HC Deb 12 March 1990 vol 169 cc72-104 7.14 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Cope)

I beg to move, That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1990, which was laid before this House on 13th February, be approved. The draft order has two related purposes. The first is to authorise the expenditure of some £71.8 million in the 1989–90 spring supplementary estimates. That amount, when added to the £4,223 million previously approved by the House, brings the total estimates provision for Northern Ireland departmental services to some £4,295 million for this financial year, within a public expenditure total of some £5.8 billion.

The second purpose is to authorise the vote-on-account of some £1,816 million for 1990–91. That amount will, as usual, enable the services of Northern Ireland Departments to continue until the 1990–91 main estimates for Northern Ireland are brought before the House later this year.

The estimates booklet and the "Statement of Sums Required on Account", which give full details of the sums sought under both headings, are, as usual, available from the Vote Office. The House will be aware that the estimates for the Northern Ireland Office, for law and order services, are not covered by the order that is before the House today.

I turn to the specific estimates before the House. I do not propose to refer to every vote where supplementary provision is being sought, but I shall draw attention to the main themes.

I start with the Department of Agriculture's vote 1, which provides for Northern Ireland expenditure on United Kingdom-wide support schemes. Some £2.4 million is sought mainly for increased payments under agricultural improvement schemes to meet higher than anticipated uptake and value of claims. Some £1 million is also required under the hill livestock compensatory allowance scheme as a result of an increase in the number of animals eligible, and to provide for the increased premium for hardy bred sheep announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 30 January. Those increases are, however, fully offset by lower than expected demand on capital grant schemes resulting in only a token increase of £1,000 in the vote, to some £36 million. That is in the nature of a bookkeeping exercise, but it is important nevertheless.

In the Department of Agriculture's vote 2, covering local support measures, some £1.8 million is required to meet increases in professional fees and compensation payments under the disease eradication programme. The sum of £0.6 million is required for laboratory modifications and scientific equipment. Those increases arise mainly from an upturn in the incidence of brucellosis and tuberculosis which has required more testing of animals. That enabled a serious outbreak of brucellosis in the pre-Christmas period to be contained. Regrettably, the incidence of tuberculosis has risen, despite determined efforts by the Department to contain the disease. Therefore, that area will continue to receive high priority. The sum of £200,000 is required for the woodlands grant scheme, to reflect a welcome increase in participation by the private sector in afforestation.

The increases is this vote are fully offset by reduced requirements under the Northern Ireland agricultural development programme. Expenditure under the programme has been less than expected, partly because of lower investment trends and partly because the conditions attaching to the scheme have been refined to achieve more effective targeting. The estimate includes also additional payments on behalf of the International Fund for Ireland in respect of the refurbishment of the marine research vessel Lough Foyle. These costs are recouped in full from the fund.

I now turn to the Department of Economic Development, which has supplementary estimates for three votes. In vote 2, net additional provision of £ 12.5 million is sought. Of this, £10.7 million is in the section of the vote relating to assistance to the aircraft and shipbuilding industries. The House will recall that, under the agreement with Bombardier for the sale of Shorts, the Government undertook to fund losses incurred by Shorts from 1 April 1989 until the completion of the sale on 4 October 1989. The additional funding now required will discharge the Government's obligations in this matter.

Hon. Members will wish to note that, since the estimates were printed and laid, it has become apparent that some £5.6 million of the 1989–90 provision previously sought under the capital heading for Shorts will, in fact, be used to cover expenditure on Harland and Wolff in 1989–90. This remains consistent with the ambit of the vote. To compensate for that, there will be consequential adjustments to the provision for Shorts in 1990–91.

Also in vote 2, I am glad to say, additional funding is provided for the Local Enterprise Development Unit—LEDU—Northern Ireland's small business agency. Hon. Members will know that in my previous job I had a good deal to do with small businesses. I am glad to acknowledge the tremendous importance of small firms to the Northern Ireland economy. We do our best to stimulate and improve their performance. Under this head, £4.2 million is sought to enable LEDU to continue its work of stimulating growth in the small-business sector in Northern Ireland. In particular, it will enable LEDU to develop its network of local enterprise agencies, which is experiencing an increased level of uptake. These agencies are extremely valuable. The provision will also help to promote more enterprise through increased provision of enterprise training.

Many businesses fail because it is difficult to have simultaneously all the skills that are required to run a small business successfully, particularly when launching out. The training will include training on topics such as financial management and marketing techniques designed to prepare participants for self-employment. It will also cover special initiatives, such as the Northern Ireland innovation programme—part of a Europe-wide initiative aimed at supporting innovatory projects which are technology-based and export-oriented. These increases are offset by reductions of some £2 million, due mainly to delays in implementing projects in the industrially relevant research and development sector.

A token supplementary estimate is sought for the Department of Economic Development under vote 3, where various increases in expenditure are offset by savings elsewhere within the vote. Hon. Members will note that, as part of the Government's plans to rationalise the training system in Northern Ireland, a single training organisation, to be known as the Training and Employment Agency, will be established in April. We require £0.6 million as a contribution towards the costs of winding up the existing Northern Ireland Training Authority, which currently has responsibility for supporting, developing and promoting training in the private sector of Northern Ireland industry. This is another important area with which I had something to do previously, and whose value, therefore, I appreciate.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Is anything being done, by way of the grant towards training the disabled. to remove discrimination, especially in respect of deaf young people, and to change the community's attitude towards such people?

Mr. Cope

I am afraid that I cannot answer that question off the cuff. However, I shall ensure that, if possible, it is dealt with in the winding-up speech.

An additional £5.8 million is sought for the Department of Economic Development, under vote 5, mainly for financial assistance to the gas industry. Twelve gas undertakings have completed their closure programmes on target, and some 79,000 consumers have had their homes converted from gas to alternative fuels. The additional provision is required mainly for accelerated payments in connection with the rundown and closure costs of Belfast Gas.

The Department of the Environment, under vote 1, covering roads, transport and ports, requires a net additional provision of £3.5 million. Of this, £2.9 million relates to grants paid by the Department to bus companies for capital expenditure on the purchase of new buses.

A token supplementary estimate is required for the Department of the Environment, under vote 3, where various increases are being offset by savings elsewhere in the vote. The main increase is in respect of consultants' fees for design work on water and sewerage schemes associated with compliance with European Communities directives.

An additional £1.9 million is sought for the Department of the Environment, under vote 5, mainly for capital expenditure on office accommodation and office furniture. Of this, £1.6 million relates to the accommodation requirements of the operational strategy computerisation programme in the Department of Health and Social Services.

Turning to the Department of Education, a net increase of £9.9 million is sought, under vote 1. An additional £11.1 million is required for grants to education and library boards. Of this, £7 million is for pay awards and price increases and for the youth training programme. The amount required for capital grants is £4.1 million. An extra £1.8 million is for capital expenditure by voluntary schools, including the purchase of sites and properties for integrated schools.

The increases in this vote are offset by a reduction of £3.1 million, owing to the delay in settling the 1989 pay award for further education lecturers. These adjustments will bring vote 1 provision to over £760 million in the current year, within a total education budget of some £899 million.

Hon. Members will note that additional provision of some £1 million is made within this vote for expenditure in support of the Government's proposals for education reforms. This brings the additional resources that have been made available for this purpose to over £5 million in 1989–90. This will help to ensure that schools and teachers are prepared, and have the necessary facilities, to implement these important changes.

In the Department of Education, under vote 2, an additional £2.6 million is sought on a range of services. The main increase of £1.6 million is for grants to universities, and includes the 1989 lecturers' pay settlement, as well as capital expenditure on information technology, including an upgraded automated library system at Queen's university.

Finally, for health and personal social services, an extra £29 million is being sought in vote 1. Of this total, some £17.6 million is for the health and social services boards, mainly to meet the cost of pay settlements. It will also enable further progress to be made in the transition from institutional care to community care for those in long-stay accommodation. A further £4.7 million is required for family practitioner services to meet increased demand and higher costs. These additions bring vote 1 provision for the current year to £865 million, within a total health and social services budget of over £960 million.

The House will note that, included in the additional sums sought, £3.5 million is for initial work on the implementation of health service reforms in Northern Ireland. These are designed to give patients better health care, a greater choice of services and better value for money, which is very important.

I have sought to draw the attention of the House to the order's main provisions. I realise that Members from England and Wales no longer have an equivalent debate. This debate enables Members from Northern Ireland constituencies in particular to draw attention to individual points, to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will do his best to respond. I commend the order to the House.

7.30 pm
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

The Minister of State went through the details of the order in his well-known fashion and we are all grateful to him for shedding more light on the bare figures. I regret that on this occasion he has not taken the opportunity to speak at some length about the overall economic prospects for the North of Ireland.

Mr. Taylor (Strangford)

The hon. Member obviously does not know that the term "North of Ireland" is distasteful and offensive to most people in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Marshall

On many previous occasions when I have used that term in the House and in the Province, it has not been treated in that fashion.

Mr. Taylor

That is nonsense.

Mr. Marshall

The right hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity to put his point of view later in the debate. I am not prepared in this debate, which is about the economy in the North of Ireland——

Mr. Taylor

Northern Ireland.

Mr. Marshall

—to continue the debate that took place between 4 pm and 7 pm. I am prepared to learn, as the House knows, but there is a limit to the amount of knowledge that I am prepared to imbibe from the right hon. Gentleman.

