HC Deb 23 May 1990 vol 173 cc339-88
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Before I call the Minister of State, it might be helpful if I made it clear to the House that debate on the order may cover all matters for which Northern Ireland Departments, as distinct from the Northern Ireland Office, are responsible. Of course, hon. Members will appreciate that police and security are the principal excluded subjects. 7.15 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Cope)

I beg to move, That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1990, which was laid before this House on 16th May, be approved. This is the main appropriation order for the Northern Ireland estimates for this financial year. It authorises the expenditure of £2,496 million. That amount, when added to the £1,817 million voted on account for 1990–91 by the House on 12 March, gives a total voted cash provision for Northern Ireland Departments of £4,313 million for this financial year. There is other public expenditure not included in the vote, for example, expenditure by the Northern Ireland national insurance fund and capital expenditure by the Housing Executive, funded by borrowing from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. Therefore, the total public expenditure for the Departments amounts this year to £5,289 million.

The estimates booklet gives full details of the sums sought and is available as usual from the Vote Office. So is the commentary on public expenditure which describes it all in a less technical way. As you correctly reminded the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, the estimates for the Northern Ireland Office and for law and order services are not covered by the order. Of course, the House has other opportunities to debate law and order. Because of your strictures, I will just emphasise that the defeat of terrorism remains the Government's first public expenditure priority in Northern Ireland. But the economic and social programmes covered by the draft order are also of great importance to the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland and make a considerable contribution to the defeat of terrorism.

As to the detail of the estimates, I will start with the Department of Agriculture. The net provision sought in the two agricultural votes amounts to about £144 million. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), will reply to the debate, so I shall not dwell on the details of those votes.

Vote 1 covers expenditure of some £35 million on those national agricultural and fisheries support measures which apply throughout the United Kingdom. In addition to certain pre-funded market support schemes under the common agricultural policy, the vote includes nearly £20 million for capital and other grants to assist structural improvements, such as grants to farmers for a range of effluent treatment, conservation and improvement works. A further £15 million is to provide support for farming in the less-favoured areas, by means of headage payments on hill cattle and sheep.

Vote 2 seeks provision of about £108 million in respect of the regional agriculture, fisheries and forestry services and support measures. Although it is a small amount, A draw the attention of the House to a new item. A token provision in these estimates of £1,000 is being made to open an account for payments to voluntary bodies engaged in activities designed to identify the needs of, and the means of assisting, deprived rural areas of Northern Ireland. Specifically, that will enable the work of the rural action project to continue pending the outcome of recommendations from the interdepartmental committee on rural development, established by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier this year. That is a new item that will grow to larger proportions in time.

The next group of votes covers the Department of Economic Development. Vote 1 covers the Industrial Development Board's support and regeneration. About £111 million is sought to enable the IDB to carry out its vital work of industrial development activities. Hon. Members will be aware of IDB's record and its number of recent successes in attracting good quality inward investments to the Province, including Fruit of the Loom, Harris Laboratories and Data Design Laboratories from the United States. Only yesterday the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), was able to announce another new project from Japan involving about 100 new jobs. We continue to attach a high priority to strengthening the Northern Ireland economy through such measures.

In vote 2 of the Department of Economic Development other economic support measures are provided, including about £143 million to provide assistance to the aircraft and shipbuilding industries. That is primarily related to the privatisation of Short Brothers and Harland and Wolff, which we have previously discussed. In addition, in vote 2 some £36 million is sought for the Local Enterprise Development Unit, Northern Ireland's small business agency. I had a lot to do with small businesses in my previous job and I am glad to say that that represents the highest-ever financial support for the agency and underlines the Government's commitment to helping small firms in Northern Ireland.

The House will be pleased to note that LEDU promoted 5,944 jobs in the last financial year, the highest in any year since it was established in 1971. That is a commendable performance. The resources sought will enable the agency to direct resources towards the development of established firms with growth potential and to encourage new enterprises.

Vote 3 of the Department of Economic Development covers expenditure by the new Training and Employment Agency—something of which I have also had experience on this side of the water. It has a budget of about £166 million, and undertakes a wide range of activities, including the youth training programme, the action for community employment scheme—the ACE scheme—the job training programme and the manpower training scheme.

The next group of estimates is for the Department of the Environment. Some £162 million is sought for vote 1, which covers roads, transport and ports. About £135 million of that is for the roads programme, the greater part. of which is required to finance the operation and maintenance of the Province's road system. It also enables new construction and improvement works to be undertaken. A list of the major construction projects is contained in the estimates booklet. Preparatory work continues on the Belfast cross-harbour road and rail bridges project, with a view to starting construction in 1991. There is also an extended programme of structural maintenance work across the Province.

DOE vote 2 covers the important sectors of housing, for which £185 million is required, mainly to provide finance to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and to the voluntary housing movement. When the net borrowing by the Housing Executive to fund its capital programme, to which I have already referred, is taken into account, the Government's net public expenditure allocation for housing will be £243 million in 1990–91. That is supplemented by rental income and capital receipts, which will mean that gross expenditure on housing should be more than £500 million.

In the DOE's vote 4, £34 million is included for urban regeneration measures. Those are aimed primarily at improving the economic health and environment of districts that have suffered urban dereliction. As in previous years, the sums sought are expected to generate much higher overall investment through the successful public-private partnerships that currently exist in the Province.

The three biggest votes in all the estimates are for education, health and social security. For education, a total of £997 million is sought, of which the schools sector, vote 1, accounts for about 60 per cent. The total is up by more than 10 per cent. The resources will ensure that schools and teachers are properly prepared and have the necessary facilities to implement the reforms in the period up to 1992–93.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I understood the Minister to say that money would be available for the schools to meet the challenges in the reforms after 1992. One school in my constituency, Rathmore grammar school, has already had 180 grade 1 applicants and has been unable to take any of the grade 2 applicants. The trustees are seeking mobile classrooms. Will that be permissible so that they can meet the needs in that district?

Mr. Cope

I cannot answer questions about a particular school off the cuff, but a total of £83 million has been set aside for the reforms in the period up to 1992–93. Obviously, the education and library boards are involved in all such decisions, as well as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney).

Vote I also includes provision for salaries and the related costs of the 18,888 full-time equivalent teaching posts of the current year—a total of £384 million. That will maintain the planned overall pupil-teacher ratio at the present level of 18:3. There is also provision for lecturers in the institutes of further education, which will allow for about 30 additional lecturing posts from next September.

Expenditure by the five education and library boards will amount to £314 million in the current year, on the day-to-day operation of the education service in Northern Ireland. That is an increase of 9 per cent. over 1989–90, and includes special additions of £7 million for the maintenance of buildings and £3 million to improve standards of provision in the classroom. About £45 million is sought for education and library boards' capital provision.

In vote 2 of the Department of Education,£116 million is sought for expenditure on Northern Ireland's two universities, the Open university and teacher training. Vote 2 also provides for grants to the new youth council for Northern Ireland. That body has taken over the advisory role previously carried out by the youth committee, and is also responsible for assessing and paying grants to voluntary youth organisations.

The next set of votes relates to the Department of Health and Social Services. A total net provision of £940 million is sought for health and personal social services—partly in vote 1 and partly in vote 3. That is to maintain and improve the standard of the Province's health and personal social services. Much of it is for the expenditure of the health and social services boards, but £195 million is for the family practitioner services. Public expenditure on the health and personal social services programme in 1990–91 for the first time exceeds £1 billion in Northern Ireland.

The third of the very large blocks is social security. Vote 4 seeks £932 million for social security benefits—income support, housing benefit, payments into the social funds and family and non-contributory benefits. In addition, and outside the estimates, more than £800 million is spent on contributory benefits from the Northern Ireland national insurance fund.

Towards the end of the estimates there is one other small but important item to which I draw the House's attention, because it is a new vote under the Department of Finance and Personnel which I have the honour to look after and assist. I refer to vote 3, in which 1.25 million is sought for community relations purposes. When expenditure by the Department of Education is taken into account, it is planned to spend about £4 million on community relations projects in 1990–91. That includes £1.5 million to encourage cross-community contact; about £300,000 for the new community relations council, established in January to encourage and support those working to improve community relations; about £600,000 for a new programme to encourage district councils to promote improved community relations; and £1.4 million for the cultural traditions programme. The aim of improving community relations in Northern Ireland is shared by all and I hope that the House will be glad to see this new vote entering the estimates.

I have sought to draw the attention of the House only to some of the main provisions in the order; hon. Members will want to raise specific points to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will do his best to respond at the end of the debate, or, if they are very detailed, thereafter in the usual way. Meanwhile, I commend the order to the House.

7.32 pm
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

As is customary on these occasions, I thank the Minister for taking us so expeditiously through the order. He seems to improve every time he goes through the ritual and I certainly look forward to the next time he moves an appropriation order.

The Minister referred to the overriding importance of eliminating terrorism in the Province—a point that does not fall within the ambit of the order—and that is certainly a shared objective. Irrespective of the expenditure required, we all agree that the money must be provided to eradicate terrorism from both communities in the Province. There is no difference between us on that topic. It is of paramount importance; the sooner we eliminate terrorism the greater will be the impact of the votes that we are discussing on the lives of ordinary people in Northern Ireland.

As the Minister also said, these votes are of real importance to the living standards of people in the Province. It is regrettable that terrorism—inevitably—grabs the headlines so that attention is not focused on these votes, but it is they which make life tolerable and often better than it was before. It is unfortunate that they do not receive due attention from the press or the House.

It seems only a few weeks since we last discussed an appropriation order. Despite what the Minister said this time, I recall that it was a wide-ranging order admitting of debate on most aspects of economic and social life in the Province. I do not want to bore the House, but it is necessary to remind hon. Members of one or two points that I made in that last debate.

The Minister may recall that I questioned the Government's approach to industrial development and urged them to introduce a proper strategic plan for economic development. I also urged a concentration of investment in human capital through training, and drew attention to the underlying poor performance of the economy in Northern Ireland. I do not mean to detract from the efforts that the Government have made or from what success there has been, but compared with the rest of the United Kingdom and with some of our major competitors in the European Community, and despite the progress that has been made, the underlying economic performance of Northern Ireland is still relatively poor and a great deal still needs to be done.

My final point in this catalogue of reminiscence is that I recall criticising the Government's complacency on all the issues that I have just mentioned.

I found it a little strange today that the Minister did not draw attention to the recent publication by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland entitled, "Competing in the 1990s: The key to growth". It sets out much of the Government's strategy for the Province and it appears to incorporate some of the suggestions that I made in our last debate. That may be purely coincidental—or it may have been to do with the power of my arguments.

I do not want to criticise the objectives of the document, but by no stretch of the imagination could it be called a strategic plan for economic growth. I hope that I am not being over-generous when I call it both timid and short-sighted. The document gave the Government the opportunity to outline a comprehensive economic strategy for development, for which many people, including the Opposition, have been calling.

The game is given away on page 6, which states: This paper does not set out to be a comprehensive economic development strategy". Why not? It is what the economy of Northern Ireland is calling out for.

The whole flavour of the report is that Government intervention is essentially bad and should take place only when it is unavoidable. I notice the Secretary of State shaking his head at that, but I do not know whether he is agreeing with the flavour of my remarks or with that of his document. which gives the impression that Government intervention should be tolerated only when there is no other possible line of action. The document also clearly shows that the Government will continue to intervene in the economy only in the same grudging spirit that they have hitherto displayed. That augurs ill, as I have said on previous occasions, for the economy of Northern Ireland.

On the positive side, I certainly welcome the document's sectoral approach to investing in the economy. The Minister may recall that that was one of the points that I emphasised in our last debate—it is the way ahead. I also welcome the document's emphasis on training and investment in skills, but some of the Government's decisions in recent weeks and months will fundamentally undermine that approach to training.

The Government correctly place greater emphasis on the importance of a highly trained and motivated work force to economic recovery in Northern Ireland. Given the circumstances in the Province, it is right to stress the role of the youth training programme. To my mind and to the minds of many people in the Province, there are three fundamental concerns about the programme as it stands.

The first is a general concern about the arrangements for its funding, the second is the impact of the programme on further education, and the third is its impact on community workshops. The Minister of State will recall that the Government gave an undertaking that the levels of block funding would be based on last year's occupancy rates. The current figures show that there is a shortfall of £338,877 on the figure for last year. Will the Minister give an undertaking that it will be made good?

The correct and proper working of the system depends on the careers service assessing each young person leaving school to see what level of premium each is likely to attract. The evidence coming to me shows clearly that the careers service is either unable or unwilling to fulfil the role given to it by Government Departments in the Province. Inevitably, more of the training organisations are having to make the assessment and those that do not do so have to take on young people at the lowest level of premium. If that situation is seen to be widespread, I should like a commitment from the Government to look at the ability of the careers service to carry out the duty the Government have imposed upon it. If the Government conclude that the service cannot carry out that duty, the responsibility and the money that goes with it should be given to the training schemes.

The Government will be aware that private companies setting up to provide training are one of the growth areas in the Province. I do not criticise that, but I should like to see the private companies made subject to the same scrutiny that the Department of Economic Development applies to community workshops. If a great deal of training is carried out by private companies, those companies must be subject to Government scrutiny. Perhaps the Minister will assure us that the Department of Economic Development will be given the power to do that.

Under the old system, colleges of further education provided free training for people on youth training schemes. That is to be changed, and any training that is received in further education colleges will have to be paid for. The Government have given an assurance that that will not have a great effect upon people employed in colleges of further education, and I accept such an assurance at face value. However, there is evidence that the education and library boards are already trawling for 165 voluntary redundancies. That may be incidental, but 11 think that it is a direct consequence of the imposition of the new training regime.

Such redundancies may be just the tip of the iceberg. If the managers of the training schemes become reluctant to buy expertise from the colleges of further education and decide to provide more training in-house, it will have a knock-on effect on employment in colleges of further education. I am not necessarily a defender of teachers or lecturers in colleges of further education or even in higher education establishments, even though I used to teach in a polytechnic.

Jobs are important, but perhaps even more important is the standard of training. If the in-house training is of a substantially lower standard than that which is available in the colleges of further education, it will affect the expertise that is imparted to young people and will undermine the regime for new training. I urge the Government to keep that matter under review.

