§ Question again proposed.5.45 pm
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
I take as my starting point the same point as that of the previous two speakers. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) commented on the procedures of the debate. I took note of a comment made by an hon. Member who visited the Chamber and listened for a few moments to our debate. As he went out, he said, "This business should not be on the Floor of the House. It is county council stuff." Many of us would probably nod our heads to that remark.
However, those of us who do not have the opportunity to deal with the issues in other places must take the fullest opportunity in this place to do so. But I remind the Government that it is wholly inadequate to deal with such levels of expenditure in such a cursory way. As the hon. Member for Londonderry, East said, we are fortunate that today, unlike many other days on which we have approached appropriation account debates, we are left with much more time, so that more Members will be able to speak, and perhaps some of them will speak for longer.
My district council set its rate in the past few weeks, as did every district council in Northern Ireland. Our expenditure is about £4 million to £5 million. We could have discussed it for days and tabled amendments on the items on which we spent it. Not so in the Chamber. We are limited by time, and we have no opportunity to do anything but vote against the amounts of money—something which people in Northern Ireland are not keen on voting against.
We could have better procedures in the House to deal in much greater depth with the expenditure of Northern Ireland Departments. Members of Parliament are denied scrutiny of those Departments under the existing system. I say that as a strong devolutionist. I see no inconsistency in believing in devolution for Northern Ireland and 513 wanting proper Select Committees in the House which reflect the business of the House at that given moment in time.
Having got that one out of the way, I should like to comment on the remarks of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott). He rightly drew attention to the milestone that has been reached in the unemployment figures. It is a milestone which casts a dark shadow over the nation. That dark shadow is seen in Northern Ireland more than in any other part of the nation. Almost 110,000 people are unemployed; that is a long dole queue. I remind the Minister that we are talking not only about loss of resources in economic terms but about a serious social impact on the Province.
Each one of those cold statistics represents a family, and the hopes and aspirations of the people who surround the person who should have been the family breadwinner. It is a debilitating position for people to find themselves in, without the expectation or hope of finding employment in the foreseeable future. It is therefore incumbent upon the Government not to treat unemployment in Northern Ireland casually, and not to say, "Well, we cannot do too much about unemployment in Northern Ireland, especially with the terrorist backcloth." I accept immediately that terrorism presents great difficulties for those who want to induce investors into Northern Ireland and to encourage people to expand their businesses there—but that difficulty should call the Government to greater heights of energy and enthusiasm in attempting to do the job.
The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) asked the Opposition where their policies were. I suppose that, if he were here now, he could ask me the same question. I trust that the Minister will consider a suggestion that I shall make about what can be done in Northern Ireland by elected representatives from Northern Ireland.
Before I make that suggestion, I shall place on record by way of a marker my pleasure that, in both Shorts and Harland and Wolff, which represent the major industries in my constituency, there is now more stability than there has been for a long time. That must be welcomed, although the fact that there have been some reductions in employment in both those firms over the year is not welcome. Many of us hope that, as time goes on and we come out of the long deep recession that we have suffered, those firms will be able to expand, and some of those jobs may come back.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that not only Harland and Wolff but the whole British shipbuilding industry would benefit if our Government used the same yardstick for intervention money from Europe as other European countries do?
§ Mr. Robinson
Yes, indeed; there is no doubt about that. The point needs only to be stated to be accepted: the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. Harland and Wolff would benefit considerably, and the Government could do themselves and the nation a favour in environmental terms. We have all seen the dramatic impact of oil spillage, and there is real cause for the Government to impose much stricter regulations about the age and standard of ships allowed into our waters and the standard of ships built in our yards. A scrap-and-build policy at a lower level would help shipbuilding yards throughout the United Kingdom. 514 I trust that the Government will take that idea on board. It is certainly being urged by several trade unions involved in the shipbuilding industry.
The Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 was the brainchild of the Department of Economic Development, which no doubt encouraged the Department of the Environment to say that local government could have a financial input into economic development. As a result, the Department introduced an enabling order to allow district councils to spend up to 2p in the pound in their rates for the purposes of economic development. Even before the provision was introduced, many local authorities were spending money on economic development under the old section 115, which allowed them to spend money for the good of the district council area or any part thereof.
The 1992 provision, however, clearly directs the attention of district councils to economic development, and encourages them to play a role. Many, if not most, councils in Northern Ireland are already involved in enterprise schemes that are either up and running or on the slip road ready to be put in place. It is good and proper for district councils to make their contribution to those, but I wonder whether the Government could consider a more structured approach.
The enabling power would allow local government in Northern Ireland to put economic development proposals together collectively, in groups of district councils. Under EC rules, such enterprises could enjoy considerable subvention. Would the Department be prepared to consider proposals for economic development from district councils in groups or as a whole? That would allow every pound spent by district councils to be quadrupled by European grants.
I know that the Department will be concerned that what district councils do should not duplicate what is being done by the Department of Economic Development or any of its agencies, but elected representatives in Northern Ireland have sufficient initiative to come up with schemes which would not duplicate activities and which would bring some local initiative into economic development.
Perhaps that would avoid some of the criticism levelled at the Government. They could rightly permit the money to be spent in that way, because any scheme would have to be approved by the Department of the Environment, the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Department of Economic Development before it could receive any money from Europe. I trust that the Minister's response will be positive. If it is, district councils will be encouraged to submit schemes to the Department.
§ Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the miscellaneous provisions order, concerning local government's ability to engage in economic development, but is he aware that it now transpires that the alleged independence given to local government will be monitored in detail by the Local Enterprise Development Unit, and local government can now spend the money only with LEDU's approval? The central agency is now taking ratepayers' money and dictating where it will go. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that that is not a desirable development, and that it cuts straight across both the spirit of the legislation and the ratepayers' independence in spending their money as they wish, in so far as it is theirs?
§ Mr. Robinson
I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was arguing for the independence of spending within district councils when his party was trying to rap some Unionist councils over the knuckles for spending money in the way that it did not like. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has been converted and now thinks as I do on the subject. I trust that the Government, too, will think as we both now do about district councils' independence in spending their rateable product.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
What the hon. Gentleman is saying is important and significant in terms of local authorities' activities. It is pleasing to note that at least there is unity between the two parties on the issue. Has the hon. Gentleman read the Coopers and Lybrand report published in January? It contains a special feature on local economic development, and the report of a survey carried out within 24 district councils in Northern Ireland. The report is most encouraging about what is happening in district councils. The theme on which the hon. Gentleman has entered is constructive, and I suggest that all local authorities in Northern Ireland should have the Coopers and Lybrand report and build on what it says. Will the hon. Gentleman take note of that point, and has he any comment on the report?
§ Mr. Robinson
The House has heard that advertisement for Coopers and Lybrand. I have read parts of that report, which were contained in a study of economic development carried out by the Northern Ireland Centre in Europe. I commend it to the House.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) should note that his council would be considered a neighbouring one to mine. I recognise that, when the European Community comes to consider economic development schemes, it will want those schemes to cover the entire Province, or groups of councils acting together. The Castlereagh council has already expressed an interest in such schemes, and if it was shared by Down council, I am sure that a group could be formed to put forward plans that might be attractive to the EC and the Department of Economic Development.
Vote 1 for the DOE—the department of everything, as it is called in Northern Ireland—which deals with roads, should be considered with vote 4, which deals with planning, because they are related.
In the past months, if not years, I am sure that every elected representative in Northern Ireland has received complaints about the state of some of our roads. Some of us feel slightly nauseated when Ministers responsible for that Department say, "Oh, but your roads are so much better than our own in Great Britain." I had thought that the general Tory philosophy might have led the Government to bring the standard of roads in Great Britain up to those of Northern Ireland, rather than bring ours down to their standard, but that seems to be the exercise upon which the Government are now engaged.
The DOE went through a lengthy process, which included much public consultation, that eventually resulted in the Belfast urban area plan 2001. I am saddened that it has failed to live up to the expectations in that plan, which represented a contract between the Government, who accepted the recommendations of the commissioners, and the community. Under that contract, the Government recognised that the plan represented the structure of planning for the city of Belfast and the Greater Belfast 516 area. They accepted that houses should be built here, factories there and so forth. It was understood that the Government would provide the infrastructure so that that plan could proceed.
The Government did zone land for housing, factories and offices, but they did not provide the suitable infrastructure. We are now faced with a ludicrous situation. People travelling from the constituency of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), around the Carryduff area, come down the Saintfield road through the constituency of the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor). As any naturally sensible people would, they then try to get into east Belfast, but they find a massive road block along the way because the necessary infrastructure has not been put in place.
In key areas of the Belfast urban area plan, it was accepted that it was necessary to carry out road improvements, but while the Government have allowed the housing and factory development to go ahead, they have not provided the roads to allow people to move about. Because of the Government's failure to provide the necessary money, the planning department has said that, in 1993, it will have to consider stopping any further development.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
The hon. Gentleman did a right turn into east Belfast, but does he recognise that we have faced a road planning problem for years? The centre of Belfast is in a mess because the roads in south Belfast have not been completed around Great Victoria street and Bankmore street. The problems caused by the lack of forward planning in the roads services department has been largely responsible for blight in the city and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Robinson
One of the great problems is the priority that the Government have placed on capital roads expenditure. The Government want to speed us on our way to Dublin and on the Newry bypass, phases one, two and all the way up to X. The Government have found plenty of money for that, but the road to Larne has not been improved, although that would help business men to get over to Scotland. None of the feeder roads into Belfast has been improved. The Government's priorities are completely wrong, because the vast majority of the business traffic would like to go through Larne rather than south. I suspect that the Government have political motives in mind when they provide money for the Newry bypass.
Those of us who represent the east Belfast/Castlereagh area received a communication from the Minister to say that the delayed start on a number of road schemes would be subject to further delay. The Belfast urban area plan set the future location of housing and factories between now and 2001, but the DOE has said simply that councils will not be given the money for road improvements. In other words, the planning services department will be unable to undertake development anywhere.
That, in effect, was the message in the letter from the divisional planning officer in Belfast. He made it clear that the southern approaches transportation strategy is the key element in deciding where future housing should be built. If the money for that strategy is not provided, it is clear that housing and factory development in the Castlereagh and outer east Belfast area will suffer.
517 I and many of my colleagues in local government are discontented with the system of appeals to the planning service department. I am not criticising the Planning Appeals Commission, which does a good job. It does not always come to the decision that I would wish, but no one could impugn its impartiality. Long delays occur before one is granted a planning hearing, and an even greater delay occurs before one is given the result, but that commission is doing a good job.
The intermediate stage in the planning process, however, simply does not work, and by and large it is surplus to requirements. The planning system in Northern Ireland was changed so that district councils simply had a consultative role, and the DOE was given the lead one. That Department makes a recommendation as to what should happen to any given planning application to a district council. The DOE condescended to allow councils to give their view on that recommendation, but it then adjudicates and decides whether planning applications should be approved or rejected.
The district councils are entitled, however, to send applications to the planning directorate. That directorate is the planning godhead—three people sit around in Stormont who to all intents and purposes are the creatures of the DOE. Therefore, little impartiality is exercised when it comes to judging whether the decision of local departmental officials is accurate.
If one sends an application to the directorate for referral and asks for a meeting, one is told, "No, we will not meet you. We will hear the views of our planning department and they will put your view to us. We will then make our decision." What kind of tribunal inquiry can claim to judge an application impartially when it listens to only one side of the story? If the directorate is to be a meaningful part of the planning process, it must be forced by the Government to hear both sides of the argument.
Little extra time would be involved if those at the directorate were asked to attend district council meetings or invited council representatives to put their case. If that happened, much less use would be made of the article 31 procedure. Under a concession given by the present Governor of Hong Kong when he was the Minister responsible for the DOE in Northern Ireland, if two thirds of a district council support an objection to an application, a public hearing on it is allowed.
A better interim appeals system might result in less use being made of the article 31 procedure, with a reduction in the work load of the planning appeals commission. I trust that the Minister will not allow the vested interests in his Department simply to advise against my suggestion, but will judge it on its merits.
We have in my constituency a retained fire station at Cregagh, known as the Castlereagh station. It has been there for a long time and provides, in effect, two fire stations for Castlereagh, east Belfast and surrounding areas. Its members have carried out their work valiantly over the years, and deserve much praise. One thinks immediately of the tragedy at Belvoir, where the men were first on the scene and did first-class work to minimise the impact of the damage that had been caused.
It is sad to relate that, on the morning after the Belvoir disaster, the firemen of the Castlereagh station returned to their jobs to be handed an envelope—they expected it to 518 contain thanks for the work they had done the previous day—explaining that it was proposed that their jobs should be done away with, that the station should be closed and that a new station should be established at Carryduff.
Those who know the basis on which firemen are retained will know that they are required to be within a certain distance of the fire station so that they can respond to a call within a given time. Moving the station from Castlereagh to Carryduff would not only reduce the fire cover from two to one pumps but would mean that the men employed at Castlereagh could no longer operate from the Carryduff station.
There are a number of essential buildings, including hospitals, in the surrounding area. At least, there are a number of hospitals there now, although one wonders whether, in view of the Government's policy, they will be there for long. There is clearly need for a quick response in fire cover terms. The Castlereagh station has always been a backup to Belfast and has a commendable record of covering what might be described as ordinary fires when the Belfast fire station has been covering emergency calls.
The area covered by the existing fire station is developing. The number of houses, businesses and facilities has substantially increased over the years, so a case could be made for more, rather than less, fire cover in the area. That is why those with knowledge of the area feel that the decision has been taken entirely on economic grounds rather than in terms of having the best fire cover for the area and essential services in it.
Education is close to the heart of the Minister who will reply to the debate. He has recently decided to take a magnifying glass to the education service and to review how it is operating, particularly in terms of the education and library boards. He will know that, when Ministers begin carrying out reviews, the people engaged in the services being reviewed become uneasy and uncertain. I urge caution on him as he carries out his review.
I hope that, in terms of the education and library boards' tasks, it will be a real review, and that he will not rule out the prospect that much of the work carried out by those boards could be done by elected representatives. In the past when Ministers have carried out reviews, reorganisations and reforms into every aspect of life in Northern Ireland, they have usually resulted in elected representatives being taken out of the process.
Health is a perfect example. The elected members were thrown off and put into second-rate health councils, where they had no real say or influence over major decisions. I hope that that is not what the Minister is contemplating, if he is contemplating anything. I trust that he will allow for the democratisation of the education and library boards, rather than the removal of the veneer of democracy that now exists.
Whether the Minister wants to review local councils, whether he has some idea up his sleeve about a Greater Ulster council for the whole of Northern Ireland, or whether he believes that peace will reign and we shall have stability in Northern Ireland, with the SDLP being less resistant to constructive proposals and talks resulting in devolved government, I do not know. Perhaps he will tell us. But we must have democratic control of education in Northern Ireland, that control going to the people there rather than to a Minister who, with the greatest respect, is not answerable directly to the people of Northern Ireland.
519 I say with the greatest respect to the Minister, because he is one Minister who is prepared to listen to people when constituents are taken to meet him. I am not buttering him up, although a group of people that I took to see him from the Bloomfield collegiate school will be happy if the capital expenditure programme which he will announce in the next few weeks includes provision for an extension to their school. They have a better case for such a development than any other school in Northern Ireland.
That case goes back many years. The school's population is growing, because it is a popular school—and, after all, the Government say that they want to encourage popular schools. It might be described as the people's, the parents' choice. Those responsible for the school decided some years ago that, because Government finance appeared to be restricted and the school needed an extension, they would do it themselves. They accepted that they could not provide the sort of high-flown extension that could be built at Lagan college with Government money, so they initiated an appeal to raise money for a somewhat lesser scheme.
They asked parents and former pupils to put their hands in their pockets, and the appeal for money proceeded. After a while, Government officials said, in effect, "We suggest that you stop what you are doing. Let us do the thing properly." So, halfway through the scheme, they called a halt to the appeal, took the advice of the officials and put in proposals to meet the Government's standard. They waited and waited, and they are still waiting—[Interruption.] There are many wise men in the east. The wisdom in that case will be judged by the generous response of the Minister to the appeal they made when they met him recently.
Another aspect of spending for which I will search when the Minister's much-awaited document is published is sporting provision. The Government have given up on sport in relation to district councils. They will meet existing commitments, but there appears to be nothing further in the pipeline. I suppose that we must wait for the lottery to begin and hope that some money from that will do the job that the Government should be doing for district councils.
We are in desperate need of a centre of excellence, a Northern Ireland sports centre, the case for which is irrefutable. Wales, Scotland and England have centres of excellence. England has several. Northern Ireland does not have one, yet, per head of population, Northern Ireland does much better at sport than other parts of the United Kingdom. A Government who believe in encouraging people to work on a cross-community basis should recognise the value of sport for cross-community contact.
However, I suspect that, in a few sports, the organisers discourage certain people in the community. That is reprehensible and, as someone interested in sport, I would encourage the Gaelic Athletic Association, who refuse admission to membership for certain people, particularly in the Crown services, to remove that obnoxious ban from their constitutions, and to come into the full world of sportsmen in the Province.
I hope that the Minister will look favourably on the sports centre committee's request for help with a Northern Ireland sports centre. We do not expect him to provide all the money. The sports centre committee has already set out proposals by means of which it will hope to get money from district councils, sponsors and the general public. It 520 already has a £1 million start from the Foundation for Sport and the Arts, and it is looking for, I think, a few million pounds from the Minister.
At least he should prime the pump and show that the Government are on board. That will free the money from the district councils, which are at present a little nervous of giving their money in advance of seeing the colour of the Government's. It is not the amount that the Government will give us that is important but the fact that they give us that pump-priming money to show that they are on board and will see us through the whole scheme.
The House has been very patient as I have gone over these detailed matters. It is unusual for the Chamber to be used to deal with the intricacies of a constituency's business as this debate allows, but I trust it will not be long before, in another part of the House, we can deal much more often with more of the intricacies of Northern Ireland business, and have Ministers more accountable for the spending of their Departments.
§ Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down)
This is the first time for a considerable period that we have had the opportunity to discuss the finances of Northern Ireland. It is most significant that the autumn financial statement for Northern Ireland was not made in this House. Despite many requests at business question time for information to be given to Northern Ireland hon. Members so that they could debate it in the House, it was refused. The only people who were informed of the consequences of the detail of the autumn statement were members of various political parties in Northern Ireland who were not necessarily elected either to councils or to this House. I therefore welcome this opportunity, the first in a long time, to look at the various aspects of financial administration.
It is also appropriate, as other hon. Members have said, that our first concern should be the rise in unemployment in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland. In saying that, I think that I detect a certain degree of complacency when Ministers talk about Northern Ireland. They say that the recession is not biting so deeply in Northern Ireland this time as it is in Great Britain, but the comparison depends where one starts from. The simple story is that the economy of Northern Ireland was already considerably depressed before the new depression took place in Great Britain, so to use that unfortunate expression in a negative sense, Great Britain is, in a sense, catching up with Northern Ireland. In my own constituency, and this applies in many areas of Northern Ireland, we have had endemic unemployment running between 18 and 21 per cent., not just this year or even for five years, but for 20 years.
There were questions today about industrial development and inward investment. Envy was expressed about hon. Members who were complaining about having lost substantial substructures of industries in the past couple of years. Many areas of Northern Ireland have never had that substructure of industry to lose. My constituency is unfortunately one of them. I shall deal with that later with some statistics, if I may.
Notwithstanding talk about industrial and commercial inward investment and job creation, most of the base industry of Northern Ireland is still agriculture. It is not just the base industry: it is the cement that keeps our communities alive in what is basically a rural community 521 of six counties. It is important that every Department of Government should recognise the basic, simple fact that a further degradation of the rural community would mean the total collapse of the agriculture industry with the rural communities and the ongoing consequential expenditure of a further drift to the towns and to the one or two cities that we have. It is a matter of good policy to sustain the agriculture industry, even at additional cost, because that will save money in the long run in terms of providing an infrastructure of every description to the different areas.
The hon. Member for East Derry (Mr. Ross) dealt in detail with some immediate problems facing the agriculture industry, which has hit just about its lowest ebb for many decades. He spoke about the potato industry. My constituency produces a lot of the seed potatoes to which he referred. The series of climatic conditions, the heavy rains in the autumn and early winter and the alternations between frost and rain, not only prevented the crop from being harvested but caused considerable rot to the seeds, which could not be lifted in time for storage. They also rotted in storage.
Compounding that, as the hon. Member said, was the export market. It is all export, but in Portugal and Cyprus that market has totally collapsed. In very early December I asked the Minister responsible—who lives or resides, or whatever he does, in another place—to provide a stock feed scheme to save the potato industry. That was rejected out of hand. I must put on the record that it was rejected out of hand on the advice of some of the farming unions; they are now scrambling for aid for the same industry, but they said at the time that no special treatment should be given to the potato industry. Now that the extent of the calamity is known, that is obviously not the way to go forward.
Allied to that was the debate that we had on Tuesday about the hill livestock compensatory allowance and all that that involves. When we talk about farming, as the hon. Member for East Derry did at some length— [Interruptioni]—well, I prefer to call it Derry.
§ Mr. McGrady
I am addressed in this House as the Member for Down, South when it is recorded as South Down, so what is in a name?
The Ministry issued statistics of average incomes for the hill sheep farms. We are talking not about big farmers like those of south east England, but about those earning an average of £3,761 per annum according to the Department of Agriculture. On that figure, they are basically on income support. They are the type of person we want to keep in business. Allied to that was the introduction of the beef quotas last year for suckler cow herds and the iniquitous and anomalous continuation of the milk quotas. All those have militated against the viability of a basic industry, and the Department of Agriculture must have in mind to carry out an urgent, comprehensive review to aid that industry, or at least to put it into profitability so that it can aid itself. In my constituency, in particular, hill farming is allied with the fishing industry; the introduction in that industry of quotas and limited fishing time at sea by a so-called conservation Act means that farmers cannot even add to their income from the harvest of the sea. So here we have 522 an industry which needs urgent and radical attention. I hope that the Minister will convey that to his colleagues and to the Department and have something done about it.
The next block of votes refers to economic development. I ask the Minister to draw the attention of his ministerial colleagues to the concern expressed in many quarters about the reappraisal of responsibilities between the Department of Economic Development, the Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterprise Development Unit. I suspect that we are getting it all wrong. Even the easiest way of preparing an organisational chart setting out where the responsibilities of the various organisations and the Department lie is a considerable one. The Industrial Development Board deals exclusively with inward investment from throughout the world into Northern Ireland while LEDU, suitably augmented and professionalised, deals with indigenous or internal job creation, preservation and enhancement. There is the basis for an easy and sensible demarcation which would stop the confusion that is about to enter the system.
I have an interest in trying to promote a Down-Chicago link. That involves, obviously, a linkage between Down and north America. I am told that I and the company involved must approach the LEDU office at Newry. That office is as relevant to Chicago as I am to the moon, though the lunatic connection might belie that. I maintain that that office has no relevance. The Department of Economic Development must undertake a rational and practical re-examination of the system. Perhaps a wee bit of empire building is going on which should be brought to book on the basis of practicality and good common sense.
I draw the Minister's attention again to the inequality of the distribution of inward investment in Northern Ireland. Parliamentary answers over the past three years show that there have been 875 first-time visits in relation to would-be industrial investment into Northern Ireland. There were 282 in 1989–90, 255 in 1990–91 and 338 in 1991–92. In each of those three years there were three, two and five visits to South Down respectively. In other words, an area only 20 miles from the Belfast docks received only 10 visitations out of 875. That is less than 1 per cent. The pattern was the same in the past. A great injustice continues to be perpetrated in the sharing out of industrial development. I do not accept that industrialists cannot be encouraged more positively to areas such as South Down. Areas which have been denied industrial development could be given more grant aid than areas which have been industrialised. In other words, there could be an element of zoning. Economic incentives could redirect industrialists.
We all know about the much-vaunted introduction of fibre optics to rural areas of Northern Ireland, including South Down. I am disappointed that the Government have not made a greater effort to create back-office transfer jobs not only from the south of England, where the process has taken place, but from the north American continent and Europe. There is the example of Castletown in County Kerry. That small village is responsible for the entire administration of an American insurance company. It is a most cost-effective arrangement. That is a good example of the opportunity for job creation in Northern Ireland.
How can we bring industrialists to an area which does not have an industrial site? I have been told, "Don't worry about that: if an industrialist wants to set up in your area, he can have a purpose-built factory in six to eight months; that is how good we are." The trouble is that there would 523 be nowhere for the industrialist to build his factory. Not one industrial site is available in the constituency. Efforts have been made for the past two years to get one at Downpatrick, but it has not been secured. If an industrialist comes along, are we to tell him that he must wait two years for the legal implications to be worked out? The position at Kilkeel is exactly the same, as it is at Warrenpoint. No industrialist will tolerate a six to eight month start-up date because of the lack of industrial site provision. I am talking not about large land banks but about ordinary one-off sites which can be used as we go along. It is an issue which should be given immediate and practical attention. It has been said that the "department of everything" gives us the opportunity to discuss everything.
§ Mr. William Ross
The hon. Gentleman says that there has been a two-year search for an industrial site:in his constituency. Was land not identified, or was it found and planning problems ensued of the kind experienced at Limavady?
§ Mr. McGrady
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me an opportunity to emphasise the point once again. We did not even get to the stage of having a squabble with the planning authorities. We were bogged down with administrative nonsense. There was a great juggling act with figures and costs. In other words, no one was prepared to make a decision of the kind that would be made in business—in other words, to clinch a deal or to decide to move on to another site. The approach lacked precision.
Reference has been made to coastal flood protection, and I am concerned about coastal erosion. The east coast of Northern Ireland, particularly County Down as well as South Down, is softer than the North Antrim end. The men of Antrim are hard and so are the cliffs, but dangerous erosion is taking place along the south coast, especially in the South Down area, because of the soft nature of the coastal area. I am aware that it would be an extremely expensive operation to retain all that ground, but there must be a policy to protect it. If vital areas are not protected, they will disappear and communications will suffer. God knows, there are few enough roads at present— we do not want them to disappear into the sea.
An excellent statement was made on 4 February in London by one of the Minister's colleagues about a national roads investment plan which would involve the expenditure of £2,092 million, of which £1,148 million would be directed to major road works. I received a letter dated 3 February—almost the same date—from the Department of the Environment of Northern Ireland referring to the major roads programme for 1993–98 and setting out figures which could be described only as bizarre. I shall not ask the Minister to explain them because that would be unfair. The programme runs annually from 1993–94 to 1997–98 as follows:£7.4 million, £7.2 million—that seems consistent—£3.7 million—there is now a jump—£9.9 million and then an escalation to £17.7 million. I do not believe that statement for one moment. It seems to present the never-never land of public finance.
An undertaking has been given by the Department and by successive Ministers to remedy a bottleneck at Downpatrick. It would be a relatively small scheme involving expenditure of £1.2 million. Downpatrick has 524 been crippled because nothing has been done to the roads in the area for the past 13 years. In that period, there has not been £1 of capital expenditure on a major roads programme in the area. Admittedly, part of South Down happens to cross the dual carriageway somewhere around Banbridge; I know Banbridge, and that is attributed to South Down, but in fact it is a Newry-Belfast route and has nothing to do with South Down per se.
This has been a matter of paralysis by analysis, and it has been going on for some 26 years. This is the history. In June 1990, it was on, and the finance was available in April 1991. It was then off in December 1991, on again in January 1992 and off again during 1992. It was on again for October 1992, and now it is to be five years hence. That is the most appalling record. The people in that street have been completely shattered by the news that it has been postponed for another five years. They have been paralysed by this constant shilly-shallying. Their businesses have been run down, and allied to that has been the fiasco of the closing of the next street. The town of Downpatrick has been shattered by it.
When one considers that the same Department has a regeneration programme for the town, one wonders whether the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. Very nice environmental lamps, arches and paving stones are being put in, but the traffic cannot get through the town. The environmental impact study was alleged to be the cause. This was because the traffic was coming in through one particular funnel. Surely the environmental pollution would be halved if half the traffic were directed elsewhere, as would the noise pollution, thus curing the problem.
I come now to the question of water privatization—
§ Mr. William Ross
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves roads, did he notice in the letter that he received, which I assume is the same as the letter that the rest of us received, the very large number of bridge-strengthening programmes resulting purely and simply from European Community interference in how we spend our money in the United Kingdom? Some of that work may be very necessary, but quite a lot of the bridges would have been all right for a few years, and we would have been better off with a bypass than with a strengthened bridge.
§ Mr. McGrady
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information, of which I was not aware. I am sure that he is right. Let us take that argument one step further. Let us take a couple of million pounds out of the maintenance budget for some of those schemes, which would contribute enormously to the potential economic development of certain areas.
I shall speak only very briefly about water privatisation because it is not a vital part of finance; I wish just to put down a marker. The people of Northern Ireland, all the Northern Ireland Members, I venture to say, and all the councils of Northern Ireland are totally and absolutely opposed to the proposed legislation, not only because we believe that water, particularly in Ireland, is a God-given right and should not be in private ownership, but should be in community—that is, Government—ownership, but also because we know full well that, as in the case of electricity, prices would escalate on the basis of profit motivation. Furthermore, we oppose water privatisation because of the need to protect our environment. Some of our most beautiful areas are the catchment areas for the 525 reservoirs and treatment plants. As a Northern Irishman, I would be terrified if those lovely areas were handed over to private ownership by what could be a French or other foreign company. I am sure that the legislation will be resisted at every possible opportunity and in every way by the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives.
Regarding housing, the Minister will need to explain why there is a philosophical departure from providing housing for those in need to providing it for those who do not seem to be in the same degree of need. I refer to the strangulation of the housing sector budget by the absence of any increase for the next three years. As I understand it, a shortfall of £73 million in real terms is expected. The co-ownership body and the housing associations have had increased funds allocated to them, in line with the Government's dogmatic policy regarding home ownership. The effect of this is that those in need, on whom public money should be spent, are not getting the funding that would meet their housing needs.
In November 1992, out of 22,847 homes, 9,945 were classified as in urgent need of repair. Apart from that, from 1991 to 1993 the housing sector waiting lists increased by 1,029, to 21,851. It is very important that money be spent on public authority housing and concentrated on the areas of greatest need. The same thing happened to the housing associations before Christmas. Again it went, not on the areas of greatest need, but on the areas where home ownership was the target of the bodies' activities. As I have said, if public money is spent, it should be spent for the benefit of those people who cannot ever, in many cases, aspire to owning their own homes, but who deserve a better standard of accommodation.
I refer finally to health and social services and the chicanery that is going on in all the various boards at the moment. I have the problem of dealing with two boards —the Eastern health and social services board and the Southern health and social services board. We are supposed to be having a review of medicine, care in the community and preventive medicine on the basis of what is good for the patient. It appears to me that it is a purely economic and financial reappraisal.
Homes have been closed without ministerial consent; the Minister does not even know that they have been closed. There is a drive to close down all statutory provision. That is totally contrary to the patients charter, which states specifically that there should be a choice between statutory and private accommodation.
However, the big problem is coming with the closure of the hospitals, which will affect very many of us. Hon. Members who spoke earlier referred to their particular areas. The House will be relieved to know that I do not intend to go into detail about the Downpatrick group of hospitals, because I have dealt with that at some length before. I simply say that in the constituency of South Down, which covers some 780 square miles, three hospitals are threatened with closure. None will be left. Acute services have been transferred to the city centre, which is a total bottleneck no matter which way one looks at it. It is a bottleneck in terms of traffic, patient waiting lists and everything else one can think of.
If clinical effectiveness and cost effectiveness, together with accessibility for patients, are the criteria on which the Government are making decisions, the boards are going 526 entirely the wrong way about it and defying the basic concepts and tenets of the patients charter. It is time that the Department woke up to the fact that it is misdirecting the boards in terms of its own policy.
On maternity provision, for instance, the Department has issued an edict stating that a hospital cannot have an effective maternity unit unless it has a throughput—that is what they call it, as though they were talking about cattle —of 2,000 births per annum. When I wrote to the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, I was told that that was not the case and that smaller units with under 1,000 births are quite acceptable if there is good communication and good teamwork by consultants, anaesthetists, midwives and gynaecologists. That is what we have; 31 per cent. of all births in Northern Ireland take place in small units, and we have achieved much greater birth safety than we have had for centuries. Now we may be destroying something good for something unnecessary which has to be proved, quite apart from the question of accessibility.
The Department should examine the criteria which have been used by the boards as an excuse for their proposals which in reality are a cost-cutting exercise. They have nothing to do with patient care or community care. It is a bookkeeping, budgetary exercise. The boards should adopt the patients charter with regard to cost effectiveness, allied to patient acceptability, and reconsider many of the damaging consultative documents which have been so depressing for our constituents and so demoralising for hospital staff from consultants down.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
Does the hon. Gentleman know that, when the Select Committee on Health recommended that the Department should withdraw its circular, it refused to do so? Now there is to be a re-examination. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is more likely to be an attempt to cover the Department's own tracks than to meet the needs of the people because on maternity provision the Department has been hoist with its own petard?
§ Mr. McGrady
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and I agree with him totally. It is a paper exercise which has nothing to do with patient care. The Department should reconsider its proposals and bear in mind the comments of the Select Committee on Health.
I wish to refer to three areas where there is a lack of health provision. The opportunities for breast screening in the Southern board area are inadequate. Finance should be made available immediately to provide screening facilities. A study has been undertaken on cystic fibrosis. In a letter dated 23 November 1992 the Minister said that the study had been completed. I hope that its findings will be put into force so that cystic fibrosis sufferers and their carers may get all the help that they need. The provision of help should not be delayed by administrative hang-ups.
I also want to draw the Minister's attention to the comments of the Chest, Heart and Stroke Association, which has stated that 1,200 cardiac bypass operations are needed in Northern Ireland each year. The chief medical officer has recommended that only 800 operations–75 per cent.—should take place. Will the responsible Minister undertake that there will be a review of the provision for cardiac surgery? We have spoken about that before. The position has improved, but not sufficiently to cope with the real need in the community.
527 I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to put points to the Minister and his colleagues. There are conflicting demands on finance in each Department, but a reappraisal of some of the points mentioned in the debate might bear more fruit than the current programmes proposed by various Departments.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
Sometimes when we debate Northern Ireland affairs, I note by their absence the keen interest of right hon. and hon Members on the Government and Opposition Benches. However, when the House is dealing with Northern Ireland questions—in other words, at prime television, photo-call time—Northern Ireland Members find it difficult to be called. At most, Northern Ireland Members will get one question, and the rest of the time will be allotted to Tory or Labour Members who are keenly interested at that time. However, they have little to offer in this debate. Yet representatives of Her Majesty's Government will seek public support in the local government elections in a few months' time.
§ Mr. Beggs
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is frustrating for hon. Members who regularly submit questions to discover that they do not come out of the ballot or the tombola, or that somehow the computer tends to overlook them? We are not unaware of the number of planted questions which are arranged to ensure that Ministers have an opportunity almost to provide press releases.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be helpful if the Opposition and the Government reached an agreement to restrict the number of questions submitted by their Members for Northern Ireland Question Time? The same should apply to Scottish and Welsh questions. Surely on those occasions, Members from the relevant regions should have more opportunity to raise issues.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I accept that intervention wholeheartedly. There must have been a planted question today, because an hon. Member, in asking his question, was able to mention a percentage, 38 per cent., instantaneously as if he had a calculator. Much research was needed to come up quickly with the exact figure. It sounded as if that was a planted question.
I do not object to the release of information which is of value to Northern Ireland Members. In recent times, some Members from Northern Ireland have been so disgusted about the listed questions, and the Members who have been called, that they no longer submit questions because they think that it is useless to do so. That is a sad commentary.
