§ 5.2 pm
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 21 February, be approved.This order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1074. The purpose of the draft order is to appropriate the 1983–84 spring Supplementary Estimates, and the 1984–85 Vote on Account of Northern Ireland Departments.
Part I of the schedule covers the issue of some £43 million out of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland in respect of the spring Supplementary Estimates of Northern Ireland Departments, and appropriates this sum for the purposes shown in the schedule. This sum is in addition to some £2,729 million, which was approved during 1983 for the 1983–84 financial year, and brings the total Estimate provision for 1983–84 to just over £2,772 million.
Part II of the schedule gives details of the issues for which the Vote on Account of £1,226 million for 1984–85 is required. This provision is necessary to enable those services to continue until the 1984–85 main Estimates are debated and approved later in the year.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I apologise for intervening so early in the Minister of State's speech. He mentioned that the schedule gave details of the expenditure to which the Vote on Account refers. When is it expected that the details will be published in the form of the respective Estimates?
§ Mr. Butler
I require notice of the right hon. Gentleman's question. He will be as aware as I am, I think, of the time at which we debate these matters. The booklet which the right hon. Gentleman should have in his possession, the "Statement of Sums Required on Account", gives details. That might be sufficient for his purpose, at least for the time being. I intended to mention that in a few moments.
§ Mr. Powell
I am much obliged to the Minister. I was referring to the fact that hon. Members representing other parts of the Kingdom have the opportunity to take pan in debates on the Estimates after those Estimates have become available to them and to the House for study in detail. It was to that point that I wanted to draw attention.
§ Mr. Butler
It will be possible, as usual, to debate the main Estimates when they are printed. The purpose of today's debate, as I have said, is to approve the final Supplementary Estimates, and merely to vote on account the sums required for 1984–85, because otherwise those moneys would not be available. It has been the practice over the years that we should do this in respect generally of 45 per cent. of the sums that are likely to be required, the final main Estimates for 1984–85 being framed within the total provision set out in the Government's White Paper on public expenditure, which was published last month.
The details affecting part I can be found in the spring Supplementary Estimates volume, and, in regard to part II, the booklet entitled "Statement of Sums Required on Account", copies of which have been placed in the Vote Office. I hope that they give the necessary information to 419 indicate at least the magnitudes of the expenditure and matters which, subject to what the Chair has to say, are entirely appropriate for debate.
It is customary to highlight the main items covered by the Supplementary Estimates, and I will follow that practice. Afterwards, I intend to set the sums required on account in the context of the current economic scene, the prospects for the future and the Government's policy for tackling the continuing and undoubted social and economic problems of Northern Ireland.
Taking first the spring Supplementary Estimates. I draw particular attention to one specific area, for a start, before referring to individual Estimates. The House will note that provision is being taken for receipts from the European Community under the urban renewal regulation. This measure enables 100 million European currency units, which is approximately £60 million, to be paid from the European Community budget for the years 1983 to 1985 for urban renewal in Belfast.
We have had little doubt of the European Commission's concern to find ways of helping to alleviate Belfast's longstanding social and economic problems. The urban renewal regulation, now that it has come to fruition, is a very welcome and concrete expression of that concern. The order before the House makes provision for the receipt of the bulk of the first tranche of aid relating to the Community's 1983 budget. This tranche amounts in full to some £18.7 million, which was approved by the Commission on 23 December 1983. The money has been earned on 69 publicly funded infrastructure projects in the greater Belfast area, and has enabled the Government to increase their planned expenditure on urban renewal, including housing.
Estimates conventions mean that the actual sums received cannot always be shown on the face of the Estimates. However, the explanatory prefaces to the relevant Votes show in full the actual receipts which fall in the following classes, that is, Classes 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9.
I turn to the major supplementary provisions that are sought in the draft order. I am sure that hon. Members will be reassured that I do not intend to speak to each provision that is sought in the Supplementary Estimates, but I shall highlight those for which substantial provision is being sought.
In Class I, Vote 3 an increase of £303,000 is sought in the expenditure of the Department of Agriculture which is mainly to accommodate carry-over of expenditure on fishery harbour contracts at Portavogie and Ardglass, which were delayed because of technical and weather problems. These major works are now all but complete and are making an important contribution to the facilities available.
The House will recall that I spoke at some length about the reform of the CAP during the Appropriation Order debate in December. I shall have something more to say about that vital economic sector but, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made clear in his statement only a short while ago, the CAP log-jam effectively continues. Nothing was agreed at Athens, and the examination proceeds under the French Presidency. My noble Friend the Minister of State will 420 continue closely to monitor the negotiations and to ensure that the Northern Ireland case is put clearly and effectively.
Turning next to trade, industry and employment, I draw hon. Members' attention to the £2.2 million reduction in the provision for assistance to Harland and Wolff in the current year. This saving is possible largely through the beneficial cash effect of the work recently carried out on the Falklands floating port contract. Harland and Wolff did a first-class job on this order, despite some extremely adverse weather conditions, and created a good impression with potential customers, including the Ministry of Defence. This is most encouraging; and although its demands on public money remain high, it is pleasing to see that Harland and Wolff is taking effective action to reduce its dependence on subsidies.
I draw the attention of right hon. and hon. Members to the requirement at subhead C8. This is for £10.5 million to enable repayment of assistance from the European regional development fund, earned by two industrial projects in Northern Ireland — the De Lorean Motor Company and Courtaulds at Campsie — which subsequently failed. This amount has been withheld from United Kingdom claims for assistance by the Commission, this procedure being in line with standard conditions attaching to assistance provided under the fund. This is a purely cash transaction and has no implication for public expenditure in Northern Ireland. Public expenditure levels are decided on the basis that anticipated Commission receipts are taken into account. If the receipts do not match up to expectations, the Government can either cut expenditure or retain the planned level of public expenditure, accepting that it will have to be financed from domestic as opposed to Community sources. In this particular instance expenditure will not be cut on foot of the withholding of receipts from the United Kingdom.
On the Employment and Training front under Class II, Vote 5, functioning of the labour market, it has been found necessary to make a number of compensating adjustments. A major factor here is that uptake of the youth training programme over the past year, in some respects, fell below our original expectations. The prime element in this programme is the guaranteed year for minimum age school leavers. Here I have been encouraged by the uptake, almost three quarters of those eligible. I believe that this is a very creditable response, particularly since the numbers in the eligible group of unemployed youngsters has slightly reduced. However, I am still concerned that some young people are failing to take advantage of this valuable preparation for employment.
It is in the second tier provision under the programme—that is, in training opportunities targeted at 17-year-olds—that there has been a disappointing response, with only half or less of the training places offered being occupied. I am currently examining how we can make the arrangements more attractive and realistic for 17-year-olds, bearing in mind the need to emphasise experience and development in a real working environment. The concentration of the young workers scheme on 17-year-olds who are taking up their first job at a realistic wage level — we shall be doing this in Northern Ireland in parity with Great Britain — will encourage the employment of that age group and, I believe, slightly increase the uptake of the guaranteed year.
The result of this lower demand is that the financial requirement for YTP for the current year is reduced by 421 about £4 million. We have been able to find good use for this shortfall, and we are seeking increased provision for other schemes within the labour market area: for example, the uptake of grants for apprentice training is an encouraging sign of an improved outlook by employers and will require over £2 million of additional funding this year. I have also been encouraged by the initial success of the pilot enterprise allowance scheme and the response to its extension on a wider basis, for which almost £500,000 will be required in the current year. Other moneys have also been reallocated: to the action for community employment scheme, Enterprise Ulster and the young workers scheme. The financial statistics for this reallocation show additional expenditure of £4.8 million against savings of £5.3 million.
Moving on to Class IV, Vote 1, road services, a net additional provision of about £1.2 million is being sought. Some £2.4 million is required to finance essential maintenance on roads. The road network in Northern Ireland is extremely good and an important asset to the Province's economy and environment. A major objective must therefore be to meet essential maintenance needs on all principal routes and to maintain the minor routes in a satisfactory state. As part of this process we have been able to respond to the pressures in this area by reallocating public expenditure resources. This has been made possible through our highly efficient monitoring systems, which operate during a year and allow us to identify shortfall at the earliest possible moment and to reallocate resources as the year progresses.
Additional receipts amounting to £1.4 million, including those under the urban renewal regulation, are available as appropriations-in-aid to meet a substantial part of the required increase in expenditure.
The housing supplementaries seek additional provision for housing services of some £8.7 million. In fact, the increased provision is nearer £12 million, but that is offset by an increase in estimated appropriations-in-aid of £3 million. The increases set out in Class V, Vote 1, are mainly attributable to an increase in the housing grant, which is payable to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to cover the differences between its rental income and approved revenue expenditure, and the level of expenditure on house renovation grants. A further requirement of approximately £1.8 million additional assistance to the voluntary housing movement is more than offset by increased receipts of some £3 million expected in loan repayments by housing associations.
The increased requirement for the housing grant is due mainly to a revised estimate for loan charges payable by the housing executive on its housing loan debt, while the increase in provision of £1.6 million for renovation grants reflects the Government's decision last year to allow the housing executive to lift restrictions on grant approvals—a move which was welcomed by those hon. Members who had made representations on this issue.
The House may wish to note that the total provision for housing associations, net of receipts from loan repayments, now stands at some £37 million for this year. The voluntary housing movement continues to play a significant role in the provision of housing, through refurbishing inner city areas in Belfast; in meeting the needs of the elderly, the disabled and other groups whose 422 housing needs require specialist provision and management; and enabling those who cannot take the full step towards home ownership to part-own and part-rent through co-ownership arrangements.
The House will note that a new subhead is being provided to cover the private housing grants scheme. This provides grants in certain circumstances to persons who purchase a house in the private sector through the co-ownership scheme. This is an experimental and time-limited scheme and the response so far has been much lower than expected. The provision sought will provide grant for about 20 cases.
The supplementary provision sought for the education services in Class VIII, Votes 1 and 2, relates almost entirely to increased costs arising from the April 1983 salary award for school teachers and further education lecturers, which amounted to just under 5 per cent. as compared to the 3.5 per cent. assumed in the main Estimates.
In Vote 2 this increased expenditure is offset by savings on the recurrent grant payable to the Ulster polytechnic, partly as a result of slightly lower than anticipated tuition expenditure, and partly from increased fee income. These supplementaries bring the total provision for the salary costs of school teachers to £210 million in 1983–84, which represents some 38 per cent. of overall public expenditure on education and related services.
In Vote 1 an addition of £300,000 is also required for capital grants to schools under voluntary management to meet increased expenditure on certain minor works, including health and safety schemes, which have arisen at these schools.
As to health and social services, the supplementaries are found in Class IX. In Vote 2, an additional £ 12.2 million is sought, of which the family practitioner services require an additional £11.7 million net to meet greater demand and increased costs over the original provision. The bulk of the increase is required in the area of pharmaceutical services for costs of drugs, remuneration and expenses.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I hope that I did not misunderstand the Minister. He referred in the extra expenditure on the general practitioner service to the financial result of increased demand. It is difficult to follow why, in the absence of an increase of general practitioners in post, the increase in demand should result in a higher estimate. I am sorry if I failed to take his point.
§ Mr. Butler
The higher requirement can result from an increase in demand over and above what was originally anticipated, and that is what happened in this case. I understand that there has been a greater off-take of such items as drugs and prescribed medicines, and that the amount allowed for them in the original planning total was not adequate for the purpose. We hope that we have now provided sufficient for future years, but in the current year we must find this not insubstantial sum to make up for the shortfall. If the right hon. Gentleman is not happy with my reply, which I believe to be correct, perhaps he will ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary or raise the point during his speech, when my hon. Friend can intervene, if necessary, to clarify or amplify the explanation that I gave him.
In the social security programme, which is Class X, additional provision is sought under Vote 1 for an increase 423 of £2.9 million in respect of supplement from the Consolidated Fund to the national insurance fund. This is because contribution income, on which the supplement to the fund is basically calculated, has been higher in the current year than originally forecast.
In the family benefits Vote, Vote 3, an extra £1.9 million is being sought, of which £1.4 million is required for child benefit, to meet the cost of the uprating of this benefit in November 1983 by 11 per cent., which is set against general provision of 5 per cent. for benefit uprating in the main estimates. The introduction of "equal treatment" regulations in November 1983 means that either parent in a dual-parent household can, if employed, claim family income supplement. This is expected to lead to an increase in eligible claims costing £0.5 million.
In Class XII, which provides for superannuation and other allowances, extra provision is required for some £1.7 million mainly to meet higher than expected expenditure due to the revised retirement age and redundancies.
I hope that I have made sufficient comment on the spring Supplementary Estimates. Inevitably, they become a catalogue and one goes through them at speed. I hope that I have done neither the items nor the House a disservice my moving so fast through them. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I shall say a few words about the economic prospects for Northern Ireland as I see them in the coming year, and about public expenditure plans for 1984–85, within which main Estimates will be prepared and submitted to the House later in the year, and against which we are now seeking sums on account.
On the economy I am glad to say that national output grew by just over 2 per cent. last year, after rising by 1.25 per cent. in 1982. The output measure of gross domestic product rose by 0.5 per cent. in the final quarter to stand 2.5 per cent above its level a year earlier. There are, therefore, clear and indisputable signs of continuing economic recovery in the United Kingdom. It is our aim to maintain conditions which will enable Northern Ireland, at least to share in the effects of this recovery, which will be seen as local firms meet increased demand, and as the flow of internationally mobile investment increases.
Despite some grounds for optimism, however, the Northern Ireland economic scene is still far from rosy. Northern Ireland, because of its unique combination of circumstances, has suffered a more severe impact from recession than other areas. The Province has been hard hit in maintaining levels of employment—hardest hit have been manufacturing and construction. Unemployment stood at 122,537 on 9 February 1984, or 22 per cent. compared with 17.6 per cent. in north England—the worst region in Great Britain—and is half as bad again as the average for the United Kingdom as a whole. It has to be said, nevertheless, that while, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, the trend in unemployment is still upward there have been signs that the rate of increase has been moderating.
However, it is not all gloom. There are encouraging signs that the recovery is fairly broadly based, with most sectors now displaying stability or even some improvement. All the signs from our own and indeed the CBI's industrial surveys are that firms are regaining confidence and that economic expansion is likely to continue.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but I cannot listen to that much longer. Ever since I have known him he has used that same phrase again and again. There are limited signs of recovery, but it is time that he admitted that the economy is bouncing along the bottom. Everyone knows, including the CBI and even the OUP, that the Northern Ireland economy will not recover until the Government intervene effectively and on a larger scale than they are at present.
§ Mr. Butler
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not accept my view. I am entitled to give it and to draw attention to the facts and surveys, such as those prepared by the CBI, which come straight from the business man's own experience. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I spend much more time in the Province than he does. I probably spend a great deal more time talking to those who are trying to make a living there and visiting factories than he does. I am aware of the many cases where workers are being taken on and economic activity has increased. That is what I draw attention to.
§ Mr. Butler
I hope that I have always tried to paint a realistic picture of the scene. I know that the hon. Gentleman does not agree with my and the Government's recipes for dealing with the matter. He may have the opportunity to make the same speech on the subject that he has made for the past three years, with which I shall disagree. I hope that I have never falsified the figures. I have not said that an economic recovery, which can be measured by increases in output, has been taking place in the Province when it has not. The problem with the hon. Gentleman is that he is all gloom. He is not prepared to welcome some positive signs of improvement in the Province. However, as I said earlier, and as I shall doubtless continue to say, we have a considerable task in front of us.
I was about to come to another point with which the hon. Gentleman will not agree, because if the Labour Party were in government it would do all that it could to increase public expenditure, thus boosting the rate of inflation and destroying the prospects of improving competitiveness. One element in sustaining the recovery is the control of inflation. The reduction of the rate of inflation to less than 5 per cent. has been a major achievement, along with others, of this Government and has exceeded the expectations of the forecasters. But it is still not low enough, certainly not as low as that of countries which we might look on as our principal competitors in world markets: America, West Germany and Japan. The battle against inflation must and will continue, and success in that battle will be as important to Northern Ireland as it will be to the rest of the United Kingdom.
Equally, Northern Ireland industry, with the rest of British industry, must go on fighting to improve its competitiveness. There is a great temptation after going through a period of hard times to take it easy, to work less hard but to expect the same—or more—money for it. We cannot afford to let up; and that applies perhaps even more in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain.
425 Public expenditure must continue to be restricted. The Government's plans are laid out in the public expenditure White Paper, and it is clear that the pressures on resources will be considerable, not least in health care and in meeting the needs of an increasingly elderly population. Northern Ireland will continue to be dealt with generously, in recognition of our special needs. But it seems self-evident to me that we can expect continued public expenditure constraints in coming years; we therefore have to address ourselves even more intently to conserving expenditure, to seeking the most cost-effective way of achieving our ends, and especially of making sure that our spending priorities are right. This latter exercise should involve the elected representatives of the Province, members of the House and of the Assembly, as well as various consultative bodies; inevitably, it will mean difficult and sometimes painful decisions.
Ministers remain convinced that top priorities must continue to be given to the industrial development drive, and we are generally supported in this. Our principal aim must be the creation of employment through the stimulation of viable and sustainable jobs in the private sector. To this end, we have allocated to the industrial support and development area some £175 million for 1984–85, which is in line with our latest assessment of requirements. That provision will, of course, be kept under review throughout the year in the light of how demand for the various types of assistance develops.
The role of the industrial development board in this work is crucial, and I would like to say a few words on how I see its achievements to date. Before doing so, however, I must emphasise, as I have done on previous occasions, the importance of all those connected with Northern Ireland working together to present an image of the Province which will give potential investors confidence.
The industrial development board has been operating for 18 months, during which it has acted in a businesslike manner and overall has responded well to the difficult challenges facing it. During 1983 it dealt with 160 projects and assisted a total of 17,200 jobs. That figure represents 25 per cent. of the total employment provided by potential IDB companies in Northern Ireland, and 17 per cent. of the total manufacturing base of the Province.
One of the board's main tasks has been to strengthen and build on the existing industrial base. Indigenous industry has experienced a most difficult time in recent years and inevitably much of the IDB's efforts to date has been directed towards protecting home industry and encouraging it to become more competitive and to expand. Last year the IDB provided assistance to local firms which had the effect of securing about 14,600 jobs. While new overseas investment will bring the necessary diversification and employment on the scale which is required to make an early impact on the Province's unemployment problem, it is necessary to create a healthy home base to attract and support that inward investment. The board has performed well in supporting home industry.
Of course, the board seeks the same success in attracting inward investment, but mobile investment remains scarce and competition for each potential project is still extremely tough. Northern Ireland's distorted image abroad continues to act as a major obstacle in attempting to present the business opportunities afforded by the Province. In October 1983, the IDB launched the Northern Ireland partnership as a major initiative to counter the 426 image problem. The partnership is a unique association of more than 150 companies and organisations, covering almost every aspect of the business and social life of the Province, and it has already been active in combating the prevalent adverse impressions of Northern Ireland abroad. This work will continue in 1984 and includes plans for five partnership missions to the United States and Europe.
Prospects for inward investment are a little brighter, and the added interest of potential investors is shown by the higher rate of visits to the Province. More than twice as many visits were paid during 1983 than in 1982 or 1981, with the rate accelerating in the second half of the year; but it remains difficult to close deals with potential investors.
The strategy of the IDB in job promotion is straightforward. The past year has seen a necessary concentration on saving jobs, and on helping to sustain companies in difficulties. Without this, the manufacturing base of the Province would have been eroded beyond the point of no return. With economic recovery, the board can build on other work which has been undertaken during the year — the encouragement of established industry to maximise its potential.
Inward investment activity is an essential complement to work with indigenous industry and will be directed at those companies and those industries which offer the best prospects.
§ Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)
As a member of the Public Accounts Committee, which has a somewhat different view of the effectiveness of the industrial development board in the past, whatever it might he doing now, may I ask my hon. Friend to expand on what the Secretary of State said last year about the relief of corporation tax in the Province? On 23 March 1983, he said that corporation tax would be relieved at up to 80 per cent. on projects in the Province. We have heard nothing more about that excellent initiative, and perhaps my hon. Friend can tell us what has happened since then.
§ Mr. Butler
I respect my hon. Friend's position as a member of the Committee of Public Accounts. I remind the House that the industrial development board has existed for only 18 months, so the sins of the grandfathers should not necessarily be visited upon it. The corporation tax relief grant was one of three or four additional measures introduced in Northern Ireland in the spring of last year. They were part of the incentive package made available to the board. Another measure that may be of more immediate importance was the total industrial derating of manufacturing premises, which enabled an instant cash injection into industry.
However, we had been conscious for some time that, when it came to company profits, we could not match what was on offer from the Republic of Ireland, where in certain circumstances there is a straight 10 per cent. rate of corporation tax. We sought to find something equivalent to that, without altering the fundamental principle that United Kingdom taxation should be uniform across the board.
That relief grant was worked out so as to apply to individual companies that were setting up, or to subsidiaries, or even to separate divisions of other companies which could be seen to be operating at arm's length and whose financial results could be sufficiently well monitored to allow the tax relief grant to apply. It has 427 been used on a number of occasions by the industrial development board. As I have said, it is one of just a few new incentives that were introduced last spring, and it is part of a much larger package that is available to the industrial development agency. Certainly it had an immediate impact on a number of investors who were apparently dissuaded from considering Northern Ireland because of the absence of this incentive. It is particularly attractive because it will apply to those companies that are successful — that is, the companies that are making profits. So it is one of a number of incentives, and a valuable one at that.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
Does the Minister agree that the incentive package that is available in Northern Ireland has been claimed to be the best in the United Kingdom? If that is true, why do companies still refuse to accept the bait?
§ Mr. Butler
It has been judged by some independent authorities to be the best package in Europe, not just in the United Kingdom. Companies invest for various reasons, and I do not need to rehearse what I believe are the attractions of Northern Ireland. They are better known to the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) than even to me. However, the image of the Province being a place of continual terrorist activity is still off-putting, and much of the work of those of us who try to promote the Province is spent on putting across the high degree of normality there. I repeat that a further inhibitor, apart from the image of terrorism, is political instability, and a number of us have a part to play in trying to combat that factor.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
On the question of political instability, has the Minister discovered in his travels, as I have discovered, that one aspect of political instability is uncertainty about whether Northern Ireland will remain for the foreseeable future a part of the United Kingdom, or whether those who are trying to shunt us out of the United Kingdom win the day, so that firms may not want to go outside the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Butler
I am sure that, when the hon. Member has dealt with that uncertainty, he has drawn attention to the legislation which says that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom unless or until a majority of the people decide otherwise, subject always to the approval of Parliament. That is usually sufficient to persuade people.
Nevertheless, outside observers see the differences that exist, the in-fighting that takes place in Northern Ireland, and they wonder what the outturn will be. So we should seek reconciliation on the political front, just as much as putting across the correct image, if we genuinely want to resolve the unemployment and economic difficulties as well as the other difficulties.
I was completing a passage of my speech about the industrial development board, reviewing its work over one and a half years. I was about to say that it consists of a representative cross-section of people with wide industrial and commercial experience. They deserve the fullest support and co-operation as they tackle the difficult terrain that lies ahead of them.
Outside the economic field, priorities attach to other areas. Within the social and environmental field we have 428 given first priority to housing. The 1984–85 allocation of £340 million represents an increase over the provision published in our earlier plans, after making some technical adjustments for the housing benefits scheme. As well as the increase in the public expenditure committed to the programme, there is a further substantial increase when account is taken of the Housing Executive's income from rents and from house sales, so that gross expenditure on housing in 1984–85 will be some £520 million. While we shall continue with a substantial new building programme, with some 3,000 new starts next year, greater emphasis than in the past will be placed on the rehabilitation and improvement of existing dwellings.
I want to say a word about agriculture and the Government's attitude to it in Northern Ireland. The importance of that industry is self-evident and, I think, universally acknowledged. It is important in regard to its own direct contribution to economic activity and to employment. It has a further vital importance as a source of raw material to the Province's expanding food processing sector.
The Government have demonstrated their recognition of that special importance—and of the special problems of Northern Ireland farmers—by a generous programme of support, some of it exceptional to the Province. I will not attempt to deny the real and understandable anxieties that prevail in the industry as to the outcome of the CAP negotiations. I will, however, point to the £10 million entry in the 1984–85 public expenditure statement, an amount additional to the original planning figure, which will allow next year for a substantial level of local support over and above what will be available under national and Community arrangements. This is a continuation of the practice of the last few years. What is new is that the Government have carried forward the same sum in the planning figures for the two following years. It is an earnest of Ministers' intentions that, given the availability of resources and current priorities, some special assistance should be forthcoming.