The Government will know that when the changes relating to community workshops were first discussed they produced anger and dismay among those who work there. The people in the workshops launched a campaign and the Government were prepared to make some concessions. I have a letter dated 1 February 1990 from the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham). Speaking about modifications, the Minister said: There is three months advance funding payable on 2 April, guaranteed funding for one year amounting to 90 per cent. of each workshop's current overhead budget, and a substantial increase in premium levels 1 and 2. It is my intention that in the autumn"— I think the Minister meant this autumn— my Department in co-operation with the Association of Community Workshops will organise a conference at which the community workshops network can give their views on the practicalities of the new arrangements. The practicalities of the new scheme are already becoming abundantly clear. The number of workshops has fallen from 44 to 41 and those that have survived are in a parlous state. In many cases there is a severe shortage of money and that has forced an estimated 30 per cent. redundancy rate among the staff of community workshops. The workshops say that they claimed for the extra premium at the end of April on the basis of their April occupancy levels. They say that, despite assurances that the matter is being looked at by officials in the relevant Department, no additional payment has yet been made. I urge the Government to look into that and to do so urgently in view of the severe financial difficulties facing many workshops.

The Minister's letter referred to a meeting that was to be arranged this autumn. I understand that the meeting had been arranged for October but that the workshops have been informed that that date is no longer available to the Minister. I am not quite sure what that means, but it has started alarm bells ringing in the minds of those involved in community workshops. I should like assurances that it does not show any lack of determination on the part of the Minister to meet the people and to make progress in solving their problems and that, if the meeting has been postponed, that is purely because of a conflict of diary entries. I also hope that the Minister will carry out as soon as possible his promise—his obligation—to meet the representatives of the community workshops.

There is a feeling, rightly or wrongly, among those who work in community workshops that the Government want to see a reduction in their number, and are prepared to sit back and see community workshops go down one by one. I should like to hear the Minister's reply to that suggestion, and I should like him to reaffirm the Government's determination to support, and their commitment to, community workshop projects.

The estimates show an increase of 8.5 per cent. on the 1989–90 total gross provision for health. I know that Ministers delight in quoting that figure and, in their delight, imply that it will lead to great improvements in the Health Service in the Province. Our view, like that of most professionals in Northern Ireland, is that this increase is nowhere near big enough to meet existing unmet demand. The reality of the Health Service in Northern Ireland is more ward closures and longer waiting lists. At the Belfast City hospital, the waiting list is 112 per cent. higher than it was last year, and at the Ulster hospital it is 50 per cent. higher than it was last year.

In addition, the determination to proceed with rapid privatisation of certain aspects of the Health Service is proving an unmitigated disaster leading in many cases to dirty kitchens and unwashed linen. There has also been a massive increase in the number of unplanned hospital discharges because of the pressure on beds. Apart from the distress this causes, it is inefficient because these patients inevitably have to be readmitted. Rather than taking undue pleasure in the 8.5 per cent. increase in the health vote this year, the Government should be saying that, while this is a step in the right direction, greater financial resources will be provided, to make a real impact on health provision in the Province.

I have spent some time talking about the economy of Northern Ireland and the need for further action to increase economic growth. One growth area in the economy of Northern Ireland is in the consultancy studies being carried out into energy requirements and the future of the energy industry in the Province. In 1989–90, £391,000 was spent on the consultancy fees for such studies, but next year that will increase to £1,301,000—an increase of two and a half times. There we have an example of a growth industry. We must ask ourselves what kind of information and what kind of answers these studies will produce. I hope—I gather that this is likely to be a fruitless hope—that these studies will emphasise that the main problems in energy are generation and distribution rather than privatisation.

I understand that this year Northern Ireland Electricity is likely to make a profit of £50 million. I hope that that will be invested in improving the generation and distribution of energy rather than used to fatten up the cow for privatisation in the next 18 months or two years. There is an urgent need for the replacement of old switchgear, particularly in Belfast. I recognise that it cannot be done overnight and that even that £50 million will not be sufficient to pay for the replacement scheme. However, Ministers should be emphasising to the chairman and the members of the board, and the managing director, that, whereas in the Province switchgear is replaced in a cycle of 50 to 60 years, in the rest of the United Kingdom it is replaced in a cycle of 20 or 30 years. We should be encouraging a change to the shorter cycle.

We know that the capacity generated by the power stations in Belfast and Derry will cease in the next 10 years. This was a subject that came up at the last Northern Ireland questions. To replace that capacity, the Government have decided to go for Kilroot 2 and the interconnector between the Province and Scotland.

I hope that Ministers will give us more information about this. At the last Northern Ireland questions, the Under-Secretary gave me an assurance on this, but I repeat the appeal that I made to him: will the Government publish their analysis of the energy requirements for the Province so that an informed discussion can take place before final decisions are taken? The Opposition are not convinced that the best configuration for the supply of electricity for the Province is the completion of Kilroot 2—although we support completion of that facility—and the interconnector between the Province and Scotland.

My last point is on one of my old hobby horses—lignite, the one indigenous pure fuel resource in the Province. It is regrettable that it is not likely to be exploited in the foreseeable future. I would find it regrettable if the exploitation of lignite was sacrificed on the altar of short-term expediency.

I understand that a consortium in Northern Ireland is seeking to obtain private capital to finance a lignite-burning station. Has the consortium approached Government Departments in the Province? If approaches have been made, what has been the response of Ministers? If it is considered feasible to build a lignite-burning power station in the near future, it would be regrettable if the project were to be abandoned purely because of the decision to which the Government may have come over Kilroot 2 and the interconnector between the Province and the United Kingdom.

Rev. Martin Smyth

The hon. Gentleman referred to sacrificing the exploitation of lignite on the altar of short-term expediency. Does he agree that it would be wrong if the environment of Northern Ireland were sacrified for a quick profit for the producers of power through the burning of lignite, especially when we consider the devastation of parts of eastern Europe?

Mr. Marshall

Of course. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why I asked for the publication of the information that is in the Government's possession. The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the problems with coal-burning power stations is sulphur emissions. I want to know if the possible expenditure of £200 million has been included in the figures that are available to the Government. That would be the sum required to provide scrubbers for the elimination of sufficient sulphur from existing power stations in the Province. Until all the information, including all the figures, is available, none of us will be able to make any definitive statements or reach any conclusions on the methods used to generate electricity in the Province.

I am sorry to have detained the House for so long. My speech would have been two minutes shorter had it not been for an intervention. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and Northern Ireland Ministers will be pleased to know that, as is customary on these occasions, it is not our intention to divide the House on this latest anniversary of the appropriation order debate.

8.3 pm

Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)

I shall keep my remarks reasonably short, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad to say that there are more of my hon. Friends who wish to contribute to the debate this evening than on a previous occasion. In other words, I am pleased to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).

On 14 October 1971, the Payments of Debt (Emergency Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) became law in Northern Ireland. It was a response to the rent and rate strike and a special procedure to circumvent the strike. It enabled deductions to be made from benefit payments for debt, even without the debtor's permission. During the consideration of the measure before it became an Act it was clearly stated that the sooner the rent and rate strike ended, the sooner the Act would lapse. That was in 1971, and it is now 1990. However, the emergency measure is still in existence. Even today, tenants who have their houses disrupted by repairs or improvements are refused redecoration grants because they are in rent arrears. In other words, workmen disrupt an entire house and the tenant is unable to redecorate because the Northern Ireland Housing Executive holds on to the money that would have been made available in the form of a redecoration grant because of the tenant's arrears.

Electricity consumers who have cleared their arrears still have deductions made from their benefit payments because the accounts department, or the Housing Executive, fails to cancel the original order at the Department of Social Security. Today, almost 20 years after the Act took its place on the statute book, direct deductions are still being made from wages and benefit payments. The Housing Executive continues to withhold redecoration grants. Even court claims are withheld so that ordinary civil debt can be cleared. No attempt is made to investigate the needs or circumstances of those concerned. The Act makes no provision for the examination of personal financial circumstances. Nor does. it provide a formal right of appeal against the level of deductions from income or benefit.

I repeat that in May 1990, almost 20 years on, the Act remains in force, even though the emergency which prompted its enactment has long since passed. Anyone who reads the debates on the measure before its enactment will agree that it was never intended to be used for ordinary civil debt. The Secretary of State should repeal the Act as soon as possible and restore a little dignity to the lives of those who are forced through circumstances to get into unwanted debt.

I have been encouraged lately by the efforts being made by the Department of the Environment to improve living conditions and the general condition of the countryside in Northern Ireland. There is a seemingly small but increasingly frustrating problem of untended grassed areas. Unfortunately, the planners or designers of estates require builders, especially private builders, to leave a certain space for grassed areas, or for trees, bushes and shrubs. These areas become a wilderness because no one seems to be responsible for them. Those who pay £40,000 or £60,000 for their homes find that outside their door there is an area which ultimately becomes a dump because no one will take responsibility. The local council will say that it is not its responsibility and that it is not required to look after those pieces of ground. The Department of the Environment seems to have no responsibility because these areas are left by private builders. The planning department will say that it required the builder to leave the open space within the estate, but that it is not responsible for keeping it in good order. Anyone who becomes involved in such an issue finds himself going round the various authorities in a circle.

With our interest in the environment, surely some method could be devised whereby the local council is given sufficient funds to keep grassed areas in good order. I believe that the Minister responsible for these matters should give careful attention to such a scheme. Public representatives are frustrated because they seem powerless and unable to get anything done. Those who live on the estates are similarly frustrated.

A problem of the past, which seemed to disappear, is now rearing its head again for various reasons. It arises when a developer does not make up the road to the required standard to be taken over by the Department of the Environment. People may be living in homes for three years with an artificial lake outside the door where there is supposed to be a road. When the Department is approached it says that it is very concerned and has a bond which it will use. Unfortunately, bringing the bond into operation seems to be such an unwieldy process and seems to take so long that everyone gets frustrated. I understand that if the builder comes along after being threatened with the bond and puts in two or three kerb stones, the Department will not use the bond. That is a terrible loophole. Will the Minister get the Department to study the problem and tighten up the rules so the object of the exercise, the bond, can be a means of taking action quickly if the builder does not fulfil his obligations?

Another problem, which may seem minor in this honourable place, is the Housing Executive's reaction to broken windows. In certain areas recently windows have been broken by vandals—or perhaps I should use the term "thugs". I know of homes in which all the windows have been broken by thugs, for whatever reason. If tenants go along to the Housing Executive and say that they have had all their windows broken by a crowd of people who they do not know, the Housing Executive will say that it is nothing to do with the Housing Executive because of the agreement with the tenant which means that the tenant has to put in new windows. If the tenant goes to the police, they will say that it is a matter for the Housing Executive—obviously, the police cannot replace broken windows. Such vandalism is bad and the Housing Executive or the Department of the Environment should consider whether they can help the people affected and perhaps transfer them to other areas.

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Is my hon. Friend aware that tenants on some estates have had their homes repeatedly damaged month after month? Many are pensioners and have been transferred to new accommodation only to go through the same experience again, and they cannot afford to replace windows. The problem must be addressed as a matter of urgency by the Housing Executive and the Minister must approve changes to meet their needs.

Mr. Forsythe

I completely agree with my hon. Friend as this is a serious problem in some areas. On rare occasions, people are helped. It is bad enough having all the windows broken and being threatened without having the further problem of not being able to find the money to put in new windows or to have them boarded up. The problem must be considered as quickly as possible.

Perhaps the Minister is as disappointed as I am at the delay in the Slaght crossing inquiry. I am well aware of the legalities of the situation and that there may be good reasons why the inquiry has not got off the ground as soon as we should have liked—indeed, I know there are good reasons. However, there was an accident at the crossing and there are a number of similar crossings in Northern Ireland with a history of accidents. Unfortunately, the general public are still unaware of what happened. I have met the inspector of the inquiry—a sensible and responsible person who takes a serious view of the matter and has made great efforts to do whatever is necessary—but we still do not know what happened. People are very anxious about the matter and many people now take much greater care at such crossings.

Video cameras were installed at three open crossings in the Province. I understand that the cameras were installed to monitor the performance of, or conduct at, the crossings. I have two questions for the Minister. First, were the cameras installed because of fears about what was happening at those or at other crossings? Secondly, is there a video recording from each of those cameras which could be used to show what happened, or are the cameras monitored visually every day, without a recording being taken? I hope that the Minister will give an explanation.

I have asked the Department whether any fully automatic or half-automatic barriers had been changed to open crossings in the past few years. I understand from answers given to me that no crossing had been changed in such a way, but I understand from other information—albeit not official—that two crossings were changed from either full or half-automatic barriers to open crossings. Will the Minister tell me officially in the House whether that is so?

I am pleased at the great improvement in the international airport in Belfast. The airport is of a high standard and we look forward to the standard being higher, but I have one niggle of concern—that the airport is being fattened up, to use the expression used earlier by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), for privatisation. I am interested to know who will be involved in such a privatisation. We have a say about it in this House, but if the airport is privatised we may not be able to influence the running of the airport in quite the same way.

As for the Department of Finance and Personnel—vote 1, All—we read on page 147, dealing with the international fund, that This subhead covers the administrative costs of the Fund. They amount to £343,000. The running costs come to £248,000. Grant in aid amounts to £93,000. I ask the Minister to spell out what it costs the United Kingdom taxpayer to administer the international fund.

8.20 pm
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)

I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) about community workshops. I am fortunate to have a splendid community workshop at Bangor in my constituency. The staff are enthusiastic. When I visited it I was greatly impressed by those who had enrolled. My experience of that community workshop leads me to believe that encouragement and help must be given to similar workshops. I should deprecate any attempt by the Government to reduce the number of community workshops in Northern Ireland.

I echo what was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) about Belfast airport. The travelling public are treated disgracefully, particularly by British Airways. It treats its passengers like cattle at the London end. That is unacceptable. It is high time that proper services were provided at Heathrow so that passengers could walk straight on to aircraft. There should be no more excuses when delays occur because there are no back-up aircraft.

I, too, welcome the new Member of Parliament for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I remember the last occasion when I had a long talk with Harold McCusker, his predecessor. On that occasion he came to have dinner with me in my home. I shall always remember his great courage and spirit, despite his illness. If the new Member of Parliament for Upper Bann carries on the tradition that was followed by Harold McCusker in this House, he will do well by his constituents.

