§ 11.2 pm
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
If there is a Division, we shall be voting for money coming to Northern Ireland. We believe that money is needed for agriculture, housing, jobs, roads and education. We also do not like direct rule. We want a fully devolved Government and Parliament in Northern Ireland, and the full democratic process honoured. That is shown by the fact that in the short time that we have tonight, we have to deal with such a wide range of matters that seriously affect the lives of the peoples of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
Does my hon. Friend accept that we want one other thing in Northern Ireland — decent local government? Recently, however, we have seen the introduction into local government in Northern Ireland of the mouthpieces for murder and mayhem in our society. Will my hon. Friend ask the Minister what his response will be to the introduction of Sinn Fein chairmen?
§ Rev. William McCrea
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. Over the past few hours even the Minister may have realised that there are members of councils in Northern Ireland who will not welcome Sinn Fein, who will not let this pass easily and who will not allow it to be a one-night or a one-afternoon wonder. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) will find that there are still in Northern Ireland Unionists worthy of that name and of the heritage that they thank God for.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has already mentioned councils. Unionists will not socialise with Sinn Fein, nor will they be used in any way to keep going a system which allows not only the representatives of murderers but murderers themselves to be councillors. If the Government think that we will sit down and look across at Sinn Fein councillors while they measure us up for coffins, they have another think coming. I have no intention of sitting there to be measured up for a coffin by any gunman of the IRA. Ulster needs good local government. Decent local government was destroyed when Sinn Fein councillors were allowed through the doors of the council chambers.
I come from a large agricultural constituency. I hope that for a change the Minister will give us some good news tonight for that industry. Lord Lyell told us that he had sympathy for our farmers. When the bank manager wags his finger to call a farmer into the bank, Lord Lyell's sympathy does not go far. We want more than sympathy. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North mentioned the £7 million that is there to help them out. The Minister should tell us how that money will be given to Northern Ireland farming and agriculture.
The Minister of State has recognised the upward trend of unemployment in Northern Ireland; I think he genuinely appreciates the seriousness of the problem. I come from a constituency that has, the highest unemployment rate in the whole of the United Kingdom. What hope can the Minister give to my constituents in Mid-Ulster? What message can I take back to them concerning future employment? I want viable employment and genuine jobs. I do not want fly-by-nights. I do not want those who come in like De Lorean to use the British taxpayer and the 408 United Kingdom and then disappear. Has the Minister any announcements to make about jobs for my Mid-Ulster constituents? I hope to get an answer to that question concerning the future well-being of my constituents.
Class III, vote 2, deals with expenditure by the Department of Economic Development on subsidies to electricity tariffs. May I draw the attention of the Minister once again to the unbearable burden on Northern Ireland industry, which is disadvantaged because the electricity tariff is pegged to the highest in England. There is a need for a fairer pegging of electricity tariffs to assist industry in the creation of jobs.
Class V deals with roads. I accept that Northern Ireland had some of the best road systems in the United Kingdom, but the roads are now in a deplorable state. What is to be done?
The Castledawson bypass issue may be a hardy annual, but the sooner the Minister moves the sooner the problem will disappear. I should be more than delighted to be able to forget about it and move on to the next town.
What about the Moneymore-Magherafelt road? The Minister promised to see whether works could be completed to make the road safer.
I have written to the Minister about Orlit housing. When will the legislation come into operation? When will the Housing Executive be able to buy back those houses and give the people their money?
The Watson park bungalows are also causing worry because they are still defective after money has been spent on them. I wrote to the Minister asking him to put in writing that his chief officers in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive are sure the money already spent is well spent. I fear that the money will be poured down the drain, as it was with De Lorean and Lear Fan. That will not solve the problem and the people will be left in an intolerable position after they have been moved out of their houses three or four times.
When shall I be able to close the file on the case of Mr. Crozier from Cookstown? I shall be happy to give the Minister my file on the case so that he can sift through it. I have written to the Prime Minister, to the Secretary of State, to Lord Hailsham and to the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Mr. Crozier is to be given a pension for health reasons, but no one will provide the health reasons. All he wants is to be told why he is being pensioned off on health grounds; then he will take the pension. I do not want another letter saying, "We have nothing more to add", or, "I am sorry, the case has been looked at before, we have nothing more to say." I want an answer.
Fundamental changes are proposed in health and social service benefits. The Prime Minister has failed to tell the Leader of the Opposition what figures can be applied to the suggested benefits. Perhaps the Minister will disclose them to his hon. Friends from Northern Ireland who can pass them on to the Leader of the Opposition and our constituents.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I intervene, I must admit, as a protest at the length of time available for debate tonight. I do not intend to hold back the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) from replying to the debate. I am frustrated because this is the third time in succession that I have sat through debates. Two debates ago, I got about three minutes, I was not called on the last 409 occasion, and I assure the House that at one minute before quarter past eleven there is not adequate time for me to deal with the problems of my constituents in Fermanagh and South Tyrone and the difficulties that hon. Members representing Northern Ireland face under direct rule in trying to serve our constituents.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)
It is a pleasure once again to wind up an appropriation order debate which, as is customary, travelled far and wide, albeit, as the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) indicated, for a rather shorter period than has sometimes been our good fortune.
