§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Ian Stewart)
I beg to moveThat the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 28th February, be approved.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)
It might be helpful if I make it clear that debate on the order may cover all matters for which Northern Ireland departments, as distinct from the Northern Ireland Office, are responsible. Police and security are the principal excluded subjects.
§ Mr. Stewart
The order is made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974.
The draft order has two purposes. The first is to authorise the expenditure of some £473 million included in the 1988–89 spring supplementary estimates. That amount, when added to the £3,618 million previously approved by the House, brings the total estimates provision for Northern Ireland departmental services to some £4,091 million for this financial year. The second purpose of the draft order is to authorise the vote on account of some £1,669 million for 1989–90. That amount is necessary to enable services to continue until the 1989–90 main estimates are approved later this year. Full details of all the provisions sought in the draft order can be found in the spring supplementary estimates volume and the "Statement of Sums Required on Account" leaflet, copies of which have been placed in the Vote Office.
As the draft order covers the entire range of services provided by Northern Ireland departments, I shall say a few words about certain key features of the Northern Ireland economy which inevitably influence the pattern of public expenditure provision. I am glad to say that the Province's economy continues to show clear signs of improvement and revival accompanied by a welcome reduction in numbers out of work. By January of this year, total unemployment on a seasonally adjusted basis had fallen by nearly 16,000 since the peak in October 1986, and by nearly 7,000 on the numbers a year ago. Our public expenditure plans for the coming year, with extra resources for training and investment, should contribute to a continuation of that trend.
Meanwhile, the numbers in employment are increasing. The number of employees in the manufacturing sector has risen by 2,000 in the year to last September. In the same period, the number of jobs in the service sector has increased by 3,000. Recent successes by the Industrial Development Board, which is due to receive additional funding in 1989–90, show that Northern Ireland is a highly attractive location for new investment. In the service sector, the commercial revival of Belfast and other centres continues.
As the estimates show, the Government will continue to pursue economic and public expenditure policies in Northern Ireland to strengthen the Province's economy. I want to ensure that the economic recovery is as broadly based as possible for the benefit of all areas and sections of the community.
I now turn to the specific estimates before the House. The Department of Agriculture's vote 1 provides for the Northern Ireland expenditure on United Kingdomwide 948 support schemes. Provision of £600,000 is sought to meet the costs in Northern Ireland of the measures introduced to assist the egg industry, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the House on 19 December. These short-term measures were introduced to restore stability to the industry following the sharp fall in demand for eggs as a result of the problems in Great Britain associated with salmonella enteritidis in eggs and egg products. Although no such infection was detected in any eggs produced in Northern Ireland, the industry is co-operating with the Department of Agriculture on further measures and final decisions in relation to Northern Ireland will be taken in the light of developments in Great Britain.
Following the reopening in Northern Ireland of the national element of the agriculture improvement scheme, the order provides for additional expenditure of £4 million, mainly on grants for effluent storage and disposal facilities. An extra £1.3 million is also provided this year for payments of compensatory allowances to farmers in less favoured areas.
The Department of Agriculture's vote 2 requires £0.5 million extra in the drainage programme to meet additional expenditure on the restoration of flood defences at Strabane following the severe flooding in October 1987.
The Department of Economic Development has supplementary estimates for all of its five votes. The most significant item in vote 1 is an extra £15.8 million to meet the current level of expenditure on industrial development grants and loans under selective financial assistance agreements. This reflects the continuing success of the Industrial Development Board in promoting employment in manufacturing industry and tradeable services. The major investments by Daewoo and Montupet will in themselves provide 1,600 new jobs. I should add that this increased expenditure is largely financed by an extra £14.6 million of receipts mainly from the sale of factories and land in line with the IDB's policy of privatisation.
The increasessought on the DED's votes 4 and 5 are all less than £3 million, but vote 2 contains by far and away the biggest single increase in these supplementary estimates. This is the provision of £390 million for the recapitalisation of Short Brothers plc, which the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), announced on 27 February.
The House will recall my hon. Friend's previous statement on 21 July 1988, that the Government were ready to consider suitable proposals that might lead to the acquisition of Short Brothers by private sector interests. Subsequently, Kleinwort Benson were appointed as merchant banking advisers, and we have been moving towards our objective of privatisation.
The interest shown in Shorts by potential purchasers confirms our view that Shorts is a company with many fine products and is held in high regard by other companies in the aerospace industry. We remain convinced that Shorts' best interests will be served by an early return to the private sector with the disciplines and opportunities which are available there.
The House will be aware that an information memorandum was issued to companies interested in acquiring Shorts. Detailed discussions are taking place with prospective buyers. The House would not expect me to speculate on a date for disposal, but our intention is to achieve sale as early as possible.
§ Mr. Stewart
I will have a word to say about that in a moment.
Since the early 1980s, Shorts has been funded largely by commercial borrowings, and, because of the high development costs related to new products together with trading losses, a high level of borrowings has been built up. This in turn has placed a considerable interest burden on the company. The Government have always recognised the need to restructure Shorts' balance sheet before the company can be returned to the private sector and has been considering how and when this should best be done. We have reached the view that there would be merit in taking steps now to enable the company to extinguish the bulk of its loan indebtedness to commercial banks.
Clearly, the simplest way of achieving this would be to inject grant into the company now to enable it to repay its bank borrowings, but we have decided not to follow this course. The European Commission would not wish to sanction a definitive capital reconstruction until final details of the disposal are known. We therefore propose to replace the company's commercial debt by a convertible loan from the Government. This would be at national loans fund rates, and our intention is that it would replace all the company's commercial debt save for loans from the European investment bank which carry an interest rate well below that charged by the NLF. Our loan would be convertible, and our expectation is that it would not in fact be repaid, but be converted, either in whole or for the most part, into equity at the point of disposal of the company. This proposal would of course be subject to the agreement of the European Commission, and formal notification of our plan has already been made to it. We are hopeful that it can reach a positive decision before the end of the financial year.
The aim of replacing commercial debt with Government debt is, first, to reassure the market about our intentions on capital reconstruction; secondly, to simplify the company's portfolio of borrowings so that final recapitalisation can be effected at the appropriate point with minimum delay; and, thirdly, to secure a reduction in the interest burden currently borne by the company and consequently a corresponding reduction in the Government's liabilities. There may of course be other payments to conclude the sale, but such matters will arise from detailed discussion with prospective buyers.
I therefore seek the approval of the House at this stage to a payment of up to £390 million. The public expenditure consequences of this payment cannot be accommodated within the existing Northern Ireland public expenditure block and the necessary resources will be available from the reserve.
I am sure that the House will support the substantial provision proposed to replace existing commercial borrowing by Shorts. It is a positive indication of the Government's determination to give the company the best prospects for an early and successful return to the private sector.
In the Department of Economic Development's vote 3, when balancing items are taken into account, the net additional provision sought is £2.9 million. Within the overall amount, £4.1 million is provided for the expansion of the action for community employment programme, giving an average of 8,800 jobs for the long-term 950 unemployed during 1988–89. This figure includes the 500 additional jobs announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as part of the making Belfast work initiative.
The Department of the Environment's vote 1 covers roads, transport and ports, where a net additional provision of £10.9 million is being sought. This includes £5.9 million towards an extended programme of structural maintenance works on carriageways and footways, plus £3.1 million for new construction and improvement schemes.
In a recent statement, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport informed the House that the Government had made a. contribution of £250,000 to the East Midlands air crash disaster fund and that £100,000 of this donation would be met from the Northern Ireland block. Appropriate provision has therefore been made in this vote. I hope that hon. Members will welcorne this contribution to relieving the suffering caused by this tragic accident.
I now turn to the Department of Education, where net provision of £9.3 million is sought in vote 1. The main increase in this vote is an extra £5.2 million grant to education and library boards, of which £3.4 million is for recurrent expenditure on mandatory student awards, schools for mentally handicapped children and library book stocks. The boards will also receive a further £1.8 million for maintenance of school buildings. An extra £5 million will be provided for capital expenditure. Hon. Members will note that provision is made within this vote for curriculum working groups being established under the Government's education reform proposals.
An additional £4.3 million is sought for the Department of Education's vote 2. The increases are mainly for capital expenditure and will provide. for example, furniture and equipment for Magee campus in Londonderry, as the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), announced yesterday, and additional resources for physics at Queen's university. Belfast's grand opera house and the Downpatrick arts centre will also benefit. Earlier today, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State also announced that there will be increased finances for the arts, museums and sport in the coming year.
For health and personal social services, a net additional provision of £46 million is being sought in vote 1. Of this total, some £29.5 million will be allocated to health and social services boards, mainly to meet the cost of the nurses' regrading and pay settlement and other review body pay settlements. The extra cash will help to maintain the high standard of health and personal social services in Northern Ireland. It will also enable further progress to be made in the transition from institutional to community care for those in long-stay accommodation.
The increase of over £10 million in the capital programme will ensure that building projects are carried forward as planned, that essential medical equipment is replaced, and that some of the most pressing maintenance jobs can be tackled. A further £10.7 million is also required for family practitioner services to meet higher estimates of demand and increased costs, particularly in pharmaceutical services.
In the social security programme, a total additional provision of £7.6 million is sought and £0.6 million of this is required in vote 3 in connection with the social security reforms. An additional £7 million is required in vote 4 to 951 meet increased demand on the social security budget for income support, supplementary benefits, attendance allowance and transitional payments.
In my opening remarks I have sought to draw the attention of the House to the main provisions of the order. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), hopes to reply to the debate and we will be most interested to hear the contributions from right hon. and hon. Members.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
I thank the Minister for taking us so carefully and definitely through the order and I am sure that most of us are now far wiser about its detail and consequences. I certainly found his explanation enlightening. It makes a pleasant change to be able to start these proceedings with agreement.
On a more personal level, it is good to see the Minister restored to full health and I hope that, within the next few weeks or months, he will be able to run around Westminster as he used to.
This evening we have the opportunity for a general debate on the social and economic state of the Province, and I suspect that this debate will be less emotionally charged than the previous one. I shall repeat the point that I made when winding up the previous debate—the economic and social aspects of life in the North of Ireland are of great importance to ordinary people. To the many people who do come into contact with violence, they are of paramount importance. Matters such as whether one has a job, or a reasonable prospect of getting one, whether one has a house and whether it is in decent repair, mean a great deal to ordinary people. We must bear in mind that we are talking about policy issues that have an impact on the vast majority of decent men, women and children in the north of Ireland.
