§ Mr. Speaker
It may be helpful if I make it clear that the debate on this order may cover all matters for which Northern Ireland Departments, as distinct from the Northern Ireland Office, are responsible. Police and security are the principal excluded subjects.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 9th May, be approved.The order is being made under schedule 1(1) to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. Its purpose is to authorise the issue of £1,605 million out of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland and to appropriate this sum for the purposes shown in the schedule. This represents the balance of the 1984–85 main Estimates for Northern Ireland Departments and brings the total main Estimates provision for the year to £2,831 million.
This debate is taking place somewhat earlier than in recent years. This is possible because we were able to lay the draft order and publish the main Estimates for Northern Ireland Departments on 9 May—about a month earlier than previously. We believe it right that the Estimates should be published as early as possible in the year to which they relate, and a refinement of procedures has enabled us to bring publication forward. I hope that hon. Members will find this helpful.
The main Estimates represent the detailed spending plans of Northern Ireland Departments for this financial year. These plans were set out in broad outline in the Northern Ireland chapter of the Government's public expenditure White Paper, which was published in February, and in the statements of 13 December 1983 and 16 February this year by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Detailed information can be found in the Estimates volumes themselves, copies of which were placed in the Vote Office, along with the draft order, on 9 May.
Before I outline some of the main features of the draft order, I will comment on developments on the broader economic front, where the picture is encouraging. The national economy grew by 3 per cent. last year and recovery at the same rate is expected to continue throughout 1984. Inflation is down to 5 per cent. With it have come improved trading conditions and, despite last month's increase, an overall reduction in interest rates has been achieved. There are signs that Northern Ireland is sharing in this recovery. Manufacturing production in Northern Ireland in 1983 was 3 per cent. above the level of 1982, with most sectors now displaying stability or some improvement. In particular, the electrical and instrument engineering industry has shown a welcome rise of 22 per cent. in 1983 and the textile industry has increased its production for the first time since 1979.
A number of recent surveys are in general agreement, at least on the short-term prospects for the Northern Ireland economy. All report signs of improvement. The latest CBI report is particularly encouraging. It confirms that the upturn in the United Kingdom economy is also being experienced locally. Home and export demand continue to rise, with general business confidence also improving.
650 Employment in Northern Ireland is demonstrating greater stability with a fall over the year since March 1983 of 2,600, contrasting with 13,500 in the previous 12 months. The position in manufacturing employment is also much more encouraging, with a net loss of only 1,800 jobs in the 12 months up to March this year, compared with 10,600 in the previous 12-month period.
Despite these various improvements, unemployment remains at a level which, by any standard, is unacceptably high. Comparison with the United Kingdom is alarming. The latest figure for average unemployment is 21.6 per cent. in Northern Ireland, compared with the United Kingdom average of 12.9 per cent. Indeed, if one compares Northern Ireland with the worst in Great Britain — northern England—one ands a figure of 17.4 per cent. compared with 21.6 per cent. average in the Province.
The Government fully recognise the severity of the economic and other problems facing Northern Ireland. Accordingly, the size and balance of our public expenditure programme has been formulated to reflect Northern Ireland's particular needs. Total expenditure in the current financial year will be £4,032 million, which represents an increase of £13 million on the amount originally planned for this year, and a small increase in real terms over 1983–84. Within this amount, we are continuing to accord priority to law and order, industrial support and development, and, in the social sphere, housing.
I now turn to the provision that is being sought for specific services. The provision for agriculture presently sought in Class I of the main Estimates totals £61 million. The major constituents of this provision are £14 million for education, research and development; £24 million for administration and miscellaneous services, including Government support to industry by way of advisory and veterinary services; £12 million for drainage; £5 million for forestry; and £5 million for direct support to the agriculture industry. In addition, I am pleased to remind the House that special aid to agriculture will continue in the current year. That figure is not reflected in the Estimates before us today, which were formulated before the £12 million package was announced. Detailed supplementary estimates for this aid will be presented later in the year. Considerable support for the Northern Ireland agriculture industry is, of course, also borne on Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Votes. In 1984–85, it is estimated that £75 million will be provided from this source.
I wish to refer now to the dairy sector in Northern Ireland. We are well aware of the concern among Northern Ireland dairy producers about the present situation, following the imposition of quotas. I know that hon. Members have been energetic inside and outside the House in representing the concern and views of those whom they represent. I was sorry that my absence in North America coincided with the Adjournment debate last Thursday, which was on a motion by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson). I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for taking my place, and for making the points that I would have made.
I do not wish to go over all the old arguments on the matter. However, one or two points need repetition. It cost £3,000 million in 1983 alone to dispose of dairy surpluses in the Community. The British taxpayers' share of that 651 amounted to approximately £600 million. That meant that action had to be taken. On the other side of the equation, there can be no doubt about the importance of agriculture and its related industries in Northern Ireland. We particularly understand that the quota cuts in milk production present special difficulties for small producers, of whom there is a higher proportion in Northern Ireland than is general in Great Britain. For that reason, and because of the expected greater proportion of special cases, Ministers agreed that the outgoers' scheme should allow up to 5 per cent. of quota to be bought up in the Province, compared with only 2.25 per cent. in Great Britain. The interests concerned are now being consulted about the detailed arrangements, and the progress of the dairy, beef and other sectors will be closely monitored by the Department of Agriculture.
Trade, industry and employment services are covered by Class II of the Estimates. The draft order provides resources for the Industrial Development Board to achieve its three broad objectives this year. First, it aims to diversify and widen Northern Ireland's industrial base by attracting overseas companies to invest in the Province. Prospects for the current year are enhanced by the continuing expansion of overseas economies, particularly the American, and by the recent higher levels of interest being shown in Northern Ireland as a potential location for investment. Secondly, the board will continue to stimulate the expansion, modernisation and improved efficiency of indigenous industry, and, as necessary, will give support to companies which, while experiencing difficulties, are judged to have a viable future. The IDB' s third objective is to counter the adverse image of Northern Ireland through a vigorous public relations programme, including work by the Northern Ireland Partnership in the United States of America, Canada, Great Britain, Europe and the far east.
As hon. Members representing the Province will know, Northern Ireland's small business agency, the Local Enterprise Development Unit, has just announced yet another record performance for the year ended March 1984, when it promoted 3,658 jobs in small businesses in the Province. Not only does this represent a significant improvement on the previous year's record performance of 2,550 jobs, but it considerably exceeds the unit's own target of 3,100 jobs. This performance must be viewed as even more remarkable when one considers the extremely difficult economic and political circumstances obtaining in the Province in which the unit has to operate.
The LEDU's success has been achieved by a combination of hard work and the implementation of imaginative policies, which have established the unit as an efficient and highly effective support agency for Northern Ireland's small business community. The Government will continue to support the unit fully, and still further funds have been made available this year. I look forward to another record performance from LEDU.
I mention next two recent decisions in industrial development that I think are of importance. It has already been announced that the Government will formally confer free trade zone status on six sites in the United Kingdom, including one at Aldergrove airport, Belfast. I believe that that has the potential to attract high added-value international manufacturing and service activities and to stimulate new job opportunities for the benefit of the Province as a whole.
652 Another step to promote employment in Northern Ireland is the establishment by the IDB of a science park at Muckamore near Antrim. The science park concept has proved successful elsewhere, and I believe that it is right to create such a park in the Province. The site at Muckamore is highly suitable for that type of activity. It will provide an excellent facility for high technology research projects from established companies within and outside the Province. It will also provide a facility for those involved in research work who wish to translate a high technology idea into a manufacturing reality.
Those two developments are signs of the steady advance in making Northern Ireland fully equipped to benefit from national and international economic activity.
Class II, Vote 3, includes £37.6 million for the support of Harland and Wolff. That is a reduction of about £2.4 million on last year's figure and reflects the company's drive to cut overheads and become more cost competitive. The company has had some notable success in recent months, winning a number of small orders and the more substantial £30 million Ministry of Defence order to convert an aviation training ship. Those orders have obviously helped Harland and Wolff, but, despite some recent improvement in shipping activity and freight rates, market conditions are still weak and the company continues to face considerable difficulties. The provision sought in these Estimates is designed to help the company to meet that challenge.
Class II, Vote 3, also provides £6.5 million assistance to enable Short Brothers to continue its activities in the manufacture of aircraft, aerostructures and missiles. Short's is the largest manufacturing employer in Northern Ireland and, therefore, has an important part to play in the Province's economic structure. In addition to providing more than 6,100 jobs, it is a major exporter. The company's success was recognised again this year with its eleventh Queen's award for export achievement.
In the past, Short's has also won Queen's awards for technological achievement, and its contribution to the development of technological skills in Northern Ireland has been highly important. The success of the company's SD 360 commuter aircraft and the recent winning of the United States air force's EDSA contract, against intense competition, are evidence of the high standard of technical and engineering skills which have been developed by the company over the years. It has shown that it can make products, and it is now beginning to show that it can also make money. Short's achieved an operating profit of £7.1 million in the accounting period to March 1983, and the provision made in the Estimates assumes that the company will reach overall profitability in the current year.
The vocational preparation needs of 16 and 17-year-olds in Northern Ireland are catered for through a comprehensive new training programme, which was launched in September 1982 and was devised to meet local needs in Northern Ireland. It is a large commitment. For 1984–85, there is provision in the Estimates for more than 6,000 young people who are already in training, for about 9,000 new entrants to begin training and for the training of another 11,000 young people in employment. About £49 million is provided for training programmes of the Departments of Economic Development and of Education.
Through the programme, every 16-year-old school leaver is guaranteed a full year of balanced training, further education and work experience, provided by 653 employers, Government training centres, community-based workshops and further education colleges. In the last financial year, almost three quarters of eligible 16-year-olds took up those opportunities.
I recently launched a new scheme, called the YTP work scheme, to encourage employers to recruit and train 17-year-olds, making use of off-the-job further education and training facilities. For the 17-year-olds who do not gain that type of employment, there are opportunities further to develop their skills in full-time training places with a number of organisations that provide goods and services of benefit to the community.
Young people in the YTP age groups also have available to them apprentice training within industry, which is supported through a skill training scheme operated by local industry. It encourages the progression of apprentices to fully trained status through the provision of cash incentives to employers.
I hope that the youth training programme, which is built on close collaboration between local education and training services, industry and commerce, will assist all those 16 and 17-year-olds who are making the transition from school to adult life. I also hope that it will contribute to the development of the Northern Ireland economy by laying a sound foundation for a skilled, flexible work force capable of adapting to rapid changes in modern technology.
My next topic is Northern Ireland's energy industries. The policy of pegging Northern Ireland electricity tariffs so that they do not exceed the highest levels in England and Wales could cost over £80 million in 1984–85. Sums of that magnitude obviously represent a substantial commitment to the Northern Ireland electricity consumer, both domestic and industrial, and provide much social and economic relief to Northern Ireland's severely depressed manufacturing-based economy. Equally, they represent a substantial demand on the Northern Ireland block.
Looking to the future, the Government, in consultation with the Northern Ireland Electricity Service and independent experts, are continuing their examination of how to reduce Northern Ireland's high electricity generating costs. The role that coal or lignite might play in the generation of electricity is of crucial importance. Work on the complex technical and economic issues involved in our examination has not yet been completed, but it seems likely that the proper use of a solid fuel in electricity generation, whether it be coal or lignite—or both—offers a prospect of generating costs ultimately reducing to a point where electricity prices would need to carry little or even no subsidy.
Class III, Vote 1, relates to expenditure on the restructuring of the retail gas industry and on the natural gas project. Following the Government's announcement in October, the Northern Ireland Gas Company has been in detailed negotiation with its counterpart in the Republic on the terms of a 22-year contract. In the meantime, work is proceeding on the planning and commissioning of a pipeline between the border and Belfast.
In parallel with those developments, detailed technical and marketing assessments of individual undertakings and their areas of supply have taken place, and I am considering their findings. Those studies have reported on the condition of the plant in each undertaking and the engineering modifications required to handle natural gas.
I shall start my remarks on the programmes of the Department of the Environment by examining the roads 654 programme. The total net provision being sought under Class IV, Vote 1, is about £90 million, of which about £47 million is required to finance the operation and maintenance of the Province's road system.
The capital element of nearly £18 million is lower than in previous years when provision was made for two large projects—the M1-M2 westlink in Belfast and the Foyle bridge at Londonderry. The westlink has been operational for a while and the Foyle bridge is nearing completion, with single lanes now in operation. It is hoped to have the bridge fully opened to traffic by the late summer of this year.
The road system in Northern Ireland is generally of a high standard, but it is essential that it is maintained. That is where the emphasis is now being placed.
As I have said, the housing programme has been given top priority among Northern Ireland's social and environmental programmes since 1981. Total gross expenditure on housing services in Northern Ireland has grown from £325 million in 1980–81 to £526 million in 1984–85.
That increase in expenditure has resulted in significant improvements in Northern Ireland's housing conditions. The Housing Executive's waiting lists fell significantly in the period up to 1983. It is estimated that unfitness levels have already been reduced to about 9 per cent. Private sector house building has increased to record levels and more individuals have tackled their own housing problems with the aid of house renovation grants. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), deserves commendation for his work following the excellent work by his predecessor.
Housing continues to retain its priority. However, some switches in emphasis have been made in the housing strategy to increase our efforts on the improvement and maintenance of the existing housing stock. This is reflected in the provision which has been made for housing services in the current year. The Housing Executive's capital and revenue budgets make provision for expenditure of £73 million on the rehabilitation and improvement of the existing housing stock, and £51 million on the maintenance of the executive's stock. The provision of £51 million for house renovation grants, which will be almost £6 million higher than expenditure last year, acknowledges the continuing importance that the Government place on grants as a means of enabling individuals to modernise their homes.
A corollary of the switch in emphasis towards maintenance and improvement programmes is that the Housing Executive's planned new house building programme has borne some reduction. But this is offset by increased provision of new small "starter" homes by the private sector and the impact of house renovation grants in improving unfit houses which might otherwise have had to be replaced. However, despite that reduction, the executive still plans to let contracts for 3,000 new dwellings during the financial year, thereby maintaining a significant new building programme.
Finally, the Northern Ireland Co-ownership Housing Association plays an important part in pump-priming the present very welcome increase in private sector new building. We now expect the allocation for 1984–85, including anticipated receipts of £2.5 million from sales of equity to existing participants, to be about £15 million, which will clearly maintain momentum in this important 655 area. The total gross resources available to the voluntary housing movement will therefore approach £43 million in 1984–85.
I believe that the strategy reflected in the total provision for housing takes realistic account of the housing problems of Northern Ireland, and the steps necessary to alleviate them. I think it is fair to claim that the priorities that have been set are in accord the views of many hon. Members from Northern Ireland and other public representatives in the Province.
In Class VI, Vote 1—water and sewerage services—£75 million is sought to provide and maintain water and sewerage facilities throughout the Province. Nearly £25 million is required for capital works and the balance of the Estimate is to meet operational and administrative costs.
On Class VI, Vote 2 — improvement of the environment—I take this opportunity to mention some of the steps being taken to deal with the urban problems which still very much exist in the city of Belfast. The impetus given to the housing programme over the last few years, to which I have already referred, has contributed greatly towards regeneration of the city. The non-housing elements in urban renewal are to be found in Class VI, Vote 2, and include environmental improvements schemes, comprehensive development, the enterprise zone and urban development grants. These provide the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland with a good range of tools with which to tackle the city's problems. As many hon. Members will already be aware, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary is involving the city council and private sector interests in the formulation of measures needed to deal with Belfast's problems, particularly those of the inner city.
I should also like to pay tribute to the important contribution to urban regeneration made by the European Commission through the urban renewal regulation. Assistance provided by this regulation has provided welcome extra help to the city and I am sure that the House will be interested to learn that the Commission has recently confirmed that the additionality requirements of the regulation have been satisfied in respect of the first tranche of aid.
Class VIII of the Estimates makes a total provision of over £570 million for education, libraries and arts. The Government continue to attach importance to the maintenance of classroom standards. The provision for teachers' salaries in Vote 1 allows the continuation of the existing pupil-teacher ratios. However, in a rapidly changing world the maintenance of traditional standards alone is not enough to meet the needs of today's generation of schoolchildren.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Are the pupil-teacher ratios broadly in line with those on the mainland? I accept that there is a wide variation on this side of the water as well.
§ Mr. Butler
I do not want to give my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) the wrong answer. My impression is that they are slightly lower than those on the mainland, but my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State will confirm that later.
The provisions sought in Votes 1 and 4 provide for the start of a major initiative in secondary schools. This is 656 envisaged as a five to seven-year programme of curriculum review and development. It will build upon the valuable work already under way, in a limited number of schools, for the less able fourth and fifth year pupils. It will extend to all secondary intermediate and grammar schools in Northern Ireland. The aim is to broaden the curricular experience of pupils of all levels of ability and to ensure that what is taught is both personally challenging and relevant to the employment and social conditions that pupils will meet after leaving school.
Hon. Members will also note that in Class VIII, Vote 2, provision is made for the first time for grants to the University of Ulster. Preparations for the merger of the polytechnic and the New University of Ulster are now well advanced, and it has been especially gratifying and encouraging to see the high degree of commitment and co-operation displayed by the staff of both institutions in this complex task. Without pre-empting assent to the granting of a charter, I hope that the new institution will be formally in existence by 1 October 1984. I hope that I shall not be thought too presumptuous if, at this very early stage, I convey the Government's best wishes to the new institution for its future success in the key role that it will have to play in the educational and economic life of the Province.
In Class VIII, Vote 3, it has been possible, despite the other calls on the education budget, to sustain support from public funds for cultural, recreational and community provision at broadly the same levels as in 1983–84 and to reintroduce on a modest scale the purchase grants-in-aid to the two main Northern Ireland museums.
I have already alluded to the provision for curriculum development in Vote 4 of this Class. Northern Ireland Members will be aware that on the capital side, in addition to maintaining the real level of provision for minor works and equipment, my right hon. Friend has been able to give approval to the education and library boards to proceed with a substantial list of 19 major new capital projects which are estimated to cost some £9 million to complete.
Class IX provides for health and personal social services. A net total of £608 million is being sought to maintain the existing level of provision and to allow for some development of services.
Under Vote 1, £526 million is sought for the hospital, community health and personal social services, and some centrally funded services, of which £489 million is being provided to meet the revenue expenditure of the health and social services boards. This figure includes, over and above allowances for pay and price rises, an increase of £3.5 million to enable the services to keep pace with demographic change, and particularly the increasing number of very elderly people in the community. The boards are also committed to making efficiency savings of some £2.4 million, which will be ploughed back into new service developments in accordance with the priorities set out in the regional strategic plan for the services. The provision for capital expenditure of £25.6 million will sustain the programme for the construction of new hospital and community facilities, details of which are included in the Estimates.
Under Class IX, Vote 2, we are seeking provision for gross expenditure of £121 million, partly offset by receipts of some £39 million, mainly from national insurance contributions towards the cost of the Health Service. Most of the expenditure in this Vote is for the family practitioner services provided by family doctors, dentists, chemists 657 and opticians. The cost of the family practitioner services has been rising steadily in recent years, and we are seeking in several ways to contain the costs to the public purse, without affecting the excellence of the work which family doctors and other practitioners do in Northern Ireland.
Finally, under Class X, provision has been made in Votes 2 and 3 for almost £595 million to cover non-contributory housing and family benefits. That comprises about 53 per cent. of total estimated expenditure on social security benefits of £1,133 million in the current year. The remainder is paid from the national insurance fund, and vote 1 provides for the payment under statutory arrangements of £53.6 million from the Consolidated Fund to support the national insurance fund.
In my opening remarks I have tried to outline briefly the main features of the draft order before the House and to expand upon some of the main policy issues underlying the provision sought. I look forward to the ensuing debate, but I should like to add one final word about the Government's economic policy in Northern Ireland.
It is a matter of fact that public expenditure per head in the Province is higher than elsewhere in the United Kingdom, but that reflects social needs, such as the high level of unemployment and the quality of the housing stock, despite recent improvements. It is also undeniably a factor of the security situation.
The salvation does not and cannot lie in the public sector. It was the deliberate act of the first Conservative Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend's immediate predecessor, to give industrial development the priority which it has since held and to which I have referred—that is, first priority after law and order. Only by strengthening and expanding the industrial and commercial base in Northern Ireland can we hope to deal with its economic problems.
We have to encourage and support those who understand, from their own experience, industrial and commercial life. We have to back those who follow their own commercial judgment and who would invest their own money in Northern Ireland. That is what regional policy under this Government is about.
I do not need to describe the difficulties that we face: a growing population of working age, which means that we have to run to stand still in the fight against unemployment; the consequences of the past few years of world recession; and, above all, the image which those of us who spend much of our time encouraging inward investment know to be still our biggest obstacle. But progress is being made. The failures, despite the attention that the media focus upon them, are not the norm.
I have just returned from a visit to America. I was greatly encouraged, in the various cities that I visited, by the record that various companies were able to give and the testimony that they were able to bear to their experiences in Northern Ireland.
In Detroit, both Ford and General Motors continue to invest in the Province. In Cleveland, TRW was very complimentary about its experience with us. In St. Louis, the chairman and managing director of the Harbour group, which has an investment in Newry, waxed eloquent, as he always does, about the success of his operation. He paid tribute, as did all the others, to the quality of the Northern Ireland work force. All were impressed by the fact that the AVX Corporation—now Europe's largest producer of multilayer ceramic capacitors—had more than doubled its investment in Northern Ireland as a result of its 658 experience with us. All the companies to which I talked were interested in the fact that now it may be possible to produce in Northern Ireland at costs which compare favourably even with the far east.
I was even pleased, at the airports to which I went, to see evidence of Short's success in selling its commuter aircraft—there were nearly always one or more of its aircraft on the ground.
The companies to which I have referred come to Northern Ireland not just because of the public money that is available. They value the many non-financial benefits that they find in Northern Ireland. Although they appreciate a Government who are sympathetic to industry, as our Government are, they do not want to be nannied by the state. If they were, I have no doubt that they would not come, or that they would leave us. It is on such companies, and those who follow their example, on our established companies and on our budding entrepreneurs in the small business sector that the economic future of Northern Ireland depends. It is up to all those in any way concerned to create the right environment of economic encouragement and opportunity, and of political and social stability, in which those companies can flourish and provide jobs.
With that thought very much in mind, I commend the draft order to the House.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)
It would be churlish of rile were I to refrain from welcoming the Minister, who is now back with us after his journeys. We are grateful to him for his exposition of the order. It was necessarily devoted to detail, although towards the end of his peroration he made one or two comments which almost prompted me to embark upon a reply, but I understand that this is not usually an occasion for debating general principles. As I ventured to suggest in the last Appropriation debate, it is an application of the rule that redress of grievances should precede Supply, and it is an opportunity for hon. Members to present to the House the specific grievances of their constituents.
It follows that this is not a debate in which an inordinate amount of the time should be pre-empted by the Front Benches. But for that very reason, perhaps I should express, on behalf of hon. Members who are not with us and who are usually with us, a protest that the debate is being held in the very week of the European elections, when a number of hon. Members are necessarily involved elsewhere in the campaign. The timing effectively excludes them from taking part in this debate. It is a problem for hon. Members from all political parties, and I should not be surprised to hear other hon. Members later expressing that complaint on behalf of colleagues in their own parties who have to be in Northern Ireland today. Perhaps it would not be inappropriate that I should express it with the objectivity of one who may have disagreed with what some of them would have said had they been here. They were nevertheless entitled to attend and say it.
When the Minister commented that the debate was taking place earlier in the year than is usual, some of us ventured to suggest that there might be a reason additional to the one he gave. It is arguable that the House might with profit have recessed for this week so that hon. Members would not be faced with an impossible multiplicity of other calls on them. If the House is sitting, it is inevitable that the Leader of the House should choose subjects for discussion which he anticipates will not in any event be 659 widely attended, but perhaps we should point out that that criterion tends to be self-fulfilling. If Northern Ireland debates are denied convenient times because they probably will not be well attended, it is inevitable that when they are held they will not be well attended. Having registered that protest, I hope that the House will understand and acquit me of discourtesy if I leave the debate at an early stage to attend a commitment which I undertook before I knew that this debate would take place, leaving the Opposition Front Bench in the care of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett). I hope that it will be the first of many appearances by him on this Bench.
Those saints who were said to have practised the miracle of bi-location failed to leave us the secret. [Interruption.] Some may be campaigning in Ballymena; I make no further comment.
It follows from what I have said that I am anxious not to appropriate to myself an undue proportion of the time available today. I intend to devote the time available principally to two matters which are very much present in the minds of the people in Northern Ireland. The first on which I should like to put some questions to the Minister falls under Class II, Votes 1 and 2. I invite him to tell the House something about the terms on which aid is granted for industrial developments. My curiosity arises from the announcement on 31 May by the chairman of Lear Fan. The hon. Gentleman commented, when he opened the debate, that unemployment in the Province is 21 per cent. He fairly said that that compares unfavourably with levels of unemployment in the rest of the United Kingdom. It compares especially unfavourably when one recollects that male unemployment in the Province is 27 per cent.
