§ 8.56 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James A. Dunn)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, which was laid before this House on 9th November, be approved.The order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974.
The Main Estimates for 1977–78 totalled £1,144,234,000 and were appropriated by the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1977 and the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, which were approved by the House on 10th March 1977 and 1st July 1977 respjectively. The order now before the House seeks the appropriation out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund of a further £109.6 million, this being the sum covered by the Autumn Supplementary Estimates. This would make a total provision for 1977–78 to date of £1,254 million, about £106 million more than the total Estimate for 1976–77.
The element of this total provision subject to cash limits is within the element of the total Northern Ireland cash limit allocation for 1977–78 applicable to voted expenditure. A brief cash limits statement is included at page iv of the Supplementary Estimates volume.
The services for which extra provision is needed are specified in the schedule to the order and are set out in greater detail in the Autumn Supplementary Estimates, which have been available to right hon. and hon. Members in the Library.
I now summarise why this extra money is needed. A sum of £109.6 million is being sought; about £15.3 million is for pay and price increases, about £64.2 million is accounted for by real changes, to be met from within our existing resources as set out in the public expenditure White Paper, and £30.1 million is accounted for by items which do not count as public expenditure.
Apart from pay awards, the most important elements of the Supplementary Estimates are as follows. Some £19.8 million is required to cover extension of 1766 the meat industry employment scheme until the end of December 1977. A provision of £4 million for capital grants for industrial development is made because of an anticipated increase in the number of claims during the financial year.
Despite substantial tariff increases in 1976–77, a payment of £26.3 million is needed to eliminate the revenue account deficit of the Northern Ireland electricity service at 31st March 1977, while to help the electricity service achieve parity of tariffs in the commercial and industrial sector and to remove an important disincentive to investment in the Province, a grant of £20 million is also provided for.
The extension as announced in the main Budget of 29th March of the temporary Employment Subsidy to 31st March 1978 requires the allocation of a further £9 million. Owing largely to the higher level of unemployment and the increased rates of benefit, the payment of such supplementary benefits is expected to increase by £10.5 million. The major reduction to be set against all these increases is that of £3.1 million in respect of the job release scheme, in which uptake has been lower than expected.
These are the main features of the order to which I wish to draw attention. I commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim. South)
The Minister will be aware that his noble Friend and I have been having discussions about the utilisation of existing facilities at Massereene Hospital and at Whiteabbey Hospital. I understand that his noble Friend's consultations have now been completed. Is it reasonable to expect an announcement of the noble Lord's conclusions perhaps before the end of this month?
§ Mr. Dunn
I am aware that those discussions have taken place and that my noble Friend has entered into discussions and consultations with all concerned. I appreciate the anxiety expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I cannot give him an assurance as to when the answer will be given, but I shall convey to my noble Friend the expectation expressed across the Floor of the House that the hon. Gentleman would like an answer at the earliest possible moment.
I shall, of course, try to answer any questions which right hon. and hon. 1767 Members may raise in the debate, and if for any reason I am unable to do so I will note the points and write to the right hon. or hon. Member concerned.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
Although we do not oppose the order, there are a number of points I wish to raise with regard to the Estimates. I begin with Class II, No. 5 in the schedule—manpower services—where there has been a reduction of £3.6 million in the appropriations in aid.
In respect of the manpower services, and particularly employment services, I should like to know what has happened to the recommendations of the Quigley Report. This is the starting point for any discussion on job creation. That report has frequently been debated outside Parliament but never inside Parliament. I do not quite know why this should be so and I have pointed it out on several occasions. It would be useful if we could have the time to consider the report.
The Quigley Report said that Northern Ireland needed 60,000 new jobs of a secure and lasting kind to bring unemployment in the Province down to 5 per cent. This must be in the Minister's mind. It may well be that at present it is being considered by the new Economic Council in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us whether that is so and whether he agrees on the importance of a very substantial job creation programme. If the Quigley figure is to be revised, a new target should be set as soon as possible. Only if there is a definite target in view can the task be pursued of creating fresh jobs systematically. We certainly want to avoid piecemeal action of the kind that we associate with the collapse of certain companies in the past.
Past performance does not create grounds for optimism as regards the question of job creation. I am informed that in 1972–73 7,650 new jobs were promoted by the Department of Commerce and the Local Enterprise Development Unit. In 1976–77, only 4,730 new jobs were created by these bodies. Therefore, there has been a reduction in the number of jobs, and I think that this requires examination. The Quigley Report maintained that really substantial 1768 numbers of jobs could not be created in Northern Ireland unless the tax holiday on exports which exists in the Republic also existed in Northern Ireland. Is that the view of the Government? We ought to know. It appears that the Government have no intention of doing that, but we have not heard anything about this for some time and I thought that it was worth raising the matter this evening.
One particularly important aspect of this question is the youth job opportunities programme, which is designed to increase by 50 per cent. the current number of jobs provided for young people. This scheme was announced by the Government in August. It is to be hoped that it will reduce unemployment among young people. The number of school leavers who have left school without jobs in Northern Ireland has been increasing steadily by between 30 per cent. and 50 per cent. annually since 1974. It would be useful if regular information could be supplied about the progress of the youth opportunities programme. It is a matter of great social and economic importance, but it is especially of social importance to Northern Ireland.
I turn now to Clause II, item 6 of the schedule, and emphasise that it is the smaller business, not the big international corporation, which is the backbone of the Northern Ireland economy. My information is that very severe pressure has been put upon smaller businesses by the present Government through some of their general economic legislation for the United Kingdom. In particular, the pre-sure of bureaucracy and the growth of controls under this Government have made life very much more difficult for the smaller business men in Northern Ireland, just as in the rest of the United Kingdom. I was talking to a few of them yesterday.
The present rates of capital transfer tax and capital gains tax impede the growth to smaller firms from the Local Enter-their very survival. The grants available to smaller firms from the Local Enterprise Development Unit and other bodies could play a larger part in stimulating economic progress if other obstacles placed in the way of small businesses were reduced. That particularly refers to the present rates of taxation.
As things stand, the Government give with one hand but take away with the 1769 other. I would be the first to acknowledge, from my reading of the reports, that good work has been done by the unit since 1971, and we understand that it is well on the way to meeting its target of 1,100 jobs for 1977–78. I think, however that more could have been done if the general incentives for the vigorous expansion of economic life had not been cut back so severely by the Government. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is considering these points and will either answer my questions when he replies or write to me.
I said last summer that we ought one of these days to have a special debate on education in Northern Ireland. I gave the Minister notice that I proposed to mention the subject briefly tonight. It comes under Class VIII, items 1 and 2, dealing with expenditure on schools and expenditure on higher and further education. The Cowan Report produced a widespread impression in Northern Ireland that the Government intended to impose a system of comprehensive education there. Those fears were calmed to a degree by the statement of Lord Melchett on 15th June that change would take place through devolution, not revolution. He added that it would be through a development growing out of the existing educational system, not its destruction.
That period of calm, which I welcomed in a similar debate on an Appropriation Order on 1st July, was rather short-lived. Since September, the reorganisation of secondary education has become one of the most controversial and sensitive issues in the Province and the argument is still going on, chiefly in the correspondence columns of the Press. It raises the most fundamental question of all—whether the people of Northern Ireland are really in favour of comprehensive education. It seems to me that all the old fears will be reawakened if a Government statement is not made, because reassurance is needed badly.
To my mind, the Government's attitude leaves a great deal to be desired. They tend to shrug off hostile comment by saying that they know nothing of any strong reaction to the plans for comprehensive reorganisation, and they therefore lay themselves open to the charge that they are sacrificing Ulster's 80 highly respected 1770 grammar schools. I hope that the Under-Secretary will make a serious reply to these criticisms, because there is a great outburst of feeling on the subject.
It was started by a paper on the provision of opportunities for 16-year-olds drawn up by an official study group, and it was circulated among education and library boards before the closing date for submissions from interested parties. It created suspicions that the Government were committed to sixth form colleges as an essential ingredient of comprehensive reorganisation. These suspicions were reinforced by the publicaion of a study by the inspectorate of the Department of Education in Northern Ireland which seemed to suggest this. It has led the Province's grammar schools to feel that they are now under direct attack. They are being accused of being bastions of privilege and outdated academic standards, although their pupils are drawn from all classes of society and financed mainly by scholarships.
The Department of Education is now regarded with considerable distrust by these schools, which are convinced that Lord Melchett's working parties and other consultative procedures are designed to produce the illusion of public support for his decisions which have already been taken. He must reassure the people of Northern Ireland about this matter, because there is considerable opposition to the whole principle of sixth form colleges.
I made the point at the beginning of July that there should be a full-scale debate in this House on education in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Neave
It is a matter of such importance that I hope that the Under-Secretary will give me a better reply than he did on 1st July, when he saidperhaps it will be more convenient to have that debate on education when we return for the new Session."—[Official Report, 1st July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 829.]Now that we are in the new Session, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will say when he thinks that time will be found for this highly important debate.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
My hon. Friends and I intend to use the 1771 opportunity which this order gives us in the usual way—or, rather, in a development of the usual way—and to pursue two objects. One is to carry forward the scrutiny of public expenditure and the criticisms which have been levelled at various parts of the Northern Ireland services by those whose duty it is to examine public expenditure on our behalf. The other is to take certain aspects of the administration and examine them in more detail.
I say this especially for the benefit of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who during the previous debate on 1st July this year, complained that my speech was concerned only with the control of public expenditure, overlooking the fact that this is one, but not the only one, of the purposes which this debate is intended to serve. I shall be followed, as I was on that occasion, by colleagues who will deal with aspects of the administration as they affect the ordinary lives of the people of Northern Ireland.
Notice of the two subjects which we have in mind—namely, education and the health services, with special reference to the services available for the physically handicapped—has been given to the Under—Secretary. Those are the two subjects which we have selected, and, although I suppose that the three and a half hours which we are permitted by the business motion may not rank as a full-scale debate, at any rate quite a bit about those subjects can be put on the record and elucidated.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will not take it amiss if I say that when subjects have been notified in advance in this way, it is not unreasonable for hon. Members to expect that the Minister who replies will in general be briefed upon those topics, though we appreciate that on other matters of detail which it is in order to raise he may have to rely on subsequent correspondence.
That reminds me to thank the Under-Secretary for the scrupulous care with which he followed up, in a series of letters addressed to me, the contents of which I communicated to my colleagues, the matters raised in the debate on 1st July. I hope he is in agreement with us that in these three Appropriation Orders debates in the course of the year we ought to develop a kind of continuing rhythmic survey both of financial control and of 1772 various aspects of administration in Northern Ireland.
This debate is the last time when we shall be under the disability, to which I drew attention in July, that the Estimates underlying the latest available report of the Comptroller and Auditor General were arranged under different headings and classes from the Accounts. Since the last financial year, the Estimates are presented in a new form, which is in harmony with that of the Accounts. Consequently, we shall no longer find ourselves in embarrassment when trying to locate in the Estimates some item in the Accounts to which attention has been drawn.
If we are to build up in these debates a cycle of scrutiny by the House, I hope I shall carry the Minister with me so far as to say that, since that scrutiny is bound to be based to a large extent upon the work of the Comptroller and Auditor General and upon the work of the Public Accounts Committee, we ought to secure the maximum possible co-ordination between their work and reports and the seasons at which we who represent Northern Ireland have the opportunity to debate these matters.
As a matter of curiosity, I jotted down the fate of the Estimates for the year 1975–76, which you might be surprised, Mr. Speaker, to know are the latest Estimates on which we have available for us the comments of the Comptroller and Auditor General and of the Public Accounts Committee. They are already pretty long in the tooth; but I need not, perhaps, stress the point that scrutiny of current expenditure is to a large extent dependent upon scrutiny of past expenditure, since current expenditure and current errors grow out of past expenditure and, unfortunately, out of past errors.
So I take my jottings on the financial year 1975–76. They run as follows. The Comptroller and Auditor General's report on the Accounts for that year was ordered to be printed by this House on 22nd December last. We then held a debate—the first Appropriation Order debate in which that report was available—on 1st July. But we missed by 25 days the Public Accounts Committee's report upon the Comptroller and Auditor General's findings, which was ordered 1773 by the House to be printed on 26th July. There followed in November the memorandum of the Department of Finance, Northern Ireland, replying in turn to the Public Accounts Committee; and now here we are, on 8th December, able to survey for the first time the outturn of the last financial year but one, after it has been fully considered and digested by the Public Accounts Committee and by the Department.