I think that there is complete agreement in the House that Northern Ireland is perhaps the most deprived region in the United Kingdom. It is also one of the most deprived countries in the European Economic Community—as shown by its objective one regional status under EC regulations. I think that there will be further agreement that the security problem diverts resources away from social and economic development, and handicaps the generation of new internal and external investment.
However, within these parameters and constraints, the Government have enjoyed some success in attracting inward investment. The Minister mentioned Montupet, which is to be welcomed and on which I have already congratulated him. The Government have also been successful in encouraging economic activity through local enterprise initiatives, which are also to be welcomed.
Having given credit where credit is due, it remains the Opposition's view, and one that I have previously expressed, that the Thatcherite approach to the economic and social life of this kingdom is totally inappropriate in Northern Ireland. It is based on the concept that the size of the public sector in Northern Ireland creates a dependency culture and stifles enterprise, initiative and risk-taking. The Government believe that the Province must adjust and that the public sector should take a lower 952 percentage of Northern Ireland's GDP. That policy is shortsighted and offers limited scope for the successful development of the Province's economy.
The narrow emphasis on law and order—important though that is—must be broadened and the Government must recognise that, when dealing with community conflict, they should also tackle other issues to promote a fair and equitable society for all citizens. The ban on public cash for Conway mill in the Lower Falls area of Belfast is to continue, despite the pressure—including that from local clergy and other community leaders—which has been applied. I have visited the mill and am aware of the sort of danger to which the Secretary of State alluded when he said that public funding would not be given to the mill, either directly through the Vote or through international funding. However, a great deal of useful work takes place at that mill and many local people gain experience and useful information. It is a crying shame that it is continually denied public funding of any kind.
This example highlights the problem that the Government face with their blanket refusal to give their reasons for denying funds to specific organisations. The project is a place to which people can go to receive education, training and experience. When the Government continually fail to provide funding for such projects, that reflects badly on them and creates the impression that they do not care for the section of the community which use such places. Will the Government look again at that institution?
I have an 18-inch pile of press releases from the Northern Ireland Office in which Ministers gleefully announce that they have received additional resources for their Departments from the Treasury. However, both the Ministers and the press releases fail to point out that those resources—although I agree that they are additional—are totally inadequate to redress the increased poverty in the North of Ireland.
During the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 debate last year, the Opposition argued that the Government's social security changes constituted a cruel, cost-cutting exercise which failed to recognise the enormous problems of poverty and deprivation in Northern Ireland. We received some vague assurances and heard some glib political comments during that debate, but, unfortunately, our fears have proved to be well founded. The Government will know that the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux in Northern Ireland recently carried out a survey among 30,000 of its clients. It found that eight out of 10 people on income support will be worse off when additional liabilities, such as the payment of rates, are taken into account.
More than half the families on family credit are now worse off, if changes in housing benefit and the loss of free school meals are taken into account. That is an illustration of a case in which the Government claim they have provided additional funds, but instead of the lot of people living in poverty being alleviated, large numbers of people have been left in worse poverty than before. It ill behoves the Government to claim that they are doing a great deal to remove poverty in the North of Ireland.
I should be grateful if the Minister would answer the following questions about the social fund. A few months ago my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) asked the Government some questions about the amount of underspend from the fund and the number of applications to it which have been refused. After six 953 months, only 12 per cent. of the grants budget had been spent and only 33.5 per cent. of the loans budget had been spent. What are the recent percentages of expenditure from the grants and loans budgets? If we can be given those figures, and if, as we suspect, they still show a large degree of underspend, may we be told why?
Why are so many people who seek assistance refused it? Thirty-four per cent. of applicants for grants are refused, and 37 per cent. of applicants for loans are refused. One in three applicants for grants and loans are refused. How do those rates of refusal compare with rates in the rest of the United Kingdom? If, as we suspect, they are higher in the Province, why is that so? We fear that if people are refused grants or loans they will inevitably be thrown into the eager arms of the loan sharks and money lenders. As the Minister knows, per capita debt in Northern Ireland is already frighteningly high, and we should hate to feel that these measures made it worse. There is already a debt time bomb ticking away in Northern Ireland, and Government measures should not make the problem worse.
Ministers continually claim that Northern Ireland receives a higher allocation per head for health than equivalent regions in the United Kingdom, and I do not doubt their claim. But they fail to take into account the health of the citizens of Northern Ireland. The Eastern health board recently published a report on Belfast showing that the general standard of health there is worse than in any other part of the United Kingdom, and among the worst in western Europe. The profiles on immunisation targets, congenital handicaps, coronary heart disease and chronic arthritis are the worst in the United Kingdom. So it is not enough to claim that the allocation per head is higher in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the country, true though that may be. Far higher levels of expenditure are required to deal with the problems there.
One of the results of this comparative underfunding has been deteriorating services and growing waiting lists for in and out-patient care, particularly in the acute sector. The Minister knows that waiting lists for community care are growing, and that people receiving it have had their provision cut back throughout the Province, not just in any particular health board area. That augurs ill for the future, especially in the light of the Government's determination to press ahead willy-nilly with increased emphasis on community care.
The Government must treat the problem of health seriously and go back to the Treasury before Tuesday of next week to try to obtain even greater sums from the billions of pounds floating around there to deal with the problems as they exist, not as Ministers would like to think they exist.
We welcome the Government's encouragement of integrated education and applaud the decision recently announced by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), to give £3.3 million to Lagan college. However, Ministers will know that that decision has not been unanimously applauded in Northern Ireland. Every press comment that I have read so far has more than paid lip service to the principle of integrated education, but has then gone on to say that capital expenditure spent on it should not be made at the expense of capital expenditure programmes for other schools. The Government must take heed of that problem and convince people that the 954 £3.3 million is additional expenditure, not made at the expense of capital expenditure on other sectors of secondary education.
The Government must also accept that there is a backlog of capital expenditure requirements in Northern Ireland. I urge the Minister to go to the Secretary of State in the first instance, and then to the Chancellor before Tuesday, to seek additional funds with which to make a more determined effort to remove the outstanding capital expenditure needs of other schools in the North of Ireland. In general, Government plans for integrated education have our full support.
The Government must be a little concerned about the low morale that is apparent, especially among secondary school teachers. It is clearly related to inadequate funding, particularly of the new GCSE exam. Recently, the Irish National Teachers Organisation revealed that funding for the GCSE was clearly inadequate and sporadic, leading to problems with course planning and shortages of textbooks and equipment, all of which has put excessive pressure on teachers.
This pressure has contributed to the accelerated retirement rate due to ill health during the past year. I understand that it accelerated by 42 per cent. in the Province last year. In the light of that increase, will the Minister confirm the latest pupil-teacher ratio in the Province? He will recall that when a question on that subject was put to him last year, the figure was given at 18.5:1 compared with the United Kingdom figure of 17.4:1. It is common ground between us that any substantial increase above 18.5:1 would have adverse consequences for the Province's education system. M y own view—which I hope is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar—is that in view of the Province's particular requirement for imparting expertise, so that people may obtain jobs created from the investment that the Government seek to attract in Northern Ireland, a teacher-pupil ratio not equal to but better than that of the United Kingdom should be achieved.
On housing, the Government are proud of their success, and rightly so. I have previously paid tribute to the Government on that aspect. Nevertheless, they should not allow their success to breed complacency. Much remains to be done, and that will require additional resources. A recent report from Shelter Northern Ireland indicates the extent of the housing problem there. Forty-two thousand homes are unfit for occupation, 115,000 homes are in need of major repairs, and 28,000 homes lack at least one basiic amenity. The report also indicates that more than 22,000 applicants are on housing waiting lists, of whom more than 13,000 urgently need accommodation. Those problems will not be overcome unless expenditure is increased. There is currently doubt as to whether the Housing Executive's budget will increase or decrease in real terms. I hope that it will not decrease, given that 42,000 homes are unfit for habitation, 115,000 need major repairs, and 28,000 lack basic amenities. This is not the time to cut the housing budget but to increase it. Will the Minister confirm or deny that next year's Housing Executive allocations will be less in real terms than this year? If they are to be greater, will he give that figure instead?
Also of great concern, not only to people living in Belfast but throughout Northern Ireland, are the two companies currently facing the threat or prospect—whichever verb one likes to use—of privatisation. 955 Decisions that the Government will take in the next few days, weeks or months will impinge directly on the lives of 10,000 people and their families living in Belfast, and indirectly on the lives of thousands of others.
The two companies concerned are familiar names in this House. They are Harland and Wolff and Shorts. There is no need for me to rehearse the arguments about the importance of those two companies to the economies of Belfast and Northern Ireland. The decisions that are to be made about those companies—especially about Harland and Wolff—must be made quickly. In my more cynical moments—fortunately, cynicism is not one of my natural bents—I begin to believe that the Government want to see the closure of Harland and Wolff, which, over the past few years, seems to have suffered death by a thousand cuts. That shipyard, led by John Parker, with the support of the trade unions and work force, has made valiant efforts to compete internationally. I pay personal tribute to John Parker who, in the few months that I have known him, has striven with every ounce and fibre of his body to protect the shipyard and ensure its survival. I am convinced that he has full support for all his efforts.
It would be a tragedy—not just a personal tragedy for John Parker—if the time and effort of all those people who have striven so hard over the past few years to make the company more internationally competitive came to naught. The Government can help by making a quick decision. They have only two bids to choose between. One is the management-employee buy-out, and the other is Bulk Transport. The Government should quickly decide which is to be the successful new owner of Harland and Wolff. My view is that the Government should prefer the management-employee buy-out, but whichever decision they make, it should be made quickly. The Government must also give sufficient capital guarantees and restore the possibility of intervention funding without further delays.
Turning to Shorts, in a previous debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) made it clear that we wish to see the company sold as a whole. He also suggested in a private notice question last week that that could best be achieved by the Government retaining a golden share in the newly privatised company. I again urge that course of action upon the Government.
The two bids for Shorts that are before the Government, from GEC-Fokker and from Bombardier, both present problems, particularly in respect of the JFX project. Before the Government choose between GEC-Fokker and Bombardier, they must seek cast-iron assurances about the future of the JFX project. My own view is that if the GEC-Fokker bid succeeds, the likelihood of the JFX project getting any further will be slim. I would be happier if the Bombardier bid succeeded, because even if the decision was made not to develop further JFX, Bombardier's own keen involvement in the development of new regional jets, and the success that the company has had with Canadair, should ensure that such aircraft will continue to be built in Belfast.