This occasion enables us to have a comprehensive debate on the economy of the Province, but it is unfortunate that on this occasion the Minister of State did not see fit to outline the Government's view of the economic prospects for the Province in the coming years. It is fair to point out, as I have done previously, that the economy in the North of Ireland cannot be insulated from that of the remainder of the United Kingdom. Experience has shown repeatedly that when expansion has occurred in Britain, expansion in Northern Ireland has proceeded after a due period and has been at a much lower rate than in Britain, History is repeating itself. As a consequence of the economic downturn faced by the country as a whole, the Province is likely to experience a greater decline than the remainder of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Cope

I should like to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the latest figures for Northern Ireland manufacturing output, which show an increase to September 1989 of 9 per cent. compared with 3 per cent. for the United Kingdom as a whole. In that respect, as in one or two others, the Northern Ireland economy is doing better than the economy of the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. Marshall

The Minister of State will be pleased to know that I shall address those specific points. We can all pick evidence from various parts of the economy to try to prove our points. The underlying evidence from statistics in the Province is that the economic indicators for the next few years are bleak, to say the least. Unless the Government are prepared to take further action to activate the economy and to take further economic initiatives the progress that we have seen over the past 12 months will amount to little in the long term.

Hon. Members, especially those from the North of Ireland, will recognise that poverty continues to be endemic in the Province. That has been exacerbated by the recent changes in the social security system. As in the remainder of the United Kingdom, one's opportunity of getting a grant from the social fund depends on where one lives and how much money is left in the pot. I repeat a plea that I have made many times: this is not the way that we should deal with poverty. It should not just be a matter of luck, of where one lives and of how early one applies for the grant from the pot. Poverty must be judged on the basis of need, not on geography and how much money is left in a fund. I urge Northern Ireland Ministers with responsibility in these matters to speak to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Social Security to ensure that the people in the North of Ireland, and the rest of the people in the United Kingdom, have their applications judged on the basis of need, and not financial stringency, which is the method that operates in the social security system.

The Minister of State mentioned Shorts. On a previous occasion, I put a number of specific questions to him and I shall repeat two. I hope that the Under-Secretary will answer them specifically or, if he cannot, at least pledge that he will write to me with the answers. The House would like to know why the Government retained ownership of the leasing companies when Shorts was privatised. What is the extent of the Government's financial liability as a consequence of retaining those leasing companies? The Minister mentioned further assistance to Shorts and, almost as an afterthought, said that just over £5 million would be given to Harland and Wolff. Why is that £5 million required by Harland and Wolff?

I wish that the Minister had spoken at greater length about the enonomy of the Province, because 1992 and the single market are rapidly approaching. Taken together with the opening of the Channel tunnel, this will again highlight the problems and questions arising from the peripherality of the North of Ireland and the island of Ireland. I should like to know whether the Government will announce their present thinking on improved transport links between Northern Ireland and Britain and what, if any, discussions they have had with the Republic to improve transport links between the island of Ireland and mainland Britain. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will be able to give us an inkling of the Government's view of the transport problems facing the North of Ireland and the island of Ireland as a whole as a consequence of the single market and 1992 and the probable opening of the Channel tunnel a few years later. The non-economic problems of the Province were discussed at length in our previous debate——

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Before the hon. Gentleman moves too far from the question of transport between the island of Ireland and Great Britain, may I ask him to press the Government to make every effort to maintain the pre-eminence of the port of Larne as the point of export for the whole island—in particular, by improving the quality of roads to Larne port?

Mr. Marshall

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is a regular attender of these debates. He will know that 18 months or two years ago I made precisely that suggestion to the Government. If he consults the report of that debate, he will find that I pressed for the widening of the route between the port of Larne and Belfast. He will be pleased to hear that I support, and will continue to support, that aim. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)

Even though it is in the North.

Mr. Marshall

As my hon. Friend says, even though it is in the North.

One problem that we face in discussing the economy of the Province is the tendency to underplay the problems and a tendency for any criticism of the Government to be somewhat muted. I presume that that is a cross-party desire, based on the belief that unnecessary criticism is likely further to undermine confidence in the Province. But in spite of the economic index that the Minister cited, everyone in the House and the Province needs to be aware that the economic prospects are not especially good.

Last year, bankruptcies in the Province increased by 75 per cent., whereas in England and Wales they increased by just under 10 per cent. I realise that there are particular causes for that, with the high gearing ratio of many companies in the Province. Nevertheless, that high incidence of bankruptcy is not indicative of a strong underlying economy.

In addition, the National Westminster Bank is again predicting increases in unemployment. I know that Ministers will point out that unemployment fell substantially in 1989. I applaud that fact, and I accept that the figures are correct; I do not suggest that that fall can be attributed solely to the juggling of statistics. Nevertheless, most non-partisan observers in the Province take the overall fall with a large pinch of salt and point out that the fall results in part from the fact that more people are leaving the Province for England, that there are more places on Government training schemes and that there have been further restrictions on eligibility for unemployment benefit.

The latest Coopers and Lybrand report states the case more succinctly, and with a non-partisanship that the House may accept: it would appear that some of the changes have been cosmetic, and aimed at reducing the unemployed total rather than securing lasting employment.

Meanwhile, manufacturing productivity in the Province continues to lag behind that in the rest of the United Kingdom; the Province achieved 80 per cent. of what was achieved in the remainder of the United Kingdom. More disturbing still is that in some cases productivity figures are only half the figure achieved by comparable employers in West Germany.

The construction industry is reporting a downturn in activity. If the figures are correct, they must place doubts over the continuation of economic growth in the Province.

In its latest annual report, the Northern Ireland Economic Council predicts difficulties for the economy arising from high rates of inflation, high interest rates and the balance of payments deficit facing the United Kingdom as a whole.

That is the economic background, and it leaves no room for complacency. It is against that background that we must ask how the Government react to the problem. To be fair, they do not do nothing, although they do not do a great deal. They tinker with the problem, because there is a vacuum at the heart of their economic policy for the North of Ireland. Specifically, they lack a coherent strategy for economic development in the Province. They tinker because their political dogma dictates a market approach, while their experience suggests the need for an interventionist approach. Their tinkering leads to uncertainty at the heart of their industrial development policy; it places question marks over their objectives and over the means by which they hope to achieve them.

The latest annual report from the Northern Ireland Economic Council says at paragraph 2.14: Elements of both the market approach and the intervention model co-exist uneasily within the current framework of industrial development policy in Northern Ireland. The perceived thrust of recent government policy statements in respect of industrial development clearly favours an increasing reliance upon market based solutions to the Province's industrial problems. However, the agencies responsible for the conduct of industrial … policy, the IDB and LEDU, are equally clearly inclined to a scale of interventionism more in keeping with a planning approach to these problems. In the Council's view this anomalous situation breeds uncertainty as to both the objectives of industrial development policy in Northern Ireland and the means by which those objectives are to be achieved. Again, that is the non-partisan view of an organization with no particular axe to grind, and it highlights the uncertainty that lies at the heart of the Government's economic policy in the Province.

We must conclude—reluctantly or otherwise—that the Government would prefer to apply their market philosophy to the Province but that they know that they cannot because of the particular and extensive nature of Northern Ireland's problems, especially given its status on the periphery of the United Kingdom and the European Community, and, in many instances, because of the outdated industries and the specific problems arising from the troubles.

Government economic policy in the Province tends to fall between two stools—the fully-fledged market approach and a fully fledged interventionist approach. That, again, leads to tinkering and a half-hearted approach to the market model and to the interventionist model. That half-hearted approach is reflected in expenditure levels. If the Under-Secretary examines the figures, he will see that since 1982–83 there has been an annual average fall in real terms of about 3 per cent. in overall expenditure on development and industrial support. That is the real position, contrary to what the Government would have us believe.

What should the Government be trying to do? It is clear to most hon. Members—if not Ministers—that there is an urgent need to produce a proper strategic plan for economic development in Northern Ireland. A continuation of existing policies will not be sufficient to achieve a rate of growth that would allow the Northern Ireland economy to catch up with other regions in the United Kingdom. Specifically, a number of key issues must be addressed, including better training and skills forecasting, encouragement for more of the talented young people to stay in the Province, improving the quality and quantity of goods and services and further developing the local tourist and leisure industries.

The Opposition believe that those issues will not be addressed coherently if the Government maintain their hands-off approach to the economy in the Province. At a minimum, there must be greater co-ordination between existing plans. As we all know, there are already corporate plans for the Department of Economic Development, the Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterprise Development Unit. However, they cannot individually be said to amount to an economic strategy. They do not claim to be pointing the way ahead or to be setting targets.

I recognise the limitations of the interventionist approach and I also recognise the political difficulties facing Northern Ireland Ministers if they want to pursue such an approach. However, the interventionist approach helps to focus attention on the major problems and possible growth areas in an overall co-ordinated fashion. In particular, such an approach would enable concentration to focus on those sectors of the economy with the best potential for development, including the health sector, education, miscellaneous services and the distribution service. Concentration on those areas and others could yield substantial dividends in terms of a more secure economic base for Northern Ireland.

Even within the present limitations of Government policy, some specific improvements could be made. For example, the IDB could be made more accountable for its expenditure. I am sure all hon. Members would agree that banner headlines such as the one that appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 5 March promising that 500 new jobs would be created in the textile industry are no good if many of those jobs fail to materialise.

The suggestion made by the Northern Ireland Economic Council that the IDB should include in its annual report an update on jobs created as a consequence of expenditure in previous years would be beneficial because it would provide at least a crude measure of the efficacy of the IDB in promoting job creating.

Mr. John D. Taylor

I fully support the hon. Gentleman's theme about the IDB. However, does he support the separate existence of LEDU? There are proposals that LEDU should be abolished and incorporated into the IDB. Many of us involved in business in Northern Ireland would resent that.

Mr. Marshall

Did the right hon. Gentleman say that he would resent that?

