§ Mr. Speaker
Before we start on the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, it might be helpful if I repeat to the House what I have said before from the Chair in these debates. The debate on this order may cover all matters for which Northern Ireland Departments, as distinct from the Northern Ireland Office, are responsible. Police and security are the principal excluded subjects.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Brian Mawhinney)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 11th June, be approved.The draft order, which covers the main estimates for Northern Ireland Departments, authorises expenditure of £2,735 million for the current financial year. Taken together with the amount already voted on account, this brings the total estimates provision for Northern Ireland Departments to £4,676 million, an increase of 9 per cent. on 1990–91 provisional outturn. The order also authorises the use of additional receipts to meet an excess vote in 1989–90. The sums sought for individual services are set out in the estimates booklet, which is, as usual, available from the Vote Office.
The provision contained in these estimates needs to be set in the context of Northern Ireland's recent economic performance. Northern Ireland has, to a large extent, escaped the worst effects of the recession. However, the local economy is beginning to be affected by the downturn in economic activity at national level, with unemployment having increased by 3,100 over the past six months. This increase is regrettable, but it is much less pronounced than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Despite the recent fall in the total numbers of people in work, the trend in employment remains upward. Moreover, output in Northern Ireland's industries in the first quarter of 1991 was up by 2 per cent. compared with the same period a year earlier. The local economy is therefore displaying remarkable resilience. Government will continue to do all that they can to assist Northern Ireland industry to improve its efficiency and competitiveness, so that it is well placed to take advantage of the economic upturn.
I now turn to the estimates themselves. As is customary on these occasions I shall concentrate on the main items, starting with the Department of Agriculture. The net provision sought in the two agricultural votes amounts to some £148 million, an increase of £4.5 million over 1990–91. Vote I covers expenditure of £31 million on various market support schemes which operate on a national basis. This includes £15 million for farm improvements and grants to stimulate investment on farms and £16 million is to provide support for farming in the less-favoured areas, by means of payments on hill cattle and sheep.
Vote II seeks provision of £116 million for local agricultural, fisheries and forestry services and support measures. Of this, £48 million is for agricultural, scientific and veterinary services, reflecting the importance of maintaining the highest possible quality of Northern Ireland agricultural produce; £27 million is for arterial drainage, fisheries and forestry.
972 A sum of £1 million is sought for a new initiative on rural development. This will provide for payments to community bodies to promote regeneration projects in the most deprived rural areas of Northern Ireland. A rural development council, which will promote local community initiatives and advise the Department on rural development policies is being set up. I know that Northern Ireland Members will welcome that development.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
In the sum that is allocated for rural development will funds be made available to those who require a decent road from where they live to a main road?
§ Dr. Mawhinney
I shall discuss the Department of the Environment and the amount of money set aside for roads in a moment.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Will the Government respond tonight to the MacSharry proposals and how they will affect expenditure on agriculture? I am sure that the Minister is aware that the farming community is greatly alarmed about the proposals from Europe. If those proposals are carried out many farmers could be put out of full-time farming.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
The hon. Gentleman made his point well, but the key to the answer lies in his words: "if those proposals are carried out". As I understand it, they are simply proposals at the moment and therefore it is unlikely that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), will want to address them in the abstract tonight. However, the Government have noted the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
Surely the Minister does not expect to get away with that. The Government are bound to make some response to the MacSharry proposals, so when can we expect it?
§ Dr. Mawhinney
I shall make clear to the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), the hon. Gentleman's concern. No doubt as soon as he is able to do so, he will respond to the substantive part of the hon. Gentleman's question.
The Department of Economic Development's vote 1 seeks provision for £212 million. That will enable the Industrial Development Board to carry out its role of encouraging industrial development in Northern Ireland, which includes assistance to the aircraft and shipbuilding industries. Last December, the board published its forward strategy for the period to 1993. That sets out how the IDB will respond to the challenges of the early 1990s and outlines the assistance that it can offer to companies. The IDB is encouraging the location and development of internationally competitive companies in the manufacturing and tradeable service sectors in Northern Ireland, to create the conditions for growth in durable employment.
In the Department of Economic Development's vote 2, some £40 million is sought for the local enterprise development unit, LEDU, Northern Ireland's small business agency. Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that, in the past financial year, LEDU promoted almost 7,000 jobs. That was 16 per cent. above target and some 1,000 more than the previous year's record result. That is 973 a very heartening performance and brings the total number of jobs promoted by LEDU since its establishment in 1971 to more than 50,000.
Also in vote 2, £5.5 million is sought for the Northern Ireland tourist board, to promote the further development of the tourist industry in Northern Ireland and to enable the board to market Northern Ireland more effectively.
The Department of Economic Development's vote 3 covers expenditure of £172 million by the Training and Employment Agency, an increase of £6 million over 1990–91. The sum of £31 million is sought for the youth training programme to provide 8,000 places and to meet the guarantee given by the Government of a training place for every unemployed young person under 18. A sum of £53 million is for the action for community employment programme, to provide almost 10,000 places for long-term unemployed adults. They will be offered the opportunity to re-enter the employment market by undertaking work of community benefit. Some £17 million is for the job training programme, an increase of £6 million over 1990–91. That will allow the programme to increase from 2,500 training places last year to around 5,000 by March 1992.
About 35,000 people are currently engaged on the various programmes provided by the Training and Employment Agency and more than 40,000 have been placed in employment since April 1990. It is encouraging also that 95 per cent. of apprentices on training centre courses, entered permanent employment on completion of their training. The agency has also undertaken a major review of mangement education and training, and introduced new arrangements into both the youth training programme and the action for community employment scheme to improve the availability and quality of training.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I am grateful to the Minister for showing his characteristic courtesy in giving way.
On shipbuilding, the Minister will know better than me that Harland and Wolff is one of a small number of major merchant shipbuilding yards left in the United Kingdom. Can the Minister confirm that that merchant shipbuilding yard receives financial assistance through the European Community's seventh directive on the shipbuilding intervention fund? If that money is received and where it is spent on engines, has that shipyard got the power to purchase those engines from anywhere in the world?
§ Dr. Mawhinney
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that he has asked a specific question arising from his deep knowledge of the subject. I believe that it will be much better if I obtain a definitive reply which I hope my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will be able to give the hon. Gentleman when he replies to the debate.
In the Department of the Environment's vote 1, £169 million is sought for roads, transport and ports. That is nearly £8 million more than last year. The sum of £139 million is for the road services programme to finance the operation and maintenance of the Province's road system and new construction and improvement works. A contract for the first phase of the Belfast cross-harbour road and rail links has just been awarded, and work is due to begin 974 in October. The Department of the Environment vote 2 seeks £197 million for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am sure that the Minister is aware that a serious accident occurred on the rail link through my constituency last night when the second cousin of the mayor of Ballymena was killed. Later tonight, will the Parliamentary Under-Secretary be able to explain to the House why the lights on that crossing were defective on Monday and on Tuesday when the accident happened? Will the hon. Gentleman be able to give us some firm information on a matter that has stirred the community deeply? I am sure that we will all want to express our deepest sympathy to the family at this time.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
The hon. Gentleman is right; the whole House would wish him to extend to the family our condolences on the tragedy in his constituency. I was not aware that the person involved was related to Alderman Spence. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will have heard the hon. Gentleman's question, but I am not sure whether, in the time available, it will be possible to provide a specific answer. If that is not possible, I am sure that my hon. Friend will write to the hon. Gentleman with the information when available.
When net borrowing by the Housing Executive to fund its capital programme, rental income and capital receipts, are taken into account, gross expenditure on the housing programme will be about £522 million, or around £18 million more than in 1990–91.
The Department of the Environment vote 3 covers water and sewerage services. Gross expenditure in 1991–92 is almost £134 million, which includes £45 million for capital and £85 million for operational and maintenance purposes. Over the next 10 to 12 years, some £500 million will be spent on the capital works programme. That will include a new water source for the greater Belfast area and the replacement of the main Belfast sewage treatment works, which was built nearly a century ago. It also covers a programme of works in compliance with European Community directives. In the first three years of the programme, some £96 million will be directed at improving the already high quality of drinking water supplies in Northern Ireland.
In DOE vote 4, £124 million is sought for environmental services, an increase of £13 million over 1990–91. That includes £40 million of urban regeneration measures targeted at areas of social, economic and environmental need. As in previous years, that will generate much higher overall investment, through the successful partnerships which have been established with the private sector. Over the life of the scheme, every £1 of grant has levered £4 of private sector money, which is an admirable record.
The estimates for the Department of Education seek a total of £1,151 million, an increase of nearly 12 per cent. over the previous year. Vote 1 includes provision of £648 million for the education and library boards to cover recurrent expenditure. Under the new arrangements for local management of schools and colleges, 80 per cent. of that will be delegated to schools and colleges and managed by them at local level. Included in the allocation to boards is £11 million to enable them to tackle a backlog of urgently required maintenance work.
975 The vote also provides a further £138 million to the boards to cover recurrent expenditure on other services such as libraries and youth services, and for mandatory student awards. A further £54 million is for capital projects which will enable work to start on 12 major building projects, and also provide new laboratories and technology workshops for schools, reflecting the enhanced opportunities arising from the education reforms.
§ Mr. Beggs
Do the estimates include an amount to overcome the alleged underfunding of the Roman Catholic-maintained school system? Many of us were deeply offended at allegations that area boards are in some way responsible for discriminating against the Roman Catholic-maintained sector. Is the Minister in a position to say whether there has been a genuine underfunding of that Church system and what will be done about it?
§ Dr. Mawhinney
The hon. Gentleman is referring to one study of a number that were commissioned by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights, although SACHR has not yet endorsed it. It makes certain suggestions about discrimination or lack of balance in the funding of different school systems in Northern Ireland. The assumptions that underlie the report would, by definition, be subject to question and debate by others. Nevertheless, there has been a record of historic differential in funding between schools in the maintained and controlled sectors.
However, the fact that I am not aware of suggestions that education and library boards were responsible for discrimination will be of some encouragement to the hon. Gentleman in the light of his question. The Department of Education in Northern Ireland recognised that problem some years ago. As the hon. Gentleman will recall, when he was chairman of the north-east education and library board, changes in resource allocation were introduced precisely to start to reverse that historic trend. He will also know that the introduction of local management for schools, which is a basis of funding where the money follows the pupil, will be the most effective way to deal with the problem. That is already widely recognised as a consequence of the debate that has arisen following the publication of that study.
Other expenditure in the schools sector, which is administered directly by the Department of Education, will be £128 million. That includes just over £4 million for grant-maintained integrated schools. There are now 12 integrated schools in Northern Ireland, with aggregate enrolments of 2,300 pupils. This is further welcome evidence of the growing demand from parents that their children should be educated alongside children of other denominations. The recent Northern Ireland social attitudes survey showed that 58 per cent. of Protestants and 67 per cent. of Roman Catholics support integrated education.
In the Department of Education's vote 2, £153 million is sought, of which £87 million is to enable Northern Ireland's universities to maintain parity of provision with comparable universities in the rest of the United Kingdom. This vote also provides the necessary funds for a range of youth, sport, community and cultural activities. In particular, it makes provision of £2.4 million for grants and payments by the Department of Education for the improvement of community relations.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
I believe that the hon. Gentleman is referring to matters included in the education reform order. The Department will want to discuss those with schools that might want to become community schools.
The next set of votes relates to the Department of Health and Social Services. In votes 1 and 3, total net provision of £1,052 million is sought for health and social services. That is an increase of 10 per cent. over last year and will sustain the standard of the Province's health and personal social services. Spending on the family health services will be over £223 million, an increase of £21 million over 1990–91. Some £837 million is for health and social services boards current expenditure, and £51 million is for capital development, to maintain a substantial programme of major and minor works, including £11 million for Antrim hospital. Those allocations will support the Government's reform programme and allow further progress in a number of priority areas, including improved services for the disabled.
Hon. Members will be aware that it is intended to establish a child support agency in Northern Ireland as part of the Government's plans to ensure that absent parents meet their responsibilities for the care and upbringing of their children. In addition, one of the six British regional centres required for the administration of child support work will also be located in Northern Ireland. That welcome development will create 550 new jobs in Belfast. A supplementary estimate to cover the costs of preparatory work in this area will be brought before the House later in the year.
Vote 4 provides £1,106 million for social security benefits, an increase of more than 12 per cent. over last year. Some £491 million is for income support; £170 million for housing benefit and £14 million for payments into the social fund. The balance—£431 million—is for family and non-contributory benefits such as child benefit and retirement pensions.
May I draw hon. Members' attention to the Department of Finance and Personnel vote 3, where a total of almost £3 million is sought for the community relations programme. The programme of community relations work undertaken by the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Department of Education continues to expand. Total expenditure by both Departments will increase from £4 million in 1990–91 to £5.5 million in this financial year. That will support programmes designed to create equality of opportunity and equity of treatment. It also includes projects to promote cross-community contact and increase mutual respect and understanding. The Government believe that those policies and practical measures will, in time, help to ease community divisions.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
In view of the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, is the Minister in a position to say what the Government's attitude is to those councils that may sustain heavy losses? Naturally, I am thinking particularly of Lisburn council, which stands to lose some £3 million. Will the Minister explain the standing—I am choosing my 977 words carefully—of what appears to have been a circular issued by the Bank of England and perhaps made available by the Department of the Environment in Great Britain, giving the impression—again, I choose that word carefully —that BCCI was a bona fide institution in which councils could safely invest?
§ Dr. Mawhinney
I am sure that the House appreciates the concern expressed by the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of his constituents. The Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland, as statute requires, approved the creation of a capital fund by Lisburn borough council. The financial management of the fund, including investment decisions, are matters solely for the district council.
The Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland does not offer guidance on the standing of financial institutions and does not maintain a list of authorised institutions. The consequences of individual investment decisions are a matter for the council involved, but I know that Department of the Environment officials would be willing to talk to officials of Lisburn council if they so wish. However, I stress, as the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) will understand, that those discussions will be without commitment.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
The Minister must realise that he is the first Minister with an opportunity to comment on this matter since the number of councils involved came tumbling out of the woodwork. What discussions has he had with Scottish Office and Department of the Environment Ministers about how they will adopt a joint approach to the problem? Is he really going to argue to the House that, having led local authorities up the garden path by issuing an approved list that will undoubtedly have been referred to by financial brokers acting on their behalf, those authorities will be left in the lurch by the Government who so callously deceived them?
§ Dr. Mawhinney
I shall pay the hon. Gentleman the compliment of believing that he knows as well as I do that I have no responsibility for most of the matters to which he has referred. In the context of a debate about appropriations in Northern Ireland and in response to a serious and concerned question from the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley, I have expressed the position in relation to Lisburn council. I repeat that, if the officials from Lisburn council wish to talk to Department of the Environment officials in Northern Ireland, I am sure that those officials would be happy to do so—but without commitment.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I understand the Minister's present reticence, but will he give an assurance from the Northern Ireland Office that it will not only look at the issue but will be helpful to the council, because that authority will be in very serious difficulties through no fault of its own? If, as has been alleged, the difficulty has arisen through propaganda put out and approved by authorities on this side of the water, surely the Minister cannot, Pontius Pilate like, wash his hands and say that it is a matter for the people in London and has nothing to do with his office. I am not suggesting that he would do that, but I use that illustration.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for not suggesting that I would do that.
The financial management of any council funds, including investment decisions and their consequences, are matters for the council involved. I think that the hon. Gentleman will understand that. Through the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley, I have made an offer to the officials at Lisburn.
§ Mr. Cryer
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. There was some controversy earlier about whether the Department of the Environment sent out quarterly returns accompanied by a list of institutions that were authorised on 28 February 1991—a copy of which I have in my hand. The Minister seems to be saying that no such list was sent to local authorities in Northern Ireland, which is contrary to what has happened in England, Scotland and Wales. Is it in order for the Minister to deny that when put in terms of a point of order?
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
That is barely a point of order for the Chair, but very much a matter for debate. I regret that the hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced parliamentarian, chose a point of order to express an opinion.
§ Dr. Mawhinney
In my opening remarks, I sought to draw the attention of the House to the main provisions of the order. In replying to the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North will respond to detailed points raised by hon. Members. I commend the order to the House.
§ 5.5 pm
§ Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)
First, I thank the Minister for taking us so diligently through the estimates. He will recall that we had a conversation before the debate. I formed the impression then that he was going to make a shorter speech than usual. I presume that his speech was drawn out because of the interventions that arose from his comments.
I shall try to render in order the point of order put by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) by asking the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), a specific question. It seems that there is no doubt that the Department of the Environment in England and Wales—and, I presume, the Scottish Office in Scotland—have been issuing advice to local authorities in Great Britain about institutions to which they should turn to borrow money. That advice involved the list to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South referred.
The Minister of State, however, referred not to the Department of the Environment in London, but to the Department of the Environment in Belfast. I understood him to say clearly that no such advice had been given by officials at the Department of the Environment in Belfast. That is a neat way of ducking the question, but we need to find out the answer, which is what my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South was seeking to do. Was the information issued by the Department of the Environment in London and, if not circulated in the Province, at least 979 made known to district councils in the Province? It is no good the Under-Secretary shrugging his shoulders as though that would absolve Ministers in the Province of any responsibility for it.
If the information went to the Province in that way, district councils in the Province, like district councils throughout the United Kingdom, were misled into believing that a specific institution against which the Bank of England took action some days ago was a bona fide financial institution which, to coin a phrase, was nearly as safe as the Bank of England. They were led to believe that they could risk their ratepayers' money and future resources by borrowing from that institution. We need an explanation of that.
I wish to devote the bulk of my comments to the state of the economy in the Province. I have previously said that I find the Government's attitude towards economic progress in the Province complacent, and I believe that the Minister of State repeated that complacency today.
I shall raise two issues with the Minister, and I hope that he will be able to give definitive explanations when he winds up the debate. The first, which will come as no surprise to the Under-Secretary of State, relates to Northern Ireland Electricity—an issue that we debated in the Select Committee on Northern Ireland some weeks ago on one of the few occasions in this Parliament when the Government were defeated on an item of policy. That defeat reflected the views of all sections of the community, not just elected representatives but trade unions and ordinary men and women, and clearly illustrated the widespread opposition in the Province to the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity, particularly in the form presented to the House.
I urge the Minister either to shelve his proposals completely and retain Northern Ireland Electricity in public ownership or, if he is not prepared to do that—he has said on a number of occasions that he is not—at least to withdraw the present proposals and return with fresh ones that are more acceptable to the elected Members and the peoples of Northern Ireland. I believe that there is still an opportunity for the Government to do that, and I urge that course of action on them.
The House will know that the management of the Royal Victoria hospital has expressed a keen interest in opting out of the health service, despite widespread opposition on the part of elected representatives in the Province and of the staff and consultants. Will the Minister use his influence in Government circles to deny that hospital opted-out status? As the staff want a ballot before any final decision, I also urge the Minister to exercise any influence that he has with the hospital management to encourage them to hold a ballot so that the staff and consultants and others at the hospital can make their views known in the privacy of the ballot box.
§ Dr. Godman
Returning to the Minister's comments on the child support agency, what information has my hon. Friend received about the 500 new jobs involved? Are they all new jobs? If so, will he impress on Northern Ireland Ministers the fact that a goodly proportion of these new jobs should be given to handicapped people? I served on the Standing Committee of the relevant Bill, where I sought similar assurances about the Scottish child care agency and the one to be set up south of the border.
§ Mr. Marshall
It will come as no great surprise to my hon. Friend to know that I do not have the answers to his questions, but I am sure that they will have been heard by the Under-Secretary of State who I hope will answer them later.
The debate takes place against a background of continually increased unemployment in the Province. In previous debates of this kind, Ministers have taken some comfort from the fact that the Province has been cushioned from the economic disadvantages that the rest of the United Kingdom has experienced. That phenomenon is now ending, and the recession will continue apace both in Great Britain and in the Province, where redundancies and unemployment will continue to rise. I have given credit to Ministers before for their attempts to cushion the economy of the Province from the ravages of the past 12 years of Tory Government, but the best that can be said of them is that they have been less successful in devastating the economy of the Province than their counterparts have been in the rest of the United Kingdom—although admittedly they started from a higher level of unemployment.
I think that we can agree that the prospects for job creation continue gloomy. The Industrial Development Board has had a disappointing year in respect of job creation. I am worried that efforts towards job creation appear to be devoted to attracting back—office, civil service-type jobs. There does not appear to be enough urgency about or recognition of the need for increasing the manufacturing base in the Province. It goes without saying that the essential requirement for the economic wellbeing of the Province is the need to attract investment in enterprises which will bring with them research and development facilities.
The precarious nature of the manufacturing base is illustrated by the fact that if the present rate of redundancies continues throughout this year the number of people unemployed will exceed the number of employed in manufacturing in the Province.
If that were not bad enough, the single European market of 1992 is looming and it is no exaggeration to say that it may lead to a catastrophic collapse in the Province's economy. The Minister will have seen the recently published "Cambridge Regional Economic Review" which states that Northern Ireland faces one of the largest losses of employment in the United Kingdom after 1992. Other scenarios can be projected, but if for the sake of argument we accept this assessment and it proves correct, employment in the manufacturing sector is projected to fall by 22.5 per cent.—more than one fifth of the jobs in the sector—as a consequence of the advent of the single market.
Even on the most optimistic assessment that I have seen, the advent of the single market will lead to job losses of about 11,000, or 10.5 per cent. That would reduce employment in the manufacturing sector from 103,000 to 92,000.
It is no good Ministers relying on their piecemeal approach to economic development. Now is the time to develop a comprehensive strategy for attracting investment and improving the manufacturing base in the Province. I repeat a charge that I have levelled at Ministers before—by their failure in this respect, they have done a great deal to undermine the economy of the Province and have jeopardised the prospects for its future economic success.
981 The root causes of the Government's failure to halt the decline in the manufacturing sector in Britain and in the Province has been the absence—they take pride in this and I do not accuse them of hiding it—of a long-term and coherent policy for industry. There has been no sense of direction, no core strategy and no clearly defined purpose in the Government's approach to industrial and manufacturing affairs. The economic difficulties of Northern Ireland will continue under this Government, but after the next general election the Labour Government will attach the highest priority to the regeneration of the economy of the Province.
§ Mr. Beggs
Does the hon. Gentleman also agree that it is most important that the Northern Ireland Office should look closely at companies entering the Province and buying up existing companies? Too often, having been bought up, the companies disappear. A company currently under threat is the Loomis Mackie factory in Belfast, which for generations was first in the field of the manufacturing of textile equipment. Now it is under severe threat, many of its employees have been paid off and others have been given notice. We cannot afford acquisitions which lead to the decimation of our industry.
§ Mr. Marshall
Only a foolish politician would say that he did not agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman says. We wish to attract investment that will increase job opportunities, not reduce them. That will be part of a Labour Government's strategy and we will try to ensure that investment is not just an asset-stripping exercise where people move in quickly, achieve a quick fix and get out. We all have an interest in improving the industrial base and the only way to do that is to attract long-term investment that will provide secure jobs.
Contrary to the way in which the Government have behaved in the past 12 years, the next Labour Government will seek to modernise the Province's manufacturing base, not destroy it. Our strategy for economic development will be drawn up in partnership with all sides of industry. Among other things it will include proper levels of investment in high-quality training and retraining for the young, the unemployed and those who are in work but need retraining. It will also ensure that resources are efficiently targeted, but not just in terms of some spurious concept of competitiveness as defined by Tory politicians and civil servants in the Province. Such targeting will ensure that real employment opportunities are created in all parts of the Province.
We will ensure that the Province receives its proper share of European structural funds and that they are genuinely additional to public expenditure. I have grave doubts, shared by politicians from the Province, as to whether additionality is practised in terms of those funds. Ministers deny that, but I and my party take the view that moneys from the structural fund should increase total expenditure and not just relieve the burden of Treasury expenditure.
Our strategy will be based on a partnership which recognises the crucial role that employers and businesses have to play. It will not undervalue Northern Ireland's greatest asset, which is its people. They and their representatives in the trade unions will be involved in drawing up our economic strategy, and that strategy will 982 refuse to accept the counsel of despair that nothing else can be done. Our strategy will have at its heart the recognition that we cannot break down the sectarian barriers in the Province until people from both communities have equal status and equal economic life chances. Until such a strategy is introduced to the Province, its economy will continue to decline and the prosperity that its people want will be denied. We shall ensure that the people of Northern Ireland have the opportunity of such a strategy.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)
The debate on the order gives hon. Members a chance to discuss matters affecting Northern Ireland constituencies. Before speaking about my own constituency I shall comment on the Minister's speech. The first issue, raised initially by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), relates to the MacSharry proposals for the reform of the common agricultural policy, a matter that is causing great consternation in the 12 countries of the Community.
Most Governments are responding, in most cases adversely, to the recommendations. South of the border I mean the border between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, not that between Scotland and England as was mentioned earlier—the Dublin Government have responded. However, so far in Northern Ireland there has generally been silence from those who govern us from Stormont.
