§ Mr. Speaker
It might be helpful if I made it clear that the debate on this order may cover all matters for which Northern Ireland Departments, as distinct from the Northern Ireland Office, are responsible. Police and security are the principal excluded subjects.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Ian Stewart)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 8th June, be approved.On 8 March the House voted on account for 1989–90 sums totalling £1,669 million and the present draft order authorises further expenditure totalling £2,195 million. Taken together with the relevant appropriations in aid, these sums constitute the voted elements of Northern Ireland Departments' expenditure total of £4,951 million as shown in the public expenditure White Paper. Expenditure on law and order, amounting to £626 million in 1989–90, is outside this total, being included in Estimates laid for the Northern Ireland Office by the Treasury.
A key objective of the financial expenditure provided by these Estimates is that of strengthening the economy, and during the last year there have been a number of encouraging developments in this respect. Over the last six months unemployment has been falling at an average rate of 600 per month, and growth in employment has been accompanied by growth in output. The latest figures show that output of the production and manufacturing sectors increased by 6 per cent. and 7 per cent. respectively between the fourth quarters of 1987 and 1988. The arrangements announced in recent months for the future of Harland and Wolff and Shorts help to remove uncertainty about major industries in the Province, while substantial new investment by the Korean company Daewoo in Antrim and the French Company Montupet, close to west Belfast, will contribute to reducing the dependence of the Northern Ireland economy on an old and narrow industrial base.
With an ample supply of young people coming into the labour market in the next few years, Northern Ireland provides an excellent opportunity for inward investment which is increasingly being recognised in other parts of the United Kingdom, the European Community and further afield. The public expenditure provision that we are debating is designed to strengthen the foundations on which all the people of Northern Ireland can face the future with greater confidence.
The services to which public expenditure is to he devoted during the current year are, as usual, detailed in the Northern Ireland Estimates. I should, however, like to draw attention to a number of particular matters arising in the case of each department. Provision for agriculture is divided into two-vote I, relating to support measures which are applied throughout the United Kingdom; and vote 2, in respect of measures that apply to Northern Ireland only. Under the first, provision is being made for expenditure of over £7 million under the recently introduced farm and conservation grant scheme and the farm woodland scheme. I am also pleased to say that 546 farmers have been responding positively to the investment opportunities provided within vote 2 by the agriculture development programme revived last year.
The three votes for the Department of Economic Development cover a wide range of provision for industry, investment, employment and training. I remind the House of the importance that the Government attach to the promotion of equality of opportunity of employment in Northern Ireland, and our determination that the Fair Employment Bill, which has already completed its passage through this House, should constitute a powerful and effective weapon against discrimination in the work place. This process will be greatly assisted if the number of available jobs increases, and we have taken a number of positive steps towards that end. Some £93 million is being provided through the Industrial Development Board for selective financial assistance to industry and £16 million is required for the provision and maintenance of industrial land and buildings as part of our efforts to attract new inward investment.
I am pleased to say that one third of the total of more than 5,600 new job promotions through the board last year, itself a record number, related to projects involving investment from outside the Province. In the last financial year, the Local Enterprise Development Unit also promoted in excess of 5,000 jobs, bringing to almost 40,000 the total number of such jobs promoted since the unit was established in 1976. An allocation of almost £30 million is now being sought to meet LEDU's job promotion target of 5,500 in the current year.
Vote 3 includes a wide range of measures for the encouragement of enterprise, the provision of training and work experience, and support for the labour market. This year a number of important changes have been made. In order to ensure that every unemployed young person under the age of 18 is guaranteed a training place, £37 million is being sought for the youth training programme to provide a total of approximately 14,000 training places in all. For those in the 18-to-24 age group, the previous qualifying period of 12 months unemployment for entry into the action for community employment scheme, or ACE, has been reduced to six months, and £50 million is accordingly being sought to enable the scheme to provide an average of 10,000 jobs over the current year. For longer-term unemployed adults between the ages of 18 and 60, the job training programme is being expanded to 2,500 places during 1989–90 by the provision of £6.7 million; and 500 of these training places are to be provided within the Making Belfast Work programme. This package should not only offer greater hope to the unemployed, but make an important contribution to the continuing economic recovery through a well-trained work force.
Finally, with regard to DED expenditure, I should explain the situation regarding assistance to the aircraft and ship building industries. The privatisation of Harland and Wolff is now expected in the early autumn. Within vote 2, the £60 million already contained in the public expenditure plans will provide support to the company in the interim and help meet part of the costs of the management buy-out. The full costs will, however, be somewhat higher, and it is our intention to seek additional provision at the Supplementary Estimate stage when the arrangements have been finalised. With regard to Short Brothers, hon. Members will recall that £390 million was provided during March, within the last financial year, but the sale of the company to Bombardier, for which heads of 547 agreement were signed two weeks ago, will require further Government funding, the phasing of which is not yet settled.
Details of the additional provision required in 1989–90 will be put before the House at the earliest opportunity. I am sure that the House will understand that the complexity of the arrangements for Harland and Wolff and for Shorts are such that it has not been possible to achieve full definition in time for provision to be included in these main Estimates, but we are committed to the provision of the necessary funding to enable these two great enterprises to return to private ownership with their finances in a healthy condition.
For the Department of the Environment, an additional £8 million is included under vote 1 this year in the roads programme for extending the structural maintenance of carriageways and footways in the Province. The Belfast cross-harbour road and rail bridges projects are planned to start in 1991, and £5.5 million is accordingly being sought to enable land and property acquisition to proceed.
The Department of the Environment vote 2 covers the important sector of housing, for which £220 million is required, mainly to provide finance for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and for the voluntary housing movement. The House will recognise that commendable progress has been made in dealing with Northern Ireland's housing problems in recent years, but more needs to be done and this is reflected in the Government's public expenditure contribution to housing of some £310 million this year, within a total gross budget of almost £545 million.
I should also like to draw attention to the fact that £32 million is included in the Department's vote 4 for urban regeneration. These measures are aimed primarily at improving the economic and environmental condition of areas suffering from urban dereliction. An important element of this policy is the encouragement of partnership between Government and the private sector, exemplified by the urban development grant scheme in which each £1 of public money generates approximately £3 of private finance.
Provision for education this year amounts to £891 million. To ensure effective delivery of the education reforms, which are crucially important for young people, as well as for the future economic and social progress of the Province, an additional £30 million is being made available over the next three years, the first tranche of which is included in these Estimates. These enhanced resources will support the implementation of the reforms in a variety of ways, including extra specialist accommodation and equipment for schools. Teachers, too, have an essential part to play in the reforms. The provision in vote 1 is therefore set to cover extra in-service training for teachers, while allowing the pupil-teacher ratio to be maintained at its level of 18.3.
Grants to universities and awards to students are based on the principle of maintaining broad parity of provision with Great Britain, and within education's vote 2 some £109 million covers expenditure on Northern Ireland's two universities, on the Open university and on teacher training. In addition to money for arts and museums, youth, sport and community services, this year an additional £2 million is being provided within this vote for the initiative to help promote community relations in Northern Ireland, which was launched by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) in 548 February. This includes £250,000 to expand the already successful cross-community contact scheme, which brings together young people from the two communities, and £1 million for the cultural traditions programme, announced last week, which will provide support for cultural heritage and traditions through the museums, the Arts Council and local history, heritage and cultural groups. The additional funding will also cover the establishment of the new community relations centre announced by my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough last Monday, to assist district councils in the development of community relations projects and to enable other bodies to expand their programmes in this sector.
We are also providing for capital expenditure of about £62 million on education projects. This will enable a programme of new building works to commence, and we have already announced the start of nine major school projects in 1989–90. Meanwhile, a contribution of nearly £3 million to the Making Belfast Work initiative will include capital development at White Rock adult education centre, provision of three new nursery schools and a major school-industry links project, all aimed at improving opportunities in the inner city.
The Government have also increased funding to the five education and library boards that are responsible for the main education services in Northern Ireland. This year we are providing £279 million, an increase of 9 per cent. over last year's figure. This includes an important addition of £7 million for spending on school maintenance, bringing the total for maintenance of building and grounds to an estimated £19 million this year. There is also a special injection of £4 million to improve standards of provision in the classroom.
The bulk of the provision of £836 million for vote I in the Department of Health and Social Services this year will be devoted to maintaining existing services. It is also designed to cover some important developments in regional medical services—for example, in respect of neo-natal intensive care, cardiac surgery, frequent treatment for renal failure and additional breast and cervical cancer screening. The £37 million included for capital expenditure will permit the continuation of a substantial programme of works, including development of a major new area hospital at Antrim and completion of the new block at the Mater in Belfast. This funding will also allow work to commence on the construction of a new geriatric unit at Londonderry and on the extension of the cardiology services at the Royal Victoria hospital.
I hope that these comments on the main items of expenditure will have been helpful to hon. Members, and I commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
I thank the Minister for taking us carefully and thoroughly through the main items of expenditure. I do not intend to follow the path that he has laid out, but it was useful to have those items spelled out so clearly. I am sure that the House will agree with that sentiment.
I noticed that the Minister, like the Secretary of State earlier today, drew attention to the Government's economic achievements. As on previous occasions, I am prepared to concede that there have been economic successes. However, it is as well to remember that the Province remains the most economically deprived and 549 backward of any of the regions. No matter which economic indicators one takes, those in Northern Ireland are below the national average.
Because of the economic measures that the Government have had to take to control inflation, throughout the United Kingdom economy in the next year the outlook is less buoyant, and this applies particularly to Northern Ireland. There is no doubt that the expected slowdown in the United Kingdom economy as a result of Government measures will present major economic difficulties in Northern Ireland. This emphasises the vulnerability of the Northern Ireland economy to any downturn in the national economic activity, and highlights the need for the Government and the private sector to consolidate economic achievements and advancements.
Both Ministers and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) spoke about the level of unemployment. The Government praised themselves, and rightly, for the fall in unemployment over the past 18 months or so, but 15.5 per cent. unemployment is still unacceptably high. Male unemployment is even higher, at 19 per cent. Far more has to be done, through public expenditure, private expenditure and attracting further investment to the Province, if we are to make a real and sustained attack on high unemployment.
The Government repeatedly tell us of the triumphs of inward investment. I do not wish to decry that, whether it comes from France, Japan or Canada, but there is a theory, leaving those big industrial investments aside, that many of the smaller investments are creating jobs that are low-scale, part-time, predominantly for female workers and at the bottom of the technology ladder. Nevertheless, they are welcome. If Northern Ireland is to have a prosperous future, it needs above all highly technical jobs for highly skilled people so that it can compete not just in the United Kingdom economy but in the broader European single market economy post-1992.
There is also a fear that the privatisation of Shorts, which the Government consider a triumph, could lead to further job losses, particularly in the high skill sector. If that happens, it will be to the detriment not just of the economy of Belfast but of Northern Ireland as a whole and the island of Ireland.
Having referred briefly to the general economic situation, I want to refer to more specific spending areas. I want to spend some time, but not a great deal of time, in discussing spending programmes in social security, health and housing.
The Minister will know that pensioners in Northern Ireland did not greet the recent statement from the Secretary of State for Social Security with universal acclaim, and the Minister will know the reasons for that. They found it difficult to understand how the Secretary of State could say:It is simply no longer true that being a pensioner tends to mean being badly off. For most people retirement is now a time to look forward to with confidence.I wish that that was so in the North of Ireland. The Minister and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should remind the Secretary of State for Social Security that in Northern Ireland two thirds of pensioner households still rely on state and other benefits for most of their income.
550 The Secretary of State for Social Services should also tell pensioners in Northern Ireland that a single pensioner is £10 a week worse off and a married couple £16 a week worse off under this Government than they would have been if the Government had not abolished the link between earnings and pensions. Pensioners in the North of Ireland certainly find it difficult to understand this new-found access to wealth which the Government claim that they have miraculously achieved over the past 10 years.
In an earlier debate my colleagues and I warned the Government that the changes in social security benefits were inadequate to protect living standards. Unfortunately, I must remind the House, although I take no pleasure in saying this, that my prediction has come true. The Minister will be aware that a recent survey by the citizens advice bureaux in Northern Ireland showed the way in which those changes were adversely affecting many people in Northern Ireland. The survey showed clearly that income support is not sufficient to compensate for the loss of additional requirements, single payments and the necessity to pay the first 20 per cent. of rates. It also showed that housing benefit was almost universally reduced for all groups of claimants and that 88 per cent. of those surveyed had lost their entitlement altogether. I believe that the Government's social security policy continues cruelly to pay scant regard to the needs of the least well off members of our community. That is as apparent in Northern Ireland as it is in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I want now to consider health. The estimates provide for an increase of only 3.5 per cent. in health spending on the outturn for 1988–89. If we bear in mind, as I am sure that the House will, the fact that, overall, inflation is running at 8.5 per cent. while internal inflation in the NHS is much higher than that, we do not need to be geniuses to understand the implications of the figures. They mean that the service will come under increased pressure and that more cuts will have to be made.
I reminded the House in an earlier debate that the health profile in the North of Ireland compares unfavourably with all other regions in the United Kingdom. A statistic which underlines that is that Northern Ireland has the worst infant mortality rate in the United Kingdom, with 10.4 deaths per 1,000—that is the figure for 1986, which, I understand, is the last year for which figures are available. That figure and all the other socio-economic indicators of deprivation show that the Government should be providing more money for health in the North of Ireland.
If we consider the fabric of the hospitals in Northern Ireland, it is obvious that many hospitals are in a disgraceful state of disrepair. The Minister and the House will recall that the Ceri Davis report estimated that it would cost between £18 million and £20 million to clear the backlog of maintenance in the Royal group of hospitals alone. Over the past three or four years the Royal group has been able to spend only £1.8 million on maintenance. It is estimated that the Craigavon area hospital requires £.5 million to be spent on its fabric. I am sure that hon. Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland can highlight hospitals in their areas which urgently require additional expenditure on repairs and maintenance.
551 Having made one or two general statements about the Health Service, I want to put several specific questions to the Minister which refer in particular to Belfast city hospital.
Why have two operating theatres at the Belfast city hospital been closed since Monday 5 June, and to my knowledge still remain closed, when the waiting list for operations at the hospital is more than 3,000? That waiting list includes 945 for vascular surgery, 768 for urology, 300 for gynaecology, 817 for ear, nose and throat and 525 for general surgery. Why have the number of intensive care beds at the Belfast city hospital been reduced by 50 per cent.? I understand that there are now four out of eight intensive care beds in use.
I want the Minister to comment next on a rumour, although he may he loth to do so. Will he comment on the rumour that 30 per cent. of the bed complement at the Belfast city general hospital is to close within three months? Rumour has it that two paediatric wards are to close with the loss of 47 beds; two gynaecological wards are to close with the loss of 30 beds; the Jubilee maternity unit is to close with the loss of 64 beds; one neo-natal ward is to close with the loss of 15 beds; and an accident and emergency unit is to close with the loss of 15 beds.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, as so many beds appear to be becoming available, it seems nonsense to squander more than £40 million on a new hospital in Antrim?
