§ 7 pm
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 25th May, be approved.The draft order, which covers the main estimates for Northern Ireland Departments, authorises expenditure of £3,291 million for the current financial year. Taken together with the sum voted on account in March, this brings total estimates provision for Northern Ireland Departments to £5,824 million, an increase of 4.1 per cent. on 1993–94 provisional outturn.
The sums sought for individual services are set out in the estimates booklet, which is, as usual, available from the Vote Office. I remind the House that the estimates for the Northern Ireland Office for law and order services are not covered by the order before us tonight.
As is customary on these occasions, I shall highlight the main items in the estimates, starting with the Department of Agriculture. The net provision in the two agriculture votes amounts to some £164 million. In vote 1, some £25 million is to fund EC and national agriculture and fishery support measures that apply throughout the United Kingdom. In addition to the various pre-funded market support measures under the common agricultural policy, the vote includes some £10 million to assist structural improvements, by way of various capital and other grants; £14 million is to provide support for farming in special areas, by means of headage payments for hill cattle and sheep.
In vote 2, some £139 million is for on-going regional services and support measures. That includes £59 million for the development of the agriculture and agricultural products industries and for scientific and veterinary services; £44 million is for farm support, enhancement of the countryside, fisheries and forestry services; £22 million is for central administration; and £5 million is for the rural development programme, an increase of £3 million over 1993–94.
In the Department of Economic Development's vote 1, £130 million is required for the Industrial Development Board. That will enable the board to carry out its role of strengthening Northern Ireland's industrial base and to meet its existing commitments, primarily in the area of selective assistance to industry.
The board's continuing success in attracting internationally competitive inward investment to Northern Ireland is very welcome. Thirteen projects were successfully negotiated last year, representing a total investment of £259 million, and 2,309 jobs were promoted, against a target of 2,250. The board hopes to build on those successes in the coming year.
In vote 2, some £94 million is required. Some £34 million is for the Local Enterprise Development Unit, Northern Ireland's small business agency. That will allow the agency to maintain its successful track record in developing, strengthening and improving the competitiveness of small firms in Northern Ireland.
Some £14 million is for the Industrial Research and Technology Unit, which seeks to improve the performance of local companies through increased innovation, research and development and by technology transfer. That 606 underlines the importance which the Government attach to improving the competitiveness of business in Northern Ireland to enable it to meet the challenges of the international marketplace.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)
The House will be interested in the work of the Department of Economic Development, but when discussions take place, as I imagine they do annually, will my right hon. Friend try to balance the protection of jobs through that work in industry and making Northern Ireland's economy competitive, with the 35,000 farming jobs, of which 10,000 to 12,000 are full time? The average cost of agricultural support is £1,200 per farm, which is good value compared with the cost of agricultural support in the rest of the United Kingdom and with some of the economic development investments which the Government rightly make.
§ Sir John Wheeler
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, as he brings to the House considerable knowledge of Northern Ireland, having been a distinguished Minister in the Province. I shall urge upon my hon. Friends, in their ministerial capacities, the necessity to heed his wise advice.
Finally in that vote, £12.5 million is for the Northern Ireland tourist board to assist the further development of tourism in Northern Ireland. In 1993, a record 1.26 million visitors came to Northern Ireland, the fifth consecutive year of growth in visitor numbers.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
Is not that figure of 1.26 million visitors misleading, as most of them are people returning home or visiting relatives? Is it possible to know how many genuine tourists there were?
§ Sir John Wheeler
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for early notice of that point. I pray that, before the conclusion of the debate, the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), will be able to comment authoritatively on the division of those statistics.
In vote 3—
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
Will the Minister give way before he leaves the subject of the tourist board?
§ Sir John Wheeler
Individuals appointed to the tourist board of Northern Ireland are appointed not on a geographical basis but on the premise that they will serve the interests of Northern Ireland as a whole. As there are many claimants to the work and services of the tourist board, I sure that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will feel that that is the wisest course of action.
In vote 3, some £204 million is for the Training and Employment Agency. That includes £53 million for the youth training programme, to support some 12,000 training places and on-going expenditure on a new training facility in west Belfast.
607 Some £53 million is for the action for community employment programme, to provide 9,500 places for long-term unemployed adults in projects of community benefit. Some £24 million is for the job training programme, which offers training and work experience to unemployed adults. That is £1.6 million more than in 1993–94, and will allow the programme to expand from 5,700 places in March 1994 to 6,000 by March 1995. Eighteen million pounds is to assist companies to improve their competitiveness by training and development of their employees.
Token provision of £1,000 in vote 4 is to cover residual expenses in connection with the privatisation of the Northern Ireland electricity supply industry. That is offset by further proceeds from the share sale. A supplementary estimate, covering actual expenses and proceeds from the sale, will be presented to the House in due course.
I now turn to the Department of the Environment. In vote 1, £183 million is for roads, transport and ports. That includes about £152 million for the development, operation and maintenance of Northern Ireland's public road system. An extensive programme of maintenance work on carriageways and bridges is under way, complemented by new road construction, and improvement schemes. Construction work on the Belfast cross-harbour road and rail links is well under way, with completion of the rail link and stage 1 of the road link expected by the end of the year.
Vote 2 covers housing, where about £188 million will provide assistance, mainly to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and to the voluntary housing movement.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Will the Minister tell us what he has in mind for the dualling of the A8 and of the A26?
§ Sir John Wheeler
At this precise moment, I have nothing in mind, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State may have something in mind before the end of the debate.
When net borrowing and the Housing Executive's rents and capital receipts are taken into account, the total resources available for housing this year will be about £570 million. That is an increase of £14 million on 1993–94, and will support the continued improvement of housing conditions.
Vote 3 covers expenditure on water and sewerage services, where gross expenditure is estimated at £200 million. Nonety-three million pounds is for capital expenditure, and £107 million for operational and maintenance purposes.
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene. What amount is set aside, in the capital expenditure to which he has referred, to continue the privatisation of the water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland?
§ Sir John Wheeler
My hon. Friend the Minister of State will seek to give the hon. Gentleman an authoritative answer on that. If not, I shall ensure that he has a written response as soon as possible.
In vote 4, £136 million is for environmental services. That includes about £34 million for urban regeneration measures, which continue to be targeted at areas of social, economic and environmental need. As in previous years, 608 that will generate much greater overall investment through the successful partnerships that have been established with the private sector.
The estimates for the Department of Education seek a total of £1,317 million, an increase of 3.6 per cent. on last year's provision. Vote 1 includes £807 million for recurrent expenditure by education and library boards, an increase of £40 million on 1993–94. That includes £760 million for schools and colleges of further education, which should maintain the pupil-teacher ratio at present levels.
Forty-seven million pounds is for libraries, youth services and administration, and £40 million for boards' capital projects. That includes the provision of new laboratories and technology workshops to enable further progress to be made on education reforms. Some £133 million is for voluntary schools, and £11.5 million for integrated schools.
In vote 2, £109 million is for local universities to enable them to maintain parity of provision with comparable universities in the rest of the United Kingdom. One hundred and twenty-four million pounds is for student support, including grants and student loans. The vote also covers expenditure on a range of youth, sport, community and cultural activities, including about £17 million for arts and museums and about £3 million for community relations.
The next set of votes relates to the Department of Health and Social Services. In vote 1, about £1,293 million is for expenditure on hospital, community health, personal social services, health and social services trusts and family health services. That is an increase of 6.8 per cent. on last year.
In vote 3, gross provision of £206 million is for the Department's administration and other costs. That includes £116 million for the Social Security Agency, £14 million for the Child Support Agency, and £13 million for the health and personal social services management executive.
Some £1,302 million in vote 4 is for a range of social security benefits administered by the Social Security Agency. That represents an increase of 4.3 per cent. on last year. It covers not only the general uprating of benefits from April 1994, but an increasing number of beneficiaries.
In vote 5, £458 million is to cover expenditure on the independent living fund, housing benefit, the social fund and payments to the national insurance fund.
Finally, I turn to the Department of Finance and Personnel, where, in vote 3, about £4 million is for the community relations programme. That reflects the importance that Government continue to attach to community relations in Northern Ireland.
In my opening remarks, I have drawn attention to the main provisions of the estimates. I hope that, in replying to the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister of State will respond to the points that have already been raised with me, and any other points that hon. Members may raise during the debate.
I commend the order to the House.
§ Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)
I thank the Minister for taking the House through the allocation of funds among the spending Departments in Northern Ireland. I do not intend to delay the House unduly this evening, because this is the opportunity for Members of Parliament from Northern 609 Ireland to mention a wide range of concerns—which I am sure they will, judging from past debates. However, I shall discuss several issues.
The Minister talked about funding for transportation. I do not know whether he was in the House this afternoon when the Prime Minister presented a report on the European summit meeting in Corfu, but one of the items on the agenda was European transport integration. The Prime Minister mentioned the link between Dublin and Belfast. I thought that money had already been made available for the improvement and upgrading of that railway line. I should be grateful, as I am sure would everyone else, if the Minister would say, when he winds up, precisely what that means in terms of European funding for transportation infrastructure in the island of Ireland.
§ Mr. Peter Bottomley
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as this is an important cross-party point. There are benefits in running a line across to Wales and then to Dublin, but it is worth emphasising to my hon. Friend the Minister that using the line up through Scotland to Lame will be of great advantage, not only for Northern Ireland, but for the northern part of the Republic of Ireland. In the European discussions, I hope that the needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be overlooked, and that the Republic of Ireland will not gain all the benefits from the line to Wales.
§ Mr. Stott
As I said, it is my impression that an allocation of 50 million ecu has already been approved for the upgrading of the Dublin-Belfast railway line. As the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) will know, as a former Minister, Northern Ireland Railways is shortly to conclude work through Belfast to Lame, so that there will be a direct link from Dublin to Lame for people who want to travel that way, which is all to the good.
The Minister mentioned funding enterprise, and funding training. I hear what he has to say, and I make no apologies for the fact that I have previously raised the Government's record on unemployment in Northern Ireland. Overall unemployment continues to be a key concern in the local economy, and is of overriding importance to those people in Northern Ireland who are out of work or face the uncertainty of unemployment prospects.
The people of Northern Ireland continue to feel the full force of the Government's ineptitude, and are experiencing the highest rate of unemployment in any region in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is about the size of a riding of south Yorkshire, and has a population of a little over 1 million. Unemployment in Northern Ireland is 13.1 per cent. of the total work force—an appalling level.
I genuinely welcome any decrease in the rate of unemployment, and I note that the figures for May show a slight fall in the level. But closer inspection and an accurate interpretation of those figures show that there is no room for complacency. Anyone who has read the "Northern Ireland Economic Review and Prospects" by Coopers and Lybrand will see that clearly.
More than half those registered as unemployed in the region are classified as long-term unemployed, and have been out of work for a year or more. While there has been 610 an increase in the number of people in employment of about 2,200, which is to be welcomed, the increase is made up entirely of female part-time jobs.
I welcome the creation of a flexible job market which extends choice to workers whose life style and needs suit part-time employment, but more than one fifth of the region's unemployed have been out of work for more than five years. It is therefore self-evident that the creation of part-time posts has had no significant impact on the number of long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland. They are the people who seek genuine security for themselves and their families, and are attempting to shed their state dependence through secure full-time employment.
The number of employees in full-time employment in Northern Ireland fell by 3,290 between December 1992 and September 1993. Despite what he said, the Minister has this evening been unable to offer any new hope to the long-term unemployed in order to help them back into full-time employment.
On closer inspection of the most recent figures, we see that the most appalling statistics are revealed in the travel-to-work areas. Eight out of the 12 travel-to-work areas in Northern Ireland have unemployment of 18 per cent. or more. Strabane continues to suffer the highest unemployment, with more than one quarter of the work force in its travel-to-work area unemployed. Of the 566 Northern Ireland wards 107 have a male unemployment rate of more than 30 per cent.
Those statistics lead to the undeniable conclusion that the Government are simply not doing enough to get the unemployed of Northern Ireland back to work and to help give them a future. It is perhaps the youth unemployment rate that, above all, highlights the worst neglect of skills and potential among Northern Ireland's population. More than a quarter of those aged between 17 and 24 are unemployed. What hope does the Minister bring to the Dispatch Box for them this evening?
Wherever young people live in the United Kingdom, their unemployment leads to widespread poverty, homelessness and a justified resentment. However, in the Northern Ireland context, it leads to disillusionment, and a spin-off, because the paramilitary organisations are readily available to exploit the problem. Unemployment and the lack of hope are probably the greatest recruiting sergeants for paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland.
It is surely the Government's duty to offer those young people hope in the form of increased opportunities and, in so doing, frustrate those who seek to take advantage of the frustration of Northern Ireland's young unemployed. The Government have consistently failed to deal with the problem of unemployment in Northern Ireland. I have outlined the statistics to show that this evening.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the training of young people in Northern Ireland, and the cuts taking place in training facilities?
§ Mr. Stott
The hon. Gentleman speaks of a subject of which I have some experience. I recently visited a number of higher education institutions in the Province. There, I was told of the conflict between what the institutions can offer young people in terms of engineering training and qualifications, and what the training boards are doing in Northern Ireland. The two organisations seem to be at cross purposes, and funds are not properly directed at the 611 problem. The Government have not focused on the problem of training in the way that the hon. Gentleman and I believe they should.
I wish to mention the prospects for public expenditure in Northern Ireland. The Government have been engaged in across-the-board cuts in public expenditure, as well as the implementation of increased taxation and value added tax, in an attempt to dig themselves out of the economic hole into which they have plunged this country. In Northern Ireland, the increase in public expenditure announced by the Minister today and on other occasions amounts to a rise of just about 4 per cent. in 1994–95, which, allowing for inflation, represents very little change.
Recent changes to the health service in Northern Ireland have done nothing to redress the increased resources spent on health management and patient care. Instead, the health service in Northern Ireland has been faced with an extension of the Government's obsession with privatising, and commercialising health and social services care.
The Government use the language of the marketplace in an attempt to sell ill-health and rationalise the sick. In particular, the Government have repeated mistakes already made in other parts of the United Kingdom, and have failed adequately to fund the provision of community care in Northern Ireland. Caring for patients in the more familiar surroundings of their own homes will cost money. If the Government are genuine in their offer to those people, they must clearly find the wherewithal to ensure that care in the community is effective.
One effect of the Government's so-called rationalisation of health provision has already been felt by the Royal group of hospitals in Belfast. The city's hospital provision is to be cut by means of the merger of Northern Ireland's two biggest hospitals. This move will reduce already limited bed capacity by 20 per cent. of the total—that is, by 750 beds by 1997.
The record of the Royal Victoria hospital is agreed worldwide to be one of the very best. It currently boasts 36 specialties on the site—not only the greatest number in the United Kingdom but the greatest number in any hospital in Europe. In addition, at least five senior consultants at the hospital rightly enjoy worldwide reputations, and their opinions and lecturing skills are in demand the world over.
The plans to destroy the world-class capacity at the Royal Victoria hospital are strongly opposed by patients, medical staff and both local communities—and by people from across the region who receive such excellent care at the hospital.