My hon. Friends and I believe that we ought to improve upon this. It is not good enough to have so long a time lag. In considering an order of this kind, we ought to be able to utilise the experience of the last previous financial period.
Yet the House will observe—from the pattern for the financial year 1975–76—that by having our debate tonight we are probably just missing the treat which we are daily expecting—the arrival of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General upon the accounts for 1976–77. One's mouth waters at the thought that we might have in our hands this evening the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General for the year ended as recently as March 1977. If we had it, how much better off we should be, how much more abundant ground for investigation, debate, questioning and criticism would be available to us.
So that is our second near-miss. We recorded one near-miss on the PAC in July. Now we have had another near-miss on the Comptroller and Auditor General.
This is not the first time I have raised the matter with the Minister. On 8th August he wrote to me one of those infinitely courteous, but sometimes rather saddening, letters of his. He said:There is a significant obstacle in acceding to your request, because there are no statutory or fixed dates for the publication of PAC Reports.I know that; but it is not impossible for the PAC, aware as it must now be of the cycle of our Northern Ireland debates, to pay some regard, in the arrangement of its work within the financial year, to the times at which we can utilise that work. Not a Session goes by without the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) delivering a long tirade—I make no criticism of the right hon. Gentleman—an absolute jeremiad, 1774 on the fact that the PAC toils away month after month interviewing witnesses and reaching conclusions without those matters ever being debated in this House. Well, on this occasion in the case of Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Taunton has what he wants. We are his best customers; indeed, his liveliest clients. We are eager to seize on his report and to debate it on the Floor of the House, and disappointed because it appears a week or two after the opportunity has arisen for us to debate it on one of our principal occasions.
The Ministers put forward what in his view was another "significant obstacle". His letter continued:under the Order in Council procedure very precise pre-planning of the preparation of departmental estimates is required to ensure that Appropriation Orders are presented and debated, and reach the Privy Council in adequate time to provide continuity of funds to departments. To try to co-ordinate this timetable with the issue of any PAC Report would add to the complexity. I therefore regret that I am unable to implement your suggested coordinated PAC-Appropriation Order procedure.Let me make an offer to the Minister. If we promise to tackle the Chairman of the PAC, will the Minister promise to tackle the Privy Council? Let him not start back in alarm. I am not asking him to make a frontal attack on that august body; but I suggest that, although legislation by Orders in Council must to some extent follow the rhythm of the Privy Council, there is nothing which obliges the Government to pass this legislation in the form of Orders in Council at all.
If the Government find that it is inconvenient for them in Northern Ireland to proceed by Orders in Council when in the rest of the kingdom they can proceed by the Consolidated Fund Bill, there is nothing that prevents their having a Bill instead of an Order. I see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury on the Front Bench, and I understand the alarm that must be rippling through his breast at the mention of a Bill. However, I hasten to assure the right hon. Gentleman that if, as with United Kingdom Consolidated Fund Bills, an iron convention ensures that only one day per Bill is available, the effect would be the same with Northern Ireland if in this case—and the Minister knows that this is a matter near to our hearts—we were to supersede 1775 Order in Council procedure with procedure by Bill.
So that is the offer that I make to the Minister, who, I believe, agrees that it is only fair to the civil servants and others who work for us on the control of public expenditure that we should attempt to get a much more efficient cycle of debate. I leave it at this. The bargain is on the table. We will fix the right hon. Member for Taunton if the Minister will fix the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury. Nothing could be fairer than that.
I have one other semi-procedural matter to which I wish to refer. We are still not getting the full treatment of the reports of statutory bodies. Our statutory bodies play a great part—too great a pan—in our administrative life in Northern Ireland. The Minister will recall that the desirability of these bodies being subject to the full process of examination by the Comptroller and Auditor General and consideration of his reports by the PAC was brought to his attention in the debate of 1st July. I then asked the Minister when the PAC would have the Comptroller and Auditor-General's reports on Northern Ireland statutory bodies brought to its attention. He replied:I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that this was one of the matters to which I have turned my mind and the attention of my Department during the last six months.The "last six months" must, therefore, have run from 1st January: for six whole months the prospect of the PAC considering reports upon the statutory bodies had been in the mind of the Minister and his Department. What is more, he had come to a conclusion. I should like to refresh the memories of hon. Members. It was this:We think that the time is now appropriate to deal with the accounts in the manner suggested by the PAC and according to other suggestions that have been put before the House".—[Official Report, 1st July 1977; Vol. 934, c. 831–2.]There is, therefore, one thing—if nothing else—that we can look forward to tonight. That is to be told by the Under—Secretary that these reports on the statutory bodies—which are, after all, in charge of the main aspects of domestic and private life in Northern Ireland, health, education planning and so on—are now being fed through the normal machinery of accountability and control.
1776 Since this order embodies only Supplementary Estimates, it is much less extensive in its ambit than the order that we debated in July, which corresponded to the United Kingdom Appropriation Act. Thus only some of the Departments of administration come within the ambit of this order; but, subject to that, I should like to carry further some matters raised in the July debate.
The first comes under the head of education. There had been criticism of the fact that the education boards were neither maintaining satisfactory inventories—which are a necessity of financial control—nor had they carried out the survey of lands in their possession which the Comptroller and Auditor-General believed they needed. Sure enough, the Under-Secretary wrote to me following the debate and said that the subjects had beenconsidered at a meeting in May between the Departments of Education and Finance and the Comptroller and Auditor-Generaland thatthe Department of Education is discussing with the Boards the remedial action needed in relation to inventories and records of land and buildings".I therefore hope that tonight the Minister will be able to say that these discussions have been brought to a successful conclusion, and that these defects in educational administration are, henceforward, to be remedied.
I am confident that the Minister will not feel that in bringing up these matters in a second or even a third debate we are out to find fault. It is simply that, when such matters have been brought to the attention of hon. Members by the people who are our watchdogs, we owe it to them to pursue those matters until they are successfully settled. It is entirely in that spirit that I am asking the Minister to respond.
Another subject falling under a similar head, but on which we now have the benefit of a report by the Public Accounts Committee, is that of Lurgan Gas. I have the permission of my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) to put a toe over the border between our constituencies.
The House will recall that a guarantee was given by the old Development Corporation to the gas undertaking in the 1777 expectation that there would be a large consumption of gas generated by the new town. Events did not turn out in that way. The Housing Executive, which was the successor of the Development Corporation, repudiated all responsibility for the agreement, and the Department of the Environment was left holding the baby. When we last said goodbye—or, rather, au revoir—to this matter, there was a renegotiation in progress or foreshadowed between the Department and the gas undertaking.
Unfortunately, the Government do not have an absolutely impeccable record in the matter of renegotiation. I do not wish to stir any painful feelings in the breast of the Government's Deputy Chief Whip, but "renegotiation" is perhaps still an ominous word. Unfortunately, we have not got on very fast, because, so far as I can gather from the information obtainable from the Under-Secretary, the renegotiation is still only in contemplation. However, the PAC had some important and far-reaching observations to make upon this whole matter. I should like to quote one sentence from the Committee's Seventh Report. It says:we are not convinced of the wisdom of allowing the Executive to change over to oil, to the exclusion of gas, when it seems clear that gas is already being used and that further use of it would reduce the compensation payments or possibly eliminate them altogether, either when the new town is fully developed or"—and these are interesting concluding words—on the advent of a different and cheaper source of gas.This is an area where we ought to try to learn from recent experience. In the late 1960s there were exaggerated views of the expansion of the new town of Craigavon and mistaken assumptions as to the prospective relative price of gas from naphtha compared with other sources of heat and energy. These turned out to be wrong, and there was then a sharp reaction, and the PAC is wise to ask whether it was too sharp.
The Housing Executive has now switched away from gas and the Department of the Environment—that means the taxpayer—will have to pay an open-ended subsidy of£100,000 a year, year after year, to the gas company to expiate the fault of 1968. Meanwhile, in the past 1778 12 months a new prospect has opened up for the gas industry in Northern Ireland. What might have been thought a year ago to be only a chimeric prospect of a link between Great Britain and Ulster has suddenly come into sharp focus as a technical possibility—some of us think, a probability. It has come to be realised that in a measurable time gas could be as competitive in Northern Ireland as it is in the rest of Great Britain.
The Public Accounts Committee has done us a service, and the Department would be wise to bear in mind its advice as it approaches the whole matter. We do not want a renegotiation based upon another appreciation which is doomed to be falsified. Of course, we cannot face the open-ended commitment as it now exists. But we should not over-react in the opposite direction to the error that was committed in 1968.
I pass to a third matter that again arose in July and on which new light has been cast in the intervening months. I refer to the planning preparations for the new airport at Aldergrove. I raise this issue under Class XI, Vote 2, financial administration. The House will probably remember that for some reason—to us it was an unaccountable reason—a whole series of unrealistically ambitious projects for the new airport had been made with a consultant, who was involved in the first project, employed again in the second project, and again in the third. The less his work found favour, the more sure he was to be employed the next time round.
That was a matter that caused great unease among my hon. Friends and myself, as it clearly did to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee. It is worth reading the questionnaire that the PAC obtained from the Department of Finance on that adventure. The Under-Secretary wrote to me on the subject on 26th July, and the contents of his letter were in line with what was stated in the reply to the Public Accounts Committee, namely, that it was the intention to offset against the fees due for the planning work already carried out such part of that work as it might be possible to utilize in future revised plans. I believe that that is the Department's present stance.
My hon. Friends and I believe that once again a new start must be made. 1779 We believe that we need to forget the assumptions and ambitions of nearly 10 years ago and make an entirely fresh and much more realistic approach to the improvement and reorganisation of Aldergrove Airport. It is often said that the best is the enemy of the good. In the case of Aldergrove Airport the unrealistic has become the enemy of the possible.
The airport presents a number of obstacles to air travel between the Province and Great Britain. However, we believe—after all, we Northern Ireland Members for Northern Ireland constituencies are steady commuters through Aldergrove Airport—that many of the problems can, given the good will of not only the operators but the airport authority and the Government, be either remedied altogether or greatly alleviated at relatively minor expense. We do not believe that the people of Northern Ireland are over-anxious to see a new, glittering airport rising on the cleared site of the old one at Aldergrove. It may be that in time they would like to have such an airport, but what they want now is as unimpeded, as frequent and as swift air travel as possible between the Province and Great Britain.
The layout of the existing airport is one of the factors which, we are given to understand, makes it difficult to reduce delays and congestion and the tiresomeness of the security checks which add so much to the length of the journey between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In our opinion, we ought for the present to forget the prospect of a new airport and ask what can be done now, in the next 12 months or in the next two years, to make Aldergrove Airport as it is more habitable and efficient and the basis of a much swifter and more comfortable air service between the Province and Great Britain.
Instead of negotiating to decide what part of the abortive work that has already been done might be used again in yet a fourth plan—if my calculations are correct—for a new airport and might therefore be offset against the fees due to consultant A, we suggest that in one way or another that phase should be terminated and a new, much more realistic and cost-effective approach should be made to the airport at Aldergrove.
My last topic arises under Class II, item 3—aid to industry. Here I am look- 1780 ing forward to future reports and debates rather than backward to debates and investigations that have already been initiated. I do not think that anyone can feel happy about the control and scrutiny to which the subvention of industry in Northern Ireland has been subject in the past. It has too often been our experience that gross errors have been detected too late, have been brought to the attention of this House too late and, therefore, have been corrected too late.
No one will suppose that any hon. Member representing a constituency in Northern Ireland will wish to see anything not done which can legitimately be expected to increase the prospects of employment in the Province. But it is no service to that purpose for large sums of money to be invested in the form of grants to firms which, two, three or five years later, prove not to have been suitable recipients of those investments. No firm basis for future stable employment will be created in that way.
I shall mention two specific instances of current grants supplied to firms in Northern Ireland which I believe—I hope that my words will reach the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General as well as the ever-open ears of the Public Accounts Committee—should be watched now on our behalf not only by the Department but by our own parliamentary watchdogs.
