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Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I am sure the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for his full explanation of the background to the making of these regulations. When I had the honour and privilege of being the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of National Heritage in the last administration, I considered these matters and it was I who set the process in motion which led to tabling these regulations and our discussion of them this afternoon. I confirm that the noble Lord's description of what was involved was extremely clear, full and thorough. In the meantime, the Government have changed, the Conservative Party has changed and I am not quite the man that I was then. At least, my view has not changed. We on these Benches support the regulations.
I was grateful that the noble Lord referred to the television without frontiers directive. I believe that its recent revision has been a triumph for United Kingdom policy and represents the culmination of much hard and skilful work by officials of the Department of National Heritage and our officials in Brussels. It is right and proper that they should be given credit for what was a major achievement for the United Kingdom. It shows, if these matters are carried forward skilfully, how it is possible to end negotiations in the European forum with very considerable success. We support the regulations.
Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, I consider it helpful that my noble friend made reference early in his remarks to the Council of Europe's model outline. Those of us who are delegates to that body spent many long hours in Luxembourg considering the detail and the difficulties of European implementation of the Council of Europe model. It is worth placing on the record, as my noble friend has done, that the Government see the Council of Europe model as a role which they are now supporting.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their welcome for the regulations. I acknowledge the parentageperhaps it is the god-parentageof the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and his colleagues in the preparation of the regulations in response to the judgment of the European Court of Justice. I am delighted to hear from him that the Conservative Party is changing. I hope that that process continues for a very long time.
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My noble friend Lord Kirkhill referred to the Council of Europe trans-frontier television directive. I acknowledge the work of the Council of Europe and the noble Lord's part in it in the origins of television without frontiers. But I have to tell him that the judgment of the Council of Europe that the basis of the regulations should be uplink rather than establishment has in fact been overturned by the European Court of Justice. It is the Council of Europe which is now out of step with the European Community.
With those words, I commend the regulations to your Lordships.
Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may say that he should make a distinction, which he has not properly made, between the Council of Europe and the European Union. The Council of Europe and the Union are often out of step but the Council of Europe's convention remains.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I thought I had recognised that fact. The Council of Europe has a very much wider membership and its convention still applies to those members of the Council of Europe who are not members of the European Union. But members of the European Union have to abide by the EC directive, as revised, and by the European Court of Justice.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order before us today authorises expenditure of £3,632 million for Northern Ireland departments in the current financial year. That is in addition to the sum of £2,941 million voted on account in March and brings total estimates provision for Northern Ireland departments to £6,573 million, an increase of 4.2 per cent. on 1996-97. The order also authorises the use of additional receipts to meet an excess vote in 1995-96.
I would remind your Lordships that the order does not cover the estimates for the Northern Ireland Office on law and order services. As it is a Whitehall department, the estimates for the Northern Ireland Office are dealt with separately. However, the public expenditure decisions underlying the estimates for the Northern Ireland departments and the Northern Ireland Office form part of the Northern Ireland block allocation. The Secretary of State has flexibility to reallocate resources within the block in the light of emerging pressures and easements and, as your Lordships will recall, the block benefited from the so-called peace dividend following the ceasefires of
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1994. I regret that it may be the ordinary people of Northern Ireland who will suffer as a result of the need to meet the additional policing and compensation costs following the mindless violence of the past few days.
Your Lordships will appreciate that the draft order which we have before us today reflects the spending allocations of the previous government, although I was pleased that it was possible to find an additional £4 million for schools this year and that is reflected in the estimates.
Although our manifesto stated that departments will be expected to work within the 1997-98 and 1998-99 spending ceilings announced by the previous government, we will be reviewing allocations within those limits in the light of our own priorities. That is why the Government have launched a comprehensive spending review which will focus on the medium term. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will be conducting a comprehensive review of programmes in Northern Ireland. The review will be a root and branch examination of every area of spending and will provide an opportunity for extensive consultation on public expenditure priorities.
