HC Deb 07 July 1987 vol 119 cc264-300 8.45 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Stanley)

I beg to move, That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 7th May, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

It may be helpful if I make it clear that the debate on the 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.

Mr. Stanley

The order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The previous debate tonight added materially to my crash education on Northern Ireland matters, and we now turn from the weighty constitutional matters that we have been considering to the perhaps more mundane matters of public expenditure in the Province. I think, however, that the House will agree that they are no less significant.

Before dealing with the main points in these Estimates, I should like to say how much I look forward to serving all the people in Northern Ireland. As the House knows, my previous duties in the Ministry of Defence brought me into close contact with Northern Ireland affairs. I much look forward to getting to know the Province better still, and to trying to assist with its pressing security, political and economic needs.

The Province has many serious problems, some of which will be mentioned later. However, the sums of money sought through these Estimates totalling nearly £3.5 billion represent the clearest possible evidence of the Government's continued commitment to Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

The House will be aware that expenditure in Northern Ireland by the Ministry of Defence, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Northern Ireland Office is borne on United Kingdom Supply Estimates. The draft order before the House relates exclusively to proposed expenditure by Northern Ireland Departments and associated public bodies, and excludes, for example, expenditure on police and security.

On 24 February the House approved a total of £1,483 million as a Vote on account. Today I seek the balance of £1,945 million, making a total Estimate for 1987–88 of £3,428 million, an increase of some £220 million over last year's Main Estimates. The Estimates volume which gives full details of projected expenditure is available in the Vote Office.

The order also appropriates some £115,000 to cover excess expenditure in the 1985–86 financial year by the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland. This excess has been examined by the Public Accounts Committee, which has raised no objection to it being voted. Details of the excess expenditure are set out in the Statement of Excess paper which is also in the Vote Office.

I should like to start by saying a few words about the general economic position in the Province. It is encouraging that the Province's industries have been showing some signs of recovery. Between 1982 and 1986 manufacturing output has grown by a modest 6 per cent. At the same time, helped by some special factors, the latest quarterly output figure for the construction industry is no less than 31 per cent. higher than it was at the same time last year. Clear evidence that Northern Ireland industry is rising to the challenge of the competitiveness of the 1980s is also shown by the fact that since 1979 output per head in manufacturing industry has risen by 30 per cent., a very creditable achievement. It is above all rising productivity that will enable the Province's manufacturing companies to compete successfully in the international market place and provide long-term employment security for the people of Northern Ireland.

As far as unemployment is concerned, the current level of 18.4 per cent., compared to 10.8 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole, remains unacceptably high. However, it is encouraging that there has been some fall in the underlying numbers of those unemployed during 1987. Seasonally adjusted unemployment has fallen by an average of 200 per month over the past six months, compared with an increase of 300 per month in the previous six months. However, the most recent two months—that is, April and May—showed slight increases in the underlying numbers unemployed, although it would be too early to conclude that this marks a reversal of our otherwise favourable trend this year.

Turning to the Estimates in detail, I will start with those covering the provision for agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The Department of Agriculture Vote 1 provides for expenditure in Northern Ireland on measures of national agriculture and fisheries support which apply throughout the United Kingdom. This expenditure of about £42 million was formerly voted as part of the Supply Estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

With effect from 1 April this year, accounting responsibility for this expenditure was transferred to the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland under the Agriculture and Fisheries (Financial Assistance) (Northern Ireland) Order 1987. This transfer of responsibility does not affect the level of public expenditure on the various measures. The largest element within this Vote, accounting for about £30 million, is for structural improvements to agriculture by way of various capital and other grants. About £12 million is for support for agriculture in special areas through, for instance, headage payments on hill cattle and sheep.

The Department of Agriculture's Vote 2 seeks total provision of about £81 million, of which £35 million is for agricultural, scientific and veterinary services. The balance is made up of three elements—£10 million for various agricultural support measures, £23 million mainly for drainage and forest services, and £12 million for administrative services, including accommodation.

Turning to the Department of Economic Development, Votes 1 and 2 provide for the activities of the Industrial Development Board. In Vote 1, for industrial support and regeneration, the main provision sought is for about £12 million for the development board's factory building and estate development work. Good industrial infrastructure is essential when trying to capture the attention and win the confidence of inward investment companies which the Province is most anxious to attract.

A further £4 million has been earmarked for public relations and advertising campaigns to promote Northern Ireland as a good investment location.

In Vote 2 over £78 million is being provided for selective assistance to industry, including support for marketing and for research and development. The aim of this assistance is to increase investment and employment opportunities in the Province. I am glad to say that in the 1986–87 financial year the Industrial Development Board concluded agreements involving nearly 4,200 new jobs and £311 million of new investment in Northern Ireland. These figures are up 44 per cent. as far as jobs are concerned and are up 56 per cent. as far as investment is concerned over those for 1985–86. That is encouraging.

In the Department of Economic Development's Vote 3, the Estimates total about £93 million, of which £42.6 million is to provide assistance to Harland and Wolff. These funds will be used to support the company's trading operations, excluding the AOR contract, and also to meet expenditure on redundancies, on Harland and Wolff enterprises and on consultancy fees. Of the balance, £18.2 million is for standard capital grants, £7.6 million is for Shorts, and £21.2 million is for the support of small firms by the Local Enterprise Development Unit. The unit has achieved consistently encouraging results in job promotion, with over 4,000 additional jobs achieved last year alone. That is a further very creditable performance by the agency, which has done excellent work in supporting employment in small businesses since it was formed in 1971.

In the Department of Economic Development Vote 5, a total of £108.4 million is sought for various employment measures such as the youth training programme, the action for community employment scheme and the enterprise allowance scheme.

As far as the youth training programme is concerned, every young person leaving school is now guaranteed a training place up to the age of 18, so that no one under the age of 18 need now be on the unemployment register.

The action for community employment scheme has shown itself to be a valuable means of offering temporary employment to the long-term unemployed, and will provide about 6,200 jobs in this financial year.

I am also glad to say that there has been a continuing demand for places on the enterprise allowance scheme which encourages the unemployed to set up their own businesses. Since the scheme was introduced in August 1983, almost 6,000 previously unemployed people have established their own firms. In the current year, the £3.9 million sought will enable the number of available places to be increased by some 10 per cent. to 2,450.

Turning to the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment, a provision of £136.4 million is being sought for roads, transport and ports under Vote I. Most of that money—£109 million—will be spent on roads. Although priority is being given to maintaining the existing roads network, the Government are maintaining investment in new works at approximately £18 million.

The Department of the Environment's Vote 2 is for housing. In his statement of 12 December 1986, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that housing investment was a high priority in the Province. Accordingly, this year's allocation to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, together with rental income and capital receipts, will be sufficient to finance the complete expenditure plans for 1987–88 that were proposed by the executive in its 1986 housing strategy review. This allocation totals £502 million. In addition, there will be £41 million for Northern Ireland housing associations, which is broadly in line with the level of spending last year.

This year's total housing expenditure of over £0.5 billion will enable the current level of shared ownership purchases to be maintained in the private sector. Within the Housing Executive it will include a programme of 1,600 starts for rent, the improvement of more than 8,000 dwellings and the meeting of about 400,000 repair requests. It will also allow about 12,000 home owners to receive improvement and repair grants, thus continuing the impressive progress that the Government have made in improving the condition of the housing stock in the Province.

The education Estimates seek a total provision of £743 million for Department of Education services. I am glad to say that at the Northern Ireland negotiating committee on 18 May agreement was reached on pay and conditions of service for teachers in the Province. Total recurrent expenditure on schools in Votes 1 and 4 accounts for over half the total provision in the education Estimates. The recurrent grant of £231.5 million to area boards in Vote 4, out of which are met the running costs of controlled and maintained schools, represents an increase of almost 5 per cent. above last year's initial allocation to boards.

These Estimates were drawn up on the basis that overall teacher numbers in primary and secondary schools will be increased by 150 posts for the 1987–88 school year over and above the numbers actually required simply to maintain the existing pupil-teacher ratio. Fifty of these new posts are for additional secondary teachers in science and technology, and the other 100 are for primary teachers allocated to small schools where expertise in certain specialist subjects is at present not available. The additional 50 specialist teachers in secondary schools are one element of a major new vocational education programme in Northern Ireland. A provision of £5.6 million is included in these Estimates for this, and the aim is to increase the numbers of pupils following courses in subjects such as science, economics, computing and craft design and technology.

In finalising the teachers' pay deal in the negotiating committee, it was agreed that a further 70 full-time posts over and above the additional 150 that I have just mentioned would he allocated this year. Therefore, the overall effect is that the pupil-teacher ratio in primary and secondary schools will be improved from an estimated 18.6 to 18.4 pupils per teacher in a single year. That is the best single-year improvement since 1979, and will be the best pupil-teacher ratio that the Province has ever had.

The Estimates for the education capital programme provide for total capital expenditure in excess of £47 million. This will allow for a substantial programme of new building projects to start, and for an increase of £2.3 million on planned levels of expenditure on minor works and equipment. A total of 24 major school building projects should be started this year. The capital provision also includes £2 million to begin much needed work on the replacement and upgrading of schools for the mentally handicapped.

In Vote 2, total provision of £127.8 million is sought for higher and further education and for teacher training. This allows for continued funding of the two Northern Ireland universities on the principle of parity with comparable institutions in Great Britain. In further education, provision has been made for an additional 30 lecturers from next September for appointments in the priority areas of' engineering, business studies and microelectronics. The balance of education expenditure, £34.9 million, is sought in Vote 3. This will provide for increased spending by the museum on purchases and conservation. It also provides increased aid for the Arts Council and for the establishment of a business sponsorship incentive scheme for the arts.

Finally, for the Department of Health and Social Security a total of £715 million is sought in Vote 1 to maintain and further improve Northern Ireland's health and personal social services. The largest single element within this total is the health and social services boards' revenue expenditure. This is estimated at £583 million, which is about 6 per cent. more than for last year.

A further £29 million has been earmarked for capital expenditure. This will permit the continuation of a substantial programme of major and minor work schemes. I am pleased to say that, subject to the final stages of investment appraisal, we shall also be able to give a boost to the development of hospital services in the north-west of the Province. This will include, for instance, additional wards and services at Altnagelvin area hospital, the replacement of unsatisfactory accommodation for geriatric patients at Waterside hospital and the provision of a satellite renal dialysis unit at Tyrone county hospital, Omagh.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Has any provision been made in the Estimates relating to hospitals for the employment of sufficient nurses to bring the staff at Altnagelvin up to what is required?