I add my welcome to the extension of the less-favoured areas. Three quarters of Northern Ireland will now receive favourable treatment, and this will prove a boost to both income and morale. The time that it has taken to resolve this matter illustrates that, however strong the resolve of national Ministers, even the most deserving case can take months to negotiate the labyrinthine ways of the Community.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
Does the Minister concede the possiblity that if the United Kingdom Government had been prepared to make money available and had said so much earlier we might have settled the problem years ago?
§ Mr. Butler
I do not believe that the hon. Member is correct. I was told — perhaps even by the hon. Gentleman—that the extension that had to be agreed by the Council of Ministers would be a matter of days or weeks. I assured him that I thought it would take longer, and I regret to say that for once I was right and he, or whoever suggested that it would take a short time, was wrong. He was, I believe, in the Chamber when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made his statement and would have been interested to hear, as I was, that my right hon. Friend reckoned that he had spent some 19 years trying to improve the position 429 of hill farmers. We must be grateful for this extension and for the fact that about 400,000 additional hectares of Northern Ireland land will be included and that as my right hon. Friend explained, decisions will be taken as to the financial advantages which will flow to the extended areas.
I trust that I have given a fair presentation of the draft order. I have also taken the opportunity to restate the Government's economic policy, which adds up to a coherent and positive approach to the problems of Northern Ireland. During the storm years of recession it has too often been a case of having to bale out the boat to keep it afloat. Today I cannot pretend that the weather is set fair, but I believe that the gods are smiling a little more kindly. I hope that the Province will respond to the more favourable economic conditions and to the support that the Government are prepared to give.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)
I can assure the Minister of State that my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) will not be making the speech that he has been making in the past because on this occasion I am making it. I will at least try to cover somewhat different subjects from those that I endeavoured to cover on 8 December, but I cannot forbear from telling the hon. Gentleman that when he said that he thought that the gods were smiling a little more my hon. Friend muttered under his breath, "Heaven help us if they ever frown on us."
This is not one of the occasions when hon. Members find it difficult to obtain seating accommodation in the Chamber. I notice that the Liberal and SDP Benches are totally denuded. It is hardly surprising that Liberal and SDP Members have no policy on Northern Ireland; they are never here to listen to the debates. I find that regrettable, because the procedure that we are following today is deeply rooted in history. Perhaps that is one reason why it will commend itself to hon. Members from the other side of the water.
As I understand it, this is not the opportunity which we will have later to debate in detail the Estimates for the forthcoming year. Rather it stems from the principle that redress of grievances by the Executive should precede Supply. On such occasions hon. Members are entitled to put forward the specific grievances of their constituents. For that reason, it is not an occasion when the Front Benches should claim a high proportion of the time available. There are, however, some matters which have been expressed to me as showing real anxieties and I believe that I ought to invite the hon. Gentleman, when he replies to the debate, to comment on some of them.
First, I should like to invite the hon. Gentleman's comments on Class H of the schedules, the sums to be spent on industrial development, and to ask how much of the sum that will be available in 1984–85 it is intended to spend on Enterprise Ulster. The Minister of State has already reminded us that the unemployment figure for Northern Ireland now stands, tragically, at over 122,000. Of those, more than 56,000 have been unemployed for at least 12 months and some for very much longer. That is not a figure that gives great encouragement to the optimists to whom the hon. Gentleman referred. But something will have to be done meanwhile for those who find themselves in that tragic situation.
430 In 1972 the Government felt the need for a direct labour organisation designed to help the long-term unemployed who were then, of course, substantially fewer. It was not intended as one more cosmetic scheme to reduce the statistics of those to whom the community offers nothing but the dole, but to help the long-term unemployed to feel that they were making a genuine contribution, to retain their self-respect and, in the process, to reduce the destructive frustrations of prolonged idleness and to maintain the habits and discipline of work.
The first report of Enterprise Ulster described what were intended to be its principal characteristics. Comparing it with the ordinary winter unemployment relief schemes, the report said:we have consistently viewed Enterprise Ulster, although operating in the same labour market … as having more extended horizons, more ambitious objectives, both in the kinds of work it would attempt and in the prospects it would offer its employees".It described Enterprise Ulster asa bridge between the dole queue and regular work".It was therefore intended to meet the needs of the people, to get the unemployed working for an end product with a purpose and to offer real opportunities for those with skills and initiative to develop.
The report also made the point that it was intended to be flexible, to react to the number of unemployed who were in need of it, so that, although the numbers are now substantially greater, the intention was that, whether they became greater or smaller, the scheme would be flexible enough to react. In the context of total unemployment in Northern Ireland at any particular time, it said,it should be sufficiently flexible to respond to changes in the state of the unemployment register.The scheme boasts an impressive record. It has given employment to more than 10,000 people and for over half of them has provided a channel into regular employment. It has completed some 400 community projects such as playing fields and parks, erected some 300 bus shelters, decorated some 4,000 homes occupied by the elderly and the handicapped and assisted in schemes of the National Trust.
While any statutory scheme must absorb some resources on administration and technical advice, 61 per cent. of Enterprise Ulster's budget is now spent directly on paying wages and salaries, largely to those who otherwise would be in receipt of dole benefit, so a substantial saving to the Treasury can be deducted from the cost of the scheme.
As I understand it, the Minster of State recently announced plans to reduce job levels available to Enterprise Ulster from 1,250 to 1,000—I assume, in the forthcoming financial year—at a time when the number of long-term unemployed is increasing and when district councils are putting forward an increasing number of schemes of which the community stands in need. The hon. Gentleman has already mentioned the cuts in the youth training schemes for the present year. If we are to accept what was said in the Belfast Telegraph of 21 February, that involves possibly 1,000 places in Belfast in those schemes, and, in the process, placing at risk the jobs of at least 34 of their staff.
I understand the reason, as the hon. Gentleman has just explained it. It is that the number of places taken up is short of the capacity of the programme. It may be that the Government have asked themselves why there is a lack of take-up. Can it be part of the total despair in the hearts of 431 the young people who see no point in undergoing training if there is no prospect of work when the training is completed? Last year a survey by the Northern Ireland Youth Forum found that only half the young people undergoing training believed that there was a prospect of a job for them at the end of the training. Obviously they do not share the Minister's optimism.
If there is to be a saving on YTS schemes, the House will be delighted to hear, as the Minister told us this afternoon, that some of the savings for the current year are to be allocated to Enterprise Ulster. Presumably there will be savings next year, too. If that is so, perhaps we can be assured that some of those savings will be redirected in the next financial year to Enterprise Ulster.
§ Mr. Butler
I think it reasonable that I, rather than my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, should answer this point about Enterprise Ulster. I endorse what the right hon. and learned Gentleman says in regard to Enterprise Ulster's performance. It has had in its comparatively short life a good record of providing employment and of doing work for the community. What I have been concerned to do is to ensure that the resources available have gone as far as possible and have been put to best use.
In the first year that Enterprise Ulster was set up, it employed nearly 2,000 people. For the same funds in real terms, under Enterprise Ulster and the action for community employment scheme, although not doing exactly the same work, both providing jobs for the long-term unemployed, 4,000 people will be occupied for the same resources.
That is the sort of decision that one has to take. Enterprise Ulster will now continue at what is considered to be the minimum level for viability, which is 1,000 jobs. The provision will be £7 million. If a shortfall is detected in other schemes below what is already planned, one has to consider whether sums will be made available to Enterprise Ulster against competing priorities. But that basically is why Enterprise Ulster has been reduced. It has been too costly in job terms compared with other programmes and we are now getting twice as much for the same amount of money.
§ Mr. Archer
I am grateful for that explanation, although I hope that it will not be included in the time that I am to occupy. I do not complain in the least that the Minister took that opportunity to give the explanation that he did.
We shall have to debate this at greater length on another occasion, but I rather doubt whether the Community will derive much pleasure from being told that it is now Government policy to run Enterprise Ulster at what the Minister describes as the minimum level at which it is viable.
§ Mr. William Ross
The hon. Gentleman will realise that any organisation, including Enterprise Ulster, has certain minimum overheads. If the numbers are being run at the absolute minimum and overheads remain the same, the cost per unit of employment will be higher than if the number employed were much greater.
§ Mr. Archer
I am certainly not complaining that too few people are being offered the advantage of Enterprise 432 Ulster. My complaint was rather the reverse. I think that the hon. Gentleman and I are at one on that. We may have an opportunity to debate that matter at rather greater length on some future occasion. In a debate such as this, one cannot give a great deal of time to any one matter, no matter how important.
I note that part of the sum for which the Government are asking in Class II is to be spent on the aircraft industry. That prompts me to voice an anxiety which is not confined to the Labour Benches, on the future of Short Brothers. It is fast becoming one of the most remarkable success stories of our period. It is Northern Ireland's largest employer with a work force of 6,300 and with obvious possibilities for further expansion. It is to be congratulated both on its sales success and on its capacity for meeting production targets. Yet it seems that a question mark is now hanging over its future. At Question Time on 23 February it was confirmed that the Government had it in mind at some time in the foreseeable future to sacrifice Shorts on the altar of privatisation.
In the past a substantial amount of public money has been injected into Shorts and we make no complaint about that. But it appears that as soon as it becomes profitable the public are to be deprived of the asset. It seems to be at risk of sharing the fate of all profitable investments in the United Kingdom. During the first four years of office the Government deprived the public of £1,758 million worth of businesses and services. They have already admitted that they plan to sell a further £2,000 million-worth every year for the next three years. The Financial Times has calculated that if the Government implement their election threats the assets disposed of within the next three years could reach £13,000 million. The Government are paying their way, not by producing goods but by selling off the laying hens.
I mention that because the Government are aware that Labour Members do not oppose Government Measures for the sake of it. We recognise the problems of the Northern Ireland Office and I hope that no one will suggest that we have been less than responsible on Northern Ireland matters. In fact, there are those who criticise us for being too responsible. We appreciate the problems and we seek to be fair. But let no one assume that the king under the mountain will continue to sleep. If the Government seek to sell a public asset such as Short Brothers and to denude the country of control over what becomes of its contribution to the economy, its relationship to the community and its work force, they will be confronted with complete opposition from Labour Members.
I turn now to Class V. The Minister will recollect that in the debate on the Appropriation order on 8 December 1983 I made some references to the housing situation generally. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), the Under-Secretary of State, accused me of being less than generous until I pointed out that I had been quoting from the last annual report of the Housing Executive itself, which on these matters was substantially less complacent than the Government. Now we are to have a new housing survey — indeed, not before time. The latest was in 1979. But I am content to await the result of the survey before embarking on any further discussions on housing generally.
Today I wish to mention only one specific aspect of housing. In Northern Ireland there is no equivalent to the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. There is no statutory obligation on the Housing Executive, as I 433 understand it, to rehouse the homeless. Usually, the provision of short-term or emergency accommodation is left to the voluntary agencies. If I understand the problem of the Housing Executive, it is that at the end of last year it had a waiting list of more than 23,000 families, many of whom have been waiting for a house for a long time. Of course, it would not be right without good reason to allow someone who is not on the list to go to the head of the queue.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that a high percentage of those on that waiting list are people in housing waiting for a change?
§ Mr. Archer
I hesitate to repeat some of the matters that we discussed on 8 December, but I recollect that the Housing Executive said that it was less than happy about the situation. It pointed out that many people were content to wait in substandard accommodation because the employment situation was such that they could not afford the rents of better accommodation. I hesitate to embark on a long debate on this subject at this stage. It was not about that that I wanted to address the House, but the Housing Executive does not share the hon. Gentleman's optimism.
Clearly there must be some exceptions. It is possible to receive emergency help if one is not intentionally homeless, but there are two problems. The first is the definition of who is intentionally homelesss. Someone evicted from a non-secure tenancy is regarded as intentionally homeless since he chose to accept the non-secure tenancy in the first place even if he had no alternative. Someone who has been offered work in a different area and wants to move is regarded as intentionally homeless.
There is a further problem for the homeless because to be included on the waiting list at all it is necessary to have an address in Northern Ireland. That leads to the paradoxical situation that having no address one has no prospect of being provided with one. People are not offered a home precisely because they do not have a home.
There are no helpful statistics about the number of homeless in Northern Ireland, but Shelter has calculated that in 1983 there were probably about 4,000 people without a home of their own. It says that in this year of grace 1984, in addition to those who are sleeping rough, on any night about 500 people depend upon hostels. We are not speaking about a vast number of houses, but we are speaking of some tragic cases. I ask the Minister to tell the House when he replies that he will discuss the matter with the Housing Executive.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)
I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would wish to know that I have set up a departmental working committee on homelessness, and when it produces its conclusions I shall be happy to share them with the right hon. and learned Gentleman and other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Archer
I warmly welcome that announcement, as will the House. It will bring a great deal of relief to a number of people. Can the Under-Secretary of State say when the committee will report?
Class VIII refers to the expenditure on education. The Minister of State told us that the increased Vote this year is accounted for almost entirely by the salary award. But we now have some yardstick by which to judge education 434 in the Province with the report published last December of the Department of Education's inspectorate. It recorded that the pupil-teacher ratio had been maintained, given that there are now fewer children to be taught. The numbers are diminishing. But the report shows that per capita allowances have not kept pace with rising prices. It speaks of a reduction in spending on textbooks and equipment. The per capita allowance for library books is 30 per cent. lower in real terms than it was in 1978. It recordsvery serious reductions in library standards.The report relates that trips, visits, field work and school activities have all been curtailed. Because of the reduction in the number of librarians and technical assistants, subjects of real importance to the economy such as design have been restricted. That is true of education for children from the age of five.
The Equal Opportunities Commission has told us that nursery education for the under-fives in Northern Ireland does not bear comparison with that in other parts of the United Kingdom.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
When studying that report, will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, while the pupil-teacher ratio has been maintained, Northern Ireland is at the bottom of the league in the United Kingdom? The overall PTR in Northern Ireland is 18.6, in Scotland it is 16.9 to 17.6, and in England it is 17.9 to 17.7. In the area I represent the PTR is 19.2. Northern Ireland's PTR is anything but good.
§ Mr. Archer
The hon. Gentleman has made a fair point, but the position does not appear to be worsening. I was mentioning a number of respects in which the position was becoming worse as day succeeds day. I was about to speak of nursery classes for the under-fives.
In 1978, the Child Poverty Action Group found that a major factor for many families in deciding whether family income fell below the poverty level was whether the mother was in work. Families where the mother had to work were more likely to be those with young children. It was found that 17 per cent. of all the children of working mothers were under five, yet in 1977 in Northern Ireland the number of places in nursery education as a proportion of the population was only half that of England and Wales. In 1978, the then Government prepared plans to deal with the subject, but they have not been implemented. Will the Under-Secretary of State tell us about the future of nursery education?
The most worrying aspect is perhaps the capital budget. All education is an investment in the future, but the building and maintenance of schools is doubly so. Paragraph 71 of the report states:It is clear that the present capital budget available for school building is inadequate. Increasing numbers of pupils are being deprived of reasonable educational facilities and the proper environment for learning, and, in addition, the present level of funding would appear to be storing up greater problems for the future.The inspectorate is troubled at the declining level of cleaning and caretaking services. Education authorities' returns show that some schools have not been painted for periods ranging from 12 years to 25 years. Broken windows are not being replaced but simply boarded up. It is small wonder that the report records that teacher morale is affected. Teaching staff have really worked wonders with inadequate premises and tools, but the physical condition of schools has an importance out of all proportion to its cost.
435 It is perhaps inevitable that many buildings in Northern Ireland cities look old, dingy and depressing. They make a substantial contribution to the mood of frustration and despair that sometimes exists. When last there, I was told that the youth training schemes were being used to enable young people to paint out the graffiti of hate on the walls of Belfast. But the only slogan I saw being painted out was "Love overcomes all things". If the physical environment were a little brighter and more cheerful, that cheerfulness might penetrate to those who must spend so much of their lives there. A beginning could be made in the schools. If children are accustomed from their earliest years to a tarnished, tired environment, that will contribute to a tarnished, tired outlook.
This is not a dramatic debate. We are discussing specific problems. The Under-Secretary of State will know that optimism is a function not only of actual conditions—though the Opposition dispute his interpretation of the actual conditions — but of the environment in which people live. Will the Northern Ireland Office provide at least a coat of paint towards a brighter Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
I know that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, visited the enterprise zone exhibition presently on show in London. He will be aware that a number of my hon. Friends visited that exhibition as well. I am sure that he, like us, was pleased with the show put on for Belfast and Londonderry by his Department. I concluded that the Londonderry stand was easily the best-looking one. I take great pleasure in that, because I represented Londonderry for about nine years. I notice that its present representative—the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume)—has not graced us so far with his presence.
On the last occasion we debated these matters I mentioned the effect of the carry-over provisions from one financial year to the next. The Minister said that the carry-over would be subject to adjustment in the autumn Estimates. Some people think that the carry-over means that next year's expenditure will be increased by the sums carried over from this year. The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) said that the amount would be readjusted each time December rolled around. Where will the carry-over appear in the Northern Ireland accounts? Where will we find that provision in the July Estimates? Many of us would find that information of great interest.
The sums coming to the Coleraine council in general grants comprise two elements — first, the value of premises which, for some reason, have been derated, and, secondly, social costs, which are worked out on a formula of total net expenditure.
Coleraine council is in a peculiar position. It is the one council area in Northern Ireland to which each summer there is an enormous influx of people. It is estimated that for two or three months the population increases by 50 per cent. Although the council must provide services for that tremendous temporary increase in population, no grant is made available to the council to cater for that increase. I am not clear about the situation in Great Britain, but I believe that on this side of the Irish sea provision is made to give an extra helping hand to areas which have large 436 tourist numbers drifting in each summer. Those who have studied this matter in Coleraine tell me that they should be entitled to £200,000 or more per annum to meet the extra expenditure incurred.
I am mentioning this subject more or less in passing, but I would not like the Minister to think that I shall mention it and then forget it. I shall be persistent because the Government in respect of Londonderry city have accepted what the council there has said about the census numbers. If they are prepared to accept Londonderry council's representations that the census is wrong, that the numbers are too low and that, because of that, the Government must increase the amounts given to that council, the temporary population who arrive in the Coleraine council area each summer must also be taken into account. Coleraine has a case that is as good as, perhaps better than, the case of Londonderry city council.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
I have an obvious point to make to the hon. Gentleman, one that I made when I had the privilege of visiting Coleraine council a few months ago, although I shall say more on the subject when I reply to the debate. Tourists bring money into areas such as Coleraine as well as costing money in additional services. On the whole, that is welcome to those who live and work in Coleraine, for example in terms of shopping and other facilities.
§ Mr. Ross
The Minister makes a good point so far as it goes, but he ignores the fact that the people who live in the Coleraine council area earn and spend their money there to a far greater extent than the transient population of tourists who arrive each summer. The resident population, who form the numbers on which the grant is calculated, put in much more than the tourists because most tourists do not spend the sort of sums in such areas that they spent 20 or 30 years ago; many of them live in caravans and other temporary accommodation of their own. The Minister cannot get away with it as easily as that. There is a real case to be answered, a case which is unanswerable without more cash being forthcoming.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
I am not unsympathetic to the point that the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) is making. While many thousands of those who go to the Coleraine borough council area in the summer months stay in caravans, because of this Government's policy they are having to pay rates to live in those caravans.
§ Mr. Ross
That is correct, and it adds to the case that I am making because if they are paying rates, they should be treated in exactly the same way as the resident population, who also pay rates. Although I leave the matter there, I suspect, despite what the Minister may say in reply, that I shall return to it before the summer recess. I do not intend to let the matter drop because my constituents are suffering an inequity that should be corrected.
I come to the question of the payment of repair grants under the Housing Executive scheme. There is an anomaly in regard to public expenditure, of which all hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies are well aware, an anomaly that I hope the Minister will clear up, and I gave his Department notice that I would be raising this issue.
When somebody in a Housing Executive estate purchases his dwelling, he often knows before the 437 purchase that the dwelling needs a certain amount of repair. He may apply for a grant, in which case grant officials inspect the property and produce a list of defects in the dwelling on which grant is payable. It is my experience that many constituents do not agree with the list produced by those grant officials.
That remains the position, until the Housing Executive decides to do a general facelift and refurbishing of the estate. Whenever the executive does repairs to its dwellings, there is no question of replacing only that which is defective; it does the lot. It is all public expenditure. In other words, what is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander.
I do not see how we, as Northern Ireland representatives, can stand back and agree that the Housing Executive should be allowed to do repairs to one level while our constituents receive grants for repairs to a much lower level. There is an inequity here which is causing much concern, an inequity which rankles with those who suffer, and several cases have recently been brought to my attention.
The Minister must take the matter in hand and reach an equitable solution. If public expenditure is justified in respect of a publicly owned dwelling up to a certain point, the Housing Executive must accept that the same level of expenditure should be acceptable for a house which has been purchased, perhaps only a few weeks before. This issue cannot be swept under the carpet, because it will get worse.
§ Mr. Ross
Because the person whose house has been improved by the executive may buy it a few weeks later. He may pay though the nose for it, but he will still get a lot off, and he could wind up doing better than the person who bought before the repairs were done. An inequity exists here and we must not shut our eyes to it. It must be resolved because it rankles.
There is another housing matter that I have raised with the Under-Secretary's predecessor and possibly with the predecessor's predecessor; indeed, I seem to have been raising this subject going back into the mists of time. It is the question of replacement grants, and again, this revolves around the difficulties faced by Housing Executive grant officials and their superiors in trying to do their best for very poor, principally rural, housing in Northen Ireland. As the Minister will be aware, they stretch the boundaries as far as the elastic will go, but sometimes it snaps and a poor soul loses his grant because he has stepped over the edge of what is permissible.
I know that the Minister does not like the present situation. I have had correspondence with him about it. Sometimes a satisfactory outcome is achieved, but all too often that is not the case. The problem of poor quality rural housing largely affects small farmers whose income is relatively small. The Housing Executive, in its efforts to improve the quality and standard of a house, does the best it can, but often that means improving a property that at best has a limited lifespan.
I believe that some grant money is being virtually thrown away. A short-sighted policy is sometimes followed, especially when a good deal of the grant that is paid is swallowed up in the extra expense of repairing an old house rather than the lesser sum that would be necessary to improve a better, or build a new, house.
438 The Minister knows about the case I have in mind because he wrote to me on 24 February about it. He set out, as did his predecessor, in both public and private, the objections to a replacement grant in such cases. I agree that there are real problems, but I believe that the Minister would like those problems to be overcome, and that with him I am pushing at an open door. I ask that, regardless of the situation elsewhere, the Minister will not allow his officials, the Treasury or the Secretary of State to put him off completely.
The most satisfactory long-term answer is to admit that certain dwellings in Northern Ireland would be far better knocked down and replaced. A replacement grant — perhaps, but not necessarily, as generous as the present repair and improvement grants — should be paid. Restricted to the narrow band of very poor rural housing and perhaps to a limited number of years, that would be much more satisfactory than the present arrangements. Far too many very poor quality houses have been repaired because the alternative to a grant was for people to continue to live in dwellings that were little better than hovels. The Housing Executive is doing its best, but the better answer would be a replacement grant for that class of housing.
It is pointless to say that all these people have small farms and will eventually be able to build new houses of their own. Very often, they will never be able to afford a new house without help from public funds. Given the willingness of the people of Northern Ireland to practise self-help in housing, a great deal could be done in that narrow field. If it was a success, the scheme could perhaps be widened, but I do not ask for that in the first instance. I seek help only for the small group of people who are afflicted in this way. I want to improve the quality of their housing. When the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is criticised for the poor quality of housing, it is forgotten far too often that most of the really poor housing is poor rural housing. Most of the towns, with exceptions—
§ Mr. Ross
—are all privately owned. Most tenants of privately owned housing have long since had their house condemned and have moved into housing estates. A small group of people have been trapped by circumstances. Their dwellings need to be improved, and there is no answer other than the provision of a subsidy to replace the dwellings.
