certainly confirm what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Blease. Perhaps he was referring to at least one of the former occupants of the position so ably occupied by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, but I, too, recall fairly lengthy and detailed appropriation order debates.

Perhaps I may raise one or two points. One certainly may be in the line of an oration that I seem to remember giving when the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, was present in the Moses Room in Committee. A certain musical item was classified as "It's fate was pathetic and tied to the stake and burned as heretic" I may inject a slightly heretical note into the debate. I see that the noble Lord has his thinking cap on.

We have had great support--I would add mine--for all the efforts of the Minister's right honourable friend across the water, which has been reflected in what we read in the newspapers and the electronic media throughout the world.

In the very first line of Vote 1 appear the words "Market support". At the end of that paragraph, on page 3, there appears "Market development". Perhaps I could once again ask the Minister to look at that as a matter of particular importance. This year is an odd year. I am sure that the Minister will know that one of the world's great food fairs takes place in Cologne in Germany; Its traditional acronym is ANUGA. I hope that the Minister, if still in post--or, one might say, to be announced or to be confirmed--or, if there is any

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problem, the First Minister or someone of similar stature, will attend this clearly important world gathering in Cologne.

Certainly whatever the Prime Minister may be discussing and whatever one sees in the political development of Northern Ireland, it is just as important to present the very professional face of Northern Ireland--certainly of the farming industry, the market support industry and the food industry, let alone other aspects of Northern Ireland--to members of the public from all round the world. This is equally important and equally welcome. I hope that the Minister will pass on my hope that somebody--I hope that it will be the Minister, if his tenure can be extended--will be, I hesitate to say banging the drum but making a suitable fuss with ANUGA in October this year.

I am delighted to see in the vote that there is stress laid on the scientific and veterinary services in the Department of Agriculture, together with other "spin off" or complementary aspects of the marvellous scientific traditions in Northern Ireland. I was not sure which sub-total were referred to in the vote, but I hope that any sums expended in this area will not diminish. I hope that the Minister will use his influence to see that the proportion of the sums expended in this area will be maintained.

I am delighted to see in Vote 2 that the reference is still to "water course management". In my career in the Department of Agriculture it used to be called "drainage". It may be in tribute to me that it was expanded to "water course management". Never use one word where two will do. But that is particularly relevant.

I am delighted to observe sea defences. I do not remember too much flooding in my time in the north. I recall that there was some fresh water flooding when a river bank gave way because of an enormous colony of rabbits. We sent in local sportsmen and that disposed of that problem. I hope that the Minister will take care of water course management; I hope that he will add all his influence to scientific and veterinary services; above all, I hope that he or perhaps his right honourable friend the Secretary of State--someone of stature--will go to ANUGA and push for Northern Ireland's excellent food industry and everyone involved in it.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Fitt: My Lords, I want to reinforce what the Minister said when he wished the new assembly success and hope that this will be the last time that we will have to debate a Northern Ireland appropriation order.

I have had the experience of debating appropriate orders in the old Stormont parliament, in the old Stormont assembly, in another place and in your Lordships' House. When an appropriation order was debated in the old Stormont assembly there were times when the debate lasted for two days. All the elected representatives from the various constituencies who were aware of the needs of those constituencies would have their say. I believe that Northern Ireland is the place where the vast amount of money allocated in the order should be debated. I have just had verified by one of the civil servants that the order covers expenditure of

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£4.5 billion. That is a good deal of money by anyone's standards. I believe that the only place that that amount of money should be debated--where the money should be spent and from where it should be withheld--is Northern Ireland.

When, 20 or 30 years ago, Northern Ireland Members first raised matters at Westminster concerning their constituencies, the Hansard staff were nearly driven berserk. They were sending notes up and down to Members. They could not understand Members' pronunciation and they had particular difficulty with the Member for Antrim North. The number of place names that he mentioned in his appropriation speeches kept the Hansard staff going for two or three hours.

It is a long time since the elected representatives of Northern Ireland last had the opportunity to discuss an appropriation order and the expenditure of this money. They have not had responsibility for saying where that money should be spent--where a hospital should be built or where assistance should be given to some industries. An awful danger has arisen. A dependency culture has grown up in Northern Ireland. If you do not have responsibility for saying where the money is to be spent, it is all too easy to point the finger at British Ministers. We have seen that happen over the past 25 years. We have seen the various competing agencies in Northern Ireland demanding more assistance from the British Treasury, and sending people far offshore to demand money from the European Community. A dependency culture in any society is a very dangerous thing.