Mr. Stanley

I shall be glad to look into that for the hon. Gentleman. If my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who will reply to the debate, can give that detail, he will do so, otherwise I shall be glad to ask my hon. Friend who has responsibility for DHSS matters to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Finally, in Vote 4 a total of £785 million is required to meet the full range of non-contributory and family benefits.

I hope that this explanation of the main features of the draft order has been helpful. I commend the order to the House.

9.5 pm

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

At the outset I should like to thank the Minister for taking us through the order in the way that he did. I should also like to congratulate him on his maiden speech on this subject. He was the Minister of State for the Armed Forces when I first came into the House. I remember having some exchanges with him then.

It is interesting to think how things might have been if' the result of the election had been different and if we had been sitting on the Government Benches. I should have had nine civil servants in the box behind the Speaker's Chair to help me with my speech. That would be a great improvement on the services that we have in opposition. I support Richard Heller in The Mail on Sunday, Who stated that there should be some form of Ministry for the Opposition so that we would receive the help of civil servants and be able to make wondrous speeches on the Floor of the House. However, as Bernard Shaw once said, "Some men dream great dreams and wonder why. Others dream great dreams and wonder why not." I am in the second category, of wondering why not. Hopefully that will help me to make this a short speech on the Appropriation order.

A singular feature of our debates on other occasions during the past two years has been the way in which we somehow had to mingle the political side of Appropriation orders with the financial side. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and your colleagues had some difficulty in bringing us back to order because the opportunities for discussing genuine political issues in Northern Ireland were not available to us. Tonight we have had a rumbustious debate that so exhausted its participants that most of them have now left the Chamber. However, we have had a good debate that leaves us open to talk about economic matters. That must be of some interest and importance to the people of Northern Ireland. As we all know, their daily lives go on and the people there must come to terms with their own existence. As part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland must benefit, as the rest of us benefit, from the welfare state and public expenditure, from the appropriate use of money in Northern Ireland and from value for money. That must be in the interests of the people who live in Northern Ireland.

The £3.5 billion to which the Minister referred is welcome. When I consider the way in which Ministers run the affairs of Northern Ireland, I like to think that they follow some of the policies which I would say are interventionist and which they have no doubt adopted from the Labour party. However, the Minister was quick to cover his tracks on that and to say that, although there have been signs of progress in the economy and the challenge of competitiveness, that was part and parcel of a Tory philosophy that was assisting Northern Ireland. However, a good look at the Appropriation Estimates shows healthy subsidies, and we are the last people to disagree with that. Indeed, we welcome the manner in which Ministers of the Crown use their diligence and skills to inject money into the economy of Northern Ireland for the benefit of the people there.

The Minister said that unemployment was unacceptably high. Coming from Cleveland, which has an even higher rate of unemployment, I understand the difficulties and social consequences of unemployment. There is a lack of aspiration and a lack of certainty about one's future, and a lack of any sense of security. The Minister referred to a gradual improvement in the employment conditions in Northern Ireland. We have had a general election in the meantime and have been unable to catch up with some of the developments that have taken place there during the past few months. I was glad to see, thanks to the Belfast Telegraph, that three firms in Northern Ireland—Ulster Carpet Mills, Adria Strabane and Ulster Weaving—have a programme of expansion amounting to £12 million and that 200 new jobs will be created.

Two other firms, Norbrook Laboratories and Thermomax, have been honoured with Queen's Awards for Exports, which is a sign that, notwithstanding the difficulties in Northern Ireland, a strong impetus and desire for exports exist. Norbrook Laboratories secured the award for increasing exports by more than 80 per cent. over the past three years and Ulster Weaving has secured orders in China, which shows the dynamic spirit of the people of Northern Ireland. They do not sit on their behinds but get out and try to find business and come to terms with the world in which we live. They are to be congratulated on that effort on behalf of the work force and the economy.

I read with great interest the statements by the Minister about the new Belfast harbour link and the £60 million cross-harbour road and rail link for the centre of Belfast. In March, the Government launched a £240 million plan to change the face of the Lagan valley. It is significant that the links were approved following a public inquiry in 1978, under a Labour Government. Now that the edges of monetarism have worn slightly thin, the opportunity is there to go ahead with that investment. I should be glad to see that investment soon.

The Under-Secretary with responsiblity for that Department said that he was unable to give a time scale for the construction of the bridges but work would start on the statutory changes. We shall be urging the Minister to get on with that job to see that this link is converted from a dream in a planner's mind into a harbour link in Belfast. It will strengthen the economy still further and help it overall by putting into it £60 million.

A British company is to open a factory in Larne to manufacture plastic windows, creating 100 jobs over a year. That may not seem a lot, but it is an improvement and we welcome it. Star Glaze, a nationwide window supplier, is opening up a 14,000 sq ft factory that is part of the Northern Ireland Industrial Development Board's plans. It is interesting to see how that board is contributing to the local economy. It has not been overwhelmed by the difficulties of the days of De Lorean, but is contributing to the economy.

We note, on the agricultural side, that the Irish and British Governments and the European Commission have received a report on the Lough Melvin catchment area study, which would involve a project between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and which would be of some interest to the underdeveloped economy of that area. It has a lack of mineral and agricultural resources, and the development plan, which has been worked out to ensure the use of natural resources, would maximise the potential for economic growth with particular reference to tourism.

The island of Ireland, and Northern Ireland in particular, has a great deal to offer tourists. The beauty of the area and the overall environment is ideal for tourism and this project, involving the two Governments, is welcome. We hope that it will be developed from the study into a specific programme.

I am not surprised to hear that Mr. Michael Murphy, head of the Western education and library board, is concerned about the condition of school property, which has deteriorated over the years. One of the difficulties caused by education cuts in the late 1970s and early 1980s was that there was bound to be a deterioration of school property and buildings. No doubt the Minister will want to look at this again to examine the disquiet and the warnings of Mr. Murphy.

I am aware that the Government have placed money into schools in Northern Ireland. A £2.46 million package for schools in Northern Ireland for 1987–88 was announced by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who has responsibility for education. There was an allocation of £300,000 for books and materials for the new examinations, over and above the £2 million already announced for 1986–87 and 1987–88. There was a further £2.3 million for additional minor works and equipment in schools, of which £0.3 million was earmarked for energy conservation measures. Therefore, I am aware that the Government are putting money into the specific areas to which I have referred, but I believe that Mr. Murphy's complaint should be considered. No doubt the Minister will consider it in due course.

I shall end my brief study of the Northern Irish economy with a brief reference to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. When we talk of the Northern Irish economy and the money that the Government are putting into it, we must never forget that that economy turns on its work force. The work force turns on a consensus and combination between management and workers. The prosperous and successful factories are those where there is harmony and consensus and where trade unions play their part.

I am pleased to say that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, through its membership, plays a useful part in the development of the Northern Irish economy. That economy must face the difficulties of a worldwide economic climate that is not always helpful, together with the fact that it is based in the north-west corner of the British Isles. It also must face terrorist difficulties of which we are all aware. Nevertheless, the congress works hard with management and Government and it renders a significant service. It should be placed on record that the congress has our full support in its endeavours to improve the economy of Northern Ireland.

9.16 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

I feel sure that the Minister, as a new face at the Dispatch Box, will understand if I do not give him a particular welcome. The mere fact that he has had to be appointed to his office is the clearest possible demonstration of the failure of Government to replace the workable system of the 1920 compromise. Apparently, the Government have been trying to find a replacement for 13 years, but they do not seem to be getting any closer to a solution. The mere presence of a new face is a sign of Government failure that should not be ignored. It is also a sign of the Government's failure to listen to the majority opinion in Northern Ireland.

This debate takes place three times a year and it gives us the chance to scratch the surface regarding expenditure in the departments of the Northern Ireland Office. Indeed, if one wants to find out exactly what is going on, it takes many weeks of research to uncover all the detail. After such research there must be inquiries to judge how well the money is spent. However, I do not wish to venture into that matter tonight, but I hope that, on a future occasion, opportunities will occur to explore expenditure and whether or not there is good value for money.

It is noticeable that the first item in part I of the schedule relates to rating. This is a topical matter because we are now talking about replacing the rating system in Great Britain with a community charge or poll tax, depending on how one looks at it.

I can appreciate the great difficulties that arise for many people from the present system of rating, but, at the same time, I am far from satisfied that the proposed replacement will be any better than the existing system. What steps are being taken towards the replacement of the present rating system in Northern Ireland? I am one of those who believe that if people are spending taxpayers' money there should be a direct link between the moneys collected and spent and the activities of those who spend it.

In Northern Ireland we have a regional rate as well as a local government rate. Of course, there is little control over the spending of the regional rate, which is levied for things outside the control of the present system of local government. When the Minister comes to reply I hope that he will expand a little upon the Government's thinking concerning rating in Northern Ireland. Is it the Government's intention to replace or to retain the rating system? If the Government are to retain it in its present form, may we be told why? It can be retained in the light of the changes here only if it is vastly superior to the system that prevails here. If that is so, why not simply apply the Northern Ireland system to the United Kingdom as a whole rather than go through the turmoil that seems about to engulf the House in the coming weeks and months?

There is the problem borne by many commercial premises in Northern Ireland as a result of the rates burden that they face. That is affected in its turn by planning decisions that are now allowing large out-of-town shopping centres which are, in many cases, nothing more nor less than a new town centre. I would welcome a new factory in my constituency, but I cannot give the same welcome to a large shopping complex that will take profits and hard-earned cash away from the area and put it into the pockets of investors far away and do severe damage to the existing town centre shop owners who spend all their money in the community. If we are to have large out-of-town shopping developments, will that be reflected in some way in the rating charges that are laid upon such developments in order to redress the balance so than they and the present town centre commerical enterprises will compete on a comparable footing? I wonder whether the Government are looking at a tax on turnover or a tax on income rather than a simple straightforward charge per head which might be difficult to collect.

If the Government are to look at the rating system in Northern Ireland, as I hope they will, will they look again at the thorny question of rates on many community halls and such like throughout the country that find the rates a heavy burden? That has been a bone of contention for many halls for many years. Hon. Members representing Northern Ireland know that the problem extends across the political, social and religious divides and has not been much help to many small halls which perform a community service but have no income upon which to draw. They often find themselves having to make fundraising efforts simply to pay the rates. I hope that that will be looked at again.