I know that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends wish to speak. They have all prepard long and detailed speeches on their constituents' economic and social problems. I shall therefore not waste much of the time of the House. However, I believe that my points deserve an answer and I hope that the Minister will be able to give me acceptable answers — by which I mean answers that accept my view. If he cannot do so now, no doubt he will reply to me in July or December, or perhaps this time next year—provided that he lasts the course.
I wish to refer to the disastrous position in relation to the change of name of Londonderry. I have been deeply concerned about this matter since the first attempts were made to change the name. Perhaps I understand better than the Minister the motives that underlie the change. The hon. Gentleman met my right hon. friend the Member for Down South (Mr. Powell) to discuss this issue some time 439 ago. We put our view to him firmly but in a reasonable manner. I drew his attention to the use of Derry as a place name in the Northern Ireland and Irish context. I pointed out that the name Derry is used by itself as a place name in Ireland only twice, but that it occurs in hundreds or perhaps thousands of places as part of a name, because Derry simply means oak. Derry has never been used as the name of the city or of the island of Londonderry except as a shortened version of a longer name. The name was Derry Columbkille for centuries. It was Londonderry for centuries. Before that it was Derry Calgach which means, I believe, Deny of the hunchback. Those who sought the change sought it for no good reason. Their aim was to open a door.
I was disappointed when the Minister wrote to me saying that he was to make the change of name. When I explain the circumstances of his reply, the House may understand my disappointment. The Minister had told my right hon. Friend and me that, if he decided to make the change, he would let me know. The implication was that I would be told a day or so beforehand.
I understand that a friend of mine in the Unionist party—Mr. Alen, an Assembly Member for Londonderry—received a letter on the morning of 24 January, which was the day of the announcement. The letter was delivered by hand to his home. I believe — although I have not confirmed it with him—that a DUP Assembly Member for Londonderry was sought out on his way to Belfast and given a letter by hand.
I received two letters. One arrived at my home on 25 January, and I received the other here a day or so later. The letter was unlike the rest of the letters that I have received from the Minister's office in that it was signed not by him but by one of his officials. That is unusual in the case of the Minister, though not in that of his noble Friend. The letter was dated 23 January, but both of the envelopes were postmarked from the Stormont Parliament buildings on 24 January. I was surprised that the letters, although dated 23 January, had been posted only on the day when the announcement was made. I felt rather sore about that.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
I attempted to ensure that the hon. Gentleman, like Members of the Assembly and other people whom I had spoken to about the decision, was informed in advance. However, the hon. Gentleman should cast his mind back to the weather that week. That may explain to him both why the two letters that I sent in order to inform him in advance did not arrive in time and why the letter was signed not by me but by my private secretary.
We attempted to tell the hon. Gentleman in time. I apologise for our failure to do so. When I first went to the Northern Ireland Office I was advised that there was very little snow in Northern Ireland in winter. That week the weather was very bad by Northern Ireland's high standards.
§ Mr. Ross
I accept the hon. Gentleman's apology, but I feel sure that, next time, his office will remember that I have a telephone. I am worried not so much by the letter being late as the decision being made. I believe that it was the wrong one. What on earth did the Government hope to gain by making the change? Did they hope to get the SDLP into the Assembly? It was not enough for that and the Minister and his colleagues know it. Was it to help the SDLP and its fellow travellers in their political fight against Sinn Fein in the nationalist Roman Catholic community in 440 Londonderry city or the rest of Northern Ireland? If so it was a futile hope as it will have no effect whatever on that battle because the people who called loudest for the change were not the SDLP but rather more extreme elements.
What is the effect of the change on the community in Londonderry, which my right hon. Friend and I tried to warn the Minister about? It is far deeper, more dangerous and more far-reaching than Ministers yet understand. For a start, it will be manipulated. It will not be called Deny district council but Deny city council. It is beyond me how the name Deny city council will be separated from the concept of Londonderry city in the public mind. Everyone in Northern Ireland knows that the Republican elements in Londonderry city will ignore the name as they have always done. They now have a lever to put up Derry city right across the board. That is dangerous. The Under-Secretary of State might shake his head but if he denies what I am saying he is merely admitting that he does not understand the people who live in that city.
How will the new concept of Deny city council sit with the mayor? Should he not now become the chairman of that council rather than the mayor of Londonderry city? He will find himself in rather difficult constitutional circumstances in that respect. What have the Government gained by the change? I do not think that they have gained anything, as this is a political issue in the city and the rest of Northern Ireland. People in Northern Ireland see it as an anti-British move by the most extreme Republican movements in Londonderry and the rest of Northern Ireland. They are the people who have been calling for it, and they are the people who will now claim the precedent. In the minds of ordinary citizens it will be seen as a victory for the violent and their fellow travellers.
Although the change is anti-British in general sense, it is anti-British in the specific sense that it is Sinn Fein's doctrine to destroy all vestiges of the British presence in Northern Ireland, especially in the Londonderry area. The change will be seen as a surrender. It is a surrender. It is another surrender to Sinn Fein's approach, its violence and general attitude. It will be encouraged to seek further change. It has already begun to say that it is seeking a change in the name of the city. The Unionist Protestant population see the change as further evidence of the Government always being prepared to surrender to Republicanism whenever it makes its case. They regard it as part of a one-way street to appeasement. The Minister may laugh but in so doing he is denying the knowledge that we who represent Northern Ireland have. At least we can go there and get elected.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although people from this side of the water laugh at such circumstances, they can cost lives in our Province and lead to the blood of innocent people in our streets?
§ Mr. Ross
There is no doubt that attitudes on this matter raise tensions in Northern Ireland, lead to violence and cause severe problems for the security forces. That is putting it at its lowest. The Government have failed to understand what effect the change will have on people in Northern Ireland. Moreover, they have nothing to gain from it and a great deal to lose in regard to the Unionist population who see it as part of a policy of appeasement. The Unionist population regard it as part of an attempt to buy off the gunmen by suggesting that if they behave themselves it will be possible to make progress in the 441 direction of what the gunmen desire. The trouble is that by trying to buy such people off the Government only encourage them to try to achieve further change. That also means that the Unionist Loyalist Protestant population say to themselves, "It is a one-way street. They are trying to insult us. They will lie down to the Republicans. Why should we then believe anything that that Government or party says?" That has a bad effect on the government of and stability in the community in Northern Ireland.
I hope that the City of London will state its view. After all, it is the founder of the city of Londonderry. It built the city and still has a considerable interest in it and in the community at large. If the Minister had thought for a moment about the effect that the change would have throughout the Province, especially in the county of Londonderry, I believe that he would have accepted the advice that I and others tendered.
On making the decision the Government said that they were only abiding by a majority opinion in the county's area. If that is so they lay themselves open to the charge that they are prepared to accept majority opinion only when it is majority Republican opinion and that they will not accept Unionist majority opinion at provincial level. If the Minister is prepared to accept majority opinion in Londonderry I cannot see how in conscience or morally he can say that he is not prepared to accept normal majority opinion across the Province. That was a serious mistake that I believe the Government will live to regret.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
We accept majority opinion in district councils right across the Province. While the hon. Gentleman is talking about stability and law and order, I would very much welcome his observations on the behaviour of the DUP councillors in Londonderry the other day. I look forward to hearing his view of their using a hose on the police.
§ Mr. Ross
There are members of the DUP here who can answer for themselves. No doubt they will do so. I am merely pointing out that the Minister now seems to be saying that majority rule is all right at council level but that it is not all right at provincial level. At what level does majority rule become ineffective? At what point does he have to introduce his 70 per cent. majority rule? At what point does he have to introduce his cross-community support for majority rule? Is it only at those levels when the Unionist majority in Northern Ireland start to have effect? That is the only conclusion that any reasonable man can draw from the Government's stance. It is the only conclusion that I can draw.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
I am delighted to have the opportunity of speaking in the debate and of following the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross). The United Kingdom as a whole has suffered much because of the runaway inflation of past years and the sacrifices that have had to be made by the whole nation. Great credit must be given to the people for the courage and the spirit they have shown in the midst of hard and difficult years. The old spirit that brought the nation through years of war has risen again and there is a genuine determination to lift ourselves out of the valley of depression and despair to a solid foundation of responsible expenditure, leading back to prosperity.
442 No one who has a genuine interest in the nation wishes to waste the sacrifices that have been made. Having listened to statements since came to the House last June, I fear there is no sign on the Opposition Front Bench that its members could take the responsibility of running the nation. However, let me make it clear that, while it is good to keep a tight hold on the rein, I fear that the child is being choked to death and that instead of a reasonable hold upon expenditure there is a temptation to give no room to breathe. The economic fortunes of Ulster are at stake, as are the economic fortunes of the people of the whole of the United Kingdom.
The economic position of Northern Ireland is anything but rosy. We have felt the whirlwind and the sledgehammer impact of the recession. We have been the hardest hit, as Ministers genuinely accept. I appreciate that acceptance. The figure given in the Minister's statement of 122,527 unemployed, or 22 per cent., is deplorable. NO one could say that it is acceptable. My constituency suffers from one of the highest rates of unemployment in the United Kingdom. The figures given today show that unemployment in Ulster is half as bad again as in the United Kingdom as a whole.
Tribute must be paid to those in Ulster and throughout the United Kingdom who are working diligently. I appreciate that in society there are some who are unemployable, but there are also some in my constituency who do not seek work, who never have and who rely on society and lie on a feather bed while the rest of the community do the work. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) is shaking his head. It is some of his close friends across the Irish sea that I am talking about, supporters of Sinn Fein who lie all day and roam all night doing damage in the Province. It does nothing to the stature of an hon. Member on the Opposition Front Bench to shake his head and suggest that that is not so. We who live in Ulster know exactly those who are happy to depend upon the state and get all the benefits they can. Although they blow up Crown property, they are sure to stretch out their hand to catch the floating pound coming down. They will reach out for Her Majesty's head upon the £1, £5, £10 or £50 notes.
I shall not allow any hon. Member to tell me or any other Member for Ulster what is going on there. There are in Ulster people dedicated to relying upon the state and giving absolutely nothing back to the country in which they are happy to live. If they are not happy to stay, we would be better without them. If they want to take their place in the so-called paradise of the Irish Republic, let them go there. They will get their eyes opened and find how little of a paradise it is.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Hammersmith will not be speaking because every time he speaks in the House he looks to Dublin first and—
§ Rev. William McCrea
Unfortunately, my hopes have been dashed. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman has given us misleading information because I thought that we would not hear the usual rhyme of unreasonableness from the hon. Member for Hammersmith. However, probably we will have to suffer that later.
What is galling to members of Unionist parties in Northern Ireland—I include all Unionists—is that many of those who parade behind banners about unemployment 443 are from the very same group that is destroying the economy by blowing and blasting jobs out of existence. Indeed, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams) has the audacity and the cheek to suggest that he and Sinn Fein are worried about jobs and unemployment when that organisation has kept employment down by blasting jobs out of existence. It has kept away investment that might have come from other countries. It is correct that they should not be received by any Minister of the Crown when they have done such a good job of destroying the basic fabric of employment. Even though many Benches are empty, the House needs to learn a lesson. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Miss Maynard) is not here because she might get her facts right and might learn a little about the problems.
§ Mr. James Nicholson (Newry and Armagh)
In regard to what the hon. Member has said about the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams), a recent example has been the blowing up of the factory in Armagh city with the result that 175 people have been put on the dole in a town where there is terrible unemployment. The group responsible for that will say that it is fighting for people's rights, but it has taken that employment away. It is a scourge to the people of Northern Ireland. The sooner the Government and the House wake up to that the better.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I thank the hon. Member for those timely remarks. It is right to draw to the attention of the House the fact that many of those jobs were held by decent Roman Catholics who are now out of employment. The IRA, which suggests that it is the protector of the Roman Catholic community in Northern Ireland, is the very body that has blown to pieces the job prospects of those people. I intended to refer to Bairnswear because many hon. Members have felt the impact of the blowing up of that factory. I have been contacted by persons who were employed there; they wanted as many voices as possible to be raised about it because they were genuinely concerned about jobs. We must dispose of a lot of the waffle that we hear continuously about people who say that they are concerned about unemployment.
I suggest that if Her Majesty's Opposition are so concerned about jobs and unemployment in Northern Ireland, it is time that they got off the fence and started condemning the terrorists properly instead of giving a halfhearted condemnation or condoning them. It is time that they called some of their hon. Members into line instead of insulting the hard-working, honest, decent people of Northern Ireland, who desire to go about their jobs. It is time that they condemned those who are blasting jobs out of existence.
I have great sympathy with those young people who desire to set up homes but are without work. They need our concern and not simply that of the House. Her Majesty's Government will have to increase their effort to make sure that these young people are put back to work. There are people in Northern Ireland who desire to work and will give their best to society and to the nation of which they are proud, but are not being allowed to do so. Every young man and woman of talent and industry should be used in Ulster to ensure that our land returns to prosperity.
However, every Government since the beginning of the troubles must bear responsibility for the present problem 444 of 122,527 unemployed. The Minister said that the political instalibility, the adverse propaganda abroad and terrorism were hindering job prospects in Ulster. The Government are the people who have the power to stop the terrorists, the murderers and the bombers and to bring Ulster back to prosperity. In the name of sanity and law-abiding, decent people in Ulster, we beg the Government to turn our Province to peace and to allow it to get on to a solid jobs foundation for the future.
The Government cannot step aside from this issue. They have the authority and the reins of government with which to face the terrorist. Many hon. Members from Ulster would be delighted to have those reins and to bring the Province back to prosperity. It is not that we are willing to condemn someone but afraid to take the task ourselves. People in Ulster are willing and able to confront the enemies of society.
Political instabillity in the Province cannot be laid on the shoulders of the elected Members for Ulster. The nonsensical figure of 70 per cent. that has been forced on the people of Ulster before democracy will be restored to the Province is not democracy but terrorism. That is unacceptable to the House, and if it is unacceptable here it is unacceptable in the part of the United Kingdom from which I come—the Province.
The Minister said that part of the problem came from political in-fighting. That is rather amusing because something has intrigued me, even disgusted me, since I came to the House. I have become sick at the antics of disgruntled ex-Ministers who, once they get on to the Back Benches, want to cut the lining out of the Prime Minister. If there is political in-fighting, hon. Members should look at their own ranks to see what is happening. Recently an ex-Prime Minister has done some wonderful somersaults and has acted like a spoilt child. It is not good enough to cast aspersions on the representatives who have been continually supported by the Province.
Investment is not encouraged by the behaviour of those stupid Irish-Americans such as Sean McManus, who has gone out of his way to keep investment out of Northern Ireland. He has gone to the United States to ensure that jobs and factories will not be provided for the people in the Province.
Another problem in the Estimates is that of housing. I fear that through their policies the Government are holding the line so tight that they are strangling the child because he cannot breathe properly. Their policies will lead to some sad consequences. I speak as an ex-member of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Its repair policy for its properties is in a deplorable state. The piecemeal method by which the repairs are done is equally deplorable. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East suggested that they are done at a standard that would not be acceptable for any Government grant to an individual. They will be a sad legacy. For example, the wiring in some Housing Executive property is a danger, but is permitted to remain dangerous.
Housing for the elderly is one of the neglected aspects of housing policy. I congratulate those housing associations working in this sector. The Government have supported and encouraged them, and I must do them justice and pay tribute where tribute is due. Elderly people desire independence as long as it is humanly possible and some are able to do that rather than go into an old people's home through the development of the Fold and other housing associations, in which elderly people have their 445 independence, but with somebody there upon whom they can depend. This has been encouraged by the Government, but if the statistics given by Mr. Gorman are correct—and I have no reason to doubt them—this will be sadly lacking in the future, and we shall not be able to meet the demands. The vast number of applications on our list of elderly people looking for housing needs to be considered.
I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Londonderry, East said about grants for housing and of the repairs that are being done to houses that should be pulled down. Rather than continually subsidising public housing, it would be much better to give decent grants to those who wish to buy their own houses and encourage them, because they will have a stake in the community. There used to be a grant of £185 for improving bungalows, but it was taken away. The Government should introduce a more substantial subsidy for those who desire to build houses because they will help by making a definite contribution to the future of society.
I had the privilege on being on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive when the housing sales policy was being introduced. We recommended it to the Government before they recommended it to us. We were delighted that the Government did so and that it is working so well. There have been a few hiccups and I wish that the transfers could have been made more quickly, although I believe that some of them are speeding up. Rather than have young people going into public housing, it would be better to encourage them, with a substantial grant, to build their own houses.
§ Mr. William Ross
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when the housing subsidy scheme was introduced just after the war it was equivalent to 25 per cent. of the cost of building a dwelling at that time? Perhaps the Minister will explain why that percentage was allowed to fall to a point where it is of no importance.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I accept what he is saying on his own authority, as I must bow to his superiority in years. I was not born until after the war, so I do not know exactly what happened then, except from history books. I am delighted that the historian from East Londonderry has assisted my education. I should be very interested to hear the Minister's reply to the hon. Member.
With regard to the roads in Northern Ireland and the maintenance of the road network, when I spoke to senior officers of the road service department in my constituency they told me firmly that we were storing up trouble. The money allocated for roads in my constituency is far from sufficient to meet the demand. The recent snow and frost have left the roads in an even worse condition than before, according to a road divisional manager whom I visited. The Minister knows well that the Castle Dawson bypass is essential and urgently required for the use of future industry in the Magherafelt area. The town of Magherafelt is chock-a-block and should be bypassed. Some of the worst road networks in Northern Ireland are in my constituency, and there is urgent need to assist industry by providing better roads there.
With regard to health and social services, I shall mention some issues briefly to allow other hon. Members to take part in the debate, although I should love to be able to develop the issues tonight. The places from which 446 ambulancemen serve the community are in a deplorable state. The situation in our hospitals is nothing to write home about, to use a good country expression. The home help service in Ulster is in serious difficulties. The geriatric unit in the mid-Ulster hospital, the alcoholic unit in the Omagh hospital, and the geriatric unit in Fermanagh hospital are all urgently required.
§ Mr. Christopher Hawkins (High Peak)
The need for improvement grants, building grants for new houses, geriatric wards and more road building has been mentioned. However, the hon. Gentleman has not mentioned where the money will come from. The people of Northern Ireland may not welcome higher taxes to dish out all the subsidies to which people refer.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I thank the hon. Gentleman, but I should like to hear the hon. Gentleman's reply to his own question. Are we returning to conditions that were unacceptable in the past, when we had to bring up standards? Is the United Kingdom moving forward or is it going backwards? Will the roads and hospitals be in worse condition at the end of the 1980s than at the end of the 1970s? If so, that would be ridiculous. I do not believe that the United Kingdom people or Members of Parliament wish that to happen. However, if those policies continue, we shall be faced with that situation. It is my right as a constituency Member of Parliament to raise the matters which I feel are relevant to my constituency and which are burning issues there now.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
One of the possible ways of finding the additional money is to use the money directed to Northern Ireland by the EEC, which has been clawed back by the Treasury.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I thank the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) for his intervention. He is correct in believing that much of the money sent to Northern Ireland to be spent on the Province has been kept in the Treasury's purse. It was not passed on as additionality but was used instead to subsidise others. [Interruption.] It would be best if Ministers carried on their debate after I have finished my remarks. I shall carry on, Mr. Deputy Speaker, without interventions from them.
I turn to social security matters. I shall deal with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East, concerning clawback. Massive social security fraud is a fact of life in Northern Ireland. I stress that the problem is massive. It is a national disgrace. Many business men come to me saying, "I cannot get anyone to work for me." That is because people are "doing the double". I do not know whether that expression is used in England, but to me doing the double is not funny or smart. It is illegal and anti-social and deserves to be utterly condemned, which I do on the Floor of the House tonight.
The rest of those who are working pay for it. If we ensure that the thousands of people doing the double in the Province pay proper taxes for every penny that they receive, I genuinely believe that many of my constituency's problems could be alleviated. I should like hon. Members from this side of the water to come to the Province to investigate social security fraud.
I shall not mention agriculture in Ulster, as my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) is more able to deal with the matter than me.
447 A disgraceful situation has developed in education in Northern Ireland. The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) drew attention to the pupil-teacher ratio. Although I told him that the pupil-teacher ratio in Northern Ireland is bottom of the league in the United Kingdom, he said that at least it was staying steady and not going up or down, and that therefore I should feel happy about it. I do not feel happy about it. Why are hundreds of teachers unemployed in Northern Ireland? Our children need the same education as those elsewhere in the United Kingdom and have the right, as British citizens, to the same standard of education. In my constituency, the pupil-teacher ratio is 19.2 to one, while in Scotland it is 16.9 to one and in England 17.9 to one. I believe that education is an investment in the future.
The report by the Department of Education inspectorate on the effects of expenditure policies on the education system in Northern Ireland was very critical of the education cuts. It says that 18 primary schools in Northern Ireland are in such poor condition that they require rebuilding, and that 27 per cent. of secondary schools are classified in various categories of need. In spite of that, the Department of Education has allocated only 1 million for capital works in 1984–85, which amounts to £200,000 per board. That sum would not be sufficient to build even a school extension, never mind a brand new school in one of the board areas.
That is what our children will face in the coming year. Those facts and figures come not from my research as a Member of Parliament, but from the Department which was criticised by its own officials. The inspectorate that reported on the effects of expenditure policy on the education system in Northern Ireland is part of the Department of Education in the Province. It was most critical, and condemned the activity. The report states:In all Boards there has been a marked decrease in expenditure on routine maintenance, repair and decoration. Of the 746 returns in this area 217 indicate a less than satisfactory situation, with the balance of unsatisfactory returns weighted to some extent towards the maintained sector. In general the provision of furniture remains satisfactory.I recommend that report to the House to show that I am not exaggerating the deplorable situation in Northern Ireland education. The report points out that maintenance work is not carried out and that some schools have not been decorated for 25 years. That is not acceptable to my constituents.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to ventilate these matters of genuine concern to my constituents. If the Government put every possible effort into defeating terrorism, the money now devoted to dealing with terrorism and making good the damage caused by bombing and other terrorist activity could be directed to the benefit and betterment of all the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Those who have survived the speech of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) will have no difficulty in agreeing with the Opposition spokesman who said that this was one of those occasions on which hon. Members ventilated grievance.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) will, if he catches your eye later, Mr. 448 Deputy Speaker, refer to the larger matter of the constitutional context of these orders and the debates upon them to which my hon. Friends and I take such strong objection that we have made our point before now by going into the Lobby to vote against the Question that the order be approved.
I wish to refer to a narrower issue relating to the context in which we consider these orders. I am glad that the House will be hearing from the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Horden) who may be said to represent the Committee of Public Accounts, as I believe that we are misusing an excellent and efficiently working machine in the way in which we hold these debates.
A cycle of financial scrutiny has been evolved by the House. The cycle begins with the report of the relevant Comptroller and Auditor General on the accounts for a financial year. That is followed, as the second stage, by the report of the Committee of Public Accounts, based on the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and on the interrogation of witnesses facilitated by the contents of that report. The third and last stage in the annual cycle is the Government reply. I would not describe that as the most substantial element in the cycle. Indeed, a certain quality of self-satisfaction more often than a serious openness to criticism breathes from the annual document in which the Government respond to the strictures of the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General.
That is the working machinery of our annual cycle of financial scrutiny. But it seems almost as though these debates were organised so that we would invariably miss the bus. That was strikingly illustrated when this very morning we received the Northern Ireland Appropriation Accounts for the year 1982–83, ordered by the House of Commons to be printed on 24 February 1984, and prefaced by the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, bringing to the attention of the House those matters which in his opinion called for scrutiny and censure in the administration of the financial year 1982–83.
In form, of course, we are considering the Supplementary Estimates and the Vote on Account for the coming year; but we can perform that task with proper information and in a responsible way only if we can constantly refer to findings on the experience of past years. Yet here we are, on 1 March 1984, having just received the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the year 1982–83. Until now we have been living, so to speak, on the reports for the previous year, the report of the Committee of Public Accounts of April 1983 and the Government's response — flimsy though it was — of October 1983.
The opportunity is not to be missed, and I shall not be so churlish as to set it aside; but I observe that the Comptroller and Auditor General signed that report and certified the accounts as long ago as 31 October 1983. I wish to make a request to the Government; but as, in a sense, it is a matter more for the House than for the Government, I will make my request to the House. I suggest that we curtail the absurd delay in production of the certified accounts and of the all-important 'report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, so that more timely use can be made of it by hon. Members representing Northern Ireland and by the House generally as long as we have to go through this annual cycle of three Oppropriation Orders 449 for Northern Ireland, the first and third of which are all-embracing, the middle one, that which occurs in December, being far more limited in scope.