People in the farming community are alarmed. As everyone knows, agriculture is the main industry in the Province and the MacSharry proposals could decimate the numbers employed in the industry and in its allied processing plants. The industry provides thousands of jobs for all sections of the community in all parts of Northern Ireland. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that he will bring the matter to the attention of the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). This is a major opportunity for the Government to make a firm statement on their reactions to the MacSharry proposals and on how they see those proposals affecting Northern Ireland agriculture.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government should state that they will fight these proposals and not just wait until they pass into law, at which time the Government will find some way to excuse themselves to farmers?
§ Mr. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman and I are in full agreement on that. We want a strong Government response that will give guidance and leadership to the people of Northern Ireland, and especially to those engaged in agriculture. It is not good enough to sit silent while waiting to see what happens in Brussels, because by then events will have overtaken us.
The Minister spoke about the Northern Ireland economy. He was right to say that, to some extent, Northern Ireland has escaped the major impact of the recession, a recession which Government policies have brought to other parts of the United Kingdom. Some Conservative Members are smiling. Prospects are not bright—a fact stressed by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall). No advance factories are to be built in Northern Ireland next year, and many such factories are lying idle waiting for 983 clients. That is bad news because it means that the Government and the Industrial Development Board do not anticipate any inward investment in Northern Ireland next year. If they did anticipate such investment, they would have a programme to build more advance factories.
I may be jumping to the wrong conclusion, but if I am not we shall have to look at the whole strategy of the IDB. For example, is it wise to continue to concentrate on offices and staff in Europe and America and in other foreign parts to try to attract inward investment when it is anticipated that there will be none?
At times, it is wise to have offices to promote Northern Ireland as a suitable base within the European Community for foreign firms, but if it is anticipated that in the foreseeable future such investment is unlikely, are they not a waste of public funds? Such expenditure runs into millions of pounds, which could more usefully be used to assist the business men who live in Northern Ireland, who have their roots there, and who are more likely to stay there, even in tough times.
The minute that times get tough those who come in from outside quickly disappear. We have seen that in parts of County Antrim, such as south Antrim, east Antrim and north Antrim, as the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) knows. It happened with Goodyear, in Craigavon in Upper Bann. Major firms have been attracted, and they were welcome, but once things got rough, they quickly left Northern Ireland.
The Government may need to rethink their strategy for providing employment in Northern Ireland, and concentrate more on assisting smaller businesses in the Province. It must be remembered that small businesses provide a large percentage of total employment in the United States of America—not large firms employing thousands of people, but small firms employing 25 people or fewer. I should like to see that considered in relation to Northern Ireland.
I take the opportunity to praise one other aspect of the work of the Industrial Development Board—its promotion throughout the world of Northern Ireland produce. It is taking groups of industrialists and business men to the continent, to south-east Asia, to Japan and elsewhere to promote goods from Northern Ireland. Most such visits have been successful. The IDB should be congratulated on that form of venture, which it has developed in recent years.
Before I talk about my constituency, I should like to mention one more general aspect—the urban development programme throughout the Province. The Department of the Environment and the Minister responsible deserve our congratulations on the great turnround in many of our rural towns and villages. For 20 years of violence, many border towns and villages went into decline—towns such as Enniskillen, Strabane, Omagh, Dungannon, Armagh and Newry. It is good to see the regeneration now taking place in almost every one of those towns. People returning to Northern Ireland after a five-year absence are astounded to see the progress that has been made. It would be wrong not to put that on the record.
However, one aspect of the urban development programme that requires the Minister's further attention is the speed with which applications are processed by officials at the Department of the Environment. I do not wish to be misunderstood; I am not saying that the problem lies with the officials themselves—far from it. The problem lies in the fact that too few officials are employed in the 984 Department to carry out the task. Many applicants for urban development grants find that it takes almost a year to hear whether their scheme will be approved. It takes so long that the applicant often drops the idea and never starts the scheme at all. The jobs are not created, the contractors do not get the work, and the scheme falls through.
The Department of the Environment staff who deal with applications for urban development grants are so overloaded that, even after a year, when the applicant gets the decision to proceed, often he still does not know what grant he will get. He is told that he can start without knowing what grant he will get, so he may take the risk and start. Once an applicant has started, it may take another year before the grant payable to him is released. The tremendous delay in the mechanism for handling urban development grants is damaging the possibility of further employment and improvements in our rural towns.
There are towns and villages in the east of the Province that need urban development grants just as much as those in the west. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I can think of some on the east coast of County Down, near my constituency, and, indeed, one or two in Strangford. The Minister will have heard the response of hon. Members on both sides of the House to my suggestion, so I ask him to ensure a fair allocation of funds for urban development across the whole of Northern Ireland, not just in the border areas.
§ Mr. William Ross
Surely my right hon. Friend should go on to explain to the Minister that one of the reasons why small towns and villages in the east of the Province are experiencing such difficulty is the great effort being made to get Belfast buzzing. Belfast may be buzzing, but it is buzzing at the expense of the smaller towns and villages.
§ Mr. Taylor
I do not want to get into a competition between Belfast and our rural towns and villages. I have an interest in the whole of Northern Ireland as well as in Strangford, the part of it that I represent. I rejoice in the fact that Belfast is buzzing. I am delighted to see the progress being made in the capital city of Northern Ireland. Anyone who now sees Royal avenue, and the urban development and housing programmes on the periphery of the city centre, can express nothing but satisfaction at the progress being made in our capital city.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) says, we want a fair distribution of the funds. They should not go just to the west, just to Belfast, or just to the east. My point was that too little may be going to the eastern part of the Province.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
I entirely agree that we need a fair distribution of the funds, and that the present distribution is unfair. Does my right hon. Friend see part of the reason for the present unfair distribution in the malign influence of a certain international fund?
§ Mr. Taylor
No, I do not. The funding for the urban development programme can come from the Department of the Environment, as happens with Belfast. But the so-called malign influence of the fund to which my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) refers has no role to play in the urban development in the city of Belfast.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Is it not a fact that, outside the city of Belfast, the urban development fund is tied in to the 985 international fund—in fact, it is the international fund? It seems strange that a part of the country that objects strongly to the international fund and everything about it still has to apply to that fund to get what Belfast can apply for solely from the urban development fund.
§ Mr. Taylor
The hon. Member for Antrim, North is right. The International Fund for Ireland does not finance urban development projects in the city of Belfast; as I understand it, its funding is restricted to projects in villages and towns outside Londonderry and Belfast. I want to see the funding for urban development going to the eastern part of the Province as well as elsewhere in Northern Ireland.
The provision of adequate school buildings is a continuing problem for all of us in the House. I acknowledge that demographic trends in Northern Ireland can mean that some schools are too large, so there has to be some rationalisation in the number of schools. That applies both to the state sector and the Roman Catholic-maintained sector. The number of pupils in Roman Catholic schools—the maintained sector—is falling, too. But in Strangford the situation is very different. Although the number of children in Roman Catholic-maintained schools in my constituency is falling every year—last year it fell below 1,000 for the first time in the history of the region—the reverse is true in the state-controlled schools. Their pupil numbers steadily increase year by year.
We have major schemes that require the serious attention of the Minister responsible for education. I mention especially the necessary extension of Comber high school, which has about 700 pupils and 17 temporary classsrooms parked all over its play areas. That scheme has been on the board for nearly 10 years and still no decision has been made to provide permanent classrooms for the children of Comber, an area which is continuing to grow every year, as it is on the periphery of Belfast.
The second school that I would mention is Regent House grammar school in Newtownards, which is now one of the largest grammar schools in Northern Ireland, with more than 1,500 pupils. It would take more, if the accommodation were available, but at that school, too, pupils have to be taught in temporary classrooms, as the population of Newtownards grows year by year. The population in my constituency has grown by 10,000 electors in the past eight years, and there has been a similar increase in the number of pupils attending both primary and secondary school.
I therefore ask the Department, in co-ordination with the Southern education and library board, to give priority to those projects, and I hope that, before the end of the debate, the Minister will confirm that they are receiving the attention which I say they deserve. Having made that point, let me place on record my appreciation of the fact that both the board and the Department have finally proceeded with the scheme at Movilla secondary school. That scheme is now complete and is providing a useful facility in that part of Newtownards.
My final point regarding general social provision is in connection with hospitals. My main concern is for the Ards hospital in Newtownards, although I have reason to 986 continue to feel worried also about the Foster Greene and Belvoir hospitals and about the various other hospital services throughout the constituency of Strangford.
There was some publicity in the local Newtownards press about suggested or reported cuts at the Ards hospital. I regret to say that the reports were somewhat exaggerated by the sources from which they came. Subsequently, many councillors from the relevant councils—Ards, Castlereagh and North Down borough council—and I had a meeting with the chairman, officers and officials of the area health board. Although it became clear that the figures quoted had been exaggerated, it also became clear that the board had to give increased salaries to its staff this year and that the funding for those increased salaries had to be found from savings in the services being provided by the hospitals.
It became clear that the board was not receiving additional funding from the Government to pay the increased salaries, but had to make cuts in health services in our area to pay for them. That means, in effect, that there will be cuts somewhere along the line—in community care, care for the elderly or at hospitals. We shall be hurt somewhere and, that is bad news for the whole of the North Down and Ards area.
I am anxious for confirmation that Ards hospital will continue as it is and that there is no proposal or intention to take away any of the existing services from that hospital, especially since, as I have already said, it serves one of the fastest-growing areas in Northern Ireland. It is the last place where we should be reducing hospital services—on the contrary, we should be thinking in terms of increasing hospital services in the Ards area.
I said earlier that we wanted urban development programmes in the eastern part of the province as well as in the west. We want fair play for all sections of the community. The same applies to hospitals. Some 40 per cent. of the people in our health board area live in North Down/Ards yet only 10 per cent. of the board's expenditure goes to that area; 90 per cent. goes elsewhere. The time has come for people who live in North Down and Ards—in the constituencies of North Down and Strangford—who contribute 40 per cent., through taxes and rates, to the funding of the health and hospital services, to get 40 per cent., at least, of the services provided. The money should not be going elsewhere, and I shall pursue that point in greater detail as we assemble more information and facts to support the case. I suggest that the people of North Down and Ards are now being denied their fair share of health services in Northern Ireland.
I wish to refer to a number of road schemes in my constituency. Roads are the main means of transport in Northern Ireland—especially in my constituency—and have been since the railway system was removed from most of Northern Ireland. I praise the Minister responsible for the environment for his enthusiasm for the roads system in the Province and I hope that, before long, a policy may develop that gives us even more investment in the road structure and network in Northern Ireland. The order before us provides for an increase in total expenditure in Northern Ireland of 9 per cent. That is more or less in line with the inflation rate that the Conservative Government have created during the past year. I should like to think that, even if inflation falls, as we are told that 987 it may, to 3 or 4 per cent. next year, there will be not a 3 or 4 per cent. increase in expenditure on roads in Northern Ireland but a major and significant increase.
One major road scheme recently completed in Newtownards is on the main Donaghadee road as one leaves the town. On behalf of the whole community, I place on record my appreciation for that scheme. It has been completed successfully and there has been a great improvement in what was a very dangerous section of road.
I should also like to pay tribute to the Minister for his role in securing the new link bridge over the River Lagan, the contract for which was announced yesterday. About £80 million in total is to go jointly to Farrans of Dunmurry —now a southern Irish firm—and John Grahams of Dromore. That scheme has interested me for many years. It has been on the drawing board for well over a decade and is essential to the revitalisation of the city of Belfast and in linking the countryside south of Belfast with that north of Belfast.
It will be tremendously important to people who live in my constituency and in the constituencies of North Down and East Belfast. It will mean the interlinking of our railway system. It is a major project, and I am glad that the Government have taken the bit between their teeth and given it the go-ahead. I wish all involved success, and hope that the scheme will be completed as quickly as possible, to the advantage of all in Northern Ireland.
Some smaller road projects in my constituency have caused me concern over the past few years. Many of them have been the subject of correspondence, but the time has come for me to place it on public record that they are causing me anxiety, and to ask the Government publicly to answer questions about what is happening.
The House will know that Portavogie is one of the two major fishing ports in Northern Ireland. The total value of our fishing industry is £25 million, and half of it comes through the port of Portavogie on the east coast of County Down on the Ards peninsula. Anyone who is familiar with modern fishing ports will know that large lorries and trailers go in and out of them every day. That port, together with Kilkeel—I see that the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) has entered the Chamber, and he will confirm this—now provides 25 per cent. of the prawn cocktails in the United Kingdom. We are very proud of that, but the prawns have to get out of Portavogie and Kilkeel. The hon. Gentleman looks a bit surprised at the statistic but it is true.
§ Mr. Taylor
The hon. Gentleman has to say that he likes prawns—or nephrops, as the former Member of Parliament for South Down, being a Greek scholar, would have said. The road system around the harbour is atrocious. It is worn out, narrow and pot-holed. It is time that someone ensured that there was a modern road system to serve that great fishing port and to carry the big lorries and trailers that enter it day after day.
The second road that needs attention crosses the Irish peninsula from Portavogie on the east coast to Kircubbin. The road is like a switchback—it goes up and down and twists around. It is a dangerous road, and there have been many accidents. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that that road receives attention. If there is to be increased 988 investment in the roads system in Northern Ireland, it is important to remember that sometimes the smaller roads need as much attention as the major roads.
The Ards peninsula, as well as being an agricultural and fishing area, is a major tourist area, especially in the summer. It has the largest concentration of caravan sites in Northern Ireland. People go there for their holidays in the summer, and people from Belfast go there for weekends. They all travel through Millisle. The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) knows Millisle well. On one side of the main street is a new Baptist church and a significant Presbyterian Housing Association scheme for the elderly. On the other side, and only on that side, are the shops. Elderly people have to walk across the main street, which carries all the traffic for the caravan sites. It is dangerous.
A pedestrian crossing has been provided in the main street of Donaghadee, which carries the same traffic. I am aware that the volume of traffic did not warrant that pedestrian crossing, but the then Minister used his discretion and approved one on the ground that a high percentage of retired people lived in Donaghadee. I appreciate that, when a Minister exercises his discreton, some unkind politicians will try to get him to do it again. I am not being unkind; I am simply stating that the same conditions that applied in Donaghadee also apply in Millisle. The roads carry much the same traffic to the same caravan sites, and both areas have the same proportion of elderly people. I ask the Minister to reconsider providing a pedestrian crossing in Millisle.
Granshaw presbyterian church is a great church in County Down, not too far from La Mon restaurant, which the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) knows well—[Interruption.] Of course, he also knows the church well. A new church hall is being built, and that will be opened in a few months. The road is rather twisty, it has many trees and it is dark in places. A great deal of traffic comes out of the La Mon hotel, especially at weekends, and a great deal of traffic will come out of the new church hall when it is opened. We asked for just one street light at the darkest point on the bend of the road, but even that was refused. That was a harsh decision by the Minister; I do not know how he could be so hard-hearted.
§ Mr. Taylor
If we are not careful, the hon. Gentleman will give us a theology lesson. I think that we had better stick to Presbyterianism. One light would help the congregation of that church, and I ask the Minister to reconsider.
Another road that requires departmental attention is in Castlereagh. A major development called Ryan park, which provides homes for people who move from Belfast into the countryside, lies beside the main road from Castlereagh to Ballygowan. The traffic volume on that road is increasing day by day. Although it is on the main road, Ryan park is isolated because it is the only estate in the area. There is no speed limit on that part of the road.
Further along the road, at Crossnacreevy, there is a 30 mph speed limit. We want the Department to extend that speed limit to include the stretch of road that passes Ryan park. Many young children live there, and there have been some accidents because of the speed of the traffic. The speed limit needs to be extended before something bad happens.
989 A road project of the greatest importance to one of the fastest growing towns in my constituency, and which has been on the drawing board for many years, is the Comber bypass. Last year, it was promised that the second stage would begin in 1991, but there is now a suggestion that it is slipping down the programme. The Minister met a delegation from Ards borough council and myself, and privately at that meeting he gave assurances, which it would be wrong for me to repeat today. I ask the Minister to say publicly today that progress will be made with the scheme, and that he has an anticipated date for inviting tenders. Once that is publicly confirmed, it will be welcomed by the local community. The centre of Comber is congested with traffic, especially in the early mornings and late afternoons. It is chaos and there are many delays. The sooner that section of the bypass is built the better.
Another scheme in Castlereagh that has been promised for some time relates to the junction at the Knockbreda and Saintfield roads. I must declare an interest, as I own a little bit of the land involved—[Interruption] I did give it to the Government for nothing to help them get on with the scheme. They went ahead with vesting orders against other people who were involved, but who could not simply give up their land as their homes were involved.
Carryduff is increasing in size all the time, and there are large housing programmes up the Saintfield road, Cairnshill and all around that area. Every time a new development is built, more traffic is generated, and there are many delays. My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) is well aware of the problem as Carryduff is in his constituency. Every morning and every evening, people are held up at the traffic lights at the Knockbreda-Newtownbreda junction. That can be resolved only by the major road scheme moving ahead quickly without any further delay. I ask the Minister to take the opportunity today to confirm that the project will proceed.
A wider issue, which affects all of Northern Ireland, is of great concern not only to the people of Northern Ireland but to the people of Scotland, especially those in the west. I am referring to the proposal to transfer most of the freight traffic between Great Britain to Northern Ireland to Holyhead and across to Dublin, and away from the west of Scotland's route from Stranraer to Larne.
I have been pushing that subject for more than a year during Transport, Northern Ireland and Scottish questions, and each time I have had an inadequate reply. The more one analysed the replies, the more one suspected that there was a cover-up and that something was under way.
Recently, I saw that one of the bodies set up by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the British-Irish Parliamentary Association, had questioned the Minister for Public Transport from the United Kingdom Parliament at a plenary conference and that it was preparing a report on future transport between Ireland and Great Britain.
Since most people in Northern Ireland are opposed to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and, therefore, the majority of Northern Ireland is not involved in any way in the discussions of the British-Irish Parliamentary Association, its report will not reflect the views of the people of Northern Ireland on what the transport system should be between Great Britain and Ireland.
990 However, following the latest question that I posed in the House, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland responsible for home affairs and the environment, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), kindly wrote to me further to explain in greater detail what he had suggested in his parliamentary reply. Here, for the first time, we have in writing the confirmation that there is a European Commission working group on proposals for a European high-speed rail network. He says:The outline plan which it contains, and which includes the Belfast-Dublin-Holyhead-Crewe route among other key links".Thankfully—this is the important bit for Scotland as well as Northern Ireland—that recommendationhas not been adopted by the Transport Council but is currently the subject of further in-depth study.Then—this is where it becomes more alarming—he goes on:As part of that further work, British and Irish officials will shortly be having exploratory discussions about the implications of identifying the Belfast-Dublin-Holyhead-Crewe route as the key link between Great Britain and the island of Ireland.In other words, Stranraer to Larne, which is presently the key link, is to be downgraded, and that is why we are not getting the investment in the railway system in the west of Scotland that Scottish Members have been demanding at Scottish Question Time after Scottish Question Time every month.
Now we are beginning to see the overall plan—not to invest in the railway system in the west of Scotland and at the same time to have massive capital investment, supported by the EC and the Dublin Government, on the route to Holyhead so that people in business and industry and passengers will feel inclined to use that route rather than go up to Scotland and across from Stranraer to Larne.
§ Dr. Godman
I have been listening intently to what the right hon. Gentleman has said about that important ferry link. The west of Scotland Members of Parliament—here I include myself—not only want to retain that link, we want to strengthen it, and some of us would like to see additional ferry services. One of my colleagues would like to see the re-establishment of the Ardrossan ferry. I would rather that ferry came into Greenock, but if it cannot, I would support it going to Ardrossan. We are with the hon. Gentleman to a man and a woman on that link.
§ Mr. Taylor
We in Northern Ireland very much appreciate that support from our Scottish colleagues. The matter is as serious for them as it is for us. These are secret talks between the Dublin Government and the London Government to undermine the railway and transport system to Scotland and between Scotland and Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Is it not strange, too, that the Dublin Government were able to negotiate a tremendous amount of money from Europe for the reculverting of all the roads leading in that direction? When I made that point in the House to Ministers from the Northern Ireland Office, they did not seem to want to take notice of it. If those roads are ready when the traffic comes from the channel tunnel, they will get all the traffic.
§ Mr. Taylor
That is logical, but one has to look at the overall plan that is taking place before our very eyes. 991 Whether it is the culverting of roads, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North mentioned, or the hesitation to invest more money in the railway system in the west of Scotland, overall there is a plan to supplant the link between the west of Scotland and Northern Ireland to try to direct most traffic through Dublin.
The Minister responsible for traffic, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), this week met a delegation from Belfast city council in Belfast to try to revive the ferry service from Belfast to Liverpool. One would applaud those who are trying to achieve that objective, but those decisions must often be based on commercial considerations; that may be the problem there, but it may be that EC aid could help to encourage someone to invest in that ferry.
But when the Minister was talking about ferry services from Northern Ireland, did he tell that delegation that really he is planning to make people use the system to Dublin? That, basically, is the policy of Her Majesty's Government, including the Northern Ireland Office, which should be speaking up for the interests of the people of Northern Ireland, just as the Scottish Office should be speaking up for the people of the west of Scotland.
There should be a joint campaign throughout Scotland and Northern Ireland to retain and develop that link between Lame and Stranraer, which happens to be the main route between the island of Ireland and Great Britain. As the hon. Member for Antrim, East keeps telling us, it takes 95 per cent. of all Ulster freight and passengers. Not only does it do that: it also takes 30 per cent. of all the freight from the Republic of Ireland to Great Britain.
Why are we trying to undermine what commercial interests have managed to develop over the years in the ports of Larne and Stranraer? Is there a political motive behind that underhand scheme of the Northern Ireland Office to invest money with European aid to transfer all Northern Ireland traffic from Great Britain to Northern Ireland through the port of Dublin?
§ Mr. William Ross
My right hon. Friend will be aware that, for many years, the Scottish Office has been pouring huge amounts of money into improving the road link from Dumfries down. That money will be completely lost if the Government now turn around and start developing other road links to benefit others.
§ Mr. Taylor
With friends like that—I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. He concluded properly by saying that the Government will be wasting money if the plan gets under way. They will pour hundreds of millions of pounds into the railway system to Holyhead but not into the railway system in the west of Scotland, and now we know why.
§ Mr. Beggs
It is most important that, when the Minister replies this evening, he spells out categorically that the Northern Ireland Office, backed by the Secretary of State, is committed to retaining the Larne-Stranraer corridor as our main link within the British Isles to the Euro-route. If the Minister fails to do that, it will destroy the confidence that is now building up on the Scottish side to invest millions to match the excellent facilities that have been developed in Larne with EC grant aid. We demand an open statement tonight. We must get rid of the nonsense of directing people, passengers or hauliers to Dublin.
§ Mr. Taylor
You will have sensed, Madam Deputy Speaker, the strong feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East about this matter—and rightly, because Larne is in his constituency. This overall plan, to divert Northern Ireland traffic through Holyhead and Dublin, would have major implications for employment in Lame, something that the hon. Gentleman so carefully guards and upholds in this place I support the way in which he expressed himself, albeit so strongly, on this occasion.
My final appeal is to the business men of Northern Ireland, not just to the Minister. The business men of Northern Ireland are quick at times to tell politicians what they should be doing in Northern Ireland. It is not just the Church leaders: now, it is these so-called spokesmen for business and industry. If, however, we look at who they are, we do not find that many of them take a penny out of their own pockets to invest in Northern Ireland.
Yes, they are involved in business—many of them as executives—but a few years after some of them come to Northern Ireland, they go elsewhere. The real business men of Northern Ireland are the ones who have taken money out of their own pockets to invest in the future of Northern Ireland. They have provided jobs for both communities in Northern Ireland. Catholic and Protestant business men, with their roots in Northern Ireland, are I he real business men, not these people who claim to speak on behalf of business and industry and belong to organisations in Belfast.
The Northern Ireland Office should take a close look at some of these organisations when they make statements and find out whether or not they truly reflect the views of business men in Northern Ireland. I am a business man as well as a politician. The business men with whom I mix certainly do not feel in tune with some of the statements made by these organisations. However, for a change, a politician is now going to tell business men what they should be doing.
The main business interests in Northern Ireland, especially in the city of Belfast, should be most concerned about the plan to divert our freight and passengers through Dublin and away from Stranraer. That is of major significance—not today or tomorrow but over the next two decades, into the 21st century. It will destroy the eastern part of Antrim; it will do great damage to our capital city of Belfast; it will be very upsetting to the future of Northern Ireland.
Therefore, I appeal to trade and industry in Northern Ireland, now that the scheme has been made public, to come to grips with the issue. The Chamber of Commerce, the Institute of Directors, the Confederation of British Industry should be involved in this transport issue instead of meddling in politics. It is the job of business men, trade and industry to ensure that there is a first-class transport infrastructure. It already exists between Stranraer arid Lame. It should be maintained, not sacrificed to the advantage of Dublin—as the British and Irish Governments are now discussing.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
First may I deal wit h the shadow that has been cast over my constituency, due to the railway accident recently? I referred to it when the Minister of State opened the debate. I am totally and absolutely opposed to the abolition of proper security and 993 protection at level crossings on that line. There was a serious accident in March of last year on this railway track and three people were killed. I thought that last year's lesson at Slaght would have been learnt by both the Minister and Northern Ireland Railways. I thought that everything would have been done to ensure that such an accident could never happen again.
