Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
WEDNESDAY 28 JUNE 2000
60. Well in the past it could have got additional
resources from the Northern Ireland Office grant if the whole
expenditure was not taken up?
(Mrs Brown) Yes, it could, although I think historically
it would more likely have happened the other way round because
Law and Order was the first of the Government expenditure priorities
in Northern Ireland and therefore it had the first bite of the
cake and the rest of the system fed off the crumbs.
61. Now Subhead D includes a negative grant,
for example a receipt of £474 million to support expenditure
by the Northern Ireland departments in other expenditure outside
Departmental Expenditure Limits. What does this cover?
(Mr Cassidy) Subhead D represents the receipt covering
net rates income, net interest on loans and various other receipts
which have to be paid into the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund
from Northern Ireland. So in effect the grant as a whole represents
a topping up against locally generated income and this receipt
here represents, if you like, the locally generated income in
62. Is this income paid into the Consolidated
Fund and then transferred back to the United Kingdom?
(Mr Cassidy) Technically it transfers to the United
Kingdom, but I think in practice what happens is that it remains
in Northern Ireland and it is taken into account in determining
the total share of the Consolidated Fund paid to Northern Ireland.
So it is not as though the moneys are literally sent back.
63. Can you offer the Committee a breakdown
of the expected receipts from European Institutions between the
various funds, the ERDF, the ESF, the EAGGF and the Financial
Instrument for Fisheries Guidance?
(Mr Cassidy) European regional funds £86,300,000,
European Social Fund £63,800,000, European Agricultural
64. Give us the Social Fund again?
(Mr Cassidy) European Social Fund £63,800,000,
European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund £13,500,000,
Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance £1,600,000 and
there are a number of others totalling £100,000.
65. And was the EAGGF £13 million or £30
(Mr Cassidy) £13 million.
66. Through you, Chairman, what were the figures
for the ERDF, please?
(Mr Cassidy) £86,300,000.
67. Can I just go back to the question that
Mr Thompson was pursuing earlier; in fact, I think it was stimulated
by your own question? If I understood it correctly, Mr Thompson
was asking whether or not the departments would now be disadvantaged
because they would receive the money through the Barnett Formula
and there would not be the same capacity to buy as had existed
previously. It occurs to me, it would be possible or it may be
possible to actually have some indication about the truth of that
because what we do not know sitting here is what kind of virement
took place, whether it went from Law and Order to the departments
or indeed if it went in the other direction which I think you
speculated may have been the case. Would it be possible to have
the figures for, say, the last ten years that would show what
the virement was in either direction?
(Mrs Brown) Firstly, if I add to a point I made. Historically
I think the tendency was for Law and Order to get the biggest
share of the cake. I think towards the latter stages of direct
rule, after the cease fires, there would have been a movement
in a different direction and the peace dividend would have come
because the Law and Order amount in the Northern Ireland block
were readily available for other programmes. I do not have figures
for the way in which money has moved over the last ten years.
There would be the departmental reports in existence which would
show how the Northern Ireland block expenditure was broken down
as between programmes and that would show the amount devoted to
Law and Order, the amount devoted to Education and Health and
so forth, but it would not necessarily show changes in spending
plans in the year. It would not show where a programme expected
to spend £80 million, but because of the need to fund pressures
on other programmes actually only spent £70 million.
68. So it is impossible to get those figures?
(Mrs Brown) It would be possible to get, say, the
figures of annual expenditure from the Northern Ireland departmental
69. No, I understand that. I was only asking;
I would not expect you to have the information now, but I thought
it was an interesting point that was being raised and it did occur
to me that if that transfer was occurring at regular intervals
then it would be possible to see which direction it was taking
at various times over the last ten years and I wondered if there
was any way of actually having access to those figures so that
we could see clearly what the transfer was or had been?
(Mrs Brown) Those figures would exist. It would show
actual expenditure and you could look at those over a ten year
period and see what trends, peaks, troughs, whatever there were.
70. Thank you very much. May I ask another relatively
more straight forward question. What kind of information, in terms
of the level of detail, does the Northern Ireland Office intend
to make available to this House about the purposes for which these
funds are required?
(Mrs Brown) The amount of detail that is normally
included in the Estimates.
71. Do you want to tell me any more about that?
I am none the wiser, I have to say.