§ Mr. Hordern
The right hon. Gentleman said that the accounts were signed on 31 October by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Was the signature put to the accounts or to the report as a whole?
§ Mr. Powell
The signature appears at the foot of the report. I take it that with that report the Comptroller and Auditor General took leave of the accounts, so to speak, having discharged his duty to the House in respect of the Northern Ireland Appropriation Accounts for 1982–83. We must therefore take it that his work was done and he was submitting it to the House.
We have only ourselves to blame if we allow four months to elapse in such a way that our own cycle of Northern Ireland Appropriation Accounts debates is, as it were, deliberately out of gear with the financial scrutiny mechanism of the House. I hope that that can be put right either by the activity of our Select Committees or by Government pressure, for I am sure we can make more effective use of these debates if we can deal with more recent events and fresher criticisms by the Comptroller and Auditor General. I must observe with sorrow that it will be no great loss if we have to deal with his report while still awaiting the official comments of Government Departments thereon.
It will be appreciated that my hon. Friends and I have not had the opportunity to study the latest report in preparation for the debate. It has been at most a cursory study that we have been able to give to it.
I shall raise only one matter, although I think it is an important one, which was in the forefront of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report. That was the arrears of public debt in Northern Ireland. He drew attention not only to the absolute increase in the past four years from £26 million to £46 million, but to a much more serious matter. In paragraph 1 he said:The debt expressed as a percentage of the total amount collectable has also increased over this period.Thus, when we have made all allowance for the effect of inflation on the absolute figures, we are faced with the fact that over the past four years there has been a real increase, that is to say, a proportionate increase, in the amount of public debt which is collectable, but outstanding, in Northern Ireland.
In the course of his report the Comptroller and Auditor General recounts how he put this position to the responsible Departments. I should like to quote in particular what the Housing Executive said to him. It may at first be music in the ears of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), but I will introduce another note after sounding this one. In paragraph 8 he said:The Executive also believed that it would be difficult to prevent arrears increasing because of the economic and employment situations.I take issue with that reported opinion of the Housing Executive. If that is its analysis and its approach, I think it not entirely surprising that the Comptroller and Auditor General has confronted us with this report, for it is mischievous to attempt to establish that simple relationship of cause and effect between economic and employment situations on one hand, and the persistent proportionate increase of the public debt on the other.
However, before I come to that argument I should like enlightenment—perhaps this was the smile on the face 450 of the gods to which the Minister who opened the debate referred before he sat down—as to a feature in table 2.17.20 in the Government's expenditure plans, volume II, which in a sense are also before the House. The table shows the estimated average numbers receiving unemployment benefit at any one time. If we run along the columns of the years, we find, not to our surprise I am sorry to say, that that figure increased steadily from 1978–79, the earliest year shown, until the present year, 1983–84. But then, what is our gratification — I hope that it is not ill-founded gratification—when we notice that the figures fall after the present year from £58,000 to £54,400, and remain at that level or a somewhat lower one for the remaining years of the cycle covered by volume II. I hope that, when the Under-Secretary of State replies to the debate, he will be good enough to provide an explanation for this phenomenon. If this is, indeed, a sign that the Government are counting upon a real and substantial fall in unemployment in the Province, that will be very good hearing, and will be worth all the rest of the debate put together. I hope very much that there is not some statistical trick that may be involved in it.
§ Mr. Soley
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the point, if he looks at paragraph 120 of the Northern Ireland report, he might find other reasons why the debts are increasing. I find those a little troublesome, and may refer to them later in the debate, if I have the opportunity. Will he keep in mind the fundamental point that I and other hon. Members have made from time to time—that people in Northern Ireland are being squeezed by high energy costs and high rents costs at a time when incomes are not rising? The debt on energy alone has gone up consequently from approximately £500,000 to well over £2 million on account for the people in Northern Ireland in the last four years.
§ Mr. Powell
I will return, after my query related to volume II of the expenditure plans, to the phenomenon of increasing public debt, and the attitude that we ought to take to it.
Not for the first time in these debates, there is a marked contrast between the theoretical approach of hon. Members who speak from the Front Benches — particularly those hon. Members who speak from the Opposition Front Bench — and the personal experience of hon. Members who are living day by day with the problems of their constituents. I do not think I am alone among hon. Members representing Northern Ireland in saying that I always refuse to countenance from a constituent a threat or an intimation that that person is in deliberate arrears. I invariably come back to the constituent and say that I am very sorry to learn that that is so, and the constituent will understand that, until some arrangement has been come to, it would be quite wrong for me to attempt to deal with his problem, and that I have no intention of doing so. Having pursued that policy for the last nine or ten years, I have very few failures to record, and that brings me to the human point which I wish to make.
§ Mr. Powell
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will develop this point. It is my experience that accrual of arrears in a family is a danger sign in respect of that family. It is not something that ought to be treated as just another 451 addition to a statistical aggregate. Still less is it something that ought to be written off as another of the inevitable manifestations of original sin. I have invariably found that, when arrears have been brought to my attention, the examination of those arrears by the proper agencies who are at the service of hon. Members has brought to light real problems and real weaknesses under which that family was suffering, usually remediable and nearly always capable of palliation. That is information straight from direct experience in representing, and dealing with, the people of the Province. Upon that basis, I say that it is a sign of evil omen if agencies such as the Housing Executive are allowing the ratio of public debt to increase; for it means that the social services are not being brought into operation, as they ought to be brought into operation when the danger signal of arrears is taken as seriously as it ought to be.
When, therefore, an hon. Member representing Northern Ireland refers—and refers as critically as did the Comptroller and Auditor General—to the growth of public debt in the Province as a bad sign, he is not manifesting a scrooge mentality; he is responding to his experience of what can be done if the signs are heeded, and dealt with, when they appear in the life of an individual or a family.
It has been customary in these debates for Ministers—we understand why—to issue a plea in advance to have warning of the subjects that might be sprung upon them by those taking part, though a clear relationship has not always been visible between the winding-up speech and the notices given prior to the debate. The Minister who is to wind up will understand how, with such recent availability of crucial material, it was not possible to give full notice of all matters that might be raised. However, I will deal next with the two matters I specifically did notify to the Government Front Bench.
The first relates to agricultural grants, non-payment of. When I was preparing for the debate, I invited my private secretary to go through my pending tray, and pull out the live cases where agricultural grants undoubtedly due for payment were long overdue. She produced six, but by remarkable coincidence I received a letter from—I was going to say, Heaven forgive me—the absentee lord. We are not unaccustomed in Ireland and Northern Ireland to absentee lords. Some of us wonder whether we do not have one in the Department of Agriculture. Anyhow, coincidence or not, I received a letter from him today dated 29 February, which cleared up one of the six cases—but only by informing me that the claimant had died in the meantime, while awaiting payment.
Of the remaining five cases I shall not trouble the House with more than two. I shall refer to the one because it is typical and because I think that the House should be aware of the consequences of the administrative failure in the Department of Agriculture as they actually affect people. I shall refer to the other case because it reveals the mentality in the Department which is the cause of the failure. I quote, but only briefly, a farmer who wrote to me:I have built a silage pit and slurry tank at a cost of £5,000 and you know you have to have all paid receipts for the Ministry before you can claim grant. I have borrowed money from the bank to obtain these receipts so as to claim the grant and sent them all off to the agricultural office in Belfast 15 months ago, 452 but still have got no payments. The rate of interest which I have paid is desperate which is going to leave my grant of little use, and still no sign of it coming.Through the syntax of that letter the House will detect the genuine desperation of the farmer who wrote it. We have in all our minds what is likely to be the percentage rate of interest which he is paying on his bank loan. He was entitled to assume that the loan could be paid off long ago instead of having to offset the interest payments against the grant which he should have received.
What is the attitude of the Minister in charge of the Department to this situation? It is not a new situation. It is one which has been brought to the Government's attention repeatedly at Question Time and in these debates over the past nine months. The noble lord replied to me on 10 February. He wrote:You will already be aware"—Yes, I am—that there is a considerable backlog of claims under this scheme and that it has become necessary to deploy additional staff to the preparation of payments.It cannot be less than six months since I personally inquired after progress in the deployment of staff to deal with the backlog. The noble lord continued:I am hopeful that the measures taken will soon result in a return to a more acceptable situation.I have not sent on the noble lord's concluding words of comfort to my constituent, because I sent a reply to the noble Lord instead; but he concluded:Mr. Murray's claim will be processed for payment as quickly as possible.There has to be an end to this attitude of mind towards the payment of money which is due to those who have undertaken liabilities and incurred loans for the purpose of agricultural improvement. I express the hope that this is the last debate in which it will be necessary to bring the matter to the Government's attention.
Finally, there is a matter which is not entirely easy to bring wholly within the scope of the order but which I hope the Minister will allow me to deal with by inquiring whether he has been in touch with his UK colleague on the subject. After all, there is Northern Ireland responsibility for navigation to the harbours of Northern Ireland and round the coast of Northern Ireland.
The Commissioners of Irish Lights, who are responsible for the lighthouses round the coast of the entire island, receive £1 million of revenue from the Irish Republic to offset against £6.5 million of expenditure which they incur in lighting the coasts of that country. Attention has already been drawn to this matter and I see I have the assent of the hon. Member for Horsham to that proposition. It is a matter which should not be allowed to slide. It is unacceptable that another country is not paying its whack, or is being subsidised—subsidised by, among others, the people of Northern Ireland — for the provision of services in a completely separate and independent country. This is a matter, too, that I hope it will not be necessary once again to ventilate in these debates.
§ Mr. Peter Hordern (Horsham)
I have been called by the occupant of the Chair immediately after the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in a number of debates in the past, generally on economic matters. I have never previously had the good fortune to be called to take up his remarks in a debate on Northern Ireland, because, unlike him, this is my first venture at speaking in a debate 453 on Northern Ireland. That being so, I crave the indulgence of all those present in the Chamber. My constituency is about as far removed from Northern Ireland as could be imagined. However, I do not think that that is any reason why those of us who take an interest in the Province should not from time to time seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, especially on matters as important as the Supplementary Estimates.
The right hon. Member for Down, South dealt with two reports from the Committee of Public Accounts, upon which I have the privilege to sit. When referring to one of them he mentioned the shortfall in collection of moneys due from the Housing Department and said, quite rightly, that the House would not do a service to itself if it passed by these debts and did not consider the Comptroller and Auditor-General's report upon them, and, if necessary, comment adversely upon them, as I believe we have done before.
It is tempting—I have felt this myself on the PAC—to think that as so many things are difficult in the Province we should perhaps not listen too carefully, too sedulously, to the difficulties which are so well known. However, we must resist that temptation if we are to do the duty which the House expects of us, and I hope and think that we acquit ourselves well of it.
The right hon. Member for Down, South referred also to lighthouses, for which we pay, which illuminate the Republic of Ireland's coasts and for which that country does not pay. If this continues, to paraphrase something which Lord Grey, a famous Foreign Secretary said, the lights will go out all over Ireland. I hope that it will not be too long before the Republic comes up with the money.
As taxpayers we produce and provide a good deal of money for the population and people of Northern Ireland. I understand that in 1981–82 public expenditure amounted to £2,242 per head. That compares with £1,449 in England. Public expenditure in Northern Ireland is already considerable, yet I heard my hon. Friend the Minister of State say that the level of unemployment is half as bad again in the Province as it is anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, one of the greatest experts in the House on public expenditure, will agree that if there were any other similar part of the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland which could be isolated in the same way, it might well show a similar proportionate public expenditure per capita to that which is inevitably thrown up by the manner in which the affairs of Northern Ireland are dealt with.
§ Mr. Hordern
I have the figures but, alas, not among the papers on which I can immediately lay my hands. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that in comparison with Scotland and Wales the expenditure per head is higher in Northern Ireland. I am not making a great point of this, but merely stating the facts about public expenditure.
§ Mr. Powell
I am more than grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way yet again. May I point out that to generalise for Scotland and Wales is not comparable with isolating Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)
My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) will make better than I would have made a point which I hoped to develop, but which I shall not have the opportunity to do as the 454 preceding speeches have gone on at considerable length. The figures I have are £2,256 for Northern Ireland, £1,882 for Scotland, £1,704 for Wales and £1,449 for England.
§ Mr. Hordern
I am deeply obliged to my hon. Friend for producing the figures for which I was searching. The point of the right hon. Member for Down, South was that no great import should be attached to those figures because one part of the country cannot be isolated from another. I doubt that, but I shall not make a strong point about it because it is not important to my argument. No one would deny that a great deal of public money is paid out in Northern Ireland. So long as money is properly spent, I have no objection to the principle of large sums of public money being spent in the Province.
I have the honour to be a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, and I have seen the papers relating to the De Lorean car investment. However, I shall not talk about that now, as there is much more information still to come; the Committee of Public Accounts has not yet completed its consideration of the matter and we shall no doubt debate it later.
What is clear from the De Lorean project is the desperate desire of the then Government to do something about Northern Ireland and to improve employment in west Belfast. It did not much matter what the nature of the project was. Therefore, the House will not be surprised that such a project involved large risks which could be, and were, foreseen. I wish to contrast that assessment of risk with other means that might be available to help the economy of Northern Ireland. I do not understand why a distinction is made between one form of special investment and another in Northern Ireland, and in the development areas in the country generally, whereas for taxation we have laid down the notion of fiscal equity, from which there must be no departure, especially on regional grounds. The result is that regional grants are many in number and character and, I regret to say, difficult to measure in their effectiveness and rather wasteful. It is difficult to defend a system in which there is absolute fiscal equity in, for example, corporation tax, yet in respect of income tax, no fewer than 56 reliefs are available. The presumption on which the Revenue works and on which, therefore, successive Governments have worked, is that the money belongs to the Revenue and not to the people, for taxation purposes. I cannot understand why this principle of fiscal equity should be considered so sacrosanct.
The Secretary of State said on 23 March 1983:The Government have decided to introduce a new grant that will reimburse new and expanding industries up to 80 per cent. of the corporation tax paid on profits generated by approved projects." — [Official Report, 23 March 1983; Vol. 39, c. 865.]It must have squeezed the Inland Revenue terribly to allow such a concession. Hon. Members should note that it applies only to new and expanding industries and, presumably, not to those that are already established in Northern Ireland. They should also note that the grants are to be allowed only for approved projects.
I wonder what damage would have been done had the Secretary of State been able to announce that, as from Budget day, the rate of corporation tax in Northern. Ireland would be nil. That is, nobody would pay tax on profits generated within Northern Ireland. I have wearied the House previously by saying that that would be a very good thing in any case for our entire tax regime. It is one of the 455 most unnecessary forms of taxation today. I shall leave that be, but we should experiment—we experimented with all sorts of regional devices for De Lorean and almost any activity can generate a grant. Why should we not then have complete relief on corporation tax within the Province, and encourage those industries that are already there and new industries to be built up? What is the objection to it? Why does the Chancellor of the Exchequer not accede to this view? What possible harm could come from creating such a distinction so that companies operating in the Province would not have to pay corporation tax? It would be a far more effective measure than all the grants, capital handouts and other forms of assistance that are at present provided. I am not arguing for one against the other, but for both. The House may think that that would be expensive, but the cost of complete relief on corporation tax within the Province would, at most, be £40 million. That sum could easily be found within the Budget, and I hope that the Minister will be good enough to pass on my suggestion to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
For many years I have read about the desire of the minority in Northern Ireland and the majority in the Republic of Ireland to form a union of Ireland. What is the economic basis upon which such a union is to be formed? As I said, the sum that this country gives, over and above what would otherwise be received, to Northern Ireland includes a subvention of £1,145 million. The total revenue of the Republic of Ireland is just over £4.1 billion. If there were to be a union of the North and the South—that is what Opposition Members actively support—it it could not expect a contribution to be made by citizens of this country. If that were to be the case, how would the people of Northern Ireland be supported by such a small country—the second poorest in the European Community—which has a total budget of £4 billion, when their subvention is now more than £1 billion?
§ Mr. Soley
I appreciate that this is the first time the hon. Gentleman has spoken in such a debate. If he examines some of my previous comments on the matter in the House and elsewhere, he will see that I have for some time argued the need for a bridging support loan. Everyone knows that. More important, the central part of the argument is that the border has distorted the economy of Ireland and, therefore, we must bridge that by the harmonisation processes that are necessary, especially in agriculture and industry.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
I hope that when dealing with that intervention the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) will bear in mind the fact that we are dealing with the Appropriation Order.
§ Mr. Hordern
I am sorry that I have not heard the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) previously, because I should have wished to deal with his argument. However, since I am going a little wide of the Supplementary Estimates, I shall content myself by saying that I do not understand how discussions can take place on this matter without serious politicians in the Republic, and in the Province, saying how they expect to finance such a scheme.
However, having said that, I do not wish to leave the impression that I am against the amount of public 456 expenditure in Northern Ireland, although the House has heard me say more than once that the general level is too high. The accounts examined by the CPA demonstrate beyond preadventure that the money is not well directed, that it is inefficiently directed and that there is too much waste. Furthermore, we are proceeding on the basis that Britain must have a high tax regime. I reject that notion, especially for the poorest part of the United Kingdom.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)
Although I cannot speak with the eloquence of the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern), I thank him for what he has evidently done for Northern Ireland in the Public Accounts Committee. It was an education to me to listen to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope that I have learnt something. I wish him all the best in the future when dealing with the affairs of the Province.
I represent one of the most deprived areas of the inner city of Belfast. I acknowledge the Government's efforts in financing activities in the Province, and I pay tribute to Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. However, I believe that the doubling of portfolios imposes an undue strain on them, especially in the light of the extremely difficult circumstances in which they work. More administrative help should be given to them so that they can respond more readily to the pleas of our constituents.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
Would the hon. Gentleman call as evidence of that strain the decision, which could not have been taken by a reasonable man, of the Minister who is responsible for two of the largest Departments in Northern Ireland to change the name of the city council of Londonderry?
§ Mr. Walker
I cannot respond to the hon. Gentleman's point. From my experience, Ministers are overloaded with work and they should have some assistance. However, I take the point of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson).
I agree with what the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. W. McCrea) said about senior citizens and housing. There are more than 180,000 senior citizens in Northern Ireland, a large proportion of whom live in the inner city. They flatly refuse to leave the city where they were born and bred. When the younger, more able, people moved to rural areas to escape what we know as planners' blight, the elderly were left to hold the fort in circumstances which they could not help.
I have great respect and admiration for our senior citizens, especially those who live in the inner city where I work, but we cannot regard them as a homogeneous population. Recently retired people in good health cannot be considered in the same terms as those aged more than 75. Some people need more help than others, and it is our responsibility to ensure that they get that help. Many elderly people receive supplementary benefit, which is aimed at supplementing whatever income they may have. However, many find it impossible to manage, and we must take into account the fact that food and fuel costs in Northern Ireland are much higher than they are in Great Britain, with the result that basic diet is sometimes ignored and poverty is experienced.
§ Mr. McCusker
Does my hon. Friend accept that those people do not contribute to the public debt either in terms 457 of rent arrears or heating costs, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred?
§ Mr. Walker
I understand and accept my hon. Friend's point.
Younger people are more aware of their rights and know how to go about acquiring them. It is essential that a campaign is launched to inform the elderly about taking up benefits so that we ensure that the most vulnerable group in society is well looked after. I realise that many voluntary bodies help, but it is imperative that they be backed by Government assistance. We owe it to senior citizens to care for them and to ensure that they get their slice of the bread with a little jam on it.
As the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster said, the elderly have special housing needs. At present much of the housing occupied by senior citizens in the inner city of Belfast is completely inadequate. I have seen many elderly people living in accommodation that is almost falling down and that constitutes a serious health hazard. Several agencies build special housing for the elderly, but they do not build enough, especially since the population is aging faster than provision can be made for them.
There are many small pieces of vacant land in Belfast near shops and other amenities which would provide excellent sites for houses for the elderly. Perhaps the Minister could investigate this. Other hon. Members might have a similar experience in their constituency, but I can tell the House that in my constituency the Housing Executive is not anxious to contribute seriously to the welfare of the elderly.
I hope that the Minister can say that legislation will be introduced to provide for the repurchase by the Housing Executive of Orlit houses, which cannot be made fit for habitation for a further 30 years. That will relieve the anxieties of the majority of people who live in such houses. I also draw the Minister's attention to those who have purchased Orlit houses in the private sector, and who are naturally worried about possible weaknesses in them. It should be the Government's responsibility to protect the interests of that group which, although small, is nevertheless deserving of our sympathy and understanding.
I thank the Government for their commitment to the provision of new housing, and I am glad to note that they are now devoting energy and finance to rehabilitate and repair the existing stock much of which has fallen into serious disrepair. However, although such attention is necessary and is appreciated by long-suffering tenants, there is widespread anxiety that in some cases the rehabilitation process wastes resources.
There are reports of poor quality materials, bad workmanship and lack of supervision. Moreover, concern has been expressed about what are described in Belfast as cowboy builders. As the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster said, these builders are known to employ many people who are drawing unemployment benefit. When I reported some of these incidents to the Housing Executive, I am sorry to report that it was reluctant to become involved in any action that might discourage such practices. It told me that it awarded contracts primarily on price. I realise that price is important, but it should be related to many other factors which, together, make value for money. I am concerned about what I see as anomalies in the source of supply of 458 materials to the Housing Executive and also anomalies in the system of awarding contracts. These matters should be investigated.
While I am on the subject of housing, may I express my concern about the Government's intention to extend the period of time fixed for tenders, and point out that the Northern Ireland construction industry is vehemently opposed to such a proposal. Since December 1973, the Government's policy has been to invite firm price tenders only for projects where the contract period does not exceed one year, and taking into account the generally accepted rates of inflation. Now it is apparently the Government's intention to extend the period for contracts up to two years. I do not believe that anyone can forecast what will happen to inflation during the next two years, and it therefore seems unfair in the current climate to penalise the building industry in this way.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
As the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) is a reasonable man, I am sure he would concede that inflation has fallen considerably since the rules were drawn up. Therefore, it does not seem unreasonable to take account of that fact now in dealing with the construction industry.
§ Mr. Walker
I do not quite agree with that, and I shall say why.
If this proposal is implemented, contractors who adopt a realistic attitude to pricing are unlikely to get work. We talk at present of an inflation factor of 4 to 5 per cent., and that can lose builders contracts, particularly when big money is involved. Builders who include a smaller rate of inflation in their price will be faced with financial hardship, and that will not be in the interests of either the industry or the Government.
We could also have problems with two-year pay agreements, which themselves could be inflationary. Indeed, specialist materials and equipment with long delivery dates carry a high risk of price increases, and when such items are also imported prices can be less predictable. Tenders are already being priced at sub-economic prices, so there is no scope for further losses. I hope that the Government will realise that the building industry is going through a traumatic period, and that their proposals can only add to its many problems.
I want to say a word about the speech that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), made to the city council on 16 January. All of us on the city council thought that it was an excellent speech. It underlined the Government's commitment to our capital city. The Minister was right when he said that Belfast is the shop window and the commercial heart of Northern Ireland, and that what happens in Belfast gives the world outside the view of our country. It is noted and accepted that the way forward in the development of Belfast city centre should proceed under the co-ordinating committee with the Minister at its head. It is commendable that the Minister's committee has already looked seriously at some options, but I suggest that that committee and the groups working under it should consult the wider interests of the business community and the traders who are actively employed in supporting our beleaguered city.
I want to mention briefly a subject that was touched on by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster—the rationalisation of schools. It is recognised that education cannot escape the effects of overall Government financial policy, and 459 that economies must be made that will inevitably mean closures and amalgamations. However, the Government also consider it important to maintain and, where possible, to improve education standards. So I plead with the Minister, in the transitional period running up to rationalisation, not to reduce teaching staff to the extent that the curriculum is adversely affected, because that would only be to the detriment of our children.
§ Mr. Walker
I shall give way in a moment, after I have made a further point. Schools are inevitably linked with communities, and when the Minister examines some of the proposed closures or amalgamations I hope that he will bear that in mind and consult the local elected opinion.