I do not agree with the policy of Northern Ireland Railways. Some of these crossings should still be manned. That would provide employment for people. A large number of people were employed for many years at railway crossings, but there have always been unattended crossings on the line. About 200 yards from the place where the accident happened, there is a very large business enterprise. Large lorries cross the railway track continuously. I tremble to think of the sort of accident that could take place if a huge lorry were in collision there with an oncoming train.
The tragedy last year is put into perspective when we remember that at 7.15 on the previous evening the lights failed on that crossing. They started to give the warning signal. Then they went off completely. Fortunately, because of the amount of activity in the area, a queue of cars had built up, at the head of which was a motor cyclist. He saw the oncoming train, so he did not move on to the level crossing and the cars stayed where they were. The train was travelling slowly. The guard left the train and conducted it across the level crossing. However, that was a security failure.
As the Member of Parliament for the area, I want to know what steps Northern Ireland Railways took when that incident was reported. Or was it reported? I have heard Northern Ireland Railways say unofficially, through people who visited friends and relatives of the man who was killed, that the lights were in order. How do we know that they were in order? Is there an independent witness, or is this just Northern Ireland Railways saying that the lights were in order? Would it have said that the night before?
I do not know why the Minister did not hasten legislation on this issue. I appeal to him now to hasten the legislation and to make it, by law, compulsory that there should be a proper barrier across level crossings. There was an operator arm at that barrier, but it was taken away and lights were substituted. Although we all—councillors in the area and I—said that that was wrong, Northern Ireland Railways went ahead and substituted lights. We see the result. The lesson of Slaght should have been learnt. It was not. The lesson of Broughdone must also be learnt. We do not want that tragedy to be repeated.
I ask the Minister to have a look further up the line at the place where that business enterprise is situated and decide what type of security system should be put in place so that both the employees there and those who are travelling by rail can be safe. I trust that the Minister will arm himself speedily with the law so that he can say to Northern Ireland Railways, "This is what you have to do. Get on with it and see that it is carried out." Then, as best we can, we shall ensure safety on that railway line.
May I again express my sympathy to the family? I thank the Minister for his response. It will be conveyed by me to the family.
I have some general questions about board members. Many Departments have boards and quangos about which 994 I should like some statistics. Under the Anglo-Irish Agreement, the Dublin Government have the power to nominate people to those boards and those people are then appointed by the Secretary of State if he so chose. Since the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed how many nominations to how many boards came from Dublin? How many of those nominations were accepted and on what boards? I hope that the Minister will be forthcoming in answering my questions.
I do not want to hear again what I was told the other day, "For security reasons, we can't tell you," I am not asking for the names of the people involved—I have ways and means of finding out their names. I am trying to get the overall picture, because a prominent member of one of the largest boards told me in Belfast yesterday that the boards are now being overloaded by nominees from the south of Ireland. He also said that five people who had recently been nominated to his board by various groups had been turned down. I know that a tremendous sprinkling—about 20 members—have been taken off a certain board. Four people are still being sought; 16 have been found, although God alone knows where the Secretary of State found them. But what about the 20 who served their day and their generation? Perhaps they did not serve them so well because they were not yes men to the Minister. I trust that the Minister will be able to smile when he informs me of the numbers of people who have come the Dublin road.
§ Mr. John D. Taylor
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the situation is even worse than that? Not only have certain people been removed from that board, apparently because of representations from Dublin, but another member of the board was so upset about what happened that he instantly resigned.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I have heard so much about the boards that I am alarmed, which is why I am raising the issue. The time has come to do so. Defeated candidates from the Alliance party seem to get preference on the boards. Patrons of the new Tory party in Northern Ireland also get preference, whereas the Official Unionists and the Democratic Unionists are very scarce on those boards and do not appear on some at all. Recently, two were dropped from a board—they were the only two, but they were swept away.
The House must call the Minister to account so that we might get some facts. What are the qualifications of a defeated Alliance candidate or of a Tory who is afraid to put his head over the parapet in case he is shot down? What are their qualifications to be the chairmen or principals of these boards? Perhaps the Minister can help us on that issue.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
That is right, they did not say no. The other day I walked into the city hall and looked at the gallery which some people call the rogues' gallery. It contains pictures of all the city's mayors. When one becomes mayor of the city, one has one's likeness painted; it is put up, but the next year it is moved down and then down again. The really good men are down in the basement. However, when one looks at the likenesses one sees So-and-so OBE, So-and-so CBE and So-and-so OBE. A Democratic Unionist does not receive an honour because his religion and politics are discriminated against. 995 Some Official Unionists have not been honoured because they took part in the campaign against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
§ Mr. McGrady
For the House's information, will the hon. Gentleman state how many members of the minority community or from parties such as the SDLP have been mayor of Belfast?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Since the SDLP controlled—I believe —eight councils, how many times has it appointed as mayor or chairman a Unionist or even an Independent Unionist?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman would not be interested in members of his party receiving OBEs and CBEs. One member did receive an MBE but she was chucked out for accepting it. She had been made chairman of Magherafelt council by the Unionists. Her MBE did her a good turn and did the SDLP a bad turn.
We are talking about boards, not the mayors of councils. However, I also want to mention the Causeway hospital.
§ Mr. William Ross
Will the hon. Gentleman give way on the question of nominees? I listened with interest to his question about how many people have been nominated from Dublin. Would he also like to ask how many people in Northern Ireland Dublin objected to, had cast out or had not nominated?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I should like to ask that question, but I should not receive an answer. In fact, according to a literal reading of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, Dublin has no right to object. As I understand it, Dublin has a right to nominate people but not to object. I have no doubt that it does object and that its objections are listened to and acted upon, but that is not part of the agreement as far as I am aware.
I am glad that the Minister is here because it is he who is holding up the Causeway hospital. Yesterday, I had a call from some general practitioners who said that they had had a meeting with the Minister responsible for hospitals but that the decision would be made by those in finance and personnel. I understand that the spokesman for finance and personnel is therefore replying to the debate, so we have the right man in the right place, and he had better say the right thing. I suppose that he can speak on behalf of the parties involved.
The sum of £150,000 was spent on inquiries, committees and consultations on whether the hospital should be built. There was then an expectation of approval in principle—we have been waiting 14 years for the hospital. It was approved in principle, but we then had to wait for the board. We very nearly missed it because the old board was about to die and a new board was about to be born. We were scared that the new board would do what the Minister wanted and that we should not have it. However, the new board lived to pass the resolution that we should go forward.
We are then told that the money is the difficulty. No new acute hospital has been completed in the northern area in living memory. The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) thinks that things are bad in his area but we have not had a new hospital in living memory. 996 Let us consider the other areas. The western area has Altnaglevin and Erne. The southern area has Craigavon, South Tyrone and Daisy Hill. The eastern area has a veritable bonanza: the Ulster hospital, the eye and ear hospital, the Royal Victoria hospital—the accident and emergency service, an out-patients block and block A—the Royal maternity building, the Belfast City hospital tower block, which is not fully occupied, and the Mater Infirmorum hospital. Allowing for 10 to 15 per cent. central movement of hospitalised patients for regional specialist treatment, we are grossly underfunded. In 1988, our funding was estimated to be £5.58 million below the average for the rest of Northern Ireland. Over 20 years, at today's value for money, the accumulated figure comes to £100 million, so £100 million has been taken from us.
Between 1973–76 and 1988, of the total regional commitment to major capital expenditure on hospital services, the northern board's share was 6.1 per cent. That is absymal by any standards. Now that we have the Minister's approval for the hospital, we are held up by personnel and finance, and we have to wait. I make an appeal in the House and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) will do the same if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that he will support me on the matter. We are making the appeal to the Government tonight that we need the hospital. We deserve the hospital. The people need it, and there cannot be proper health care in the area without it. Please will the Government get on with it? Do the Government want us to wait another 14 years? How many more plans do the Government want?
All the general practitioners are united on the issue. All the surgeons are united, including even Dr. Robb, who was a Senator in the Dublin Parliament. All the politicians are united—the Social Democrat and Labour party, the Democratic Unionist party, the Ulster Unionist party and the Progressive Unionist party. The Government say, "If only you would all get together, we will do anything for you." Yet they will not give us a hospital, but instead steal from us £100 million. The time has come for the Government to get on their running shoes and do something.
I have been a Member of the House for 21 years. There are three councils in my constituency: Moyle, Ballymoney and Ballymena. There used to be more, because my constituency took in most of the constituency of Antrim, East in the old days. I have now come to the conclusion that the planning authorities have declared war on the three council areas. A new planning officer was appointed recently and he seems to take it that his business is to keep everyone from building, to stop all farmers from building and to push employment out of the rural areas. The three councils are now in confrontation with the planning authorities. There are no meetings at which anything is passed. Then I, as Member of Parliament—and I am quite happy about this—am asked to go to every site meeting. From the first week in September, I shall go to every site meeting in the build-up of blocked planning in the area.
Let me explain why the plans have been blocked. A business man decided to build a house in Ballycastle. He wanted to replace two houses with one good house. The objection is that the house is too good. I stood with the planning officer and he said, "Those windows are too elaborate. You cannot have a verandah in this area. Those doors are too wide. That wall is too elaborate." I said, "When were you given orders to start planning about an 997 elaborate wall?" The head planning official, whom I had never seen before, was brought in. I said, "That is senseless. The planning officials say that this man is building too good a house. You should be glad that he is investing money in the area."
The plan has now been turned down. The council has fought the planning people, and the decision is now going to the three wise men. That is unacceptable. What do the planners want the people of Northern Ireland to live in? If people want to build themselves the best possible house within building regulations, no planning officer has a right to say that they cannot build such a house. As for the farmers. It is almost an impossibility to get a retirement bungalow for them now. What are the Government up to? As for getting employment in rural areas—
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
Is the hon. Gentleman speaking about the same planning office which seems unable to prevent the Sunday market taking place although it does not have permission? It seems unable to prevent the market breaking out on to the main road and carrying on without any regard to the planning office. Is that the same planning office?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Yes. What really riles me is the case of a constituent who has a motor car business. He has done everything that the planning officer asked him to do. He has fulfilled every requirement, and dotted every "i" and stroked every "t" in his business. A group of gipsies started a motor car auction down the road without permission. The prices were lower and they gave better bargains financially. They almost wrecked that man's business. I got in touch with the Minister and with the planning officer. I said, "Do something." He said, "We cannot do anything because they have just sent in a planning application." I said, "Right, is it in order?" He said, "No, it is only a planning application for half of what they are doing." I said, "Move on the other half. Here is a man who has given his life to building up a business and he will go out of business." He is going out of business.
At the weekend, the gipsies put a big notice outside the man's business stating that his business was closed and that all business was to be referred to them at the given telephone number. When I went to the police, they told me that they were not sure who had put up the notice. An honourable business man who gave employment in the area is almost out of business.
I had a meeting with that planning officer. He said to the man, "You can't have your house, because there is no way that you can build a wall and swing a gate without affecting a tree. If that tree is affected, I cannot allow you to cut that tree down." I asked him where in the book it said that one needed a wall and a gate. He said, "I don't think that it is in the book." I said, "This man will not have a wall, he will not have a gate, he will just have his house." He said, "We couldn't do that, but we will come to an agreement." I asked, "Why couldn't he swing the gate off the tree and keep the tree?" Eventually, after a hassle, I had the mayor of the town and six councillors standing on a windy road, arguing with the planning officer about one single tree.
I have faced that individual—I do not want to name him in the House—at the council. We have sat for three hours in a' council meeting, with all the councilors 998 attacking him for his attitude, his arrogance and his determination. I took a big business man, who employs about 30 people, to him, and he told him, "I will put you on the road. I will put you out of business."
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
It is time he was on the road. He has been on the road twice, and then they dumped him in north Antrim. I ask the Minister to dump him somewhere else. Why send him to pollute us in north Antrim? He can send him down to east Antrim. The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) is near the sea, and he can deal with him.
This matter has become appalling. I was up at Moyle, and the Moyle district was the same. I was down at Ballymoney, and the district was the same. We cannot conduct public planning by confrontation. Public planning should be as amicable as possible, by compromise, to see whether there is a way that planning laws can be kept in their spirit and, as far as they can be kept, to their letter. It could be a matter of only a few inches to get a proper entrance access to a road.
A man has a good, flourishing business on a byroad outside a place called Broughshane. One's education is not complete without a visit to Broughshane. It is a lovely part of the countryside, and it has a little business that is doing very well. However, that man had bother because the business premises were not large enough. He went up the road to a disused quarry that sits a distance from the road. He discovered that the quarry had a great shed built on it in the trees. He said, "I could do my business there; planning permission has already been granted and the entrance has already been approved." When the planning officer saw it, he said, "That building must be pulled down. You can't have it." Again I had the mayor and all the councillors out and we had it out with him. He wants that building to be pulled down. We need employment in Northern Ireland. The business men to whom I listen are creating jobs and doing their work.
Let me say something about roads men. [Laughter.] I shall say something good. One roads man said, "Where he is operating from, although he has permission, is a danger. If you brought him up here, it would be safe." However, the planning officer said, "No. Pull it down." We need to do something about planning.
I am glad that the Minister has taken action in respect of electricity for Rathlin island. I am the only Member for Northern Ireland with a large inhabited island in his constituency. The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) has an island in his constituency. There are only a few people on his island, but there are more than 90 people on Rathlin island. At the turn of the century, there were more than 1,000 people. I am glad that we are bringing light to the island. Although they are not Presbyterians—they are of another tradition from mine —they are getting the light. I would give them as many lights as I could to lighten their darkness.
I am glad that the Minister has acted on the Rathlin project. He will be remembered for doing so. I hope that grants will be available to enable those people to install electricity at a reasonable price. The Minister is nodding. He knows my attitude to this matter. I hope that the matter will soon be settled. Although I am of a different religious persuasion, I am the only constituency Member who has visited the island.
999 I remember when our friend Peter Mills, from Cornwall, and I were stuck on the island. We were flown in, but the fog came down and we had to be taken off in a little open boat. He was well baptised by local immersion before he got to the other side of the pond. We dried out at the local police station. Sergeant Duff's wife gave us wonderful coffee that night and sent us on our way rejoicing like the Ethiopian eunuch, about whom those men would not know anything because they do not read the Acts of the Apostles.
We need something more in Rathlin. We need something done to the harbour at Ballycastle. There is no use in having a good harbour at Rathlin and not a good harbour on the mainland. The Minister knows my mind on this matter, and I trust that we shall see real progress in the coming days.
I have spoken for far too long, but I should like to finish on an agricultural note. I am very perplexed at what the Minister said about agriculture. He should be fighting for jobs in Northern Ireland. It is proposed that there will be reductions in intervention prices. Milk prices are to fall by 10 per cent., beef by 15 per cent., butter by 15 per cent., cereals by 35 per cent., and sheepmeat, pigmeat, poultry and beef intervention meats are also expected to fall by about 15 per cent. On supply control measures, there will be reduced upper limits on sheep premiums and on calves and disposal premiums for beef. That will be the end—the exit—for many farmers in Northern Ireland. Farming is the main industry in Northern Ireland. We cannot afford to lose it. I trust that the Northern Ireland Ministers will take up the matter with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and let him know that, if he is to have a battle royal, he needs one also for the farmers of Northern Ireland.
It is amazing that the EEC had a policy to be self-sufficient, so it brought in subsidies and interventions. It produced vast surpluses. I have sat on the European Parliament's surplus committee which examined the matter. The committee sent for the Agriculture Secretary in the United States. He came over to talk to us, and he laughed. He said, "Your surpluses are only peanuts. We have an intervention in cereals in America—an entire world harvest. Your beef mountains are little molehills. We have beef mountains like Everest." He pooh-poohed the matter, but American pressure under the general agreement on tariffs and trade is coming against us in Europe today. That is where the dictation is from. It is all right for America to dictate, but we need a battle royal to be fought in Europe for our farmers.
The farming community needs to know that the Minister will carry the flag. I do not know whether the Minister responsible for agriculture in Northern Ireland is allowed to go to Europe, but it is time that he was sent there. He should sit behind the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure that the right hon. Gentleman is fully cognisant of the dangers that the MacSharry proposals pose to Northern Ireland's farmers. We can ask for nothing less than direct representation at the table when one of the most important businesses in our country is at stake.
I plead with the Ministers on the Treasury Bench to talk to their supremo—that is what he is called in Northern Ireland—and to ensure that they put up a proper fight to save Northern Ireland's farming community. If farming 1000 goes down, the whole economy goes down with it, with serious spill-over effects for the ancilliary businesses, the money that they generate and the people that they employ.
In the past few weeks, Northern Ireland has been through many terrible things. There will be more deaths. The Chief Constable has given us the darkest report that I have ever known a chief of police to make. Some people wonder whether the security forces will be able to contain the violence. Every night we have a litany of bombings, attempted killings and shootings. Although Northern Ireland has a resilience, as has been seen in the past few days and months, there is something that will break Northern Ireland—and that is the destruction of its agriculture and of its trade with Europe via the port of Stranraer.
I have said in Europe, in this House and at every conference that I have attended exactly what the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) has just said. I have been watching the Dublin Government well and truly making their plans, covering them with the honey of Irish blarney, and trying to get people to think that the right way to the channel tunnel is through Dublin. I am afraid that they have persuaded many hon. Members of that. I know that some of the hon. Members who attend the Anglo-Irish parliamentary group have been fighting and standing up for Northern Ireland and I am grateful to them for that, but I wonder what the Northern Ireland Office has been thinking and doing.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need a statement tonight, because such a statement would have a steadying effect on our businesses, on the morale of our business people and on our workers who would know that we have friends on this side of the water. I welcome the intervention of our Scottish colleagues, which will be a great help to the people of Northern Ireland.
I could continue to enlarge my case but, in conclusion, let us have proper roads into Lame. Let us do that now and not tarry any more. Let us get those roads to show that we are ahead because if we can do that, we will get the business when it comes. Business people choose those who can produce the goods and we must be in a position to produce those goods.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
Here we are again, for the second time this year and the third debate on a Northern Ireland appropriation order will fall on one side or the other of the general election before the year is over. Some important matters have been raised this evening, but we have also heard one of Her Majesty's Ministers being asked to deal with a single street light—and it serves him right. If the House did what needs to be done for Northern Ireland, the Minister would not even know that a street light was needed because such matters would be dealt with far below his level. The fact that he has to deal with such matters personally is the clearest possible proof of the misgovernment that has been practised on the people of Northern Ireland since 1972. There is no reason whatever for this to go on and on, year after year. Such matters could and should be dealt with properly by other means—and the sooner the better.
I am sure that other hon. Members are, like me, utterly weary of Northern Ireland business being dealt with in this way, but it is the only way and our only chance to bring home to the Government their responsibilities for the 1001 Province and how poorly they have been fulfilling them. As I have said, this has been going on for far too long, and I hope that we can see an end to it.
In one respect, the order is interesting and unusual. It refers in part I to a grant of £1,000 and to an increase of appropriation in aid of £736,246 for the year ended 31 March 1990. We do not often find a sum appearing on the appropriation order 15 or 16 months after the end of the year to which it relates. I could have understood it if the sum related to the year that has just ended. Perhaps an explanation was given before I entered the Chamber—if so, I apologise—but I remain curious because it does not happen very often.
The sums that we are dealing with are large—the order covers about £2.75 billion. That is a lot of money, a large but not infinite sum, and it is our duty to ensure that it is spent both wisely and well. I intend to raise three matters which I raised in March, when the last appropriation debate took place. I make no apology for repeating those issues, because they have not yet been resolved.
First, however, I should like to say something about the Larne-Stranraer route. From what my right hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) has said, it seems that the Government are going along with the idea that they should sacrifice not only the money that was spent on the south-west Scotland road route, but also a large part of the traffic that passes through Lame harbour, with the associated jobs and the money that has been spent on the infrastructure there. The Government also seem prepared to sacrifice something of benefit to the people of south-west Scotland—and north-west England, which has not yet been mentioned—simply to try to placate Dublin and to buy off Irish republicanism. I should have thought that even the Government would have long since learnt that that has been a nugatory effort. Once one starts paying the Danegeld, one pays it for ever—and this House has been paying it to Dublin and to Irish republicanism since 1969 for an absolutely nil return. The time is long since past when that nonsense should have stopped.
I hope that the Minister will accept one Kudo from me. He will be aware that I have been asking for replacement grants for poor quality housing since long before both he and I became Members of this House. I am pleased that that objective has eventually been accomplished, but I am annoyed that so many people have jumped on the bandwagon, from the hype on radio and television and in the newspapers, one would think that one simply has to crook one's finger to get the grant to build a new house. Those of us who have taken an interest in the matter down the years know that it is a difficult and complex scheme which will be difficult to police. It is not quite so simple or straightforward as some would have us believe. Nevertheless, the scheme is long overdue and, had it been put in place 15 years ago instead of now, much of our bad housing would not have been improved but replaced.
I am a great believer in people owning their own dwelling because, home ownership is one of the most stabilising influences. One of the great success stories of the Conservative Administration of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs Thatcher) was that she initiated the concept of selling council houses on a large scale. It has done a lot of good. Of course, we all appreciate that there is a bad side, but basically it was a sound principle and one that 1002 was welcome. I hope to see it extended so that more and more people own their own dwelling, but there will always be a place for let accommodation.
I hope that the rest of my remarks will not be taken amiss by the Government. There is a certain amount of slippage in some areas, which should be dealt with. Some have already been touched on, including the new Coleraine hospital. The proposal for a new hospital has been floating around for not 14 but 30 years, since it was first decided that Coleraine needed a new hospital. The proposal has been chopped and changed and all sorts of arguments have been heard. It is about time that a final decision was made. I have today tabled a written question asking for a statement on the subject next week. I hope that we will receive a favourable response then if not today, because it is overdue. The intellectual argument about the need for that hospital has been won. It is a matter of money. The proposal has been on the waiting list so long that the money should be made available now so that people can look forward to proper health care for the first time.
I ask the Minister to recall that on 11 March I raised the matter of the incinerator at the Du Pont site at Londonderry. Several things have happened since then and the matter has moved on, not least because I have asked several questions and much of the local population has become more worried about the incinerator.
Ministers will not have missed the widespread anxiety about toxic waste and its disposal in Northern Ireland. Even if the Minister missed the public debate about it, he will not have missed the questions that I have tabled. No doubt he will have looked at the answers to those questions and had discussions about them with his officials. I may tell him that I had some difficulty in getting my questions past the Table Office. If the Table Office had taken them as I wrote them, the Minister would have found them rather more precise than the form in which they appeared on the Order Paper.
If the Minister has taken an interest in my questions, he will be aware that there is a need for people throughout the United Kingdom to pay attention to how we get rid of chlorinated hydrocarbons. They are not a nice material. The technology that has been used to dispose of them is burning at high temperatures, but that involves dangers. I am sure that the Minister has also been made aware of the problem in the Bolsover area of England with dioxins in cows' milk. Hon. Members who represent Derbyshire will have besieged the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with demands that he trace and eliminate the source of that dioxin. Their interest in the purity of our food, at least in the case of one Derbyshire Member, is well known.
I have tabled a question about dioxins which has not yet been answered. It is a matter of national importance. It is not restricted to two or three farms in Derbyshire which are troubled with the problem. It should worry every hon. Member. It is a dangerous, long-lasting material. In my question I asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he has yet managed to discover and eliminate the source of the pollution. I can assure the House that every farmer in the United Kingdom is anxious about this.
Farmers are also anxious about another matter dealt with in an answer that I received from another Government Department. It is the principle that the polluter pays. The polluter can be made to pay only if he can be identified and the pollution traced back to him. In a case in the Irish Republic, we all saw how difficult it was 1003 to reach that stage when the farmer was facing ruin. If the poor chap had not gone on and on beyond what most people would have done, he would have been out of the door and the pollution would probably have continued. I sometimes wonder whether that, rather than a real need for an incinerator, has anything to do with the proposal to bring an incinerator to the Du Pont site.
Northern Ireland is one huge food factory. Brussels is under pressure to outlaw any incinerators sited near food processing plants. I look on Northern Ireland as a food producing and processing plant and so should every other hon. Member who eats in this House, which probably means all of us. Food production is also the largest industry in Northern Ireland. It is increasingly successful in promoting its food in the European market. Like me, the Minister with responsibility for agriculture in Northern Ireland, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) visited the food fair in the early spring of this year in London. I am sure that he was as much impressed with what he saw as I was. It was not a Northern Ireland only event. Scotland, Wales, England, Germany, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all from every corner of Europe were there. It was a most impressive exhibition. I certainly enjoyed it and learned a great deal.
At that exhibition I was told by Northern Ireland producers that they sold their produce with the image of the green, wholesome, naturally produced products which are free from chemicals. One does not need to spell out to the Minister just what effect even the slightest smell of chemical infiltration into the food chain would have on that flourishing trade.
