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Lord Shutt of Greetland: Many Members of the Committee will recall that on 8 July, when the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, intervened on the Question of my noble friend Lord Smith about consultants, he gave us a sample of the literature that he had been receiving. Although I have taken the lectern, the sample, I have brought would have sufficed.
I do not complain about getting the literature because it proves to us what we are lacking with the Assembly not functioning. As we open the post day by day, all these letters from various departments in Northern Ireland are a steady reminder to us that the Assembly is not functioning and that it ought to be. Reference has been made to the possibility of a resumption in the autumn. If there is no resurrection of the Assembly in the autumn, I do not think that we can carry on scrutinising like this. I have been trying to scratch about as best I can and it is very difficult. There is a democratic deficit. The Minister has told us about the consultation that has taken place to put this budget together. But I cannot measure the quality of that consultation. I am sure that it is there but I cannot measure its depth and quality. If we are to be back again, we will have to find other ways of doing this.
For a start, I find this document very difficult to fathom. I set about it by looking at the Barnett formula and seeing where that takes us in terms of the numbers because I cannot prove that it works. I cannot prove that what is in the document and what the Barnett formula produces match. I am not clear about what is paid for by UK taxpayers as a whole and is not covered under the devolved budget. I do not know how that fits with the Barnett formula. I also do not know how supplements from the European Union fit in. They are, to use the term, additionality. I cannot see how the big picture fits with what I see in this book. Indeed, in the book it is difficult to fathom what is different from A to B and occasionally C. It is designed to confuse. I would like to think that the starting point, the fundamentals, were clearer.
When I spoke in March, I referred to an area that I know a little bit about, Northern Ireland railways. I said to myself, "That's enough of that, pick something else to look at next time. See if you can get to something else in
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depth". But I regret to say that I must return to the railways because I referred then to a debate that appeared to be going on in Northern Ireland about the non-core railway, which was Whitehead to Larne and Ballymena and Londonderry.
What I did not know then was that a book was to be produced by the Railways Review Group A Position Report on the Future Investment Needs of Northern Ireland Railways. It is the least glossy of any of the documents that have come out of Northern Ireland. It is only 30 pages. However, page 30 refers one to a consultants report, which is obtainable at www.translink.co.ukand all sorts of other things. That gives one another 220 pages from Booz Allen Hamilton. I have that in my paperwork here. Amazingly, there has also been a report on the railways in the Republic of Ireland by Booz Allen Hamilton. That report was over 400 pages. So there are well over 600 pages of consultants' report on the railways of Ireland.
Sadly, however, this modest 30-pager talks of the closure of railway lines in Northern Ireland and yetthis must be true because I read it in the consultants' reportLondonderry is the fourth city of Ireland. The railway line we are talking about would connect the second city of Ireland with its fourth city.
Looking at the report produced by the same consultants in the Republic, they talk about a feasibility study to look into the possibility of extending the railway from Londonderry to Letterkenny, which would be a costly venture. The consultants say that they have consulted with DETR Northern Ireland and Translink NIR, which suggests support. Yet those same folk are putting out these closure proposals. That is not joined-up government in any shape or form. It is time, as a piece of detail, for acts to be got together and acknowledge that the best option would be to return both of these railway lines. Indeed, the capital costs would be a mere fraction of what is to be carried forward in budget expenditure from last year to this. As I have said, that is an important piece of detail.
I know that some people are not too happy about cross-border bodies, but it is quite interesting to note, in terms of dual economy, that when we have Waterways Ireland, quite frankly it would make incredibly good sense to have "railways Ireland" as well. We should bear it in mind that the rail network in Northern Ireland is much smaller than that in the Republic, but they have so much in common when compared with anything in England, Scotland and Wales.
I want to talk next about European money. Several references are made to European funds from the various agencies throughout Europe in the budget document. What I cannot fathom is the approach to reconciliation. The last page of the yellow section of the book refers to the income coming from Europe in respect of the various funds while expenditure is set out on the red pages. It is impossible to reconcile the two figures, although that may well be quite proper given
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the timing differences. But no attempt has been made to reconcile that. I cannot prove that the European moneys received will match the moneys paid out.