I know that your Lordships continue to take a close interest in the prospects for economic development in Northern Ireland, and I should like to say a few words about the local economic situation before turning to the contents of the estimates. The latest official statistics show that the Northern Ireland economy is in good health and generally economic conditions remain favourable. All 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 five years, Northern Ireland's manufacturing sector has increased its output by over 18 per cent.almost twice the rate of growth achieved nationally. Over a similar timescale there has been a significant improvement in the Province's gross domestic product relative to the United Kingdom, with GDP per head rising from 78.2 per cent. of the national average in 1990 to 83 per cent. by 1995. Indeed, of particular note is the fact that over the year to 1995 Northern Ireland's GDP per capita increased relative to the UK's, while that of both Scotland and Wales decreased.
International investment in Northern Ireland's tourism industry remains strong. In addition, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board believes that the new marketing initiative announced in November 1996 to market tourism to Ireland as a whole could generate a potential £27 million of additional revenue and 720 new jobs in the Province over the next three years. Despite being down on record 1995 levels, visitor numbers are still above pre-ceasefire levels, at 11 per cent. up on 1994.
At March 1997 the number of employees in employment in the Province stood at 580,500, the highest March figure on record. That is coupled with a rate of seasonally adjusted unemployment of 8.4 per cent. of the workforce, its lowest level for almost 17 years.
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Allied to that are the survey results from the local business community. Despite a number of recent surveys reporting falling optimism among Northern Ireland business leaders, overall economic conditions are reported as favourable. Northern Ireland firms have experienced growth rates in output and exports and order books which have outpaced United Kingdom averages. Economic growth is set to continue in the future and further reductions in unemployment are anticipated.
All of that clearly demonstrates the impressive achievements of the Northern Ireland economy and I am confident that that performance will continue to be sustained. However, a brighter economic future will without doubt be put at risk if violence were to continue.
I now turn to the main items of expenditure covered by the order as detailed in the estimates booklet; all the figures are of course in pounds sterling. I shall start with the Department of Agriculture. The net provision in the two agriculture votes amounts to some £172 million. In Vote 1 net provision of some £30 million is to fund EU and national agriculture support measures. The net provision covers the pre-funded market support measures under the common agricultural policy which total £146 million. The vote includes some £4 million for various capital, environmental and other grants to assist structural improvements. Some £26 million is for the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance Scheme to provide support for farming in special areas.
Vote 2 includes £142 million for regional services and support measures. That includes £60 million for the development of the agriculture and agricultural products industries and for scientific and veterinary services; some £30 million is for farm support, enhancement of the countryside and fisheries and forestry services; £24 million is for central administration, including information technology and specialised accommodation services; and some £5 million is for the rural development programme; £18 million is for the Rivers Agency and some £5 million is in respect of processing and marketing and fishing projects which are wholly funded by the European Union. That vote also contains net provision of £9 million in respect of the EU peace and reconciliation programme which incorporates agricultural, rural and water based projects.
In the Department of Economic Development's Vote 1, some £153 million is for the Industrial Development Board. That will enable the board to continue to attract and support industrial development in Northern Ireland, primarily through the provision of selective financial assistance to both new and existing companies. In 1996-97 the board supported some 35 inward investment projects offering 4,641 jobs.
In Vote 2, some £31 million is for the Local Enterprise Development Unit, Northern Ireland's Small Business Agency. That will allow the agency to maintain its excellent track record in developing, strengthening and improving the competitiveness of the important small firms sector in Northern Ireland. Finally, in this vote some £14 million is for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board to support the tourist industry in Northern Ireland.
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In Vote 3, £196 million is for the Training and Employment Agency. That includes some £65 million to fund 14,700 training places under the jobskills training programme; £42 million is for the Action for Community Employment, Community Work Programme and Enterprise Ulster, which will provide some 7,400 places for long-term unemployed adults in projects of community benefit. Some £24 million is to assist companies improve their competitiveness by developing the skills of their workforce.