The Royal Victoria is situated in the middle of the worst killing ground in Europe; it is regrettable that its experience is still required. Will the Minister therefore ask his noble Friend to look closely at the plans of the Eastern health and social services board, and to intervene to prevent the dismemberment of the Royal Victoria and the royal group of hospitals?
I note that the Prime Minister last week received a deputation of Northern Ireland doctors, who brought to his attention the enormous number of people who had signed a petition. There is real feeling in Northern Ireland, especially in Belfast, about this hospital. I hope that the Minister's noble Friend will not just brush off these genuine feelings.
As for electricity privatisation, the isolation of Northern Ireland's key electricity system, and its consequent vulnerability, mean that the strategic implications of privatisation should have warranted a much higher place in 612 the consideration of the surrounding issues. It is clear, however, that the key factors behind the decision had nothing to do with an energy strategy, and were primarily based, first, on decisions by Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office that, in order to win their ideological spurs, they needed to play their part in the privatisation policies of the Government—however belatedly.
Secondly, the Treasury needed to acquire the assets from the sale to fund the ever-burgeoning public sector borrowing requirement. Both are short-term approaches. It is abundantly clear that energy provision needs instead to be based on strategic planning. Indeed, this short-termism is evident in the hands-off approach which the Department of Economic Development is now adopting.
Having put the legislation and the framework for privatisation in place, the Government and the Department have taken key decisions that have tied up long-term supply contracts, none of which can be cancelled before 1996. Further, the regulator is debarred from expressing an opinion on the decision to proceed with the interconnector to Scotland.
In my view, the DED and Ministers have taken decisions that are in the best interests of the DED and Ministers, not of Northern Ireland Electricity or the consumers there. They have achieved the political objective of privatising a major asset in Northern Ireland. They have brought £700 million into the Treasury and have been forced to concede only £14 million over four years to the larger groups of energy consumers by way of recompense.
Having taken the key decisions, Ministers can now stand back and, should anything go wrong, transfer the blame to the three key operators: the generators, the regulator and what they call market forces. The decisions already made on long-term contracts and the Scottish interconnector mean that the Department has effectively cut off debate about new generating capacity, and has tied the regulator's hands and ability to control existing generating contracts for some time to come.
I do not wish to trespass on the territory of tomorrow's debate on the privatisation of Belfast harbour, but I suspect that my hon. Friends will show that the dogmatic approach adopted by the Government, while refusing to take into account the unique regional circumstances of Northern Ireland, is short-sighted, and no more than an attempt to get their hands on the cash from that valuable asset.
This order represents nothing more than a shuffling of an already meagre budget for Northern Ireland. The Minister has nothing new to offer, particularly for the unemployed. Of that, the Government should be thoroughly ashamed—
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram)
Just before the hon. Gentleman sits down, will he answer one question? He accuses the Government of spending too little in Northern Ireland. How much does he intend to spend if he comes to power—and how would he pay for it?
§ Mr. Stott
The Minister and the Northern Ireland Office have produced a report for the scrutiny of the House; it is my function to point out its shortcomings to him, which I believe I have done with some clarity. It is not my duty this evening to tell him what we would or would not do: it is the Minister who has to answer for his actions in Northern Ireland. I am pointing out to him the disgraceful amount of 613 unemployment there. In his position as a retread, he cannot get away from the fact that the Government have been in office for 15 years, or from the issue of unemployment.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
This debate gives us an opportunity to deal with matters of grave concern to those who represent Northern Ireland in the House. The Opposition spokesman highlighted the high rate of unemployment in our Province. No public representative of Northern Ireland could be happy with that. Some of our constituencies enjoy better rates of employment than others, and we are happy for those who are in that fortunate position. In general, however, every Northern Ireland Member feels grave concern about the matter.
I regret the fact that no member of the Social Democratic and Labour party is present for the debate. We may disagree vigorously with the SDLP about the constitution, but here is one matter that should unite all our public representatives: the future well-being and prosperity of the people of Northern Ireland. Our people should be able to earn their livelihoods, get a rate for the job and bring up their families in the conditions that they would want.
Let no one underestimate the seriousness of the unemployment problem in our Province. Ministers on the Front Bench—they appear to be smiling at the moment, but I do not suppose that they are smiling at this—need to acknowledge the seriousness and scale of the problem, and show us that they have in mind measures to bring about some alleviation of it. Perhaps then we will be on the road to the day when there will be ample employment for members of every class of society in Northern Ireland.
I am especially concerned about training in Northern Ireland. Those in the training centres training our young people fear that there is to be a cut in funding that will result in great heartache for our youngsters, especially in the working-class districts of our city of Belfast. I note that the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) is nodding and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) fully agrees with what I am saying.
I am not in a position to speak for parts of the Province other than the city in which I live, but there is a concern throughout Northern Ireland that financial cuts in training projects will knock the heart out of many young people who, when they leave school, look first to training. I pay a warm tribute to those who have dedicated their lives to training. I have visited the training centres and I am amazed by the large percentage of the youngsters whom they train who obtain permanent jobs rather than simply joining the unemployment queues. We should be grateful for that. The Minister's mind must be full of all the information that he is about to release. It will be like Noah's flood. Can he tell us something about training? Will there be a serious cut in funding?
There has been a series of crises in agriculture. The low prices in the pig sector seem to have stabilised or to have improved a little. However, there is still a difficulty because of our peripheral location and our distance from United Kingdom and EC markets. That means an added cost on imports, especially animal feed and, consequently, an increase in output costs. Northern Ireland producers face 614 a supplement of at least £12 a tonne on freight costs for feed. That is a disadvantage and I urge the Government to do something about it.
There are two ways in which the Government could tackle the problem. First, there could be a feed cost equalisation premium to ease the farmers through their days of difficulty. Secondly, we could do something that other EC member states do—exploit our EC membership. We could ask for intervention grain to be stored in Northern Ireland. The EC, not the Government, would then pay for the transport. It would also pay the rent for the grain to be stored. When the farmers have an emergency, they could use that grain for the same price as is being paid in the remainder of the United Kingdom. That is what other EC countries do, so why do we not do so to help the hard-pressed farmers of Northern Ireland?
When the Minister replies and releases that tremendous flood of information on us, will he also respond to that vital point? I have been pressing it for a long time. Indeed, I have pressed it in Europe and the Commissioners tell me that they envisage no difficulty with my suggestion. Therefore, we should be prepared to exploit the system for the benefit of our farmers.
There is great concern in Northern Ireland about animal health and the dangers posed to the Province through the introduction of diseased animals from countries where internal controls and health measures are less vigorously enforced. Northern Ireland has an agriculture system second to none. We can boast about it and the way that it is run.
I pay tribute to the noble Lady Denton, the Under-Secretary. She has given her energy and zeal to helping the farming community and it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that. Indeed, I was glad to carry her bags to the plane today as I felt that it would show that some people appreciate what she has done for the Province. I am glad that she is to join the Minister at talks in Brussels so that there will be direct representation of the Northern Ireland position. Anyone who knows anything about Europe knows that deals are made between Ministers, not civil servants.
A tremendous problem faces Northern Ireland agriculture. I believe in the environment and I believe that we should preserve our heritage and our environmental assets in the rural countryside. However, instead of being dictators, environmentalists should be partners with the farming community. They should help the farmers to preserve the rural environment. That is important.
The Minister must face the difficulties in agricultural planning. All hon. Members with rural constituencies with farming communities are pestered daily with a particular problem. The mother and father have done their stint on the farm and they want a retirement bungalow on their land. They want to end their lives on their own property. The Government are doing all that they can to block the necessary planning applications. I raised the matter on the last occasion that we debated the appropriation order, but nothing has happened. The cottages are tied to an agricultural lease and must be used by someone working in agriculture.
When old people retire and die a house is vacant, but that house cannot be let to anyone other than someone working full time on a farm. Today, there are few full-time farmers in Northern Ireland. The agricultural position in Northern Ireland is different; there is a different playing field. The former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member 615 for Bridgwater (Mr. King), knows all about that. I ask the Government to investigate the matter and release houses so that they can be sold or rented to people who want to live in the countryside but cannot fulfil the present lease agreement. I urge the Minister to study that matter urgently.
A document that was published on planning in the countryside mentioned farmers only once. It was very good of its authors even to mention that farmers lived in the country. I asked one of them to show me the word "farmer" and he replied, "That was a big mistake. We should have used it more often."
We were told that there would be an easing of planning procedures, and that appeals would run more smoothly and be more realistic. That is neither my experience nor that of my colleagues in the House, who have complained to me that they have great difficulty with rural planning.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the relaxed procedure was introduced as a consequence of a court case that found against the planning service, but a subsequent action overturned the original decision—so the planners are back where they started?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I want not procedures founded on a court case, but the law changed so that the lease and original planning condition can be broken. We know that the system is not working. There was a time when it was all right and people were happy, but that is not so today.
Linked with farming is fishing, and investment is needed in modern port facilities. The Minister with responsibilities for that aspect knows that to be true, from her visits to fishing communities. I am sure that they put their case far better than I could. Slipways are needed, specially at Kelkeel, and so are improved ice production plants, to meet the needs of the fishing fleet.
General Government policy in Europe is greatly restricting days at sea for our fishermen, who are being pushed to the limit. There is strict policing of fisheries in Northern Ireland—there are no Nelsons putting their telescopes to a blind eye. Serious problems have arisen at the quayside, and the Government must seriously pursue that matter.
We are seeing the opening up of the waters of the Irish box to the Spanish fishing fleet. When they arrive, it will not be like the Spanish Armada, when God sent his winds and broke it to pieces. This time, the Spanish will break our fishing facilities to pieces. One thinks of the number of Spanish vessels with double bottoms, so that they can take from the sea three or four times the allowed quota.
The United Kingdom had a good card to play, because it is our waters that the Spanish are fishing, but previous Governments and the present Government have not played that card. They should have vetoed some of the concessions that were made to other nations in respect of access to our fishing waters.
A problem also exists in respect of the electricity interconnector with Scotland. Carrickfergus and Larne councils have come out in opposition to the interconnector. It is feared that 700 jobs in the Northern Ireland power industry could be lost. With electricity prices rising, a serious situation could arise. Also, environmental damage could be done to the unspoiled part of Island Magee. Environmental groups in Galloway are also opposed to the Scottish installation.
616 I know that there is to be an inquiry, but will the Minister accept its findings? In the past, the Government have put their pen through the findings of certain inquiries that they did not like. What was the use? Will the Minister say tonight that whatever may be the result of investigations, the Government may be depended upon to ensure that the inquiry's findings are implemented? That is something that the Minister cannot dodge. He comes from Scotland himself and must know something of the agitation there.
All of us are concerned about the completed feasibility study into the building of a new university of Ulster campus at Springvale in west Belfast, which will require the injection of £100 million. There are fears that money would have to be taken from other education projects in Northern Ireland and its education budget. Perhaps the Minister could say something about that tonight. People are worried as to how the continuing revenue costs of such a university would be met.
There is the continuing threat of closure of small rural schools, and continuing pressure on schoolteachers, parents and pupils from educational reforms. I say to the Minister who is to reply, who has responsibilities for education in Northern Ireland, that his reaction to deputations has been appreciated. The Minister has listened, taken some propositions on board and been helpful in, many cases. However, there is much concern about the educational issues that I mentioned.
Northern Ireland still has a big housing problem. Is the Minister prepared to review the amount of money allocated to housing in the Province, which still has housing queues? One can find married couples with children who are still living with their in-laws. At a home that I visited the other day, the whole family—mother, father and four children—slept in one room. One would think it possible for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to do something, but it is not prepared to purchase ground and build new houses in that area. People do not want to leave the neighbourhood in which they were brought up, and they should not have to do so. They should be rehoused in the same district. The Housing Executive should immediately be given the proper resources to undertake necessary work. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.
As to roads, on 16 June the Under-Secretary said:I welcome the inward investment project to which the hon. Gentleman referred and I recognise the importance of access to Larne port. We hope to upgrade part of the road in 1997–98."—[Official Report, 16 June 1994; Vol. 244, c. 749.]Which part of the road does the Minister intend to upgrade during that time? The Minister who opened the debate, who told us that his colleague would answer, must have been reading Hansard, or must have known what was in the mind of his other colleague; he was certainly very confident about what was in the mind of the Minister of State who is sitting next to him this evening. We have been given a date, and I wonder what will happen in 1997–98.
What will happen to the road from Ballymena to Antrim, the A26? As Member of Parliament for Antrim, North, I feel very aggrieved. The hospital for which the land was purchased should have been our main hospital, but it was taken from us. A firm promise was made that the roads to Antrim from Ballymena and further north would be designed so that people who became ill and had to be transported for half an hour, three quarters of an hour or an hour would have good roads on which to travel. That promise has not been kept.
617 The Antrim hospital, which is now up and running, is not sufficiently accessible to the people. It should be serving an area from as far north as Ballymoney, and even Coleraine, down to the borders of Antrim. Moreover, we were promised cars, ambulances and other conveyances. A committee was set up to monitor what happened in Larne. When people become ill in the night or have an accident, they are rushed to Antrim; the ambulance then leaves, and after receiving treatment those people must sit in the hospital all night because there is no transport to return them to Larne. That is happening repeatedly.
I hope that the Minister will tell us what he knows about the problems with the new hospital in Antrim. If he knows nothing, perhaps he will make inquiries and write to me. This is a serious matter, and it is coming to a head: there will be more problems with people being taken to hospital and simply left there.
I am also very concerned about the European rail link. The official map that has been issued shows just one link, with Dublin; there are branch links elsewhere on the island of Ireland. I raised the matter by means of a deputation, and the Commissioner said that he would look at it. I do not know what the current position is.
I do know, however, that there is tremendous agitation in the Irish Republic, which is trying to destroy the port of Larne. Larne is the second largest port in the United Kingdom—a good port, which used European money wisely and well. European Commissioners have taken photographs and exploited the port, saying, "This is the way in which European money is being used to benefit society." Now, the money that helped to make the port what it is, will be sidetracked in an attempt to take the volume of traffic away from Larne and keep it in the Republic.
As we know, the shortest sea route is across to Scotland. It is sad that the rail link has been closed, for big business could be done. I trust that, in their representations to Europe, Ministers will push for Larne's status to be maintained. It was established with the aid of European money, and has shown that it can produce the goods. I hope that we shall see a fight for its salvation. If European funds for the Dublin to Holyhead route are to be increased, let that be countered with similar funds to make the roads to Larne what they ought to be.
Finally, I believe that the Royal hospital should be kept. Unfortunately, it has a location problem, but one that the people of Northern Ireland have weathered. Given its international standing, the hospital should be preserved and helped. I think that there is a good place, too, for the City hospital, and that the hospital appreciates that.
Patients from Cork can be operated on in the Royal Victoria hospital, while patients from my constituency have to go to Scotland. There is something wrong with that. No one in the medical world would challenge the capability of the Royal hospital, whose surgeons and other professionals have the highest qualifications and have proved it worldwide. Why should our people have to travel to Scotland for operations, while people in the Republic can use the facilities of the Royal Victoria hospital? A hospital must serve its own community first; then, if it has places for others, it must serve them. I hope that the Minister can give us more information about the treatment 618 of patients outside Northern Ireland when we have the facilities in Northern Ireland, and beds in Northern Ireland hospitals are being closed.
