HC Deb 10 November 1988 vol 140 cc477-8
10. Mr. Andrew Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he intends to increase funding on health and social services in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Needham

The hon. Member wil be aware that new public expenditure plans announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Autumn Statement included revised figures for the total of Northern Ireland public expenditure. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering how the totals announced should be allocated to functional programmes and he will make an announcement shortly.

Mr. Smith

I thank the Minister for his reply and take this opportunity to congratulate those working voluntarily and professionally in health and social services in Northern Ireland. On the recent Select Committee visit to Northern Ireland we saw the work that they are doing. They are dedicated to their jobs, which they often do under very difficult circumstances. Does the Minister welcome the degree of multi-party agreement shown by the call from representatives of the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and the alliance for the maintenance of per capita expenditure on health in Northern Ireland? How will the democratically elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland be involved in the allocation of the money that the Secretary of State will be announcing? Will the Government grasp this opportunity of building bridges between the communities in Northern Ireland by responding positively to that call?

Mr. Needham

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the visit he paid to Northern Ireland, which we welcomed. We have a successful Health Service in Northern Ireland, on which we spend approximately 24 per cent. more per head than in the remainder of the United Kingdom. In the Autumn Statement my right hon. Friend the Chancellor mentioned a 4.5 per cent. increase in real growth, which will apply also in Northern Ireland. It would be easy to involve politicians in any process in Northern Ireland if they were prepared to become involved and to begin discussing the way forward with the Government.

Mr. Bellingham

I welcome what the Minister said about per capita expenditure in Northern Ireland being 24 per cent. more than on the mainland, but does that not illustrate that even if we spent another £5 billion or £6 billion on the Health Service here some would still say that it was not enough?

Mr. Needham

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. The difference in expenditure between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country arises entirely from the difference in need.