§ Mr. Marshall
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and I have been involved in arguments like that from time to time. However, I do not want that argument to be drawn into the specific questions to which I am seeking answers now. I am sure that the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) will put his point to the Minister if he has an opportunity to do so—although hopefully not at too great length. I repeat that I have been referring to a rumour. However, I understand that it is a rumour with solid foundations, and I should like to hear the Minister's reply to my points.
I notice that the Minister praised the Government's achievements in housing. He will recall that in previous debates I have concurred with the praise that has been heaped on the Government's shoulders. But the Estimates show that, good though the progress has been, the funds being made available are still insufficient to meet the demand. If my reading of the Estimates is correct, they show an overall reduction in proposed expenditure of 11 per cent. compared with the 1988–89 provision.
Again, if I have read the Estimates correctly, the housing grant to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is down 9 per cent. and renovations and enveloping grants are down 29 per cent. This is at a time when the Housing Executive is having additional responsibility imposed upon it by recent legislation to meet the housing needs of the homeless. Further finance is required if we are to bring the general level of the housing stock in the Province up to the standard that is found in England.
A great deal still remains to he done. To put that into perspective, let me remind the Minister of one or two statistics. In Northern Ireland, 8.4 per cent. of dwelling stock is deemed to be unfit compared with 4.9 per cent. in England, and 5.5 per cent. of its dwelling stock lacks one or more basic amenities, compared with 2.5 per cent. in 552 England. Those statistics show that the money needed to rectify the neglect by undertaking repairs and new build is virtually double that required in England.
Having made those general points, let me make two specific points. The first may seem small, but I intend to make it. Why is the grant to the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations and the National Housing Association been reduced from £66,000 to £55,000? That may seem a negligible figure in the overall context of the budget, but it is vital to those two bodies. That reduction seems petty in the light of the Government's commitment to the voluntary housing movement.
Secondly, the Government are giving priority to community care projects in the housing association sector. The Minister will be aware that the Government agreed to provide the bridging finance for such projects until funds were released as a result of the closure of acute beds and other hospital facilities. Those two aspects are no longer synchronised because the finance has not been released from the closure of beds and other facilities. In reality, housing money is being spent on community care projects instead of straight housing. When will that situation be rectified?
Northern Ireland still faces daunting social and economic problems, many of which can be tackled only with continuing and increasing high levels of public expenditure. Ministers in Northern Ireland are, to their credit, more successful than their counterparts in other Departments in obtaining finance, and they are to he congratulated on that. Nevertheless, I urge them to redouble their efforts and to argue more vociferously and stongly with their Treasury colleagues to obtain increased public expenditure for Northern Ireland so that we can begin to take greater steps forward in alleviating the social and economic problems that undoubtedly still exist in the North of Ireland.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)
I agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), especially on the social and economic problems that face the Province. They can be resolved only by a high level of public expenditure. It is no use the Government saying that they are against massive public expenditure because Northern Ireland, on the periphery of the United Kingdom, needs vast amounts of public money to be invested in it.
I urge the Government to deal without further delay with the appalling number of temporary classrooms which exist in North Down. That is just one example of what is required in Northern Ireland. I am sure that North Down is not unique and that there are plenty of temporary classrooms elsewhere in Northern Ireland.
Every penny spent on our young people is money well spent. We must invest in them and in their future. In doing so, we invest in the future of Northern Ireland and in everybody in the Province, Protestant and Catholic. It is fitting that children should have a proper place in which to receive their education. It is no use their being taught in what I would describe as pre-fab classrooms whose "temporary" existence has, in many cases, lasted a great number of years.
The hon. Gentleman referred to pensioners. There must be more than 10 million pensioners in the United 553 Kingdom, about 5 million of whom are below or just above the poverty line. As a result of the Social Security Act 1988, which I opposed in the Division Lobby, millions of pensioners have become even worse off with considerable cuts in their rent and rates rebates.
The recent increase in the retirement pension, amounting to approximately £1.65 a week, was insulting to our senior citizens. The only way to ensure justice for pensioners is to restore the link betweeen pensions and wages. That would mean an increase of at least £10 a week for a single pensioner, bringing the United Kingdom into line with some European countries which pay their pensioners double what is paid to the British pensioner.
The pensioner in Northern Ireland may suffer more than his counterpart elsewhere in Britain. The cost of living in Northern Ireland is higher than in England and electricity is more expensive. Elderly people need heat, so they consume a considerable amount of electricity in order to heat their homes. About two thirds of pensioners in the United Kingdom are women. Many of them are widows and quite a number live alone.
The Government should make every effort to ensure that pensioners can live their retirement years in comfort and dignity. They could ease the lot of women pensioners to some extent by allowing them to have free transport at the age of 60, when they qualify as pensioners, rather than having to wait until their husband retires at the age of 65.
More could be done for pensioners by providing free television licences, or at least by giving them a concessionary rate. I have been raising that matter in the House for the past 21 years. Some pensioners who live in dwellings with a warden pay £5 a year for their colour television licence, while others who may live just a street away have to pay the full £65. That anomaly is unacceptable in this day and age. The only way to deal with the injustice is to give all pensioners a colour television licence, either free or at a greatly reduced cost.
I shall not elaborate on the unemployed in the Province as the hon. Member for Leicester, South has covered the issues so eloquently. He mentioned that employment in Northern Ireland is currently 15.5 per cent. For statisticians, that is just a figure and does not convey any of the hardship involved in the dole queue. More than half the unemployed in Northern Ireland are long-term unemployed. They find it almost impossible to be considered for a job vacancy. The stress and hardship of being unemployed is acute. That is easily discovered by talking to an unemployed person whether he is old, young or has just left school.
I think in particular of the young people in the Province who are full of idealism and eager to become wage earners after they leave school. Many have to endure the dole queue or take a job which in no way provides an opportunity or a challenge to their capabilities. The youth training programme goes some way to soften the blow, but it does not resolve the problem and if one dwells too much on the programme one ignores the problem. We must do more to create jobs in Northern Ireland.
The IRA is waging war which is aimed in part at destroying the economic life of Ulster, and it is partnered in this evil work by Noraid which is campaigning in the United States for the states in America to adopt the MacBride principle. That campaign must have frightened 554 many American investors from investing in Northern Ireland. Of course, its purpose is, jointly with the IRA, to destroy the economic base of Northern Ireland. I am sure that the Minister will agree that not one job has been created in Northern Ireland by the MacBride principle's campaign, but that campaign has robbed a great many Ulster people, young and old, of jobs that could have been created in the Province. That message needs to be conveyed to people in America, especially to state legislatures which adopt the principles as in doing so they are creating hardship in Northern Ireland. They must accept that. The only way to deal with it is to defeat it in the state legislatures and to make sure that money is invested in all parts of Northern Ireland for all people in the Province.
Last week, when the Secretary of State made his statement about Shorts, I repeated the appeal that I made in the House nine months before—according to the Secretary of State he had never heard it before, although I made it in his presence—that instead of English Ministers going to America, there should be an all-party delegation of Members of Parliament representing Northern Ireland who could speak directly to people in America about the jobless in the Province and get jobs for all parts of the Province, including Strabane and other black areas in Northern Ireland.
There are many good aspects of the Province and I am sorry that the media, particularly television, carry an awful image of Northern Ireland abroad. Tourism is essential to Northern Ireland. Fortunately, despite the IRA's vicious campaign of terrorism, many foreigners visit the Province, although not in the numbers who came before the present violence. Perhaps when the Minister replies to the debate, he will deal with the subject. He set up a committee to review tourism in the Province. Perhaps he could say when the report is likely to be published. Everything must be done to enhance the image of the Province. In doing so, not only will we attract tourists from abroad, as well as from England and Scotland, but we will help to improve the prospect of investment in the Province.
Tourism requires good roads. The local people, industry and commerce require good roads especially as 1992 and the single European market approaches and 1993 when the Channel tunnel opens, which will bring the hordes from France, Germany and Spain into Britain. I hope that some of them will come to Northern Ireland. Capital expenditure on roads in Northern Ireland has dropped by 50 per cent. in the past ten years, while it has almost doubled in other parts of the United Kingdom. Although I am sure that he will not be able to answer the question now, perhaps the Minister will look into the matter of the Belfast-Bangor road. When will it be updated? When will it be made into a dual carriageway to take the enormous traffic between Bangor and Belfast.
Mentioning roads is like mentioning trees, because it leads me to talk about dogs. Dog control has caused widespread debate throughout Britain, with more reports of terrible attacks by ferocious animals. In Northern Ireland, the number of stray dogs does not seem to have been affected by the requirement of a dog licence with a substantial fee. The number of stray dogs in Bangor seems to be on the increase and the present law is not being enforced properly. Dog excrement is to be found on pavements everywhere, on the grass where children play, on the beaches and on the piers. It is time for the law to be amended.
555 Owners should be required to register all dogs by means of a simple injection of a transponder under the skin of the dog which will give a unique number when read by a reading device. Dogs cannot be controlled effectively without such registration. Dogs without a transponder could then be rounded up.
It seems fashionable nowadays to keep ferocious dogs. Perhaps it is part of a macho image which some people wish to project and certainly special attention should be given to the danger presented by such animals to old people and young people. I read in the local paper, the County Down Spectator, last week of a couple of young children who were exceedingly frightened by a doberman on the beach at Ballyholme esplanade. The Minister will agree that more people are needed to control dogs. Although it is a matter for local government some guidance helps and perhaps finance will be given and some of the unemployed could be used to round up stray dogs in Bangor.
I turn to one of the problems faced by traders in Bangor and in the North Down borough council area. I urge the Government to investigate the matter of trade waste collection. Traders in the North Down borough council area have been told by the council that they must pay enormous sums to have waste collected from outside their premises. The council states that it is required by the Department of the Environment to make what I regard as exorbitant charges. It says that it has no alternative. My advice to the traders was that they should arrange to have their waste collected privately. I am sure that they could do that for half the cost charged by the council. Traders already pay colossal sums in rates. The rates in the North Down area must be more expensive than in many other parts of Northern Ireland and I do not see why the traders should be further penalised.
As the hon. Member for Leicester, South mentioned, there is an urgent need for additional expenditure on hospitals in the Province. The waiting lists are intolerably long. I receive many complaints of patients waiting for an operation. I refer them to the Eastern health board or to the appropriate Stormont department which then refers them to the health board. Bare figures do not convey the stress imposed on patients waiting for treatment. In fact, there is more than stress because there is often pain and the relatives have to suffer, watching the person in pain and agony.
I must also mention the charge for eye tests introduced by the Government and their proposal for a two-tier eye examination. I received a letter from an optometrist who lives in Bangor in my constituency. He said that he and his colleagues are appalled by what the Government have done. In rebutting what the Secretary of State for Health said a short while ago, he said:It is impossible to prescribe spectacles by refraction alone.The Secretary of State said that is a cheap way of providing an eye test. He goes on to add:Around 5 to 10 per cent. of my patients are referred … via their family doctor due to suspected ocular or systemic disease. Some may be sight threatening, others life threatening, and in the majority the patient come for routine examination with no symptoms that could be directly related to the cause of referral without further investigation. Many ocular diseases do not affect visual acuity and the patient would be unaware.Finally, he said:it has been suggested that a healthy young man does not need a full eye examination for a pair of spectacles. It is not young men who will take advantage of a cheaper sight test 556 —it will be the pensioner who is not eligible for a free eye examination but is still on the limits of poverty which account for a high percentage of patients. It is also impossible for a young man to tell whether his eyes are healthy—only the optometrist or ophthalmic medical practitioner can give such assurances.I mention that subject and quote from the letter so that the Government are made aware of a problem that they have created. I hope that they will review what they have done, because I would hate to think that the eyes and health of people will suffer.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)
Once again, I take this opportunity to object to the method in which this iniquitous order is imposed upon the Province. In my view, it is morally wrong and completely indefensible that elected representatives cannot subscribe in a tangible way to the needs of their constituents under the terms in which the order is made. To illustrate my concern, I should like to bring to the attention of the Government and the Minister some matters under the various sections outlined in the order.
I have spoken many times in the House during the presentation of the orders of my concern for the Alliance areas in Protestant Ardoyne in north Belfast. The Minister will know that that interface is divided by an unsightly corrugated iron fence. He will also know that there was a proposal to erect an environmental wall to replace that monstrosity. There was also a proposal to carry out some judicious planting in the area and then to have some limited building as a means of restoring confidence and encouraging people to return. That proposal has now been abandoned, as has the proposal to build a sheltered complex in the same area. The proposal came from a well-known housing association and, as far as I am aware, the Government leaned on the association and said that they were not giving permission for building there.
I have heard from sources within the Housing Executive that the area is of low priority. Therefore, I am forced to conclude that a blatant policy of discrimination is being waged against that beleaguered community in the hope that the people will be forced to leave. I request, as a matter of extreme urgency, that the Minister gives the matter his immediate attention and reverses the diabolical decision.
The Minister must also know that there are serious divisions within the Ardoyne community where many killings have taken place. When it is perceived by the Protestant residents there that such discrimination is being practised by the Housing Executive, the stage is set for a full-scale revolt. I know that many would welcome that, particularly those who could then justify a decision to do nothing because of unrest in the area.
I wish also to draw the Minister's attention to the blight that has been allowed to develop in the Cambrai-Ohio street area. I lay that directly at the feet of the civil servants who are supposed to run the housing branch in Stormont, because, as far as I am aware, they do not appear to know what is not being done in the area. The local housing association that has been working there for some years has been trying to obtain action on the project for about five years. It has had no success. There was some limited development by the Minister's predecessors in an effort to inroduce some stability into the area. However, because of the lack of progress since then, the area is now completely blighted.
557 I know that the Minister responsible is not on the Treasury Bench, but I hope that the Minister who is there will tell him of my plea. He should now leave his ivory tower and visit the two areas to see for himself what is going on. As he looks at the beautiful Catholic housing on the Crumlin road opposite the Ardoyne chapel and sees the excellent new build and rehabilitation schemes that have been provided in Catholic Ardoyne, I have a feeling that he will be forced to agree that there is justification for my accusations of blatant discrimination in the decisions affecting those areas.
I also want to voice the concern of the many reputable housing associations in matters concerning their future. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) touched on this matter. I am concerned that the decision to bring the associations under the control of the Housing Executive was a retrograde step. It gives the executive a role in the affairs of those associations that it should not have. It was evident that this role would be abused. The record of achievement by the associations in respect of price and quality, together with sound design, caused the executive extreme embarrassment. What was predictable has now happened. The executive is now depriving the associations of work in an effort to reduce their effectiveness.
What is more disturbing is that the executive now proposes to carry out this work itself. Department of Health and Social Services and community care programmes are specialised, necessitating high building and architectural skills. Such work was always the domain of the housing associations and cannot be carried out by the executive. Steps should be taken to allow the housing associations to pursue their aim of providing excellent schemes for the benefit of the whole community.