We are all very concerned about old people, and about the senior citizens' homes over which there is now a question mark. The other day, at one of those homes, I spoke to an old lady who was over 90. She told me, "I have been here for more than 20 years and I should like to end my days here, but I am told that I may have to be shifted away from the few friends I have left in this community." Such action is not good for the aged, or for those who should be looking after them. Let me issue a plea for sympathy and concern for the aged in our Province: let us not close, willy-nilly, homes that have done such good service to the community. There is much emphasis on home care nowadays, but some people cannot go home because they need care all the time. If they can be cared for at home and want to be there, that is fine; but the needs of some cannot be met through home care, and we must provide for them.
Those are some of the matters that concern me. I hope that the Minister will give them his attention.
§ 8.9 pm
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
I begin by taking issue with the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), who said, in praising the Royal Victoria hospital, that it was situated in the middle of the worst killing ground in Europe. I know that we have our problems, but we have not yet approached the level of killing in places such as Bosnia. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will agree that his words were not as wisely chosen as many of the rest of his remarks.
§ Mr. Stott
I acknowledge that I said that, but I had meant to say "in the European Community". I acknowledge that in the past two or three years we have seen dreadful scenes in some areas of Bosnia. Even the hon. Gentleman would not deny, however, that in the past few years the area around the hospital in Belfast has been a terrible place for people being killed.
§ Mr. Ross
I acknowledge that, not least because the area is within a square mile of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) and the number of deaths has been horrendous. It would wrong, however, to let folk outside Northern Ireland or even the United Kingdom believe that the position is worse than it is. God knows, it is bad enough—we do not have to add to the misery.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) discussed retirement dwellings and the right to sell. No one should be under any delusions that this is a difficult matter. Hon. Members will know that I am a farmer, so I am well aware of the problem and of the extended family nature of the farming community in Northern Ireland. Two or even three generations can be resident on or near the family farm. I fear that, if we loosen the right to sell too much, applications for other dwellings will be made in 10 or 20 years' time. The Minister is nodding and I am sure that note has been taken of the matter. I hope that there will be some loosening of the right to take tenants into such accommodation, which would often relieve farmers of the problem for years. The matter is worthy of consideration.
While I am on the issue of planning, I should like to raise an issue that has caused me some concern. A large 619 housing development was constructed in my constituency, after which other constituents found that water pressure had disappeared from their homes. I made inquiries and was told that the Water Executive was doing its best to remedy the problem and that, within the next month or so, it would be remedied. When I made further inquiries, the water service told me that the development was such that water demand would be outside the range of the existing main and that the developer should liaise with the Water Executive.
That is fair enough as far as it goes, but I hope that the provision of public utilities such as water will be given greater consideration. Towns such as Coleraine and Limavady are expanding like mad, but not enough consideration is given by the planning authority at an early stage as to whether a public utility—water, sewerage or electricity—will be up to the job. That creates enormous problems for people moving into dwellings. I should say that that is the first time in my 20 years in the House that such a matter has been brought to my attention. If it is happening in my constituency, I am sure that it is happening in others, and I see one or two heads nodding in agreement. Some consideration should be given to improving procedures to deal with such problems.
The next problem is of constituents who contract a rare medical condition. I am sure that every hon. Member knows that there are an endless variety of medical conditions, many of which are very rare. As it happens, this year three totally new conditions have been brought to my attention. In the first case, the individual was told by doctors, including the consultant at the Royal Victoria hospital, that he had multiple sclerosis. It was then discovered that he did not and that he was possibly the only person in Northern Ireland with that particular disease, but that he could be cured by a difficult and delicate operation. His family faced a horrendous time in the period between the diagnosis and the operation.
The second case appeared to involve hlyasthema gravis—an awful auto-immune disease that causes fluctuating, sometimes fatal, weakness. Again, the individual involved suffered many problems. The third case involved a constituent who I know personally and who had contracted dystonia, the symptoms of which are very nasty. He and his wife were working. Over a period of months, he suffered increasing and great pain. The family income went clown enormously because he had to leave his work. Like most young couples buying a house, he was a comparatively young man. Doctors had some difficulty identifying the condition. They also ran into a series of problems in relation to the financial help to which they were entitled—a problem that is common to the cases of the three individuals who wrote or came to see me.
Families in that position, often with no experience of how the social security system works, face severe problems. They look to all the statutory agencies for help and experience difficulty in receiving disability living allowance, severe disability allowance, mobility allowance and other benefits. As only the wife is working, they suffer an horrendous drop in family income, which has a devastating effect on the family.
I am not an expert in such matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) knows a lot more about them than I do. The Government must consider them because they involve distressing cases. It may not always be true that hard cases make bad law, but sometimes they call for rather more sympathy than is 620 readily apparent to those of us who are brought face to face with the consequences of such illnesses. The matter goes much wider than that. So far this year, I have had three cases. Heaven only knows what horrors await hon. Members at their next constituency surgery or in the post tomorrow morning. I hope, therefore, that the Government will consider the matter.
I have heard of one or two cases where students were involved in motor accidents and were unable to continue their studies for some time, or suffered an illness that rendered it impossible for them to return to their studies. As they had not been paying national insurance contributions, they could not draw the benefits that were available to other people. They intend to return to their studies. Those involved in car accidents may, in some cases, eventually receive some compensation, but they have to get from where they are to that happy position. In the intervening period, some of them are without any income and are totally dependent on their parents, who are often incapable of supporting them.
Something needs to be done. I have corresponded with the Minister in regard to one student. I hope that the problem will be resolved because it is clearly a United Kingdom-wide problem. It needs to be looked at and dealt with sympathetically to allow these young people some income while they are recovering until, eventually, they can continue their studies. It would be an enormous waste if those young people said that they were giving up their studies and surrendering the possibility of grant.
The next matter has occupied quite a few column inches in my local newspapers. It arises out of the large payments now being made for electricity produced under the non-fossil fuel obligation. The Minister is well aware that there has been a hullabaloo over the wind farm on Rigged hill. There is some talk about what is happening at Corkey, but that is not my immediate problem because it is in another constituency. There is continuing concern and unease in the community in Limavady about the Rigged hill project, although the council has decided that it will not raise any objection, even after listening to the folk on both sides of the question at a recent special meeting.
It is interesting that the Northern Ireland legislation appears not to require a formal environmental impact study. At least in the Corkey case and in the case of Rigged hill, an informal report was prepared. I have looked at the 1985 EC directive and at the United Kingdom regulations that brought it into force in 1989.
It is interesting that two categories are covered under the EC directive and the regulations. There is a need for reports on the water generation of electricity and for generation through thermal stations. Indeed, the legislation runs rather wider than that. Nowhere is wind generation mentioned. We are told that we must take into consideration all the developments that have an impact on the landscape, as the EC directive says, and on the environment, as the regulations say—in civil servants' eyes, those phrases may or may not mean the same thing—in terms of the visual effect.
I have seen wind farms in Wales and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Anyone who says that they are not intrusive is living in a dream world. The wind farms can be seen from many miles away. In the report on Rigged hill, folk were told that the windmills would be 30 m high. In fact, they will be 60 m high—four or five times the capacity of the project originally mentioned.
§ Mr. Ross
I see the Minister nodding. He is well aware of the fact.
The matter is not as simple as it appears and we need to take a careful look at wind generation generally. Rigged hill is part of the escarpment that runs from Benevenagh in the north to beyond the Glen Shane pass, a distance of 20 to 25 miles. Every inch of that escarpment is a first-rate place for a wind farm. Whenever I mentioned that to the planners, they said, "Wind farms will not be built the whole way along." My immediate reaction was, "Why not?" It must be one of the best sites in the British Isles for a series of wind farms.
We need to sit down and put on our thinking caps before going any further down this road. The beauty of the countryside and its tourist potential are such that we must have some regard for the visual impact. There are not normally many folk on those hills, which are hundreds of feet high. However, we must think rather more seriously about the whole matter than has been the case hitherto.
The constituent who raised the matter with me pointed out that there was a letter, which is mentioned in the documentation, which was sent to the B9 energy section from the Londonderry division of the town and country planning service on 24 November 1992. There was also a letter to EM Consultants on 21 May 1993. My constituent has been unable to see the letters. I assume that, as they have been issued by a public body, they should be available to the public. I should be grateful if the Minister would give an undertaking to place them in the Library and then tell me when they are there because I would like to see them.
Environmental impact studies have a whole series of regulations surrounding them. They are supposed to be available to the public and copies are supposed to be made available to the general public. Councillors are supposed to be told about them. The reports prepared in these two cases were allegedly available, but they were never advertised. No one knew that the reports were available for examination. My constituent, who found out about them more or less by accident and then went to have a look, is not very happy. If we go down this road, the general public must be taken along with us. They must be given an opportunity to object to anything that they think might have a long-term detrimental effect on the landscape in which they live. I hope that planners will be rather more open about such matters in the future.
I want to touch on one or two other matters, not least the horrendous case of pollution in the River Strule. As the House knows, I believe that work keeps interfering with my angling. I am afraid that I do not get very much angling done these days.
§ Mr. Ross
It is a shame—a dreadful shame. The duties of this place and our duties to our constituents dictate that we must spend a lot of time away from the river bank.
Unfortunately, someone let a large amount of wood preservative into the Strule. As the Minister, who is also a keen angler, knows well, nine miles of the river were poisoned to the extent that the water plants were killed. It was not a happy situation. We were fortunate that the salmon smolts were away, but that did not protect the resident fish or the following year's salmon smolts in that area. It was a large kill.
622 I believe that the source of the pollution has been traced. I hope that remedial measures will be taken and that measures will be put in hand to ensure that such an incident is extremely unlikely to happen again. We have far too much pollution. Every year, we have a whole catalogue of disasters. The people who are responsible wash their hands in public and say, "We are very sorry that it happened. Please leave us alone and we shall get on with the work." The reality is that many people use the water for recreation, and they have put time and money into their activities, often on a voluntary basis. It is just not good enough that people seem to be able to walk away from these horrible pollution incidents, which damage other people, and that they get off practically scot-free.
I now turn to sub-head 3 of the vote for the Department of Finance and Personnel, which refers to money being spent on community relations and cultural traditions. It is all intended to improve relations between the various sections of the community in Northern Ireland. We then find that the way in which the Secretary of State intends to improve community relations is to bow to the Irish republican demand that street names should be put up in Irish.
I do not know who advised the Secretary of State and I do not know which Minister is responsible for the matter. It is just about the daftest idea that has come out of the Northern Ireland Office for many a day. Will the Government never learn that, if they take all those soft stories at face value, all they do is annoy far more people than they please? I do not hear Irish spoken very often in the streets of Dungiven, which I would have thought is one of the places where one may well expect to hear it. I do not hear it in everyday use and I do not think that many people do.
Since Irish has been taught and learned in Northern Ireland, it has been for a blatantly sectarian and political purpose rather than an educational one. If the Minister does not like that, he should go back and examine the evidence and he would gladly come to the conclusion that my assessment is correct. That proposal should be dropped and the money should be used for something far more useful. While talking about how the Government may use that money, may I point out that Limavady grammar school is still waiting for the go-ahead for its building programme. That money would make a favourable start in that process.
I hope that it will not be long before the Minister accepts the good advice which arose from several quarters and from the General Synod of the Church of Ireland—as it happens, it was held in Cork this year—where a number of leading clergy drew attention to the nonsense of integrated schools in the Northern Ireland context. We have been told that everybody has their freedom. I well remember the roots of the whole idea of total parental freedom of choice, rather than dealing with the schools in which there was something wrong. I am aware that the Government are so heavily committed to the idea that they are unlikely to change their mind, but if they had any wit they would drop it and some of the other proposals and get on with providing a proper education in every school in Northern Ireland. Then, if people are anxious to go to good schools, they can go to state schools and the voluntary grammar schools, which are largely integrated anyway.
I also hope that the Government have not lost sight of the need for the Coleraine hospital, despite the diminished number of beds which, apparently, are to be provided in Northern Ireland in a few years' time.
§ Sir James Kilfedder (North Down)
For a number of years I have been fighting, and fighting relentlessly, on behalf of the Banks residential home in Bangor in my constituency to prevent the closure of that excellent home, which provides facilities for elderly people. I have been fighting to stop the dispersal of the residents there—senior citizens—who have come to regard the Banks as their own home.
A year ago, I presented a petition to Parliament, which was signed by many thousands of people. In all, 16,000 local people have signed petitions for the retention of that valuable facility in my constituency. I have written numerous letters to the Secretary of State for Health, to her predecessors and to the chairman of the Eastern health and social services board and other officials. Yet the threat of the closure of Banks and the eviction of the residents still hang over the heads of those vulnerable, elderly people. I therefore take this opportunity once again of protesting in the strongest possible terms at the inhumane way in which those people are being treated.
It would indeed be unfortunate if the Banks residential home were closed. It would be a traumatic experience for everyone in the home. For a group of frail, elderly people, with an average age of 85, it is devastating, and that devastation is being imposed on them by a body which is supposed to be statutorily charged with their welfare. That is a mockery. I refer, of course, to the North Down and Ards community health and social services trust, which no longer seems to believe in democratic accountability to the people that it is supposed to serve.
There is widespread community support throughout the North Down area for the plight of those poor people. The fight to prevent the closure has been organised and co-ordinated by a body of people known as the Friends of the Banks, led by Mrs. Marion Smith, the chairman of the pressure group. I pay tribute to her and her colleagues.
The campaign is based not only on emotion, although I must admit that I feel emotionally involved with those unfortunate people who seem to be pawns of an unthinking bureaucracy, but on the logical argument that there is a continuing need for the Banks. The home provides a first-class facility for full-time residential care, for respite care and as a base for a whole range of community support facilities for the elderly.
Indeed, the local unit trust appeared to accept that the Banks residential home is a first-class facility. Its own inspection team has given it top marks as a first-class establishment, and I can confirm that from my experience over the 24 years during which I have been a Member of Parliament for the constituency of North Down. I have visited it frequently each year, and I have long had connections with the Banks through meeting its residents and meeting relatives there and attending some of the functions there. I have always been impressed by the care and the consideration shown by all the staff towards the residents, and I know that that impression would be strongly endorsed by the residents and their relatives.
§ Mr. William O'Brien
I appreciate the opportunity to intervene on this important issue. The hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) has described the appalling situation over the application by the people who form the trust. Is it not a fact that we are witnessing what we described would happen—undemocratic, unrepresentative, 624 unthinking people appointed to the trust by the Minister? Does not the hon. Gentleman feel that he should condemn the way in which the trusts have been formed and the lack of democratic accountability of those appointed trusts?
