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Column 753--Nirex--will be forced to use one site alone in Great Britain which is prepared to accept the legacy of liability represented by nuclear waste.
How many Conservative Members will volunteer to have a PWR in their constituency if the Government go ahead with their nuclear madness? Is the Minister prepared to have a PWR in his backyard, as he seems to want to commit the Government to further nuclear reactors in the future? Alternatively, are we to assume that we shall run out of seaside sites for nuclear reactors? In years to come, will such nuclear reactors take over fossil-fuel power stations? Does the Minister believe that PWRs will be built in constituencies such as that held by his hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), which has a number of fossil-fuel power stations currently under threat? Will the new families of PWRs be built in such areas? The Government are in a state of confusion about the nuclear power industry. Perhaps the Minister will explain what their plans are. How big a tab will present and future taxpayers have to pick up for this costly --both environmentally and in money terms--industry?
We accept most of the Bill. We did not oppose it in Committee or on Second Reading, and we do not intend to oppose it today. Nevertheless, if the Government go ahead with the anticipated large-scale development of PWRs in the mistaken belief that that is the answer to the problem of greenhouse gases, exactly where will that development take place and in whose constituency? Who will be asked to accept the extension of the nuclear industry? The Opposition--and, I am sure, millions of other people--would like to know the answers.
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : I was not a member of the Standing Committee considering the Bill, but I read the record of its proceedings today, and I found them absorbing. I am decisively anti- nuclear, and I am in tune with the majority of our population. The British people do not want any more nuclear power stations ; and, frankly, they do not want to see any more money squandered on the industry.
The first clause of the Bill will increase the borrowing capabilities of BNFL from £1.5 billion to £2 billion. Therefore, the industry will be able to avail itself of an additional £500 million of public funds. In common with the public, I believe that that is throwing good money after bad, because the record of that industry inspires no confidence. BNFL has a history of leaks at Windscale, now Sellafield, and a history of escalating costs. One need only study its accounts for last year to see that the cost of reprocessing Magnox fuel increased by 27 per cent. in one year, or by 35 per cent. in real terms in the past two years.
Poor Sellafield may well feel that its days are numbered because the technology of reprocessing is now unnecessary. I noticed that, in Committee, Conservative Members asked why it was necessary to reprocess nuclear waste. The old justification was that we needed uranium and plutonium, but then we were faced with the embarrassment of the waste. We no longer need uranium, as it is cheap to buy on the world market and there are abundant reserves of it all over the world. We do not need the
Column 754plutonium, especially as the Government are now winding down their fast breeder reactor programme, about which I am delighted. What we are talking about is the long-term death of the nuclear industry. We do not need the uranium or the plutonium, nor do we need the waste. The technology of reprocessing merely multiplies the volume of waste by a factor of 100. It creates and adds to the embarrassment and it is expensive to store and dispose of such waste.
It is clear from the advanced gas-cooled reactors and the PWRs that the Government are intent on building that their wastes will not be reprocessed. We shall do as the United States has always done, and store wastes without reprocessing. It is possible to use dry storage for PWRs and AGRs. That involves much cheaper technology than other methods of storing, and it is environmentally much more acceptable than reprocessing.
Where does that leave Sellafield and the thermal oxide reprocessing plant? It is at THORP that the big expansion at the Sellafield plant lies. THORP will be used to reprocess oxide fuel. It seems that too much money has been spent there already. Contracts have been signed that may be expensive to cancel. The costs of THORP will be £1.5 billion, five times the original estimate. The justification for it is that there are orders in the pipeline for £4 billion-worth of waste to be reprocessed over the next 10 years.