The House will remember that, in March 1980, a project was established as a partnership between the Government and the Lear Avin corporation with a view to creating what were then 1,250 jobs by 1985. In September 1982, the old agreement was replaced by a new one. The total Government commitment was increased to £52 million, on the understanding that employment would be found by 1987 for more than 2,800 people. The company has built up a work force of 380, representing a wide range of skills. It appeared to have ready a very effective production team.
On 31 May the chairman, Mr. Burch, announced that a problem had arisen with the development programme in Nevada. The United States certificate of airworthiness would not be obtained by September, as had been hoped. It is not expected before next February. In consequence, he said, the entire work force, with the exception of some 20 or 30 people who are concerned mainly with security and maintenance, would be laid off on 1 July. That is a serious blow to those concerned, who believed that they had before them many years of remunerative and satisfying work. They are now back in the dole queue, at least for some months.
Clearlythe matter goes beyond that. It raises questions about the future of the enterprise and all the jobs that were hoped for. We hope that the Minister will give us some indication that the certificate of airworthiness will be forthcoming next February. Will resources be available then to proceed with production or, as some have ventured to comment, is this another Elysian dream in the tradition of De Lorean?
660 Had the matter rested there, it would have given rise to serious anxiety, but, according to the reports, the chairman seized the opportunity to comment further. He said that the company was not committed to assembling the completed aircraft in Northern Ireland and that its commitment was only to produce certain components. That was a clear signal that the vast investment of public money may not have purchased 2,800 jobs in Northern Ireland but may have been used to finance jobs in Nevada. The House would like to know what the company's commitment is in return for that public money.
When the chairman delivered his bombshell, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland inquiring about the position. He replied helpfully and courteously, setting out the Government's position. His reply included the following:I should like to make it clear that the refinancing agreement of September 1982 provides that, except in the most extreme commercial circumstances beyond the control of the company, the Northern Ireland facility should be developed with a view to it becoming the principal facility for the production of the Lear Fan aircraft and that manufacture and assembly of the aircraft in Northern Ireland will commence not later than 31 December 1985.I hope that the Minister will understand if I seek further clarification. It is almost a fortnight since the chairman's announcement. Presumably the Government have asked him what he meant by what he said. Is there a dispute between the Government and the company as to the proper construction of that undertaking? If there is a dispute, and legal proceedings or arbitration are imminent, the House will understand the constraint under which the Government are operating while setting out their case in the debate. But is there a dispute, and is there a reason why the text of the agreement should not be made public so that the House can judge the matter for itself?
The Secretary of State has written a further letter to me setting out the sources of finance at various stages of the project. His purpose, as I understand it, was to show that money used to finance the Reno operations since February 1984 has come from sources outside the Government. I am sure that the Minister will not rely on that argument today to establish that the Government have not been in the business of financing jobs in Nevada. No one is concerned to establish which part of the operation has been financed by each pound contributed by the Government, but we are concerned to know the total outlay. If 2,800 jobs are created ultimately in the Province, that will be money well spent. What the work force as well as those who hope for future employment and those concerned with the economy in the Province are asking is whether the conditions on which public money was made available are as understood by the Secretary of State in his letter to me, or whether there are doubts about it. Will the company be in a position to fulfil those conditions, and does it intend to do so?
I shall deal with Class I—
§ Mr. Butler
I hope that the House will allow me to intervene for a few moments, because it would be fairer to my hon. Friends to answer the points raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am well aware of the anxiety about the future of the Lear Fan project, and I have been kept closely in touch with developments during my absence.
What matters first and foremost is that there should be an aeroplane to produce. It is essential that all financial, management and other resources should be concentrated 661 on achieving certification. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether we were certain that certification could be achieved by next February. There is no such certainty but, despite the fact that significant breakdowns have occurred in the testing procedure, other tests have been completed successfully. Real progress has been made on certification. Management is confident of achieving certification by that date and within the available funding.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman's second point is equally important and I am glad to have the opportunity to reply now. The Government's position on the degree of commitment to Northern Ireland is straightforward. We entered into an agreement in September 1982, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has referred, with the Zoysia corporation. The commitment to Northern Ireland was very carefully worded. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has received some outline from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of what was in that agreement. There is specific reference to manufacture and assembly of the aeroplane. There is no doubt in the Government's mind, or from exchanges between the Secretary of State and myself and the principals of the Zoysia corporation, that it means what it says. Northern Ireland will be the principal production unit for Lear Fan and aeroplanes will be manufactured and assembled there.
There has been more than one business plan but there was general provision in the plans that we have seen for final assembly of early aircraft in Reno. There has been reference to customising aircraft in Reno when they are intended for the American market. However, the main production unit through to finalisation will be in Northern Ireland. That is written in the agreement and it is the Government's firm position.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to financing jobs in Nevada. Very little Government money has gone to Reno since the 1982 agreement because of the nature of that agreement and of its financial structuring. On the other hand, there is no commitment in the agreement that United Kingdom taxpayers' money should not go to Reno. The agreement is simply that money shall be provided to develop and produce an aircraft up to certain sums and that the development work is being carried out in Reno. Therefore, the final tranche of Government money is likely to go partly to Reno. However, I do not find that surprising, as it is part of the understanding.
§ Mr. Archer
The House will be grateful to the Minister for that exposition and, so far as it went, that message of hope. He will understand that I was not concerned with which specific part went to Reno and which went to finance something else. The real question was whether the investment would produce jobs.
As I understand what the Minister said on the second point, there is no dispute between the Government and the company as to the construction of the agreement in September 1982, and the House can be given a firm commitment to that effect. If that is so, perhaps we should be given an explanation of why the chairman appeared to say what he did. The obvious construction on what he said casts doubts in people's minds and gave rise to some anxieties. However, subject to that I am grateful for what the Minister told us. His intervention was welcome, but 662 I hope that when the time that I take to make my speech is computed in various circles the length of it will be borne in mind.
In Class I, Votes 1 and 2, it appears that the Department of Agriculture proposes to spend further sums on research and development, presumably with a view to improving yields. It proposes to make sums available for assistance in production, processing and marketing, including a consumer subsidy. All those proposals would be admirable if the Government were not committed simultaneously to contracting the industry.
The most obvious example of the problem is one to which the Minister understandably referred — milk production and dairy products. The difficulties related to that were set out with great clarity and force as recently as 7 June by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson). We understand that, inevitably, the Minister had to be absent. No doubt some of us will wish to pursue the matter a little further today.
In the 1970s, it was the accepted wisdom that the more milk we could produce in the United Kingdom, the better it was for our balance of payments, particularly because the United Kingdom did not produce the whole of its own dairy requirements. The problem arose from the absurd structure of the common agricultural policy, which encouraged massive surpluses in Europe, to which the Minister referred. There is no dispute between us about that.
We all know of the butter mountain, produced with the encouragement of an open-ended commitment to subsidies, stored at vast expense and much of it sold to Russia at 54p a pound. We all agreed that unless the EEC' budget was to run out of control, some agreement was necessary. We all recollect how the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food came to the House on 2 April and announced with great pride that the Agriculture Council had agreed on a package of measures that, among other things, would save the Community 6 million tonnes of unwanted milk. Our joy was tempered when the right hon. Gentleman immediately went on to explain that m the coming year the taxpayers of Europe would nevertheless subsidise a surplus of about 10 million tonnes, and that United Kingdom farmers would be required to reduce their production, notwithstanding the fact that the United Kingdom was not contributing to that surplus.
The Republic has secured a substantial addition to its quota. Northern Ireland did not share in that good fortune —perhaps an example of the penalty which arises from Ireland having two agricultural policies and a divided seat in the EEC — but the United Kingdom has been accorded an additional quota of 65,000 tonnes for the benefit of Northern Ireland. That was a modest enough achievement which hardly merited the rejoicing that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food appeared to expect, but in the arrangements within the United Kingdom the dairy farmers in. Northern Ireland are far from persuaded that they have received the full benefit of the extra allocation.
The figure has been divided by giving dairy farmers an allocation equal to their 1983 output, less 5.82 per cent. However, that fails to take into account a number of factors. The first is the pattern of fanning in Northern Ireland, mentioned by the Minister. On average, herds are much smaller and in many cases only just large enough to be viable, even without the reduction. The second is the pattern of investment in 1983. Between December 1982 663 and December 1983, the number of dairy cows increased in England by 1.8 per cent., in Scotland by 1 per cent. and in Northern Ireland by 7 per cent. Throughout 1983, milk production in Northern Ireland was increasing, while for much of that time it was falling in England.
Therefore, to base production on the year as a whole entails a much more savage cut from the level achieved by the end of 1983 for farmers in Northern Ireland than for farmers in England, and, by way of recent investment, the former had laid out substantially greater sums on which they were looking for a return in the years ahead. If one adds to that the specific problem in Northern Ireland, that the land is not normally suitable for a switch to cereals, the farmers understandably take the view that an arithmetical sharing does not mean an equal sharing of the hardship. That will be exacerbated by the probable introduction of the quota system before the administrative arrangements are complete. For understandable reasons, there will be arguments and consequent delays in allocating the 3 per cent. reserve for hardship cases.
Therefore, some farmers may embark on the first quota period without knowing what their quota will be. To the tragedy of having to slaughter stock which previously they had been building up is added the uncertainty about how much they will have to slaughter. I hope that when he replies the Minister will offer some advice to the farmers about how they should deal with that, or, better still, some encouragement about the way that the Government will deal with it.
I refer briefly to two other matters. The first concerns Class VIII on education, to which the Minister referred. During our previous Appropriation debate on 1 March, I ventured to mention the disturbing report by the Department of Education inspectorate, published last December. It referred to a number of inadequacies in the provision for education.
Since that debate, the Assembly has considered those matters and there has been a comprehensive report on the subject—an example of how, on a specific subject, Members from different parties can have a constructive discussion.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) asked the Minister a question about pupil-teacher ratios in Northern Ireland. In an intervention in the speech that I made on 1 March, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. W. McCrea) quoted some figures. The overall pupil-teacher ratio for Northern Ireland is 18.6. That figure is confirmed in the Assembly's report. The hon. Gentleman said that the figures for Scotland were 16.9 to 17. 6, and for England they were 17.9 to 17.7. So the figure for Northern Ireland is appreciably higher. Six days after our debate the Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) —gave evidence to the Assembly's Committee, and said that he did not see any scope in the the foreseeable futurefor employing large numbers of extra teachers.I understand that he was saying that there was no early prospect of the PTR in Northern Ireland falling to the levels in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Minister referred to a more disturbing matter in his speech—the fact that curriculum development has been retarded because staffing is related to pupil numbers rather 664 than to curriculum needs. That is at a time when large numbers of trained teachers in Northern Ireland are eating their hearts out because they cannot find jobs.
I should like to mention capital expenditure and the condition of the buildings in which teachers work and pupils are expected to learn. One of the most telling aspects of the Assembly's report was the submission by the Association of Head Teachers in Secondary Schools, which referred to the effect on morale forthose who sit for prolonged periods in draughty, wet rooms with no glass, or boarded-up windows without natural light or use tattered text books again.I do not propose to repeat the arguments, as I drew attention to them in the previous debate and they are clearly very much in the minds of those who discussed them in the Assembly. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some hope today to the teaching profession and the children in the Province.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
In giving those figures, the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to some of the depressing features of the scene in the schools of Northern Ireland. Does he agree, however, that despite those difficulties the pupils and teachers achieve remarkable results, at least as good as those on this side of the water?
§ Mr. Archer
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I should certainly have pointed that out if I had expanded my comments further. But doing a good job in difficult circumstances may sometimes be almost counter-productive, in that if one is not just coping but producing good results despite the difficulties, it is tempting for those who decide these matters to give lower priority to one's problems. If the schools were visibly disintegrating, they might receive higher priority, although I am not recommending that they should. I am simply saying that in paying tribute to the work of the teaching profession in Northern Ireland we should not make that an excuse for not giving high priority to its needs.
Finally, I draw attention to a matter that has caused concern in the past and has now been emphasised in a report by the National Consumer Council's joint committee on social security, to which the Northern Ireland Consumer Council made a substantial contribution. The matter arises under Class X, Vote 2. Tragically, social security now accounts for about 20 per cent. of total household income in Northern Ireland. My calculations may not be absolutely accurate, but it seems that about 30 per cent. of total public expenditure is taken up by the social security programme.
Those who depend on supplementary benefit for long periods receive a higher rate because, it is argued, those on supplementary benefit for short periods can defer expenditure on clothing and on household goods and durables until times improve. They can therefore get by on an allowance that makes no provision for such expenditure but merely provides enough for weekly necessities, whereas for those who depend on social security for longer periods provision must be made for those longer-term needs.
The unemployed do not qualify for the longer-term rate, however long they have to depend on supplementary benefit. It is not clear why there should be such a distinction between the needs of the unemployed and those of anyone else. The reason is certainly not that there are no long-term unemployed. In 1982, more than 47 per cent. 665 of unemployed claimants had been receiving supplementary benefit continuously for more than a year. Yet they do not receive a long-term rate. The report refers tomounting concern among health visitors and social workers about diet and its implications for health, particularly among children.The Housing Executive has found that unemployment accounts for the difficulties of 47 per cent. of tenants who owe more than £100 in rent.
Perhaps the Minister will tell us today what justification there is for that distinction between the unemployed and those whose misfortunes arise from other causes. The report states:the government accepts the case for extending the rate in principle but argues that the cost is prohibitive.Is that an accurate statement of the Government's position? According to the report, the cost of extending long-term benefit to all those who have been on supplementary benefit for more than a year would be £16.5 million a year or £8.3 million per year if it were restricted to families with children. That is in the context of a social security programme running at more than £1,000 million for the current year.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting that we should make that change in Northern Ireland alone, or throughout the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Archer
There are factors which justify making the change in Northern Ireland due to the scale of hardship and unemployment, but I should certainly not complain if the hon. Gentleman put the arguments more widely to his colleagues in the Government.
If such a change were made, there would be a corresponding saving as fewer families would have to resort to the degrading process of applying for an exceptional needs grant every time the last blanket disintegrated. At one time it was customary in some circles to dismiss the unemployed as feckless and lazy. If there was ever any truth in that, there is certainly none now. The spectre of unemployment now hangs over virtually everyone. Unemployment is not a crime but a misfortune to be recognised and alleviated, not exacerbated.
I hope that in the near future the House will have the opportunity to discuss the future of constitutional government in Northern Ireland and the measures required for the enforcement of law and order. Today we are debating matters which significantly influence people's confidence in constitutional government and consequently their respect for law and order. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer them some hope in his reply.
§ 5.5 pm
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
There is at any rate one unusual feature about today's Northern Ireland Appropriation order debate—it takes place very much earlier than hitherto. By that, I do not mean that it takes place in a week during which there happens to be a European election, a subject on which I found the comments of the Opposition spokesman singularly inappropriate. I mean that it takes place approximately six weeks earlier than usual. In introducing the order, the Minister made the curious comment that that was possibly because the Estimates had been produced six weeks earlier and so the draft order could be laid six weeks earlier, which is certainly the case.
666 In ruminating on possible causes for that, I must confess that it crossed the minds of some of my hon. Friends and myself that the preoccupation of the Secretary of State with the termination of his appointment might have prompted a notion that the financial arrangements for the coming year should be got rid of before his departure. The only explanation vouchsafed to us by the Minister was that what he described as a "refinement of procedure" had resulted in the documents being laid so startlingly earlier than in the past. We should be most interested to know more about those refinements of procedure. Certainly it will inure greatly to the credit of the Administration if they can show that procedures which eluded their predecessors have enabled them to bring these matters before Parliament so much earlier than hitherto.
A consequence, however, is that we have only the minutes of evidence taken by the Committee of Public Accounts on "Matters relating to Northern Ireland" as we debate this order, whereas we usually have its actual report —but I shall return to that shortly.
The Estimates for services under the Government of Northern Ireland which underlie the Appropriation order are certainly greatly improved in presentation compared with a few years ago. The introduction and guide provide everything that a serious student of the finances of Northern Ireland and their relationship with the finances of the rest of the United Kingdom could desire. It is instructive to look at these Estimates for the government of Northern Ireland services in conjunction with the Supply Estimates for Class XVII, Northern Ireland; for that enables us to put into its true perspective the relationship between the financing of the rest of the kingdom and the financing of Northern Ireland.
It is sometimes supposed—ignorantly—on this side of the Irish sea that the whole, or almost the whole, of public expenditure in Northern Ireland represents in some way a contribution made to the Province by the rest of the kingdom. The brief analysis prefaced to Class XVII corrects that notion. We are dealing in this order with sums payable out of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland. There are two sources from which money flows into that Consolidated Fund. One source is the attributable element of tax paid by people in Northern Ireland to the United Kingdom taxation system, plus the revenues which accrue direct to the Government of Northern Ireland. The other element is a "Transfer" from the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom "to the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland".
Faced, as we are, with Estimates underlying this Appropriation order for £2,831 million, we notice that the transfer to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund from the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund amounts only to £815 million. Thus, only one third of the services provided by the Northern Ireland Office are funded by that transfer: two thirds, straightaway, are met from sums which originate in Northern Ireland.
But even to say that one third is met from sums which originate elsewhere in the United Kingdom would be misleading; for we are always, by these procedures, placing Northern Ireland and its financing in a quite different light from that shed upon any other part of the kingdom, because it is in the nature of the United Kingdom that huge internal transfers of resources take place between some parts of the kingdom and the rest. So on the face of 667 these documents we are able at any rate to some extent to correct the impression that Northern Ireland is a kind of dead weight, or pensioner, upon the rest of the country.
This is the point at which, without undue apology for repetition, I always address myself primarily to the Government Whip, and ask him to convey to the Patronage Secretary, and even more to that invisible army of Government supporters who wait in the wings to ensure that Government business goes through, the fact that the devotion to Northern Ireland business of this day of parliamentary time does not arise from any desire to give Northern Ireland Members a special opportunity—as it were, an Adjournment debate of their very own—for debating matters which arise from these Estimates and this order, but is due simply to the obsession of successive Governments with preserving the artificial existence of the Consolidated Fund for Northern Ireland.
If there were no separate Consolidated Fund for Northern Ireland, between two and three additional parliamentary days would be available for transacting business of the rest of the United Kingdom—including no doubt Northern Ireland. I may add that Northern Ireland Estimates would be dealt with by a Select Committee in the same way as other Estimates, so that there would be no question of a less thorough examination of public expenditure related to Northern Ireland than of that related to any other part of the United Kingdom. I hope that the lesson will be rubbed in again, that this burden upon the time of the House, the patience of a very small number of Members and the attendance of a much larger number of Members arises from perversity on the part of the Government themselves. If it ever had any justification, 10 or 12 years ago at the beginning of direct rule, that justification has long since disappeared. The practice remains as the fossil record of an earlier period when it was fondly imagined by one Government after another that they would one day discover a means of floating Northern Ireland off into some different constitutional setting.
§ Mr. Butler
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to his frequent repetition of this argument. I do not want to pursue him down this path. However, I have never yet been clear, although I have indeed heard this argument many times, whether or not the right hon. Gentleman is complaining that too much time is given on the Floor of the House to debating Northern Ireland matters.
§ Mr. Powell
What I and my right hon. and hon. Friends complain of is that the Province is deliberately placed in a different and separate position from that of any other part of the United Kingdom. So suspicious is our temper that we do not believe it is done out of any special affection for Northern Ireland or any desire that the House of Commons should devote additional trouble or time to the purposes of our constituents. We do not believe that we are ever net gainers from anything which separates and distinguishes Northern Ireland in this way from the rest of the kingdom.
I have a number of specific matters to raise in connection with the draft order. To the first I have already referred in passing, when I mentioned the minutes of evidence taken by the Committee of Public Accounts. Throughout its sitting on 9 April, the Select Committee was concerned with the arrears, the accrued and accruing total arrears owed to different services in the Province. In 668 the first place, I would like to draw attention —particularly the attention of the Opposition Front Bench —to question 29.21, which brought out, statistically and completely cogently, an important fact, namely that there is no perceptible relationship between any difference in the level of unemployment in the Province from levels in the rest of the kingdom on the one hand, and the existence of these arrears owed to public authorities in the Province on the other. That is a view which my right hon. and hon. Friends and I have long held. We simply do not believe that these arrears represent an inability to pay attributable directly or indirectly to the differential level of unemployment in the Province — and there in the minutes the evidence will be found.
These arrears owed by the public to the public services —the quantities are large and impressive—represent in large part problems which are not basically financial. It would be an exaggeration to say that in every case, but it would be true to say that in most cases the existence of arrears owed by a family is a sign of some malaise or problem other than a purely financial one—other than mere deficiency of income. I am sure it is the experience of all hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies that the accrual of arrears in a family is a sign that something is amiss, and has long been amiss, which only comes to attention when arrears reach a crucial point — for example, the point at which a housing application from that family is refused entertainment, quite properly, by the Housing Executive.
The moral I draw from this is that attention should be paid to the emergence and accumulation of arrears in a family much sooner than I believe normally happens. It is one's constant experience to come across a case where very large arrears have accrued without any agency of Government, any social service agency, having apparently been called to consider what problem exists in that family; and one frequently discovers that, when attention has been concentrated on the family, once invoked by the existence of the arrears, means are found of resolving it. Very often an agreement to pay off arrears, arrived at between a family and the Housing Executive is a sign of better times ahead for that family, and not merely in the financial aspect.
I believe that there is a failure of co-ordination—a failure of co-operation between the housing service provided by the Housing Executive and the personal social services. I have the good fortune to be served in south Down by several excellent district managers of the Housing Executive and by several excellent directors of personal social services. However, I must say that it constantly strikes me how little interchange and communication there is between them and those who work in the field under the aegis of each of them.
I want to put this thought into the Minister's mind; and I am glad that it is the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State responsible for health and social services, who is attending the debate on behalf of the Government. We ought to think what arrangements could be made to bring the personal social services into action earlier on in the accrual of arrears owed by a family to the public services. If we could do that we should not merely reduce the dead weight of those arrears — I am sure that we should do that and experience shows it to be the case; we should also often succeed in preventing the break-up of a family or a deterioration in a family's circumstances which, in years 669 to come, will produce its own poisoned fruit. I hope that the Minister will take that suggestion not at all in a critical spirit but in the constructive sense in which I offer it to him.
There are two other matters with which I wish to deal. Of one I gave notice to the Minister in charge of the debate and I hope that the notice was timely. I refer to the catchment areas for the purposes of psychiatric treatment in Northern Ireland, and I know that the Minister has for months been concerned with the working out of the Donaldson report on this subject of some years ago.
As so often happens, there is a history to it. The services for the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped were historically created, both on this side of the water and in Northern Ireland, by the counties. Consequently, hospital provision, and, above all, the provision of the principal mental hospitals, was a county provision. Consequently, in turn, the catchment areas for those services were the counties. The county boundary was the catchment boundary, and for generations — I am not exaggerating in using that word—those resident within a county area looked to one or more centres of treatment located at the heart of their county — in the case of County Down, the county town of Downpatrick. That is why Downpatrick has a mental hospital whose fame and reputation extend well beyond the county, indeed beyond the Province. It was as a result of the creation and development of those services for the mentally ill and handicapped and subsequently of the domiciliary services ancillary to them by the counties that the catchment areas are county catchment areas.
In 1972 the old system and pattern of local government in Northern Ireland was deliberately destroyed. I shall not spend time inquiring into the motives with which that was done or into the happy or unhappy consequences. I do not think that anyone today seriously supposes that even when —I say "when" rather than "if—representative local government is restored to Northern Ireland, we shall see the old county boundaries and the old counties revived as administrative units. Instead we shall have the health boards and—subject to minor modifications, no doubt, as time goes on—the areas which are served by those health boards. It is those health boards that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I hope it will be possible before too long to democratise by making them responsible through elected persons to those whom they serve, like health authorities in other parts of the United Kingdom.
That being so, we have to move from the historic pattern founded upon the county to the existing pattern founded on the health board areas. It was with that changeover that the Donaldson report was concerned, and I do not think that in principle there could possibly be criticism of that object. It would be unreasonable to say, "Here are the lines of travel, the lines of patient attachment and of family connections, that were created by a system that has gone — we must preserve those lines and attachments into the future." The problem, as so often, is how we achieve the changeover. The fear entertained by many in the hospitals and health services of Northern Ireland is not that the changeover will take place but that it will take place prematurely, before there is the necessary hospital and domiciliary equipment to meet the reallocated demand.