I am also most perturbed about the suggestions to close or amalgamate viable controlled schools in north Belfast. I am sorry that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), who is responsible for education, has now left the Chamber. I was going to say to him that he always prided himself on his adherence to the concept of allowing parents a choice in selecting the schools that their children would attend. How does he square that with any proposals to interfere with the status of the Belfast model schools, where the overwhelming majority of parents have opted for those schools to provide their children's education?
On nursery schools, I noticed that the Minister has authorised the setting up in west Belfast of three of those necessary planks in formative education. That is at a time when the education authorities are withdrawing support for nursery education in my constituency of Belfast, North. I want to make the Minister aware that in one small community in my constituency there are 80 children on the waiting list, but only 26 places available. North Belfast is just as deprived in an educational sense as west Belfast. Its people suffer perhaps more than those in west Belfast from the results of the troubles. Its children have the same rights as those in west Belfast to nursery facilities. I hope that the Minister will take it upon himself to look at the whole question of nursery education as it relates to my constituency, with a view to redressing that glaring imbalance.
558 I will stay with my constituency and its problems of unemployment and lack of facilities. I am most disturbed about the large allocation of money being given to west Belfast, especially as that area is described incorrectly as north and west Belfast, which gives a completely false impression. I am concerned especially about the vast sums being channelled to community projects headed by Bishop Daly and Father Matt Wallace, when areas such as Black Mountain and Springmartin have been completely ignored.
I am also perturbed that the New Lodge has been given priority treatment when neighbouring Duncairn gardens and York road have been virtually forgotten. The impression in my constituency is that the Government are endeavouring to combat insurrection by throwing money at it and that Protestant north and west Belfast is not being considered seriously for much needed funding. There are many community projects that could be funded by the Belfast action teams or by "making Belfast work" money, and those projects should have immediate attention from those or similar agencies.
Another significant question that must be asked is why the Protestant areas of Ballysillan, Silverstream, Tyndale and Joanmount were deliberately excluded when the action teams drew up their territories, especially when it is recognised by everyone there that those areas are the most deprived. I request that another action team should be set up and appointed to look after those specific areas.
The small units being managed by the Industrial Development Board have proved successful in my constituency because they have given small companies the opportunity to create jobs and to subscribe to the community generally. I am appalled by the decision to increase rents by 40 per cent. If that decision is implemented, some of the units will inevitably be vacated, thereby creating unemployment and encouraging vandalism. The tenants have more than enough with which to contend and many of them are existing on a knife edge. I ask for an immediate investigation into that scandalous proposal, and I ask that steps be taken now to peg the rents at an acceptable level.
I draw the Government's attention to a problem in our Health Service which causes me great concern. I am referring to what are known as magnetic resonance scans, which are necessary to investigate orthopaedic problems. The only machines available to carry out such scans are in London or Dublin. My other area of concern is the lack of lithotrypter machines which can remove kidney and gall stones by high frequency sound waves. The only machines available are in Manchester and Dublin. The pain and suffering caused to patients who are forced to go to London and Dublin must be quite unbearable, apart from the costs involved. In 1988, 48 patients were sent to London for magnetic resonance scans at a cost of £32,015. So far in 1989, 43 patients have been sent and the number of requests is rising steadily. Patients are now being asked to go to London on the 7.15 am flight on Saturdays, as that is the only day available for them to be looked after in London. The irony is that in Belfast we have specially trained operators, but because of cuts in Health Service provision we have not purchased the necessary machines.
§ Mr. Walker
I do not know the exact price of the machines, but I understand that they are fairly expensive.
559 I was looking at the matter in the light of the suffering caused to people. I was also looking at it in relation to the fact that Dublin always pleads poverty, yet it can afford to have those machines. We also know that London has them. It would, of course, be difficult to send members of the security forces to Dublin for scans. Such scans are often required because of the orthopaedic problems cropping up in the security forces as a result of terrorist activities. I hope that the Minister will at least take my requests on hoard as an act of compassion. I can assure him that he will be helping many disabled prople to cope with a very painful condition.
On planning, I refer to the new shopping complex at Sprucefield roundabout. As the Minister knows, it was the subject of great controversy between the local planning service public representative and the Minister himself. It resulted in some mixed feelings in the business community, which has loyally supported Lisburn town and its population.
I am now concerned to hear that in an effort to widen the scope of their operations and to attract more customers than shop there now, entrepreneurs have descended on that rural area and are now in the process of considering the provision of small specialised retail units similar to those already existing in the Bow street complex. There is even a suggestion that those same nameless people are approaching landowners in the vicinity and offering to purchase their land at extremely high prices.
If there is any substance in those allegations, the Minister should be aware that such a proposal would be in direct contradiction to what has already been ruled, which is that no development would receive planning permission for a floor area of less than 30,000 sq ft unless it were for a garden centre, when the floor area would be reduced to 10,000 sq ft. I ask the Minister to confirm in his reply that that is the case and that he is not aware of any such proposal which would sound the death knell of the small business community in Lisburn, which is finding it increasingly difficult to make a living in the present economic climate.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
I wish to raise just three issues that arise from the order. I shall speak only briefly on the first. I hope that the Minister will be in a position to throw some light on this subject because it relates to his Department. I trust that if he is listening to my speech he will be able to say something about what progress has been made on the Harland and Wolff buy-out proposition. Many people imagined that because, in a flurry of publicity, the Secretary of State and the Minister announced a heads of agreement arrangement with Mr. Parker and with the Norwegian Mr. Fred Olsen, all the problems were over. However, many other issues remain to be resolved, principally those affecting the work force at Harland and Wolff. It would therefore be valuable if the House could hear an account of what progress has been made since the announcement was made in the House.
The second issue that I wish to raise follows directly from some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker), whose closing remarks dealt with planning issues. By way of explanation, I should say that planning is dealt with far differently in Northern Ireland than it is in other parts of the United Kingdom. Local government in Northern Ireland has only a 560 consultative role in planning matters. The planning division of the Department of the Environment attends district council meetings with a schedule of planning applications on which it has indicated merely whet her it is recommending that approval should be given or that the application should be refused. The district council has the ability to make its opinion known to the planning department.
The planning department then reconsiders its initial recommendation against the backcloth of the council's opinion. It then arrives at a conclusion. Councils frequently ask the planning officer to reconsider the recommended verdict. Consistently in my experience—if experience varies in other parts of the Province I should be interested to hear it—the planning department simply reaffirms its original decision. That shows that the consultative process is merely a rubber-stamp exercise because the department reaches its decision, passes it under the council's nose, and then stamps it with either the approval or the rejection that it had originally intended.
That process also shows that there is only a small role for the elected representative. I must advise the Minister that it is those local elected representatives, most often acting without regard to party and on most occasions acting unanimously, who know what the local community thinks and feels about a planning application and who also know the way in which an application will affect the local community. Even when the planning officer returns, having reaffirmed his original opinion, the council can ask the planning directorate to review that decision.
In my local council I have seen that process eight or nine times and on each of those occasions the planning directorate has simply rubber-stamped the planning department's decision. On no occasion has the planning directorate changed its mind on the issue. That shows that local elected representatives do not have a worthwhile role in planning matters. The planning department must be encouraged to listen to the local elected representatives.
I shall give an example from the most recent meeting of my local council in Castlereagh. A Mr. Ewart, who has premises on the Ballygowan road, leading out towards Ballygowan and Moneyreagh, put in an application for a vehicle sales office. He submitted with his application the views of the local community by way of a petition which showed that the overwhelming feeling in the area was in favour of his proposition. There were no objections to his planning application. Many members of the council viewed the site and recognised that far from detracting from the area, the project would have improved the area and would have offered an added service to its people. If we are to have a planning service, whom is it serving if the local people and the local representatives want a facility, but the Department thinks that it knows better than everybody else?
That is the kind of bureaucracy that we have in Northern Ireland. I do not want to cover ground that should have been covered if we had the time to do so in the previous debate, but I must stress that there is no democracy in Northern Ireland if even the unanimous views of elected representatives can be pushed to one side while the views of faceless bureaucrats enjoy the overwhelming support of the planning department and of the Minister who refuses to change his opinions on such issues.
Also on planning, I must deal with the same subject as the hon. Member for Belfast, North. There has been an 561 announcement that in the east Belfast area there is to be a massive retail, recreational, office and industrial complex, covering 35 acres. If I read the proposal properly, it is proposed to knock down the existing Connswater industrial estate. I have been asked about this by its employees. Indeed, I attended a meeting at which the employers of 39 companies on the industrial estate were present. The selling point that was given publicly was that the new project would bring approximately 600 jobs to east Belfast. What a tremendous prospect. The thought of the loss of jobs at Harland and Wolff and at Shorts was swept aside as we thought about the 600 new jobs that would be created by the project.
However, what the blurb did not tell us was that about 500 jobs would be lost as a result of clearing the land to make way for the site of the retail and leisure development. There is great concern in the area that the company should make public its proposition so arbitrarily and without consulting those who are already on site. There is certainly the suggestion that a wink or a nod was given by the planning department before the money was spent on the project.
Will the Minister tell us—I shall be generous in the way that I phrase this—what consultation there was between the planning department and that major company, which is based on this side of the Irish sea? Were any reassurances given to the company? Have the Government considered the impact of that company's proposal on the proposal that they are backing for the Laganside development? It would surely devastate that proposal if there were two similar projects so close to each other. I accept that it is not the Minister's departmental responsibility, so he may not feel able to answer my questions, but I shall be happy to receive answers in writing from the appropriate Minister.
Many of us were led to believe that the Belfast urban area plan would be published in January 1989, but it was not. I now understand that it is unlikely that it will be published before Christmas. That is causing great concern to the construction industry—not just the housing sector —because there is a virtual standstill on major planning applications for housing, industry and recreation. Jobs are already being lost because of the delay. Surely the planning department can get its act together and do rather better than it has done on many past occasions.
Another example is the Carryduff area plan. I do not wish to tread on the territory of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), but I do not think that he will mind my mentioning this matter. The hearing on the plan took place only last week. It deals with Carryduff's building programme for the years 1987 to 1991. However, it appears that the plan will not be published until the mid-1990s. That is a nonsense. It shows the way that the planning department deals with major inquiries. Surely there could be better programming and better timing so that events come in the right order.
The next issue of concern to me is health. I concur with the remarks of the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). I am deeply concerned about the decline in the Health Service in Northern Ireland. As other hon. Members have already said, it is outrageous that there are such long waiting lists for operations and hospital treatment. Although my constituency does not have a 562 major hospital, the Ulster hospital lies on its periphery. That hospital has empty wards because there are no resources to fund the staff necessary to look after patients.
Yesterday, I was part of an all-party delegation that toured the accident and emergency department of the City hospital. The delegation was united in its condemnation of the Eastern health and social services board for what it is contemplating for that department. There have previously been several proposals, but they have all been overridden by the current proposal, which may go before the board some time next week or, if rumour is right, it may be put off until October. The proposal is that the department should close on alternate evenings; that the accident and emergency department at the Mater hospital should close every evening; that the accident and emergency department at the Royal Victoria hospital should remain open; and that the City hospital should alternate with it. The impact of that on the service being provided would be devastating.
Perhaps the Minister could explain how someone in great need—perhaps he has cut off a finger while doing a job in his home—could possibly stop and think, "Do I rush to the Royal Victoria or the City hospital? Which one is open tonight?" He may go to the doors of the City hospital only to find a sign telling him he has it wrong and that he must go to the Royal Victoria hospital. It is complete nonsense.
The proposal does not take any account of the community issue. Whether we like it—and I hope that none of us do—many people in Northern Ireland recognise that there are areas where they are not safe. Many people, especially the security forces, would be loath to go to the Royal Victoria hospital. Indeed, the security bosses would not allow their forces to go there without an armed presence to guard them.
We are told that the reason for the proposal is that the health board might save about £50,000 in heating, lighting and staff wages. How can people be so wrong-headed? Do they think that on alternate nights the hospital can simply turn off the heat and the lights and send the staff away? Perhaps they intend that the staff who will not be required at the City hospital on alternate evenings will instead go and work at the Royal Victoria. We can all imagine the effect of that on the service as the staff try to familiarise themselves with different hospitals on different eveningss. Perhaps they intend to recruit staff to work on, for example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening. What would that do to the sleep pattern of doctors and nurses? It is absolute nonsense.
The proposal is also financial nonsense. If the accident and emergency department at the City hospital is closed on alternate evenings, some sort of security would be necessary to look after the empty areas of the hospital where vast quantities of dangerous drugs are stored and where patients' records are kept. Currently there is no need for such security because the nurses and the doctors are always there. If security has to be provided, there will be a need for heat and light, so no savings will be made there. The security staff will have to be paid, so there will be no saving there.
The hospital will have to staff itself on the basis of the unexpected happening. Who will tell someone who comes to casualty desperately needing attention that he must go away, possibly to this death? I cannot believe that anyone will do that. The hospital will have to have some staff as back-up, so where is the financial saving there?
563 We must contemplate the reality of life in Northern Ireland. What happens if a disaster occurs in the Belfast area? Will the one hospital be able to cope? We may not be talking about a terrorist disaster: it could be an air disaster. One hospital could not adequately cope with such a major event affecting the Belfast area.
I appreciate how people who are not aware of the local circumstances in Northern Ireland might look at a map of Belfast, see three dots close together—representing the Royal Victoria, Mater and City hospitals—and think that some arrangement could be made to save money. In practice, it does not work that way. Not only would such a cut not work, but the results could be disastrous. Ask the nurses.
There will be queues of people waiting for attention, and queues mean violence to nurses. The patience of people in need of attention can become frayed. Many problems will arise, particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings, and there is already great concern among the nursing staff. Many of the nurses I spoke to yesterday made it clear that if this proposal goes through, there will be no place for them in Belfast City hospital. There are plenty of jobs for them in private nursing homes and elsewhere, often at more attractive wages than they are now receiving.
I urge the Minister to bring to bear what influence he has on the members of the board that he appoints to ensure that they do not put through such a perverse proposal to close on alternate evenings the accident and emergency department of Belfast City hospital.
§ Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)
I am grateful for this opportunity to participate in the debate. The Minister and the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) have dealt with, as it were, the macro-economics of the measure. I shall deal with some of the smaller figures behind the grand millions that appear in the schedule accompanying article 5.
It is appropriate, perhaps, that the first section of that article deals with agriculture, especially as I represent a basically rural and agricultural constituency. I perceive with joy the fact that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has announced that at long last the less-favoured areas submission has been made to the European Commission. In view of the financial consequences of that submission, I urge that as much pressure as possible is brought by the Department of Agriculture on Commissioner Ray McSharry, who is now responsible for that matter in Brussels and who, because of his experience and the similarity of the problems in the North and South, should have a receptive ear to the speedy implementation of the less-favoured areas provision.