I now turn to the estimates for the Department of the Environment. In Vote 1, £177 million is for roads, transport and ports. That includes some £145 million for the development and operation of Northern Ireland's public road system as well as maintenance of the road system, which remains a priority.
Vote 2 covers the important area of housing. Some £220 million will provide assistance mainly to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and to the Voluntary Housing Movement. When net borrowing and the Housing Executive's rents and capital receipts are taken into account, the total resources available for housing will be some £610 million. That will enable the Housing Executive to start some 800 new houses while housing associations will start some 1,050 new dwellings.
In Vote 3 gross expenditure on water and sewerage services is estimated at £184 million. Some £79 million is for capital expenditure and some £105 million is for operational and maintenance purposes, as well as for administration costs.
In Vote 4, some £183 million is for environmental and other services. That includes provision for the Environment and Heritage Service, Planning Service, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Construction Service and Land Registers of Northern Ireland. Some £32 million is for urban regeneration measures targeted at areas of social, economic and environmental need. Those measures provide a catalyst for higher overall investment through partnerships with the private sector. Some £37 million will also be made available under the EU Peace and Reconciliation Programme, of which some £28 million will be funded from EU receipts.
The estimates for the Department of Education seek a net total of £1,408 million, a decrease of 1.8 per cent. on last year's provision. However, when account is taken of Northern Ireland's share of receipts from the national sale of the student loan debt, expenditure will increase by 1.8 per cent. Provision is included for the additional £4 million which the Government have made available to assist schools.
Vote 1 includes £887 million for recurrent expenditure by education and library boards, an increase of £8 million over 1996-97. This includes £843 million for schools and colleges of further education: £44 million is also included for libraries, youth, administration and other services. Vote 1 also provides some £34 million for boards' capital projects, some £42 million is for capital projects in voluntary and grant maintained integrated schools and £140 million is for recurrent expenditure by voluntary and integrated
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schools. These amounts include £31 million for grant maintained integrated schools, an increase of £8 million over 1996-97.
Vote 1 also includes £113 million for local universities, £133 million for mandatory student support, £17 million for arts and museums and £4 million for community relations. Some £19 million has also been made available under the EU Peace and Reconciliation Programme, some £14.6 million of which is being funded from EU receipts.
In the Department of Health and Social Services Vote 1, £1,518 million is for expenditure on hospital, community health, personal social services, health and social services trusts, family health services and certain other services. This is an increase of 2.4 per cent. on last year.
In Vote 3, £27 million is for expenditure on grants to voluntary bodies, research, training, bursaries and further education and certain other services. The provision sought is 1.5 per cent. higher than last year's final net provision.
In Vote 4, £142 million is for the department's administration and other miscellaneous costs. This includes £93 million for the Social Security Agency, some £8 million for the Northern Ireland Child Support Agency, some £10 million for the Health and Social Services Executive and £4 million for the Health Estates Agency.
In Vote 5, £1,724 million is for social security benefit expenditure administered by the Social Security Agency. This represents an increase of 8.3 per cent. on last year. In Vote 6, £362 million is to cover expenditure on the independent living funds, housing benefits, the Social Fund and payments into the Northern Ireland National Insurance Fund.
Finally, I turn to the Department of Finance and Personnel where, in Vote 3, some £5.8 million is sought for the community relations programme. In addition, some £1.7 million has also been made available through funding from EU receipts under the EU peace and reconciliation programme.
I hope that this short summary of the main components of the estimates is helpful. I commend the order to your Lordships. I beg to move.
Lord Lyell: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on the way he has presented the order and on his mastery of the figures, particularly those concerning my former department, the Department of Agriculture. Your Lordships will see sitting beside me some of my colleagues who know a great deal about Northern Ireland. Indeed, it seems that every second another of my colleagues appears. My former Secretary of State is here, who gave me a great deal of advice.