Shorts is a centre of technical and engineering excellence that must continue, particularly if Northern Ireland is to retain a place in the aerospace industry. The Government must ensure the provision of capital restructuring and other assistance to give Shorts a fair 956 chance of succeeding in the private sector. If the Government do anything less than that, they will betray not only the workers at Shorts but all the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)
I join the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) in congratulating the Minister on the presentation of the appropriation order. I sympathise with the Minister on his physical problems. I am glad to see him back in the House.
As usual, I object to the way in which these iniquitous draft orders are imposed upon the Province. Many people say that the method is corrupt. Many hon. Members have exposed this unacceptable system of undemocratic government, and to govern in this way at this time is completely wrong. Northern Ireland Members want to be treated in the same way as other hon. Members.
There is a sincerely held belief in Northern Ireland that our Ministers can exercise supreme powers without being answerable to us in any way. People believe that we have no means of redress or of pointing Ministers in the right direction. That may be so, but as responsible elected representatives who have to answer to our constituents, we must at all times endeavour to represent them to the best of our ability. Where necessary we must be ready to take issue with the Government on matters that concern our people. The order gives us some opportunity to do that. We know that we cannot change it, but at least we can put to Government our suggestions for improvements that would be to the benefit of the Province and its citizens. With that in mind, I should like to draw attention to vote 3 on page 4 for expenditure on housing services by the Department of the Environment. I am dissatisfied at the reduction in funding to the Housing Executive and the way in which the funds are distributed to the various sectors under the Housing Executive umbrella.
I am worried about the reduction in grant provision for repairs and renovations. The Minister must know that the poor condition of housing stock which is more than 25 years old has reached disastrous proportions. Consequently, grant applications are at an exceptionally high level. It is unacceptable for the Housing Executive to announce a £6.5 million cut in this year's budget and that repair grants are now considered cut in this year's budget and that repair grants are now considered only for declared housing action areas, for houses affected by statutory notices, or for applicants who are suffering financial hardship.
It is worrying that renovation grants are available only for housing action areas or for those who are disabled or suffering from financial hardship. The Minister knows that I have often spoken in the House about the criteria for grant aid. I am most concerned about people who purchased their houses in the 1950s when demand was high and standards were lamentably low. It is unfair that the owners of those houses are now denied the means to repair and renovate them. There are some Orlit type houses in private ownership and they did not qualify under the housing defects orders. The Minister should take a special interest in the grant side of the Housing Executive budget with a view to more realistic funding and to obtain better value for money. That is important when it is 957 remembered that in 1986 the allocation was £56.8 million. This year that has fallen to £30 million which is less than half the 1986 amount when one allows for inflation.
I draw the Minister's attention to correspondence that I have had with his office about the concept of defensible space and its importance to many tenants living in houses built by the Housing Executive in areas where crime and vandalism are rampant. The people in such houses, many of whom are elderly, are tortured by hooligans. Those elderly people require the privacy that is given by walls and fences.
In my constituency the Housing Executive has recognised that need and has provided small walls with railings and gates in such areas as New Lodge and Ardoyne. It has done that with great success, but there are areas in Shankill, Crumlin and Oldpark that have suffered as much from criminal vandalism and have not yet been provided with this necessary buffer zone in spite of promises made to me by the Housing Executive as far back as 1984. The executive said that the work would be undertaken as a matter of urgency. If the Housing Executive will not fund that work perhaps Belfast action teams could do it, possibly by way of community action. I hope that the Government will facilitate such an initiative because it would restore confidence to the people in these vulnerable areas.
I should like to deal with the new tenants agreement that has been proposed by the Housing Executive. My party is worried about some of its proposals because it feels that they are dictatorial and repressive. In part II, paragraph 1, the Housing Executive promises:To keep in repair the structure and exterior of the building.In practice that is far from the case. Promises are one thing but practical application is another. The delays in carrying out repairs and the quality of such repairs are often pathetic. The fact that the inspection rate is so low in relation to the number of repairs must be a factor in the encouragement of shoddy and dishonest practices. Part II, paragraph 2(c), says:The Executive is not under any duty to rebuild or reinstate the dwelling in the case of destruction or damage".There is a certain amount of ambiguity there and it deserves an explanation. Does the tenant have to live in a tent or in a damaged house until the Housing Executive decides what it will do? Is there an obligation to rehouse or is compensation available to tenants who find themselves in such circumstances? Tenants deserve to know. Paragraph 2 goes on "(c) The Executive is not under any duty to rebuild or reinstate the dwelling in the case of destruction or damage by fire tempest flood or other inevitable damage.(d) In determining the standard of repair or maintenance necessary for compliance with the Executive's obligations in that connection, regard is to be had to the age, character and prospective life of the dwelling at the time of the need for the relevant repair or maintenance.(e) The Executive is not under any duty to carry out any work by virtue of its obligations to repair or maintain until a reasonable period has elapsed after the District Manager has been given written and specific notice (by or on behalf of the Tenant) of the need for such work.(f) The Executive's duties to repair, maintain and decorate are subject to any additional limitations provided for in Schedule 4.958 What happens in an emergency, or does the Housing Executive not allow for such things? What about electrical breakdowns or water problems that are not caused by any action by the tenant? The agreement needs to be more specific and the meaning should be clear so that people can understand the paragraphs.
The other part of the document that is causing great concern is part III, under the heading of "Improvements". It says4. The Executive has the right to carry out any works in or in respect of or in connection with the dwelling (whether works of repair alteration improvement internal or external decoration, or otherwise) and the Executive shall not be responsible for the cost of any redecoration work necessitated by such works of repair, alteration, improvement or otherwise and further shall not be responsible for any claim by the Tenant for any inconvenience or disruption or for any physical damage to the dwelling or items therein arising from or consequential upon the carrying out of such works other than any such claim arising out of the negligence of the Executive or its employees.That scandalous abrogation of responsibility must rate as the most diabolical and repressive example of dictatorship ever to be penned by the minions in the Housing Executive, obscured by this autocratic, secretive, monolithic structure. Such a statement must infringe civil and human rights, and, so far as responsibility is concerned, a body that could expect to impose such conditions would have no compunction about denying any claim arising out of its negligence or that of its employees.I shall not say any more about this subject, except that, no doubt, the Minister will wish to look very carefully at such repressive and, in my opinion, unlawful conditions.
Turning now to the Department of Health and Social Services—vote 1—I strongly oppose any proposal to diminish the night casualty facilities at the Mater hospital. The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance has presented to the Government an excellent case setting out in detail why this great hospital, which, since its inception, has endeared itself to the whole community of north Belfast, should not be interfered with at this time. The Minister will appreciate that the hospital is in a very deprived area. The Government have recognised that the special circumstances in such areas justify allowing for local conditions. I cite, as examples, Notting Hill, Bristol and Liverpool 8.
The Mater hospital has a catchment area encompassing the whole of north Belfast and parts of Newtownabbey.The rate of work done and the number of patients seen, in relation to the number of staff employed, must be among the highest in the United Kingdom. In times of emergency—and in north Belfast those are frequent—it is totally impractical to send seriously injured people to the City hospital or the Royal Victoria hospital. If there were delays arising from disruption, such people could die in transit. Furthermore, the night casualty departments in the City and Royal hospitals, particularly at weekends, are often fully occupied, necessitating unacceptable delays in treatment.
I ask the Minister to consider very carefully any proposal by the Eastern health and social services board to interfere with the exceptionally well run casualty department at the Mater. In future there will be discussions as to how the various hospitals should operate within the proposed new structure. That will be time enough to have an in-depth look at how the Mater hospital should be affected by these proposals.
959 Finally, I want to refer to the Department of the Environment—vote 4. As environment spokesman for the Ulster Unionist party, I want to draw the Minister's attention to the seemingly insurmountable problem of the litter that is being dumped all over the Province. I am sure that Ministers, as they go about their business, are as concerned as anyone else about the unsightly and unhealthy deposits alongside the roads. Irresponsible litter louts tip rubbish on almost every plot of vacant ground in the city. The existing legislation does not appear to be sufficient to deal with the problem, and local government byelaws are obviously ineffective. I should like to see the Minister using whatever authority is required to give councils the power to take the necessary action to stop these irresponsible practices, which are destroying our environment and contributing so much to deterioration and deprivation in the whole community.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)
This debate cannot do justice to the myriad problems that affect the Province of Northern Ireland, nor can it do justice to the large amount of money that this appropriation represents. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) has given some of the reasons for the people of Northern Ireland feeling that they are discriminated against in the manner of the presentation of this appropriation order. The time allowed for debate is limited, and it would be impossible to cover all the subjects if all Members wishing to take part were to speak. I intend, therefore, to be brief.
I endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) in his thoughtful speech, particularly about the Belfast shipyard, which is so important to our economy. I join the hon. Member in urging the Government to come to a quick decision. I, too, believe that if the shipyard is to be privatised, the best course would be to sell it to the management and the employees. That would be the best way forward for Harland and Wolff.
As the hon. Member for Leicester, South said, this debate is taking place only a few days before the Chancellor unveils his Budget. I hope that some of the money provided will be made available to meet the problems that we in Northern Ireland have to face. The hon. Member pointed out that we have many problems. Indeed, Northern Ireland is rightly described as a deprived area.
In opening the debate, the Minister mentioned the fact that more money has been made available for the arts, museums and sport. This I welcome. Despite the campaign of terrorism, which has lasted for 20 years, despite the dark and difficult days that campaign has brought for the people of Northern Ireland, there is a need to foster the arts. Of course, that is additional to the need for jobs, adequate housing, modern hospitals and good schools.
As time is limited, I propose to deal with just four points, the first of which concerns schools. There is a desperate need in my constituency—in Bangor—for more schools, particularly for girls, who, at present, are discriminated against. I urge the Department of Education to ensure that a decision is made, without further delay, on the provision of a new school on the site of the former Forsythe nursery. That site would be ideal for the 960 provision of larger premises for Glenlola collegiate school and Bangor girls' high school. Those schools could then expand, incorporating the existing Glenlola buildings, which are right beside those of Bangor girls' high. It is intolerable that pupils in Bangor have to receive their education in temporary classrooms. I understand that those two schools have about 50 temporary classrooms. That is acceptable only on a short-term basis, and it is high time that prefabs throughout Bangor were replaced.