Mr. Taylor


Mr. Marshall

In that case, the right hon. Gentleman may not like what I am about to say. He will recognise from what I have said about the existing plans for the Department of Economic Development, the IDB and LEDU that I was calling for much closer co-ordination of those plans. With the privatisation of Shorts and Harland and Wolff, there will be a need for a reorganisation of the Department of Economic Development as a consequence of that and other economic changes that have taken place in the North.

If we were to develop the kind of corporate interventionist model that I have suggested, I would urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to accept that there is a need for greater co-operation between the three bodies to which I have referred and a need perhaps for some amalgamation as well. Therefore, effort and financial expenditure could be directed to the potential growth areas in the economy of Northern Ireland. I appreciate that the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) will not be happy with my suggestion, but at least it offers an opportunity for a coherent economic plan for the North of Ireland.

Mr. Taylor

Northern Ireland.

Mr. Marshall

The right hon. Gentleman and I will have to agree on the use of adjectives sooner or later.

During a previous debate, the Minister of State promised a White Paper on the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity and the effect that that privatisation would have on electricity tariffs in the North of Ireland. He promised that White Paper early in the new year and I believe that the year that he referred to was the beginning of 1990, not the beginning of 1991. When is that White Paper likely to see the light of day? When will the House and Northern Ireland Members have the opportunity to debate fully the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity? I should like a specific response to that.

From visits to the Province and from reading the local newspapers, I note that the exploitation of lignite resources has received relatively little public attention in the past few months. Hon. Members would argue that the exploitation of lignite reserves in the Province represents a potentially significant addition to the Northern Ireland economy. What time scale do the Government have in mind for the commercial exploitation of lignite reserves? More specifically, will they give an assurance that, when privatised, Northern Ireland Electricity will not be permitted to delay plans for the exploitation of lignite?

To be frankly partisan, the only hope for the Northern Ireland economy, as for the remainder of the United Kingdom, is the return of a Labour Government who are committed to creating the basis of economic prosperity, jobs for all and the elimination of poverty, not the further creation of poverty that the Government have caused through the allocation of financial resources on the basis of rationing rather than on the basis of need.

8 pm

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

The people of Northern Ireland are generous-hearted and kind. They will not reject any party that wishes to stand in an election in Northern Ireland—the more the merrier. More lost deposits should benefit the Province in some way. We believe in democracy. We do not try to stop anybody standing in elections. If the Labour party wishes to put forward candidates in my consitutency of North Down, it is perfectly welcome to do so. I shall have no objection.

I make no apology for again stressing that senior citizens in the Province are being denied basic rights. That denial applies in every other part of the United Kingdom, but I am chiefly concerned with Northern Ireland, and my constituency of North Down in particular. The time has come for a Bill of Rights for the elderly. About 18 years ago, I argued for a Bill of Rights for the whole United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) is interested in that point. I was prepared to accept a Bill of Rights that was limited to Northern Ireland if need he. The elderly people of Northern Ireland certainly need a Bill of Rights to protect them. They should have the right to live out their lives in dignity and in reasonable comfort. That is not too much for an old person to ask.

Elderly people have the right to adequate care in the community. Surely that right should be bestowed upon them after a lifetime of service to their communities. They should have the right to a decent pension that takes account of the high cost of living in Northern Ireland. The cost of living in Northern Ireland is higher than that in the rest of the United Kingdom. Elderly people should have an immediate pension increase of £10 a week per person, although that would still not bring the amount up to that which is available to other retired people in the European Community.

If we judge a society by the way in which it looks after the elderly, the handicapped and the chronically sick, the Government fail the test. One simple step that would give great comfort to many elderly people throughout our country would be to introduce concessionary television licences. Most elderly people depend upon television as a means of entertainment and communication with the outside world. Television has become basic to their way of life. If they cannot provide completely free television, a caring Government should provide television licences at a concessionary rate.

Many elderly people in Northern Ireland feel particularly angry because, from next month, they must pay £71 to the BBC so that they can hear all sorts of nasty things said about the forces of law and order who protect them in their homes and in their community. They are angry that their money should be spent on such propaganda.

The Health Service has deteriorated in many respects as a result of budget cuts in Northern Ireland. We had a good Health Service—good local hospitals and major hospitals throughout the Province. Unfortunately, the Health Service has become worse. There is a waiting list for operations. That means great anxiety not only for patients, many of whom rightly dread the prospect of an operation, but for relatives. Money is needed for our hospitals in Northern Ireland. The Government must take action to reverse the rundown in local hospitals such as Bangor hospital, in my constituency.

I shall give an example of how the Government approach social services in Northern Ireland. The Eastern health board, which one could regard as a minion of the Government, has introduced further cuts in home help services for the elderly. Those cuts are quite disgraceful. Elderly people in the area suffer discrimination, and many are denied proper home help services. I shall quote one example. It is not the worst case that has come my way, but it is one that I could readily put my hand on when I left home this morning.

An elderly constituent of mine who lives on her own and who has suffered the effects of a stroke and a heart attack had home help services for six hours a week. That dear old lady desperately wanted someone to assist with cleaning her home. Most elderly people are houseproud, and it is certainly bad for their morale when conditions in the home deteriorate. That elderly lady wanted a home help to clean her home, in addition to making her breakfast and her main meal of the day and doing a bit of laundry. She privately arranged with her home help that, instead of doing one bit of business, she would also clean the house.

The Eastern health board heard about it and immediately cut that lady's six hours' home help to three and a half hours a week. It said that she was not entitled to have a home help to clean the home. How callous can an organisation be to deny an elderly lady living on her own, and who is dependent on her home help, the services of a person to clean her home? That is the only case that I shall quote tonight, but there are many others.

A letter from the responsible Minister in the Department of Health states: In the North Down and Ards Unit of Management"—that is within the Eastern health board area— due to budget constraints, it is not generally possible to provide a cleaning service. For this reason, this lady's hours were reduced to three and a half hours per week. Of course, that made my poor constituent heart broken. I thought that the Government believed in the policy of keeping elderly people in their homes for as long as possible. It is a callous, hard-hearted bureaucracy that denies home help to the elderly.

I have dealt with a case where only 15 minutes of home help was provided. I mentioned it on the last occasion when I spoke on the home help service about a month ago in the House. The home help would hardly have time to take her coat off, say good morning to the old lady and make her a cup of tea before she had to put on her coat and go away again. It is morally wrong to punish the elderly when the Government have to find means of making cuts in expenditure.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

The hon. Gentleman and I share a belief in certain principles in connection with Northern Ireland. One is a Bill of Rights, which he mentioned, and another is devolved government. I agree with his point about the need to extend expenditure on social welfare. Does he share a fourth principle, expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) when he argued that interventionist policies, if not socialist policies, are appropriate for the regeneration of the economy of Northern Ireland? That would enable the hon. Gentleman's remarks about social welfare and perhaps other principles to be put into practice.

Mr. Kilfedder

I do not wish to go off at a tangent. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have only to look at the history of Northern Ireland to see that it depended more than any other region of the United Kingdom on high public expenditure. That is why so many people's jobs depend on the Government. I am nervous about the way in which certain firms have been moved into the private sector. But I am afraid that I should go beyond the time that I promised to take and perhaps the terms of the order if I were to respond further to the hon. Gentleman's point.

I wish to refer to another section of the order. I congratulate the Minister with responsibility for the Department of Education on his recent announcement that £11.5 million is to be spent on the North Down and Ards further education college. The programme is to cover five years and to begin next year. Will the Minister consider bringing the programme forward by one year and accelerating the rate of the order so that we can achieve in four years what is planned for five years? Given the urgent need for innovative ideas in the related fields of education and training, particularly if Northern Ireland is to surmount the problems of being part of the European Community yet being a peripheral member of the single market, I urge the Secretary of State to explore, perhaps with the universities and certainly with the Industrial Development Board and the further education colleges in Northern Ireland, ways of improving employment training.

The keener competition that Ulster firms will face after 1992 means that we must achieve higher standards in Northern Ireland. Two factors follow. The infrastructure of roads, rail, ports and airports must be brought up to date and made highly efficient. The talents of our people must be harnessed with the aim of making our productivity the highest in Europe. That seems an almost impossible task if we start now, but it is vital if Northern Ireland is to play a full part within the EEC.

We must consider how to improve the output of people working in industry and commerce now. They are the people who will create future jobs for Northern Ireland and we must look to them for improvements in our prospects in the single European market. The second group of people whom we must train are those who are completing their final year of compulsory school education. Somehow they must be saved from joining the dole queues of the unskilled and semi-skilled.

The new training and employment agencies mentioned in the order for which provision of £70 million has been made will occupy a pivotal position in the strategy after 2 April when the order commences. It would completely defeat the aim if we were to follow the old-style approach. Years ago we had the employment and training committees. They were advisory only and had no executive power. They were useless. In the same way as the Department of Agriculture gives assistance to production, marketing and processing and is also responsible for technical education, something must be done for industry and commerce in the Province.

The new training and employment agency could be the machine to oil the pistons of change in training. The labour market services and other initiatives are costed at over £83 million. The job training, youth training and action for community employment programmes have become important to the unemployed. Many people aged between 25 and 35 have known no other kind of employment. If we are to make a real contribution to the future of Northern Ireland, we must make sure that our young people are highly trained.

The two intractable problems that remain are long-term unemployment and youth unemployment. Both are high in the Republic of Ireland. Outward migration of 40,000 a year helps to keep down the total number of unemployed people in the Republic. In Northern Ireland the number of people emigrating has increased from over 8,000 a year. Emigration is a tragedy because we must keep as many of our young people as possible in the Province. In both countries it is the young and short-term unemployed who emigrate. The proportion of long-term unemployed is rising. It is 8 per cent. higher today than it was six years ago. Long-term unemployment for the under-25s accounts for one third of all unemployed young people. We must fight for those young people. That is why I make an appeal to the Minister.