Many matters are in the hearts of Members from Northern Ireland. Today's debate is taking place under the shadow of disgraceful unemployment figures. We cannot specifically blame the Ministers on the Front Bench, because Northern Ireland, and especially my constituency, has a long history of unemployment. Even though we have appealed continually to successive Governments to intervene, they have not reduced basic unemployment.
We should remember that the figures are not just statistics. As my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said, behind each of the unemployed there is hardship. We are talking about breadwinners who cannot provide for their families. Many of them want to do so. I acknowledge that some are happy to leave it to 528 society to provide for them, but the vast majority of the unemployed earnestly wish to make a contribution to the community. They should be enabled to make that contributions. We are certainly enduring the ravages of the present recession, but my constituency has for many years suffered deplorable unemployment, which I condemn. The Government could do more.
When the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) was on his feet I was tempted to call him the hon. Member for Ballynahinch, as he did not have the courtesy to give the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) its proper name. Regardless of what the hon. Member for South Down thinks, Londonderry, East is the proper name of my hon. Friend's constituency. Surely the hon. Gentleman ought to be courteous enough to refer properly to the constituency of a fellow Northern Ireland Member, especially when the hon. Gentleman is taking part in a debate in London. He seems to think that mention of the word "London" as part of the name of Londonderry might burn his tongue. My hon. Friend and his constituents are entitled to some courtesy. It is obvious from voting figures that the vast majority of the people in that constituency want it to be called Londonderry, East. Nobody is entitled to deprive them of that right.
It is quite right that the hon. Member for South Down should be concerned about the level of unemployment in his constituency. I can assure him that Mid-Ulster suffers similarly. It seems that industrialists who are attracted to the Province are directed to certain areas, of which Mid-Ulster is not one. The west of the Province must be given its fair share, as must the constituency of the hon. Member for South Down.
No end of industrialists are paraded round the streets of Londonderry. They may get as far as Strabane, but they are not allowed to come over the bridge to see the greener grass of Mid-Ulster. I can assure the hon. Member for South Down that the grass of Mid-Ulster is indeed green. The Lord made it that way. If the hon. Gentleman knew anything about institutions to which some of us belong, he would realise that, in that context, green is a very important colour. However, that is a matter for another occasion.
Mid-Ulster has much to offer. It has able-bodied and highly skilled men and women, who are ready and willing to work. The industrialists who come to the Province should be encouraged to have a look at Mid-Ulster. They would be given a royal welcome. The councils and everyone else concerned would do everything possible to facilitate them. Omagh, which is at the heart of my constituency, has not only endured the blight of recession but also suffered the reorganisation—called rationalisation—of the Housing Executive, the electricity service, mental health services and maternity services. In these fields, there is a continuous jobs drain.
The regional office of the Housing Executive was transferred from Omagh to Londonderry, and there has been a great decline in the number of staff in the Tyrone and Fermanagh hospital, the main part of which is now lying vacant. It is a beautiful hospital with a tremendous history, and it should be ringing with the voices and the footsteps of patients and workers. Northern Ireland Electricity, too, is removing its area office from Omagh, and the Tyrone county hospital has been told that it must close down its maternity service.
529 These things cannot be blamed on the recession. We are confronted with what is called a rationalisation programme. The Government must do more to encourage the retention of main services in the west of the Province and in other areas of high unemployment, such as my own. The rate of unemployment in Cookstown is the second highest in the United Kingdom, yet one seldom hears hon. Members from this side of the water express concern about it. In this context, one often hears Strabane mentioned. Strabane does indeed have the highest rate of unemployment, but Cookstown has the second highest. It is right that the situation in Strabane should be highlighted, but other areas with similar problems should be given some recognition. This is a matter that ought to exercise the minds of all right hon. and hon. Members.
Unemployment is an awful scourge. It is a problem that must be tackled root and branch. It will continue to blight the Government unless they do something about it. I appreciate all the schemes that the Prime Minister mentioned at Question Time today, and all the action that various Ministers have taken, but we still have unemployment on a massive scale—a scale unknown to the vast majority of constituencies in the United Kingdom. I appeal for urgent action to help the constituency of Mid-Ulster.
The constituency that I have the honour to represent is in a state of shock. It does not know what the future holds. Maternity services are of vital importance. I make no apology for raising this matter yet again. Hon. Members —even Members from Northern Ireland constituencies —have fallen into the trap of pitting constituency against constituency. It may have been thought that, if the people of Omagh were to lose their maternity services, and the people of Enniskillen were to keep theirs, the matter would stop there—that it would be Mid-Ulster versus Fermanagh and South Tyrone.
How foolish. Once the ball starts rolling, it is very difficult to stop. Hon. Members who were not interested in the removal of maternity services from Omagh now realise that other health boards are re-examining provision in their areas. At a meeting with the board in the northern area, I was told that events in the western area were being watched carefully and that the authorities in the north area would learn from what was happening in the west.
Members of Parliament from all parts of Northern Ireland are seeing the disgraceful destruction of services that have been shown to be excellent and to have the absolute confidence of the community. Who is to cast such services aside so carelessly? Will the people concerned be acting on behalf of the community? Will they be the ones using the services? No. I should like to know how many of those who took the decision on the maternity service in Omagh had families actually using it, and how much they knew about it.
In reality, the service has been cast aside carelessly by a few non-elected Government yes men and women, with little knowledge of the local services, the excellence of which is acknowledged by the local community. The Western health and social services board has decided to close a viable and excellent community maternity unit at the Tyrone county hospital, stating:A larger unit made available in a neighbouring county is more desirable and would improve the quality of maternity services.530 The professional consultant medical staff of the county, supported by the Omagh and Strabane general practitioners, challenge such a contention and state:There is no evidence that rationalisation to any one site in the Omagh Fermanagh district would enhance the quality of service.Rather, they contend:Such a decision will lead to a reduction in quality due to the markedly reduced accessibility to services for approximately 55,000 people.My constituents are furious. We must deal with the heart of the problem at the scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister. Instead of one board waiting to see what the other does in response to the consultative paper, and the piecemeal closing of one unit here to satisfy another there, there should be a review of maternity services in the Province. The way in which that has been done by Government hatchetmen is despicable and disgraceful, and cannot be accepted in a system with any semblance of democracy. I condemn it. The area health council voted 17 to four, with one abstention, in favour of the retention of the maternity units in the Tyrone county and Erne hospitals.
Do patient choice and the patients charter mean anything? In reality, patients have no choice. The board decides. The Prime Minister may say, through the patients charter, that there must be patient choice, but the board rubbishes that in a few seconds.
The Select Committee on Health made a recommendation which, in two seconds, was cast into the bin by the board and its officers, never to be seen again. That is no way in which to deal with an honourable Committee of this House. There should have been due recognition of the recommendation of the House, and the issue is not finished yet. It will not go away until justice is done.
I am delighted to report that, despite the board's attempt to put a blight on the Tyrone county hospital, births in the maternity unit have remained at their previous high number. When a question mark is put over a hospital, people often vote with their feet, leading to a closure, but here the opposite has happened. A proper, earnest, genuine review is needed. Without it, justice will neither be done nor be seen to be done.
We must end the situation whereby the people of Northern Ireland are herded like sheep into a corner. There must be some democracy. It is about time that people were listened to through their democratically elected representatives. Church leaders, politicians from all political parties, general practitioners and consultants have spoken with one unanimous voice, yet the Government close their ears to what the people have to say.
Within two weeks of the Minister taking office, he gave his consent to that closure. Before the Minister had a full understanding of his job, and without researching the issues properly, he made a decision which affected the future and the lives of the children in my constituency.
What will be the future for those children? I draw to the attention of the House the important case of a child born prematurely at the Tyrone county hospital on 10 December 1992, who was subsequently transferred as an emergency case on the same day to the special care baby unit at Altnagelvin hospital in Londonderry. That child was returned to the maternity unit of the Tyrone county hospital on 18 December 1992.
I have in my possession the instructions given to the ambulance service on the treatment of infants. They say: 531The premature baby and the low-weight child are among the top priority cases in the ambulance service. They are very susceptible to infection and heat loss.But that child was returned to the Tyrone county hospital by voluntary care services. That is exactly what will happen when the service is taken away from Omagh. New-born babies, some of whom will be underweight, emergency transfers, will be carried in the back of a car.
On both transfers, the nurse accompanied the child. The Western health and social services board operates the voluntary car service on a large scale. In other words, a payment is made per mile covered by the service. It seems that the service will replace the ambulance service where an accident or emergency ambulance is not required.
I should be obliged if the Minister could tell us what consideration has been given to the condition of the patient. What about the risk of cross-infection between patients in the same vehicle? What about the distance of travel and the social and domestic needs of the patient? I have written to the Minister asking him such questions, and I draw them to the attention of the House, because there is deep concern at the way in which the Western health and services board is treating the mothers and babies in my constituency.
I had a visit from a doctor concerning a referral to a consultant. He gave me the documentation on the case, which I shall be taking further. On 11 February 1991, the doctor referred a patient to a consultant for an immediate examination. On 9 December 1992, nearly two years later, a letter arrived stating:I am afraid that, as a result of extreme pressure from management regarding waiting list initiatives and the patients charter I am not in a position to see this particular patient any sooner as this would have a direct adverse effect on the overall outpatient waiting time.Two years later, after the doctor had written again to ask for an appointment, the consultant wrote to say that he could not see the patient because of the extreme pressure from management as a result of the waiting list initiative and the patients charter. Instead of the patients charter working for the patient, it has worked against him. The doctor then had to advise the patient to pay for the treatment he needed, and the consultant was able to see that patient within a few days.
I also have the letters concerning that case. Those who pay for it get immediate attention; those who do not pay are put on a waiting list. Two years later, the patient received a letter saying that the consultant still could not see him, because of the waiting list initiative and the patients charter. It is a serious matter, and the medical fraternity are very angry that the patients charter is not working for the patient. This is a slight not on the consultant, but on the current system, which is totally unacceptable. The health service in my constituency needs urgent help.
Roads are another big problem. Maternity services are being taken away, sending mothers miles away along country roads. In the winter, those roads are neither gritted nor salted. We have the largest network of country roads in the Province, yet we cannot get road maintenance work done.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office at the Department of the Environment produced a report on the structure and maintenance of roads. I have referred to it before, and I do so again. It states that the maintenance backlog between 1985 and 1989 in the Omagh division increased from £22.45 million to £25.33 million. Instead of the 532 maintenance of roads improving over the years, it has deteriorated. It is the only part of the Province where that has happened.
The report provides information on all the divisions from 1985 to 1989. The expenditure on roads is deplorable. It seems that there is more urgency to build the bypass at Newry than to build new roads throughout my constituency. It seems that there is plenty of money for the Dublin road but none for roads in Ulster.
My constituents are no longer willing to accept this. They have been treated as second-class citizens or worse, particularly in Mid-Ulster. We have made demands in the past, but now we shall make more vigorous demands for more than our fair share, so that the backlog is cleared. We have been treated in a disgraceful fashion, and we have the right to the money for the maintenance of our roads.
We have no major road works, yet the Minister tells us that the Omagh bypass will be coming up in 1995–96. We need a bypass in Cookstown as the lack of one is stifling the economy and industrial development. The community is crying out for it. We need a bypass in Newtonstewart and in Magherafelt. How can we be expected to meet the challenge of Europe when the money is not made available to us
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East suggested that there were those across the water here who said that more money was spent on roads in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Interestingly enough, the booklet from the Northern Ireland Audit Office is a mine of information. It states:On all roads the expenditure in England and Wales was £3,181 per mile, compared with £1,961 in Northern Ireland.It is always being thrown in our teeth that far more money is being spent in Northern Ireland, but it is not true.
I would not suggest that the Audit Office of the Department of the Environment is putting out deceptive documents, and its document suggests that expenditure in England and Wales was £3,181 per mile, compared with £1,961 in Northern Ireland. We urgently need road repairs and bypass roads if we are to face the challenge of the European market.
We have been promised that the open market in Europe will bring prosperity, that everything in the garden will be rosy, and that it will be a paradise for all. Instead, we are still treated as backwoodsmen because we come from a part of the United Kingdom with a large network of roads but no money to deal with it. I appeal to the Minister to take action.
Agriculture is also crying out for help. Today, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), a former Minister at the Northern Ireland Office, tabled the following question:To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will estimate the number of full and part-time farmers.It is a very good question. If we leave it for a year, we will find out how many farmers there will be. If no help is given to the potato farmers and if there is to be a reduction in the headage payment, certainly in my constituency there will be far fewer full-time and part-time farmers. The farming industry in the Province is in dire need of financial help—and we have been promised cuts. All is not well in my constituency and the rest of the Province.
Can the Minister inform the House about the present position of the lignite development? Will it help our energy industry? What is the up-to-date decision? Is it going 533 ahead, or does it cut across other Government policies? Many people in the Province are anxious that we take the industry seriously as it may help us face some of our costs.
My constituents are in a tragic situation. We have the second highest unemployment figure in the whole United Kingdom. As stated in the report, our roads are in the most deteriorated state ever. I will quote the report once again:A high percentage of the roads in Northern Ireland were coming into the last quarter of their lives. Over the next few years rapid deterioration would become increasingly evident and in the Omagh division, serious deterioration has occurred.That is the reality for my constituency. My constituents face high unemployment, a worse road network, hospital services being removed. What hope does the House give them? I suggest that the Government have urgently to help those people who are in vital need.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
I shall begin in the same way as some other hon. Gentlemen, by commenting on the structure of the debate and the way in which it has been conducted. This is one of the few occasions during the year on which we can raise matters of constituency concern. Because of the almost total absence of any meaningful form of local government in Northern Ireland, as an hon. Gentleman said in response to a question from another hon. Member who popped into the Chamber for a few moments, they are county council matters which ought not to be considered on the Floor of the House. I agree with that. Such matters should be dealt with in the equivalent of county councils in Northern Ireland.
In the absence of much-needed local government reform in Northern Ireland, hon. Members should look again at the way in which we conduct the debate. When we get an appropriation order for legislation, we do not have the same diffuse, wide-ranging debates as we have today. An attempt is made to structure them, and perhaps that approach could be extended. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) mentioned the possibility of creating a Northern Ireland Select Committee. One ought to exist, because it is anomalous that the Northern Ireland Office is the only Department of state in respect of which there is no Select Committee; that situation should not continue much longer. That Department, more than any other, needs a Select Committee because of the absence of proper accountability in respect of Northern Ireland matters. I fully endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, East and was glad to hear them.
The Northern Ireland Committee, which is the equivalent of the Welsh Grand Committee and Scottish Grand Committee, might also be used for that purpose. Hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies would welcome more structured and better-focused debates. Looking around the Chamber one sees the consequences of this consolation debate. We complain about the inadequate way in which Northern Ireland business is handled in the House, so the Whips, instead of allowing us 90 minutes from 10 pm to 11.30 pm—the strict entitlement to which we could be confined—arrange earlier in the day consideration of business of no great importance that will not run until 10 o'clock.
534 We saw that with the Foreign Compensation (Amendment) Bill this afternoon. I do not believe that I am breaching any tradition of the House or divulging anything untoward in saying that, because the usual channels do not operate in our case. It appears that the Whips decided to arrange business in such a way as to give more time to Northern Ireland—a gesture to mollify us after our criticisms.
Nevertheless, that is not a good approach. Giving us half a dozen hours to debate an appropriation order which is wide-ranging and diffuse—and which consequently empties the House—is not a satisfactory method of handling Northern Ireland business. I hope that serious consideration will be given to that issue.
We expect that during the next few days the Secretary of State for Scotland will make a statement that has been heralded by the press, and by the right hon. Gentleman himself, as being concerned with "enhancing", to use the word employed by the Secretary of State in Scottish Question Time last December, the way in which the House handles Scottish business. I hope that minds will be similarly concentrated on the way in which the House considers Northern Ireland business.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) referred to the absence of other hon. Members from this debate. The electorate of Northern Ireland will see part of these proceedings and will notice that—[interruption.] I notice that a Conservative Back Bencher has entered the Chamber as I speak, thus breaking the duck that has existed for some time. Viewers in Northern Ireland will notice the level of interest in Northern Ireland matters displayed by the Conservative party, and no doubt they will take that into account when they consider whether to vote for Conservative candidates in the forthcoming local government elections.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) repeated his complaint about the way in which the Northern Ireland aspect of the autumn statement was handled, with the issue of press releases in Belfast rather than by statements in the House. That practice, too, must be reviewed. It happens with not only the autumn statement but many other announcements. When Scottish or Welsh matters are involved, statements are made in the House. Such statements would give Northern Ireland Members an opportunity to ask questions. Instead, a press release is issued, usually in Belfast—and that is unsatisfactory.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
Does my hon. Friend agree that difficulties are created for Northern Ireland Members when newspaper and radio journalists in Belfast who do not know much about a subject telephone for our opinions on something that we have not even seen? That is one consequence of press releases being issued in Belfast without hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies being given any notification of their content.
§ Mr. Trimble
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the first occasion on which the normal courtesies are being extended to Northern Ireland Members.
§ Mr. Mates
Whether or not it is the first time, I remind the hon. Gentleman that I made a point of inviting Northern Ireland party leaders to Stormont, so that they were fully briefed before anything was released to the press. That is a result of the developing relationship over the summer—the talks process—and I am glad to hear the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) acknowledge that that was helpful. I will always try to continue keeping hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies informed of decisions that we are taking and are about to announce. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point about statements to the House, but that matter is not for me.
§ Mr. Trimble
I thank the Minister for his remarks, and take his point about not being in control of statements in the House, or about decisions in that regard—although the hon. Gentleman is not without influence. I will, however, quarrel with his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs). Usual courtesies and the procedures of the House ought not to be doled out by the Government as a reward for good conduct. They are something to which we are entitled as a right. If the Minister reads his remarks, he will understand my meaning.
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and other hon. Members mentioned the impact of high electricity charges. I fully agree with those comments, and cite the example in my constituency of a firm that is suffering greatly as a result of rising electricity prices. The significant point is not so much the overall increase to industry as the growing differential between electricity prices in Northern Ireland and those in Great Britain.