I am all for integrated education. Over the years I have fought for it, and I am glad that the Minister who is now responsible for education is pushing it ahead. Again I join the hon. Member for Leicester, South in urging the Government to make sure that the amount of money made available to Lagan college is additional to the amount provided for the Department of Education. We must have good schools. The children of Northern Ireland deserve the best possible education because they are the wealth of the Province.
Much attention has recently been given to the environment by the British media and the Government. That attention has been concentrated on beaches along the coastline of Great Britain. Many people in Northern Ireland have been protesting about pollution in Belfast lough. That pollution defiles the beaches of my constituency of North Down and makes some of them a health hazard to bathers and other users of the beach, particularly young children.
Millions of tonnes of untreated sewage go into the Irish sea every year, and that is quite apart from industrial waste and the plutonium that is discharged from Sellafield. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) joins me in protesting about emissions from Sellafield. As the Conservative party has now become the green party—if we are to believe it—the people of Northern Ireland have a right to expect an end to the dumping of sewage and industrial waste into the Irish sea.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, in the EEC survey of beaches in Northern Ireland, Belfast lough came out all right? A beach in Newcastle and one in North Antrim had problems.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
That may be all right for the people of Belfast and Belfast lough, but I am talking about what happens when sewage sludge is dumped in Belfast lough. It creeps around, and waves bring it back on to beaches at Orlock and Ballyholme. All sorts of things are thrown up on beaches. I have seen the results. It may be all right for the hon. Member for Belfast, South, but if he made use of beaches in North Down he certainly would not wish Belfast sludge to be dumped on them.
Each year, approximately 326,000 tonnes of sewage sludge is dumped in Belfast lough. That is no small quantity. It is not like somebody removing it from his backyard. It is nearly twice the amount that is dumped in Dublin bay. Many of my colleagues have criticised Dublin. Even though Dubliners may protest about sewage being dumped in their backyard, twice as much is dumped in Belfast lough. Together with the 1,700,000 tonnes of sewage sludge that is dumped in Liverpool bay and Bristol channel, the Irish sea has been polluted to an unacceptable degree. The Irish sea is virtually an inland sea as, I am told, there are insufficiently strong tidal currents rapidly to dilute and disperse sludge.
961 I commend members of the Orlock residents' association for their vigorous lobbying over the past few years in their campaign to clean up beaches in their area. They wish to see a sewage treatment plant installed for the district, instead of an extension to the sewage outfall at Briggs Rock. They fear that, as before, sewage will be swept back on to the beaches.
I commend also an organisation called Help The Aged. It has as its organiser a Mr. Will Glendenning, formerly a conscientious Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Perhaps he may not have been favoured by some of my colleagues, but he was a hard-working Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Help The Aged has collated statistics which prove that pensioners in Northern Ireland have suffered severely as a result of the Government's public expenditure cuts. The old-age pension should be substantially increased to meet the needs of the elderly and to keep pensions in line with inflation. Because of the shortage of time, I will not refer to the statistics in detail, but I ask the Minister to look at them. I believe that that organisation has submitted them to the Department. Perhaps the Minister will think with compassion about the elderly in our midst.
I single out one item affecting the elderly. One way in which Ulster pensioners could be helped is to provide them with free public transport. Is it not obnoxious that pensioners who have given so much to the community should have to plead for a little comfort and dignity in the fullness of their years? My maiden speech in the House, which was in October 1964, was on behalf of pensioners. More should be done for pensioners. I hope that the last speech that I make in this House will be on that subject, whenever that occasion may occur. [Interruption.] I do not like hon. Members welcoming that day.
The need for more jobs is paramount in Northern Ireland. A job provides not only money but dignity for the wage earner and his family. There can be nothing more soul-destroying than being in a dole queue month after month, year after year. I feel for all people who are unemployed.
I repeat the suggestion which I made in this Chamber on two occasions in the past two years. With representatives of the SDLP and any other constitutional party, I am prepared to go to the United States or anywhere else if the Government would organise such a delegation to get jobs for employment black spots in Northern Ireland. I have mentioned Strabane. I should like more jobs in my own constituency. I am prepared to work with my colleagues, regardless of their political party, to make sure that the people in Northern Ireland who want work get it.
§ Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)
As I listened to the presentation of the estimates, one matter that struck me was the depletion in real terms of the Housing Executive budget. The Housing Executive is one of the success stories in Northern Ireland in its design and redevelopment of housing and the clearance of slums. It is a pity that the Government have not continued to update and promote housing in Northern Ireland to the extent that they did in the past. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive's present budget is not even capable of meeting the rather mean target that it was forced to set for itself in previous budget allocations. That is notwithstanding the fact that 962 compulsory rent increases of 10.25 per cent. have been imposed on the public housing population who are suffering from the multiple deprivation articulated by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) regarding social security and the lack of take-up. I always assumed that rent increases would go hand in hand with, and not be greater than, inflation. Are we to understand that the Government's target for inflation next year is 10.25 per cent.? That is the rate of imposition in the public sector, and, as announced yesterday, it is 10.5 per cent. in the private sector.
The fact that the Housing Executive has not received an adequate budget gives rise to a considerable clawback of its proposed, and already reduced, building programme. The Housing Executive will receive £40.2 million less in 1989–90, compared with 1988–89. In real terms, over the three-year strategy period, the Governments net contribution to the executive is £110 million less than the modest strategy period bid.
What does this mean in terms of bricks and mortar? It means that only 1,400 houses can be expected over the next three years; that is the equivalent of saying that 780 dwellings which might have been improved under the previous standard of financing cannot now be improved and that 2,250 improvement grants, or 7,750 repair grants, cannot now be given. That is for a housing stock acknowledged to be among the poorest in western Europe and certainly in the United Kingdom. It comes on top of the fact that two new pieces of legislation have imposed severe additional burdens on the Housing Executive. One is the welcome legislation on homelessness and the other is the order on multiple occupancy which, it is expected, will affect between 2,500 and 3,000 dwellings in Northern Ireland.
When we hear the horror statistics of those multiple occupancies we realise just how bad the problem is: 40 per cent. of them are below the minimum required standard; 55 per cent. are in the category of inadequate; 80 per cent. have no alternative escape routes. That is another massive problem that the Housing Executive must face on a reduced budget.
Some time ago I urged the responsible Minister—who is not on the Front Bench at the moment—to stabilise and assist the Housing Executive in a planned and progressive way to achieve reasonable targets and to give it a five-year programme, not the stop-start, start-stop programme that we have had in the past two years but a confirmed five-year programme which would enable it to put contracts out in a proper way and establish a reasonable housebuilding programme.
My constituency of South Down is primarily an agricultural one. It is for the most part a less advantaged area in almost its entirety. We hear much talk about the need for farm diversification but the purse does not appear to be following the words and there is little that I can see by way of a comprehensive and adequate programme for farm diversification, something that is badly needed in view of the restricted income of the Northern Ireland farmer in general and the South Down farmer in particular, faced as he is with the withdrawal of the beef subsidy, the poor pig market and the problem of the milk levies.
It is a great pity that farm diversification schemes were not properly taken into account when the farm conservation grant scheme was introduced, particularly 963 with regard to mushrooms which have provided a useful, and could provide a much more useful, diversified source of income for the small hill farmer in South Down.
A problem which is becoming rather alarming but is at this stage still in its infancy is the increased incidence of bovine tuberculosis. When the Minister is distributing his wealth, will he consider providing 100 per cent. compensation for cattle found to be so infected? It would encourage an immediate eradication of the beast or beasts in question; and perhaps the farm conservation grant scheme could be extended to buildings, crushes, pens, and so on, thus providing for proper isolation and treatment.
I am also concerned at the possible closure of the veterinary college in Glasgow, which has always served Northern Ireland. Our veterinary students nearly all go to Glasgow and it would be a tragedy if those interested in following such a career were prevented from doing so at that particular institution.
Another agricultural matter which is often not mentioned is the increasing amount of their reduced income which farmers, particularly in the south of South Down, for some historical reason, have to spend on keeping up farm roads which should have been taken into the public domain many years ago. I ask the Minister responsible to take account of the fact that so many roads which lead to farms and to clusters of farms and which would appear to be public roads are, in fact, private roads. Keeping them up to standard drains much needed resources from the small farmer.
On health matters, has the Minister noticed the increased incidence of Crohn's disease, particularly in a village near my own town, Drumaness, where there have been 12 cases in the recent past? This intestinal disease is very often related to water supply. Will the Minister take a serious look at this in the immediate future?
Perhaps the Minister has read the Belfast Telegraph of yesterday evening and found that Ulster has its own ozone hole and that the incidence of skin cancers, according to Professor Lowry, who was the Minister's own appointee into a previous cancer-related investigation, is 10 times higher than the United Kingdom average? Would he do some further research into that particular project? I do not know whether we have our own special ozone hole or not, but, if there is one and this is the result of it, let us do something about it.
On the general question of hospitals and hospital provision, two factors have worked together to provide a situation which will reduce the quality of the services to which patients are entitled. One is the ongoing struggle of nurses to receive a proper award under the new scheme. Whatever has happened in the past is water under the bridge, but there is great dissatisfaction among the nursing fraternity as to the way the awards have been allocated. If that requires additional money for the health and welfare of the service which also means the health and welfare of the patient, it must be attended to in such a way that there is job satisfaction and tranquility within the wards so as to produce a high standard of service.
Perhaps I may make a parochial plea for the hospital at Downpatrick, which has awaited the outcome of a promise made by a certain Mr. Morgan, the then Minister of 964 Health in the old Stormont regime, over a quarter of a century ago. Will the Minister consider that as a new venture? The environment causes problems that affect us all, and I have often spoken about pollution, as did my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) earlier. Tonight I want to comment on the absence of an adequate environmental infrastructure in South Down. We have always been outside the new pale that has been created around Belfast lough and in that sense we are still a deprived area. We had the Matthew report in the early 1960s with its key town concept. Downpatrick was one of the key towns, and it is the only key town centre which has never been developed. All the rest were substantially developed by way of infrastructure, for example, good roads and other environmental provision, which in turn enabled and encouraged industrial development to take place.