All noble Lords will admit that it has not been the best or the easiest time for Northern Ireland in recent days, let alone for the press, both in written and electronic form, which has been showing Northern
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Ireland's faceone of the faces of Northern Irelandaround the world. Indeed, I am remindedI think my noble friend Lord Gowrie may be able to assist meof the education he and I received more than 40 years ago and of the Roman poet Ovid, who said:
"Video meliora proboque, Deteriora sequor".
In other words, I do see what I ought to be doingthe good things. Never mind, out of compulsion I have to follow the worst aspect.
With all the good things that the Minister has presented to us I am reminded that 100 human beings have been hospitalised over the past four days. Two hundred and twenty vehicles have been hijacked, including a mail van in, of all places, Dunmurry, which I know well. My noble friend Lord Prior will certainly know it. All noble Lords will be appalled by these incidents. There have been 550 attacks on the security forces. I read in today's paper that masked and armed men were seen in the lovely city of Downpatrick. There have also been 700 petrol bombings. One wonders what kind of face can be presented by various people in Northern Ireland. Indeed, I am taken back to a pale blue report which I have in my handthe Cameron Report of 1969. What happened then seems to be happening today.
I hope the Minister will be able to convey my personal and heartfelt congratulations to the Secretary of State on all that she is trying to do with all her enormous humour, honesty and persistence. I hope that she, the noble Lord and the entire Northern Ireland ministerial team will be able to present the face of Northern Ireland that I, the noble Lords, Lord Glentoran and Lord Prior, the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, and all the other noble Lords who are to speak today, know to be the real face of Northern Ireland.
I have looked at the order before us. I was delighted that the Minister mentioned the Department of Agriculture. On page 4, schedule 1, I am delighted to see that the Government are continuing to assist production and market development in the agriculture industry. On page 5, paragraph 2, the Government are continuing to ensure the pre-eminence of the Department of Agriculture in both scientific and veterinary research areas and indeed, in my old stamping ground, the Veterinary Research Laboratory in Stoney Road, which is just a few paces from the Minister's office in Dundonald House. I hope that the financial efforts the noble Lord has been pointing out will be pushed forward in this area of Northern Ireland's industry. I am also delighted to see that animal health and forestry are occupying a high priority in the activities of the department. They were singled out by the Minister. I am delighted that he is continuing to do that and I hope that he will be able to push on with it.
On page 5, paragraph 2 of the Department of Economic Development's Vote, your Lordships will see reference to expenditure to promote the development of tourism. Perhaps the Minister and indeed the entire ministerial department in Northern Ireland may feel something of the nature of the great classical figure Sisyphus in trying to push this vast burden up the hill. The noble Lord and others who know and love Northern
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Ireland will admit that some of the images we have seen over the past day or two have not exactly promoted tourism in that lovely part of the world.
I conclude with a plea to the Minister and to the department. The Department of Agriculture has an unbeatable record in promoting agriculture, science and the production of every aspect of food and drink. However, earlier last month the Minister seemed somewhat unaware of the passage of the years. I wish to stress to him that in the odd years1997, 1999 and 2001the world's largest food and trade fair will be held in Cologne. It goes by the happy acronym ANUGA. I shall not try to weary your Lordships by explaining the acronym, but it is a very large fair. I know that it helps to promote the proper face of Northern Ireland. I had the luck to go to that exhibition twice and I went to two other exhibitions in Paris. I was able in some small way to persuade the buyers and those who are interested in the food, drink and hospitality industry that the face of Northern Ireland that we and the world have been seeing is only one face and that there is another facethe one presented by the department. I hope that the Secretary of State will insist that the noble Lord is at the exhibition and that he will use his enormous talents to promote the Department of Agriculture.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, when the Minister was reporting on the strength of the Northern Ireland economy, the drop in unemployment and many other very desirable developments there, I am sure that many of us had in mind that period when the noble Lord, Lord Prior, was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. In a very real sense he laid the foundations for what we have been enjoying over the past year. He seemed to be extremely successful in persuading the Treasury to part with money at times when it had other ideas. I do not know whether it was peaceful persuasion, but it brought results. Many of those who now find themselves in permanent jobs, those who run businesses and the leaders of industry are grateful to him for what he did during those years.
