I beg to move,
That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 15th February, be approved.
The draft order has two purposes. The first is to authorise expenditure of £195.9 million in the 1993–94 spring supplementary estimates. That will bring total estimates provision for Northern Ireland departmental services to £5,688 million for this financial year. The second is to authorise the vote on account of £2,533 million for 1994–95 so as to enable the services of Northern Ireland Departments to continue until the 1994–95 main estimates are brought before the House later this year. I remind the House that the order does not cover expenditure by the Northern Ireland Office on law and order and other services and I shall be unable to refer to those matters during my remarks. Details of the sums sought are given in the estimates booklet and the "statement of sums required on account" which, as usual, are available in the Vote Office.
I now turn to the estimates. Many of the votes seek token increases only, because new pressures have been offset by savings elsewhere in the vote. To allow hon. Members the maximum time to contribute to the debate, I shall refer only to the main areas in which supplementary provision is sought.
In the Department of Agriculture's vote 1, which covers expenditure on national agriculture and fisheries support measures, a token increase of £1,000 is required. Some £7 million is for payments to compensate milk producers under milk quota arrangements. Some £800,000 is for additional commitments under a number of capital grant schemes and £400,000 is for expenditure under the 1992 crop potato support arrangements. Those additional commitments are offset by reduced requirements elsewhere in the vote and by EC receipts.
In the Department's vote 2, covering local support measures, some £5.3 million is sought. That includes £3.2 million for the disease eradication programme, including compensation and professional services. Some £2 million is for additional commitments under the agricultural development operational programme, where uptake has been higher than predicted. Some £600,000 will enable the Department to advance its information technology programme. Those increases are partially offset by reduced requirements in other areas of the vote.
In respect of the Department of Economic Development, increases are sought in four votes. In vote 1, some £14 million is required for the provision of land and buildings. That is to meet expenditure on new factories for recent inward investment projects and reflects the continuing success of the industrial development board in attracting internationally competitive companies to Northern Ireland. Also in that vote, £2.4 million is for assistance to Harland and Wolff Holdings plc. Those increases are offset by increased receipts and reduced requirements elsewhere, resulting in a token increase of £1,000.
Some £3 million is sought in vote 2. This vote includes £4.1 million for the industrial research and technology unit. This will enable the unit further to enhance the level and quality of its support for local industry. This aims to improve the competitiveness of Northern Ireland companies and to develop the region's technological infrastructure. The amount required for assistance towards the closure costs of the local gas industry is £2.3 million. These additional requirements are offset by savings elsewhere in the vote. This includes £5.1 million reflecting the Local Enterprise Development Unit's new strategic approach to financial assistance.
In vote 3, covering the Training and Employment Agency, some £700,000 is sought. The amount required to meet increased expenditure under the youth training programme, as a result of a greater number of young people pursuing higher level qualifications, is £1.6 million. For the job training programme there is a requirement of £1 million owing to an increased number of trainees undertaking programmes leading to a national vocational qualification at level 2 or above. Offsetting savings have been found elsewhere in the vote.
The Department of Economic Development's vote 4 covers the expenses incurred in the privatisation of the electricity supply industry in Northern Ireland. These costs have been met from the proceeds of the sale.
For the Department of the Environment, some £6.2 million is sought in vote 1. This includes £2.5 million for maintenance of the road network, new road schemes and the relocation of the Belfast urban traffic control centre. The amount required for expenditure on street lighting is £500,000, and £1.7 million is needed for the Driver and Vehicle Testing Agency.
In vote 2, covering housing, token provision of £1,000 is sought. There are various reallocations within the vote, resulting in a net increase of £3.6 million for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, mainly for maintenance. Gross housing expenditure in Northern Ireland this year is now expected to be about £552 million—some £17 million more than in 1992–93.
Vote 3, which covers water and sewerage services, also shows a token increase. There are various adjustments in expenditure within the vote—notably, an additional £4 million for capital expenditure on sewerage services.
Token provision is also required in vote 4, covering environmental and other services. An additional £2.2 million is for Belfast action teams, and £1 million is for urban regeneration grants. This will help to stimulate private enterprise and investment activities in inner city areas of Belfast and Londonderry. These increases are offset by savings within the vote and increased receipts.
For the Department of Education, a net increase of £9.2 million is sought in vote 1. Some £7 million is for grants to education and library boards, mainly for school transport, maintenance and equipment, £1.1 million is for voluntary schools and £1 million is for grant-maintained integrated schools.