Dioxins will be in not only milk but wool and all meat. They are an insidious chemical and one with which the body has great difficulty dealing. When I read about the problems in Derbyshire I did some checking up. I discovered that MAFF has laid down that the tolerable daily intake of dioxins is 0.01 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day. The maximum tolerable concentration of dioxins in milk is 0.7 nanograms per kilogram of milk. On the farms in Derbyshire the highest concentration was 0.47 nanograms. That should worry every one of us. Dioxins come essentially from chemical waste which is difficult to handle and has had to be burned. If it is burned at the wrong temperature dioxins are the sort of nasties that come out of them.
As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker will appreciate, I have taken a keen interest in the incinerator. It is in that part of county Londonderry which is now represented by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) but it is not far from my boundary and I represented the area in my former incarnation as the hon. Member for Londonderry before the number of seats was increased from 12 to 17.
I read the statement made by the Du Pont company. The project manager, Mr. Richard Wylie, said that it could be August before any announcement was made. He also said that Du Pont did not operate incinerators anywhere simply for profit. It operated them whenever it had a problem with waste disposal. If there is spare capacity, they will help out locally. That flies somewhat in the face of the idea that we need only one incinerator for the whole of the island of Ireland. Du Pont is building one to deal with its own waste but which can also deal with much more than its own waste.
We are also told that co-operation between the Northern Ireland Office and the Dublin Government—so 1004 on an all-Ireland basis—to draw up a policy for hazardous waste disposal has been a small step in bringing nationalists and unionists together. I assure the Minister that it sure has. It seems that the only time the two Governments can manage to bring us all together is when they do something of which we all disapprove and which affects everyone equally. That shows that we have at least some common interests.
At Maydown there is an existing liquid waste incinerator which treats 5,500 tones per annum, most 01 it in the form of chlorinated hydrocarbons. However, until recently, about 700 tonnes of solid waste has been shipped for incineration to Finland or France.
Mr. Wylie emphasised:waste minimisation is the first priority. To run chemicals through a plant and then have to spend vast sums on disposal is obviously daft.I accept that that would be daft because if those chemicals can be recycled they are just as good as the originals. Mr. Wylie went on to state that the Du Pont projections involve substantial reductions in waste at Maydown—by up to 70 per cent. by the end of the decade. On the source of the greatest local concern, dioxin, Mr. Wylie commented:If someone lived downwind and the wind direction never changed"—I can tell the House that it blows most of the time from the south and west—and if they lived there continuously for 70 years; if they had light body-weight; if they never took a holiday; if the incinerator never shut down; and if it always ran at the maximum limit—then the person would still be safe by some orders of magnitude.The Minister will have long since gathered that the questions that I have put down are so precise that only someone with a fair knowledge of the chemical process would know what to ask. The chap advising me described the latter quote from Mr. Wylie as "nonsense", but I would not expect Du Pont to say anything else—after all, it is their muck and they have to get rid of it somehow.
In the light of the quotes that I have given to the House I should like to know more about the 700 tonnes of solid waste currently shipped out of Northern Ireland. That 700 tonnes is the same quantity as the dangerous stuff that is to be burnt in the proposed new incinerator. At present, 5,500 tonnes of chlorinated hydrocarbons are burnt at the old plant on the Maydown site. Is that present incinerator up to the requirement of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988? I believe that those regulations come into force in Northern Ireland tomorrow. If that plant does not meet those requirements, what steps are being taken to ensure its compliance? If it fails to comply, that means that it is a dangerous plant.
Can the Minister tell me whether the emissions from the stack in the present plant are monitored? What is coming up that chimney and spreading over all Northern Ireland? Is the Minister absolutely certain that the COSHH regulations are being met? If not, what steps will he take to ensure that they are? Will the Minister also make sure that he does not forget that the Safety At Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 applies not only to those working in the Maydown plant, but to farmers in the fields, who may be many miles downwind. The company's responsibilities do not end with its workers, but with all those other folk outside the plant who may be adversely affected.
Has not Australia recently said no to incineration and the working incinerator, which I believe was an ICI plant, 1005 been closed down? Is it not also true that the plant that Du Pont operates in Canada—I believe that it is at Swan Hills —was until recently the only hazardous waste incinerator in Canada? It has an annual capacity of 5,000 tonnes and a queuing time for disposal of more than a year. That plant now takes hazardous waste from Alberta only, following an accident in which a lorry carrying PCBs to the incinerator turned over at the border between Ontario and Manitoba. It is clear, therefore, that the Australians and Canadians are worried about incineration. Indeed, the Canadians have restricted the incineration plant not just to the territory of Canada at large, but to one state only. If the Canadians and Australians are so worried, surely we should also be worried.
On 26 June I tabled a written question which was answered by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. He stated:The proposed incinerator would constitute a registrable process under the Alkali and Radiochemical Works Regulation Act 1906 as amended by the Alkali and Radiochemical Works Order (Northern Ireland) 1991."—[Official Report, 26 June 1991; Vol. 193, c. 488.]Will the requirements and information contained in that answer be upgraded by the COSHH regulations which come into force tomorrow? My constituents and everyone downwind of the proposed incinerator in Northern Ireland would like to know the answer.
Is the Minister aware that the De Gaussa organisation in Germany has a chemical process to clean up hydrocarbons contaminated with PCBs leaving nothing but common salt behind? It is possible to unzip, as it were, the PCBs so that the waste is reduced to harmless salt. The possibility of dangerous emissions as a result of waste burning are therefore eliminated. If such technology is already available, people should spend a lot of money on developing it rather than taking the risk of burning the waste. No matter what one does with the incinerator plants, it is a question not of whether but of when something will go wrong—it is inevitable, and when things do go wrong I suspect that the operators will do their best to cover that up.
If there are any investigations into the proposed incinerator, does the Minister accept that those investigations should not be carried out by a university in Northern Ireland, especially Queens university, which has had a chair sponsored by the Du Pont company? I am not saying that the scientists and professors at Queens would be willing to dress up their reports, but some unkind people might think that. I should be much happier if the investigations were carried out by a body outside Northern Ireland.
Is the Minister prepared to give a guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland and to me that the new environmental protection scheme that the Prime Minister announced will have teeth at least as good as those of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. That American organisation, above all others, made the chemical companies and other polluters sit up and take notice. Will the Minister ensure that whatever form the environmental protection scheme takes in Northern Ireland, it will not be based in Belfast where it could have a cosy relationship with the Government and everyone 1006 else, but way out in the sticks where it would feel freer to take a good hard look at the job that it was supposed to do?
If what the spokesman from Du Pont says is correct and the company intends to reduce its waste disposal by about 70 per cent. by the end of the century, how on earth can it build an incinerator small enough to deal with that small amount of waste material? Or do the Government expect a huge increase in the amount of waste to be produced by new chemical plants in the island of Ireland? Those basic questions must be answered.
If an incinerator has to be built, a number of measures must be taken. It should not be owned or run by the company that produces the pollution, because those companies would do their damnedest to ensure that they reduced the cost to themselves. We all know that reducing costs leads to taking risks, which usually means that the plant blows up in our face. We have had enough of that. The nuclear technology scientists have persistently assured us that nuclear establishments are safe. I am sure that the people living in Flixborough and Bhopal were assured that the nearby chemical establishments were perfectly safe. However, whenever the pigeons come home to roost many people are hurt. The only way to ensure that a plant is run properly is for it to be run by an independent body.
Alternatively, all those who produce the waste could own a large chunk of the plant so that they did not pay simply for the burning of the waste created by Du Pont. If Du Pont owns the place it can charge whatever the dickens it likes, because it will be the only incinerator needed in the island of Ireland, and any other person producing material for incineration will be at the mercy of that company.
If an incinerator has to be built, it should not be built on the west coast but on the east coast, where the emissions from the chimney would blow out to sea 90 per cent. of the time.
§ Mr. Ross
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Perhaps it should be right over on the east coast of Scotland. Despite the Minister's giggles, there is no point in building an incinerator where the emissions will be blown across Ulster. The wind blows from the south and west much of the time—the Minister knows that perfectly well—so the incinerator should be sited where the emissions will be blown out to sea. Much of the emission will come down in the first 20 miles if it comes down at all, so the decision is difficult.
Is there a small area health statistics unit based in Northern Ireland? If not, will one be created to look after the incinerator? The plant must be operated by highly skilled people. Will the Minister assure me that emissions will be fully scrubbed and that there will be a high-speed quenching of the gases?
The trouble is that one is always caught on the horns of a dilemma: should we trust the machinery, the computer, or the people? They all make errors and a balance must be struck. The risks must be minimised and, if humanly possible, an alternative technology—even if it is not ready for the next couple of years—should be used.
When people talk about state of the art technology, they mean technology that works on the laboratory bench. When it is upgraded and used on a large scale it does not necessarily behave as it did in the laboratory. We must therefore try to use not only state of the art technology, 1007 but tried and tested state of the art technology. The problem is that technology must be tried out for the first time on a large scale, but I should prefer to have technology which I know works rather than experimental technology.
I hope that my questions have shown the concern that I and many of my constituents feel. I cannot believe that a 20,000 tonne incinerator is viable when I consider that the Cleanaway plant—a much larger general purpose plant—handles many multiples of that amount of waste. I also find it hard to credit that the plant can be built for £38 million, because the scrubbing equipment alone is very costly. Before we proceed, we must think carefully and either site the plant where the possibility of damage is minimised or, instead of an incinerator, use technology which, with a little more research, could be a real winner because it would reduce the material to salt and carbon dioxide.
In a written answer the Minister told me thatAt a meeting of the Anglo-Irish conference on 31 January 1991, I exchanged views on this and other environmental issues with the Minister for the Environment in the Irish Republic, Mr. Flynn. I have also discussed with the management of Du Pont (UK) Ltd., their proposal for a hazardous waste incinerator and have visited the company's site".—[Official Report, 25 June 1991; Vol. 193, c. 445.]When I saw the wonderful information that the Minister had discussed at the Anglo-Irish conference I expected a detailed statement, but in fact the statement was only a couple of sentences long and told me nothing. Will the Minister now tell us whether he has done a deal with Mr. Flynn and the Government of the Irish Republic to build the incinerator in Northern Ireland to take all the hazardous materials produced in the Irish Republic? That would give the people of Northern Ireland the benefit of anything that comes out of the chimneys, which would confirm my view that the Irish Republic is always prepared to send the United Kingdom any muck that it possibly can, and we do not want it.
When I asked the Secretary of State for the Environmentwhat information he has on the quantity of toxic and hazardous wastes arising from the operations of the Du Pont company in Northern Ireland which is transferred to the incinerators of the Cleanway and Raychem plants in Great Britain each year",the answer was:None. Monitoring the movement of hazardous waste within the United Kingdom is the responsibility of local waste disposal authorities."—[Official Report, 3 July 1991; Vol. 194, c. 141.]In Northern Ireland, that ranges from Belfast city council down to Moyle council, which looks after 10,000 people. Is the Minister trying to convince the hon. Members from Northern Ireland that all those local waste disposal authorities in the Province are capable of monitoring the movement of waste? I doubt whether they are even told about it. I wonder whether the health officials in the councils are aware of their responsibilities in that respect, because none of them has ever mentioned them to me. I was horrified to discover that there was no overall authority to oversee the movement of that hazardous waste.
LEDU is not my favourite organisation. The Minister said in his opening remarks that LEDU had promoted 7,000 jobs in the past year and 50,000 jobs since 1971. The real questions are not how many it has allegedly created but how many it has merely replaced and how many still 1008 exist. It is not a question of whether a job is created but whether a continuing job is created. We want industrial growth and more work in Northern Ireland—there is no point in creating jobs which simply disappear.
I make no apology for returning yet again to the problem of one of my constituents, to which I could now add the problems of a couple of others. When I asked about this in March, I received the usual bland reply. As the Minister knows, my constituent went to the commissioner of complaints, who found that he had not suffered through maladministration. That is a matter to which I hope to return when the ombudsman's reports come before the House, so I shall leave it for tonight.
In March I said that I believed then, and I still do now, that LEDU was simply not equipped to deal with inventors because it did not have the necessary machinery to cope with an idea from its invention through to its marketing—that expertise and capacity does not exist. I sometimes think that inventors as a body tend to look at the world in a slightly skewed way. If they did not, they would never come up with an idea. They have difficulties and do not necessarily have a vast amount of machinery or wealth behind them. Frequently, an individual comes up with an idea, which is what happened in the case of my constituent. I am deeply involved in the matter because the individual involved is a neighbour of mine. It is a long and complicated saga. I have a chunk of the file with me and I will gladly give it to the Minister if he wishes to spend the weekend reading it. I am concerned that an idea that I thought was a winner is still not on the market after several years.
The first bone of contention for the inventor involved the control of the project. It seems that help is sparse unless the set-up is acceptable to LEDU, which dictates what can and cannot be done and who will be involved. A Londonderry firm was apparently unacceptable to LEDU, and I often wonder why LEDU was unable to come up with another firm. My constituent and I had no objection to LEDU meeting the firm, but my constituent's bargaining position seemed to be undermined by LEDU's attitude, despite the fact that heads of agreement had already been drawn up, which caused the bone of contention.
Another factor involves the sheer cost of development and patent rights, and protecting those rights across the world. A good product must be protected and there is apparently no way in which a private individual can gain funds for that protection. It is important for ideas to be protected so that they can be brought to fruition and used, but there does not seem to be any help available to the individual. Inventors tend to spend to an enormous amount of their own time and money on their pet projects. Admittedly, not all the projects come to anything—many die the death—but the tenacity of the individuals often ensures that their ideas succeed.
Another factor relates to the grant aid for production. Basic engineering involved can be carried out in Ulster —the difficult part involves sales and promotion. When LEDU made an offer a year or so ago for a grant for market research, it seemed to be saying that the project had not been handled properly and it wanted to get off the hook. By that time, however, my constituent was so suspicious of LEDU and all its works that it was difficult to persuade him to go back to LEDU. I think that LEDU should carry out some market research of its own to find out whether my constituent's product can sell. If it 1009 succeeds, as I am sure that it will, it will create many jobs in Northern Ireland. It is worth taking a risk with that project, and the Minister should get his finger out and take that risk.
Providing such assistance to inventors should be examined because inventors usually come up with only one good idea in their lifetime, and they want to hold on to it. If they do not, it will sometimes go down the plug hole. I should like more help to be given to them, from the inception of their idea until the product proves to be either a failure or a success. LEDU would make enough money out of the successes to pay for the failures.
Another one of my constituents invented a toilet seat that was operated by foot—[Laughter.] It seems laughable, and I appreciate that most people laugh at the idea—I did when I first encountered it—but the inventor said that Americans were going up the wall because of their fear of AIDS and reckoned that the product would sell well. Everyone who has looked at the fancy idea says that it will work. The idea is still floating around, waiting for help to take it from the invention to the development stage—[Laughter.] At least my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) seems to be enjoying this. We need a bit of light-heartedness in this establishment occasionally. It does not matter that the idea involved a toilet seat. If there is money and work in the idea, we should be glad of it.
§ Mr. Ross
Yes, I agree.
In that case, an inventor came up with a project which, despite the hilarity, could be manufactured. Why have not greater efforts been made to help him?
Within the past week, another constituent came to me saying that he approached LEDU last September because he wanted to set up a gear cutting business. He said that he was the only person in Northern Ireland doing so, and his story concerned me. I had a word with him on the telephone earlier this evening to confirm what stage he had reached. He said that officials from LEDU made an appointment to come to see him in September or October last year but they did not turn up and he received a telephone call a day or two later to say that the officials' car had broken down which was why no one was able to come. The officials finally arrived in February—that hardly showed the proper amount of speed, efficiency and urgency necessary to promote industry in Northern Ireland and the officials then said that they would not give my constituent any money.
My constituent then went to Donegal and saw the Irish Development Agency in the Republic. He talked to an accountant and within one hour he was looking at premises. He received a telephone call one week later with an offer to go back to look at more premises and was offered all the grants in the world. He said that when he compared the two—the IDA and LEDU—LEDU did not know where to begin. He did not actually use those words but you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would reprove me if I uttered the ones that he used. My constituent has now bought five gear-cutting machines and the business is going full blast without money from LEDU. The Minister 1010 may think that that is good enough, but I do not. Will he please go and give that organisation a damned good shaking?
§ Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)
I am grateful for this opportunity to participate in tonight's debate. I apologise to the Minister of State and other hon. Members for my absence at the start of the debate.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) made a strong plea about agriculture in Northern Ireland and today's news of the proposed changes in the common agricultural policy. The pressure from the general agreement on tariffs and trade negotiations is disturbing to us in Northern Ireland. I come from a constituency which is mainly made up of small farmers—both lowland and hillside—and they have great concerns about the future.
I realise that there is an apparent dichotomy between the requirements of an agricultural policy for Northern Ireland and that pertaining to Great Britain. I am sure that the Minister with responsibility for agriculture in Northern Ireland must be suffering from schizophrenia because what is needed in Northern Ireland, is to support the small farmer in every way possible, whereas that does not seem to be required by farmers in Great Briain. However, the Northern Ireland Office will be responsible for the final policy that is applied to Northern Ireland.
At present in Northern Ireland, there is a great thrust forward to rejuvenate and regenerate rural communities, which seems to be flying in the face of the agricultural policy on which we are about to embark, which will degenerate and lead to the degradation of the countryside in Northern Ireland as we know it.
In the previous appropriation debate, I asked the Minister to pass on to his ministerial colleagues the concept that, if the worst came to the worst—I know that we are a small cog in the big wheel of European and international politics—we need a financial package and a rescue operation that will at least blunt the most severe effects of the changes in the common agriculture policy, which will have a detrimental impact on small farmers. The preparation for that package needs to be in place now. It should not be an ill thought out, ill conceived, ill administered operation when the time comes. We are at the crossroads, at a time of potential emergency in Northern Ireland.
The Department of Agriculture is also responsible for fisheries. The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) referred to some aspects of the fishing industry, claiming that one half of the catch came in through Portavogie. We can assume then that the other half comes in through South Down. Quotas are soon to be applied to parts of the fishing industry in the Irish sea, with the result that those fishing from the east coast of Northern Ireland, from Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel will suffer dramatically. Quotas on cod and haddock have been imposed to protect stocks in the North sea, but they are not necessarily relevant to the Irish sea.
It is clear from answers that I have received from the Minister who is responsible for the fisheries that the Department has not yet thought about a decommissioning programme. Fishermen have been squeezed out of their traditional inherited businesses but have received no help for decommissioning so as to prevent the over-fishing which the quotas are allegedly supposed to prevent. I ask 1011 the Department to revise its attitude to a decommissioning scheme. Not much money would be involved for such a scheme in Northern Ireland, but we are talking about the livelihoods of the families attached to each fishing boat, and decommissioning definitely needs funding.
I am puzzled by another aspect of the fishing industry. We need a proper fishing training centre or school on the east coast of Northern Ireland. I should like to see one at Ardglass or Kilkeel. It could possibly be linked to the fine establishment in Greencastle in north Donegal across in the Irish Republic. Such a centre would ensure that young people who were left in the industry were properly trained in fishing techniques, in conservation and in new technology. Again, this would not involve a huge sum.
These young people do not seem to receive the same sympathy and help as those pursuing other careers. For instance, they have to pay their own way to these schools. University graduates, those who attend Government training centres and those who go to colleges of further education receive assistance—but not youngsters being trained for fishing. Will the Department review its policy on this important area?
As for training under the Department of Economic Development, the Under-Secretary will know that all my constituency has is an annexe of a training centre. Several times, I have urged the Minister to provide a modest expansion programme for the training college so that it can increase the number of subjects it teaches in a modest way. We have virtually no public transport in the constituency—no railways, and the bus service is thin on the ground and does not cater for travelling workers or a travelling training force. Only a modest sum would be involved in this idea.
The main thrust of policy of the Department of Economic Development must be job creation. I listened with interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) about LEDU. My experience of LEDU does not equate with his. I believe that it is better geared to helping small businesses begin and expand. We live in an era of small business expansion. I should not like LEDU's expertise in this area to be swamped by its being reabsorbed into the parent body, the Industrial Development Board. Today, the Northern Ireland Economic Council made some suggestions to that effect, on which I have not time to report in detail, but we should think carefully before accepting those suggestions.
An important element of the work of the Industrial Development Board is attracting inward investment. I ask the Minister to use his best endeavours to obtain back office development for Northern Ireland. I make a plea for South Down, which has a very weak industrial infrastructure and which could easily benefit from this type of development. We are fully linked up with international fibre-optic communications throughout the constituency, and back office developments can be plugged in almost anywhere in the constituency at little cost. The same can be said of many other constituencies in Northern Ireland.
I know that the Minister and the Northern Ireland Office are committed to fair employment as embodied in the legislation, but it is important also that jobs should be fairly distributed—the more so given the peculiar circumstances of Northern Ireland where, for all sorts of reasons, communities may be divided into hostile sections. It is therefore not always easy to travel to a workplace in a community different from one's own. New jobs must be fairly distributed—more so than they have been in the 1012 past. We know the number of visits made by the IDB to South Down from the answers to parliamentary questions. I will not bore the House by repeating the statistics, but they show an appalling lack of equality of job opportunity.
The Minister will know from having tasted the fruits of South Down that the tourist industry there has great potential for development. Of course tourism is important throughout Northern Ireland—tourism is a very saleable commodity in the European and North American markets—but there is a problem with what I call St. Patrick's country and the Mournes. Both have a high reputation on many continents.
We have never been able to put together a package comparable to the excellent ones produced for the Fermanagh lakeland and the north coast tourist area. If we could put together a Mourne-St. Patrick's country concept, we would enhance tourism and the potential for jobs in the area from Carlingford lough to Strangford lough. That is a hobby horse of mine. Many potentially exciting infrastructure developments for tourism are on the drawing board and could be translated into reality.
The next vote relates to the Department of Education. Tremendous hardship and disappointment and a sense of failure have been created throughout Northern Ireland by the failure to operate a fair and total transfer system. The Minister knows that by and large, those who have obtained grades 1 and 2 in the 11-plus examination are supposed to be entitled to grammar school education in Northern Ireland. There is also an entitlement to parental choice, which is one of the great thrusts in the Government's promotion of the reform of education.
Last year, many pupils suffered damage to their potential careers because they were unable to obtain the education to which their examination results entitled them. It is possible to excuse that because last year was the first time that that happened, but it is not acceptable for the debacle to be repeated this year. However, matters are even worse this year, and the numbers reported in the Northern Ireland press yesterday, if accurate, reflect nothing short of an educational scandal. Boys and girls who have done their best and worked hard and have received the results of their hard work are being deprived of what they thought would be their reward. That is totally unacceptable and a most inhumane way to start people on their careers.
The Minister must ensure that places are available for those pupils, not next year but this year. Places are being denied because of a paper exercise. Many schools have the capacity to take those children, but because of a Ministry rule of thumb and a paper figure, it is not happening. It is not a question of accommodation or finance, but one of administration, and it could be corrected tomorrow by the stroke of a pen. Perhaps that request could be passed to the Minister who is responsible for education, so that he can take immediate action.
Much has been said about the environment. As I listened to the right hon. Member for Strangford, I wondered whether there would be any money left in the kitty for a road or two in constituencies other than Strangford. From his previous portfolio in Northern Ireland, the Minister is aware that not a pound has been spent on major capital programmes in my constituency over the past 13 years. I may be open to correction on that, but I do not think so.
There are only two class B roads in my constituency, which has no railway system. We are trying to lay the 1013 foundations for a tourist industry that would create jobs for our young people, and we will not succeed unless we have reasonable road communications because, as I have said, we have no railways. We have a fine and developing harbour in Warrenpoint, but it is served by only one major road from one direction. There is not even a class A road on which goods can be transported from other directions.
The right hon. Member for Strangford spoke about the fishing industry and about the heavy articulated and refrigerated lorries from the two major fishing ports of Kilkeel and Ardglass. The roads are not built for such transport, although some minor works are under way to try to improve them. I am not asking for dual carriageways, because we are so unused to them that we would not know which side to drive on. However, even one class A road in the constituency would be greatly appreciated because it would help industrial development by providing a better infrastructure.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East spoke about pollution and about an incinerator for the Foyle area. Since the mid-1940s, there has been pollution in the Irish sea. That has been going on for 45 years, and for a long time we have had continuous daily radioactive discharges from Sellafield. There have also been more than 100 major and minor accidents, atmospheric and from the pipeline in the Irish sea, resulting in the discharge of materials with fairly high radioactivity. The issue contains an element of farce, because now there is to be deep land storage of low-level and medium-level radioactive material from Sellafield.
About two years ago, I attended a meeting in London held by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. We were issued with a glossy and attractive book detailing the great geological survey which BNFL intended to make of the whole of Great Britain to find a suitable dumping area. One of the basic requirements was a sound rock structure. At that meeting, I said that, at the end of the day, the selected site would be Sellafield, because the criterion was money and not safety or the environment. Lo and behold, the selected site for the deep storage in rock was at Sellafield. That is curious, because the most mobile geological fault in the British Isles runs from north Louth through the Isle of Man to Cumbria. There have been tremors in that area in the past couple of years, some of them substantial. In spite of that, Sellafield was the area found to be most suitable.