Noble Lords will remember the exchanges in your Lordships' House yesterday as regards the weight limits on heavy lorries. The United Kingdom derogation expires on 31st December 1998. Is the Minister satisfied that haulage firms in Northern Ireland are sharing in the consultation initiated by the previous government, particularly in regard to the classifications existing in certain European countries which apply distinctions between what they term "international traffic" and "national traffic", which presumably means internal traffic? These definitions might be difficult to relate to Northern Ireland for obvious reasons, one of them being that we have one land frontier of the United Kingdom with another European state.
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There follows the possibility of some confusion over the current bridge strengthening programmes. Are the standards and specifications based on the requirements of what I might call the post-derogation period? If so, how was it possible to decide on bridge strengthening standards so far in advance of the outcome and the result of the consultations, which are even now nowhere near completion?
In your Lordships' House yesterday it was pointed out that the very expensive bridge strengthening programme had been made necessary by European Union requirements. Will Her Majesty's Government press vigorously for European structural funding to meet the cost of what is, after all, their directive? As the European Union is not noted for speedy decision-making, I draw attention to the fact that here in Great Britain the Ministry of Transport meets the cost of all upgrading by local authorities. As the noble Lord, Lord Prior, and other noble Lords will recognise and remember, the relevant road authority in Northern Ireland is the Road Agency and the Department of the Environment, Northern Ireland. I wonder whether the Minister for Transport can provide the necessary funds in the short term until the European Union has subvention funds on stream, thus ensuring that the Treasury allocation for Northern Ireland is not eroded by these expensive demands of an external and, if I may say so, undemocratic body known as the European Union.
Finally, I draw the Minister's attention to a perceived unfairness in planning. There is some evidence to suggest that in the interests of the preservation of planning guidelines, domestic individual planning applications are often rejected, sometimes for very good reasons. But different standards appear to apply to powerful developers who proceed to breach the planning laws even before their applications are launched. Objections follow in a ritual way to the planning authorities, but unfortunately these are simply disregarded. Development continues and effective enforcement of the law is nil. That is the perception. Will the Minister consider amending the law to remove this truly glaring inequality?
Lord Prior: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene for just a minute. I did not put my name down to speak, but the kind references made to me by the two earlier speakers have stimulated me into saying a few words. I start by telling an anecdote. When I was Secretary of State it was not very often that the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, came to Northern Ireland as Prime Minister, but I would not like to say whether that had anything to do with the fact that she sent me there. When she came she nearly always travelled by helicopter. On one unfortunate occasion it was too foggy to travel by that means and she had to come with me in the car. As we were going along one of the new roads and seeing all the new housing, she turned to me and said, "Jim, you know, we are spending too much money here". I mention this because we are dealing with the consolidated fund. My viewand I believe it was hers
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alsowas that we were spending a great deal of taxpayers' money in Northern Ireland. It was an honourable and right thing to do and it remains as such.
I have always been extremely proud of the fact that, given the difficulties of the Northern Ireland situation, British governments of both political parties have always done their best to act in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland and will continue to do so.
I go one step further and say that I have felt very deeply for the Secretary of State in the past few days because nearly every Secretary of State has experienced some of the very difficult situations in which the present Secretary of State finds herself. It has been made more difficult by what I consider to be the quite scurrilous use of a leaked letter or memo, which was several days old. If anyone knows the Civil Service, it could only have been a position paper indicating that something might happen under certain circumstances. To produce that as a vital document and to show it to people who, for one reason or another, were bound to react in the way that they did, seems to me to be thoroughly bad journalism and does no good to the people of Northern Ireland whether of the Nationalist or Unionist persuasion.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that we appreciate the present Government's difficulties. We are glad that we are in a position to support Northern Ireland as generously as reasonably possible. We wish the Government the success that I hope will be coming to them and give them the knowledge that they will receive as much support from these Benches as they will receive from their own.