In recent years, electricity charges to large users have risen from being 18 per cent. more expensive in Northern Ireland to 25 per cent. more expensive, which puts local industry at a disadvantage. The company in my constituency to which I refer is Lurgan Fibres–60 per cent. of whose output is sold on the English market. That firm is in competition with one other, in Yarmouth, but it is saddled with the massive handicap of paying electricity and energy prices 25 per cent. higher than those in England. Consequently, that company must push down the cost of its raw materials, endeavour to be more efficient —which it does—and review the wages that it pays. That reinforces the tendency for Northern Ireland to have a low-wage economy, which is clearly not desirable. Companies must find a way of counterbalancing the economic disadvantages that they suffer. Energy costs must be considered in a more energetic way.
Of course, it is better to be in a job than out of a job. The hon. Member for Wigan also mentioned unemployment. As the hon. Member for South Down suggested, the blasé statements issued by Northern Ireland Office Ministers—not that I wish to personalise matters—about Northern Ireland not suffering from the recession as much as other parts of the United Kingdom are very misleading. Our position continues to deteriorate. It may not be deteriorating quite as fast as the position in England and Wales, but, as the hon. Member for South Down pointed 536 out, that is partly because they are catching up with us. It is also partly due to the large proportion of employment in Northern Ireland that is in the public sector.
Public-sector employment is not subject to the same pressure as private-sector employment. If private-sector employment is viewed separately, it is shown to be suffering from the recession just as badly as private-sector employment elsewhere—perhaps even worse. The further depression of the private sector, especially the manufacturing sector, is disastrous for Northern Ireland.
Having said that, let me add that Northern Ireland is faced with a tremendous unemployment problem, especially in the long term. Certain features of the unemployment figures are not altogether reliable. I am not referring to the familiar Labour point about the change in the basis of calculation to minimise those figures; I am talking about the way in which, in some respects, the Northern Ireland statistics overstate the problem of people on the dole.
It is a familiar problem. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster said that the Cookstown area of his constituency had been recorded as having the second-highest unemployment rate. He will know that, if he goes down to the lough shore, he will observe that a number of people drawing the dole are fishermen doing the double. They are doing that by over-fishing Lough Neagh, thus doing great harm to the lough. The construction industry is also notorious for the extent to which its employees are on the double.
In certain areas—especially near the border—the normal administrative processes do not operate effectively. That means that more people are on the double. I believe that if those processes were effective and the number of people on the double could be reduced, the unemployment figures would fall slightly. Moreover, the structure of the statistics—the nature of the persons unemployed—would be different, and that would have policy implications for the Government.
I am sorry that the Minister responsible is not in the Chamber, but one aspect of the matter will present him with a challenge when he returns to Northern Ireland. Perhaps he will have a look at the figures, and find out whether Mr. Gerry Adams—who was elected to serve the constituency of Belfast, West, but never discharged his duties—is still drawing the dole. As everyone knows, Mr. Adams is a senior executive in a multi-million-pound business. I shall not describe the nature of that business, but hon. Members are familar with its nature. Mr. Adams ought not to be drawing unemployment benefit now. That question epitomises part of the difficulty, and illustrates my reason for wanting a more rigorous approach.
Let me now raise some constituency matters. First, I wish to follow the hon. Member for South Down by referring to health boards and hospitals. Other hon. Members have also mentioned the massive problems engendered by the way in which the health boards are operating, and by the way in which they are reviewing hospitals. My constituency falls within the Southern health board area, and I am therefore affected by the "Making Choices" review. The board is threatening to close two of the three hospitals in my constituency.
Of course, the review is on-going; it could be said that we must wait for the outcome. The review document, however, is written in a way that points to a particular outcome: it clearly indicates the future confinement of acute services to just three hospitals in the border area 537 —Daisyhill hospital in Newry, the Craigavon central hospital and South Tyrone hospital. Moreover, it points to the closure of all the other small hospitals in the area, including, in my constituency, Lurgan and Banbridge hospitals. That would be a retrograde action.
An important part of Lurgan's hospital provision is continuing care for the elderly—a service which should be provided as locally as possible. Even if they have to travel another half-dozen miles, the relatives of the elderly may be affected, because they are often not particularly mobile themselves. Care should be provided as close as possible to the people concerned. Perhaps the principle of subsidiarity has an application here.
The position of Banbridge hospital is even worse, because it provides a wider range of services. It is in an area with a substantial population, which is growing rapidly. That in itself argues against closure. It is no good the Minister saying that this is a matter for the board, and that the Department will not become involved until later; I see a real need for the Department to be involved at this stage. I think that it should re-examine its own regional strategy framework, and to ensure that the reviews give appropriate weight to the question of accessibility.
The Department should also take consistency into account. I have reason to believe that, in the implementation of regional strategy, the Eastern health board is using different criteria from the Southern health board in measuring the delivery of acute and general hospital services. Greater weight should be given to advances in medical technology which now make it possible for an increasing number of surgical and medical treatments to be carried out locally. Local hospitals such as Banbridge could become centres of excellence in that regard: such developments have proved successful in the United States and in other European countries.
We need to ensure that the interests of patients are paramount in the review. Again, that raises the question of the structure of health boards, and the way in which they operate. I must question whether the way in which the health boards operate now makes patients' interests paramount. As the Minister knows, the structure of the boards has been changed to allow the removal of elected representatives and their replacement by nominated representatives. Generally, those who have been nominated are not representative of the community and—I hate to say it—they are not persons of character. They do not seem to be able to stand up to the officials and other board members. I am forced to conclude that the board's decisions are made in the interests of bureaucrats, consultants and those running the hospitals, rather than in the interests of patients.
Let me draw the Minister's attention to a couple of local government matters, one of which arises under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which relates to such matters as entertainment licences. I ask the Minister to consider the experience of Banbridge in regard to a nightclub known as Circus Circus, and the council's difficulty in trying to control the impact on the local community.
The Minister will know about the drug problem. The legislation was not adequate. Some progress was eventually made, but the maximum penalty clearly needs 538 to be raised. It is only £2,000 in Northern Ireland I understand that it is £20,000 in England and Wales. Why can there not be parity?
We also need clearly defined grounds in the legislation for refusing licences. Perhaps the Minister will look at the analogous procedure relating to sex establishments. The legislation needs to be amended to make enforcement more effective by preventing entertainment from being provided without restriction when an appeal is lodged.
Another minor local government matter where enforcement is not effective concerns the byelaws on the consumption of alcohol in public places. The byelaws are not working because of the requirement, in the Department's model byelaw, that a warning must be given before prosecution. That is interpreted in the courts as meaning a warning with regard to the specific incident on that night. That is not adequate. The byelaws should be looked at again. I have raised that matter unsuccessfully with the Department. Therefore, I ask the Minister to look at it, too.
Another minor matter concerning entertainment relates to gaming machines. There is reason to believe that there is considerable abuse, particularly with gaming machines that have been altered to make illegal payouts. I have heard of gaming machines with maximum payouts of £1,000 being operated in back rooms of certain premises, where the police cannot easily get at them. Even if they do get there, it is difficult to detect whether a particular gaming machine is being operated illegally.
I referred earlier to Lough Neagh when dealing with fishing matters. May I draw the Minister's attention also to the Lough Neagh rescue service. Lough Neagh is the largest inland water in the British Isles, but the Royal National Lifeboat Institution does not operate there because it is an inland water. On this huge inland water there is substantial fishing activity as well as an increasing recreational activity. There is a marina at Kinnego in my constituency. There are marinas elsewhere, including the one at Ballyronan, Antrim.
Aldergrove international airport is fairly close to the lough. We have not yet had a serious incident, but we could. The next airliner that tries to land at Langford lodge by mistake—as one aeroplane did, memorably, a few years ago—might find that the runway at Langford lodge is not long enough and that it ends up in the water. Obviously one does not want that to happen, but there is a danger that it could.
The only rescue facilities available there are provided voluntarily by the Lough Neagh rescue service, which was formed a number of years ago with one boat on the east of the lough and another boat at Kinnego. The service is funded by the district councils. Some time ago the Department was kind enough to make a capital grant, but engines and boats need to be replaced. There is the possibility of a third boat being provided in Antrim. Capital expenditure will be required. I hope that when the Lough Neagh rescue service goes to the Department—which it may have to do shortly—it will receive a favourable response.
I referred earlier to Kinnego bay. There is a serious problem there with the discharge of effluent into the middle of the marina. I have mentioned this problem before. I received assurances from the Minister that something would be done about it, but the question is when. On page 35, of the supplementary estimates for Northern Ireland, we see that provision is made for 539 long-term capital projects covering various sewage treatment works, but I see no sign of the Kinnego problem being dealt with in the period up to 1998. I hope that provision has been made for it elsewhere. Urgent action needs to be taken over the discharge of effluent from the Kinnego sewage treatment works into Kinnego bay. At the least, the outfall must be extended from Kinnego bay out into the lough, but the sewage treatment plant at Bullay's hill is not operating satisfactorily.
To turn to some development matters That affect my constituency in one form or another, the hon. Member for South Down complained about the land that has been provided for industrialists in the South Down area, It is just as bad in the portion of South Down that lies within the Upper Bann constituency. That brings me to the Banbridge area. No provision has been made there for industrial development. Discussions have taken place over several years between the Industrial Development Board, the council and others, but, as yet, no site has been provided.
I understand that the IDB has recommended a site adjacent to the main road between Newry and Belfast, commonly known as the Banbridge bypass. The council is prepared to support the site, if a new flyover can be constructed from the Banbridge bypass to the site. There is a bridge across the bypass which goes on to Bannview road, but the problem with the existing bridge is that it would bring inappropriate heavy industrial traffic through a residential area. For that reason, the council is anxious that a new bypass should be constructed. However, the construction of a new flyover may make the site expensive in terms of the way that the IDB looks at it. Nevertheless, I believe that a special case can be made out for that expenditure.
There is no industrial land in the Banbridge area. There was a small estate at Scarva road, but it is full. The planning service and the IDB acknowledge that a site is needed. They have been searching for over four years for a site, but, so far, no site other than this one appears to be suitable. I understand that already there are two businesses that would be interested in building factories if a site is located on the bypass.
That bypass is a strategically important route in Northern Ireland terms. It is the main Al route from Belfast to Dublin. There is a feeling, rightly, in the Banbridge area that the town has not received as much industrial development money as adjacent councils and that it has been ignored by the IDB. That omission needs to be remedied.
As for the Craigavon area, the Minister knows of the proposals in the new town studies concerning both Portadown and Lurgan. However, they hinge on major road proposals. I was disappointed that in the Minister's recent statement on road proposals Portadown and Lurgan appeared nowhere on the list for the next five years. It is difficult to see how the town centre studies can make progress without there being some indication of a commitment to the road proposals.
Even if major road proposals cannot be implemented, important minor developments could go ahead. The Minister may be aware that the crucial point for Portadown is the development of the Irwin bakery site in the centre of Portadown. I understand that Irwin's will be moving in the near future to a green-field site. That large area will then be liberated. There are imaginative plans for developing a major shopping-related attraction, which 540 would have an impact on the town and the surrounding area equivalent to that of the Richmond centre in Londonderry. For that to be successful, minor road adjustments have to be made, particularly at Mill avenue and the roundabout at Magowan's buildings.
In addition to those minor roadworks, progress needs to be made on the planning front. I understand that an application for outline planning permission was lodged with the Department 14 months ago. That development features strongly in the town centre study prepared for the Department by consultants. The development outlined in the consultants' report is the same as that for which the owners have sought outline planning permission. Yet 14 months after the application, we do not have a decision. The matter has been delayed. It is difficult to see how it can reasonably have been delayed because the purpose of outline planning permission is to enable the Department to give broad agreement in principle.
If there are difficulties with road matters, which clearly there will be until the Mill avenue and Magowan's buildings roundabouts are sorted out, they can be covered by simply reserving those matters for later detailed applications. Obtaining outline permission is an important stage for the developers and it is regrettable that we have had such a delay.
As the Minister will know, our major problem in Lurgan, apart from blight created by road proposals, which has existed in some areas for 20 years, is dealing with the consequence of the massive bomb almost a year ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) discussed the problems that the bomb at Coleraine had produced for his area. Exactly the same problems continue to exist in Lurgan town centre.
I commented on another occasion on what appeared to be a favourable development in the policy that the Department adopted on major incidents. I am thinking in particular of the Belvoir bomb. The Department was responsible for encouraging the Housing Executive to make an immediate offer to sort out the properties of residents nearby. It tailored that response to the situation rather than sitting back and letting people apply for criminal damage or criminal injury compensation through the statutory procedures. I welcomed that because it was a good idea to tailor the response.
I should like to see more done. Care should also be taken in dealing with those whose trade suffers as a result of incidents. Businesses suffered a loss of trade as a result of the major bomb incident in Lurgan town centre. For many months after the incident, travel through the town was severely restricted. Many businesses that were not directly affected by the bomb suffered substantially through loss of trade. Many were family businesses and their financial future was threatened. Clearly, the income and living standard of those carrying on the businesses diminished sharply.
Consideration should be given to ways of giving help to people who suffer loss of trade as a result of incidents. I realise that it would require legislation. Such people could be given a rates holiday. When developers start a development and lease property, it is common to give rent holidays to enable them to start up the business. Similar help could be given through rates holidays. We could also consider a mix of grants or soft loans to assist people. Something needs to be done. The threat still exists of major bomb incidents in town centres. I realise that there would be implications for not only Northern Ireland, because 541 similar problems could develop elsewhere. It would be a good idea for people to have their thinking caps on before dealing with the issue.
I have a major problem with the vexed matter of urban development in general. In addition to the Northern Ireland spring supplementary estimates, I shall refer to the document "Expenditure Plans and Priorities. The Government's Expenditure Plans", published as one of the departmental reports following the autumn statement. It is an interesting paper. It details the plans and proposals that are being implemented. Under the heading "Urban Regeneration" we find references such as:Urban Development Grant is the principal urban regeneration measure in Northern Ireland, aimed at the most run down parts of Belfast and Londonderry.There is the problem. UDG is aimed only at Belfast and Londonderry.
Paragraph 7.108 says:UDG continues to be targeted in areas where regeneration has been slow to occur, in particular the areas covered by the Belfast Action Teams.That reinforces the problem. The urban development grant exists only for Belfast and Londonderry. But they are not the only areas of need or the only areas where regeneration is slow to occur. There are other areas of need, but we do not have Government programmes for those areas.
I notice from the Northern Ireland spring supplementary estimates that even in the urban development grant there appear to have been substantial reductions of about £1–5 million in current expenditure and £1.5 million in capital expenditure. There appears to be an increase under another heading. Under heading B.3 entitled "Urban Regeneration", the document says that £2 million will be spent on community economic regeneration schemes in the current year.
A total of £3.4 million will be spent on the community regeneration improvement special programme. That looks good until one realises that those programmes are not directly administered by the Department. Indeed, CRISP does not even feature in the Government's expenditure plans, even though it seems to involve £3.4 million of taxpayers' money. The reason is that while the programme is funded by taxpayers' money it is not under Government control. It is transferred to the International Fund for Ireland, which administers it in Northern Ireland. It appears that the Government take no responsibility for decisions on those programmes.
In the past the Government have refused to answer questions that I have tabled about CRISP. No one appears to be accountable for the expenditure. It is run by the IFI. Indeed, I recall attending a conference more than a year ago organised by housing associations at which a representative of the IFI appeared. He was asked to make a statement about the programmes which he was responsible for administering. He is one of the four officers of the IFI who is responsible for a certain geographical area. He introduced the topic by telling the people at the conference that he had a sum to spend of many millons of pounds—the exact figure escapes me—and that he was not accountable to anyone. He could spend the money whatever way he liked. Yet half of what he spent was taxpayers' money. That is not satisfactory as a matter of 542 principle and because the IFI administers some of the money under what it calls its development programme in a biased manner.
I shall give one example. There was a development in my constituency—in Killycomaine in the town of Portadown—where there are some run-down shops on a housing estate with flats over them. Some of the persons there approached the IFI for support. At the same time, some persons with a virtually identical problem in the Tunnel area of Portadown approached the IFI for support. Both applications were encouraged, but then the goalposts changed. The people in Killycomaine were told that they were too far out of the town and their project did not go ahead. But the project in the Tunnel went ahead.
I see the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster laughing. He is familiar with the local social geography. The project in the Nationalist area went ahead while that in the Unionist area was turned down. That example is repeated again and again when one looks at the report produced by the IFI. It operates in a biased manner. The IFI discriminates shamefully in its operation. That is intolerable.
I have complained that the IDB has failed to deal with parts of my constituency. I have complained also that the IFI has not been fair in its application within the constituency. There is a common factor and a common person between the two bodies. As the head of both the IDB and the IFI we find Mr. McGuckian. I had occasion to refer to him at our party conference. I said that he was appointed as head of the IDB at the insistence of the Irish Government. I underline the word "insistence". I said at that party conference many months ago that I had that information from a well-placed, authoritative and well-informed source. Afterwards, journalists said that they knew who the source was and agreed that my information was accurate. Of course, I shall not reveal the source, but it was accurate.
Mr. McGuckian was appointed at the insistence of the Irish Government. We can speculate why that happened, and what he is carrying out, but he heads the IFI, a body which consciously discriminates. I refer to that person in particular because I notice from the press that this week he has been quick to allege, without sufficient foundation or justification, that Queen's university has acted in a discriminatory manner. One's only comment about that allegation is: what cheek, for a man who heads an organisation which from its inception has been discriminatory and continues to be so, to try to pluck the mote out of someone else's eye.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that many people in the Province cannot understand why that one person seems to be appointed to so many key posts? Is there no one else in the Province who is qualified to take some of those posts and assist the said gentleman with the heavy burden placed upon his shoulders?