The first concerns Strathearn Audio, about which the Minister of State supplied my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) with some particulars in a Written Answer on 28th November. That firm has so far received a total of £700,000 by way of financial assistance. I am told in fact that it has received 10 times as much per worker per annum as has been received by Harland and Wolff. That just puts the matter into a certain perspective.
Of that £700,000, no less than £460,000 was paid by the Department of Commerce alone between 14th July and 13th October this year. So this is something which is actually happening now, under our noses, and this is the stage at which full control, scrutiny, progressing and policing should be in operation.
The sum of £460,000 is not the total of what was paid in that period. It is only the total paid by the Department of 1781 Commerce. In addition, there is another £172,000 which was paid partly in that period by the Department of Manpower Services and £63,000 from the European Social Fund. Anyone who thinks that that sum should not bother the House because it comes from the EEC should recall that what we pay the EEC exceeds what it pays us. In the long run, that money is as much ours as all the rest.
This firm is thus the object of very heavy investments of public money month by month at the present time; and I say to the Minister that we do not want to be confronted in two, three or four years' time by a ex post facto or post-mortem report from the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Department of Commerce telling us, years too late, "Ah, well, on reflection and with hindsight, perhaps we were incautious to have committed these sums in the circumstances and on the terms that we did." It is our business, in the light of past experience—and names need not be used—to say that this is a case in which scrutiny should be applied now.
The other case which I want to mention is the grant to Ulster Crystal Limited for the establishment of a lead crystal factory at Kennedy Way, Belfast. Grant aid was made available to this firm in 1974 and further assistance was provided between 1975 and 1977. To that information in his Written Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North, the Minister added:It is not the practice to disclose details of the amount of assistance provided to firms in the private sector."—[Official Report, 28th November 1977; Vol. 940, c. 95.]I am very puzzled by this. I am very puzzled by putting these two written replies side by side. Is Strathearn Audio a nationalised industry, completely in the public sector?
§ Mr. Powell
So that is the reason why we have the full information about Strathearn Audio while we are denied any information on the figures relating to Ulster Crystal. But that is not satisfactory. It is not satisfactory that only at the end of the day by way of postmortem should we be able to consider the size and effect of the subvention which is being made.
1782 My suggestion is that the Minister should find ways to ensure that even if, under current convention, these figures are not to be published to the House, the Comptroller and Auditor General and, consequently—they are perfectly capable of withholding sensitive details from publication—the Public Accounts Committee should have at the earliest opportunity the chance to examine the actual sums, the destination of the sums and the effectiveness with which they are used.
I am sorry if I have detained the House so long; but complaints are often made against this House that we do not pay enough attention to the scrutiny of public expenditure. So perhaps I have not erred in taking up time to carry forward what I hope will be a continuing cycle of debate on the Northern Ireland Appropriation Orders.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has indicated that he and his colleagues will be concentrating their remarks on this order on those aspects dealing with health and social services relating to the provision made for handicapped people in Northern Ireland. The Minister will find that there is complete unanimity on this subject, because every representative from Northern Ireland is deeply concerned about this problem. There is no political kudos to be gained from any party political attitude. We are all aware of the problem.
I believe that as yet the Government are not fully aware of the extent of the problems of disabled people in Northern Ireland. In August last year, during a debate on the Consolidated Fund, I advocated that the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which applies to other parts of the United Kingdom, should be made applicable to Northern Ireland. This move would be of tremendous significance and would provide the legal means whereby authorities in Northern Ireland could carry out further improvements by way of installations and telephone adaptations to private dwellings, schools and so on. At present they do not have these means.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said on that occasion that he had sufficient confidence in the area health boards in Northern Ireland to ensure that 1783 health and personal services were as adequate in that part of the United Kingdom as in any other part. I had doubts then and I still have them.
In recent weeks I have tabled a series of Questions to Ministers asking whether it is possible to ascertain the extent of the problem. It might have been thought that sufficient time would have elapsed since August 1976, when we debated this problem—and when I was supported by many hon. Members on both sides of the House—to have allowed the Department to carry out a survey to discover the extent of the problem. Sadly I find from some of the answers I have received that apparently nothing has been done.
On 30th November I tabled a Written Question asking the Secretary of State to:list the number of households containing disabled children and the rate per 1,000 child population in Northern Ireland and each area health board who received assistance with aids in the year ended 31st July 1977The answer I received was:This information is not readily available and could not be obtained without disproportionate use of resources."—[Official Report, 30th November 1977; Vol. 940, c. 262–3.]If we do not know how many households have disabled children, how can we begin to tackle the problem.
I asked another Question on 9th November. I asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland:what action he is taking to ensure that all new schools and places of further education are provided with facilities for disabled people."—[Official Report, 9th November 1977; Vol. 938, c. 149.]I would have thought that that would have been an issue of tremendous importance for young disabled people. The pursuant answer I received was:Discussions are to be arranged between the Department of Education for Northern Ireland and the Education and Library Boards in order to review current practices and to determine what needs exist.After 15 months the Department should be aware of what the needs are. I asked another Question about the number of disabled people in the area health boards who were receiving assistance from the Department for the installation of telephones in their homes. I was told that in the area of the Southern Health and Social Services Board four people had received such assistance. There must be 1784 many more disabled people within that board's area who could have been receiving assistance.
I have not the figures with me, but I quoted them in August last year in relation to Manchester. Manchester must have a compassionate set of officials, for they are implementing every facet of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. I believe that there are thousands of telephones in the Manchester area which have been financed by the local authority and the Department of Health and Social Security for the use of disabled people.
Again, I asked the Minister to list the number of households which had been adapted to take account of disablement. He gave the figures—they were very small—and added:These figures include adaptations to Housing Executive dwellings undertaken before March 1976. Since that date the Housing Executive has assumed full financial responsibility for adaptations to its dwellings, and information relating to adaptations made since then is a matter for it."—[Official Report, 6th December 1977; Vol. 940, c. 699.]I can only say that if the Housing Executive of Northern Ireland is as good at making adaptations to its houses for the disabled as it is in carrying out repairs and maintenance to other property, the disabled should have a very good future indeed in Northern Ireland.
There will have to be a Minister responsible in this House for the misdeeds of the Housing Executive. I warn my hon. Friend that I will take the earliest opportunity to bring before the House some of the more glaring defects of the Executive, particularly in relation to repairs and maintenance. Housing Executive properties built in the last few years are now slums, because repairs have never been carried out by the Executive. But that is a topic for another occasion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I thought that I would have the unanimous support of hon. Members opposite from Northern Ireland. There is great disquiet about the matter in Northern Ireland, and I warn my hon. Friend that the Housing Executive will be called into question very soon.
As I have said, I have previously advocated that the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act should be made applicable to Northern Ireland, and I still insist that that should be done. In the 1785 Act there is a whole lot of "shalls"—"the authority shall" do this, that and the other. The obligation is firmly there. In Northern Ireland the authorities "may" do certain things—or they may not do them, and they do not do them. I want to see the Act extended to Northern Ireland so as to give protection and added assurance to our disabled that they are not the poor relations of other citizens of the United Kingdom.
One can readily understand that in Northern Ireland we have a greater proportion of disabled people per thousand population than any other part of the United Kingdom because of the campaign of violence over the past eight years. Every one of us from Northern Ireland must know at least one disabled person, and sometimes it is many more, including our friends who have lost arms or legs because of bombing and explosions. That problem has arisen because of the campaign of violence. Now, happily, there is a decrease in the violence.
Last year was the time and now is the time even more for the Act to be extended to Northern Ireland. I do not think it right that when a Member from Northern Ireland, on whichever side of the House he sits, asks for information about the disabled he should get the reply "We have not the information ourselves and it would cost too much money to get it." That is not good enough for the disabled in Northern Ireland.
I ask my hon. Friend not to tell us tonight that he is happy with the health and social services available in Northern Ireland. No one, even on this side of the Channel, can believe that we have even an optimum level in our care for the disabled. This is an ongoing process. We shall never be in a position where we can say that all our services are adequate. There will always be need for the extension of services
I hope that the Minister will indicate his intentions. I know that announcements were made recently that more money had been allocated for disabled people in Northern Ireland, but I do not yet believe that we have adequate legislation. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act should be made applicable to Northern Ireland so that we will 1786 be able to say that we are doing all we can for our disabled people. Until that happens, I assure the Minister, the matter will be raised time and time again in the House.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
I intend to raise—under Class VIII dealing with expenditure by the Department of Education on schools—a topic touched upon by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). I wish to discuss in more detail the questions that he raised, and I hope that the opportunity will be taken to debate Northern Ireland education as he suggested.
I wish to ask whether the reorganisation of secondary education is really necessary. People may well say that it is a bit late in the day to ask that question, because things have moved so far forward that the time to ask whether it is necessary is now past. In fact, when we see the scramble to try to find a solution to the problem of reorganising secondary education, that question becomes more and more appropriate. I seriously question whether the reorganisation is necessary.
I ask this not because I am interested in trying to preserve bastions of privilege. The small grammar schools of Northern Ireland were certainly not bastions of privilege when I was at school. In the 30 years since the Northern Ireland Education Act 1947, the grammar schools have probably acted as the greatest instrument of social change that the Province has ever seen. I espouse the objectives of those who support comprehensive education, but I object to what people are trying to force on us in Northern Ireland because I do not think that the proposals will achieve the objective. My own children are being educated in a comprehensive system of education. That system has evolved in our locality and seems to be the best system for the locality. It is therefore not from any vested interest that I am asking whether the reorganisation is really necessary.
We should start by asking how good the present system is. We are fortunate because we have it on the authority of no less a figure than the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that the educational system of the Province is more 1787 successful than that of England and Wales, in that 65 per cent. more of Northern Ireland students go on to higher education and 36 per cent. more of Northern Ireland students achieve two or more A-levels. I have obtained these figures from a speech that the Secretary of State made on 28th October, when he said:On average a higher proportion of Northern Ireland school-leavers obtain GCE standard than is the case across the water. In 1974–75, the latest year for which comparative figures are available, some 15 per cent. of Northern Ireland school-leavers achieved two or more A-levels. In England and Wales the equivalent proportion is less than 11 per cent. Fully 38 per cent. of all school leavers in Northern Ireland now go on to some form of further education, about 15 per cent. of them to institutions of higher education such as universities, polytechnics and teacher training colleges. This compares very favourably with the equivalent figure for England and Wales, which is around 9 per cent.The Secretary of State has told us that our present system of secondary education is excellent compared with the system in other parts of the United Kingdom. So why do we find ourselves in a position where we seem intent not merely on trying to improve our existing structures but on demolishing and completely restructuring our system?
I am glad that the question not only concerns those in the majority community. The concern is shared by representatives of the minority community. I read recently that a Roman Catholic member of the Down and Connor maintained schools committee, Rev. Thomas Toner, at a meeting of the Belfast Education and Library Board urged the boardto outline the weaknesses of the present system in an attempt to improve the situation rather than to wind up a well tried set-up which would be substituted by something less certain.I think it worth reviewing briefly the events which have led us to our present position. I suppose that it was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that questions began to be asked about our 11-plus selection procedure, and doubts were expressed about it. Those doubts were eventually formalised in the report of the Seventh Advisory Council for Education, commonly known as the Burges Report, published in February 1973.
In paragraph 30 of that report, the council said:We think "—1788 I ask the House to note that word—that restructuring of the school system should be undertaken in the hope "—again, I ask the House to note that word—of providing better educational opportunities for all children.That was hardly a dogmatic statement or assertion in which the council itself had much faith. However, two paragraphs later, in the recommendations, it said that the Minister shouldmake now a declaration of intent to eliminate selection at 11-plus as soon as possible through a restructuring of the educational system.The assurance with which that recommendation was made was by no means consistent with the tentative nature of the opinion from which it had been derived. Consequently, no significant public activity by the Government followed the publication of that report. However, by February 1975 the new occupiers of Stormont Castle decided that they would have to take some action, and they gave a senior inspector of the Department of Education a brief to produce a consultative document which was to outline a system of reorganised secondary education in Northern Ireland.