As the Minister responsible for the Department of the Environment is on the Front Bench, I shall briefly refer to pollution. I urge him to make sure that following recent international expressions of anxiety the dumping of sewage in the sea off the cost of North Down comes to an end now. Such pollution endangers the health of people, particularly young people, who use the coastal waters.

8.18 pm
Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

When taking part in these debates, we are always aware that regardless of the number of points that we raise or the mistakes that we discover, we cannot alter a single figure or word in the order. Therefore, one feels that one is speaking almost in a vacuum, remote from the real world. However, the Minister will hear what we say and, more importantly, Hansard will record our proceedings and others will be able to read them.

The scope of the order is wide and one could make a considerable number of observations about it, but in the interests of other right hon. and hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate I shall compress my remarks into as short a time as possible.

On vote 1, Department of Agriculture, I appeal again to the Minister to set up a single section or a single department at a convenient level within the Department to co-ordinate all the road, river, public health and agricultural drainage. It is most distressing for householders, business men or farmers to be passed from one section or Department to another at, say, midnight, when their belongings are floating in anything from 2 inches to 4 feet of water, with each person who is contacted expressing great sympathy but apparently unable or unwilling to help until, on occasions, Members of Parliament have to intervene to try to get something done. Therefore, once again I ask the Minister to look seriously at that.

In relation to vote 4, Department of the Environment, in part II of the order, if a wrong planning decision has been made in the past, will the Minister ensure that that wrong decision is not used to approve an even more outrageously bad decision in the future? It is incredible that, because of departmental direction, professional officers are forced to ignore common sense and good planning practice simply because a ridiculous decision has been approved in the past, for whatever reason. Will the Minister also consider appointing a specific senior officer capable of arriving at a planning decision when the planning section and the road section disagree about a planning application? It is ridiculous that where an applicant seeks advice before putting in an application, he or she becomes more and more confused as the inquiry proceeds. The planners may insist, for instance, that a replacement dwelling is rebuilt in more or less the position of the original, using the existing access or road, while the roads section may insist equally vehemently that the dwelling should be moved to a new position with a new access. In those circumstances, one is advised to tell one's constituents to apply, to be turned down and then to take their case to appeal so that the commissioner can make the decision. It is a good job that in certain areas the planning department is not privatised as I am sure that it would go into liquidation within a month.

Another problem is the planners' insistence, when giving permission to retired persons to build a retirement bungalow, that they should build the bungalow 100 metres or so from the road, thus creating a wilderness between the house and the road because the owner is not capable of mowing a quarter of an acre of grass once a week.

Mr. William Ross

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves his point about building a retirement bungalow 100 yards from the road, will he also draw the Minister's attention to the fact that on farms a retirement bungalow often has to be built practically in the farmyard? If the one is bad, the other is surely worse. Surely some flexibility could be allowed so that we can get away from the idea of having a group of buildings clumped together so tightly that young and old are looking down each others throats all their days.

Mr. Forsythe

I agree with the use of the word "flexibility". I am sure that we could get a little fliexibility while, I hope, working within the planning laws.

With regard to vote 1, Department of Environment, and to section (g) dealing with railways, once again I should like to put on the record my own and my party's sympathy for the relatives of those who were tragically killed at the Slaght crossing. Our hearts go out to the children who were orphaned by the crash and to all those who have lost loved ones. As party spokesman on transport, in the past I have put on record my concern about such crossings and I hope to have the opportunity to do so again at the public inquiry. I most sincerely congratulate the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), on his prompt action in setting up the inquiry. I congratulate also the fire service, the ambulance service, the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the hospitals, the nurses, the doctors and everyone who helped at the scene.

The inquiry must look at all aspects of that type of crossing, not just at that specific instance. I am concerned that we should do that because on 1 October last year—just five months before the accident at Slaght crossing—a gentleman was driving towards that crossing with his wife, sister and brother-in-law. Just before he reached the crossing, he almost overtook a number of children on bicycles. As a result of that, the driver was then extremely careful to make sure that everything was correct. When he got to the crossing, he made sure that the warning lights were not flashing. He allowed the children in front of him to cross the crossing. He then proceeded to cross the railway lines as quickly as possible. As he reached the middle of the railway lines, one of his passengers screamed in his ear, "Quick, there's a train coming", or words to that effect. The car had just reached safety when an engine thundered past behind it, without any warning whatever.

I repeat that that incident was at the crossing where the later incident occurred. Because of the shock and because of the incline beyond the crossing on both sides, the driver had travelled about 30 yd further before he recovered himself enough to turn back to check the situation. As he approached the crossing for the second time, the warning lights started to flash—long after the engine had passed. Along with the other road-users at the scene, the driver waited for a long time, but the lights still continued to flash. Eventually, one of the other drivers got out of his car, walked to the railway line, looked up and down it, saw that nothing was coming and eventually went across, as did everyone else.

The gentleman concerned was willing to appear to give evidence. The incident was reported to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and a statement was taken. The facts are all on record. It is imperative that all such evidence should be brought before the public inquiry. That is why I should like the inquiry to be sufficiently wide to take in the operation of all such crossings. I should like the evidence of such events, if the RUC has records on them, to be gathered together and examined. Various questions must be asked so that the causes of the accident are revealed and, if necessary, changes made to such crossings before we have further tragedies. I know that the Minister agrees. Sadly, those who could tell us exactly what happened on that occasion are no longer with us. We owe it to them and their children to discover the truth.

I hope that more attention will be paid to the result of the inquiry than is apparently being paid to the Tully road closure inquiry. One of the points made by the inspector—he made only two—was that the roads division should complete the Killead bypass as soon as possible. Not only local representatives but the Department at its headquarters in Belfast led me to believe before the result of the inquiry was known that the bypass would be started as soon as possible, perhaps even during this financial year. I have been dismayed and alarmed since the report was published to be told by local councillors that the bypass is being further postponed. I have not been told that, but: if it is true, it is intolerable.

The one section of road near Aldergrove international airport which has the greatest volume of traffic, including heavy traffic, of all the roads in the area—the Minister gave me the figures—is not being improved, yet another section of the road which has less traffic is being improved even as we speak. That is incredible. If no work is started on the Killead bypass after all these years—it goes back to the time when my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) was the Member for Antrim, South and was promised the bypass—it is a scandal. The Department is treating the residents of Killead village very badly. I hope that the Minister will ease my fears and tell me that what I have heard is not true and that the bypass is to be started in the near future.

I wish to make a few points about the number of employees and the sums being spent by the Department. Out of £156.5 million, which covers roads, lighting, parking and ferry services, transport, railways, ports and administration, and other expenditure, only £29 million will go on new construction, while £36 million will be used for maintenance. Public liability will continue to cost £6 million. That is a high figure and must point to something being wrong with the roads.

The number of industrial workers has fallen by 15 and costs £19 million while the number of administrative staff has increased by 134 and costs, with consultancy fees, £30 million. I can assure the Minister that if the overheads of my former business in the construction industry had been as high as that, I should have been out of business. I am sure that that cannot be to the advantage of the general public.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Bottomley)

Some of the extra staff may be creating designs which go out to tender in the private sector, so those whom the hon. Gentleman does not praise as he might might be keeping his business in business.

Mr. Forsythe

I accept what the Minister has said and note his use of the word "might"

In the water and sewage section, the number of industrial workers has fallen by 29 and costs £17 million, whereas the number of administrative staff has fallen by only 20 and costs, with consultancy fees, £23.5 million. I am not suggesting that we should make people unemployed, but I am emphasising that out of a total of £93 million the administration costs are £23.5 million, or 25 per cent.

Grants to small and medium-sized firms are listed. I heard what the Minister said about being a supporter of small businesses. That is why I wonder why the small businesses total has been reduced by £268,000. I do not know whether the Minister welcomes that. What is the reason for it? I have received complaints from constituents who feel that unless one has a foreign-sounding name or comes from certain parts of the Province the chances of securing assistance are remote. I know that that does not apply to the Local Enterprise Development Unit, but to the Industrial Development Board.

Will the Minister explain why many people in Northern Ireland are worried about pollution in our rivers and lakes? The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) commented on that. I drew the Minister's attention to the problem of work being carried out on river beds by the drainage division of the Department. Fishermen have been complaining about that. Indeed, they have been complaining readily about many environmental problems and there is certainly support for their views. I understand that recently Ballymena borough council called for a public inquiry into the Fisheries Conservancy Board. Perhaps the Minister has some idea of the problem. I should be interested to know what the problems are.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is also tremendous anxiety about the depletion of salmon and Dollaghan in Lough Neagh, which is believed to have come about because of inactivity by bailiffs and the Fisheries Conservancy Board to the extent that fishermen feel that the word "conservancy" should be dropped and it should simply be called the fisheries board?

Mr. Forsythe

My hon. Friend puts his case well. I am concerned that the borough council should go to the trouble to make such a proposal and it should be looked at.

I am also concerned about the past year's underspend of the social fund last year, which amounted to as much as 66 per cent. in certain areas. I agree with the hon. Member for North Down about the problems faced by pensioners and the handicapped and, in particular, the problems associated with the attendance allowance. When doctors examine applicants for that allowance, the applicants are often too proud to show that they need it. Pride will not allow them to say that they cannot do certain things and, sadly, it is their wives or their carers who have to bear the brunt of that. I know several who are in that postion. Those who administer the fund may believe that they are working to the guidelines, but perhaps they should be studied further.

The Government's aim is for better targeting of social services, but they have not hit the right target in Northern Ireland. I could discuss many other problems, but I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall conclude my remarks.