One reason why I am anxious to have that issue brought forward as quickly as possible is the inordinate delay that has already taken place. The less-favoured areas were designated in Northern Ireland several years ago, but only yesterday were they submitted to the European Commission despite the fact that in the meantime the agricultural development programme, of which advantage could have been taken by people in the newly designated areas, is already rolling. They have not had the opportunity to enjoy the enhanced support and grant system that the less-favoured areas arrangement would give them.
564 Because of lack of finance or lack of proper management or administration, a dangerous situation seems to be arising in the administration of the agricultural development programme. When an application is made, an acknowledgement is sent to the farmer giving him permission to start a project, but it does not give him any undertaking that the project will receive grant aid. The substantive reply arrives six or seven months later.
That state of affairs is totally unacceptable. There is sometimes an unfortunate temptation for the local farmer immediately to start a project, to get banking finance and to go ahead with the expenditure, only to find at the end of the day that he will not receive the grant aid which, albeit incorrectly, he thought he would get. That happens either because of lack of funds to ensure proper administrative staff or lack of adequate administrative arrangements. I urge the Minister to examine that point carefully, along with the question of delay in making payments to those whose projects have been approved under the agricultural development programme.
The other form of agriculture is marine agriculture. The Minister will be aware that two of the three major fishing ports in Northern Ireland are in my constituency, at Ardglass and Kilkeel. He will also know that great disadvantage is being caused to the fishing fleet because of the sand bars that have been created by previous governmental expenditure at the entrances to both harbours.
In bad weather, particularly at Kilkeel, boats running for cover cannot pass one another at the entrances to the harbours. There are schemes afoot to have that remedied, but the finance has not been made available.
The severity of the situation can be appreciated by the statistic that out of the possible 98 days' fishing that the fleet could have—thereby providing income and jobs in that sector, including processing, fish sales and exporting—only 47 days are available because of that physical disbarment at the harbour of Kilkeel. A similar problem, because of the silted harbour bar, exists at Ardglass. Could some urgent financial provision be made to eradicate that debilitating situation for the fishing industry in South Down?
I have listened with interest not only to this debate but to the earlier one on direct rule, in which the Secretary of State recited the enormous strides that have been made in employment and Government investment. I envied, but was not jealous of, the hundreds of millions of pounds that have been promised for job preservation in certain parts of Northern Ireland. I should like to think that some of that rich lode could be transferred to my constituency for industrial promotion and that a more active, positive programe from the Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterprise Development Unit could be applied to the development of jobs in local areas.
I have heard arguments to the effect that that would not be financially viable, but in the context of the overall budget that we are discussing—considering the drift to the cities and centres of population, with consequent school, hospital, roads, car parking, environmental pollution and other costs—it would be cheaper to bring the jobs to the workers in rural areas than to take the workers to the jobs in the conurbation.
The second factor that affects the economic development of my constituency is tourism. It is no idle boast that it is the most beautiful part of Ireland in terms of mountain, sea and other scenery and facilities, but it 565 requires promotion overseas. The Minister's colleague in the Department of the Environment has recently restructured part of the development process, but we need local units with executive functions and finance to promote a concept that is appropriately designed for each area. The Mourne area, not only because of its natural beauty but because it is St. Patrick's country, is a seller, if it can be properly and commercially packaged. That area and Newcastle are the most developed and have the highest tourist input in Northern Ireland. Europe and North America have many links with St. Patrick's country. Most cities in Europe were founded by people from South Down, from the old monasteries of the fourth to the 10th centuries. That connection still exists and should be exploited.
I was pleased to learn a couple of months ago that the fibre-optic link programme was endorsed, signed and proceeded with by the Government. It is the most exciting development that the North of Ireland has seen. 1992 has often been quoted. One of my greatest fears is that the North of Ireland and Ireland as a whole will be marginalised in the European Community because we are on the Atlantic north-west coast of of that Community, and things naturally tend, both commercially and economically, to drift to the centre of any empire. A commercial empire is being created, so we must be more vigilant, ready and properly equipped than anybody else to sustain the onslaught of 1992. I was particularly pleased that the Government have accepted the fibre-optic link in principle and, I hope, in practice.
Will the Minister confirm that the nodes that are attached to those links will be available to small rural towns of South Down and elsewhere? If they are not, the Government will be failing to provide the infrastructure of electronic communications that are so important to our development post-1992. I hope that the Minister's department will examine economic development in the context of bringing industry to workers in rural areas and that sensitive low-level buildings can be provided in advance for the transportation of jobs not only from England but from Europe and North America. That has already happened in Castletown in County Kerry; the New York State Insurance Co. has transferred its entire administrative operation to the little village of Castletown because of the fibre optic links.
I sympathise with the hon. Member for Belfast, north (Mr. Walker), who mentioned the so-called rationalisation of schools. The rationalisation of schools affects the area that I not only represent but live in. I refer to Downpatrick, east Down and Lecale generally. The South-Eastern education and library board intends to close in one fell swoop three secondary—intermediate schools at Crossgar, Downpatrick and Castlewellan and to abolish the grammar school status of what is known as the Down high school at Downpatrick. That was done without any consultation.
I was hoping to get an answer from the Minister at Question Time today. I asked him what consultation took place with the parents of pupils at those schools. He replied that there were statutory development procedures for school reorganisation proposals, that these provided an opportunity for interested parties—including parents 566 —to make representations to the Department of Education, and that school authorities would normally consult parents before publishing a proposal.
The parents at those schools were not consulted by either the South-Eastern education and library board or anybody else. The board made an on-the-spot decision to close three rural schools that are catering for the education and future of the children of those areas. Schools should be more than establishments for education. They should be allowed to be the social fabric of small towns and villages. I ask the Minister to convey to the Under-Secretary of State the grave concern of parents of children at those four schools that those decisions were taken without consultation.
My area has two further difficulties in education. One is the lack of provision for autistic children. Presumably for financial reasons, the education authority has set its face against providing a modicum of specialist services in normal school provision. That could easily be done with little expenditure. The second difficulty is the provision of veterinary education. There is great concern in rural communities such as mine about the proposal to close the veterinary school in Glasgow to which all veterinary students in Northern Ireland normally go. It would be a great pity if that link between Northern Ireland and Glasgow were abolished.
I now refer to the appropriation for health and social services. I have heard hon. Members talking about £33 million for the Antrim hospital. I do not begrudge that expenditure. It is the second time in my experience that an almost identical amount of money has been allocated to that hospital. Downpatrick hospital must be replaced. A new hospital was to be built in 1956—over a quarter of a century ago—and the money, unfortunately, was diverted to Antrim hospital. I have a sense of déjá vu—It has happened again over a quarter of a century later, without any change.
The amount of expenditure that is required to make Downpatrick a good general hospital, as proposed by consultants and vetted by competent experts, is only about £8 million to £10 million. That would make it a comprehensive, general, geriatric and maternity hospital. Geriatric and maternity facilities have already been put on site.
Perhaps more immediate is the Department's inability to force the Eastern health and social services board to provide a third anaesthetist for the Down hospital. The absence of this anaesthetist is jeopardising the provision of operational services. The board has prevaricated time and again. It uses the excuse of the lack of finance. As the Minister has already indicated his support for the appointment, it is proper that he provides the money for it.
I also wish to draw the Minister's attention to the inadequacy of the staffing of occupational therapy departments. In my area and, I am sure, in many other areas in Northern Ireland there is a two-year wait for the delivery of aids for handicapped people. That is scandalous when such items do not involve a great deal of expenditure. After diagnosis and after assent has been given for the provision of the aid, surely it is not right that physically disabled people should have to wait two years for the provision of an aid.
I echo the comments of the hon. Members for Leicester, South and for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) about the plight of pensioners following the social security changes. 567 Pensions were raised in April, but for many pensioners the increases have been completely negatived by the withdrawal of the transitional payment allowance. Many pensioners have less money in their pockets than they had before the pension increases. Surely that was never intended at a time of rising costs. I ask the Minister to consider that point sympathetically.
I congratulate the Minister's colleague in the Department of the Environment on his speedy intervention in the aluminium sulphate scare at Foffany reservoir. He has appointed an independent investigator to find out how the aluminium sulphate got there. The incident is reminiscent of what happened in south-west England, but it is on a much smaller scale. I urge the Minister to expedite the results of the inquiry so as to allay the fears of the local people. To link that with what we are debating, lest you pull me up, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the local feeling is that the withdrawal of workers and the rundown in the number employed at the Foffany works by the Department was probably a contributory factor to the pollution. Aluminium sulphate is a potent toxin in the water supply.
On housing, I draw the Minister's attention to the Policy Studies Institute survey which looked into the disadvantage between Catholic and Protestant in the probability of allocation of housing in Northern Ireland. I do not want to debate the merits and demerits of allocation on a sectarian basis. I simply suggest that the imbalance in allocation of houses on a 2:1 ratio is partly because of the cut of £40 million in the housing budget this year. The Housing Executive has said that, because of these cuts, its modest proposals—I emphasise the word "modest"—cannot be met. In the three-year financial cycle up to 1992 the loss of grant will be £109 million. At a time when there is a downturn in the provision of new build by the private sector, surely the resources of the Housing Executive should not be cut.
Like other hon. Members, I try to make a contribution to the debate, but I would lke a response to the points that I raise. Often for good reasons, in the time available a Minister cannot reply to all the points. If the Minister cannot reply tonight to all hon. Members, I urge him to reply by letter. It is meaningless for us to take part in a debate if we do not get a reply, good or bad, positive or negative, from the Department or from the Minister to whom we have addressed our inquiries.
§ 9.3 pm
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
Partly as a result of door-to-door canvassing for the recent local government elections and the European elections, some of us have had much closer contact with the people affected by Government decisions than the Ministers who make the decisions or, indeed, by those who advise Ministers in Northern Ireland so badly from time to time. I hope that in future real consideration will be given to the views expressed by those of us who endeavour to represent our constituents.
I realise, as do other right hon. and hon. Members, that nothing we say tonight will change the order. Nevertheless, in order to bring the attention of Ministers and officials issues which have arisen, we do not want to give the impression that we are always on the attack. There are various sections of the order that we recognise as being of value. I welcome the efforts to ensure success of Harland and Wolff and, indeed, Shorts. I congratulate the 568 Department of Economic Development, the Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterprise Development Unit on their achievements to date in job creation.
We all realise that there is still a long way to go and that the level of unemployment in Northern Ireland, including that of some highly skilled young people, is far too great. Only when terrorism is defeated will we see the kind of inflow of inward investment, that will rid us of the scourge of unemployment that has existed for far too long.
Under vote 3, the Department of Economic Development, I welcome the fact that continuing emphasis is being given to the provision of community projects, youth and industrial training and employment schemes and services, including services for the disabled. I am pleased, too, to support the provision of funding for Enterprise Ulster, which serves the whole community of Northern Ireland extremely well, and most communities have benefited from the excellent environment and amenity schemes that have been carried out over the years. Those schemes have given much satisfaction to the long-term unemployed, and we are glad to see them continuing.
We are especially pleased to see the increase from 8,000 to 10,000 places under the Action for Community Employment—known as ACE—provisions. I support the priority that is to be given to those between 18 and 24 years of age. There will be emphasis on structured training to assist those who are fortunate enough to obtain places on that scheme to acquire skills that will enable them to move to more permanent employment and to compete for jobs on the open market. I welcome the steady growth in places under that scheme, but I believe that in future it will have to be further expanded. I trust that funding will be made available for that purpose.
Funding of the Fair Employment Agency and the Equal Opportunities Commission alone will not achieve fair employment or equal opportunity. We hope that we will not see frightened employers, who have been fair employers, blatantly discriminating against Protestants to raise the number of other groups on their list which will have to be furnished to the Fair Employment Agency.
I agree that the unfair attacks by the promoters of the MacBride principles in the United States have done more damage to the prospects of all sections of the unemployed in Northern Ireland. Without their intervention, it is quite possible—in fact one would have expected—that there would have been more inward investment from the United States. We as Unionists have stated clearly that we have no desire to direct employers to specific areas where only Unionists will benefit. We believe that new industry should be located so that all sections of the community can benefit from the job opportunities created on the basis of their own merit. I hope that we will see continuing inward investment and new job opportunities for all to share.
I also hope that those companies that are investing heavily in producing alternative sources of energy will, in the event of the privatisation of the electricity industry, be guaranteed an outlet for the surplus electricity that they can generate and that that will be taken at a fair price. If such a guarantee is not binding, the Government grants that have encouraged the alternative generation of energy will prove to have been a waste of resources.
Under the Department of the Environment vote 1 expenditure, I would like to have seen a greater allocation of funds for upgrading the street lighting system 569 throughout east Antrim, and at a faster rate than presently possible. There is also a need to provide more off-street car parking for housing estates. Portland place, Magheramorne, is on the main Larne—Carrickfergus road, an extremely busy road, and householders have to park on that road. There is land available and I am sure that Blue Circle would be more than delighted to negotiate with the Department to make some land available for that purpose.
I regret that I could not identify any planned expenditure to complete the dual carriageway on the Lame-Belfast road from Gingles corner to Corr's corner. We have been waiting nearly 20 years for action to upgrade that Euro-route. I appeal to the Minister to get personal experience of the congestion caused by commercial and private traffic travelling to and from Larne harbour. If it is too much to expect funding to be provided from Europe all at once for the completion of that project, at least the Government should be working towards phasing the work until such time as it is all completed. That would improve overall road safety and traffic flow. I believe that such a decision would command the sympathy and support of those who administer the European regional development fund.
It is many years since the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), in his capacity as a Member of the European Parliament, and other colleagues had a European development fund commissioner in Larne. If our Government had proposed the project, we might have good reason to expect support for it. Given the real danger of EC funds drying up in a few years' time, I hope that the project will be completed before then. We are confident that we will obtain the commitment and support of our newly elected European Members of Parliament and of any Commissioner they invite over. With that support, our Government should feel confident enough to get that proposal through.
Glynn village, just outside Larne, was promised a bypass about 10 years ago. It should have been completed by now but, in common with many other projects, it has been put on a long finger. Money has been spent on upgrading the main road through Glynn, but if two articulated lorries were to meet on that road it would be almost impossible for them to pass each other. The narrow footpath there will not accommodate a young mother with a pram on the way to the railway station. I hope that further consideration will be given to the possibility of a Glynn bypass.
Will the Minister look favourably on the recently completed Glenarm village study? We need substantial expenditure on the coastal area between Glenarm and Carnlough where there is high unemployment and great potential for creating employment. Larne borough council has acquired the derelict harbour and funds are urgently needed to enable the Eglinton limeworks to be relocated to the back of the village, where there are new workings. With the proper support, we can encourage entrepreneurs to set up small businesses and improve the general economy for the community.
I was pleased when the Minister said that at long last the cross-city rail link would become a reality. We could 570 look forward to more visitors passing through the Larne harbour area if they were able to travel through Belfast more conveniently.