This is significant when one considers the new harbour, which is capable of much greater use, at Warrenpoint. The reason why it is insufficiently used is the totally inadequate road network which prevents it being readily accessible to its hinterland for export purposes.
Reference to that lack of infrastructure leads me on to say that two things which concern most people are a good house and the prospect of a job. It is that inadequate infrastructure which has been the greatest drawback to industrial development in South Down. It is a situation which can be remedied only by the immediate application of some of our present-day resources, such as were not applied in times of plenty, to that particular area. I cannot accept the argument that only a limited amount of money is available and so other areas must have priority. In the times of plenty the other areas received priority, but we did not. I ask for that situation to be reconsidered.
Please assist in bringing jobs to the people and not people to the jobs. Bringing people to the jobs is the most unsociable activity in which a Government can be engaged. It leads to massive urban conurbations with social, environmental parking, and transport problems. Why not bring jobs to the people and let people stay in the environments to which they are accustomed and in which they are happy?
I hope that the Minister is conscious of the plea I am making to him about the Star Plan development. The new fibre-optic miracle will bring us into the 20th century. Unless Northern Ireland has an adequate fibre-optic link to Europe, the entire north—not just my part of it—will be completely marginalised. Talking in the context of countries, industry will be drawn to the core. We shall be completely marginalised in the north Atlantic unless we have the infrastructure and, especially, the fibre-optic linkage communications. Without that we will be left behind when it comes to the new technology. Even today, industry can be transported on block from as far away as north America into little villages if they have the fibre-optic link. A prime example is the New York Life Assurance company which has transmitted its entire operation to the little village of Castle Island in county Kerry. It was able to create employment in an area which had nothing before, because of the fibre-optic link. I make that plea for my constituency and the whole of Northern Ireland in this respect.
Tourism is the other great job creator in Northern Ireland and of which my constituency should be a prime example. As the Minister will probably agree, Newcastle 965 has proven statistically to be the biggest tourist centre in Northern Ireland, yet it is only by local effort that that has happened. Where are the packages prepared for marketing by central Government? I envy the packages of Fermanagh and North Antrim. Can we not, for instance, have a package that would sell tourism in South Down, both in Europe and North America? After all, we are St. Patrick's country. His whole heritage is there in brick and mortar and that can be packaged, as well as our natural resources.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
St. Patrick died in Downpatrick. He lived and worked in Armagh.
§ Mr. McGrady
I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman is trying to claim some credit for St. Patrick. Those were pseudo St. Patricks. The only genuine one was the one who lived in the Hill of Down, the Dun Phadriig—that is the Gaelic for Downpatrick.
As the hon. Member for North Down said, it is startling that Newcastle—the biggest tourist attraction in the north—is one area criticised in the EEC report for not having adequate sewerage. Could that scheme be speeded up as much as possible?
Education is an area that will be one of the most difficult to deal with financially in the coming year. I shall say one thing to the Minister to hand on to his right hon. Friend responsible for that Department. There is great unease about the inequality of the distribution of finances between the voluntary and the state sectors. There is, too, some unease about the inequality, or the prioritisation, of funds towards integrated schools, while established schools have been waiting many years for capital funds to erect new buildings. The Minister mentioned the art centre in Downpatrick for which I thank him.
Museums and arts are receiving £1.5 million but, if I remember rightly, the Department of Education in Northern Ireland still has no museums policy. It has a policy only for national museums. I ask the Minister to open the purse strings a wee bit wider and to give some—if only token—assistance and encouragement to the many local museums that are doing such a great job.
The primary thrust of my argument is to ask the Minister responsible to ensure an allocation of resources that will increase the environmental infrastructure of those deprived areas, of which South Down is one, and positively to encourage new industries to settle. The Minister boasted of the new inward investment into Northern Ireland. I was glad to hear of that, but that does not make any difference to my constituents, because they have not seen it. It appears that an area which has had high unemployment for decades is left with that high unemployment, whereas other areas which have had virtually full employment, but where there are now fewer jobs, receive special treatment. Why is a package not available for South Down as it is for Carrickfergus and Derry? I ask the Minister to consider the fair distribution of effort and resources in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
Because of the great importance of the security situation in Northern Ireland and because of the vital nature of our constitutional position, occasions when we can deal with the bread and butter issues are all too few in the parliamentary process. However, I share the misgivings of my hon. Friend the 966 Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) about the manner in which the proceedings go forward. I would have had a great preference for having these matters dealt with in Northern Ireland in a local assembly, where local people could be taking local decisions, where they could use their own ingenuity and decide their own priorities for expenditure. Nonetheless, at least we have the opportunity to speak. It is the last trust reposed in us and, although we cannot affect the ultimate decision, at least we can give our minds to the Government so that they can, if they should grace us with the privilege, take on board what we have to say.
I shall deal with the funds in the Irish fashion, by starting at the back and moving towards the front. First, I shall deal in a more Irish fashion with a matter under the education budget but deal with it in respect of the responsibility of the Department of the Environment. I am referring to the Lagan college, which has been mentioned by several hon. Gentlemen. I believe that the Government should encourage integrated education. They should not be doing it by the back door, as is the present Government policy. I do not believe that they should be doing it at the expense of other schools. Therefore, I refrain from making too much comment about the £3.3 million being offered to Lagan college. I raise the issue of Lagan college not in relation to the Government's expenditure, but in relation to the behaviour of Lagan college's board of governors towards planning matters.
Lagan college is in the borough of Castlereagh. It is currently situated on two sites—one on Church road and the other at Lisnabreeny. Lagan college has had a deplorable record for erecting buildings without planning permission and without even applying for building control approval. One should have thought that people who have responsibility for young children, that an organisation that is headed by a resident magistrate and a body that should, above all, be showing responsibility would have behaved in a proper manner in relation to planning law.
Even when the problem has been drawn to the college's attention by the planning authorities and by the local council, it has refused to bring its buildings into line, to make the necessary applications for planning and to obey the planning departments directives in that respect. The college should not behave in such a way and I had hoped that the Department of the Environment would have exerted itself more to ensure proper enforcement action was taken so that Lagan college toed the line. I had hoped that the governors who, in another capacity, would be quick to draw to the attention of others their responsibilities in the community would have shown the same responsibility themselves rather than flout the law and trample it underfoot.
It is important to consider the general question of ex-post facto planning applications. In Northern Ireland it seems to be prevalent for the planning authority to be pushed to give permission for dwellings or other structures if the person has successfully had them built before the planning department finds out. It is felt that possession is nine tenths of the law and that, if a person can get his building up, permission will follow.
During the lifetime of the Northern Ireland Assembly—the 1982 to 1986 variety—the environment committee, of which I was chairman, put three planning proposals to the Department of the Environment. It happily accepted 967 two, regarding neighbour notification and objector appeals, on a test basis. During the past few weeks, I was glad to note that those proposals have been renewed.
The committee also put forward a proposal about ex-post facto applications. If the DOE is made aware of buildings that have been erected before an application has been submitted, it is essential that there should be a significant cost for subsequently submitting an application for such buildings. At the time of the Assembly, we suggested that the application should be ten times the normal application fee, which would discourage those who embarked upon such building.
Such proposals should not, however, remove from the DOE the responsibility to treat any application as if the building was not there in the first place and to adjudge the application in that light. I believe, however, that the Department gets bullied into giving permission for buildings that it would not otherwise give permission for simply because someone has had the audacity and the cheek to proceed with the building before submitting an application.
It is also important to consider the long-awaited Belfast urban area plan. I fear that serious problems will arise regarding building in the city of Belfast because the planning department has been forced to kick for touch because many of the major developments in and around the city are waiting for the report from the planning commissioners as a result of the hearings that they held about that plan. The delay is not the responsibility nor the fault of the commissioners. Most of us who have some involvement with planning matters in Belfast know that, in some instances, those self-same commissioners have been unable to hand over their other duties to other commissioners, because, I suspect, of the failure to appoint sufficient commissioners to assist with the volume of work.
We recognise that the commissioners have a heavy schedule, but I had thought that they would be willing to provide the Department with the various categories covered by the Belfast urban area plan. For instance, they could have informed the Department at different times about commercial use, recreational and housing use and transportation plans. Such information could have been passed to the Department piecemeal but that would not have required the Department to make its overall statement on a piecemeal basis.
If such information had been available to the Department, it would have been possible for it to digest the various aspects of the Belfast urban area plan report as presented by the commissioners. The Department would therefore need to take much less time when considering its final statement on the report. As it is, a two-month delay is contemplated before the Department can prepare its statement.
I am concerned about the Belfast urban area plan for several reasons. First, I must confess my vested interest as a Castlereagh councillor. We have plans for major recreational provision, but they require comment in the Belfast urban area plan report before we can successfully proceed. Some of my constituents are eager to establish whether certain road proposals, which will bring blight upon certain parts of my constituency, have been turned down by the planning commissioners—even now I hope that that is the case.
968 My constituents are concerned at the flyover at the Castlereagh roundabout and about much of the road widening scheme on the Albertbridge road and the further provisions in the Sydenham area. Decisions on those proposals are eagerly awaited as they are affecting house prices in the Belfast area. People are unable to get the proper price for their houses because of the blight that is hanging over them.
On top of that, many of my constituents are concerned about various housing proposals, and they want to know how the Department will finally decide on them. Other constituents are eager for such proposals to proceed, so that the houses they need can be built to allow them to live in the Belfast urban area rather than having to move outside that area.
When the Minister replies, I hope that he will give some idea of the present timetable and when we can expect the Department's decision. Is there any possibility of an internal arrangement between the Department and the commissioners that could speed up the process?
It is perhaps unexpected for a Member representing a Belfast constituency to consider agricultural matters, but if those Members representing rural constituencies will forgive me, I am more concerned about the consumers of agricultural produce. I am anxious about the effects of the salmonella egg scare. I welcome what the Minister said about the Northern Ireland egg being given a clean bill of health. That is not exactly news to many of us, as we were aware of its healthy condition.
Unfortunately, the poultry sellers in my constituency and people whose shops rely entirely on the sale of chickens, eggs and poultry products have found that at least 70 per cent. of their business has gone as a result of the egg scare, in spite of the fact that it does not affect eggs in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister please encourage his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to spend some considerable time, effort and, if necessary, finance on advertising to the Northern Ireland consumer the fact that there is not the danger that there is on this side of the water in purchasing poultry products in Northern Ireland? That would come as a considerable relief to my constituents who rely for their employment on the poultry industry. No doubt it would do no small good to those involved in agriculture as well.