A week or so ago we heard reports in the House about the meeting of the Agriculture Ministers in Europe. It appeared to me, not only from the Question Time that I sat through but from reading Hansard afterwards, that the future of agriculture, not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom, is in a perilous position. It drew to my attention one of the first speeches I made in the House in about 1974 or 1975 when I asked the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, now Lord Peart, what we were going to do in the European Community with the food surpluses whenever they arose. Even at that time it was evident that, as the size of farms in the Community increased, they would also increase the amount of food produced from fewer and fewer workers. That has now happened and that trend is not yet at an end. I am thinking of countries such as France and Germany which have large areas of high quality agricultural land and can produce large quantities of food. We simply do not have the money to pay for it because it is perfectly plain that no further money is available, and we no longer have the mouths to eat it. Therefore, places such as Northern Ireland, Ireland as a whole, Wales and the Highlands of Scotland will suffer grievously in the long term.

There is no getting rid of the surpluses. They are there. Nobody can buy them and we simply cannot give them away. We went through the hoop of trying to give away a certain amount of food this year, and some of the systems used for giving it away did not work very well.

We have been told that there can be a shift to other crops. What other crops? I suppose that we can shift sheep from the hills to the lowlands whenever people stop growing barley. We can also shift sheep on to the pasture that used to be eaten by dairy cows. However, what becomes of the man on the hill? He could shift to forestry, but to what end? Forestry is a long-term crop. The average farmer cannot derive an income from it year by year.

The farming community and the Government must seriously face the problems that are not a thousand years away. Those problems are just down the road a little bit. They are likely to get worse over the next two or three years. Those problems do not simply impinge on agriculture in Northern Ireland; they also affect the saw mill sector. There is a shortage of timber in the whole island of Ireland. Modern mills swallow the most enormous amounts of timber. It is not all high quality timber and it is used mainly to produce pallets. A modern mill gobbles up that stuff and uses thousands of tonnes of such timber a year. There may be jobs in packaging and removing the trees from the forests, but it is not a paying proposition for the farmer who must grow the timber. There are definite limits in that direction.

I return to the problem that less food will be needed from the farmers in Northern Ireland and from the marginal areas of the country as a whole. That must translate into fewer farmers being employed on the land. That would be most grievously felt in areas with small farms. Of course, that would mean more machinery. We have only to consider the amount of money that farmers owe to the banks for machinery to realise that many farmers have no chance of ever getting their heads above water, let alone earning a decent living again.

The practical effects of these farming changes—unless there is continuous Government action to prevent it—will mean more marginal land returning to very rough pasture. There will be a tremendous loss of jobs in agriculture and inevitably there will be a loss of jobs in ancillary industries. No representative from Northern Ireland would welcome that. It is true that much of Northern Ireland depends on agriculture. Unless the Government come up with a long-term comprehensive plan, there is very little hope for many of the small farmers in Northern Ireland.

There is always a need for capital grants in farming. In future, those capital grants should be restricted to improvements to farm buildings, conservation, and the effluent from silage which is a serious problem in many parts of the Province. I ask for building grants simply because if we are to keep people on the land, they must have tolerable conditions in which to work and receive a reasonable income. As farms grow larger—a development that I do not welcome—and as we switch more and more to pasture, beef and sheepmeat, I believe that there will be a need for continual grant-aid in those areas if only to make working conditions tolerable for those involved in the industry.

I know that the Government are trying to reduce payments to the common agricultural policy. That is a good thing. I believe that the CAP has got completely out of hand. However, I ask the Minister to bear in mind the fact that the route being pursued by the United Kingdom Government flies directly in the path that the Government of the Irish Republic must follow. There will continue to be problems with smuggling on the border. There will be continuing problems with the processing of meat and meat products and eventually problems will probably arise with regard to the ownership and control of meat plants and factories in Northern Ireland. We face massive changes in Northern Ireland agriculture, and the agricultural community has not yet come to terms with them. Have the Government done so? I ask them to pull their finger out and do something about it.

I asked the Minister in an intervention whether there would be extra money to employ nurses in some hospitals in the Western board area. He may not be aware that nurses there work a 12-hour shift system. I so not think that many other groups of workers, excluding those foolish enough to become Members, willingly work a 12-hour shift. People's lives may depend on the nursing profession. I doubt whether a nurse coming on duty at 8 o'clock in the morning and working until 8 o'clock at night is as competent in the last four hours as in the first four. This is a money-saving device for the Western board which is most unwelcome.

My mother is in a geriatric unit and she is unlikely ever to leave it. I understand that some nurses find working there convenient in terms of the time they want to spend at home, but I do not believe that that system should continue. We should carefully consider that point and the fact that the Altnagelvin training hospital finds it impossible to have a full complement of nurses in certain wards, such as labour wards. That busy hospital covers a large part of the north-west. I should like the Minister to ascertain whether it is possible to bring staffing levels up to proper numbers and to do something about nurses' working conditions. It is daft to spend a lot of money bringing SRNs to midwifery standard and then saying, "Sorry, but we do not have a job for you in this hospital or in the Western area" and turfing them off, sometimes to the ends of the earth. Why spend money training the girls to do the job if we will not benefit from their expertise when they finish their training? If money is tight, these funds could be better spent. This system should not be allowed to continue.

I could mention many other problems. It is like walking through an orchard with a lot of ripe fruit hanging from the trees. I have raised these few items in the hope that this will be the last time I have to do so in such a debate. The sooner I am shot of the present system of government of Northern Ireland, the better pleased I shall be, because it has been a disaster for the Province and its people and it shows no sign of bringing us peace, stability or prosperity in any shape or form.

9.33 pm
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

I wish to concentrate on the scandalous treatment of the people of North Down by the Eastern health and social services board bureaucrats who are carrying out the Government's dictates and discriminating against the people I have the honour of representing.

The population of North Down has increased dramatically over the decades and will continue to do so. The present population must be about 70,000 and the number of elderly people is growing. Taken together with the Ards area, the population is 131,500.

That means that the North Down and the Ards areas combined have 20.6 per cent. of the population of the entire Eastern health and social services board area. But—and this is where my charge of discrimination arises although they have 20.6 per cent. of the population, they do not have 20.6 per cent. of the services. It is disgraceful that such an important area, with a high-density population, should have no proper hospital facilities. I repeat my charge to the Government: it is a case of downright discrimination. Let me say, in front of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), that if it happened in a national area, people would be marching and shouting "Discrimination." I shall shout "Discrimination" at the Government in the House tonight.

What deeply concerns me and those I represent is that further drastic changes are planned by the Eastern health board. It intends to carry out the Government's wishes to make—I quote the usual Civil Service jargon for cuts—"the most effective use of its facilities". The truth seems to be that, in the eyes of the Government, the people do not matter. The Government and their minions in the health board give vent to expressions of compassion for the people, but that is where their compassion begins and ends.

In a letter issued by the Eastern health board and dated 15 May 1987, the chief administrator of the board declared: The Eastern Health Board has completed its Area Strategic Plan 1987–1992 and is now engaged in implementing the first year's Operational Plan of the Strategic Plan. An element of the Board's Operational Plan for 1987–1988 involves proposals for the transfer of certain services and the consequent closure of some facilities. Those proposals include the closure of the Cultra and Crawfordsburn hospitals. The elderly patients in the hospitals, many of whom have been there for a number of years, are to be dispersed to various other areas.

No regard seems to be paid to the wishes of the elderly patients, who naturally become accustomed to a particular place and a particular home, and who will undoubtedly be adversely affected by such a harsh move. Similarly, no regard seems to be paid to the relatives of those people who live in the area, and who will have more difficulty in travelling to new areas further afield. But pounds seem to matter more than people in the eyes of the Government, whose meanness and lack of concern are revealed in every public expenditure cut in health and social services in the area that I represent.

In addition to the closure of those two hospitals, which care for the elderly and the mentally handicapped elderly, the board intends to proceed with the further undermining of the Bangor and Ards hospitals, with the transfer of more acute services to the Ulster hospital at Dundonald. The Ards hospital will lose its surgical overflow beds, and the Bangor hospital will lose 18 surgical and six gynaecology beds, leaving a 16-bed ward in the Bangor hospital to provide general surgery and gynaecological services. That effectively amounts to a 40 per cent. reduction in general surgery beds in the district. The number of gynaecology beds at Bangor hospital will be reduced from 16 to eight. If that happens, no further major gynaecology surgery can be carried out there. Therefore, these proposals will drastically downgrade the Bangor hospital.

Despite the hoard's offer of consultation, these proposals will go ahead because the Government and the board are totally indifferent to the rights and needs of the people of the area. In addition to the permanent population, there is a steady increase each year, particularly from tourism, especially in July and August when up to 7,000 or 8,000 more people flood into the area.

Although the North Down and Ards areas comprise 20.6 per cent. of the population of the Eastern health board region, they are allocated only 6 per cent. of the total number of general surgery beds in the region. That is a disgrace. I protest most vehemently at this further attack on the people of the North Down and Ards areas and their right to proper medical facilities.

The Belfast area has numerous hospitals. There is the Royal Victoria hospital, the City hospital, with that monster block that cost more than £60 million of taxpayers' money, the Mater hospital and others. The Belfast area swallows up the vast bulk of the money available to the Eastern health board.

Do any of the bureaucrats who make these vital decisions in the comfort of their luxurious offices, and who travel to those offices by car, ever consider the hardship that most people endure when travelling long distances by public transport to visit their relatives in hospital? That hardship will be further increased if these proposals go through. It is exceedingly difficult for people living in country areas to make journeys that require one or more changes on public transport. Although this is regarded as an affluent area, a third of the population do not own cars and must depend on an erratic public transport service that involves one or more changes.

Mr. William Ross

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, given the present rate of car theft at the Royal Victoria hospital, it is probably advisable to go by public transport because anyone who goes by car will probably have to walk home?

Mr. Kilfedder

My hon. Friend highlights the truth. In my judgment, the Royal Victoria hospital ought to be closed and a new hospital built somewhere else. Most people who make use of the Royal Victoria hospital facilities do not like to go there, either as patients or visitors, because they feel intimidated. Far too many terrorist offences have occurred within the area of the Royal Victoria hospital, and, as my hon. Friend points out, many a car has been stolen within the hospital grounds. It might be better to go by public transport, but better still if people did not have to go there at all, certainly not from the Ards area, or Bangor or anywhere else in the North Down region. As well as the difficulties of travelling, the cost of doing so is now considerable.