The first speech that I made in the Chamber was a passionate plea on behalf of the elderly. I believed then, as I believe now, that our senior citizens, after long years of work either in the home or in factories, shops or offices, have earned the right to dignity and comfort at the end of their lives. What I said then is true today: those who have reached retirement age ask for certain basic rights, such as an adequate pension. I made that point when I last spoke in an appropriation order debate. National resources should be provided so that people who can no longer cope in their own homes can be cared for properly.

Most elderly people prefer to stay in their own homes. That is often possible only if they are provided with domiciliary help. If that is impossible, they have to seek sanctuary in residential or nursing homes, which should be supervised and inspected regularly if we are to ensure that the elderly are treated properly and with compassion.

Many years ago I drew attention in an Adjournment debate to the plight of those who look after an elderly or sick father or mother. It is usually the daughter who forfeits the prospect of marriage to devote herself completely to the constant daily care of a parent. At that time such total dedication went unrecognised and unrewarded by the state, even though vast sums of public money were saved because those elderly people did not have to be taken into care.

A recent survey published by Crossroads, a worthy organisation that deserves the respect of the community, emphasised that half the 6 million people in the United Kingdom who look after elderly relatives at home are at breaking point. It confirms that many carers who have given up work to look after frail parents feel like prisoners in their own homes. It is a physically demanding and stressful task that in many cases isolates the carers from the outside world. Those people—who, as I have said, are usually daughters—can lose contact with friends and acquaintances and the organisations to which they formerly belonged. Because of their total commitment to their elderly father or mother, they become thoroughly demoralised and worn out. What undermines their great spirit, which we all recognise, is the lack of recognition of their dedication and the Government's failure to provide adequate support for them.

Residential care for the elderly in the United Kingdom costs about £1 billion annually—a considerable sum of money. Such a staggering sum makes it imperative to encourage, wherever possible, the care of the elderly in their own homes. However, the carers, many of whom give up their jobs and marriage prospects, must be paid properly for looking after an elderly father or mother, or a sick or handicapped relative.

I refer also to the treatment of pensioners. Since the changes to the social security regulations, pensioners who formerly were in receipt of supplementary benefit now find that, because of the slight increase in their pension, they no longer qualify for rent or rate rebates. That has put an additional burden on many pensioners.

I have raised with the appropriate authorities the fact that many pensioners have to pay the full television licence fee. Pensioners who live in warden-controlled accommodation benefit from paying only a nominal television licence fee, whereas pensioners who do not live in such accommodation have to pay the full fee. That anomaly has been made worse. Pensioners who move into accommodation where residents benefit from the concession are forced to pay the full licence fee. It is wrong that we should treat our senior citizens in that way. Pensioners living alone or with another pensioner should have the benefit of free television. It is their window on to the world; it provides them with entertainment and, above all, it gives them companionship. It is high time that the Government recognised that justice should be done and that pensioners should be allowed to watch television without having to pay a single penny.

I am concerned about the proposed privatisation of electricity. I have already warned the Government to keep their hands off our electricity—the electricity of the people of Northern Ireland. It would be wrong to put it into private hands as that would create a monopoly. Northern Ireland is not the same as the rest of the United Kingdom where there are several electricity suppliers. Here in England there is a supply of natural gas which has been denied to the people of Northern Ireland. Even now, perhaps with the prompting of the Common Market, the Government should provide a gas pipeline to the island of Ireland. Perhaps such a pipeline should run from the Morecambe fields to the territory of Northern Ireland and gas could then be supplied to the Irish Republic.

It would be completely wrong to sell Northern Ireland's electricity supply industry as Northern Ireland already suffers from expensive coal. The price has recently been increased by 50p a bag, or £10 a tonne, which represents an unacceptable increase compared with the price charged in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is high time that we had an investigation into the cost of living in Northern Ireland which is higher than it is in most parts of Britain.

The Government are very strong on pollution. In the past year or two they have become very green and have dedicated themselves to improving the environment. But it is no use just talking about improving the environment; we want action. Quite apart from places such as Antarctica where international action is needed to turn the territory into a world park and save it from speculators and polluters, the Government need to ensure that raw sewage is not dumped into Belfast lough and is not dumped off the coast of North Down. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) would agree that the sewage from Belfast should not be dumped into the sea and washed up on to the coast by the tides or the winds. It pollutes the entire coastline of County Down. It certainly creates great resentment among those who live in Bangor, Ballyholme and Orlock who see signs of sewage and other debris along the coastline. We need a commitment from the Government that they will build a sewage works, no matter how costly it may be, so that raw sewage is no longer thrown into the sea.

Finally, to refer to a matter in Holywood—not Hollywood in California but Holywood, County Down in my constituency. That is the development at Kinnegar, an estate on the coast at Holywood. I appeal to the Minister and to the House for support on behalf of the families who live at Kinnegar. They oppose, as I do, the use of the old gas works site for light industrial or office development. They have waged their campaign of opposition for well over a year and I have been closely identified with it from the start. I wrote to the Department of the Environment on a number of occasions urging that the site should be preserved and retained as a recreational area for the people and children of Kinnegar.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have not had the good fortune to visit Holywood. It is a lovely, ancient place. I see the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood), nodding in assent. I have the impression that he has travelled further afield than Kinnegar and may have visited County Armagh recently. If he comes to Holywood, he will find it and the rest of my constituency of North Down a pleasant place with a lovely environment and marvellous people, most of whom—perhaps I should not say most, but a sufficient number—vote for me. Pray God that in the next general election, despite the intervention of a Conservative candidate, those people will still vote for me, knowing the years of service that I have given my constituency of North Down. That was the start of my election campaign.

Holywood lacks all the recreational facilities that are to be found in other large towns and cities in Northern Ireland and that is unfair. Holywood has been passed by and that is why the old Kinnegar gas works site should be preserved. But sadly, despite all the objections by residents and all the protests that I have made, the site was sold and planning permission has been granted.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman by saying that the Conservative mayor of North Down came to see me yesterday about that very issue, drawing attention to the letter that he received from the hon. Gentleman. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I will look most carefully at his point about Kinnegar.

Mr. Kilfedder

I am puzzled by what the Minister said because I have not written to the Conservative candidate. I have certainly written to one of the Environment Ministers—I cannot recall which, so I shall opt for the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who wears glasses and has a kindly face. I have written to Ministers about Kinnegar, and if I wrote to the Minister with the kindly face I hope that I shall get a kindly response.

Despite all their protests and complaints, the people of Kinnegar have been totally frustrated. Their opposition has been ignored and bureaucracy seeks to treat them with impunity. I warn the Department of the Environment that those worthy people have not given up and on their behalf I appeal to both Ministers to reward their endeavours and restore faith in the democratic process by intervening in this issue.

I pointed out in the past that the ordinary citizen is at a grave disadvantage in attempting to oppose a planning application. If an application for planning permission is refused, the person making the application has the right of appeal to the planning appeals commission and can employ a high-powered barrister or Queen's counsel to push his case. Once a planning application is granted, an objector has no such right. It does not matter how many objectors there are, because they have no such right. I have urged the Government to amend the law and to provide objectors with a right of appeal. The case of Kinnegar confirms the need for such a right if justice is to be done.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware, from his previous life as Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, of a proposal made by the environment committee which was accepted by the Department. It changed the planning regulations to the extent that the Department was willing, provided that two thirds of a council opposed a planning application, to hold an article 22 inquiry. The difficulty has often been that the Department has held on to applications until the two months within which an article 22 inquiry must be called have elapsed. A change in the legislation extending that period would help councils to ensure equality between objectors and applicants.

Mr. Kilfedder

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That shows the worth of the Northern Ireland Assembly and of the various statutory committees, including the environment committee, of which the hon. Gentleman was the distinguished chairman. It is right to praise those who deserve it, because there are a number in this House who deserve no praise.

The developers at Kinnegar have obtained permission to build seven office units of approximately 5,000 square feet per unit with car parking for 125 cars. They estimate that 300 people will be employed in the proposed units. It is perfectly clear that such a development will substantially increase traffic and service and delivery vehicles. There is a real and grave problem: the entrance to the Kinnegar estate is a small road, and even without that development it is often blocked by security forces' vehicles or ordnance vehicles from the Army barracks at the end of the Kinnegar estate. In addition to the military vehicles, which block traffic, sewage tankers travel daily through the estate.

A local public house—I know that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) does not approve of public houses—has obtained planning permission for an extension, which will generate more business, people and cars. I pity the people who will live in that area, with all that development and traffic and danger to their children. The area is already congested. Surely it is planning madness to allow that office or light industrial development to proceed. What about the rights of the ordinary people who live in the area, in particular the young people, for whom a recreational area would be of inestimable benefit?

8.44 pm
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

I understand that it is customary for me to begin by paying tribute to the previous Member for Upper Bann, which I do gladly. Mr. Harold McCusker can be aptly summed up as a man of the people. He worked extremely hard for the people of Upper Bann and cared deeply for their welfare. I know from canvassing in the recent by-election that he was held in high regard and with deep affection by the people of Upper Bann. Harold, characteristically, was a fighter. He fought for those people and he fought in personal terms. His illness would not have been so prolonged if he had not fought so strongly against it. As many hon. Members know, Harold's surname literally means "a son of Ulster", and he was a son of Ulster. He was conscious of the soil from which he sprang and the traditions of the area and its people.

The Upper Bann area is proud of its Unionist heritage, and many elements within the area express that heritage. I had some pleasure in reading a recent publication by the Public Record Office, edited by David Miller. Hon. Members will be familiar with his earlier work, which was extremely enlightening, on Unionism and loyalism. That publication included a copy of the account by Colonel Blacker of the formation of the Orange Order, of which I am proud to be a member. We find within it not only the Armagh area—sometimes the Armagh people, it being the County of the Diamond, forget that other counties contributed—but particularly in the west Down area. I am thinking particularly of the Bleary boys who contributed to that and to the successful defeat of the 1938 rebellion shortly afterwards.

The Unionist heritage of the north Armagh area is in some ways epitomised by the statute of Colonel Saunderson, which stands in the centre of Armagh. I shall refer again to Colonel Saunderson in a way that is particularly apposite to other matters.

Upper Bann is significant not only for its Orange heritage but for the way in which its character was formed largely through the plantation processes of the 17th and early 18th centuries. The major towns in the area are plantation towns. We see that from the contribution of the Brownlows to the creation of Lurgan and of the Warings to Waringstown and other towns in the area.

That plantation had a significant heritage in other repects, because directly from it sprang the Ulster custom, which after the Ulster land war of the 1770s provided a basis from which the industrial revolution was able to occur. The industrial revolution in Ulster, which was centred on the Lagan valley, was an indigenous growth. Ministers may be interested in this, because it owed nothing to Government contribution or significant landlord patronage. It was indigenous and arose out of the customary rights that the tenants had won for themselves. We find the traces of one of the first major industrial developments in the area—the textile industry—through the middle Bann valley, running from Gilford down to the town of Banbridge, which lies in the centre of the constituency.

During the recent by-election in Upper Bann, attention focused on the intervention of what are called national parties. I want to reflect on that for a moment. I mentioned Colonel Saunderson, whose statue stands in the centre of Portadown. The inscription refers to him as the leader of Ulster's Unionists in the House for more than 20 years. As hon. Members will know, he first sat in the House as a Liberal, representing the constituency of County Cavan, and in the 1880s was returned for North Armagh, including Portadown, as a Conservative. Of course, he is noted as the leader of the Ulster Unionists.

The term "national parties" which has been bandied about in recent times is misleading. It was misleading for some people who call themselves Conservatives to intervene in that election and call themselves the national parties. They claimed that their arrival was something new. Of course it was not new. Nor are they right to refer to themselves as solely national parties as distinct from provincial parties. We in the Ulster Unionist party are the British national party in Ulster. We were formed historically by an alliance between Ulster Liberals and Ulster Conservatives, with Ulster Labour representatives too, to combat Irish nationalists. We are the national British parties in Ulster. In that context, one must put a large question mark against the aims and motives of a group calling itself Conservative which contested the election with, it seemed to us, the object of dividing and diminishing the Unionist voice and, by so doing, diminishing the voice of the British people of Ulster.

Since my arrival in the House, several hon. Members have expressed to me their regret at the decision of the Conservative party to contest the Upper Bann election. I did not regret it during the election. While canvassing, I repeatedly told the electors that the election was an opportunity for them to vote against the policies of the Government. The results show that the electorate of Upper Bann seized that opportunity with both hands. Hon. Members will not need to be reminded that the candidate representing the policies of the Government scored a total of 2.9 per cent.—less than 3 per cent.—of the valid votes cast in the election. That is a clear rejection of the policies of the present Administration. That demonstrates—indeed, it confirms, because we had demonstrated it on many previous occasions—that the policies pursued by the Northern Ireland Office have no mandate from the people of Ulster. That is significant.

People cannot say that a majority elsewhere in the United Kingdom in favour of the Government's policies legitimises those policies. A clear distinction can be drawn between Northern Ireland and, say, Scotland. In Scotland, where again the Government have no mandate for their policies, they can say that their policies are applied on a Great Britain basis and that they have a majority in Great Britain. However, the policies pursued in Northern Ireland are applied, not on a United Kingdom basis but specifically to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the United Kingdom and its constitutional status in the kingdom is diminished.

A mandate for the Government's policies can be obtained only from the people of Ulster. Clearly that mandate does not exist. In the light of that, the only honourable course for the Government is to reconsider their policies and accept the offers made by my colleague to extricate them from the position in which they have put themselves. They should adopt policies that reinforce the position of the kingdom of Ulster within the kingdom.

At least the Conservative party came to seek a mandate in Upper Bann, even though that mandate was refused. If listened with interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). I find his detailed interest in matters relating to Northern Ireland interesting. I agreed with several of the points that he made. Surely he must find it a little strange to take such a detailed interest in Northern Ireland matters and discuss them at length in the House when he belongs to a party that not only does not contest elections in Northern Ireland but refuses people in Northern Ireland the right or opportunity to join it. A member of a party which deliberately boycotts the people of Northern Ireland must surely find it inconsistent to take such a detailed interest in Northern Ireland.

Tonight we are discussing the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1990. The measure is dealt with in the form of an Order in Council. Order in Council procedures are less than satisfactory. Indeed, that is an understatement. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) referred a few moments ago to defects in the planning legislation on article 22 inquiries. As hon. Members will know, a planning and building regulations order has been tabled and is shortly to be debated. If that was legislation dealt with in the normal way, the hon. Member for Belfast, East could table an amendment to provide a remedy for the defects to which he referred. Of course, he cannot do so. That is not right. The procedures should not operate in the way that they do. Significant changes are needed.