I emphasise the continuing need to provide funding for renovation and enveloping grants in areas where improvement and redevelopment by the Housing Executive has been agreed. The voluntary housing associations in Northern Ireland continue to be worthy of our fullest support. They should be able to retain their own identity and should not be absorbed and mismanaged by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, a bureaucratic monster which is far too large to be properly managed.
I recently wrote to Mr. Blease, the chief executive of the Housing Executive. I said:I respectfully suggest that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive should seek, if necessary, authority to obtain a deposit in respect of every future allocation of residential accommodation. The deposit should be sufficient to cover the cost of inspection, repair of damage and, where necessary, steam cleaning and fumigation. Where tenants are linked to a trail of filth and vandalism, the public at large should not be held responsible for the cost of putting things right. Inspection reports should be exchanged where transfers between housing districts occur and should have some bearing on whether an exchange or transfer application is approved within a housing district.I am grateful to the Housing Executive for the prompt response which came within a few days of receipt of my letter. It was properly addressed to me in Larne, except that it was intended for the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker). I do not know how the mistake had arisen; he must have been on their mind or something. I shall certainly ensure that he receives a copy of the letter in case he has communicated with the executive along the same lines and has not received a reply.
I am concerned because I know from experience that we must take action. The Minister responsible must assist the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to cope with the sort of problems which I have witnessed in my constituency and which no doubt are common in other areas. At the request of pensioners, and young married couples with babies of only a few months old, I have visited properties which have been allocated by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. If I were to describe some of the conditions left behind, it would provoke illness. It almost makes me sick to think about it again.
I shall give a watered-down report, which I hope will be palatable, which comes from an environmental officer. His description of the property which had just been offered to tenants said:Water closet basin insanitary (heavily stained and dirty). The glazed surface to the bath was damaged, normal use of the bath could not account for the small indentations in the bottom of the bath.Kitchen area:Rotten woodwork to window frame.Holes in the floor and in a section of stud wall.The cupboards were dirty and in a state of disrepair.The house in general was dirty and strewn with rubbish.The Housing Executive is naturally interested in getting income, whether the rent is paid by the Department of Health and Social Services or by those young couples who are desperate for accommodation and who will accept accommodation in virtually any condition. It is a disgrace that young people are offered two rent-free weeks to clean the muck and filth left by somebody else. The Minister should take a good walk round sometimes to see the 571 neglect, mismanagement and lack of supervision. He should take steps to give powers to his officials or staff in the Housing Executive to do something about it.
The Housing Executive should not give an existing tenant alternative accommodation until it has inspected the state of the dwelling that the tenant occupies. No dwelling should be reallocated to anyone until it has been inspected, cleaned out, refurbished and repaired where necessary. There should be a thorough inspection of the roof space, the front and rear gardens areas and any other outbuildings. If any tenant has a record with the Housing Executive, the RUC or the environmental health department of causing disturbance or annoyance to adjacent tenants by noise, from whatever source, this record or offence should be taken into account by the Housing Executive if the tenant is being considered for transfer or reallocation either within the district in which he resides or to any other district.
These problems are constantly before us, especially those of us who still serve as elected district councillors. They are the problems being forced on the councils in Northern Ireland, which have few resources, so that the burden of work on the environmental health department is unnecessarily increased. I hope that the Minister will encourage the Housing Executive to take action, and that he will assist it with whatever new powers are needed to improve the situation and to implement some of these suggestions.
I am concerned that I have to raise this next matter in the House. It is a case that has come to light recently, and I trust that there are no other similar cases, although I have suspicions that there are. Under the vote for expenditure for housing, I have reason to call on the Minister as a matter of urgency to stop proceedings in respect of the Cregagh flats phase 2 contract. The Minister should hold an inquiry in the public interest to determine whether certain procedures regarding the action of the executive's consultants have been proper in all respects about the selection and approval of sub-contractors for window supply and installation.
In Larne in east Antrim a company called Sterne Fenster manufactures and markets Starglaze upvc windows. That company was encouraged with support from another Government Department to set up in Northern Ireland. It has successfully tendered and had a verbal indication that its price had been used by the main contractor to win the contract for phase 2 at the Cregagh flats. Starglaze got on to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive approved list on 13 February after, I suspect, ministerial intervention. Obstacles had been placed in the company's way. Starglaze would not join a cartel of manufacturers and be part of a cosy little club which could jack up the prices. Its windows are approved by the British Standards Institution and are made to a very high specification and that is why the company is on the approved list. The windows have been tested for wind resistance and water penetration. Under very high wind loading, no damage, deformation or water penetration occurred to the frames.
Starglaze has been blocked at every stage from supplying windows to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. For a consultant architect employed by the executive to exert pressure on the main contractor not to use Starglaze frames while saying that, if Starglaze was nominated by the main contractor, its name would go forward to the Housing Executive is quite despicable. To, 572 allege that the company has no track record in Northern Ireland is a deception designed to ensure that the company does not get a contract in Northern Ireland and is put out of business.
Starglaze has installed windows in the Brighton hotel after it was refurbished. It has installed windows in a 14-storey block of flats in the borough of Milton Keynes. It has installed windows in three blocks of 11-storey flats in the metropolitan borough of Stockport. It has installed them in two 14-storey blocks in the metropolitan borough of Sefton and it is scheduled to install its windows in five more blocks in Stockport. Those are but a few examples of the track record behind Starglaze and its high quality windows.
Starglaze has not been fairly treated. It produces high quality windows and doors at keen prices, and that is surely in the public interest. The executive's consultant architect did not give the Starglaze representative a fair hearing. The consultant architect was adamant that Starglaze window frames would not be used. I believe that the main contractor has been frightened off by the consultant architect's attitude.
The Starglaze representative made an appointment with the consultant architect and took a sample of a Starglaze tilt-and-turn window. He waited 40 minutes in the foyer of the consultant's office. Eventually the consultant architect walked past on his way to another appointment with a partner or an employer. He did not give the representative a chance. He was not interested in discussing what was happening.
Starglaze had been increasing its work force in Larne and naturally that is of special interest to me. The contract for Cregagh flats, for which Starglaze submitted the lowest tender, would have created more jobs in my constituency and enabled the company to demonstrate its capability for even larger contracts for its high-quality products delivered on time and at competitive prices.
I have tried to resolve that problem through the proper channels but without success. In a communication from the Housing Executive's acting regional director, I was informed:It is the main Contractor's prerogative to nominate any sub-contractors he wishes to use and provided the sub-contractors' products are on the Executive's approved list and there are no other impediments to the ue of the sub-contractor, the Executive will accept the nomination.The products are on the approved list, so why did the contract not go to Starglaze? What is behind the comment:provided … there are no other impediments"?I know of none. The letter goes on to say:I have been assured by the Executive's consultants for this scheme that if the main contractor submits his list of nominated sub-contractors, it will be passed to the Executive for approval using the criteria applied in any other scheme.I want an inquiry. I want the project stopped because justice must be seen to be done. That will be possible only when the practice has been exposed as unfair and the contract has gone back to Starglaze. The power of consultants to obstruct a successful tender by a manufacturer must be examined and diminished.
Who will pay the higher costs incurred by the main contractor who has recently accepted the next lowest suitable tender? Will that result in an extra cost to be paid by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to the main contractor? We must support fair competition and ensure that there is value for money in all public expenditure.
573 The money voted to the Department of the Environment in vote 4 covers expenditure on land registry. Earlier this year the Minister, in a written answer to me, said that a comprehensive review of land registry functions in Northern Ireland would be under way by mid-1989. We have arrived at mid-1989, and I had hoped that the Minister who gave me that reply would have been here to report progress. There are still unreasonable delays in processing transactions, with thousands of queries in a permanent log jam at the land registry office in Belfast.
I have constituent pensioners in Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, paying full rent out of their pensions for the homes that they tried to purchase several months ago. That £22 per week is causing unnecessary hardship. The money to pay for the houses is available on completion of the information that is needed for the transaction from the land registry, and that must be completed as a matter of urgency. I appeal to the Minister to provide additional temporary staff at the land registry in Belfast pending the outcome of the efficiency review that should be under way.
My constituents in east Antrim and those elsewhere whose homes were built nearly 30 years ago can reasonably expect funding for rewiring, central heating, improvements to old-fashioned and inadequate kitchens and the replacement of warped metal window frames which cannot be permanently straightened. In the interests of energy conservation alone, it would make a lot of sense to replace those metal framed windows immediately in all Housing Executive houses.
Will the Minister also bear in mind the many people who were encouraged to buy their homes from the Housing Executive? As first-time buyers they knew nothing about caveat emptor. The executive in my area has been replacing thousands of faulty flues. First-time buyers are committed to mortgage repayments and cannot raise another £600 to replace a faulty flue. Surely it would not be unreasonable to devise an entry point into the grants scheme which would enable people who have bought faulty homes from the Housing Executive at least to have some grant aid and assistance to replace a faulty flue. We still have a responsibility to those who have purchased properties which could put their health at risk and we should not duck out of it.
Vote 6 on page 4 of the order makes provision to fund the Northern Ireland fire authority. I and my constituents appreciate that the Northern Ireland fire authority serves all sections of the community well. There are limited numbers of full-time firemen in Northern Ireland, so the service is dependent on volunteer, part-time firemen who are on either 24-hour or 12-hour call. I should like to make an appeal to the Secretary of State through the Minister that suitable provision should be made to enable all the trained, part-time firemen who are employed in Government Departments, education and health boards, district councils and the private sector to respond to call-outs for the fire service during normal working hours. Employers should encourage that, provided that no one in their place of work is endangered if they respond to a fire call.
I trust that none of the money voted in the order is planned for capital work in connection with the proposed residential fire training depot at Old Manse road, Jordanstown, in Newtownabbey, in my constituency. The 574 peace and privacy of that residential area would be adversely affected if such a proposal were to go through on appeal in future. There are much more suitable sites for a residential training establishment for the Northern Ireland fire authority. I hope that the Minister will use his influence and will be seen to support the residents in their objections, the views of Newtownabbey council and the objections that I have lodged, and encourage the Northern Ireland fire authority to withdraw the appeal which is pending with the Department of the Environment or seek to have the application refused.
I join other hon. Members who register concern about the long waiting list for urgent treatment in our hospitals. Long waiting lists are not acceptable and should not be condoned, especially by the representatives of a Government who endeavour to project themselves as a caring Government.
One of my constituents, a pensioner, a lady who had had a hip replacement operation nearly 18 months ago, has been waiting to have her other hip replacement. Her husband pleaded with me to do something. She refused to say at which hospital she had been treated and she refused to name the consultant, as she said that she appreciated what they did for her so much that she did not want to get anyone into trouble. She suffers discomfort and some bad pain, and there must be many others who could be relieved of pain if it were possible to shorten the waiting lists. I hope that that will be possible. No hon. Member could sit idly by and look at his mother or a relative in the same circumstances without urging that something be done quickly. Not everyone can afford private medicine and those who are in genuine need and cannot afford private treatment should not have to wait 18 months for necessary medical attention.
We in Larne are well served by Moyle hospital. The Moyle action committee has been endeavouring to persuade the Minister and the Prime Minister that the grand hospital plan for Antrim is not in the best interests of the people of east Antrim and is not necessary. The Estimates, according to my interpretation, show that at present rates over £40 million could be spent on the Antrim hospital. I want the people of Antrim to have adequate hospital facilities, but we have heard tonight about the closure of wards in existing hospitals. How can we justify spending millions of pounds to build new hospitals when existing facilities are not being fully utilised? Like the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), I think that small expenditure on Moyle hospital would provide us with adequate hospital facilities for a lifetime. Proper use of the teaching hospitals and facilities in Belfast would be a much better use of public money.
Over the past 15 years successive Ministers, goaded on by officials, have supported that out-of-date proposal. The Ministers and the Ministers' nominees on the health boards—they are not elected and are not accountable to anybody—are the main supporters, together with a few who will benefit directly from new specialist employment and major posts created at Antrim.
I wish to record my opposition to the running down of Moyle hospital in Lame and to state clearly that the expenditure proposed for the Antrim site will not provide value for money. Unfortunately, the Public Accounts Committee cannot investigate the expenditure until it has taken place. It is a pity that its powers could not be extended to examine some of the proposals being made.
575 I know that other hon. Members wish to make a contribution, so I shall conclude. I welcome the provision that has been made for expenditure at Larne high school in my constituency. I regret that there is no mention of the funding for the final development at Lame grammar school. It is a pity that, when the contractors were on the site and the parents had raised the money to complete the project, the work could not be finished. I suspect that it will now be on the long finger.
With respect to the moneys voted to the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Education, I ask the Minister to take a chance and bank on the fact that in Northern Ireland we tend to underspend, so the Minister should anticipate sufficient underspend to allow for the provision of an additional speech therapist at Hillcroft special school in Newtownabbey. The parents of handicapped children there have been greatly distressed because more children were enrolled and statemented because they required speech therapy. To cope with that transitional problem, many of those who have been receiving speech therapy and who have no other means of communication and so are dependent on the help of speech therapists no longer have that benefit because time has been allocated to the younger handicapped children.
To provide an extra therapist would not be a major item of expenditure. It is a safe bet that more than the salary of one speech therapist will be left behind in the underspend before the end of the year. If even one additional child is statemented as requiring speech therapy in another special school in my constituency, additional staffing will be required there. It would be appropriate for the Minister to authorise the appointment of one additional speech therapist in east Antrim. If necessary, that speech therapist could be peripatetic and employed between the special schools where definite needs have been established.
Other hon. Members have already referred tonight to the long list of children awaiting the opportunity to receive even limited nursery education. Carrickfergus and other parts of my constituency have the same problems as those to which other hon. Members have referred. The principals of nursery schools are embarrassed. They have 90 or 100 children on the waiting list, but they are allowed to enrol only just over 20 children. Of those 20, they have to accept six or so because they have been recommended by health visitors or others for good reasons. The education and library boards cannot deal with that matter on their own because of cuts in successive years. They do not have the funds to provide sufficient nursery places. Surely such education could be provided at less cost if it were possible to utilise existing vacant classrooms in our primary schools. Where that is not possible, a definite commitment in the east of the Province would be welcome. The Government could signal to the North Eastern education and library board that money could be used to provide nursery school places, and I hope that that will be possible.
I also ask the Minister to deal sensitively with the proposals put forward by the South Eastern education and library board. The hon. Member for South Down earlier referred to the problems associated with state education in that area. I gladly and wholeheartedly support his comments. If the Minister accepts the proposals coming from the South Eastern education and library board and refuses to take account of the opinions of parents and 576 teachers in the area, there will be a greater exodus, so great that they will need no state schools in South Down. That is happening at a time when the Minister is saying that parents must have choice. I therefore appeal to him to listen to what they are saying.
South Down also experiences high unemployment. If the status of Down high school is destroyed, it will be difficult to encourage into the area the young executives who we hope will set up new industries. If Down high school's status is changed from that of a grammar school, many parents will be forced to send their children far beyond the area of the school. That school has a good history, a good tradition and an excellent record, and should be retained as the grammar school for the area.