I wish to try with the minimum of fuss to answer the main points raised in the debate. Any issues that I am not able to cover in the course of these necessarily abbreviated remarks I or my hon. Friends will follow up in correspondence with the hon. Gentlemen who raised them.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) raised two substantive issues about housing. He spoke first—and this point was touched on by other hon. Gentlemen — about renovation grants, and in particular about the delays experienced by his constituents in receiving them. I am conscious that there has been criticism of the Housing Executive administration of the renovation grant scheme, but I know that the executive is keen to improve its performance as much as it can. It is important to note that in the year ended 31 December 1983 almost 27,000 improvement, conversion, intermediate and repairs grants were approved, and grant was paid in just over 24,000 cases. These figures increased to almost 32,000 and 27,000 respectively in 1984, illustrating the scale of the grants operation. While there was a backlog of grants applications which reached 8,400 in March 1984, this has now fallen back to just under 3,000. This situation arose from the substantial increase in demand for grant aid resulting from the 1983 housing order, which widened the scope of the renovation grant scheme in a number of respects. While I am satisfied with the steps taken to reduce delays in the processing of grant applications, I shall continue to keep the executive's performance in this area under review.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because this is one topic on which I wanted to spend some time tonight.
I hope that the Minister recalls the letter that he sent me on 24 February 1984 after I wrote to him about the possibility of ensuring that grants were paid to those people who were most in need, stating that this perennial difficulty of excessive demolition was preventing the most needy people from getting grants for houses. He told me that the 1979 house condition survey was out of date and that there would be a new house condition survey shortly. That was over a year ago. That house condition survey I have not seen, but I have heard that the contents prove that the single unfits, as they are known, are as numerous as they have ever been, and we have not even begun to scrape the surface. Would the hon. Gentleman comment on that?
§ Mr. Patten
I am glad to have the opportunity to do so. The house condition survey will be published shortly. The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that one of the matters that it has shown clearly is that, while we have 410 made considerable progress in reducing unfitness, we have an increasing problem of disrepair. That has led me to feel even more strongly than I did when I replied to the hon. Gentleman last year that we have to look at the whole of our renovation grant aid to make sure that it is directed towards those people who are in greatest need and to properties that most need assistance. Therefore, I have set up a small committee composed of officials of my Department and of the Housing Executive which is looking at how we can target grant aid more effectively within the existing legislative framework. I hope very much that we shall have proposals to discuss with hon. Members before too long. The point made by the: hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone is extremely important, and I hope that we shall be able to demonstrate that we are responding to it in good faith as soon as may be.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh also referred to Orlit dwellings and asked for greater speed in dealing with the Housing Executive stock of Orlits. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Housing Executive is already considering the options for individual estates following its technical investigations. Announcements will be made by the executive on an estate-by-estate basis as soon as possible after consultation with the tenants. I know that the executive is fully seized of the need to take action as quickly as possible.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to consider the sale of Orlit dwellings to tenants at a cost reflecting their condition. I shall look at that proposal, but I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would see very much advantage for the tenant in becoming the owner of a dwelling which in some cases could have a life span of only five to 10 years without expensive remedial action.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) asked about legislation to bring the position in Northern Ireland into line with that in Great Britain. We had slightly more difficulty than we anticipated in drafting the legislation. However, I hope that we shall be able to lay an order before the House very soon. In the meantime, as I have made clear time and again, any special hardship cases will be dealt with, as two have already, on an administrative basis. If the hon. Gentleman has other similar cases, I should be more than happy to consider them.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh asked about a number of agricultural matters, beginning with the shortage of cold storage facilities for intervention beef. He knows about my status as a tyro in these matters, but I can say that we are aware of the potential difficulties arising from limitations on freezing and storage capacity for intervention beef, and we have arranged for a study to be undertaken on the facilities available, the current incentives, the employment prospects, the future needs and how they might be met.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster and others mentioned, quite understandably, their concern about milk quotas. They spoke of the special difficulties facing the Northern Ireland dairy industry. I can assure the House that we are doing all we can to achieve the maximum possible relief for the Province's milk farmers. We accept that without additional quota for Northern Ireland, individual producers may find themselves in difficulties. The very low uptake under the outgoers scheme was most 411 unfortunate and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) said, we are continuing to seek a solution to the problem. As the hon. Member for Antrim, North asked, I shall convey the concern expressed by hon. Members to my noble Friend who is responsible for these matters in Northern Ireland and also to the Secretary of State.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North referred in the context of Lear Fan to Ulster workmanship. He was entirely right to say that it is second to none, as the success of Harland and Wolff, Shorts and many other companies has made clear.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the future of Ballintoy harbour, which I enjoyed visiting with him on one memorable occasion when the sun shone, as it always does on the righteous. I shall look into the latest state of of play on Ballintoy and write to the hon. Gentleman about it.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North referred to the arguments for a regional library, and protested about the recent decision that the Belfast central library should not become a regional reference facility independent of the Belfast Education and Library Board. There is not the necessary support from the boards for such a change to the existing arrangements. They are apparently largely content with the provision under existing legislation enabling all boards to take advantage of the services provided by the Belfast central library.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the extent to which Carson's monument is turning green. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) understandably raised that point. I have nothing to add to what I have already said to my hon. Friend, but I note the importance that the hon. Gentleman properly attaches to the cleaning of that statue.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster referred to the position in local government following the elections. I should like to make it clear again, as I did in a series of radio, television and newspaper interviews yesterday, that there has been and will be no change in the Government's policy towards Sinn Fein. No reasonable construction of my remarks yesterday could conceivably suggest that there would be. Finally, as the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) said in a series of letters to newspapers, I hope that hon. Members will keep the electoral failures and successes of Sinn Fein in perspective. It did worse in the local elections than in the European elections or the general election, and considerably worse in the local government elections than three out of the four main constitutional parties.