Relating the argument specificially to my constituency, the reallocation would involve the re-routing of a very large number of patients, hospital and domiciliary cases, 670 from Downpatrick towards Armagh. Before that can take place, before any such administrative change can be justified, it must be possible for the Government to prove to the satisfaction of all concerned—parents, relatives, patients and all those in the service—that the services to which new patients are directed are in place at an equal standard to those which are serving those patients at present. It is one thing to say to those who have long had connections with a particular hospital and with the sort of constellation of domiciliary services that surround and support it, "In future you must look to another centre" and quite another to say, "You must look to that other centre when a great deal of work, improvement and development has taken place to ensure that the services there are equal to those which you are enjoying now."
I seek a specific assurance from the Government today. It is that the reallocation of catchment areas will not take place until the Government can guarantee and demonstrate that there is adequate provision—I mean human as well as physical provision — in the new areas to which demand is to be redirected. If they can satisfy that criterion, they can bid defiance to the breach of old habits which inevitably has to take place. If they cannot give that undertaking, those of us who represent the parents and the patients cannot be expected to support administrative rearrangement. I hope that in those terms the Government will find it possible to give the assurance for which I ask.
My last subject might appear to be of purely local concern, but I believe that it has wider implications and parallels. I did not give specific notice of it to the Minister of State because I know that he—I am indebted to him for this fact—has given it great personal attention. I refer to the Strand Lough drainage scheme and the relationship between the input of the Department of Agriculture and the input of the Department of the Environment.
The problem I bring before the House is, I believe, a classic instance of failure of co-ordination between Departments. I will outline it in only a few sentences. There is a large area, roughly extending from Downpatrick to the sea, which, in order to yield its full agricultural output, requires a reform of the drainage system, a reform so extensive that, after seriously considering whether it could be achieved by the co-operative action of those farming in the area, the Department of Agriculture came to the conclusion that that was not reasonable but that a Government scheme was absolutely indispensable, however much might subsequently be added to its benefits by independent action on the part of individual farmers.
In order to secure the improved drainage of this whole basin, it is necessary to control the outflow into a tidal estuary by means of a major and expensive pondage and sluice operation. It so happens that the crucial point for those engineering works lies on the main road between Killough and Ardglass. The Department of the Environment has been spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on the development of Killough, which is well on the way to becoming a tourist attraction as a model 18th century port and town, but at an advanced stage, when it appeared that the scheme might proceed with all the benefits that would flow from it, the devastating news was received that the Department of the Environment (Road Service) was not prepared to play and would not therefore make the contribution, related to the road aspect of the works, which had been taken into account to secure a viable and financially defensible scheme. I was almost 671 incredulous that at so late a stage the Department of the Environment could have pulled out, considering the obvious necessity for improvement of a difficult point on the main road in view of the increasing popularity of Killough and the increasing traffic which is bound to use that coastal road of the peninsula of Lecale.
I wonder whether I ought to say this, but it makes my point: it became obvious to me — and there are few enough circumstances in which a Member of Parliament can claim to do what others cannot do—that there was perhaps more chance of the local Member of Parliament for the constituency bringing the two Departments back into accord than of their achieving it across the table in direct interdepartmental communications.
I deliberately take the opportunity this afternoon of putting the present situation upon public record—and I know that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Bath, will not think ill of me for doing so—for I am determined to persuade him as Minister in charge of the environment that it makes no sense whatever to withhold his expected contribution to the improvement of the road that would be combined with a major improvement in the farming potential of the area.
In short, I would like to take the Minister for a walk. With or without our respective families, I should like him and myself to walk the course and see for ourselves. As so often happens in Northern Ireland—it is one of the many rewards of representing a Northern Ireland constituency—if one goes and sees, the thing comes right. I am sure that if I can persuade the hon. Member for Bath—I hope that I can—to come and see, we can restore that co-operation between Departments, the loss of which threatens the progress of a scheme that is sorely needed by agriculturists in a large and important area.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
I have to admit that I walked the course 10 days ago, not aware at the time of the wickednesses of which I was guilty. I walked it with my family. Indeed, during the walk—I do not think that it was the fault of the Department of the Environment— one of my family fell over, received a cut in her head and satisfactorily tested the health service in Downpatrick as a result.
I would not want to think that that is the only time that I shall be able to walk the course in Killough, and I would be delighted to do so again in the right hon. Gentleman's company. It is a very fine course indeed.
§ Mr. Powell
I am grateful to the Minister. I take it as a happy augury for heightened co-operation between the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture, not only here but in the many circumstances where agricultural drainage and road maintenance and improvement can conflict but ought to concur.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
I am glad to follow the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Sometimes when I listen to him I wonder how many other statesmen in this century have contrived to combine so much of the poetry, prophesy and eloquence of politics with the minutiae of administration and the command of detail. But it is detail and the minutiae of 672 administration which affect those whom we have the honour to represent, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere.
I am not quite sure of the reason for discusing this Appropriation order earlier than usual, but this is not a tumultuously attended debate. Indeed, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I should not be here at all—none of us should be— as it is Whit Monday. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) cited the elections for the European Assembly as the reason why so many right hon. and hon. Members are not with us, but, in the light of the eternal, the demolition of the people's holiday on Whit Monday by the former Government is a more important factor. The early Church in its wisdom took over and consecrated pagan festivals, but the modern state replaced a great Christian holiday with a Spring Bank holiday, and the bad weather that day served us right. However, I intend to be cheerful and raise subjects comprehended by the order about Ulster's brighter side in the industrial and economic spheres.
First, however, I am prompted to say a word about education, because of exchanges with the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West about the teacher-pupil ratio. I appreciate his relaying the information provided earlier by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. W. McCrea). I examined the figures for the whole of Great Britain and it is my impression that Northern Ireland is somewhere in the bottom half of education authorities in the kingdom as a whole. Although I share the right hon. and learned Gentleman's desire to improve conditions in schools and teachers' conditions of work, he portrayed a slightly gloomy picture. During the past decade I visited many schools in Northern Ireland from an interest in education and sometimes because schools were polling stations when I was observing elections on the border poll. The buildings, about which the right hon. and learned Gentleman complained, are not all good, but nor are they all bad. Compared to local education authorities' buildings on this side of the water, they would come about halfway up the list. They are about average and not as depressingly bad as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested.
§ Mr. Archer
My picture was drawn from the report of the Department's inspectorate and my quotation was taken from the Secondary Heads Association.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I am encouraged by that to read the report, as a whole, which I have not yet done, and then I shall confirm or otherwise my impression drawn from my experiences of visiting schools in the Province.
In this educational connection I shall mention the expenditure on sport, especially in support of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The Minister may have noticed on the Order Paper an amendment in my name to an early-day motion congratulating—as I also do—the association on its 100th anniversary. Gaelic sports as well as British sports should be encouraged in Northern Ireland, but the association's political discrimination against United Kingdom service men and policemen continues. My suggestion—this will not be provocative to the right hon. and learned Gentleman or to the Minister who replies —is that reasonable time should be given to the Gaelic Athletic Association to withdraw this offensive, discriminatory provision from its rules, at least in so far as it applies to Northern Ireland. If it is not withdrawn, the question should be raised whether public support for the 673 league should not be brought to an end. The present position reflects no credit on public authority in Northern Ireland and is insulting to those who serve Her Majesty in the armed forces and the police.
I turn now to my two main topics. Class 2(3) deals with aircraft and shipping interests. Some Conservative Members were recently visited by trade union representatives from Harland and Wolff. They were interested to hear of the extent of Conservative trade unionism in Great Britain. We were primarily interested to learn from them about the present position at Harland and Wolff. They had anxieties about the future. The Minister referred to the company's considerable difficulties. My impression, however, is that there is greater confidence and more hope for the future.
The company made a magnificent contribution to survival and victory in the world war, but for an interval of 40 years the Ministry of Defence did not place orders with it. I recall visiting the yard more than once with Airey Neave. I remember how he pressed for defence orders to be given to the company and how he exerted his influence in that direction. Those orders were forthcoming, which is testimony to the improved performance of Harland and Wolff and its greater ability to meet completion dates.
Harland and Wolff made parts for the new floating harbour in the Falklands; it was given the formidable task of doing that within four months, and it succeeded. Probably as a result of that, it now has a £13 million contract to convert a merchant vessel into a helicopter landing ship for the fleet. It is working on the conversion of the training ship for the Ministry of Defence. Hon. Members will hope that the company will have a chance of winning its tender for the replacement of the Sir Galahad, which was brought back from the Falklands.
Since Mr. J. Parker returned to Ulster as chairman of Harland and Wolff from British Shipbuilders a number of stringent economies have been made at the shipyard. Savings of £6 million are estimated and the Minister today commended what he called the drive to cut overheads. In the Financial Times of 6 June Alan Watson paid a special tribute:Harland and Wolff is in a better position than nearly all other British shipyards. This makes it easier for the Government to underwrite losses.If that is so, a remarkable change has taken place. Only a few years ago Harland and Wolff was a poor relation compared with the companies in British Shipbuilders. I pay tribute to the renewed success and realistic streamlining of the company, which has meant so much to Belfast and Ulster.
My hon. Friend the Minister said that the Government were spending £80 million to prevent tariff increases, but Northern Ireland is still handicapped by energy costs and charges that exceed those on the mainland. My view, which is shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House, is that it would have been better for Northern Ireland to be on the mainland grid. I favoured, as did hon. Members from Ulster constituencies, the laying of a gas pipeline from Scotland, but the Government decided otherwise. Instead, we shall have a natural gas pipeline from the Kinsale field in the Republic, which will cost £120 million and which has been finally approved. What increase is there likely to be in the sale of gas in Northern Ireland as a result of laying that pipeline, and when will there be an increase?
674 The exploitation of lignite is much more significant. Last month the Government authorised Northern Strip Mining Ltd. to extract up to 1.25 million tonnes of lignite. Total reserves on land and under Lough Neagh—I was surprised to hear that there were reserves under the lough, because I was taught that it was bottomless—are about 450 million tonnes. That is the largest coal discovery in the United Kingdom in modern times. The discovery is important and is something about which Northern Ireland can be cheerful. The Province's dependence on oil will be reduced, energy costs will be reduced, and Northern Ireland will become more competitive and more attractive to investors. Can the Minister give an idea of the time scale in which those developments can be expected?
While talking about making industry more attractive to investors, may I echo the welcome of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West to the Minister of State on his return from the United States? We are all grateful for the efforts that he and the Secretary of State have made to attract investment from America. All Northern Ireland Ministers bear heavy burdens and travel a great deal, and in what they do that benefits the people of our matchless Province they will have the support of the Conservative and Unionist party and of the House.
I conclude with a word of support for what the right hon. Member for Down, South said about the handling of Northern Ireland business. Our business will be better attended and discussed if it is treated like the business of any other part of the United. Kingdom. Then loyalist suspicions in the Province will be allayed, bigotry cut down to size, terrorists convinced that we mean business, and the minority in Northern Ireland, which was disadvantaged by devolution to the old Stormont, will rest secure.
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)
Since I last spoke in a debate on the Northern Ireland Appropriation order, there have been some changes in the pattern of events in the Province. Some have been good and some not so good. The Government have made a concentrated effort to improve trade, housing, social services and the environment, all of which affect our day-to-day existence. I pay a sincere tribute to the Minister concerned—the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) —for his dedication to his portfolio, his tireless energy and his attitude when dealing with the varied problems of the Province. If he were guilty of an error of judgment in taking the "London" out of Londonderry in the local government context, I prefer to think that on that occasion he was given the wrong advice.
Although Belfast, North is a largely urban area, it contains a rural community called Ballyutoag, which I inherited from my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). It has a small but efficient dairy farming industry with beautiful Friesian cattle. My constituents there are naturally worried about the impact of recent decisions. They tell me that the dairy farmers have not obtained the full benefit of the 65,000-tonne special allocation of milk proposed by the Agriculture Council because of the method used to distribute the United Kingdom quota among the board areas. They say that they have little prospect of knowing how hardship cases will be dealt with before they are faced with a major 675 bill for the super levy in the autumn, and they have asked me to ask the Government to consider waiving the super levy, at least for six months.
On Class II, Votes 1 and 2, I congratulate the Government and the Minister of State on setting up the Industrial Development Board. I also congratulate the board on its work in promoting the Province. The advantages that it offers to potential investors must be appreciated. Since it was set up in 1982, the board has been successful, although it has had to work in extremely difficult circumstances. I am especially pleased that a large proportion of its time and budget is being used to sustain and strengthen local industry, and the fact that it has succeeded in helping to create and maintain 14,271 jobs during the past 12 months is just cause for its support. I am pleased that that fact was recognised by the Government in the Appropriation order.
I echo the compliments of the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) to our Belfast shipyard, of which we are very proud. In this context, I bitterly condemn the enemies of Northern Ireland who are trying to spike a prospective order for two ships worth about £60 million which is presently being negotiated by a New Orleans company. I hope that Ministers will take the steps necessary to combat the lies and deceit emanating from the Irish national caucus in its efforts to undermine and discredit the Province.
I am pleased that the Minister, as chairman of the body, is making progress in the revitalisation of Belfast city centre. But one serious matter that has not been given the consideration that it deserves is the inconvenience of having no conveniences. Many of my constituents enjoy the atmosphere of the new-look city centre and many of them are fond of the beverages which some may say have national connotations, but it is disconcerting to hear pleas for relieving stations, which have almost disappeared from the city centre. What are known as portaloos used to be placed at strategic points, but they, too, have disappeared, and in some instances over-zealous policemen are pursuing the law to the letter in cases where the recipient has lost control.
On Vote 5, I endorse the efforts of the Government to provide training facilities for our young people, but care will have to be exercised in the selection of training centres, particularly in the inner city of Belfast, where there have been a number of sectarian incidents involving trainees from different work preparation units. There have been incidents in which students have been physically and verbally abused to such an extent that classes have been suspended. The Minister is aware of the problem in Belfast, North, and I can tell him that there has not yet been an acceptable solution.
In Class III, Vote 1, I draw me Government's attention to the part played by the Belfast city council in the provision of gas to the consumers in Belfast and surrounding areas. I acknowledge the financial help that the Government have given in maintaining services until such time as natural gas comes on stream. It is important that the Government encourage authorities and other bodies to plan for gas as a fuel, and also to recognise the part that the resources and expertise of the Belfast city council gas undertaking can play in the future.
In Class IV, Vote 1, progress is being made in the provision of new lighting in Belfast, but in many areas 676 there is a lack of maintenance, with just too many lights not working. Belfast, North has a high proportion of elderly people in its population, and winter brings many problems to these senior citizens. The lack of street lighting is serious, for it causes difficulties of movement. It should be remembered that the dark nights also encourage the parasites who prey on these unfortunate people who can do little to defend themselves.
I hope that the Minister will take into account also the problems of people who live in the higher regions of Belfast city, who have to contend with more than their share of ice and snow in a severe winter. It is not good enough to maintain only the main roads in a passable condition. In years past, Belfast city council mobilised armies of the unemployed to clear footpaths and roads, and this was a successful solution to the problem. The city's ratepayers should be provided with a service that allows them to go about their business with as little inconvenience as possible.
As to Class V, I have already referred to the efforts of the Minister in all aspects of housing. During the debate on the last Appropriation order, I referred to the cowboy builders who have invaded Belfast and taken vast amounts of Housing Executive work. I am pleased that the Minister has recognised this and is investigating such incidents. I have written to him, in response to his letter to me, and given him some information on the subject, which I am sure that he will fully consider.
Another point of criticism is the housing density figure pertaining to different areas of the city. In general, the population of inner Belfast requests brick-built terraced type housing, similar to that which they have at the moment, but with modern updates. They do not want the so-called courtyard developments, with acres of space to encourage hooligans and vandals. People feel isolated in such an environment, particularly the elderly who are vulnerable to the break-ins and muggings that are common practice in such developments.
There are also the so-called environmental works that are being introduced in such areas in spite of protests by the residents. Such works must cost thousands of pounds. As soon as they are completed, they are vandalised. Indeed, in some cases, they are vandalised during construction. It would be more appropriate if new housing were provided, instead of these mammoth, brick-built monstrosities filled with shrubs and trees blocking the view of residents. We have sitting-out areas, which no one wants, and which are quickly destroyed, leaving the area worse than before.
In one part of Belfast, North a main street has been divided by a cobblestone area, much to the dismay of the residents, who were not consulted. As a result, they now have to take a circuitous route to park their cars. Hooligans in the area are digging up the cobblestones to throw at each other, with resultant damage to property and innocent bystanders. The seats in the sitting-out parts have been consigned to the annual bonfire, together with the young trees and vegetation in the planted areas.
On a lighter note, I commend the new "How to find a home" pack just launched by the Housing Executive. This will be particularly appreciated by people on low incomes. It is nice to know that impartial expert advice will be given to help such people make the housing choice best suited to their needs and pocket.
I also welcome the change in house sales rules, that tenants can now apply to purchase their homes 677 immediately on taking up a tenancy. The new rules have removed an anomaly, and, more importantly, put tenants on an equal footing with those in Great Britain who have been able to buy their homes at discounted prices from the first day of tenancy. I fully support all efforts to encourage home ownership, because that makes for a better and more stable society.
I am glad that the building societies are also contributing to the upgrading of housing in the Province. The Government are to be commended for their encouragement. The people in housing action and private investment priority areas will also appreciate this contribution, as such people have felt neglected in the past.
I am still concerned about the plight of the owners of Orlit houses in the private sector, who have no idea of the structural condition of their homes. As we know, the Housing Executive has developed techniques for the testing of such houses. I understand that no houses are in danger of collapsing. It is expected, however, that major work will have to be undertaken in some instances to provide a 30-year life.
I ask the Minister to instigate an investigation into the small number of Orlit houses in the private sector to ascertain whether they have any structural defects. That will at least give those unfortunate people, many of whom are elderly, some idea about the condition of their homes. One of those elderly residents wishes to sell, but I understand that building societies will not become involved. In such cases, will the Minister instruct the Housing Executive to underwrite the mortgage, bearing in mind that grants will be available for repairs as required?
On Class VI, Vote 2, I do not share the criticism of certain bodies that the enterprise zones are costing too much in job provision. In my constituency, these zones have been highly successful and have been a means of infusing new life into the community. This has had a great psychological effect by introducing a new harmonious spirit in the area, thereby helping the population, which has felt deprived and forgotten.
With regard to Class VIII, I am extremely disappointed at the handling of the school closure issue. Declaring schools for closure only heightened tensions in a tensioned society, causing great consternation in the process. If the Minister had left things alone, schools would have closed themselves, as has happened many times in the past. However, not content with pursuing this disastrous policy, which drastically damaged the morale of principals, teachers, parents and children, the Minister has now rubbed salt in the wound by creating two new schools that are seen as discriminating in favour of one section of the population, especially as they do not meet the criteria laid down in the context of viability. The Minister should have realised that the policy of amalgamation and closures would cause an upheaval that will take ages to settle and will do nothing to improve the educational achievement of the population. The rationalisation plans dealt only with the symptoms of the problem and were neither scientifically nor educationally based. The objective was to save money. The Government's monetarist policies have dictated the future of the schools.
I conclude my comments on the order by referring to Class IX and take this opportunity of condemning utterly the niggardly death grant. I have watched genuine hardship being suffered by responsible senior citizens existing on state benefits who are putting away money 678 every week for their funerals, and it is money that they can ill afford. The present grant does not relate in financial terms to what was given years ago, and the low level of savings to be means tested does not help. I hope that the Government will examine this state of affairs with sympathetic consideration.
I hope that I shall be allowed in my comments on this class to express the concern of more than 75 per cent. of my constituents who depend on coal for all or part of their domestic requirements and of the numbers of workers who depend on coal to fuel the machinery with which they make their living. I hope that the Government will take steps to protect the community from the results of the actions of the National Union of Mineworkers and the National Union of Seamen which have threatened those who try to keep fires in their grates and the wheels of industry turning and which will only put at risk the health and welfare of the population of the Province.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)
If anyone has any doubt about the necessity for the additional expenditure which we are discussing he need do no more than read a speech made by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), to a recent conference. I read his speech with interest, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman is with us today. I hope that he will comment on one aspect of it, to which i wish to draw attention.
The hon. Gentleman quoted from an EEC report pointing out that Northern Ireland had been identified as one of the most deprived regions in Europe. Towards the end of his comments he said that Northern Ireland, together with Calabria, appeared at the bottom of the league table.
Although there is justification for this added expenditure in Northern Ireland because of the poverty existing in the Province, I do not believe that Northern Ireland is one of the most underprivileged regions of the EEC. If any detailed examination were made throughout the Community I do not believe that that view could be sustained. There is evidence already to show that there are even certain regions of Great Britain which, in many respects, are comparable in terms of poverty levels with Northern Ireland. I do not think that the Minister does his own cause any good and he does not do the cause of Northern Ireland any good by repeating such statements.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
I am grateful for a chance to intervene, and I am even more grateful that the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) took the trouble to read my speech to a seminar the other day, although it sounds from what he said as though he read only the rather truncated reports which appeared in one of Northern Ireland's newspapers which, alas, does not have many journalists working for it at the moment. [Interruption.] I see the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) waving a document headed "Northern Ireland Information Service". It may be that those employed by that service: have not read the whole speech.
I pointed out in that speech what I have pointed out before and occasionally got into trouble for saying, that there were other parts of the United Kingdom which had problems as severe as those in. Northern Ireland and that not everything in Northern Ireland was worse than everywhere else in the United Kingdom but that, by and 679 large, the deprivation in Northern Ireland justified the greater public expenditure there. I suppose that it is a question which has to be addressed by anyone attempting to educate public opinion: people pick up what they want out of such a speech. One group picks up remarks such as those to which the hon. Member for Upper Bann referred. Others pick up the propositions on the other side. But it is right for the hon. Gentleman to say that both points have to be made.
§ Mr. McCusker
I welcome those comments. I assure the Minister that I did not intend to be highly critical of him. I was simply suggesting that, although he was not making those assertions, when he quoted them he tended to give some credibility to them. There are enough people in Northern Ireland prepared to beggar themselves and the Province to get another few pounds out of the Exchequer as it is, and I do not think that we should encourage them. Our own wit and abilities should be directed towards earning an honest pound rather than at finding excuses for coming here and holding out the begging bowl again.
I simply suggest that the Minister might make his own life a bit easier if he did not quote what in my view are inaccurate conclusions from European reports. But that is not to say that I do not agree with the Minister's assertion that across the board there is a level of poverty in Northern Ireland which is such that we need more public expenditure per head of the population than other regions. We do not need the degree which would be anticipated if we believed the EEC report that Northern Ireland was on a level with regions in southern Italy, because I do not believe that that is the case.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
The hon. Gentleman is trying to draw a very fine distinction. That EEC report was referred to in terms the other day by one of his hon. Friends for whom I have a great deal of time as an argument for increased health and personal social service expenditure in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman is walking a very thin tightrope.
§ Mr. McCusker
I hope that my hon. Friends will listen to my comments. I do not believe that Northern Ireland has survived and prospered for 300 years by its people being beggars, and I do not think that we shall go into the future improving our situation by making beggars of ourselves. I say that as one who comes from a background where we were not flush. We had to make good with the resources available.
I welcomed the remarks of the Minister of State about the order. They demonstrated the priority that the Government give to industrial development. In the first item of Class II I draw two cases to the hon. Gentleman's attention to illustrate my point. The first case is that of a meat canning factory in my constituency. Recently it was acquired by a larger organisation in the Province, which has spent substantial sums of money developing new products and new markets. It employs about 80 people and it is based on a raw material indigenous to the Province. That is exactly the sort of industrial development which we hope to see grow. Even today the managing director has made some extremely complimentary remarks to me about the help that he has received from the IDB, and the Northern Ireland Government Departments involved.
At the very time when that company is getting geared up to make progress with the new products that it has 680 developed in the new factory which is being extended, suddenly it finds its market cut from beneath it by cheap subsidised Brazilian imports. We have the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Government Departments being complimented for their assistance in getting the project off the ground, and at the same time the Minister of State for Trade sitting in London allows subsidised Brazilian imports of these same meat products into the United Kingdom. These imports have already caused a similar canning plant in Stratford-on-Avon to close down. Having closed its manufacturing unit there the company is now importing the Brazilian canned meat to supply the markets that it originally supplied from its Stratford-on-Avon cannery.
The Minister for Trade acknowledges that there is a degree of export subsidy for this Brazilian canned meat product. In February he said that if there was any evidence to show that it was continuing, he would review the position. There is no point in the Minister pouring millions of pounds into an industry such as that in Northern Ireland if another Government Department is taking action which has already put 120 British jobs out of existence on the mainland and shortly will put a further 80 jobs in Northern Ireland out of existence.
The second case which I bring to the Minister's attention is of a large British-based company with an international reputation which recently closed down a factory on the mainland to transfer production to Northern Ireland. That organisation may soon be in the process of looking for alternative premises on the mainland to "export" the process back there because we in Northern Ireland have not been able to provide that company with the facilities it requires.