If the board's proposals go ahead, it will not be possible for the staff at the Bangor and Ards hospitals to cope with the amount of work and number of admissions that have occurred in previous years. Already the waiting list at Bangor hospital has increased from 230 in 1985 to 395 in 1986, and it will increase further. More people will have to wait longer, and that will be exceedingly difficult for those who urgently need medical treatment.

There will be difficulties in admitting all emergency cases. I understand from medical practitioners that the Ulster hospital cannot always take emergency cases, and the board's policy is that central Belfast hospitals should not generally admit emergencies from the North Down and Ards area. So the decision by the Eastern health and social services board to remove the ear, nose and throat department from the Ulster hospital to the City and Royal hospitals adds to the problems that the people in my area face. It is another example of the total indifference of the Eastern health board and its officials.

In 1985, 41,000 new patients were treated in casualty at the Ulster hospital at Dundonald. Each week, 35 patients are seen as ear, nose and throat emergencies and the Ulster hospital has one of the fastest patient turnover rates of any hospital in Northern Ireland. However, the emergency services at the Ulster hospital will not be complete without the ear, nose and throat back-up facilities. Therefore, the Government and the board will need to re-examine the provision for the people of my area.

I demand—and I have made this demand before, both inside and outside the House—the provision of a new hospital for the North Down and Ards area. Of course, that will take some time, and in the meantime I therefore demand the upgrading of the Bangor and Ards hospitals to provide an effective acute hospital service for the people of the area. I demand the provision of adequate casualty services for the district. I demand the provision of purpose-built accommodation for every patient, which ought to be provided in the area before the Cultra and Crawfordsburn hospitals are closed.

Surely, in this day and age, a Government should take pride in looking after the elderly. It is no use saying that they have finished their lives and can therefore be dispersed as so many numbers—people without names, pasts or relatives. I demand the retention of the ear, nose and throat services at the Ulster hospital and at Ards and Bangor.

Finally, I refer to the expenditure on the housing services in the Estimates. It is beyond comprehension that the Housing Executive should refuse to give a grant if only one wall of a room has been disturbed or damaged as a result of work that is carried out. Such work includes the replacement of gas with another form of heating and the renewal of old electric wiring. As we would expect, most tenants are house proud. They have often spent considerable sums of money on papering and painting their rooms, and if one wall has been disturbed the whole room has to be renovated—unless the Housing Executive expects tenants to put up with having one wall out of character or to accept being treated as second-class citizens. Many families, and many houses and flats, are affected by the refusal of the Housing Executive to pay for such work. I believe that the executive ought to be ordered to give grants to carry out that work.

Does such a rule apply in England? Do councils in Britain refuse grants to tenants of public sector housing where council work has damaged one wall of their homes? It is not the fault of the tenant, but is a result of necessary work being carried out by the district council. No matter how much they may be criticised by hon. Members, I do not believe that district councils here would be so mean as to deny grants to tenants in such circumstances.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

Here on the mainland some houses have been in a worse state after they have been modernised.

Mr. Kilfedder

The hon. Gentleman's remarks arouse my deepest sympathy. I have come across cases where work has been carried out by sub-contractors for the Housing Executive in Northern Ireland and they have left the houses in a dreadful state. It does not matter to a tenant who does not care tuppence about the state of his house, but that is not the sort of tenant who should be looked after by the Housing Executive. The Housing Executive, and the housing authority in the hon. Gentleman's area, should take greater care of its tenants.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

The Housing Executive in the north of Ireland believes that it is required to inspect only 10 per cent. of all improvement work carried out. That is why so many houses are left in such a state. The hon. Gentleman and others will agree that it is ridiculous that only 10 per cent. of the work carried out by outside contractors is inspected by those who are paid public money to do the work.

Mr. Kilfedder

I could spend some time pursuing that point, but I will take up the matter later. I do not wish to take up any more time of the House on this, except to say that I wish we could go back to the old days when the rent collector would come round and could report back to the Housing Executive or the council what had to be done on a house or if work had been badly carried out. There is a great distance between the Housing Executive and the tenant, who is often treated as a nuisance.

I urge the Government to reconsider the payment of grant only when more than one wall must be redecorated. Common sense must dictate the payment of the grant. This may be a matter of amusement to some people, but it is very important to tenants, and I back those tenants in their demand for fair treatment.

9.53 pm
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

I wish the new Under-Secretary of State well in his post. In many ways, he has drawn the short straw with Northern Ireland. I know that he will do his very best for the people of Northern Ireland and I wish him well in his stay with us. I pay tribute to his predecessor, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), who was in the north of Ireland for longer than any other Minister. He is a man of great humanity and he gave his all to help the people of the north of Ireland, and I wish him well in his new post.

Nothing highlights the differences between North Down and my constituency better than the points so validly made by the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) in relation to housing. I wish to mention housing because problems are developing which are not being catered for by forward thinking and which are not being anticipated. They will catch up with us. if they have not already arrived.

I bow to no one in my admiration for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, its concept and the way in which it has grappled with what was an almost impossible situation at the time when it was charged with that responsibility. I defend with everything at my disposal the decision to have an independent body such as the Northern Ireland Housing Executive which can and will deal independently with the whole question of housing in what is a sensitive area. However, I see problems arising and it would be wrong if we did not look at those problems to try to get them right.

It may be overstating it to say that there is some flab within the Housing Executive and its approach to the housing problem in the North of Ireland. That flab to some extent comes from a lack of public accountability, which is one of the factors that is counter-productive for the Housing Executive. One only has to deal on a daily basis with the problems of the Housing Executive and of tenants to realise that something more is needed. I suggest that there are fears that it may be coming to the end of a cycle. It is time to get a new injection of imagination, dynamism and professionalism into the Housing Executive, because that is needed.

People in the Housing Executive have a herculean job and I take nothing away from them. However, there are times when there is a lot to be desired. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) dealt excellently with his constituency. Similarly, I will point to my constituency and try to draw some conclusions. My constituency is essentially a rural area. It has the three urban areas of Armagh, Newry and Keady. In the Armagh urban area, 236 people are on the waiting list and in the incoming year 12 new houses will be completed. In the Keady area, 53 people are on the waiting list and no houses will be completed in the incoming year. In the Newry area, 371 people are on the waiting list and three houses will be completed in the incoming year.

I made it clear at the beginning that I was talking about the larger urban areas. In those larger urban areas, where there is a waiting list of 660 people, 15 houses will be completed in the incoming financial year. That, by anybody's standards, is bad planning and simply cannot be allowed to continue. I challenged the Housing Executive on that and I continue to challenge it. However, I get expertly evasive answers when I ask it how it can justify the fact that, in a town such as Newry with 371 people on the waiting list, only three houses will be completed in the incoming financial year. I have not been able to get a satisfactory reply. I have not been able to get anyone within the Housing Executive, central Government or the Northern Ireland Office to tell me how three houses can cater for the needs of 371 people. I await that reply.

The same applies to the number of houses unfit for habitation that are evident throughout the whole of the north of Ireland. I accept that my constituency is not the worst. I believe that Fermanagh and South Tyrone has the highest incidence of unfit housing in Northern Ireland. In Newry and Armagh, which are not the worst by any means, 11.5 per cent. of housing is unfit for human habitation. In addition, 10.8 per cent. of houses lack basic facilities, so 23 per cent. of the housing stock in the constituency has that type of inherent defect.

I can understand that shortage of money prevents sufficient grants from being made and that extraneous factors may make it impossible to make the necessary grants, but I cannot understand the Housing Executive in the southern region failing to make any application for additional moneys in the autumn review. There must be something radically wrong when the authority that has responsibility for dealing with public housing does not make the necessary application. I have raised the issue with the executive and the Department of the Environment. There appears to be gross incompetence when those responsible in the southern area did not even ask for money that was available. That cannot be tolerated.

It seems incredible that only 10 per cent. of work carried out by the executive is inspected. Apparently the executive feels that that is the extent of its responsibility. In other words, 90 per cent. of the work carried out for the executive by outside contractors can go uninspected. I am sure that no Member from the north of Ireland can say that he has found that all works are properly undertaken. I have found examples where payment has been made and yet no work has been done. That is a matter of record. Proper inspection must be made, because it is clearly intolerable that public moneys should be spent without proper control. It is intolerable also that tenants should be treated in this way. In any improvement scheme in any executive estate, it will be found that the contractor is taking the easy way out and that the executive has taken it. It passes the buck to the consultants and at the end of the day no one is responsible. The public purse loses and the tenant most definitely loses.

I know that I shall be forgiven if I take the opportunity of referring to Belfast, West, which is not my constituency. It is unfortunate that the person elected to represent it in this place does not put himself in the position in which he can advance the arguments that I wish to put before the House.

I welcome the decision to demolish the Divis flats. I ask that the provision of proper and adequate replacement housing is proceeded with as speedily as possible, in consultation with local residents. That is crucial. Thinking should now extend to the removal of the Unity flats as well. Whatever else they have done, they have contributed nothing to unity within the community. They have contributed nothing also to the well-being of tenants.

There are 4,500 who are waiting to be rehoused in Belfast, West, and the majority are not nationalists. In broad terms they would be described as unionists. There is a huge waiting list because of the cycle of redevelopment. This relatively small constituency probably experiences more problems than any other area in any city under this jurisdiction.

I noted with interest that special reference was made in the Gracious Speech to inner-city development. There is the opportunity to take Belfast, West, be it the Shankill part of it or the Falls area, for example, and to end the present deprivation. I ask that a start be made to give the people decent and proper housing. That might be one of the ways of starting to deal with the enormous problems faced by the people of Belfast, West.

I wish to make a brief reference to the allocation of money for roads. I shall make a genuine point. The Minister responsible for the Environment will know the areas about which I speak. I challenge one of the theses of the Department's roads executive—that it gives an equal allocation to each area in the north of Ireland. That is exactly correct and absolutely fine if all areas start from an equal position, but that is not the reality. It was with some amusement that I listened to the hon. Member for North Down speak about transport and road conditions in North Down. I have no doubt that the worst system of roads in the north of Ireland is in south Armagh. For historical, political and various other reasons it is the worst road system in the north of Ireland. It is wrong to say that area should stand on an equal financial footing with, say, an area such as North Down or greater Londonderry, where there is a magnificent road system. I challenge such a statement.