§ Mr. Beggs
I thank my hon. Friend for what he has just said, because I should like it to be clearly understood in the House that radical proposals for the rationalisation of schools in Northern Ireland can have a long-term damaging effect on communities. Special attention should be given to the proposals that are now being put forward by people who seem to be totally insensitive to the needs of Protestant communities, now isolated and about to be decimated.
§ Mr. Walker
What my hon. Friend says underlines my plea to the Minister to consult the local and elected opinion at the appeal stage on the possible closure of schools.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
The hon. Gentleman will agree that, although we had an assurance about Protestant schools on the border, there are schools in the same type of environment within Northern Ireland where the same threat exists. Their situation is directly parallel, and the same consideration should be shown to schools in Belfast, North and in the constituencies of Antrim, North and elsewhere as was promised for the frontier schools.
§ Mr. Walker
I thank the hon. Member for what he has said, because he has a great knowledge of the subject, and I particularly agree with what he said about Belfast, North. I raised the subject because I feel that we shall have to fight the battle of education again in Belfast, North. It is only the beginning. If the schools are removed, the communities in Belfast, North will be completely isolated. The communities will be completely taken over, and that will be to the detriment of the city. That can only lead to breaches of the peace and great problems.
In relation to Class II, Vote 3 of the order, I want to talk about Harland and Wolff shipyard, where many of my constituents are employed. As we all know, the shipyard is now a lean and keen operation, versatile and well placed to supply almost anything with a marine connection. Moreover, it can deliver at the right time and at the right price. The recent flexiport contract, in my opinion and I am sure in the opinion of all people in Northern Ireland, was a wonderful achievement of which we are justly proud. We are ready and waiting to demonstrate our skills again, and we trust that the Government will recognise that fact in the not-too-distant future.
On Class VI, Vote 2, may I say how successful the enterprise zone has been in the Belfast area. As well as being a means of attracting new investment, it has had a great psychological effect in renewing confidence in the 460 area, and particularly in the part of north Belfast that I represent. I ask the Minister to finish the job by providing environmental works in the way of footpaths, roads and fencing to create the impression necessary to attract would-be investors.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
Like the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), I regret that I did not have to shoulder my way into the Chamber and elbow my way into a seat because of the crowd of hon. Members wanting to participate in and listen to the debate, although I suspect that if I were the representative of a party the size of his I might have had a little less cheek in drawing the attention of the House to the subject when there was not a single Member from my party sitting behind me at the time. Nor has there been as the debate has continued. Even the colleague sitting beside him has been spirited away as the debate has gone on—I trust to find some food as well as food for thought.
My intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. McCrea) brought a completely uncharacteristic retort from the Minister. In colourful language he said that the remarks that I had made about aid being clawed back by the Treasury, aid that should have come from the EEC to Northern Ireland, were nonsense. It is right for the record to show that funds have been siphoned off to a considerable extent and that Northern Ireland is attributed a share of the United Kingdom contribution of about £300 million. The funds received by Her Majesty's Treasury for Northern Ireland from January 1973 to February 1983 totalled £246.75 million. Unfortunately, only £104.78 million actually came to Northern Ireland; £141.97 million was retained by the Treasury. That indicates quite clearly that my statement was accurate. Here we have one possible method of funding the various grants referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster. Since then the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has shown how a few million pounds more could be saved if, instead of subsidising the citizens of the Irish Republic, we kept money that is going to give those people who are in darkness light around their shoreline.
On Class II the Minister, in opening the debate, described in very helpful terms the task that had been undertaken by the Belfast shipyard of Harland and Wolff, which, I am proud to say, is in my constituency. He referred to its work for the Falklands as a first-class job. He went on to say that the yard had created a good impression with its customers, including the Ministry of Defence. I cannot tell the House how pleased I am to hear a Minister of the Crown make such a remark for I can remember, as will those Members who were present in the last Parliament, a Minister of the Crown with the same responsibility coming to the Despatch Box and likening the Belfast shipyard to a second-class restaurant whose customers would walk out because of the treatment they were receiving.
Such an approach represents a new air of confidence in the shipyard and I trust that this confidence will be demonstrated in a practical way, particularly by the Ministry of Defence. Not only has the shipyard been showing by example that it can do the work well, on time and at the right price, but it has been submitting tender after tender to the Ministry of Defence in an effort to obtain more work. I trust that when he replies the Minister 461 will be able to tell us that before very long there will be good news for Harland and Wolff and that it will be rewarded for the work that it has done, particularly under its new chairman who has done much to create the air of confidence and who has the trust not only of the management but of the men.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am sure that my hon. Friend will remember an early-day motion condemning the Minister concerned, and the indignation of the Minister that his statement about Harland and Wolff was put on the record.
§ Mr. Robinson
I recall it very well. I was half a step away from bringing it to the House as a breach of privilege, because the Minister tried to pressurise me into taking it off the Order Paper. We do not have that situation today and I am glad to be singing the same song as the Minister who opened the debate.
I wonder also, in dealing with this class, whether the Minister, when replying, can give us any good news concerning the tender that was placed by Short Brothers for work in the United States. Over the past few months there have been many rumours of good news for the people of Northern Ireland. Can the Minister be more firm in his reply than the statements that we have seen in our newspapers?
It would be particularly pleasing to the people of Northern Ireland to know that the green, belligerent band of people in the United States who act as the voice in America of the provisional IRA and who have attempted to prevent jobs from staying in Belfast have been unsuccessful in their efforts to stop the United States placing the contract with a Northern Ireland firm.
I concur with the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West about any proposal for the privatisation of Short Brothers. I agree with the workers in that firm who feel that it would be disastrous for the aerospace industry in Northern Ireland. They know that the profitable part of the industry—probably the missile section—would be grasped for privatisation immediately and that many of the less profitable parts would be dropped and would probably cease to exist along with the jobs of the present work force. There is no good reason why the Government should upset a system that has proved to work very well.
On Class III (1), dealing with the Northern Ireland gas industry, I wish to place before the Minister the concern of many people in Northern Ireland about the Northern Ireland gas company and its present antics. I will leave to one side the argument about Kinsale gas as the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) has sought to do much to remove the word "Kinsale" and have it replaced by "natural" as he believes that to call it "Kinsale gas" is not a selling point. There are others using more expensive methods to sell Kinsale gas. Even though it is years away, they are spending money as if the Treasury coffers are open to them and advertising it in a fashion that has left most people bemused as to what they are advertising when there is nothing to see yet. Surely the money could be far better spent on advertising the present gas industry rather than on trying to sell a product which will not be in use for at least another two years. Can the Minister confirm that the advertising agency that has received the contract is a very new one? How many hundreds, thousands or millions of pounds has it spent or does it intend to spend on behalf of the British taxpayer over the next few years 462 before Northern Ireland has natural gas? I understand that it has been spending roughly £15,000 for every 45 seconds on television and a couple of thousand pounds for each page it takes in our local newspapers—all to little avail. Given the state of the Northern Ireland economy that money could be much better spent to the benefit of the Ulster people.
Public funds have also been wasted on consultancy fees for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. That matter is contained under Class V. The Committee of Public Accounts has considered that matter in relation to the Department of the Environment and has expressed concern, particularly about the bridge in Londonderry. It is causing considerable concern within the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Firms are receiving a rip-off of about 10 per cent. of the contract price for consultancy money that they have not earned. When consultancy work has been carried out in my constituency it is poorly supervised and many problems occur that require Housing Executive staff to step in as trouble-shooters to sort them out. There must be a mechanism to reduce considerably the money being paid to consultants, making it more commensurate with the work that is put in to the benefit of the contract.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West referred to homelessness. That matter has been pressed by Shelter in Northern Ireland. I have some sympathy with the views expressed. Will the Minister say what advantage there would be if Northern Ireland were to have legislation similar to that in Great Britain to deal with homelessness? How might that differ from the priority system on the selection scheme in Northern Ireland? Would legislation similar to that in Great Britain be of any advantage unless the Government step up the number of houses that they are building? There is no advantage in having the right to be housed if there is nothing to house people in.
As a general principle I have some sympathy with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point, but I shall go no further at this stage because I shall be chairing an inquiry in the Northern Ireland Assembly and I do not want to appear prejudiced or to have any predetermined view. The Minister will be coming before the Committee on another matter a week from today. I have no prejudiced view on that and I do not want him to think I have pre-empted the Committee's decision by expressing a view on this matter today.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman also raised the issue of the publication of the survey on housing conditions. He said that he would leave his comments on the unfitness of housing in Northern Ireland until the publication of that survey. When he does see that survey, will he treat it with some scepticism? The figures will indeed show that the unfitness rate has reduced considerably but I do not want the right hon. and learned Gentleman to think for one moment that that is because houses have been made fit to live in. Many houses have been demolished: that is how the Housing Executive has dealt with the unfitness problem, particularly in Belfast. It demolishes the houses to make the statistics look better. As a consequence, there is serious overcrowding in many dwellings and many people are forced on to the waiting list with little expectation of obtaining accommodation because of the 23,000 odd already on the waiting list. The Minister has already said that the Housing Executive has reduced the number of house starts in the forthcoming year.
463 There are 23,736 on the waiting list in Northern Ireland yet there are many empty houses. It has been revealed that 204 properties outside redevelopment areas in Belfast have lain idle for more than one year. In Northern Ireland as a whole 1.542 lay idle for more than one year. In Belfast 444 lay idle for just less than one year and in Northern Ireland as a whole 1,799 lay idle for just less than one year. We must ask why, when many people are in great need of accommodation, living in deplorable conditions, we have empty houses many of which are in perfect order. In some cases they have been purchased by the Housing Executive after improvement grants have been paid and work has been carried out. The houses are left idle after all that money has been spent until they can be knocked down as part of a redevelopment scheme in four or five years' time. That cannot be a good policy. Therefore, will the Minister persuade the Housing Executive that there should be a more flexible allocation system which would ensure that such properties are allocated more quickly?
The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) dealt with rationalisation and education. As hon. Members are well aware, the Department of Education is adhering rigidly to the view that a viable primary school needs at least 222 pupils. The education and library boards are inflexible when the financial screw is applied. As a result, many schools, particularly in the Belfast area, are being forced to close despite the fact that special local considerations should be taken into account, allowing such schools to remain outside the rationalisation project.
The Robert Bell primary school in my constituency was built for the Clarawood estate to accommodate about 180 children — below the criterion set down by the Department of Education. That school had 147 pupils when it was put on the Government's hit list. Because it was on that list of schools that are likely to be closed under rationalisation, parents did not want to send their children there only to have them uprooted in one or two years' time. Therefore, they sent their children to the Orangefield primary school, which is perhaps the closest to the estate. As a result, the Robert Bell school now has only 99 pupils. The Belfast education and library board has now brought the axe down on the Robert Bell school. The kernel of the community has been ripped out because of the Department's inflexible rationalisation policy. The Clarawood estate has no churches, few local shops and no recreational provision. On top of that, parents will have to send their children across open playing fields on dark winter mornings, which is less than desirable. There will be much inconvenience for parents and children.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government have strictly adhered to a numbers game policy and failed to consider the social and special needs of the communities? Does he accept that the constituency of the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) contains many dangerous areas through which children will be sent at a danger to their lives if the schools on the hit list are closed?
§ Mr. Robinson
I fully accept that point. It carries on logically from what I was saying. We are especially disturbed when considering the dangers in which young children on the peace line in west and north Belfast are being placed. The Government's policy does not take into account the social needs of the community. That policy is 464 inflexible and is based solely on finance—not education and certainly not community needs. I hope that before long the education and library boards can reverse their decision. They may do so if the Minister were not making cuts in public expenditure over their heads and forcing them to take action they might otherwise not have taken.
I now tread the ground that no hon. Member has trodden in this debate—the expenditure for the Northern Ireland Assembly in Class XI, Vote 1. I am pleased that all the critics of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who in past months and years have strongly raised their voices in this House, have been silenced because of the clear answer from the Secretary of State. Last Thursday, he spoke of the significant successes of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Two out of every three recommendations made to him by the Northern Ireland Assembly were being accepted. The House would be proud of that success rate, if it could achieve it. It reflects the fact that the hard work of some, if not many, members of the Northern Ireland Assembly is being rewarded. The success rate answers all those who, even before the child was conceived, were saying that it would not be born.
Statements of varying strength came from a range of people—from the Sinn Fein, Cardinal Thomas O'Fiaich, the IRA, Charles Haughey, Garret FitzGerald, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Irish National Liberation Army, the Irish Republican Socialist party and the Official Unionist party. Some of the Back Benchers—or should I say, back stabbers—of the Secretary of State said that the child would never be born.
§ Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
Will the hon. Gentleman, when drawing the attention of the House to such an extensive list, ensure that he does not commit the indiscretion of omitting the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly who, while debating the setting up of that body, said that it would be nothing but a useless talking shop? Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that there is an old saying about "lies, damned lies and statistics"? The hon. Gentleman said that two thirds of the recommendations have been accepted. Does he agree with me that many of those acceptances were inevitable and that it would have been better to ask the Secretary of State how often the Assembly managed to change his mind? The hon. Gentleman would have received a significantly different answer.
§ Mr. Robinson
I am happy to act as mediator in the matter and leave the question to the Under-Secretary of State. I should not wish to be guilty of any indiscretion in the House. As a Christian, I am pleased to seek conversions. If the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly took the view expounded by the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis), I am pleased that the Northern Ireland Speaker, who is one of the healthiest and most vociferous proponents of the Northern Ireland Assembly, is convinced by its successes. As one who believes people can be converted, I have high hopes for the hon. Gentleman as well.
§ Mr. Robinson
Before the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone was converted from being a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly into a Member of the House of Commons, he too was a great 465 advocate of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Unfortunately, his membership of the House has changed his mind about the Assembly, although I am not sure in what fashion.
No one can take away the credit that is due for the fact that 138 of the Assembly's recommendations have been accepted, whereas 78 have not. That rate of achievement has been more significant than the achievement of the Official Unionist party in the past 12 years in the House.
I am pleased to have a Northern Ireland Assembly, because we can achieve more through it, because Northern Ireland public representatives have a concentrated force in that Assembly. In this House, we are a diluted force, as there are 650 Members of Parliament. Our voice, therefore, cannot come across as strongly as it can from that concentrated base in Northern Ireland. I challenge those hon. Members who say that the Northern Ireland Assembly is worthless and only a talking shop to bring to the House at any time all their achievements for Northern Ireland brought about by their efforts in the House in the past 12 years. I will come to the House with the achievements of the Northern Ireland Assembly in the past 12 months, and we shall see who has the largest stack in front of him and who has made the best case. I suggest that it will be clearly seen that the Northern Ireland Assembly will be the winner.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) concluded by dealing with local government in Northern Ireland. Perhaps I can persuade the Under-Secretary of State, who has responsibility for local government, to give a pat on the back to the one district council in Northern Ireland that has shown it can improve and extend the service to its ratepayers while reducing the local rate. For the second year in succession Castlereagh borough council has been able to reduce its rate while increasing its service. I believe that the Under-Secretary of State is about to pop up to reply to that comment.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
I am popping up to say how much I endorse the hon. Gentleman's statement. I welcome the amount of work that the council has done in improving the environment. It has made a splendid difference to the environment in Castlereagh and to the east of Belfast. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having the good fortune to represent a constituency which includes that borough council.
§ Mr. Robinson
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. The harmony with the Under-Secretary of State may not continue, because I doubt that he will jump up in support of my next comment on his proposal to change the name of the city council from Londonderry to Derry.
It is clear to everyone in Northern Ireland that there are people in that city council who are happy to receive London's money but who are not happy to take London's name. If the history books were well read, it would be clearly seen that the honourable Irish society, which was set up to civilise that part of Ireland, as it was then, spent significant sums building a vast number of houses—perhaps houses nearly as good as those built under the Northern Ireland Housing Executive's housebuilding programme—in the city of Londonderry. It built up the trade and agriculture of the county of Londonderry and, in appreciation of the London connection or link, the change in the name from Derry to Londonderry took place.
466 Until the 1960s there was a happy use of both Londonderry and Deny. I am a member of an organisation known as the Apprentice Boys of Deny, and it is proud to have that name. The Protestants, Unionists and Loyalists who come from that area are happy to call themselves Derrymen. It was a matter that did not provoke excitement and it certainly was not taken as being an offensive remark to say that one was from Derry. Then, in the 1960s, as part of a deliberate campaign by Republicans to loosen the London connection, they emphasised that they had dropped the name London from the name of the city. As a result, the Unionist community emphasised the London pan of the name.
In 1973, a review took place of local government under McCrory. Londonderry city council was set up and eventually the SDLP became the dominant force on that city council. It, together with the Irish Independence party, was responsible for ruling the city and since then, while the council has been ruled by the Republican element, there has been misrule.
It started with the attempt by the Republican council to use ratepayers' money to have a GAA pitch in the centre of a Protestant area. I remind the House that the GAA is an organisation which discriminates in its membership against the security forces and which flies the flag of a foreign country over its grounds, clearly an offence to the Protestant community in Londonderry. It then asked the security forces to remove check points and bases that were defending Protestant areas from IRA attack. It inserted an inscription in a foreign language on to the crest of the city, lowered the Union Jack, the flag of this nation, from the mast post on the council offices in Londonderry, and followed up with many other acts of discrimination, such as moving all the council offices into one building in the Bogside area, where no Protestant would go.
They were all acts of discrimination, but against that background — not one act taken on its own — the Minister smiled approvingly when, as a further act of discrimination against the Protestants in the city of Londonderry, the council decided to remove the London connection by dropping the name London. Indeed, it has made it clear that it intends to go a step further by asking for the name of the city to be changed.
The Minister should not be surprised at the deep resentment in the Loyalist, Unionist and Protestant community in Northern Ireland over his decision, and I ask him even at this late stage please to consider the matter again, remembering the history of the Province and of the island as a whole, of which Londonderry is a special part I ask him to look at the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, which gives him power to act in Northern Ireland. Surely this clear act of discrimination — being discrimination against those of a political and religious view — is contrary to section 19 of that Act, which forbids him to act in a manner which discriminates against any section of the Northern Ireland community on religious or political grounds.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)
In part II, Class III, of the order we see that almost £40 million is intended to be spent during the next year on energy. Reference has been made to the consequences of very high energy costs to the people of Northern Ireland. It is sad to note that of 467 that £40 million, £30 million will be spent on subsidies to keep electricity tariffs in line with the highest tariffs on the mainland.
Will the Minister say what prospect there is that one day we shall hear that some of his money will be spent on reducing the costs of generating electricity in the Province, as distinct from simply subsidising the expensive generation that we have today? Shall we soon know whether there will be a move on lignite—to convert or build a plant that can use lignite—and will there soon be news about the conversion of Ballylumford or one of the other power stations to use coal? It is a sad state of affairs that £30 million should be used simply to keep expensively generated electricity costs down. I would rather see that volume of money being used to change the situation.
I was glad to hear the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) refer to the gas industry. Most hon. Members will be aware of my interest in that industry in Northern Ireland. I have no dealings, however, with the new Northern Ireland gas company that has been set up. However, all of the 13 gas concerns are closely involved with it—a liaison committee has been established—and I hope that in their dealings with the new company they are taking the opportunity to protect existing gas supplies and are giving the views of their gas departments, not only to that company but to the public relations and advertising campaign which is being developed to keep the gas industry alive.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East belongs to a party which, more than any other party in Northern Ireland, knows the value of good advertising. It has used some sophisticated advertising tehniques to develop and project the party. He knows that the industry is at present fighting for survival and to hold on to a diminishing consumer base. It is also trying to project an image which will attract people to buy natural gas.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East knows precisely why I do not want it identified as Kinsale gas. I hope that one day the natural gas burnt by the Northern Ireland gas industry will either be natural gas found or discovered in and around Northern Ireland or even our share of natural gas from the North sea. If the hon. Gentleman had been here in the five years between 1974 and 1979, as was his hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), he would know of the strenuous efforts that he and I made to try to get our share of that natural gas. We did not get it. We are now relying on natural gas from the Irish Republic to keep our industry alive until such time as perhaps we do get it.
It is worth bearing in mind our intention to buy £500 million-worth of natural gas from the Irish Republic. That is a vast sum, and if we must spend relatively large amounts to keep the industry alive—until such time as we can use that other gas—so be it. If the hon. Member for Belfast, East is concerned about spending such a substantial sum in the Irish Republic for any of its products, he should ask his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. W. McCrea) about the exchange that we had in Committee when we discussed this issue.
I now have the precise figures for agricultural products bought by firms in Northern Ireland from the Irish Republic. In the five years from 1978 to 1982, our farmers in Northern Ireland bought £334 million-worth of 468 agricultural products from the Irish Republic. If we assume that the average over that period was spent last year, then in the last six years our agriculture in Northern Ireland bought £400 million-worth of agricultural products from the Irish Republic. I make that point to overcome the perennial argument that we are making ourselves wholly dependent upon a hostile foreign country. The hon. Member for Antrim, North knows that the most important industry in Northern Ireland is agriculture. He is always telling us so. Our most vital industry has been dependent on the Irish Republic for agricultural products to the tune of £400 milllion in the past six years. We should be faced with a much greater threat from the Irish Republic if it wished to deprive us of those products than we shall be if we purchase a tiny proportion of our total energy resources from the Republic.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
The hon. Gentleman may have misinterpreted my remarks. My argument was that the money was being spent by the Northern Ireland gas company on a product that it did not have instead of directing it at the Northern Ireland gas industry to encourage people to continue to use the gas that it has.
§ Mr. McCusker
The industry is probably now more concerned about the damage that has been done to its image in the past two years by a variety of people. It is trying to project an image which will encourage people to keep their existing gas appliances and, when the time comes, gladly to accept the new form of natural gas which is to be supplied. We cannot say that we are setting ourselves up to be held to ransom by the Irish Republic by buying £500 million-worthof gas over 21 years, when our farmers have bought products costing £400 million over the past six years.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will give us a progress report about natural gas from the Republic. What is the precise situation? Can the Minister assure us that the people of Northern Ireland are being given opportunities to participate in the contracts that are to be awarded in the scheme at every level, and not just in the field of construction or consultancy? Has any attempt been made to assess what employment prospects will be created in industries such as plumbing? Are special training courses and Government training centres being organised to bring people up to the level of skill that will be required when the massive changes and conversions have to be carried out in two years' time?
Classes IV, VII, II and III of part II of the order cover expenditure by the Department of the Environment, the Department of Education and the Department of Economic Development. I draw the Minister's attention again to the problem of the dualling of Banbridge bypass. I am told that a letter arrived in my office this morning, but I am not consoled by the Minister's response. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) is here. He, too, can testify that, on that stretch of road, a tremendous hazard has been created by the fact that although all the works for a dual carriageway are there—flyovers, embankments and cuttings—only one single carriageway has been completed. When one drives on to that section of the bypass from the dual carriageway, it takes one some time to realise that one is no longer on a dual carriageway. Seeing the bridges over the road, one tends to assume that one is going down one side of a dual carriageway. It will be only a matter of time before there is a serious accident on that stretch of road.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Living at one end of the dual carriageway, I have been accustomed to use the road. I have frequently used it at night. Even though I knew the road and knew that it was a single carriageway, I have frequently found myself driving on the assumption that it was dual.
§ Mr. McCusker
The Minister has told me that there are no plans to provide dual carriageway in the next five years. The road has been used for the past two or three years but it is now suggested that it will be another five years before the work is completed. I think that that is unlikely. I am tempted to ask the Department of the Environment why it makes plans so far into the future on such a scheme. In all probability another 10 or 12 years will elapse before more work is done there. It is possible that the volume of traffic will not increase in that time because of increases in the price of oil and development in road and other transport systems, but a growth in traffic on that road is expected. After all, it is one of the major roads in the Province. I hope that the Minister will seriously reconsider the matter.
I suggest that planting trees down what will be the central reservation will enhance the feeling that I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South have described. If a row of trees is planted, people's belief that they are still on a dual carriageway will be confirmed as that is the type of environment to which we are accustomed on the motorway. Neither I nor Banbridge district council can see the value in planting trees and I therefore ask the Minister seriously to consider whether it is worth while planting them at all.
Right hon. and hon. Members have offered the Minister opportunities to save money. I draw the Minister's attention to Craigavon. There are two countries in Northern Ireland—Belfast and the rest of us. I do not dispute what the hon. Member for Belfast, East has said — I am sure that there is great housing need in his constituency. Perhaps that applies to the whole of the greater Belfast area but there is no great housing need in the rest of Northern Ireland. There are empty houses in almost every part of County Armagh. We must have almost 1,000 empty houses in Craigavon. I am told that there are more than 30 empty houses in the city of Armagh and more than 100 in Newry. They are the very places which, 10 or 12 years ago, were claiming one man, one house, one job. There are now nearly two houses for every man if he wants them.