§ Sir James Kilfedder
I readily adopt what the hon. Gentleman says about the attitude of the people in that unit of management. It was my opinion that they were there to serve the people. Certainly all the people that I have met felt that the people appointed to the trust are not serving them, the people of North Down, but are serving themselves and masters elsewhere. They are there to serve the people—the patients, the elderly and all those in need. In my view—I accept what the hon. Gentleman has said—they are falling down on their duty and turning a deaf ear to the pleas of people in this case: the supporters, the relatives and the residents of the Banks residential home.
The only reason for suggesting the closure of the home is that the site is a valuable one and its sale would partly provide the cash for alternative community care facilities. I am not certain whether the cash would be used wisely. I am sure that the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) would echo that fear. The home is on a valuable site. The land, I understand, was given by a private individual for the specific purpose of providing the home. However, once the home is sold, developers may buy the land, but the money from the sale may be wasted on some other project. I feel that it is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul if, in fact, the trust intends to provide some other facilities, although I wonder whether, at the end of the day, it will. Surely we have not reached the stage at which progress in community care provision is achieved at the expense of the elderly and vulnerable residents of the Banks.
Leaving aside the sense of outrage at the proposal, the consultation has been abysmally handled by the unit trust. It has been forced to make postponement after postponement because it has mishandled the consultation. It was forced by the High Court to appoint an advocate to represent the old people at the home. The latest postponement arose from representations by the High Court about the way in which advocacy had been handled.
All the delays are simply adding to the trauma of the residents, who are becoming increasingly upset and depressed. Indeed, my latest information is that they are being given conflicting information by the unit trust about the outcome of the legal proceedings. Surely the fact that the unit trust has been endlessly forced to delay its procedures shows that the proposal is seriously flawed. Why cannot those old people be taken out of their misery by receiving an assurance that the Banks residential home will not close?
The situation has become so unreasonable that I strongly urge the Minister to intervene and to direct the unit trust that, in the interests of the old people, the closure procedure should be indefinitely abandoned.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
I am sure that the hon. Member will be glad to know that many people throughout the House wholeheartedly support his contention and his appeal to the Minister. I am sure that the Minister, realising the strength of feeling in the House, will do something about it.
§ Sir James Kilfedder
I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend. I hope that his words will be taken in by the Minister. Perhaps we could have a positive response 625 when he replies to the debate. If action is not taken quickly, there will be a powerful feeling in Bangor and in the rest of my constituency of North Down that no one in authority cares any more.
I am most anxious that elderly people should remain in their own home as long as is humanly possible; I have said that often in the House. It is good for them to remain in the area that they know and where they have friends and where their church and other facilities are located. However, they need help with cleaning the house, making a main meal, lighting fires, washing and maintenance of the garden. That means the provision of home helps and other carers. Therefore, it is lamentable that home help hours have been seriously reduced and elderly people are left with less support. Our senior citizens are vulnerable at all hours of the day and night. I am absolutely disgusted that they do not receive the help that their years of service to the community entitle them to in the twilight of their life.
Elderly people are vulnerable in many ways. I drew attention only a short time ago in the Chamber to the way in which some youths have behaved towards elderly people. Greater action is needed. More police ought to be provided to stop gangs of youths banging on the doors of elderly people's houses late at night, throwing rubbish into their gardens, urinating on their front doors, writing obscenities on their walls and so on. We ought really to try to safeguard and look after our senior citizens. They deserve not just compassion but support, and something must be done to protect them and to give them the quality of life that they surely deserve.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
First, I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that, during the last Northern Ireland Question Time, his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland referred to the A8 to Larne. If he looks up the reference, perhaps he will find out precisely what are the plans for that road. I agree with what has already been said about the importance of the Larne road and the A26, which is essential to the north of the Province and to the new hospital in Antrim.
Vote 2 of the Department of the Environment vote is for housing. We have received a considerable number of complaints both by letter and in the House about the inset fires fitted in Housing Executive houses. I have made my views known on the matter. Many of the complaints were well justified, although there was a great deal of scaremongering as well. I took the matter up with the Housing Executive at the invitation of the Minister and with the National Coal Board and the Coal Advisory Service. I found that both bodies had been working hard to find out just what the problems were.
I have seen test rigs and I can tell the House that the investigations have been exhaustive. Up to the present, they have been inconclusive in some respects, but the Executive and the Coal Advisory Service have certainly done their utmost to try to solve the problem. There is a problem with the fires and a problem with the flues. Those problems have been investigated. The point can certainly be made that the fires are not terribly handy for the elderly people who use them. There is a tendency to keep out all the draughts in a room. Unfortunately, to make a fire burn properly and keep alight a certain amount of air is required.
626 I welcome the fact that the Housing Executive is now looking at a new open fire, similar to the old Baxi-type fire, which draws in air almost artificially. I have great hopes for that fire. It would certainly serve and please those people who wish to have an open fire and at the same time run a given number of radiators, using fuel which is suitable for clean air zones. I put those points on the record now because in the past I have criticised the Housing Executive and the Minister on the matter.
An allocation problem still exists in the Housing Executive. None of us envies the job of the allocation officers because when they please one person they disappoint a hundred, but there is a case to be made for a return to giving some preference to local applicants. Unfortunately, if there are empty houses—or voids, as the Housing Executive calls them—in a given area, folk come in from all sorts of places to occupy them and local applicants are turned down because those coming in from outside appear to have greater priority. That matter should be examined. We should keep the local people in the locality where they have been brought up and wish to remain.
I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) said about care in the community. I certainly agree with all that he said. However, if we are to have care in the community, the Housing Executive also has a responsibility to provide proper housing for those people. Elderly people who want to live in the community or who are being asked to live in the community certainly cannot climb stairs or live in an upstairs flat. They require suitable housing.
§ Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North)
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way on this important subject. Is he aware that pensioners and their families have been prohibited from buying their Housing Executive homes, although in some cases those homes may be in low-demand areas?
§ Mr. Forsythe
I am aware of that, although I was made aware of it only a short time ago. I understand—perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) will keep me right on this—that even if pensioners have the cash to buy their home, the Housing Executive will not allow them to buy it. That is unfair. If pensioners have the cash and can buy a home without even getting a mortgage, I cannot see what objections there could be. I am pleased that my hon. Friend has raised that matter.
We have certain types of houses which are not being occupied. Sadly, that means that some areas are going downhill because we have a lot of empty houses. That is a great pity because there is a shortage of certain types of housing. Perhaps that matter, too, can be examined.
I remind the Minister of a problem from the past which, unfortunately, is still ongoing. I understand that the case of the Orlit houses has not been settled. A certain type of Orlit house is still causing problems. I understand that the tenants of Orlit houses which were sold by an unregistered housing association are not being treated in the same way as tenants in registered housing association houses.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I know that my hon. Friend shares my concern for a fairly large group of Orlit home owners in Lisburn in my constituency who have through no fault of their own have fallen foul of what appears to be a defect in the law because their houses were built by an unregistered housing association. There seems to be some slippage in 627 the drafting of the legislation between what I call the Ian Gow Bill and the Order in Council. We had to wait three years for the Order in Council. When it emerged, it seemed to be defective. I wonder whether my hon. Friends the Members for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) and for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) would accompany me to see the appropriate Minister, because it is a grave injustice.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I would certainly be willing to meet the Minister about such an important matter, and I would be pleased if my colleagues were in a position to go together.
The hon. Member for North Down referred to vandalism on housing estates. There is a case to be made for joint action to be instituted between the police, the Housing Executive and the social services. We have great problems in certain housing estates, and that is a great pity. Unfortunately, we find that when one bad tenant is put into a housing estate, within a short time 70 per cent. of the people on the housing estate want to be transferred.
Sadly, I have to point out that in some areas the drug problem is also serious. It is difficult for public representatives to explain to constituents who are worried about vandalism and drug problems that it would appear that certain things cannot be done. I ask the Minister to examine the situation carefully. Perhaps a task force involving local councils and so on could be set up to examine the situation and try to resolve some of the problems in this respect as they are serious for those who live in certain areas. It is sad that there are such problems.
Vote 4 of the Department of the Environment vote is for planning. I agree with all that has been said about tied dwellings. I am also concerned about the situation in which farmers, their families and others cannot seem to be able to build on their own ground. I shall digress slightly from what my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) said. My sympathy is with my constituents, not with the planners trying to keep people from building.
If we are to keep people on the land, and to keep the farming community as a family or a group, we should make allowances for that. Certainly, if we are to have empty cottages or bungalows throughout the whole of Northern Ireland simply because there is a planning rule which says that they cannot be sold or let to people who are not in the farming community, the purpose of spending millions of pounds on building Housing Executive houses escapes me if we cannot use them. I agree that that matter should be examined again.
One gets annoyed when one phones the planning service and the planning service says that these are the new guidelines. The guidelines have not been through the House; they are decided by the planning service. We are not told about them. There is no local council input. The decision is taken and the guidelines are then presented to us as being set in stone and we cannot change them. We greatly object to that.
We naturally object when enforcement is requested but is not carried out. Yet when we do not want enforcement, the planning service does it. Sometimes I think—and I say this to my friends in the planning service in my area—that they are perverse in that if we want something done, they do the opposite, but perhaps I am being unfair.
I wish to refer to vote 5 on the Department of Health and Social Services, and I want to put on record that we in Northern Ireland also have problems with the Child Support Agency. I know that the subject gets a lot of mileage in the Select Committee on Social Security—of 628 which I am a member—and I know that we have debates in the House about it, but the same applies in Northern Ireland as applies in the rest of the United Kingdom.
There are complaints about the CSA and hold-ups in assessments. We know that letters are not being answered and phone calls are not being returned—at least we are told that. That seems to be the same in Northern Ireland as in other parts of the United Kingdom. The same points are made on the subject. Why should clean breaks not be accepted? The debt switch arising from divorces and the travel-to-work expenses of the absent parent are not allowed for. Fifty per cent. of the pension contribution is allowed, not 100 per cent.
If a lady marries a man who is an absent parent, her income is immediately taken into account to keep the children of the absent parent. Some people would say that those things are not supposed to happen, but we know that they are happening. Sadly, that is the case, although even natural justice should demand that those things should not happen. It is rather unfortunate.
It is accepted that, when the subject of the CSA went through the House, everyone agreed that it was a good idea that parents should look after their children. Everyone would have applauded that, but there is a way of doing it and we should look at the subject again seriously. I must emphasise to the House that I and my colleagues are well aware that the staff of the CSA are doing precisely what the House requested them to do, and it is most unfair to hear about the aggravation which CSA staff are receiving. We must try to change the system to help those who are disadvantaged by it, but people should not take it out on the workers. We in the House gave them a task which they are now doing.
I would like to mention also "The Future of Pensions" recommendations which will be debated by the House and which will also apply to Northern Ireland. I know that the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) will understand when I say that improvements and changes in pensions law should be brought in as soon as possible.
One thinks of evidence given by the Harland and Wollf management regarding the pension fund. They seemed to treat the members, former members and workers with great disdain and did not pay any particular attention to their views. I understand that the management saw the report and thought that it supported what they had done. In fact, the position was the absolute opposite. The pension fund trustees have not yet appointed a representative from the pensioners—unless one counts the chairman, who has now retired but remains as chairman of the trustees; one wonders whether he perhaps regards himself as a representative of the pensioners.
I hope that When the privatisation processes for the airport and the port of Belfast are taking place the Government will take into account the ideas and the new proposals in "The Future of Pensions" and build those into the pensions provisions in the privatisation of those companies.
I would like to ask the Minister briefly about the social fund. The social fund report from the Auditor General in the Northern Ireland Audit Office says that there were 1,901 cases of recoverable loans abandoned or impracticable to pursue. Why was that the case? The figure in the accounts states that the amount was £153,000. I would be the last to say that we should pursue people if they are 629 desperately in need of money and are deserving of it, but we should have an explanation as to why it was not possible to recover that money.
I agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) about the disability living allowance. Nowadays, people suffer from new ailments and medical conditions which are not recognised by the medical practitioners who examine the applicants for the living allowance. That lack of flexibility should be considered.
The introduction of an identity card is an excellent idea. That little plastic card could carry a photograph and all the relevant details about an individual. Those in receipt of benefit could then take it to the post office for the purposes of identification. That would provide an excellent job for sub-post offices, which we are keeping. There is talk about the privatisation of the Post Office, but I know that we are keeping our sub-post offices. The card could also identify those who go along to vote, as that procedure is still subject to problems.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
The hon. Gentleman should consider going a bit further and having an identity card in Northern Ireland for all purposes, including voter identification. In the past there was a difficulty about the introduction of such cards, but now that we have all-party agreement on it and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron), the Social Democrat and Labour party representative, is now in favour, surely its introduction would be a non-contentious issue on which the Government should move ahead.
§ Mr. Forsythe
I agree. It is an excellent idea. It is not a particularly difficult job to produce the identification details required; they could all fit on the back of the card, just like our Access cards. Now that there is agreement across the House on its introduction, the Minister should consider it. My colleagues and I would support its extended use.
Vote 2 for the Department of Economic Development covers tourism. The Minister had a little debate with my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East about the membership of the tourist board. He said that certain people were best suited to serve on the board and I would not disagree with that. I am not quite sure, however, whether there is an hotelier on the board. If there is no such member, perhaps that is why local business people who apply to the Industrial Development Board for help to build a hotel or complex are told that they cannot have one because the board will only give such grants to large hotel chains which come to Northern Ireland or to hotels associated with such chains. I am reliably informed that that is the practice, so perhaps the Minister will confirm or deny that when he replies. If it is true, it is disgraceful. We are talking about helping to attract people to Northern Ireland, and who better to do that than local people?
In connection with vote I for the DED, I congratulate the Minister, as I have done in the past, on the new investment and new firms that have come to Northern Ireland. I have seen the benefits of that in my own constituency and I welcome them. I know that the IDB has done a lot of hard work to attract such investment. As I have said on previous occasions, it is most unfortunate when the media choose to play down and, on occasion, 630 attack certain investments which people have worked hard to get. I give a black mark to the media for talking down or criticising certain matters. My second criticism of the media is that when the IDB is holding confidential discussions the media tend to leak the fact that those discussions are taking place, with the result that others get to know about the matters in hand. That is unfortunate.
I disagree with the Minister's high praise for the Local Enterprise Development Unit. My praise for the IDB does not carry over to LEDU, because it is supposed to help and encourage local people by putting them in a position in which they can create more employment but, sadly, that is not happening. I am sorry to end my speech on that note, but it must be said.
§ Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster)
I welcome the finances that are rightly being given to the people and departments in Northern Ireland.
A number of the issues raised by hon. Members in a debate on the appropriations measure earlier this year have, unfortunately, not been dealt with. I trust that that will not happen tonight. Some hon. Members apparently feel that this debate is a waste of time. As happened in the past two important debates, one party is missing. Perhaps it feels that it can achieve better deals from Ministers outside the Chamber. It is about time that those who take the trouble to come to the debate and raise issues that are essential for their constituents received appropriate replies. The matters raised tonight are of grave importance to our constituencies.