Again I ask the Minister responsible for the Environment whether, at his convenience, he and his officials will assess the situation with me. Let us drive along the roads, and then let him tell me that it is not the worst road system in the north of Ireland. I ask that the roads be examined. The theory of equal allocation of money should be challenged. Unless all areas start on an equal basis, it is unfair.

I am disappointed that the issue of equality of employment in the north of Ireland has not moved as quickly as it should. I ask that my remarks not be interpreted as political, religious or sectarian points; they are not. Everybody who lives in the north of Ireland has a right to be treated equally, whatever his religion, politics, colour or creed. I was impressed by a "Panorama" programme last night, which dealt with the same subject in Britain. One set of words stuck with me. A person from America was interviewed and asked how changes were brought about effectively and quickly in America. He replied that, when he came down from the mountain, Moses did not bring down 10 recommendations, he brought down 10 commandments. In reality, if we are ever to get to grips with the abuse of privilege, be it in Northern Ireland or in Britain, we must have a proper sanction which will make firms do what they should do and make them act justly.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

Why has the hon. Gentleman's party, in all the years that it has talked about discrimination, never once spoken about deliberate bias in employment against loyalists and Protestants in Mid-Ulster and, in particular, in Omagh, in the Civil Service, the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Education? Why has there been silence from the hon. Gentleman's party?

Mr. Mallon

No doubt the Minister will have taken note of the hon. Gentleman's question. I have no doubt also that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) is aware that the Departments that he mentioned are directly governed by central Government. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that, and draw to the attention of the House the situation that exists in Government training centres. I asked the Minister to look at that and over a year ago I was given categorical assurances that steps would be taken. I take up the hon. Gentleman's point: if one cannot end this type of discrimination in places where a Government Department is making the decisions, how can one end it in private enterprise and in semi-state bodies? I ask the Government to look carefully at the Government training centres.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the absence of real employment opportunities creates great difficulties for people from both sides in Northern Ireland? Does he further agree that, until we get inward investment and commitment by Government to stimulate the economy and create worthwhile jobs, there will be continuing difficulties?

Mr. Mallon

I completely accept that point. The ultimate way to end any discrimination in job allocation is to have sufficient jobs to make it quite obvious that there is work for everybody.

I should like to make one final reference to west Belfast. In 1984 there was an official recommendation that another further education college would be needed in Belfast, and that there was an obvious need for it to be built in west Belfast. The Government then announced that money would be available for this project, but since then the Belfast education and library board has delayed any movement towards setting it up. The board has set up working parties, but we know what that means. The matter goes from a working party to a standing committee and that is worse. It seems that the Belfast education and library board is moving away from the initial recommendations. The Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland should quickly move the board to get that fourth college established in west Belfast where there is an obvious need.

It is unfortunate that agriculture in Northern Ireland can seldom be debated with the Minister who is completely responsible. I make no criticism whatever of the present incumbent in the Department of Agriculture. However, agriculture is our stock industry and the north of Ireland depends upon it. We are waiting for the agricultural development programme that we thought we would have had before now. We were assured that we would have it by now, because it is crucial, especially for the small farmer. Also, unless the integrated rural development programme is adopted and pursued by Government under the terms of the Mather report, which has been accepted by the European Parliament and by the Commission but not yet by Government, we will not have the framework within which we can start to deal with the component parts such as housing, lack of employment or agriculture itself.

10.17 pm
Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)

There are one or two matters in the order about which I should like to speak before addressing the House on the matters in my brief. They are based on the Department of the Environment vote 2, page 4, on housing services.

First, in connection with vote 3, page 4, under the Department of Economic Development, I am concerned at the large amounts of aid being given to companies to promote activities that are already more than adequately catered for by established companies. Such aid does nothing to create extra jobs; it leads only to closures and subsequent unemployment by transferring operations from one part of the Province to another. In many instances, the services offered by the new company are vastly inferior to those already in existence, largely because of lack of experience in that area.

Secondly, on the Department of Health and Social Services, vote 1, page 5, I stress the great need in north Belfast for extra resources for the development and maintenance of services for the frail and elderly. The cuts in home help provision are causing great handicaps to those sections of our population. Those people are finding it impossible to cope in the hours allotted to their welfare. In many instances, home helps themselves provide extra services out of pity and concern. There must be other areas in which economies could be made without endangering the lives of our senior citizens who have contributed so much to the welfare of the Province throughout their working lives.

Some comment is also necessary about part II, page 4, vote 3, about the situation in Shorts regarding the flying of our national flag in the workplace. That flag is flown to commemorate the battle of the Somme and the sacrifice that was made by the valiant men from both parts of Ireland who gave their lives for freedom and democracy. There is now the suggestion that such displays are provocative to the Catholic work force. I can categorically refute such suggestions. I know many Roman Catholic workers at Shorts and, as far as I am aware, not one has ever complained of such intimidation.

During the time of the troubles in the Province, when riots were prevalent, members of the Protestant work force escorted their Roman Catholic fellow workers to and from their homes, many of which were in interface areas, so that they could pursue their occupations in peace and safety. Recently, a Roman Catholic worker in Castlereagh was presented with a £400 microwave oven as a wedding present from his largely Protestant colleagues on the factory floor. Those are not instances of provocation or intimidation, and I hope that the Roman Catholics who work in such places will make statements to that effect.

Rev. William McCrea

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is an absolute disgrace that, at a time of great unemployment in the Province, members of the SDLP are playing political games with people's jobs, as they are doing in Shorts and other factories?

Mr. Walker

I certainly abhor anyone of any party who plays politics with people's jobs. I noticed that the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) mentioned something along those lines in his answer to the hon. Gentleman's last question. I should like to put on record that I abhor such activities.

Turning now to the main thrust of my submission, as my party's spokesman for housing and construction, it falls to me to comment on this important matter which concerns us all in Northern Ireland—the part that the Housing Executive plays in the provision and repair of public sector housing. As I have said on many occasions, the activities of that autocratic and dictatorial organisation leave much to be desired. Its performance since the last time that I spoke on the Appropriation Order has been anything but satisfactory.

Mr. Beggs

Does my hon. Friend agree that the time has come for a thorough public inquiry into the operation of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to expose the many cover-ups that take place and those that have taken place in the past?

Mr. Walker

I appreciate the interjection from my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs). If he listens to me as I go through my speech, some of the things that he has mentioned will become clear. It has been said—and I find it difficult to disagree with the feeling—that it was the Anglo-Irish diktat and the involvement of a foreign decadent state in the affairs of Northern Ireland, including many aspects of housing, that accounted for an attitude in the Housing Executive that can only be construed as anti-unionist. I feel that this is in some way responsible for the present situation in north Belfast. I shall confine my remarks to that area, although, from information received from other sources, I have no doubt that such allegations about the behaviour of this monolithic body would be applicable to the Province as a whole, but in particular to the urban areas.

North Belfast contains a wide spread of all religions and creeds, with a broad financial spectrum, which I have always endeavoured to represent faithfully and fairly. I am glad to say that this has been duly recognised by my constituents who have returned me once again to the House. In such representation, it is my duty to make sure that one section of the population is not being discriminated against in favour of another. In housing, this would be a just cause for consternation, leading to all kinds of accusations against the executive and particular individuals in it.

The area in which there is irrefutable evidence of imbalance in the provision of housing in both quality and quantity is in the Ardoyne. The Minister should look carefully at the disparity that is so glaringly obvious in this area. For some time, I have been trying for a commitment from the executive that it will do something to correct this imbalance between the Protestant and Catholic sections of the community. I have been told that extensive proposals are being formulated. This refers only to piecemeal and limited repair and renewal.

On the other hand, complete streets of houses in the Catholic Ardoyne are having rehabilitation programmes with new infill housing, together with large-scale environmental works. The quality of the work and of the materials used is of the highest order, expecially when compared to the standard pertaining to the adjoining area on the Protestant side, where strictly limited works are being done on individual houses.

To correct this unacceptable state of affairs would require funds to be made immediately available for the complete rehabilitation of the Protestant Glenbryn/ Alliance area under a housing action area scheme. I strongly suspect that the area has been allowed to decline in the hope that the people will be forced to leave, thereby creating further interface problems between the two communities, leading inexorably to continuing strife.

Another apparent discrimination arises in the provision of the auxiliary works to complement and secure new buildings. I am referring to small walls and gates to ensure privacy and security. It is not just the prerogative of the Catholic residents to have such facilities to protect them from the vandals and hooligans who take great delight in preying on defenceless people living on such estates. The Protestant people of the Old park, Crumlin and Shankill areas have as much right to estates completed to high standards as their Catholic counterparts.

I can name many other incidents where the Protestant communities have not been treated as fairly as their Catholic neighbours. Two spring readily to mind—the rehabilitation at Jaffa street and the broken promises on the Yarrow street, Rosewood street area, which has now been designated as a private investment priority area. The residents of Jaffa street, having suffered the trauma of' an enveloping scheme extending over years due to a mediocre builder working with cheap materials to a cheap specification, now have to suffer the indignity of not having the fronts of their houses completed with garden walls and railings, as promised. In the meantime, the broken stones that have been spread outside their doors as a temporary measure are a natural lavatory for the dogs and cats in the neighbourhood, the products of which are inadvertently tramped into the house.

On making inquiries as to why that job has not been completed, I am fobbed off with the answer that although a scheme has been drawn up, it has not yet been approved, due to the cost consideration. When these unfortunate people, many of whom are elderly and infirm, see the wonderful, completed enveloped projects in the New Lodge enjoyed by the Catholic community, is it any wonder that they consider that they are being blatantly abused?

I am not, for one minute, criticising my Catholic constituents for being treated as they deserve in the matter of their housing needs, but as the Member representing Belfast, North I demand the same rights and privileges for the Protestant people in the matter of their pressing housing requirements.

With regard to Yarrow street and Rosewood street, I wish to expose the deceitful way in which promises given have been broken by the executive. It is another glaring example of discrimination against one section of the community. When the Lower Oldpark area was being redeveloped, it was stated that the area of Yarrow street and Rosewood street would be upgraded in conjunction with the adjoining new building so that the basically good brick terraced houses would be retained. During the tour of this area with the then Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), along with a Mr. Cameron, who has now been elevated to a higher position within the executive, it was again repeated to me that the scheme would progress as a matter of urgency. That was in 1984. Now I am informed that proposals will not be brought forward during the present financial year. However, most magnanimously, the executive assessed the needs during the private investment priority area review and will now bear in mind the views of the residents and their representatives on how this matter should be progressed. What unmitigated gall from a thoroughly discredited body.