Northern Ireland has had to live without its own government. On the question of the £35 million for the new assembly, it may not have been said in Parliament or in your Lordships' House, but on the streets of Northern Ireland, and in the bars and the pubs and the clubs, people are laughing about it. Who decided on this £35 million? The figure was arrived at with gay abandon. They say, "Ah well, the British Government will have to pay for it". I believe that the increase in expenditure will prove to be totally unjustified.

I am saying to the Minister today, as I said to him when he first took on the responsibility for Northern Ireland, after congratulating him on what he had been able to do, that I hope that he will no longer be saddled with responsibility for governing Northern Ireland, and that Northern Ireland elected representatives, on the soil of Northern Ireland and in the constituencies of Northern Ireland, will take responsibility for an appropriation order such as this.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to the many Members of the House who have contributed to this debate. First, perhaps I may say a few words about the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I know that he wanted to be here but I understand that he had a prior commitment with the TA, with which he is very involved. It is only for that reason that he was unable to be present. In saying that, I mean no disrespect to the noble Lord, Lord Luke, on the Opposition Front Bench.

Perhaps I may take up the point just made by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. Yes, the Government clearly want devolution to happen. It is desirable for many reasons,

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not the least of which is that it is right and proper that local Ministers and local members of the assembly should determine expenditure and should determine how money is spent in Northern Ireland. That is a politically desirable thing to happen. It is one the Government want to happen. It will be one of the many benefits of a handover of power to the assembly and to local Ministers. The sooner it happens, the better.

I turn to the many questions raised by noble Lords. If I happen to omit any point that has been raised, I shall write to the noble Lord concerned. I shall do my best to answer the questions of which I have made a note.

The concern raised most often by Members of the House was funding for the assembly and the Northern Ireland departments. There is no question that the assembly will be funded to the level that it requires. My honourable friend the Minister of State, Paul Murphy, is at present discussing this matter and will be able to say something more when the order is debated in the other place. But we will not leave the assembly without the necessary money. The money in the appropriation order is the pre-devolution amount, based on some £40 million. When the assembly takes over responsibility it will need have to have a larger sum of money to deal with the extra responsibilities that it will have to exercise as a full assembly. That also goes for the need to change from the present departmental of six to the new structure of 10 departments, plus the department at the centre. We have to find that money because the assembly must be able to function.

My noble friend Lord Fitt suggested that there was concern among people in Northern Ireland about the amount of money involved. The assembly indicated how much money it would need. On devolution, it will have to accept responsibility and be answerable to the people of Northern Ireland for the money that it thinks it necessary to spend on its operations. We want to facilitate that process, but responsibility for expenditure in the full devolved assembly will rest with the assembly, However, in the meantime, we want to facilitate the process so that when the assembly takes over there is a smooth transition and the money can be made available. The £14 million for 1999-2000 is an interim figure. It has to be. The additional requirements of the assembly will be addressed through the normal monitoring arrangements where provision can be reallocated to the assembly from easements elsewhere within the Northern Ireland block. But I repeat: there is no question of our failing to ensure that the assembly will have enough money for its requirements.

The fact is that the assembly did not give the Department of Finance and Personnel time to examine its estimates of what was needed--hence the lack of an agreed figure at this stage. The matter will be resolved, so I do not think it would be useful for me to go into the detailed points at this stage.

The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, made three points: about the assembly, the 10 departments and the absence of other provision. However, I think that those points have all been dealt with in what I have said. That is how those different headings of expenditure will be dealt with.

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The noble Lord, Lord Blease, asked a number of questions. He referred to paragraph 5.4 on page 19 of the Estimates relating to the use of accounting symbols. The last sentence of the paragraph refers to the detail of the audit being carried out. A normal audit of a department may involve audit down to the transaction level. However, if it is grant-in-aid, the detail in the course of the audit in the appropriation account may not be at transaction level. In such cases the recipient body of that grant-in-aid will be subject to its own external audit arrangements and will therefore be accountable for the detailed way in which it deals with money that has been granted to it.