When that document was eventually published in 1976, it was followed by what was known as a consultative period extending until April 1977. Repeatedly during that period the Minister stated in public that his mind was not made up and that he would take account of the expressions of public opinion. He did that, because on 15th June he published a statement saying:There is broad agreement that the feasibility study contained in the Consultative Document is not an acceptable basis on which to reorganise secondary education in Northern Ireland.Thus, 18 months after the document had been prepared and published by the Department of Education, the Minister ended up by throwing it to one side and saying, in effect, "It is obvious that no one in Northern Ireland believes that this is the proper basis on which to proceed", and he went on to say:After the most careful consideration the Government have decided to eliminate selection at 11-plus through a restructuring of the educational systemby introducing a universal system of comprehensive schools. The difference on this occasion was that he did not say what 1789 he thought was the system which would achieve that. Once again, as in 1973, there was no logical connection between premise and conclusion—this time between Lord Melchett's rejection of the consultative document and his insistence upon a universal system of comprehensive schools.
Further, in his statement of 15th June the Minister announced his intention to appoint three working parties to consider what would be involved in the introduction of comprehensive schools. However, on 24th August, before these working parties had even met, the Department of Education wrote to the education and library boards requiring them to undertake planning of a system of comprehensive schools for Northern Ireland.
As, perhaps, a further indication of the bias in the Minister's thinking, there is the fact that in another committee, set up in July 1977 to study the education services now provided for 16-to-19-year-olds, not a single representative of grammar schools was included, although the grammar schools teach more than 80 per cent. of pupils of that age.
Throughout that 18-month period from July 1976, despite an avalanche of statements and assurances that the Government were open-minded, that they wanted full discussion and that they would respond to the wishes of the people, the overriding impression has been one of bulldozing ever onwards towards the Government's objective. Is it surprising, therefore, that one sees constantly in the headlines of the newspapers in Northern Ireland assertions such as'Melchett Madness' on the schools must be stoppedandSchool Plan 'being imposed without thought for pupils'and eventually a serious allegation by one of the most senior headmasters of a grammar school in Northern Ireland? He alleged that pro-grammar school officials at the Department of Education were being moved aside because, I suppose, it was thought that they were impeding progress towards the objective of the Minister.
1790 I do not think that we can simply reject those as the assertions and statements of people who should be written off because they have a vested interest. These are the people who have achieved the levels of educational excellence to which I have referred by quoting from the Secretary of State. I hope it surprises the Minister to realise that when my hon. Friends the Members for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) and I met a group of these grammar school headmasters last Friday we discovered amongst them a feeling that they were being totally rejected, that their views were not being sought and that an assumption seemed to be made that they had nothing to contribute to this ongoing discussion. That was disturbing, because they are the people who are reaching the achievements to which I have referred.
Despite that, the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland reassures us in all sorts of publications, including the Ulster Commentary, that changing over to a comprehensive system of education will not be done in a mad rush. I do not know what he considers a mad rush, but if what I described five or six minutes ago is not a mad rush, I do not know what is.
The fact that the Minister has asked the Educational Library Boards to prepare their schemes for comprehensive schools in their areas long before his own working parties have reported is indicative of this. Therefore, inside a period of two years we have had produced at the Government's insistence a detailed scheme for the introduction of a comprehensive school system. This has been discussed and rejected because, in the Minister's own words, the idea of having a system of secondary education consisting of 11-to-18 schools alongside 11-to-16 schools was almost universally condemned by those in favour of keeping selection at 11 as well as by those in favour of abolishing it.
In a frantic effort to maintain momentum towards comprehensive schools, the Minister resurrects the idea of separate sixth form provision which had been dismissed 12 months previously in this first report. The provision of sixth form education was dismissed in that report in 1791 two sentences, but when he has decided that the other system outlined there is not the right one he pulls that old chestnut out of the bag and says how we shall proceed from now on. He justified that decision by saying that what the Government did was to change their mind in the light of the views expressed to them. He said "I see nothing wrong with that". We would all say "Hear, hear" to that. We are glad to see the Government change their mind when representations are made to them, but we do not want them to change their mind and then pick on something like this out of expediency to keep progress in their own direction.
I want to comment briefly on the inspectorate's feasibility study of sixth form colleges. This was alluded to by the hon. Member for Abingdon. Without going into detail, I suggest that the paper is built on a number of false premises. The implication of the report is that the Northern Ireland sixth form system is radically defective and needs radical restructuring. A more correct point of departure would have been that in its sixth forms and further education provision Northern Ireland has an excellent system which ought, in the interests of the young people, and in the interests of our community's prosperity, to be cherished and potected but that certain periperal improvements might be suggested.
I also doubt the validity in the statement that:the increased maturity and sophistication of young people today add to the difficulties of providing in a single school for the needs of younger children of secondary school age and those of the senior pupils who rightly see themselves as young adults.They say that without providing any evidence. Certainly when one looks at what are considered to be the best schools in the kingdom, which would almost invariably be 11-to-18 all-through schools, there is no evidence there to back that assertion.
There is also an alarming lack of logic in the leap from the statement thatThe age of 16…is a time when many young people look increasingly to educational1792provision to respond to their particular needs and attitudesto the statement thatthere is growing support for the concept of separate provision at 16-plus.If there is growing support for the concept of separate provision of education at 16-plus, why was it not in the document produced only 12 months previously? That, unfortunately, is typical of the superficial case which was presented by the inspectors to justify this swing towards sixth form colleges.
We would all accept that throughout Northern Ireland there was grave concern and growing disquiet about the 11-plus selection procedures, the weaknesses and dangers of which are now well known. I believe it was necessary, and I welcomed the decision when it was announced, to scrap that system. However, there was and is no burning desire to destroy our education system simply in order to end the old 11-plus examination.
I believe that the majority would prefer to give the new system of alternative transfer a fair trial. It appears to be capable of evolution, growth and development in response to the experience of parents, children and teachers and will eliminate many of the old evils.
I leave the Minister tonight with one final thought. It harks back to the speech of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. If he forces a system of comprehensive schools throughout Northern Ireland, will there be any consolation for any of us in 10 years' time or less if the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or the Minister of Education in a Northern Ireland Government has to inform us that instead of 15 per cent. of Northern Ireland school leavers having achieved two or more A-levels, we are then on a par with England and Wales with less than 11 per cent. and that instead of 15 per cent. of our school leavers going to institutions of further education we have finally, after a lot of effort, achieved parity with England and Wales at less than 10 per cent.? Is that what the Minister wants, and does he believe that that is what the people of Northern Ireland want?
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
In directing my comments to Class IX of this appropriation order. I find myself, strangely enough, in agreement with the honourable Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), and that does not happen very often. I am delighted to say that I also touch on a subject which is dear to the heart of the Under-Secretary of State.
I want to pay tribute to the voluntary bodies which are grant-aided by the Department of Health and Social Services and whose work among and for the disabled is of inestimable value. I refer particularly to the Northern Ireland Council of Social Services and the Northern Ireland Council for Orthopaedic Development. It is estimated that there are many more disabled people in Northern Ireland than are currently registered. There are just under 20,000 people on the register, 13,250 of whom are physically handicapped and 6,500 of whom are mentally handicapped.
Faced with this number of disabled people—that is the number of whom we are aware; there is, of course, a number who for one reason or another are not registered—we are surely left in no doubt that a comprehensive rehabilitation service is immediately required in Northern Ireland. We deduce this not just on the basis of the figures I have quoted but also from the definition of the word "rehabilitation"—that is, rehabilitation of the disabled. What does "rehabilitation" mean? The term covers medical care, educational measures, vocational and industrial opportunities and readjustments, and social and housing considerations. On top of all that there is the different approach which is required when one is attempting to meet the needs of the young people who are disabled over against those of the older people in the Province who are disabled.
One appreciates that the Government have done quite a lot in respect of the disabled, but there are two defects in the Government's basic strategy. I believe that the second defect is perhaps a consequence of the first. The first defect is the lack of adequate information at the Government's disposal. The second is the lack of co-ordination in the Province 1794 On a provincial basis ad not just a district or regional basis.
The Tunbridge Report stated that the Department of Health and Social Services should be charged with the primary responsibility for developing and coordinating the establishment and subsequent organisation of the rehabilitation services. Co-ordination and primary responsibility for development cannot take place until there is prior adequate information.
It is a tragedy that no comprehensive rehabilitation service exists in Northern Ireland. That is not to say that there are not those who are very deeply and fully committed to the rehabilitation of the disabled. Of course there are doctors and nurses, and of course there are social workers and therapists of all kinds. But the fact remains that there is no concerted effort on a provincial basis and no adequate co-ordination of a provincial service, which I believe is required to meet the needs of a vast number of disabled who are registered and of those of whom we know nothing because there is not the facility at present in Northern Ireland to draw up a proper register. I shall be returning to that in a moment or two.
I said earlier that the Government were to be congratulated on some of the work which they have undertaken. There is a fine workshop run by the Northern Ireland Council for Orthopaedic Development in Belfast, my own constituency. There is an Employment Rehabilitation Unit at Felden, and there is a training centre at Parkanaur. There is now, thank God, at last the proposal for the comprehensive appliance and aid service. This has been undertaken by the Eastern Board. But, while all this work, energy and industry must be applauded, there are two great defects—the lack of adequate information at the Government's disposal and the lack of a co-ordinated effort in the Province by both voluntary and statutory bodies.
A survey of activity in Northern Ireland has been done by Duncan Guthrie, who is Director of the Disabilities Study Unit. This very informative piece of research states that it is a disgrace that the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, introduced in Westminster in 1970, has not been applied in Northern 1795 Ireland, except for three of its 28 sections. It is true that some measures which are in that Act are met by other legislation in Northern Ireland, but it is equally true that the Province is deprived of the fundamental elements of that very vital Act in relation to the disabled. Mr. Guthrie points out that it is particularly regrettable that this is the case, because Northern Ireland presents an ideal area for comprehensive co-ordinated rehabilitation services. The area of our Province is about 5,000 square miles, and the population of 1½ million provides neither too many disabled people to be handled efficiently nor too few to make it reasonable to provide all the appropriate services. It has industrial and rural populations with consequent possibilities of employment in either industry or agriculture. He goes on to say that it has its own Department of Health and Social Services, and that it is as good as anything in the United Kingdom. What is more, its head office is within two hours' driving time of virtually anywhere in the Province.
On the basis of this kind of information and research, it is an exaggeration to say that Northern Ireland could have the most modern and the most successful rehabilitation service, if not in the world, certainly within the United Kingdom? But it is sad that we have to admit in this debate that there is a meagre smattering of good people and good institutions trying to grapple with these multitudinous problems and that, somehow, these efforts are out of the reach of many thousands of disabled people who require these services.
The most important section of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act is the first one, which deals with the all-important requirements imposed upon local authorities in England and Wales to amass information about the disabled. There are really three parts to the section. It is obligatory on a local authority, first, to inform itself about the number of disabled persons in its area; secondly, to cause to be published general information about the services provided for the disabled; and, finally, to ensure that every disabled person is informed of the services which are relevant to his or her needs.
1796 The fundamental prerequisite to offering help—an awareness of the size, nature and scope of the problem—is denied the Province of Northern Ireland, and I find it inexcusable that that is the case. If the whole of the 1970 Act cannot be applied in the Province, steps should be taken immediately to apply that first section. If we can identify the nature scope and size of the problem, we are in an advantageous position to go about solving some the the glaring difficulties and defects.
It is encouraging that the Government have financed a survey to be carried out by the organisation known as Outset. This has been done at a cost of about £500,000. It is commendable. It means that at last we are grappling with the difficulty of amassing the required information. But I am prompted to ask whether this is a one-off operation. The number of disabled people in the Province is bound to fluctuate. They will grow in number and not diminish. If this is just a one-off operation, its value is rather limited.
What is so difficult about applying at least this first section of the 1970 Act which makes it mandatory for a local authority to amass the information to which I have referred? It may be said that the peculiar constitutional position of Northern Ireland does not enable us to apply a complete Act of Parliament. However, I shall not be satisfied with that answer because, although it is true that many of the provisions of the 1970 Act are in operation in other ways without even perhaps being on the statute book, there is no question in my mind but that some of the fundamental provisions contained in Section 2 of the Act require to be implemented in Northern Ireland. If we examine, for instance, all 28 sections of that Act, we discover that, while some are met by existing legislation and some by convention, there are many—not the least of which are some of the housing requirements—that are not being met at all. That needs to be remedied right away.