I would now like to turn to another criticism that is causing public representatives serious concern in their relations with the executive. There is now a belief among unionist councillors that the executive has drawn so far away from the public it is supposed to serve that it is now incapable of responding in a constructive and sympathetic manner to the problems of tenants and home seekers. I note that there must be some form of recognition by the executive of its failure to respond to complaints from the public as it now appears that a complaints procedure will be set up to ensure that complaints are duly investigated. I suggest that before that procedure is established the causes within the executive, responsible for people's complaints should he investigated in depth. It should not be overlooked that such assurances given in the past to public representatives have, in reality, resulted in no improvement.

I have already stated that Belfast, North has the greatest population and proportion of elderly in the Province. Many of those senior citizens are living in completely unacceptable conditions and are not receiving the support to which they are entitled. I am concerned about the lack of provision in the matter of sheltered accommodation for this section of the population in Belfast, North. The executive will say that levels of accommodation have been met, based on the criteria of 35 per 1,000. However, if the executive is basing that on its existing lists, it is naive in the extreme. Relatively few elderly people have completed registration forms. The vast majority of the elderly do not appear on any list, nor does there exist within the executive any means of identifying such elderly people with special needs.

There are many housing associations prepared to build for this deserving section of our population, but they are being stymied by the executive, which is again abrogating its responsibility in this respect.

There is also a serious problem with the glass-fronted room heaters that have been installed in houses for the elderly. These unfortunate people cannot manage the mechanism connected with these fires. All their lives they have been used to open fires, and in many cases they are treating these unsuitable appliances in the same way. Thus, they are exposing themselves to great danger in the process. Communication with the executive, with the tenants and the coal advisory service is just not working in the interests of those old people. The response to calls for repairs and inspection is much too long and in the meantime there is suffering and sometimes death because of the delay. There should be the alternative solid fuel option in the shape of the wrap round boiler open fire that also copes with smokeless fuels. There is a crying demand for that system from many executive tenants, particularly as it makes full central heating applications economical.

I am still concerned with the current selection scheme for main contractors for building and repair programmes for executive contracts. There are too many so-called builders being given contracts that they have not fulfilled. In spite of so-called controls to govern the employment of unscrupulous subcontractors, they are still flourishing to the detriment of the executive, its tenants and the housing stock.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Housing Executive falls down very badly with regard to the inspection of work done? The idea of inspecting one house in 10 under a contract leads to corruption because the contractor can take the inspector along to the one house that has been well done, while the other nine houses are not inspected.

Mr. Walker

I thank the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) for that. I am reliably informed that the inspection rate in Belfast is one in 20. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about inspections. It is a diabolical disgrace to see the way in which jobs are carried out in such a lousy way with respect to all types of housing and building repairs.

I was referring to the cowboys. Many of them are subcontractors. They employ people who are already drawing the dole, pay them deflated wages and pocket a 30 per cent. tax deduction. That illegal form of horse-trading precludes the employment of legitimate, self-employed and other workers who pay tax. As a prerequisite of the contract, the main contractor should be required to give lists of all those employed in any capacity on the site. Those lists would be rigorously checked against DHSS records. That would expose those unprincipled subcontractors, many of whom have chequered backgrounds in the building trade.

The Government should also strengthen the hand of the RUC through more covert operations in its efforts to apprehend the perpetrators of the protection rackets operating on many executive housing sites. It is completely unrealistic to expect contractors to expose the parasites engaged in that illegal activity. Only through the persistent and diligent application of orthodox and unorthodox, methods by dedicated officers will that abhorrent practice be minimised.

I am still not at all happy at the low level of satisfaction with Housing Executive repairs. I have a constant stream of tenants to my constituency office complaining about a lack of attention and expressing complete dissatisfaction with all forms of repairs. Some time ago I advocated a tenant certification scheme for the approval of repairs. Such a scheme has been in operation on the mainland most successfully for many years. In a letter to me, the chairman of the executive refused to consider such a suggestion. When we consider that on average only one repair in 20 in Belfast is checked and when we consider the low level of satisfaction with repairs, it seems that anything that would improve such an unacceptable record should he considered seriously and would be to the benefit of all concerned.

The Housing Executive has proved to be a monumental failure in all aspects of housing management. The reports from the public auditor every year reveal the results of that gross mismanagement for all to see. Millions of pounds of taxpayers' money that should have been used for the building and repairing of homes for the needy are carelessly or even criminally squandered. The whole structure of the Housing Executive requires to be fully investigated by an independent body so that it is made more amenable to what the public expect from an organisation which they had no part in setting up and in which they have no practical input. Its performance in comparison with the number of staff it employs is pathetic. We have heard of criticism of the old Belfast corporation and other local government housing bodies concerned with the provision and administration of housing, but they were streamlined and cost-effective because of accountability to the public and their record was commendable, compared to the operations in their place.

I hope that the Minister will make it his business to consider my accusations seriously in the interests of justice and fair play. The evidence is there for him to see, if he cares to look. I shall be happy to expand on any matter that needs clarification and, if necessary, will furnish his office with many other examples of unfair practices pursued within the Housing Executive.

10.35 pm
Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

I protest at the introduction of Northern Ireland legislation by Order in Council. I do not want to take part in the debates on the other orders on the Order Paper. Under the appropriation order, reference is made in the vote for the Department of Economic Development to the training of labour and to the grants and assistance given to industrial firms. It is commendable that we should be trying to increase employment in Northern Ireland. What is being done to help those threatened by the Irish Republican Army, which prevents firms from carrying out work and threatens and prevents workers from working? Having worked in the construction industry, I realise the difficulties faced by those men.

In the past, workers were threatened and firms continued to work. Firms said to the workers, "If you wish to continue, your job is there for you." But when pressure was put on firms, the employers suddenly discovered that there was an awful threat to them and immediately pulled out of jobs. Perhaps security does not come under this appropriation order, but it is relevant to industry to consider whether the Northern Ireland Office is doing anything to prevent that, to encourage those workers and firms willing to do the job and take the risk and to assist workers to do the job if firms do not have the courage to take the risk.

I come to vote 5 for the Department of the Environment. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) referred to the Divis flats, which are to be demolished. He did not refer to the Rossville flats, which I understand are in the same position. Who made that decision? Was it made, as Mr. Barry claims, by the Anglo-Irish conference? Was it made by the Northern Ireland Office or, as someone else has claimed, by the Housing Executive? If it was made by the Housing Executive, that is a complete U-turn—if I may use a phrase that is not particularly welcome on the Conservative Benches—from what was said by the Housing Executive board and its officers—that they had decided not to demolish Divis flats. After the Anglo-Irish conference and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, we suddenly discovered that the Divis flats and the Rossville flats are to be demolished. Mr. Barry announces it in Dublin, and says that he is claiming the credit because it was achieved through the Anglo-Irish conference. Perhaps, when he winds up the debate, the Minister will put on record who made that decision.

I disagree with what some hon. Members have said about Housing Executive grants. Perhaps I should not be disagreeing with other hon. Members, but I should point out that when grants are given by the executive, it is the responsibility of those who receive them to employ the contractor and to see that he carries out the work properly. It would be feasible to inspect about 10 per cent. to ensure that, at least in that percentage, the work was carried out according to specification.

In DED vote 8, there is a reference to an electricity subsidy. As is well known, proposals have been made providing for major changes to that industry. Northern Ireland's dependence on oil for electricity generation is also well known: in fact, it is 90 per cent. Because electricity cannot be stored, and because a balance must always be maintained between supply and demand, the fuel used to generate that electricity is very important in economic terms. The Northern Ireland electricity system is the smallest non-interconnected service in Europe. A well-known reason for that is the loss of the interconnector between Northern Ireland and the Republic—which, I remind the Minister, has been out of commission since 1975.

On 15 November 1985, the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed, with its reference to peace, stability and security. In view of the supposedly greatly improved relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic, I wonder why the interconnector could not be protected from the IRA. Why has it not been reinstated? It seems, unfortunately, to fall into the same category as peace, stability and better security.

My party is not opposed to private enterprise where it provides proper, lasting jobs—not simply paper jobs—but each enterprise must be taken on its merits. When lignite was discovered at Crumlin, and was hailed as Northern Ireland's first natural resource—which is not strictly true; its people are its greatest natural resource—the view that cheap fuel was just around the corner was uppermost in everyone's mind. Since then, however, things have changed. There is a great debate about a lignite power station—about whether it should be situated in Crumlin, which incidentally would place it in my constituency, or in Ballymoney; and about whether we should wait to see whether a bit of competition in other ways would bring down the price.

It now seems that it would be more sensible to finish Kilroot No. 2 as soon as possible, which would give time for a reassessment of lignite and lignite potential as a means of working towards a satisfactory one third coal, one third oil, one third lignite formula for the generation of electricity in Northern Ireland.

It would also be sensible for the new lignite station to be built by private enterprise, but we contend that it should be run by Northern Ireland Electricity, which has increased its efficiency and productivity in the last 10 years and which has maintained a 99.9 per cent. reliability of supply, even though the system has two of the oldest, least efficient power stations in Belfast, West and Coolkeeragh.

Northern Ireland has few resources that it can call its own. When lignite is developed, we must ensure that its benefits, both financially and practically, stay in the Province to benefit its citizens rather than lining the pockets of speculators who may come in from outside.

Since I became a Member of this House, I have strenuously objected to the system of Orders in Council by which Northern Ireland is governed. I still feel the same as I did when I first entered the House in 1983.

I have referred to proposals that will be put to the House at a later date and to the way in which the electricity supply industry—which is so vital to Northern Ireland—will be dealt with by Orders in Council. My party's offer to give evidence to the Select Committee on Energy was not taken up. Instead, the Northern Ireland Office has chosen to bring forward orders which can go through in one and a half hours. That will be pointless, because we will be unable to amend those orders. In addition, we know that representatives of a foreign country, meeting with Her Majesty's Ministers behind closed doors in secret conclave, are in a far better position to influence decisions than the publicly elected representatives of Northern Ireland.

I do not intend to dignify that charade with any contribution whatever. I can only hope that the remarks made during the previous direct rule debate will lead to a change in this unacceptable position.

10.49 pm
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Honourable Members on both sides of the House have voiced their concern about the way in which Northern Ireland is legislated for.