I support the comments made by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) on the Payments for Debt (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971. Order in Council procedure is objectionable partly because it is described as temporary. It is a temporary procedure stemming currently from the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974 and originally from the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972. One wonders what the meaning of the word "temporary" is in that context.

That is even more appropriate in the context of the point raised by the hon. Member for Antrim, South. He dealt with a temporary measure introduced in 1971, which is still operating. Not only is the measure objectionable because it was a temporary measure which lasted 19 years, but the provisions made for deduction of benefits under the Act were made as the result of administrative action.

I should have thought that hon. Members who are interested in the rights of persons subject to the law of the United Kingdom would want people's property rights determined in the courts or through some form of judicial procedure, rather than civil service actions. Civil servants may decide to withhold benefits in order to pay debts owed to other persons. That is particularly strange when, through the Enforcement of Judgments Office and its provisions for attachment of earnings and other assets, procedures have to be followed and some independent judgment is placed between the debtor and the creditor by the operations of the enforcement officers.

Surely, at least on those grounds, something should be done. Even if it is still felt necessary to make deductions from people entitled to claim benefit, surely something should be done to enable people to make representations before a third party. It would be appropriate to provide something analogous to the procedure for enforcement judgments.

My first point about the order concerns planning policy in the Craigavon district. That area is unique in Northern Ireland as the only area that does not have in force a development plan or area plan. The original, non-statutory plan, which is now some 20 years old, is not relevant, because the position has changed drastically in the past 20 years, with the failure of the new city project contained within it. In that area, we are operating with the detritus of the new city project.

While canvassing during the election campaign, I was struck by the desolation of the estates in the central Craigavon or Brownlow area. I hope that some thought has been given to planning policies that could help to regenerate that area. I was also struck by the way in which many areas of the town of Lurgan have been badly blighted because of road proposals which, I am told, have since been abandoned. Again, I hope that some serious planning policies will be evolved to regenerate those areas.

I was also struck by one of the consequences of the 1960s housing policies which I hope will not be repeated. I refer to the not very well built medium and high-rise flat developments. Nearly all the developments that I saw were semi-derelict and unoccupied. They were eyesores and worse—especially in the Portadown district, where properties that were originally constructed by the local Housing Executive have been bought by the tenants under the right-to-buy procedures, which the Government encouraged.

The owners have found that, to some extent, their properties have been devalued by the derelict medium-rise flat developments just across the road. I hope that some urgent action will be taken on that. I was told by the occupiers—the purchasers—that they had been told by the executive that they would have to wait two or three years simply for a decision on the flat developments, let alone for any action to be taken.

My second point about the appropriation order relates to the community relations cultural traditions programmes. As the Minister said, the programmes are being expanded considerably. That is a good thing, and I very much welcome the existence of those programmes. However, I should like an assurance that they will be genuinely representative and even-handed. I must confess to being uncertain about the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council. Technically, it is not a Government body, although in the first instance all its members have been appointed by the Government. It has been given a budget of £300,000. We must ask, how was the body formed? How representative of the community are the people who serve on it and how balanced is that representation? It seems that that representation does not rise above the level of tokenism as far as the majority tradition in Ulster is concerned. Many of the people who serve on it cannot be regarded as truly representative.

Finally, I refer to an item of expenditure relating to the Northern Ireland Assembly. I note that there is a provision for £274,000 to be spent—over £200,000 of which will be spent on maintaining a cadre to provide the basis for an Assembly, should one be called in the future. I welcome that expenditure because there is a great need for representative institutions in Ulster. Hon. Members will know that there is a virtual absence of representative institutions and that what are called "local authorities" are not really what are normally understood by that term. They rarely get above the level of English parish councils. There is a huge gap between them and this House. We need representative institutions.

Although I welcome that expenditure on the Northern Ireland Assembly, I do not want my comments to be taken as implying my approval of the proposals in the Prior Act—the Northern Ireland Act 1982. I am not sure that those proposals ever were workable. If we ever have an Assembly—or devolution on any significant scale in the future—I hope that it will be much more substantial than that of the Northern Ireland Assembly, if it is to be regarded as worthwhile devolution as distinct from what is essentially local government restructuring, which is another matter.

Devolution is said to be the Government's policy. I find it curious that a Government with that policy have not made any proposals that would advance that policy. That is to be contrasted with the experience or the actions of the Ulster Unionist party because it is now almost two and a half years since the Ulster Unionist party made detailed proposals for developments in Northern Ireland to the previous Secretary of State, to which there has not yet been any response. The Government do not make any proposals of their own. Their attitude is passive. If we were to have discussions on the proposals, I suspect that the Government would not advance any proposals of their own, but would simply adopt the role of picking holes in the proposals of ourselves and others.

I wonder why that should be the case. I suspect that, despite its protestations to the contrary, the Northern Ireland Office actually prefers the present position. I suspect that it does not really want devolution, but prefers to sustain the present direct rule. Under that system, it is effectively insulated from any form of democratic control. Ministers can speak for themselves, but civil servants in the Northern Ireland Office give the impression that they are not really interested in devolution, and that they enjoy the freedom from accountability that direct rule gives them. That is another reason for ending direct rule at the earliest opportunity.

9.4 pm

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

Let me take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) to the House. I welcome him not only as a Conservative and Unionist, but as a Roman Catholic. I had the opportunity of joining him for lunch today, and found him a charming and clubbable individual—in the nicest sense of the word—and I wish him every success in his political career.

The hon. Gentleman bears a grave and onerous burden: he follows Harold McCusker, who was held in great affection by his constituents and in the House. Harold McCusker spoke for his people with courage, honesty and decency, from his heart. The courage that he showed when fighting illness was the same courage as he showed in fighting the men of terror and violence. I remember hearing him say on many occasions in the House that he had carried more coffins of friends and relatives than any other hon. Member. That is something I know that the new hon. Member for Upper Bann will never and should never forget.

The hon. Gentleman raised a minor note of controversy. There is a convention that a new Member should not have too much of a go at his parliamentary opponents in a maiden speech. From my mere seven years' experience in the House, I can say that although he was heard in silence—as is the convention—he may not be next time. It is not always wise to attack one's parliamentary opponents, especially on both sides of the House—that is asking for trouble.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is a Parliament of the United Kingdom. If he really wants—I trust that he does—to represent the views of the people of Upper Bann, he will not come here only to debate matters relating to Upper Bann and Northern Ireland, but will participate in and legislate on United Kingdom matters. If anything can bring the Province to a degree of normality within the United Kingdom, it is the prospect of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues doing just that.

I know that this is not a debate about the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and I shall not be sidetracked on to that, but one can only be encouraged by the constructive and helpful comments on television this morning by the leaders of the Democratic Unionist party and the Ulster Unionist party. I know that there have been many false dawns and graveyards of expectation, but for the first time for ages there appeared to be a united voice, and a flexibility on the part of Government and the major Ulster parties. That is to be welcomed, and the House will wish them luck.

The major recruiting ground of the IRA must be unemployment, and I pay tribute to Ministers in their crusade against it. The seasonally adjusted figure for unemployment in the Province in March 1990 was 98,400: that represented a decrease of 10,600 compared with March 1989, and a decrease of 26,900 compared with the peak of 125,300 in October 1986. In March 1990 seasonally adjusted unemployment stood at its lowest level for more than seven years, since September 1982. That is a major step forward.

There is also good news for the young unemployed because, since March 1989, unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds has decreased by 5,053. The number of persons unemployed for more than one year, the long-term unemployed, has decreased by 7,447. The number of employees increased by 8,390 between December 1987 and December 1989. That is a key figure. Credit must be given to my hon. Friend the Minister for the work that he has done on this front.

The investment now coming into the Province is another key factor. Earlier my right hon. Friend the Minister of State mentioned some recent IDB successes which reflect the continuing progress of inward investment. About 5,000 new jobs have been promoted by the IDB during 1989–90 and 40 per cent. of those jobs are connected with new investment from outside Northern Ireland. The total investment associated with various new projects amounts to a record £440 million and the IDB contribution towards that investment works out at 21 per cent.

There have been some spectacular examples of inward investment. On 18 December 1989 the O'Connell Development company of Massachusetts announced its major participation in a £65 million investment in Londonderry. Current and programmed commercial investment in Belfast city by the private sector totals £450 million on top of the £120 million spent in the past five years. A significant proportion of that investment comes from Great Britain, including £75 million for the Castle Court retail, office, car park development. That is a tribute to what Ministers, the Department and the Government are doing.

There are many ways in which one can defeat terrorism and, apart from any political solution, one of the best is an economic solution. That means providing jobs, investment and a good standard of living in the Province. That is why I am happy to support the Government estimates tonight.

9.12 pm
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute tonight. My first pleasurable task is to join in the welcome to the new hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I compliment him on the content and eloquence of his speech. Although we shall, undoubtedly, have considerable political differences, none the less I am sure that there are many matters upon which we shall be able to work together for the mutual benefit of our constituents, especially as we represent contiguous constituencies.

It is appropriate, if the House will forgive the pun, that the first vote in the appropriation order is to the Department of Agriculture for which the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State is responsible. I was intrigued tonight by the announcement of a new account involving the princely sum of £1,000 for rural development. That is a mind-boggling concept, but no doubt it will be explained when the Parliamentary Under-Secretary replies.

The Minister is well aware that rural development is a particular passion of mine as I represent a rural community. I hope that the Minister can give us some information regarding progress made by his committee on rural development, which was formed in January this year, and the consultations that it has undertaken in order to promote a programme for rural rejuvenation. The committee has had contact with various district councils. I also refer him to the new committee of the Housing Executive with special responsibility for rural housing. Will he ask his committee to join forces with CRISP, the body set up by the International Fund for Ireland, which is seeking advancement in rural development and would be prepared to put money into it? Because of all the bodies involved, I fear that the whole project may be bogged down in administration and consultation and that, once again, although lip service is paid to the concept, nothing will happen in practice. I hope that the Minister will devote his energies to ensuring that we have a practical rural improvement and regeneration programme.

It will not surprise the Minister if I refer next to fisheries because I have made many representations to him and have asked him to use his good offices to expedite the capital improvement of Ardglass harbour, which is the only one of the three fishing ports in Northern Ireland—Kilkeel and Ardglass in my constituency and Portavogie in Strangford—without meaningful capital development of its harbour. The Minister has had the project from the Northern Ireland Fishery Harbour Authority since early in the year and I am disappointed that work did not commence on it, as anticipated, in April. My constituents would be receptive to an announcement in his reply to the debate tonight that work is to start. From the look on the Minister's face, I do not think that that is likely. I urge him to make the announcement soon because unless work is started on the project now it will have to be postponed for yet another year. The fishermen of Ardglass suffered enough last winter without their boats being endangered for another winter.

I wish to refer to part of my constituency which from prehistoric times has been known as the granary of Ulster, the east Down cereal-growing area. Cereal producers in south Down are paying the co-responsibility levy although they are net importers. They have to import, with high transport costs, but at the same time they have to contribute for over-producing. It is a paradox which should be eradicated as soon as possible so that they may have a better income from a precarious occupation.

I was interested in the complimentary remarks of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) about economic development and job promotion. I pay tribute to the Department of Economic Development, to the Industrial Development Board and to the Local Enterprise Development Unit for the activity in which they are engaged, but I suggest that the cake which is being baked is not being distributed to all. I was horrified to note from answers to parliamentary questions that in the three years 1986–87, 1987–88 and 1988–89 the Industrial Development Board had brought inward investment companies to my constituency on only seven occasions. That is an indictment—there should be equal opportunities for all the people of Northern Ireland. Over the same period, 316 jobs were created by the various agencies. That is 100 per year, which is less than 1 per cent. of the unemployment figures for South Down.

I know that it is difficult to direct inward investment to certain areas, especially as it is scarce because of our other problems. None the less, it would be flying in the face of the statistics not to be worried that a proper direction is not being taken. Will the Minister ensure that the prospect of inward investment opportunity is given to my constituents, just as to other districts in the Six Counties?

The Minister will know that I was particularly enthusiastic when the Department engaged in a programme of fibre optic link developments, now known as the Star programme. I had great hopes at that time that the introduction of fibre optic links would give rural districts such as South Down and other rural areas of Northern Ireland the opportunity of providing what are known as back office operations in rural communities that are sensibly situated, designed and built. I urge the Minister that the Department, and particularly the Industrial Development Board, should place more emphasis on achieving inward investment of that nature, which is just as economically rewarding as the more industrially and production-orientated inward investment companies.

It appears that there is a great danger of becoming bogged down in administration. The Star task force was inaugurated, comprising representives of the Department of Economic Development, the Industrial Development Board, the Local Enterprise Development Unit, the technology board for Northern Ireland, Queen's university and the university of Ulster. If the Minister can get all those organisations to agree to an immediate course of action, he is a better man than I. The time has come for action to be taken abroad, particularly in Europe and the United States, for the transfer of back office operations into the local areas served by fibre optic links.

The other great industrial job creation potential of an area such as my constituency, and indeed Northern Ireland as a whole, is that of tourism. I must again register my criticism at the lack of a serious cohesive drive to present other regions of Northern Ireland in a comprehensive way. My constituency is unique—it has natural and man-made facilities, environmental assets, historic content, ruins and traditions. Those could all be easily packaged to be promoted as another method of attracting tourists from abroad.

I urge the Minister to consider the issue of encouragement and, if necessary, aid for the provision of bed accommodation, particularly in districts such as my constituency of South Down. The obvious and easy method is that of farmhouse accommodation development, which has the dual purpose of job and wealth creation, while at the same time creating income for the rural community. It is tragic when one compares Donegal and Down, at opposite extremes of the north of Ireland. Every crossroads in Donegal has bed-and-breakfast or tourist-approved bed accommodation, but in my area there are virtually none, and the only accommodation is highly priced. That market is no longer available for tourism generally. A small family seeking holiday accommodation want attractive, local, cheap farmhouse accommodation.