The company is precisely the type of industry we need in Northern Ireland. The local manager of the firm complained to me about a lack of progress in providing facilities. I pointed to an extension adjacent to his factory that was being built and asked, "Why are you complaining? Look at the rate at which that is being built." He replied, "That was planned in 1979. It is hoped to complete it by early 1985. At that rate, if I plan for extra space now, I might get it in four or five years' time. I cannot afford to wait that long." He cannot afford to wait that long because he is occupying bits of premises belonging to the IDB here and there. He needs the space now. We know it can be done because it was done with a greenfield site just outside Belfast some years ago for a much larger building than the one about which I am speaking. I hope that the IDB will stop making excuses and will get that extension built to ensure that those jobs, which have been transferred to Northern Ireland, stay there.
I come to Class III, Votes 1 and 2, the gas and electricity industry. The Minister may recall that six weeks ago I warned him that the gas industry was suffering severely from a loss of customers, including a loss of volume sales. I do not know whether he investigated my claims, although he commented on them afterwards. I spoke to people in the industry today. One manager told me that he had lost 2 per cent. of his customers in the last four months and that he was losing in volume sales of gas, too. He said that his experience was probably common throughout the industry in Northern Ireland.
Here we are on the threshold of great developments in the industry, yet people are leaving it and taking up other forms of fuel. In the past, the Minister has advised a 681 vigorous selling and marketing campaign as the only means for the industry to hold on to its customers until natural gas arrives. That is the equivalent of saying that more Rolls-Royce cars could be sold in Northern Ireland if the salesmen tried harder. In the way that such vehicles are too expensive, gas at present is too expensive, and gas consumers are leaving at a rate which will make it difficult to persuade them to return if and when natural gas arrives.
I hope that the Minister is considering the argument that I adduced on the last occasion that we debated these matters. At a time when we are discussing expenditure of £12,303,000 to assist the restructuring of the gas industry, it might be worth introducing a scheme to allow existing undertakings to reduce the price of gas so that they can hold on to their present customers, and perhaps even attract some new ones, in advance of natural gas arriving.
Is the Minister also firm on the proposal to pipe gas from Belfast to Londonderry? I heard today of a rumour in the industry that that proposal might be in question. If so, it will be of concern to the Ballymena and Coleraine gas undertakings. If that rumour circulates in the industry, it will not be long before the community hears of it, and that will accelerate the drift away from gas, in addition to the natural wastage that is already occurring.
I support what has been said about the need to move quickly on the conversion of one of our generating stations to coal or lignite, or a mixture of both. The Minister said that further reports were being prepared. There have been numerous reports and recommendations in the last few years. It is time for action.
The Minister may recall that when we discussed energy in the Northern Ireland Committee—when he was lecturing us and industrialists in Northern Ireland about the need to get out of oil and into other energy sources—he expressed concern about the overdependence on oil in Northern Ireland. I asked him how many Government advance factories built since the first oil crisis had been equipped with boilers fired with fuel other than oil. He was unable to tell me then. A few weeks later he informed me that during the 12 years after 1972 not one factory built by his Department had been fuelled by anything other than oil. There is no point in telling my constituents, who may have built their own factories and devised systems of energy generation, to change from oil when the Government are not setting an example.
I echo what has been said about Orlit houses in relation to Class V, Vote 1. I have only one relatively small Orlit estate, the Avenue road estate, in my constituency, in Lurgan. It contains about 200 houses. It is one of the older, better-kept estates. The houses were built just after the war and the area has not been upgraded, unlike some of the more recently built estates. But because of the nature of the residents, the property is in good condition.
I attended a meeting at which the residents had a discussion with officials of the Housing Executive. It became clear that the Housing Executive was saying that, while there were no serious structural defects which would render the houses dangerous in the near future, that would occur within perhaps 10 to 20 years. The Housing Executive was saying, in effect, "If we clear these houses from a structural point of view now, we shall have to spend some thousands of pounds to upgrade them. In 10 or 15 years' time we shall have to undertake major structural repairs costing many thousands of pounds." The only 682 interpretation that one could put on the view of the Housing Executive and its experts was that it would be better to knock the estate down and rebuild it.
I thought that the residents would object to that, some of them having lived in the houses since they were built. As I say, they have maintained them in extremely good order. In fact, the bulk of people at the meeting — I asked for a show of hands which revealed this—thought that it would be better for the houses to be demolished and the estate rebuilt. Their only request—I support them—was that it should be done by a leapfrog system to enable the existing community to be rehoused in the same place. It should be possible to do that and, if that is the economic argument, I hope that the Minister will see that the redevelopment is carried out in that way.
I hope, too, that the Minister will ensure that his budget is allocated in such a way that those people are given some priority. I say that because l am surprised to learn that there are to be 3,000 new housing starts in Northern Ireland by the Housing Executive in the coming 12 months. With the possible exception of parts of Belfast, everywhere I look I see more houses in Northern Ireland than we need.
Within a four-mile radius of my house, there are 1,200 derelict houses, some of them not 10 years old, and some barely five years old, which are being vandalised and destroyed. In some instances, millions of pounds are spent on refurbishing them, and they are being vandalised and destroyed again. The lesson is that we should have fewer houses than we need rather than more houses than we need. There would then be a degree of housing management, not only from the managers, but from the community to make something of its resources. Instead of building 3,000 houses, I should prefer to see some effort made to occupy the existing houses. I should like to see some of the money that will be used to build those 3,000 new houses used to refurbish some of the existing houses in our inner towns and in the inner city areas. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) said, the people of Northern Ireland prefer a standard house built in an environment to which they have grown accustomed, and with which they are happy, without courtyards which become playgrounds for hooligans or football pitches for young people. There may well be some value in these cluster developments in certain areas, but a good modern terraced house clearly meets the needs of many people in Northern Ireland. I need to be convinced that anything is to be gained from some of these developments that encourage vandalism and create other social problems.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
How does having a garden encourage vandalism? I have listened to what the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) and several of his hon. Friends have said on this point. I do not find that it accords with what people say to me when I ask them where they like living, and whether they like having a garden for the first time in their lives.
§ Mr. McCusker
We are talking not about gardens but about other environmental amenities, such as shrubs which become nesting places for rats, and attract glue-sniffers and rubbish. They place an even greater degree of expenditure on the local authority and Housing Executive in maintenance costs. By all means give people a front or rear garden, but stop cluttering up the environment with all these other traps which have to be bulldozed down or 683 concreted over. The Minister has already been asked to go on a walk with my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). If he does not believe what I tell him, we can go on a walk, and I will show him some of these places.
I ask the Minister whether he will deal with the excess land at Craigavon. If there is a shortage of funds in Northern Ireland's exchequer, let us recoup some from the land, which I believe was improperly taken from the landowners in that area. I have been dealing with this for three or four years now. One of these days, I will take out all the letters that have been sent to me telling me that something will be done in three months' time or six months' time. Something must be done, in particular for those people who have never left their ancestral home, but are still living in the houses in which they were born, and are still farming the land that their families have always owned. They have never been given compensation, nor sought it, and they should now be given their land back.
I deal next with Class VIII, Vote 3. I ask the Minister to consider the issue of student travel. I know that a decision has been made, and that the Secretary of State may be unable to reconsider it, but this is of such significance to Northern Ireland that I hope that the experience of the next 12 months will be looked at carefully, and a review undertaken. What is the point of trying to develop a new university in Ulster in the next few years, based on the New University and the Ulster polytechnic, to find that they are inhabited wholly by Northern Ireland students because English students can no longer afford to come to the Province? It is of note that at present one third of the student body in the NUU is from the mainland, a proportion that one would like to see maintained. What is the point in educating our young people to a high standard in Northern Ireland and then sending them to the mainland to obtain specialist education that is not available in the Province—which in itself will take them out of our community and encourage them to stay out of the community—but failing to provide them with sufficient funds to maintain contact with their families during their student life? The issue of students' travel grants is especially significant to Northern Ireland. While I accept that the Minister will not change his mind at present, I hope that some review will be made in the next 12 months and that, if the effects are damaging to us, that will be taken into account.
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)
This is the first debate on Northern Ireland in which I have intervened. I listened with interest to the speeches of Opposition Members. Indeed, I learnt from the speech of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) something about housing and garden policy that I did not know before. I realise that, as an Englishman having the temerity to take part in the debate, I am infringing the convention that debates about Northern Ireland are left to the Members representing Northern Ireland as their exclusive preserve. I would not seek to break the convention unless I thought that the economy of Northern Ireland and its part in the United Kingdom were such that the convention deserved to be buried, and that the people of Northern Ireland, and their elected Members in particular, needed to be told 684 about the attitudes of an increasing number of their fellow citizens in the United Kingdom towards them and the troubles in the Province.
I found the messages of my hon. Friend the Minister of State about positive developments in the economy encouraging. We must hope that this optimism is fulfilled and justified. The Northern Ireland economy, like a leaky ship, has been buoyed up by the United Kingdom taxpayer for many years, and, as can be seen in the order, demands upon the taxpayer are increasing. I do not shrink from those demands. I detected in the speech of the hon. Member for Upper Bann a dichotomy of approach. I think that he felt some reserve about accepting an increasing share of public expenditure, yet in more or less everything that he said he was arguing the need for an increase in public expenditure.
If one considers the last available public expenditure figures that I have — other hon. Members may have more recent ones—for the years 1981–82, per capita, the amounts are, for England, £1,449, for Wales, £1,704, for Scotland, £1,882, and for Northern Ireland, £2,256. The House is debating yet another order appropriating large sums of taxpayers' money for that purpose. As holes in the Northern Ireland economy are plugged increasingly, as it seems to me, with the concrete of public expenditure, the ship once foundering is, notwithstanding the comments of my hon. Friend, hardly stable. It is unstable partly because of the activities of terrorists, as I am sure all hon. Members will agree, and also because of what I see as the failure of the people of Northern Ireland to live together harmoniously and to sustain and create that degree of civilisation necessary for the survival of any society. This obtains in most other parts of the United Kingdom, however hard-pressed economically some of those parts have been during the recession. Northern Ireland has a future only if its people can live and work together harmoniously, so that it can be regarded as a suitable place for investment for business men from outside and for the staffing of new businesses by those who live within its borders. The people of Northern Ireland are paying for their problems with the extraordinary high unemployment rate of 21 per cent.
I wish to make two points that may appear negative but which I believe are fundamental to the economy of Northern Ireland. First, any political initiative can bring about only a minor part of the changes that are necessary. Secondly, the prime role in achieving those changes must be played by the people who live in Northern Ireland and by their leaders. Without those efforts, the British Government cannot achieve progress and should not be expected to do so.
Class XI includes £1.5 million for the Northern Ireland Assembly. When I look at the political initiatives taken by successive British Governments and the attitude taken to them by Northern Ireland representatives in this House and in the Province, I have to conclude that the people of Northern Ireland have not been given an adequate lead. That has a direct effect on the economy and on the need for subvention from the United Kingdom taxpayer.
Since the introduction of direct rule in 1972, a number of attempts have been made to establish a local administration. Surely such an administration is the outward political framework within which the people of Northern Ireland could be expected, given good leadership, to work out an harmonious way of ordering and governing their communities. Only three parties from
685 Northern Ireland attended the Darlington conference called by Viscount Whitelaw in 1972. Four other parties rejected the invitation, for a number of reasons, and those who attended could not agree on a top tier of government.
Also under Viscount Whitelaw, Northern Ireland was given in 1973 a 78-member Assembly elected by single transferable vote with the object of giving minorities fair electoral representation and, therefore, a greater opportunity for participation. The power-sharing Executive was set up with some agreement and the framework in which the new government would operate was worked out at the Sunningdale conference, but, in the face of a Loyalist strike, the Executive that had taken office collapsed in May 1974 and the Assembly was prorogued.
The constitutional convention of 1975–76 could not even recommend provisions for the government of Northern Ireland. In 1977, the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason), as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, put forward a plan for partial devolution, involving a single Assembly, but no agreement could be found between the Northern Ireland parties.
The constitutional conference set up in 1980, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Sir H. Atkins) was Secretary of State, was boycotted by the Official Unionist party. The subsequent paper which included proposals for further discussions, published in May 1980, contained options for devolved government, but that ran into the sand when my right hon. Friend could not achieve agreement between the various parties.
In July 1981, the intention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne to set up an advisory council became a dead letter when the Loyalist parties refused to co-operate.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Prior) introduced his 1982 Act and an Assembly was set up with only partial support from the Northern Ireland parties. I supported that initiative, because I could see no harm that would result and because I thought we should provide an opportunity—even half an hour before the 11th hour—for the people and politicians of Northern Ireland to work together, run a form of local government and develop the Assembly within the framework set out in the Act.
What has happened to the Assembly has confirmed the growing suspicion and scepticism of many of us, although it was right to give Northern Ireland parties and people a chance of demonstrating their faith in their own community by making the Assembly work.
I remember having considerable discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), who overcame my scepticism about the Assembly, although it seemed subsequently that his scepticism only grew, because he felt unable to support the establishment of the Assembly. It is a good thing that the Official Unionist party is again playing a part in the Assembly. I welcome that, but the Assembly is still not supported by the SDLP and is not yet working as it should, notwithstanding the efforts of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder).
I should like to discuss the relationship of the Northern Ireland economy and the report of the New Ireland Forum. I am tempted to pass on the report the judgment that was passed on a detailed agreement that I once drafted between a business in London, for which I acted, and a company 686 in Ireland. I was shown the letter that the Dublin lawyer wrote to his company client on the subject. He started by categorising my draft asthe kind of agreement that is responsible for all the troubles and problems of the world today.It is perhaps remarkable that any Irish politicians could get together to draft such a report. The report recognises that the Northern Ireland majority has a point of view and that is also a remarkable step forward.
Of course, the report indulges in the historical arguments which carry little weight in Wales or Scotland or elsewhere in Britain. The report argues that the imposed division of Ireland in 1920 created an artificial majority in the North and that that is the cause of the problems of Northern Ireland, the economic difficulties and the violence. That carries no weight and it seems to ignore, apart from anything else, the violence that existed in Ireland before 1920.
I recall finding out that my mother was born in Limerick where her father was stationed with his regiment in 1910 to deal with the troubles at that time. The report ignores the circumstances in which the division of Ireland was, sadly, necessary. At least there is no reference to Cromwell in the document and he is not shown as one of those who made written submissions.
The report sets out interesting ways in which the nationalist goal of a united Ireland might be achieved, but there is no explanation of what effect such proposals would have on the economies of Northern Ireland and the Republic and there is no attempt to show how the proposals would be good for Irish people or how the fears of Loyalist Irishmen in the North might be accommodated, other than by their retaining British passports. It contains no proposals for eliminating IRA violence on either side of the border, nor does it contain proposals for cutting off those responsible from the tacit support of members of the Catholic communities. The Dublin Government's efforts in that direction represent one of the few positive steps that have been taken.
Those who wish to advance the cause of Irish unity —of whom I am not one—should promote economic progress and political development within the Republic of Ireland to make that unity an attractive option to Ulster. That must principally be done economically rather than politically. There is nothing in the report about that. There is nothing in the report about how industries on both sides of the border might benefit from unity if it were brought about in one of the three ways considered in the report. The report contains too much about history and politics and not enough about economics.
Some Irish Americans still do not understand — President Reagan, to his credit, is not one of them—that, far from there being persecution or oppression of the people of Northern Ireland by the people of the United Kingdom, massive support by military help, by blood and by financial support to the entire Northern Ireland community has come from the United Kingdom taxpayer.
Most people in England, Scotland and Wales are aware that it is not within the power of any United Kingdom Government to compel Irish people to live together amicably. There are no solutions to the problems of Northern Ireland. Only one course offers hope for the future. It is for the people themselves and, above all, their elected representatives to work together to defeat terrorism, to civilise their community and to make at prosper.
687 Although the patience and dedication of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his colleagues are legendary and laudable, in my judgment, the patience of the people of the United Kingdom generally is running out. Some political leaders of Northern Ireland sometimes give the impression that they think that the long-suffering good nature and purse of the British people are interminable. I warn the political leaders of Northern Ireland on both sides that, while they may not yet have incurred the anger of the British people, they have come perilously close to incurring their indifference.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
Nothing illustrates better the wide-ranging nature of today's debate than the speech by the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker). The Chair's leniency during Northern Ireland debates is welcome. We have ranged widely, but until the hon. Member for Dorset, North spoke I did not realise that we could wander into the reasonings of the New Ireland Forum on such an order. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's intervention because we are always pleased to hear an English voice when debating Northern Ireland affairs, if only because it gives us the opportunity to correct misunderstandings on this side of the Irish sea.
The hon. Gentleman described the history of various initiatives, from the abolition of the Stormont Parliament in 1972 to the most recent efforts. I listened with interest and happy surprise when he said that the people of Northern Ireland have not been given a good lead. I was convinced that he was one person from the rest of the United Kingdom who understood the failures of the various Secretaries of State, but as he progressed I became aware that he was reading the wrong brief and that he did not fully understand the realities of politics and constitutional argument in Northern Ireland.
The people of Northern Ireland are clear about what has been going on. Scarcely a year ago Northern Ireland, with the rest of the United Kingdom, went to the polls. The policies and views of the various parties were put before the people of the Province. The reward for my party was 11 seats out of 17.
We claim that the House is built upon the democratic will of the people. The democratic will of the Northern Ireland people was clearly demonstrated. If hon. Members listened more carefully to my party's views a resolution of Northern Ireland's problems might be brought immeasurably closer. It cannot be brought closer by making the Assembly work, as the hon. Member for Dorset, North suggested. The Assembly operating as it is will lead to more problems.
Throughout the debates setting up the Assembly we sought a change to meet the reality of the position, and to set up in Northern Ireland a structure that could do something more for the Northern Ireland people than talk about the problems and ask for a continual and steadily increasing input of other people's hard-earned cash. The money involved is not as much as some people tend to believe, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) revealed earlier.
If we are to have responsible political attitudes in Northern Ireland, people must be given responsibility and powers to exercise it. They must be given something to do and take responsibility and accept the brickbats for their 688 decisions. There is no point in saying, "You can talk and the Government will respond." The point at issue is the exercise of power. Only by the exercise of power and the acceptance of the democratic will of the Northern Ireland people will we get anywhere in the Province.
I shall now discuss the nitty gritty of the government of Northern Ireland. Because of the system, responsibility for administration belongs to the various Ministers. First, I shall refer to the responsibilities of Lord Lyell, an Under-Secretary.
Recently my attention was drawn to the difficulties involved in the payment of grants for the construction of farm roads and lanes. I wrote to the noble Lord only a week ago about the matter. The problem is probably widespread and extends beyond Northern Ireland. I welcome the opportunity to try to sort the matter out.
It would appear that last year the standard costs on which grant was payable for farm lane reconstruction were changed. As a considerable number of people were working on farm lanes at that time, and the work had not been completed—and as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has not, apparently, made up its mind whether to pay at the old rate or the new rate, or half of each — the grant has not been paid. It is causing considerable hardship to people who have long since completed their work. I hope that the issue will soon be resolved, because there is no excuse for such a thing.
There would seem to be some sort of friction or problem within the Ministry. That may feed down the line to Dundonald house—I assume that it does—and I hope that the Minister in charge of Northern Ireland agriculture will make contact with the responsible Minister in Whitehall and sort out the problem as soon as is humanly possible. Often people have paid out their own hard-earned cash or, far more likely, the bank's cash in carrying out the work, and naturally the bank is not only looking for its cash but its pound of flesh in the form of interest. Therefore, there is a continuing loss to the farmers concerned.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South drew the attention of the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), to the drainage problem concerning the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture. There is another drainage problem which does not concern two different Ministries but rather two different limbs of the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. That is in relation to the advice given to fanners on land drainage and the advice given to the DOE engineers by the drainage engineers of the Department of Agriculture as to the size of drainage pipes which should be installed, usually alongside new road works.
I have at least one such case in my constituency, on the Glenshane pass. I seem to have many problems there but very few supporters. Nevertheless, constituents there come to me for aid, and I have walked over their fields. I have spoken on several occasions to the roads manager about the problem of one of my constituents. I understand that there is a similar problem in north Antrim near Ballycastle.
The farmer in my constituency was advised by the Department of Agriculture to put in a 6 in drainage pipe. A year or two after that, the roads authority, in the form of the DOE, having taken advice also from the Department of Agriculture, came into the area and built a new road. The authority put a new drainage pipe across the road into 689 the 6 in pipe. The problem is that the pipe put in by the DOE, under the instructions of the drainage engineers, was about 2 ft in diameter. How one can get the water coming through a 2 ft pipe into a 6 in pipe is beyond my understanding. Some of my hon. Friends seem to be equally at a loss to understand it. The result is that my unfortunate farmer friend in Glenshane is having to deal with more water, more troubles and more muck than he can possibly handle.
It is all very well for the people in the road service to say, "We are carrying out the instructions of the Department of Agriculture and we are happy." Similarly, it is all very well for the Department of Agriculture to say, "We put in pipes for land drainage, and what the people in the road service do is their worry." My poor farmer is left with an intractable problem, and there is no point in the two limbs of the Department of Agriculture shoving the problem from one side to the other. If it has to go up to the level of the Minister to be sorted out, I hope that after the problems of the past 10 years they will at last get on with it. The farmer would like to get his fields thy, and he cannot do that until the roads authority carries out the drainage work on his land. The roads service is at least morally responsible if it puts such a large amount of water on his land. There is no way in which the unfortunate farmer can afford to do the work, and there is no moral justification for asking him to do it.
The most burning question in Northern Ireland agriculture today is that of milk and milk quotas, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) last Thursday night. Whenever one speaks to Ministers about the question there is a fairly fierce reaction. They all seem to think that they have done their very best for Northern Ireland. They seem terribly surprised to learn that the farming community in Northern Ireland does not agree with them.
I am concerned with several aspects of the problem. I am particularly curious as to the role of the Ministers of Agriculture when they met and accepted the quota system some weeks ago. It would appear that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food used a broad-brush approach at the meeting, after which everyone started to work out the details. But perhaps I am wrong about that; perhaps the details were already worked out in various permutations. but if they were, there is precious little evidence of it.
I understand that the EC Commission is also involved in the regulations. I should like to be told—and I am sure that the farming community in Northern Ireland would like to be told—whether the EC Commission was prepared to accept that there were 65,000 tonnes of milk extra for Northern Ireland. Did the Commission say, "That is perfectly okay, Mr. Jopling — you can get your 65,000 tonnes and that will help to bring you to within striking distance of the position that will prevail in the Irish Republic"? Or did the Commission say, "No, we cannot accept your proposal. We should like you to put out the 65,000 tonnes on a national quota."?
I understand that it is extremely difficult for the average farmer to understand the permutations that were used by the Commission, especially when most people in Northern Ireland were hoping that the whole matter would be sorted out on the basis of 1983 production, and then found that it was done on a quota based on 1981 production. We are told that the 1981 production figure plus 1 per cent. plus 65,000 tonnes becomes suspiciously like another set of 690 calculations worked out by the Milk Marketing Board in Northern Ireland, and there is intense suspicion and disagreement about the matter.
There is also the question of what role the beef premium and its retention played in the deal that was made. It would appear that there was desperation at the meeting to get some sort of a deal, to get it sewn up, to get it over and done with, and then to worry afterwards what the fallout would be.
I have been concerned for some time as to where the various exports of milk would go, and into whose quota they would fall. I was told by Lord Lyell on 16 May that the exported milk would be included in the quota of the exporting country. That brings one immediately to the problems in the western half of Northern Ireland, where we have at least one milk processing plant importing milk from the Irish Republic.
We have to remember that the Irish Republic has a land frontier with Northern Ireland and that it has been given a considerable increase in the amount of milk that it can produce. Therefore, it is able to put milk straight into the milk processing plant to which I have referred. But at the same time the milk producers supplying that plant in Northern Ireland are being told to cut their production. Those are the economics of "Alice in Wonderland", and I cannot understand how we ever got into this position. If there is a necessity in Northern Ireland to import milk from the Irish Republic, there must be a shortfall in the milk production below the amount that the plant can sell. That is a tribute to the efficiency of the milk plants in Northern Ireland, but it is not much use to tell dairy farmers, "There is a plant down the road to which you have been selling milk for the past 40 or 50 years. You are not allowed to sell your extra milk to it unless you pay a super levy, but the milk plant is welcome to send out lorries to nip 10 miles down the road and bring back a few tankers full of milk for processing, to sell within the United Kingdom." That is utterly daft. I cannot understand how we allowed that position to come about.
The system used to share out the quota seems to have been introduced before anyone could sit down and take a long, hard look at the results of the policy and how it would be put into practice. The farmers may well be told by Ministers, MAFF or by the Department of Agriculture, Northern Ireland, "We told you in 1981 that there would be quotas and that something would have to be done about them." Actions always speak louder than words. If such remarks were made—we all recall the warnings that were sounded in the House and elsewhere, including those made by Commissioners from Brussels—they were lost in a torrent of advice. Dairy farmers were told to increase, increase, increase. They were not simply told to increase. They were given grant to do so. That puts the problem back in the Government's lap.