I am aware that funds for security may come within the terms of the Consolidated Fund and that we cannot debate that subject tonight, but perhaps the Minister will tell us whether sufficient arrangements have been made to provide adequate funds for the prison service in Northern Ireland. For a time, the numbers in our prisons were reduced, and people were happy about that. However, I understand that there has been an upturn in the past few months and that, in addition, there are plans afoot to repatriate prisoners from the mainland to Northern Ireland. Have adequate funds been provided for that, and, if so, why cannot we in Northern Ireland have prison visits on public holidays or on Sundays—times that are more convenient for friends? On the mainland, visits are permitted at those times. If the funds come from the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund, why do not the same arrangements pertain?

Following the settlement arising out of the hunger strike, why has not adequate provision been made for those who wish to do work in the prison system to do so? Earlier tonight I spoke to some prison officers who were visiting the House. They gave me to understand that the answer normally given is that prison visiting arrangements are governed by prison officers' requirements, but that financial restrictions are the real cause. Unfortunately, the subject does not fall within this Vote. However, I ask the Minister whether the information is correct, because the question impinges upon how we are governed. If we were dealing with the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund instead of an Appropriation order for some of the Northern Ireland Departments, we could probe the matter more deeply.

Vote 5, under the heading "Department of Economic Development", refers to "services for the disabled". What does that mean? Is the care of the disabled being taken away from the social services? Is their training being taken away from the Department of Education and Science? What is going on? Many disabled people want to be trained to the utmost of their ability; they are not keen just to have services provided for them. They want to live, and many of them could live remarkably useful lives. I must put on record that many of us felt a sense of distaste recently when the Eastern board withdrew some payments from mentally handicapped people on training schemes because similar incentives were not given in other places. It was a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Peter, and I do not think that that was a proper way to allocate the funds. It was wrong to remove incentives and encouragement from such people.

I refer to Vote 1 under the heading "Department of the Environment". No doubt the Minister is aware that for many years people in the city of Belfast have been concerned about the state of at least 300 unadopted entries, for which no one will claim responsibility. Has not the time come to set aside the follies of the past and bring our city up to the standards of the present? Some of the funds that seem to be lavished elsewhere could be used for the common good and spent on the basic sanitary provision of proper entries.

Many of my colleagues on both sides of the House have spoken about the Department of the Environment—in particular about Vote 2, which deals with housing services. I regret to report that some years back I wrote to the chairman of the Housing Executive, drawing attention to the lamentable work that was going on in the Dunluce-Ulsterville avenue area of my constituency, and the problem of the building contractor there. I was amazed to discover that his officials had told him that the contractor was a good contractor who had had no problems and that he was adequately insured. I asked why, if the work that he had done which had been drawn to the attention of the Housing Executive was not proper, he had been given contracts on the north side of Belfast. I have now discovered that not only did he not have proper insurance cover, but he has left the country.

The Housing Executive cannot claim that it was unaware of the position. It is galling to Members of Parliament who highlight such issues to be fobbed off with such answers.

I do not know how my right hon. and hon. Friends felt yesterday when they received a communication from the Housing Executive to the effect that, under the Data Protection Act 1984, hon. Members would have to provide evidence when we made queries that our constituents had asked us so to do. May we have some guidance on this? The order deals with records and with financing for computers. Does the rule apply to every Member in the Chamber? I am not sure that many of us believe in works of supererogation and not many of us are gluttons for punishment. I doubt whether any of us would raise issues that had not been brought to us by constituents. It is ludicrous that our time should be wasted and public money spent on such a letter.

Mr. John David Taylor (Strangford)

I join the hon. Gentleman in expressing my concern at the receipt of that letter this week from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. It states that, in future, Northern Ireland Members cannot raise questions with the Housing Executive on behalf of their constituents unless we provide evidence that we have been requested so to do. That is to comply with the new computerised system that the Housing Executive is using. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this may be a breach of privilege by the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in trying to control the activities of Members of this House?

Rev. Martin Smyth

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's observations. I leave it to others in the House to decide whether it is a breach of privilege. I suspect that it is very close. It also manifests some lunacy, because we know the problems that the Housing Executive encounters with the computer. Many people are told that their applications have not come up on the computer. If they are relying on the computer to stop Members from probing on behalf of their constituents, they are leaning on a bent stick.

Towards the end of last November and at the beginning of December, in the Lisburn road in south Belfast, there was a massive explosion outside an RUC station which demolished a considerable number of houses and wrought tremendous havoc. Six months later, much of the repair work has still not been done. I congratulate the Housing Executive on the immediate work that it carried out, but I have not been impressed by the continuity of that work. The executive says that it is obliged only to weatherproof the houses. To me, that means keeping the water out. I have visited some of those homes, and six months later they are still not properly waterproofed.

There is another tragedy, especially for the elderly with limited savings who put their limited savings into the purchasing of property. I understand that there is accountability and that the Northern Ireland Office is sending assessors to carry out evaluations, but if they know the value of the work that is to be done, cannot there be intervention between cowboy builders and old-age pensioners who are under pressure to get their houses repaired and who do not know the values and the prices that are involved? At a later stage an assessor will tell a pensioner that only a certain sum is available, and quite often there is a shortfall of 50 per cent. Those who have only a pension on which to live are then left in dire straits. If the Northern Ireland Office's assessors know the value of the work that is to be carried out, they should be prescribing to the builders rather than to the residents, who have suffered enough.

Rev. William McCrea

On the point about the lack of proper tradesmen being employed by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, will my hon. Friend take it from me that in a town in my constituency it was discovered that, instead of tradesmen being employed on the improvement public buildings scheme, one man was employed on the Monday by a contractor as a plumber, to return on Tuesday as an electrician and on Wednesday as a joiner. On Thursday, he slipped down to the unemployment office to sign on the dole.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Clearly a Jack of all trades and product of private enterprise who should go places. Lest anyone should think that I have been unduly critical, I acknowledge that some fine work has been done by the Housing Executive. I have in mind, for example, St. George's gardens, which runs parallel to Great Victoria street. It is one of the finest developments that I have seen anywhere. I wait for another year to see what the development looks like when the paint begins to wear and the papering begins to show cracks before I comment on the structure. However, it is a delightful area that is pleasing to the eye, and I congratulate the executive on that piece of work.

I should like to know how the conservation area around Queen's happened to stop magically short of Queen' own plans for developing the area, which involves the demolition of some of the finest old houses in the area. The Royal Society of Ulster Architects has said that the houses in question are some of the finest of their type in the area and in the city. Why did the effect of the conservation order stop miraculously at a point that will allow the barbarians of the new red brick, if an old university person might use that term, to demolish some of the finest remains of historic architecture?

This afternoon I questioned the Secretary of State for Education and Science about the implementation of the ruling of the European Court. The effect of it is that people from the European Economic Community should be entitled to attend British universities and polytechnics at the British taxpayers' expense. I do not know whether the Minister has seen the report in The Times of last Saturday that was headed "Irish invasion for free education." This is happening at a time when we have seen the curtailment of grants to people in the United Kingdom for education opportunities.

Perhaps this is an appropriate moment to raise a matter which has been a long-standing bone of contention not only for hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies but for others as well. I understand from a newspaper cutting that universities and colleges throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland are bracing themselves for an invasion of Irish students. People have an entitlement, especially in universities, to move about. I do not question that, but I ask whether funds have been made available, or will, for example, the Belfast education and library board in my constituency have to curtail its budget to provide the necessary funds for such fee payments? An article in The Times stated that, for the academic year 1986–87, about 3,000 students took advantage of the opportunity to study in the United Kingdom.

I realise that the Minister is not in a position to answer directly for the Secretary of State for Education and Science, but can it be confirmed that the cost over three years may be as much as £5 million? I understand that, whereas there were 3,000 students in the past year, there are an estimated 5,000 for the coming year. Certainly, as I understand it, The Irish Times is planning a three-day conference in Dublin to help would-be students to familarise themselves with British application procedures. About 10,000 sixth formers have applied for places. Has the matter been discussed in the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference? What provision has been made for British students to have the same opportunities in the Republic of Ireland? Have we been aware that middle class people in Dublin know the good bargain that they are getting? They will pay reduced tuition fees, and the cost of living is much easier in the United Kingdom than it is in Dublin. How will that matter impinge upon our people?

I can understand colleges and universities in which there are plenty of vacancies because of financial restrictions that the House has imposed upon them trying to get help from other sources and get students in, but it seems absolutely ridiculous that, again, we are subsidising a country which obviously is having difficulty in financing its young people's education. It is a marvellous bargain at the expense of the British taxpayer. The average cost of fees in the Republic of Ireland is £1,500 compared with £550 in Britain.

Mr. William Ross

Is my hon. Friend aware of a court case of which, so far, only university students are taking advantage? From my reading of the case, it seems that there is a possibility that not only university students but students in secondary education could make the same claim and go across the border every day to schools in Northern Ireland or even live there and receive benefits.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I understand that that is a possibility. Certainly there can be movement without much difficulty if people so desire.

I do not wish to prolong the debate, and I wish to give the Minister an opportunity to respond. I shall raise one other specific point on education and then refer to health and social services.

I notice that Vote 1, Department of Education, is for £191,390,000 for schools, excluding grants to education and library boards. Vote 4 is for grants to education and library boards and is £142,770,000. Do those Votes draw a distinction between direct grants to direct grant schools, to maintained schools compared to controlled schools? Are they a portent of the continuing move towards privatisation in education by which the public sector is being cut, especially in inner Belfast?

In south-west Belfast there is a tragic situation. Plans were made to move the Kelvin secondary school to the Blythfield site. That would have left the Kelvin school site free for the development of facilities at the Royal Victoria hospital and would have allowed the provision of a new primary school to serve a new and growing community. Now, because of the attitude of one councillor and one principal, the board and the Department are hiding behind the statement that the people are divided and do not know what they want. However, that plan was made by previous Ministers in consultation with the people. Is it just a matter of curtailing public expenditure on the public schools and opening the way for the continuing provision of some schools that give a portion of the capital cost and get the rest from the state?

I have two questions about the Department of Health and Social Services, Vote 3. There is reference to expenditure on social security and similar services. Will this provide funds for the Shankill road social security office or will it he like a nomad encampment moving from pillar to post with resulting demoralisation of the staff and inadequate facilities for the people?

Is the Minister satisfied that people who wish to take up their entitlement to attendance and mobility allowances are treated properly? On too many occasions I have had to press for an appeal after people have been turned down for mobility allowances. Those people had to go through a year of agony until, finally, an appeal was granted. I urge that closer attention be paid to the methods of providing such mobility allowances. It seems that at times people who ought to have received them have been held back.