The Minister should hold a brief for the people of Northern Ireland against the vested interests taking such decisions. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East also spoke about the transport of toxic wastes. Toxic wastes of the worst kind—radioactive wastes—continually ply up and down the Irish sea in ships bringing dirt from all over the world. If Japan can send its nuclear waste to Britain for processing, it must be an expensive operation and the Japanese must be damn glad to get rid of it. However, the waste does not go back, it stays here.
I was one of the first to visit Sellafield before it became a "tourist" centre and I saw vat after vat of stuff that will be there for 10,000 or 50,000 years. That is a sobering and frightening thought. Everyone should take the opportunity to visit Sellafield, if only to sample the so-called pleasures of a conducted tour. People will come away frightened, as I did, by the prospect in evidence there.
1014 In terms of the Department of Health, the Minister's responsibility, rather than the requirement of the health boards, is to ensure that people are given adequate and equal access to health care. I should like him to consider what is happening in my constituency. It has no major hospital, only two minor hospitals—Downe hospital in Downpatrick and Mourne hospital at Kilkeel. The Southern board is threatening to close the Kilkeel hospital right at the foot of the Mournes without any consideration of the tremendous distances and the difficulty of the travel which someone who was seriously ill in the area would have to undertake.
The Minister once held the portfolio for health in Northern Ireland, so he knows about the arguments that I and others have been advancing for generations about the final stage of Downe hospital in Downpatrick. That campaign is one of my earliest political memories, from 1956, and the project is still no further up the line.
The Eastern health board carried out a survey of its hospitals, including Downe hospital, which showed clearly that in spite of the appalling physical conditions under which the surgeons, the other doctors and the nursing staff operate, it is the most cost-effective hospital in Northern Ireland. What could it not do if it received the modest boost of the completion of the third phase—the psychiatric, geriatric and maternity provision? In health provision terms, the medical centre would not require an enormous amount of money. It has been designed to cost about £8 million to £10 million, and that would easily be saved on upkeep during the next couple of years.
I know that the Minister has two plans in front of him. One is from the Eastern health board, which has accepted as has the Department over the years—the need to complete the project, but no one ever does anything about it. Ministerial intervention is required, especially now that we have quangos instead of representative health boards.
It is significant that three homes in my constituency are closing—the St. Leonard's home in Rostrevor has already closed, and I understand that the Spelga house residence at Banbridge and Mourne house, in Newcastle, are also to close. In other words, there is a consistent rundown of public health care provision. At the same time in the area —and, indeed, in the Belfast area, where the hospitals are gathered around like doughnuts—the waiting lists for chiropody, coronary heart care, hearing therapists and orthodontic provision are lengthening. The evidence shows that the services are not being delivered and that service quality provision is contracting rather than expanding.
The Minister may be surprised that I do not intend to complain about the amount of money provided for social security. I shall not complain about that, because my present complaint is more serious—it is about the administration of social security, and the effect that that has on the people who come into my constituency surgery.
Why can people looking after children with cystic fibrosis not obtain attendance allowance, when such children require the same care as other children? That is nonsense. Children with cystic fibrosis require very special care. Many of them need not only constant physical care but enzyme treatment and many other complicated medical procedures.
I had a case in my surgery the other week in which the parents had already lost two children through cystic fibrosis and now had a third child, also with cystic fibrosis. They were refused attendance allowance on the ground 1015 that the child did not need care different from that required by a child without the disease. That is administrative nonsense, which should be dealt with.
A young, totally deaf boy had his attendance allowance withdrawn because it was said that he did not need more care and attention than someone with full hearing capacity. What sort of nonsense is that? The evidence of one's eyes is denied by the social security officers and the tribunal.
The same thing happens with mobility allowance. Again, there is a parade through my surgery of people who cannot get mobility allowance. So far as I can see, the only people who can be sure of getting it are those who cannot move at all, because they are dead. A girl badly affected by Down's syndrome and could not walk, did not have the mental capacity or the will to walk, yet she was refused mobility allowance. Another girl had had her arm amputated, had a twisted spine and a difficult gait, because she dragged her legs. Such people are refused mobility allowance because of the weird criterion that they have to be unable or virtually unable to walk. When it comes to the appeal stage, it seems that the only people who can get mobility allowance are those with no legs. I ask the Minister to consider the administration rather than the allocation of the money, and to examine how it is spent.
The consequences of the administration of the social fund, which was set up in April 1988, have been horrific. It often creates poverty rather than resolving it. In December 1989, the Child Poverty Action Group carried out a survey which, with a strong use of statistics, showed clearly that the social fund system was inadequate and was creating a new poverty trap.
Last month, the Northern Ireland Anti-Poverty Network gave evidence beyond a doubt that the social fund was exacerbating the poverty trap. I have many case histories showing that, but I shall not give all the details. I simply ask how social security officers can refuse a destitute young girl a grant to obtain clothes, and how they can refuse the mother of seven children, who had no clothes, a clothing grant. How can a young man just released from gaol, who had nothing, be refused a few pounds to get himself a few respectable things?
Should we not be trying to prevent people being put into gaols or other institutions? Are we not trying to assist the rehabilitation of such people? If grants are not given to such worthy cases, who will be given them?
There is a big gap in the administration of the system, in that such people may be offered loans, but they have no money to pay them back. Some people are refused loans because they already have a loan. I am not talking about usury or about high street lending banks; I am talking about ordinary people who cannot pay their way and buy a reasonably respectable suit of clothes or a dress, or provide food for themselves.
§ Mr. William Ross
Has the hon. Gentleman, like me, come across cases of people getting loans from money sharks at high rates of interest? One of my constituents has to pay back £2,000 over two years, having borrowed only £1,000.
§ Mr. McGrady
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention in support of what I am saying, and I agree with him. There are many such examples. Back-street moneylending is an enterprise industry in Northern 1016 Ireland at the moment. Some people are borrowing from moneylenders to pay back social security loans. That is a ridiculous situation, and we shall have to get out of it.
We see many adverts in our local newspapers saying that people are not applying for family credit, but I shall explain what happens to the self-employed. I shall say more about the phrase "self-employed" in a moment, but I am not talking about wealthy people who are not entitled to family credit. When a self-employed person claims family credit, he is in for an administrative nightmare.
Who are the self-employed people I am talking about? Every brickie, every plasterer, every carpenter and every agricultural labourer. All of them are classified as self-employed because of the system now operated in the economy. Previously, such people would have fallen within a pay-as-you-earn system and would have been able to get certificates of income without any bother. Under the present system, however, they are self-employed and have to produce accounts proving their income and net income.
The questions coming from the social security administration in Northern Ireland would drive anyone to distraction. The most minute expense is queried. I have heard of queries and requests for an analysis in respect of £10-worth of repairs to a car. In the face of that situation, people are switched off and go to the moneylenders to try to supplement their income, even though they are entitled to social security benefits.
Will the Minister look at the matter urgently? The officers administering the system have no concept of people's income—never mind how to arrive at it and how to prove it. I have been to tribunals with such officers, arid even the tribunals have no concept of the income arid expenditure of self-employed people. They do not know the first principles. They are flying by the seat of their pants in reaching decicisions.
I emphasise that, in referring to the self-employed, I am referring to nearly every person in Northern Ireland, other than shop assistants. I am talking about all those in the construction industry and many of those in agriculture and the fishing industry. I am talking about very small, poor, self-employed people who are being denied family credit because of administrative incompetence and lack of feeling. I ask the Minister urgently to revise the administration—rather than the quantum—of the funding.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)
It is obvious from many of the matters raised in the debate so far that there is an urgent need to find a better way of dealing with Northern Ireland appropriations. Something must be done to provide greater democracy for the people of Northern Ireland, and to enable them, through their Members of Parliament, to have a say in the governance of Northern Ireland. While we wait for the restoration of a Northern Ireland assembly with powers, there is a duty on this Government to establish a Select Committee on Northern Ireland affairs without further delay. That is needed, and it is the very least that the Government must do to give a semblance of democracy to the Province.
We are here to speak for the people. I must say that I disagreed with the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), who criticised business men for allegedly meddling in politics. Business men are part of the community. Their businesses may fail or falter as a result 1017 of what politicians say or do. I expect—indeed, implore —business men to express their opinions to me and to other Northern Ireland Members so that we know what is in their minds, just as I expect people from other sectors of the community in the Province to tell us what they wish us to say in their name. We depend upon business men to generate jobs in the Province and I welcome all business men, and particularly small business men who employ a few people as they get their businesses going.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) referred to incinerators, and posed a series of questions. I listened to his speech with the utmost respect; the House should be grateful to him for what he said on the subject. Incinerators are undoubtedly a hazard to health. In many cases, the fumes are dangerous to human beings who live in the vicinity, or downwind of, an incinerator. We are speaking of ordinary incinerators but, as the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) said, there is also that incinerator—if I may call it that—at Sellafield, which is sending its fumes over to Northern Ireland. We must do everything possible to resist that health hazard.
Greater attention must be paid to defending the environment in Northern Ireland. It is constantly under attack, particularly from speculators who have litte or no regard for residents in a particular area and whose main and only concern is profit. Many parts of Northern Ireland have been ruined as a result of speculation.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) launched an attack on planning officials for always refusing planning applications. The planning authorities have my full support because, if a planning applicant is refused, he can appeal to the Planning Appeals Commission. People frequently do appeal and, sadly, the Planning Appeals Commission often allows their appeals, even when local people object to the application. That is why I continue to insist that the law should be changed to enable objectors to appeal against a planning permission if they live in the area and are affected by a particular development.
I come now to Castlereagh college. I was pleased to learn from the principal that the South-Eastern education and library board has agreed, following representations —including representations from me—to make a grant towards the cost of community education at what was formerly the Dundonald girls high school. Sadly, the amount of grant does not come anywhere near the amount that was requested and I urge the Minister responsible for education to intervene because the scheme to provide community adult education for the people of the Dundonald and Tullycarnet areas is all-important.
I go further in my appeal to the Minister by repeating my request that the Dundonald girls high school should be devoted entirely to providing recreational, as well as educational, facilities for residents in the area. I mentioned the swimming pool, which has been out of commission for some years. The swimming pool should be restored and other facilities provided—especially for elderly people and young people who live in Dundonald and Tullycarnet.
Insufficient provision is made for residents of housing estates in Northern Ireland. It is not sufficient merely to throw up houses. More facilities must be provided because the people living on housing estates have other needs which must be satisfied. Take the Tullycarnet housing 1018 estate, for instance. It has a totally inadequate community hall. It is inadequate in size for an area as big as Tullycarnet, and I fear that the structure is not perfectly sound. Surely it is essential to provide an adequate building for community facilities in Tullycarnet.
I should emphasise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am deliberately keeping my remarks as brief as possible so that my hon. Friends from other constituencies can take part in the debate. Nevertheless, I take this opportunity to repeat my charge that the Eastern health board, acting as the minion of the Government, and the Department of Health, are undermining hospital services in the North Down area. Over the years, the hospitals in my constituency have done everything humanly possible to save money and to cut out any fat that may have existed. However, a few months ago, the Eastern health board announced proposals that will impose further restrictions on the facilities that can be provided. Because of that decision, further beds will be closed.
When the proposals were first made known, I immediately arranged a meeting with the head of the management committee for North Down at which the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) and I protested about the cuts. The Ulster and Bangor hospitals are about to suffer serious cuts in the money required to provide a proper service. It is not as if there is no waiting list or that people do not want to go to those hospitals. There are long waiting lists and people need treatment. Nevertheless, beds in the Ulster and Bangor hospitals have already been closed, and now further beds are to be closed. The financial restrictions will undermine the morale of doctors, nurses and ancillary staff, as well as denying a proper service for the people of the North Down area.
The health board says that people can go to the hospitals in Belfast. Those hospitals are also part of the eastern health board and, sadly, they drain money away from the hospitals in north Down—money that is vital for their survival. I would not deny money to the hospitals in Belfast if they can get it—and they do—from the Eastern health board. My protest is about the discrimination against the people of North Down because insufficient money is being provided for the Ulster and Bangor hospitals.
According to the chairman of the British Medical Association, the United Kingdom spends 5.4 per cent. of gross domestic product on health, compared with 6.7 per cent. in France and 6.3 per cent. in Germany. We hear a great deal about the failure of Germany and France to make proper provision for their people, but I think that the United Kingdom is lagging behind them. The Government are directly—and indirectly through the Eastern health board, undermining the NHS in the North Down area. The BMA says that an increase of £6 billion is necessary for the United Kingdom, which is a 1 per cent. GDP increase, to bring the United Kingdom level up to that of the continent.
More money must be provided for the Ulster and Bangor hospitals to prevent further bed closures. We need a fully operational hospital at Bangor, as it is a densely populated area with a high proportion of elderly people. The people of North Down are extremely angry, as I am, at the way in which the Government are bleeding the NHS in my constituency. The position is exacerbated because money is being drained away to Belfast, especially to the tower block at the City hospital. I understand that beds in that tower block are empty, yet those beds cost more to 1019 run than beds in the Ulster and Bangor hospitals. Beds at those two hospitals will be closed so that patients can be provided for that white elephant in Belfast.
That is all that I wish to say tonight on the matter. I hope that the Government will heed what the people of North Down are saying, and give them a fair deal.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I am glad to have the opportunity to follow the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder), who is right to fight for his constituents. However, I think that many of his constituents are thankful for the tower block at the City hospital in Belfast. It serves the community. It would be helpful if the people of Bangor would travel to the hospital by rail rather than by car. There is a good railway halt just outside the hospital.
The International Rose conference will be held in Belfast next week, and that will be followed by one stage of the tall ships race. It is an example of the co-operation between the Government, the city council and private enterprise, which will give the world a proper picture of our city. So often, it has adverse reports in the media, which finds it easier to report a bang rather than the good things that are happening. I pay tribute to those who are trying to revitalise the city. On occasions such as this, we often deal with individual problems—and I shall do so —and with particular problems affecting the Province. However, it is also important to put on record the positive aspects in the Province.
Vote 3, under the DHSS, deals specifically with grants. Earlier today, I was speaking to an Australian Member of Parliament, who said that Australia could not run its social services without the support of the Churches and voluntary organisations. The same is true in the United Kingdom. The Government must continue to support the voluntary bodies that support care in the community and help those in need. Recently, the Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus appointed a full-time representative in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister will consider some pump priming to help that organisation in its work.
The press recently reported that while there may be a low incidence of AIDS and HIV in Northern Ireland—and rightly so—there was no ground for complacency. The problem is growing, and how it starts and how it spreads may become known in time. I am concerned that in a community that has a strong Christian conviction, and where the Churches try to help in the education of the community, the Government have consistently refused to help with their AIDS education programme. I understand that the Government have targeted AIDS education through their own education teams, but they should recognise the work of the Churches, and it is important that that work is supported.
The Government have also refused to support their care programmes. The tragedy is that representatives of voluntary bodies have been told that because of their directive approach and the position that they hold on sex education and sexual standards, their policy runs contrary to the way that the Government want to handle the matter. There is a case for reminding the young and the old that there is an abuse of the body that must be stopped for the well-being and health of society.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
That was not specifically on the point that I was dealing with, but I agree with my hon. Friend. We know that across the community there is deep concern about the manner of the approach and the approach itself.
On the Department of Health and Social Services vote 4, I share the concerns that have already been expressed about the allowances and, more particularly, about the way in which those allowances are granted and the appeals of those who have applied for mobility, attendance or invalid care allowances are treated.
I do not know whether directions from the top have meant that folk have been turned down in order to save money, but some of the medical referees who have carried out examinations have been careless and, as a result, people have been turned down. For example, one person was turned down as a result of past injuries. The medical referee claimed in his report that he was shot in the ankle when he was shot through the lungs—a little way away from the ankle.
A woman was turned down because she was described as a manageress. When I represented her at the tribunal, my first question was what she was a manageress of, to which she replied that she was the manageress of a wine store where she had had to lift crates and so on. Those who assessed whether such people were entitled to benefits were not doing their work properly. We must tighten up and give clearer directions not simply to save money but to ensure that the applicant is entitled to the allowance.
Some years ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), told me that there was a research project on the care of the elderly. Has that research project been completed, what have been its findings and, more importantly, what are the Government doing to implement the best service for the elderly in the community?
I would ask that some of the money in vote 4 might be used to promote hearing therapists. As I have said on other occasions, when some of my English friends, particularly English Ministers, say, "I hear what you say," I am not sure that they do. There is a great need in the community for hearing therapy to help those who have hearing impediments so that they can take their proper place in the community.
With regard to the Department of Education, Northern Ireland vote 2, I again pay tribute to the work done in education. However, I want to make two specific pleas about university education. First, I understand that finances available for ancillary staff have been tightened. I regret that some people seem to think that ancillary staff are lesser mortals than academic staff or, in the hospitals, the surgeons, doctors and so on. Yet all would admit that, without those ancillary staff, things would be in a real mess. I use the word "mess" correctly. Three years ago, youngsters in a school in the city turned their noses down or up—however one described it—when a youngster in the classroom said that her daddy was a bin man. They did not think that a bin man was up to much. However, when the bin men went on strike shortly afterwards, they soon 1021 discovered how much we need them. I plead that the work of the university will not be impeded because of a tightening of finance.
At the same time, is the Department doing anything specific to promote the universities, or is it relying on the Universities Central Council on Admissions or the universities themselves? Is the Department doing something to restore the balance between universities in Northern Ireland and those in England and Scotland? Many of our young people go to English and Scottish universities but we are not getting enough from England to give us a proper balance. We are thankful that there has been an increase in international students, both in the University of Ulster and Queen's university but, as I understand it, the mix of students is one of the benefits of university life. I would like to think that for the benefit of us all we might see more students coming from Scotland and England to take their place in the fine institutions of Northern Ireland.
What is the Department's policy following the decision of Parliament that mentally and physically handicapped children should be integrated into the normal education system? I confess that I was not happy when that decision was taken because we destroyed a fine special education system. But having said that, the decision was taken, so what are we doing to give parents and children the schools of their choice as they have been promised?
I have discovered that the Northern education and library board set up .a committee to consider the matter, but I am more concerned by a letter from the Minister which says that the money that is directed for a child in need may be kept centrally to provide what is thought to be the best education for that child. Since the Government took that decision to have integrated education throughout the country, does not the Department consider that it should be providing the funds to meet the challenge and needs in the community? We cannot simply leave it to boards to try to wrestle with the demands upon their finances and then make it difficult for children to have the benefit of that education.
I appreciate that in some cases there may be real difficulties, but I do not accept the view of one education psychologist that it may be possible to teach physically handicapped young people in ordinary schools, but mentally handicapped children cannot be taught in such a situation. There are those who are not so extremely mentally handicapped; some of them may be much wiser than the rest of us. But if an education psychologist takes that line, he shunts such children into segmented education without necessarily giving them the best chance of being educated.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) in his plea for environmental protection agencies. To some extent, that goes against my views, because I do not like quangos, but if I have to choose between a quango doing its work and two Government Departments making a mess of that work, I will go for the quango.
The actions of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland leave a lot to be desired. There is a growing green lobby in Northern Ireland. Throughout the Province, people are worried about what is happening to the environment. I 1022 fully sympathise with the hon. Member for North Down, who talked about planning appeals. Planners allow the green belt to be built upon and ride roughshod over the wishes of local people. It is time that somebody called a halt. The Minister knows that the Foyle Commission, or somebody else, has allowed nets to be placed in such a position that salmon are prevented from going up river. The Department of Agriculture must ensure that our rivers are properly stocked again.
There is an agency to protect the environment in Great Britain. I want to know what is to happen in Northern Ireland. A similar agency has been refused for the Province, on the ground that the various Departments can look after the environment themselves. Unless it is a question of setting a thief to catch a thief, I am not sure that the Departments can look after themselves.
Under the Department of Economic Development, vote 1, money has been set aside, among other things, for parking. Is the Department ready to introduce a scheme, in city areas and elsewhere, of residents-only parking? Does it intend that people should continue to park their cars in side streets? Motorists have to park where they can. If parking meters are installed around Donegall pass, motorists will put their cars in side streets that were never designed for traffic. The purpose of parking meters is to reduce the number of parked cars, but residents now find it difficult to park their cars in the bays outside their houses. What are the Department's plans for parking?
As for vote 2, I share the concern of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East about the Local Enterprise Development Unit. My particular concern is the Federation of Youth Enterprises. For years it has sought permission to develop its scheme, but time and time again it has been given the run around. It has become obvious during the last two years that LEDU has set its mind against the use of a particular site, ostensibly because it does not meet what it believes is required by the two communities. The committee consists of local professional people and representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland. They all say that the site at Annandale should be used, but LEDU says no. It wants to move elsewhere. However, we have discovered that it has even blocked the development there. I hope that the Minister will look again at why the Federation of Youth Enterprises has been impeded for four or five years in its attempts to develop the useful work that it does in south Belfast.
Despite what people say about south Belfast being affluent, a large number of needy, elderly people and unemployed young people live there. In one area in my constituency—Lower Ravenhill—there is 20 per cent. unemployment. Anyone who states that south Belfast is affluent must have forgotten that it contains, apart from wealthy Malone, Sandy Row, Donegall road, Lower Lisburn road, Taughmonagh, Ormeau road, the Markets area, Woodstock and Ravenhill. They are all working-class areas. I should like to think that the Department will start to help us to train young people by means of the Federation of Youth Enterprises.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
The first matter that I should like to raise is the tragedy that occurred last evening in north Antrim. I draw the attention of the House to the number of unmanned level crossings in Northern 1023 Ireland. In August 1989, Northern Ireland. In August 1989, Northern Ireland Railways advised the Department of Transport in London and the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland that it proposed to convert 11 unmanned level crossings into automatic half-barrier crossings. Those crossings included the two where tragedies took place recently—the one at Slaght and the other at Broughdone.
Progress has been made towards the restoration of those barriers, but on 1 March 1990—six months later —three fatalities occurred at the Slaght crossing. After that tragedy I, together with others, urged the Department of the Environment and Northern Ireland Railways to carry out the work that they had promised that they would do. I also raised the matter in the House on several occasions. I had joint consultations with representatives of the Department of the Environment and Northern Ireland Railways. On each occasion, I was assured that the matter was being dealt with urgently.
I presented evidence to the Department of the Environment and Northern Ireland Railways supporting my view that unmanned crossings were very dangerous and potential death traps. I drew their attention to various matters, such as the record of what had happened at unmanned crossings in Northern Ireland. In 1989, a 33-year-old woman was killed and her two children were injured when their car was in collision with a train at Cromore crossing near Portstewart. In 1987, a young couple on a motor bike were killed at an unmanned crossing near Ballymoney. Three years later, a man died when his van was in collision with a train at another crossing at Dunloy. In 1986, a soldier was a killed and another injured when their Land Rover was struck by a train at the Shackleton crossing near Ballykelly. Those were all unmanned level crossings.
At what speed is it assumed that a train will be travelling if a 27-second warning time is allowed for the lights to go on as a train approaches a crossing? For the benefit of the House, there are exactly 27 seconds from the time the train hits the trigger on the track until it crosses the level crossing. One may say that that is a very short time, but the Department and Northern Ireland Railways told me that the purpose behind the 27 seconds is that there is not too long a time for a car to sit at the crossing once the lights start flashing.
I was also asked how long it would take a women pushing a pram over a crossing to unstrap her child from the pram and lift it to safety if one of the wheels of the pram became jammed between the rails. Would she be capable of clearing the track in the 27 seconds?
Another question was how long it would take for a train travelling at the maximum permitted speed of 70 mph on Northern Ireland Railways track to come to a standstill? What distance would be required for that train to stop? A train travelling at 70 mph covers 924 yards in 27 seconds.
I raised many of those points with the Department and with Northern Ireland Railways. On 4 September 1990 I received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), which answered a further query that I raised about the matter during Question Time on 19 July 1990. The letter stated:In Northern Ireland, NIR identified a list of 11 crossings to which alterations should be made in the light of the Stott criteria. These were the crossings notified to the Department 1024 in August 1989. It has not been possible, however, for NIR to carry the proposal forward pending the outcome of the trial of the prototypes and the drafting requirements by the Railway Inspectorate. Now that that stage has been reached NIR will be able to do 2 things. Firstly they will be able to order material and undertake the design work necessary for the modification of the existing controls.The letter continued:I am assured that NIR will proceed expeditiously. For its part the Department will give the applications priority to allow NIR to implement the programme as quickly as possible.That was on 4 September 1990.
As someone who has worked in the construction industry, I am well aware that specifications must be met. In October 1990 I was given those specifications—the design of the crossings, photographs of the crossings and other related details. That was in October 1990, but to date not one unmanned level crossing in Northern Ireland has had any of the half-barriers fitted.
