§ 7.18 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell) rose to move. That the draft order laid before the House on 13th January be approved.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the Agriculture and Fisheries (Financial Assistance) (Northern Ireland) Order, a draft of which was laid before your Lordships on 13th January of this year, be approved.
§ The purpose of the order before your Lordships tonight is quite straightforward. It will effect the transfer of accounting responsibility for certain agricultural and fisheries expenditure from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland.
§ At present, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible for expenditure within Northern Ireland under certain schemes, although they are largely administered by the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland, on an agency basis. In the interest of improved financial management and above all control and in accordance with the principles of the Financial Management Initiative, the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland will now become fully accountable for its actions in administering the scheme in Northern Ireland, thus putting Northern Ireland on a similar footing to the treatment of parallel expenditure in Scotland and in Wales.
§ The transfer of what we call financial responsibility can only be effected by re-enactment in respect of Northern Ireland of the relevant provisions contained in the United Kingdom Acts. Where appropriate, the Northern Ireland element of the provisions within these Acts will be repealed.
§ I have nothing further to add about the order before us this evening. I stress once again that the order does not amend any existing legislation. I would wish to add that we have had very little comment during the period when the order was available for consultation. With that, and hoping that your Lordships may be able to raise one or two questions that I can answer, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 13th January be approved.—(Lord Lyell.)
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, I am sure I have not been speaking for 13 minutes as the clock indicates. I am sure there is going to be an adjustment to the time. I see that the message has got through, the time has been altered.
I appreciate the swift, clear and precise manner in which the Minister has drawn and moved this amendment. No doubt when the Minister responds to the spokesman on the Liberal Benches and to myself, he will confirm that what we are concerned with here is a piece of financial mechanism. It is a straight transfer, not of functions but of accounting responsibilities. It also brings Northern Ireland into line with practising procedure in financial accounting 1514 and management which at present is laid on Scotland and on Wales. To that extent all we are concerned with is approving the order as quickly as possibly.
Can the Minister tell us whether or not all the various parts that we have are analogous with other legislation and in effect that nothing new has happened? Perhaps he can also confirm that this is the skeleton or framework that facilitates the carrying out of government responsibilities in one way or another as it affects agriculture and fisheries matters in Northern Ireland. I should be grateful if the Minister can comment on two aspects of the order. Concerning Part III, Farm Structure Grants, having read Article 9(6) I am in favour of what it is to do; namely, to make more efficient use of the land and all that flows from it.
Is the Minister able to tell us whether or not his department has had some experience or illustrations of problems that make this clause not only relevant, but actually of use? It is not just a piece of dead legislation.
Concerning the provision in Article 15, Grants for purposes connected with co-operative activities, perhaps I may ask this question. Is the Minister able to say a word of commendation (I don't want statistics because they can mean anything), or support and approval for the use of the mechanism of cooperatives whenever it can be sensibly applied to the problems of agriculture in Northern Ireland? I am well aware of the number of co-operatives, namely supply co-operatives or creamery co-operatives. I do not refer to the consumer side, although there are consumer co-operatives as well. The farming community is well aware of the value of using a co-operative form of organisation to serve its needs in many ways, for example credit, and certainly supply and marketing, come to mind. If the Minister can help me to better appreciate his understanding and sympathy for the co-operative sector, I should be very grateful. Those are the only observations that I wish to make.
§ Lord Hampton
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing this order. As we are told, it re-enacts the provisions of a number of agricultural Acts with amendments as they apply in Northern Ireland. The principal amendments are those which transfer to the Department of Agriculture the relevant functions formerly exercised by the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, or by the Secretary of State.
I am intrigued by paragraph 4 of Article 2 which states:For the purposes of this Order, the definition of 'agriculture' in the said section 43(1) shall have effect as if the words 'osier land,' were inserted after the words 'meadow land',I do not dispute that, nor do I dispute anything in the order. But I would seek some clarification, particularly about pototoes.
Part II has six sections headed Guaranteed Prices And Assured Markets For Potatoes. One must be thankful that we are not back in the desperate potato famines of the 1840s.
I have two questions to ask the Minister. First, what is unique about Northern Ireland that it needs six sections now, and a whole part of this order to deal with the question of potatoes just for that region? Secondly, if there are such special problems in the 1515 Province, is it not sad that people on the spot cannot sort them out for themselves? With that, we support this order.
My Lords, we are grateful for the close attention paid by the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and the noble Lord, Lord Hampton. I hope that we are able to go through the order fairly quickly and effectively.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, wanted me to confirm that there was nothing new. I do confirm indeed that there is nothing specifically new in the order that is now before us. All that the order is seeking to do is to transfer the financial responsibility from my right honourable friend, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to Northern Ireland, to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I understand that the funds will be precisely the same but they will be labelled slightly differently.
There should be no effect at all upon the agriculture scene in Northern Ireland. As far as that aspect is concerned, I stress once again what I said before. The Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland will carry out much of the work on the scheme and will incur expenditure on an agency basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Graham, also asked me about paragraph 9, the farm grants. I had one comment in the financial appendix which is part of my notes, this was just "closed". I understand that we are dealing in this part with a scheme which is closed to new entrants but there are still funds outstanding and there is still expenditure which is incurred by participants in this scheme. It is not an insignificant amount, I think it is approximately between £39,000 and £40,000 for this financial year. This is the estimate that we believe may need to be spent.