Under the vote for the Department of Agriculture is the item "Castlederg Flood Defences". The estimate provision for 1994–95 is £16,000 and the amount to be spent in future years is £855,000. In winding up, will the Minister tell my constituents whether the amount to be spent in future years means directly after 1994–95, or will we have to wait before further money is spent on that item, which has been identified as of great importance for my constituents? It is important that it automatically follows on and that that money is spent to correct a matter that has caused great concern to many of my constituents, especially the owners of property and shops in the town of Castlederg.
Deep concern is still felt within the pig industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) rightly mentioned that prices have been better recently, but the industry needs the careful eye of the Government. An important part of my constituency's industrial community is Unipork in Cookstown. I am sure that the Minister knows that I welcomed the takeover of Unipork, and it was warmly welcomed in my constituency, but in several parts of the Province workers are deeply worried about their future and that of their employment.
I trust that the Department of Agriculture and Baroness Denton, who has that responsibility in another place, will keep a keen eye on that development. I wish Unipork in my constituency well; I wish the new firm and the people who run it every success. However, they should be keenly conscious of the people who have given excellent service to the pig industry throughout the years, whose rights must be guarded. I hope that the Minister will recognise that in her watching brief on development in the pig sector.
I shall now discuss the Department of Economic Development, and express my deep worry about what is happening in that sector. Will the Minister tell the House 631 the up-to-date position regarding ground intended for economic development that is owned by the Department throughout the Mid-Ulster area? Urgent Government action is needed in the industrial development of my constituency. We need to know the up-to-date position regarding ground in Omagh, in Cookstown, in the district of Magherafelt, which is shared between my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), and in Castlederg, an area of deprivation for many years. We are thankful that Castlederg is starting to come out of the doldrums, and that things are starting to appear much better for it after many years of terrible carnage and suffering, but we need to know the plans of the Department and the Industrial Development Board for the rest of my constituency.
Industrial development seems to be directed largely at certain areas. West of the Bann is identified as an area where industrial development is greatly needed, but I have studied the figures and I am worried. I hope that the Department is willing to investigate what has happened as regards industrial development. In the west of the Province, some areas outside the city of Londonderry—areas in my constituency, including the area verging Strabane, Omagh and Cookstown—have the greatest or second greatest unemployment in the entire Province. I believe that the Department must do more to ensure that industrialists come, because there is plenty for them to see that would attract them if they were brought into the area.
The IDB has done an excellent job and I join the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) in congratulating the IDB on the efforts that it and its chief executive have made. I appreciate their efforts and their work, but there must be greater incentives, and financial incentives, to encourage people. That is especially so given that the west of the Province is suffering because, while we are told of the great challenge of Europe, we lack the infrastructure to encourage the developers to come to the west.
Bearing that in mind, I naturally move to the vote concerning the Department for the Environment, and the essential part, which links with the Department of Economic Development. I ask the Minister to inform the House of the date of the commencement of the Cookstown bypass. We were visited by the Secretary of State, who has been visiting different councils and meeting councillors. He had a lunch and asked councillors, "What are the most important issues confronting your area?" That all sounds good, but in reality it is a public relations exercise. The Secretary of State raised the people's hopes.
I was at a meeting of industrialists, the elected councillors of the area, the schools and the rest of the community representatives. They were asked what they felt to be of vital necessity for the Cookstown area. The unanimous view of everyone present, who had been invited by the Secretary of State, was that essential to the development of Cookstown was the Cookstown bypass.
The Secretary of State—a Cabinet Minister; we could have had no one higher except the Prime Minister—visited the region and was interested in its needs and development. I thought that the most natural thing for me, as Member of Parliament, to do following the meeting which the Cabinet Minister attended, and where he listened to views with keen interest, was to send a letter asking when the Cookstown bypass would be built. We now have the vote and the details about the finances from the Department of 632 the Environment, but there is no mention of the Cookstown bypass, not only in the plans for 1994–95, but under the heading of money to be spent in future years.
What were the dinner—where a unanimous opinion was given—and its costs all about? Surely there must be more behind them than just a PR exercise. On behalf of my constituents, I demand that the Government not only say that they will listen to the people but take action based on the unanimous view of the region's political parties, industrialists and educationists. That is, that the Cookstown bypass is vital for Cookstown and its future development in economic and industrial terms and within Europe. The project would not involve big sums of money, but, without it, the future of the industrial development of the region will be stymied.
In the light of the Secretary of State's visit and the great hopes raised in the community, I must ask when we will get the Cookstown bypass. The question may be regarded as a hardy annual by the Minister as I have asked it on numerous occasions, but the problem will not go away until action is taken. I want not a PR exercise, but essential action. I am delighted that Ministers come to the region to see what is happening. I am delighted that they come to see the deprivation and neglect in the west of the Province, especially in the regions that I have mentioned tonight. However, I do not believe that it gives the community any heart if visits are made, questions asked about the needs of the area and seeming promises are made that action will be taken by the Department, when they all turn out to be a damp squib. That provides no help to the community.
In my constituency, in Omagh the main A5 is recognised as a trans-European highway—not many places have such big names, and it is a wonderful thing in this age of the European Union. It sounds tremendous, but means nothing. It has been so designated by Europe, but in the vote I find nothing from the Government about the money that is to be spent on it. All that I can find is that £700,000 is to be spent on stage 2 of the Omagh pass, but without phase 3 of the development in Omagh and the rest of the road network, the other work will be useless. We need not only the designation of the trans-European highway, but action to be taken on it.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Londonderry, East will join me in saying that we still await the Magherafelt bypass, which is essential for industrial development. We cannot face the challenges of Europe without the tools to do the job. If industrialists come to the area and find that they have to sit in traffic jams—time is money to them—they will not wait around for long. They will pass over the area and go somewhere else with better roads. That does not represent a fair sharing out of the available finance. I speak for an area that has suffered greatly from the lack of money that should have been voted by the House for its road development and maintenance programme.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North and others who have described the deep frustration felt in the countryside about the planning process. I resent the idea that officials care more about the countryside than do elected representatives. That is designed to give the impression that the only people who want to protect our environment are civil servants and Government officials. As a former civil servant I might add that I care just as much about the environment and the countryside as a 633 Member of this House as I did when I worked in the Department of Health and Social Security—and I have remained both civil and a servant to this very day.
When a council gives its unanimous approval to some project, surely that ought to mean something. The tragedy is that, oft times, once a council has given its unanimous approval to a countryside development, officials say, "We have listened to your argument; we have consulted; we are still going to turn you down." This causes great resentment. It is no easy matter to get the unanimous approval of a local government institution in Northern Ireland: it is tough enough getting it in this House. Officials should not, therefore, give a development the thumbs down in the face of a council's unanimous agreement.
Will the Minister give his attention to those who have been battling to save the Ballynahone bog near Maghera? That may not sound particularly interesting to some, but the people of the area want it designated a site of special scientific interest—which it is. Recently, there was an application to rape the countryside around the Curran bog. The local community and their elected representatives made representations—the latter as the defenders of the community. Interestingly, the Department is giving the go-ahead for the rape of the countryside around the Ballynahone bog, and I feel that it should give my constituents' interests more consideration than that. I trust that the Minister will reply on that point.
I have already asked the Minister questions about the serious pollution in the River Mourne and the River Strule. There have been major pollution incidents on both rivers in recent times. Wood preservatives got into the River Strule and much of the fish life in the river was destroyed. It was a major pollution of the river. Water from those rivers is used for human consumption so there should be greater curbs on those using detergents and industrial chemicals.
Farmers have to install catchment tanks for effluent from their silo pits. If there is any seepage, the Department of Agriculture comes down heavily on the farmer—and rightly so because we must not allow pollution. There are frequent court appearances. Industry should be compelled to carry out similar environmental protection in the interests of wild life. Will the Minister tell us the up-to-date position on the restocking of the Rivers Strule and Mourne?
I have been contacted by the Ardstraw anglers' club about the proposed site for a hydro-electric generator at Spamount mills on the River Derg. The anglers are deeply concerned about that and made four points. The River Derg is not a large river and the volume of water required to run the proposed plant could ruin the entire stretch of water for anglers. They are worried about the turbine design. If it has high revolutions per minute, it will be lethal and will kill a large number of fish. It is crucial that measures are taken to ensure the survival of fish in our local rivers.
With the installation of a hydro-electric generator comes the necessity for a well-designed fish pass that will be inaccessible to poachers and will allow the passage of fish in low water. The hydro-electric generator will cause a large loss of fish in the River Derg. Will the operators contribute to a restocking programme to redress that loss? Perhaps the Minister could respond to that point.
634 I want briefly to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to a number of other issues. Many people throughout the Province are concerned about the length of time that it takes the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to deal with the backlog of applications for grants. A constituent of mine applied for a grant a year ago, but he has only recently been asked for sketch plans. His application is still in the pipeline and little progress has been made. That is not a criticism of the Housing Executive; it is an appeal to the Minister to provide the finances necessary for it to employ the staff to process the applications quickly and to meet the costs of grants awarded.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South mentioned the sale of two-bedroom bungalows for senior citizens. That is of concern to people in my constituency. Can the Minister ensure that urgent action is taken on the issue of Melburn close and Melburn park in Cookstown? We need to money to uplift the environment and improve the houses on that estate. If the money could be made available, that would be deeply appreciated by the residents.
Will the Minister deal with the question of the provision of science laboratories? I received a response to that point from the Minister responsible for education, but there is urgent need for the new-build science accommodation at the Cookstown high school. I have been promised the provision of two science mobiles from September 1995, but given the finance available in education, action ought to be taken to meet that high school's urgent needs.
Mention was made of the Child Support Agency, about which there is deep concern in all parts of the House. One of my constituents was blamed for fathering a child but was totally innocent. An apology was finally offered but there was no recognition of the deep hurt and anxiety suffered by the families concerned. That accusation against a totally innocent man nearly smashed a marriage. He was sent a simple apology saying, "We're sorry this happened and will try to make sure that it doesn't happen again." Such an attitude is totally unacceptable and redress ought to be available to individuals who have suffered in that way.
It is time that the Child Support Agency devoted its energies to tracking down fathers who pay nothing rather than going for those who have consistently and honourably paid for their children's upkeep down the years and have never dodged their responsibilities. It seems that the CSA's efforts are directed mainly at fathers who are already paying, and it is placing an intolerable burden on them. I resent that, and so do my constituents.
There is deep concern in the Province and further afield about the rights of disabled people in employment. The Government must produce meaningful and appropriate legislation to tackle that issue. Pressure must be kept up and legislation put before the House quickly. If the Government acknowledge their responsibilities to the physically or mentally handicapped, such legislation will quickly be on the statute book. Without it, we will simply be listening to words, and the community will not forgive inaction in that regard. Handicapped people are getting a raw deal in finding a proper and appropriate place in society. They are one of society's most neglected groups. My colleagues join me in supporting action and legislation that will bring that iniquitous situation to a conclusion forthwith.
§ Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)
It is a pleasure to note that the debate will be wound up by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), because this morning I had the pleasure of welcoming him to my constituency and to Banbridge high school. As the Minister will appreciate, some of his comments on that occasion with regard to tonight's debate have proved most apposite.
It was a pleasure to see the hon. Gentleman cut the sod for the new building at Banbridge high school. It was a most happy occasion. I am sure that the Minister appreciates that he will maintain his popularity in the area by also releasing funds for the school playing area that will be necessary when construction of the new building, which is on the site of the old playing field, is complete.
Schemes are going ahead in the rural part of Banbridge to amalgamate primary schools. Unusually, those schemes have the complete support of the local community, but there are financial problems—and they should be remedied as soon as possible.
It is a pity in some respects that the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and his party colleagues are not present this evening, because the hon. Gentleman had an interesting written question down last week, relating to the number of jobs promoted in each Northern Ireland district council area over the past 10 years. My eye naturally turned to the two council areas that comprise my constituency. I noted the healthy but not surprising figure for the borough of Craigavon, which has the second largest concentration of manufacturing industry after Belfast in terms of size.
My other council area, Banbridge, was a very different story. Over a 10-year period, the Industrial Development Board had promoted a total of 200 jobs—and it should be borne in mind that the IDB recognises that only about two thirds of jobs promoted are actually created. None of those jobs involved investment in the area. That is particularly annoying given that the IDB announced only a few days ago that it was abandoning proposals for industrial development to land adjacent to Banbridge's dual carriageway, which would, in principle, have been a very suitable site.
§ Mr. Stott
Both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) have mentioned the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady). He and the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon)—who are very good attenders of Northern Ireland debates—are not with us this evening because they had to give evidence to the Boundary Commission, which was doing its review today.
§ Mr. Trimble
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information. May I point out that the Newry inquiry is also considering the seat of Upper Bann? Newry and Armagh council proposes its division into two parts to form new constituencies. That merely reflects the view that hon. Members take of their priorities.
The figures that I cited—which were obtained by the hon. Member for South Down—relate to a 10-year period, and clearly demonstrate neglect on the IDB's part. I stress the word "neglect". Both the IDB and the Local Enterprise Development Unit seem to have a fixed state of mind: once they move south of Lisburn they can think only of Newry, forgetting about Banbridge on the way down there. Perhaps they think that Banbridge is a prosperous town, 636 because it appears to be expanding; but most of the expansion is caused by people who are coming to live in a "dormitory" town, rather than to work there. It will not be healthy for the town's future if the population expansion is not matched by an expansion of job opportunities.
Other Government Departments, as well as the IDB, have neglected the town during the past 10 years. A number of public bodies used to have offices and employees there, but that number has diminished: Departments have been closing offices and moving them out, and the number of public jobs in the area has consequently declined.
Those issues need to be tackled, especially the issue of land development. As I said, the IDB was right in principle to consider developing land next to the dual carriageway. There were problems with the particular site involved, but others are available; they may be closer to Dromore than to Banbridge, but they are still in the Banbridge district council area. I hope that the IDB will deal with the position as a matter of urgency, so that we can have good-quality industrial development land in the district council area.
Let me deal more generally with issues involving the IDB and LEDU. There seems to be a certain inflexibility in the approach of the two agencies. For example, a firm in the Craigavon area has been a client of LEDU for some time; it is now thinking of expanding in a way that might make it more appropriate for it to become a client of the IDB, but there are difficulties in transferring a client from one agency to the other. LEDU is making difficulties about transferring the client to the IDB, although the size and development of the firm make the transfer appropriate. It is remarkable that these bureaucratic issues, which seem to be connected as much with the empire building of agencies as anything else, are acting in a disadvantageous way.
Inflexibility arises in another way. One valuable development in the Craigavon area has been the Craigavon industrial development organisation—one of the first local authority initiatives in this respect, which the Government are now encouraging. That is fine. It is a challenge to which Craigavon local authority has responded imaginatively, but it has not received a similar response from the agencies, in which I include the Department of Economic Development. They have their own settled patterns and a cast of mind which says, "not invented here". If they have not thought of the idea, they are reluctant to accept the thinking of other people.
We are trying to promote a Craigavon partnership, whereby the local authority's initiative can operate as an overall body to bring together the statutory agencies. We are not receiving the response from the statutory agencies that we should be. I hope that there will be more wholehearted co-operation between the statutory agencies and Department of Economic Development and local authorities engaged in such economic development.