Last night, Mr. Robinson was killed at a crossing a few miles further down the line from the Slaght crossing. We cannot speculate on the cause of the accident, but we can protest that, even at this stage, the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland Railways have not expedited an extremely urgent proposal which had been recommended by Professor Stott and which affects the safety of all who travel—locals and visitors—on Northern Ireland's roads.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)
I agree that this is a very serious matter. As the hon. Gentleman knows, statutory orders must be proceeded with before the new half-barriers can be introduced. The hon. Gentleman asked a question to which I replied at the end of February this year listing the dates when the orders would be passed and when work would start. So far as I am aware, the hon. Gentleman has not since told me or the Department that the programme that we had set out should be speeded up even more.
§ Mr. Forsythe
Is the Minister suggesting that despite his letter to me and despite my interest in this matter from the beginning, I must continuously—week after week and month after month—stay on the backs of officials in the transport section of the Department of the Environment and of Northern Ireland Railways to ensure that they carry out their statutory duties to the people of Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Needham
No, I am not suggesting that. I am saying that the hon. Gentleman has known since the end of February what the programme was and how it would be proceeded with. If the hon. Gentleman had felt at that time that a further delay was intolerable, he could have said so, but he did not. That does not mean that the programme should not be proceeded with as quickly as possible, but it takes time to push through the necessary procedures.
§ Mr. Forsythe
Is the Minister telling the House that, although he sent the letter to say that things were under way, I should have continued to press the Minister, his Department and Northern Ireland Railways to do something for which an application was made in August 1989? The application from Northern Ireland Railways was made to the Department in August 1989 and I received the specifications in my possession in October 1025 1990. We are now in July 1991. Surely the Minister is not suggesting that I should take over his job in Northern Ireland.
I am very disappointed by that reply. I should have thought that the Minister, knowing of a colleague's concern about the matter, would have assumed that when he wrote to that hon. Member, the hon. Member would take him at his word and assume that the Minister would ensure that the work would be done. Sadly, as the Minister sits and I stand in the House in July 1991, no work has been carried out by Northern Ireland Railways to erect half-barriers on the unmanned level crossings, as it was supposed to do.
In view of the paragraph from the earlier letter, the further letter sent to me by the Minister and the fact that I have had the detailed specifications and drawings of such crossings since 12 October 1990, why do the Department of the Environment and Northern Ireland Railways appear to have failed in their duty to those who trust them to carry out their responsibility to keep road and rail users as safe as is humanly possible? Why does the Minister appear to have failed in his duty to ensure that the work was carried out?
I readily concede that no Minister can know about every little nut and bolt in his Department. However, as the Minister knows, it is a parliamentary tradition that Ministers answer to the House for their charge. I submit to the House that in this matter, the Minister appears to have failed to honour his commitment to the House. I am very disappointed that the Minister seeks to shift the blame from himself, from his Department and from Northern Ireland Railways, to the shoulders of a Member of Parliament who has continually urged them to carry out their duty. Now I have had the experience of hearing of yet another death at an unmanned level crossing—and I leave aside the question how the accident occurred.
§ Mr. Needham
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not trying to shift the blame, least of all on to his shoulders. As he points out, nobody could have done more than he has to raise the matter. The dates that I sent him at the end of February for the start of the schemes were the earliest available dates on which the barriers could be introduced. That is why he tabled his question and I replied to it. I was told that that was the earliest point at which the work could be begun.
The only point that I make to the hon. Gentleman is that, at the time when I gave him the figures, he did not say to me that it was not good enough, that the start should be sooner, or that this or that should be done. However, that does not alter the fact that I agree that we must get on as quickly as we can. In view of what the hon. Gentleman says, I will look at the matter again immediately to see whether there is any way to bring the dates forward.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I thank the Minister for clearing the matter up. May I seek his assurance in the House that he will endeavour, to the best of his ability, to ensure that half-barriers are fitted to at least the 11 unmanned level crossings that were decided on in August 1989?
§ Mr. Needham
If there is any way in which we can bring forward the dates of which I informed the hon. Gentleman in my written answer of 25 February, I give him my assurance that we shall do so.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I thank the Minister for his confident reply and I look forward to action being taken on the matter as soon as possible.
The Minister will also be aware of my views on planning—a matter that other hon. Members have raised. The Minister probably heard me intervene on the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and refer to the market at Nutt's Corner. Perhaps the Minister can assure me on that matter, too. I will give way again if he wishes to intervene. I am keen to give way. I will be fair to the Minister, as he also is concerned about the matter. It really is out of order for anyone not only to decide to have a market in an area in which there is no planning permission but to make a new access to a main road—an A road—to bring in stands for that market and to put up a sign which clearly states "New Sunday Market". No application has been made, local people are up in arms, and the planning department is telling me that it is doing its best but that it is working under great difficulty.
§ Mr. Needham
I do not want to take up too much time, as other hon. Members wish to speak. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I sympathise with his point about Nutt's Corner. Any market in Northern Ireland can operate for up to 14 days or 14 times in a year without a licence. After that, it must apply. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as soon as the 14 days have passed, we shall deal with the matter. I assure the hon. Gentleman, too, that we shall ensure that the regulations in respect of the existing market, which will come before the courts on 26 July, are also dealt with. I do not intend to give up the matter.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. Instead of seeking to turn the debate into a dialogue, perhaps some of those matters might be dealt with by the Minister when he seeks to catch my eye.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I take your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I always do.
There are unadopted roads in many constituencies. In some parts of the world, certain people are elected on the issue of potholes in roads. Perhaps the Minister could have a wee look at unadopted roads and consider a campaign so that at least some unadopted roads are brought up to standard. That would get rid of a bugbear for many people in Northern Ireland.
It is good to have trimming in Government Departments. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) talked about trimming, but we need trimming in the Department of Social Security. Staff who are properly trained in interviewing techniques would get better results. One great bugbear is telephone answering in Government Departments, particularly the DSS and the Housing Executive. I should like to think that a little training in telephone answering went on in both Departments.
As a member of the Select Committee on Social Services, I am aware that there are many problems with the social fund. I agree with the points made by other hon. Members about the position of those who are poor for whatever reason—they may have been made redundant or they may never have been able to find a job—and who are in receipt of benefit. If a benefit claimant's cooker breaks down and he or she does not have the money to buy a new one—and cannot, therefore, cook a meal for the children —the DSS cannot make such a person a grant, but can 1027 only offer a loan. That state of affairs is causing great problems. I am sure that we shall have to reconsider it when the new rates come into effect in the autumn but, until then, I shall sit down to allow some of my colleagues to make their points.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
This is an almost unique parliamentary occasion and, as can be seen from the crowded Benches, it is of great interest to hon. Members from outside Northern Ireland who flood into the Chamber to hear the constituency problems of hon. Members who represent the Province. None the less, it is an opportunity that we do not like to miss, and we offer no apology for raising the matters that we do. If they seem trivial to some people within the precincts of the House, all that we can say is that the Government provide us with no other opportunity to represent the people of Northern Ireland on these important issues. If the government of Northern Ireland was ordered differently, we might have greater opportunities for dealing with these vital matters either upstairs in Committee or elsewhere.
To get him into the right mood, I should like first to offer my thanks to the Minister for the efforts that I understand he has been making in relation to an important scheme in my constituency which is competing with the Department of Economic Development's local enterprise scheme for a piece of land in the Severn street area of east Belfast.
For many years, the land has been earmarked for the Connswater housing association and is much needed for local housing. Unfortunately, another body for which the Minister also has responsibility within the DED has had its eyes on the site. The two were in some conflict over the land and, before I met the Minister, it appeared that the more mobile of the two would be the winner. Having met the Minister on this issue, I understand that he has now taken some measures withing the Department and that it now looks as if things are moving in the right direction. I hope that those words will encourage him to continue his efforts to ensure that that land comes back into the ownership of the Connswater housing association, so that houses can be built for local people.
I refer the Minister now to road services. I do not know whether he was in Northern Ireland earlier today and whether he has had access to this evening's Belfast Telegraph. If he has had the opportunity to see that paper, he will have seen on the front page and in living colour a photograph of some of my constituents, who appear relaxed despite a traumatic past few days. They are residents of the Shannon Park area who, through chit-chat and tittle-tattle at a golf club, discovered that their houses were to be demolished. It appears that the Minister's information service requires us all to take out membership of the local golf clubs so that we can find out what is going to happen in our areas.
Those local residents discovered at a barbecue at a local golf club that the Department of the Environment had changed its proposals for widening the road along the Knock dual carriageway and proposed to create a new intersection which would take away two fine properties and the gardens of other properties. It would displace peole who have fond memories of the houses in which they reside and who can see alternatives to the Department's 1028 proposals. For the life of them, they cannot imagine why the Department has not either considered or accepted those alternatives.
The proposals have caused such anxiety in the local area that every political party which has elected representatives in that part of east Belfast has offered its support to the campaign of the local residents. Members of the local council and I contacted the DOE. We have had some response from the Minister's office. It did not go much further than an apology that the matter leaked out. I am glad that the matter leaked out, because it gave people an opportunity to get their armour on and prepare themselves for the battle.
I want the Minister to give me some details about the new phase of the road development. Why was it found necessary to change the proposal at this late stage when houses along the Knock dual carriageway had already been vested? Many houses had already been knocked down, and the road scheme was due to start soon. Why at this late stage was it necessary to have a further scheme which will affect, indeed decimate, the local area?
What alternative proposals were considered by the Department? Why did not the Department properly consult people in the local area and their elected representatives? Why does the Minister use the golf club to disseminate information in the east Belfast community? Perhaps he could also tell me how much the new scheme—[Interruption.] The Minister says that he did not use the golf club. I am sure that he will not deny his responsibility for the actions of his Department. I am sure that he will own up and take full responsibility for what goes on within the DOE road services.
Will there be a planning application for the scheme? Will the Minister allow a public inquiry to be held on the foot of the planning application, if there is one? Will he then apply for a vesting order? Will he allow us to have a public inquiry on the foot of the vesting order? If he allows us to have all those things, how will that affect the timing of the rest of the scheme and the finances of the scheme?
I certainly wish to register my outrage at the means by which people were informed of the scheme and to express my support for those who are campaigning for an alternative to be adopted which would require the slip road to go in a direction other than the one that the Department has chosen. We understand from a telephone conversation that the Department is not prepared to accept that proposal, because it might take a few feet from the scrubland attached to the golf course at which the Minister disseminates information to the local community. Perhaps the Minister could have less association with the golf course and more with the people in the area and sort out the problem for the local residents.
The Department of the Environment has responsibility for housing. I have mentioned grants for improvement of dwellings on previous occasions. Many of my constituents have come to me in the past few months because they were appalled at the delays in processing improvement grants. One should recognise that those grants are given only because of the serious need for improvements to be carried out to the housing stock. However, finance has been so restricted in Northern Ireland that only the worst cases are given approval.
The delays are such that, by the time the Department gets round to giving approval, the building estimates that were received from local contractors when the process began are no longer valid. By and large, those considerable 1029 cost increases must be met by the owner of the dwelling. Surely the Minister is capable of encouraging the Housing Executive to adopt a more speedy process, so that people in need of those grants are given them, and the work is done at the price estimated at the time of application.
I want to raise another issue, but the Parliamentary Under-Secretary is not in his seat at the moment. Therefore, I shall just keep on talking until the hon. Gentleman comes back. I hope that he has not gone for too long, but in the meantime I shall deal with another issue.
§ Mr. Robinson
I always keep in order, but I hope that the Minister will return to his place soon to ensure that I do so tonight.
The Minister of State, who is present now, has considerable knowledge of the Department of Education in Northern Ireland although he does not have direct responsibility for it outside this House. On the previous occasion that we discussed the appropriation order, I raised the issue of the parents and children in the Clarawood estate in my constituency, who have had their school taken away from them. As a result of that decision, the schoolchildren have had to be sent to the Orangefield primary school. As the crow flies, that school is a short distance from the estate, but it is a long distance by road.
When I raised this matter before I was assured that it could be appropriately dealt with by the Belfast education and library board. The board has since considered that matter and it agrees with me that a bus should be laid on to take the children to the school. However, the Department of Education then stepped in and refused to give the necessary permission.
It is a little odd that the Minister, having washed his hands of the issue and having told me to address my complaints to the education and library board, should then step in to stop the provision of the bus. According to a minute from the education and library board, the Department responded to its request by saying:it is unable to justify a departure from the general terms of paragraph 2 of the School Transport Circular 1978/49 which states that 'A Board should not normally supply transport or pay travelling expenses for any pupil, other than a handicapped pupil, who lives within statutory walking distance of the school attended.'The board's decision however, is not contrary to the provisions of the 1978 circular, as they allow discretion by saying that a board "should not normally" provide transport. Those provisions clearly permit the Department to allow the transport of schoolchildren in special circumstances. Those special circumstances have arisen in the case of Clarawood—they are so special that the appointed board set up to consider the matter approved of the provision of transport for those children. Unfortunately, the Department overruled that decision. What is the point of having education and library boards if the Minister allows his Department to step in to ensure that the thin veneer of local accountability is removed from the system?
The Department is Scrooge-like when providing for attendance allowances. It is clear to elected representatives in Northern Ireland that the number of people who receive 1030 attendance allowance depends entirely on the annual allocation. It depends not on how many people need it but on how much finance is available. The Department is refusing some of the most needy cases simply because the finance is not available to meet the need.
That has led to much hardship for those who attempt to keep relatives who require care. If they do not receive that care within the household, they will end up in hospital or residential accommodation, which will cost the Department—albeit under a different head of expenditure—a great deal more. Will the Minister reconsider that false economy and make money available for attendance allowances? It could save his Department money in the long run if people did not have to be institutionalised.
During this debate, several hon. Members have spoken of their concern, which I share, about the cuts in the Department's budget for the area of management that covers the Ulster, Bangor and Ards hospitals. I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) for inviting me to join him at a meeting with the chief administrator of that area, so that we could question him about those cuts. There seems to be an economic domino theory at work. The Tory Government cut the money, the boards must then cut the budgets of the unit areas, and the unit administrators must also cut back. Ultimately, those who suffer are the people who need the service.
The figures that we have seen show that the local area has been asked to try to effect savings of some £1 million, although a smaller saving may be required. They show that severe hardship would be experienced in geriatric and paediatric care. The budgets in those areas have been trimmed to such an extent that further cuts would seriously affect the local service. Indeed, the cut comes on top of a cut the previous year, when 100 beds were cut from that unit of management. A further cut would have an equivalent financial effect. Moreover, the inflation rate will not be met by the figures allocated by the board.
Hon. Members will forgive me if I make comparisons that draw attention to their areas, but we all have to fight our own corners. The area that contains the city hospital is allocated an expenditure of some £60 million, but the cut will be exactly the same as for this unit of management, where the expenditure is only £30 million. It is most unfair that the percentage cut is so much greater in the management unit area.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
My hon. Friend realises that the tower block at Ulster hospital has drawn away millions of pounds from the North Down district. He mentioned a figure of £60 million. I believe that the figure is about £70 million. Perhaps the Minister will tell us tonight the total cost of building the tower block, the total cost of the equipment and re-equipment of the tower block and the total cost of the tower block's annual management.
I have been critical of the amount of money spent on the tower block both tonight and over the years, but my criticism is limited to that money being spent wastefully. I support the doctors who work in the City hospital, some of whom I know. I have the utmost admiration for the doctors, nurses and ancillary staff, but the people of North Down expect fair play and even-handedness.
§ Mr. Robinson
I suspect that my hon. Friend may not get those figures from the Minister this evening. If he does, I should be pleased if he would send me a copy of the reply, 1031 because, it was estimated at an early stage that the City hospital tower block would cost £8.4 million; it was then discovered that it would cost more than £43 million, and at that time the work was not even complete. It will be interesting to know what the final figure was for building the tower block, and for furnishing it.
The extent of the inequality suffered by those in that sphere of management is such that, while they serve a significant proportion of the population of the Eastern health and social services board, they have a relatively insignificant proportion of the funds from that board. I should have thought that there should have been a further spread of money across that sector. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the City hospital. Some of us are keeping a close eye on the expenditure within the Royal Victoria hospital and the wisdom of continuing to plough money into that hospital when some of the other hospitals might be better built up to cater for the whole of the community, not just part of it.
Some months ago, together with some of my colleagues, I met the Minister of State, who has direct responsibility at the Department of Finance and Personnel, to discuss a rating issue. The matter under discussion resulted from the receipt of a bill by Castlereagh borough council for recreation facilities for which the Department had not normally charged the council for rating purposes. As a result of the council receiving that bill, which was for more than a quarter of a million, our interest was raised as to why a council should be asked to pay for a service that it was providing.
I understand that the Minister is considering the matter. When we spoke to him, he was prepared to look at the proposition to see whether, as a general rule, a waiver should be provided on rates bills for all local authorities. A bill of a quarter of a million pounds accumulated over a period is a significant amount for a relatively small district council, but does not have the same impact, in proportional terms, on the funding of the Department.
Will the Minister attempt to draw together the pieces of his investigation? He may have some good news for local authorities in Northern Ireland. I have noticed that several other councils are now being touched up by the Department on the same basis and may well have to fork out large sums.
I find it difficult to accept the Department's reasoning. The councils are providing a much-needed service for their ratepayers. They have been doing so for the past five years without receiving the usual 75 per cent. capital expenditure grant from the Department. The facility that the Minister was asked to consider received no grants from the Department; it was built directly from the rates. It seems hard not only to fail to receive the grants that other councils have received but to have to pay rates to the Department on top of that.
I regret that the Minister responsible for the Department of the Environment has not returned to the Chamber. He was present at a social occasion last Saturday evening in Belfast city council. I detected that he was impressed by the speech given by the honoured guest at the installation of the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Nigel Dodds. His guest speaker was Miss Monica Wilson, assistant director of the Northern Ireland Council for the Disabled. She sincerely and thoroughly articulated the difficulties faced by disabled people in Northern Ireland. She spoke of a need for a change of attitude towards the disabled on the part of the Government. A number of the 1032 issues that she raised had a direct bearing on the Minister's responsibility—they related to building control and planning.
I would be keen to hear the Minister's response to Miss Wilson's speech. He joined in her standing ovation at the dinner, and seemed genuinely pleased with her comments. It would be useful if he used this occasion to respond to her remarks and to tell us that his consciousness of issues to do with disabled people has been heightened. I hope that changes will occur in his Department to help the disabled people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
This has been a wide-ranging debate, as these debates invariably are. Due to the nature of the subject matter and the way in which the government of Northern Ireland is structured, much of it has been a local government debate. I recall that we had a wide-ranging debate a few weeks ago on the occasion of the renewal of direct rule. I suggested then that it might be better—instead of holding these long, unfocused and wide-ranging debates—to consider structuring debates so that we could debate specific subjects. Incidentally, I was interested to hear the comment by the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) to the effect that we need a Northern Ireland Select Committee in which to raise many of these matters. We could also consider discussing some of them in the Northern Ireland Committee, if its format could be made somewhat less restrictive.
In the week in which the House has established a Select Committee to consider our proceedings, our sittings and the way in which our business is handled, it is clearly long overdue that we should examine the handling of Northern Ireland business and put it on a more sensible footing. It is not right to shrug the matter off by allowing Northern Ireland Members two or three nights a year in which to speak on anything they like—that does not provide a satisfactory debate.
Hon. Members have spoken about the Northern Ireland economy, and some expressed false optimism by saying that the Province had missed the recession or was not being affected to the same extent as other parts of the United Kingdom. That is false because the Northern Ireland economy did not fully recover from the first depression in the early lifetime of the present Administration. It had only started to recover when the second recession occurred. It has been said that output has not gone down, but it never recovered to its former level. Other economic problems may arise.
Textiles are an important part of Northern Ireland industry. Some textile firms import cheap yarn from third-world countries and use it to produce high quality goods. I understand that the European Community has recently proposed that anti-dumping duties should be put into effect immediately against imports of cotton, polycotton and polyester yarns from Brazil, Egypt, India, Thailand, Turkey, Taiwan, Indonesia and China. Northern Ireland imports yarn from some of those countries for further processing.
Action against the import of finished garments and fabric from low-cost producer countries would be much more effective. At least cheap yarn enables Northern Ireland to maintain a manufacturing base, whereas finished fabric from abroad is a serious threat to the textile 1033 industry. I hope that the Northern Ireland Office will make representations to the EC about this matter so that Northern Ireland industry can be better protected.
Some hon. Members spoke about urban development grant and the fact that it has not been fairly spread in Northern Ireland. Part of that grant comes from the international fund which has a bias towards certain areas, particularly those that are defined as border areas. Urban development grant in the main cities of Londonderry and Belfast comes directly from the Department. All the towns and villages in eastern and central Ulster, many of which are depressed, are left out. There is one such town in my constituency, the town of Gilford, and in the past 18 months a major employer there has closed. As a result, the town is depressed to some extent and urgently needs some attention, although it is not receiving any from the Department. I hope that that will be remedied.
I regret that the Minister with responsibility for water and sewerage is not in his place, because he is familiar with the problem of Kinnego bay in Lough Neagh where there is serious pollution. The problem comes from the sewage plant at Bulay's hill which discharges into the bay. Because of the location of the discharge point, the shape of the bay and the position of the breakwater, sewage cannot escape from the bay and poses a serious threat to health. Water contact sports have had to be discouraged, even though there has been substantial investment in a marina and the area contains a caravan park and a nature reserve.
The solution is either to move the sewage works from Bulay's hill and put it somewhere else or to place the discharge further into the lough so that sewage does not remain in the bay. The Minister has been fully aware of the problem for some time and knows about the effect on the area. I hope that something can be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) spoke about the serious problem of unadopted roads. In my constituency there are problems on the road adjoining the railway station site at Laurencetown and at Hayes park, Seapatrick. There is a particular problem in Laws lane off the Castlewellan road, Banbridge. The road is in a very bad condition. There are only five households directly on the road, although there is a small terrace off the road also served by it, with more households. A local college of further education also uses property there. The fact that it is an unadopted road in poor condition is helping to sterilise what might otherwise be useful development land.
Laws lane presents a problem slightly different from that posed by other unadopted roads. Many years ago, there was litigation on the matter, and in 1963 a compromise was reached on terms that led local residents to believe that they had been absolved from any future liability to maintain the road. Some local residents argue that the terms of the settlement, or the implications of those terms, meant that the then council accepted an obligation to maintain the road. If that was the case, the obligation would have been transferred from the old Banbridge council to the Department when other road functions were transferred from councils to the Department in 1973.
I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), has returned to the Chamber, because he will remember the 1034 Laws lane case. It was raised at the Northern Ireland Assembly, and a suggestion was made that the position should be examined, and legislation on unadopted roads introduced. I understand that the Minister is planning to introduce legislation on private streets next year, and I urge him to take the opportunity to include in it provisions on unadopted roads.
There is a general problem throughout the Province. The last time the possibility of bringing Laws lane up to standard to be adopted was considered, the cost was estimated at more than £200,000. The handful of residents in Laws lane could never afford that. There is a clear case for public money to be used, or for some other provision to be made. Next year's legislation will provide the opportunity to clear up the issue.
I am sorry to say that all the health matters that I wish to raise relate to the Southern health and social services board, which is not covering itself with glory in Upper Bann. Most of the problems seem to be focused in the town of Banbridge. We have the problem of the day centre —or, at least, the problem is that we do not have the day centre any more.
A month or two ago, there was a serious bomb incident in the town and a number of public buildings were affected. Most were quickly brought back into service, but the board has used the incident as an excuse to close the day centre. It was open after the incident, but a few days later it was closed and has not been reopened. People who used to attend it now have to go to Portadown, where they feel that the provision is less suitable than was the case in Banbridge. The board has given no clear explanation of the position with regard to the day centre, and has not said when it will be reopened. Clearly the situation is unsatisfactory.
The position of the Spelga house element of Banbridge hospital is unsatisfactory, too. I have had occasion to refer to the matter before in the House, and things are not getting any better. Spelga house is an old block providing continuing care for the elderly. It is reasonable for its use to be discontinued, and the board took a decision in principle to dispose of it some years ago. The problem is the provision of an alternative.
Local people were given to understand that, on the closure of Spelga house, its occupants would be accommodated elsewhere on the site of the Banbridge hospital. At a recent board meeting, the unit manager said:there was an understanding … every effort would be made to ensure that alternative services were local and accessible … alternative provision would have been made in Banbridge. Whilst not stated it was inferred".It was more than inferred. The Rev. Roger Purse, a minister in Loughbrickland and Scarva, who was the spokesman for a delegation representing all the clergy of the area at that meeting of the board, said:Patients were aware of the initial decision to close Spelga House, but guarantees were given again and again that they would not be moved off the Banbridge hospital site.Mr. Purse continued:The Chairman of the former board, at a meeting I attended on 8 March 1989, stated that, with the planned closure of Spelga House the 30 patients would be relocated within the main hospital.Instead, on 11 June, the new board apparently took a decision in principle to run down the number of people in Spelga, to move the remainder to Lurgan during the refurbishment of the main Banbridge site and then, 15 or 20 months later, to move them back to Banbridge.
1035 That is not acceptable. There is a need for continuing care in the locality. Lurgan is some distance away and there is inadequate transport, particularly public transport, to it. There is also the question of the risk to the old people of the move from Spelga to Lurgan. In similar cases in England and Wales there has been significant attrition where people have been relocated. The new board will have to consider that carefully and not be too casual in running risks with people's health in the move to Lurgan.