I return to the point about co-ordination on a provincial basis. One would have to be thoroughly malignant not to compliment the Government on the fact that 17 workshops for physically handicapped persons have been established in 1797 the Province, together with 19 day centres and 26 special care centres for the mentally handicapped and 36 adult training centres for the mentally handicapped. That is a commendable effort. However, we must hold this achievement in tension with the experience of Dr. W. V. James, who, whilst complimenting the industry and dedication shown in these centres, refers to the centres as showpieces between which there are vast spaces of inactivity and non-facility.
I move to the area of specialised services. In mentioning some of the specific problems that arise in this area, problems that will recur again and again, I believe that we have now touched an area of problems that can be remedied immediately. The Under-Secretary may be very worried about trying to implement the 1970 Act and may believe that further delay is required. However, in this area immediacy is the essence of the problem.
I refer to some aspects of what may be termed the specialised services for the physically handicapped. Representations have been made to me and to most of my colleagues, and I am satisfied that the feelings I now express are shared by those professional people whose job it is to try to remedy these problems. Deficiency experienced in respect of one such specialised service relates to the provision of surgical footwear and callipers, and what I believe are known as Forrester Browns. I am advised that people measured for these have often waited for up to six months for delivery and that footwear and callipers have often been returned because a child has grown in the meantime and these implements are of no value. I have also heard of a physically handicapped boy who had to spend the first month of his holidays in his back garden simply because he had no boots to wear. There are numerous other cases in which children have waited for six or seven months for callipers to be repaired only for their parents to discover that the repairs carried out were not those stipulated on the order form.
This may not seem to be a very big matter in the House of Commons. However, I assure the House—I know that I have the Under-Secretary's sympathy in this—that for a family who have accepted 1798 a minor tragedy from the beginning and have devoted all their care, concern and love to a child, to discover that the statutory bodies are so abysmally failing is no small matter. I commend this kind of problem to the attention of the Under-Secretary. Obviously, there are many many parents who are prepared to complain, but I believe that very many do not complain, for one reason or another. Therefore, the problem may be even greater than we imagine.
It was to be hoped that some of these problems would be alleviated by the opening of the Rehabilitation Engineering Unit at Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast next spring, but my information is that the building has not even been started. No work has been done on the erection of that building, let alone acquiring the staff. The hopes of the parents of disabled children in Northern Ireland have been raised, but the spring and perhaps even the autumn of 1978 may come and go before there is any service or engineering unit at the hospital. I hope the Minister will be able to tell me that I am wrong and that my worst fears are unfounded, but I doubt it. I pass the site nearly every day that I am in Northern Ireland and I can see no sign of building.
Will the Minister look carefully not only at the timing of the building but at staffing? I understand that specialists are training at the University of Strathclyde. One hopes that they will come to Northern Ireland, but I understand that the remuneration is such that recruitment will be very difficult. I hope that salaries will be offered to orthoptists and prosthetists engaged in this vital work that will make recruitment easy.
A working party was set up by the old Northern Ireland hospital authorities to look into this matter. Its product, the Whitlock Report, was submitted to the Department, but its recommendations have not been implemented. I hope that fresh consideration can be given to the proposals on equipment and rehabilitative services generally.
Before turning briefly and in conclusion to a telephone advice service for the disabled, may I ask the Minister if he will respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), who inquired when the plans for the Massereene and Whiteabbey hospitals will be 1799 produced. Would it be possible perhaps before the end of this month, to announce the plans for the future of these hospitals?
§ Mr. Bradford
Indeed, the Moyle Hospital as well.
May I take a moment to inform the House how the telephone advice service for the disabled was brought to my attention? The hon. Member for Belfast, West has mentioned the great help that has been given to the disabled in Manchester. That city was the pioneer of the telephone advice service. It was the brainchild of a young man who was an epileptic and received compassionate assistance from the DHSS in Manchester to get this tremendous scheme under way. Unfortunately, he died just a month ago, but he has left a system which will be of tremendous benefit to the disabled in Manchester.
After visiting Manchester, meeting the young man, looking at the scheme and talking to officials of the Department, I returned very excited indeed. I submitted to the Under-Secretary of State's noble Friend a brochure containing some of the information that I had brought back with me, and he promised to consider the matter sympathetically. I was thrilled to discover that, alongside my efforts, the Northern Ireland Council of Social Services had produced a job specification. It had gone further and acquired two grants from certain trusts. It, too, had asked the Minister to consider supplying this vital telephone information service for the disabled. Both plans or one of them—I do not care which—can be adopted. Alternatively, there could be a new plan taken from both.
Such a service for the disabled in Northern Ireland is vital. I should be thrilled if tonight the hon. Gentleman felt that he could commit the Government to meet the small sum that would be required to augment the money provided by the Northern Ireland Council of Social Services. I should be delighted if he could underwrite the Government's confidence in such a system for future years even if the grants from the two private bodies run out. I should be thrilled if a telephone service for the 1800 disabled in Northern Ireland was on the cards after tonight's debate.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
From the point of view of the ordinary citizen there are two especially important Departments in Northern Ireland—the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Social Services. It is strange that there is no Minister answerable to the House for either Department. I know that there is an Under-Secretary on the Treasury Bench, but the Minister with responsibilities for both Departments is a Member of another place. He is making drastic decisions of far-reaching consequence, and the public representatives from Northern Ireland elected to the House have not the opportunity to cross-examine him or directly ask him any questions.
I know that the Under-Secretary of State has a big job on his hands to try to answer for the two Departments, but I must put before him two great problems. The first is that if a person in Northern Ireland is chronically sick and disabled he will be discriminated against compared to the person who is chronically sick and disabled in the United Kingdom. Better provision is made for the person in the United Kingdom who happens to be chronically sick and disabled than for the person in Northern Ireland. That should not be. We are continually told by the Government that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, or will continue to be part of the United Kingdom, yet when it comes to the basic rights of the individual who finds himself chronically sick and disabled we find that he does not have the same rights as a person in a similar position in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Northern Ireland has its system of education, but it seems that the House has decided that certain things in Northern Ireland should be dismantled or torn down. That has been decided in respect of systems that have worked well for years. That has been decided although there is nothing better to put in their place. An attempt has been made to demolish them, and we have the sad effect of the demolishing. We have seen demolished the Parliament of Northern Ireland. We have seen demolished 1801 democracy in local government in Northern Ireland. We have seen demolished the security that we had for 50 years in Northern Ireland. It has now been decided to dismantle the education system, although it is admitted that it is better than the system that operates in the rest of the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, it has been decided that the system should be demolished.
Controversy has raged in Northern Ireland, and these matters have been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker). My hon. Friend has put forward a case that is supported by the people of Northern Ireland. The Government should take this matter seriously to heart, because an attempt is being made, at great speed, to destroy something that is good, profitable and, by their own standards, effective. Now the noble Lord in another place, who is neither elected nor answerable to elected representatives in this House, has decided to destroy this system.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
With respect, the Secretary of State is not making the decisions or the announcements. The right hon. Gentleman is not appointing to the education boards the puppets who are making these decisions. The authority does not rest in the Secretary of State to make the nominations to the boards.
I led a deputation to the Secretary of State about the nominations to the boards. The right hon. Gentleman said that the nominations lay in the hands of the noble Lord. It is the noble Lord who makes the nominations. Therefore, it is not right for the Under-Secretary to tell me that the Secretary of State is responsible when the right hon. Gentleman has declared that he is not responsible for the nominations to these boards.
Let us examine these boards and what has happened. A prominent man in education, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh, has pointed out—this is a serious charge—that those who 1802 are pro-grammar school are being removed from places of decision-making so that the noble Lord's policy may go ahead. I do not know whether that is true. I should like to hear the Minister's comments on that matter tonight.
However, I do know the truth about another matter. Appointees to the education boards are in favour of the Minister's scheme. What is the Minister doing? Before his working party has even decided to give him its report, he is pushing the boards to make decisions according to his thinking. That cannot be tolerated. No wonder a new parents' union has been formed. No wonder people in Northern Ireland are preparing for a confrontation with the Department of Education.
It is all very well for the noble Lord to say that he will listen to people. The Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland has the largest Potestant denomination in the Province. Has the Minister read its two reports on the education system? Has he read the serious charge that it made in its two reports about the disadvantage to grammar schools with Protestant religious foundations? That is not my charge. That is the charge made by the Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland in its two reports. Is the Minister aware that many grammar schools in Northern Ireland have Protestant religious foundations—for example, the Methodist College and the Friends School in Lisburn?
It is proposed that Roman Catholic grammar schools in Northern Ireland should have the advantage that similar schools have in the Scottish system of education. The Protestant religious foundation grammar schools are not to have that advantage.
I say as strongly as possible—it needs to be said in this House—that this matter requires urgent consideration because it will affect the people of Northern Ire-as never before. Their education system, which has stood the test of time and proved itself to be good, is about to be destroyed. The people of Northern Ireland will not wear it. The Minister must face this problem.
It is strange that we cannot have a full-day's debate on the future of education in Northern Ireland. Surely this House should give of its time to debate this matter. If there were a proposal to change 1803 the education systems in Scotland, Wales or England, time would be made available to debate such a serious matter. Why cannot time be made available to debate education in Northern Ireland and enable the Minister to give us the answers that he may get from his noble Friend?
Someone should be appointed to be directly answerable to the House for education. This is far too big a matter to be pushed off with the many other details of departmental labours. I know that the Minister has a lot on his plate but education is too important to be pushed together with agriculture, commerce, manpower services and health and social services. It is a matter which goes to the heart of Ulster and is of great importance to its future. The boys and girls of today are the men and women of tomorrow. Our school system has proved itself.
I do not agree with the 11-plus examination. Changes could be made but they should not be made in such a way as to destroy that which is so good. We must face up to the fact that there will be selection in all education systems. Whether we like it or not, selection will take place, whether it is at school or at university. Can the Minister assure us that he is prepared to meet the grammar school principals? They have a reasonable case to put to him.
Even the North Down District Council has passed a resolution calling on the Minister to put the brakes on the proposals. If a council such as that says that the brakes should be put on, there must be something seriously wrong.
Throughout Northern Ireland there is great concern and anger about what the noble Lord is up to. One does not see headlines as "Melchett Madness" without something being behind them. The Minister is running into a confrontation the like of which has never been experienced in Northern Ireland. He might find that the people are stronger than some of the politicians. He should beware of what is happening.
Why were not the grammar school representatives consulted? Why did Lord Melchett say that he would not consult them and go ahead? Could he not meet these people and talk to them? Were their arguments so strong that the Government could not face up to them? Why 1804 did the Government decide to ignore them and then continue down this road?
I do not wish to labour this point but the Minister had better consult Lord Melchett, and tell him about the deep feelings of the parents of children attending the grammar schools, and the governors, the principals and the teachers. Some of these grammar schools have turned out pupils who are a credit to Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, and are exercising a good influence in the industrial and other centres of the Province.
I turn to the Department of Health and Social Services. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) made a plea on behalf of Whiteabbey and Massereene hospitals. Why should we have to make such a plea? Is it not true that the noble Lord is doing the same with hospitals as he is with education?
I went to a meeting in the Department of Health and Social Services with my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). A hospital in his area was involved. At that meeting a firm promise was made concerning a medical instrument that should have been available to the doctors at Coleraine Hospital. Then we discovered that at the board meeting an executive member of the board had said "You are not getting this instrument." Yet the Permanent Secretary had made us a promise, in the name of the Minister, that the instrument would be made available—an instrument which could be used to help save the lives of many people.
The nominated board in my district does not have the support of the ordinary people. A meeting was held to decide where an acute hospital should be sited. The history is that a promise was made that the Waveney Hospital would be the acute hospital for the district. All the young doctors appointed to that hospital were told "This will become the acute hospital and you will have a career mapped out for you. You will be able to proceed in your profession and reach the top." That was the bribe held out. The Minister was told of this at a meeting I attended at Waveney Hospital at which the Minister condescendingly told us that we should be happy that he could come to Ballymena and give us a couple of hours. The Minister said to the doctors 1805 present "You should be grateful that I have come for a couple of hours to listen to you." It is the Minister's duty to listen to those in the hospital service who are carrying out their duties.