§ Mr. Trimble
I note that point. On the other hand, I want to be fair and put a slightly different viewpoint for a moment. The gentleman is not without talents, skills and achievements. He is the sort of person whom one would have expected n the normal course of events to obtain certain public appointments. Nevertheless, the scale of preferment is remarkable, and when we know what one of the factors behind that scale of preferment is, question marks must arise. My main reason for referring to that 543 matter now is the remarkable contradiction whereby a person complains about alleged discrimination while practising discrimination himself. As the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster said, the matter also raises major questions about the way in which Government appointments are made, which is also often discriminatory. However, that is a huge topic, and perhaps it is a topic for another day.
§ Sir James Kilfedder (North Down)
As the first, and perhaps the only, hon. Member to do so, I welcome the Minister of State's announcement last week about the Government's spending plans for Northern Ireland for the coming three financial years, 1993 to 1996, involving a total of £23.1 billion.
Of course, I could ask for more money. I have many projects in mind which are dear to my heart and which I should like to see implemented in Northern Ireland. Many problems in Northern Ireland could be rectified easily and quickly by an influx of money. None the less, it is right and proper to express appreciation of that total amount of money. I am sure that many people in other parts of the United Kingdom would say that Northern Ireland was getting a fair crack of the whip, but there are exceptional circumstances in Northern Ireland which require exceptional treatment. I have pointed out those factors in previous debates on appropriation, and some of them have been touched upon today.
The publication of the report entitled "Expenditure Plans and Priorities for Northern Ireland" was intendedto let the public know how we intend to spend these substantial resources and what we hope to achieve over the next three years".The public—I use the word which appeared in the report —certainly have a right to know, but the matter should not stop there. Once a sum of money has been allocated to the Province, the people of Northern Ireland, through their elected representatives, should have the right to decide how taxpayers' money should be allocated between the various Government Departments and regions, and to choose the priorities to be adopted in Northern Ireland.
It is ludicrous that Ulster Members of Parliament have only this relatively short debate twice a year to discuss the Northern Ireland economy and all branches of the Northern Ireland administration. I shall not repeat what has been said already, but I accept what the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and others have said about the nature of the issue and the need for a proper structured debate. Indeed, I believe that such matters can be properly discussed and examined, at least to start with, only by a Select Committee which could call witnesses and experts and undertake examinations of civil servants and Ministers.
After all, this is the Northern Ireland budget. The Budget for the rest of the United Kingdom is given plenty of time in the House, and we need a proper way of examining Northern Ireland's finances. It is important that Northern Ireland Members of Parliament should be given the opportunity fully to scrutinise Government expenditure and to probe Government policies. Only through the closest possible examination can we establish a degree of democratic responsibility. Again, I shall not refer to what has already been said about the fact that the administration in Northern Ireland lacks the full democratic element which exists in the rest of the United Kingdom.
544 The new figure for unemployment in Northern Ireland is, I believe, 108,009. That is a tragedy for so many people in the Province. Those are human beings and they deserve our compassion. They are men and women, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters, all of whom are out of work and seeking jobs. I say that most of them are seeking jobs. In Northern Ireland, as in other parts of the United Kingdom and throughout the world, there may be people who do not want to work and who a re prepared to live on public money, but the unemployed people whom I know and who come to see me desperately need jobs. There are people with great skills or who have been to university yet cannot find a job, and other people who have left school and are seeking employment. Those young people leave their schools full of hope, idealism and ambition. They have every right to feel ambitious—yet they face an almost permanent place in the dole queue.
What applies to young people applies also to the man who expects to be the breadwinner for his family. He is demoralised and robbed of his dignity by being jobless. More must be done to deal with the dreadful situation of the unemployed. Unemployment is a terrible scourge. We must recognise that and, once we have done so, more must be done to remedy it.
I am thinking about unemployment throughout Northern Ireland, and I sympathise with anyone who is out of work, but I am thinking in particular about the unemployed people in my constituency of North Down. The Government and the Industrial Development Board seem to regard North Down as an affluent area which does not require special measures or efforts. I fear that Northern Ireland Office Ministers and senior officials move only among professional people and people with considerable wealth.
Without actually looking at him, I can sense that my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who is sitting beside me, is shaking his head. However, I have not yet heard of any Minister or senior civil servant, or any senior member of the IDB or of anything else, calling in at what in England would be called working class homes—we do not have those class divisions in Northern Ireland, thank God. I have not heard of any such person coming to Kilcooley or any other estate. I should be delighted if any of my hon. Friends knew of anyone who had called in, not as a response to an invitation but just to have a cup of tea, a spot of lunch or some fish and chips.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
I would not want to disagree entirely with my hon. Friend, but I am sure that he would agree that many people in the Northern Ireland civil service and officials from various Departments spend a lot of time with ordinary people—many of them might be called ordinary people themselves—but his admonition to people like me, former Ministers, that we should meet local people more often could be accepted.
§ Sir James Kilfedder
I am glad that my hon. Friend agrees with me about the need for closer contact with ordinary people, most of whom have problems of one kind or another. It is good to have contact with them. I do not believe that I could be an adequate Member of Parliament unless I talked constantly to people of all varieties throughout my constituency and spent time calling in at their houses or meeting them at my surgery.
I could take Ministers to areas in my constituency, Bangor, Holywood, Dundonald and other parts, where 545 the young and the old are frustrated by their long-term unemployment. In the press release issued today the Minister of State said:It is also very encouraging that, despite these recessionary times, Northern Ireland continues to attract large inward investment projects.I am sure that the Minister did not intend to give a false impression of the Northern Ireland economy, but I do not accept that it continues to attract large inward investment projects. There is a desperate need for more investment in my constituency. If we are to witness a fierce attack on the deplorable dole queues, the Government must take more strenuous steps to encourage potential investors and industrialists to establish new manufacturing industries in the Province. We certainly need them in North Down, which has a large population and a tremendous number of people out of work. More must be done to bring industry there. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) also said that new industries were needed in his area.
We need to mobilise the entire community in a radical campaign to revitalise the economy and to provide the jobs which are desperately needed. I accept that Ulster is suffering bitterly from a terrorist campaign that has lasted 23 years. Those terrorists not only slaughter innocent people and mutilate tens of thousands of others, but seek to destroy the Northern Ireland economy. I also accept that Northern Ireland is suffering from the recession in common with every other part of the United Kingdom and certain regions in the world. That recession continues to bite deeply in Northern Ireland. However, we must not allow either terrorism or the recession to provide a feeble excuse for a listless economy and a record number of unemployed.
Some years ago, in a similar debate on a Northern Ireland appropriation order, I offered to travel anywhere in the world with Ministers—that is offering something —and Opposition representatives to win investment and orders for Northern Ireland. I repeat that offer now. We must do more to bring industry and investment to Northern Ireland. We must do more to provide jobs for those who are desperately in need of work.
I remind the Minister that my constituency is composed of marvellous people with great skills and talents. We have schools and colleges that are among the best in Northern Ireland. Those people have a major contribution to make and it is a tragedy that their talents are being wasted. I am biased, but I think that the North Down area provides an ideal place for anyone who wishes to set up a light industry, particularly one that uses high technology. The local people have the ability and, if not, they can be trained to obtain the necessary skills. Anyone who comes to North Down is thrilled by the beauty of the area, which is washed by the blue waters of the Irish sea.
I have the impression that the IDB largely ignores the merits of North Down and, sadly, encourages industrialists to go elsewhere in the Province. That impression is shared by many others in my constituency. There also seems to be a reluctance on the part of the IDB to provide more finance to enable existing firms in North Down to expand and thus to provide more jobs.
I hope that the Minister will accept my invitation to meet a group of business people in my constituency. If the Government worked with them, it would be possible to galvanise the local economy to attract investment, new 546 companies and more jobs. The local business men are not concerned about politics, so they are not competing for votes. That is their great merit. Like me, they wish to see business expansion and more jobs for the jobless. I plead with the Minister: let us show compassion for the jobless and let us engage in a drive which will bring employment and investment to Northern Ireland.
My other plea to the Minister relates to the great problem affecting shop owners in Bangor. The local chamber of commerce and the National Association of Shopkeepers have raised with me the unacceptable loss of income suffered by shop owners in the borough as a result of road works which have been undertaken in the past 12 months. Those works seem to me to have been going on for far longer than a year. The pavements and roads were dug up and traffic was restricted and diverted. Those difficulties lasted for a long time. Everyone accepts the need for road improvements and pavement renewal—that is the price of progress—but local shopkeepers in Main street and High street, Bangor, and in the adjoining roads and streets, should not be penalised. They pay large sums of money in rates—one might almost say that they are subject to exorbitant rates demands—and their rents are also reviewed upwards all the time. Many of the local shops are facing great difficulties already, and on top of all that they were faced with the impossible trading conditions created by the DOE road works scheme, which drove many customers from their doors. As a result, they have lost a great deal of money.
The heart of Bangor could end up being composed of insurance companies, banks, estate agents, building societies and similar businesses, which will not be so beneficial to the local people or those who visit Bangor. That would be disastrous for the heart of Bangor, and I urge the Minister to consider the plea that I am conveying to him on behalf of shop owners. In view of the work which has lasted so long and the tremendous losses that traders have suffered, the full amount of rates should be reimbursed for the period in question. Justice certainly demands that, and I demand it in the name of all the shopkeepers.
I request the Minister to come to Bangor. I know that he has been there many times. I know that he likes the place and its people—and the people like him. I appeal to him to come and meet representatives of the chamber of commerce, who will produce documentary evidence in support of that loss. When he is there, he can come to my home and meet the ordinary people of North Down.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
I support the remarks of the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) about the need for Ministers to meet the ordinary people of Northern Ireland. The last Minister that I recall visiting ordinary people in my constituency was the present Governor of Hong Kong, who came to the Annadale estate.
We in Northern Ireland have reached the position when a civil servant may advise us the day before, or even the morning of, an event that a Minister will be in our constituency. I am not sure whether civil servants expect us to be in a position to join the Minister at such short notice. Or are they just fulfilling all righteousness? I am sure that 547 more courtesy is shown to hon. Members who represent other constituencies and that they are given more warning to enable them to be present with the Minister.
I suppose that it is all part of civil servants trying to corral Ministers. I recall a Minister visiting a part of south Belfast and making a promise to the residents. His advisers thereafter tried to rescue him from that promise. Indeed, they assured me that he had not given it. Those who were there at the time still believe that he gave it, but as I was not present, I cannot make an objective comment one way or the other.
Reference has been made to the nature of today's debate. The tragedy is that that mentality—of not extending to us the courtesy that hon. Members generally expect—has reduced those of us who represent Northern Ireland constituencies to the local council level. In short, we are not treated in the same way as Ministers treat other hon. Members.
As the debate has proceeded, I have been thinking that we are rather in the position of doctors in their surgeries. They are made aware of only the complaints and, in the main, meet people with problems. Hon. Members are in the same position, even though out there in the healthy world are constituents happy enough with what is happening in their lives. It is the nature of the game that, as we examine the situation, we bring problems into the open.
I should not like the debate to pass without tribute being paid to some of the excellent work that has been done in recent years by the more energetic Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. I say that because there is a tendency on the part of some people to paint Northern Ireland so black that when people visit us they are utterly amazed to discover what a marvellous place it is. Indeed, I regret to say that public representatives sometimes join television people and others from the media and give a distorted picture of the Province. Fortunately, far more good things than bad are going on there.
I recall on one occasion being in the United States and being asked, "What is it like to live there?" I replied, "Not any worse than living in the lovely bay area of San Francisco, where 27 murders took place last weekend." We sometimes get the position out of proportion.
Even so, we are concerned about accountable democracy, and it is difficult to hold in one's head the various items in the Minister's statement as he glossed over the sweep of the order before the House and the sums being granted for the ensuing year. I was reminded of the occasion when, with others representing various parties in Northern Ireland, he briefed us on public expenditure issues. I asked at the time what would happen at the year end if there was a surplus. I was assured that there never was a surplus and that all the money was always spent.
Having been the chairman of the Northern Ireland finance committee at the time of the assembly, I was aware that that was not altogether true. To my utter amazement, I found on reading the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General that in the last year for which figures are available, 1991–92, there was an underspend of about £50 million, which was returned to the Consolidated Fund. I could not understand how it could be said that we had spent all the money at a time when, for example, a decision had been taken in principle to resite a new hospital on a green-field site in Coleraine.
We had been urging that that resiting should be done in stages. About £12 million of underspend, according to my 548 reading of the accounts, could have been used for that purpose. We live in an era of creative accountancy. Accountants and auditors, when drawing up reports and balance sheets, manage to obscure rather than reveal. One must be well-informed to find one's way through one of their labyrinthine reports. I hope that I have not misread the report to which I referred. If I have, the Minister will correct me. It seems wrong that when there is such a pressing need in the area of the Northern board area, some of that money cannot be spent on that project in Coleraine. After all, the plan is available and there is no question of having to start from scratch.
The Department of the Environment's vote 1 refers to money spent on parking. What is the state of play in the Department concerning residents' parking? Since 1983 I have been pressing for action on that front, but the only response I have received is to the effect that legislation to enable parking to be provided for residents is not available. I have said that, being the responsible Department, it should initiate the necessary legislation. The only answer I have been given is that the situation is more difficult than that.
I have constantly said that if legislation is available for residents's parking in England, it should be available in Northern Ireland. Eventually I was told that the Department had four pilot schemes in hand. Interestingly, they were supposed to be in south Belfast. I can appreciate why they might have been there. I gathered that one was to have been in east Belfast, but I could not understand why it should be in the area proposed when we were attempting to deal with traffic congestion.
If they were to have been in south Belfast in Stranmillis, Pakenham street and Joy street, those familiar with the area would have accepted that pilot schemes there would be worth while. But I could not comprehend why a scheme should be conducted in the Short Strand, in east Belfast, unless there was a particular section of overcrowding in the Short Strand area which was unknown to anybody else. What is the present position? The latest rumour is that no pilot schemes are being held and that the Department is not continuing its examination of residents' parking.
While I welcome, under that vote, the widening of roads and the belated upgrading of highways, I remember the words of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, who told me many years ago, "I have always told the Dublin Government that if they are that interested in a united Ireland, they should improve the road from Dublin to Belfast." I cannot understand why the Department is pouring so much money into the stretch of road south of Newry, creating a bottleneck in the Irish Republic, when money is urgently needed to upgrade the Lame road.
Ministers have told us that the CBI has been pressing for the upgrading of the Dublin road. The CBI and business people and some outside Northern Ireland have argued that the number one priority is the upgrading of the Belfast to Larne motorway. Even a dual carriageway would be a decided advantage.
Looking at vote 2 of the Department of the Environment, I ask whether it is not within the terms of grants for the upgrading of houses that occupiers, tenants, have a right to these grants. Or have restrictions been imposed so that only owners can get grants? An 80-year-old woman who has lived in her home for 40 or 50 years has been told that since she is only the occupier and not the owner she is not eligible for a grant to improve her home.
549 In the context of awareness of problems that have arisen constantly over decisions made without thinking through to the ultimate impact, may I raise with the Minister the question of the buy-back scheme? We are thankful that it was introduced and it obviously met with greater success in Northern Ireland than was expected, but I have pensioner constituents who saw the scheme advertised, and got in touch with the Housing Executive straight away. Their own estate agent was also in touch. The house was examined and surveyed and a price agreed. In the light of that agreement, a verbal understanding, all that was needed was for contracts to be signed. They went ahead with the purchase of a retirement home in North Down that suited them. Then their hopes were shattered when they were told "We are not buying your property", on the ground, I am told, that having met such demands on the scheme, the Housing Executive introduced a rationing scheme for the various areas of Northern Ireland and said that it was not going to purchase more than two homes in that area of my constituency. It seems to me that, even in this world of lowered moral standards, a man's word should be his bond and that a Government Department that gives a verbal understanding to purchase should not quibble because there is no written contract.
In vote 4, there is an amount of £141,000 shown as savings, a decrease. Why was that money not used to upgrade some of the unadopted rear entries which are a blight upon the environment? It is near time that we grappled with that problem. I recognise that it is a big problem, but we shall not tackle a big problem unless we start on it and I trust that where there is money of that nature available it will be used purposefully.
I welcome the increase that has been set aside under the health and social services heading but we need more understanding of where it is going. Under vote 1, how much has been spent on Project 2000 in Northern Ireland? I have seen the figures for England and Wales and I know that it is moving forward in Northern Ireland, but I have not yet discovered whether it is moving forward successfully or how much money is being spent. I recognise that there is a case for closing some units and cutting out wastage. I regret that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) is not here at present. I realise why that is, but he referred to the closure of the wards for mental patients in the Tyrone county hospital. I remember visiting that hospital and I pay tribute to the work that is done there. I also remember that a member of the local committee who had a child with mental health problems said to me "It is a pity that they did not let you see the locked up ward." I am delighted to see more and more people moved out into smaller units in the community rather than being locked up in some of these larger institutions.
If a building is not being properly used for something else, it is a detriment to the community, but not necessarily a detriment to those who have been in those institutions in the past.
May I ask the Minister on what objective grounds the Department directed a health board to go in a particular direction when it had had consultation and obstetricians and others had agreed with a system of maternity provision that would have allowed the maternity unit to continue in Downpatrick and would see the Jubilee being 550 the main centre in Belfast. Now Downpatrick is to be closed and the Eastern board has said that it will not purchase services from the Jubilee hospital. About 1,200 babies born to mothers from south Belfast were delivered in the Jubilee last year. The Jubilee has had a proud record, not only of care and quality of provision but of cost. To close that hospital will necessitate spending capital money in upgrading facilities elsewhere. When one considers the length of time to travel, not just from Downpatrick but from Kilkeel, Newcastle and South Down right up to the nearest provision, which is now being mentioned as Lagan Valley—and I realise that I am on dangerous ground here since my right hon. Friend represents Lagan Valley—one realises that it is not the proper use of scarce capital to close an institution eight miles down the road and scatter the patients elsewhere. 1 would go further and say that it seems to be a monstrosity for a senior official—as I mentioned in Question Time today—to spend the past three years trying to dissuade GPs from going under the Jubilee hospital.