Other hon. Members have referred to the energy, electricity and gas industries. There is a great danger that in the north of Ireland we might have priced ourselves out of industrial competition in terms of energy charges. It was correctly pointed out that coal has gone up by £10 a tonne. Even more important in terms of industrial development is the enormous increase in the standing charge for electricity. I do not know whether it is a fattening-up process, but it certainly costs the industrialists a considerable amount—22 per cent. last year, 8 per cent. this year, a total of 30 per cent. in two years. Inward investing industrialists would certainly look at that closely.

The concept of rural planning is badly applied in many areas, both in principle and in practice. The principles of planning are not adhered to in any regular manner which would be intelligible to the layman. An important aspect in rural development and in the preservation of the integrity of rural communities is the fact that planning permissions in rural locations are almost always granted for second homes to wealthy people coming in from the cities. As a result, the available sites cannot he used by the indigenous population—by the sons and daughters of local farmers and villagers. The planning department must engage in a policy of setting aside certain areas either for the provision of public housing or for low-cost housing for local people, so that the sons and daughters of farmers and villagers have the chance to build houses there and live in their own environment.

In the context of rural preservation I am appalled at the news just published that 13 primary schools in the maintained sector in my constituency are up for closure, and it seems that in Closkelt, Ballyward, Leitrim, Gransha, and Edenvale, 13 state primary schools are also up for the chop. If that happens, entire rural communities will be wiped out in a couple of years in one fell swoop. If that is paralleled in the maintained sector, it augurs badly for any attempt to stabilise the rural communities of Northern Ireland. It is not a question of money—it is a question of will. The fundamental provision of primary school education in the community is the factor that makes a community gell. The schools are not just teaching institutions but centres to which communities look. They are used as social and recreational bases and are pivotal to village and community life.

I ask the Minister to ensure that the fullest possible consultation takes place with local people—not just with education boards or with the Catholic maintained schools committee, but with the people who will be deprived of institutions which have existed for more than 150 years. If the 20 or 30 closures in my constituency go ahead, Northern Ireland Departments will be able to forget about rural population maintenance because the centres on which the communities are founded will have disappeared.

9.28 pm
Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)

I am thankful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I have caught your eye in this important debate. However, the competition to speak is not as great as that which usually faces Northern Ireland Members. At most, 13 Members of a House of 650 have been present during this debate on the expenditure of public funds of £2,496,546,900, and that is a disgrace. It is easy for Members who call themselves the national party, as they did in the election a short while ago, to tell people how interested they are in Northern Ireland. There are three Conservative Members and one Opposition Member in the House. That certainly says something. Perhaps there is not so much competition to speak because we are not on peak-time television. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) was included in the 13 hon. Members that I mentioned.

Mr. Beggs

Does the hon. Member agree that it is reasonable for Northern Ireland Members to expect those hon. Members who try to squeeze us out at Northern Ireland Question Time to be here? Where are they? Perhaps they will take note of the debate and desist from the temptation to ask questions that are handed to them by party Whips. That is done to fill space and prevent Northern Ireland Members who have serious matters to address on behalf of their constituents from being called to ask questions.

Rev. William McCrea

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs). I am certain that the Northern Ireland Office and Northern Ireland Ministers have something to do with many of the planted questions. If one looks carefully at the Official Report of the last Northern Ireland Question Time and at some of the prepared questions and prepared answers, one sees that in one case the answer given was not to the question that was asked but to the one that followed it. The detailed answer would certainly lead Northern Ireland Members to think that, in the run-up to a by-election, some hon. Members wanted to pretend that they had a special interest in internal matters in Northern Ireland. They asked about issue such as licences and breathalysers. They asked about little matters that many hon. Members on this side of the water would not have known about had they not been inded details of them.

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

Before we are diverted too far from the order, it is worth making two or three small points. The hon. Gentleman thinks that an interest in breathalysers is in some way connected with the Upper Bann by-election. That is an insult to the electorate of Upper Bann. If the hon. Gentleman had been watching me for the last four years, he would have realised that questions about such matters have not started recently.

If the hon. Gentleman would like a planted question, he should have a talk with me, because many interesting bits of information could be placed on the record. It is occasionally useful to have an hon. Member put down a question and it would be useful if we could have a deal about that. Before the Upper Bann by-election campaign, at one Northern Ireland Question Time only half the Northern Ireland Members put down questions. Perhaps we could remind each other of the right time to put down questions, because that could lead to a better spread.

Rev. William McCrea

I thought that the Minister's intervention would turn into his winding-up speech, and that he had changed his timing. I do not think that the questions about breathalysers had a personal significance for Upper Bann. However, Conservative Members had to ask questions about something and they asked about matters that were relevant to Northern Ireland.

I would be delighted to find a genuine interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland. Interesting questions have been asked on other occasions, but it is strange that tonight the Chamber is almost empty. The Government have a majority of over 100 but only four Conservative Members are present. That shows that something is wrong and I hope that that will be noted by the electorate. The Minister and the Whip have to be here to carry on the business, and that means that only two Conservative Members are willing to be here. That is strange when one bears in mind that we are talking about £2,496 million of public money. Therefore, I have to put a question mark over the sincerity of those hon. Members. I am sure that the Minister will agree that it is rational for me, or any other hon. Member representing Northern Ireland, to question this, bearing in mind the recent heightened interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland shown by Conservative Members.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address the House on a matter of considerable importance, because financial aid to Northern Ireland is vital for us. Vote 1 for the Department of Agriculture deals with marketing and processing and vote 2 with scientific and veterinary services. While I welcome the aid given to farming, which is the largest industry in my constituency, I must express the alarm and dismay felt by farmers in Northern Ireland about the effect of the BSE scare on Ulster meat exports. What is known as mad cow disease has already resulted in the cancellation of an order for meat from the Province to, for example, a German market chain because of the inability to obtain BSE-free certificates.

Farmers in my constituency and in the Province as a whole find this strange. They believe that they are being victimised because of the high incidence of BSE in Great Britain. They find it strange, as should the House, that the disease has a special relationship with constitutional boundaries. The meat plants in the south of Ireland can call their product BSE-free, yet the Department of Agriculture in the north of Ireland cannot do the same for meat there. Is this just a United Kingdom disease, is it something that attacks British cattle, or does it stop at Auchnacloy and immediately start at Castlederg?

This is a serious matter, and I am sure that the Minister will remember that it is most serious, because farmers in the Province will go to the wall. The veterinary section of the Department should intervene and get Northern Ireland special status within the United Kingdom. If this needs to be argued in Brussels, I trust that Ministers will promise the House that this will be done. It is a known fact that, on the mainland tonight, butchers are advertising "BSE-free meat from Ireland". Where is it coming from? The Minister should know that one of the realities of life is that there is a great deal of smuggling across the border. Northern Ireland farmers will have to go to the south, where they are happy to take the meat and sell it to the mainland with this stamp on it. That cannot be right or permissible.

Northern Ireland is suffering for something for which it is not responsible. As the Secretary of State said yesterday at the agriculture show, there is little incidence of BSE in the island of Ireland as a whole. However, from the way that the media have put it, one would think that, although there was no incidence in the south of Ireland and some in Northern Ireland, as the latter is part of the United Kingdom, there must be rigid control on the cattle in Northern Ireland.

It is all very well for the Minister to tell us that the Department of Agriculture spends money on marketing and processing, but there can hardly be marketing and processing because of the situation of the Northern Ireland farmer. It is a serious matter and one that has nothing to do with boundaries. Northern Ireland farmers produce the best standard of British beef and I believe that that beef should be exported throughout the world. We in Northern Ireland are proud of our farming as a whole.

How is the Department of Agriculture succeeding in encouraging set-aside on arable land for alternative farming and non-agricultural purposes? Does the Minister believe that the present grants are attractive enough to encourage such diversification?

Does the Minister agree that the Government's policy is that the private sector should be the major vehicle for economic regeneration in the Province? How does he view the present state of manufacturing and other parts of the business fraternity within the private sector, following the dramatic fall in employment in manufacturing over the past decade? The private sector is dominated now by service industries.

Has the Minister studied the report of April 1990 from the Northern Ireland Economic Council? Is he deeply concerned that the Northern Ireland private sector is small when compared with that in the rest of the United Kingdom and that manufacturing firms within the Northern Ireland private sector are themselves small? The report states: The private sector will have to be able to adjust to rapidly changing technological and market conditions with greater success than has been evident in the past. Can the House be assured that the Government will act constructively in a supporting role as the private sector seeks to prepare itself for the challenge of 1992? To ensure that that happens, the Government must consider additional incentives. Does the Minister feel that all the necessary financial resources are available to him and to the Department to rejuvenate Northern Ireland's industrial base?

I represent an area of high unemployment. Part of my constituency has the second highest unemployment rate in the United Kingdom. I am sure that the Minister will understand that my constituents are concerned about the economy and its relevance to their lives in future. As I come from an area which is in the west of the Province, I am sure that the House will understand my concern about the jobs that have been created recently and their siting.

I ask the Government to give careful consideration to areas in the west of the Province such as Mid-Ulster, which has suffered so much from industrial neglect. Surely the Government can promise my constituents that fresh efforts will be made to encourage industrial development in Cookstown, which has the second highest unemployment figure in the entire United Kingdom. Will similar efforts be made to ensure that industrial development comes to Omagh, Fintona, Dromore and last, but by no means least, Castlederg, which has suffered great deprivation? Special incentives are needed.

I fear that there will not be a fair share of the jobs that are being created for the areas to which I have referred. I ask the Minister to take account of the jobs that have been created recently and exactly where they have been created. They have not been of great assistance to my constituency. I welcome all jobs but the Minister will understand me when I say that I must beseech the Department to consider providing special aid to the constituency of Mid-Ulster.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

I think that what I am about to say will fit into the debate more appropriately at this stage than in my reply. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) recognises that a partnership with Ministers can assist in getting investors, especially those from overseas, to consider developments in areas with which they are not necessarily familiar. Not everyone overseas will have heard of Cookstown, although it matters greatly to the hon. Gentleman and to me.

We are talking about a partnership, but if Ministers say, "Have you thought about Cookstown?", and the first thing that happens is that, when people get to Cookstown, they buy the local paper and discover that Cookstown council is not talking to Ministers, it will be difficult. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could quietly talk to some of the people that he is associated with to try to overcome some of the apparent prejudice. It is not for me to ask people to come to see me, but a united front can be of some advantage to promote the area, as people in many other areas have realised.

Rev. William McCrea

I doubt whether the first thing that the major industrialists of the world do is buy the Mid Ulster Mail. I would like to think that they did but I must in all honesty say that I think that the Minister is pushing it too far and trying to score points for himself.

Certainly there are people in the Cookstown area who belong to other political parties which seem to have an open door to and the ready ear of the Minister, but that has certainly not helped Cookstown much. Therefore, let us not play a little game in which the Minister and the Northern Ireland Office seek to score points with Cookstown council. In the past, Omagh district council has had discussions with the Minister. I am talking about the deputation from Omagh. Why did that not bring prosperity and thousands of new jobs to the district? The Minister is pushing the wrong point. He must understand that there are differences of opinion and that people in Northern Ireland have been incensed by the way that the Government have dealt with their constitutional rights.

The Minister could demonstrate his openness and fairness by saying that the Government will no longer force upon the people of Northern Ireland something which is totally against their will but that, for a change, they will listen to the will of the ballot box. The lesson of the election in Upper Bann will have to be learnt.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) made an excellent speech this evening and I congratulate him on his address to the House. I trust that he enjoys his tenure of office as the Member of Parliament as much as his predecessor, the late Mr. McCusker, who I believe enjoyed representing the good people of Upper Bann.

I ask the Minister to go beyond the political arena and to appreciate the need for industrial devlopment in Mid-Ulster. The unemployed are members of the Province-wide majority community and of the minority community. I want the Minister to take the issue away from the political arena. We must get away from a headcount of whether people are nationalist or Unionist. I want to see an industrial base in Cookstown, Omagh, Fintona, Dromore, Castlederg and all the other little towns. The Minister could proudly take credit for that, if he so desired at a future date, and say he played a part—not the whole—in ensuring the prosperity of people in my constituency.

As regards outside investment, there will have to be special incentives for industrialists to come to the west of the Province, or the number of jobs will continue to stagnate. The Minister has to bear in mind that industry will stay near the ports. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) is correct to say that the spread of jobs—I welcome all jobs—shows that some areas have not been touched or there has only been a smattering of jobs throughout a large part of the Province.

I have the privilege and the honour to represent the west of the Province. I trust that the Minister will accept that I am genuinely asking the Government to intervene on behalf of industry and future industry in my consitutency. Has research been carried out into industrial development in the areas to which I have referred by the Industrial Development Board or the Local Enterprise Development Unit? If the Minister has up-to-date information, I should appreciate it if he could send it to me. I hope that it will be good news for my constituency.

As for the Department of Economic Development, I am disappointed that the attempts to encourage tourism have not been co-ordinated. According to the explanatory note to vote 2, grants towards the provision, extension and improvement of hotels, guest or boarding houses and self-catering establishments have been reduced from £1,229,000 to £829,000. I ask the Minister to give the reason for that considerable reduction in grant aid.

Mr. Beggs

We all appreciate the recent investment in hotel development in Northern Ireland, but the fact remains that those whom we should like to visit Northern Ireland in greater numbers will be unable to afford to stay in such high-standard accommodation. Ought not the Government to consider providing assistance so that those who can afford to pay only modest rates will be able to find accommodation? The strength of the tourist industry in Northern Ireland was built upon coach tours. Northern Ireland is losing out on that trade. We shall be unable to get back unless we provide accommodation for those people.

Rev. William McCrea

I agree wholeheartedly. We must build up that trade again, but we shall be unable to do so with a budget of the size that we are dealing with in this debate. It has been greatly reduced.

According to vote 3, part of that money is provided for the loan of special aids to registered disabled people who require them in order to obtain or retain employment. According to the special provision for assistance to disabled people who are in employment or seeking employment, there are job introduction schemes and capital grant schemes for adaptations to premises and equipment. However, that grant has been reduced by £90,000. Something is radically wrong if cuts have been made in the employment grant schemes for the disabled. This is the time to expand, not to cut, those grants.

Under vote 5, which covers expenditure by the Department of Economic Development, I must enter a plea on behalf of both industrial and private users of electricity. I trust that the Department will stop fattening the goose for privatisation. The Province can do without the privatisation of the electricity industry, bearing in mind the higher living costs in the Province. That is one privatisation which the Government can do without, and I trust that the Minister will take note of that.