8.40 pm
Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

I have already expressed my frustration and anger about the conclusion of the previous debate, which related to matters of life and death for my constituents. The time allotted to that subject was cut drastically and now we are to talk of more mundane things. It is interesting to note that the time allotted for the mundane things is more than that for the life and death issues faced by my constituents.

I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will understand my frustration. We are supposed to be discussing jobs and money for industry, but one of the first people murdered since December was an excellent business man, whom the Minister knew, Mr. Glover. He contributed so much to our community, yet the IRA decided that he should no longer live. Another business man was murdered in Castlederg, Mr. Alwin Kilpatrick. He was a gentleman of excellent sterling character, a Sunday school teacher, and a man who desired to give employment in the Castlederg area, which has been blighted with unemployment. However, the IRA decided that Alwin Kilpatrick was too valuable to the community. It acted as executioner after holding a back-room court somewhere in my constituency.

When we talk about the environment we should remember another young man, an employee of the Magherafelt district council, Mr. John Crawford. He was doing his ordinary day's work picking up paper as an employee of that district council. It was his job to tidy the environment, but because he was a part-time member of the UDR the IRA decided that he should no longer live and so it planted a bomb under his car. John will never walk again. His life has been spared, but his legs were blown off right to the end of his body. That is why I am so angry and frustrated.

When we discuss votes for business we should remember the value of the contribution made by Sidney McFarlane. He lost his legs, which were blown off because the IRA decided he should no longer make any contribution to his community. The IRA decided that he should he lying in a coffin. His life has been spared, but he has lost his legs. He is another of my constituents who, since the beginning of this year, has been the subject of a terrorist attack.

What about the ordinary people of Sion Mills? I agree with what the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) said about senior citizens. At the weekend I met two elderly people who said that in their day they did what they could for their country in their work. They gave all that they had, but now they have no roof over their heads, because, in common with many others, the IRA decided that the buildings of Sion Mills should be blasted to the ground. Those elderly people have been left without one stick of furniture, without one piece of bed clothing and, other than the clothes on their back, they have absolutely nothing.

We are supposed to discuss agriculture, but what about the farmer who was doing his day's work—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) may not find my speech attractive, but I am talking about the realities faced by my constituents.

Mr. Jim Marsha


Rev. William McCrea

I am not talking about the hon. Gentleman, so I shall not give way.

Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned me, but I must tell him that I was saying to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) how I admired the hon. Gentleman's adroitness in getting his points across under the order we are discussing. I was not treating his speech as a laughing matter—it is a serious one.

Rev. William McCrea

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that and I accept his words in the spirit in which they were spoken.

If we are supposed to discuss agriculture, I must think of the farmer outside Cookstown who drove through a hail of 70 bullets, 40 of which went through the cab of the tractor. Thank God, his life was spared. I also think of another young director of a firm who the IRA decided should no longer live. He was a member of my party and a fellow member of the council on which I sit. The IRA put a bomb under his car.

Thomas Jameson was murdered coming home from his day's work—I buried him yesterday. He was a brave young man who worked, as his child said to me, from morning to night to try to give them the ordinary things of life. The IRA thought that he was a threat to its ideal of a united Ireland because he drove a cement lorry. He was such a threat because he happened to work for a firm which desires to create business and to give employment to our community. It has an excellent record.

Tommy Jameson was done to death. It sickens me—I care not who likes it or otherwise—that so-called mighty Provos can decide that such men must die. Thomas Jameson was an ordinary worker in our society and he is now six feet under. The IRA planned his death and its leader in that area of County Tyrone who planned his murder and saw that it was executed, Brian Arthers, struts around as though he was a chief administrator of justice. He decides when my people of my constituency are going to die—he takes it out of the hands of God and puts it into his own.

Therefore, many problems face my constituents. It sickens me that members of Sinn Fein can condemn economic deprivation in our Province and, as elected representatives, we have to sit on councils with them, looking across the council chamber at them, and listening to them condemn the Government for the unemployment situation, and yet Sinn Fein supports an organisation which has blasted jobs out of existence and blasted young men out of employment. It has flattened businesses, blown up factories and lengthened the dole queue. The Minister should take the first step—the honourable step—and remove the mouthpiece of terrorism from the council chambers once and for all, so as not to give it the semblance of democracy because its members are not democrats. They are the mouthpiece of terrorism and they make no apology for that.

The hon. Member for North Down has already mentioned senior citizens who helped to build the nation, who gave their best and sacrificed much but got little in return. In their youth, with the sweat of their brow and for little money, they were willing to fight in world wars to defend the nation's freedom and to build the country that we, as the younger generation, have the privilege to live in. Those elderly people are being treated disgracefully in their old age.

Pensioners in Northern Ireland can have little pride in the benefits given to them. Northern Ireland has a higher cost of living than other parts of the United Kingdom. There are higher heating costs. The Government ought to give elderly people some comfort and help in the last days of their lives. They ought to give them not concessionary but free television licences. There ought also to be proper concessionary travel passes for elderly people throughout the Province.

What is called the home help service is despicable because it is not home help any more. The Government have to help elderly people. If they want them to stay in the community, they must provide the money to keep them there. It is not enough to come out with pious attitudes and statements of what they desire and then withdraw the money that allows that desire to be fulfilled. I support keeping elderly people in the community, if it is humanly possible, and it is right to give the appropriate money to allow that to be done. It is despicable to give an old-age pensioner 15 minutes of home help when the person doing the job can hardly get through the door to boil a kettle in that time, never mind make the tea, and then has to go.

Attendance and mobility allowances seem to be given a great deal of publicity. It is said, "Why don't you apply for this allowance?" but when people apply, the Government wonder how they can prevent them from getting the allowances.

I believe that a watchful eye must be kept on private nursing homes. I support such homes, but the Government must ensure that they give the elderly exactly what they are supposed to get—proper nursing care in the latter days of their lives.

Other matters are troubling my constituents, and I shall try to mention them briefly. I trust that the Minister will consider them. I do not expect an answer tonight on many of the subjects, but I expect an answer for my constituents.

One issue is the new history park at Gortin outside Omagh. The local council is spending £3 million on the development of that excellent pavilion. The greatest necessity for the region is to encourage tourists. Therefore, we need a proper infrastructure of roads, and I beg the Minister to give urgent consideration to proper roads leading to the new park at Gortin.

Another issue is the Omagh bypass. Phases 1, 2 and 3 are urgently required and I appeal to the Minister not to stop after phase 1 or to allow some 18 months' delay until the money is available for phase 2. Will he consider allowing the contractor to continue with phase 2 because it is so urgently needed for the county town of Omagh?

A ring sewer has been promised for the south of Omagh. It is urgently needed and has been talked about for years. It will go from Cranny Bridge to Dromore road. Housing development in the area has been restricted because there is not sufficient sewage capacity, so builders are permitted to build only seven houses in a development each year. That is pushing up the price of houses for people who desire to buy their own homes. I know that it is the Minister's and the Government's policy to encourage people to buy their own homes and to invest money in them. It is deplorable that prices are being inflated because of the lack of sewage provision in the area and because builders are not permitted to build the number of houses that they are willing to build. I have made representations and I am having discussions with the Northern Ireland Office on that subject.

We are disappointed about the removal of the regional Housing Executive office. There has been pressure to transfer the Housing Executive office to Londonderry and that is a death blow to jobs in the area. Will the Minister reconsider that decision and ask the Housing Executive to maintain the regional office in Omagh?

I also ask the Minister to consider helping the physically and mentally handicapped children of Fermanagh and Tyrone. We urgently need a centre for them in Omagh. The one in Stradreagh, Londonderry is not enough for the people of Fermanagh and Tyrone. I ask the Minister to consider the representations from the Western board for more money for this vital facility.

I ask the Minister also to consider the urgent need for a bypass for Cookstown. It should be brought out of the minor roads programme and put into the major works programme. I am told that £60,000 has been allocated for next financial year. If the work is done piecemeal, the traffic jams will merely move from one spot in the town to another. Why does not the Department grasp the nettle and solve the problem? Cookstown has the second highest unemployment in the Province and it is being strangled because the bypass that is essential to industrial development is being built piecemeal.

Only a few weeks ago an industrialist decided not to come to Cookstown because he found that it would be too costly. He found out about the build-up of traffic at the checkpoints in the town and discovered that, at one end of the town, the traffic had to wait for 20 minutes before moving on. To a business man, the money involved could mean survival or going under. I appeal to the Minister carefully to examine the Cookstown problem and allow proper development of the bypass, which would rejuvenate the town. Employment and business are already leaving, and we need help.

Road surfaces in my constituency are generally not commendable, and some of them are deplorable. Many constituencies in the Province have major roadworks—they have dual carriageways and motorways—but not Mid-Ulster. We do not even have proper road surfaces, never mind the building of larger roads.

In rural planning policy we need urgent revision review and amendment. I agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe): there are more refusals now than there have been for some time. Flexibility should be exercised towards those who want to live in the countryside, and those who must live there. I assure the Minister that he will have the support of the elected representatives of Ulster if he considers greater flexibility in rural planning; he will also have the support of the Northern Ireland electorate. Perhaps then he might decide to stand in one of our constituencies——

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

But then he would stand against me: he is a member of the East Belfast Tory association.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Although I am a member of the Stormont Castle workers branch of the East Belfast Conservative Association, if I were to stand I should find it difficult to choose between the constituency of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and that of Londonderry, East.

As for the planning applications, it might make sense if Members representing the rural areas came together and spoke to my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham):

Rev. William McCrea

I am taking full advantage of the place to which I was elected to make representations to the relevant Minister tonight. I trust that he will answer accordingly and not pass the buck to someone else.