It was decided that the Waveney Hospital would be the acute hospital and that there would be acute services in various other hospitals. At the next meeting the board changed its mind—completely somersaulted. In the meantime, one of the board members who was so keen to have the Waveney Hospital as the acute hospital in the district had wrung from the Minister a decision that the Cushendall Hospital would not be closed but would be used for some acute services, but that the main acute service provision would be at Coleraine. Cushendall Hospital is in my constituency, and I do not want it to close. I believe that all of these hospitals should remain open, offering limited acute services, but with the main acute hospital in the centre of the district at Ballymena.
The person who had wrung that decision from the Minister came back to the board—the bribe having been given to him—and changed his mind. Who was the last man to make the promise about the Waveney Hospital? It was the man who sat in Lord Melchett's seat. the former Minister of Health for Northern Ireland. Then the board, behind closed doors, changed its mind. We are now told that we shall have a hospital. How much will the hospital at Antrim cost? When will a start be made on it? When is it likely that there will be acute services in this new hospital? Has the Government cutback on expenditure been taken into consideration? Are we being offered a hospital in Antrim that may never be built or perhaps may he finished a quarter of a century from now?
What is happening in other hospitals: Massereene, Whiteabbey and Moyle? They are all slowly feeling the dark hand, the shadow of closure, upon them. There is great resentment in Larne about Moyle, and also about Massereene and White-abbey. I do not understand why the decisions about Whiteabbey, which is so near Belfast, has been taken without consideration of what is to happen at the Mater Hospital. These things do not measure up, and I do not know what the position will be. People in those areas 1806 cannot get hospitalisation in their own towns.
The doctors in Ballymena are expected to take the whole load. They had been told "You should get a job here because there is a future here" and now they are told that there has been a change of mind. What was said by the previous Minister of Education in Northern Ireland, when he issued a statement to the Press, made a statement from his office and made it clear to the House, that Waveney would be an acute hospital, has all been changed by Lord Melchett.
There is a long line of hospital services in these communities. The hospital services in Northern Ireland are in a very serious state, and no doubt one of my hon. Friends will have something to say about the hospital in Mid-Ulster which is in a dilemma.
I do not think anybody is happy about the position. This all comes about through the ministry of Lord Melchett. This is his legacy to the people of Northern Ireland. That is what he has bequeathed to us. It is something which the Government had better take on the table tonight. It is serious and cannot go on.
I wish also to raise a matter in the order arising on Class II about the Department of Manpower Services. There will be a cutback of £3 million from March, and included in that is the industrial training programme. I should like the Minister to tell us whether there will be a cut in that training programme. I am sure that he is aware of the loss of jobs in Northern Ireland. The training programme is essential. Northern Ireland has a good training programme. It has been commended by Ministers on this side of the water. If anything, the expenditure on training should have been held. How can people get jobs if they are not to be trained for the jobs?
Under the Department of Manpower Services, can the Minister tell us about the Fair Employment Agency and whether, for the money paid out, it is doing its job? We have had all sorts of bodies set up in Northern Ireland to deal with so-called discrimination. There is an Ombudsman. He did not have enough work, so he has been put on the Police Complaints Board.
I understand that only six district councils out of the 26 would have anything to 1807 do with the Fair Employment Agency. Is it doing any good? How many cases has it solved, and how many people have been satisfied with the results? I should also like to know how many people it employs. One wonders whether it keeps to its own charter when looking at how many it employs.
Another matter under the Department of Health and Social Security has been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South. One part of the legislation worries me, as one who goes to many tribunals and fights for the ordinary man in the street to ensure that, at least in the circumstances of his home, he can have a fair share of what is going. I am worried about the way the attendance allowed is allocated. This is causing my friends and colleagues heart-searching and heart-burning. We see that attendance allowance is easily granted in one case, and yet where the case is far stronger and it seems that an allowance should be granted immediately, we find resistance to granting it.
Is it not time that the Minister reviewed the Attendance Allowance Board? Is it not time the board was put under strict scrutiny? How many applications for attendance allowance has the Minister received in the past year? How many have been refused? What percentage has been accepted? How many people are getting the full attendance allowance? How many are getting only night attendance allowance? These are important matters. The attendance allowance situation is very serious.
There is another point I wish to raise on the question of supplementary benefit. There are many farm cottages where farm labourers are living—in part, they are tied into their jobs. Some of these cotttages are in a bad state of repair. The farmer would like to put such a cottage in a good state of repair but in order to do so, and to get the grant he has to move those occupants out while the work is done. When it is done, of course, the labourer moves back from his temporary accommodation. But because the labourer is moving back into the same house he is not eligible for disturbance money nor for a resettlement grant.
Something must be done so that a person moving out of a huse in order that the farmer can renovate it gets a rehabili- 1808 tation grant. I had a case recently in Ballymena where the tribunal was prepared to make a special needs grant for furniture to a home in this category but the Ministry stopped payment for the time being. The case is still under review. I ask the Minister to look at the problem, because farm labourers are entitled to the same consideration as is given to a tenant of any other house out of which he has moved so that it can be renovated and made fit for human habitation.
§ 11.7 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)
The hour is late, and I will be as brief as possible. There are one or two matters I wish to raise which have come into my experience as a result of constituency work. The first refers to the payment of the non-contributory invalidity pension to a married woman. I believe that this payment is very welcome, but there are certain anomalies which cause some degree of hardship and inequity. The gap I bring to the Minister's attention is one that I believe could be closed and should be closed.
If a man of 65-plus is getting his normal State pension, his wife will get the State pension of £10.50 regardless of her age or health. A woman under 60 who qualifies on health grounds gets the £10.50 non-contributory invalidity pension for married women—the HNCIP. Anyone who has been getting the HNCIP or the non-contributory invalidity pension—NCIP—continues to qualify for it.
In a letter to me on 22nd September, Lord Melchett said:once a person has been in receipt of NCIP it would be intolerable to take it away from him/her just because he/she has reached a certain age".So there is no limit on that payment. Although the two payments may come out of different drawers, there is no real difference between them, because Lord Melchett went on:It has therefore always been the intention to pay NCIP to people over pensionable age only where they have been in receipt of it immediately before that age and there are no proposals to extend NCIP to people over pensionable age at the date of claim.The difficulty therefore arises in the case of the unfortunate woman over the age of 60 who would otherwise qualify for a payment of some description but, because her husband is under the age of 1809 65, does not get anything. I believe that there are a relatively small number of women who find themselves so placed. I believe also that there are a number of women whose condition is deteriorating because of age. This very small number of people should be covered by an extension of the scheme, because, once the husband reaches the retirement age, such a woman will get a pension of £10.50 on her husband's contributions.
Is there no way by which the case I am making can be met? This is a difficult problem, and it has started to come to light only now when the initial payments are being made. We all have constituents who find themselves falling outside the net. I want the Minister to take this matter on board and see whether something can be done to close the gap in benefit for these unfortunate women.
Next, I come to a matter which was covered by the Secretary of State for Social Services in his statement on the mobility allowance. I am concerned, and I am sure that hon. Members throughout the United Kingdom are concerned, about the varying standards which seem to be applied to the payment of that benefit. This matter was first brought to my attention by a visit from a constituent who has suffered from congenital dislocation of both hips from birth. She can walk for only 50 yards, and she is in constant pain, yet she has continually been turned down for the mobility allowance. This lady has a job. Her employers very kindly pick her up every morning at her door and take her to work. She has a sedentary job, and once she gets into the factory she can continue her work. She is a citizen who has earned her keep very well indeed, and her family are proud of her.
Even recently, however, this lady has had her claim for mobility allowance turned down on appeal. She has been turned down because of the implication in the words "virtually unable to walk". The regulation is that the person must beunable or virtually unable to walk; or the exertion required to walk would constitute a danger to his life or would be likely to lead to serious deterioration in his health.The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) recently tabled a Question on this very point, and it was answered on 2nd December. He asked for an interpretation of the criterion 1810 "virtually unable to walk", and the answer was:the phrase "virtually unable to walk' means unable to walk to any appreciable extent or practically unable to walk'.But the Minister added that the National Insurance Commissioner commented that'in determining whether a person is virtually unable to walk, one should take into account such matters as whether the person can only walk very slowly, or with pain"—my constituent falls into both those categories—or difficulty"—which is the third category into which she falls—
or instability, or grotesqueness of gait, and so on'." — [Official Report, 2nd December 1977; Vol. 940, c. 435.]If those standards were applied in Northern Ireland, I should be inclined to believe that my constituent would win her case. But so far she has not done so.
What assurances can we have, especially in the light of the debate on the Adjournment last night when this question was raised on a different issue, that of inability to walk due to a mental disability? What can I tell my constituent when she comes back to me? Can I tell her that there will now be a serious effort made to apply the same standards throughout the United Kingdom in such cases? It seems to me —I am sure that other hon. Members, if they have not yet met such cases, will soon do so—that my constituent ought to receive exactly the same standard of treatment as others are receiving.
I come next to a matter arising out of the mobility allowance for young people. It arises, in particular, as a result of the changes which have been made in recent months and years, and it is especially in the forefront of our minds because of the recent statement on mobility, where we read:Any help which can be given to assist disabled people to make the best use of the resources is clearly very much to be welcomedand also thatboth drivers and passengers who want to use their mobility allowance to obtain a vehicle will get maximum value for their money in doing so ".—[Official Report, 6th December 1977; Vol. 940, c. 1126–7.]Within the past 12 months or so I have come across a constituent—a young man, a spina bifida case, confined to a wheelchair since he was born, and living with 1811 his grandparents—who was given gifts of money periodically by his parents and grandparents to save up to buy himself a vehicle. He discovered, and his parents to their horror discovered, that whenever he reached a certain point his supplementary benefit was cut. The matter is still under consideration by the commissioners.
I do not say that it is a simple matter to resolve, but I believe that it is one that must be resolved, especially in the light of the statement that was made, because there are young people who get gifts of money, who try to save money and who are given help by their families—sometimes as a result of great sacrifices—so that they can get a vehicle which it is not possible for them to get without such help. Surely it is overdue for some way to be found to get round this difficult problem. I do not believe that it is beyond the wit of man to find a way round it, and I wish that the Department would use its wits a little more quickly than it seems to be doing at present.
I turn now to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). He and I attended a meeting, and I confirm what he said about the piece of equipment that was promised on 17th August in relation to the difficulties of procuring a radiologist for the Coleraine Hospital. The radiologist has not, I believe, been procured. All sorts of points were raised about how the constituents of both the hon. Gentleman and myself could be covered, and a quite horrifying story was told then.
I believe that it is now intended to make this a two-man post. That is all very well, but when one looks at the number of radiologists available in Northern Ireland, or likely to be available there over the next seven to eight years one gets the impression that the Creator will have to start work again, because that is the only way in which we shall get them. There are not two men available. There is a possibility that there is one man who is available, and I hope that he will be appointed because the constituents need his services, and have needed them urgently for many months. But this does not get over the difficulty of why the hon. Member for Antrim, North and I were given a promise that was later rescinded and has not been put into effect.
1812 There is London weighting for many jobs. Is there no possibility of a weighting to try to attract highly qualified staff into the many remote areas in Northern Ireland? We have a severe, continuing shortage of many specialties and disciplines that will not easily be solved. We arc all most concerned about the problem. We cannot see the hospital service in the western half of the Province being maintained unless there is more money on the table to attract people there. Perhaps I am crying for the moon, but we need the moon, and, therefore, I make no excuse for crying for it.
My final point, because I promised to be brief, is addressed to the noble Lord in regard to his responsibility in education. I should be greatly obliged, as would my constituents in Limavady, if the noble Lord could find the time to visit Limavady Grammar School and paddle, as the schoolchildren must every day, to the 18 temporary wooden classrooms behind the school. Some of those 18 temporary classrooms have been there since 1964. My constituents feel that further building is long overdue, because Ministers know that, regardless of what the future of secondary education is in Northern Ireland, a considerable amount of building is needed at this school to provide the accommodation which is necessary for the welfare of the children of my constituents in the area.
§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
This short debate has had very wide frontiers. I do not envy the Under-Secretary his task of summing it up.