I find the expenditure on assistance to the gas industry under vote 5 rather strange. Rather than trying to assist the gas industry it appears that the Government are trying to bury it, or, as the hon. Member for South Down would probably say, give the gas industry the last rites. At this late stage, will the Government change course and ensure that the proposed gas pipeline between Great Britain and the island of Ireland is routed to a location in Northern Ireland? Surely it is essential that the British people of Northern Ireland should share the national asset of natural gas. I am sure that the Minister understands that the people of Northern Ireland feel that the Government have let them down. I trust that the Government will bear that in mind and take some action.

I have to draw to the Minister's attention some issues involving the vote on the Department of the Environment that concern certainly my constituents and, I am sure, the constituents of other hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. I note that the all-party House of Commons Environment Committee is probing conservation in the Province. I welcome the visit and the investigation by the Committee, and I trust that it will do all in its power to preserve the countryside.

However, I must draw the Minister's attention to a matter of grave concern to my constituents in Mid-Ulster—the Rio Tinto Zinc operation outside Omagh in County Tyrone. A motion will be tabled in the House and I trust that it will be signed by right hon. and hon. Members concerning the environmental and social implications of that multinational gold rush in Cavanacaw, Omagh, County Tyrone. It is disgusting that a large trench has been dug in the countryside, of which my constituents gave me some photographs yesterday. I believe that the operation has continued for a year without a licence and that the Government have now granted the company restrospective planning permission.

Are the Government giving the company an unofficial nod and wink? Are they not genuinely concerned about the environmental and social implications? That huge trench has been dug only 140 m from human habitation, necessitating the removal of 40,000 tonnes of farmland. All members of the local district council representing the wide spectrum of political parties within that council have been unanimous in expressing their opposition to the project. Will the Minister ensure that the truth about the project is known, that the company does not get the land by deception or on false pretences and that the pollution that concerns many people in the area will cause the Department to intervene as a matter of urgency?

What knowledge does the Minister have? The operation is on the verge of a scenic wildlife preserve. It is disgusting that the Government have given the company a nod and a wink and then, after a long delay, have granted retrospective planning permission that would never have been achieved had the company approached it in the proper way. However, the company went ahead. It seems to pay to railroad proposals through against the will of the people and their elected representatives.

I asked the Minister to clarify the matter. If he has no particular knowledge of the operation, I trust that he will look into it. If he goes to Cavanacaw, he will be able to look into it, as it is certainly big enough. He will have to stand to one side, or he will drop into it. Seriously, it is causing great concern and I trust that the Minister will bear that in mind.

Under the Department of Education vote, will the Minister confirm that the budget allocated for nursery school places is sufficient to meet the needs of the community? What proportion of the child population is receiving nursery education? What representation has the Department received on this matter, and what response has been forthcoming to meet the concerns that have been expressed by parents in the Province?

Will the Minister comment on the evidence given to a conference yesterday that repair and maintenance bills for Ulster schools will eat up the bulk of Government cash earmarked for education reform? That has caused much consternation within the education fraternity.

There have been recent press reports of school closures. I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Member for South Down on this issue. Whether it be the maintained school or the controlled school, there is much concern in the rural community that the promises of curriculum support for rural schools will not be kept.

Home help services have caused much concern to my constituents. The pensions given to our pensioners are inadequate, given the higher cost of energy and food in the Province. They are on a meagre pension. It is disgraceful that they are left to live on the breadline, bearing in mind that many of them grafted hard to build the Province into the industrious place that it is.

Will the Minister give a categoric assurance that the citizens of the United Kingdom, particularly of Northern Ireland, are not suffering because of the financial burden of the sight test? I should be interested to hear what he has to say about that.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity of raising these matters, which concern our constituents, under this wide appropriation order. I trust that the Minister will give us some pleasure with answers that will at least bring a little enjoyment to our constituents.

10.3 pm

Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)

Right hon. and hon. Members are aware that all the elected representatives of constitutional parties in Northern Ireland reject the Order in Council procedure. It is a most unsatisfactory and increasingly unacceptable method of dealing with Northern Ireland business.

I am delighted to welcome my Ulster Unionist colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I congratulate him on the content and presentation of his maiden speech and join him in paying tribute to his loyal and courageous predecessor. I wish my hon. Friend every joy and satisfaction in a worthwhile parliamentary career. He enjoys the support of the majority of his constituents, having gained 59 per cent.—20,547—of the votes cast. The Conservative challenger polled less than 3 per cent. and received only 1,038 votes. The Alliance candidate was almost wiped out. Votes for that party fell from the 1987 election level by 1,439 to a 948 low. The Right to Vote Labour candidate polled 235 votes and the SDP candidate received 154. All the mainstream mainland parties lost their deposits along with other parties.

The two other Unionist candidates received more votes than the Conservative party, the Labour party and the SDP. Surely that is a clear message. As has already been said, it was a total rejection of the policies imposed on the Northern Ireland electorate. I make those observations to emphasise the solid support of the Northern Ireland electorate for candidates who are entirely opposed to the Anglo-Irish diktat and the Order in Council procedure.

As a matter of urgency, there should be a determined effort to establish proper procedures for dealing with Northern Ireland business at Westminster, and such procedures should largely replace Orders in Council. At the same time, establishing democratic institutions in Northern Ireland and giving the elected representatives of constitutional parties there increased responsibility would show that the enthusiasm for democracy expressed openly in the House in welcoming the replacement of communist regimes in eastern Europe is also applied to restoring democratic rights and equality of treatment within the United Kingdom for British citizens in Northern Ireland. Will our Government and the Opposition recognise the repeatedly expressed wishes of Northern Ireland Members for an end to Order in Council procedures and to many Northern Ireland Office policies?

I refer briefly to votes 1 and 2 for the Department of Agriculture. I welcome the continuing support for the marketing, production and processing of agricultural products. Northern Ireland farming families, the industry and the Department of Agriculture have worked steadily over the years to produce high quality food products that meet the ever-higher standards demanded by consumers. Will the Secretary of State and his other Ministers continue robustly to defend the meat industry and the health status of our livestock produce against the unscientific speculation that has caused unwarranted anxiety here in Great Britain? Will he reassure consumers that Northern Ireland food products are safe and that the Department of Agriculture scientific and veterinary service is adequately resourced to ensure consumer safety? Does the Minister agree with Dr. Verner Wheelock of the food policy studies unit at Bradford university, who was reported in the Belfast Telegraph as saying: The way in which the authorities in England are reacting in taking British beef off the menu for fear of BSE is quite stupid"? Many hon. Members on both sides of the House would probably concur with that statement.

Will the sums voted in the order be adequate to cover costs that might be incurred if emergency measures become necessary to cope with exports lost temporarily as a result of scaremongering? Has the Department of Agriculture yet offered help to the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association and to meat plants?

With reference to votes 1, 2 and 3 for the Department of Economic Development, I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) in concluding negotiations with the Japanese company, Ryobi Ltd., which will eventually provide about 100 jobs in Carrickfergus in my constituency. I share the concern that has been expressed by other hon. Members about the scarcity of jobs and job creation schemes and their feeling of loss when new opportunities are located elsewhere. If we face that problem jointly and encourage more investment to Northern Ireland, we hope that in the near, rather than in the distant future, it will be possible for areas that are not benefiting at present to achieve a fairer share of inward investment. As the constituency Member of Parliament, I am delighted to welcome that Japanese company to Northern Ireland.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that the excellent industrial relations record of responsible trade unionists, and the availability of a highly educated, trained, skilled, industrious and versatile work force, backed by the support of the Industrial Development Board, will, together with an outstanding environment, and any number of attractive locations from which a company can choose to locate, continue to make Northern Ireland attractive to other overseas investors.

I am sure that the Minister will also agree that. although grants help to attract and encourage inward investment, many of those who take the decision on where to locate do so for other reasons. Grant considerations come later. Again, I pay tribute to the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North who went an extra mile to give support to that new inward investment.

I ask the Minister to take a closer look at the provision of management training in Northern Ireland with a view not only to raising the standard of our management expertise, but to providing increased opportunities and a greater number of places on management training courses. As we get new investment, we shall need more and more management expertise.

I sincerely support the aims and objectives set out in the framework document for the Training and Employment Agency. I know that other hon. Members from Northern Ireland will be watching its progress carefully. We hope that that body will be successful in helping to ensure that employees in Northern Ireland have an attractive range of skills and expertise that will enable them to benefit from new employment opportunities.

Vote 3 relates to the community workshops. Unlike the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), who referred to the problems experienced by community workshops, I shall be direct and simply ask the Minister to tell us the Government's long-term policy towards them. is there a timetabling target for reducing those schemes? It is thought in some quarters that the assurances arid guarantees given by the Minister are not being honoured in the same spirit by officials, who have diluted them.

How many of those workshop schemes have already been forced to close because they cannot operate under the new funding arrangements? Will the Minister assure the House that adequate support is available on request to assist workshop providers to manage the limited resources allocated to them, and endeavour to ensure that payments for claims submitted from the workshops are speeded up as much as possible?

The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) referred to the provision for the disabled in the same vote. In my experience, disabled people want to help themselves, and we have a duty to provide the resources to enable them to do so. With more funding, more could be done.

Let me again register a protest about the fact that consumers in Northern Ireland are being denied choice in the type of energy that they wish to use. They are also being denied access to cheaper natural gas. It is not good enough to blame past records of gas used; the gas produced in Northern Ireland has always been too expensive. Consumers in Northern Ireland should be given real choice and access to a natural gas supply. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to making choice available, and to seek EC funding to provide a cross-channel link to Northern Ireland from the British gas grid. Can he tell us whether the words assistance to the gas industry —in vote 5—would permit an assessment of the cost of a pipeline to Northern Ireland from Morecambe bay or the Scottish coast to be carried out?

Teachers in all schools find that the administrative demands arising from the education reform programme are impinging on their teaching time. For most conscientious Northern Ireland teachers, it also impinges on their out-of-school time. Can the Minister, at the earliest opportunity, consider further reducing pupil-teacher ratios in Northern Ireland, and making available more discretionary posts to area boards for distribution to schools where a need for extra part-time support has been identified? Can he also give an assurance that curriculum demands arising from the reform programme will not force the closure of all small schools serving isolated rural areas, and that the Department of Education and Science will make every effort to retain viable education in our rural areas?

Many parents are annoyed that in the current transfer procedure their children are unable to obtain places in the school of the parents' first choice. Parents in the Craigavon area claim that they have no real choice. The Minister should consider closely the validity of that claim made by people who feel aggrieved. I should also appreciate it if the Minister would tell us what arrangements there are to permit parents who are dissatisfied with the outcome of the transfer procedure to appeal.

I record my support for the case made by the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) for improved pollution control and an end to the dumping of sewage off our seaboard. It is absolutely disgraceful that the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland has still not made provisions in my constituency and others to end the practice of disposing of raw sewage into the sea. My constituents make no distinction between untreated sewage and chopped-up sewage. They do not want it dumped in the coastal area and the rich fish harvest damaged or contaminated in any way. I trust that steps will be taken to help us to improve further the tourist attractiveness of the area, which is already deemed to be one of outstanding natural beauty, by ensuring that proper sewage farms are in place and that our coastal waters and beaches are free from pollution.

Ministers responsible for the environment and economic development should also get together as quickly as possible to discuss how to solve the blight and the eyesore created by the limestone works in Glenarm village. That village is deemed to be worthy of conservation, but it and the surrounding area have been contaminated and polluted by limestone dust. I sincerely believe that the company is prepared to bear its share of the cost of relocation. It would greatly enhance our attractive Antrim coast road if those works were relocated.

Before we next meet to discuss an appropriation order, I trust that positive steps on some of those issues will have been taken.

10.22 pm
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

Before I comment on the draft appropriation order, I join others in welcoming to our Chamber the new hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I do so not for the sake of convention, but because I genuinely welcome him here.

The hon. Gentleman and I have known one another for many years. In the past 20 years we have served on many committees and spoken together on many platforms. Those of us who heard his fine excellent maiden speech will recognise that he will bring a considerable knowledge of the law not only to his party but to others and that that will aid deliberations in this Chamber. He has brought commitment, ability and conviction on Unionist principles to an area which had a tremendous constituency Member.

Having fought the by-election, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the high regard that the constituents of Upper Bann had for the former Member. He will know, therefore, that he inherits a constituency which has been well looked after and that he also inherits a mission. It was the dying wish of his predecessor that the Anglo-Irish Agreement should be destroyed and that an acceptable alternative should replace it. The hon. Member for Upper Bann will willingly lift up that torch and fight the same cause for his constituents.

The hon. Gentleman has our best wishes as he commences his parliamentary career. I agree with so many of his remarks that it is impossible to go over each one, but I noticed how carefully he chose the terminology of representative institutions. The Province is so bereft of democratic structures at any level that it is clear that more responsibility needs to be put into the hands of locally elected representatives. The hon. Gentleman will have seen from his short experience of the House the exceptional way in which Northern Ireland is dealt with. He referred to a planning instrument, which I will deal with later, setting up an entirely different procedure for Northern Ireland from that for other parts of the United Kingdom. Having heard his colleague the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) talking about grass cutting in his constituency and about broken windows in public sector housing, he should not feel in the least embarrassed in following his hon. Friend down that road, for this is one of the few opportunities that we have to raise those nitty-gritty, bread-and-butter issues in the House. No one in any other chamber has an opportunity to raise them.

The debate may not lend itself to cramming the House full of interested listeners, as happens at Question Time. I, too, wish that the Tory Whips, when planting questions, would at least ensure that hon. Members can read the questions properly, instead of muffing them, as happened recently. We are happy to see Members from other parts of the United Kingdom taking a genuine interest in Northern Ireland issues—we just wish that they would spread their interest more evenly over the deliberations on Northern Ireland.

On the appropriation order it is usually best to make most of one's remarks on the subject matter which is the responsibility of the Minister who is to reply to the debate. One has a better chance of getting answers because he does not have to consult other Ministers, and one does not get the standard reply. "My colleague will write to you." The Minister should know the answers to all the questions. As a member of East Belfast conservative association, the Minister will want to do everything possible to assist the people of East Belfast. If he does not, I will tell them that the Conservative party will do nothing for them. If he does something, however, I will tell the people of East Belfast that I have done something for them, too, so he cannot win either way.