I hope that the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland will not contribute to driving out the people who maintain an interest in Down high school and who represent a diminishing group in the state sector in that area.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim. North)
I begin by giving my full backing to what the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) has just said about Down high school and to the other hon. Members who spoke earlier when, unfortunately, I was not able to be present.
This is a serious matter. I have raised it in the House previously and I do so again tonight because that grammar school is the only gramar school for the Protestant community in that area. If it disappears, the Roman Catholic children will still have the opportunity of a grammar school education, but Protestant children will not. Working-class protestants will be bereft of grammar school schooling while those who are wealthy will be sent to schools in Belfast where they will have to be resident. Working-class children will not have that opportunity.
As the hon. Member for Antrim, East has just said, there will be an exodus from the area. That is not only my view; it has been put to me by the governors of the school and the residents of Downpatrick. The Minister must take that view on board because, if he does not, as one governor said to me, we shall be forced to come to the conclusion that there is deliberate discrimination against one section of the community whose children will not be offered proper schooling. I trust that the Minister will take on board the other issues raised about school closures. He must pay careful attention to this serious matter.
This is a tragedy, because the small schools in the rural areas of Northern Ireland have been a cement in the community. We talk about keeping the community together, but the cement is being removed and the fabric destroyed. The community will be without the facilities that keep it together and that contribute to a whole society.
I turn now to the equally serious matter of Mitchell House school which provides residence for severely physically handicapped children. Recently, without notice to any of the parents, the staff were suddenly told that they would all be made redundant and that the resident part of the school would be closed. Physically handicapped children will no longer have the opportunity to reside there. Indeed, the parents have now been told that the children who were resident will be sent back to their homes. The facilities to give respite to the parents of 577 seriously physically handicapped children will be taken away. It is a terrible indictment of the Government that, in this age, such facilities are to be taken away.
I want additional facilities made available so that those parents can have the break that they need. I hope that tonight the Minister will give some ray of hope to them. He should talk to them and recognise their frustrations and the problems that they are up against. He should understand the condition of their children and the necessity for them to be treated humanely. The Government should take quick action in this matter.
Some 20 or so years ago the Northern Ireland roads system was second to none. Many good improvements were made and the Province was moving forward. Now, because of the deterioration in the infrastructure, many strategic roads are outdated and capital funding has been over-restricted for many years. I have had a peep at the pamphlet "Roads for Prosperity" that covers roads in England. I trust that a similar document will be prepared for Northern Ireland.
A strategic plan for Northern Ireland has been proposed, and I hope that it will show what will happen to the roads in the Province. I am greatly disturbed by the proposal that all the main traffic to the Channel tunnel should go over the border and via Holyhead to Wales. Associations within Northern Ireland local government have made representations about that. I hope that the Minister will tell us about his plans. There appears to be a dragging of feet on the subject of the roads to Larne. If the Lame port is to retain its prosperity—something that has been helpful to the whole east Antrim district—we need to know what is in the Government's mind for the extension of proper road facilities in that area. I trust that the people of Northern Ireland will soon be told what the Government intend to do.
There is congestion on the west link to Belfast, which will be further increased with the construction of the New Cross harbour bridges. What does the Minister intend to do about relief work to deal with the congestion?
Will the Government consider the construction of lengths of dual carriageway or climbing lanes on the roads to ports which support heavy lorry traffic? I understand that a large grant is going to the Irish Republic for the culverting of roads that are out of date. If so, and if the Irish Republic is to receive a large grant to update its roads, may we be assured that Her Majesty's Government have made application to ensure that, when heavier traffic comes on to the roads of Northern Ireland, we will be able to take advantage of EEC grants?
When is it expected that the dual carriageway into Ballymena will be completed? Will it take 10 years, the time stated at the inquiry? I have also been asked to mention the concern of many people about the Newry bypass. When will that be completed?
I am reliably informed that it will cost £200 million to bring the water service in Northern Ireland up to EEC standards. Is that money available? Is it a fact that when that work is done, £200 million having been spent on it, there will be no more water available than is available now? Will there be reserve capacity to take account of future industrial expansion in Northern Ireland? Has that 578 been taken into account in forward planning? New industry and more jobs in Northern Ireland will require a good reserve capacity of water.
I confirm what was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, East about the Housing Executive. Why does it not have a plan to bring all the houses under its control, when they are being rehabilitated, up to a common standard? I have in mind houses in Ballymena with old steel windows. It seems strange that the Executive puts new wooden windows into some houses, and then argues with the tenants of other houses that their old steel windows are fine, that the wind and rain does not get through them and that they must be content to live with them.
The Minister had better consider this issue. I regularly go into houses and see, for example, newspapers stuffed between the brickwork and the steel windows, and the tenants tell me that the housing executive intends to take the old windows out, straighten them and put them back again. I can think of one area, Wilson avenue in Ballymena, where there has been almost civil commotion about the fact that the management will not renew the windows properly. The time has come for the Housing Executive to accept that a common standard should apply to all houses.
Matters of this kind cause great concern to tenants, especially when they have the upheaval of the Housing Executive moving in to do rehabilitation work. Hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies will appreciate the commotion that occurs when that happens, with people being forced to live in one bedroom. I visited a house recently in which all the floorboards had been taken up, with only two boards being left to enable the tenants to cross the floor to get to bed.
In other places, the Housing Executive moved the people out and made other provisions so that they could be outside while the work was being done. We have heard about the repair of flues. I have been in houses in my area when people have been called in to repair flues, and they have almost destroyed the whole house. I have seen the mess that they have made with soot and so on. The Housing Executive said, "We will not give you a new carpet even though the carpet has been destroyed." Suits of clothes hanging in wardrobes were completely destroyed, and then there was an argument about compensation. Housing Executive tenants must be dealt with humanely. There must be an opportunity for them to have their rights. Those matters have concerned hon. Members in our constituency work.
Why can the University Grants Committee back-up scheme, which is available in the rest of the United Kingdom, not be made available to Northern Ireland so that Northern Ireland students can benefit from it? Hon. Members will know that, apart from all the other troubles in Northern Ireland, basic matters concern the well-being and life of the community. They must have priority. The Government and the Northern Ireland Office must take those matters into account.
It is impossible for the Minister to answer all the questions that have been raised tonight, but we would appreciate a written answer to those questions that he cannot answer tonight so that we can go back to our constituents and say, "This matter was raised in the House; here is the answer," and then take it further.
§ 10.2 pm
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
My approach to the appropriations is similar to the approach that I would have taken if there had been time to call me in the debate on direct rule, although what I want to say now is different from what I would have said in that debate.
I see Socialism and democracy or aspects of Socialism and democracy as essential in resolving major problems faced by working people, whether they be Catholic, Protestant or of any other denomination or loyalty. Democratic and Socialist solutions seem to me to be appropriate. I see Socialism and democracy as interlinked concepts. Socialism without democracy becomes bureaucratic abuse. Democracy without Socialism, as we experience it throughout the United Kingdom, is shallow and inadequate. Just as devolved government with a Bill of Rights could allow the healthy development of nonsectarian politics in Northern Ireland, we need an economic and social transformation in Northern Ireland on Socialist and democratic terms, with the democratic and participative transformation of the economy, or at least we need to do what we can about nudging it in that important direction.
How can the Protestant and Irish working class co-operate and aid one another if they are expected to be passive recipients or victims of the economic process? If they are expected to be victims of a system that operates cut-throat enterprise activities and a cut-throat enterprise culture, those are not the conditions and circumstances in which the co-operation that is required in the Province can be nurtured and extended.
The voting patterns of hon. Members from Northern Ireland on the Government's enterprise culture initiatives is likely to prove instructive. It is something that in future we might look at closely in terms of debates concerning appropriations.
Let us look at the economic plight of Northern Ireland which these appropriations and Government policy do nothing to improve. Like Wales and the north-east of England, Northern Ireland is an area of industrial decline, shipbuilding and textiles being at the centre of the loss of its manufacturing base. Northern Ireland has shared little in the claimed recovery of the British economy, having a low GDP per head of the population. It is not seen by overseas investors and many others as an attractive area for capital location, and has little inward investment.
There was a rise of foreign investment in the 1960s, especially from the USA, with movements at a peak in the mid-1970s, with transnationals concentrated in mechanical engineering and textiles. Following the 1973 oil crisis, energy costs soared in the Province and areas such as artificial fibres went into terminal decline. Previous gains were often lost. In 1981, transnationals accounted for 23 per cent. of manufacturing jobs; by 1983, that was down to 16 per cent.
Bombardier—a most unfortunately named firm to come to Northern Ireland—is being given Short Brothers, with Government funding, without appropriate public control of the equity that is being provided. Most of Northern Ireland's economic problems rest on a change of direction in the United Kingdom economy, and perhaps in the world economy, away from closures, contractions, mergers and movements of high finance and corporate 580 headquarters to the south of England, away from tax and benefit cuts which open up the inequality gap, and away from the enterprise culture.
Economically, socially and politically, Northern Ireland needs something like the popular planning models that are recommended in a publication by the Transport and General Workers Union, which calls for a regional development bank to co-ordinate investment and target funds, with local authorities drawing up structure plans in association with their communities and trade unions, conducting job audits of the impact of total public sector activity and identifying business opportunities. Local projects would be integrated into an overall strategy, supported by community education and training programmes, with roles for bodies such as trade union resource centres similar to the Belfast unemployment centres project under the EEC's anti-poverty programme.
Essential for such measures of economic democracy is a context of political democracy, a devolved government with a Bill of Rights giving some scope for socialist policies, and interests which require that conflicts of race, gender, religion, sectional interests and sectarianism are overcome. Economic and political aspects of Socialism and democracy are appropriate to handling the problems within Northern Ireland. Those are the principles that I would have propounded in the earlier debate, had time been available. I have given some indication of what economic and social advances can be made within the Province. I would associate them with similar political developments of a constitutional nature that are required.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I apologise for the fact that I was not in the House for the beginning of the debate. I sat through the last debate without being called and I feel that I have an opportunity to say now some of the things that I had wished to say then.
Rather than deal with the specifics of the appropriations, I shall deal with the generalities and, to some extent, with our problems. Those problems are not caused by the lack of finance—I doubt if anyone taking part in the debate has complained that Northern Ireland is under-financed—but by the fact that the administration of the affairs of the various departments in Northern Ireland leaves so much to be desired that the finance is to a large extent wasted. The reason for that is partly the direct rule system, which, when influenced by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, means that Ministers are constantly junketing around Northern Ireland, almost begging for approval from the populace for the way in which they administer the area.
Two Ministers are especially adept at that. The Ministers with responsibility for educational matters and for health and environmental matters are for ever junketing around the Province telling us about the money that they have found for this and for that project. However, what they are really doing is distributing in a belated manner money that has already been allocated to Northern Ireland. They are distributing that funding in a piecemeal fashion, and that makes it difficult for civil servants to plan ahead.
Most hon. Members will know that last week the Public Accounts Committee suddenly found that the Northern 581 Ireland Housing Executive had valued certain horticultural stock at more than £500,000, when, in fact, the true value of that stock was £45,000. We would be making a grave mistake if we put the blame squarely on the shoulders of those working with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The problem is that Ministers do not allow their departmental staff the scope to plan ahead to ensure that such errors do not occur.
I am not suggesting that all is well within the Civil Service. When one has the sort of direct rule system that we have had in the past 15 years—with, for example, the Secretary of State attempting to rule almost like a viceroy, and his junior Ministers following his example—of course we will find much the same problem or attitude permeating the Civil Service. The belief is that there is no accountability and no need for accountability in Northern Ireland. As an elected Member I probably suffer more directly than my constituents in trying to deal with that attitude.
That attitude permeates right down to the girl on the switchboard. Only yesterday at about three minutes to 1 o'clock I phoned one office and asked the girl on the switchboard to put me through to the head of the department. While I was doing something else I listened as the telephone rang, rang and rang. I suddenly realised that it was now five minutes past 1 o'clock and I set the telephone down and phoned back immediately only to be answered by the porter. I complained to him that I had not been put through to the head of the department and he said, "Ah well, he has probably gone to lunch." That was reasonable, but I thought that it was unreasonable that the young lady on the switchboard had plugged the telephone in but had then left her post to go to lunch and left me hanging on the other end. Her attitude appeared to be that if the person was there he would answer.
I had identified myself when I first telephoned and if such treatment is given to a Member of Parliament, what on earth happens to my constituents who try to get a service from that department or other departments? Where does the blame lie? I believe that it lies fairly and squarely with Ministers, although there is no doubt that senior civil servants should ensure that their departments are properly administered.
A more poignant, tragic example of what happens to my constituents involves a man who suffers from multiple sclerosis. By December 1988 he found it necessary to write to the Housing Executive to suggest that he needed an entrance into his little Orlit house so that a car could drive in rather than his being wheeled out to the roadway to get into a vehicle.
That matter was dealt with by the district housing manager, who got a report from a hospital consultant. She was unable, however, to make a decision and had to refer the matter to a welfare officer in her department. A further process had to be gone through and the welfare officer had to refer the matter to an occuptional therapist. That therapist eventually managed to get a report together and by March of this year the district office had approval, as far as that went, for a roadway into the side of that man's house. It was then necessary for the district officer to refer the proposal to an engineer at regional level for approval. The regional officer approved it, but then had to pass the matter on to the road service department, a different 582 section within the Department of the Environment. Once again it was deemed to be necessary that the alteration should be made to the entrance and the work was regarded as feasible, but that was not enough, as the matter then had to be referred to the planning department. It was at that stage that it arrived with me; meanwhile there had been a seven-month delay.
When I rang the planners they promised that the matter would be attended to within a week. I thought it reasonable therefore that I should ring the regional engineer and suggest to him that he could go ahead quickly and begin to get things in hand. Imagine my surprise when he told me that he would be unable to deal with it because there was no direct labour organisation within his department to do a job which was worth slightly less than £1,000. He said that when he had received approval from the planning department he would have to refer the matter to an outside consultant because it would have to go to public tender. Therefore, a £1,000 job had now become a £5,000, £6,000, £7,000 or even £8,000 job. It was likely that at least a year would have elapsed before my unfortunate constituent would be able to drive, or have a car driven, up to the side of his house so that he could travel around.
I apologise for boring the House with that story, but it was worth the few minutes that it has taken to demonstrate the frustration faced by hon. Members such as myself when trying to ensure that our constituents' needs are given proper attention. The problem is not due to lack of funding, but to the bureaucractic machine which grinds slowly and, sometimes, not so surely. If we are to make the best use of the funding assigned to the Province, we must trim down the bureaucractic process under which we have suffered for the past 15 years. That process is destroying the opportunity for many good things to take place within the Province.
Earlier today, I listened to the Secretary of State talk about the need for good relations between the two communities in Northern Ireland. In the district council area in which I live, work and serve as a district councillor, very reasonable working arrangements exist between the two communities. Indeed, I would not be exaggerating if I said that we might be a little ahead of 25 other councils. Be that as it may, what reward do we receive for our efforts to share responsibility within the community?