I also want to ask the Minister about Department of Economic Development allocations of grants. Is it the aim of the Industrial Development Board, when awarding grants to help with jobs, to award them to projects with or without IFI grants? It is believed that if one does not get an IFI grant one will not receive an IDB grant. There is pressure to apply for an International Fund of Ireland grant to obtain some of these grants. Is that Government policy? If so, have the Government abandoned their responsibilities to create jobs? I trust not, but I have been asked to have the matter clarified this evening.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I am sure that my hon. Friend and the House will be interested to hear the Minister tell us something about the news that broke today that there is some question about the Fruit of the Loom jobs that were to come to Londonderry, and about the viability of the firm in question. I trust that that can be put to rest; we all welcome jobs wherever they can be got in the Province——

Mr. Peter Bottomley


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. We cannot have an intervention in an intervention.

Rev. William McCrea

I give way to the Minister.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

This point was dealt with on the radio in Northern Ireland this morning. There was full knowledge of the news, which appears to be new news, but is not. I hope that there will not be a scare about the announcement by Fruit of the Loom. It cannot be possible that it is a requirement on an application for Local Enterprise Development Unit or Industrial Development Board assistance that people apply to the international fund. I hope that people with appropriate projects will apply to the international fund as that is useful. People should not think that they must be accepted by a non-governmental body to be acceptable to a Government body. Obviously, there are some things that LEDU and IDB would not deem acceptable.

Rev. William McCrea

I thank the Minister for that assurance, which will be considered carefully by those outside the House.

I will draw to the Minister's attention two other matters connected with the vote. The elected representatives in the Province are concerned, when they sit in their district councils and decide on the district rate and the rate burden, that after careful scrutiny of the books and after listening to the appeals to keep the district rates down, they find that the regional rate is dumped on top of the district rate with a massive incease in percentage. That happened last year. Will the Minister examine that matter carefully? I trust that when the regional rate is set it will not be an exorbitant burden on my constituency.

Will the Minister examine the area of Castlederg, which has suffered so much? It needs proper roads and proper hotels to bring in and accommodate tourists. It also urgently needs jobs because it is dying. Because of terrorist activity, it has suffered more than any other village in the Province in the 20 years of troubles. Will the Minister act as quickly as possible on the survey that has already been carried out? If he does, the district of Castlederg will be rejuvenated and life will be brought back to the people who have suffered so much.

In the surrounding area of Strabane appeals have been made for appropriate grants to bring several cottages up to a reasonable standard. The Housing Executive is not willing to provide sufficient grants. It is trying to force the tenants out of the cottages and into Strabane. Many people have resided in those cottages all their lives, and some of their parents resided there before them. They have reared their children in those cottages. They would prefer to stay there, instead of being forced out because they do not have the appropriate amenities. Will the Minister give earnest consideration to the need of that district of Castlederg?

9.3 pm

Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

I was interested in what the Minister of State said in his intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). He said that things were looking rosy in Northern Ireland in reports up to 30 September 1989 and he quoted a 9 per cent. increase in the economy to that time. Will the Minister in replying to the debate examine the reports from those same sources after 31 December 1989? As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Leicester, South, the indicators from all the sources that we take for granted as being the authority on the matter point to either a very low rate of increased industrial production or no increase at all. Some sectors are even forecasting a fall. The Government's response might indicate a degree of complacency that would be totally unwarranted.

In the next couple of years up to and beyond 1992 it is incumbent on not only the Government but the public representatives, industrialists, workers, and everyone else in Northern Ireland to seek new and innovative ways of enhancing the prospect of increasing production and job creation within Northern Ireland. At the same time, we must make it attractive and easier for investment to be brought into Northern Ireland. We have a continuation year after year of safe and tried measures. I suggest that it is time for us to look at new schemes, new ideas and new models, not only in industrial development per se but in tourist promotion, the growth of which could be equal to the growth of industrial development in the 1990s and beyond.

The Northern Ireland tourist board has been laying low for the past couple of years under the guise of revamping its ideas or evolving a new strategy. We are still waiting, and I know that a document was issued, but nothing is happening. We may have missed the boat on the tourist potential for Northern Ireland's economy always because tourism should be a primary industry allied to the normal industrial base to which we usually refer when talking about economic development.

There is much talk about small industry and small business, but the small farmer, the small fisherman or the small self-employed builder are not placed in those categories. They are not treated with the same urgency and do not receive the same open-handedness from the public purse.

It is perhaps appropriate that in the order the Department of Agriculture is first on the list. I remind the Minister that on several occasions in the recent past I have reminded him of the great difficulties of small farmers whose real income is reducing year by year. Their profitability has virtually been wiped out in many of the sectors in which they operate, yet there does not seem to be genuine concern for what is, after all, Northern Ireland's base industry.

The small farmer needs to be given even a temporary hand. I refer especially to the hill cow subsidy. I do so with some parochialism because my constituency is hilly. The hill livestock compensatory allowance was recently increased. The increase was welcome but totally derisory when compared with the inflation of the past couple of years. That can be added to the farmer's troubles over milk quotas and the green pound values. Presumably such issues will be addressed in Brussels at the end of this month and at the beginning of April. However, what happens if the result of the negotiations is unsatisfactory? Is there a contingency plan? If there is not, many small farmers in Northern Ireland will go under and, as I have said, they form the rock base for our whole population, especially in the rural areas.

I shall stray slightly from agriculture because I want to deal with fishery matters, which are particularly important in my constituency. I am extremely disappointed that the Minister who will reply to the debate and his colleague who is in charge of health and social services and who sits in another place have not seen fit to alleviate the grave hardship that fishermen in my constituency and in other constituencies in Northern Ireland, especially in North Down and Strangford, have suffered since December. The Minister knows the arguments well because I have made them to him verbally and in writing. It is pathetic that no real effort has been made to alleviate the problem. I understand that it would be primarily a DHSS programme, but I should like to think that when he is responding the Minister will lend his support to such a concept. He has not done so in the past.

Mr. John D. Taylor

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problem of unemployment benefits for fishermen is of national as well as provincial importance? Does he agree that we should press the Minister to make representations to his colleagues in the Department of Social Security?

Mr. McGrady

I welcome the intervention of the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) and support his interesting idea. Such an approach would have my full backing.

If I may be parochial for a moment, I ask the Minister to expedite after 20 years the minimal proposal that is now on his desk for improving the harbour facilities at Ardglass in County Down. He knows the arguments very well, and I should like to think that he will make a positive and immediate response. Promises have been made, broken, made again, and then broken again for 20 years. Very little has been done to increase the fishing fleet at Ardglass. The improvements sought would at least serve as a salve to soothe the hardship that fishermen have endured since last December.

I commend the Minister for establishing the interdepartmental committee on rural regeneration. Although these are early days, and too soon to seek from the Minister a response to that committee's output, I ask him to treat its recommendations as a matter of urgency and not let them go the way of all previous rural programmes in Northern Ireland over the past two decades. They paid lip service to regeneration but were pigeonholed and never implemented. I hope that under the chairmanship of a permanent secretary in the Northern Ireland Office the interdepartmental committee will produce results in the near future.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

The degree of seriousness with which the question of regeneration is taken can be assessed by the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and other Ministers met the rural action project team recently and announced that its work would continue to be funded. In addition to the interdepartmental committee headed by the permanent secretary to the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland, direct contact is being maintained. Although I am not one for making commitments or giving assurances, I feel strongly about implementing an effective rural improvement programme so that people can stay in the countryside rather than feel that they must slide towards Belfast or slide out of Northern Ireland. Such a contribution would be welcomed by Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. McGrady

I thank the Minister for that information, and I commend his course of action. I hope that he will always keep in mind the fact that rural regeneration depends entirely on a multi-disciplinary approach. It is not simply a matter of farming or of housing; it embraces a number of factors. I commend to the Minister a small community project in my own constituency, the Seeconnell community project, which is almost a microcosm of the Minister's attempts—and a very successful one.

I turn to the Department of Economic Development and refer to answers that I received to my questions Nos. 159 and 160, which I cite because they caused me both despair and great annoyance. I asked how many visits to Northern Ireland were made over the last three fiscal years 1986–87, 1987–88 and 1988–89 by firms seeking inward investment. The numbers were 190, 180 and 214 respectively, making a total of 584. I asked for an analysis of the number of firms who were invited to visit or who did visit my constituency, which qualifies for full grant aid and is therefore deemed by the Government to be a deprived area. Over those same three years, the numbers were four, four and four respectively—less than 3 per cent. of the total number of inward investment visits.

When one analyses the entire answer, one can plot certain areas—Mid-Ulster is one of them—in which, it seems, there is a scarcity of visits. If one were to plot those areas politically, one could come to the conclusion—though I should hate to do so—that there was a tendency not to bring investment to the areas of highest unemployment where the people have national leanings. If that is the case, I hope that it will be corrected. Certainly the statistics point clearly in that direction. I ask the Minister to look at the reply to which I have referred and to determine whether a change of direction by the Industrial Development Board is required.

Mr. Beggs

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that those of us who have been involved in bringing to Northern Ireland people considering new investment and job creation find it offensive that such people are encouraged by the IDB to go to the very areas that the hon. Gentleman is promoting? This is done despite personal contact by other Members working on behalf of their constituents.

Mr. McGrady

I cannot answer for the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers. That is one case, whereas I can quote five in which the course of events was in the opposite direction. That rather nullifies his remarks.

The statistics provided by the IDB to the Department support what I am saying. If I am wrong, those statistics are wrong; if the statistics are right, I am right. It is as simple as that. The figures are there for anyone who wants to look at them.

On the question of industrial development—specifically, the attraction of industry to Northern Ireland—I should like to refer to two matters that have always puzzled me. The first, which has been mentioned already, is the cost of energy. Why is the cost of electricity constantly being increased more than is necessary to make the industry viable? Is it simply a case of creating artificial profitability for the purposes of privatisation? If, as appears to be the case, that is what is being done, it is detrimental to the concept of a cheap production area—a concept that the IDB is trying to sell abroad.