Vote 2, expenditure by the Department of the Environment on housing services, comes under the Minister's environment portfolio. I want to talk about one housing estate, Mertoun Park, which is on the boundary between my constituency and that of the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) and on the periphery of the city of Belfast. The residents of that housing estate, which was built six or seven years ago and consists of about 106 houses, feel that they have been forgotten. The houses are good, but the estate is deplorably designed. It is so badly designed that the in-house architects for the Housing Executive refer to it as an experiment that went wrong. The residents can confirm that the design has led to a series of problems which are part of their day-to-day lives and require special attention from the Housing Executive.

The design is such that the houses surround small courts. In a space little greater than that between the Benches in front of me is a playground for 50 or 60 children. By any modern standards, that would be insufficent for the layout of Housing Executive estates. The children have no alternative play area other than the road, which has not been properly adopted—or if it has, it was adopted only in the past few days or weeks—six or seven years after the housing estate was built. I urge the Minister to provide the Housing Executive with the finance necessary to provide adequate play facilities for that area because the Housing Executive owns the field adjacent to Mertoun Park.

If it was not bad enough that the residents have all those housing difficulties in relation to design features, they happen to be opposte Kinnegar Army base, which provides them with another problem. The helicopters from the Army base fly low directly overhead. The net result is that the houses shake, their windows rattle and people looking out often wonder whether the helicopters will manage to clear the houses and the trees around the estate. In other districts, grants have been made available for double glazing and it is clearly essential that that should be done in this case.

Mr. Kilfedder

The hon. Gentleman is referring to a matter that is in my constituency of North Down. I have already pursued the issue a number of times with the Ministry of Defence and asked about getting money to provide double glazing for residents in the Holywood area of my constituency. I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's support. He may rest assured, as may the residents, that I have not given up the battle.

Mr. Robinson

I am grateful for those comments. If the hon. Gentleman refers to the electoral register, he will see that Mertoun Park is split between our two constituencies. He is right that a small part of the estate is in his constituency, and a larger part is in mine. Together we can happily join forces in urging the Minister to take prompt action to deal with a district which, sadly, has been so badly neglected by the Housing Executive and where residents are under so much strain because of the Army camp nearby.

The residents in no way want to make it difficult for the Army operations to continue. They simply want to enjoy the facilities granted to the residents of other Housing Executive estates affected by noise pollution. I trust that the Minister will do something to alleviate that problem.

I wish to refer to an issue that I have raised with Northern Ireland Ministers over the past four years—for that is the length of time that people living in the Bloomfield area have suffered a blight which affects house sales, the quality of life, and the environment. There is a large area known locally as the Sunblest bakery site. After the bakery was burnt down, rubble remained there and the residents have had to live with the consequences, including bricks being thrown through their windows, young people gathering and making bonfires, and all the other nuisances associated with an abandoned site.

The Northern Ireland Office decided to permit two housing associations to purchase the site so that they could build homes on it. Unfortunately, the Minister has not provided the money necessary to enable that to be done. Both the Minister and his Department recognise that houses are needed in that area, but money has still not been forthcoming. Not only are people being deprived of accommodation on an available site, but existing residents are suffering the consequences of the dereliction. I urge the Minister somehow to squeeze out of his budget the finance required to allow the two housing associations to start building.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann referred to the planning and building regulations draft order that the Minister is promoting. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) referred to a gaping hole in his constituency and said that the Department had granted retrospective planning permission almost as a matter of course. In some instances, that seems to developers to be a better way of obtaining consent. I have raised the same issue with the Minister before, and I suspect that I shall have to do so again as his new proposals do not meet the case.

The Minister's solution for dealing with retrospective applications is to give the Department power to require a person who has built without obtaining consent to make an application subsequently. That is not a suitable punishment for breaching planning controls. In many ways, it will not even serve as a deterrent. Only if a builder refuses to make an application, having already ignored planning controls, will any fine be levied.

I have put to the Minister the argument made in a previous Northern Ireland Assembly that a proper penalty should be imposed on those who commence building without receiving planning permission, which could take the form either of a fine or a more expensive retrospective application. I urge the Minister to re-examine that issue and to make the necessary changes to the 1972 order so that it makes clear that people are required to make a planning application in advance, rather than only after the Department catches up with them. If the Minister does not recognise that that it is a major issue, he should contact town halls throughout the Province.

I have told the Minister before in the House that 25 per cent. of the planning applications made to Castlereagh borough council relate to schemes on which building work had already commenced. At every planning meeting, the council deals with retrospective applications, and that is in a borough where much house building and other types of building is going on.

I urge the Minister to take this matter seriously because by and large people are building without permission and hoping that they will get away with it. They know that if they do not, the Department will not look closely at the merits of the case in planning terms but will consider whether the person can be asked to pull down the structure. The Minister now has the opportunity for a new planning order to address this issue and find a solution which will be a proper disincentive to people who are tempted to build without planning permission.

I stress the point made by the hon. Member for North Down about the rights of objectors. Those rights must be protected, and that can best be done through district councils—so long as they have the power to call for an article 22 inquiry. The new draft planning order provides an opportunity to amend that article by removing the two-month requirement. That would significantly strengthen the hand of district councils and balance the scales between planning applicants and local objectors.

On the matter of the Department of Health and Social Services, I strongly concur with what my hon. Friend the Member for North Down said about the elderly. He has raised the matter in the House on several occasions and on each occasion I have endorsed what he said. I wish that somebody would listen to the two of us and recognise that there is a real need for proper concessionary licences and free transport for the elderly. Those things could be done at very little cost. They would probably cost less than it cost the Government to run the Upper Bann by-election campaign for the Conservative candidate and would do much more good for the people of Northern Ireland.

It is essential to remove the anomaly about concessionary television licences. I do not like the way that the Minister appears to be moving towards eliminating the anomaly by making everyone pay the full television licence fee. I urge him to set a concessionary fee for the elderly right across the board rather than continuing with the present inequitable system.

The last matter that I wish to raise may cause me to step on the toes of the hon. Member for North Down, but I know that he will be happy to support me because he and I share a concern about the issue. It relates to a proposal by the Eastern health and social services board to close two play schools—one in the hon. Gentleman's constituency at Tullycarnet and one in mine at Knocknagoney. The proposition by the board, which I assume is to meet the requirement for cuts in the Health Service proposed by this Tory Government, means that people who are much in need of such facilities and who made great use of them are to be disadvantaged by their loss.

I trust that the Minister will urge his colleague who has responsibility for such matters in the Department of Health and Social Services to use his influence on the board. The board should be told that if it wants to engage in penny pinching it should not do it where it will hurt people. I am talking about areas in which there is much need. The board must not remove facilities which have been an excellent aid to people. In my constituency and in the constituency of North Down the united view held by local government representatives and parliamentary representatives is that the Minister should step in and do something about this.

It is right to pose my final question now that the Secretary of State has joined us. It comes under the heading of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am sure that the Minister will look at the sums granted in the appropriation fund, and give his considered opinion as to whether it will soon be necessary to present a money order to grant further sums to the Assembly. Does he expect a greater use of that building to be made over the next few months?

10.45 pm
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I found it interesting when, earlier, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) joined the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) in speaking about pollution from North Down into Belfast lough. Some people in Northern Ireland think that there is greater pollution in other parts of North Down, nearer to Belfast, and we should like that to be cleared up as well.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). We served together in the Northern Ireland constitutional convention, on which he also represented south Belfast. As he is a senior lecturer in law at Queen's university, in my constituency, that is another reason for welcoming him, although my alma maters were Magee university college, Londonderry and Trinity college, Dublin. I came from what was the bastion of loyalty, and he comes from what has, in the past 20 years, been a bastion of republicanism. I am delighted that his presence tonight has shown something of his ability.

My hon. Friend succeeds the late Harold McCusker, who came from close to Lurgan. Those who know Northern Ireland know that that is the spade town of Ulster, where we call a spade a spade. Harold was prepared to do so. Sometimes people did not like that, but at least they could not say that they did not understand what he was talking about. The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) teased my hon. Friend by saying that one should not be controversial in maiden speeches, but that my hon. Friend was getting close to it, and that he would not be heard in silence in future. My hon. Friend could have been even more controversial. He could have reminded the House that a Tory was originally an Irish Jacobite, and in this tercentenary year of the battle of the Boyne, we are glad that we beat the Tories again in Upper Bann.

Vote 1 for the Department of Health and Social Services deals with money for hospitals. A constituency case highlights the problem not only in Northern Ireland but in health care provision in the rest of the kingdom. We are told that people are being given more choice. At times, I suspect that it is the choice of the turkey just before Christmas, which means that there is little choice left for the poor bird. The Jubilee hospital in south Belfast, which is part of the city hospital, has served the local community, and the wider community, for many years. I should like some clarification on this issue.

I tabled an oral question for the latest Northern Ireland questions, but because of the popularity of television appearances, and the movement towards the by-election, a large number of hon. Members representing other parts of the kingdom asked questions. As a result, I received only a formal written response. I wanted to know what guidance was given to the boards and units of management throughout Northern Ireland on the provision of services. I understand that the senior official in the Eastern health and social services board has told the unit of management, in the presence of others in City hospital, and Jubilee hospital in particular, that the board will not be purchasing obstetric and maternity services from Jubilee hospital. That is one way of stopping provision. I ask the Department to examine the matter. What does it have to say about in-house tendering? What does it have to say about competitive tendering? If my memory is correct, Jubilee hospital has been undertaking about 3,000 deliveries a year at a more economic rate than other hospitals. That runs counter to the judgment that the Eastern board and other boards must accept the lowest bid in competitive tendering.

We have been told this evening that responsibility lies with the board, not with the Minister. The same is true of education and library boards. When I heard the Minister's response, I was reminded of an incident in my boyhood, when my mother chastised my brother and I for splashing water round the kitchen. I said, "It wasn't me." We were twins, and I was holding my brother up to the tap so that he could splash the water. The Minister seemed to be saying what I said when he told us, "It is not my responsibility. The responsibility lies with the board." But who appoints the board and who ensures that the elected representatives who are members of the council are in the minority so that the Department, through its nominees, has the whip hand? I ask that consideration be given to the development of hospital services. It would be much better to tell the people that a hospital is to be closed rather than to have a moratorium, place pressures upon the staff and demoralise all those within a hospital that provides a service to the community.

The work of occupational therapists comes under vote 1 of the Department of Health and Social Services. They are a group whose care and provision affect the entire community. Are there enough occupational therapists? If not, why has their establishment been frozen? How many of them are in the various boards? How many of them are involved in community occupational therapy and are geared for domiciliary services? We are supposedly thinking and moving in the direction of care in the community, and those people will be needed even more. As I understand it, the basic grade in our hospitals has been the subject of a freeze, and in north and west Belfast there has been a waiting list since 1988. How can we say that we are providing care in the community if a waiting list means a wait of six weeks? We must try to help people to develop their skills and to rehabilitate themselves to live in the community. Occupational therapy needs to be examined with greater accuracy and understanding.

When he replies to the debate, the Minister will have been told by a close colleague in the Department on this side of the water that Project 2000 has been promoted. This week it was announced that funds have been provided for it and that various schemes have been cleared. How far have we gone to develop Project 2000 in Northern Ireland? Have I missed an announcement that the scheme has already started, and that it has been recognised in one of the nursing schools? Is there a shortage of funds in that field, especially in the Eastern health and social services board, which has to provide so much specialised one-to-one nursing, partly due to the impact of the terrorist campaign? I understand that the impact of the regrading scheme for nurses left the board with a £6 million shortfall in the budget before it began this year. The board cannot make that up by economies and savings.

Another group that I wish to mention are the disabled, and specifically young deaf people. What provision is being made to train them? I am speaking in particular of the Department of Economic Development vote 3. What provision has been made to train employers and social workers to handle young deaf people who are seeking employment? One of their difficulties is that they are not as literate as other young people, but many of them, if they are treated with understanding, could be outstanding in their jobs. But many employers dismiss them straight away because they cannot communicate with them. I know that young deaf people in England and in Northern Ireland are seeking to promote and to help training. Is the Department doing anything to help through its training programme?

I mentioned transfer procedures earlier, and my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) also raised the matter. I believe that appeals must be in by 1 June and will be decided by 15 June. If the evolution of the education system means that we put more people into the grammar school system—that is the choice that people make, and if they have the qualifications to go there they feel deprived if they are not given the opportunity—will we not endanger many secondary schools which could provide the technical and vocational training that so many of our young people need?

10.58 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

It is often stimulating to study similar situations and try to find the differences. Often the media are interested in the differences that exist inside major political parties, rather than the distinctions between them. In Northern Ireland the position is somewhat different, and we are often aware of the differences between political organisations—they can be the most extreme differences imaginable—but sometimes it is instructive to consider the similarities between diverse political parties within Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) talked about a trench and showed us a picture of it. It is interesting to note that all the differing parties in the council concerned were united on the issue. As a new Member in the House, I learned a lesson when a deputation arrived from Strabane to try to persuade the Government to provide money—as is done under the Bellwin scheme—to deal with flooding, because the deputation included people with the widest possible range of political views.

I have been impressed by the extent to which agreement on social and economic questions has been reached. Reference has been made in the debate to pensioners' rights and social welfare provision and to the fact that the Government are not doing what is right for Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland appropriations provide us with an opportunity to discuss the nearest thing that we have to a Northern Ireland Budget. They are the stuff of politics. You ruled, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the police and security cannot be discussed in the debate. It is right that we should hold Northern Ireland debates from which the police, security and terrorism issues are excluded.

Unfortunately, whenever Northern Ireland appropriations are discussed, most hon. Members think that it is time to go. Nearly everyone disappears. That is partly due to the fact that there will be no Division and that no amendments can be made. I wish that those hon. Members who are interested in security questions and who receive a great deal of press coverage came to these debates to deal with the stuff of Northern Ireland politics.

I refer in particular to Opposition Members. We claim to be democratic Socialists and to be concerned about people's welfare. That is exactly what the Northern Ireland appropriations deal with. They allow hon. Members to discuss economic policies and the budgetary provisions for Northern Ireland. There is sometimes a tendency to get bogged down in the details, partly because there is no other means by which to deal with such issues. A devolved form of government for Northern Ireland would solve that problem. Northern Ireland Members of Parliament want to highlight the many constituency problems that they have to face.