Had farmers been told to be careful and warned that the Government's policy demanded care, and that the Government were worried about what might happen, and had the Government said in 1981 or early 1982 that no more grants would be given to increase milk production or for milking parlours or back grants for milking equipment, farmers would have learned quickly. They would not have gone to their bank managers and asked for loans of £50,000 to £100,000. The Government's failure to project the reality of their decisions or to put their views into action has led to dissatisfaction and problems for all dairy farmers.
691 As an aside, perhaps at the end of the debate the Minister will say something about next year's quota. Farmers need to know what will happen. They must be given some idea of events in, say, 12 months' time. If they do not know now what is likely to happen next year, they will suffer a shortfall after a couple of years. Farmers are all different, and each of them has different requirements.
I shall quote some hard cases that have been brought to my attention, not all of them concerning my constituents. The first concerns a constituent of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), who is busy at the moment trying to gain re-election to the European Parliament—the Common Market that has done us so much damage. The constituent is a small farmer. His son has grown up. The farmer bought in 12 cows, and now has 40 cows. He found to his horror that nobody wanted to buy the milk. Another case concerned a constituent of mine who met building and equipment costs of £30,000. He discovered that he had been given a quota of 21,000 litres a year, which is the produce of four cows. He has managed to get a bank overdraft of approximately £50,000.
A fanner living in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South featured on the front page of Farming News in its issue of 1 June, with the headline "No quota and no hope". The farmer bought 190 cows. He had suffered a heart attack in 1978, which forced him to go out of production as his children were too young to help him. When the children had grown up the farmer decided to return to production. Now he is pouring milk down the drain. There seems to be no hope for him.
Another constituent of mine is a farmer with three sons, one of whom has a degree in agriculture and knows what he is doing. A young man who has been trained in agriculture to that level should have understood what was happening. If not, that is the clearest possible proof of the failure of the Government to publish their fears. That farmer formed a partnership with his sons in 1981, when he had 70 cows. In 1982 he had 94 cows, in 1983 there were 120 cows. This year he has 140, and his projection is for 200 cows. He has a very big unit in the Londonderry area. The partnership was intended to provide a livelihood for at least three households. A lot of money and effort was involved. The son with a degree in agriculture wrote to me suggesting that further use of grass and forage to reduce costs is very difficult because UME/hectare is 110 G/J. The national average is 77 G/J, and the optimum figure from research stations is 123 G/J. Those figures, although they may be meaningless to most of the House, mean an awful lot to the experts. They show that that farm is reaching a very high level of efficiency. Other financial commitments have been undertaken on as a result of the family expertise.
Farmers in Northern Ireland will be unable to make any progress unless something serious is done and until we seriously consider how quotas should be distributed or redistributed.
Agriculture is based on living creatures. A farmer can decide to reduce the amount of cereal to be planted in the following year. But unless he has brought many cows or started to rear calves, which will require fodder for two or three years until they start to produce milk, he simply cannot get into milk quickly. Farmers were not given the 692 information on which to base any such long-term projections and plans. They were unable to make essential preparations for the quota system.
A further point, which has not been raised before in the House, unless I missed it, is that the Government, especially the Treasury, should advise dairy farmers about their tax position when they are forced to cut back their operations. That is especially important for those with large farms, which have increased cow numbers rapidly. Two aspects of taxation are involved: first, capital gains tax and its relevance to farmers and, secondly, the latitude that will be given by the tax authorities as to the election made by farmers for the cows that they will sell. It is possible for farmers to have the value of some of their cows treated as income if they do not make an election early enough in the tax year. If farmers are forced to sell cows, and the proceeds are treated as income, they could be heavily taxed on them. If, however, it is possible for fanners to make the right sort of election, the value of the cows can be treated as capital. There could be substantial tax advantages or losses, depending on how the matter is treated. Therefore, not only in Northern Ireland but in the United Kingdom, the Minister could make available publicity in respect of the tax implications on the cutback that so many farmers are bound to face in relation to the quota system.
§ Mr. Butler
As always, the hon. Gentleman is making an extremely worthwhile speech from his own experience. I do not mean to be rude, but he is also going into some intricate detail, as always. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who will wind up—my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) —did a first-class job in answering the Adjournment debate the other night. I think that he will agree with me that he is not sufficiently well-informed to answer the points that the hon. Gentleman is now making; nor do I feel capable of doing so.
I rose principally to say that the hon. Gentleman's points are genuinely of considerable validity, and are questions that are being asked by all farmers, whether in Great Britain as a whole or in Northern Ireland. His question about taxation is a genuine point that raises issues that, at the moment, I regret to say we cannot say much about. All that I can do is give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking, on behalf of my noble Friend who is responsible for these matters in Northern Ireland, that he will do his best to keep farmers informed as fully as possible as such matters are decided either by the Commission or domestically.
§ Mr. Ross
I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks. I listened to them with care. I shall read them with greater care because I believe that there is a lot in them that might enable me to raise the subject on an Adjournment debate. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Newry and Armagh will do so.
§ Mr. Ross
There might be grounds for another one.
I welcome the £50 million, recently announced, to help people with problems about the milk quotas. I note that the Minister of State, Scottish Office, responsible for agriculture, said that Scotland would be allowed to write its own rules for its part of the £50 million. I understand 693 that Northern Ireland will benefit from the scheme to the tune of about £8.5 million. Under what sort of rules and regulations will Northern Ireland operate? Will the Northern Ireland Minister be allowed to write his own rules? If Scotland has some latitude, we expect the same, because it would be useful to us.
I refer to the Under-Secretary's direct responsibilities in relation to the Department of the Environment. Recently, in my village of Dungiven I noticed a caravan sitting on a vacant site. I did not pay much attention to it. One is used to seeing caravans in all sorts of places in Northern Ireland. A few days later I passed the site again and had another look. Someone had put concrete blocks round the caravan and the draw-bar. I asked one of my neighbours who was in the caravan, and he told me that it was the Sinn Fein. Then I began to take an interest in it. The caravan is now plastered with Sinn Fein posters. I had a look at it this morining. It is a solid construction, and it looks as if Sinn Fein intends to stay there for the duration of the election. I am curious about whether Sinn Fein has applied for planning permission. I would be surprised if it had. I am curious about whether the people have installed a water or sewerage system.
I wonder what the present position is. If Sinn Fein has not applied for planning permission, the caravan should be removed, concrete blocks and all. If those people are allowed to break the law with impunity in one place, they will go on doing so on a wider scale. That is not acceptable to the 999 people out of 1,000 who try to comply with the planning regulations. I understand a mistake being made. We all sympathise with citizens who make a mistake. The planning authorities deal with those people fairly, gently and reasonably. However, these folk have deliberately set out to break the law and to cause friction and trouble. We cannot let them get away with it.
Two of my hon. Friends have already referred to the problems of Orlit houses. Like my hon. Friends, I have a few of them in my constituency—thank God, not too many. I visited a few at Fallahogey in Kilrea recently. Those houses will be improved time and again. As the residents say, every time the contractors are due on site, they discover that something has happened to hold up the work. The people who live in that little group of houses say that the wind blows through the attics, holes are appearing in the walls, the slates are coming off, the roof is broken, and there are all sorts of problems, but no repairs are being carried out. There might be an excuse for a year or two, but there is no excuse when that goes on year after year. Is it not time that people in the Housing Executive got their finger out and started to do something about those problems?
My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) referred to this matter. Some of the houses can be fixed up and given a few more years of life, but only at considerable expense. When one is confronted with such a problem, it might be better to cut one's losses, bring in the bulldozers and rebuild. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) whispered to me earlier that it would be possible to use the existing foundations. If that is not done, I fear that there will be a steadily increasing repair bill, with what will still be a ramshackle structure at the end of the day.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
I trust that the hon. Gentleman would not apply that argument to all houses that may be unfit. Some of his hon. Friends make the reasonable point 694 from time to time about the importance of keeping communities together, even where there is a large amount of unfit housing. How would the hon. Gentleman apply that rule in cases other than Orlit homes?
§ Mr. Ross
The answer is simple. When we talk about maintaining communities, we are usually talking about traditional constructions. I have seen all sorts of houses of fancy construction in my constituency—prefabs. Orlits and so on—but every one of them has a certain number of inbuilt defects. They mean that inevitably the house will deteriorate and more money will have to be spent on it to such an extent that the expense is negated. With traditional houses, the framework of the house might be sound, so that it is possible to reconstruct the interior, put on a new roof and end up with an excellent building. However, that is extremely difficult and costly to achieve in Orlit houses and perhaps other such houses.
Some Orlit houses might have a long life ahead of them, and it might be worth making improvements, but other places are not worth improving. I am not asking for a blanket, bulldozer sweep. However, in some cases bulldozers are necessary. The group of houses that I am describing might fall into that category. If they do not, what is the Housing Executive waiting for and why has it not done the repairs and brought the houses up to a proper standard?
One lady drew my attention to the fact that there were broken tiles on her fireplace. The Housing Executive complained because she would not let the workmen replace the broken tiles with different coloured tiles. This lady is a good, sensible housewife and has been in the house for 25 years. Her home is spotless. She said, "If the Housing Executive accepts and pays for a substandard fireplace, why should I be expected to put up with it for another 20 years? Let them go back to the fellow who put in the fireplace and make him put in a fireplace of the proper standard, for which the Housing Executive undoubtedly paid."
Housing Executive repairs and their inspection continue to be a problem. The service is nowhere near adequate and many believe that it is getting steadily worse. Cannot that desperate problem be sorted out once and for all? The continuing problem of flat roofs should also be dealt with.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North expressed concern about courtyard developments. The Minister seemed to think that they were a perfectly good idea. They may seem a good idea to those who design and build them, but they do not seem such a good idea to those who have to live in them. In suggesting that we did not want folk to have gardens, the Minister missed the point. Of course we want people to have gardens, but what they really want is some privacy in their own homes. They do not want to look out of their front room window into somebody else's kitchen. When I see estates with the wonderful planning layout produced by the so-called architectural experts I wonder whether those who design them would be prepared to live in them.
At the end of the day, it is hard to beat a nice straight street of houses with wee gardens front and rear, perhaps with a passageway along the back. It may not look nice to the planners' eye, but I bet that a lot of people would like to live there. They want to be able to put small kids out in the back yard and keep them there. They like to see what is happening in the street. They do not want a great open space in front of their homes with vandals coming 695 into it at night, as so often happens. There is a great deal to be said for the old system which allows people some privacy and a bit of ground of their own.
I know that the planners' idea is that a group of houses will form a protected area, a little village group or whatever within a vast estate, but in practice it does not work. In practice, people want something to which they can relate. All too often they cannot relate to the modern developments, even those constructed since the war.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
What account does the hon. Gentleman think should be taken of present and future car ownership in the planning of estates? Should space be set aside for that?
§ Mr. Ross
One of the great drawbacks of estates built 30 years ago is that the regulations then provided for very narrow roads without any parking facilities, so people now have to park on grass verges and so on. That should have been foreseen even at that time, but no account seems to have been taken of it in Northern Ireland or anywhere else. My proposition does not prevent provision being made for parking. Indeed, it would probably be easier than it is with current designs.
Why can we not try out a nice straight street of houses somewhere to see how people like it? We seem to have tried almost everything else. If we went back to the village street pattern, even if it took a little more land, we might produce houses that people were happy not just to live in but to buy. I have noted that the houses in the front row of an estate always go quickly, whereas those in the middle are slowest to sell. There must be a reason for that, and the only possible reason is that folk want to face on to a street and relate to the circumstances that they enjoyed as children. Old people, especially, feel lost in the modern type of housing estate.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
Does my hon. Friend agree that in most estates built 25 years ago in Northern Ireland the proportion of roads to grass was completely out of balance so that there is ample space at the sides of the narrow roads comfortably to accommodate all the cars that now need to be parked? Does he also agree that the Housing Executive and the Department of the Environment have so far failed to make a proper, concerted effort to get cars and lorries off the roads on our estates?
§ Mr. Ross
I entirely agree. Anyone who visits one of the older estates will realise that my hon. Friend is absolutely right.
Under Class VIII, I note that the Department of Education spends £133 million in the first instance, then £54 million on higher education and £112 million on advances to education and library boards. I have often wondered what Rathgael does in terms of primary and secondary education, as the education and library boards carry out most of the work in the controlled sector of primary and secondary education. Perhaps the Minister can tell me, either today or in writing, what proportion of the time and staff of Rathgael is spent on the maintained sector. I believe that it must be fairly high. There is doubtless a section dealing with higher education. There is then a group of people looking after primary and secondary education. As the education and library boards 696 carry out most of that work for the controlled sector, a fair number of the group must be concerned with the maintained sector. I hope that the Minister will tell us the proportions.
I hope that the Government will also pay more attention to the maintenance of the small rural schools. Such schools are needed in the countryside and are often the centre of the community. I hope that there will be no further attempts at closure and that the Government will in future seek to maintain and extend them as so many people in the Province wish.
As regards the name change of the Londonderry council area, the Minister will recall that the Irish Independence party, under the leadership of a certain Mr. McAteer, is claiming that the name was changed as a result of his foolish move in that regard. I took the trouble to look up the charter of the city, which provides that the city of Londonderry shall extend tothe space and circuit of three Irish miles to be measured and limited from the middle of the said city".Perhaps the Minister will provide a more modern definition, either now or in writing, as to the current boundaries of the city. I believe that three miles from the centre of the old city would take one beyond the border. Keeping within that, however, perhaps he can tell us where it ends and the council area begins. There is great concern about this not just among the people of Londonderry but throughout Northern Ireland. It has been suggested that section 51 of 1972 Act should be amended by inserting after the word "may" the following words:provided that no grant of royal charter is involved.If those words had been included by the Stormont Parliament in 1972, the subsequent difficulties could have been avoided. Perhaps the Minister will also tell us how many other charters there are relating to cities and boroughs in Northern Ireland and which of them are royal charters.
This is a wide-ranging debate, and I know that my hon. Friends would like to talk about their own problems. I hope that the Minister—either when he replies to the debate, or by letter—will be able to give me and my constituents the information which I have requested.
§ Mr. James Nicholson (Newry and Armagh)
In addressing the House this evening, I wish first to refer to Class I of the Appropriation order. I do not wish to raise again the many points that I made last Thursday. I shall spare the Minister that prospect. However, there were one or two points that I did not have time to elaborate fully last Thursday, and I should like to take them up again today. Furthermore, my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) made an excellent speech, and he has put one or two other points into my head.
The dairy industry has been at the forefront of all our thoughts over the past few months. One of the great dangers of a total concentration on one sector of an industry is that other parts may be neglected. I detect a feeling in Northern Ireland that other sectors of the agriculture industry and their problems have been neglected because of the controversy surrounding the imposition of quotas on the dairy industry. Such a view is not correct. I should like to assure those farmers that at least we on these Benches will continue to keep all sectors under constant review. Although other parties may be involved in their election campaigns this evening the 697 Ulster Unionist party has turned out in full strength to give the people of Northern Ireland a voice in this debate, regardless of why and how the debate was originally called.
The problems facing dairy farmers are new. They have to come to terms with the quotas. Although the situation may be obnoxious, the quotas are here, and we must safeguard the future of dairy farmers. As I have said on other occasions, those who are most threatened are the small dairy farmers, the young farmers trying to get into the industry, and those who may wish in future to go into milk production. I do not doubt but that in a few years the Government will again be encouraging farmers to increase milk production.
The introduction of the buy-out scheme will, at best, ease the burden. The Secretary of State has said that he wishes to help those with fewer than 40 cows. There is a serious problem here that requires serious thought before any decision is taken. We should not forget that some farms support two or three families. Those people should be considered, too. In Northern Ireland, farming is based on the family tradition and background. The argument put to me forcefully is that there is no difference between a man running a farm with 40 cows and a man and one or two sons running a farm with 80, 100 or 120 cows, because they are all supporting their families.
Another point—one that I raised as a sideline on Thursday — requires fuller thought, although the situation many not arise for some time, because a decision is involved that will lead to another change in agriculture as we have known it. Will the Government allow farmers to sell their quotas, and what conditions will be placed on such sales?
Who will be best placed to purchase a quota? That will be the problem. It will certainly not be the small producer or the young producer trying to establish himself. It will be the producer who is in the strongest position at present —the producer with a large dairy herd. Milk production not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom will fall into the hands of fewer producers, and that will be to the detriment of the industry and of agriculture. The Government should not contemplate allowing such a thing to happen.
Many in Northern Ireland might say that, if the Department advises one to take the high road, one should take the low road. There is an element of truth in that advice. If farmers decide to opt out of milk production —and some will—what will they do instead? I hope that they will not go into beef production. There is a danger that cuts in the dairy industry will lead to over-production of beef. While, at present, prices in the beef sector may be favourable, as the year progresses the change in the operation of the variable beef premium is bound to have a serious effect. Furthermore, the introduction of clawback on sales to Europe and Third world countries has put meat plants at a serious disadvantage.
Over the weekend, a serious situation arose in my constituency with the temporary closure of the Moy meat plant. Why has that plant been forced to close? The reason was that it could not compete with other plants in Northern Ireland which at the moment are still not having to refund the variable beef premium on exports to Third world countries. They are in possession of European contracts. 698 The decision was that the variable beef premium would be clawed back from the end of May. That has placed the Moy plant in a situation in which it cannot operate.
The matter is serious for the area as well as for the plant. Eighty people employed at the plant are unemployed because of decisions taken by the Government in their negotiations with Europe. The situation will continue until the beginning of July, and the future after that is not secure. For some time now, plants which do not have Third world contracts have been experiencing difficult marketing conditions. That is not to the benefit of the industry in the long term.
There is no point in the Secretary of State telling us that the situation will be monitored. The Department was advised of what would happen if clawback was introduced —as in the case of Moy Meats—and it chose not to heed the warning. Today, 80 more jobs have been lost in an area where there is no alternative employment. Aid should be made available immediately to secure those 80 jobs. Would it not be cheaper to keep 80 people in employment than to have to support them entirely through unemployment benefit, especially as only a few weeks are involved in this case?
The long-term future for beef farmers is uncertain. As we approach the latter part of 1984, we should be deeply worried about market conditions. The lack of intervention storage space in Northern Ireland will seriously prohibit Northern Ireland's plants utilising the facility to put our beef into the system. The Minister should seriously consider providing extra storage facilities and guarantee that Northern Ireland will not be disadvantaged. Shipping should also be made available to tranship the beef. The Government should be prepared for the problem and not be seen to be floundering when it arises. I hope that it never does, but the Government have been warned, and no excuses will be accepted.
Unfair competition should not occur, but the Republic of Ireland seems to have secured an extremely advantageous trading position by negotiating the variable beef premium on all meat exports to the United Kingdom. The agreement applies to boneless products, but it might enable ineligible beef to qualify. The premium is paid to the factory rather than to the farmer. That gives the factories increased resources which can be passed on to the farmers in the Republic of Ireland. How much does that cost the British taxpayer? It is interesting to note that all fat cows are now killed in factories in the Republic of Ireland because plants in Northern Ireland cannot compete with those which can afford to pay more.
Many people suspect—perhaps even more than I do —that it is impossible to tell the difference between fat cows and heifer beef once it has been boned. That puts our meat plants at a serious disadvantage which must be rectified shortly if we are to have any hope of a future for the beef industry and fair competition.
Conditions for the intensive sectors have improved. They have been the subject of much debate in the House in the past 10 months. The improvement in the past few months has been noticeable. However, I note with sadness that the Government have not yet responded positively to the need for intervention grain storage in Northern Ireland. The present improved circumstances should be used to stabilise conditions. The drastic cut in the sow herd speaks for itself. The Government should move quickly and make it clear that they believe that there is a future for the intensive sectors in Northern Ireland. Farmers must have 699 access to cheaper grain, be it through intervention or from the North American market before it reaches the EEC. The Minister should not wait until the situation becomes critical, whereupon we shall go through the same old exercise of letting the troughs and peaks level themselves out. Now that farmers are back in business, perhaps they will be able to stabilise. Now is the time to act to ensure that they have a future.
I represent part of the county that is known as the orchard of Ireland. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) will not claim that he represents the whole of that county. He still represents a large part of it. Apple growing is of considerable importance to my constituents. We produce some of the best Bramley apples in the world. Like poultry and pig farmers, apple growers are heavily dependent on supply and demand. They have recently found it difficult to make a profit because of European competition. I admit that the scheme that is operated by the Department on behalf of the EEC to remove surplus apples from the market operates when marketing is extremely difficult, but it does not go anything like far enough. Marketing is all-important and the Government should find means for helping and improving marketing facilities.
Unfortunately, my constituency has one of the highest levels of unemployment. Unemployment is extremely high in Armagh, and even higher in Newry, and it shows no signs of disappearing. Rather, it appears to be going from bad to worse. In its recent publication, the Industrial Development Board asked to be judged on the facts. In my constituency, it created 12 jobs in 1982–83 and 17 jobs in 1983–84. If I may say so, that performance is pathetic. If, as it asks, I judge it on the facts, I am compelled to suggest that its members be fired because they have not done the job that they were given. I have had some difficulty in establishing the number of jobs created by LEDU as its figures are tied up with the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and as his district council area is split in two. Nevertheless, the LEDU's figures are more presentable. In 1982–83 it provided 252 jobs and in 1983–84 it provided 251 jobs. Although the area covered by it and the IDB are not the same, it is likely that the LEDU provided more jobs. In view of the present levels of unemployment, however, such organisations in their present form will never solve the problem.
Some firms in my constituency have drawn my attention to the problem of more than one firm producing the same product in the same area. It is time that there was better liaison between the LEDU and the IDB as then neighbouring towns would not have firms competing with each other. The result of such competition is both firms being put out of business. If local people were given the same encouragement as investors from abroad, many more jobs would be created. I believe in encouraging the small manufacturer to expand.
If the present organisations are unable to do the job that is required, they should be disbanded. I have been forced to come to this conclusion because I have been asked to judge on the facts. That may be a drastic step to take, but it seems to be the only answer, certainly for my constituency. Job creation will be improved only by those who are interested in improving Northern Ireland. I often feel that some of these organisations have great difficulty 700 looking beyond the more industrialised areas of the Province, as a result of which other areas on the periphery are simply forgotton. It is time that we recognised that other areas, apart from Belfast city and Craigavon, need help.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
Does my hon. Friend agree that not only have the IDB and the LEDU—especially the IDB—failed to identify jobs in the west of the Province, in the area that I represent, but they failed to make vacant factory space attractive to potential new investors and manufacturers? Does my hon. Friend also agree that asset strippers have moved in, bought up much of this factory space and are now selling it back to departments, such as the Department of the Environment, to store machinery which the roads programme is under-employing? That is one of the gravest errors that has been made by the IDB.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I do not doubt that what he says is correct, and I agree with him about the number of dormant factories in Northern Ireland. Indeed, in my constituency a number of factories now lie dormant. I hope that the time will soon come when they will again be used for production.
Last year, when the Bairnswear factory in my constituency burnt to the ground, the company was able to find a factory in tha Armagh city area. It moved there almost immediately and is now back in production. I was grateful that that happened, and record my thanks to the Department of Commerce for the way in which it handled the situation. I also pay tribute to the Minister responsible for the way in which he handled the problem. His endeavours and those of his Department were much appreciated by myself and everyone connected with the factory.
Class IV relates to roads—one of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary's responsibilities. From my early days in the district council to the time when I moved to the higher echelons of office, roads were always a hobby of mine. I have never forgotten about the importance of roads, nor will I ever be allowed to do so by my constituents. Road conditions continue to deteriorate, and that applies both to major and to minor roads. What I am about to say in no way reflects on the many officials who try valiantly to tackle the problems, but within the resources available to them they appear to be fighting a losing battle.
Frankly, the improvement of minor roads has virtually ceased since the disappearance of Enterprise Ulster. By improvements, I mean the cutting of corners on small minor roads within my constituency. At one time major schemes were planned for certain difficult roads, and at that time one could at least tell one's constituents, "I shall argue for your road next", or, "I shall be arguing for your road the year after next." That at least gave the people hope that at some point in the future there was a chance that their problems would be dealt with.
In the main, only routine maintenance is now carried out. That falls a long way short of what happened previously. Continuous improvement to our minor roads is required, and the department should be aware of that. Milk is now collected by bulk tankers, not by lorries or creamery carts. Those tankers drive around the minor roads, and cut hard into the surface, as a result of which the roads deteriorate. The Department must face up to this fact, but as yet it has not done so.
701 One farmer in my constituency is unable to get his machinery to his farm. He must cross the fields of a neighbour's farm to do so. In this day and age, that is ludicrous. Only the other day that farmer told me that lorries were unable to deliver the additive for the silage that he has recently cut. The Department is telling farmers that in this age of quotas they must make better silage, use the grass better and use less meal, yet this man cannot get the goods delivered to his farm. At present I can only tell him that there is very little hope of improving the road that leads to his farm. There must be a quicker response to these serious problems, and the road service must be improved.