As some right hon. and hon. Members will recall, I have raised this matter in the past. The board denied that it had happened, but I said on that occasion that the people to whom it was said and the person about whom it was said knew who was telling lies. I now have definite evidence that a senior member of the board dealing with public health was going round general practitioners trying to dissuade them from going near the Jubilee hospital. Thank God that those GPs were wiser than that man. The women in east Belfast, certainly those in the city centre and over towards Cregagh and many from Antrim, still choose to come to one of the finest places of maternity provision in the United Kingdom. I hope that the Department and the board will have second thoughts.
I know that it is possible I shall be told that it is a matter for the board, but since he who pays the piper calls the tune, it is the responsibility of the Department. Why was the general manager of the Eastern health and social services board who was retiring and had consultancy lined up in Europe appointed for a further two years? Is it because, as someone put it to me, he has a job to do: to close units in the Royal and the City, to maintain the Mater because of his own position in the Knights of Columbanus?
Reference has been made to cardiac surgery. The Minister knows that I have been concerned about it for a long time. I was amazed this week to discover in the Park-Davis survey that Northern Ireland is not as high on the list of areas in need of such surgery as we were led to believe. I understand, of course, that there is a problem in Northern Ireland, but it lies in fifth place in the league behind Wales, Scotland—that is certainly in first position —and sections of northern England. Are we tackling the problem in the right way? Does the problem go beyond the lack of theatre space, which has been extended? Has it something to do with the promotional pattern in the Royal Victoria hospital and the unwillingness of senior registrars to work in the department? I understand that one such registrar moved to England and was appointed as a surgeon in Newcastle. We must ask these questions because too many people in Northern Ireland have been waiting far too long for cardiac surgery. If there is a problem, it should be tackled.
551 I hope that trusts will not remove choice and forestall the right of general practitioners to purchase provision where they believe that they can get the best service at the best price.
I pay tribute to the allocation of funds to the Independent Living Foundation. Where does the Department stand in following through the attempts made to have an extension of the Peto institute in Northern Ireland? How far has it been funding Donaghadee? Is it prepared to fund Dungannon, or is it putting most of its backing into the Rapid Action for Conductive Education movement in Birmingham? The people in Northern Ireland have worked hard to promote conductive education and I trust that the Department will at last give them purposeful backing.
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)
I am sure that the Minister is aware of the recent television programme about the exodus of Protestants from north Belfast. The programme was fairly factual in presenting many aspects of the problem, but the main issue was not addressed, which is the lack of decent houses in Protestant areas for Protestant people.
Before commenting further, I wish to make it clear that I am not drawing comparisons with the Catholic constituents. Instead, I congratulate them on their efforts to attain excellent housing in many areas of my constituency and on their accomplishments in being fully consulted by their various community groups on the design and construction of their new houses. A development that immediately springs to mind is the Unity flats complex, which demonstrates up-to-date designs with the use of excellent materials.
I am not laying the blame directly on the Housing Executive, which must work with criteria laid down by the Government which do not address the problem of Protestants being forced to vacate houses which are, to say the least, not fit to live in. It is necessary to examine the reasons for the exodus, which vary widely according to areas. I know that the Minister has some knowledge of the deprivation in the areas about which I am talking. He has promised to visit one of them in the near future. I know that he has a busy schedule, but I suggest that he should visit others, where he will see the problems for himself.
In the Duncairn-Tiger's Bay area—thanks to the efforts of the Minister's predecessor—an encompassing development has been planned, which embraces housing, industrial development and social needs. Unfortunately, there have been problems in reaching a consensus. I appeal for urgent action to get the new housing started in an attempt to halt the drift of population from housing which no longer serves its purpose. It has fallen into disrepair and is of an unacceptable standard.
The area of Downview on the Antrim road also needs urgent attention. There are old Orlit houses that were the subject of the housing defects order. They have deteriorated to such an extent that they are now referred to as the Downview slums. Many of them are being blocked up as the tenants cannot live in them. Other occupiers are waiting to get out at the first opportunity. A decision has not yet been taken to replace them.
Just off the main Crumlin road in the area of Rosewood street, Yarrow street and Albertville drive there were excellent brick-built terrace houses which have been 552 allowed to fall into disrepair. I have been endeavouring since 1983 to have these houses declared a housing action area project. There have been numerous appraisals amounting to nothing. In the meantime, the occupants have been forced to move, leaving the area semi-derelict.
Across the Crumlin road into the mid-Shankill area there has been a redevelopment programme, but it progressed at such a slow pace that it was impossible to retain the population. Consequently, phases planned for future development have been cancelled and the area has been sown with grass seed. It is prime housing land, but it is not being developed for much-needed housing, despite a waiting list in the area which will never be met.
Further up into the Woodvale-Ohio street-Enfield area there have been blighted housing conditions for the past 15 years. There was a reticence to do anything in the area. Responsibility was abrogated by declaring it to be a priority investment zone. There was, of course, no investment because of the conditions. Again, the Protestant population was forced to move out.
Another Protestant estate is situated in Glencairn. It was a jerry-built estate thrown up by cowboy contractors. The estate has suffered from that legacy ever since. The active community association has been vainly trying to have the estate upgraded, with the demolition of vacant maisonettes which have decayed to such an extent that the entire area is being brought into disrepute. It is another example of a reluctance or failure to provide basic living conditions.
The area of Alliance-Glenbryn has been allowed to fall into such disrepair that it is now almost a shell. There has been some effort to rehabilitate it, but that is not a solution. The area will have to be completely redeveloped if it is to be saved and if people are to be encouraged to return.
Many other areas in Protestant north Belfast will also require a sustained effort if they are to be saved, notably the Tyndale and Silverstream areas.
The Housing Executive cannot cope within its limited budget. Government funding will have to be specifically allocated to these areas if the exodus of Protestants is to be halted. Statutory agencies will also have to play a very large part in this process, as amenities will have to be provided to make for a balanced community at peace with itself.
In conclusion, I must draw attention to the terrible lack of employment opportunity in my constituency. I appeal for more enterprise zones to be declared. There are many deprived areas which could be used for this purpose and could provide local jobs for local people.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
I will continue the litany of complaints that we have heard this evening. Unfortunately, this is the only forum in which we can bring them before Ministers, apart from writing to them or seeing them in our constituencies.
I will start with DOE vote 1 and refer to something that has to do with my own constituency, but also with the unemployment levels that other hon. Members have mentioned.
Can the Minister tell us why the Coopers and Lybrand report which was asked for by the Northern Ireland airport is to be kept secret, not only from those who are to be made redundant, but also from the trade union 553 representatives, and certainly from representatives of the public? If the reason is that it is a business tool, covered by business confidentiality, I foresee some difficulties in future if a trade sale, for instance, or a worker-management buy-out is considered for the airport. Where would that place certain employees of the airport? If it is covered by business confidentiality, surely there is some morality attached to it if some people have inside information and others have not.
Of course, if the airport is to be privatised—we do not agree that it should be, but believe that it should remain within the scope of the people of Northern Ireland—the only way to do it is by a share issue, which would allow all the people of Northern Ireland to have some say in the matter, considering all the public money that has been spent obtaining the international airport.
Will the Minister say why consultations with the work force did not take place before the announcement of the redundancies? It is not very good business practice to announce redundancies and then offer the work force opportunities to discuss matters that have already been decided. That is not consultation. Surely consultation should have taken place beforehand. Many workers at the airport will be made redundant, for whatever reason, on the basis of a report which no one is allowed to see. That is a very poor reward for those employees who have worked hard, given excellent service and been very loyal in difficult circumstances over many years.
On the Department of Social Security vote 4, I draw the Minister's attention to a problem which seems to have arisen in connection with housing benefit. When someone who is homeless applies to the Housing Executive to be housed, the applicant is told that his application cannot be accepted unless he gives an address. The Minister may think that it peculiar that someone who is homeless should be asked for an address, but that is the case.
This creates a problem for housing benefit, because, if an applicant gives an address and the occupier of that address is receiving DSS benefit, the person who has applied from that address simply to get on the housing list is reckoned to be living with the occupier, even though he or she is not doing so. Usually it is an accommodation address. Therefore, the housing benefit of the person who occupies the dwelling may be reduced by about £14 per week. That leaves the homeless in difficulty. They cannot apply for housing because they have not got an address, and they cannot make use of a friend's address because that affects the benefit which that person receives. The Minister should consider that carefully.
Like the rest of the United Kingdom, we have many problems with the disability living allowance. I congratulate the staff of the Department of Social Security, particularly those in the district offices who deal considerately with those applying for benefit. Leaving that on one side, there have been delays in Northern Ireland, as there have in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The forms are complicated. Applicants are so confused that they have no chance of getting benefit because of the way they complete the forms. As a member of the Select Committee on Social Services, I have said that it might be better if the box on the form about the need for assistance was at the end rather than the beginning. By the time 554 people had gone through the form, they might realise that they needed help. Completing the form is as difficult for some people as voting by proportional representation.
It should be suggested to the director of the agency that Northern Ireland Members of Parliament have the use of a hotline to facilitate them in solving problems with the disability allowance, as is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom. When the Select Committee visited Blackpool, I was pleased to see that facility there.
The position on the social fund has not changed. When people in receipt of benefit have not got enough money to live on and are obliged to take a loan from the DSS to overcome their difficulties, a deduction is made from their benefit. The result is that they have even less to live on. Some people may say that money is not available to provide more benefit. Unfortunately, those in difficulty turn to money lenders who charge high interest rates. Then the people turn to drugs or drink and end up in a much worse position.
On my favourite subject, planning, which is covered by vote 4 of the Department of the Environment, advice from local councillors seems to be ignored completely. In some cases exactly the opposite is carried out.
There are numerous inconsistencies in the attitude of the roads service to planning applications. Often, when there is no other impediment to the granting of permission, the roads service, for no apparent reason, expresses vehement opposition. On the other hand, it often seems that a plan to build a house on a corner, where no one else thinks a house should be allowed, is not objected to by the service.
I should like to refer to the agriculture condition that is sometimes attached to planning permission. Like most of my colleagues, I am a supporter of the farming community. However, I have to say that, in respect of planning permission, that community seems to have an advantage over everyone else.
Let us suppose that a farmer has lived in an area for 60 years and that a plumber has lived just down the road for the same length of time. When the farmer retires, he can secure planning permission for a retirement dwelling on the farm. The plumber is not in that happy position.
I have often complained about this. The Department ought to look at the entire matter of the agriculture condition. It is quite clear that we shall have white elephants throughout the countryside if such dwellings become vacant. Indeed, there are some already. Because of the agriculture condition, no one else is allowed to live in such a dwelling. Unfortunately, the standards that apply differ from area to area.
Diversification of land use is one aspect of planning law that applies to the rest of the United Kingdom but does not seem to apply to Northern Ireland. A farmer and his family who are not doing so well may wish to open a farm shop or some other establishment connected with farming. Such a facility would be of service to the community, and people who make inquiries are encouraged by the planning service to apply for permission. However, the application is turned down out of hand.
At the same time, we all know of developments that do not appear to fulfil the conditions or have planning permission. It appears that people who defy the planning service are okay if they have sufficient finance to take on the authorities, but things are very different for an ordinary applicant. If such a person fails to satisfy one condition in respect of permission to build a bungalow, the 555 Department takes him as far as it can. I agree with what the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said about local knowledge being ignored by the Planning Appeals Commission. Surely local people are in a position to assist planners.
I said that planning is one of my favourite subjects, but my real favourite is quangos. Will the Minister, under the citizens charter, publish the names on the standing list for appointment to quangos? We know that there is such a list and we know some of the people on it, because they are serving on quangos. All Northern Ireland representatives are well known because they are elected, and the names of those on the list should be made public so that everybody knows who they are. If all was above board in that way, it would be more acceptable.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is only natural that the community should know who is making the decisions? The quangos are certainly making major decisions affecting the people of Northern Ireland, but the names of those who serve on them are not well known, and are often hidden.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I agree. I shall make a few other remarks in agreement with what the hon. Gentleman has said. Before I do, I ask the Minister to make available the names of those who have been released by their firms to serve on quangos and whose firms are then recompensed for the loss of their services. That is possible, for example, in the case of the tourist board. I should be interested to hear how much money has been spent in that way.
Will the Minister also provide us with the names of those who have dual membership—those who serve on more than one quango and those who have moved from ordinary membership to chairmanship, or from chairmanship to ordinary membership? That would also be interesting.
There is also the prickly question of those who have been appointed to quangos specifically with Dublin approval. I know that Dublin approval is given under the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I hope that, in the interests of openness, the Minister will make available the names of such persons.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
Will the hon. Gentleman rephrase his question so that the Minister cannot avoid answering it? What is written into the Anglo-Irish Agreement is that the Government of the Irish Republic can make proposals for any of the quangos. The hon. Gentleman might like to ask the Minister to list all those who have been proposed by Dublin for each quango, and those who have been accepted.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. I am always prepared to take advice, and I do so on this occasion. I am sure that the Minister heard the hon. Gentleman's question, which I now put to him.
The membership of quangos is a great bone of contention in Northern Ireland. The Minister may say that that is just a bee in the bonnet of some Northern Ireland Members, but that is not the case. We have to listen to complaints from our constituents. It is terrible that bodies consisting of members who are not elected but appointed, sometimes on recommendation from outside the United Kingdom, are handling 10 times more money and employing 10 times more people than the councillors who are elected every four years. It is dreadful that quangos 556 undergo no detailed scrutiny of any part of their operations. It is another shot in the locker for the Northern Ireland Select Committee. Even in that instance, a Select Committee would do a very good job.
§ Mr. William Ross
Perhaps my hon. Friend should also ask the Minister how the quangos are divided up on religious and political grounds. Whenever members of quangos are appointed in Great Britain, considerable information is given about their political affiliation. Surely the same information should be given in Northern Ireland. Because of the Fair Employment Commission, we should like to be assured that Ulster Unionists and members of the DUP were getting a fair crack of the whip. Perhaps we should be told how many members of those parties have been appointed.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I agree with my hon. Friend. We could ask for a great deal of information about quangos. The best solution could be not to have any quangos; then we might get on a lot better. But that is not quite true. Perhaps we should not malign those who have served well on them, although we disagree with the quangos.
I ask the Minister to pass on to his hon. Friend my congratulations on finally getting the Killead bypass on to this year's roads programme. Of course I am disappointed that the roads are not being improved in other parts of Northern Ireland. Perhaps I could be forgiven for mentioning the A26, which involves not only my constituency but getting patients from other constituencies to the new area hospital in Antrim. It is an essential road. It is most unfortunate that the road between Corrs Corner and the port of Lame is not in the programme. The work should have been done as soon as possible, to facilitate the journeys of the many people who travel through that port. Belfast and Lame complement each other, and I am sure that the people living in both of those ports would be happy to see them working fully all the time.
Unfortunately, there seems to be no overall strategy in the roads programme, as many hon. Members have said. One gets the impression that, if representatives of one particular roads section hammer the table, they will have more success during negotiations at a higher level for that area. I do not think that is the way to proceed. Surely it would have made much more sense for local councils to be responsible for repairing holes in the roads, street lights and drains, and for sweeping and repairing the footpaths. I suppose that we live in hope.
Water privatisation, which is right up my street—or perhaps that I should say, in my tool bag—is an unbelievable development. I know that the Community is setting water quality standards, but high-quality water is the one resource available to all citizens in Northern Ireland. It is one that they do not even think about, because it is always there. The long tradition of excellent service by the Northern Ireland water industry is well known. It goes back to the old days of the Belfast water commissioners, who were the standard bearers—and they could serve as an example to the rest of the United Kingdom.
In Northern Ireland, plumbers used to be registered. The rest of the United Kingdom never had that system. Unfortunately, when there was change, and Northern Ireland came under direct rule, plumbers no longer had to be registered. That was a great step back. There is no life 557 without water. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) will agree that even potatoes are 90 per cent. water.
Several constituents asked me what is to be privatised next. The suggestion is that it will be air. I hesitate to suggest that. I see the Minister writing busily on his pad, but I plead with him not to adopt that idea.
Opposition to water privatisation is one of the few issues that completely unify the people of Northern Ireland. Like the Scots, we have a great deal of common sense. Perhaps I should not mention Scottish water in the context of a Northern Ireland appropriation order, but I do so in passing. The Minister and the Northern Ireland Office will find that the people of Northern Ireland are wholly united, as we said earlier, in opposing water privatisation.
There are many subjects that I have not mentioned, but I will refrain from doing so, because it would mean detaining the House for a long time, and I want to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) to do a sweeper. He is a better sweeper than me, because I used to be a centre forward.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. Acknowledging that the supplementary estimates seek parliamentary authority for further expenditure to that already sought in previous estimates, it is not my intention to oppose the order—though I remain opposed to the Order in Council procedure. However, the additional funds being made available will be welcome and will bring advantages to all sections of the people of Northern Ireland.
It will have been noted that all right hon. and hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies give the highest priority to achieving higher employment levels in all parts of Northern Ireland and to reducing the appalling misery and poverty suffered by the 110,000 unemployed in Northern Ireland and their families. It is true that that is a long-standing problem, but responsibility for it cannot be attributed solely to the fact that the birth rate in Northern Ireland is higher than the birth rate elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Unemployment has increased because of a lack of success in creating new job opportunities, and because of the lack of employment opportunities in Great Britain, to which so many generations of our young people have had to travel to find work.
I applaud the recent success of the joint approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron). The success of their mission to the United States clearly demonstrated the ability of Ulster Unionists and constitutional nationalists to work together for the benefit of their constituents, Protestant and Roman Catholic alike. I hope that, when evaluating the valuable contribution of both hon. Members in support of officials of the Industrial Development Board seeking inward investment, the Minister will encourage similar cooperation between representatives of both communities in the search for future inward investment.
558 This year, we have heard some encouraging announcements about inward investment, including today's announcements. I believe that they reflect the energy expended by the former Minister, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), in his frequent travels overseas. I am delighted that the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) is reaping the fruit of that labour, and —having settled into his post as Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office—is now embarking on overseas missions. We wish him success in his efforts to attract inward investment.