(Mrs Brown) The Secretary of State would present the
Estimates for Vote 1 and Vote 2. This is the format of the Estimates,
but in relation to the amount for Vote 2 for the devolved administration,
the Estimates would simply show a total figure.
(Mr Cassidy) When the Estimates of Parliament go to
resource based Estimates, the level of detail that will appear
in the Estimate will be exactly the same as in the Current Supply
Estimate, Cash Estimate. Effectively that falls into five parts,
one being the European institutionsmoney that we have just
discussedthe other four parts represent grants and receipts
in relation to the expenditure of Northern Ireland departments
as a whole, but there is no break down in relation to particular
expenditures within Northern Ireland.
72. So, if you will excuse my ignorance, does
that mean that if I wanted to know what you really needed the
money for and what you wanted to do with it, there would be no
way of telling?
(Mr Cassidy) Not from the face of the Estimate. You
would not be able to distinguish between that expenditure which
goes on education, say, and that which goes on health, but of
course, as in all of these things, it falls to Parliament to make
its own enquiries once the Estimate has been submitted.
Mr McCabe: Okay. Thank you very much.
73. I am going to follow on from where Mr McCabe
left off. I am going to ask a series of questions which I hope
will follow a logical pattern. I am conscious that I am doing
this from the Chair and therefore if, in fact, one of my colleagues
wants to break in to ask a supplementary question arising out
of your answers as we go through, then I am using this opportunity
to make it perfectly clear to them that they should feel free
so to do, though if they can signal in some way it would be helpful.
Although the NIO accounts to this House for the proper use of
this Vote, how in practice can it do so given the apparent lack
of information it receives? This is following on from Mr McCabe.
(Mrs Brown) Certainly the NIO's accounting for this
Vote differs from its accounting for Vote 1. The control that
it exercises over Vote 2 is exercised in two areas; firstly ensuring
that the total of the instalments paid over in Grant in Aid is
within the overall limit approved by Parliament and secondly ensuring
that all necessary Parliamentary and Treasury procedures are followed
in respect of obtaining the money and accounting for the money.
But the legislation, the 1998 Northern Ireland Act, places no
specific burden of control on the Secretary of State or the NIO
Accounting Officer in respect of Vote 2 so our role is very limited
and I believe it is the same as in Scotland and in Wales. The
burden of ensuring that the money is used to best effect lies
with the devolved administrations.
74. You have made clear the absolute limits
of the envelope or ceiling under which you are making money available,
but is the pace at which you release that money determined by
the Treasury for you or is that within your jurisdiction?
(Mr Cassidy) The normal disbursement is in two weekly
instalments, or twice a week instalments, of roughly about £50
million each and it has been decided between ourselves and the
Department of Finance and Personnel as a rough average of what
they are going to need. It does tend to rise occasionally, depending
on what particular demand for money has arisen in Northern Ireland,
but it works out somewhere around £100 million a week, in
75. So there is an absolutely regular amount
and then there might be exceptional requests?
(Mr Cassidy) The reason we have decided on that figure
is simply for administrative convenience. It takes a little time
to make the necessary approvals for release from the UK Consolidated
Fund and to get it into the bank account of the Northern Ireland
Consolidated Fund so that they can actually draw on it in time,
but it is purely a mechanical thing.
76. But the exceptional amount that might vary
from the £50 million in two tranches is that an issue on
which you effectively retain a discretion? Do they have to prove
to you why they need it?
(Mr Cassidy) No.
77. If they ask for it, you give it to them?
(Mr Cassidy) Yes.
78. Provided they remain within the ceiling?
(Mr Cassidy) Yes.
79. All right. Why can the Northern Ireland
Office not provide information on what the provision in the Estimate
is intended to cover, given that at the time the Estimate was
presented to the House, Northern Ireland Office Ministers headed
the Department of Finance and Personnel?
(Mrs Brown) The Estimates were presented to the House
during the period of suspension and before that the Northern Ireland
Assembly and Executive had begun, but had not completed, consideration
of their spending plans for the coming year. The Minister of Finance
and Personnel in Northern Ireland announced an approved Budget
in December, 1999. The Government's aim when suspension came along
was to bring about a return to devolution as soon as possible,
so NIO Ministers did not wish to connect Northern Ireland departments
to spending plans at any greater level of detail beyond what was
announced in the proposed budget which had come from the local
Minister of Finance himself. The NIO Estimate for the cash grant
for devolved services would not have been affected in any way
by such detailed plans.