The Minister appeared to be proud in Committee that 70 per cent. of the orders are from overseas. Should we be proud that we are importing nuclear wastes? Surely that comes within the same category as the importation of toxic wastes. It is nothing to be proud of. Most of the British people would prefer not to import massive quantities of toxic wastes for landfill and for incineration, and the same goes for nuclear waste. They do not want to see Britain becoming the nuclear dustbin of the world, but that is what THORP is all about. It is only that activity that makes it financially viable. What will happen to the wastes from Japan and elsewhere after they have been reprocessed at THORP? What happens to the plutonium and, most especially, the long-lived radioactive wastes, the caesium 137 and the strontium 90? Will they be sent back to Japan and elsewhere? Will that happen in five years, 10 years, or in the indefinite future? The British people are fed up with waste importation. I am disappointed that the Government could not agree that the Bill should be amended so that it became the duty of any private or public company holding or operating nuclear installations to publish annually the current estimated cost of decommissioning such installations. Decommissioning is a critically important cost. Decommissioning nuclear installations could be much more expensive than constructing them. It is fair to ask for annual estimates of decommissioning costs. The facts should be available to the British public. During consideration of the Electricity Bill, we heard calls for transparency in the costs of nuclear power. We want the costs of decommissioning to be transparent. The costs should appear in the accounts of British Nuclear Fuels plc every year and in those of the Central Electricity Generating Board. There should be a detailed explanation of the technology and detailed estimates of the costs. It is revealing that the nuclear industry used to think that, when nuclear plants became clapped out, they could be disposed of at sea. That view is incredible, now that we
Column 755know more about nuclear wastes and radiation. At one time, however, the nuclear industry thought that clapped- out reactors and plant at Sellafield, for example, that came to the end of their life could be disposed of at sea. I am glad that we have moved on slightly since then. However, the fact remains that we need accurate estimates of decommissioning costs, and these should be revised annually. We know that the decommissioning of nuclear power stations is to be deferred to stage 3, to 100 years hence. What if it is possible technically to decommission them within 20 to 30 years? Once it is technically feasable to decommission nuclear installations at the end of their life, they should be restored to green sites as soon as it is technically feasible to do so. That means that the 2 per cent. discount rate becomes much less relevant. The cost of decommissioning multiplies by a factor of two, three or four. We should have reasonable estimates of the costs and they should be prepared annually. The technology and the estimates should be in line with international experience.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : It appears that the Minister is not living in the real world. He is such a nice chap outside the Chamber, but when he speaks from the Dispatch Box he is as vicious as I do not know what. He becomes really nasty when he talks about nuclear power.
The Minister has spoken about the Labour party's policy. Ministers take every opportunity to attack the Labour party. We are approaching the European elections and the Minister is probably electioneering on behalf of Conservative candidates. The Labour party has never changed its policy on nuclear energy--the Minister appears to be surprised. It seems that he does not do his homework. He should not attack the Labour party for its nuclear policy when its spokesmen are really reiterating what they have said in the past.
Mr. Michael Spicer : That is an extraordinary comment. I am prompted to ask the hon. Gentleman how it was that, when his right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) was Secretary of State for Energy, he launched a massive nuclear building programme. He was a member of the Labour party, and I believe that he still is. The same party is committed now to destroying the programme which he almost invented.
Mr. Haynes : An individual is entitled to express his own opinion. I am talking about Labour party policy on nuclear energy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) may have done what the Minister suggests, but I stand in the Chamber as a Labour Member who believes in the Labour party's policy on nuclear energy. The Minister should come off it and get his facts right before he makes such stupid remarks from the Government Dispatch Box. Mind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he makes one or two such remarks on these matters and on others. I know that, as I served as a member of the Committees that considered the Electricity Bill and the Bill that is before us. The Minister has made other stupid comments. This is really a cover-up. The Secretary of State for Energy and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy often refer to the president of the National Union of Mineworkers. That really is rubbish. I have some news for the Minister. The president of the Union of Democratic
Column 756Mineworkers has applied to join the Labour party. I hope that the Minister has taken that on board and can understand the feelings about nuclear energy which are prevalent in Nottinghamshire. I am convinced that those feelings are related to the Government's nuclear policy. People are reacting against it. The Minister can come off it and stop referring to the president of the NUM across the Dispatch Box.
In his argument tonight and in Committee upstairs, the Minister has always argued that the provision of fossil fuel for the electricity industry is more expensive than nuclear energy. What a load of rubbish. That is another cover-up. We know that the cost of nuclear power will be way above the cost of fossil fuels.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) was right to refer to the cost of decommissioning. That cost is in addition to the provision of PWRS. My hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) suggested that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) would not have a nuclear power station in her constituency. I will tell the Minister why she would not have one. She would not use the argument that she was against nuclear power. Instead, she would claim that Derbyshire was a nuclear-free zone. She is right ; Derbyshire is a nuclear-free zone.