The noble Lord also asked about the question of co-operatives and had a query about the schemes. Part III enables the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland to make schemes which will provide grants for the farm amalgamation, or the boundary adjustments of farms. It will provide grants also for outgoers, those farmers who wish to cease farming activities because their farms are either not sufficiently viable to support them and their families or they would wish to leave under one of the other terms of this scheme. It enables the department to incur expenditure as part of that scheme.
Indeed it does, the noble Lord is quite correct. The noble Lord also asked me about support and approval for the co-operative movement and I think that was No. 15?
§ 7.30 p.m.
My Lords, I certainly had short thought on this particular aspect.
Article 15 enables the department to make schemes for the payment of grant for the encouragement of 1516 co-operative activities in agriculture or horticulture. I understand the total sum that we are thinking about as far as this order is concerned, is in the region of £60,000. I understand this sum will be split into two heads. I understand that the article that we have before us re-enacts Section 61 of the Agriculture Act 1967 which covers England and Wales. The paragraphs go right through providing grants made under the article. Paragraph 1 enables the department with the approval of the Department of Finance and Personnel in Northern Ireland to make varying schemes. Paragraphs 2 to 8 I hope will be reasonably clear for the noble Lord. Certainly I would wish to add our good wishes and our support for the co-operative movement in Northern Ireland. I have been down to at least two of these co-operatives and seen for myself what they do, and I would add my support to the strong words of the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, asked me about potatoes. He also asked what was unique about the order. So far as potatoes are concerned, the noble Lord took me to task on Article 4. The detailed arrangements for the support of the potato market in Northern Ireland are currently contained in an agreement between the Ulster Farmers' Union and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The system of support for potatoes is not the same, so far as I know, as it is in Scotland and in England and Wales, but we envisage that the same arrangements that we have had until now will continue with the transfer of financial accountability to my own department, which is the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, will be aware that the Potato Marketing Board is a body which works in Great Britain. The workings of the Potato Marketing Board do not extend to Northern Ireland. The arrangements before us in Article 4 will be operated by my own department in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord asked what was unique about this order. All it does is to allow the financial responsibility to be exercised in Northern Ireland. It does not, I am afraid, give us any more funds for Northern Ireland, much as that may seem attractive. All it does is alter the financial responsibility.
I think I have a note here—although I must have missed it—about, is it "osier"? This is inserted as a technical and legal necessity to make sure that the definition of agricultural land in Northern Ireland is exactly the same as that in Great Britain. I hope that we can leave it there. I hope that noble Lords will agree that we can leave the definition of "osier" there tonight.
If there are further details that either noble Lord requires, perhaps we may pursue those matters in writing. We cannot, I think, go on discussing definitions of land tenure, land law, and other activities of that ilk tonight. I hope that I have covered the points raised by the noble Lords, and with that I beg to move.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, and I am not pursuing the matter strongly, he was kind enough to tell us that the department has in mind expenditure of £60,000 in 1517 pursuing Article 15—that is, the establishment of cooperatives. If £60,000 is an increase from £10,000, it sounds a lot. I am bound to say that £60,000 does not sound to me like a large sum of money. Is the Minister able to tell us whether it is the same as in last year's accounting? Or was it £40,000 last year, which means that this is a modest increase? What is the position?
Although one hesitates to talk in terms of the expense of establishing co-operative schemes, I am not certain how many one would be able to establish with £60,000. Having said that, £60,000 is better than nothing. We accept that. The beneficiaries of the £60,000 will always be grateful for it. The Minister may feel that he can write to me and include a sketch of the financial provision for establishing these cooperatives. It may even be that we do not have to waste the cost of a postage stamp. There may be other means whereby the Minister can answer my query.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I am advised that the £60,000 I have mentioned is only one element. The total is £175,000. Those are the figures that I have. The noble Lord asked whether this was the total expenditure on Article 15 of the order. I did not bring into the equation some groups who will be called "forage groups". For these, according to the calculations I have, a sum in the region of £113,000 is provided. When I mentioned the figure of £175,000 in total, that is the total sum for what we see as our prepared expenditure on Article 15. The £60,000 is only one element. This is split. But may I write to the noble Lord? It should be a fairly short note, because I do not think that there is a lot of subdivision. The total sum that we see is in the region off 175,000. And three words: we understand that this will be "broadly the same". I think it was broadly the same last year and will be broadly the same over the foreseeable future, as the public expenditure survey forecast for the years ahead. That is how we would see it. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his courtesy.
§ Lord Kilbracken
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I come in for a moment on the subject of osiers to which the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, referred? The noble Lord is possibly not aware exactly what osiers are. They are members of the salix genus which are planted for the production of basket work, and so on. They are usually coppiced and produce rods every seven or eight years. They are one of the few ways in which forestry can bring some return without a wait of inordinate period. I have never seen them growing in Northern Ireland nor indeed anywhere in Ireland, but I think that their growth should be encouraged even though that is not implied in their insertion in the order.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, as always, I am indebted to the noble Lord for his technical knowledge. I seem to remember that on a previous occasion the noble Lord gave me great technical knowledge about curlews and what could be done with curlews. I am grateful for his help on osiers tonight. If I can find anything further, I shall write to noble Lords. For all I know, I may be able to write to the noble Lord, Lord Kilbracken, if there is anything to add. I think, however, that the 1518 balance is on his side, and I am sure that your Lordships will be grateful for his erudition this evening. With that, I beg to move.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ [The sitting was suspended from 7.38 until 8.15 p.m.]