Lord Cooke of Islandreagh: My Lords, it has been a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Prior, speaking and commenting on his time in Northern Ireland. He came in at a critical timealthough all times are criticalin the development of industry in Northern Ireland. I know that the steps he took have helped towards achieving a situation whereby the Minister has been able to give a positive report tonight on the economy which it has been a pleasure to hear. As someone who is engaged in industry in Northern Ireland, that was not an exaggeration.
The noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, has commented on it, but it is a pleasure to see tonight not only the noble Lord, Lord Prior, but two former Ministers, the noble Lords, Lord Lyell, Lord Gowrie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Dentonthe most recent Ministerwho was responsible particularly for the Department of Economic Development. They made a very large contribution to the state of the economy as it now is.
I fear that there is one cloud on the horizon with regard to the economy. I refer to the strength of the pound. Several important firms in Northern Ireland export all of their products and their effective return has decreased by about 15 per cent. in the past year. That must be borne in mind because one or two of those firms could have serious problems due to the strength of the pound, and there is some indication that it may strengthen yet further.
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Perhaps I may now ask a few questions relating to the Appropriation Fund. I refer first to the Vote for the Department of Agriculture. Generally speaking, agriculture in Northern Ireland is prospering, but not in financial terms. The milk, beef and cereal sectors are considerably disadvantaged at presentagain, due to the strength of sterling. That has meant that the green pound has been devalued and that farmers' support from the CAP has suffered considerably. There is an EU compensation fund which is intended to correct some of those deficiencies. I ask the Minister why the Government have not made use of the EU compensation fund which is available to meet devaluations of the green pound. Other countries in Europe have availed themselves of the fund, including the Republic of Ireland. I understand that if the compensation fund was drawn down, it would be worth £56 million to the agricultural industry in Northern Ireland.
Agriculture in Northern Ireland has suffered also because of the BSE-caused embargo on the export of beef. It will be helpful to know whether the Government have submitted a response to the EU's report on the proposed UK export certified herds scheme. If the Government have responded, it would be helpful to know what that response has proposed.
I move on now to the Department of Economic Development. The Minister may not yet have had an opportunity in his short time in office to learn of the very high costs of electricity in Northern Ireland. It is a considerable handicap to industry and is a burden on consumers which they should not have to bear. I am surprised to note that Vote 2 of the Department of Economic Development refers to,
"assistance to the gas and electricity industries"
I cannot think what assistance they need; they are doing very well
"(including residual costs in connection with the privatisation of the electricity industry in Northern Ireland)".
The generating companies were privatised in 1992, so I should like to know why there are any residual costs now.
Vote 3 of the Department of Economic Development is for training grants and "training in skills". There was recently a much regretted cut in the training grant. As everyone knows, it is most important that young people's skills are improved and that they are introduced to new skills. Can the Minister say how soon that former support will be renewed and even improved upon?
I turn now to the Vote for the Department of Health and Social Services. Everyone in Northern Ireland knows that there is an enormous administrative overhead in the health service. There are two tiers in the system before one reaches the hospital trusts. I refer to the Management Executive and to the four area boards. They are so large and so cumbersome that it is almost impossible for the trusts to get a reply to any application that they may make. It has been estimated that the administrative overhead costs are in the region of £80 million a year. It is not difficult to see how it might be reduced to between £10 million and £20 million a year. Can the Minister assure the House that that will be considered in the review that is about to be
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undertaken? I hope that impartial outside consultants will be brought in so that we can ascertain how that enormous overhead can be reduced so that the savings can be passed on and used to provide additional patient care. I commend the order to the House.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, this is a somewhat distressing time to be speaking of and attending to the affairs of Northern Ireland. As we consider matters of funding for Northern Ireland, the amount of money that has been wasted in the past two or three days alone can scarcely have passed our awareness. One particular company, Translink, which is responsible for public transport in Northern Ireland, has, I understand, over a period of two or three days lost in excess of £10 million-worth of stock at replacement value in terms of train carriages and buses. Speaking of those losses, however, says nothing about the damage that has been done to the tourist industry, to which reference has been made, and to the general economy. Although extremely valuable work has been done, particularly by the previous administration and the noble Baroness, Lady Denton of Wakefieldas the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead, mentioned, that work can be traced right back to the days of the noble Lord, Lord Prior, if not beforeall of that is again put in jeopardy because of the violence of recent times.
Although I accept much of what the Minister said, I do not think that the violence should be regarded simply as mindless violence. Certainly, I accept that some of the behaviour and some of the decisionsthe decision to exercise the right to march, for examplewere not very mindful of what was wise and were even extremely ill advised, but some of the violence on both sides of the community was orchestrated with anything but mindlessness. It was considered violence. It was intended to cause destruction and damage. It was intended to destabilise the community. It is unwise to dismiss it as mindless and thoughtless. Knowing one's enemy, one should not dismiss them because if one does so, one ends up looking foolish. We are talking about considered stuff which is highly dangerous. I very much hope that we are not standing on the edge of a serious abyss in Northern Ireland. We have had very difficult times in the past few days and there is real danger in the days ahead.
However, the business of government must go on and all that is possible must be done to contain the situation and to retain a degree of normality in difficult times. I shall detain your Lordships for only a few moments when commenting on and asking questions about a number of matters in the Appropriation Order. In respect of the Department of Agriculture, I would find it helpful to know the Government's position in response to the European Commission's report. The noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, alluded to that. It is clear that in respect of BSE, Europe is prepared to consider Northern Ireland as a special region because of our island base and because we have a good system of tracing cattle and a good history of animal health. As it is clear from the report that Europe is prepared to
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consider those factors, I should like to know whether the Government are prepared to consider that matter or whether it is to be held up again and again to the detriment not only of the industry but of government expenditure until the rest of the United Kingdom is ready to participate.
I know that the environment is dear to the Minister's heart, so perhaps I may pass on to him my thanks for, and the congratulations of many people in Northern Ireland on, the decision that was taken on the Magheramorne quarry. That may not have been an easy decision, but I believe that it was a wise one. It is a decision that has enormous support not only in that locality but in Northern Ireland generally. I welcome the decision of the Minister in regard to that.
I ask that the Minister continues his wise decisions. When the previous administration raised the question of water privatisation in Northern Ireland, they indicated that, because of the strength of public opinion in Northern Ireland, they would perforce put any decision on that matter beyond the next election. That election has come and gone and we now have a new Parliament. Can the Minister ensure that, particularly in the light of the opposition of all the parties in Northern Ireland and of his own party when in opposition to water privatisation, water privatisation, which was stopped in Northern Ireland, will not be continued under the administration of which he is a part?
I also lend my support to the planning matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux of Killead. He is right. There is a suspicionsometimes more than a suspicionin Northern Ireland that large commercial enterprises are dealt with differently from ordinary individual planning applications. When the Select Committee of another place visited Northern Ireland and looked at this matter, it was profoundly disturbed by a number of aspects of the planning service. I support the noble Lord, Lord Molyneaux, in his call for the conduct of the Department of the Environment in planning matters to be looked at.
I was encouraged by the recent comments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in regard to health, education and welfare to work and the funding that was likely to be made available. However, I remained unclear as to whether Northern Ireland would benefit in health, education and welfare to work in the same way as the rest of the United Kingdom. I would welcome clarification from the Minister on that matter given that a little time has elapsed since the Budget and, it is hoped, the matter has now been fully discussed.
I conclude by thanking the Minister and his colleagues for all their work in difficult and tiresome times. I wish the Minister well in the next few weeks. Both he and his colleagues will find them strenuous and difficult times. All of Northern Ireland is fearful of what may emerge in the next few days. It is important that the Minister and his colleagues are aware that they have our support in trying to do what is wise and good. My goodness, in Northern Ireland it is not always easy to know what it is best to do for wisdom and for the good.
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