Dungannon district council, along with Lame district council, is one of the two councils that do not have a proper leisure centre. Over the years, we made plans to provide a leisure centre that would be comparatively modest and would adjoin our present swimming pool. Initially, the Department of Education for Northern Ireland suggested that we were being too ambitious. Therefore, we went back to the drawing board and came up with a modest project costing £1.1 million.
Just as we had arranged with the permanent secretary at the Department of Education that we could begin to think about moving ahead and providing the leisure centre, the Minister responsible sent us a letter, the first two paragraphs of which read:You will be aware that in the course of the last few months the Minister has made a number of announcements about specific capital projects—mainly in the schools sector —which have been given approval to start in 1989/90.Those were the various projects that had motivated a junket out to a certain part of the Province where he told us that he had found money to enable them to go ahead. The letter went on: 583I have to inform you that, apart from these projects, the Department will be unable to facilitate any other new starts in this financial year.On the District Council front this means that the Department is unable to offer grant-aid on current applications in respect of sporting, recreational, community and arts facilities provision under the recreation and Youth Service".In other words, the Minister had indulged in a con game. He had pretended to have extra money. He had gone out and distributed this money, and then promptly returned to his office to write to the rest of us and tell us that there was no money left for us—that to a council which was under-provided for, and one that provided good cross-community provision for its people.
Is it any wonder if I am sceptical when the Secretary of State says piously from the Dispatch Box that, if only the communities would come together and work more agreeably together, the problems of Northern Ireland would be sorted out? I am inclined to think that the Minister looked at Dungannon district council and said, "What a peaceable bunch. We can cut them out at this stage. We will send the money to somewhere that is slightly less agreeable."
It is not just the Minister with responsibility for education who acts in this high-handed and arrogant way. Recently, an organisation called the Goodman organisation sought planning permission to build a meat factory in my constituency, on a roundabout which is on the main route from the M I to Omagh and Enniskillen, so it is busy. The factory was planned to go outside a village and adjacent to a voluntary secondary school, a housing estate and a number of private houses. Immediately, there was local opposition to the proposal, and I conveyed that opposition to every department involved in the decision to allow planning permission to go ahead. Initially, I was assured by the planners, the roads people, the water people, and the Department of Agriculture drainage division that there was no difficulty. They were opposed to a project in the area, but the whole matter had to be referred to an article 22 inquiry.
The ordinary objectors to the project did not have the finance to engage a barrister, and finance is not made available to such people. The organisation was able to bring along a high-powered team and senior counsel to represent it. Some of us, realising that we were in difficulty, went along to the inquiry and drew to the attention of the commissioner the danger of building a factory on that site. One of the matters that we drew to his attention was that if the organisation were allowed to build a factory in that location, it would be creating a monopoly—something to which the Government are supposed to be opposed.
The commissioner agreed with us in his findings. With regard to roads he said:I share and support these apprehensions about the advisability of introducing this access at this point, in spite of the Road Service's stated acceptance of it.The road service had told me earlier that it was opposed to the proposal.
In terms of water, the commissioner said:the effect on the natural habitat of the river by the abstraction of such a percentage at low river flows has not been investigated. It would seem to me that such an abstraction rate was bound to have some effects downstream.The commissioner was equally derogatory about effluent:The effluent treatment plant, skin shed and stomach content storage area will also be visible from the Omagh 584 Road. I have noticed that at all the plants that I have visited there is some area for dumping unwanted waste. I am sure that it is required for emergency use, if not the normal running of the plant. In the case of this site it would have to be close to the river, at the lowest part of the site, or in a prominent position by the A4 or A5.He concluded by rejecting the planning application.
In terms of employment, the commissioner recognised that the claims that the factory would provide 200 new jobs were false. As a result of the factory being built beside Ballygawley, 80 jobs in the same firm proposing the new factory would be lost in Enniskillen. The claimed 200 jobs would be reduced to 120. I was able to tell the commissioner that another plan to build a small boning factory providing 40 jobs would have to be abandoned if a monopoly developed. Therefore, the claimed 200 jobs were really only 80.
Members of the Ulster Farmers Union and other informed sources went further and suggested that Mid-Ulster Meats with 50 or 60 jobs, the council abattoir in Dungannon with a considerable number of jobs and other meat factories would ultimately be forced out of business. The Goodman Meats project would actually cause a net loss of jobs.
When the Minister was approached about this matter, he informed people that he did not know anything about it. He said that it had not arrived on his desk. For months it appeared that it had not arrived on his desk. Then the district councillors in Dungannon caught on. As soon as we approached the council elections, we realised that the announcement was going to be made and there would be no one there to object. We decided to try to stop that happening. A senior person in the planning department was telephoned and asked to state that that would not happen. A very clever assurance was given. We were told that it would not happen before the election. We should perhaps have understood that we would be misled. It did not happen before the election; it happened the day after, before we got back to our councils. That is the sort of trickery that we have to live with day by day, week by week and year by year.
There are many—I hope that I am one of them—who try to be reasonable. [Interruption.] I did not make it clear that the announcement was that planning permission would be given for the firm.
There are not many hon. Members here today, but those who read Hansard tomorrow might well look at Goodman International's background. It is based in the Irish Republic. There is nothing wrong with that: we do a great deal of business with the Irish Republic. But the firm is reported to be close to certain members of the Fianna Fail Government. In fact, it is supposed to subscribe heavily to that party's election expenses. No doubt it was able to bring influence to bear through the Anglo-Irish Conference or through other connections to circumvent the recommendations of the commissioner who investigated the planning application.
Let me quote from the Irish Farmers Monthly of April 1989. It says that the Goodman outfithas the ability to house over 25,000 cattle on nearly 50 acres of concrete.The important part says:The cattle are fed on what is probably the cheapest feed in Ireland with usual ingredients including imported corn, gluten, meat and bone meal from his own factories, molasses and the inclusion of chicken litter at up to 20 per cent. of the diet. A recent visitor to the feed lots expressed surprise at the 585 feeding of such a high level of chicken litter. But he was told, in a matter of fact way, that over a third of the diet had comprised of chicken litter on occasion".That is the entrepreneur whom our administrative team is inviting into Northern Ireland to create a monopoly which will put our other abattoirs out of business, and which will ultimately result in the backbone of our economy, the farming industry, getting lower prices for its cattle. That is the irresponsibility that we have to face week after week, month after month, year after year.
But there is more. A FEOGA grant—processed through the Department of Agriculture at Stormont—worth £750,000 was agreed for that project long before planning permission was even considered. Because I insisted on an answer at the inquiry I managed to extract a letter that had been sent to the Department of Agriculture from the Goodman organisation saying that it had been confidently assured that planning permission would be agreed in May or June 1988. Yet the inquiry was not due to take place until September or October. To enlighten hon. Members, let me say that on no previous occasion have I ever found a FEOGA grant being awarded to any organisation until it could prove that it had planning permission to go ahead with a project in a specific place.
We shall have to deal not only with the £750,000 FEOGA grant but with a large grant from the Industrial Development Board—none of us will be told for how much—to put our other abattoirs out of business, to create a monopoly and to undermine our agricultural industry with an organisation that uses 20 per cent. chicken litter and bonemeal in cattle feed. What would the Minister responsible for environmental and health matters have to say about that? It is a pity that he is not in the House tonight to hear what we have to say.
While a massive organisation can ride roughshod over the interests of the community I represent—and Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office allow it to happen—the little fellow—
§ Mr. Maginnis
It is disgraceful. I am glad to have an accord with the Government Whip. I hope that he will advise his right hon. and hon. Friends in the Northern Ireland Office of his feelings on the matter.
The little fellow who tries to run a bus and coach hire firm and wants to provide an adequate service for my constituents—a firm such as Lakeland Tours in County Fermanagh—is balked every step of the way. Ulster Bus is allowed to prevent the development of a service for my constituents. The Department of the Environment road transport licensing branch permits that to happen. In an effort to provide an express service for students travelling the 90 miles from Belfast to Enniskillen each weekend, going out on a Friday and returning on a Sunday night, a group of enterprising constituents decided to set up a travel club and hoped to engage Lakeland Tours to provide that service.
The road transport licensing branch sent them a letter warning them that it would be irregular, that Ulster Bus provided an adequate service, that they should not cut across that service and to do so would be in contravention of regulations. But what happened a week or two later? 586 Ulster Bus announced a special weekend commuter fare and a new service on exactly the lines that had been proposed by the private operator—Lakeland Tours.
The little man is neither cared for nor cared about. I have example after example of that type of irregularity in dealing with the affairs of Northern Ireland. That irregularity means that the people I represent are getting neither value for the money that is there to be spent nor any opportunity to make proper representations, and I do not have the opportunity to make day-to-day representations on their behalf.
I am not allowed to have meetings with permanent secretaries by order of Ministers, one of whom is sitting in the Chamber now. He forbids his permanent secretary and senior civil servants to see me and other colleagues unless we agree to talk to him. That is the disgraceful way in which we are treated and I want it to be put on the record fairly and squarely. I want the Minister, if he disputes that, to stand up and do so as fairly and squarely as I have made my comments. We will then know where we stand in the future. I will know that there is a means whereby I can properly represent the interests of my constituents without having to submit to the bully-boy intimidation I have suffered for the past three and a half years.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers)
I would be happy to see the hon. Gentleman and any other Member of Parliament at any time, because that is the normal etiquette observed between Members of Parliament and Ministers. As for the hon. Gentleman saying that it is not possible for him to put his point of view across, he has done so for the past 36 minutes. If he continues for much longer, there will not be an opportunity for me to reply to the debate.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you tell us when the debate has to end?
§ Mr. Maginnis
I am grateful for that advice. I do not intend to take any of the time available to the Minister. I believe that he and his colleagues have a great deal to answer for.
As I said at the beginning, the people I represent do not suggest that they are underfunded or that they are not properly catered for financially. I could make many more points but—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House why the ban on Members of Parliament seeing permanent secretaries does not extend throughout the entire Northern Ireland Office? For example, I can meet the permanent secretary at the Department of Agriculture. When an attempt was made by the Minister, Lord Lyell, to stop that meeting, I received a personal apology from the permanent secretary who said that he would meet me at any time to discuss the matters I wanted to raise.
§ Mr. Maginnis
I do not know the answer to the hon. Gentleman's point. Perhaps the Minister will explain why he and some of his colleagues are so adamant that we have to meet him and only him and why we cannot discuss with senior civil servants issues that should not and would not normally take up the time of a Minister. I will say frankly 587 to the Minister that some of his senior officers are willing to meet me and my colleagues but are keen that the Minister does not know that they have infringed his directive.
I will take the Minister's hint. Obviously, he will make amends. He is about to explain why we have such a bureaucratically inefficient system and why the firms from outside, one of which I have mentioned at length and which may turn out to be another De Lorean, are dealt with in a privileged manner and why some of the smaller firms—the backbone of our community and economy—are treated in such a despicable and offhand way.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have brought those facts before the House. I can stand by those facts. Let the Minister, when he replies, contradict me if he dares. Let him tell me that I cannot stand by those facts. He knows that that is not true.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers)
Northern Ireland appropriation debates, especially those on main Estimates, are always wide-ranging. Hon. Members have raised many points on the spending plans and policies for particular services. I am anxious to have an opportunity to deal with as many of those as possible. I noted that earlier in the debate, which I have sat through for the past four hours, there was a comment that Ministers have not always found it possible to deal with points at the end of the debate. I accept that comment. On previous occasions, I have found that I have been squeezed out of the debate because hon. Members from Northern Ireland were so anxious to take part that it seemed right to give way to them. However, I was anxious to deal with as many points as possible.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was good enough to say that he recognised that it would not be possible to deal with all the points raised. Indeed, the number has been so many that it will not be possible to deal with them all. However, I give the House the assurance that I will deal with as many as possible and I will ensure that the points cannot be dealt with in debate are drawn to the attention of my ministerial colleagues as they relate to their Departments and letters will be written to hon. Members accordingly.
Before I deal with specific points arising from the debate, I want to add briefly to the comments that my right hon. Friend made in his opening remarks on the broader economic and public expenditure context within which the estimate provisions are framed, especially the industrial and economic areas for which I have responsibility.
Hon. Members will be aware that, when giving details of the outcome of the 1988 public expenditure round for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reaffirmed the priority within public expenditure that we attach to strengthening the economy. That objective is second only to the overriding priority of combating terrorism through the programme on law and order and I am pleased to say that there are clear signs that our public expenditure strategy is contributing to improvements in the economy.
It is also the case, of course, that Northern Ireland has benefited from the high levels of growth on the United Kingdom mainland and future prospects will be similarly linked to developments at national level. The combined effect of national economic growth and our public 588 expenditure strategy has been reflected in, for example, the growth of output over recent years in the textile and clothing industries. There is also evidence of current growth and strong growth potential in a number of other sectors such as plastics, plastic packaging, information technology, electronics, including software production, and certain sectors of the food processing industry.
Another notable feature of the Northern Ireland economy in recent years has been the buoyancy of the retail sector. In the year to December 1988, the number of employees in retail distribution rose by some 1,300 or 2.7 per cent. and further increases can be expected. We are looking forward to welcoming the new Debenham store which is to open in Belfast city centre, and which will create 500 new full and part-time jobs.
Employment in manufacturing industries has also risen, from 100,530 in March 1987 to 102,190 by March 1989, with nearly all major sectors experiencing growth. Overall, the total number of employees in Northern Ireland increased by 6,370 during the same period.
Comments were made during the debate, notably by the hon. Members for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), that some of those jobs were not necessarily of high quality and that they were, perhaps, low-tech jobs. I must say in parenthesis that I know that the hon. Member for Leicester, South wished to be here for the end of the debate, but it was simply not possible. He wishes to tender his apologies and he was good enough to say so to me.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
He has to attend the funeral of a close friend early in the morning.
§ Mr. Viggers
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing that out. I am sure that the hon. Member for Leicester, South will be grateful that that is on the record.
I must say to the two hon. Gentlemen who raised the point about the quality of jobs that that opinion would not be shared by those at Standard Telephones and Cables and Du Pont and by those now working at the Antrim technology park. I am proud of the quality of the jobs created across the sector of employment, from the large companies through to the small companies. There has been substantial growth on a long-term, viable basis. As my right hon. Friend said in his introductory remarks, at the same time the trend in unemployment is downward. Since January 1987, the seasonally adjusted figure has fallen by almost 17,000. Moreover, the prospects for continuing economic improvement are good. The latest survey from the Confederation of British Industry reports a positive balance in business confidence in all sectors of the economy.
Notwithstanding this background of economic improvement, we recognise the need for public expenditure allocations which address Northern Ireland's comparatively high levels of need, within the necessary constraint of national economic policy. The hon. Member for Leicester, South made a substantial point of that in his introductory remarks. We recognise that, although falling, unemployment levels are still around twice the national average; and even that disguises much higher rates of unemployment in certain areas, with male unemployment posing a particular challenge. Similarly, housing unfitness was still over 8 per cent., though again declining, in the 589 1987 housing survey; and Northern Ireland has a proportionately larger school population to educate than other parts of the United Kingdom.