The solution is obvious: it is to leave the patients in Spelga house until the refurbishment of the main site is complete and then to move them on to the main site. If that were done, the problem would not arise. People were given to understand that that would happen, and it should still happen.
We also have a problem with the casualty unit at Banbridge hospital, which has been in difficulties for some time. It has been run on a half-day basis because of the shortage of junior consultants. Constant representations have been made to the board about it and, until recently, the board said that it was trying to recruit junior medical staff to cover casualty at Banbridge.
On 21 June, the clerk of a committee of Banbridge district council telephoned the unit general manager at approximately 2 pm simply to inquire what the current position was. The clerk was told by the unit general manager that interviews for junior medical staff were taking place and that an appointment would be made soon. Less than half an hour later, Banbridge council received a telex from the unit general manager saying that casualty was closing immediately. Someone made the decision to close the unit; it was obviously not the unit general manager. It is a terrible way to administer a service to be telling people at 2 pm that the recruitment of junior medical staff to run casualty is going ahead and then to close down casualty completely.
When the council queried the closure of casualty, it was told that an additional reason for the closure was the proposed refurbishment of the main site, which would make it difficult to run the casualty service. That inevitably gives rise to the question of what other facilities will be affected by the refurbishment because other parts of the hospital, too, should continue in operation throughout the refurbishment period.
We feel that many of these problems can be placed at the door of the new boards that have been established. I have to tell the Minister that, so far, our experience of the new boards has not been particularly satisfactory. We queried the basis of their creation and the absence of a representative element. People have noticed, however, that there seems to be a certain geographical spread in relation, to the persons serving on the boards. Not unnaturally, noticing that a person resident in the Banbridge district had been appointed to the board, Banbridge council sought a meeting with that person, only to be told, in a reply from the chairman of the board, that members of the board would not be meeting district councils.
We know that there is now no representative element in the administration of the health services but it is most unsatisfactory for board members to be instructed by their chairman not to meet local councillors to hear their views. It is not good enough to say that consultative councils will sit in parallel with the board. If board members are 1036 obstructive, that in itself is unsatisfactory. [HON. MEMBERS: "Is that a general ruling?"] I do not know—perhaps the Minister will tell us when he replies.
I should have liked to raise other matters, but some of my colleagues have been in the Chamber since the beginning of the debate and they are anxious to speak. I shall conclude, and give them the opportunity to do so.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
I wish to direct my remarks to the vote covering the Departments of Economic Development, the Environment, Education, and Health and Social Services. I shall try not to take up all the time available, as I know that other hon. Members are waiting patiently for the opportunity to speak.
Of the 3,100 jobs lost in Northern Ireland recently, a disproportionately high number have been in my constituency. While I welcome the announcement today of another 500 jobs for Belfast, and support a fair distribution among able-bodied and disabled people, those jobs are not readily accessible to many of my constituents. We urgently need a major employer to locate in our area. The town of Lame expanded rapidly with the development of BTH, which later became GEC, and then GEC Alsthom. The seriousness of the 500 recently announced job losses can be appreciated and put into perspective only when it is understood that the former work force at that plant was three times that number. It has steadily reduced over the years.
Job opportunities that would absorb 500 employees are not readily available in the area, so it is vital that new resources are found from the ecomomic development budget, and directed towards east Antrim. The local economy has suffered terribly, with the closure of ICI, Courtaulds, Clingers Yarns and Carreras, with constant job losses in other manufacturing industries. Northern Telecom, formerly Standard Telephones and Cables, is a vital part of the community in Newtownabbey, but there have been redundancies in recent years, and now the company has announced a further 205 job losses. Forced redundancies begin this month, and will run until the end of the year.
There is a thriving retail trade in Newtownabbey., but many of those who use the shopping facilities come from outside the area. That disguises the genuine hardship that has resulted from high levels of unemployment in east Newtownabbey and, in particular, in the huge estates in that area. In addition to the 205 redundancies, a further 350 temporary workers at Northern Telecom were laid off earlier this year. East Antrim cannot sustain that level of job losses.
Following the announcement of the redundancies, the Under-Secretary was reported in the local press as having said that Northern Telecom would continue to play a vital role in the area. That is welcome, but it is not much consolation for those who have been made redundant, their families, or the local businesses that will undoubtedly suffer.
A number of shops in Lame have already closed, and traders badly need a confidence boost. Indeed, the whole community needs a morale boost, which only a new major industry can provide. The area has a fine tradition of hard work. The skills are available but the local work force is not being given the opportunity to demonstrate just what it can do. A special effort must be made.
1037 I appreciate the efforts and support of the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), recently when the employees of Circaprint made a special effort to protect and defend the jobs that were about to be lost there. Sadly, most of the major industries that have been set up in the past 30 years have now gone, but the skills which were learned are still there. We need a commitment to revitalise industry in east Antrim.
It seems a long time to go back, but my first employment was at the then BTH plant in 1957. The Duke of Gloucester said that the project was an example of faith in industrial development in Ulster. At the opening ceremony, the factory manager proposed a toast to the Northern Ireland Government, saying that he was happy to be able to regard the Government as a friend, always willing, ready and able to help. I hope that, before too long, I can pay the same tribute to the Minister.
The then Prime Minister said that the Northern Ireland Office was always eager to extend all possible help to new industry. That was the legacy of the Stormont Administration, always willing and able to help new industry. The Stormont Administration did much to bring inward investment to the Province and to east Antrim. My constituency was a prime beneficiary of their forward-looking policies. The Ulster Unionist Government worked hard to attract investment in Northern Ireland and had a clear policy on how to achieve that end. Promoting the Province was not superficial; it was not a shop window competition. Before promoting the Province to potential investors, the Stormont Administration made sure that conditions for investors in industry in Ulster were at the level necessary for large-scale manufacturing industry.
Under the Ulster Unionist Government, the transport network in Northern Ireland was greatly improved, and an electricity service of the highest standard was developed. All that was achieved in co-operation with the Westminster Government. Sadly, little has been done since direct rule and our loss of the Stormont Administration.
East Antrim has now lost most of its larger employers. Resources must again be made available to promote the area and to attract investment there. Such resources have already been made available to west Belfast and Londonderry. East Antrim is a neighbour of Belfast, on the eastern seaboard. It has the second busiest port in the United Kingdom, and it accommodates two of Northern Ireland's four power generating stations. Yet, as a result of the loss of much of its manufacturing sector, it urgently needs the same level of resources and commitment to the unemployed as have already been given to west Belfast and Londonderry.
The people of east Antrim have taken a lead in generating business confidence against all the odds, and the people locally—trade unionists, educationists, public representatives and the business community—plan to revitalise the town's industrial sector. They have the co-operation of the local council, despite its limited powers, but they need the co-operation of Government to succeed in their objectives. I ask the Minister tonight for that commitment and support and whether he has yet had 1038 any success in promoting interest in the huge GEC-Alsthom complex where nearly 2,000 people were once employed.
We need to invest in further training provision in east Antrim as a whole and in Lame in particular. The area has a tradition of skilled and willing workers, good industrial relations and excellent education facilities. Excellent training was provided for years by GEC. Many of the people trained there were either head hunted or poached by smaller employers who did not involve themselves in training. Newtownabbey has a Government training centre.
Larne and Carrickfergus need the same provision as has been made available at Newtownabbey and at the Government training centre in Ballymena. In view of the difficulties that have arisen from the closure of GEC, will the Minister consider as a priority providing Government support for a training centre in Larne? The younger generation must be given the opportunity to learn the skills that their elders learned in the factories of east Antrim. They need more than a youth training programme job in a bakery or shoe shop.
When he takes into account our serious job losses, will the Minister provide guidance to his planning service on the need for flexibility and common sense? There must be a sensible relaxation of the rules concerning land that is zoned as special or of outstanding natural beauty. For example, there is the prospect of developing a small hotel-leisure facility at Ballycarry in east Antrim. That would create 30 to 40 jobs. We desperately need any jobs. We must have assistance if we are to attract jobs to the area. The project has the support of the local council.
There is no reason why, therefore, common sense should not prevail. The project could be constrained by means of the enforcement of planning conditions, thereby ensuring that it fits neatly into the area for which it is designed. That would meet local needs and provide employment opportunities. At the same time, it would satisfy the planning conditions. If they were not complied with, I should support their enforcement.
As for money voted to the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland, I draw attention to the importance of Larne harbour to the Northern Ireland economy and also to the importance of the Larne-Belfast road to the Province as a whole. Larne is the second busiest port in the United Kingdom. It is at one end of the Larne-Stranraer corridor. It is the shortest sea crossing between Northern Ireland and the mainland. The successful development of Lame harbour, through private initiative and with European Community grant aid, deserves the whole-hearted protection that Northern Ireland Office Ministers and Her Majesty's Government can give. It must be defended and supported so that what has been achieved can be protected against the designs of the Irish Republic, which wishes to redirect passenger and freight traffic along the Dublin-Holyhead route.
It would be an absolute disgrace if public money were to be used to duplicate what has already been provided, through EC funding, and to destroy the local initiative that has already been established there. I hope that, as a demonstration of good faith the Larne-Stranraer corridor is given at least equal status, as a Euro-route, from the island of Ireland and that there will be a clear announcement by the Minister that money will be made available to upgrade the Larne-Belfast road. it would be 1039 most satisfying if we also heard from him that an application had already been submitted to the European Community for the requisite funding for this project.
There is a black spot on the Antrim coast road in my constituency, which is, of course, one of the most beautiful in the British Isles. That black spot is an old limestone whiting mill. One knows when one is approaching the area half a mile before reaching it because every house, shop and church in the village is affected by limestone dust. The village needs more than a mere face lift—it needs a commitment from the Department of the Environment and support from the Department of Economic Development to ensure that the money spent on the Glenarm village study was not wasted and that the report was not another merely to be pigeonholed and forgotten.
The village community would like a commitment for funding to relocate the old whiting mill from the coast road inland. I understand that the Eglinton limestone company is prepared to make a substantial financial contribution to help the village meet its long-term objective, but that Government intervention and support would be necessary to make it a possibility. I hope that that matter will be dealt with at an early date. As the local community would be the main beneficiary of a move inland by the limestone company, the use of public funding to encourage the company to make that move would be well justified.
I also appeal on behalf of the tenants of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in Nos. 1 to 8 in Roscor square in Rathcoole. I support the tenants in their wish to remain in their homes. They have taken pride in them and they have a secure mini-community. The houses should not be demolished; they should be refurbished and improved as has happened elsewhere. I hope that the Minister will be able to advise the Northern Ireland Housing Executive that tenants' wishes should be given priority over those of the people who wish to promote landscaping and redevelopment schemes, however attractive and desirable they may be.
A report has been published about discrimination in funding in Northern Ireland. Wild allegations have been made, but I have not yet had the opportunity to digest the report fully. I take this opportunity to draw to the attention of the House the statistics published in Hansard of 29 April on expenditure per pupil in England on books and equipment, and the statistics published in Hansard of 30 April at column 131 referring to expenditure on books and equipment in primary and secondary schools in Northern Ireland.
Those statistics—regardless of whether schools are Protestant or Roman Catholic—show that expenditure in Northern Ireland on primary and secondary school pupils since 1978–79 has been to the disadvantage of Northern Ireland primary school pupils. Expenditure was approximately £10 less per primary pupil in Northern Ireland than in England. In 1988–89, that disadvantage had been reduced to £4.40 per pupil. However, the real gap in funding for pupils in secondary schools in Northern Ireland in 1988–89 compared with those in secondary schools in England shows a disadvantage of approximately £20 a pupil.
In both our primary and secondary schools, all our children have been losing out. If my interpretation of the figures contained in Hansard on those two dates is inaccurate, I wish to be so advised. Although some 1040 movement has been made to bridge the gap, in 1989–90, according to the statistics available, much more must be done.
How can the Secretary of State justify discrimination against Northern Ireland pupils? Funding has been the same in Protestant and in Roman Catholic schools, but at a lower level than that provided in England. I want an assurance that all school pupils in Northern Ireland will be treated fairly and equally, and that funding will be provided at the same rate as for comparable children in schools in England. I also want to know what steps can be taken to make up for the shortfall in funding over all those years for books and equipment in Northern Ireland schools.
I must again refer to the funding under the order for health and social services. My constituents in the Larne-Carrickfergus area would never forgive me if I failed to appeal again to the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who is responsible for health, and to the Secretary of State to consider further the case presented by Carrickfergus and Larne borough councils and by the Moyle action committee for the retention of acute hospital facilities at the Moyle hospital in Larne. I record my thanks to the Minister in his absence for his usual courtesy in informing me in advance of his visit to the Moyle hospital last week. It was not possible for me to meet him on that occasion, because I was representing the borough council at the 75th anniversary of the battle of the Somme in France.
I would also like the Minister to know that we in Lame, the councils in Carrickfergus and Lame and the Moyle action committee will avail ourselves of the opportunity to meet him formally and to discuss our problems in the very near future. Limited expenditure on Moyle hospital now would upgrade it and provide accessibility to acute hospital provision for the isolated coastal area equal to that provided for patients elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Such upgrading should happen before any commitment is given to proceed with phase 2 of the new Antrim hospital project. The vast majority of general practitioners in east Antrim and the overwhelming majority of the population are unconvinced by the arguments of the northern health board in favour of the new Antrim hospital. I again appeal for an independent option appraisal on the future of the Moyle hospital before any services are removed.
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to say a few words, especially as I realise that there is at least one other hon. Member who wishes to speak, and I know that the Minister will need as much time as possible to wind up. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the problem of the flooding in north Belfast last weekend. That brings me to a subject of great concern—the fact that the gullies did not seem to be able to take the heavy rain that fell last weekend, as has happened on other occasions. What concerns me more is the fact that the Department of the Environment does not accept any responsibility for the damage caused to houses as a result of the flood. In the circumstances, the Department should be far more sympathetic to claims.
I know of widows who are on very limited incomes and cannot afford to take the Department to court. They 1041 depend on what the Department can do to honour its obligations as a result of the flooding. I hope that the Minister will consider that aspect with a view to trying to help those unfortunate people who are suffering as a result of the flooding which frequently happens in Northern Ireland, particularly in north Belfast, because water does not quickly run off the hills.
I have with me a news release from the Housing Executive which states that a survey of 11,000 dwellings in Northern Ireland is to be carried out by the Housing Executive and that earlier surveys carried out in 1974, 1979, 1984 and 1987 have provided valuable information. I do not know where the Housing Executive conducted its survey, but it cannot have surveyed north Belfast to any great extent, particularly the Shankill road, where vast areas of ground are lying derelict and countless numbers of people, particularly the elderly, are looking for decent accommodation and cannot get it. Every week, perhaps 20 or 30 people from that area look for housing but cannot find it.
I cordially invite the Minister to come with me to view the Shankill road and see the problem for himself. The Housing Executive is dragging its feet. Prime land which is suitable for elderly people's accommodation—it is close to shops and all amenities—is not being developed. Some of it has been offered to the private sector. As I understand it, there is no great interest in it. Some of it will be turned into playing fields, and so on. That is completely wrong and it is opposed root and branch by the people of the area. I congratulate the Minister on his service to Northern Ireland. He is the longest-serving Minister in the Province—long may it continue.
Although I have much sympathy for the homeless, in some situations there is exploitation. The Housing Executive, in its desire to house an many homeless people as possible, is not properly examining the real facts. It is giving houses to supposedly homeless people who are making themselves homeless. Houses are being used for what we now know are giro drops. We find that it will take the Housing Executive more than a year to go through the process of trying to remove so-called homeless people from houses that they are not even inhabiting.
I now refer to solid fuel fires. Many glass-fronted room heaters have run their course and are causing great trouble. They are emitting fumes and causing problems for the elderly. Many elderly people are now opposed to them. I hope that the Minister will now consider providing a more acceptable form of heating. Economy 7 is now widely demanded by the elderly. Some would much prefer an open solid fuel fire which they can control. Elderly people have great difficulty in moving the ash pans on glass-fronted heaters and, as a result, are sometimes injured in the process.
My hon. Friends the Members for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) and for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) referred to unadopted roads. I should like to refer to unadopted entries, of which there are innumerable examples in north Belfast. It is unfair that residents should have to maintain such entries and that services are not provided. The Government should now decide that all entries should be adopted and be brought up to a decent standard of 1042 repair. That is necessary, because there is a problem with people falling into them, especially the elderly. We should examine that issue carefully and as soon as possible.
I am sure that we all remember our nursery rhymes from school and learning about simple Simon meeting the pieman when going to the fair and about four and twenty blackbirds being baked in a pie. That brings me to my next subject. I refer to the draconian public health measures. Quite a number of people in north Belfast follow the tradition of pie-making, of which there is a great tradition throughout the United Kingdom.
Those poor people in my constituency, who have been making pies for generations without any problems and have exported them throughout the United Kingdom, are being put out of business because they cannot meet the draconian environmental health provisions. The Government should look at this matter carefully. If they are to insist that those people are put out of business, they should ask the Local Enterprise Development Unit to do something specific and to acquire new premises so that those people can continue their activity of piemaking and protect the jobs that are in danger of being lost.
I said that I did not want to speak for long, and I shall refer only briefly to the privatisation of the health authorities. Many people connected with the health boards are concerned about the benefits that are accruing from the privatisation of the services. They tell me that undue emphasis seems to be placed on administration and that the savings which accrue from the privatisations are not being channeled into medical services or into community health care. I should like the Minister to look into that to see where the savings are being directed.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Minister on the action for community employment schemes in the Province which are doing an imaginative job. The training initiatives are working well. From my experience, I know that more than 50 per cent. of those who have had 12 months' training are now getting jobs. That is an excellent record, and I commend it to the Minister with the thought that perhaps the schemes could be enlarged. Nevertheless, they are doing an excellent job for the young people of the Province.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
I thank the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) for completing his speech early to allow me time to speak before those on the Front Benches reply.
This is a peculiar appropriation debate. We are used to having only three hours late at night—we do not usually start as early as 4.30 pm—to deal with important matters relating to Northern Ireland, such as agriculture, economic development, the environment, education, health, social services and the like. However today, because of the peculiarities of the timetable and because the Government have run out of business—they are not being generous to Northern Ireland—they are allowing us to enjoy a fuller debate on Northern Ireland issues; there has been an opportunity for a much more wide-ranging debate than usual.
I do not know whether hon. Members have made use of the longer debate to discuss general issues in Northern Ireland, its bread-and-butter problems and the details of 1043 economic and social development. I appreciate that Northern Ireland Members have used the debate as an opportunity to deal with their constituency problems. It is a great chance, and it should be done. However, I sometimes think that that should be put in a different framework, so that general matters of economic and social concern can be raised.
If we get economic and social development right, we help to handle many of the wider problems in Northern Ireland. Some time ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) argued from the Opposition Front Bench that economic and social developments, although important in their own right, had another purpose. They aided peace and security in Northern Ireland. Gloomy job prospects and economic deprivation and all the problems that flow from it were conditions that bred sectarianism. Therefore, a comprehensive economic strategy needed to be developed for Northern Ireland. That has been absent under this Government in the past 12 years.
My hon. Friend said that the top priorities were economic regeneration and partnership between public and private capital, and he stressed Labour's policies on training. In Northern Ireland, the standard of use of the educational system and of qualifications is high. But training appropriate for the jobs that should be created by economic regeneration in modern technological circumstances also needs to be in place. That is part of Labour's programme
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South also stressed the European dimension. He referred to the European structural fund. He said that it should not be hidebound in Northern Ireland by the principle of additionality, under which funds that were available from Europe could not be utilised fruitfully. It is disgraceful that the principle operates generally, but if there is a place where its operation is most disgraceful, it is Northern Ireland. If more funds are needed anywhere to assist economic and social development, it is Northern Ireland. If money is available to do many of the things that have been suggested by Northern Ireland Members tonight, it should be grasped and made use of. There is a case for killing off the principle that the Government are following in Northern Ireland, and it would be of great benefit to do so in the rest of the United Kingdom too.
There is an extra-European dimension. To a large extent, Europe needs democratic institutions, especially through the European Parliament, and a social content. The social charter and the principles that follow from it could nowhere be made use of more beneficially than in Northern Ireland. Some of the advantages that have been lost under this Government's policies in recent years could be brought back by the adoption of the social charter. That is why the Trades Union Congress found some attraction in the social contract, and had a new look at the position in Europe.
The social charter is particularly appropriate to Northern Ireland, where European provisions have often operated to make grants and moneys available. It might not have qualified for such grants under the criteria, but it qualified to some extent, because the European Community realised the problems that existed there. In the past 12 years, the Government have pushed forward the enterprise culture. That culture is competitive and divisive, and it encouraged a divided society in which there are already two distinct communities. If anything is destined 1044 to make things worse, it is an inappropriate response to economic and social problems. The difficulty with the enterprise culture and the principles of Thatcherism is that they operate as though there were universal truths which must apply to all circumstances and conditions. Those truths manifestly did not apply to the conditions in Northern Ireland.
Cuts in direct taxation, and the Government's privatisation policies, are of little relevance to Northern Ireland. The Government are still pushing for the privatisation of the electricity industry in Northern Ireland when the people, the constitutional political parties and those outside that structure are opposed to it. The trade unions and other organisations also object to the proposal. The reaction to the apparent consensus identified by the Government is disgraceful and should not be accepted.
The Secretary of State has taken steps to try to draw Northern Ireland together, but he has also often had to come to the Dispatch Box to advocate doctrinaire measures in line with Government policy. That action has been foisted upon the right hon. Gentleman as result of Cabinet decisions—and such decisions are still being taken despite the change of Prime Minister.
Where do the politicians of Northern Ireland stand on the broader political principles? We have heard a great deal about their concern for the well-being of certain areas, the Moyle hospital and other issues. We should treat the appropriation debate like the Budget debate, but it is important to know where those politicians stand on the issues other than those that divide the two communities. Often, those issues are not addressed unless they involve the politics of the border.
The broader political issues are often left to one side, because the hon. Members representing Northern Ireland are not involved in forming a Government in the United Kingdom. They would come into play only if they were in the peculiar position of holding the balance of power. If that were to happen, where would they stand on the issues I have outlined? Would they favour a comprehensive economic strategy or an enterprise culture? Would they want the Government's principles to be adhered to? I should like to hear where those hon. Members stand on those issues.
Just as economic and social development aids peace and security, so peace and security aids economic and social development. One must move on both fronts to achieve progress. Many things are happening in Northern Ireland that show that people are prepared to be brave and to stand up for peace. I have mentioned previously organisations such as Families Against Intimidation and Terror, which is run by Nancy Gracy, and the trade union support for the campaign "Hands Off My Mate".
Another important development is the peace train that will travel between Belfast, Dublin and London. That train will use the Holyhead route to London, so I hope that that is not judged ideologically suspect, given some of the comments made tonight. The idea is that the line between Belfast and Dublin should not be disrupted by terrorist threats, as it often has been by the IRA. In the past years, travel on that line has been disrupted in both directions.
Because of the IRA's action to disrupt the rail services in this country and the death that occurred at Victoria, it has been decided that the peace train journey will have a three-way link from Belfast to Dublin, through Holyhead, 1045 to Euston. The train will travel from Dublin to Belfast next Thursday and people will then be brought here on the Friday to meet in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons. The attitude that such action symbolises needs wide support, as well as the economic and social measures that I outlined earlier.
1046 Improved economic and social conditions, which undermine the position on which sectarianism stands, seem to go hand in hand with the actions of those who stand for peace and security. They allow trade to take place, and they make economic and social development possible.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) for limiting his thoughtful contribution to 10 minutes and allowing me a little time to sum up the debate. As is the custom during debates on the appropriation order, hon. Members have spoken about a wide range of issues that affect their constituencies and the people of Northern Ireland. By the time the Minister has replied to the debate, we shall have debated the order for almost seven hours, which may be a record. Having sat through most of the debate, I pondered long and hard on whether there should be a different forum where many of the issues could be discussed. I do not wish to be controversial at this late hour, but I merely drop that sultana in the pudding of the politics of Northern Ireland. Perhaps hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland on both sides of the Chamber should try to find a different way for such debates to proceed.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a way forward might be a Select Committee, where we could scrutinise the Departments much more closely?
§ Mr. Stott
I am not running away from anything. I do not want to enter a discussion about that issue. I was simply attempting to suggest that a more appropriate forum to discuss many of those issues could perhaps be found in Northern Ireland. So that the Minister has adequate time to reply, I shall simply leave the hon. Gentleman to ponder that matter.
I wish to concentrate on a serious issue for which I have Opposition responsibility—education. It is now nearly 18 months since the Minister of State introduced his Northern Ireland reform order. Many hon. Members present tonight will remember the debate on. The proposals had the unique effect of unifying all the hon. Members from the Province against the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "What do you mean?"] It is a pity that that degree of unanimity and sense of purpose has not been continued in the past few months. However, I shall leave that issue as a second sultana in the pudding for hon. Gentlemen to consider.