The second point is one which, to my mind, has never received any attention: why has the bank rate in Northern Ireland always been 2 per cent. higher than normal lending rates in the rest of the United Kingdom, even though the minimum lending rate is fixed in London and the sources and destinations of Nothern Ireland bank deposits are in London? An artificially dear economic climate is being created. Why is this allowed? Is it not a disincentive to investment? Would it not be cheaper to get finance elsewhere? It seems to me that this and the high cost of electricity are two self-imposed hurdles that we could do without.

Small farmers in my constituency are now being charged between £3,000 and £6,000 to be provided with an electricity connection to their premises. They just cannot afford such a charge. That means that they have to do without electricity, so they do not modernise and, therefore, cannot increase their income. It is a vicious circle. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State, who is in charge of agriculture in the Province, will see whether it is possible to alleviate the problems of small farmers who do not have a mains electricity supply. It may be that Northern Ireland Electricity, with its very high overheads, has to make such charges, but the consumers certainly cannot afford to pay them. Thus small farmers find themselves in an impossible position.

The Minister did not mention housing, although I believe that the hon. Member for Leicester, South did. I am greatly concerned about this matter, and I obtained some figures yesterday. The Department says that the housing budget is better than it has ever been. The Housing Executive built 4,620 houses in 1981–82, but its target for 1990–91 is 1,000.

Mr. William Ross

We are all interested in housing. I should be grateful if the hon. Member would tell me under which heading in the order he finds housing. I looked, but it was not clear to me that it was mentioned anywhere. That worried me a great deal, and I hope to make that point later.

Mr. McGrady

I hope that the hon. Member will make that point and will support my comments. I was referring to its absence.

Mr. Stott

Vote 2 on page 8 provides For expenditure by the Department of the Environment on housing services, including certain grants in aid. The hon. Member is therefore entitled to draw attention to housing problems under that heading.

Mr. McGrady

I am always grateful for assistance from any hon. Member. I thank the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) for reminding me of that vote.

The Housing Executive is responsible for administering grants. In 1985–86 they amounted to £60 million, but they had been reduced to £32 million in 1989–90—a reduction of 60 per cent. There has been an 80 per cent. reduction in house building and a 60 per cent. reduction in the amounts available for grants. I strongly believe that there is a death wish over the Housing Executive, a body that I have ardently supported since 1973. Whether that has come about because of departmental restrictions or whether it has come from within, the Housing Executive seems to be about to fail in its primary purpose. Although one can admire its innovation, the outreach scheme and all the grant schemes that it operates, the basic purpose of a public housing authority is to provide housing for people who cannot otherwise afford it. The house building programme for 1990–91 has been reduced to a paltry 1,000 houses—an inadequate response to increasing housing needs. Housing Executive statistics show that the number of people who are in urgent need of housing has increased since last year.

In referring to the Department of Health and Social Services, I shall be particularly parochial and refer to the on-going saga of the Downe hospitals in Downpatrick. It started when I began public life in 1961, believe it or not, and since then matters have been bandied about from pillar to post. The difficulty is that every time a conclusion is reached a new examination has to be carried out. We are suffering from paralysis by analysis. I ask the Minister to break the log-jam.

The case for the Downe replacements has been made. Two parts—the geriatric and the maternity sections—have been provided and the general surgical section remains to be provided. I should like the Minister to refer to his ministerial colleague, who cannot answer in the House, the on-going attempt to downgrade this group of hospitals so that someone with a financial knife can cut them off. I refer especially to the lack of urgency to provide ophthalmology services in the Downe unit of management and to fill the third permanent anaesthetist post, both of which have been promised for a considerable time, but only lip service has been paid to filling the need.

I also draw the Minister's attention to the St. Leonard's nursing home at Warrenpoint—a home for mentally and physically disabled people. Some of the residents have been there for 20 years; they are a family and they are happy there. The unit is well managed and economical and the patients are well cared for. I have been asking the Southern health and social services board and the Department to still the rumour, which is causing great distress, that patients who have had close associations with the nursing home for two decades are now threatened with dispersal. I was assured that no decision had been made. Yet I now discover that one of the most tragic cases in the history of Northern Ireland—I shall not refer to the person by name, but the case has been the subject of a television documentary—has been moved out this week after 20 years in that environment. That completely contradicts the information given to me by the Department and the board and it is a despicable and inhuman action to have taken in the circumstances. If the Minister wants further details, I shall be happy to supply them.

The Department of Health and Social Services has made great play of the lack of take-up of family credit in Northern Ireland. But, as I said in opening my remarks, Northern Ireland is made up largely of small farmers and proprietors of small firms—many of them self-employed. Because of the tax system, building labourers, for example, have to be self-employed because of the exemption certificate qualifications. I ask the Department to simplify the form issued and the responses and proofs that they require. Otherwise people will be deprived of their entitlement because of the bureaucracy surrounding their claim. I recommend a much simpler and more easily completed form and request for information.

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

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) in criticising the way in which these orders are taken without our having the power to amend or debate them in any meaningful way. Now that there appears to be little prospect of a political settlement in Northern Ireland in the near future, will the Government face their responsibilities by granting parliamentary democracy to the Province and legislating for Northern Ireland in the same way as for all other parts of the United Kingdom?

I refer first to vote 2 of the Department of Economic Development vote. On the development of tourism, I welcome the appointment of Mr. Paul Lavery as the Northern Ireland tourist board's new marketing director. He takes over at a time of real challenge to the industry in both parts of Ireland. The tourist board is extending its marketing offensive into Europe. I hope that it will get an excellent response and that we shall have many more European visitors to our lovely Province.

As one who, on occasions, likes to indulge in a little angling, I am concerned that in some parts of Northern Ireland charges to local anglers have increased substantially. Those increases could be due in part to rising costs but in large part they are what someone in authority feels that the market will stand. In effect, "the market" is the overseas visitor, who is exploited by unscrupulous operators who milk him for his interest in his sport. In many cases, local anglers just cannot afford the exorbitant charges for the right to fish in their own rivers. Without the contribution of local anglers, who pay for bailiffing and other local services, the angling scene would become a free-for-all from which no one would benefit. I hope that the tourist board will recognise that unacceptable state of affairs which is prevalent in our good angling waters. The activities of those so-called entrepreneurs who rely on state services to control poaching and pollution must be curtailed so that everyone, visitors and anglers alike, can benefit from our natural resources.

With regard to vote 3 and community projects, I am concerned about allegations that the Department of Economic Development is considering major cuts in the ACE—Action for Community Employment—programme, particularly when it is generally believed that more funds will be made available in the forthcoming Budget. The Minister should be aware that the purpose of that scheme was to provide meaningful employment for our long-term unemployed. I know from experience how much a year's community work can mean to those unfortunate people who, through no fault of their own, are unemployed.

There can be no justifiable reason why any cut in the employment programme should be considered. Managers in the various projects should be more than capable of working within their existing budgets, particularly under the leadership of Mr. Cecil Graham and his staff who have done so much to make the ACE concept so successful in Northern Ireland.

With regard to vote 5, I refer to the previous appropriation debate in which I expressed concern about a decision to grant a prospecting licence for the Cavehill area of Belfast. I am still concerned about that and my concern is shared by more than 10,000 people who have expressed horror at the fact that that beautiful landscape might be subjected to any form of interference through mining.

The Minister should be aware of what happened in the town of Cavencaw in the Omagh district of County Tyrone, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), where a prospecting licence was granted to Rio Tinto-Zinc. I am sure that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster will support me when I say that an area of outstanding natural beauty there has been pillaged and plundered in that prospecting operation.

Mr. John D. Taylor

And in the Boyne valley, too.

Mr. Walker

I will leave that issue to other hon. Members who may be more qualified to speak about it.

The people in the area to which I have referred will confirm that the prospecting operation is equivalent to an open-cast mine. Habitats in that area have been destroyed for ever and thousands of years of evolution have gone down the drain. Under those circumstances, is it any wonder that the people of north Belfast are concerned? They are very suspicious of the hole-in-the-corner method of granting the licence and the surreptitious way in which news of the granting has leaked out. It is now the duty of the Department of Economic Development to allay the fears of the public and I call on the Government to define specifically the area of the Cavehill and Belfast mountains that they are prepared to exclude from any fresh quarrying or mining operations.

With regard to vote 3 and the Department of the Environment, I want to bring to the notice of the Minister the problems caused by the disruption of the water supply in the Cavehill area. Many of my constituents in that area have had their water supplies severely restricted for long periods. The problem seems to have been caused by a housing development which was allowed to take place at a level which puts additional stress on the existing 20-year old water supply system which could not possibly cope with the requirements imposed on it. Attempts to remedy the situation with a new main resulted in poor infill compaction, causing innumerable breaks in the existing main and resulting in many instances of water cut-off. There is still noticeable continuous settlement in line with the newly laid main, and soil movement is causing distress to other underground services in the area. I am anxious that a proposed link with another main be undertaken as a matter of urgency to give an alternative supply to residents in the upper Cavehill area who have suffered greatly at much too frequent intervals through being denied a water supply.

The Government should give thought to four points in an attempt to save taxpayers' money. First, planners should liaise with the relevant services before granting development permission. Secondly, only experienced staff should supervise contracts. Thirdly, the retention period on pipe-laying contracts should be extended to at least five years. Fourthly, the roads service should ensure that there is a materials matching concept so that there will be no patchwork effect in the final reinstatement.