Recently, there were county council elections in Derbyshire and the Labour party took more seats in Derbyshire even though there is a great deal of expenditure on the people, especially on people in need. Of course, there is also expenditure on advertising the fact that Derbyshire is a nuclear- free zone.
In Committee on the Electricity Bill and on the Atomic Energy Bill, the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North (Mr. T. Skeet) was thrashing the issue. He wanted to make more progress. He did not want four PWRs as planned ; he wanted the eight which were decided in the first place.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. A Third Reading debate is not an easy debate. The hon. Gentleman is extremely experienced and he knows that the debate must relate to what is in the Bill. The matters which the hon. Gentleman has raised now are not in the Bill.
Mr. Haynes : I was about to refer to a PWR being situated in Bedfordshire, North. The hon. Member for Bedforshire, North was pushing for PWRs in Committee, but he made it clear that he did not want one in his constituency.
When we drive down the motorway, we can all see the notices which have been painted on the bridges--all the notices are illegal--stating, "We don't want nuclear dumping here." However, the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, North was pushing like mad in Committee for PWRs, nuclear power, and all the blooming rest of it. However, it seems that he is going to be dumped for pushing for those projects. He has had his come-uppance. He may stand as an independent, but we shall see.
The argument is all about cost. People write to me and attend my surgeries because they are concerned about the Government's nuclear energy programme, particularly
Column 757their new PWRs. Where will those PWRs go? We do not want one in Ashfield. I can tell the Minister, on my constituents' behalf, "We ain't gonna have one." That is something else that he can put in his pipe and smoke--although he does not smoke a pipe. The people are making themselves heard and I am speaking on their behalf. Many Conservative Members push like mad for nuclear power and the new PWRs. They support them in the Division Lobbies. However, they do not want them in their own back gardens. It is rather like the planning applications to which the Secretary of State for the Environment says, "Not in my back garden, but they can be in someone else's." I hope that the Minister gets the message. There is no doubt that the Government will get their Bill, but we shall continue to fight it.
The Minister never takes any notice when I am talking to him. He is always doodling. When I was addressing the Minister in a very important debate on mining subsidence recently, my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) said, "He's doodling." He was not listening to me.
Mr. Haynes : If the hon. Gentleman is making notes, that is different. I hope that he will say something that I can enjoy and really take on board, and which I can take back to my constituents. I repeat : when it comes to the next general election, the Minister will get a shock. Nuclear energy policy will change when my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are on the Government Benches and when Conservative Members are in opposition.
Mr. Michael Spicer : The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) asked about repatriation of nuclear waste. As the hon. Gentleman is knowledgeable on such matters, he should know that, since 1976, all contracts with foreign countries incorporate options for the repatriation of nuclear waste arising out of reprocessing. The Government's intention is that those options will be exercised, so I hope that reassures the hon. Gentleman.
I made one or two notes on the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), who accused me of not living in the real world because I do not agree with his view that Labour party policy on the nuclear industry has been consistent. The hon. Gentleman's party, which now wishes to destroy the nuclear industry, is the same party that spawned the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). At the time in question, the then right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East was not just any member of the Labour party and entitled to hold offbeat views on nuclear energy, such as those that some of his right hon. and hon. Friends expressed recently ; he was the Secretary of State for Energy. In that capacity, he launched a number of nuclear power stations.
Some of them have not worked as well as he imagined, whereas all those launched during the period of office of the present Government show every sign of doing so. Any shortcomings should not all be laid at the feet of the right hon. Gentleman. Nevertheless, he formulated present nuclear policy and the power stations associated with it.
Column 758I say to the hon. Member for Ashfield something that he often says to me : "Come off it." It is nonsense for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that there has not been something of a volte-face by the Labour party. It is extraordinary that, if Labour ever return to government--which most people in this country who think about such matters hope will never happen--they will be dedicated to the destruction of the nuclear power industry.