Many of the houses in Craigavon are severely damaged and vandalised. They are creating a blight on the environment. There has been an experiment whereby some of them have been sold to a private developer. I do not think that there has been much progress with that scheme yet, but even if he succeeds I cannot envisage sufficient demand to absorb his 300 or 400 houses quickly. In the meantime we must look at the festering sore of 600 or 700 others. When one considers circumstances in Northern Ireland it is terrible to have to ask the Minister to put a bulldozer to them. However, I see no alternative. I hope that a decision will be made quickly so that blight in the centre of Craigavon can be removed. That might provide some hope for the developer who must try to sell off the others. If he can create an attractive environment around his estate, people might move into the area but they will not do so in present circumstances.
470 Moreover, about 3,000 acres of land in Craigavon are no longer needed. People there have a case for feeling that they have been treated unfairly by successive Governments. I almost think that there is something of a fraud here. In 1966 they had land taken from them at its agricultural value and they were told that it was required to build a new city of Craigavon. Almost 20 years later some of them are still sitting in their own houses on their own land and the dream of the new city of Craigavon is so far away that it will never be realised. I wonder whether the Government could stand with their hand on their heart and say that they took the land for that purpose and that they still intend to carry it out. I do not think that they can. The Minister is not divesting himself of enough of the excess land. Even in the central corridor there is land which will not be developed during the next 20 years. It should be returned as quickly as possible to the former owners if they want it. If they do not want it, it should be disposed of at current market value to others who are interested in it.
I am concerned specifically about a small group of six or seven families who are still living in their own houses on their own land almost 20 years after it was vested, and they have received nothing in compensation for it. They do not want compensation. Yet in 1984 some officials in the Department are probably arguing that those people should be offered compensation based on 1966 values. I presume that when they have settled on 1966 values the families will be told that they can have their property back if they are prepared to pay 1984 market values for it.
Even if account was taken of the interest that would have been earned during the 16-year period, I cannot see that that would be other than exploitation by the Government of a small number of people who had their hearts so firmly set in that part of County Armagh that they have not been prepared to compromise. I hope the Minister will do what is necessary to enable those people to continue living at no cost to themselves in their ancestral homes. The sooner that problem is sorted out, the better.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I think that it is important to point out that no money has been paid for many of these properties, so the Government have not been out of pocket. In fact, many people have been paying rent for remaining in houses that were vested.
§ Mr. McCusker
There are several categories. The hardest hit has been that to which I have referred, and only a few families are involved. There has been no exchange of money. Their circumstances today are precisely what they were in 1966 except that their farms and their homes have degenerated during that period. Consideration should be given to the other categories but that category should be dealt with urgently.
I met the Minister this morning at the exhibition on enterprise zones. Like other hon. Members who have referred to it, I congratulate those from Northern Ireland who were responsible for the displays from the Belfast and Londonderry enterprise zones. One of the things that struck me as I walked round was that in other areas some of the enterprise zones have been broken into little parcels thoughout the zone. In one area there were six or eight sites. If that can happen on the mainland instead of a big slab being taken to establish an enterprise zone, is there not a good case for using the same concept in Northern Ireland? In Belfast advantage could be taken of the 471 harbour estate and other places in east Belfast. Could Craigavon and some other small industrial towns not be given the opportunity of being in an enterprise zone?
§ Mr. Chris Patten
In practice, in both the enterprise zones in Northern Ireland one is talking in real terms of two sites. That is the case with the Londonderry enterprise zone and also with the Belfast enterprise zone. Whether or not one could extend the concept might be considered, but I should like to see the existing zones on two sites in practice in both cases becoming more successful before considering extending them.
§ Mr. McCusker
I welcome what the Minister has said. As it is possible for an enterprise zone to be established on a number of sites, I hope that eventually we may be able to do that in Northern Ireland.
Reference has been made to education. After constitutional and security matters, education has probably given most concern to the people of Northern Ireland in recent years. I do not want to go over ground that has already been covered. I shall refer specifically to the transfer procedure from primary to secondary schools being proposed for the coming year. There is great concern in the Province that that transfer procedure will rapidly lead to the destruction of a number of our small grammar schools. I welcome the fact that grammar schools have now accepted that there will not be a free market and are happy to settle for a 27–73 per cent. split. The grammar schools looked as if they would have accepted the concept of comprehensive education as long as it was based on the grammar schools, and were not fussed about that, but when the comprehensive system was threatening grammar schools they were all against it. With the numbers reducing, if it had been possible to develop comprehensive education in the grammar schools they would have been prepared to accept it. I am glad that the grammar school headmasters have now seen the error of their ways and again see our small grammar schools as centres of excellence and that they are prepared to accept that they can only expect to get a proportion of the total school population at 11 plus.
If that is the case, grammar schools have a strong argument for saying to the Department of Education that they do not want a system of transfer to be introduced that on the one hand will quickly strangle some of the smaller schools and on the other hand create problems for some of the expanding grammar schools, which will not be able to develop the proper resources to deal with the numbers that they may find themselves taking. The Association of Headmasters of Grammar Schools has put some reasonable proposals to the Department of Education, and I hope that the Ministry will soon respond promptly to them. Just as we do not want to see our small primary schools destroyed through bureaucratic administrative decisions, so I do not want freedom of choice used as an opportunity to destroy our smaller grammar schools.
Another problem which specifically affects the Province and Scotland is that of student travel expenses. In the three principal Northern Ireland further education institutions, the New Univeristy of Ulster, the polytechnic and Queen's university, many of the students travel from homes that are quite far away. If the proposal for reducing travel expenses to students to £60 is adopted in Northern 472 Ireland that will cause substantial hardship for a larger proportion of students than would be the case on the mainland.
Many of the students travel a long way to these institutions of further education. They receive assistance from the boards for the amount that they spend over and above the present statutory minimum, and I hope that when the Department of Education considers that it will remember the special needs of students in Northern Ireland. I also hope that it will consider the special needs of students from the mainland, who, thank goodness, still attend further education establishments in the Province.
Some information supplied to us this week shows that 389 English students and a number of Welsh students studying at the New University of Ulster account for 25 per cent. of all students. If those students are to enjoy three trips home a year, which is not excessive, their total travel costs will be over £400. Northern Ireland students attending colleges of further education and university on the mainland face roughly the same costs. The Minister will be aware of the brain drain about which we are concerned. Our best young people go to be educated on the mainland, find employment there, get married and leave the Province completely. If those students are also deprived of the opportunity to visit their homes in Northern Ireland to a reasonable extent during their time of study, that brain drain is likely to accelerate.
Many of my hon. Friends want to speak in the debate and, although I wanted to raise some other points, I shall not do so this evening. I hope that the Minister will answer my specific questions in winding up.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
On Class I, Vote 2, I welcome the funding allocated to agriculture so far as it goes, but will the Minister assure us, now, that the long overdue decision to extend the less-favoured areas has been announced, that steps will be taken to ensure that adequate funding is available, which will avoid unnecessary delays in payments for work carried out?
It is likely that most of the extra 5,000 hill farmers in Northern Ireland eligible for a higher grant will wish to start new projects qualifying for it. That alone is good news for Northern Ireland. Extra cash will be put into agriculture, where it will be spent quickly, and quarry owners, building and land drainage contractors, machinery suppliers and other firms will benefit.
The feedstuff merchants will particulary welcome the announcement, as they can expect considerable reductions on overdue accounts. There will be few, if any, improvements in the beef, dairy and intensive sectors, unless the Government give assistance to ensure continuity of supplies of cheaper grain.
I believe that if our livestock sector had access to grain at world market prices, we could produce pig, poultry and other products competitively against any other group, and sell successfully at world market prices. It is necessary, however, to seek more investment in food processing and marketing in Northern Ireland agricultural in respect of and horticultural products.
It should be noted that meat processing companies based in the Irish Republic seem to be taking over that side of the industry in Northern Ireland. There was no criticism of Charlie Haughey when he came back after a mission to the middle east, where he successfully achieved new 473 business for the Irish Republic, but there was a furore in the House because the Prime Minister was successful in attracting new business for Britian.
On Class I, Vote 3, expenditure on drainage is important as land improvement because it leads to improved efficiency and productivity. I assure hon. Members that the land drainage division is very clinical in its approach to establishing cost-effectiveness and value for money.
It is significant that 1,800 people are employed in fisheries and fish processing. I regret that a fish processing company had to leave my constituency. One of the difficulties that it faced was in getting fish landed close to the processing base at Glenarm because of the derelict harbour. I hope that some of the money allocated to the Province will deal with that dereliction.
I hope that the Minister will say whether there is any likelihood of early expansion and development of flax growing as a result of the experiments in Northern Ireland in recent years. Perhaps he can also tell us whether it will be possible to introduce subsidy or some similar incentive to increase grain growing in Northern Ireland to compensate for the limited amount of intervention grain available to Northern Ireland farmers.
In Class II, Vote 1, £6,374,000 is allocatedFor expenditure by the Department of Economic Development on provision of land and buildings, industrial development promotion, certain grants and grants in aid.It is clear even to a limited imagination that only a very small percentage of the overall allocation to that Department can be used for industrial development promotion. Even with the realistic targets and achievements in job creation by the Local Economic Development Unit and the DBI, that will not provide much hope for the large number of unemployed people in Northern Ireland. At the present rate of job creation some of them will get a pension before they get a job.
Money directed towards the retention of jobs has been vital to our economy in the past, but greater promotion of the enhanced package of incentives available in Northern Ireland may help to overcome the distorted image that results from half-hearted security policies and the irresponsibility of some reporters. I hope that the excellent suggestion about corporation tax madeby the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) will also be taken on board.
Members from Northern Ireland on both sides of the House are sometimes annoyed at the misplaced apportioning of responsibility for Northern Ireland's problems in the House. Those responsible for the security of the Province have had time to cut their teeth. They should now bare them and take on the terrorists with determination to rid Ulster of the remaining bombers, gunmen and gangsters — the small minority in the community who are responsible for the destruction of jobs, the lack of inward investment and our poor image abroad. Economic recovery in Northern Ireland depends largely on the success of the security forces, and they need new direction.
Tribute has already been paid to the excellent achievements of our aircraft and shipbuilding industries and they certainly deserve our continued support as they strive to achieve profitability. It is within the power and ability of the Minister and the Government to ensure that they have a fair opportunity to help us further to help 474 ourselves by directing Ministry of Defence contracts to Northern Ireland as we have clearly shown our dependability as well as our capability.
As Northern Ireland representatives in the House, we are anxious to be more self-sufficient and less dependent on public expenditure, but we can realise our potential only if we receive special assistance now. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) mentioned the high cost of energy. Cheaper energy for industry would contribute to job creation and competitiveness. When one considers the repetitive way in which £30 million is allocated to subsidise electricity tariffs at the level of the highest priced areas in England and Wales, surely it would be much wiser to allocate additional funds now to ensure cheaper electricity and dispense with the need for the annual subsidy. Conversion works at Kilroot, Ballylumford and other oil-fired stations would provide much needed engineering work for factories such as GEC.
I wholeheartedy support the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker), on housing provision for the elderly. The policy that the Minister must get through to the housing executive in Northern Ireland is that there is a real need for increased provision for the elderly, the retired and single-person units. Such provision at an early date would release two, three and four-bedroomed accommodation for larger family units. My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann referred to the existing derelict Housing Executive stock. The same comment would be applicable to almost every constituency. Before there is further new building, surely it would be prudent to allocate existing funding and moneys to refurbishing and improving the environment of many of these estates to make it more likely that people, including Housing Executive tenants and those who previously purchased their own homes, will remain in these areas.
I wish to mention briefly a matter of concern In my constituency, the Carrickfergus youth community work-shop, where staff redundancies are threatened. This work preparation unit has been so successful that most of the trainees find work, whereas if the unit had been a failure and a fiasco all the places would still be taken up, and there would be no need for redundancies. I believe that there is a case for additional experienced instructors and supervisors who can provide variety and experience for the young people on the courses.
I regret the limited allocation of funding to the road service. In my constituency, road maintenance is becoming a serious problem. At the weekend, I was advised by one of my constituents that, unless money is urgently spent on the Larne-Ballymena road between Kilwaughter and Shanes Hill, it could collapse completely. We have made representations from time to time to have additional lay-bys and car parking provision on the public housing estates. Our requests are not being met, and it is urgent that people should not be exposed to the hazard of incurring damage and expensive repairs to their motor cars when they are parked in narrow roadways while plenty of space exists on the estates for the provision of adequate off-street car parking facilities.
While this Government's policies have been effective nationally, there is justifiable reason for relaxation of the present policy in Northern Ireland where rigid public expenditure control is aggravating unemployment. A departure from present policy would be beneficial We want to get people back to work and yet we continue to 475 pay massive sums in social security payments. We are denying skilled people the right to use their experience and skills.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) talked about the many mobile classrooms throughout the Province. In the area that I represent there are nore than 300. They exist because the chief officer was committed to a roofs-over-heads policy. Together with the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), I recently approached the Minister to request specific assistance for only three projects. We could have presented 30 projects, but we restricted ourselves to Ballyclare high school, Ballymoney secondary school and Rostulla special school. We could have added Larne grammar school and Larne high school, where I know that there are between 20 and 30 mobile classrooms that have been on site for nearly as many years.
We have played our part in rationalisation. We did not seek to provide a second secondary school and we avoided wasting public funds. However, we were not granted the extensions that we needed, which would have led to a complete school unit. We are still left with temporary classrooms, which are beginning to fall apart.
I hope that there will be further consideration given to some of the suggestions that if, implemented, could get our people back to work. I should be grateful if the Minister would say whether the benefits that are likely to follow freeport status being granted to Belfast airport are likely to spin off and bring benefit to other areas of Northern Ireland.
I wish to be associated with the congratulations that have been expressed to the Minister with environmental responsibilities on the exhibition in London that has involved Londonderry and Belfast enterprise groups.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
I am delighted to have the opportunity of contributing to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) has referred to Ballyclare high school. Members of my party have been fighting for years for improvements to be made at that school.
I shall share with the House some of the difficulties that I have experienced as a Member of this place in dealing with the problems of my constituents. First, under Class 9, I shall relate the difficulties that have been experienced with the Department of Health and Social Services. I discovered the difficulties that claimants encountered at the local offices and the problems that they face in getting their claims dealt with quickly and properly. This applies especially to the first interview with a local officer. Very many claimants are put off from trying to get that to which they are entitled. The answer may be the heavy case load that the officers are dealing with. At a conference which I attended yesterday, which was organised by the Northern Ireland Consumers Council, the following was said:Between 1972 and 1982 there was an increase in social security claims of 70 per cent. but an increase in unemployment between 1972 and 1982 of 500 per cent.In 1972, 42 per cent. of those claims were for unemployment benefit and in 1982 the figure was 68 per cent. It also said that one third of all household incomes come from social security. When I intervene on behalf of 476 my constituents I make headway with the local office. Co-operation with the local office is easy for me, but I should not have to intervene on behalf of those who are entitled to benefits in the first place. Better information is required for claimants to let them know to what they are entitled and how to go about claiming it.
Deductions are made from claims to provide for arrears of heating—it used to be for rent and heating, but now it is for heating only—but it is not clear how much money is deducted. Not only are my constituents in arrears but the DHSS is in arrears because it only pays money in arrears. That should be considered by the Minister.
Dealing now with Class V, practically everyone regards housing benefits as incomprehensible. No one seems to understand the housing benefit system, and there is little sign that anyone knows how it operates. It seems that the Department plucks the figures out of the air, and when one tries to check them other confusions about how they were arrived at arise. The first claim forms for housing benefits were so badly framed that they said that if a claimant were receiving supplementary benefit he did not require to fill in a certain part of the form, yet, if the claimant did not fill in that part of the form, he was told that he must.
The people who suffer most are those who understand the form least and require the benefit most—old people. They are at a complete disadvantage and are completely confused by the system. Changes have been made and, all hon. Members would agree, the original changes were sound. However, the new system is considerably worse than the old. It is felt that it would be better to have a single entry point and a single benefit.
I shall take class VI(1) and class I together. One of my constituents suffered from road flooding, and floods from a water course took down a 40 ft wall. There was flooding, a sewerage leak from a septic tank, overflooding road drains and overflooding water courses. To remedy that problem we had to deal with the Agriculture Department, DOE roads, DOE services, building control and public health. Hon. Members can imagine how difficult it is to deal with Departments which at the slightest sign of trouble, put up an umbrella—that is an apt expression for flooding — to protect themselves. There are designated and undesignated rivers in Northern Ireland, so there is utter confusion. One would have thought that there was some way of sorting out those problems so that one Department, or at least one person, would be responsible and could come to a decision.
Everyone in the Department is very polite, but unfortunately politeness does not always mean action. Class VI (2) deals with the consultation that local councils are supposed to have on planning decisions. In a recent decision in my local council a snooker and billiards club was refused permission to use premises on several good grounds. However, when another club applied for similar permission 20 yards away round the corner, it was granted.
Class V deals with the Housing Executive, and many hon. Members have mentioned the lack of repairs. It would seem that the only repairs that can be done are emergencies, such as burst pipes and broken lights, although even they may not be done. The result is that the repairs which should be done, and which private landlords would be forced to carry out, are not being done and houses get into a continually worse state of repair. Tenants are becoming exasperated and have formed themselves into groups to try to force the Housing Executive to do 477 something. Hon. Members must also intervene on their behalf. We are delighted to do so, but it should not be necessary.
In some areas fences are regarded as being on the "never, never, never" system. If fences fall down, vandals can enter back gardens and break house windows. When the tenants complain to the local housing executive, they are told, "It is in your agreement that you should repair windows." The housing executive says that it can do nothing about broken fences because it does not have the money. Tenants are advised to get a note from the police saying that their windows were broken by vandals. However, the local police officer will say, "We have no evidence of who broke your window. We think that it was some of the local lads, but we cannot charge them because they are under age." The tenants then return to the housing executive, but are told, "We cannot repair your windows unless you get a letter from the police." So it goes on. Most of those people are on social security, but the DHSS will not provide money for repairs. The tenants have no money with which to repair the windows, so the result is that windows are filled with cloth or covered with wood.
When repairs are carried out, we discover that those employed to do them—at the lowest estimate—are not local people who live within a few miles of that house and who might take pride in their workmanship, and be recognised and welcomed by the local people. They come from miles away, and have no regard for the furniture, fittings or anything that belongs to the people who live in the house. The tenants are told, "If you want your house fixed you will have to put up with the trouble." In some parts of Northern Ireland, when house repairs are carried out, the tenants and their furniture are moved into portable dwellings until the repairs are finished. However, that does not happen in other parts of Northern Ireland, for some unknown reason.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I can only say that it does not happen in my constituency. I have been in the construction industry, so I hesitate to criticise the workmen, but unfortunately the standard of workmanship leaves much to be desired. I speak from personal experience, having been in the business.
I understand that extra money has been allocated for old peoples' homes, cavity wall insulation and putting in heating—better fires, or whatever—for older people. Incidentally, those people deserve it. Is the money being spent, and is it being spent properly? I suspect that in some parts of Northern Ireland that money is not being spent. At a time when we have enormous numbers of unemployed people in Northern Ireland, we are told at the Housing Executive's offices that they cannot get enough workmen to do the work for the money that they have to spend.
§ Mr. Beggs
Does my hon. Friend agree that one reason for this shoddy workmanship is that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive claims that it cannot afford sufficient inspectors, and that because of the random methods by which work is examined, shoddy workmanship goes by? Accounts are even paid by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive for work that has not been done.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He has put the matter well.
478 The Minister told us that the first priority in Northern Ireland is housing. If so, let us make sure that the work is being done and the houses being built are of the right type and in the right areas. The council of which I am a member has suggested to the Housing Executive areas where it should build. We have pointed out the areas where we think that the Housing Executive is building the wrong type of houses. However, we have been ignored. We are the local people, we know the area, we know what is required, and we know where the houses should be built, yet we are completely ignored. The Housing Executive tells us, "We know better. We will build houses to hold five, six or seven in a family," when we know that what is needed is flats or small houses for smaller families and old people. That would release larger houses for other people.
The right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) spoke about the number of people on the waiting lists. I can assure him that most of those people are in houses awaiting transfer to other areas, either because the house is too big or because they do not like the area in which they are living, for various reasons. So the right hon. and learned Gentleman was slightly off the mark.
On Class IV, I cannot agree with the Minister of State when he said that roads in Northern Ireland are satisfactory. Some roads are satisfactory—indeed, some roads are in excellent order—but other roads are not in excellent order. The roads in the Antrim area of my constituency are reasonably good, with the exception of the road that runs from Antrim to Ballymena, but in the Newtownabbey part of my constituency, and in the adjoining constituency of Belfast, North, I know that some of the roads are in an awful state.
I draw the Under-Secretary's attention to what he said to me on 26 January in reply to a question that I put to him:I am sure that he will be pleased to know that, within an overall smaller roads budget for next year, we shall be spending more on minor works and maintenance, and I am sure that some of that will be spent in his constituency."—[Official Report, 26 January 1984; Vol. 52, c. 1043.]I do not think that what the Minister said to me here has filtered down to the Department which he controls, because at the last council meeting that I attended I was informed by the officer in charge that there would be no extra money spent on road maintenance in Newtownabbey in the coming year. I ask the Minister to see that this information reaches the Belfast manager.
I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. I do not wish to go on and on about snow, about gritting, about major and minor roads, but I must mention the street lights. The Minister also said:I shall look as a matter of some urgency into the problem of street lighting."—[Official Report, 26 January, 1984; Vol. 52, c. 1043.]I can tell the Minister now that there are still 140 street lights out in Newtownabbey. Will the Minister please look into this?
On Class IV, could the Minister give us some information about the visit that he made to the Republic for consultations with the Transport Minister of the Republic of Ireland? Could he tell us what was said on that occasion?
On Class VIII, which covers sport, I have had the honour of playing football professionally for both Linfield and Derry City. During that time the citizens of Londonderry were proud to support a team called Derry 479 City. Under the Unionist-controlled city council they were content that the team be called "Derry City" and did not expect its name to be "Londonderry City". The decision to change the name was a mean and vindictive one, taken by a group of small-minded, bigoted people.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
On one occasion a Member of this House said that debates on Appropriation orders like this represented an opportunity for people to roam from Dan to Beersheba; and certainly there has been a wide debate today. I regret that I was unable to be present for the two opening speeches, through no fault of my own. The leader of the Official Unionist Party and I had a meeting with the Secretary of State, as it was impossible for us to meet him at any other time. I hope that the opening speakers will understand my absence. I have a fairly full note of what they said, and, if I misrepresent their words in any way, they will, no doubt, rise up and rebuke me for so doing.
I am sure that I speak on behalf of all Members from Northern Ireland when I express the hope that the noble Lord Mansfield will soon recover from his illness. I should like the Secretary of State, who I see on the Front Bench, to convey to him, his wife and his family our sympathy and best wishes for an early recovery.
I wish to deal first with the announcement today that the less favoured areas are to be extended. Of course, we welcome this. Those hon. Members who do not come from Northern Ireland will probably not know that 45 per cent. of Northern Ireland was listed as a less favoured area. But 30 per cent. that met the criteria and should have been so listed was, for some reason or other, discriminated against and left out. The farmers feel very sore about that. I see that some hon. Members smile. Of course, the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) does not have many farmers in his constituency, but no doubt he has visited many parts of Ulster in his preaching campaigns and knows that the farmers feel badly done by.
When the matter was examined by the Assembly's agriculture committee the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, told us that the decision had been made in London to exclude 30 per cent. of Northern Ireland that met the criteria to become a less favoured area. We know that the application has been accepted and approved, but there are those who are still aggrieved. I have been around Northern Ireland with various elected representatives and how some parts could have been excluded and others included by looking at the land one will never know.
Has the Minister set up an appeals procedure so that those farmers who are aggrieved can have an opportunity to appeal against their exclusion from the less favoured areas? That is an important matter and I trust that we shall be given some answer on it tonight. All hon. Members will now be pushed as hard as possible when the announcement goes across the Province.