Hon. Members are often asked for suggestions of job creation measures that will bring wealth and prosperity. I draw the Minister's attention to an early-day motion that I tabled barely three weeks ago, with the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House. Early-day motion 1225, entitled "British shipping industry".
[That this House is alarmed by the continuing decline in the British Merchant Fleet which, if not reversed, will damage the United Kingdom economy and threaten defence; notes with concern the decline in officer cadet training and recruitment; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to encourage the employment of British seafarers, and renewal and expansion of the Merchant Fleet by introducing in the next budget, (a) 100 per cent. ship allowance for depreciation and extended rollover relief for the sale and purchase of ships, (b) income tax and national insurance contribution alleviation for each British seafarer employed and (c) a package of incentives which will remove the disadvantages suffered by the British shipping industry when comparison is made with incentives in most European countries, until such time as steps towards harmonisation in all European countries of state aids to the shipping industry commences, and to establish maritime enterprise zones in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.]
The motion was published today, with 191 signatures. As I have said, it was supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I trust that, between now and the Budget, the Secretary of State will act within the Cabinet, and will seek to influence those who make decisions to implement my suggestions. There is no doubt that that would be advantageous. There will be employment opportunities for British seafarers and for the highly skilled shipbuilding work forces, both in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain. There will also be employment opportunities in all the allied areas of commerce associated with the British shipbuilding industry. I hope that the Secretary of State will initiate action and that the Government will be prepared to listen to their own supporters and to Opposition Members.
The Minister referred to the allocation of additional funds in the agriculture budget for the purpose of disease eradication. Although I welcome the Minister's commitment, and that of the Department of Agriculture, to maintaining the internationally recognised disease-free status of livestock in Northern Ireland, I am concerned about the number of tuberculosis cases which still arise, especially in self-contained herds which had been disease-free for many years.
Can the Minister expand on the reason for the allocation of this additional money and assure us that tuberculosis, brucellosis and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, as well as all the other diseases, are well under control? Is he absolutely satisfied that the suspicions, sincerely held by some farmers, that badgers may be a 559 source of TB and responsible for its spread are completely ill founded? What research is being done to clear up this matter once and for all?
I agree with what previous speakers said about the crisis that faces the potato industry and about the adverse effects of the decision to cut hill livestock compensatory allowances. I hope that the Minister will re-examine both issues after the debate.
I welcome the announcement of additional funding to reduce the time that patients have to wait for cardiac surgery. It will be a relief to those patients to have received an offer, even when they have to travel outside Northern Ireland for their operation and treatment, with all the attendant inconvenience and expense. Would it not make more sense, however, for an additional cardiac surgeon to be appointed so that money which goes out of Northern Ireland can be retained within it? It would help to sustain an already weak economy. Can the Minister confirm that delays in offering cardiac surgery are not in any way motivated by cost-benefit analysis of patients and by decisions being prioritised in such a way that some patients could die before they are able to obtain a life-extending operation?
I looked closely through the order and the other papers for an indication of specifically earmarked funds for roads in my constituency. I was disappointed not to find any provision for realignment of the B58 which runs from Carrickfergus to Ballynure. The road passed over a disused salt mine and was closed more than two years ago as a precaution after the collapse in 1990 of an abandoned salt mine in the Carrickfergus area. My constituents who have been affected by the road closure have been patient. They have suffered considerable inconvenience.
In June 1991 the then Minister, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North, wrote to me to say:Accordingly the DOE Roads Service has already prepared a contingency plan, including design and survey work for a realignment of the B58 road should it be found necessary not to reopen that road. As you will appreciate it would be imprudent to consider reopening the B58 road until the completion of the detailed investigatory work now proceeding and the analysis of the consultants interim report.There was more correspondence the following year, and much correspondence in between and since, so it is disappointing that as yet no decision has been taken.
To the best of my knowledge, the reports have been completed. Measures costing more than £1 million are requested to realign the B58. I understand that a bid was made, but no funding is there for me to identify. Is the Minister in a position to say when the funding will be made available? When a road is closed, high priority should be given, once all the investigations have been carried out, to realigning it and reopening it. I hope that it will be given the priority that it deserves.
I must express disappointment that expenditure is not planned for the Larne-Belfast road until late 1997 or 1998, but at long last it is on the list. Larne, the second busiest ferry port in the United Kingdom, will finally have an upgraded road to and from the port. I hope that we shall all live to see it and will be able to be there when a Northern Ireland home-grown Minister performs the official opening ceremony.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
Will my bon. Friend look again at the concept of home-grown? We are not thinking of an export, but of someone who is accountable to the electorate of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Beggs
I agree entirely with the remarks that my colleague has made. There is no doubt whatever as to what I meant.
I realise that many right hon. and hon. Members simply could not be here this evening, but I extend an invitation to them to come to Terrace Room B on 24 March, when they can have a cuppa or a little refreshment and an opportunity here within the precincts of the Palace to become better informed about the success and excellent standards that have been achieved at the port of Lame. I am sure that all our Scottish colleagues will seek to ensure that they have matching facilities on the Stranraer side.
So much for the commercial. Seriously, I want to thank personally all my colleagues from Northern Ireland, including district councillors and others, who have made representations to the Minister—and I thank the Minister himself for allowing a provision to be granted. Admittedly, it is a long-term provision, but at long last the upgrading of the busy road between Lame and Belfast is on the record. It is on the ladder, and now that it is there, although it is at the bottom, there is always the possibility of its moving up. That will be our next objective.
I make no apology for again asking the Minister to make an early decision to fund the relocation of the lime works at Glenarm in my constituency. The old lime works can be relocated behind the village, but at the moment it is a blight on that village and its continued presence prevents redevelopment at Glenarm, where there is high unemployment, and where real long-term secure employment could be provided by both public and private sector investment. I trust that that question will be considered seriously.
I realise that the Minister has been sitting in the Chamber for a long time and that many issues have been put to him. It would be unfortunate if he did not have the opportunity to respond to as many of those issues as possible and as fully as possible, so I shall finish my speech now.
§ Mr. Jamie Cann (Ipswich)
I assure hon. Members that I want to make only a few remarks, and that I shall not take long. The Northern Ireland Office invited me to Northern Ireland at the end of last autumn. Having received the last rites with my family before setting off, as most Englishmen who had never been to Northern Ireland before would have done, I was surprised and pleased at the normality of the Province compared with what most of us would have expected to find. That included Belfast—although we did not go to all parts of the city.
I am pleased to speak tonight as an Englishman and to say that, in my very limited experience, the Northern Ireland Office and the Ministers responsible for our affairs in Northern Ireland are doing a good job. The way in which they allow council houses to be built over there, support industry and work with their local communities, 561 with the public and the private sector together, is admirable. I wish that we could import it over here. I suggest that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland become the Prime Minister and that we send the Prime Minister to Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Cann
He may not be one of us, but he does a lot of good things. That is what I would say in response to what I understand is called a sedentary interruption.
I am an Englishman—or rather, I am mainly English and part Welsh. We are paying the bill for Northern Ireland. We know that we are. I find it a little disappointing that so few English, Welsh and Scottish Members are here tonight to discuss Northern Ireland. We all pay for it directly—and indirectly, day in and day out, through terrorism and the cost of security. Let us all take Northern Ireland far more seriously.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
This has been an interesting debate. Hon. Members representing the constituencies of Northern Ireland have dealt with a great many subjects that deserve an evening's debate for themselves. There is a need, for example, to debate local government in Northern Ireland because we should try to ensure that those people who serve in it have a right and proper place in our debates on that subject.
Housing and planning also deserve lengthy debate because they are important and many people depend on them. Health and social services are also important and could be debated for hours, because the quality of life of so many in Northern Ireland depends upon them. Congratulations must therefore be offered to all hon. Members from Northern Ireland because they have covered the broad services on which the people of Northern Ireland depend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) referred to the proposed privatisation of the electricity supply industry and the price rises that will result. Obviously that privatisation is not in the best interests of the Northern Ireland economy. The proposed privatisation of the water industry was also raised and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) said that it was one of the items in his tool bag. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) also expressed his concern about it. That subject is worthy of debate, and when the necessary legislation is brought forward I hope that we shall be able to debate it.
My main concern relates to chapter 7 on the environment in the lengthy document, "Expenditure Plans and Priorities for Northern Ireland". Chapter 9, which deals with health and social services, is also of significant interest because the quality of life of so many in Northern Ireland will be affected by the changes that will be initiated on 1 April relating to health provision and community care. The assessment of community care, the purchase of health care, targets and budgets will all have a bearing on the provision of services and thus the quality of life of the people of Northern Ireland. One could dwell for some time on those issues.
Because of the time constraint, I shall restrict my remarks to chapter 7 and the proposed privatisation of 562 water. On 18 June 1992 we had a debate on a Northern Ireland appropriation order and the Minister of State, the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), said:There is an excellent road network and an excellent supply of good, clean water. Some of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in the south-east of England would be inordinately jealous of Northern Ireland's water supply" —[Official Report, 18 June 1992; Vol. 209, c. 1141.]That is correct, and I think I see the Minister of State, the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), nodding in assent. Why sell it? If it is so good and of so much value, there can be only one reason for the Government wanting to sell it: to present it as a gift to friends of the Conservatives.
Chapter 7 refers to water privatisation and highlights the failure of the Government to achieve their objective of establishing a Government-owned company prior to privatisation. The failure of that objective could prove expensive for us all, including the people of Northern Ireland.
We have no information about the capital value of the water services industry of Northern Ireland and no value has been placed on the water storage system there. Yet the Government are seriously considering disposing of the industry by a trade sale. In other words, it could be sold to an organisation or individual, not necessarily English or Irish—
§ Mr. O'Brien
My hon. Friend is right. It could go to a foreign organisation. By that means, we would lose that valuable Northern Ireland asset. If that procedure is followed and the asset is disposed of by a trade sale, the people of Northern Ireland will have been treated differently from the people of England and Wales, bearing in mind the sale of the 10 water authorities in 1989.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is being unduly pessimistic and is jumping the gun about water privatisation. Northern Ireland Ministers take the view that they cannot alter the structure of government in Northern Ireland. Nothing can be agreed until everything is agreed. They cannot, for example, alter the structure of the Department of the Environment by giving that section of the road-mending, pothole-filling powers of the Department to, say, local councils. So given that nothing can be agreed until everything is agreed, the Government are not likely to go on with water privatisation. Nor are they likely to proceed with the privatisation of electricity. Everything is bound up in the one formula.
§ Mr. O'Brien
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is correct because I do not want the water services of Northern Ireland to be privatised. If it is true that nothing can be done until certain matters are in place, that will be a blessing for the people of the Province. But the track record of the Conservatives leads us to wonder whether they will again move the goalposts and change the rules to fit the situation in which they find themselves. I fear that if a good contributor to the Tory party wishes to purchase the water service industry of Northern Ireland, the transaction will go ahead.
It should be made clear that if that trade sale goes ahead —let us remember that it is part of the Tory manifesto —the people of Northern Ireland will have been treated differently from the people of England and Wales. In 563 England and Wales there was a flotation and people who intended or wished to purchase shares in water authorities in 1989 were entitled to do so. That was the Government's policy of extending the share-owning democracy, but that principle will not apply to Northern Ireland if the present proposals go ahead. One has to ask why we are treating people in Northern Ireland differently from those in England and Wales.
May I also draw attention to the fact that, when we look at the proposals in the document for a trade sale and compare that to the document published on the Scottish sale of water, we find that in Scotland there are options for the people. They suggest placing the services with the new unitary authorities, in other words, leaving them with local government. That should be considered for Northern Ireland. The Scottish document also suggests creating joint boards of new unitary authorities; in other words, keeping local elected representatives involved with the water supply industry. The document mentions a lead authority structure, which could be a local authority structure. So in Scotland there is a consultative document which is offering alternatives to the people of Scotland.
I say to the Minister that if we believe in fairness and want to demonstrate that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom under the present set-up, the people there should be treated exactly the same as people in other parts of the United Kingdom.
What about the share-owning democracy in Northern Ireland? Can I take it that that no longer applies, or is it another Government U-turn on how to dispose of the water services in Northern Ireland? As I say, perhaps some organisations or individual will come along and the sale will go through without any reference to the people in the communities. Whatever the Government's proposals, there is a clear and precise message to the people of Northern Ireland, and a message from the people of Northern Ireland that has been expressed more than once tonight—that no one in Northern Ireland wishes the sale of the water service industry to any individual or organisation. The message from the people of Northern Ireland is clear, whether it is given to the Minister or any other person who goes there: they want to keep the water services industry in the public sector.
§ Mr. Beggs
I think that it is an appropriate time to reveal the secret of this little document that I have in my hand. [Interruption.] I am very pleased that all Northern Ireland elected representatives agree. We are confident that Members of the European Parliament of all parties, and elected councillors, will be supporting this short statement on water privatisation. We are simply saying:We, the undersigned elected representatives at European, Westminster and local government level in Northern Ireland declare our opposition to any proposal to privatise water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland.We call upon the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to acknowledge and respect our opinion on this issue and not to proceed with water privatisation proposals against the wishes of the greater number of people living in Northern Ireland.If the present Government, through the Secretary of State, are genuine in wishing to see co-operation between Unionists and constitutional Nationalists and people right across the Province, when we demonstrate, let us hope that he will be honourable and respond to the spirit of the representations made.
§ Mr. O'Brien
I support the sentiments that have been expressed by the hon. Gentleman. The views of the people of Northern Ireland and their representatives must be taken into account.
There is no support anywhere in Northern Ireland for privatisation. If the Secretary of State or any other Minister wishes to ensure that there is democracy in Northern Ireland, let him retain water services in public ownership and allow locally elected representatives to participate in the administration and running of those services. Local people also should be involved.
The build-up to the big sale and privatisation itself will mean hurt and hardship to people and businesses in Northern Ireland. No one will escape the price increases that will follow. Many people in the communities in Northern Ireland could suffer hardship.
I speak from experience in the area which I represent. There will be customer billing this year. Standing charges will be introduced, and unfairness will ensue. Water metering will be introduced. Pre-payment water metering is being considered by the Yorkshire water authority. If that system is introduced, those on low incomes who are already suffering hardship will have to endure further hardship. It has been said already that there is no alternative to water and that everyone needs water. Yet people will have to put a coin in a meter before they can have water. Such a system should not be introduced, but water authorities in England are talking about it. We know that if it is introduced in Yorkshire and other areas, it will be introduced in Northern Ireland.
Water services are provided by the Department of the Environment, which means that we can question Ministers. There may be a monopoly, but Ministers can be questioned. If water services are placed in private hands, we shall be unable to question anyone. There will be no competition in the privatised and monopolistic structure.
Families that are in need and face hardship will have their water supply disconnected. Over the past three years since privatisation, disconnections have increased five, six and seven fold. The people who are without water can ill afford to be in that position. Young families and others are facing hardship. Hardship will follow the privatisation of water services.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)
Where does all this come in?
§ Mr. O'Brien
I am talking about what is happening in England and Wales now. Compulsory water metering was introduced to an area in my constituency. That is an example of the treatment that people will receive if the water industry in Northern Ireland is privatised.
A small business in the area that is covered by the Yorkshire water authority received a bill for water for the third quarter of 1992–93, which it paid a month ago. The charge for the water used was £1.04, but standing charges amounted to £34.89. That is the sort of charging that will take place in Northern Ireland if privatisation is allowed to go ahead. Small businesses will suffer. If there is privatisation, the cost of water will not reflect the value of the service that has been provided. Instead, it will be the price that people will have to pay. If the Minister feels that I am wrong, he can say, when he replies, that this situation will not apply, and I am prepared to accept that there will not be these charges.
565 My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) has noted that there is an item under Department of the Environment about expenditure by the Department on water, sewerage and related services. I am making the point that water, sewerage and related services are in their programme for privatisation. I know that it is a subject which they do not want to discuss or hear about, but I have described the situation that applies at present in my own area and I am warning the people of Northern Ireland that they will have the same treatment. Indeed, perhaps that treatment will be worse than the treatment we are receiving now.
The small business area is one of the areas in which people who are having difficulty making ends meet could be pressed still further, because privatisation will mean that there is no relationship between charges and the services that are provided.
I therefore say to Northern Ireland Members that we must resist privatisation, because the first act of the new owner will be to dispense with quite a number of the work force by reducing the services that apply now. Then we will see that some Conservative Members will be appointed to the board of the new organisation. This happens so often with these industries that are sold and become a private monopoly. We will see jobs lost, massive salary increases for the people at the top and appointments for Conservative Members who vote for privatisation.
The same thing will apply with the privatisation or sale of the Belfast port. Here again, we will see a scheme whereby jobs will be cut and job opportunities will be lost, yet there will be an increase in salary for the people at the top and opportunities for people to join the board. Yet the harbour is working more efficiently than ever before. Even in this period of recession, there is an increase in trade through the port. So there is no justification whatsoever for the Government's privatising these efficient and worthwhile services in Northern Ireland.
The same is true of Belfast international airport. There is no justification for privatising its activities.
I will withdraw my comments if the Minister assures us that these services and businesses will not be privatised, but until we get that assurance, we have an obligation to fight to retain the jobs, services and businesses in Northern Ireland.
If the Government are sincere in their efforts to bring prosperity to Northern Ireland and do away with the divisions there, the best way to do that is to drop the privatisation programme, particularly for the water industry.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)
I shall attempt, within the time available, to answer some of the points raised today, but clearly it would be impossible to answer every point raised. I have been listening throughout the debate, apart from a brief period of 15 minutes in the middle of the speech by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble); I apologise to him, but there was plenty both before I left and after I returned. I assure hon. Members that on issues which are specific to a particular Minister's responsibility, I will make that Minister aware of the points raised so that a full departmental reply may 566 be sent. It is still a tradition of debates on appropriation that I should answer as many points as I can within a reasonable time.
§ Mr. Ross
It is about the Minister's reply. He is well aware that anything that he says at the Dispatch Box will be recorded in Hansard and all hon. Members will be able to read it. If, however, a Minister replies to me but does not let all those who took part in the debate know what his reply is, hon. Members will be as much in the dark as ever, and we shall all have to put down lots of questions. Perhaps the Minister could ensure that all hon. Members get the same reply, albeit long.