On the Department of Health and Social Services, vote 1, I am alarmed, as are many general practitioners in my constituency, about the criteria announced by the Department in the designation of deprived areas on a percentage basis. In certain deprived areas, financial allowances are available to GPs to facilitate improving services to people. The index used in the United Kingdom caters for 20 different criteria. The criterion that was used to formulate the Northern Ireland figure was based on the 1981 census, and it resulted in 14 per cent. deprivation in Northern Ireland, compared with 18 per cent. in England and 26 per cent. in Scotland. The figure for Wales was not available. I state categorically that there must be something seriously amiss in that calculation.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, under the new terms for Belfast, greater west Belfast and large sections of east Belfast are all outside the area of deprivation?

Mr. Walker

I was not aware of that. If that is the case, I hope that the Minister will take note of it and answer the accusation.

Everyone knows that deprivation in Northern Ireland is at an all time high. The 14 per cent. deprivation can never be justified. The DHSS findings which resulted in that figure should be published in full so that all interested parties can he given the opportunity to comment. I am particularly anxious that that be done as soon as possible, as I understand that GPs are being pressured to accept the figure, which could result in a serious financial shortfall for the sick and infirm who are in most need.

Mr. McGrady

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Jarman indices which determine such areas lack two indices which are applied in the rest of the United Kingdom? I refer to the under-fives and the unskilled. If those indices were applied to Northern Ireland, there would be a much higher deprivation figure.

Mr. Walker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am aware of the Jarman indices. That is why the Minister should be aware of my case. It underlines why the figure of 14 per cent. cannot be justified.

I am appalled by the Government's reticence about providing a magnetic resonance imaging facility in Northern Ireland. For the benefit of right hon. and hon. Members, that revolutionary scanning equipment is essential in diagnosing medical conditions beyond the reach of the out-dated X-ray machines currently used in many of our hospitals. Time and again, in response to public demand, medical personnel involved in hospital X-ray facilities have given considered advice to the DHSS on the necessity for such machines to be provided in the Province. The Government have persistently opposed their provision with the lamest of excuses. They say that they are waiting for a Medical Research Council report, but that is now obsolete in the light of clinical experience in Europe and America. They also say that the MRI facility is in its infancy—a strange statement when one considers that there are 27 such machines operating in the United Kingdom and one in Dublin. They were installed as long ago as 1980 and it is expected that a further 23 will be installed within the next 12 months.

Other excuses such as a lack of funds are equally unacceptable, given that the Minister refused charitable financial assistance when it was offered in 1988. Patients are adversely affected by the delay in diagnosis and the traumatic effects of being sent to Dublin or England for scanning. At present, more than 100 people per month are sent. The Government should be aware that 68 per cent. of the Eastern board's X-ray equipment, with a value of £5,639,880, is more than 10 years old.

Modern MRI equipment would give much less irradiation and would go a long way towards replacing the outdated machines. The approximate cost would be £1.4 million for a building and the instrumentation, with running costs of £150,000 per year, based on 240 patients per month. The costs and trauma of sending patients to England would be more than recouped through the installation of such a machine. Such discrimination in the treatment of our citizens is to be deplored. I trust that the Government will take the necessary action to remedy that disgraceful state of affairs as a matter of extreme urgency.

Figures just released show a 30 per cent. drop in the number of people going for eye tests in Northern Ireland since the Government introduced a charge for them. The worrying factor in the figures is that the number of people aged over 60 who have had eye tests has fallen by two thirds, or more than 60 per cent. Naturally, the Minister challenged those figures. He said that there was a rush to have free eye tests before the charge was introduced and that the availability of ready-made glasses was also a factor. But the ready-made glasses could be detrimental to those who choose that method of acquiring spectacles. Eye tests can detect the early stages of illnesses such as glaucoma, hypertension, diabetes, cataracts and brain tumours. People have only one pair of eyes to last a lifetime and they deserve the best possible care. The Government should reconsider the imposition of the charge, particularly on elderly people caught in the poverty trap and therefore outside the existing criteria.

At the conference on developing services for old people, the Minister of Health said that he wanted to create a new culture which would provide a sensitive and responsive way of working for the needs of the elderly. He said that most elderly people wish to spend their remaining years in their own homes and that the right balance of care should be provided to help them to achieve that with dignity and independence. I agree with those sentiments, but in the prevailing circumstances in Northern Ireland they need to be backed with the necessary finance to bring them to fruition.

In my area I am constantly reminded that the resources are not likely to be available to give elderly people a reasonable home help service. In my constituency I have several elderly people who live alone and receive only half an hour of home help per day. That is not the right balance to enable them to live with dignity and independence.

The Minister should also consider the position of carers and their struggle to care for elderly relatives. He said that he was providing increased support. It could not be too soon. But for the efforts of completely unselfish, dedicated carers in our community, there would be a breakdown in the section of the Health Service responsible for the well-being of the elderly.

No matter how the Government juggle with the figures, it is completely unacceptable that 42 per cent. of patients in Northern Ireland have been waiting more than a year for operations. On those figures, the Government must accept the allegation that they are using the sick as political pawns in an attempt to set up the Health Service for privatisation. It is an irrefutable fact that people who cannot afford it are opting for private treatment rather than spending painful years on the waiting lists. It is an indictment of the Government that they should create conditions in which people are suffering for interminable lengths of time. Waiting lists must be reduced and it is the Government's responsibility to take whatever steps are necessary to achieve that objective.

Finally, I am disappointed at the Minister's refusal to meet a deputation on behalf of the Clanwillian homes and to discuss the refused planning application relating to No. 4 Blaris road, Lisburn. The Minister says that he cannot become involved in a specific planning application. Why not? I ask that because the planning directorate did not take many aspects of the proposal into account, including planning considerations and the provisions for particular services in connection with the proposal. Furthermore, the Minister should be well aware that all political parties and Members of Parliament as well as Lisburn borough council are in favour of the application.

I advise the Minister that there is serious concern in the area about why he has chosen not to meet the deputation. So far as I am aware, there have been other instances in which the Minister has used his powers to overturn a decision by the planning directorate when he felt that there was justifiable reason to do so. I ask the Minister to meet the deputation and to listen to the various factors surrounding the application before an appeal is considered.

9.51 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I start by making a brief reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea). I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment to hear what I am saying, but I am sure that his hon. Friends will agree with my comments.

At the beginning of his remarks, the hon. Member concentrated on fundamental matters, with a rare combination of passion and reason. I hope that he will accept the reassurance from someone who represents a constituency on the other side of the Irish sea that we regard murder—whether it is murder in Northern Ireland, north Wales, northern England or the north of Scotland—as murder. From time to time it is a good thing for all of us in England, Wales and Scotland to be reminded by speeches such as that of the hon. Gentleman that murders are still continuing on a horrendous scale in Northern Ireland—in the name of politics. Of course, they have nothing to do with what we understand as politics, and everything to do with unreason, with fanaticism and with all that is unacceptable to a democratic society.

I should like to deal briefly with two points that have not been raised so far in the debate. The first relates to education. In a recent debate in the House I spoke about Northern Ireland's excellent education system. That bears repetition. The secondary education system in Northern Ireland is the envy of those of us in Wales who know of its achievements and quality. I hope that in the Northern Ireland appropriations relating to the funding of education there is sufficient money to ensure that the secondary sector does not go the way that it is showing signs of going in Wales, at least.

Rural education in Wales is now in a dreadful state. The comprehensive high schools, many of which have an excellent reputation of a great Celtic educational tradition acquired over many years, are facing financial privation. Teachers are demoralised and the schools are in a poor condition. That is appreciated by the pupils, as one can see if one looks at the graffiti and listens to how they talk about what is happening.

Northern Ireland suffers from the same rural problems as many parts of Wales, including my consituency of Montgomery. If we do not provide a quality education system so that pupils acquire the ability to start businesses in their constituencies and districts, they will leave.

Hon. Members have spoken about small businesses. The political situation in Northern Ireland may provide a greater incentive to leave than there is to leave Wales. It is vital, therefore, that every incentive and inducement should be given to people to remain. What better inducement could there be than an education system in which headmasters are not struggling day after day to pay for the exercise books and pencils, as is happening in England and Wales?

Will the Minister assure the House that the sums provided for education are ample for all the changes deriving from the education reform order? Will he assure us that sufficient money is available fully to support the commitments made to integrated education where it develops? If, under the new legislation, many more schools qualify for support, may we have an assurance that the Government will provide the resources to honour the pledge made to integrated schools?

The Fair Employment Commission is at least showing signs of doing excellent work in Northern Ireland. Indeed, its aims and achievements have not been sufficiently publicised elsewhere. It would do the reputation of the Government and the United Kingdom good in Northern Ireland if its achievements could be itemised so that the House and Governments of other countries that look with interest at what is going on in Northern Ireland can see precisely the effort and financial backing put into the pursuit of equal opportunities of all kinds. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government have reviewed fully the resourcing of the commission and that he is happy that the allocation does not need to be increased in the light of the commission's ever-increasing responsibilities?

9.58 pm
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Reference was made earlier to the short period allowed for the previous debate. It is only right to put on record that the emergency provisions order is normally dealt with in one and a half hours. Had it not been for the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), we would have been limited to that period. Because of his efforts we had much longer. That debate and this one highlight again the problems experienced in Northern Ireland in trying to deal with unalterable wordings of measures in a limited time.

A few days ago the Under-Secretary had the privilege to stand on one of the prime blocks of land not only of Northern Ireland, but of the United Kingdom. He saw what can happen when a sea wall breaks. I hope that he took on board the implications and dangers that exist along the shores of Lough Foyle. If the Minister had looked to the north side of the mouth of the River Roe, just within his view would have been a bank, where there is no sea wall, which suffers grievously from sea damage year on year. The local environment would gain enormous protection if many large boulders were put down to stop the soft sandy soil washing away.

It being Ten o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings.