Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Luke: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the order and accept the need for it. I also welcome in particular his announcement of the discussions taking place concerning the funding of the Assembly. The Minister will no doubt be taking action in due course and we look forward to responding more fully at that time.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I apologise for being a couple of minutes late for the Minister's opening remarks. I was taken by surprise because the amendment which seemed to be debated for such a long time did not end in a vote. I have not contributed to the debate on Lords reform and that is probably why I made such a mistake.

The Minister will not be surprised that we welcome the extremely positive note which was struck in relation to the extra money provided in the order for education; namely, a further 6 per cent. I welcome too the positive news as regards the employment statistics which will go a long way towards increasing the future prosperity of Northern Ireland.

15 Jun 1999 : Column 205

I have only one question on the order. It relates to the cost of the Assembly. The Minister stated that his honourable friend in another place will be dealing with that issue. However, we raised that matter on the last Appropriation Order because there seemed to be some difference between the Assembly's figure of £35 million for its running costs and the £14 million which was put aside by the Government. The monthly expenditure of the shadow Assembly is running at £1.2 million. Therefore, it seems unlikely that the full Assembly could survive on a mere £14 million because that is what is roughly being spent at present. That has been highlighted also because the Scottish Parliament has produced very different figures for its running costs.

The Minister said that an accommodation is to be reached. It was envisaged, but unfortunately has not come to pass, that the Assembly would be up and running by June. Had that been so, there would have been some difficulty in relation to working within those figures. However, the Minister assured us that the situation is under control and is in hand. Therefore, I support the order.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I suppose that the drafting of the order in its present form is a sign of the times. Although the votes are numbered, they do not appear at first sight to relate to the Northern Ireland departments as we know them. Judging from the Minister's introduction, perhaps we may assume that that is because of the restructuring of the departments to provide justification for the appointment of up to a dozen Ministers. That implies that they will not work as hard as the noble Lord and his colleagues have done. They have had a much heavier load.

One disadvantage of the present layout is that although the votes cover a multitude of matters, apart from the welcome tally which the Minister gave of the amounts expended on each of the items, all we have in printed form is a collection of sentences. However, I do not complain because I expect that this is a one-off.

However, in this short debate, I wish to concentrate on only one department; namely, the Department of Finance and Personnel. Like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanatory letter of 3rd June. It is understandable that there is a problem caused by the fact that devolution has been delayed, and I accept entirely what the Minister said in that regard. Although the allocations to the Northern Ireland departments appear to follow the normal course, based, as they are, on the Northern Ireland main estimates, the uncertainty exists in relation to the new Northern Ireland Assembly. That has led to difficulty with regard to the provision of expenses of the Assembly for 1999-2000.

Hitherto, the estimates included a very modest vote to, for example, the Clerk of the Assembly. That has gone on for a quarter of a century, irrespective of the fact that no assembly existed, so at least someone is going to be made an honest man from now on as a result of the changes. But now there is a possibility of an assembly in that it may come into being--and I put it no higher than that--and the Department of Finance and

15 Jun 1999 : Column 206

Personnel has budgeted for a sum of £14.3 million for the year 1999-2000--based, I suppose, on the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review.

The first difficulty is that the £14.3 million was extrapolated from 1998-99 shadow Budget with an uplift of round about 1.53 per cent, again, probably in line with Treasury figures for the UK. I do not complain about that modest percentage increase, but it brings me to a second problem which has nothing to do with the increased expenditure but everything to do with taking no account of the increases which were implicit in, and made inevitable by, the legislation in your Lordships' House which established the Assembly. That inevitable expenditure falls under what might be termed "under- estimated expenditure".

Under-estimates in the DFP figures account for most of the discrepancies between its estimates and those of the Assembly Commission and amount to around £17 million, of which the following are the most significant: secretarial staff salaries for 400 staff, £5.4 million; printing, publishing, and the rest of it, £3.9 million; committee costs, including travelling, which has not yet been estimated; subsistence, specialist advisers and Parliamentary Association duties, £2.4 million; Members' allowances, including office costs allowance, party allowance, temporary secretarial allowance, £1.2 million; Members' travel and subsistence, including staff and family concessionary travel, £1.4 million; IT costs--I am not quite sure what that is--£1.1 million; Members' salaries, of which we would have some knowledge, come to £700,000 million; Library acquisitions and purchases of publications amount to £300,000, and stationery costs amount to £200,000. That makes a total of £16.6 million.

I turn now to the third discrepancy and cause for concern, which is the entire absence of provision under different headings. While the under-estimation to which I have just referred amounts to some £17 million--that is, the discrepancy between the DFP and the Assembly projections--the remaining £5.5 million is mainly attributable to the following expenditure areas, which, for some extraordinary reason, have been unforeseen by the DFP. They include Members' pensions at £1,350,000 and Parliament building running costs, including heat, light, rates, rental and outbuildings. I should have thought that someone would have had the foresight to come to the conclusion that such bills had to be paid. In total, they come to £780,000.

Then there is another curious area; namely, works to Parliament buildings (including maintenance, grounds maintenance, repairs, improvements, architects, and so on) which amount to £750,000. There is also catering (together with cleaning) which comes to over half a million pounds; furniture which amounts to half a million pounds and then another curious one--miscellaneous Westminster-style provision for Members (including insurance, winding-up allowance, resettle- ment grants, ill-health, and retirement grants)--which amounts to a quarter of a million pounds. That is followed by some relatively more modest publicity and educational material, specifying who is going to be

15 Jun 1999 : Column 207

educated, which amounts to £100,000. There is also the cost of legal counsel at £100,000 and childcare at £25,000. All that makes a total of £4.4 million.

As I said, these are expenditure areas which are apparently unforeseen by the Department of Finance and Personnel. Taken together, the discrepancies between the DFP and the Assembly estimates for the year 1999-2000 of some £22.6 million can be accounted for as follows, under three brief headings. The department's estimate is £14.3 million. Under-estimates stand at £17 million and lack of provision for any allocation stands at £4.4 million, making a total of £35.7 million--nearly £36 million.

I have not included the considerable amounts which will surface as a result of decisions already taken in principle by the Northern Ireland Office and by the Assembly itself: additional recommendations in regard to Members and office holders; additional salaries of office holders who are designated; sound and vision contracts--greatly inflated by decision of the Assembly, not of the Government, to use English and Irish languages thereby doubling Hansard costs compared to those in Westminster--and proposed charges by the Department of Finance and Personnel; for example, charging a fee to the Assembly for recruitment, which is not as yet specified. There we have a whole range of expenditure actually approved, or committed, in addition to the £36 million that I have already mentioned.

The Minister was very frank and honest when he explained that the order before us is something of a holding operation--we can quite understand that--which does not breach the Comprehensive Spending Review but is in line with all the other main estimates. I do not intend to press the noble Lord for a definitive response this evening to these complicated matters. But I wonder whether it might be possible for the Minister to consult with his ministerial colleague Mr Murphy, who is in charge of the Department of Finance and who will be submitting this order to the other place next week. Perhaps the two Ministers could seek to reduce the gap between £14 million and £36 million before the other place debates this unsatisfactory situation next week.

In his opening speech the Minister gave a hint that the Government might be giving some thought to that very wide financial gap. I am not demanding that the gap be closed in the short period of one week in view of the fact that some items cannot easily be quantified. But is it unreasonable to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and his ministerial colleague Mr Murphy might compare the estimates of the department--which is Treasury linked--with the estimates of the Northern Ireland Assembly commissioners and, it is to be hoped, reach an agreement, albeit a modest one, on a more realistic presentation before next Monday?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page