The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) asked me to give him an undertaking about scallop beds. He referred to the fisheries close to the coast of Northern Ireland. I reiterate the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North in his opening speech, that the fisheries are closely monitored. If there is any evidence of their stocks being endangered, steps will be taken to have the beds closed. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman finds that assurance satisfactory.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about waste disposal and the relative responsibilities of district councils and my Department. As he knows, district councils have the statutory responsibility for the development of a waste disposal strategy for their areas. The identification and 412 preparation of suitable sites is not a matter in which I can intervene. However, my Department is actively involved with district councils about waste management. We shall assist where possible. The right hon. Gentleman made some valuable suggestions about the extent to which we should take a greater lead in co-ordinating the various tasks of district councils in this respect, and I shall certainly come back to him on that point as positively as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), whom we always welcome to our debates, referred to the welcome increase in recent years in the number of extremely wise and perceptive holidaymakers, who come to Northern Ireland, and to the increased number of hon. Members who visit the Province, which is also to be welcomed. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will shortly be chairing a conference on tourism to see how we can attract even more tourists to our shores.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell), in a thoughtful speech, asked many detailed and serious questions about Lear Fan, which he will not expect me to answer during the next 60 seconds. However, they will be answered in due course in as full and open a way as possible—in other words in the fashion for which my hon. Friend the Minister of State is well known and respected.
I believe that I have answered most of the main points raised in the debate. I repeat that any detailed points will be answered in subsequent correspondence. This appropriation order shows once again that the Government are attempting to grapple with the extremely difficult problems of Northern Ireland in a reasonable and imaginative way, with a fair and reasonable allocation of public expenditure to support our policies and objectives. I trust that that will also be the view of the House.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 133, Noes 5.
|Division No. 229]||[11.30 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Amess, David||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Ancram, Michael||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Arnold, Tom||Evennett, David|
|Ashby, David||Fallen, Michael|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Baldry, Tony||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Beith, A. J.||Fox, Marcus|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Blackburn, John||Gregory, Conal|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Harris, David|
|Bright, Graham||Haselhurst, Alan|
|Brinton, Tim||Hayes, J.|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Hicks, Robert|
|Burt, Alistair||Hind, Kenneth|
|Butcher, John||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Butterfill, John||Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)|
|Carttiss, Michael||Knowles, Michael|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Knox, David|
|Chope, Christopher||Lang, Ian|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Clegg, Sir Walter||Lester, Jim|
|Conway, Derek||Lightbown, David|
|Coombs, Simon||Lilley, Peter|
|Cope, John||Lord, Michael|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|McCrea. Rev William||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Maclean, David John||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|McQuarrie, Albert||Silvester, Fred|
|Major, John||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Mather, Carol||Spencer, Derek|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Mellor, David||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Merchant, Piers||Stern, Michael|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Mills, lain (Meriden)||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Mitchell, David (NW Hants)||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Murphy, Christopher||Sumberg, David|
|Neale, Gerrard||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Neubert, Michael||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Morris, Steven||Thurnham, Peter|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Tracey, Richard|
|Ottaway, Richard||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Paisley, Rev Ian||Walden, George|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Waller, Gary|
|Pawsey, James||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth||Watson, John|
|Penhaligon, David||Watts, John|
|Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Portillo, Michael||Wheeler, John|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Whitfield, John|
|Powley, John||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Rhodes James, Robert||Wolfson, Mark|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Wood, Timothy|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Yeo, Tim|
|Robinson, P. (Be/fast E)|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Mr. Peter Lloyd and|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Mr. Tony Durant.|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Nicholson, J.||Mr. William Ross and|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)||Mr. Ken Maginnis|
|Walker,Cecil (BeIfast N)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 8th May, be approved.