HC Deb 12 February 1987 vol 110 cc448-50
7. Mr. Fallon

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will estimate the proportion of Northern Ireland gross domestic product that is accounted for by public expenditure.

Mr. Scott

Public expenditure and gross domestic product for Northern Ireland are not available on comparable bases, but using the information that is available, it is estimated that public expenditure amounted to some 73 per cent. of gross domestic product for Northern Ireland in 1985.

Mr. Fallon

Can my hon. Friend confirm that, in this state economy that he is running, public spending per head is some 52 per cent. higher in Northern Ireland than it is in England, housing spending some 357 per cent. higher, and industrial spending some 340 per cent. higher? For how much longer will the taxpayers of Great Britain continue to subsidise this singularly ungrateful Province?

Mr. Scott

Public expenditure per capita in Northern Ireland is higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom, but that does nothing more than reflect the needs of Northern Ireland. Certainly, it it true that my right hon. Friend has the capacity to choose different priorities. Some areas of expenditure in Northern Ireland are lower per capita than in the rest of the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend retains the ability to allocate and decide his priorities.

Mr. McNamara

Will the Minister tell the House what proportion of that 73 per cent. is accounted for by the present security position?

Mr. Scott

I cannot give the figure in percentage terms, but about .400 million is accounted for by the security position. Of course, we are anxious about that position and are pursuing policies which, in due course, will diminish that figure.

Mr. Bellingham

In the context of public expenditure, can my hon. Friend say when the decision is due on the construction of a lignite-fired power station? Is he aware that such a power station recently caused a most horrific smog in Berlin? Therefore, will the pollution aspects be take into account?

Mr. Scott

That whole question is under consideration and, obviously, there will be inquiries into the environmental impact. We shall also be taking professional advice on the economic aspects.

Mr. Foot

Is the Minister aware that institutions in the North, such as the Ulster museum and the universities, are providing an excellent service? Is he further aware that they are having to suffer even more severe cuts than the universities and museums in this country? Will he rectify that position as soon as he can, whatever complaints he may hear from behind him?

Mr. Scott

The funding of universities in Northern Ireland is carried out on the advice of the University Grants Committee, and there is parity with equivalent institutions on this side of the water. The same is broadly true of the museums in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

How much public money is involved in the housing racket? Will a commission of inquiry be set up to investigate that racket to discover exactly where the roots lie, especially as it appears that they may lie on this side of the Irish channel? May we have a full statement from the Government?

Mr. Scott

More than four years ago the Royal Ulster Constabulary established a special unit to investigate these matters. It has persistently continued that inquiry in co-operation with parties in Northern Ireland and on this side of the water. It is true that there is a cross-channel element. In addition to the convictions yesterday, about 140 prosecutions are pending in this broad area. The RUC has done a first-class job in getting to grips with that racket.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Given the high incidence of claims for personal accidents on public property in Ulster—

Ms. Clare Short

Not Ulster, Northern Ireland.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Yes, Northern Ireland.

Is the Minister aware that last year there were more than 5,000 claims—each with a settlement of £1,500, with £1,000 legal costs— from people who simply tripped over pavements or fell down mythical pot-holes? Are not some people creating an income to which they are not entitled? Is it not time that the GoNernment reconsidered the law?

Mr. Scott

If the hon. Gentleman is urging me to do that, I shall. However, I believe that our system of compensation in Northern Ireland operates on the same basis as it does on this side of the water. We are trying to be fair both to the public purse and to those who suffer injury.

Mr. Holt

Is my hon. Friend able to say whether the international fund that figured in his calculations of gross domestic product and public expenditure—recognising that in his recent answer to me he said that the money has not yet been spent—has yet been handed over by the Americans and whether it is on deposit, or was it used to buy shares in British Airways or to prop up the punt?

Mr. Scott

I am tempted to say that those are not matters for me. The International Fund for Ireland has now been established as an independent body. The members of the board have been appointed and the money will become available to the fund in the very near future. It will be up to the members of the board to decide how it is spent.