The Labour party's inconsistency is not confined to the past. I have an invitation to a national conference entitled "Energy for the Future", sponsored by the Scottish Trades Union Congress, at which the speakers making the case for the fast reactor will include the hon. Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). There is inconsistency not only between the Opposition's present policies and those to which they have devoted themselves when in government, but within their own ranks. When it suits them, Members of Parliament representing interests that are served well by the nuclear industry appear at conferences supporting its future, while the mainstream element of the Labour party now apparently wishes to ditch its past policies. It is entirely wrong for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that there is any consistency with past policies.
The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) asked me what the Government's policy was on the future of the industry. He claimed that he now had a firm policy, and suggested that the Government did not. The Government's position has been made clear several times : we will ensure through the non-fossil fuel obligation that the nuclear industry is maintained at about its present capacity, which means building four pressurised water reactors to replace the aging Magnoxes.
Mr. Barron : Is the Minister contradicting the paper presented to the seminar held by the Prime Minister on 26 April? That paper, introduced by Mr. Ken Currie of the energy technology support unit, dealt with the options for mitigating the greenhouse effect and suggested the physical possibility of building 24 new PWRs by the year 2020. Is the Minister saying that the paper was wrong, and that the four PWRs that are public knowledge are the only ones that were in the Government's mind either before or after the seminar?
Mr. Spicer : The papers presented at the seminar contained the views of those who presented them. The reason why there is such a thing as collective responsibility--the reason why there are Cabinets, and why policy becomes policy only when Ministers have announced it to Parliament as such--is that discussion must take place, in some cases on the basis of hypothetical material in papers. That particular paper gave the views and the prognosis of one individual, which is all that it claimed to do.
Discussion takes place both inside and outside Government about all sorts of possible scenarios, but the Government's policy is absolutely clear : we need four PWRs if we are to maintain our present nuclear capacity. What is not clear is the Opposition's policy on the environment. They spend a great deal of time talking about the environment, but things are different when it comes to hard practical reality.
Column 759Let us assume that what is meant by "impingement" on the environment is the effect of, for instance, carbon dioxide emissions on the atmosphere. The Opposition must explain how they would satisfy what is expected, according to every assumption that I have come across, to be a rising demand for electricity--
Mr. Alan W. Williams rose --
Mr. Spicer : May I just finish this point? There will be a rising demand for electricity, even if conservation measures are taken into account. Perhaps that is what the hon. Gentleman wishes to say. How are the Opposition to satisfy that rising demand with what is essentially a coal- based power station system? Everyone knows that most emissions of CO are from coal-fired power stations. How on earth will the Opposition be able to develop an honest policy toward the environment if they maintain their anti -nuclear stance?
Mr. Williams : I am pleased that the Minister corrected himself in mid-paragraph when I rose to intervene. I thought that he made it abundantly clear during the proceedings on the Electricity Bill that the Bill said nothing about the environment and conservation, or about environmental pollution. The fact is that four pressurised water reactor power stations would make a very small contribution to environmental protection. If the money that is to be spent on their construction were to be invested in energy conservation, it would make a far greater contribution to environmental protection. It is baffling that the Government and the Minister should be deaf to the pleas of so many people to take an interest in conservation. They will have to take it seriously at some stage.
Mr. Spicer : Everything associated with the Electricity Bill relates to the environment. If one thinks through what the electricity industry does to the environment, it has-- [Interruption.] I see that you are growing a little restless, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I have been asked specifically about the environment and I ought to deal with it. The future of the nuclear industry is bound up with the question of whether additional money is to be given to British Nuclear Fuels, plc. One constraint on the future of the nuclear industry, and therefore on the money that is given to it, might be the environment. That is why I was briefly addressing the question, and I hope that I shall be permitted to answer the hon. Member for Carmarthen.
Mr. Spicer : Perhaps I may be allowed briefly to answer the question raised by the hon. Member for Carmarthen about the effect of the nuclear industry on the environment. Clause 1, in particular, deals with the provision of additional money for the industry. That ought to be welcomed by hon. Members. British Nuclear Fuels plc will be making major new investments in cleaning up the pollution caused by the industry. The hon. Gentleman says that it is untrue for the Government to argue that the nuclear industry will benefit the environment. The Electricity Bill requires all companies to have regard to environmental questions. It does not require them to enhance the beauty of the landscape.