Like many of my hon. Friends, I must also refer to the problems of the Orlit houses in Northern Ireland. For more than eight years—ever since I have been a member of Armagh district council—I have been asking that these houses, many of them in my constituency, be improved. It is a shame and disgrace that over the years nothing has been done for these people. The problem should have been solved years ago. The plight of the people affected should be tackled immediately.
Some of my constituents still live in houses with no amenities. That is wrong. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive should have been allowed to bring those homes up to the basic standard that one would expect in this day and age. We have heard about the poor construction and short life that some of them have, but most of the Orlit housing in my constituency has been well kept. People are happy and do not wish to leave them. However, there is beginning to be a problem. There are two options: either the houses are knocked down and replaced elsewhere, or they are knocked down and replaced on site. If they are to be knocked down, the decision must be made quickly. The people living in them must not be left waiting for another few years.
Another solution is to sell the houses to the residents, setting the prices according to the quality of the houses. Many residents would prefer to purchase their houses. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann referred to 200 houses on an estate in the middle of Lurgan, but I am referring to cottages built in the country, some individually and others together, with large back gardens. Residents of such properties will be keen to purchase at prices which are fair considering their condition. I hope that we shall not have to talk about Orlit houses again and that a firm decision will be taken soon about their future.
Some of my constituents have found great difficulty in finding what is called an entry point for grants. A constituent had a problem getting approval for grant aid because the door in his kitchen was placed where it was. If it had been placed elsewhere, he would have received a grant. It is all very well for housing officials to measure a kitchen and say that there is space for a fridge, cooker and ample storage, but if there is no space to swing a cat in the kitchen it is of no use to the residents.
We must place a different emphasis on grants. There is no point in promising vast sums of Money to improve houses if the applicants cannot collect the money. Many officials in the Department are becoming increasingly frustrated by the red tape round improvement grants. It should be simple to apply for a grant, and grants should be available to those who want them. They should not have continually to fulfil exacting criteria to receive a grant. If the procedure is made simple and the red tape cut, administration will be easier and cheaper.
702 I draw the Minister's attention to vacant housing, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann. On the Derrybeg estate in Newry and in Newry town 101 houses were reported vacant for more than 14 weeks on 31 March 1983, yet the Housing Executive continued to build more houses. In 1984 in Newry town 95 houses were vacant for more than 14 weeks. In 1983 Armagh city had 19 houses vacant over 14 weeks, which is a much more acceptable figure, and in 1984 it was 18. We should not have vacant houses. In areas where there are extreme problems in keeping people in houses because they vandalise them and move on to other estates, which they then vandalise, it is wrong to have vacant houses.
§ Mr. Beggs
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is anxiety about the continuing new build by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, especially as considerable numbers of people move from south of the border to live with in-laws and then seek to be rehoused by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive? Does he agree that the Minister should advise the Housing Executive to check that abuse?
§ Mr. Nicholson
My hon. Friend makes an important point. What he described has occurred a number of times in my constituency. People have moved to one part in the first instance, and then on to a second. Many exercises are being embarked on in Northern Ireland, and this may be a good one for the Minister to embark upon.
I am not saying that we do not need new housing, because we certainly do. We need some new houses, but not as many as we have needed in the past. I urge the Minister to opt for urban renewal, especially in old people's dwellings. In the past, all too frequently old people's dwellings have been built miles from town centres and shops. They have had no bus or taxi service and have been left high and dry with no way of getting in and out to do their shopping. The Housing Executive must give that some thought and the Minister should encourage it to do so.
The money that the Minister will save by building fewer houses should be spent on housing that has stood for 20 or 30 years without having a penny spent on it by public bodies since the day it was erected. Because the people living in such houses have cared for them, kept them properly and decently, and did not try to wreck them, they received no money. Only those who shout for money, wreck, tear or pull property asunder get their houses rebuilt and improved. These houses should be brought up to an appropriate level in 1984–85.
Class VI includes water problems. The criteria to be fulfilled for small extension schemes in rural areas are too severe. They should be changed to include agricultural land. If a farmer requires water for his stock and land, it should count in the same way as a home. An allowance should be made for farmers who are metered and who decide to transfer water to the land, whether from an outfarm or land where there is no dwelling. That provision should be made.
I have written to the Minister at least twice during the past 12 months about the water problems in the Altnamackin and Newtownhamilton areas of my constituency. Last summer the people in the area suffered greatly because water was cut off without warning. It is a hilly area. The Minister should make available finance as soon as possible to ensure that the water supply is improved.
703 This morning I was informed of sewerage problems at Mourneview terrace in Craigmore outside Bessbrook. The sewage from 10 houses which crosses a field is simply boiling in the field, but when I contacted the Department of the Environment about it I was told that its solicitor would have to be consulted. The official told me that he had never heard of such a problem although the houses have been there for 80 years. He also said that he did not know whether it was the Department's responsibility. I contend that it is the Department's fault. I hope that the Minister will telephone his Department and tell it not to bother with legal advice, but to examine the sewers in the area and rectify the problem as soon as possible.
On education, I should bring the attention of the House to the problems of primary schools and small secondary schools in isolated border areas, which in recent years have been threatened with closure. The threat of closure has meant that those schools have not been given adequate funds. I have inspected many of them during the past few months. I know that more expenditure is required to bring them to a standard similar to that of schools with more pupils. I hope that the Minister will give serious consideration to the problem, because we want those schools kept open.
Another problem will be caused by the merger of Armagh royal school and Armagh girls high school. I did not agree with the proposal to merge the schools, but I accept that it must go ahead. However, it should be done as quickly as possible, and there should be no dragging of feet in providing the necessary facilities. The Department forced the merger, so the Department should make available funds to ensure that the merger is carried out as soon as possible. It will affect other schools in the area, because, if Armagh girls high school is vacated, the building can be used by the secondary school, which has suffered greatly for many years because of cramped playing areas, poor facilities and not enough classrooms. I do not want further generations of children to attend that school if it does not have the facilities to provide those children with the skills that they need in the world that they must enter. It is the Government's responsibility to ensure that the children of that area are not held back.
I have probably more than overstayed my welcome. I wish the Minister well in his reply.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
The theme of my speech will be that the elected representatives of Northern Ireland should be responsible for administering the various bodies that at present do not do their jobs properly.
I support what my colleagues said under Class 1 about milk. Normally I would not say much about milk, since my hon. Friends are more than capable of putting the full case to the House and to the world at large. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) mentioned Ballyutoag, which is in his constituency at present. It will soon return to my constituency—I do not know whether he will be sorry about that—because Belfast, North will lose its milk supply. This matter cannot be mentioned often enough because there are more milk producers in south Antrim than there are in any other 704 Northern Ireland constituency. I have passed to my hon. Friends the many representations made to me, and they have passed them to the Minister concerned.
One of my constituents, who had left milk production for a while, decided to return to it in 1981. He contacted the Department of Agriculture and it arrived at a scheme whereby, after five years, he would have a herd of 59 cows. He was promised grants to build a milk parlour and other facilities, so he went ahead and built some facilities, which cost £9,000. After they were examined and approved he was given the percentage grant to which he was entitled. He then built the next section and his herd is now 22 cows. However, he has now been told that he will be allowed to have only between 15 and 18 cows. He is now in some difficulty over the improvements that he has been making. He has spent £35,000, and has received only £3,000 from the Department. It was made clear to him at the beginning of the scheme that unless he finished the complete scheme he would not receive the grants to which he was entitled. Now he does not know whether he is supposed to stop or continue and, if he does not continue, whether he will be given a grant towards the second part of the scheme.
My constituent understands, as we all do, that if we have lakes of milk, somewhere along the line a decision has to be taken and something has to be done. When Michelin was talking about moving we agreed that there was no point in making tyres to dump them into Lough Neagh. We should put whatever resources we have into providing work that will be to some purpose. However, I ask the Minister whether my constituent will be given the money for the grants if he stops now, or is he forced to go on and spend yet more money to get the grant?
My constituent told me, quite sincerely, that if the situation remains as it is, he will no longer be in the business. He wishes that the Government would simply tell him what the position is—for example, that they will go higher, not lower, and it is up to him to make the decision. In other words, he feels that the crunch should come now and not in the future, when he has expended yet more energy and money. His son has left the agricultural college and has joined him on the farm and he has to do something about that as well.
§ Mr. Butler
It would take too long to deal with specific cases from the Front Bench, but the circumstances described by the hon. Gentleman illustrate the position of the small farmer, whom we hope that the outgoers scheme will help, because we have provided 5 per cent. purchaser quotas, which have the prime purpose of helping the small producer and the special case.
Secondly if the expansion that the hon. Gentleman has described was done under the farm and horticultural development scheme, it is specifically mentioned as the sort of case where the holdback of 3 per cent. from the quota will be used to help. Although I cannot give a particular answer to the individual to whom the hon. Gentleman is referring, he has given an example of the type of case that could stand to benefit from the two special approaches that the Government have taken.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I thank the Minister for his reply. It may have taken me a long time to explain it, but the hon. Gentleman now knows the position of my constituent.
Class V concerns housing. I am interested in the news released by the Housing Executive about the new, first-day 705 discounts. My hon. Friends will know that now, when a new tenant comes into a new Housing Executive house, from the first day that he takes up possession he is entitled to a 33 per cent. grant if he wishes to buy that dwelling. That is commendable. It is an excellent idea, which I have commended to my constituents.
However, I asked the Under-Secretary how he squares that with the case of someone who has occupied a dwelling for many years, kept in in excellent condition and is now entitled to, say, a 65 per cent. discount, but, on applying to buy the home, is told that because of the historic costs clause, the price cannot go below a certain figure. It is unfair that such people, who have lived in their homes all their lives, should be penalised, when those who are coming into any other dwelling belonging to the Housing Executive can get a 33 per cent. reduction from the first day. One would have thought that first the 33 per cent. could have been given to some of the longer-term tenants to assist them. Many of them are quite old and need extra assistance along these lines.
I agree with my hon. Friends when they say that there are too many unoccupied homes in Northern Ireland. The Under-Secretary has heard me say on other occasions that this is because the wrong type of houses are being built and probably in the wrong place. The demand is for a smaller type of dwelling for older people. It is unfortunate that in some parts of my constituency, against advice given in consultations with the local council, the Housing Executive went ahead and built large houses in an area about which the Under-Secretary's predecessor had been told. The Housing Executive reduced the number but not the size of the houses. Most of the people in the area are looking for smaller houses, but are unable to get them simply because the advice of the local council was ignored. I am sure that this happens in other parts of Northern Ireland.
I very much approve of the housing improvements carried out by the Housing Executive. People who have a house requiring heating or insulation, a better bathroom or a new sink unit and so on are getting them, and this is commendable. However, a difficulty arises, particularly with older people who have lived in one home for 50 years. One Monday morning, they are faced with about 12 workmen who arrive and start tearing down walls, ripping out fireplaces, taking off roofs, rebuilding chimneys and taking out the plumbing. The workmen say to these people, "We are sorry, but you will just have to accept this, otherwise the work will not get done."
In certain parts of Northern Ireland, caravans are brought in for use by the tenants and they are decanted —that is a nice word to use for humans—into another home for a short time. Younger people, and even those who are not so young, can probably accept that, although it is difficult enough for them, especially when they have young children. However, older people cannot speak for themselves and feel that they must accept all this work going on until, perhaps, they approach the local office and get something done about it.
After all the complaints, both in the House and in council chambers and other places, I should have thought that some action about it would have been taken. I have been in the construction industry, and in my days we were capable of going into a house to replumb it and to reheat it, leaving it at night as we had found it in the morning, and finishing the job in one week. It should not be beyond the ability of the Housing Executive to employ contractors 706 capable of doing that, but it does not seem able to get these people. It mystifies me because I know hundreds of them, and I know hundreds of construction workers who are unemployed.
The Minister met SDLP councillors a short time ago and he assured them that there was sufficient money to carry out all the repairs that needed doing. I can take the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to housing estates in my constituency whose tenants have been fighting with the local and area offices for some time to get work done. They are told that they are not in the programme but that they will be put into the pre-paint programme. The pre-paint programme means that someone is supposed to examine a property to discover what has to be fixed before it is painted. A tenant getting into the pre-paint programme naturally asks when the work will be done. He is told that the programme works in such a way that older houses are attended to before properties which are not so old. After that it is not unusual for me to receive a telephone call from a constituent who has been put into the pre-paint programme saying that other houses further up his road are being done and that those properties are younger than his. In other words, the well-laid plans of the Housing Executive have gone astray.
I make these remarks for the benefit of the Under-Secretary of State, who I know to be a man of honour. When he tries to help one of his parliamentary colleagues, he always does his best. I commend these problems to him.
I see my hon. Friends the Members for Belfast, North and for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) in their places. They will confirm that we have a slight problem. In the borough known as Newtonabbey there is the suspicion that most of the available money is put into certain sections of Belfast. In a year that the amount of money supposed to be spent in the Belfast area is not spent, we wonder why some of it does not move a short way up the M2 towards Newtonabbey.
I move to Class II and the Department of Economic Development. I congratulate the Minister on the fact that we now have the science park and the free port in Antrim and Belfast airport. I look forward to them coming into operation. But I hope sincerely that many local jobs in those enterprises are created. I hope that it will not be necessary for experts to come in to teach the locals what has to be done. We may require some, but I hope that it will not go beyond that and that we shall have as many people fron the locality as possible working in those projects. We badly need employment. Thinking back over what has been lost in that area I am sure that I shall be forgiven if I sound as though I am trying to look after my own neck of the woods. We have people capable of doing the jobs. If the Minister cannot find them, I can probably find a few for him.
I know that the IDB and those involved with it try hard. No one who takes on a job forgets what he is supposed to do. They try to do their best in difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, they do not have as much success as many of us would hope. I refer to what one of my hon. Friends said about having the same type of industry carried on by two different firms and being looked after by the IDB and given grants by it.
I understand that the IDB is supposed to say that if there is a firm already making bicycles, it cannot give grant to someone else making bicycles in the same area. But that is exactly what happened in my constituency. We have 707 two firms, each of them employing eight people. Both firms were grant-aided by the IDB. A constituent of mine who works for one of those firms told me that he approached the IDB saying, "Let us suppose for the sake of argument that my firm goes bankrupt after receiving grant and I decide to form another company. Shall I be entitled to another grant for the same type of operation, even though I worked for the other firm?" He was told that he would be entitled to a grant regardless of whether the other firm went bankrupt. If that is the case, it is unfortunate.
Still on Class II, I come to the lignite operation. That again is in my constituency. I am delighted that there is a natural resource somewhere in Northern Ireland other than its people and its farms. Obviously I give the lignite development a general welcome. I hope very much that it will succeed and provide employment, but succeed properly and give employment to local people. I often wonder about the expertise required for open-cast lignite mining. Have we people in the locality capable of doing it? Will they need to be taken somewhere and trained, or is it a simple operation rather like driving a JCB or some activity along those lines?
I also worry about the environment in the Crumlin area. I said that I welcomed the operation, but I am making these further comments to ensure that it is done properly at the outset and that we do not have arguments and a great deal of backbiting later.
Difficulties have arisen. People living on the periphery of the operation have been told by the firm concerned that it is not interested in buying a house or a farm just a few yards from the site of the operation. Those people will feel unfairly treated because farms and houses within the area will have been bought and their occupants gone elsewhere, while those remaining will have the worry of dust, dirt and noise. I am at present negotiating on behalf of one of my constituents, because it seems that the firm concerned with the operation has been somewhat unfair in that respect.
If the operation works, we get the lignite, and the area is restored to something like its original condition, everyone will applaud. Fears have been expressed, however, that lignite may be found further afield. Fears have also been expressed about the possibility of the water table of Lough Neagh being lowered when the operation starts underneath the lough, and that could affect farmers in the area.
Some time ago I saw a television programme about a lignite operation in another part of the world. The dust and dirt thrown up by the operation seemed to present the greatest problems. For that reason, I have some reservations about the operation in my locality. If all goes well, we shall be happy, but I do not want to be running continually with complaints to the Minister or firm concerned, which I shall do if my constituents are adversely affected, because it is my job to look after their interests.
I am told that the company concerned is a wholly owned subsidiary of a corporation, and the Department states in a document that has been circulated:This is a private sector investment by a major company and should be taken as a demonstration of confidence in the economic future of Northern Ireland.708 We applaud that, but may we be told whether the company is in receipt of grant either from the Government or the EEC? We are also told that the Department of the Environmentconsulted a wide range of interests before determining the planning applications. These included Antrim Borough Council and the Economic Development Committee of the Assembly. Both bodies gave the project strong support.Did the Under-Secretary consult the local lignite committee, which was elected at a public meeting held under the chairmanship of the mayor of Antrim?
I am delighted that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), the Opposition spokesman, has shown interest—I refer to the situation at Lear Fan—in 380 of my constituents and in some of those living in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs). I cannot help wondering, however, why, when jobs were lost at Michelin, ICI and Courtaulds, for example, we did not hear the same words of sympathy expressed by the official Opposition.
When Mr. Burch came to a meeting at the Lear Fan factory, he adopted an offhand manner in dealing with the press and those attending the meeting, which I did not attend. May we be told how much Government and private money has been spent on the project to date? Where is that public money invested by the Government? In other words, is it in Northern Ireland, in this country or in America?
I hope that if and when the firm resumes production, the workers in Northern Ireland will get their jobs back. I am hoping for a happy ending to the whole incident and that all the jobs that have been promised will come to fruition. I say that sincerely because I know the men and women concerned. Those workers bent over backwards to make the whole operation succeed. They accepted short time and redundancies and there were no disputes about who should do what. They accepted practically everything that the firm put to them to try to make the operation succeed. Those workers have had a slap in the face in finding themselves in the present position. The amount of information given to the workers has been minimal. Despite all that has occurred, I am sure that they would, given a chance, continue to do their best in future.
On behalf of my party, I object to the fact that the Northern Ireland Electricity Consumer Council is not being left to get on with its job. As for the proposed new general consumer council, I cannot accept what is currently proposed because we are told that if, in future, the electricity section is not seen to be working well, it will be absorbed into the general consumer council. I do not accept that. One does not allow the same person to be judge and jury.
§ Mr. Butler
Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that there should be a general consumer council with the exception of an electricity council that would be separate?
§ Mr. Forsythe
As the Minister knows, in the rest of the United Kingdom there are consumer councils for each service, and I do not see why Northern Ireland should be any different. The Government have pleaded with us to accept the same standards on milk, and I maintain we should have the same standards on electricity. I should like to know why this is not the case.
We have discovered that there are committees that are self-appointed. They are able to go into the offices of 709 various public bodies, to hammer the table and to get better service than publicly elected representatives who put themselves before the public, and stand or fall by the votes that they receive. While people at a lower level are trying to treat elected representatives differently from self-appointed committees, my information is that the same support is not being given by people higher up. Publicly elected representatives should not be put in such a position, which calls into question their purpose.
I deal next with Classes I and IV, as did my hon. Friends. There are areas in various parts of my constituency where roads have been made up and resurfaced. On occasion, we have called for road drains to be put in because of flooding. They are put in, but they are not taken into the local storm drain, or, indeed, to any storm drain. They are merely put into designated or undesignated water courses. This involves various departments, the DOE roads section, drainage, which comes under agriculture, and the water service. Indeed, even building control gets involved. On one occasion, one of my constituents was flooded out on a Sunday evening with 4 ft of water which took down 40 ft of a brick wall. Great difficulty was experienced in finding anybody to take any sort of action or responsibility for the operation. It was necessary to involve the DOE roads section, drainage, which comes under agriculture, the water service and building control. It was necessary to call in building control because a septic tank was leaking raw sewage into the stream in question. It is unfortunate that my constituent should have been put into a position in which he had to rebuild the wall, although the argument continues.
Can the Minister say whether extra money is being granted for road repairs? While I agree with my hon. Friends who have said that the main roads are good, because of the poor state of the roads in my constituency, some double decker buses almost disappear into holes in the road. Would it not be possible to have one person or body responsible for such repairs, because at present many different parts of the Department are involved?
I have to be critical of the education board in my constituency and particularly of the nominated members of that board. Problems have arisen at the Ballyclare preparatory school, which is similar in some respects to the preparatory school at Coleraine which, because of a wrong decision taken by the board, no longer exists. The board was rightly censured by the ombudsman for its decision.
The preparatory school at Ballyclare is well supported, but every year two or three children are unable to pass the examination to move from one end of the school to the other. I use those words deliberately, because in my view the high school and preparatory school at Ballyclare are part of the same school. Children who fail the examination are expelled from the campus of Ballyclare high school and sent to another school. That is done on the basis of an examination taken at an age when children are not fully developed.
The preparatory school parents approached the board and suggested that more places should be made available at the high school. The board referred the matter to a committee and I am told that nominated members voted against the parents' proposal. The basis of the parents' suggestion was that the number of places allocated to Newtownabbey is lower than that allocated to other places in the board's area. The local council decided that it would be a good thing for local people and for the school to have 710 a joint recreation and sports hall for adults and children. It suggested to the board that, premises should be built on the edge of the campus to serve the town and the school.
Everything went well until the Minister approved an extension that the school had wanted for years. The board is now no longer interested in the joint provision proposal. The nominated members are appointed by the Minister, yet they turned against their master and would not implement the policy that he believes should be introduced and which through joint provision would save public money.
Those instances show that having publicly elected members of the board, answerable to the electorate. would be preferable to the present system of nominated members.
§ 9.8 pm
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
I welcome the opportunity to raise some of the problems affecting my constituents. I shall try not to repeat what my hon. Friends have said about agriculture, with which I fully agree. Some excellent drainage work has been done by the Department of Agriculture. All the lands that could benefit should be taken into account when water courses are cleared and new drainage schemes proposed.
Some consideration should be given to the social benefits that could arise from the relief of the flooding of homes and farms. It is depressing when the public representative has to keep going back to the Department over two and three years before an obvious decision is approved.
One particular project has been turned down tune and again. Eventually, it will be justified. I refer to Bogtown — well described — Leales at Kilwaughter and the Millbrook area. On examination the scheme for that area could be justified. It would prevent the flooding of fields and farm houses as well as, from time to time, the dual carriageway. That scheme has been turned down, but I hope that it will be re-examined and approved.
In Northern Ireland we are dependent on continued assistance to industry. I agree with many of the remarks made by my hon. Friends. The Local Enterprise Development Unit has been successful in establishing new small businesses throughout Northern Ireland. In some areas it has been more successful than in others. The demands on the staff of the unit continue to increase. Staff increases should be made to take account of the added help offered and taken up. Many people think that the LEDU should do more for small businesses and that, if it did, rapid job creation would occur.
The small employer who has invested all that he can and weathered the storm of the recent recession and maintained employment for six or seven years knows better than any civil servant or Government adviser where he is going and what he can achieve realistically if he receives the necessary financing and support when he needs it. Too many people who have never invested even one month's salary in a project are still giving advice. I should like to see improved risk-taking by the LEDU. Public money should support private investment and be made available more readily.
Small business men should not be told that they do not need grants because they have been successful without them, but that is what happens. The recent successes at Shorts and Harland and Wolff have justified substantial investment of public money to support productive 711 employment as the joint efforts of management, trade unions and workers strove to reach profitability. I am glad to say that is on the near horizon.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Will my hon. Friend clarify the point about public money being given to Shorts? Is it not a fact that, although the Government underwrite Shorts' facility to borrow money, they do not give Shorts grants—taking into consideration that the aircraft business is a high risk business—beyond the ordinary employment grants that are given to any employer? Shorts would be making much greater progress if about four fifths of its profit were not taken up in paying interest on the vast loans which it has had to undertake.
§ Mr. Beggs
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I agree that if Shorts did not have to repay interest on the heavy borrowings required to help it reach profitability, it could reach that position much faster. No doubt the Minister will be able to give a much fuller response to my hon. Friend's point.
I believe that there has to be continuing heavy investment in the training of our young people and the retraining of the unemployed if we are to have a chance of attracting some international mobile investment and of enabling new industries and enterprises to develop.
It is a tragedy that, in such a small Province, well over 120,000 people are unemployed. The Department of Economic Development must take that factor into account and direct more resources into retraining.
I share the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) with regard to Lear Fan. I want to have my concern recorded, and also the concern of the employees of that company. The work force cannot be blamed for not making every effort to see that project succeed. It is small comfort to them to be told that, if all goes well, in November, or in February 1985, preference will be given to ex-Lear Fan employees when new staff are being engaged. There will have to be very serious examination of the way in which the entire project came into being and was supported and handled.
Most people recognise the importance of utilising the moneys left within the company's fund to see the project through to completion. Can the Minister give an assurance that he will examine the rights of employees to full benefits when they are laid off, and consider the entitlement of those in limbo—neither employed nor unemployed— who would like the option of having redundancy money paid to them now and of taking their chance elsewhere?