A small example of such non-co-operation is that CIDO wishes to expand and have a third unit providing slightly larger accommodation—5,000 sq ft—in the Lurgan area. A private enterprise partner is prepared to put money into the project. The proposal has been with the statutory agencies for quite some time, but it is moving at a snail's pace. One almost feels that the agencies resent the initiative and drive that the local authority is showing. That is not an appropriate response or attitude for it to take.
Last week saw the first publication by the Fair Employment Commission of one of its affirmative action proposals. This is a matter to which I may return in the 637 future, but I shall make a few comments on it now. The proposals reveal in clear terms a criticism that we have made of the FEC and of the fair employment programme, but which has been denied by Government—the concept of quotas. We said that legislation is heading towards quotas. The Government said, "No, it is not; we do not intend to have quotas".
Last week's publication contained six so-called affirmative action programmes of action that must be taken by an employer. The programmes are legally enforceable because the FEC is in a position to issue directions to the employer. The FEC has placed on the employer the requirement of achieving a certain percentage of applications and appointments. What is that if not a quota?
A quota cannot sit alongside the requirement of appointments being made on merit. There is an important issue of principle here. It is amazing to see a Conservative Government ignore this issue of principle, because were it to happen on their home patch they would take a different approach. There is a distinction between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. It is right that there should be equality of opportunity, but nobody in his right mind thinks that, even where there is complete equality of opportunity, it will automatically and fairly result in equality of outcome in every place of employment. That is not to be expected. Talents and circumstances will vary and historical patterns will apply in various places. Equality of opportunity is one thing; equality of outcome is totally different.
The Fair Employment Commission, as announced by its chairman a couple of reports ago, has set itself the target of achieving equality of outcome in every place of employment in Northern Ireland. It has said that it is setting quotas for all those places. It does not initially set quotas for all of them, but if a firm comes to the FEC's attention or annoys the chairman in some way, he can bring the apparatus to bear and require people to enter affirmative action programmes. That can be backed up with statutory declarations and firms can be given a specific quota that they must achieve, with ferocious penalties to be applied if they do not achieve it.
The matter must be considered. A couple of years ago, the then Home Secretary, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech in the House dealing with questions of racial equality in England and Wales, stated that the Home Office had decided that it was not appropriate to try to achieve equality of outcome for ethnic minorities in England in all places of employment because of the problems to which that would give rise. Yet that is exactly what is happening in Northern Ireland.
It is only a matter of time before some of the disadvantaged ethnic minorities in England and Wales—the employment disparities for Afro-Caribbean people, for example, in England and Wales are just as great as, if not greater than the employment disparities in Northern Ireland—say, "Why are special measures adopted in Northern ireland, but not in England?" It is only a matter of time before they say that the reason is that nobody is shooting people or letting off bombs on the issue in England. It is then only a matter of time before thoughts move further among disadvantaged people in England and Wales. The Government need to think about the matter 638 more clearly. One cannot corral the issues into Northern Ireland and expect them to have no application in equivalent situations elsewhere.
I have criticised the concept of quotas. Even if one accepts quotas, one has to say that the Fair Employment Commission in Northern Ireland is applying the quotas in a dishonest and unbalanced manner. I take as an example one of six firms—a bakery in Castlereagh; I am not sure whether it is in Belfast, East or in Strangford. The FEC has set a quota for the firm by reference to its catchment area, or what it takes to be the catchment area. It has taken the area of the city of Belfast and the district council of Castlereagh. It has looked at the people who are economically active in those areas and has found out that there is a certain percentage of Catholics. It has then set a quota with reference to that figure. That is a dishonest way in which to proceed.
The firm is situated in Castlereagh in east Belfast, and the bulk of the employees are drawn from east Belfast. Is east Belfast taken as the catchment area? Oh no. The catchment area is broadened to include north and west Belfast, where there are very few employees. If it is broadened to include north and west Belfast, why not broaden it on the other side to include North Down and Ards? Geographically, they are no further away. In terms of communications and in terms of journey time, they are closer. In terms of human, social and geographical factors, they are closer than west Belfast. It is a question of sauce for the goose and sauce for the gander. It is a question of adopting a consistent approach. Such an approach has not been adopted in this case, and that is why I say that the matter is dishonest.
The quota system is unfair in the way in which it operates. I take the example of a firm called Quinns in Fermanagh. The employees are predominantly Catholic and there are only a handful of Protestants—1 or 2 per cent. A quota has been set for that firm. It has been told that it must achieve a target of 12 per cent. of applicants and appointees. I am quoting from memory, so I may not have the figure exactly correct. It is not clear how that figure is arrived at. In what the FEC takes to be the catchment area of Quinns, 45 per cent. of those who are economically active are Protestant, yet the quota is 12 per cent., not 45 per cent. Why?
The third example is a firm in my constituency. The catchment area, as determined by the FEC, is 40 per cent. Catholic, so the quota is 40 per cent. Catholics. Why is there a disparity between that firm and Quinns? There is something unequal. In the six cases, there is a pattern of inequality in the FEC's approach. I fear that it is an issue to which we shall return again and again. As I have said, a wrong approach, in principle, has been adopted. Not only is it wrong in principle, but it is being carried out in a dishonest manner.
I am using the word "dishonest" deliberately. I am not saying that it is by mistake or through negligence, but that there is malice involved. I make that reference knowing full well the personalities involved. That issue, especially with regard to fair play, is one that I may develop again on another occasion.
§ Mr. William Ross
When my hon. Friend is detailing the different approaches used by the Fair Employment Commission, he neglects to mention that, in my area, it leaves out of the reckoning those people from the Irish Republic and elsewhere in the British Isles who are 639 employed by firms such as Quinns, organisations such as the Western health and social services board and many others.
§ Mr. Trimble
My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. Those issues are left out. There are many more things that one can say. The statistical basis on which the Commission is operating is inaccurate because it is drawing from figures relating to the number of persons employed and unemployed in some areas, which we know are not accurate, especially in the rural areas and close to the border.
Anybody who has had any dealings with the issue knows that the two greatest elements which affect economic activity and which are most likely to create a black economy are agriculture and the cross-border areas, where many people take jobs in one jurisdiction and claim benefit in others, or engage in activities such as smuggling. In certain areas, the employment statistics are not reliable. At a firm not very far away from Lurgan in my constituency, the management in a previous dispensation were in the habit of laying on a bus on Fridays so that the workers could go down to Newry to claim benefit. Of course, they no longer have to claim in person, but that is a different issue.
I shall move from the issue of the Fair Employment Commission to something that falls directly within the scope of the Minister: arts policy and matters related to cultural traditions. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) also touched on that issue when he referred to the local government legislation and the provision for street names in Irish. I wonder how many of those street names in Irish will be in Ulster Gaelic, or whether they will be in the dialect of Gaelic taught in certain schools—a modern invention based on what is thought to be the Gaelic spoken in the centre of Ireland.
Those who have studied the area know that there are three different forms of Gaelic spoken on the island of Ireland. The schools and others who are promoting the so-called Irish language in Northern Ireland today, under the aegis of the Minister, are not promoting Ulster Gaelic. One wonders why that is so. Most people who are involved in its promotion are perhaps not aware of the distinction between Ulster Gaelic and the Gaelic spoken in the centre of Ireland. Ulster Gaelic is on the borderline between Scots Gaelic and that spoken a bit further south.
§ Mr. Trimble
Of course the Minister is fully familiar with such matters, in which I hope he will take a keener interest.
Returning to arts, cultural traditions and so on, I am disturbed by the policy papers being produced by the Arts Council. It seems to be recognising only what it calls a classic tradition and an Irish tradition in the arts and related matters. Where is the British tradition? The classic tradition, as it recognises it, refers to certain forms of high art. It also recognises what it calls an Irish culture and supports certain forms of cultural activities in the broad sense which are passed off as being Irish. Where is the British in that?
The Minister will also be familiar with the pipe bands association. I am sorry to say that, in the recent world championships, the Ulster pipe bands were temporarily demoted from their dominance of pipe-band playing. They 640 will be back. The Field Marshal Montgomery pipe band will be back, I am quite sure, as the champion of champions, having being the champion of champions for many years and having lost it only this year.
The Minister cannot fail to be aware of the number of Scottish pipe bands that exist in Northern Ireland and the high level of activity in them. Has the Arts Council ever recognised it? Does the Arts Council recognise it? Has it done anything to promote that aspect of popular culture?
Anyone who goes around our towns, particularly on a Friday night, cannot help but notice the large number of band parades that take place. That is another clear demonstration of popular culture. Thousands of people are involved in musical activity in connection with such bands. The Arts Council will not support pipe bands, which do not fall within its concept of classic culture or Irish culture. Something is being left out. That reinforces the unease that many of us have felt about the Arts Council and other cultural traditions in Northern Ireland in recent years. We feel that the Arts Council does not reflect what most people want and do. It reflects only certain aspects of culture as a result of pressure generated sometimes by pressure groups within Northern Ireland and sometimes by pressure groups outside.
Time is moving on. I should like to make a few brief comments about some of the points that have been made by other hon. Members. Some references have been made to transport matters and in particular the transport links of the northern corridor through Belfast, Larne and Stranraer to Carlisle. The Minister will know that we return to the issue again and again because it is tremendously important to the Northern Ireland economy. We are distressed at the number of occasions when people give public support to a different corridor which will not benefit the Northern Ireland economy so much.
We appreciate the help that we are beginning to receive from the Scottish Office in representations to Europe about the northern corridor. I only wish that the Northern Ireland Office was just as vigorous on that matter and, in particular, took account of the disadvantage that we suffer because we are not eligible for funds from the cohesion fund. We know that the rules of the European cohesion fund cannot be changed. We do not qualify for cohesion fund moneys, but the southern corridor does. Consequently that part of the country will be able to invest to the disadvantage of our major outlets. What does the Northern Ireland Office propose to do to rectify that imbalance and ensure that the northern corridor and our major outlets of Belfast and Lame are not placed at a disadvantage, especially in view of the effect that that will have on our economy and on unemployment?
Planning has been mentioned in the debate, as it has in other debates. I find myself in fundamental agreement with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) on agricultural occupancy conditions. The conditions restrict the occupancy of certain of the properties in the countryside which are subject to them to persons who are wholly or mainly employed in agriculture or were last so employed.
The important point is that, given that farming units in Northern Ireland are much smaller and that half the people who own farming units work only part time, to what extent is it reasonable to draw the agricultural occupancy condition so tightly that the person has to be wholly or mainly employed in agriculture? Particularly as changes take place in agriculture and the income derived from it 641 diminishes—as it will as the years go on—an agricultural occupancy condition restricted to people mainly or wholly employed in agriculture is too tight.
It might be more appropriate to restrict agricultural occupancy to people who have a genuine connection with the countryside and a bona fide reason for living there. The conditions must be more flexible. The Department can do something about that immediately. It does not require legislation. It is a matter of policy and the way in which the agricultural occupancy condition is framed.
§ Mr. William Ross
Considering what my hon. Friend is saying, and as the Government are pushing the whole question of diversification, surely it is feasible that anyone who is involved in such diversification fails to qualify.
§ Mr. Trimble
I take the point that my hon. Friend makes. If we have a more flexible approach, and if the occupancy condition relates to people who have a genuine connection with the countryside and a good reason for living there in terms of family connection or whatever, that would take care of the problem. I am not arguing for the removal of agricultural occupancy conditions entirely.
There was a time not long ago when the planning service was rather lax. It was granting permission under the exceptions to the rural planning policy and not attaching an agricultural occupancy condition to it, and the temptation to make a quick killing by selling the property to persons who did not have a connection with the countryside was too great. I agree therefore that there must be some form of condition, but it must relate to the circumstances that exist in Northern Ireland, in social terms and in terms of farm size.
I shall make one further point on this matter. As many people wish to live in the countryside, not necessarily in individual farm dwellings but certainly outside towns, I am sorry that the planning service has not given more thought to creating new villages in the countryside. If new villages were created, it would help to absorb some of the demand that has been generated by persons not connected with the countryside who want to live in a more rural environment.
There are places where new villages would have developed if there had been no planning controls. I can think of one area in my constituency adjacent to the shores of Lough Neagh. If there were no planning controls, a village would be beginning to emerge naturally in that area. Planners are trying to prevent those natural developments from taking place through planning controls. Is that desirable? We should have a slightly more imaginative approach on that issue.
§ 10.6 pm
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
I defend the right of my colleagues on both sides of the House to pepper the Minister with every sort of problem on every vote contained in the Northern Ireland estimates, which are effectively the appropriation order. However, I shall concentrate my fire on one matter.
In that, I have the pleasure of directly following the issue raised by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) about planning. I know that, if the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) were here, he would be assenting as well, because it is an issue 642 that he raised during the debate on the previous appropriation order, when he emphasised the considerable frustration of people with the planning service.
Before I refer to that matter, I must endorse the remarks made by the hon. Member for Upper Bann about the Full Employment Commission and its behaviour with so-called goals and timetables, and the total inconsistency of the way in which it applies the legislation, which is sometimes little short of a personal vendetta for those who do not toady to the chairman of the Full Employment Commission. We shall come back to that issue.
I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman down the road of the Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterprise Development Unit. I shall keep my powder dry on that matter, as the Select Committee is presently examining it.
I raise these issues because, by and large, if I can get a satisfactory response from Ministers on matters of constituency interest, I do not feel that it is necessary to bring them to the attention of the House. I find that Ministers are helpful in dealing with those issues, and I rarely find it necessary to bring a grievance to the House.
There is a major problem affecting the borough of Castlereagh, part of which is in my constituency of East Belfast, part of which is in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), part of which is in the constituency of Strangford and part of which is in the constituency of North Down. Not only was the borough divided so badly. Back in the early 1980s, when my party was in control of the council, we had to adopt a recreation policy for the whole of Castlereagh.
We looked around, and we did not have to look much further than neighbouring Belfast to see the folly of building conventional leisure facilities which cost ratepayers millions of pounds. In Belfast, some £8 million is spent in leisure services on facilities which are duplicated on street corners all around the city and which cost considerable amounts to run. There is a limited clientele for those facilities and, while we have excellent leisure facilities, they are all of the same kind throughout the Province, and they are competing for the same market.
My colleagues and I concluded that it would be sensible for us to look for a niche which was not being catered for by other councils and one which, in financial terms, would do more to pay its way and attract larger numbers of people. We proceeded on the basis of a development at Dundonald, which was to have been the Dundonald international ice bowl. The property was to contain an international-sized ice rink, ten pin bowling, children's play centres, a laser area, restaurants, and function suites for all sorts of recreational activities.
A tourist park was to be built outside the facility, which was to include a large man-made lake with boating, sporting and wildlife aspects. There were to be tennis courts, a golf course, a driving range, camping sites, an hotel, a cinema and other facilities and provisions.
We approached the Department of the Environment, which was having none of it. We were told that, if we wanted to proceed with the scheme, the normal 75 per cent. grant which was being accorded to all of our sister councils across Northern Ireland would not be accorded to us, because it was more of a commercial enterprise. The council, rather than burdening the ratepayers with a provision similar to that which everyone else had done, decided to go it alone. In doing so, the council knocked on the door of Europe, seeking funding on the basis of providing tourist facilities in Northern Ireland.