Column 760Unlike the water industry, it is not that kind of industry. However the Electricity Bill and this Bill will ensure that the industry has a multiplicity of sources of supply, in addition to coal. The fact that the industry pollutes the environment by emitting SO and CO is directly addressed in the Bill. The Opposition grumble about the Bill and make speeches against the use of nuclear power. An industry that was exclusively dependent upon coal would pump even more CO into the atmosphere, even allowing for conservation procedures. We consider that the Opposition are hypocritical to adopt that posture when a Bill such as this will provide additional finance for the nuclear industry to protect the environment.
We have never denied that coal will play an essential part in the future, but when considering whether more money should be allowed for investment at BNFL, we think it is essential that nuclear power should be a component of electricity generation. We believe that fervently for many reasons, not the least of which is that which the Opposition always try to cram down our throats--improving the environment.
Mr. Barron rose--
I asked the Minister more than the one question, which he avoided in his attempted answer. I asked about the breakdown of decommissioning costs in the Central Electricity Generating Board and the South of Scotland Electricity Board. If he does not have those figures, I am quite prepared to have them by letter.
Mr. Spicer : I apologise for not giving an answer on the BNFL breakdown, but perhaps I can help by saying that the £4.6 billion covers all the BNFL sites and includes the reactors at Calderhall and Chapel Cross. BNFL estimates that it will cost about £750 million to decommission those reactors--there are four at each site. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman some of the information he wants.
We support the Bill. We said at the outset in the debate on the limitation on borrowing powers that we wanted to make specific points about this industry and its expenditure. The growth of nuclear reprocessing costs has been quite astounding. The Government have been very honest in their defence of reprocessing and the disposal of nuclear waste. I am sure that the Minister's phrase about it being an environmentally pure industry will go down for posterity. I know few people who will defend that position.
The Minister went on at some length about the Labour party's stance. Would he accept a PWR in his constituency? Would his constituents accept a waste disposal facility? We have yet to hear where the Government, who seem to be in favour of the expansion of the nuclear industry, will site these reactors. I am prepared to give way to the Minister if he will tell me whether his constituents are prepared to provide an inland site for a PWR. I asked that question throughout the Committee
Column 761stage and it was unanswered then just as it is unanswered now. Everybody knows it is not environmentally pure. Rather, it is a legacy for future generations.
We shall support the Bill. We are pleased about the international convention which has been brought about because of the accident at Chernobyl. This and any future Government will help if such a disaster should ever befall the earth again.
While we support the Bill, we cannot support this industry, which the Minister believes should be a component of our electricity generation. It is too expensive in terms of the economics of electricity generation, the economics of the nuclear fuel cycle and the cost of the legacy of nuclear waste for future generations. We support the Bill but we do not support the Government's rush to expand a nuclear power industry that has failed the British people and the people of the world during the last 30 years.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with an amendment.
That the draft Financial Provisions (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 17th May, be approved. The order is the latest in a series of such orders, the last of which was passed in 1986. Their main purpose is to adjust, as necessary, certain limits imposed by statute on financial operations and to deal with other routine finance matters, including the simplification and rationalisation of accounting procedures. Those are described in the explanatory memorandum. The only article to which I need draw the attention of the House in particular is article 3, which will enable a capital surplus of some £365 million in the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund to be used to write off some of the loans to be made over the years to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
The surplus came about because the 1986 Financial Provisions Order abolished a number of obsolete funds and transferred their assets to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. Savings on interests charges on loans written off will release resources of some £50 million a year for alternative and more productive public expenditure. I therefore commend the order to the House.
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) : The House will be pleased that I do not intend to speak at length. I thank the Minister of State for taking us so quickly through the provisions of the latest draft order.