Can the Minister also give an assurance that, when the necessary certification for the aeroplane has been obtained by Lear Fan, additional moneys will, if required, be made available to support the production of planes by the company at Newtownabbey and at Antrim?
Can the Minister say whether the contract between the Government and Lear Fan includes provision for aeroplanes to be manufactured in Northern Ireland, or will parts alone be produced, or is there a real risk that, when the research and development by the company is completed, it will go into production in the United States, causing job losses in Northern Ireland? We live on hopes and promises.
712 We in Antrim, East welcome the news that the AVX is likely to expand at Larne. We look forward to that. The company has been very successful in Northern Ireland, and we would be glad to have it.
We are always looking for signs of hope and encouragement. I recently visited Kilroot park, which was formerly owned by ICI. I went there with representatives of Carrickfergus borough council and a representative of Shorts. We had an opportunity to see the excellent facilities available on that formerly derelict site. I am aware that the Shorts representative was just exploring the possibilities on that occasion, and that he was also looking at space and facilities that are available elsewhere in Carrickfergus on the Courtaulds site.
Can the Minister confirm a recent statement, attributed to a party from Northern Ireland that is not represented tonight, that Shorts is coming to Carrickfergus? Perhaps that was political good news voiced for electioneering purposes. That is just an aside, as I am not involved in the European election, but I can assure hon. Members that such a decision is the most sensible that Shorts could make. Other areas in Northern Ireland may not prove to be so attractive to it.
Under Class III, we welcome the support given for the restructuring of the gas industry and the continued subsidies to electricity tariffs. Although it has become well established that the high cost of electricity is contributing to economic decline, and although subsidies exist to maintain our electricity costs at the same rate as the highest level pertaining on the mainland, we could produce electricity much more cheaply if a decision were taken, at Kilroot or at other power stations, to convert to coal or lignite firing, which has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South. At Crumlin there is an unmeasurable untapped source of this product. We know that the expertise is available, and the opportunities are there to start testing. We need the equipment for conversion, so that lignite can provide us with cheaper energy and help us to become more competitive economically.
I am sorry that there is no provision for people in rural areas who still do not have the comfort and benefit of electricity supply. Many people still use Tilley lamps, gas cookers, gas fires and so on. I do not need to remind the Minister that earnings in Northern Ireland are considerably lower than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. People just cannot afford the massive expenditure required to install an electricity supply. I shall give an example. I received a letter from the Northern Ireland Electricity Service about an application by nine of my constituents. It said that to provide a supply would requireapproximately 3,500 metres of 11,000 Volt overhead line, 4 16kVA and 4 5kVA transformers, plus 100 metres of low voltage overhead line and laying an underground service cable into each property.No grant is available for those nine homes, yet the charge is a total of £20,990. Surely, in 1984, there should be no part of the United Kingdom where there is not an accessible supply of electricity and where the Government do not give financial assistance to those who wish to install an electricity supply. The sums required would not be all that great. Today, no home should be without electricity. I hope that it will be possible for the matter to be considered and for much better provision to be made. Even 713 if only partial grant aid were given, there could be a longer term over which the residents could make their repayments.
I raised this matter elsewhere last week. Because it was raised on two or three ocasions before last week, I felt that it was important to raise it yet again in the House. The problem relates to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive's policy. I share the real concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South about shoddy workmanship. In some parts of the constituency, it is still very difficult to get work done. The office in Newtownabbey at Rentalard house has too much to cope with. There are not sufficient numbers of people employed to inspect the work carried out by contractors on behalf of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Perhaps one in 100 projects is examined, which is unsatisfactory for tenants.
I refer to two areas in my constituency—Agnes street in Carrickfergus, and Tullygarley and other proposed redevelopment areas in Larne. I believe that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is promoting the rundown of the older houses, because, if improvement grants had continued to he paid out, there would have been adequate uptake and complete refurbishment. I am also concerned because I have not seen any figures setting out the cost of purchasing, demolishing and rebuilding to resettle only half as many people in the Tullygarley area.
None other than the Prime Minister, who I presume still leads and speaks for the Conservative party, is reported in My Weekly of 29 October 1983 to have replied to questions as follows:Liberty and property are so essentially bound up together. I try to make people more independent and more responsible for their own future, because I think this is in the nature of our character—this is how we get through.Then one wants to bring those opportunities to people who have never had them. This explains the sale of council houses, so that those who buy them can say they are people of property. It also goes with it that you should be left with enough of your earnings to save or spend as you choose.Again, to have true independence of government is what gives us our essential British character.I assure the House that the people of Northern Ireland have every bit as much of that British character. That is why I ask the Minister to exercise control over the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which publicly elected representatives in Northern Ireland cannot do.
We have heard constantly today about the inadequate provision of housing in Northern Ireland in recent years and about the number of vacant properties and the length of time for which they have lain vacant. There should be a full assessment of the money required to repair vandalised properties. As the owner-occupiers, who own 95 per cent. of the property scheduled for redevelopment, have the unanimous support of Larne borough council, it is clear that the unity of purpose and community spirit for which we have been crying out in Northern Ireland exists in that community. Over the years, events have shown that it is impossible to build a new community spirit to replace what has been destroyed by redevelopment schemes. Therefore, I seek the Minister's indulgence and personal interest in respect of the proposed redevelopment scheme in that area. It is not too late for the wishes of residents to be taken into consideration.
Finally, there is the Larne to Belfast rail link. I understand that about 10 miles of line is to be replaced in the coming year. I hope that most of that will be replaced on the Larne to Belfast link. I also hope that the cross-city 714 link will become a reality, so that the major project under way in the Larne, a new terminal, is matched elsewhere in Belfast.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I appreciate being called at this stage of the debate, and apologise for not being in the Chamber earlier. As the Under-Secretary of State is aware, I have been where, originally, he too was to have been. Not having been here for the whole debate, I do not want to trespass upon the time of the House by repeating things that have been said already. However, there are one or two questions to which I should like the Minister to address himself in his reply.
Class IX refers to provision for the health and social services within the hospitals. Has sufficient account been taken of the perinatal mortality rate in Northern Ireland? The rate is still very high in comparison with that in the rest of the United Kingdom. Money spent at that stage could mean a saving in other health services later on.
I am also interested in Class X. Is the Minister satisfied that, in respect — in particular — of attendence and mobility allowances, money is not wasted in administration and reviews and that, for example, the simple tests that are sometimes used may not be misleading? I am thinking, for example, of a lad with spina bifida who had been in receipt of an allowance but has recently been turned down because he was asked to walk along a narrow level corridor and was able to do so. No account was taken of the fact that he lived in a community on a hill and that he cannot get on and off public transport. He has major difficulties, yet his family have been encouraging him to be as active as possible. Having been turned down for the allowance, he will not be able to get out of the house is he once did. I believe that in spending too much money on administration we may be wasting money in the long run.
I know that this problem is not restricted to Northern Ireland, but I ask the Minister to consult his colleagues in the DHSS on the vexed question of paying a higher level to those on long-term unemployment benefit, specially in the context of Northern Ireland.
There are people who lie down on the job and others who think that work is the only four-letter word in the modern world, but the reality is that there are not enough job opportunities for people to take up. The normal rates are a help, but the long-term unemployed have no extra cash for the renewals that are needed. The question of long-term unemployment benefit should be reconsidered.
Finally, I have a point to make about Class VIII. Some people received the mistaken impression from my question about the funding of Lagan college that I was against it per se. I am not against it per se but against the fact that voluntary grammar schools in my constituency were under pressure to unite, close or go elsewhere. I appreciate that Lagan college has changed its plans for this year and is not coming to south Belfast. However, at the time it was looking for property in south Belfast and had the Department's blessing. I saw no rhyme or reason in closing, uniting or thwarting excellent voluntary grammar schools that are open to all classes and creeds to bring in another school financed by public money.
When I raised the issue, it was a cry on behalf of people who do not have the privilege of grammar schools education and will not have the privilege of attending an all-age comprehensive school. Schools such as Park 715 Parade closed because of the foolish planning of the board and the Department. Working-class people should not be penalised. It is absurd that a board should continue to provide bussing expenses for children to go outside their board area when there are vacancies in schools within the board's area. I am objecting not to free choice but to the state subsidising bussing expeditions when there is adequate school provision in the area.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I shall not repeat issues that my colleagues have already dealt with well, but will raise some constituency points, the first of which is the inevitable problem of milk quotas.
I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the problem of a milk producer in my constituency or, rather, a person who planned to become a milk producer in my constituency. I have here a letter that I received in reply to a question I asked the Minister in another place. It concerned a young man who had been encouraged to invest a great deal of his own money and the bank's money to go into milk production. His new herd was to come into production on 21 May as the first of his cows was due to calf then. He had a bulk milk tank sitting in the farmyard but the Milk Marketing Board would not install it.
I wanted to get something done so I wrote to the Department, which sent me a comprehensive letter. It must have been realised that I attend the House and know about the milk lake. I also know that the milk lake is not caused by producers in the United Kingdom, but that is by the way. However, I got no answer to the new producer's problem—what was he to do with the milk produced between 21 May and, I guess, because we have not been told yet, some time in September or October, when the panels are set up to examine the 3 per cent. that the Minister mentioned. What will he do with his milk? How will that man with his large investment survive for the next four or five months? It is no good saying, as did the Minister's letter:You may wish to advise Mr. Maguire to await the detailed letter from the Department regarding application for special treatment and then to make his formal case within the appeal procedure".I have already alluded to the asset-stripping of empty factories in my constituency. These factories have been forced to close in the last few years because of economic difficulty, yet a small group of people have purchased them for a song, and subsequently, without any investment whatever, have sold them to various Departments. I am sorry to say it, but it appears that one of the gravest offenders is the Department of the Environment.
I know that the Under-Secretary would be unhappy to think that the department over which he has authority is aiding and abetting asset-stripping. Indeed, I pay tribute to the Minister, because when he has promised something he has tried to make it stick. I am also glad that he has at last fixed a date in his diary to visit the Dungannon district council area, even if it is only for four hours. Nevertheless, I implore him to look at what his civil servants are doing with regard to derelict factories.
It is wrong to exploit the misfortunes of those who have gone out of business and are unemployed. It was noticeable that when I brought over a Yorkshire firm 716 which was interested in setting up business in my area, the Department of Economic Development was unable to provide a list of vacant factory space for that firm.
Class V deals with grants for housing services. Will the Minister consider yet again the effect of existing housing policy? For a number of years, it was reasonably good, but it has now become almost redundant. We are now saddled with a housing policy that is beginning to change the face of rural Ulster. That policy encourages people living in substandard houses in rural areas to move into newly built houses in the towns—some of them costing £17,000, £18,000 or £20,000—whereas what is really needed is an extension of renovation grants to cover those houses requiring some demolition.
Two farmers living in the country may apply for a renovation grant for their houses. They may be living on five acres of land and have some independence. One man may not need to demolish a wall in the course of renovations and will be given his £7,500 grant. He will be able to remain in the area where he feels most at home and continue a not too well paid occupation while farming his few acres. He can retain his independence. The man on the neighbouring farm may need to knock down a wall and be refused a grant because that demolition is considered to be excessive. He is faced with the choice of keeping his family in substandard accommodation or moving to a new house in a town, as he will be encouraged to do. He will have to leave his acres and move to an unaccustomed environment. His children may find it difficult to adapt and his poorly paid job may be of little advantage to him. He may find that he is better off if he does not work but receives supplementary benefit depending on the size of his family. He will find himself worse off having moved into that house built with public money amounting to £20,000 than if he had received the £7,500 grant, which would have allowed him to remain in his natural environment.
Finally, will the Minister consider the revenue programme—not the capital programme—for the western health and social services board? In the west of the Province, especially in my constituency, the average age in the community is much higher than in other parts. We find great difficulty in maintaining our nursing and home help services. Although the Under-Secretary of State is aware of the problems and would like to help, he must realise that the western board is about £5,500,000 a year under-financed in its revenue budget compared with other parts of the Province.
I appreciate this opportunity of bringing those points to the Minister's attention and I hope that he will give me considerable hope for the future.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
I begin by expressing my appreciation, which I trust will be echoed by all elected representatives in Northern Ireland, of the trouble which the Minister and his Department have taken to produce their directory about the people involved at different levels in the health and social services. During an earlier Appropriation debate, I suggested that such a publication would be useful. While I do not take credit for it, I congratulate the Minister and his Department on it, because it will prove a useful document for all hon. Members.
I fully support what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) said about Orlit houses built 717 by private developers. We dealt with prefabricated houses in general at an earlier stage, but we are talking now about the 50 houses in Northern Ireland erected by private developers. As my hon. Friend said, the Housing Executive has developed a technique for testing such houses, and the practice is to select houses at random for such testing, which probably involves dismantling a fairly large part of the structure. Such testing is clearly beyond the resources, in terms of cost and expertise, of owner-occupiers, and I support my hon. Friend's plea that the Housing Executive team, with its expertise, should be made available to carry out tests in, for example, two houses in each of the two groups that exist in Northern Ireland—one in Lisburn and one in Omagh.
My hon. Friend also made a useful suggestion to overcome the refusal of building societies to provide mortgages for the few houses which, for various reasons, may have to be sold—reasons that are not related to structure. It would be a great help if the Housing Executive would grant purchase loans for those half-dozen houses.
In his opening speech the Minister of State rightly paid tribute to the achievements of the Local Enterprise Development Unit and I understand that co-operation between the unit and the industrial development board is now much improved. I hope that my understanding is correct. Does the co-operation extend to a pooling of resources for promotion of the sort in which the Minister of State was engaged in America—we congratulate him on his efforts and on the potential success of his promotion tour — for the assessment of new projects and for research?
I have formed the distinct impression that the IDB and the LEDU would welcome a proposal to simplify and make more intelligible the range of schemes for industrial incentives. There is confusion in the minds of some officers in both bodies. If that is so, what must be the confusion in the minds of potential investors, especially investors from outside Northern Ireland? The Minister of State showed that he is always eager to consider suggestions for improving the functioning of the Department of Economic Development and the agencies under its control. I hope that he will consider what may prove to be the necessary streamlining of incentives.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that this is an occasion for raising grievances. It is also an occasion for drawing attention to what appear to be payments to Northern Ireland by the Exchequer, in a way that attention is not and cannot be focussed on Scotland or Wales. Therefore, it is easy for Ulster's critics and enemies to allege that the Province is a burden on the British taxpayer. They choose not to assert that Scotland, Wales, or even England are burdens—
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Yes, especially the GLC. Those who complain about the subventions to Northern Ireland always stop short of suggesting which social services should be cut or which measures to reduce unemployment should be curtailed. The Dublin forum, which was mentioned in the presence of the previous occupant of the Chair, revealed the cost of running Northern Ireland, but the Foreign Minister, Mr. Barry, who claims to be a spokesman for the so-called minority in Northern Ireland, declined to explain the extent to which cuts in family allowances, which his policies would entail, would affect that minority.
718 With regard to the necessity for this order, I have never obtained any explanation of the need for what the Select Committee on Procedure referred to as a "fictional" Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. I asked this question on 1 March, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South raised the same question earlier today. Until we have an explanation for a refusal to make a start on modifying the Order in Council procedure, of which this is a part, there will remain a suspicion — one that kindles hope in the minds of terrorists—that every effort is being made to ensure that Northern Ireland is treated as something that is not part of the United Kingdom.
We are not asking that all the direct rule apparatus be swept away at a stroke, but for a start to be made, as it must be. We hope that the opportunity will be taken within the next few weeks, before we come to debate other items of Northern Ireland legislation, particularly the renewal for the tenth time in 10 years of the temporary legislation that enables the Government to govern Northern Ireland, on a temporary basis, for 12 months at a time.
Under Class XI, Vote 1, I do not know what the Secretary of State has in mind for the Northern Ireland Assembly. He was reported in the Belfast Telegraph on 6 June, the anniversary of D-Day, as attacking Northern Ireland politicians. The heading was "Prior slams politicians". That should gladden the heart of the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), who took us to task earlier. The Secretary of State was reported in that article as saying:The Government wanted to give people in Ulster a greater responsibility for running their own affairs.He was obviously thinking of his Northern Ireland Act 1982, setting up the Assembly but he went on to indulge in a sporting metaphor. He said:Every time the politicians had the ball at their feet, they kicked for touch as fast and as far as they could.That is an unfortunate metaphor, for the Assembly is not a leather ball but a concrete block. It is not rolling anywhere, as it was vainly expected to roll. That will not surprise any hon. Member, for we illustrated the gaping holes in the 1982 Act until we had to be muzzled by the guillotine, which was imposed with the connivance of Her Majesty's Opposition — a rare operation for the Opposition to engage in. We expressed our disbelief, which was shared by all hon. Members, and we carried that expression of disbelief and disapproval into the Division Lobby. We never deceived the people of Northern Ireland into imagining that they had, or ever would have, the ball at their feet.
In this report, the Secretary of State went on to whine,They"—that is, Northern Ireland politicians—will always want someone else to blame if things go wrong. I am on the receiving end and I don't think it is fair. The people themselves should be responsible for their own destiny"—a favourite phrase of his. He said, too, that it does them no good if they believe that there is always someone else to take responsibility.
The Secretary of State was thus announcing what is virtually a new constitutional doctrine, because hitherto it was believed that the Secretary of State alone was charged with the responsibility for governing Northern Ireland, in company with his right hon. and hon. Friends. Certain critics of the right hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Mason), during his time as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, claimed that he behaved as if he had a right to 719 govern Northern Ireland. But he had that right and would have been guilty of negligence had he failed to discharge the duty which that right conferred upon him.
If the present Secretary of State is to be believed, we are in for exciting times. Presumably we shall see the Prime Minister declining to perform her duty on the ground that she does not have the consent of the leaders of the Opposition parties in the House of Commons. If the "Prior philosophy" catches on, the right hon. Lady will have to take account of the need not only for cross-party consent here in the House of Commons but for consent of the community outside perhaps in the shape of Messrs Scargill and Livingstone.
Viewing Class XI, Vote 1, I derived some degree of comfort from the final words of the Secretary of State reported in the Belfast Telegraph. According to that report, he said, for the first time in my memory, thatHe was not committed to any particular path which the Assembly should take and said that suggestions would be seriously considered.We have met the right hon. Gentleman's challenge in advance and we alone of all the parties in Northern Ireland have put into print a document entitled "The Way Forward" which signposts the path for the future. While the Secretary of State has made sympathetic noises, there has been no real action in the way of a start to dismantling the apparatus of direct rule or any modest start to giving the elected representatives at least some of the responsibilities to which he referred in his speech.
As a means of expressing our dissatisfaction at the lack of progress and perhaps as a means of stimulating and encouraging the Secretary of State to do better, I shall be advising my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me in the No Lobby tonight.
§ 10.7 pm
§ Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)
We have had a wide-ranging and extensive debate. For many of us it has been an excellent trip round Northern Ireland and its constituencies. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke of the possibility of taking the Minister for a walk on some occasion. All his colleagues have taken the House on a trip round Northern Ireland. That has probably been a useful constitutional exercise and one against which no one could argue. Those hon. Members not present tonight may have been tempted by the counter-attractions of campaigning in the European elections, but I am sure that they will be saddened to have missed the wide-ranging nature of this debate.
I was interest ed in many ways by the contribution of the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), who, sadly, is not with us at the moment. His speech may have led to certain disquiet and tremors among members of the Official Unionist party. He put forward a very interesting political thesis. He argued that the level of public spending in Northern Ireland was greater than in other parts of the United Kingdom and that Northern Ireland was dependent upon that high level of public spending. He went further and said that if the politicians of Northern Ireland did not resolve their own problems amongst themselves, the British people would have the right to adopt a position showing their indifference and hostility towards the people of Northern Ireland and the way in which the Province was currently organised and administered by its politicians.
720 That hypothesis shows that there are those in the Conservative party who recognise that the British people's support for the continued division of Ireland will not be indefinite and that it is dependent upon the behaviour of the politicians of Ulster. The hon. Member for Dorset, North did a service to his party and to the House when he reminded us that the constitutional position was that this Parliament and the British people had the right to make a judgment about the future of Northern Ireland.
The Minister painted an encouraging picture of the state of the Northern Ireland economy. I found that picture not totally matching the reality of the situation there. He referred, for instance, to the fact that the loss of jobs in manufacturing in 1983 was only 1,800 compared with 10,000 in 1982. That demonstrates the failure of the Government in that they measure success in terms of a smaller number of job losses rather than in terms of jobs created. Yet Conservative Members sit complacently when 121,000 people are unemployed in Northern Ireland, when there is 28 per cent. male unemployment and when 47 per cent. of the unemployed have been out of work for more than a year.
§ Mr. Francis Maude (Warwickshire, North)
The hon. Gentleman refers to my hon. Friends sitting complacently on these Benches. What comment does he have to make about Opposition Members who are not even present?
§ Mr. Fatchett
My hon. Friends have made it clear that they are concerned about the level of unemployment and would bring forward policies to try to resolve the problem. Indeed, not only is there complacency on the Government Benches, but certain Conservative Members are prepared to use the high level of unemployment as a political and economic weapon.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
The leader of the Official Unionists said that there would be a Division later. Will the Labour party vote with or against the Government?
§ Mr. Fatchett
The Labour party will be abstaining— [Interruption.]—because we are concerned to maintain the levels of public expenditure in Northern Ireland. Therefore, we will not be voting against the order.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) drew attention to the injustice involved for the long-term unemployed—47 per cent. of the unemployed population of Northern Ireland—and we should like to see that group added to those in receipt of the higher supplementary benefit rates.
Against the background of a failing economy and Government complacency or indifference, I was interested in the contributions of Official Unionist party Members, who seem to suffer from a degree of schizophrenia. Some of them want to cut public expenditure, some feel that the level of public expenditure in Northern Ireland is adequate, some want to see the level of public expenditure increased and some of them want both.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) introduced a notion which may not always attract his hon. Friends—the notion that monetarism is leading to the closure of schools in Northern Ireland. He may agree with me that that same monetarism, which is the official policy of the Government, is leading to the high levels of unemployment to which I have referred. That monetarism will lead to a continuation of policies which, I suspect, not only the Government but some of his hon. Friends would 721 like to see continued. It may be, therefore, that before the Official Unionists debate the economy, they should work out their act to discover what they want to do on public spending and whether they want it increased or decreased.
Having shown that degree of division or schizophrenia, Official Unionist Members may care to reflect on some of the divisions that exist in the Northern Ireland Office and the Government. The Minister of State is known very much as a dry in economic theory terms. He said in the previous debate that there were to be continued long-term constraints on the level of public spending, while his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), sang the praises of the high level of public spending, and, I suspect, would like to see public spending increased. Thus, while the hon. Member for Bath says that some of the Official Unionists showed divisions in their comments, it may well be the case that what we observe in the Northern Ireland Office is the divisions that are so clear in the Government. Whether they are to continue with those monetary policies will be one of the key debates that will take place in the Conservative party. It is a great shame that in Northern Ireland that debate takes place in microcosm in the Northern Ireland Office.
I wish to make one or two detailed points about the Northern Ireland economy. We would be satisfied with the work of the Local Enterprise Development Unit. We recognise that in the course of the last year LEDU promoted more jobs than the official target set for that organisation. While this performance is encouraging, it is a drop in the ocean compared with the total number of jobs that would be required to get us back to the position in 1979 when the Labour party left office. We would need 65,000 jobs to recreate that position. That is an indication of the Government's economic failure.
We are concern ed that there are suggestions—and I am sure that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) will share this point to a great exten—that LEDU money could be used to support firms that may be established to do work that will be privatised in the Health Service. We would consider that a violation of LEDU's objectives, not consistent with the way in which LEDU has been working, or with the criteria under which it has been working. As I understand it, that would simply take work away from the public sector and put it into LEDU firms financed by public money. Surely LEDU operates on the basis, not of privatising but of trying to encourage new work and new markets. I should like the Minister to make it clear that he will not encourage LEDU to come forward with developments that will enable firms to privatise work that would otherwise take place in the public sector.
My second detailed point on the economy relates to the fact that in 1983–84 the Government underspent on industrial development by £32 million. As a result, the Government have reduced the trade and industry sub-programme for 1984–85 from £187 million to £175 million. Earlier in the debate, the Minister painted an encouraging picture, although it was not the reality. Every development to which he referred depended upon public spending and Government money, which is inconsistent with the philosophy officially espoused on the s Conservative Benches. If every development is dependent upon Government money and public spending, why are the Government cutting back on the amount of money that will be available for industrial development?
The economy in Northern Ireland presents us with a difficult and worrying picture. It is a picture that is 722 reproduced throughout the United Kingdom, one that reflects the policies and values of the Government, and one regarding which we would hope, but with little expectation of fulfilment, that the Government would change policy, change their priorities and take some action to get people back to work. It Is disturbing that no Official Unionist Member has asked for measures to get people back to work or spelt out the priority that the Official Unionist party attaches to jobs.