As expected, I now come to the issue of the Department of Economic Development, and I could not have avoided it. As the Minister gallops around my constituency putting "for sale" signs on the main employers, he will recognise that I and my constituents are, to put it colloquially, on tenterhooks about what will happen over the next few weeks. The outcome of the present negotiations with the bidders for Harland and Wolff and Shorts is of no small moment to the people of east Belfast and the city in general. Like the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), I shall not rehearse the importance of those two industries to the Northern Ireland economy. That has been done by all the political parties in Northern Ireland, with perhaps one exception. It has been done by Church groups in Northern Ireland, by many of the community organisations in the Province and by hon. Members of all parties in the House. The Select Committee on Trade and Industry produced a report that stressed the importance of those industries to the Province.
I know that the Minister will be aware of the significance of those two firms to Northern Ireland as a 969 whole. There are features in common between Harland and Wolff and Shorts, but there are many differences between the two privatisation issues. I do not intend to argue the ideological issues. Unfortunately, it is not a question of privatisation or public ownership. The question that the Government have placed before us is of privatisation or closure—or at least bringing in people to sell off many of the assets. Such a choice would convert one fairly quickly to the cause of privatisation, even if one was not an ardent fan beforehand. Although I am not convinced that privatisation is in the best interests of either of those companies, and certainly not in the best interests of both at this time, we must do our best, even with the doubts we may have, to ensure that the Government's plans succeed.
There are two bidders for Harland and Wolff and I have come to the same conclusion as the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) and the hon. Member for Leicester, South. I have studied the two propositions, as far as they are known publicly, and as far as I can understand them, having spoken to the participants in both. Although the Government will undoubtedly be careful about the financial package that they finally agree, that is not my prime concern. Just as it was for the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, my prime concern is to ensure that the priority is towards achieving a viable and lasting solution to the sale of those industries, rather than achieving the best financial deal. If that meant an extra couple of million pounds or even an extra £10 million or £20 million, it would be money well spent.
I have learnt recently from the Northern Ireland Office that it is nearing the final stages of the negotiations on Harland and Wolff. I was somewhat perplexed to learn that there is some haggling over finance, which is not helpful to the smooth and orderly handover of the company to private ownership. If the Minister goes for the lowest cost, he could put the new owners in a position where they will not have sufficient strength and capital reserves to allow customer confidence and companies from whom they purchase will be dilatory in giving the credit that is needed during the first few years.
It is important that the yard is transferred on a firm and viable financial basis. I urge the Minister to consider as a priority the Secretary of State's terminology to the Select Committee when he said that he was looking for a safe and secure future for Harland and Wolff. Although I recognise that it would be irresponsible of him not to consider such matters, finance should not be his overriding consideration.
I concur with the comments that have been made about the management at Harland and Wolff, and especially about John Parker. In view of the interest that has been expressed by Fred Olsen and his group, one could ask why they were not prepared to go directly to the Government to express an interest in purchasing the company. Anybody who knows the nuances of the situation would know that the Olsen group is putting in significantly more capital than it is getting in shares. Therefore, it could have come to terms with the Government easily if it had gone to them directly. The answer to that question shows neither respect nor distrust of the Government; it is rather a sign of confidence in the chairman, the management and the men of Harland and Wolff.
When Fred Olsen learned that the management and men had sufficient confidence in the future of Harland and Wolff that they were prepared to put their own money into 970 the company, that gave him the enthusiasm to back those people in that task. The confidence that has been expressed by someone of the standing of Fred Olsen in the shipbuilding and ship-owning world shows the high level of expertise at Harland and Wolff at present. That is just one of the reasons why I favour the management-employee buy-out.
Although this is not often mentioned—perhaps it should be mentioned much more frequently in Government circles and even by the Minister himself—Harland and Wolff has a responsible trade union group, which has acted with the utmost responsibility throughout the discussions on privatisation. It would have been easy for those who have great ideological problems with the issue of privatisation to be unto-operative throughout that period. However, as pragmatic trade unionists, those people have recognised the essentials for a viable future for shipbuilding in Belfast and have made them their priorities as they sought that future.
At the recent meeting between the Northern Ireland party leaders and the Prime Minister, those present were encouraged by the Prime Minister's grasp of the position at Harland and Wolff, by her enthusiasm for transferring Harland and Wolff to the private sector and by her belief that it would work in the private sector. The Prime Minister suggested that an essential ingredient would be a good working relationship between men and management and between men, management and the new owner, whoever that may be.
In the last few days, I have been encouraged to receive a copy of a communication from the Harland and Wolff trade unions to the Prime Minister, stating not only that they had reached agreements in the past with the management that were far in advance of anything agreed in the United Kingdom on flexibility or working practices, but that they were still flexible and co-operative in that respect and that they would be willing and delighted to work in co-operation with any new owner.
The trade unions should be encouraged—rather than, as is often the case with Tory Ministers, discouraged—because they have acted in a responsible way over the privatisation issue at Harland and Wolff.
The unions at Shorts have been much criticised publicly in recent days because of their concern over a pay issue and because they have said publicly that there could be industrial action over it. Industrial relations is not a matter simply of unions having disagreements; they have disagreements with managements. Just as the problem affects unions and managements, its resolution is a matter for both. A responsible attitude on the part of both at Shorts can and must avert industrial action at this time. Such action would be an act of folly. Unions and management must reach agreement in the coming few weeks, when the industry will be the showcase to those with an interest in purchasing.
In this case we have bids from Bombardier and from GEC-Fokker. Like the hon. Member for Leicester, South, I fear that the JFX project may become the victim of the privatisation issue. Not only does Bombardier have a rival project, but I understand that Fokker also has a similar development in progress. I was encouraged when speaking recently to an industrial editor from Amsterdam to learn that the local talk in his country is that, if Fokker is successful, it will not continue with the JFX project, but will bring its alternative project to Belfast and pursue it there.
971 Will the Minister say whether the JFX project will be killed off by privatisation? If so, does he expect that an alternative project will be available for the aircraft building side of Shorts? Is he aware that it is essential that all three divisions of Shorts should remain intact in Belfast?
§ Mr. McNamara
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we want more than the building of the aircraft to take place? The question of design is vital to this issue. Unless we have a secure design base, the future will look grim.
§ Mr. Robinson
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. If the design capability was lost—if it was supplied from elsewhere in Europe—the research and development side would be in jeopardy and ultimately the manufacture and production side would be in danger.
In the documentation on Shorts provided by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, the Minister responded to a number of questions put by the trade unions and said that 27 firms had expressed an interest in Shorts. It has been announced that two firms have been asked to submit a final bid. How were the numbers whittled down? Is there any prospect of other firms expressing an interest and, if they do, is there still sufficient time for them to act in the matter?
The Minister will appreciate that my constituents are greatly concerned about the two industries of which I have spoken, remembering that about 10,000 people in east Belfast and the surrounding areas are affected. While I recognise that the sensitive nature of the negotiations limits the amount of information that the Minister can give, it would be helpful to my constituents if he would say what progress has been made.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I support the plea of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) about Harland and Wolff and Shorts. The Minister referred to the buoyancy of the economy. If those firms went down, not only people in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland, but people in many areas in Scotland, England and Wales would suffer because of the knock-on effect. Both firms play an important part in the economy of Great Britian as well as of Northern Ireland. When the Minister referred to the buoyancy of the economy, was he contradicting the views of PA Management Consultants which has pointed out that, while there has been an improvement, the prospect of loss of jobs in manufacturing and even service industries is a threat to the future?
Under vote 2 for the Department of Education I welcome the expenditure on arts and museums but I regret that there is no mention of anything for the Ulster orchestra; is that to come out of the funds for the arts? We recognise the important part which the orchestra has played in Northern Ireland affairs over the years, but now it is in financial difficulties.
I question the provision for pensions under vote 3 of the Department of Education. No doubt the point affects not just Northern Ireland, but I raise it because women teachers in Northern Ireland have been in touch with me. Apparently widowers' pensions have been introduced with effect from 6 April 1988. Married women will have the opportunity of purchasing service prior to April 1988. I 972 understand from the information I have that the Government insist that women buy back the years in question—1972 to 1988—if they are to be counted towards widowers' pensions. Male teachers can already count those years for widows' pensions. I am told that since 1972 women have paid the same contribution as men. Why, therefore, should those years not be credited to women, free of further charge?
On health, matters affecting Belfast also affect the Province as a whole because the services are regional. I regret that under vote 1 of the Department of Health and Social Services there is nothing for the capital development required at the Royal Belfast hospital for sick children. The Minister responsible will know that I have been pressing the Department on the matter. Discussion has been going on since 1964—for 25 years. In 1983 the then Minister announced a capital project of £4.4 million, about half of which has been spent. I understand from my contacts with the Department and with the Eastern health and social services board that discussions are still going on about what might be done, yet the announcement in 1983 involved an immediate injection of capital to deal with pressing requirements, pending the development of a new hospital. When will the current discussions end and the capital injection be made? In addition to the fears of the past, there are now fears for the future with the possibility that the Royal Victoria hospital, perhaps in conjunction with the City hospital, may become a hospital voluntary trust and may have difficulty in acquiring the capital required for work in the children's sector which supplies regional cardiac and paediatric services for Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) said that far more money per capita is spent on health provision in Northern Ireland than elsewhere. That is because the population is smaller and scattered over the Province and that automatically adds to capital cost. I suggest that the injection of capital from public sources to different parts of the country does not go to deprived areas, but far more is being spent per capita in the south-east. We would love that capital injection for job promotion, research and defence contracts. It would be a tremendous help in lifting the Province out of poverty.
The Royal Victoria hospital has been trying to develop capital for its ophthalmic services, which are a basic regional speciality. Those who work in the ophthalmic unit at the Royal Victoria hospital have saved large sums of money over the years and have provided an excellent service to the region. But that service is now being impeded and the damage to the standard of training in that specialty may be irreparable if the hospital does not have the theatre service and other provisions it requires. I understand that although there has been a clear indictment of the cardiac surgery provisions, which is also a regional specialty, the hospital is hoping for some provision in August this year. Will the Minister give us an assurance or guarantee that that will happen?