The Minister referred to the most recent draft order, that of 1986. My research shows that the one before that was in 1984. The only Member of the 1984 Parliament and certainly the 1986 Parliament who fully understood the orders, with the exception of the Minister who initiated and replied to the debate, was the right hon. Enoch Powell. He certainly went through the draft orders meticulously and, as usual, with a fine-toothed comb, and found something useful to say about them. I wish that I had that insight and strength of character to say that I had done the same. Unfortunately, the truth is that I have read through the order and cannot find a great deal to say about it. The order does not deal with the appropriation of cash for public services in Northern Ireland, a point that the Minister did not mention, although his two predecessors did so in previous debates. I regret that, because, had the order dealt with the appropriate of cash, the scope for the debate would have been far wider and we would have been able to call into question the global sums of public expenditure in Northern Ireland and the allocation of those sums between the various services in the Province.
I notice that the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) is getting a little agitated as she sees the time moving on. I presume that she has her eye on a Bill further down the Order Paper.
Column 763It is perhaps regrettable that the order does not deal with appropriation, as it would have provided the opportunity to discuss Government policy on public expenditure in Northern Ireland. The Minister knows that on many previous occasions I have given the Government credit for the level of public expenditure in the Province. Nevertheless, I repeat that, although the present levels of public expenditure are commendable, in view of the economic and social difficulties and problems, there is still a strong case for even greater increased levels of public expenditure in Northern Ireland. Perhaps that is a point we can pursue in the next Appropriation Order debate.
I recognise that the Government need the order to be passed quickly. Perhaps that is why it was laid before the House last week and is being discussed today. If one reads in detail the explanatory memorandum, one sees that the Northern Ireland Estimates for this year were passed on the assumption that the draft order would come into effect in June. If the Government fail to meet that deadline--it is not my intention to engineer that--public expenditure in Northern Ireland will be reduced by £1 million per week, or nearly £5 million per month, or £60 million per year. That would affect the allocation of public expenditure in the North of Ireland. If the order is not passed and the money is not available, it will affect many expenditure programmes, including that of the Housing Executive, as well as expenditure on education and health. It would also affect the Government's privatisation policies in the North of Ireland. I should like to say a few words about Shorts, a subject I raised with the Minister during Question Time last week. The Minister knows that my party's view remains that the company should continue to be publicly owned. However, I recognise that that battle has now been lost. It is essential to secure and expedite the company's future. We have to have decisions quickly. We all know that the Government have only two bids to consider. The first bid is from Bombardier--I apologise to the company for mispronouncing its name last week--and the second is from GEC-Fokker. It should not take a great deal of time to choose between them. It seems to me and to many other hon. Members that the top management at Shorts has already made a decision and would welcome a takeover by Bombardier. I assume that the recently announced reorganisation of the operational divisions of Shorts is a preliminary step towards that end.
Whatever the truth may be, we have to end quickly the uncertainty over the future of Shorts. That requires a speedy decision by the Government. I press the Minister again to give an assurance that the Government will make their view known within the next two weeks. Having said that, without further ado I accept the order and commend it to the House.
Rev. Martyn Smyth (Belfast, South) : I wish to put one or two points on the record. I notice that the order was issued on Wednesday when in Northern Ireland we had a slight local distraction which continued on Thursday and Friday. Therefore, I join the hon. Member for Leicester South (Mr. Marshall) in his tribute to my colleague of past days, the right hon. Enoch Powell. He is a master of figures and he would have studied in detail the draft order.
It has been said that there will be a shortage of funds for education, but education is not mentioned in the order.
Column 764Reference is made to funds being given to the Housing Executive, thereby enabling funds to be released for other work. Will those other funds be for housing? Will people who have been trying for months to obtain grants--especially older people who have been trying to modernise their homes--but have been delayed by insufficient funds be given grants, or will they be left waiting because tenders will be out of date by the time funds are made available to help them? Will the funds that are released be retained by the Housing Executive, or will they be given to another Department?
Article 8 makes a change, and is a sweetener to attract Northern Ireland Members, by bringing Northern Ireland into line with current British practice. It provides that the Department of Finance and Personnel, unlike the previous mandatory provisions, may direct departments when to prepare trading accounts. How often will such accounts be prepared?