11.12 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers)

Before I attempt to deal with the points raised in this long and interesting debate, I should like to impose on the House briefly to describe a significant report from my Department. It is the Pathfinder interim report on the theme "Building a Stronger Economy" which I launched this morning at a press conference in Belfast. This programme is fundamental to the economy and related directly to the way in which public funds in this Appropriation order and its successors, will be spent. The Pathfinder programme has analysed the strengths and weaknesses of the Northern Ireland economy and aims to light the way ahead to a stronger and more resilient future.

In approaching this task, my Department has asked itself some very basic questions about the nature of Northern Ireland's economic problems, and about its own approach to tackling them. In doing so, it has demonstrated a willingness to look critically at existing policies for stimulating economic development, to examine their effectiveness, and to judge whether a change of direction is necessary.

This process has identified a number of root causes of Northern Ireland's economic performance which in some ways has been poor. The document focuses on the need to look for changes in the way we do things. In some cases it will mean attempting to change attitudes. It sets out an agenda to raise the level of enterprise, improve competitiveness, and increase exporting by local industry. More fundamentally, it emphasises the active role that people in the Northern Ireland communuity can have in influencing their economic destiny, it invites their ideas, and seeks their commitment.

Briefly the programme identifies six areas of weakness. First, Northern Ireland has traditionally been a dependent economy, with company ownership and control being exercised from outside the Province. The entrepreneurial tradition is not strong. Secondly, products have frequently been uncompetitive in price, design or delivery. Thirdly, business men have concentrated on the Northern Ireland home market to the exclusion of exports. Fourthly, the large Civil Service sector has played little part in the direct field of exports. Fifthly, the substantial support to industry in Northern Ireland could lead to a business environment in which Government subsidy crowds out the better business judgments; and finally, we stress the importance of communication ensuring a business and customer input into the Government's own decision making.

If I concentrate this evening on weaknesses in the economy, it is because we are determined to learn from them and point the way to improvement. There are excellent companies in Northern Ireland, but more can be done.

I turn briefly to the wide range of points that have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members during the debate. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) included in his speech some praise for enterprise and initiative. He referred to a number of successful companies, and to tourism. He then went on to talk about the importance of the Lagan bank development in Northern Ireland. However, he then tempered that praise by saying that if he were a member of the Government, he was sure that his Government would do much the same. Indeed, he claimed some credit for Lagan bank, the origins of which date hack to 1978. If that is a development of concensus politics, we welcome it, and we welcome the hon. Gentleman's contribution to the debate. The hon. Gentleman referred also to recent statements by the chief officer of the Western education and library board about the condition of buildings in his area.

A wide range of points were raised by hon. Members about education and hospital issues. I must point out that education issues are primarily the responsibility of the education and library boards and that hospital and health issues are primarily the responsibility of the hospital boards. However, I have noted the points raised by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough and I shall arrange for the reply by my hon. Friend who is responsible for such matters to be sent to him.

Similarly, the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), whom I see resuming his place, raised a point about nurses and the pressures and strains on them because of the long hours that they must work. We have noted the hon. Gentleman's points, especially in relation to the Altnagelvin hospital and we shall write to him on that subject.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East also raised the question of the application of rating reforms to Northern Ireland. The answer is that the proposals that are currently before England and Wales do not apply to Northern Ireland, but nonetheless we are closely following and monitoring the proposals in England and Wales and shall consider whether there are applications that will be appropriate to apply to Northern Ireland.

In a wide range of points, the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder), referred especially to hospital developments in North Down and the Ards peninsula. His points were of considerable detail. We noted them and again we shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

A point of substance was raised by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who asked for progress on the proposals for equality of opportunity in employment, in which the Government believe strongly. The Government remain firmly committed to the promotion of the more effective practise of equality of opportunity in the Province. Responses to the consultative paper on this topic are being carefully analysed and consultations are taking place with key interest groups on the content of a revised guide to manpower policy and practice. The Government hope to issue the revised guide as soon as practicable and are considering the most appropriate way forward on the consultative paper in the light of the responses received.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) raised a point about the show of flags, especially at Shorts in Belfast. I do not want to comment on the situation at Shorts. It is for the management at Shorts to manage the company. However, we cannot walk away from that issue and, in the words of a press comment that I made on Saturday, I should like to repeat the Government's attitude.

The Government are committed to equality of opportunity in employment. That requires dedicated effort by management, trade unions and the community generally to ensure that scrupulously fair practices are followed. That includes ensuring that the workplace offers an environment in which no section of the community feels threatened or offended. However well intentioned the display of bunting and flags by one section of the community, that community must also try to see the same events through the eyes of the other community. They can offend.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

Does the Minister believe that a photograph of Her Majesty or the flag of this nation take away from the neutrality of the work place?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. It is difficult to see how any of this arises under the Appropriation order.

Mr. Robinson

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Why did you have to raise that point on my intervention and not when the Minister spoke about the matter?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I was glad that the hon. Gentleman raised the matter. It gave me the opportunity, by implication, to reproach the Minister for having done so. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going to challenge my ruling.

Mr. Viggers

I was seeking to respond to points made in the debate. I note your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Rev. Ian Paisley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely, terms of employment are in order under this legislation. The Minister was in order to deal with the matter, and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) was in order to ask about it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that he should not challenge a ruling from the Chair, I hope that he is not doing that.

Mr. Viggers


Rev. Ian Paisley


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have already ruled on the point of order. I hope that we can proceed. It is late at night and we have spent a lot of time on these matters. I hope that we can get on.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I respect your ruling, but we are dealing with a matter relevant to Northern Ireland, whether it be 20 past 11 or not—that is an early hour for Northern Ireland orders. Is it in order for a Member representing a Northern Ireland constituency to raise a matter relevant to one of the votes in the order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have told the hon. Gentleman and the House that this matter does not arise under this order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not persist in challenging my ruling.

Mr. Viggers

There remain a considerable number of detailed mattes raised by hon. Members. I appreciate that they spoke with feeling about their constituencies. It would be unfair to select, from the wide number of points that still remain to be dealt with, a particular one or two. We shall note those points, particularly those that have not been dealt with in this brief winding-up speech. I commend the order to the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 253, Noes 10.

Division No. 10] [11.23 pm
Aitken, Jonathan Davis, David (Boothferry)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Day, Stephen
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Devlin, Tim
Beith, A. J. Dickens, Geoffrey
Boscawen, Hon Robert Dorrell, Stephen
Bowis, John Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Brazier, Julian Dover, Den
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Dunn, Bob
Buck, Sir Antony Durant, Tony
Butler, Chris Dykes, Hugh
Butterfill, John Eggar, Tim
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Emery, Sir Peter
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Evennett, David
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Fallon, Michael
Chapman, Sydney Favell, Tony
Chope, Christopher Fenner, Dame Peggy
Churchill, Mr Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Fookes, Miss Janet
Colvin, Michael Forman, Nigel
Conway, Derek Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Forth, Eric
Cope, John Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Cran, James Fox, Sir Marcus
Currie, Mrs Edwina Franks, Cecil
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Freeman, Roger
French, Douglas Knox, David
Gale, Roger Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Garel-Jones, Tristan Lang, Ian
Gill, Christopher Latham, Michael
Glyn, Dr Alan Lawrence, Ivan
Goodlad, Alastair Lee, John (Pendle)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Gow, Ian Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Gower, Sir Raymond Lilley, Peter
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Greenway, John (Rydale) Lord, Michael
Gregory, Conal Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') McCrindle, Robert
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) MacGregor, John
Grist, Ian MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Ground, Patrick Maclean, David
Grylls, Michael McLoughlin, Patrick
Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom) McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Hampson, Dr Keith Major, Rt Hon John
Hanley, Jeremy Mans, Keith
Hannam, John Maples, John
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Marland, Paul
Harris, David Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Haselhurst, Alan Mates, Michael
Hayes, Jerry Maude, Hon Francis
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Hayward, Robert Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Heathcoat-Amory, David Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Heddle, John Mellor, David
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Miller, Hal
Hill, James Mills, Iain
Hind, Kenneth Miscampbell, Norman
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Holt, Richard Mitchell, David (Hants NW)
Hordern, Sir Peter Moate, Roger
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Morrison, Hon P (Chester)
Howells, Geraint Moss, Malcolm
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Moynihan, Hon C.
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Neale, Gerrard
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Needham, Richard
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Nelson, Anthony
Irvine, Michael Neubert, Michael
Jack, Michael Newton, Tony
Janman, Timothy Nicholls, Patrick
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Onslow, Cranley
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Oppenheim, Phillip
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Page, Richard
Key, Robert Paice, James
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Patten, Chris (Bath)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Pawsey, James
Kirkhope, Timothy Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Knapman, Roger Porter, David (Waveney)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Portillo, Michael
Powell, William (Corby) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Price, Sir David Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Raffan, Keith Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Temple-Morris, Peter
Redwood, John Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Rhodes James, Robert Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Thorne, Neil
Riddick, Graham Thornton, Malcolm
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Thurnham, Peter
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Townend, John (Bridlington)
Roe, Mrs Marion Tracey, Richard
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Tredinnick, David
Ryder, Richard Trotter, Neville
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Twinn, Dr Ian
Sayeed, Jonathan Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Scott, Nicholas Viggers, Peter
Shaw, David (Dover) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Waldegrave, Hon William
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Walden, George
Shelton, William (Streatham) Wallace, James
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Waller, Gary
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Ward, John
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Skeet, Sir Trevor Warren, Kenneth
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Watts, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wells, Bowen
Soames, Hon Nicholas Wheeler, John
Speed, Keith Whitney, Ray
Speller, Tony Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Spicer, Jim (Dorset W) Wiggin, Jerry
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wilshire, David
Squire, Robin Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stanbrook, Ivor Winterton, Nicholas
Stanley, Rt Hon John Wood, Timothy
Steen, Anthony Woodcock, Mike
Stern, Michael Yeo, Tim
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N) Tellers for the Ayes:
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Mr. David Lightbown and
Sumberg, David Mr. Alan Howarth.
Summerson, Hugo
Beggs, Roy Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Kilfedder, James Walker, A. Cecil (Belfast N)
Maginnis, Ken
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Tellers for the Noes:
Paisley, Rev Ian Mr. William Ross and
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Rev. William McCrea.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, which was laid before this House on 7th May, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.