I appreciate that we are dealing with the departmental budget and not the Northern Ireland Office budget which covers security, but I must raise the problem of security at the Royal Victoria hospital. The Minister may say that there is no security problem at the hospital and that that is ill-founded rumour. I understand that more than a year ago equipment was provided to assist in the security at the hospital, but there has been some dispute with the unions about the deployment of manpower and the equipment is 973 not in use. Since it is not a normal security problem that affects any large institution in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom, should it be funded from the hospital budget—the DHSS vote 1—or should specific security problems at the Royal Victoria hospital be dealt with by the security budget? The board considers that it would he far too much for the hospital to provide, given the finance required to care for patients.
Only a week ago a person visiting the hospital discovered that his car was missing from the car park. Eventually, he received a telephone call to an ex-directory number from someone claiming to represent an insurance company. saying that the car was in Andersontown. The police do not know who telephoned. They do not know anything about it, but that is where the car was found. However, there are supposed to be security officials there and it is important that we examine whether they have the authority to stop and search vehicles entering and leaving the hospital.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) dealt with the problems for hospitals and the matter of accident and emergency provision which will affect the whole city. Is it not the case that there is no emergency disaster plan in the Northern board area? Is the board relying ultimately on the Eastern board to provide that plan?
The Western board deals with the provision of mental health services in County Fermanagh. There must be provision for patients in the community before they are decanted from the hospitals. The present procedure for obtaining approval and funding for housing association schemes is extremely time consuming and that makes it difficult to plan the services in a concerted way. Would it be possible for the entire mechanism for approval of proposals to be speeded up?
I understand that the problem with regard to the provision of bridging funds in Fermanagh relates to the very low level of existing provision in terms of mental health services. The county is virtually destitute in terms of that provision and that is the result of the previous board's low-funded base line. Those of us who understood what was happening under the resource allocation working party will recall that the Western board carried through a strict budgetary requirement and every year it lost more money from the budget. As a result, the board is in difficulties. I plead that the board should receive an adequate share of the bridging funds being made available by the Department of Health and Social Services to enable it to provide the appropriate infrastructure in the community before transferring people from the hospitals.
People leaving hospital also face financial problems. It would appear that the main problem is that, because the majority of ex-patients are receiving invalidity benefit of a certain level, they are not eligible for income support and are not therefore eligible for a community care grant. In those circumstances, the board has to consider providing the funds for the initial essential furnishing and bedding requirements of those clients.
It is understood that there may be a resettlement allowance which will be payable weekly to long-term patients returning to the community. The object of that, however, may be to help patients pay off loans for furnishing. It is the considered opinion of the professional social workers dealing with those clients that that is wrong. They are totally opposed to the idea of their clients being put out of mental hospitals into the community and 974 starting their lives in debt. They do not believe that that is the answer to the problem of funding their clients' initial requirements. It might be better if the resettlement allowances could be paid as a lump sum to the clients. Another alternative might be for the resettlement allowance to be paid to the board on behalf of the client to offset payments which the board has to make for furnishing.
Is the Minister aware of the pressures now developing with the Government's move to the provision of private nursing and residential accommodation? The costs are rising, ceilings are being set and as a result residents in those homes are being pressed to obtain extra provision. They depend on charities to provide extra funding. Is the Minister also aware that, much more deplorably, patients' private pocket money, the £8 allowance which they should use for their own purposes, is being taken by the owners of those nursing homes to top up the residential costs? It is deplorable that the Government should have a policy of putting people into private and residential homes and then cut the money to support them.
§ Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)
I hope that I shall be forgiven for intruding in a debate that seems to be exclusively for hon. Members from Northern Ireland, but that is an important part of the United Kingdom. I represent an English constituency and, as chairman of the Conservative parliamentary aviation committee, having recently visited Short Brothers plc, I feel that I can make some contribution to this important debate.
I was most interested to hear what was said by a number of hon. Members today about the future of this very important company, Short Brothers plc, which is the largest manufacturing employer in Northern Ireland and one of the most important aerospace companies in the world. I was pleased that hon. Members gave credit to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry and to the report that it produced following the Government's statement that the company was to be privatised.
The report highlighted the problem of the company's size. Following the mergers, aerospace companies today are of an enormous size and capability. Two examples in Europe are Aerospatiale and British Aerospace, both of which have turnovers in excess of £3,000 million per annum. Short Brothers plc is at the bottom of the European league table with Casa of Spain, both having turnovers which hardly reach £200 million a year.
That is not to say that, within its three divisions, Short Brothers does not produce work of extremely high quality. In fact, the essence of Short Brothers is the quality of its products. In particular, the SD3 series is a winning one with types flown all over the world. Short Brothers also hope to launch the FJX, which is another aircraft of great potential. It faces competition but British Airways is already committed to buying 20, which is a good sign and gives the aircraft the stamp of approval which it needs,. Hon. Members raised the matter of launch aid for the FJX. project. Although the project will cost £500 million, Short Brothers' share of that is only £120 million. Therefore, since launch aid amounts to only 50 per cent. of that figure, only £50 million to £60 million of taxpayers' money will be used. That puts the amount into perspective.
975 Shorts Brothers plc faces not only a debt problem but a productivity problem. When the Select Committee visited Queens Island, Short Brothers' management went out of its way to stress the importance of additional capital investment and quoted as examples figures of companies such as Northrop, which has a fixed asset to employee ratio of almost £19,000, and of Boeing, which has a ratio of fixed assets to employees of £11,000. Short Brothers comes at the bottom of the scale, with a fixed asset to employee ratio of £3,300. That could be for one of two reasons—either because the company has not put the money which it has received from the Government into capital investment but has been using it to pay off its revenue debts or because the company's productivity is not high due to overmanning and restrictive practices within the work force.
It is significant that, although the company's turnover has not increased much over the years, during the past 14 years, the work force has risen from 5,800 to 7,600. Other aerospace companies have reduced the size of their work force as their productivity has risen with the introduction of much more modern methods of production. When we toured the plant we were struck by the fact that some of the machine tools and equipment being used by highly skilled engineering employees should have been in a museum.
The company must tackle productivity. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Select Committee he stressed that he was going to seek three assurances from companies that might bid to take over Shorts. One was that the company's manufacturing base should stay in Northern Ireland; another was that the company's headquarters and research and development facilities, which must be retained, ought to stay in Northern Ireland. The third was that there should be some assurances about the level of future employment—there is the rub. No Government can guarantee to go on employing people in the quantities that Shorts does. I hope that its order book will expand; it stands at £1,000 million now, which is good, and I should like it to be bigger.
If the order book expands, the labour force may be able to stay the same size. However, if the company is to have the capital injection that it needs to improve productivity, there must be some rationalisation of the work force, which must be told honestly that that will happen.
Rationalisation has already occurred in other acts of privatisation, of which British Airways was a good example. The Government restructured the balance sheet and the work force eventually shrank by a third. The company was then successfully privatised, and Shorts must learn that lesson. The company has already proved that it can do this, because the Shorlac company, which is building the highly successful Tucano, has already increased productivity by working a cell system, cutting out demarcation and reducing sectarianism in the work force. In Shorlac, not only is the work force much younger—about 30 on average—but there is a higher percentage of Roman Catholics in that part of the work force than in any other.
This is my message to the company management and workers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say something about manning levels and capital investment in Short Brothers.
976 I now want to mention a wholly different industry—the licensed trade—for which I know the Minister is responsible, and about which I have an interest to declare. The pubs of Northern Ireland are a great asset to good community relations. They are non-sectarian. Hon. Members have already referred to the importance of tourism. Grants from my hon. Friend's Department are available to build hotel rooms there, but not to enable publicans to add rooms to their pubs, which are far nicer places to stay in. I know that my hon. Friend is reviewing that problem as part of his general review of tourism. Has he come to a decision on giving such grant aid to assist public houses to provide accommodation?
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
I often seem to be called near the end in Northern Ireland debates. I once had to make a three-minute speech on the subject, and this time will be much the same.
I want to mention one specific point and then provide a trailer of what I might be able to discuss some other time. The Minister mentioned expenditure on flood damage in Strabane. On 5 November 1987 I raised on the Adjournment the subject of an underground fire in my constituency. The Bellwin scheme came into that. Money had been spent on gale damage in the south of England, so I mentioned the flood damage in Strabane and asked whether the Bellwin scheme would apply, which allows, after a penny rate has been spent in the counties, or a 0.15p rate spent in the districts, 75 per cent. grant aid for the rest of the expenditure involved.
Has such an arrangement been allowed for the flood damage in Strabane, or has some other provision been made? That affects not only my constituents but the parts of Scotland in which there has been gale damage and which have not yet received the provision that the south of England did.
I turn to the trailer for my remarks on a future occasion. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) commented that there are few opportunities to discuss the politics of Northern Ireland—the kind of matters that are covered by the appropriation, concerning the conditions of ordinary working-class people. This debate has allowed the House to do so, and that is why I have been pleased to participate in it. Had I the time available, I would have developed some of the themes that have been introduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who often comments on matters relating to police involvement, might instead be able to provide some democratic answers to the problems of Northern Ireland.
I would have addressed myself also to some of the democratic and social aspects. I would have spoken of democracy in the sense of making a claim for devolved Government, but having a bill of rights, and of Socialism in terms of collectivist expenditure, public investment and public ownership as a means of meeting the problems of the Province. Where the greatest areas of deprivation and the greatest problems are to be found, Socialist solutions begin to be appropriate.
It would be useful if the Government began experimenting in Northern Ireland, applying not the policies used for the rest of the United Kingdom but others. Startling solutions might come from that. Northern Ireland could take the lead, because it has a 977 Protestant and Catholic working class that suffers from high levels of unemployment, low pay, National Health Service problems, housing problems, and other exacerbated difficulties of the kind found in the rest of the United Kingdom—and to which Socialist answers of the kind I wanted to talk about might be entirely appropriate.
As one enters the Chamber, one sees the statues of two Prime Ministers—Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. They were the leaders of what A.J.P. Taylor described as war Socialism. During the war, Socialism was used to build military defence, to handle social problems, and to unite the nation. When a statue of the present Prime Minister is erected, it will be interesting if she adopted a new policy for Northern Ireland. She may then be remembered for her Socialist achievements in Northern Ireland while helping to destroy the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)
It will be difficult to say in four minutes all that I intended to say. It is difficult for an hon. Member such as myself from the North of Ireland, who has been in the Chamber since 3 o'clock, to make the points that he wants to make. Like the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), I shall simply put down a marker and a trailer.