The whole of the island of Ireland increasingly has to involve itself in international economic issues. The solution to Northern Ireland's serious economic problems will be part of a much broader pattern of economic development. It can be likened to the need for all countries to take action to solve the problem of global warming. One nation can do its bit by taking action to counter the greenhouse effect, but correct solutions will not be found unless there is international co-operation. That applies just as much to economic problems as to pollution of the environment. Nevertheless, something could be done and some steps could be taken that the Government have not contemplated. Northern Ireland has its own special problems in addition to having our problems multiplied to the nth degree.

It is interesting to consider the Department of Employment's figures on unemployment in connection with tonight's debate. When the debate finishes at 11.30 pm, we shall have heard three speeches from Conservative Members. According to the Government's unemployment figures, the constituencies that they represent have fewer than 2,000 people unemployed. The constituencies represented by my hon. Friends and I have unemployment figures of between 2,500 and 5,000—unemployment in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is 5,000 and the figure for my constituency is just over 2,500. My constituency is marginal—half is Conservative territory and the other half is Labour territory, with unemployment concentrated in Labour areas. The problems of homelessness and indebtedness in my constituency are universal in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North.

According to the Government's figures, unemployment in the constituencies of hon. Members representing Northern Ireland is above 4,000 and sometimes considerably more. The highest unemployment figure for a constituency in Northern Ireland is 9,624. We must remember how often the Government adjust the unemployment figures. Those adjustments reduce the unemployment figures for the constituencies of hon. Gentlemen who have spoken tonight, except those of Conservative Members. Seven of the nine constituencies with the highest unemployment figures are in Northern Ireland, where such problems cut across the political divide.

The two constituencies with the highest unemployment figures are Belfast, West, which is represented by Sinn Fein, and Foyle, which is represented by the SDLP. The constituency of Mid-Ulster is next and there is high unemployment in constituencies represented by Ulster Unionist Members. Although we have tried to tackle many of the problems in Northern Ireland with fair employment provisions, those measures cannot work properly without some strategy for tackling unemployment in the Province.

If time permitted, I could say much more about the problems and difficulties in Northern Ireland that represent an extension of many of those that exist in our own constituencies. There are problems of indebtedness: figures published by the Housing Executive show the number of families who have had their electricity cut off. That occurs much more in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.

There is widespread homelessness, despite the work of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Many houses in Northern Ireland are old, and, according to a survey produced by the Housing Executive, 60 per cent. of dwellings were built before 1919. There is much overcrowding, inadequate food storage facilities and lack of proper facilities generally.

To tackle those problems, we need collective, co-ordinated and planned action. I attend these debates regularly, at which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) suggests such action. He said that there should be more social welfare provision and economic development. The market philosophy and the principles of free enterprise and entrepreneurship, as propounded by the Government, are most damaging to Northern Ireland.

There are problems with collective, co-ordinated and planned action, but they can be solved by instigating democratic practices. No democracy can operate without vast bureaucracies but by extending democracy bureaucracies can be made to work better. Devolved government for Northern Ireland seems essential.

That is not to deny the difficulties of the political divisions and the deeper divisions in Northern Ireland. A Bill of Rights is particularly appropriate to Northern Ireland's problems, because it would prevent bias against the communities, thereby making them feel more protected and assured. The Secretary of State's responses show that he is not entirely opposed to that development.

Mr. Beggs

I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the Bill of Rights, but does he agree that, in order to protect minorities, it should apply to every citizen of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Barnes

A case can be made for a Bill of Rights, but it is argued that, because of the civil liberties problems and divisions between both communities, before a Bill of Rights can apply to Northern Ireland it must be worked out for the United Kingdom, but that argument does not hold. A Bill of Rights is appropriate to tackle special problems, so it might be useful to instigate it initially in Northern Ireland. We might benefit and learn from that and be able to develop it more generally. The Government thought that it would be advantageous to introduce the poll tax first in Scotland. Luckily, they have not introduced it in Northern Ireland. They could take progressive action by introducing a Bill of Rights initially in Northern Ireland, from which we could benefit later.

The one democratic advantage of Northern Ireland is that it does not have the poll tax. Its franchise is therefore healthier than the rest of the United Kingdom, where 600,000 people have disappeared from the electoral register. It has the right franchise, but it cannot use it properly because the framework in which to operate it is wrong. If we want the young people of Northern Ireland to respect each other, to develop a social conscience and to be involved in the democratic process, we cannot continue to preach greed, ruthlessness and competition between people. The opposite qualities are exactly those which are required for Northern Ireland. They are the qualities of democratic socialism, which are required for the rest of the United Kingdom. Let us start doing something in that direction, because there is a crying need for social and economic provisions.

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

I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate for the constructive way in which they have approached the problems of Northern Ireland addressed by the spending in the order.

In particular, on my behalf and that of the those who either heard the speech of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) or heard reports of it, I say that his speech will be remembered as one of the best maiden speeches that has been made in this Parliament. I speak as someone who was elected at a by-election. An hon. Member from the other side said how much he appreciated my speech and how much better it was than that of my party leader. I shall not be as damaging as that because the hon. Gentleman's party leader has not spoken in the debate tonight.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann spoke in a way that showed no sign of nerves. His precise delivery may have betrayed the fact that he made a full-time living as a lecturer and could have continued to do so. But that is not the way the result turned out. We look forward to hearing from him more often. The hon. Gentleman shares with the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) a gift of understatement which is not always characteristic of Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland. He also speaks rather than proclaims, which again is welcome.

The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) referred to meat. I have tried to avoid putting meat into the headlines. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland did well at Balmoral yesterday in answering open questions in an open way.

Without in any sense seeking to be secret or private, I believe that we are coming to a time when the level of publicity given to BSE should fall. I predict that during the next 12 months no one in the whole of the European Community will die of BSE. Some 55,000 people will die on the roads. How much more useful it would have been if half the publicity about BSE and meat had been diverted to areas in which we can save lives over and over again.

Mr. Jim Marshall

The comparison is nonsense.

Mr. Bottomley

I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman seeks to make.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) must speak on the record.

Mr. Bottomley

My point is that the most important industry in Northern Ireland is agriculture and a most important part of that is beef.

I do not intend to answer all the points made about arable agriculture and set-aside. Few people in arable farming want to go into set-aside. Set-aside does not apply to most arable farmers, unless they are in environmentally sensitive areas, where different considerations apply.

My prime job is to work with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for Agriculture and Food from the south—I pay tribute to Michael O'Kennedy—with whom I was at Balmoral today. We spoke openly together about some of the agriculture matters that we have in common. We also work closely with the European Commission. Although it is not always shown in the appropriation orders, the outcome of discussions among the Twelve has been better for Northern Ireland than people predicted. I am told that sometimes it is like trying to line up 12 strawberries in a row on a fruit machine, although I would not want to confess to gambling while I am serving at the Northern Ireland Office. There is a partnership between Members of the European Parliament for Northern Ireland, the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ieland—officials as well as Ministers—and our colleagues in London and Brussels. There are further improvements to come, but agriculture remains the most important industry to be protected and on which to build.

Rev. William McCrea

Can the Minister explain why in the south of Ireland "BSE-free meat" is stamped on meat but in Northern Ireland we cannot have the same?

Mr. Bottomley

In terms of what I would call the "health contour", Northern Ireland stands between the south and the rest of the United Kingdom. Great Britain has a higher incidence of BSE——

Rev. William McCrea

What about Northern Ireland?

Mr. Bottomley

That is why I used the expression "Great Britain". Even so, eating meat in Great Britain is safe. Whether the beef comes from Great Britain, Northern Ireland or the south, it is safe to eat. The incidence of BSE is obviously much lower in Northern Ireland than in the rest of Great Britain, but we cannot declare ourselves to be BSE-free. It is vital that we have the same procedures as Great Britain for disposing of offals and any potentially dangerous bits. The south has a lower incidence. The figures are well known and I shall not use up my time by repeating them.

It is fair that we should try to enjoy the benefits of our position without declaring that we are not part of the United Kingdom. I would advance from that point and say that I want to continue disposing of the potentially dangerous offals and have it accepted that the beef anywhere in these islands—Great Britain, Northern Ireland or the south—is safe to eat.

The problem is the reaction of some people, such as education authorities and others in Great Britain, and potential foreign customers, who have begun to believe some of the media comments. I am not being party political because I do not think that the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), who speaks on agriculture for the Labour party, intended the media to carry his remarks as they did. But as the debate on Monday showed, whenever such issues arise, we get more and more appointed, and some self-appointed, experts who make declarations that are not necessarily right. I argue that it is not right to raise scares about beef.

I have never hidden the fact that I am a partial vegetarian. I have reached an agreement with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that if I occasionally eat meat, he will occasionally eat vegetables. I am trying to ensure that I do what the chief medical officer for Northern Ireland did yesterday, which is to eat beef. I am not making a song and dance about doing it, or about doing it in front of the television cameras. I simply mean that we should eat beef to illustrate that it is safe. I do not want to use the rest of the time allowed for this debate talking about this issue because the more one repeats such things, the more one raises the problem.

The assurances were understood at Balmoral where very few people were asking questions about this. They understood the issues. The chief medical officer understands them, as do the veterinary officers. I hope that the customers will understand them, too.

In general, Northern Ireland food is, if I can use the expression, green, clean and healthy. We in Northern Ireland produce more natural food. We do not go in for the intensive use of either pesticides or concentrates, which is one reason why we have achieved recognition for doing far better than Great Britain for lamb, poultry, beef and virtually everything. In one area relating to pigs we are not doing quite as well as Great Britain, but we will solve that problem. Other than that, we can buy our food with confidence.

I hope that those who buy food from continental Europe will recognise that they should be coming to Ireland instead—to all of Ireland, north and south, where we shall be doing what we can to keep the "contour of health" at the highest possible level and to bring others up to our level. If it is not damaging for me to agree with Michael O'Kennedy, I stress that some of the approaches adopted on mainland Europe will have to rise to our levels. We shall not come down to some of their practices. It will sometimes be difficult for other countries to face that. It is right that we should work both with MAFF and with Dublin. There are no real boundaries for food production in Ireland as a whole.

Many important points have been made in this debate. I shall concentrate first on the speech of the hon. Member for Upper Bann. I shall then refer to those hon. Members who spoke last, before working back to those who spoke first. This seems appropriate given the Northern Ireland approach to politics and religion.

The Craigavon issue is important. Craigavon has not gone as well as it should. Discussions taking place between the planning service, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Economic Development should lead to a better future for Craigavon, which at the moment is in the balance. We need to find ways of using the talents of its people and of recreating its development so that it can become what it was intended to be—a thriving part of Northern Ireland. One advantage of the Upper Bann by-election—whose greatest disadvantage was the untimely death of Harold McCusker—is the focus on the area that has allowed many of us to know more about it than we might otherwise have done.

I must say how pleased I was to note that, every time I saw the hon. Gentleman driving past, he seemed to be sticking to the highway code.

I was grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support for the cultural traditions programme. I believe that it will help to bring people in Northern Ireland together and enable them to recognise that one cultural tradition need not triumph over another. As has been pointed out this evening, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pays as much attention to the rights of majorities as to those of minorities—but I do not wish to become involved in politics; that, I feel, would be entirely wrong on the Floor of the House of Commons.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the cadre of officials for the Northern Ireland Assembly. That would best be dealt with through correspondence. Several issues that have been raised this evening need more discussion, if that is possible, or a more detailed response.

I hope that I shall not be accused of favouritism if I return to the remarks of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster. I was not trying to score a party political point earlier, and I am sorry that he thought I was. Clearly we need to get to know one another better. I meant only that, if the natural reaction of overseas industrialists is to consider investing in places of which they have heard, or places where their colleagues have made investments—and we welcome the increasing involvement of the Japanese, for instance—they are more likely to choose areas such as Carrickfergus rather than South Down or Mid-Ulster. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) made the same point: how can the Industrial Development Board persuade more people to come to those areas? I meant to make the point in the gentlest possible way, but I was obviously too heavy-handed for the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster.

Mr. McGrady

Can the Minister explain a paradox? Why does a voluntary society such as the one in charge of the reconstruction of the Down museum railway attract Japanese visitors to invest in its little project, while all the weight, bite and strength of the IDB cannot persuade them to visit the same area?

Mr. Bottomley

Perhaps I should ask the IDB to engage in consultation directly with the hon. Gentleman—and with every hon. Member who is interested in such matters—to establish what can be done to make their areas more attractive to potential visitors. There is no point in arguing so much between ourselves that the investment goes elsewhere—to the Netherlands, for instance. That is what happened when the third London airport was being discussed—or was it the fourth?

We must try to work in the interests of Northern Ireland, and overcome some of the hiccups relating to inward investment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain that to some of his contacts, as I feel that I may be doing more harm than good whenever I say it in public.

I may not support the views of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) on the poll tax, but I pay tribute to his serious interest in Northern Ireland. Those who wax eloquent when some security-related issues are raised could gain some advantage from listening to his speeches about the Northern Ireland economy. It may not be easy for him to hold views on Northern Ireland that are unfashionable within his party, but he is always well worth hearing.

Admittedly, when the hon. Gentleman starts talking about collective co-ordinated planning, it sounds rather like what I used to hear when I was elected in 1975. We were always being told about matters such as industrial strategy agreements, which could not even be arranged with nationalised industries. There is much to be said for the Northern Ireland approach, which is to try to find the enterprise and work with it, whether it is generated internally or externally.

Let us consider food, which is the other side of agriculture. It is worth recognising that the largest food business in Northern Ireland is still only about a third of the size of several in the south. Although we do not want a monopoly in any industry, we should work together if we are to succeed on a European scale.

The provision of viable education is important and that requires the provision of viable schools.

The arguments about the rural communities were well made. In my joint role as full-time Minister responsible for agriculture and part-time Minister responsible for the environment, I intend to do everything I can on the rural improvement programmes so that agriculture can make its full contribution and Government resources can be co-ordinated through the Hodges committee. So, even without adding much to the resources, we can use them more effectively so that the well-being of people throughout Northern Ireland is improved. That is what brings us together in Parliament and what lies behind people's political approaches. That aim also lies behind many of the improvements in the economy of Northern Ireland in the past few years.

It is for Ministers not to take the credit when things go well, but to ensure that more things do go well. Our responsibility is to make possible the things that are right—jobs and justice lie at the basis of that.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1990 which was laid before this House on 16th May, be approved.

  1. STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS, &c. 46 words