§ Mr. Butler
It might be helpful if I were to reply to the point straight away. A statement will shortly be made about the details of the way in which the extension of the LFA's will apply in Northern Ireland. I can assure the hon. Gentleman there will be an appeals procedure.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am grateful to the Minster for that announcement. I trust that the procedure will have a strong 480 independent element and that it will not be the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food making all the decisions and acting as judge and jury. I am not too sure whether we shall have such independence in this appeals tribunal.
I questioned the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food today when he made a statement in the House. I did not receive much satisfaction, but I trust that when the Minister replies to the debate tonight we shall discover when the grants will be payable to the extended less favoured areas. From what I could gather, it will be a sort of two-tier system. Ministers from the Northern Ireland Office will know that that type of system was vigorously opposed by all the farming representatives. Will the capital grants to those areas be paid in full, or will there be a reduction? Can the Minister give us some idea of the other support grants that will come to the extended less favoured areas?
As has already been said by the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), the farmers naturally want to plan for the future and to make the necessary provisions. They need to know exactly what will happen. After such a long time, the farming community in Northern Ireland was rightly aggrieved about the way in which it has been treated. I am glad that the battle has reached a successful conclusion, but I am not too happy about some of the things that I have heard in the House today about how those extended areas are to be treated. Nevertheless, we are glad that at last we have had a decision.
The appropriation order refers to the fishing industry. There may be serious complications for our fishermen with the extension of the territorial waters of the Isle of Man. Northern Ireland fishermen need to seek new fishing grounds. That will not be easy because the majority of boats coming from Kilkeel, Ardglass and Portavogie are incapable of going far afield to fish. The fishing ground off the north coast of Northern Ireland has not been fully exploited. We are told by the fishing interests that an area could be exploited and that there is an opportunity for a prosperous future for the boats coming from Kilkeel, Ardglass and Portavogie.
What plans does the Under-Secretary of State have to make grants available to the Northern Ireland fishing industry so that larger boats can be used? Smaller vessels can be replaced by larger boats so that the fishermen can investigate the fishing ground off the north coast of Northern Ireland and other fishing grounds. They can then carry on and even increase the size of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. There is a future in this vital industry. The people engaged in the fishing industry will not obtain any other jobs in their areas.
There is a need for a proper harbour on the north coast of Northern Ireland. The Under-Secretary of State was coming to see me at a little harbour, Ballintoy, but I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) twisted his arm and he is to go to the Assembly instead. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will not forget about the problems on the north coast. If we can exploit the fishing ground off the north coast of our Province, we shall need that new harbour.
Fishing interests are always worried about fuel prices. The cost of bringing their boats from south Down to the north coast of Antrim and returning after expoiting this fishing ground would be prohibitive. Will the Under-Secretary of State continue the project in Ballycastle? Will that be the new harbour for the north Antrim area? Is he 481 thinking of Portrush or even of Londonderry? I do not know what is in his mind. The fishing interests want to know if there is planning ahead on this issue by the Department. I trust that tonight we shall hear something that will help and encourage the fishing industry of Northern Ireland.
In coming to class II, I must deal with the Bairnswear factory that was blown up in Armagh. We are told that the Unionist representatives in Northern Ireland are not interested in bread and butter issues. It is said that they are interested only in the constitution. We are interested in the constitution, but it is interesting to note, when considering the question of representation, that the Republican Member of this House, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), is not present when we are battling for those matters which will help all sections of the community to retain their jobs and their place in Northern Ireland.
The Unionist representatives on both sides of this House are battling on these issues for the betterment of the whole community. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) wishes to intervene, he should come into the Chamber, not sit outside it, and then he might be heard. As a new boy, perhaps he does not appreciate that. When there was another leader of the SDLP in this House, although I had many arguments with him, at least he was present when matters such as this were being discussed. Let it be firmly on the record that we are interested in the wellbeing of all our people, irrespective of their religious beliefs.
In coming to the industrial development board and class II, I must say in relation to the Bairnswear factory that while we hear from the Republican elements in the Province and from the IRA that there is a terrible situation in Northern Ireland in relation to houses, jobs, discrimination and so on, here was a factory that was doing a good job, providing employment in the area. Suddenly it was destroyed. I believe that it was a deliberate and planned attack to keep other investors out of Northern Ireland, to say, "Look what will happen if you invest in Northern Ireland."
I congratulate the Minister on his promptness and energy in saying to the people concerned, "We will back you and encourage you all the way and see that you get a factory and every help." That was appreciated, and I believe that those jobs will be saved in Northern Ireland. That is what we must do—ensure that jobs are saved.
I could say much about the industrial development board. I should like to see more energy being expended in that direction, with clients who come to Northern Ireland being received with more enthusiasm and as welcome visitors. I know what is happening because I have a case in mind where, as a result of a visit with which I had something to do, a business man from the United States came to Northern Ireland. Only because of political pressure by the Leader of the Unionist party on the Benches opposite, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), and myself, were we able to get a proper response in the initial stage.
I do not know all about that case and I am not arguing that matter tonight; perhaps on another occasion we can do that. I am simply saying that when a person comes with a concrete proposal, he should be encouraged. Indeed, the firm about which I have been speaking was greatly encouraged when it went to the south of Ireland. The red carpet was put out in Dublin. I do not want those jobs, if they are at stake, to be lost to Northern Ireland.
482 I am using this debate to put up a marker, not for the benefit of the Minister—it is not his fault—but for that of the industrial development board. The board needs to be more enthusiastic to people who consult it. The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) mentioned De Lorean. De Lorean hangs like an albatross around all our necks. The IDB regards everyone as a possible De Lorean. That fact hinders our prospects of creating employment.
A word should be said about all the other boards set up in various council areas of Northern Ireland and the good work that they are doing in seeking to promote our Province and to further the work of creating jobs. Every encouragement should be given to everyone attempting to create employment in Northern Ireland.
I must say a word about the workshops, the Government training schemes and all those who are dedicated to training young people so that they will be in a fit state to take over jobs in Northern Ireland. Everyone engaged in that work should be encouraged and praised. Some of them are dedicated people with a real interest in encouraging young people to love their work and to use the talents that God has given them in order to be usefully employed and useful members of the community. My words will be echoed in the hearts of all the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, I do not have time to discuss the gas industry. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) said nothing about the two-way street in agriculture. If he studies the figures, he will see that the Republic pays a very large sum of money to the agricultural producers of Northern Ireland. It is not a one-way street.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I will give way in a moment. I do not want to see on our supply of energy the hand of a Government who are totally opposed to our constitution. There is no parallel between that situation and what happens in agriculture.
§ Mr. McCusker
What the hon. Gentleman says emphasises the importance of the interdependence, on the island of Ireland, of the agriculture industries of the Republic and of Northern Ireland. He has made my point even more forcefully.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
No, I do not think so. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Belfast, South is laughing, but it is no joke. Are our energy supplies to be controlled by a man like Charles Haughey or a man like Garret Fitzgerald? Are we to be held to ransom by them? That is something to be taken seriously. My views on the subject are well known. If there was time, I would be happy to discuss them.
Agriculture is not a one-way street but, in the case of energy, the south of Ireland said "No" to our electricity. They could have had our electricity, but they encouraged the terrorists who blew up the inter-connector and they never wanted it put back. The hon. Gentleman knows that.
§ Sir Peter Mills (Torridge and Devon, West)
Speaking of agriculture, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the greatest danger is that the South might have some special treatment in the new price review which would be highly damaging to the Northern part of Ireland?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The hon. Gentleman has a great interest in Northern Ireland. When he was there, he had an interest in an island off my constituency as well as in 483 agriculture. I remember being taken out along with him to that island by helicopter and having to come back by boat. During my representations in Europe, I have pointed out to the commissioner that if there is to be any derogation in the South of Ireland in regard to 1981 and they change it to 1983 and there is to be 10 per cent. on top of that, we must get the same as we are entitled not to have an imbalance in agriculture in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann knows all about smuggling, although I am not saying that he has ever engaged in it. The farming community in Northern Ireland cannot be held to ransom by the farming community of the Republic. I hope that Ministers are fighting for the people of Northern Ireland. I hope that they are pushing those who go to the Council of Ministers to look after the interests of the Northern Ireland people. I welcome the intervention of the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Sir P. Mills) as he made an important point.
In regard to energy, I agree with the hon. Member for Upper Bann about lignite. We need to know what is happening. I should also like to know about the change at Kilroot power station to firing by lignite. I know that there is a substantial grant from Europe for that as I served for two and half years on the energy committee in the EEC. I should like to know what the Government will do about that.
Road safety is extremely important. It might interest the House to learn that each year more people are killed on our roads than as result of terrorist incidents. I should like a breakdown of the figures in class IV as road safety is included with transport services. Will the Minister tell us how much money is being spent on road safety and how the road safety programme is getting on? What provision is made to teach road safety in schools in Northern Ireland?
I have already mentioned harbour services. I remind the Minister that, although he is going to the Assembly, he still has to come to Ballintoy. I hope that he remembers that. In regard to housing I am sorry that my constituency is not like that of the hon. Member for Upper Bann. We still need houses to be built in Antrim, North. We have quite a shortage of houses with the result that although people are married, the husband has to live in his own home and his wife has to live with her people because there are not enough houses in the Ballymoney area. That is a dreadful thing as it puts great strain on marriages. It is important that we have the necessary number of houses.
I entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) when he spoke about the Housing Executive's system of checking only one tenth of the work that is done. I know of no system that would encourage corruption more. A foreman on a site can have the inspector in and say, "Yes, we want to show you this house." The foreman takes the inspector into the chosen house and of course it is well constructed. The chit is signed and all of the other houses are paid for. It is a serious matter and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman highlighted it. He also mentioned improvements. I went to a house in the Ballymoney area where the cupboards were built in before the lintels and side posts were put on the doors. When one tried to pull out the drawer, it would come out only as far as the door cheek. Instead of taking off the door cheek and doing a proper repair, they took out the drawer and cut off the corner so that when one pulled 484 out the drawer it came out a little way. One then had to twist it round to get it out. That happened in a Housing Executive house and I took officials of the executive to see it. Such workmanship is disgraceful and something must be done about it. Other hon. Members would not tolerate that in their area.
Can the Minister tell me how many appeals were heard by the planning appeals commission last year? Was the number up or down on the previous year? I want to highlight the procedure of the commission. For some reason, it will not grant adjournments. When it has decided the date for an appeal, it says that there will be no adjournment. A prominent business man in my constituency had a big project which was the subject of a planning appeal. I attend a lot of planning appeals in my area, as the Minister may know, but this was such an important one that I advised the business man to get the best possible Queens Counsel to represent him. The man had to go away on a business trip and did not want the appeal to take place then, but the commission arranged the appeal when he was out of the country and his lawyer was not able to attend because he was involved in a High Court case that lasted longer than he had anticipated. The commission refused to grant an adjournment; it said that it would hear the case by the planning officer and that the business man could attend on another day to put his case. Anyone who knows anything about planning appeals knows that it is the cross-examination of the planning officer that is the most vital part.
I have pointed out to the planning appeals commission that it is entitled to grant adjournments. I remember an occasion when I did not come to the House because I wanted to attend a planning appeal, but the commissioner did not turn up. Of course, he apologised and I had to accept the apology. I always remind the commission that it should give some leeway when arranging appeals. I hope the Minister will use his good offices in this matter. We do not want appeals to be adjourned indefinitely but there must be some leeway on the part of the planning appeals commission.
Many things could be said about schools. I do not like to see schools being closed. The hon. Member for Belfast, South has an interest in Park Parade school and so have I, because for 38 years I have been a minister of the Gospel on the Ravenhill road and I know the area well. If that school is closed the area, which is primarily Protestant, will be decimated. I hope that a decision will be made to keep the school open. I support what was said by the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) about border areas in north Belfast and other parts of the city where the Protestant population is being crushed. If their schools are closed, the Protestants will be pushed out of those areas.
§ Rev. William McCrea
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is time the elected representatives in Northern Ireland called upon the members of the various boards to stop doing the Government's dirty work by closing schools such as Park Parade and some in North Belfast which are really border schools?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I agree with my hon. Friend. I have made appeals, but they have been in vain. I received a sharp letter from the education board more or less telling me to mind my own business and that it knew what it was doing. However, that is a matter for another day.
The hon. Member for Antrim, East spoke about temporary accommodation in schools. It is disgraceful that 485 a school such as that in Ballyclare should have to rely on so many mobile classrooms. When the children want to use the toilet facilities they have to leave the building. In one of the schools referred to by the hon. Gentleman, some of the children need special care and attention, so it is terrible that they have to do that. Their coats have to be put on and they have to be taken out to the toilets and brought back. One of the schools in the same board has, as the only accommodation for its library, a barn. That is a disgrace in the 20th century.
I have taken the time allowed to me. I see that you are getting fidgety in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I know that other, non-Northern Ireland Members want to go home to their beds. We cannot get home, so it does not matter to us. We can stay all night. I trust that when the Minister comes to reply, even if he is not able to answer all the points that we have raised, we shall receive the usual courteous letters from him.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) made an important point, of which I hope that the Minister has taken note, about Orlit housing. He pin-pointed the small number, probably not more than 50, of such houses in Northern Ireland that were erected by private developers, not by a public authority, and subsequently purchased by the occupants. It is not clear to me or my hon. Friends whether the occupants stand to benefit under the scheme launched by the Housing Executive. I know that the Minister will look at this matter carefully to see whether this limited number of people are disadvantaged.
Nine months ago my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) welcomed the new Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten). Some of us, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North has said, thought that it was a mistake for the Secretary of State to allocate a double task, with two very onerous appointments, to one Minister. We have been proved wrong, because the new Under-Secretary has risen to and overcome the challenge. That does not nullify the criticisms that have been made of the Minister's action in re-naming the Londonderry district council.
I cannot understand how the Minister, presumably with the sanction of the Secretary of State, could take such a decision in defiance of the commissioner of local government boundaries, who said:We recommend that no change be made in the name of Londonderry District Council.Once again, we have heard hon. Members analysing and highlighting the high level of public expenditure in Northern Ireland. Some hon. Members, like the hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern), have defended the position, and others give it as a reason for breaking the Union itself. Do the latter not realise that this extra results from our observing in Northern Ireland principles of parity in social service benefit payments? Is it suggested that social security benefits should be lower in Northern Ireland? Is it suggested that the family allowance should be abolished there on the ground that the birth rate is higher in Northern Ireland, and therefore should not be subsidised? As the hon. Member for Horsham properly said these are questions to which honest answers must be given.
The existence of the separate Consolidated Fund in Northern Ireland makes it possible for Ulster's critics to 486 indulge in the luxury of complaining without telling us how we should remedy the situation, given that we are entitled to parity of services with citizens of the United Kingdom. Ever since we began to question the usefulness of debates on occasions such as tonight, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has expressed sympathy for hon. Members who represent constituencies in Great Britain but who are kept in the Chamber until a very late hour by the Under-Secretary. I have great sympathy for them, too, because it is all unnecessary. Hon. Members are detained for a period of an hour, or an hour and a half, on a given evening for a quite unnecessary purpose. These matters could be debated in the context of legislation affecting Great Britain and, therefore, incorporated into United Kingdom legislation. I do not venture into the argument of integration versus devolution or any of that nonsense. It is simply that, if Parliament has decreed that for the time being, we should be governed from Westminster, then, for the time being, we should be so governed.
I have often asked myself what would happen if the order were defeated. I and my right hon. Friends suspect that nothing much would happen, because the moneys would continue to be paid from the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund into the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, regardless of whether the Under-Secretary had his sums wrong.
That leads me to the consideration of what purpose the separate Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund serves. Its purpose is not to ensure better or stricter control of public expenditure, or expenditure of any kind. Let me quote an unbiased source, last year's report of the Select Committee on Procedure (Finance):There may be reasons unconnected with the control of expenditure why the fictional Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund is still maintained in existence.The Select Committee did not dig any deeper. It may well have considered that it had no duty to dig deeper. I can suggest one reason at least. The purpose is to keep Northern Ireland separate so that people like the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) can go on proclaiming that Northern Ireland is different, and so that Northern Ireland public expenditure can be kept in a separate and tidy parcel, ready to be handed over to the first taker.
It is all part of the hideous apparatus of direct rule that is maintained year after year as a so-called temporary measure, an undemocratic device that my party stands pledged to remove, without the effect of easing the burden on British Members of Parliament. This device could be removed before June if the Government were to dismantle some of the barriers with which they surrounded the rolling devolution Act, as it was called, of 1982 thus preventing it from having a chance to work.
We are approaching the time when the Government and Parliament must come clean. In one form or another, they must keep that promise—which they sometimes try to forget — made through the mouth of the Sovereign herself five long years ago, a simple promise to give to the people of Northern Ireland more control of their own affairs. That promise was made in 1979. We trust that it has not been set aside entirely. We trust that it will not go on being placed just out of our reach. For our part, we shall go on reminding the Government of that undertaking. That 487 means more than just verbal reminders. It means carrying our reminder, and our protest, into the Division Lobby, and that is exactly what we shall be doing tonight.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
First, I must apologise to the Minister of State and to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) for. having been absent when they spoke. I understand however, that they made weighty and admirable speeches. When I was leaving the Palace of Westminster to attend to important constituency matters, I came across the people who were engaged in a lobby of the House, the pensioners who came to the House to speak to their Members of Parliament. [Interruption.] I hear noises to my right—
§ Mr. Kilfedder
It is something that I would normally ignore, but, if it is repeated, I might need your assistance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to put that spirit out of its agony.
The pensioners who came to the House today were English, but their comments were similar to what pensioners in Northern Ireland would have said. When I first came to the House 20 years ago, my maiden speech was about our need to look after the elderly. I believed then that their need was great, and that the hardships they faced were too much of a burden; but in those 20 years times have changed and their position has become worse. With a higher cost of living in Northern Ireland and the high costs of food and of fuel, the plight of the pensioners is far worse, and many are suffering as a result of severe cuts in the home-help scheme. In some cases home helps have been removed altogether; in other cases, their hours have been cut to half an hour, or one hour, a few days a week. That is not enough time, because the pensioner 488 depends on the home help to make the home habitable, to light fire, to cook a meal and to wash a few items in the household.
The order refers to the sum of £10 million which will be allocated to the restructuring of the gas industry, and the £30 million subsidy for electricity tariffs. I appeal to the Government not to increase further the price of electricity in Northern Ireland, which anyway is higher than the price in most other parts of the United Kingdom. It is also unfair of the Government to ban the housing executive from carrying out conversions from gas heating to coal-fired heating.
East Ballybeen residents association in my constituency carried out a survey, whose results were typical of many other areas in my constituency and perhaps other parts of Northern Ireland. The survey sought the views of tenants about gas, electricity and solid fuel heating. Only 31 per cent. of electricity users were happy; but far fewer—a mere 15 per cent.—of gas users were content. They not only complained bitterly about the cost of gas but regarded it as less reliable than solid fuel heating. When the residents association protested that half the gas fires in the area had not been serviced, it was told by senior housing executive officials and gas board officials that it was not telling the truth. But, of course, an investigation discovered that the residents had told the truth, and two gas board officials were sacked because they pretended to be calling on houses and carrying out repairs to gas fires when they were not. Gas fires are a potential danger to the elderly, and they must be properly maintained.
The tenants of that estate and of other estates in north Down demand the freedom of choice. They are entitled to have their heating systems converted to coal if that is what they wish. According to the survey, 85 per cent. of gas users and 69 per cent. of electricity users wished to convert to solid fuel. I hope that the Government will allow the housing executive to carry out those conversions.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
Although there are some similarities in these debates, there are also different themes from time to time. I made the accusation in an earlier intervention that the Minister's speech does not change very much. The Minister constantly comes to the House and tells us that there is a ray of sunshine, that things are looking up, that the Gods are smiling on us, and so on. I wish that were true, because no one gets any satisfaction from seeing people unemployed or seeing people on low incomes struggling to make ends meet. The harsh fact is that evidence of the recovery is slender. We know that unemployment on a year-to-year basis is up by about another 6,000 from one January to another, to January of last year. So the evidence of a great revival is limited.
The Minister of State, who opened our debate, is perhaps untypical of the rest of his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Department, in that he actually hopes that the Prime Minister's policy is working. Most of his colleagues recognise that it is not working and would like to do in Northern Ireland what they would like to do in the rest of the United Kingdom, if the Prime Minister would let them get away with it—but she will not.
The Minister made some interesting assertions. He said that we must not increase public expenditure because it boosts inflation. It is a strange theory that argues that public expenditure necessarily increases inflation. There is no evidence of a direct causal link, and it depends a lot on the definition of public expenditure and the type of public expenditure. The Minister left out an important point: if that is correct, and given an inflation rate of about 5 per cent., the Government should explain how public expenditure under their government has increased as a percentage of the gross domestic product. We all know the reason: this Government have cut the country's wealth by lowering the gross domestic product and at the same time increasing public expenditure on items such as unemployment and defence. They should also explain why other countries which have a higher public expenditure do not necessarily have a bad record on inflation. It varies from place to place, and many other factors are involved.
The argument that somehow public expenditure leads to higher inflation and therefore cannot be used to regenerate the economy is nonsense. It does not stand up to analysis on a national or international comparison. The Government's record is abysmally bad. We have seen the Northern Ireland Office trying to get extra money for Northern Ireland from time to time. The Opposition have welcomed that when it happened, but we recognise that it is only a small part of what is needed.
The dramatic rise in unemployment in Northern Ireland between 1981 and 1983 is a damning indictment of this Government's economic policies. There is no justification for that rise, and there is no explanation, other than economic mismanagement. Sooner or later the Government will have to face the harsh fact, now that unemployment is so close to 22 per cent., that the problem is very severe.
The Minister of State made one or two other interesting comments in his speech. In response to an intervention, he came out with a somewhat enlightening reply, which I had not heard before. It was a slight 490 variation on the theme, and a very interesting one. He said that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom while a majority want it, and subject to the will of Parliament. The argument has slightly changed, and I appreciate that. It is desirable, and I hope that it will change further.
§ Mr. Butler
It stands to reason, if the ruling is enshrined in legislation, that if the legislation is to be changed it requires the consent of Parliament.
§ Mr. Soley
I could not agree more. The Minister has logic on his side. I have always argued that what matters pro p 51 is that Parliament governs for the whole of the United Kingdom, and while Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, we govern for that part. I have always said that the only reason for the part in the original Act about Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom for as long as the people there want it was the recognition of the insecurity of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, and a recognition that it is open to debate that it is not a normal part of the United Kingdom. We have been over that debate before and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would be right in ruling me out of order if I were to pursue it. I was responding simply to the point arising from the intervention on the Minister's speech.
I would like to turn to two of the issues that have troubled me in this debate. The first is the squabble, primarily among Unionist Members, about the name of a city and of a council. Although I understand, as do most who speak on or involve themselves in the affairs of Northern Ireland, that they are directing their remarks as much to their own constituents in Northern Ireland as to anyone, they are also being heard in Britain. That squabble over a name lends weight to the feeling that the people of Northern Ireland, both Unionist and Republican, cannot settle their differences. I ask those Members to bear in mind the audience on this side of the water as well as their own audience at home.
The other aspect of the debate that I found particularly unatractive was the tendency of a couple of Members to dismiss certain groups of people in Northern Ireland as scroungers. I say quite categorically that I do not regard the people of Northern Ireland as scroungers, and I consider it both offensive and gratuitously insulting to say that they are. It is also a particularly un-Christian remark, if I, as a non-Christian, may say that about someone who claims to be a Christian.
Let me deal with this question of debt, referred to by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). He did not say that these people were scroungers. If I understood him correctly—and no doubt he will correct me if I misinterpret his remarks — he said that if a person gets into debt it is an indication of something going wrong with his social management skills, that he is in some way becoming socially less competent, and that this is an indication that a social worker ought to become involved. If it is, we are going to need a lot more social workers in Northern Ireland, because the number of people who have got into debt in the last couple of years on rent, gas and electricity payments is immense. The reason for it is economic.
I say that as someone who knows full well the problems of people who have difficulty in managing from time to time. There are emotional reasons why people get into debt — when, for example, they 491 become psychiatrically ill, when they lose a job, when they suffer a life crisis, when the family runs into a crisis—and there are reasons connected directly with illness. But there is also and predominantly a very direct economic reason.