The noble Lord also asked questions about the figures for Northern Ireland Assembly expenditure at pages 83 and 85 of the Estimates. The figures relate to the residual expenditure of the old Northern Ireland assembly. If the noble Lord feels that it would be helpful, I am happy to write to him and give rather more detail.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about provision for integrating ex-offenders into society. He referred to a transition between ACE and the new deal. It may be necessary for me to write to the noble Lord. Ease of transition is a matter of concern to us; we want to make sure that nothing slips through from one system to another. We have tried to ensure an easy transition from ACE to the new deal. In relation to the noble Lord's specific point, if it is acceptable to him, I should like to write to him with more information.

The noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, asked a number of questions. The first dealt with the implementation of Economic Development Strategy 2010. The review of economic development strategy announced by my honourable friend Adam Ingram, the Minister for Economic Development, on 29th January 1998 was designed to produce a new economic development strategy for Northern Ireland up to the year 2010. The review was carried out as a collaborative exercise involving both the private and public sectors. It is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to consider and implement.

The report makes over 60 recommendations for developing the Northern Ireland economy over the coming decade. While it remains a matter for the devolved government to take much of the strategy forward, the day-to-day business of government must go on. Some issues raised in the economy development strategy review must be addressed now and cannot be delayed. The Minister for Economic Development has announced that he will begin to implement a number of these key issues, including the establishment of the proposed economic development forum, which will give social partners a strong, effective voice and a meaningful role in influencing and monitoring Strategy 2010.

The noble Lord also asked about the difficulties concerning excise duty and the differential with the Republic of Ireland. I fully appreciate the noble Lord's concerns on the price differential in fuel prices between the Republic and Northern Ireland. These reflect national policies. While I realise that that is of little

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comfort to those petrol retailers facing business difficulties, the wider benefits of the levels of public expenditure announced by the Chancellor are in no small way made possible because of the UK-wide national revenue generation policy.

I am aware that various groups have been pressing for a subsidy scheme for petrol retailers in the Border areas of Northern Ireland similar to that in the Netherlands. However, the European Commission has questioned the legality of that state aid, and any similar schemes will most likely have difficulty in meeting the European state aid rules.

As regards smuggling, HM Customs will continue to deploy resources against illegal trade, as they have done with good success in the past.

The noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, also asked about the port of Belfast. He asked whether commercial freedom could be given to the port of Belfast prior to privatisation. I do not think that that is possible, because it would require legislation to ease its transition from trust board status to the kind of status referred to by the noble Lord. We are moving with all possible haste to implement the privatisation proposals. The position at present is that the committee established by the Assembly to consider the matter is still examining the proposals of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. The commissioners have put forward revised proposals dealing particularly with the issue of the landbank. The Harbour Commissioners will meet later this week to discuss that development. I am scheduled to meet the Assembly committee later this week. So the matter is under active consideration. Clearly, the Government are anxious that there should be no delay and progress should be made as rapidly as possible.

The noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, also referred to the effect of the energy tax in Northern Ireland. I recognise his concern. The matter has been raised with Treasury colleagues so that Northern Ireland interests can be taken into account when the levy is set.

As regards the funding of an environmental programme, the natural environment is one of the foundations on which we shall build the vibrant mixed-use rural economy to which the Government are committed. The new countryside management scheme which complements the existing ESA scheme means that we can now support farmers throughout Northern Ireland in adopting environmentally sensitive farming practices. We have been able to make £1.2 million available out of existing resources to enable the countryside management scheme to be introduced. That will allow up to 1,000 applications to be accepted. The case for additional funding for agri-environmental schemes will be considered against other priorities as part of the Government's implementation of the Agenda 2000 settlement.

The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, stressed the importance of international food fairs as a showcase for Northern Ireland agricultural products. I know of the noble Lord's direct experience over a number of years as the Minister in Northern Ireland responsible for agriculture. The noble Lord referred to the ANUGA fair in Cologne. I have managed to attend a number of food fairs. I went

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to SIAL in Paris and I have been a couple of times to the seafood fair in Brussels, as well as attending a number of events located in Northern Ireland itself. I am happy, if time allows and if my responsibilities continue, to support Northern Ireland agriculture in whatever way is possible. Having got the beef ban lifted for Northern Ireland, we want to ensure that Northern Ireland products are successful on world markets. That is the way to encourage and help Northern Ireland agriculture.

I believe that I have dealt with all the main points. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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