An agreeable feature of the debate, which has touched on so many facets of Ulster life, was the sympathetic interest shown in the House, not for the first time, by the hon. Members for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) in the plight of disabled and physically handicapped in their city. It would have been nice if the hon. Member for Belfast, South had stayed to listen to the hon. Member for Belfast, West. I know that the Under-Secretary was listening sympathetically to their plea for a provincial approach to the problems of the provision of care and rehabilitation, to which the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) also referred, and the application to Northern Ireland of legislation in force on this side of the sea.
1813 At this moment we are authorising supply to the Crown of an amount approaching £110 million, so the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) very properly reverted to the question of the control of public expenditure. Once upon a time, and not so long a time ago, per capita expenditure was lower in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain. Her Majesty's Treasury now estimates that in the past five years the most rapid increase in public spending has been in Northern Ireland. Expenditure per head of the population in the Province is now 48 per cent. higher than in England, where the figure is £754, and considerably higher than in Scotland, where the figure is £948, and in Wales, where the figure is £875—figures, incidentally, which some nationalists might do well to recall.
These statistics record the special assistance given and the incentives provided to industry in a Province where unemployment is above 12 per cent. They make it all the more necessary for the House to insist on rigorous economy in the management of so large an outlay.
I suggest, with reference to Class II in the schedule, that there may be room for economy in the bodies and bureaucracy dealing with assistance to industry. I am not speaking of schemes themselves so much as the bodies and bureaucracy dealing with assistance to industry. The setting up of the Northern Ireland Development Agency might have been the occasion for administrative rationalisation. How, I wonder, does this change fit in with the old Industrial Enterprise Fund set up in 1964 or with the Industrial Development Organisation within the Department of Commerce? I understand that the Department of Commerce has its own schemes under the Industrial Investment General Assistance Acts and the Industrial Development Act. How does all this fit together? Is it costing an unnecessary amount of money or administration?
During the great period of success in attracting new industries to Northern Ireland, nearly all the work was undertaken within the Ministry of Commerce. Besides the other bodies I have mentioned, there are Enterprise Ulster and LEDU—Local Enterprise Development Unit. This admit- 1814 tedly is a limited company financed by the Department of Commerce and is limited to the nurture of firms employing up to 50 persons. It has its own area offices at Omagh, Londonderry and Newry. I should be glad to learn from the Under-Secretary—perhaps by letter—what scope he sees for rationalisation. I should also be grateful if the Northern Ireland Office would reconsider its rejection of my repeated suggestions that the existence and publication of the reports of this and other public bodies be made known through the Vote to right hon. and hon. Members who may be interested.
This House is required, under the system of direct rule, to apply itself to many matters which were formerly within the purview of a Northern Ireland Parliament and Northern Ireland Government, and I think that we should either be given the tools of the trade or be told where they are to be had.
I turn finally and briefly to Class VIII. It is not that I want to add anything to what my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) said about education, but I should like to reinforce the demand which he made—supported by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), who always speaks on education with knowledge and experience—for a full-dress debate. The hon. Member for Armagh touched on the complicated system of transfer from primary to secondary education in Northern Ireland which recently came into operation, and this is the sole matter which I should like in conclusion to bring to the attention of the Under-Secretary.
The first phase of the new scheme—which was inspired by the Inner London Education Authority—was completed last month, but already there are teachers who are dissatisfied. We seem to have here a further element of discord in a troubled Province to add to the main educational controversy about which my hon. Friends and other hon. Members have spoken. Primary school headmasters have objected that this ILEA importation places too much power in the hands of the grammar schools. Many ordinary primary school teachers are alarmed by the work and responsibility they have to undertake in using the new techniques of guided choice selection. It 1815 has been put to me in Ulster that opposition from teachers may make the continuation of the scheme very difficult.
I hold no brief for the 11-plus examination. It is a red herring which is often put across the trail. Those who want to defend grammar schools are told that they are advocates of the 11-plus, which is not so. But such is the feeling in some quarters about the new transfer system that some people are beginning wistfully to look back towards the 11-plus system of selection. I hope that the Under-Secretary will include this point when he replies—as he must, I think—to the devastating attacks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon, the hon. Member for Armagh, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), and, I think, other hon. Members, against the misuse of direct rule to force a particular system of secondary education upon the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Dunn
A great deal of ground has been covered this evening, and it would be absolutely impossible for me to cover it all with the seriousness that hon. Members would wish. Indeed, if I were to attempt to do so I would take exactly as long as it has taken to bring these matters to my notice, and I am sure that the House would not expect that of me.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) intervened before I completed the introduction to the order and I gave him an indication that I was aware that these matters were being discussed. I could not give him any timing then but I am now reliably informed that the matter of the Massareene Hospital is with the Northern Health and Social Services Board. I understand that the board should be making a decision in the next month and that my noble Friend will be writing to the hon. Gentleman in the next fortnight. That might even bring the hon. Member some Christmas good cheer.
I turn to the matters which were raised in the debate and of which in some instances due notice was given to me, thus enabling me to provide a rather detailed reply.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) asked what progress had been made in implementing the recommenda- 1816 tions in the Quigley Report. I agree with him about the importance of job creation, and he will know that every effort is made to improve the climate for industrial expansion. There have been substantial increases in the level of grants which are available for industrial expansion. In some instances, and in certain circumstances, it it possible to equip a new factory. Taking into account the tax concessions accruing, it is possible to get up to 90 per cent of the total cost. This is a high figure, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, as an attractive incentive to industry to locate itself in the Province, it is a matter which should not be ignored by those who may wish to come.
The hon. Member for Abingdon also asked how many new jobs had been promoted by the Department of Commerce in Northern Ireland. I have been given a document which gives some indication of the progress which has been made. In 1969 the number of new jobs created was 5,943: in 1970 it was 6,484; in 1971 it was 7,265; in 1972 it was 6,864; in 1973 it was 5,182; in 1974 it was 4,806; in 1975 it was 3,075; in 1976 it was 2,251; and between January and June 1977, which are the latest figures available, it was 3,254. They are rather remarkable figures.
§ Mr. Dunn
The Quigley Report indicated parameters, and we are trying, within those parameters, to improve industrial performance in order to attract industry into the Province. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the visit to the United States of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with that objective in view. He will also be aware of recent ministerial visits to Germany. Every effort is being made to attract industry into the Province and; thereby create more job opportunities.
§ Mr. Dunn
I shall write to the hon. Gentleman and give him the figures. I shall have to extract them from the Quigley Report. I cannot give them to him off the top of my head. But I can assure him that the Quigley Report is the basis for the Economic Council to engage in its examination, scrutiny and recommendations. Flowing from the consultations with the Eoconomic Council, it may be that the suggestions made in the Quigley Report will be varied. So I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question with any authority at the moment, but I shall write to him about it.
We have heard about the serious burden on industry of electricity charges. We shall be introducing an order later tonight which will help deal with this difficulty as a matter of high priority. The Northern Ireland electricity service will be given aid to enable the tariffs charged to be brought almost to a state of parity with those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I can also tell the hon. Member for Abingdon that all my ministerial colleagues are undertaking a major drive to encourage new investment into the Province from abroad and from Britain itself. It is hoped that the Economic Council, under the chairmanship of Professor Carter, will give inspired leadership and make suggestions in this regard. We look forward to receiving its advice.
I was asked about tax holidays. This topic has been drawn to my attention before in Appropriation Order debates. It has been said that such a scheme would improve the competitive position of Northern Ireland. I can only say what I have said in the past: it would create difficulties to give special tax concessions to just one part of the United Kingdom. There are many complex problems in creating such as scheme, and if one were introduced for Northern Ireland it would be said that that would be to the detriment of the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not think it would help if I went further on that matter this evening. However, I assure hon. Members that our minds are never closed to any opportunities for further measures to meet Northern Ireland's need for more jobs.
I come next to the youth opportunity programmes. This was touched on by the hon. Members for Epping Forest (Mr. 1818 Biggs-Davison) and Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). Northern Ireland's job creation schemes—Enterprise Ulster and Young Help—have made a major contribution to the Government's policy for dealing with high unemployment there. Enterprise Ulster was established in 1973. Young Help was announced in April 1976. They can both be improved. Allied to that, industrial training schemes could make a serious inroad into the high level of unemployment in the Province among young people. Of course, if the United Kingdom economy generally improved, that in itself would provide an uplift and increase the scope and opportunities for employment for the whole range of the labour force, but particularly for young people. My hon. Friend the Minister keeps this matter under continual review through his manpower services machinery.
The hon. Member for Abingdon asked about financial assistance for small businesses. The Government have given a high priority to such assistance in the Northern Ireland economy, both in public services and in other industry. We are trying to create something within which the community in general can help itself. In Northern Ireland 78 per cent. of manufacturing establishments actually employ fewer than 50 people, and combined employment accounts for about 14 per cent. of total manufacturing employment.
We have tried to help small firms with a whole range of selective financial assistance under the industrial development legislation. The majority of the firms assisted in this way have been small firms. The local employment development unit has been able to help, advise and provide financial and other assistance to such companies. We should not discount the measures announced in the October Budget to help small firms. Relief from capital transfer tax on the transfer of businesses has been increased from 30 per cent. to 50 per cent. There is a 20 per cent. relief from capital transfer tax on transfer of minority shareholdings in unquoted companies, and the level at which CTT becomes payable has been raised to £25,000—which was basically an increase of £10,000. Also, the level of exemption from the apportionment of trading income has been raised from £5,000 to £25,000.
1819 All these are measures that are designed to help small firms. I am the first to appreciate that we must keep striving to find more and more means of providing assistance, encouragement and support wherever it is likely to produce the results that we seek. But, again, there is a break-off where the small businesses would wish to have a greater degree of independence. I suggest that there comes a time when the balance of the accountability for public money and the independence of the industries concerned is very sensitive. We must pay due regard to that on each and every occasion.
The other rather major point raised concerned comprehensive education. I do not think that I can abbreviate any answer on comprehensive education. It is a serious subject. There is an intensity in the representation of opinions on this subject that cannot be ignored, and I would not wish to do so. I repeat what I said when the hon. Member for Antrim, North was courteous enough to allow me to intervene during his speech. The Secretary of State is responsible for the affairs of Northern Ireland. Those of us who work with him as Ministers recognise and accept that overall supervision and control are vested in him. I repeat that he is an elected representative in this House. He is available for questioning. There are many opportunities to bring to his attention the matters before the House tonight. Therefore, I do not accept that there is any element of bureaucracy applicable in the House to those who answer on behalf of the Secretary of State. In the final analysis it is the Secretary of State who is responsible for all the affairs of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Before we go further down the slope towards the scheme beloved of the Secretary of State, may we please have a proper debate in the House? Will the hon. Gentleman please convey that request to his right hon. Friend the Lord President?
§ Mr. Dunn
The hon. Member for Epping Forest will be aware that it is not within my province or power to grant what he requests. I shall convey the request to the Secretary of State, but even he can only make a recommendation for the provision of parliamentary 1820 time to the Leader of the House and those concerned with the business of the House. I hasten to add that if the Opposition really desire to have a full day's debate on a subject as serious as education—as they put it to us—there are opportunities, although Supply Days are not unlimited. There are opportunities that the Opposition and other hon. Members may take to deal solely with the subject of education. They do not need me to point out the methods available within the House for them to do so.
Concerning comprehensive education, the Government's decision to eliminate selection at 11-plus was announced in a statement made by my noble Friend the Minister of State on 15th June last. This means that secondary education must be restructured so that schools are not divided into those that take mainly 11-plus qualifiers and the remainder that may take mainly those who have not qualified through the selection procedure. The decision that has been taken is not simply a party-political decision. The process of reorganising secondary education in Great Britain on non-selective lines has been going on for the last 10 years. In other words, it has been going on under both Labour and Conservative Governments. The process was neither halted nor reversed during the Conservative Government of 1970 to 1974. The views submitted by the people of Northern Ireland in response to the invitation in the consultative document were carefully considered before the Government announced their decision to eliminate selection at 11. There were full consultations with those concerned, and the professionals and educationists all made their views known.