During the past 18 months I have visited many schools and colleges in Northern Ireland and had meetings with all the individual trade unions which represent the teaching profession in Northern Ireland. Three weeks ago, I had a meeting in Belfast with the umbrella group of teachers unions that represent the entire teaching force of the Province. All is not well—we have heard that during this evening's debate. There are serious problems in the educational system in Northern Ireland.
Before the Minister accuses me of making party political points, I shall refer him to his own report—that of Her Majesty's inspector of schools, which concluded that one third of Ulster's secondary schools had accommodation deficiencies which adversely affect children's education. The inspectors said that, in one school, to which I think the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) referred, there were 17 temporary 1048 classrooms, and pupils were also being taught in corridors and in alcoves. In another school, youngsters had to sit on broken chairs.
The major investigation conducted by Her Majesty's inspectors said that 20 per cent. of post-primary schools had heating systems that were inefficient and/or noisy, and there were problems that could endanger the health and safety of children. One school had inoperative smoke doors and a padlocked exit. In one fifth of the 58 schools formally inspected over the past year, inappropriate or inadequate books were being used in some classes, with pupils occasionally required to share books.
With the education reform now the law of the land, the inspectors say that there is a wide diversity in schools in the timetable allocation for a common curriculum. The only subjects being taken by fourth and fifth form pupils are English, maths, physical education, religious education and careers. The inspectors said that only one quarter of the schools had developed "particular effective" policies of assessment and that many schools had no co-ordinated policy on marking or homework. The report continued:The absence of a policy led to a wide divergence in the quality of marking in the majority of schools … at times the marking was thorough … at other times superficial and on occasions work was left unmarked".The inspectors confirmed—this is regrettable—an all too depressing trend in Northern Ireland, with low-ability pupils receiving a "raw deal". Those words are not mine, but those of the Government inspectors. Children in Ulster's educational system are receiving a raw deal. They are frequently excluded from important sectors of the curriculum and have inadequate access to other parts of it.
That report is a damning enough indictment in itself, but when added to other reports that have been published —not necessarily by a Government Department, but by other people with a great interest in education—the position seems a great deal worse. A study by the campaign group, the Association for Comprehensive Education in Northern Ireland—ACE—argued thatdeclining pupil numbers and the policy of open enrolment will make it impossible to achieve parity of esteem between grammar and other post-primary schools, despite the new common curriculum and assessment system. It is much more likely that the gap between the haves and the have nots will widen and that the welcome idea of a common curriculum will perish.I welcome the idea of a common curriculum and I have no doubt that the Minister has heard those arguments on many occasions. He may know one of the authors of that report, Mr. Robert Crone, who commented in a document, "The Transfer Market: Selection for Secondary Education in Northern Ireland 1947–1991":It is difficult to avoid the feeling that what is said one day by the grammar school lobby becomes Department policy shortly afterwards.Since the Second World War all the procedures for selection have been biased in favour of the grammar schools, which in effect 'opt out' of the state system.The Association believes the willingness of Ulster parents to pay fees to secure grammar school places for their children negated the sort of community opposition which resulted in comprehensive education on the mainland.After more than a decade of serious decline in pupil numbers the voluntary grammar schools have hardly felt any difference. There have been variations, with Belfast the worst sufferer, but clearly the contraction of secondary education has been managed by the sacrifice of controlled and maintained secondary schools in order to preserve the priviliged voluntary grammar schools. The effect of the flaws and fallacies of open enrolment will be the creation of a split system of education—one defined by its exclusive right to 1049 select pupils by ability, its financial resources and independence and its political influence.Here we find a recurring theme in what has been said about Northern Ireland education:On the other hand there is an underprivileged section marked by the meanness of its funding, its responsibility for looking after the casualties of present day society, its lack of resources and political power and the persistence of Government refusal ever to offer more than token support.The continuation in Northern Ireland of a selective system of secondary education is corrosive and disgraceful. At this moment, many parents are involved in a costly appeal procedure to get their children into schools of their choice. The Government pretend to favour parental choice, but in Northern Ireland they fund and maintain a system of secondary and grammar schools with unequal resources and parental esteem. The selection of children at 11 has taken place in Northern Ireland since 1948 and it is wholly discredited. I oppose a divided and inequitable system of education, funded by public funds.
I was interested to read a question tabled by that well known renegade, the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) asking the Minister to delineate some examination results. Granted, A-level passes in Northern Ireland are superb, principally because there is a selection system. If it did not achieve those results, the system would not be worth the paper it was written on. The written answer to the hon. Gentleman's question went on to say that children leaving Northern Ireland schools without a single qualification make up 16.4 per cent. of the school population.
My children went through the comprehensive education system. I failed the 11-plus. I am on the side of the 16.4 per cent. of kids in Northern Ireland who do not get a decent chance because of selection at 11 and because of the resources put into selective schools. Wherever it comes from, Northern Ireland or Wigan, taxpayers' money should not be used in this way. In the competitive labour market of the future, qualifications will be important. If these kids are to stand a chance of finding jobs, they must leave school with a decent education and some qualifications.
I want to mention local management of schools. The first tranche of locally managed schools in Northern Ireland has caused grave problems in teaching and non-teaching sectors of education. The crisis engendered by the introduction of LMS was so grave that the Government were forced to release an additional £2.7 million to relieve the problem. That clearly shows the real threat of LMS to the education system. The problem has been worsened in Northern Ireland by the absence of an agreed redeployment scheme for teachers and the imposition of cash limits by the Government for funding for premature retirement.
The lack of funding implicit in Northern Ireland's locally managed schools has been accentuated by the total removal of flexibility caused by the overall global budget being broken up into smaller budgets. Schools throughout Northern Ireland are facing problems coping with provision for educational needs and funding the existing teaching staff.
Teachers throughout Northern Ireland face the threat of redundancy, and the threat is not alleviated by the 1050 Minister's statement of 24 June when he said that 543 schools, 214 in the maintained sector and 329 in the controlled sector, would have a reduced share of resources.
It is no consolation to schools in Northern Ireland that 689 schools will get additional resources while 543 schools will lose out on their budgets. The net effect is destructive to school life with greater pressures being imposed on teachers and consequent loss of morale. There is an urgent need for the Government to consider removing the teachers' salary element from LMS and injecting monies to make formula funding more workable.
I touched on other aspects of education in Northern Ireland when I spoke in the debate on a Northern Ireland education order. The Minister became angry when I trotted out one or two unfortunate statistics on nursery education, but those statistics remain. In Northern Ireland only 13 per cent. of three and four-year-olds receive nursery education, compared with 25 per cent. in England and Wales and 34 per cent. in Scotland. I suggest to Northern Ireland Members that, to say the least, 13 per cent. is lamentable. They should press the Minister to do more about that.
On special educational needs, one wonders what the Government have been doing about the Education and Library Board Order 1986 which sought to promote special education in Northern Ireland. That order addressed many problems, but they have not been resolved. The Government have made no progress on that.
Hon. Members have spoken about the report just published by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. That report reveals substantial imbalances in expenditure between Catholic and non-Catholic schools. The differential in capital expenditure has always been clear, as Catholic schools are eligible for only 85 per cent. capital funding. In practice, the payments scheme means that the true cost to Catholic schools is over 15 per cent. That could be remedied by a more streamlined procedure in the Northern Ireland Department of Education and the newly established council for Catholic maintained schools.
§ Mr. Stott
No, because I am coming to the end of my speech.
The report of the standing Advisory Commission makes a strong case for reviewing the 85 per cent. capital funding. Although the Catholic Church believes that it should be responsible for some capital funding, the logic of the present breakdown of costs is debatable. The present system is justified in terms of the degree of managerial control preserved by the Church. However, that is undermined by the national curriculum, the reduction in managerial independence and by the decision to give 100 per cent. funding to integrated schools, with which I do not argue.
The major surprise in the report is the discovery that there are substantial imbalances in recurrent spending. The grammar school sector, the state Protestant sector, spent £1,652 per pupil in 1989–90. The equivalent figure for Catholic schools was £1,557—in other words, only 94 per cent. of state school expenditure. The report calls on the DENI to monitor all funding decisions with respect to their impact on such differentials and on the promotion of equality between the two sectors.
1051 Given the implications of educational attainment for status in the labour market, equality of opportunity in education is essential if fair employment policies are to retain their credibility. I am flagging the issue so that the Minister can reply fully to the debate. I am sure that the House will want to know the Government's intentions in regard to the SCHR report. Is there any foundation for the report's conclusions that a sector of Northern Ireland schools has been inadequately funded for a number of years? It has been suggested that the inadequacy in funding could amount to about £70 million. If that is so, the position should be rectified as quickly as possible.
How can one best sum up the demise of education in Northern Ireland, which is in a very difficult state? I have been reading a book called "Northern Ireland—The Thatcher Years". The right hon. Member for Finchley was still Prime Minister when the Minister of State introduced the Northern Ireland education reform order. The book is by Frank Graffikin and Mike Morrissey. I propose—on your instructions, Mr. Speaker—to paraphrase one of their paragraphs, because I could not think of a better way of describing the position.
The decomposition of the state school system into a number of competing institutions is ultimately based on this Government's theory of social Darwinism—the survival of the fittest. The real agenda behind the reforms may be the construction of a three-tier system, made up of independent schools—schools in the private sector and the city technology colleges—public sector schools, both grant-maintained and local education authority, well enough reinforced by parental choice and the voluntary sector, and a third sector—an underclass of school located in areas of poverty, forced to exist on basic funding and less cushioned than previously by discretionary funding by the local education authorities.
I regret to say that that is what we have in the Northern Ireland education system at the moment. Perhaps, in a year's time, when roles are reversed and Labour Members are on the Government Benches, we can put that problem right.
§ 11.2 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham)
If I tried to answer all the points that have been covered in this varied, interesting and always lively debate, I could spend at least half an hour answering the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) and probably still only deal with half the points that he made. Having said that, I shall do my best.
The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) asked about the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) drew attention to the problems of his district council in that regard. I have nothing to add to what my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, except that the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland does not issue endorsements for any particular banks. I do not think that even the hon. Member for Leicester, South would wish the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland to advise him on where to place his savings. What we do is refer local authorities to banks on the Bank of England's list. But as my hon. Friend said—and, of course, without commitment—my officials will meet the officials of the council to discuss the implications.
1052 The hon. Member for Leicester, South, who is usually careful with his words, had one slight slip when he talked about the Royal Victoria hospital "opting out" of the national health service. Perhaps he has listened too much to the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards). There is absolutely no question of the Royal Victoria, or any other hospital that wants to become a trust, opting out of the NHS.
The question for the Government is whether the health service boards, as purchasers, will determine the type and volume of patient care that will be provided by the hospitals. If the hospitals wish to establish themselves as trusts—which I believe would make them much closer to the communities they serve—the question is whether they will be able to provide, in a competitive way, services to the boards in the best interests of the patients. It is to the best interests of the patients that the health service reforms are directed.
The hon. Member for Leicester, South spoke about the ravages of the past 12 years of Conservative Government in Northern Ireland. That was echoed by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes). I am not absolutely sure how often they visit the Province. Those who come to Belfast, Londonderry or the small towns of Ulster will see a difference in the economic livelihood of Northern Ireland that cannot be compared with the position that we inherited from the Labour Government.
I accept that unemployment as a percentage is higher in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain, but when the Labour party left power, unemployment in the Province was 2.3 times that of Great Britain; now it is only 1.7. There is nothing in our record of which we cannot be proud.
I am aware of the views of the hon. Member for Leicester, South on Northern Ireland Electricity. The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), with whom in Committee I discussed the question of gas in Northern Ireland, will be interested to know that British Gas has now shown an interest in the purchase of a generator in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) said that he has ambitions to be standing in my place this time next year. If he can do anything to ensure that he is not in charge of Northern Ireland—should that day ever come, and I doubt that it will—I shall do so. Let us consider Labour policy and, if it were ever put into operation, the effect that it would have on the economy of Northern Ireland.
The privatisation of Harland and Wolff and of Shorts would never have happened. Those two companies, which had been a millstone around the neck of the economy of Northern Ireland and which had demoralised their work forces, are now two immensely successful businesses. What would a 60 per cent. tax rate do for incentives in Northern Ireland? What would the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who said that he would like to be the last Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, do for the confidence of business people thinking about investing in Northern Ireland? Very little, I suspect. What confidence can come from a Government who would say to the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, "We think you are wrong; we would like you to go somewhere else"?
The hon. Member for Wigan said that he would abolish the grammar schools in Northern Ireland. I am sure that that will be greeted with pleasure by all the parents who 1053 have this week, as he said, seen their children get the opportunity for an educational service that gives the highest levels of attainment in the country. Of course he is right to draw attention to the problems of those at the lowest end. That is why the Government, through "Making Belfast Work" and "Making Derry Work", and through the programmes that we are initiating in the most deprived areas, are concentrating resources in that sphere.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) became Minister with responsibility for education, those with no qualification stood at 24.6 per cent.; now it is 16.4 per cent. We are moving in the right direction. The hon. Member for Wigan would have slightly more credit in this House if he did not knock Northern Ireland and at the same time follow a policy that would take it out of the United Kingdom and undermine and immensely damage the confidence of Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) said that we do not have an economic strategy. As I said, some Opposition Members do not appear to visit Northern Ireland very often. However, we do have a strategy, and it is called "Competing in the Nineties". We aim to have a strategy which matches inward investment with the growth of small businesses in Northern Ireland and we back winners. We want to do that through a partnership. We are doing it through a partnership in Northern Ireland with business people. I agree with the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder): I do not mind business people being involved in politics. The more involved in politics they are, the happier I would be.
In the Northern Ireland context, it is that partnership that we are determined to achieve, and we are already beginning to show the successes of that partnership in the way that we are managing to ride the recession, as the right hon. Member for Strangford said. That is an extraordinary achievement, which is due entirely to the people of Northern Ireland. They are managing to get through the recession better than any other region of the United Kingdom. This is the first time that that has happened since the 1920s. It is due entirely to the confidence that the Northern Ireland people have in themselves, which would be wrecked if the hon. Member for Wigan ever found himself on this side of the Dispatch Box.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asked me about Harland and Wolff and the child support agency. Harland and Wolff is eligible for intervention aid grant under the EC seventh directive, and that also applies to the purchase of engines. The hon. Gentleman made the point about employing disabled members of staff, and I shall certainly consider that, but the majority of the staff there are new.
The right hon. Member for Strangford and others referred to the MacSharry proposals and the problem of the damage that they could cause to Northern Ireland agriculture. The Government cannot tonight give definitive answers to those proposals which, as hon. Members said, have only been tabled today. However, the Government will firmly resist any proposals that are not fair to our farmers, and that obviously includes Northern Ireland farmers.
Having said that, I quite accept the need in Northern Ireland to ensure that agriculture works together. Many 1054 hon. Members will have read the Davies report, which offers a way forward in the dairy industry. We have some fine companies in Northern Ireland in the beef, poultry and dairy industries. They must work together to give added value and a product that we can export throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.
The right hon. Member for Strangford talked about advance factories. He said that there were no advance factories in this year's budget. Next year's budget has not yet been decided. Of the Industrial Development Board's capital budget of £20 million, £16 million will be spent on factory building, £3 million on the purchase of industrial land and £1 million on developing and landscaping industrial estates. Two advance factories, one at Glen road and another at Ballygomartin, should be completed and ready for occupation at the end of November. A further 40 acres of land will be acquired at Poleglass to meet the needs of that area of west Belfast.
I am confident that we shall continue to obtain inward investment during the next year. The figures were not as encouraging last year as the year before, but there were reasons for that. There is a recession not only here but in the United States and many other parts of Europe. However, we have in the pipeline a number of inward investment propositions which we will be able to clinch —if I might use that elegant word—during the course of the year.
It is worth reminding the House that we have had inward investment in the past two years from Canada, The United States, Japan, France, Korea, Norway, Germany, Great Britain—a range of countries. We are now managing to improve our image and obtain a quality of investment which, contrary to what the right hon. Member for Strangford said, I do not believe will necessarily disappear at the first wave of recession that comes along. We should never forget the importance of smaller companies in Northern Ireland and the need to grow them and to back and support them, which is the basis of our strategy.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about urban development grant being too slow. I take that point, and it is something that I shall look into. He also talked about the urban development programme as supported by the international fund for Ireland and the need to ensure that that programme spreads equally in the east and the west of the Province. I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's point on that. Clearly we must look to those areas in Northern Ireland, whether they are east, west, north or south, which have the greatest problems and deal with them. That is exactly what we shall do. If we can get enough funding, we shall spread it as widely as we can.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not go into too much detail regarding his school points. However, I shall make sure that my right hon. and noble Friend the Paymaster General provides him with a reply.
Three hon. Members referred to the reduction of acute services at Ards. There is no question of any change being made in acute services at Ards, unless there were to be a major refurbishment at the Ulster, which is five miles away. Even if that were to be proposed, there would have to be public consultation—as would happen, as the hon. Member for Antrim, East said, in the case of the Moyle. The right hon. Member for Strangford referred to cuts. When I became a Health Minister, the budget for the health service in Northern Ireland was £650 million. This 1055 year it is £1.166 billion—almost double within the space of five years. That shows the Government's commitment to the health service in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman said that 10 per cent. of the services are in the North Down area, while 40 per cent. of the population are there. That is true. However, as the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) said, we have the City hospital, the Royal Victoria hospital and the Ulster hospital. These are very well-equipped, professional hospitals in the middle of our capital city. Yes, people have to travel to them, but when they are there they find a quality of service that many elsewhere in the world would envy.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to go into too much detail about the pedestrian crossing at Millisle, or the need for a light at Gransha. I shall happily look into the question of a light at Gransha, and into the view that there ought to be more lights there. It is felt that there is insufficient light in the area. Suffice it to say that lights sometimes shine into people's bedrooms, which they do not always like.
The right hon. Gentleman then raised a very important point about the Holyhead-Dublin-Belfast rail link. I am the Minister with responsibility for transport in Northern Ireland. Therefore, my job is to protect and expand the ports, harbours and railways of Northern Ireland. I am absolutely determined to achieve that. The vast majority of traffic in Northern Ireland is on the roads. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) nearly shot his fox. We have an excellent port facility. A large number of goods from the south come out through Lame to Stranraer.
The Government will do everything they can to ensure that the interests of Northern Ireland, Larne, Belfast and Warrenpoint are protected. We have a road infrastructure there. I agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, East that we must improve the A8, the road between Larne and Belfast. Everything that needs to be done will be done. We must not be complacent, but we should not be unduly concerned when we take into account the competence and the efficiency of Northern Ireland hauliers and the way that they manage to get goods into and out of Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. I am sure that that will continue.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred—as did the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe)—to the appalling accident last night at Broughdone. I gave an undertaking to the hon. Member for Antrim, South in the absense of the hon. Member for Antrim, North that I would look immediately tomorrow into whether we can bring forward the programme for the introduction of half-barriers, to be phased in over the next few months. I give an undertaking that that will be done.
There will have to be an inquiry to discover what happened. Northern Ireland Railways has assured me that the lights were working when the accident occurred, but that will be investigated. As the hon. Member for Antrim, South said, there have been far too many such accidents, and we must do all that we can to ensure that the right system is installed as quickly as possible.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North gave us a dissertation on nominees to boards. For those boards for which I have responsibility, one of my concerns is to ensure that there should be a community and a sex balance, but the main concern is to ensure that all those boards contribute to the success of the organisation in 1056 which they serve. I am not aware of and have no evidence of any political discrimination. The political views of those who serve on the boards are irrelevant to the jobs that they must do.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the hospital at Coleraine. He has heard me talking about that more times than he would wish. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East also mentioned the hospital, but I must state that I no longer have responsibility for it, although I hope that a decision can be made soon.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North also mentioned his problems with a planning officer in his constituency. I look forward to meeting the officer with the hon. Gentleman, so that we can discuss how he goes about his business. Northern Ireland is a very beautiful part of the United Kingdom. Some of us—I count myself as one—feel that some planning decisions taken in Northern Ireland during the past few years have perhaps allowed too many foreign-looking bungalows on our hilltops. Through a policy of siting, location and design we are trying to stop the rural sprawl that has developed in, for example, Donegal.
I was grateful for the support of the hon. Member for North Down for the planning office. However, I accept that there must be sensitivity and an understanding of local circumstances. It is difficult to achieve a balance, and where there are problems, hon. Members know that I am always prepared to do what I can to try to find a solution. Nevertheless, it will not always be possible. If we are to protect the environment in Northern Ireland for the future, we shall not be able to give everyone what they think is reasonable and what they desire.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Rathlin Island, arid I was grateful for his compliments. I agree that there is a need for the harbours, and work on them is in progress. I have already dealt with the hon. Gentleman's point about agriculture.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East mentioned the incinerator. I compliment him on his investigation into and work on it. I understand his suggestion that we proceed with caution. I have already said that the incinerator will be subject to an environmental impact assessment and a very thorough public inquiry. All the issues will have to be fully debated and resolved, and seen to be debated and resolved.
I shall not deal in detail with the matters that the hon. Gentleman raised, because they will be discussed during the inquiry. I agree that it is important to protect the green image. He asked me about my discussions with Mr. Flynn. The question is, do we need an incinerator in the island of Ireland? Can the waste be disposed of indefinitely elsewhere? What is happening to the waste at the moment? Are we sure that it is being disposed of properly?
What will happen if we do not build an incinerator? Will we lose jobs in the places creating the waste if the waste cannot be got rid of? That may be a real fear in the future. All the issues need to be discussed and will be discussed. I make the point to the hon. Gentleman that we cannot just say that the waste can disappear.
The hon. Member for North Down said that incinerators can be dangerous. I suspect that toxic waste can be rather more dangerous than an incinerator, if the incinerator is properly run. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East made a fair point about the need to have it properly run, controlled and manned. I agree with 1057 the hon. Gentleman that all those matters will have to be discussed in the fullest detail and depth, and will have to be argued out publicly.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East made some fairly derogatory comments about the Local Enterprise Development Unit, and I am glad that the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) put a little balance on that. Bank managers are not much easier than LEDU is on inventors. We give 50 per cent. of a maximum grant up to £1,000 for an invention. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East mentioned three cases. It is important that the chairman of LEDU, who is a business man and is meant to represent the interests of his clients, gets to grips with the three cases. Perhaps we could get together with the three people concerned and discuss the matter with the chairman to see how we can take it forward.
The hon. Member for South Down mentioned farming, and I hope that he will agree that I have dealt with that. He also mentioned training and the fishermen. I will take that matter up with the Training and Employment Agency, and I will bring the other points about fishing to the attention of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley).
The hon. Gentleman also made the point about there being only one annexe to the training centre in South Down. I understand that point, which was not dissimilar to that made by the hon. Member for Antrim, East, who was concerned about what we do with the work force at GEC and with the training centre there. I understand the point about the lack of transport facilities to get people to and from such training centres. I will look into the matter and discuss it later with the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for South Down also spoke about an Industrial Development Board-LEDU merger. I have some sympathy with the concept, but the problem is that it would require statutory regulation. We do not have enough time to do that. We must consider how we can build our economic strategy with our present institutions. However, I accept that we must ensure that they work as closely together as possible. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the IDB is very aware of the pressures that he and other hon. Members bring on back office and inward investment. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that tourism is crucial to the Mournes and the St. Patrick's trail. I may initially have had something to do with starting that. I agree that it is an important aspect.
The hon. Member for South Down mentioned roads. We are, as I have told hon. Members before, having a review of the whole road system. I cannot give answers at the moment, but I will do so as soon as possible. The review will probably show that we need to spend money on 1058 roads. However, the problem is that, if we do that, where will the funding come from? It does not fall off a tree, and we will need to look carefully at other budgets.
The hon. Member for South Down raised a series of issues about attendance allowance and mobility allowance, as did the hon. Member for Belfast, South. I will bring those issues to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes. If there are particular cases, we will consider them. However, in such distressing cases, one has to consider the age of the person and his condition.
The hon. Member for North Down talked about democracy, and there was a general discussion about the way in which we conduct our business. I had hoped that, at some time over the past 10 weeks, when hon. Members were doing whatever they were doing while the rest of us did whatever we were doing, we might have moved somewhere on the matter. However, that has nothing to do with me.
I listened carefully to the points made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) about Connswater housing association and about what happened on the golf course. As I go down the Knock dual carriageway, I will consider what we can do. He made several points about disability. I have a lot of sympathy with him on the issue of what Monica Wilson said. We have a strategy in the public service. The Department of the Environment is funding three access offices for the Northern Ireland Council on Disability for three years. We are working closely to produce guidelines for developers, and we are ensuring that all public buildings have access.
I shall write to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and deal in detail with the issues that he raised. As for GEC Alsthom, there are two people who have showed some interest in the factory. We have still to market it and sell it. I cannot deal in detail with the points which were made about education in Northern Ireland. As the SACHR report has been publicised, I do not think that it gives as fair a picture as it should. Hon. Members will know that 75 per cent. of recurrent teaching costs are not included in the figures, but there is a narrow area of costs that the Government will have to examine.
I think that Northern Ireland is in good heart under the Government; it is well ruled and well financed.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 11th June, be approved.