§ Mr. Hanley
I remember well that in Committee the hon. Gentleman once stood up, after I had written to him a nine-page letter, and read the letter into the record so that his colleagues could see it. He could have done the same with a Xerox. I do not think that the House would bear with me if I were to follow him down that path. I understand his point, and I hope that any hon. Member who receives a letter as a result of the debate will show it to his colleagues.
Although Northern Ireland generally reflects the performance of the national economy, it is widely recognised that the Province has held up well in the face of adverse national and global economic conditions.
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), in his usual robust way, started off by talking about unemployment, which is indeed disappointingly high in Northern Ireland, and the state of the economy. With glee, the hon. Gentleman latched on the January report of Coopers and Lybrand. It is marvellous how, almost with delight, he leapt on that one report rather than any of the many other reports over the last few months, all of which have been positive, to try to exploit the negative. The Coopers and Lybrand report of December was also positive. No one should read one report and draw total conclusions therefrom. We should take a series of reports and look at the statistics over a period of months.
In the year to September 1992, there was a 1 per cent. decrease in local employment compared with a 3.3 per cent. fall nationally, and over the year unemployment showed an increase of 3,200 to 14.6 per cent. of the work force—a rise of only 0.4 per cent. compared with 1.4 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole.
The deterioration in Northern Ireland's principal economic variables began later and has been less pronounced than for the rest of the United Kingdom. In addition, output in the United Kingdom for the third quarter of 1992 fell by 0.6 per cent. but the corresponding figure for Northern Ireland rose by 1.8 per cent. It is therefore no surprise to learn that recent independent surveys, in addition to those mentioned by the hon. Member for Wigan, have recorded a marked improvement in confidence among the Province's business community. While none of us can afford to be complacent in the present harsh environment, those indicators provide solid evidence of the resilience not only of the Northern Ireland economy but of the people who work and live in it.
The Government are not complacent. For example, we have committed £450 million to the Department of 567 Economic Development in the current financial year to be used directly and indirectly to assist Northern Ireland's economy. It is encouraging that the increase in the seasonally adjusted figure for Northern Ireland still shows an average decline of only 200 over the last three months. There is particularly good news on the investment front. Since 1988, a total of over 6,800 jobs have been provided through inward investment. I am grateful for the contribution of hon. Members from all parties in Northern Ireland to that. Pan European Textiles is the latest and brightest spark in that story. The key to the future of Northern Ireland is the same as the key for the United Kingdom as a whole. It is to have competitive companies able to meet the needs of the market place. Northern Ireland is in a good position to achieve that.
§ Mr. Hanley
The hon. Gentleman says, "With Government help.". That is what I have just been saying.
Economic growth in Northern Ireland is very good indeed. Northern Ireland experienced nine consecutive years of sustained economic growth—the period 1981–90. That matches what happened at national level. Over the year to September 1992, the outputs of the Northern Ireland production industry and manufacturing industry rose by 2 per cent. and 1 per cent. respectively. The comparable figures for the United Kingdom as a whole declined by 1 per cent. in both case. As Northern Ireland's manufacturing output over the past five years has risen by 16 per cent., and as the output of the production industries has increased by the same magnitude, growth in the Province compares very favourably with what has happened at national level.
The hon. Member for Wigan raised a number of issues. I do not have time to deal with some of his more general questions, such as the one concerning the abolition of the wages councils. The argument in Northern Ireland is the same as the argument here: we believe that wages councils distorted the working of the labour market and that their abolition should help to create conditions in which the economy can grow and jobs can be created.
The hon. Gentleman said that there was absolutely no co-operation with the Northern Ireland Co-operative Development Agency. In fact, the Department of Economic Development has given financial support to the Co-operative Development Agency since its inception. In the current year it has provided more than £200,000. The prolonged, seven-year, pilot project is due to finish on 31 March 1993.
§ Mr. Hanley
If the hon. Gentleman allows me to proceed, he will get an answer to his question.
Officials of the Department of Economic Development have been discussing NICDA's future role with representatives of the agency. It has been agreed that the agency should become a more broadly based community economic development organisation, while retaining its focus on co-operative development. Detailed discussions on the future funding of NICDA are ongoing.
The hon. Member for Wigan raised the question of education reforms. I do not think that anyone, apart: from teachers themselves, has been quite so personally involved with the education reforms as I have been. The hon. Gentleman said that I had not consulted teachers. In fact, 568 I have met many, many teachers over the past few months. As one hon. Member was kind enough to say today, I am a listening Minister. I hope very much that I have not only listened but also acted upon what I have heard. That is why I have made a number of statements about slowing down the pace of change. There is no question of my having made some sort of U-turn. There are always people who gleefully make that charge. I have acted in response to people who do not believe that the Government listen, who do not believe that the Government tailor reforms to meet the demands of those who have to implement new systems.
We shall continue to listen carefully to people's views on the progress of changes. Of course, if people co-operate by trying changes and actually working new systems, we shall learn all the more and be able to make changes to meet the needs not only of teachers but also of children. I expect that once the new requirements become established as part of the normal education provision, the pressures will ease considerably. I am very grateful for the efforts of teachers in Northern Ireland. Many of them are trying very hard indeed because they understand that what we are doing is for the benefit of the children.
§ Mr. Stott
I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He inherited the problem that his predecessor, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), created, I fully acknowledge that the current Minister has listened to teachers and has slowed down the pace of education reform in Northern Ireland. My point is simply that when the education reform legislation went through this House three years ago, with the former Minister at the Dispatch Box, every Northern Ireland Member told the Minister that the proposals would not work, that they were totally unacceptable. I said so from this Dispatch Box. We managed to unite all the Northern Ireland parties in opposition to the proposals. In future, the Government should listen to what the people say before provisions are enacted. I am not blaming the current Minister; I am blaming the previous Minister.
§ Mr. Hanley
The hon. Gentleman is being less than fair to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney). He has forgotten that my hon. Friend said that the reforms would be introduced by way of a pilot from which we would learn, that we would consult widely and introduce changes if necessary. The hon. Gentleman remembers only the block of concrete, not the sculpture which has since emerged from it. Every day sees refinements, turning the image into one that people will admire.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) referred, along with others, to assistance to potato growers in Northern Ireland. It should be remembered that potato guarantee arrangements are still in place. They have not been triggered because the cumulative average price of ware potatoes sold for human consumption is still well above the target price of £46 per tonne. We have not yet broken the £46 per tonne limit. Unless there is a significant fall in prices, it is unlikely that the guarantee arrangements —the stock feed scheme as it has been called—will be triggered.
Problems caused by the weather are, as we all know, a risk that farmers take. The weather in Northern Ireland can be severe, but it can also be extremely pleasant. The 569 Government cannot be expected to cover the cost of any losses caused by the weather. The trigger mechanism is there to help, should it be required—and that we stand by.
§ Mr. Hanley
I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman did not intervene; otherwise, I shall not get to the end of my speech.
§ Mr. Hanley
In that case, my noble Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will write to the hon. Gentleman on that point.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to hill livestock compensatory allowances, on which we had an enjoyable early morning debate two days ago. Several hon. Members have said that they were deeply offended not to be called in that debate but, as was pointed out, it related purely to Great Britain. Therefore, I am glad that some hon. Members took the opportunity to raise the subject today.
I acknowledge the concern about the reduction of HLCAs for hill sheep, but we cannot ignore the fact that the incomes of mixed livestock farms in Northern Ireland's less-favoured areas have improved substantially, albeit from a dismally low base, for a second successive year. I know that there are people who refuse to recognise that improvements have occurred, but no one has queried the statistics which have been collected in the past, so I hope that they will believe them now.
Hill livestock compensatory allowances are a form of income support, and at this time of financial stringency for the economy as a whole, the Government could not ignore those factors in deciding the rates for 1993. Nor could we ignore the ewe premium. One hon. Member said that we should be talking only about HLCAs and not about the other forms of support, but that is wrong. Most sheep in Northern Ireland are in the less-favoured areas and will receive not only a higher ewe premium but the special LFA supplement which has increased from £3.12 to £6.57 per ewe.
The average net farm income in the severely disadvantaged areas in the LFA, those affected by the HLCA reduction, is estimated to have increased by 70 per cent. in the last year in Northern Ireland. Admittedly, that is from £4,000 to £6,800, which is not great, but it is nevertheless an increase. Those affected by the HLCA reduction will get relief as a result of the general rise in support rates resulting from recent green pound devaluations–18 per cent. and 3 per cent.—and they will benefit from the much higher ewe premium for 1992 and the increased LFA supplement.
Therefore, total support per hardy breed ewe in the severely disadvantaged areas will be £34.45 compared with £32 in 1991. Many farmers will also benefit from the higher suckler cow premium. Hon. Members will know that many sheep farmers are also suckler cow farmers and so will gain from the extension of the environmentally sensitive areas, particularly in County Antrim and County Fermanagh where the extensions have taken place. Therefore, total support for hill livestock farmers in Northern Ireland is growing. Through HLCAs, ewe premiums and suckler 570 cow premiums the total support will be around £65 million in 1992, which is an increase of some £8 million on the previous year. The suckler cow premium is also guaranteed to increase over the next three years. That commitment by the Government should be acceptable.
HLCAs cannot be considered in total isolation. Some 70 per cent. of farms in the LFA have some additional source of income. I admire people who manage to earn other money if they can, but of course there are social security payments and pensions. Some farmers find that the average off-farm income is estimated at around £5,000 per annum. That is not for everyone, but if hon. Members looked at the total support rather than one line within that support, they might sing a different song.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East also asked about assistance for invention. I shall ask my hon. Friend the Minister of State to write to him about that.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) complained about the lack of scrutiny of Northern Ireland business and mentioned a plea which has been entered by many today. The hon. Members for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe), who are both distinguished members of Select Committees, have shown not only that Northern Ireland politicians are capable of being selected for Select Committees in the House, but that those Select Committees can deal with matters which cover Northern Ireland business. It is therefore an exaggeration to suggest that Departments for which we are responsible are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny. They are certainly capable of that.
Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Belfast, East, mentioned financial provision for roads. Investments in roads and related facilities continue to run at a significant level. Maintenance, which accounts for about half the roads budget, remains the top functional priority, but within the budget increased emphasis is being placed on minor works and on bridge improvement and maintenance schemes to ensure that the most effective use is made of the existing network and that roads are as safe as possible.
I regret very much that there is no extra money to spend on new roads, more schools, sporting facilities and everything else that has been mentioned today, but if hon. Members add up the shopping list that has been given us today, it is probably four or five times greater than the variable shopping list that we are able to expend in a year. That does not mean that the cases have not been proved, but simply that we have to cut our cloth accordingly.
Road infrastructure schemes can be promoted only to the extent that financial resources permit. That is one of the reasons we regret the postponement of road works on housing developments in the constituency of the hon. Member for Belfast, East. We recognise that the rescheduling of the major works programme had an unfortunate effect on certain developments in his constituency, but the situation is being kept under close review and the Minister of State will write to him about it.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East mentioned pump-priming funds for the National Sports Training Centre. We had a meeting and we are considering his representations. I understand his point that a contribution from the Government could help to unlock resources from elsewhere.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) had to leave to catch a plane earlier and asked that his 571 apologies be given to the House. He mentioned industrial development in his constituency and accepted from me that we would write to him rather than deal with the matter now.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) criticised waiting times in the health service. When I was the Minister responsible for health in Northern Ireland, I helped to create the waiting list initiative in September 1991 and we made additional funds of £1.2 million available to the boards in 1991–92 to reduce what I regarded as unacceptably long waiting lists—far worse than in other parts of the United Kingdom. In 1992–93 a further £1 million was provided, and that was repeated for 1993–94.
Since that initiative was launched, the number waiting more than two years has reduced from almost 5,000 to one third that figure. We managed to provide an extra cardiac surgeon for bypass and other operations, at a cost of £1 million. The number of operations increased from 630 to 840 and over two years the waiting list fell from 400 to today's figure of 170. As I said at Question Time this afternoon, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has just authorised an additional £2.75 million for 1993–94, which should help to wipe out the waiting list. There is no attitude to the effect that a person who has to wait a long time may die and therefore come off the list. That is a despicable suggestion and one that I utterly refute.
The reforms are not a cost-cutting exercise. The money saved is put back into patient care—and that goes for education reforms as well.
Obstetrics were mentioned by a number of hon. Members. The Select Committee report basically said that many mothers wanted to choose home birth. While being cautious about that change, we recognise the need for a more flexible application of existing policies. A number of studies have been announced and are under way, and Northern Ireland is included in those initiatives.
§ Rev. William McCrea
The Government's reaction to that report came after the Western board's decision. Will the Government ask the board to wait and to reconsider its decision in the light of the Government's promise?
§ Mr. Hanley
I will draw the hon. Gentleman's words to the attention of my noble Friend the Minister and ask him to contact the hon. Gentleman as a matter of urgency. I know that my noble Friend is giving great consideration to that matter, as is my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.
The hon. Member for South Down said that the Housing Executive's public expenditure allocation will be cut by £73 million over the next three years. I want to make it clear to all right hon. and hon. Members that that is not at all true. It was the executive's bid which was cut—and that is very different. If a body puts in a bid and it is not met, it is because competing priorities have meant that there is a difference between the figure sought and that which was affordable. That is not a cut. I will write to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster about lignite.
I am sorry that I missed part of the speech of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). As to the health review, I mentioned during Question Time the document "Making Choices". The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Banbridge night club, Circus Circus—a most attractive location of which I was ignorant before tonight. It was 572 drawn to my attention by the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates), with a light in his eye. With a look of John Travolta, he told me the story. My hon. Friend the Minister said that he was particularly sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman's argument, and gave a pledge that he would draw it to the attention of the other Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins). We will consider the hon. Gentleman's comments carefully.
I thoroughly agree with the need for Lough Neagh rescue. We must look properly at that case, and I will do so.
As to appointments to boards and quangos, we value the opinions of anyone in respect of suitable candidates. If any hon. Members of Northern Ireland parties or of other parties—such as Labour, which does not stand in Northern Ireland—want to suggest names, we shall consider them most carefully. However, we will give no guarantees to anyone that such nominees will be appointed by right. That right does not exist. I hope that members of Northern Ireland parties will submit a wide range of names. In particular, I could do with a few more women on public bodies. I should be grateful if the lists reflected modern needs.
The question of residents' parking schemes is being considered now. Project 2000 is widely welcomed, but I cannot give a breakdown of the costs tonight. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown)—the Government Whip, who is sitting on my right—is becoming slightly impatient, but then he needs his beauty sleep; in fact, it looks as though he could do with three or four days of it.
My noble Friend the health Minister will write to the hon. Member for Belfast, South about the Peto institute and the Buddy Bear trust. We shall also write to him about the Independent Living Foundation, which is making very good progress.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) mentioned a report by Coopers and Lybrand about the airport. That report was not made because of the privatisation; it was an efficiency report, which should be seen in isolation from any possible privatisation of the airport.
I was amazed by what was said by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien). He said that if the Government did not do what he said we were going to do, that would constitute a Government U-turn. It seems that we now have a new definition of a Government U-turn: it is what happens when the Government do not do what the hon. Member for Normanton said that they were going to do. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman was trying to whip up fears where they should not exist. We are looking at all the options.
§ Mr. O'Brien
I said earlier that, if the Minister did not agree with what I said, he should come forward. If he is saying that what I said about the consequences of water privatisation is not true, I am prepared to withdraw my remarks; if it is true, however, I hope that the Minister will do something about it.
§ Mr. Hanley
The hon. Gentleman invited me to refute what he had said, and I am taking him up on his invitation. What he cited is not the policy that has been decided for Northern Ireland as of now; we are out for consultation 573 and, so far, no decisions have been made. In saying that decisions have been made, the hon. Gentleman is clearly wrong.
I can tell the hon. Member for Antrim, South that great progress has been made on the disability living allowance.
I conclude with two short statements. First, I wish to apologise for my failure to cover any matters with which I have not dealt in my brief response. I know that a number of issues are involved. Secondly, I thank the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann) for his contribution, brief though it was. He and the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) visited Northern Ireland recently, and showed great interest. I hope that many other hon. Members will show the same interest—not a patronising interest, not a wish to go and gawp at how these strange people manage to eke out an existence, but a wish to look at a part of the United Kingdom, and to find out how people live courageously in difficult circumstances in an area where there is deprivation. Of course such deprivation exists in other parts of the United Kingdom, but the problems of Northern Ireland add to the difficulties. I know that those hon. Members appreciated the beauty that is Northern Ireland, and the 1.5 million hospitable and friendly people who represent the real Northern Ireland—not the 600 or 700 swine who ruin it for all the rest of us.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
The Minister paid tribute to hon. Members who visited Northern Ireland and took an interest in it. He said that the debate which took place the other night dealt with Great Britain. I do not think that that was necessarily a reason for excluding Northern Ireland Members who wanted to participate in a debate concerning their future.
§ Mr. Hanley
I thoroughly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I greatly regret that Northern Ireland did not feature in the debate. I was merely stating a fact—that the prayer against that order was a prayer against an order 574 affecting Great Britain only. Although it had a complete read-across, I think that it was wrong that Northern Ireland Members did not have the opportunity to take part in the debate. That is why I took the opportunity today to state that I was grateful that Northern Ireland Members had taken this opportunity—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. The Minister is getting very close to criticising the Chair. The Chair decides who takes part in debates.
§ Mr. Hanley
In no way, Mr. Deputy Speaker, am I saying that I criticise the Chair for not drawing in Northern Ireland Members. What I am saying is that Northern Ireland Members could not take part in the debate because the debate was on Great Britain alone, not on Northern Ireland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it was a limited debate, it may have been felt that they did not have a chance to contribute.
I am grateful that Northern Ireland Members took the opportunity today to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and that therefore they used the time, which just happened not to be available to them the other day, in a most constructive way.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1993, which was laid before this House on 15th February, be approved.