When the views had been taken into account, the arrangements for the necessary restructuring were also made known. The Government fully accept that it would be wrong to attempt to impose a single, uniform system of reorganised secondary education in all areas in Northern Ireland. That is why the area education and library boards have been invited to undertake the plans for their areas and the consultations with individual schools. The Government believe that local people are in the best position to judge circumstances in different parts of their areas, based upon the geography 1821 and particular difficulties they confront. The area boards will have to approve the schemes, and they will be those best suited to each area.
§ Mr. McCusker
The board members who are being asked to make these decisions are nominees of the Minister's noble Friend. They were recently selected by him. Is it not highly likely that he selected people who share his view on this subject?
§ Mr. Dunn
I am sorry that the hon. Member has followed up some outrageous suggestions made in the Press and indirectly referred to in the debate. Without hesitation and with all the sincerity I can command, I completely reject the allegation that my noble Friend has appointed to the boards people who see only the point of view that he wishes them to follow and support. That is nonsense.
Those who loudly proclaim this outrageous allegation do so because they are attempting to discredit those who disagree with them. They want the tripartite system maintained, and they are quite willing to go to the lengths to which they allege others go. I reject that outrageous allegation and make no further comment except to say that if the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) has evidence to support the allegation, let him produce it. There have been comments from some leading people in the Province. A headmaster said recently that he believed the allegation was true, but he could not produce any evidence to support it. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Armagh fell for that.
The Government believe that the restructuring has to be a process in which each step is carefully planned and that ample time must be allowed for consultations and preparations. At the same time, it would be foolish to allow the process to be inordinately delayed.
To those who are concerned, let me say that there will be no imposition on the people of the Province. Those fears are founded on less than fact. There will be full consultation. The area boards will have ample opportunity, and the people in the areas will have even greater opportunity, to make their views known. There will be no imposition by the Government. The area boards will decide for them- 1822 selves. The area boards will have the opportunity of deciding on the recommendations that are made from within their areas. [Interruption.] I suppose that if I were to say that all night the response would be the same.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Gentleman has made an important statement. We should be happy for him to repeat it, but that is not necessary. He has said that there will be no imposition of the system by the Government in any of the boards' areas. That is an important statement, and we are grateful to him.
§ Mr. Dunn
My noble Friend made that statement on 15th June. He said that full consultation will take place and that there will be no imposition of the system upon the people of the Province. if they do not wish it, through the boards so as to make the system operative. I recall the Questions directed to this matter and the suggestions that have been made. I recall the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) intervening to say that what is good for one part of the United Kingdom is good for the other. However, I hesitate to go further along that path.
The hon. Members for Abingdon and Armagh referred to sixth form colleges. Since the publication in July 1976 of the feasibility study on the reorganisation of secondary education, there has been a wide-ranging and intensive public debate on the issue, which the Government welcome. A number of issues have emerged from the debate. The establishment of the working party on sixth-form colleges for education and library boards was the response to one such issue. The document that has been produced is not a statement of Government policy. It is a working document designed to stimulate thinking and to indicate possible options. The Government accept that there cannot be one uniform system of comprehensive education throughout Northern Ireland. That again is a statement of some significance. That is why I attach particular importance to the plans that are being drawn up locally in consultation with local people and local schools.
I have already dealt with the allegations that have been made by the Principal of Campbell College. He said that the staff in the Department of Education who support grammar schools were being 1823 moved aside. He did not indicate the source of his evidence. I refute the allegations. If the gentleman has any conclusive evidence, or something tangible rather than suppositions and comments that can be read in the Press, I can assure him that an investigation will take place if he gives us the information and the evidence. Such allegations are a reflection upon those who administer the education service, who have done so well for education for so long. When such allegations are flung around they act to the detriment of the service. They do it a disservice, and its reputation suffers. That applies to the civil servants within the service.
Other matters of minor detail have been mentioned. Some were related, for example, to the application of the education scheme. I assure the hon. Members who spoke on such matters that I shall write to them.
The right hon. Member for Down, South once again encouraged me to reach an agreement with him. He made an offer. I am sure that he will not take it amiss if I do not take up his offer. He suggested a bargain. Although it has some personal attractions, he will know that the arrangements and procedures for parliamentary time are not for me. I can give no such undertakings. However, I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I shall once again bring his suggestions to the attention of those who have authority. I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman on the matter.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that it was not so long ago that we were talking about the harmonisation of accountancy systems with the Comptroller and Auditor General. I indicated that harmonisation was being considered. I was advised by various officers on those complex matters, and harmonisation has taken place. What has happened on one occasion can happen again with, perhaps, more rewarding results. I look forward to that.
I refer again to the control of public expenditure. On Monday there was to be a debate on the Public Accounts Committee. I refer to the letters that the right hon. Gentleman quoted that I had sent to him. Discussion on the Public Accounts Committee's report was to take place on Monday, but, for reasons beyond the control of anyone on the Government Front Bench, there was a suspension of 1824 that business. Something of greater importance was taken in its place. Had an undertaking been given that in no circumstances would an Appropriation Order be laid before the House until there had been an opportunity of discussing the Public Accounts Committee's report relating to Northern Ireland, albeit for last year, the year before or the year before that, we could not have carried out the procedures to provide from the Consolidated Fund the moneys necessary to carry on the services.
I should point out that the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) is the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and that he will no doubt take on board the comments made by the right hon. Member for Down, South. It is difficult to give any undertaking that, in the same timetable from year to year, the PAC's report will be debated before the presentation of an Appropriation Order.
The Public Accounts Committee presents its reports to the House two years in retrospect. I did not realise that until today. When that information was laid before me, I found that I could not give even sympathetic support to the suggestions that had been made by the right hon. Member for Down, South—suggestions that I had previously supported.
In view of the scope and timing of the Appropriation Order and the lengthy process which would have to be gone through by the Department in investigating the different estimates, there does not seem to be any worthwhile prospect of further investigation into trying to harmonise the presentation of the PAC's reports, especially as the Committee reports two years in retrospect. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will further investigate the information that I have given him, but I shall write to him about this matter. In view of what I have said, there would seem to be little advantage in pursuing that line.
I am informed that the Public Accounts Committee has accounts submitted to it by statutory bodies and that arrangements have been made for these accounts to be laid before the House. The question of a review of any particular accounts is a matter for the PAC. If it were to be suggested that more reports should be made available, we 1825 should have to consider that matter and, indeed, give an answer. I shall leave it at that. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Down, South will accept that this is the only means by which it can be done.
The Department of Education continues to be concerned with problems connected with the records of lands and premises held by the education and library boards. The right hon. Member for Down, South repeated the request that he made in the debate in July for a register of the lands and premises held by the boards. Arrangements have been made for the Department of the Civil Service to advise both the Department of Education and the boards on ways and means of making progress in that direction.
Following an intervention, I made inquiries and found that the transfer of some of the properties to the education and library boards from other holdings causes a major reorganisation. Some of the records that were in the possession of some of the local authorities—many of which are very small—were not as indicative as they should have been. With the help of the Land Registry and from figures collated recently, an attempt is being made to bring the records up to date. Every effort will be made to complete as soon as possible a full record of the property that is owned by the education and library boards.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) asked me to convey his apologies to the House should he have to leave before the end of the debate. He said that he intended no discourtesy by not staying to hear the reply to his questions. He raised the question of household adaptations for disabled people. I shall write to him on that matter, although some of the answers may be included in my reply to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford).
I have said this in the House before, and I repeat it. In my view, the provisions of the Health and Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972 are equal to the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. The health boards and other agencies which operate under that order have all the powers that are necessary to provide the services to which reference has been made this 1826 evening. They have all the powers that are specified in the Act. They have an advantage because the order relates only to Northern Ireland and because the Health and Social Services Department is under the same aegis. The order provides those involved with all the opportunities that are provided in the Act.
§ Mr. Bradford
Is the Minister suggesting that the 1972 order makes it compulsory for a local authority to amass information about the disabled and that it is required to do that?
§ Mr. Dunn
The powers enable that to be done.
We have discussed before the opportunities for the identification of those who are disabled and how, through that identification, we are able to measure the help and services that are required—both for the disabled and for their families. I have said that more information is needed about the numbers of physically handicapped people in the Province so that the services can be measured to meet the need. Plans are at an advanced stage for the organisation of a survey early in 1978 which will cover every household in the Province. The survey will be conducted by Outset, a charity with long experience of the surveying of the handicapped in Great Britain. The survey will be in two parts. In the first part there will be a postal questionnaire sent to every household. The second stage will involve a visit to all households where handicapped persons live, to obtain a clear picture of the nature of the handicap and of the services required. This is a decision of some significance. Once the survey is carried out we can measure the services required. I hope that hon. Members will make this as widely known as possible because we need the co-operation of those who receive the questionnaire. If they do not fill it in and send it to us we cannot proceed to the second stage.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Will there be the same automatic notification to ensure that records are kept up to date once the survey has been carried out as was used—I hope that it still is used—for mentally handicapped persons?
§ Mr. Dunn
I cannot believe that once this enormous work has been carried out 1827 it would be allowed to fall away. I am sure that records would be kept up to date. If the Government did not respond I am sure that Outset would not let things go. We have only to look at the record of Outset in Great Britain. It would make every endeavour to keep this record as up to date as possible. That does not mean that there will not be human failure. There will be a failure of communication in some cases, perhaps because people have changed addresses and not notified us. There will be an element of human error and confusion, especially among those who are severely handicapped and have so many pressures on them. It is our job to make certain that this scheme is well known, so that if handicapped people move to a new area their neighbours will notify the relevant authority.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South raised the question of specialised services for the physically handicapped and the supply of surgical equipment. He referred to educational facilities. I assure him that I am satisfied that the Health and Social Services Order (Northern Ireland) 1972 gives the Department all the powers it requires. The area boards make every effort to provide a range of services for the physically handicapped equivalent to those provided in the rest of Great Britain. Every endeavour is made, where community or domiciliary requirements exist, to meet those needs. We hope that in the next four or five years there will be an extension of those services and that the level of the services will be raised.
The facilities for the education of physically handicapped children are adequate to cope with the demand. Sometimes highly specialised facilities are needed.
I recall a case in which the hon. Member for Belfast, South was directly concerned on behalf of a constituent. There is occasionally difficulty in a particular locality in finding a suitable school place. For the same reason it is sometimes necessary to send a child outside Northern Ireland.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that every effort will be made to seek ways of improving our services. I can assure him that many physically handicapped children, can, and do, receive education in 1828 normal schools, a subject close to his heart and to mine. Where that is possible it is often of greater benefit to the handicapped child. We want to encourage that as a means of integrating a child into the community.
§ Mr. Bradford
Does that apply to the provision of the engineering unit to which I referred? If so, will the Minister give us a commencement date and a completion date for the new building? That would remove the need to send apparatus to the mainland to be fixed, with delay causing great hardship.
§ Mr. Dunn
While I cannot give an answer tonight, I assure the hon. Member that I will bring that to the notice of my noble Friend the Minister of State and will write to him as soon as I have the information.
I assure the House that the level of services available in the next four or five years will be improved. Every effort is being made in this regard.
There will be special effort to match need in providing orthopaedic services and surgical equipment. Once we have the result of the survey the knowledge will act as a spur and give an impetus to all concerned to provide the services on which the hon. Member has made his views well known in the Province.
A number of other items were brought to my attention but I do not think I can answer all. I can deal with only one or two points raised with me by the hon. Member for Antrim, North. May I assure him, on the suggested meeting with grammar school heads and other representatives in that sector which he brought to my attention, that my noble Friend will be only too pleased to meet them at a time and place equally convenient to both sides.
I stress the value of consultation, and I hope that the hon. Member will convey to those who might be under the misapprehension that they will not be received that that is not true and that efforts will be made to deal with those matters as soon as he gets back.
The hon. Member also asked about an industrial training cutback. I mentioned, when I introduced this order, that about £3.1 million was being cutback because the Job Release Scheme had not been taken up in the way originally estimated.
1829 There are one or two cases where help by industrial training grants is coming from the European Communities and they are delayed in their accounting system. By the time our accounting system is provided with that money, one cannot easily correlate them. That is why the estimates have been reduced by that amount.
A total of £109 million more is being spent than last year, and that is an improvement of services in the Province.
I will make sure that a written reply is sent to any question that I have not answered. I thank hon. Members for their patience in listening to my reply.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1977, which was laid before this House on 9th November, be approved.