Therefore, I advise hon. Members representing other parts of the United Kingdom, who may feel that special and perhaps excessive provision is given to Northern Ireland, that it is right and proper that public expenditure should continue to run at a higher level per capita than the United Kingdom average. Indeed, it runs at about 40 per cent. above the average for the rest of the United Kingdom, although one would not necessarily recognise that fact when one hears the complaints from hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies.
Reflecting those needs, the main estimates before the House tonight incorporate a number of important increases over the previous plans for 1989–90. These include an additional £24 million to the Industrial Development Board for its job promotion activities; and an additional £25 million for Action for Community Employment and job training.
I must advise the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) who commented on the tragedy of highly trained people being unemployed, that 70 per cent. of the long-term unemployed have no educational qualifications, which is why we are now switching so many extra resources to the link between training and employment and why we are seeking to promote the training elements in our schemes including the Action for Community Employment scheme, which now has a 20 per cent. training element.
We have also found an extra £23 million for priority roads, education and health programmes and an extra £15 million to continue the "Making Belfast Work" initiative as part of a £55 million overall programme.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) asked about progress on Harland and Wolff and on Shorts— a most important subject. My right hon. Friend said in his introductory remarks that additional provision will be sought through Supplementary Estimates for the full 1989–90 costs of the privatisations. We are convinced that the future of those companies lies in the private sector, and we are happy with the heads of agreement that have been exchanged in each case. They provide a real chance for a much brighter future for those who work for the companies. However, more remains to be done before the privatisations are fully concluded, but I am confident that it will be achieved.
As to Harland and Wolff, since the signing of the heads of agreement with the management buy-out team and Mr. Olsen, significant progress has been made in preparation for the formal completion of the sale. Discussions between my officials and the MEBO-Olsen team and their respective advisers are continuing to finalise the legal contracts and other matters associated with the sale of the company. A formal notification of the terms of the disposal has been submitted to the European Commission and I am hopeful that we shall receive an early and positive response.
Mr. John Parker, the chairman of Harland and Wolff, and his senior management team have held a series of what I understand to have been constructive meetings with the work force and we await the outcome of his negotiations. Subject to EC Commission approval and the satisfactory 590 conclusion of the other pre-contract conditions and procedures, I would expect that the sale would be completed in September as planned.
We have been working consistently to achieve moving Shorts to the private sector since my statement to the House on 21 July last year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a statement on 7 June about the heads of agreement for the sale of Short Brothers to Bombardier of Canada. There will be a further opportunity for hon. Members to consider further the details of the privatisation agreement with Bombardier when Supplementary Estimate provision is sought. The agreement with Bombardier has opened the way for the transfer of Shorts from public ownership to the private sector, and we believe that this will give the company the best possible opportunity for a bright commercial future. We are satisfied with Bombardier's commitment to making a success of Shorts as a single company in Northern Ireland. We believe that during the next few years developments will prove exciting both for Shorts and for Northern Ireland. We look to the company to make a major contribution to the Northern Ireland economy.
The hon. Member for Leicester, South commented on the low percentage increase in spending on health and personal social services. Total expenditure will amount to £946 million, including £7.7 million for the 1989 review body pay awards for which Supplementary Estimates will be taken later. I think that perhaps the hon. Gentleman had not taken account of the fact that a reduction from 1 April 1989 in the rate of employers superannuation contributions has created savings of some £15 million. Together with the health and social services boards' cost improvement programmes yielding some £6.5 million, those savings mean that effective spending on the programme will be about 8.5 per cent. above last year's level, and not the figure that the hon. Gentleman quoted.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about bed closures in hospitals. During the past year the Eastern health and social services board has closed a number of acute beds, but that is in line with targets in the regional strategy for 1987 to 1992. I have been assured that services to patients have not been reduced as a result. Indeed, I understand that the number of patients receiving treatment continues to rise, reflecting a more efficient use of the resources available.
The hon. Gentleman asked about theatre closures at the Belfast City hospital. The recent theatre closures are a temporary measure brought about by a nursing shortage that arises from sickness and unexpected difficulties in recruitment. The normal theatre nursing complement of 62 has been reduced to 47, with the result that there are only four theatre teams instead of the usual six—that is, one to cover each theatre. The six theatres are used in rotation; no theatre has actually been closed. It is hoped that a fifth theatre nursing team will be available in two or three weeks and that a return to normal will follow in the near future.
The hon. Gentleman commented on hospital waiting lists. Of course, we are very concerned about that. The Department has recently had discussions with four health and social services boards about the validation and medical management of waiting lists and waiting times. Departmental guidance on the completion of waiting list returns has been reissued and a clinicians' guide to waiting list management will be published to promote better practice.
591 The hon. Gentleman referred to expenditure on the Health Service at large, to Northern Ireland's health profile and to the need to provide resources to deal with the health problems in the region. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Government have recognised the special needs of Northern Ireland, which is why programme costs are more than 20 per cent. higher per capita than in England and Wales. That is precisely in recognition of Northern Ireland's higher needs.
The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) raised the issue of temporary classrooms. As my hon. Friend mentioned in his opening speech, nine new school projects with a total cost of £11 million have been allocated resources to enable them to start in 1989. A major aspect of that programme is the replacement of substandard facilities to meet the needs of the modern curriculum and to rationalise the existing stock of school buildings. I hope that, on the basis of what I have said, the hon. Gentleman recognises that matters are moving in the right direction.
The hon. Member also asked, as did the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), about the tourism review that I commissioned in October of last year and which I received at the end of April. It will be published soon. I can give the hon. Gentlemen a preview by saying that the review has recognised that a comparatively small proportion of those who come to Northern Ireland do so as genuine holidaymakers or tourists. We believe that much more can be done to promote Northern Ireland as a tourist location and we intend to pursue that policy vigorously. As I say, the policy document will be published soon. We recognise the great importance of this area and agree that much more can be done.
The hon. Members for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) and for Antrim, North referred to the level of roads expenditure. As I travel around Northern Ireland, I am surprised by the number of roads that are being improved and built. I appreciate that that is casual comment, and on one recent long journey it seemed that almost every paving stone was being replaced along the length of the road.
As my right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks, an additional £8 million is included in this year's roads programme for extending the programme of structural maintenance of carriageways and footways. The total provision for roads in 1989–90 is about £129 million, which the House will agree is a substantial allocation indeed.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) raised the question of the rationalisation of controlled secondary schools in his constituency. I hope he will accept that some further rationalisation is necessary. Some of the schools in question are already too small to provide a properly balanced curriculum for their pupils. The Belfast education and library board is currently considering how best the rationalisation might be achieved, but has not yet reached a final conclusion. When the board reaches firm proposals, they will be subject to the statutory development proposal procedures, which will give all interested parties an opportunity to comment on them before decisions are taken.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the resources that have been allocated under the "Making Belfast Work" initiative and suggested that certain parts of his constituency had been unfairly treated. I would not wish to minimise the problems in his constituency, but the Government are confident that the allocations for deprived areas of Belfast have been made in good faith. 592 We have tried to direct them to the areas of greatest need, and I believe that they are being effective in achieving their results.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North also raised a point about MRI, and I have in the last hour or so learned more about magnetic resonance imaging than I ever thought would be necessary for me. The provision of MRI remains an objective in the current regional strategy. I understand that the clinical efficacy of this equipment is still undergoing evaluation. A number of studies are in progress and the results of a major evaluation being carried out by the Medical Research Council are expected to be made available later this year. Also, the technology is rapidly changing and I understand that, as development progresses, new models are likely to become available which will be considerably cheaper to install and run and which will offer a wider range of clinical applications. The significant investment of resources required for MRI will also be a factor in the timing of its introduction.
By pointing out that resources were available in Dublin and London, the hon. Gentleman asked, as it were by implication, why no such resources were available in Northern Ireland. The capital costs per MRI installation are currently about £1 million, and revenue costs are estimated at £275,000 per year. If, as he said, it is possible for his constituents and others in Northern Ireland to enjoy the benefit of these resources by travelling to London or Dublin, as they wish, that appears to be a sensible use of resources at this stage, although obviously the matter will be kept under review.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North also spoke about the increase in IDB rents—I think he referred to Industrial Development Board rents rather than to Local Enterprise Development Unit rents—for small businesses. He said that some small businesses were being driven out of business by rent increases. If that is the case, I would wish to know about it, and I shall institute an inquiry and see what can be done. I hope I shall discover that the increases are fair and reasonable, but I shall take note of the point and ensure that no firm is driven out of business by such increases in rent.
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker
I will identify to the Minister within the next day or so the business about which I was speaking.
§ Mr. Viggers
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Without more information, I cannot comment further, but obviously I want to know the details, and I shall pursue the matter myself.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East asked about the Belfast urban area plan. The plan was published on 17 November 1987, and the closing date for submitting objections was 15 January 1988. The number of objections received was 2,400, and a public local inquiry into them by the Planning Appeals Commission was held in mid-1988, as I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know. The commission is expected to report to the Department later this year and, after considering the report, the Department will issue its response and adoption statement. Although it is hoped that the plan will be adopted in late 1989, it depends on the date on which the commission reports to the Department and on the issues raised by the report.
The hon. Gentleman asked also about planning consultation, and expressed concern about the lack of consideration given to representations made to planning 593 officials. Any planning applicant has the right to appeal to the Planning Appeals Commission if he or she is not satisfied with the Department's decision to refuse planning permission for a project.
The hon. Member for South Down raised further points about school rationalisation. For some time, the South Eastern education and library board has been considering the future of controlled secondary grammar school provision in South Down, as the hon. Gentleman knows. It has, however, suspended further consideration of the matter until it is in a position to take into account the effects of the education reform proposals that were recently announced by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science. When the board comes to a final decision on the matter, it will have to publish a development proposal outlining its proposals. There will be ample opportunity for all interested parties to comment on the proposal during the statutory consultation period, and the Department will take those comments into account before either approving or rejecting the proposal. There is no action which the Department can take until a proposal is published by the board.
The hon. Gentleman expressed some dissatisfaction that it had taken so long to submit the United Kingdom case for the less-favoured areas extension to Brussels. As he is probably aware, the criteria for designation of land are strict, and tests are necessarily time-consuming, and there is a significant extraction process in the presentation of statistical data relating to various economic and demographic tests. However, the matter is now in the hands of the EC Commission, and we hope that it will be able to reach a decision quickly.
The hon. Gentleman referred also to the Policy Studies Institute report on housing. I noted his comments. It is no surprise that, among its other findings, the PSI study finds no evidence of any sort of discrimination against Catholics. We welcome that.
The hon. Gentleman referred also to the star fibre optics programme, which we regard as an important element in selling high technology investment into Northern Ireland. He asked whether the star programme will apply to all areas of Northern Ireland. I confirm that that will be the case, because spurs from the fibre-optic ring will run into different regions. However, the hon. Gentleman does not need to rely on the spur in his own constituency, because the ring runs through the hon. Gentleman's constituency. He will be among those who are most able to take most advantage of the star programme.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East referred to accident and emergency services. The recommendations arising from a complementary study, carried out by a number of members of the eastern board into all the services provided at the Belfast City hospital, the Mater hospital and the Royal Victoria hospital, were included in the eastern board's draft operational plan as a basis for consultation. Proposals to implement some of the recommendations of the report are expected to go before the board shortly. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for health matters will want to discuss the proposals with the board chairman when the board has come to a decision.
594 The hon. Member for Antrim, East asked about delays at the land registry. There is still a backlog of registrations. We are aware of the difficulties caused by delays in registration, and an efficiency scrutiny under the auspices of the efficiency unit is due to issue its report on the operation of the land registry on 31 August 1989, which I think is the date that the hon. Gentleman was seeking.
The hon. Gentleman referred also to window contracts at the Cregagh flats. He will appreciate that I am not in a position to respond to his concerns tonight, but I will ensure that his points are drawn to the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment.
The hon. Member for Antrim, East expressed concern about the future of Moyle hospital at Larne. There are no proposals from the Northern health and social services board to close the hospital. The opening of the new hospital at Antrim will, however, necessitate a realignment of acute service, particularly those currently provided at the Moyle and at Waveney hospital in Ballymena. The role of these hospitals will change to that of supporting the new hospital. The precise range of services to be provided at the Moyle is a matter for the Northern board. The board's proposals will ultimately have to be approved by the Department of Health and Social Services.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North raised the issue of Mitchell House school. I am advised that this is a far from simple issue. My hon. Friend will note the points that have been made by the hon. Gentleman and I undertake that he will write to him.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the cost of complying with the EC water directive. We take our obligations under the directive seriously and we will be assessing the resource implications in the context of public expenditure planning arrangements. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is too early to be specific about the allocations which will be made for this purpose.
The effect of the Channel tunnel on road communication and transportation, particularly of freight, was also referred to by the hon. Gentleman. I would find it most surprising to discover that the normal pattern whereby transport companies in the Republic of Ireland use the ports of Northern Ireland, because of their increased and better efficiency, would be reversed as a result of the Channel tunnel. I will arrange for the hon. Gentleman to receive a letter on the subject when we have given it careful consideration.
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) made a speech which I thought fell below his normal standards of objectivity. He commented on the service by the Northern Ireland Civil Service and told a horror story about a telephonist who had left him hanging on at lunchtime because it was her lunchtime and she was going off. I was shocked by the hon. Gentleman's story because I know it to be so unfair to the standard of service provided in Northern Ireland. If he comes across a case of inefficiency or lack of courtesy, I hope that he will draw it to the attention of Ministers because we would wish to pursue it.
We have the privilege of knowing the very high standard of service provided by the Northern Ireland Civil Service. The levels of courtesy and industry are exceptional. As one who comes from outside Northern Ireland, I have been greatly impressed by the Northern Ireland Civil Service. I believe that, man for man and woman for woman, it provides a better service than is 595 provided in any other part of the United Kingdom. I say too that it ill becomes the hon. Gentleman, if he is seeking to assist in promoting the interests of Northern Ireland, to talk down the people who seek to serve Northern Ireland. By comparing the service provided, for instance, by the Passport Office, by the DHSS and by telecommunications in Northern Ireland with the service provided elsewhere, we know that the people of Northern Ireland are very well served.
I have sought to deal with the points that were raised during the debate. I recognise that it has not been possible to deal with everything. I repeat—
§ Mr. Maginnis
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not sure that there is a great deal that you 596 can do about it, but you will recall that the Minister asked for time to respond to the serious allegations which I made. I immediately gave way so that he could do so. I should like you and the House to note that he has not answered one single point about the administration in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Viggers
I was coming to a conclusion. I will simply say that I have tried to deal with the various points raised during the debate. I am grateful to hon. Gentlemen for the concern that they have expressed on behalf of their constituents which enables us to seek to provide a better service in return.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 8th June, be approved.