643 In 1985, the council was successful in being offered a grant of £4 million for the provision, and it was agreed with the European Community that the scheme would proceed in two phases. The first phase opened in 1986, and has returned a trading profit every year since. It has made a trading profit of about £1 million in a period when some £50 million was lost in Belfast on leisure services.
In terms of our intention to save ratepayers money and provide new facilities, it was a success. But the problems started to occur when we attempted to fulfil the remainder of our obligation to the European Community following the building of the leisure park provision. First, we submitted our case to the Belfast urban area plan hearings.
Hon. Members from outside Northern Ireland may not be fully aware of the planning restrictions in Northern Ireland. District councils are not capable of giving themselves planning approval: they must go to the Department of the Environment and put in an application like everybody else, whether it is for an extension to a garage or whatever.
The Department of the Environment decides on those issues after consultation with the district council and following the normal public consultation process.
We put in our planning application to the 1998 Belfast area hearings. Everyone had the opportunity at the public hearings to argue for or against the proposals. When the Belfast urban area plan 2001 was issued, I was pleased to note that the planning commissioners, who had listened to the evidence, and the Department of the Environment and its then Minister, supported the second phase of Castlereagh scheme. We therefore felt sure that everything would move smoothly from then on.
Full of enthusiasm, as soon as the Belfast urban area plan came out, we immediately got our architects and consultants to prepare the easiest of the schemes, so that we could start immediately. We planned to follow up with the rest of the scheme while the first phase was proceeding.
The Department of the Environment, however, refused to accept it in that manner, and stopped us immediately proceeding with the scheme. At considerable cost and effort, it required us to undertake the lengthy process of bringing in all our consultants to submit the entire scheme in one go. We sought to accommodate the Department, and withdrew our planning application for part of the development, in deference to the advice that it had offered to us.
The consultants were brought in and asked to work up the entire plan. We then had detailed consultations with all the Government agencies concerning road services and relevant environmental issues, and had discussions with the planning department and whomsoever. We assumed that, once we had given the Department of the Environment, to its satisfaction, the details that it had requested on various matters, the rest of the process would be a simple one.
We did not take into account the fact that, regrettably, a local government election was in the offing. The local Tory party, which had no other policy that it felt would be attractive to the ratepayers of Castlereagh, sought to make an election issue of the theme park. It did so in an attempt to generate some publicity for itself and to create noise far greater than its strength in the area. As a result, the Department of the Environment ran scared and called for a public inquiry.
It might be worth noting that the local government election gave its own verdict to those Tories who had led 644 the campaign—most of them lost their deposits, and all were rejected by the electorate. Not one of them was returned to the council.
The public inquiry was held on 5 January 1993, but up until this moment, we have still not received an answer as to whether approval has been given. The development would bring literally thousands of jobs to Northern Ireland, both in the building industry as the project proceeds and in the services industry when it has been constructed. The issue is of considerable importance in terms of employment and in terms of the finance from Europe. As I said, we had support from Europe in grant aid, part of which we took up for the first phase of the development, while the rest is still sitting there.
We subsequently received a letter from the Minister responsible for the Department of Economic Development. He is also, peculiarly enough, the Minister responsible for the Department of the Environment. Wearing his DED hat, the Minister told us that, if we had not completed the theme park by 31 December 1994, the grant would be withdrawn. At the same time, wearing his Department of the Environment hat, the Minister is refusing to give an answer to our planning application so that we can proceed.
We cannot win until the Minister sorts himself out. I do not ask him to act on the planning application and the report, which he will by now have received from the planning commissioner—who, in the middle of the process, had a heart attack but, happily, is now back at his desk. That added further delay to the process.
I simply ask for an expeditious response from the Department to the Planning Appeals Commission report. It is essential that we have that immediately if we are to have the least chance of meeting deadlines set by the Minister under his Department of Economic Development portfolio.
We also ask the Minister to be flexible in terms of that deadline. We need a speedy response from the Department of the Environment's planning service to the reserve matters that must be dealt with, for the whole matter must be dealt with in a few months' time. That does not mean that the £30 million to £40 million development must go up within that time, but enough of it must go ahead in order that we receive EC funding.
First, we need a speedy response to the planning application; secondly, we need flexibility in terms of the deadline; and, thirdly, we need some movement from the planning service to help us get speedy approvals for the reserve planning issues.
If the Department of the Environment planning service is considering planning legislation, and a new draft order is in the slips, will it deal with some of the issues which it has failed to deal with thus far? The first concerns ex post facto planning applications, an issue which I have raised it in the House before.
Northern Ireland now has almost an epidemic of people who start construction—even of housing estates—and put in their planning applications afterwards. They reckon that, once the construction is there, it will be difficult for the planning department to demand that it be knocked down, which gives them the edge with their application.
I suggested to the previous Minister responsible for the environment that a possible solution was to institute a penalty system for those forced to put in a planning application after construction had begun. I suggested that the cost of an ex post facto planning application should be 10 times as much as a normal one. That could amount to a considerable sum for those who breach the law on major 645 housing developments and other aspects of construction. The new order, when the Department eventually gets round to it, should consider that issue.
Another issue which the Government should deal with, either through the new order or through regulation, is what I would call an anomaly whereby a privileged position is given to those involved in agriculture. I do not argue against that, but those involved in equestrian sports and rearing horses should be entitled to the same planning leniency as those directly involved in agriculture.
Equally, those involved in tropical and ornamental fish do not have the same privileges as those involved in the farming of other fish or in agriculture. The same encouragement should be given to them as is given to those directly involved in farming.
I support the view that has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about reform of the agricultural occupancy conditions. As mine is a suburban constituency, several of my constituents have expressed anxieties about that. The Department must consider the issue.
I also think that the Department must bring into law, as opposed to general precedent, a right of appeal for objectors, and an entitlement to neighbour notification. During those glorious days of the Northern Ireland Assembly, from 1982 to 1986, the Environment Committee, of which I was Chairman, made a recommendation to the then Under-Secretary of State, who is now warming himself in Hong Kong, to the effect that people should have the right to neighbour notification—that they were entitled to know if someone intended to build close to their home or business, so that they might be properly consulted and have the right to object.
We went a step further than the Department eventually did; we asked not only that they should be written to directly, but that what are termed "planning poles" should be erected on the site—I think that some Scandinavian countries do it—so that not only the people who live adjacent to the place where the building will be erected, but the people who use that area, can see that there is an intention to develop a piece of ground.
I would ask that, instead of that being done as a matter of precedent in the Department, where it is not required by law but is done by the grace and favour of the Department, it be brought into an Order in Council, so that it would be a legal right on which people could rely.
The same is true of the right of appeal for objectors. It depends on the grace and favour of the Department whether, if two thirds or more of a district council supports objectors to an application, the matter can go before a public hearing—what is now in article 30 in the new planning order. I ask that that be part of a new planning order, instead of just a general regulation in the Department.
I trust that the Minister will consider those suggestions, which, speaking as one who is involved at the grass roots with planning issues, would do much to take away some of the frustration that many of us feel in knowing what is needed in our areas but having bureaucrats tell us what is good for us.
I have no axe to grind against the people who are involved in the planning department. I recognise that they have a difficult task, and that decisions have to be taken. 646 But, like every other hon. Member who has spoken about those planning issues, I do not believe that enough account is taken of the people who live in the areas, those who are involved on the ground and those who represent the people on the ground. If the planning service is supposed to be a service, who is it servicing if it does not recognise the wish and the will of the people?
§ Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)
This debate, like all the other debates on the appropriation orders, allows hon. Members from Northern Ireland to develop the discussion involving their constituents and their constituencies. Because circumstances permit, the 10-minutes rule on speeches does not apply and therefore the debate has widened into a discussion of many aspects that are of importance to Members when considering an appropriation order.
I draw the attention of the House to the part of the schedule of the order that refers to the Department of Economic Development, because a great deal of taxpayers' money is allocated in the order for the purpose of industrial development and the creation of jobs. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), in opening the debate for the Opposition, expressed anxiety about and dwelt at length on the subject of unemployment.
I received in the mail a copy of the front page of the Carrickfergus Advertiser of 15 June 1994. The report states that the new mayor, Sam Crowe, is asking for the Prime Minister to intervene over the proposals by the Northern Ireland Office to close the commercial activities of the Carrickfergus harbour. I understand that there has been significant and lengthy exposure on the future use of the Carrickfergus port.
I also understand that one reason why the town's mayor wrote to the Prime Minister was that the Department of the Environment has issued a vesting order on the commercial land and has given the port users until the end of July to vacate the site. Employees at the port have been put on redundancy notice. The problem in Carrickfergus has been intensified because of the order issued by the Department of the Environment.
Those job losses come on top of other recent major job losses in the region. We must ask what the Northern Ireland Office is thinking of to allow vesting orders to be imposed on commercial land, driving businesses away from the township. It appears to outsiders that the Department's economics is that of the madhouse. That seems to be an apt description of the Department of the Environment—jobs are being lost because of the dogma attached to the closure of the commercial activities at the Carrickfergus port. I thought that when the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) was developing his argument about the port he would refer to that subject because of the significance to it of the order that has been issued.
I understand that there have been discussions on the subject over a long period. When the alterations to the town map for the 1988–95 period were being considered, the problem was discussed. There was also a significant discussion on the port's future at a public inquiry in November 1992 on the Carrickfergus maritime area. There was a recent debate at a meeting of the Carrickfergus town council. A report on the debate was sent to me. A motion 647 was put before the council to rescind a previous decision agreeing to the closure of the commercial industries in the region.
One councillor mentioned the issue of abandoning the harbour. He said that councillors had once again been misled when they were told that from 1 July all operations on the commercial harbour would cease. He said that the harbour was not part of the hinterland and that commercial activity should be retained at the harbour. When the debate was winding down an alderman asked the town clerk to seek legal advice from the town solicitor on the consequences of voting for a rescinding motion. He concluded:I am distressed and very annoyed about the redundancies. I work with unemployed people every day of the week and I see the ravages of unemployment. It is the scourge of the nation when people are made redundant.This sort of involvement by a whole community goes to show the depth of the concern felt about unemployment, the loss of revenue to the area and the lost job opportunities that ensue.
Carrickfergus harbour has been the backbone of the town, and one can understand the worries about the consequences of redundancies for the community. It is now accepted that mistaken decisions have been taken over the past few years. They should be analysed and reviewed. Redundancy and its causes should not be taken lightly by Ministers, and they should now review the planning approvals given in connection with the drawing up of the town map.
On behalf of the locally elected representatives, business men and trade unionists of the town, I ask the Minister to consider withdrawing the vesting order to allow me, and other interested parties, to discuss the matter with him so that a full investigation can be launched into the whole affair of the Carrickfergus port.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) referred to the water supply in parts of his constituency. Earlier, I questioned the Minister about what is happening to the water industry in Northern Ireland. I would be interested to know how much is being spent on privatisation, for instance. Problems with water supply and sewerage systems should be given a much higher priority than privatisation.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) discussed the housing situation. The last time we debated an appropriation order I dwelt at some length on it too. The situation has not improved much since then. More resources still need to be channelled into providing new homes, improving existing stock and accommodating the homeless. I hope that the Minister will pay serious attention to what the hon. Gentleman had to say on this subject. Northern Ireland still has a significant need for more housing.
Finally, the hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) raised the issue of health and social services. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) has an Adjournment debate on this very point tonight, and I do not want to take up time that he could spend developing his theme. I would, however, draw attention to a press statement issued by the Civil Liberties Council on 9 June relating to the issue on which the hon. Member for North Down spent his entire speech: the closing of homes for the elderly. Who is responsible for closing old people's homes? Is it the health and social services board or the new trusts? The hon. Member for 648 North Down put the blame on the new trusts. If that is the case, why do they not carry out reasonable and proper consultation with all those involved? One of the problems is that people are not aware of what they are entitled to or of the consultation procedures that should be adopted.
The Minister should investigate the reasons for the lack of proper consultation. Perhaps he would give the new trusts some guidance to ensure that before they make a decision they consult those who will be the victims of that decision.
What sort of animal have the Government introduced with the new trusts? The hon. Member for North Down accepted that they are bodies with no responsibility to the community, are unfair and undemocratic, yet they decide the destinies and quality of life for many old people in their areas. Will the Minister listen to the Northern Ireland Council for Civil Liberties on this and other matters involving community care?
§ Mr. Trimble
The hon. Gentleman is developing an important point about the unrepresentative character of the trust boards. Does he appreciate that exactly the same point can be made about the area boards, which are equally unrepresentative?
§ Mr. O'Brien
That point has been raised in previous debates on appropriation orders. It is true that the health and social services board is in the same category. New quangos are being introduced. The Government should accept that they were wrong when they set up the health and social services board. They should have included some system of democracy when setting up the trust boards. I dwelt on the issue of the trust boards because I share the concern expressed by hon. Members about what is happening to old people's homes. There is a need for the greater involvement of local people who are answerable to the community. Until that happens, the issue will be raised in every Northern Ireland debate in the House. Unfortunately, many people will suffer in the meantime.
I ask the Minister carefully to consider the points raised by many hon. Members. Action needs to be taken on a number of issues, and especially on the question of old people's homes and the Carrickfergus port. I hope that the Minister will accede to some of the points raised tonight.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram)
I shall deal first with the last point raised by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) about where the final decision lies. I do not want to pre-empt my answer to the Adjournment debate or to the points raised about the Banks residential home. However, my noble Friend Lady Denton must endorse any decisions. She made it clear that she has visited or will visit the homes concerned and will weigh up all the information that she receives before making up her mind on the closure proposal. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that my noble Friend is most sincere in giving that undertaking.
Tonight, as usual, we had an interesting debate. I was sorry that, yet again, the Liberal Benches were empty. The Leader of the Liberal party tells us of his interest in Northern Ireland, but when we debate the nuts and bolts of how Northern Ireland works the Liberal Bench tends to be empty. We all regret that and a number of comments have already been made which I do not intend to take up.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
How is possible for the Minister to admonish absent Liberals without admonishing absent SDLP Members?
§ Mr. Ancram
That matter has already been raised. It was dealt with and an explanation was given by the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott). Members of the party to which the hon. Gentleman referred normally attend such debates. I was making the point that, despite the fact that the Liberals purport to have an interest in Northern Ireland, the Liberal Bench tends to be empty on these occasions. I am sure that that is of great regret to all hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that I would deploy a Noah's flood of answers in responding to the debate. His analogy may have been wrong. I feel more like a cork floating on the flood of points that emanated from speeches made tonight. I shall deal with as many as possible, but if I fail to deal with a particular point I will—as is traditional—arrange for the hon. Member concerned to receive a letter from me or from the Minister responsible.