Let me turn to the Appropriation Accounts. Looking at the district heating schemes, I see that in 1981 the debt was £475,000. In 1982 it was £1,435,000. In 1983, it was £2,151,000. If anyone here would like to pretend that those people need social workers he had better explain to the House how they suddenly became socially incompetent between the years 1981 and 1983 when they were not incompetent before.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) had better explain to his own constituents why he thinks that they are scroungers because they can no longer manage to make ends meet. I will say this to the Government, that there have been increasing—
§ Rev. William McCrea
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it correct for an hon. Member incorrectly to state that words were uttered by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Every Member of the House is responsible for his own speech. It is not a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Soley
I was going to allow the hon. Member to intervene if he wanted to. I am still willing to do so. What he actually said was that there were people who were scroungers in Northern Ireland and he carried out quite an attack on them. Whether or not he used the word "scroungers" we can check in Hansard tomorrow, but no one can doubt the meaning of his words.
§ Rev. William McCrea
I am absolutely delighted that the hon. Member has allowed me to intervene. Could I say it again? There is a vast number of people in Northern Ireland who are "doing the double". That is to be condemned. It is theft. I never mentioned the word "scrounger" in the whole of my speech.
§ Mr. Soley
I am not sure whether it is better to be a scrounger or a thief. That is what the hon. Member has now said that they are. If he wants to tell his constituents or others that these people thieve, then he may by all means do so, but I have to tell him that I think that there are many reasons why people get into economic difficulties.
There are many reasons why people try to get more out of the system, whether by fiddling their income tax or anything else. There are many reasons why people often do not get anywhere near what they ought to get out of the system. As has been said, many people do not get the benefits that they should. The Minister knows that that is true, as do we all. To dismiss the people of Northern Ireland as being in some way more dishonest or haphazard than people anywhere else is wrong. That needs to be said clearly. I do not have such contempt for the people of Northern Ireland.
Nor do I believe, as the hon. Gentleman implied, that they go on marches. I should have thought that the hon. 492 Gentleman would have been the last to talk about that, because when the people of Britain think about the people of Northern Ireland on marches, they think of a date in July and that is not what the hon. Gentleman talks of. We should be clear about who it is that we are saying these things about.
It is disconcerting to read on page 39 that one of the reasons that the Department of the Environment gave for the lack of disconnections in Northern Ireland was thatit was felt that each disconnection would encourage arrears amongst the remaining tenants, who would have been charged more.That is an interesting statement. Next time the Northern Ireland Office sends me a bill I shall not pay it in case doing so encourages others not to pay theirs. That may be a way of dealing with the Government. It is nonsense. It really recognises that many people cannot pay their bills and that that increases the charge to the rest of the people on the district heating scheme so that they fall into arrears, too. The trouble is that it is a double-edged weapon. If people are in arrears and are known to be, it leads to great bitterness amongst those who do pay their bills and an attitude of "Why should I pay?" As I said in an intervention, that is a sign that energy costs and rents above all else have been forcing the people of Northern Ireland, Unionist and Republican, Catholic and Protestant, increasingly into debt. That is the harsh fact that people have to face.
It must be remembered that some years ago many Unionists used to complain that load limitation and things of that nature were necessary primarily because of the Republican community's unwillingness to pay. The same applied to rent arrears. That has recently been dropped because increasingly Unionists have been getting into debt in the same way as Republicans. That has nothing to do with the sectarian divide but everything to do with the Government's failed economic policies.
§ Mr. Beggs
I accept that what the hon. Gentleman said about not cutting off electricity is partially true, but will he accept from me that in my experience the main reason for not cutting off electricity supplies is that the electricians who carry out that work will not go into some of the areas to do so?
§ Mr. Soley
If that is the reason—I very much doubt it—it is not one of those given in the report. I would rather go by that. I know that there are problems in certain areas about rent and other debt collections, but I do not take the view that that is why the figures suddenly get as bad as they have done in the past couple of years.
There has been a massive increase in debts, above all because of increased rent and energy charges on the people of Northern Ireland. That has nothing to do with the sectarian troubles of the Province. It is because the increases have been so dramatic at a time when people on low incomes have not had significant increases in those incomes — whether they are wages, unemployment benefit or social security payments—that they literally cannot pay the bills. We are talking about genuine poverty, not about unwillingness to pay. They are not thieves, spongers or scroungers. They are not due to sectarian problems or intimidation, but simple economic poverty. Anybody who thinks that he can prove otherwise had better demonstrate why it is that those figures, whether for housing, district heating schemes or electricity bills, 493 have increased so dramatically in the past couple of years. Let us face up to that reason and stop blaming the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. William Ross
The hon. Gentleman said that, whenever electricity was cut off, Northern Ireland people had to pay more. Does he realise the importance of that statement? That has always been denied by not only the present Government but the Labour party when in power.
§ Mr. Soley
The Government report says that. It is important to recognise that the report was referring, as I was doing, to a district heating scheme. Northern Ireland is part of that scheme, and that makes a difference.
I understand the worry of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) about grants to the agricultural community and his comments on housing in rural areas. I agree with many of his points. The same emphasis should be given to the needs of people, especially in the inner city areas, in terms of getting money for assistance such as housing benefit. We talk about them being in debt to the institutions of the state. We recognise—as one Member of the Official Unionist party, to his credit, pointed out — that in certain circumstances, especially with regard to housing benefit, the Department is in debt to the people. We should remember the pressure the Department puts on those trying to live on a low income. We would should keep that in perspective.
The hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordern) made an interesting speech which I welcome from a member of the Public Accounts Committee. I regret that he is not in the Chamber, but I am sure that there is a good reason for that. He rightly pointed out that, to put jobs in west Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland, previous Governments were willing to take major risks—De Lorean was such a risk. The hon. Gentleman made no bones about that. He concluded that it was not sensible to give grants to organisations and subsidise industries. It would be better to abolish corporation tax. The hon. Gentleman acknowledged that, according to his figures, only £40 million would be released. Anyone who knows anything about corporation tax knows that it has been virtually a voluntary tax since the Finance Act 1980. The Government know that.
What difference will the release of £40 million into Northern Ireland make in terms of withdrawing grant, and so on? Why did the hon. Gentleman think that the money would go into west Belfast, Strabane or any of the other areas that the Government especially wanted to help? A great deal more planning is needed, rather than fiddling with the tax system or some figure that the Government believe will produce greater investment. There is no evidence that abolishing corporation tax — I am not dealing with whether that is good or bad—will mean greater investment in Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman's figure is grossly and abysmally inadequate, if he is talking about replacing the existing grant system.
I should be the first to concede that the grant system used in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s is not as relevant to the new technology as we would like. We must recognise that the system needs to be changed. That is one of the reasons why we favour the approach adopted by the local enterprise development unit and similar organisations. They are encouraging, and they should be given more help. The Government could have used some more public money effectively in this area.
494 The hon. Member for Horsham raised the issue of the cost of Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom—I shall not dwell on that point because it would mean to some extent going over old ground. He cited a cost of £1.1 billion. He argued that therefore it would not be economic to incorporate Northern Ireland into the South. The South's economy could not cope with that. He should read just one decent report on the economy, for example, forum—I might make a point of sending him a copy so that he can take advantage of it—to see that the economy of both the North and the South has been seriously bled by the events in the North. That has been the result of the economic and political structures that exist in those two parts of the island of Ireland, and it is nonsense to ignore that. [interruption.] Members of the Official Unionist party go into one of their giggling fits when I tell them that the border distorts the economy of Ireland. I assure them that there is great evidence of that, and a giggling fit is no alternative to an argument, so they had better come up with some arguments that contain the alternative.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think that I am giggling. I am just wondering whether he has swallowed the blarney of the forum, the members of which were asked to provide the figures that would be involved economically in a united Ireland and, rather than dealing with that, they did it the other way round to show the economic costs of the border to Ireland, not addressing themselves to the question.
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Gentleman must know that there are a number of assessments in books and reports of the effect of the Northern Ireland economy of the recent troubles, with similar reports and assessments for the south, and on the interdependence and links between the two economies. Those matters can be followed through in a number of ways.
I quoted the forum report as an indication of what I think is a stronger point, which to some extent plays into the hands of the hon. Member for Horsham in relation to the argument that the figure would probably be higher. That is why we on the Labour Benches have never suggested—indeed, we have said the opposite—that a policy of a united Ireland would be a cheap one. It would not be. But the last argument that I would wish to adduce would be that we should simply pull out the plug because it is expensive. Yet Members of the Unionist parties in this House must understand, particularly in the light of their arguments today, that the feeling exists among many British people.
Having listened to arguments about Londonderry versus Derry or about the scroungers in Northern Ireland., or whatever, they say, "Why do we bother with these religious bigots? Why should we worry about them?" I talk to British people as I go about the country and I tell them, "The Northern Ireland people, Catholic or Protestant, Unionist or Republican, are no better and no worse than any other people. They have major problems. We must understand those problems and respond to them sympathetically." What reply do I receive? If there has been a bombing in London, I hear an attack on the Provisional IRA and about "those killers from the Provos." If there has been a statement from a Unionist official which suggests some degree of religious bigotry, I hear a reply about them being religious bigots.
It must be understood that the image that the British have of the Northern Irish people is that they cannot get 495 their act together. That is unfair, and I spend a lot of time telling people in Britain that it is unfair. The people of Northern Ireland will lose their arguments on that score unless they take that situation into account. The image that they give is one of the worst possible if they are trying to convince people that they want—as I understand the two Unionist parties do want—to convince people here that they are British and want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
I should like to have heard more said in the debate about agriculture and particularly about the new industries related to agriculture. I have said this on a number of occasions, and I am still not convinced, from looking at the figures, that we are giving the degree of emphasis that is necessary to food processing, food packaging, biotechnology and so on, vital aspects of the agricultural base of Northern Ireland. That line should also be expanded to the universities.
The figures contain some evidence that money is being spent in those directions, but the amounts are petty. If one is in trouble—and we recognise the difficulties involved in getting investment into Northern Ireland—one could do a great deal worse than use the best base one has, which is the agricultural base, to expand and develop into other areas, as well as supporting the small home-grown industries which are developing in Northern Ireland and which are important to the Province.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) said—I was out of the Chamber at the time—that the DUP had strong opposition to the privatisation of Shorts. I welcome that, because we take the view that the privatisation of Shorts would be undesirable, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) pointed out.
§ Mr. Soley
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity of hearing the Minister's reply in a few minutes from now. If the right hon. Gentleman had prevailed on some of his hon. Friends not to intervene, he might have heard the Minister's speech earlier than now. That is his problem, not mine.
Sadly, the debate has been characterised by a number of attacks on the people of Northern Ireland by some of those who claim to represent them. However, the economy of Northern Ireland has been debated — although the debate has not been as detailed, deep or wide-ranging as it might have been — and the message to the Government must be that their own figures, particularly in the first part of the report, show that their economic policy in Northern Ireland has been a disastrous failure for those on low incomes.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)
It is conceivable that the attention of some hon. Members may occasionally have strayed elsewhere this evening. However, most of those who have sat through our lively and invigorating debate have not been speculating about the result of the Chesterfield by-election. We have been concentrating on the tables in the spring Supplementary Estimates and the statement of sums on account for 1984–85.
496 Once again, we have had a useful day. Whatever the doubts on some Opposition Benches about the constitutional propriety of these procedures — those doubts were eloquently voiced by the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux)—I am sure that this opportunity for a wide debate about the problems of Northern Ireland has been generally welcomed. I am only sorry that I shall not have time to deal with all the points that have been made. As usual, I and my hon. Friends will write to hon. Members as quickly as possible about the matters that I am not able to deal with now.
The debate has been especially wide today, just as the sums that we are discussing are particularly large. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Hordem) in his interesting speech. He pointed out that public expenditure per head in Northern Ireland is about 30 or 40 per cent. higher than it is in Great Britain. Between 1984–85 and 1986–87, public expenditure in Northern Ireland is planned to grow by almost 9 per cent. in cash terms. Expenditure in Great Britain on comparable programmes will grow, over the same period by about 6.5 per cent. I do not suggest for a moment that Northern Ireland is in receipt of a gratuitous handout, but I argue strongly that Northern Ireland has special needs and that the high level of spending in Northern Ireland by the Government is a recognition by the Government of those needs.
It would be helpful if, occasionally, the scale of the Government's commitment in expenditure on Northern Ireland was recognised by hon. Members. Sometimes, listening to speeches in the House and reading reports of speeches in constituencies, one might think that the balance in public expenditure was the other way round and that spending in Northern Ireland was 30 or 40 per cent. per head less than it was in Great Britaim. That is far from being the case.
I am pleased about the balance between capital and current expenditure in Northern Ireland. Fifteen per cent. of expenditure in Northern Ireland is capital expenditure, as opposed to 9 per cent. in Great Britain. We should be reasonably satisfied with those figures.
The debate has naturally and properly concentrated to some degree on the difficult economic situation in Northern Ireland. There have been many references to the appalling level of unemployment. As I have said on many other occasions, I do not believe that the crudest critic of the Government's economic policy could argue that we should attribute Northern Ireland's economic problems to the level of public expenditure in the Province. Hon. Members are familiar with the principal causes. They are the decline in traditional industries such as shipbuilding and textiles, the international recession and the security situation.
As one or two hon. Members pointed out, it hardly helps us to rebuild the economy in Northern Ireland when firms that succeed and prosper are bombed and burnt. We all know that those who are responsible for those criminal acts are not remotely interested in tackling unemployment and poverty; they are interested in increasing unemployment and poverty to promote insecurity and polarisation in the community. That point was put strongly by the hon. Members for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) and for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs).
Despite today's rather depressing unemployment figures, there has recently been some relatively good news about the economy in Northern Ireland, whatever the hon. 497 Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) says. His speeches frequently remind me of that remark of P. G. Wodehouse that it is not difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine. He referred to some of those signs of improvement and to several of the Government's policies that are designed to build up the Northern Ireland economy. I was pleased that he referred to one of them — the Local Enterprise Development Unit. It is one that I see especially clearly through my work with the enterprise zones in Londonderry and Belfast.
I was pleased to see so many hon. Members at the enterprise zone exhibition today. I note what they said about the standard of the displays put on by the Londonderry enterprise zone committee and by the Belfast enterprise zone. Those stands gave everyone who went to the exhibition a lot of very good reasons for investing in Northern Ireland. I take to heart what the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) said about the importance of environment to the enterprise zones. That point is visited on me whenever I receive a deputation about the north foreshore smell. I hope that before the height of the next summer we shall have been able to tackle that. The hon. Gentleman knows the efforts that we are putting into that matter and my personal commitment to that environmental cause.
Several other points on the industrial front were discussed. My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham suggested that we abolish corporation tax in Northern Ireland. Alas, the taxation policies of the Government are not matters that I can influence much, but I shall pass his suggestions on to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The hon. Members for Belfast, North and for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) spoke of Harland and Wolff and the possibility of more work from the Ministry of Defence. I strongly endorse what they said and what the hon. Member for Belfast, East said about the record of the chairman of that company. I hope that the Ministry of Defence listened to those speeches. I am sure that what the hon. Member for Belfast, East said will have been taken into account. He also asked about Shorts. I am afraid that I cannot add to what is already public knowledge. Shorts' bid for a substantial United States Air Force order is still under consideration and a decision by the United States authorities is expected shortly.
As to gas advertising, I do not have the details for which I was asked so I shall write to him on that as soon as possible.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker), who knows much about energy matters, asked several detailed questions. Perhaps in the interests of expedition I may be allowed to answer one of those questions now and leave the others to my hon. Friend to answer rapidly by letter. The hon. Gentleman asked about the conversion of power stations to lignite rather than coal. Conversion to lignite is one of the options that is being considered as part of a major review of the future generation strategy for the Northern Ireland Electricity Service. The mining company and the electricity service are in close consultation about the technical aspects of using lignite for electricity generation. We are all fully aware of the importance of the lignite deposits to the economy as well as to the energy needs of the Province.
I turn, with trepidation, to the subject of agriculture. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred, as he has done on other occasions, to the backlog 498 of payments in agricultural grants. I recognise, as do my hon. Friends, the continuing concern of hon. Gentlemen on this front. When the Department of Agriculture became aware of the large number of claims being submitted, I am advised that action was taken to increase the number of staff available to work on the schemes. However, because of their complexity the number of processed claims being dealt with fell while the additional staff were being trained. Training has now been completed and the backlog of outstanding claims has begun to fall.
Further measures to increase our capacity to process claims have been implemented, and where it is appropriate people are working overtime. Since overtime working was introduced in November 1983, over 9,000 claims for grant under the agricultural development programme and the agriculture and horticulture grant schemes have been passed for payment with a total grant value in excess of £14 million. In February, some 3,000 claims were passed for payment totalling over £5 million. That represents a considerable improvement over the position at its worst in this financial year when we were able to process only 1,000 claims worth £1.7 million. While there is still a backlog to be dealt with, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Gentlemen that all efforts are being made to eliminate unnecessary delay.
I recall from my experience in the Department of the Environment last summer the difficulties that we got into over the payment of improvement grants. We did what we could to improve the situation with, I think, a measure of success. I very much hope that similar success will be enjoyed on the agricultural grant front as rapidly as possible.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) made a number of points about agriculture and fishing in his mellow speech on the less-favoured areas. I do not think I can say more than my hon. Friend did in his intervention in the hon. Gentleman's speech—that the statement by my hon. Friend in due course should make all clear to him.
I am looking forward to visiting Ballintoy with the hon. Gentleman as soon as possible. I am sorry that I have had to postpone my visit next week because I shall be visiting what I am sure will be a cordial session of the Assembly's environment committee. I look back on my last visit with the hon. Gentleman to Ballyrnena with a good deal of nostalgia and I am looking forward to coming to see him again.
Other points were made on agriculture, particularly by the hon. Member for Antrim, East, in an interesting arid important speech. I shall see that my noble Friend Lord Mansfield, who will, we hope, recover rapidly from his illness, replies to them. Failing that, my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) will fill the breach.
The right hon. Member for Down, South referred to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. I think the matter that he raised really lies between the Comptroller and Auditor-General and the Committee of Public Accounts, but I have noted what he said and shall certainly pass on the important point he made.
The hon. Gentleman made an extremely interesting series of remarks about arrears of public debt. I think he mentioned that the Public Accounts Committee has indicated its intention to take evidence on this issue. When the Public Accounts Committee makes its report, the House will have an opportunity to debate it and the Government's formal response to it. I should just say at 499 this stage that the point he made about individual cases of hardship and the relationship between housing costs and social service provision needs to be looked into. As the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley remarked, I have responsibility for both the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health and Social Services and I shall take up the extremely important point that he made.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
The Minister has referred to the Department of the Environment and the DHSS. In the context of the new tower block at the City hospital, will he consider again the possibility of providing a rail halt to ease some of the parking problems and for the convenience of some visitors to the hospital?
§ Mr. Patten
Yes, I will ensure that that point is considered by the transport holding company and the board of Northern Ireland Railways.
Another point was made about the arrears of public debt—I assure the right hon. Member for Down, South that we feel strongly about them — and it concerned the district heating charges to which the hon. Member for Hammersmith referred. I am sure that he will be extremely pleased by the announcement that I was able to make in December, that if after it has consulted its tenants the board of the Housing Executive comes to the conclusion that the district heating schemes should be withdrawn from estates, I shall be happy to give my approval to that. I recognise the point made by the hon. Gentleman about arrears with district heating schemes. It is one of the many considerations we have had in mind in reaching that decision.
The right hon. Member for Down, South made a point about the unemployment figures and I can perhaps best reply by letter to him. I could reply now, but it would mean that I cannot refer to the points raised by another hon. Member. I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for indicating that that will be in order.
I should point out to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster that we are intending to increase expenditure on the Health Service by 1.2 per cent. next year—0.7 per cent. to take account of demographic factors with another 0.5 per cent. from increased efficiency. It will ensure that per capita expenditure on the Health Service in Northern Ireland remains higher than it is in Great Britain. Although resources are constrained, it will enable us to achieve our priorities in the Province for the next few years.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) referred to home helps. I know how much interest there is in this issue. We have consistently increased expenditure on the home help service. The figures for the home help service in Northern Ireland are by far the best in the United Kingdom. In view of the anxiety hon. Members have expressed on a number of occasions, I have undertaken to review the provision of home helps in the Province, and that we are doing at the moment. I hope that it will not be too long before our report is available.
A number of points were raised about housing. Since my right hon. Friend made housing the Government's number one social priority, we have increased gross expenditure on housing by 50 per cent. The capital element of the housing programme has increased by over 100 per cent. We have increased expenditure in the voluntary housing movement substantially. I saw 500 representatives of the voluntary housing movement this week and I was able to tell them that next year we would fund every one of the programmes they had put to us. They seemed reasonably satisfied by that information.
In our last housing statement I was able to announce that we proposed to spend £2 million more on sheltered accommodation, increasing the programme in Northern Ireland by 25 per cent. Most important of all, for the first few months that I had responsibility for the Department of the Environment, hon. Gentlemen urged me again and again to review the balance in our housing programme between new build, and maintenance and improvement. That we have done.
We will see an increase in the resources available, for example, for the improvement of existing Housing Executive estates from £22 million a couple of years ago to £73 million next year. We will see an increase in expenditure on maintenance from £35 million to nearly £50 million next year. We will be spending £51 million on renovation grants.
I am determined to ensure that the Housing Executive makes the most effective use of the funds that we vote it. It is vital that the Housing Executive should deliver the programme that the House expects it to deliver. I believe that it is far more balanced and flexible than it was. We have properly put the emphasis on improving the housing stock in Northern Ireland. That will continue to be our priority.
With regard to homelessness, I remind the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and the hon. Member for Belfast, East that I have set up a committee involving the Department of Health and Social Security, the Department of the Environment, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the area health boards, which, I hope, will report soon.
Other points were made on housing, education and the take-up of benefits. I shall reply to them in correspondence and will be obliged to do the same when replying on the Castledawson and Banbridge bypasses.
I am grateful to hon. Members who gave us notice of questions that they asked today. The Appropriation order is a clear sign of the Government's commitment to help to tackle the problems faced by Northern Ireland, in so far as they can be tackled by the taxpayer and the Treasury. In that spirit, I commend the order to the House I am only sorry that, as I understand, that some hon. Members will vote against it. I am surprised, but I suppose that, with no great conviction, they know what they are doing.
§ It being half-past Eleven o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted business):
§ The House divided: Ayes 120, Noes 9.501
|Division No. 179]||[11.30 pm|
|Amess, David||Bright, Graham|
|Ancram, Michael||Brooke, Hon Peter|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Bruinvels, Peter|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Burt, Alistair|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Butler, Hon Adam|
|Batiste, Spencer||Carttiss, Michael|
|Bellingham, Henry||Chope, Christopher|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Body, Richard||Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Coombs, Simon|
|Bottomley, Peter||Cope, John|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Couchman, James|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Dover, Denshore||Norris, Steven|
|Dunn, Robert||Oppenheim, Philip|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Fallon, Michael||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Favell, Anthony||Parris, Matthew|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)||Prior, Rt Hon James|
|Forth, Eric||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Freeman, Roger||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Galley, Roy||Ryder, Richard|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Qoodlad, Alastair||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Gregory, Conal||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Ground, Patrick||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Speed, Keith|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Speller, Tony|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Spencer, D.|
|Harris, David||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Harvey, Robert||Stern, Michael|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Hayes, J.||Sumberg, David|
|Hayward, Robert||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Hickmet, Richard||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Hind, Kenneth||Tracey, Richard|
|Hirst, Michael||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Hooson, Tom||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)||Viggers, Peter|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Hunter, Andrew||Walden, George|
|Key, Robert||Waller, Gary|
|Kilfedder, James A.||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Wheeler, John|
|Knowles, Michael||Whitney, Raymond|
|Lang, Ian||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Lilley, Peter||Wood, Timothy|
|McCrea, Rev William||Woodcock, Michael|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Yeo, Tim|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Major, John||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Neubert, Michael||Mr. Donald Thompson and|
|Newton, Tony||Mr. David Hunt.|
|Beggs, Roy||Taylor, Rt Hon John David|
|McCusker, Harold||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Molyneaux, Rt Hon James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Nicholson, J.||Mr. William Ross and|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)||Mr. Clifford Forsythe.|
|Smyth, RevW. M. (Belfast S)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, which was laid before this House on 21 February, be approved.