It is part of the task of hon. Members to monitor supply and expenditure. It has been exceedingly difficult to monitor certain Departments in Northern Ireland, in which expenditure has been rampant over the years. Surely it would have been better to bring Britain in line with practice in Northern Ireland so that there would not be a long lead time before the accounts are published of the various commercial, trading and manufacturing services that Departments might operate. The House should have had such monitoring machinery earlier, but it is being offered now, perhaps to save on administrative costs and perhaps, in the long run, to cover the other losses of millions of pounds that we have been unable to monitor. This is not an appropriation debate, so we cannot probe funds more carefully, but do the new regulations providing loans for the Northern Ireland Electricity Service mean that the Government have decided not to go ahead with privatisation of the NIES, which would please many people in Northern Ireland? Does it mean that the Government have discussed a new link between Northern Ireland and the Republic, or does it mean that the Government are prepared to go ahead with the Scottish link, which would keep the United Kingdom and the EEC together for the good of our people?
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : Having had the opportunity to speak earlier this evening, I shall intervene only briefly. I should like to follow the point made by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. M. Smyth) about the funds that will be available to the Housing Executive. Will the Housing Executive be able to make the grants that many people in North Down have been asking for and carry out vital repairs on its estates?
I hope that, before long, the people of Northern Ireland, not English Ministers in Westminster, will be able to decide financial provision, because Stormont is where such matters should be dealt with.
Mr. Ian Stewart : With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker. I think that many of us would welcome progress towards devolution of responsibility to elected representatives in Northern Ireland, and I endorse what the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) has said.
Column 765The hon. Members for North Down and for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) made specific points about the Housing Executive. The funds released for public expenditure purposes in general by article 3 are not hypothecated in housing, but they influence the amount made available over all the programmes in the current financial year. The resources used to write off the Housing Executive loans are not funds which arose from housing but are the result of closing a number of obsolete accounts containing money which went into them for various reasons. There is no particular case for applying them to housing. Nevertheless, there are housing needs, and that is why we have sustained a substantial programme in this area of public expenditure. As the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) said, the order will increase the funds available for public expenditure by about £1 million per week, and that will continue throughout the current financial year and in the future. This has enabled us in the last annual public expenditure round to see higher public expenditure figures than we would otherwise have had.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South asked about article 8 and how often discretion would be used by the Department of Finance and Personnel in respect of formal trading accounts. For example, there are at present only three trading accounts in respect of services operated by the Department of Agriculture--a fish farm, a pig testing station and the forest service. Of those, only the forest service is a true trading activity which would require formal trading accounts. When the order is implemented, the Department will probably dispense with the need for trading accounts for the other services. It will be a matter of using discretion, but it should enable quite a lot of rather pointless bureaucratic exercises to end.
Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman is going rather wider than the matter in hand. I will let him know whether I have any further comments. I should not like him to think that these decisions have been taken in advance because they have not, but it is sensible to have this measure available and to see when it can properly be applied. It may therefore be a considerable time before any sensible answer to the hon Gentleman's question is available.
Column 766The hon. Member for Belfast, South asked me whether article 6 had any implications for privatisation of electricity or the connector link. It has no implications one way or the other. It is designed simply to ensure that any Government loan to the Northern Ireland Electricity Service is automatically secured on the assets and revenue of the service without having to go to the bother of constructing a special legal mortgage or other document. It should simplify the financial arrangements for the Northern Ireland Electricity Service and the Government agency making the loan. It would not be right to comment at this stage on Shorts, when the bids are being carefully assessed, but I assure the hon. Member for Leicester, South that it is not the Government's intention to delay that process longer than necessary to deal with the matter properly, as he would wish.
On the general scope of the debate, I am sorry that I never had the opportunity to take part in one when Mr. Enoch Powell was still in the House, but I know of his formidable debating skills from my time as a Treasury Minister and I have no doubt that he would have found all sorts of ins and outs in the document before us. As the hon. Member for Leicester, South recognises, however, the order does not go into specific matters of appropriation, for the simple reason that it is concerned largely with technicalities. There are other occasions on which we can debate appropriation and public expenditure generally. If the normal pattern is followed--I have no reason to think that it will not be--we shall have another appropriation order debate before too long when we can look into more general matters of public expenditure.
I am grateful to hon. Members who have taken part in the debate and for the support given to the order, which I hope that the House will now pass.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Financial Provisions (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 17th May, be approved.