It is important in a debate such as this that Northern Ireland Members have an opportunity to raise matters of concern to their constituents, as was done tonight. When I wound up the last appropriation order debate, I remarked that it remained a matter of sadness to me that the public hear not a selling of Northern Ireland—persuasion that Northern Ireland is a good place to live, invest and create jobs—but almost the opposite. The nature of the process is such that we tend to talk Northern Ireland down. I say to all hon. Members who quite rightly raised the question of unemployment—which I shall address in detail later—that if we are serious about attracting investment and jobs to the Province, we should remember that we do ourselves no good by continually describing Northern Ireland in the somewhat lurid terms used in debates such as this.
I begin by putting myself forward as the salesman for Northern Ireland and placing one or two important points on the record. Northern Ireland's economy is growing faster than the national economy. We did not hear much about that tonight, but it is a fact. Seasonally adjusted unemployment has fallen in eight of the last nine months. The Industrial Development Board has come in for compliments and criticism tonight, but it had considerable success in attracting inward investment over the past two years, and it made a promising start this year. That is all building towards the sort of jobs that we are looking for in Northern Ireland.
As to agriculture, income from farming increased 17 per cent. in real terms in 1993, which must be welcomed. The sum of £5 million was made available for rural development—£2 million more than last year, which reflects the importance of trying to develop the countryside for the benefit of the whole of Northern Ireland.
I will deal later with the specific points about housing, but the Northern Ireland Housing Executive's gross resources in 1994–95 are £522 million, which is £17 million more than last year—not a reduction, as was suggested. The number of unfit dwellings reduced from 11 per cent. in 1987 to 8 per cent. in 1991. That is good news for those who live in houses in Northern Ireland and for those whom we are trying to attract to Northern Ireland. Per capita spending continues to be substantially higher than nationally, at £788 in 1992–93; the UK average was £586. That, too, is to be welcomed.
650 Health and social services have also come in for a good deal of comment this evening. Spending has risen by 37.8 per cent. in real terms between 1980–81 and 1994–95. This year, £1,293 million will be spent on hospitals, community health, personal social services, trusts and family health services—a 6.8 per cent. increase on last year's spending.
While making valid points about problems in their constituencies, Northern Ireland Members must not lose sight of what is good in Northern Ireland, or of the continuing need to put that message across. Ultimately, that is more important to the development of the Northern Ireland economy and to Northern Ireland jobs than many of the other matters that we discuss in debates such as this.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
I welcome the Minister's defence of the Government's policies, but does he accept that people are not in a position to hear that sort of good news in tonight's debate because the task of Northern Ireland Members is to draw attention to areas which still need improvement? Outside the House, we certainly present a positive image of Northern Ireland, but it is the Government's job, not ours, to defend their record tonight.
§ Mr. Ancram
I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but it is not just a question of defending the Government's record; it is a question of pointing out that many good things are happening in Northern Ireland. We all want to say that, and it is my responsibility to put it on the record now. We have heard a good many gloomy stories about the Province this evening.
I come now to the specific issues that have been raised. The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), intervening in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, pointed out that the number of "pure" holiday visitors to Northern Ireland had doubled in the past five years. One in five visitors is now a holidaymaker. Of the 1.26 million visitors to Northern Ireland in 1993–94—that figure was mentioned earlier—250,000 are "pure" holiday visitors. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that he can work on those figures in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) raised the question of the links between the Republic and Wales, and whether they were receiving more favourable treatment from the European Community than the Northern Ireland-Scotland links. In the first instance, it is for the EC to decide what types and levels of funding are made available to member states under the structural funds; it is then for each member state to decide how to allocate the resources thereby made available. So far, projects to develop links between Northern Ireland and Scotland have benefited considerably from EC grants, and have remained competitive with links between the Republic and Wales. I hope that that will continue.
The hon. Members for Wigan and for Antrim, North both made important points about unemployment, to which I referred earlier. I recognise the seriousness of unemployment in Northern Ireland, but I am pleased to note that the unemployment figures for May 1994 show a decrease of 1,000 on the previous month, and of 5,400 on May 1993. The seasonally adjusted total has fallen for eight of the past nine months; in January it fell below 100,000 for the first time since July 1991. Although there is no room for complacency, it is important to note that the trends are moving in the right direction, particularly in comparison with those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
651 The hon. Member for Wigan mentioned the long-term unemployed. As he knows, there are a number of programmes that demonstrate the Government's anxiety to deal with the problem—action for community employment, the job training programme and Enterprise Ulster. All those are being used in the attempt to make inroads into a serious problem.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned inadequate funding for community care reform. Again, I think it important to put on record that the Government have made substantial allocations of additional money for that purpose. In 1993–94, the boards were allocated £29.45 million, of which £24.63 million was transferred from the social security budget to spend on the new arrangements. A further £41.22 million has been allocated for 1994–95, and £35.34 million will be allocated in 1995–96, bringing the total cumulative additional money for community care to £106 million. In the light of what has been said, it is important to register that point.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North made a large number of points, and although I may not be able to deal with them all I shall try to deal with some. Like many other hon. Members, he raised the issue of rural planning. The objective of the Department of the Environment's rural planning strategy is to assess and balance the need for development of houses and jobs in particular areas against the need to protect and conserve the environment within that area. It aims to match development to rural settings with the right design and has been generally welcomed. Although some people are unable to build houses in the countryside—they tend to be the ones that, inevitably, we hear about—it is worth pointing out that on average 78 per cent. of planning applications submitted each year for development in rural areas are approved. Although we hear some of the difficult stories, a much more balanced picture appears when we look at all the statistics.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe
I assume that the Minister does not take into account the number of inquiries that are made and the fact that the planning department advises applicants that they need not make an application because it will be refused.
§ Mr. Ancram
I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that in planning terms it is dangerous—I speak from a certain amount of personal experience—to consider only inquiries, which can be made on a number of levels. It is important to look at the number of applications, which shows an applicant's seriousness, compared with the number that are approved—the vast majority.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North asked about training in Northern Ireland. The allocation to the Training and Employment Agency in 1994–95 is £203 million, compared with £193 million in 1993–94. Allocations to all major training schemes have increased. We are concerned to help as many young people as possible, and those figures fly in the face of some of the suggestions that have been made tonight that training resources have been reduced.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North raised the question of the Springvale campus. The Government have made it clear from the outset that we shall consider any case put forward by the university, but a decision will take into account an examination of the implications for the higher education system in Northern Ireland as a whole, the impact that the scheme would have on the regeneration of the north and west Belfast area and an assessment of the 652 public expenditure implications, given the current limitations on available resources. A number of the concerns that the hon. Member raised will be considered by the Government.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) covered a number of points which had been mentioned by other hon. Members. In particular, he raised the issue of Irish street names. The removal of the prohibition on non-English street names is part of the process to achieve a more open and tolerant society and is a practical manifestation of the Government's recognition of cultural diversity. It should not be seen as a forerunner to bilingualism. It will be for councils to decide whether to erect dual language street names, but if they do, one name must be in English. There is an obligation on councils to take account of the views of occupiers in the street before deciding whether to put up a street name in a language other than English.
The hon. Members for Londonderry, East and for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) raised the disturbing question of the water pollution incident on the River Stroule. This has been a matter of major concern. The Department of the Environment is continuing its preparation of a file to send to the Director of Public Prosecutions, with a recommendation to take legal proceedings in relation to the spillage of the wood preservative which gave rise to the incident. That shows the seriousness with which the Government regard that problem.
§ Mr. William Ross
Surely there is a split personality in the Government's approach? They say that we must integrate everybody, make everybody like each other and become more like each other, and create a more homogenous society; yet they then promote two totally different cultures and always talk about two different communities. Will they make up their mind one way or the other?
§ Mr. Ancram
When the hon. Gentleman is next in Scotland, he might go to look at Skye, where he will see examples of signs in Gaelic. They were introduced some time ago as a recognition of cultural diversity. We should not be afraid of cultural diversity.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East raised the question of rare illnesses and has written to me about that. He also mentioned the particular case of students. Like others, students may be eligible for income support, notwithstanding the absence of a prior contributions record. That remark is in line with the letter that I wrote to him recently on the matter.
The hon. Member for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) raised the question of the Banks home. I know that he has raised it on a number of occasions and that he always speaks with great feeling and great eloquence on the subject. I am certainly aware of the strength of feeling in North Down and in the House. I assure him that my noble Friend Lady Denton is fully aware of the concerns. If the trust decides to close the home, my noble Friend will be asked to consider and endorse the decision. My noble Friend has agreed to meet a number of delegations of interested parties and she has also signalled her intention to visit this and any other homes to meet residents and to listen to their views, which is a point made by the hon. 653 Gentleman. No doubt we shall return to the issue again in the Adjournment debate a little later. I wish to make clear to the hon. Gentleman my noble Friend's intention.
I also put on record my rejection of the comments of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) during the speech by the hon. Member for North Down. People who are appointed to serve on boards and trusts face many difficult choices and decisions, and they do so in the wider interests of all the people in the area. They have a difficult job and I believe that we should recognise their public-spiritedness rather than criticise their efforts to serve their communities.
§ Mr. William O'Brien
Given the Minister's description of the trusts, will he explain why the home's residents were not consulted, advised and given all the information before the decision was made?
§ Mr. Ancram
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will attend the Adjournment debate. I do not want to pre-empt what I shall say then. This is very much at the heart of the matters that will be raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). I think that we should await that debate.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Does the Minister agree that when a home is to be closed, it is malpractice for civil servants to tell people, "You had better put your name down for a home convenient to this one; if you do not do that now, you will be shifted 10, 20 or 50 miles away from where your people visit." That happened in Broughshane in my constituency, when the Minister's predecessor told me that the home would not close until he met a deputation, yet it was closed before the deputation could meet him.
§ Mr. Ancram
I think that the hon. Gentleman would agree that my noble Friend Lady Denton has fulfilled all her commitments to meeting delegations of people. The hon. Gentleman paid a kind tribute to my noble Friend, for which I was grateful. She has said that she will meet delegations and listen before she comes to a final decision. I should leave it at that because she has to make a difficult decision. She has made it clear that she will make it in the light of comments.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) raised the question of the health service and transport in the rural areas of his constituency and the constituency of the hon. Member for Antrim, North. The provision of hospital services to people in the glens of Antrim has not deteriorated as a result of the transfer of acute services from the Waveney and Moyle hospitals to the new Antrim hospital. Travelling time to the hospital is longer, but the time taken to reach a patient in a emergency remains as before. A very wide range of out-patient clinics is provided at the Waveney and the Moyle. My hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith), the Under-Secretary of State, will shortly be meeting representatives from a number of councils in the area to discuss road access. My noble Friend Baroness Denton has always made it clear that she is keen to hear concerns about health matters generally.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South also raised the question of Orlit houses. I understood that he and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) were keen to meet my hon. Friend and I shall pass that request 654 on to him and, in any case, I shall write to the hon. Member for Antrim, South about the matters that he raised. He also raised a specific question about the pension rights of employees in the case of privatisation of Northern Ireland airports. It is not intended that the rights of members of the pension scheme, whether current or past, or the assets of the scheme will be affected in any way by privatisation. Privatisation of the ports is being discussed tomorrow and I hope that the position on that can be clarified at that time.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster raised a number of points, many of which, again, were covered by other hon. Members, but he raised the question of Unipork in particular. As he knows, its operational control was taken over by Bridgewater Food Holdings plc. The business, which represents a major part of the Northern Ireland pig industry, has suffered considerable financial losses in recent years. A restructuring plan is currently being prepared by the new owners in an attempt to achieve ongoing viability. The eventual configuration of the business will not be known until the completion of that plan. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster also raised the question of flooding in Castlederg. I can confirm that financial approval has been given to the proposed scheme to provide flood protection on both sides of the banks of the Derg.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann raised the question of fair employment. I must begin by responding—
§ Rev. William McCrea
While appreciating the time that the Minister has at his disposal, there are a large number of other matters which have been raised and there are certainly other matters which have not been raised. For example, the hydro-electric matter in my constituency was raised and there are other major matters of concern. Will we get detailed replies on those through the post?
§ Mr. Ancram
I told the hon. Gentleman and to other hon. Members at the beginning of my winding-up speech that, on any matters which I do not cover now, I or my hon. Friends or my noble Friend will write to hon. Members. In cases where a matter has been raised by a number of hon. Members, I shall ensure that the reply is made known to them all.
I am trying to deal with what I believe to be the important issues raise and an important assertion was made by the hon. Member for Upper Bann on fair employment. I shall begin by refuting his allegations of dishonesty. The recently published report of investigations into six companies which the Fair Employment Commission commenced under section 11 of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 found three firms to have employed too few Protestants and three firms too few Catholics.
The affirmative action agreed with all six firms—they were on both sides of that particular problem—included encouraging applications from the under-represented communities, each company's advertisement welcoming applicants from the under-represented communities, effective action to maintain an environment free from harassment and equal opportunity awareness training for all employers. While scales and timetabling have been agreed, it is unrealistic to believe that an exact balance can be achieved, reflecting the overall balance of the Northern 655 Ireland working population. I heard what the hon. Member had to say and as it is detailed and complex issue I will, if I may, write further to him on that matter.
Finally, I come to the point raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). He raised the question of planning applications. I shall, of course, bring his comments about the need for an early decision on the planning application in Castlereagh to my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield in his capacity as Minister with responsibility for the environment. Likewise, I shall draw to my hon. Friend's attention the other detailed points which were made about the planning process, which were shared by other hon. Members from Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. William O'Brien
I shall make two points. In the opening statement, when reference was made to the question of expenditure on the water and sewerage service, I asked if it would be possible to give information as to what is being spent on the privatisation of the water services and there was a suggestion that we might hear that information before the end of the evening. Has the Minister any views on the Carrickfergus port?
§ Mr. Ancram
If I may, I will take that matter to my hon. Friend the Minister and write to the hon. Gentleman. I will also write to the hon. Gentleman about the water privatisation proposals and put the reply in the Library. Proposals have been made about expenditure to ensure that in the coming years there is a sufficient water supply to meet the needs of Northern Ireland. That is the most important point and the point at the bottom of the question that he asked. I can give him detailed figures on that. If I may, I will do so in writing.
§ Mr. Stott
I apologise to the Minister for not raising this issue when I spoke earlier. On page 7 of the order £220,000 is allocated to the Northern Ireland assembly. Is that estimate included with a view to any progress that may be made in the talks in which the Minister is currently engaged? If he does not want to answer that question now, perhaps he will write to me about it.
§ Mr. Ancram
I will certainly write to the hon. Gentleman. He should not read into that figure any hidden or unsubstantiated agenda that I am not prepared to talk about tonight. I suspect that the figure reflects the ongoing costs of preserving the current position. I will write to the hon. Gentleman and make it clear.
As I said at the beginning, while the Government listen to the legitimate points that have been made by hon. Members tonight, it is important that we do not lose sight of the work and commitment that the Government put into Northern Ireland. I listened tonight to many people saying that in some ways the Government did not recognise the needs of Northern Ireland and that Northern Ireland was underfunded. I leave one thought in the minds of hon. Members tonight: in terms of overall expenditure, Northern Ireland enjoys a lead of more than one third above average United Kingdom expenditure. That reflects the Government's concern about the problems which exist in Northern Ireland. That concern is real and it will continue. I commend the order to the House.
That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 25th May, be approved.