Several fortunate areas of European funding have grown out of the misfortune of Northern Ireland such as, for example, the Peace II EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation moneys. Much of that is spent on those people desperately searching for peace, many of them involved in voluntary and local community groups. Amazingly, peace money is also used to buy double decker buses in Belfast, but we shall let that pass by as one of those strange things that happens in government. I should have thought that the genuine expenditure of peace and reconciliation moneys is all about peace and reconciliation. However, I am worried about how the micro-economy that has built up over recent years will cope if, as a result of the addition of poorer states to the European Union, it is not possible to fund it in the same way. Questions arise over whether the peace and reconciliation funding programme will be slimmed down. There are concerns about that.
On any basis, the figure of £11,783 million is a large sum. I am concerned about best use of money. My noble friend Lord Smith has spoken about the various organisations in Northern Ireland, whose acronyms are NIA, NIB, NIC, NID, NIE, NIF, and so on, with the list going round several times because there are so many. Does every such outfit have human relations consultants, treasurers and staff to produce glossy books? Is there no possibility of economising on these establishment costs?
Perhaps we should consider benchmarking. The three largest counties in England are Essex, Kent and Hampshire, each with a population of around 1.2 or 1.3 million. The combined population of the neighbouring counties of Hampshire and Dorset is similar to that of Northern Ireland. The population of Hampshire and Dorset is around 1.63 million while that of Northern Ireland is around 1.69 million. The education budget for Hampshire and Dorset is £803 million while Northern Ireland's is £1,300 million. Of course, if a devolved government want to spend more money on education, they can, but I still wonder how those figures can be matched.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: I have not; I have looked only at the populations. Perhaps one can look at the figures in all sorts of ways. I accept that the comparison is totally imprecise. For example, the education budget of Northern Ireland includes libraries, but that constitutes quite a small proportionaround 4 per cent of each school's budget. Even deducting the budget for libraries, there is a huge difference. Perhaps it will be possible to look at the numbers and reduce the difference, but I guess that the figure for Northern Ireland will still be substantially higher, and that may be right. But I want to know whether such matters are looked at.
We are all concerned about due economy. Regardless of that, post enlargement there might be less European money. We should be looking at
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opportunities to reduce expenditure in Northern Ireland, because an absence of European money would result in the collapse of certain areas of the Northern Ireland economy, particularly those paid for under the European Union Peace and Reconciliation Programme. Although the Assembly is in suspension, it is important that the matter is looked at carefully. By looking at some of the ways in which Northern Ireland is operated, with a view to sharing costs of producing glossy books, accountancy and treasury posts and clerkships of organisations, there could be due economy and money could be released to enable frontline work and essential voluntary and community work to continue.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I agree almost entirely with what has been said already. Pending the possible reconstruction of the governancenot governmentof Northern Ireland, a reduction in the vast number of departments and the thinning out of the number of curious bodies already referred to, which seem to be without visible means of support, we will remain in financial trouble. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has highlighted much of the wasteful expenditure. Unfortunately, the lack of clarity will be noted by other regions of the United Kingdom, which will cast envious glances across the Irish Sea and wonder how we have got away with it for so long. The inevitable result will be that Her Majesty's Treasury will start to pay heed to this drain on UK resources. We must be careful.
I am not critical of civil servants as a body. They are bound to suffer from what I can only call the sheer stupidity and silliness of others. I implore Her Majesty's Government to institute a sound administrative structure for Northern Ireland on the grounds voted upon in 1979 by 14.5 million United Kingdom citizens. When some of us were bold enough to inquire why the structure was not proceeded with, the answer was, "Because, Jim dear, it was not enough". Perhaps it was not enough and the United Kingdom electorate's appetite for constitutional government was not satisfied, but they should rememberthey probably now remember in hindsightthat the alternative to "not enough" was bound to be nothing, which is precisely what we have now. We will continue to have nothing until we stop playing games that are designed mainlyI have to say, perhaps uncharitablyto keep the news industry happy. We must have summits, get-togethers, departmental heads and so forth, yet it all amounts to nothing. It is a con job, as the news industry knows well, although it exploits it and uses the fodder handed out to themwho can blame them?
I implore Her Majesty's Government. They have exhibited a good deal of realism in their thinking on various other national and international policies. Surely, it is not asking too much for them to look again at what was voted upon by the United Kingdom electorate in 1979 but rejected because it did not go far enough, with the inevitable result that we got nothing.
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