I do not apologise for returning to the subject of housing. The Government have said that housing is one of their priorities, but we feel that there is still an enormous housing problem in Northern Ireland and that the Government could do much more than they are doing or show any inclination to do.
One house in seven in Northern Ireland is unfit for people to live in—a rate three times greater than that in England. A total of 142,000 houses need some form of remedial action to raise them to acceptable standards, and every fifth house lacks one or more of the five basic amenities. That is the scale of the housing problem in Northern Ireland and the problem is much greater than that in other parts of the United Kingdom.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive estimates that the current housing shortage in Northern Ireland may be between 30,000 and 60,000 homes. Against that background, we cannot afford to be complacent and we would have expected the Government to bring forward more adventurous and bolder plans.
§ Mr. Ross (Isle of Wight)
Has the hon. Gentleman been to Londonderry recently? Does he know what the waiting list is there? Can he tell us about the housing situation in the second city of Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Fatchett
I have quoted the official figures from the Housing Executive. The hon. Gentleman may challenge those figures if he wishes.
§ Mr. Fatchett
The people on the Isle of Wight might be willing to take that bargain and swap the hon. Gentleman on the same basis.
I rely on the official figures. lithe hon. Gentleman does not believe them, he can take them up with the Housing Executive.
§ Mr. Fatchett
If the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about the matter, why did he not intervene in the debate?
§ Mr. McCusker
How does the hon. Gentleman square his comments with the official figures for 31 March 1983 which showed that the three housing areas in Londonderry had 74, 71 and 10 vacant properties? In a town in my constituency, there are 1,161 such properties and a neighbouring town has 118. There are 140 vacant properties in Coleraine, 207 in the Belfast 5 housing area, 212 in Antrim and 171 in Ballymena. Did the hon. Gentleman hear me say that in most parts of Northern Ireland there are more houses than are required?
§ Mr. Fatchett
If the hon. Gentleman read the Official Report, he would find an explanation. The location and type of house play an important part in the equation and the hon. Gentleman has not taken that into account.
The right hon. Member for Down, South said that there was no causal relationship between the high unemployment and the high rent arrears in Northern Ireland. He seemed to suggest—perhaps he will correct me if I am wrong—that the rent arrears were the result of either personal inadequacy or fecklessness on the part of the individuals involved. If that is so, why is the level of rent arrears in Northern Ireland favourable compared with that in many of the London boroughs? For instance, in 1982 the average rent arrears in Haringey was £231.64, in Lambeth £132.22 and in Northern Ireland £89.46. The right hon. Member for Down, South may say that the tenants in Haringey, Lambeth and other London boroughs are more feckless and inadequate than tenants in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman did his constituents less than a service when he based his argument on fecklessness and inadequacy.
Even if there is no simple causal relationship between unemployment and rent arrears, surely it is necessary to take into account both the growth in unemployment and its duration. Many people are now unemployed for the first time in their lives and are unemployed for a long time. As a result, they face financial problems, including paying rent, which are not of their own making. They are directly related to unemployment and Government policy.
At the end of 1978, 61,000 people in Northern Ireland were unemployed. Today's figure is 120,000. About 47 per cent. of unemployed people have been out of work for more than a year. In the United Kingdom the figure is 37.8 per cent.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) refers to my argument. I refer him to the evidence taken by the Public Accounts Committee, which shows no corresponding increase in arrears in relation to the increase in unemployment.
§ Mr. Fatchett
The relationship may not be simple in that sense. Government Members would not expect a simple one-to-one relationship, or do they argue that every unemployed person will find it difficult or impossible to pay rent? My argument is that the rapid increase and duration of unemployment increases problems and more and more people will be in arrears with their rents. The direct reason for that is Government policy and the use of unemployment as a weapon of economic and political management.
We have had a wide-ranging debate, which has dealt with the economy and other issues. As the hon. Member for Dorset, North said, we should not view the economic issues in isolation, but as part of the constitutional and political problem in Ireland. We should like an early opportunity to debate the political and constitutional issues and to show how the divisions of Ireland have exacerbated the north's economic problems. We should welcome the opportunity for hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Dorset, North to intervene to show the extent to which the Conservative party is weakening in its commitment to the Union. We recognise that weakening and the importance of such a constitutional debate. I look forward to that debate taking place and —
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker
I am grateful for some of the things that the hon. Gentleman said, but if he was saying that I was somehow weakening in my support for the Union of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, he must have misheard what I said.
§ Mr. Fatchett
I listened with great interest to the contribution that the hon. Member made earlier in the debate. The logic of his argument was that the British people may well at a certain point feel an indifference, an antipathy, towards Northern Ireland if the people of Northern Ireland do not resolve their own problems. He then went on to say that at that point the British people may well take—and have a right to take—a certain decision. That is not a position from which I would differ, and I think it is an important development in terms of debate. It is those constitutional issues that we need to pursue on a further occasion.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)
We have had, as usual, as the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) said a moment or two ago, a wide-ranging debate which I have had the pleasure once again of attending throughout. It is a task both engaging and impossible to sum up a discussion which goes quite as wide as this. We welcome the hon. Member for Leeds, Central to our deliberations even if he was not able to bring many of his right hon. and hon. Friends with him. He told us that the Labour party is intending to abstain, although, unlike a former Member of this House who represented a Northern Ireland constituency, the party is clearly not intending to abstain in person.
It is a great thing, as the hon. Gentleman will discover the longer he takes part in our discussions on Northern Ireland, to follow in the footsteps of the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), and we hope that in due course the hon. Gentleman will know as much about Northern Ireland as the right hon. Member does, and serve Northern Ireland as that right hon. Member has done.
Today's debate has perhaps been affected to some extent by the exhilarating imminence of the elections to the European Parliament, to which the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) referred. We have certainly not had all the fire and brimstone that we usually get in these debates. Our loss is doubtless the European election campaign's loss too.
I shall try not to add too much to the excitement this evening. As usual, if I do not have the time or the information to answer a point made by a right hon. or hon. Member during the debate, I shall see that a letter is dispatched as soon as possible covering the point.
The familiarity of the form and scope of the debate extends as well to one of the notes which has echoed throughout most of it. Implicit—even explicit—in a number of the speeches that have been made is the suggestion that Northern Ireland should get more public expenditure, or, in one or two cases, the suggestion that Northern Ireland is being done out of something to which The Province is entitled. I have never found that approach particularly helpful. I think it corrupts sensible and rational argument about the situation in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland has special problems in social and economic as well as in security matters. In order to try to deal with those problems, the Government spend 725 substantially more per head of population—between 30 and 40 per cent. more—than is spent in the rest of the United Kingdom. As I have said before, that is not a gratuitous handout; it is a generous and appropriate recognition of the particular problems of part of our country. It was in attempting to draw attention to those problems in a speech a week or two ago that I referred to poverty in Northern Ireland. I was interested that the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) concluded from what I had said that I had somehow suggested that Northern Ireland's problems were too special. Perhaps I may quote from my speech, which sounds even better when I re-read it than it did at the time. I said:Not every region of Great Britain is markedly better off in every way than Northern Ireland. We have to be careful therefore not to over-emphasise the differences in the scale of poverty in Northern Ireland. We need also to consider whether the Province's lower average living standard is a result of more people with a low standard depressing the average or of most people living at a similar standard with a small proporion in much greater poverty. Nevertheless, there are differences"—of course there are—between Northern Ireland and other regions of the United Kingdom which are well illustrated by the major services for which I am responsible, the health service and housing.I shall refer to those in more detail later on. I believe that that is accurate. I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman deduced from my remarks what he appeared to deduce. I thought for a moment that we would hear about the Upper Bann austerity package, but the hon. Gentleman stopped a little short of that.
I am sure that he would concede that the idea that we might expect greater disparity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom in public spending is ludicrously far from the truth. It is almost inconceivable that we shall see a further exponential increase in Northern Ireland's public expenditure and — this follows from something that was said by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central—it is inconceivable and thoroughly undesirable in an economy in which about 70 per cent. of GNP is accounted for by public spending. I wish that awareness of that fact would inform rather more political argument than it does. The level of public expenditure in Northern Ireland is a sign of weakness, and another large increase in public spending could lead to further enfeeblement, not to a strengthening of our regional economy.
The argument should not, therefore, concern whether we can avoid the debate on priorities by raising the base line of expenditure, but whether we have those priorities right and on what we should spend less in order to accommodate those priorities in our total spending. The argument should be about whether we are spending the money that we have wisely and well.
I add reservations to that. They are shared by many hon. Members and were expressed again today, as to whether we have our priorities right within the total housing budget. That helps to explain some of the changes made in our housing strategy in the past year, with the reduction in the new build programme. I also have reservations about priorities in relation to some other areas over which I have ministerial responsibility. I hope that I shall have time to express my reservations about the Health Service later on.
It is important for us to discuss our total public spending programme in this way, recognising that there is no justification for a particular level of entitlement in every area. That would be just irresponsible populist politics. If there is super-parity in one area, it stands to reason that we cannot do as much elsewhere as we might like.
726 An area in which we have super-parity in expenditure is in housing, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members this evening, including the hon. Member for Leeds, Central. In a wide-ranging speech, the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker)—I am grateful for the kind things that he said about me, and I shall attempt to reciprocate on several future occasions — raised several points about housing. He seemed to concede that it had been chosen by the Government as a foremost priority, for the good reason that the level of housing unfitness in the Province is so much worse than on this side of the water. One explanation is that little new housing had been built in Northern Ireland between the wars, unlike the position in Great Britain.
Since we gave priority to housing in 1980–81, gross expenditure—some of my right hon. and hon. Friends may find these figures difficult to appreciate — has increased by more than 60 per cent. in five years. From 1980–81, until this financial year, gross spending on housing will have exceeded £2,180 million. In that period, we shall have spent £426 million on new building, £260 million on improving Housing Executive stock — and £190 million on housing renovation grants and £145 million on housing associations.
We shall also have spent £213 million on maintenance —an increase of 44 per cent. Understandably, the hon. Members for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) and for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) were concerned about resources. The resources allocated to both planned and response maintenance in 1984–85 reflect in full the Housing Executive's own assessment of its requirements. Clearly, the Housng Executive must set its own priorities, but I assure both hon. Members that its maintenance programmes are not being hampered by lack of funds.
Expenditure on improving existing dwellings and estates increased by 228 per cent. in the same five-yeas period. Not to recognise how that commitment of public funds has transformed many parts of the Province and the quality of life of many people in Northern Ireland is simply churlish. I do not make that charge against the hon. Member for Leeds, Central but merely suggest that the hon. Gentleman is not excessively burdened with knowledge of the subject. We hope that he will be able to come and see more for himself in the next few months.
§ Mr. Fatchett
I said that, although we did not criticise the Government's policies, the Government could not afford to be complacent about what they were doing, because there was still a housing problem in Northern Ireland. I then quoted statistics to back up that assertion. Surely the Minister would not criticise such an approach. I was simply saying that there was a job to be done. I am sure that, if he can persuade his colleagues in government to make the necessary funds available, he will wish to do the job that I have signposted.
§ Mr. Patten
We are certainly not complacent, but I do not think that it would be reasonable to ask my colleages for an even larger increase in expediture on housing. I do not believe that that could possibly be justified. I believe that the present programme is just about right to deal with the problems that we face.
I do not want to make too much of an issue of this, but I believe that the hon. Gentleman's figures predate the present programme. For example, I believe that he quoted figures for housing unfitness from the last house condition 727 survey. I am sure that the figures that will emerge from the next survey later this year will tell a very different story. So far as we can tell, our aim of a 1 per cent. per year improvement on housng unfitness has been exceeded by more than 100 per cent.
I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman can have been quoting the latest available official figures, as I believe that the latest figures suggest an infitness level of 9 per cent. compared with 14 per cent. in the last house condition survey. I do not want to make an issue of this, but the figures that the hon. Gentleman gave bear no relation to the housing situation on the ground in Northern Ireland. Whether one is Left, Right, centre or flat earth, I believe that that is the situation.
I am especially pleased at the way in which we have been able to encourage home ownership. As hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies know, this cuts right across both class and sectarian bounds. Through the Northern Ireland Co-ownership Housing Association, which will receive a Government grant of £12.5 million this year, many families have been able to take the first steps towards home ownership, which just a few years ago they would have regarded as well beyond their means.
Private sector house starts are running at record levels and 20,000 Housing Executive tenants have bought their own homes. Building society lending last year was 20 per cent. up on the figure for 1982 and the societies' own figures show that more than four out of 10 first-time buyers in Northern Ireland who were helped by building societies had incomes under £7,000 per year. That is a success story in any language.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North and other hon. Members referred to the problem of standards in the construction industry—a problem which in the past has also concerned some of my hon. Friends.
With the enthusiastic support of the leaders of the construction industry—indeed, to be fair, in response to their vigorous prompting over a considerable time— I recently announced measures to combat malpractices in the construction industry. I hope that those measures will lead not only to a reduction in abuse and racketeering but to a general rise in standards.
Several hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and the hon. Members for Belfast, North and for Upper Bann, referred to Orlit homes. As the House knows, two groups of people are involved. There are those who have bought system-built houses from the Housing Executive—houses which may be defective—and there are those who are Housing Executive tenants in such homes. Some hon. Members referred to a third group — those who bought Orlit homes which had been built by the private sector. We intend that those in the first category should be given the same rights as will apply in Great Britain after the passage of the Housing Defects Bill, which is well on its way to the statute book. Owners will be able to get a 90 per cent. repair grant and will be able to claim 95 per cent. repurchase terms. We shall follow the Great Britain legislation as soon as we can with an Order in Council for Northern Ireland. If there are any difficulties in the 728 meantime, I will be prepared to consider administrative arrangements for assistance if urgent action seems necessary to avoid hardship in individual cases.
As I have said in the past, we cannot extend the proposed legislation to cover defective houses built by the private sector. We cannot reasonably be expected to act as guarantor for a wholly private transaction. However, the Housing Executive is prepared to consider approaches by private sector owners about the availability of repair grants under the terms of the 1983 Housing Order (Northern Ireland). I will refer to the chairman of the Housing Executive the suggestion that the Housing Executive could underwrite the mortgages of those private sector Orlit owners. I am bound to say, however, that I can see grave difficulties in such a proposal.
The Housing Executive has still not completed its survey of its own stock of Orlit homes, mainly because of the difficulty of gaining access to some houses. However, in the work that it has already done, the Housing Executive has not identified any situations which could pose a danger to occupants.
I hope that the survey will be completed soon. I understand the anxieties that have been aroused, not least because I represent a number of families who live in such houses. I hope that we will soon be able to consider proposals from the Housing Executive for dealing with its stock, and also to consider the financial consequences for the housing budget as a whole of that programme of improvement.
A number of points were made about health and personal social services. I could dwell on them at length, but I shall say only that those who criticise the levels of provision for health and personal social services in Northern Ireland should consider the recent report of the Northern Ireland Economic Council, which argued — I did not agree with the argument—that we are spending too much on the health and personal social services in Northern Ireland.
Some changes must be made. It is clear that we must go further in rationalising acute care beds. The Minister who does that will make himself extremely unpopular, but it must be done.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred once again, quite properly, to the importance of adequate co-ordination between the Housing Executive and the personal social services with regard to families who fall into arrears either with rent or with heating charges. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman raised that matter when we last discussed Appropriation in the Province. I took it up with both of my Departments. I hope that I shall be able to say something more positive next time we have the opportunity to discuss these matters. It is extremely important and deserves sympathetic and urgent attention.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. M. Smyth) mentioned perinatal mortality, which I know he has raised on previous occasions. We are anxious to reduce infant and perinatal mortality rates which, unfortunately, are still higher in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the United Kingdom. Implementation of the Baird report on infant death and handicap is among the priorities in the regional strategic plan, in which the hon. Gentleman took such a close and helpful interest when it was before the Assembly and when we had a chance to talk about it in the House. Provision in this year's Estimates allows for £3.5 million of new money—that represents about 0.7 per cent.—to 729 enable the services to make progress on these priorities. I know that that is not as much as many hon. Members would like, but I think it a reasonable response to the level of need to which I have referred.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North referred to a matter that is, I am afraid, all too relevant to this discussion—the level of death grant. It has remained unchanged for many years. As I said in the previous Appropriation debate, the future of the benefit has been the subject of detailed consideration by my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Security for some time. I am sorry not to be able to report more progress. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's worry that the level of grant, at £30, is of little value nowadays. I hope that the policy reviews on social security that are now in progress will help to resolve the matter.
Perhaps I can deal with the points that other right hon. and hon. Members have raised seriatim. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West, who we quite understand had to go to a prior engagement this evening, raised several matters. One was Lear Fan, which the hon. Members for Antrim, South and for Antrim, East touched on. I do not believe that I can add anything to what my hon. Friend the Minister of State said. If there are points that he did not cover and I have not been able to cover, I am sure that we shall be able to touch on them in correspondence.
As time presses and the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West is not here, perhaps we can deal with his points about education in correspondence. He mentioned the rate of supplementary benefit for the long-term unemployed, as did the hon. Member for Belfast, South. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked me to confirm, which I do, that it is the cost of increasing the rate of supplementary benefit to the long-term unemployed, rather than the principle, which is the obstacle. I do not have to hand figures for that cost, but I suspect that those quoted by the right hon. and learned Gentleman are a trifle on the low side. Nevertheless, I could not envisage making that significant change in Northern Ireland alone. Social security is handled essentially and quite properly on a United Kingdom basis. I appreciate the anxiety of the Northern Ireland Consumer Council, the Social Security Advisory Committee, which we were able to welcome to Northern Ireland, and other bodies. No doubt those anxieties will be examined again in the policy review of supplementary benefit that was recently announced in the House.
The right hon. Member for Down, South invited me to take a further walk at Killough, which I shall do with enthusiasm. I shall look into the point he raised. He mentioned the fact that we are debating these issues earlier than normal and questioned the refinements of procedure that have enabled us to do so. I do not want to sound too prosaic but I understand that Departments other than the Department of Finance and Personnel took the responsibility for proof reading and checking the various Votes. That, taken together with quicker printing, enabled us to cut four or five weeks off the normal timing. None of that is in any way a criticism of the Department which my hon. Friend runs with such skill.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to catchment areas for psychiatric services, particularly to the Donaldson report and to the position of the Downshire hospital. As he knows, this matter is under consideration at present, and my Department intends to consult further with the 730 health and social service boards before any final decisions are taken. In the meantime, the eastern board is examining responses to its consultation paper about the proposed new psychiatric boundaries in its area, including the Downshire hospital. I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's acceptance of the case in principle for realigning the boundaries of the catchment areas, which he argued with his usual clarity and realism. I accept his view that it would be wrong to make these changes before we could ensure that the necessary provision, both in physical and human terms, was in place for the new clientele.
That is an important aspect of our further discussions with the boards. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have visited the Downshire hospital. I am well aware of the arguments affecting it, and I can fully understand why those arguments are put so strongly. I have also been able to discuss them with the district council. I hope that it is not long before we are able to clear matters up.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), whom we always welcome to these debates, asked about pupil-teacher ratios and the comparison between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. It is true that overall pupil-teacher ratios in Northern Ireland lag some way behind other regions in the United Kingdom, but the pupil-teacher ratio in secondary schools in Northern Ireland is second only to Scotland.
The Government's policy remains that of at least maintaining existing ratios. Indeed, there have been modest improvements in recent years, from 19 in 1980 to 18.7 in 1983. Not only is the maintenance of pupil-teacher ratios important, but so is the calibre of teachers in the profession, and we must continue to have high regard to the improvement of the intake to the teaching profession and the further training opportunities of serving teachers.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) asked when we expected to be able to announce the Government's decision on the conversion of oil-fired power stations to use coal or lignite. I am advised to say that I would be reluctant to predict when a final decision might be announced, but we intend that it should not be long delayed.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North raised mainly housing questions, which I thank I have already dealt with. He also drew attention to the lack of conveniences in the centre of Belfast. I shall take the matter up with my Department and the city council and attempt to come to the relief of his constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker) made an interesting speech. It is always valuable for Great Britain Members to take part in our debates, but if I were to respond to what he said I would be even further from the subject of the debate than he was.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) and others referred to milk and related issues. I cannot usefully add very much to what I said during an Adjournment debate last Thursday, but I am sure that my noble Friend and my hon. Friend will have many future opportunities to discuss this important issue, both in the House and outside it.
The hon. Members for Antrim, South and for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) asked about expenditure on roads. I admit that we have recently cut expenditure on roads substantially partly to accommodate an increase in housing expenditure. That decision about priorities is wholly justified. This year it was important to make more money available for maintenance and improvements, even 731 at the expense of a larger cut than would have taken place in the major capital works budget. Therefore, we cut £6 million from major capital works and will find £1 million extra for minor works and £2 million extra for maintenance. That should enable us to maintain the fabric of Northern Ireland's excellent roads, but I realise that that will not protect me from the wrath of district councils when I visit them during the coming months.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) referred to replacement grants. I am conscious of the requests made for such grants. My predecessor corresponded with many public representatives on the matter. The fundamental difficulty with the proposal is that there is no parallel on this side of the water, and there are no plans to introduce such a grant here. The introduction of replacement grant in Northern Ireland would therefore result in a departure from parity and might be difficult to justify.
More to the point, I expect that the forthcoming 1984 house condition survey will show how successful the present grant system is in dealing with unfitness, especially in rural areas. If it shows a continuing and substantial problem, we shall carefully consider the options open to us within the existing renovations grants scheme. Clearly, the outcome of that survey will help to 732 determine the argument that we shall have during the coming months. It is right to examine the survey before taking the matter further.
One constitutional point has surfaced continually during the debate. It comes with the regularity of the tides. The right hon. Member for Down, South, as always, criticised our legislative procedures. His argument was a familiar one. I do not suggest that familiarity breeds contempt, but there is not much to be gained by my deploying the Government's reply to the right hon. Gentleman's case again. Even if I had the gift of the gab, or, like the pentecostalists, the gift of tongues, I would not be able to convince him of the wisdom of our case, just as he, with such a bard's tongue, seems unlikely to convince us. However, he seems to have convinced his right hon. and hon. Friends that they should accompany him through the Lobby to vote against this admirable order. They cannot have their hearts in it, especially during the last fever-pitched hours before the European election campaign, but we must all do odd things in life from time to time.
If the House divides, I hope that other hon. Members will give the order and the people of Northern Ireland, who will benefit from it, the support that they deserve.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 146, Noes 12.734
|Division No. 359]||[11.03 pm|
|Ancram, Michael||Hawksley, Warren|
|Arnold, Tom||Hayes, J.|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Heddle, John|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Henderson, Barry|
|Berry, Sir Anthony||Hickmet, Richard|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Hicks, Robert|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hind, Kenneth|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hirst, Michael|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Holt, Richard|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Brinton, Tim||Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldford)|
|Budgen, Nick||Hunter, Andrew|
|Burt, Alistair||Jones, Robert (W Herts)|
|Butcher, John||Kershaw, Sir Anthony|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Key, Robert|
|Carttiss, Michael||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Cash, William||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Conway, Derek||Knowles, Michael|
|Coombs, Simon||Knox, David|
|Cope, John||Latham, Michael|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Lester, Jim|
|Dover, Den||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Dykes, Hugh||Lord, Michael|
|Favell, Anthony||Luce, Richard|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Forth, Eric||Macfarlane, Neil|
|Franks, Cecil||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Freeman, Roger||Maclean, David John|
|Freud, Clement||Madel, David|
|Galley, Roy||Major, John|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Marland, Paul|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Gorst, John||Mather, Carol|
|Gregory, Conal||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Ground, Patrick||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Merchant, Piers|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Harris, David||Mitchell, David (NW Hants)|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Needham, Richard||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Neubert, Michael||Sumberg, David|
|Newton, Tony||Taylor, John (Solihull)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Norris, Steven||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Oppenheim, Philip||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Ottaway, Richard||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Page, John (Harrow W)||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Thurnham, Peter|
|Pawsey, James||Tracey, Richard|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Powley, John||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Renton, Tim||Viggers, Peter|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Waddington, David|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Waller, Gary|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Rowe, Andrew||Watson, John|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Watts, John|
|Shelton, William (Streatham)||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Whitney, Raymond|
|Soames, Hon Nicholas||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Spencer, Derek||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)||Wood, Timothy|
|Stanbrook, Ivor||Yeo, Tim|
|Stern, Michael||Tellers for the Ayes|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Mr. Ian Lang and|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Mr. Douglas Hogg.|
|Banks, Tony (Newham NW)||Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)|
|Beggs, Roy||Skinner, Dennis|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Smyth, Rev W. M. (Belfast S)|
|Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Maginnis, Ken||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Mr. Harold McCusker and|
|Nicholson, J.||Mr. William Ross.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Resolved, That the draft Appropriation (No.2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 9 May, be approved.