One thought that struck me forcibly during the debate was that, rightly, considerable time has been spent on the problems of Shorts. However, approximately five times the number of people employed by that company are employed in the agriculture industry in the North of Ireland. Since entering the House, I have never had an opportunity of addressing the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food across the Floor of the House. I address my first request to the Prime Minister and to the Whips Office—that our biggest single industry be recognised by the appointment of a Minister to deal with the North of Ireland's agriculture as the important industry that it is. To me, there seems to be a cheapening and devaluing of our most important single industry. The North of Ireland has two natural resources. One is grass and the other is people, yet agriculture seems to be excluded from the body politic and from the thoughts of the House.
My second request is for a look at the development of bovine tuberculosis in the North of Ireland, especially in the border regions. I make no political point whatever about this because the matter is purely agricultural. The problem is developing because, in border areas, there are many movements of security personnel, fences are cut and, for various obvious safety reasons, gates are not used. I should like to make three suggestions and I must do it in shorthand. I suggest the setting up in the border regions of a full-time veterinary centre that will be able to act immediately. When there are fatalities, damage to stock as a result of low-flying helicopters or abortions in cattle or sheep, inspections can be carried out immediately so that claims can be processed.
Two months ago I had an interesting meeting to which the Secretary of State for Defence saw fit to send representatives to discuss these problems. Believe it or not, the Department of Agriculture in the North of Ireland din not see fit to send a representative to see me and the farmers and to hear about the problems.
978 In addition to the veterinary inspection centre, I should like to see set up a veterinary inspection team which would be available to make an assessment immediately and not 24 hours or a week after something happens. That would enable a report to be made and people would not be at a financial loss.
In relation to bovine TB, I should like to see the setting up of a Government agriculture insurance scheme that will give 100 per cent. compensation for TB reactors. At present, if a farmer declares a reactor, he is offered 75 per cent. compensation. That is very damaging to the industry and will cause long-term damage. If farmers were offered 100 per cent. compensation, it might enable us to get rid of the disease as well as the beast that is infected. At present it is being recycled.
The whole herd of 43 cattle belonging to one of my constituents was shut down because of bovine tuberculosis. He gets 75 per cent. of the market price of the cattle and that invariably involves a loss because his profit would have come long after the period when he held the cattle. He also loses the headage payments. He potentially loses his milk quota and must then rebuild his herd on 75 per cent. compensation. He cannot get income support and inevitably he will go out of business. That problem is occurring time and again throughout the North of Ireland. Agriculture is our main industry and employs four to five times as many people as the other industries that we have rightly been debating. The problems of agriculture are going by the board.
The Minister who is responsible for the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland might well take the view that I sit up at night thinking up unique and quaint circumstances and instances for him to deal with. However, there is one problem that can be dealt with only at ministerial level. In the area of South Armagh surrounded by the Camlough mountains all primary legislation about drainage was handed over to the mill owners in the village of Bessbrook. Departments were absolved from any responsibility. Those mill owners have gone out of business, and the anomaly as we approach 1992 is that no Government Department is responsible for arterial drainage in that area. The result is that the Department of the Environment is spending about £12,000 per year on remedial road works deriving from the fact that the Department of Agriculture is not responsible for drainage in that area. It is unique; it is quaint; it could happen only to the present Minister—and he will appreciate the import of that remark, as I have referred certain other types of problems to him. To his credit, he has dealt with them, but this is one that must be grappled with quickly.
I am very concerned about my final point, although do not have time to expand on my concern. I am delighted that I was present for the presentation of the ten-minute Bill dealing with problems in relation to residential and nursing homes. There is increasing reason for concern about the way in which the entrepreneurial bent is being used in the care of old people in residential homes. I do not have time to take the matter any further, but it is one of immediate concern to all of us. The people that we must treasure most are those who cannot help themselves. We owe it to those who, like all of us, are getting older to make sure that any homes that are set up are run in such a way as to ensure the maximum protection for their residents.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers)
I have sat through many debates without getting an opportunity to speak, so I am sure we all feel a great sense of satisfaction that everyone who sat through this one had that opportunity—albeit, at the end, briefly. My only regret—and it is a very serious and sincere one—is that I will not be able to reply to all the points that were made, some of them very serious and very important. I counted more than 30 points that require some response from the Dispatch Box, but I simply will not be able to reply to all of them, and for that I apologise to the House.
In 1988–89 the public expenditure total for Northern Ireland is £5.2 billion, excluding the special addition of £390 million for Shorts. This very substantial allocation enables us to mount spending programmes which reflect Northern Ireland's higher needs, in terms of unemployment, health, housing and other issues. In response to those needs, spending per capita in Northern Ireland is substantially higher—about 40 per cent.—than the United Kingdom average. This is, of course, the considered result of Government policy, which, rightly, provides more resources to Northern Ireland and to other relatively disadvantaged areas than to the more prosperous regions of the United Kingdom. This clearly gives the lie to those in Northern Ireland who misguidedly talk about economic withdrawal. The facts speak for themselves the opposite is the case, and the Government are providing, and will continue to provide, the resources necessary to assist the Province to strengthen its economy through self-sustaining growth.
The House will forgive me if I pick up one point of substance for which I have special responsibility—the job-promotion duties of the Industrial Development Board. In 1987–88 the IDB achieved its highest-ever level of promotions, with 5,300 new jobs. The board set itself an even more challenging target of 5,500 job promotions for 1988–89, and I am hopeful, indeed confident, that this target will be achieved, or even exceeded. The IDB has had a high level of success recently, particularly in winning prestigious international projects—Daewoo from South Korea, Montupet from France, Science Typographers from the United States, and Huco from Germany. These successes underline the IDB's ability and determination to pursue and win major new investment.
I should add that the IDB is tasked to promote industrial development throughout Northern Ireland, and I can assure the House that the board goes to great lengths to ensure that prospective investors are made aware of what all parts of the Province have to offer. The IDB is currently assisting companies across the whole of Northern Ireland. These include: in Magherafelt, County Londonderry, Peter England—100 jobs; in Dungannon, County Tyrone, Powerscreen Manufacturing—45 jobs; in Craigavon, County Armagh, Interfacing Flow Systems—87 jobs; in Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh, Adria—142 jobs; and in County Down, at Killyleagh, Atlantic Tanners Ltd.—121 new jobs.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) is prominent in putting forward the case that the Industrial Development Board is not fair in promoting jobs throughout Northern Ireland. In all sincerity, I say to him that, to my certain knowledge, he is wrong. I have written to the hon. Gentleman on this matter.
§ Mr. Viggers
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way. I have a total of nine minutes to deal with 30 points.
Montupet—the French company—gave most careful thought to the possibility of establishing its tool room in Downpatrick. I have discussed that issue with the chairman of the company. The IDB has been successful in winning jobs for the whole of Northern Ireland.
I give one figure, which has not been published recently. In 1987–88 the Industrial Development Board was successful in winning about 5 per cent. of all jobs won into the United Kingdom by way of inward investment, bearing in mind that the population of Northern Ireland represents about 2.5 per cent. of that of the United Kingdom. In the current year, we have achieved a remarkable 11.6 per cent. of inward investment jobs into the United Kingdom. That is a proud record.
I will seek to deal with some of the large number of points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) raised several important points concerning social security benefits. Last year's reforms were aimed at better targeting expenditure towards areas of greatest need, and benefit levels are on a parity basis with the rest of the United Kingdom. On family credit, the hon. Gentleman should know that the rates of benefit are more generous than under previous arrangements, but the Department of Health and Social Services is concerned about the level of take-up and is taking steps to improve it.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that expenditure on community care was being cut across the Province. There has certainly been an attempt to target expenditure where it is most needed so that people can remain in the community, preferably in their own homes, with the necessary support, rather than prematurely going into long-stay accommodation or blocking beds in acute hospitals. The policy of improving throughput in acute hospitals is intended also to release resources which can be redeployed to community services. I am sure that hon. Members would support such efforts.
The hon. Gentleman specifically asked about the latest pupil-teacher ratio. The most up-to-date overall pupil-teacher ratio for Northern Ireland is 18 : 3.1, which is marginally below the figure that was quoted by the hon. Gentleman, although very near to it.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) asked about the evening closure of the Mater hospital accident and emergency department. A recent complementary study of the Royal group of hospitals, the Belfast City hospital and the Mater hospital resulted in several recommendations, one of which was that the Mater accident and emergency department should close in the evenings, the time of closure to be decided locally.
So many hon. Members raised questions concerning Shorts and Harland and Wolff that it would be appropriate for me to devote the 180 remaining seconds of my speech to that subject.
§ Mr. Mallon
Why is the Minister making no reference to the largest industry in Northern Ireland—agriculture?
§ Mr. Viggers
As the hon. Gentleman took nine minutes to speak, having undertaken to take five, I might have had 981 more time to reply to his questions. [Interruption.] I would not have raised that ungracious point with the hon. Gentleman if he had not chosen to criticise me.
In the case of Harland and Wolff, the House will be aware that the Government are anxious to achieve an early and successful privatisation of the company. That approach has been endorsed by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry. We have been working to find a privatisation structure which is right for the company and which will obtain the approval of the European Commission. We continue to study in detail the proposals put to us. Although there is no certain outcome to the discussions, there are encouraging signs of positive progress. The attitude of the management and the work force will he critical in that process. I welcome the approach and the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) in this matter. He quoted the words and the attitude of the Prime Minister when she made that. point. It is in everyone's interest that the company attains the higher levels of performance required in today's extremely competitive shipbuilding market. This is vital if we are to achieve a successful privatisation and a more secure future for the company in the longer term.
Turning to Shorts, as has already been indicated, our intention is to restructure Shorts' balance sheet. I announced 10 days ago the initial restructuring, involving £390 million of convertible stock. I can tell the hon. Member for Belfast, East that the list of approximately 30 companies which had expressed an interest in Shorts was reduced to a dozen to whom we sent the information memorandum and, based on the responses to the memorandum, we have now, with the advice of Kleinwort Benson, our professional advisers, identified two company interests, which may be joined by a third, with whom we are holding detailed discussions.
We believe that to be the best basis and way ahead for the company, and we are moving anxiously to seek privatisation on that basis.
§ It being Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER put the Question on the motion, pursuant to Order [3 March].
§ Question agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 28th February, be approved.