In vote 2, an additional £8.5 million is sought. Some £8 million is for mandatory awards and student loans, reflecting increased demand. There is provision of £600,000 for universities, mainly for equipment. The requirement of £400,000 for arts and museums includes increased grants to the Ulster museum and the Ulster American folk park.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who as the other Minister of State is to reply to the debate, will be able to give the hon. Gentleman the information that he seeks. If not, I will write to the hon. Gentleman.
Increases are also required for the youth services and for departmental administration. There are reduced requirements elsewhere in the vote.
In vote 3, covering the teachers' superannuation scheme, almost £1 million is sought. This is due mainly to higher than anticipated levels of payments to retiring teachers and to a shortfall in estimated receipts.
For the Department of Health and Social Services a net increase of £18 million is sought in vote 1. The main increase of £14.2 million is for expenditure on hospital, community health and personal social services. The provision sought for health and social services boards' capital expenditure is £3.4 million. Net increases of £1.7 million are required for health and social services trusts, and £6.1 million for the family health services. These increases are offset by increased receipts and savings in other areas.
In vote 3, additional net provision of £4.3 million is sought. This includes some £7.5 million for administration costs and capital expenditure in the Social Security Agency. Increases are offset by reductions elsewhere, including an increase in receipts of £1.8 million from the national insurance fund.
Finally, in vote 4, which covers social security, £121.1 million is sought. This is due mainly to a greater than anticipated demand for income support and disability benefits—in particular, disability living allowance. This is offset by lower than anticipated claims in other areas.
In my opening remarks I have drawn attention to the main provisions of the order. In replying to the debate, my hon. Friend the other Minister of State will seek to respond to points raised by hon. Members. I commend the order to the House.
In this debate we turn again to the allocation of resources among the spending Departments in Northern Ireland. I have said before, but I shall say again, that the current Government's tenure of office has been punctuated by under-funding and by the freezing and cutting of public expenditure. As the Treasury now concedes, Northern Ireland's population will face taxation rises this year.
This is no exception for the people of Northern Ireland. It is appropriate that we should be debating the Government's economic record just a month before many people in that region who are already living in near-poverty face VAT increases and higher fuel and heating bills. It is ordinary families who are being sentenced to further hardship to pay for the Government's financial ineptitude. In Northern Ireland, as elsewhere, those families will have to pay about £10 a week extra in a combination of tax rises that will take effect in April.
Also this year, every time a hot meal is prepared for a family or a cold pensioner switches on an electric fire, a payment will be made through fuel and heating bills to reduce accumulated Government debts. Many of those families and pensioners receive income support. Indeed, the latest figure reveals that, astonishingly, 17 per cent. of Northern Ireland's population receives income support.
Those income support levels are wholly inadequate. For example, a couple in Northern Ireland with two children can meet only 74 per cent. of their basic minimum budget from current income support levels, and income support and child allowances were found to meet only 43 per cent.—less than half—of what was required to provide adequate family living standards.
The statistics for pensioner poverty in Northern Ireland are just as appalling. On average, there are already 1,000 extra cold-related deaths among elderly people in Northern Ireland each year. In spite of rebates which may be claimed for VAT on fuel, about which many people in Northern Ireland are not wholly convinced, what effect does the Minister believe the increase in fuel and heating bills will have on the shameful statistics that I have just relayed to the House?
A single pensioner in Northern Ireland spends more than 20 per cent. of his or her meagre weekly income on fuel. For pensioners on income support, the figure rises to 24 per cent. What effect does the Minister believe that the increase in fuel and heating bills will have on those shameful statistics?
One in three recipients of income support in Northern Ireland also receives a retirement pension. The average weekly income for a pensioner household in Northern Ireland in 1993 was £73.89, compared with an average of £282.35 for non-pensioner households. What effect does the Minister believe that the increase in fuel and heating bills will have on those shameful statistics? I must tell the Minister that many people in Northern Ireland believe that the shameful increases in fuel and heating bills will increase the number of cold-related deaths among the elderly. The Minister should pay particular attention to that point.
Unemployment has been a concern of mine in respect of my constituency and in relation to the Province. Unemployment in Northern Ireland is fluctuating at just below 14 per cent. where it has remained for a sustained period. Yet again, ministerial optimism has been misplaced and unemployment in Northern Ireland has risen from 13.4 per cent. to 13.7 per cent. of the work force. The Government's approach of merely hoping for recovery will give no confidence to the long-term unemployed. I remind the Minister that more than 50 per cent. of Northern Ireland's job seekers have been unemployed for more than a year. What help is he offering them today? What new and exciting initiatives can he announce to the House?
There have been some new and exciting initiatives of late. However, that is simply a pepper-potting of industry. It does not tackle the real issue of unemployment in Northern Ireland. I toured the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) last Thursday. There are people in Andersonstown, Ballymurphy and Turf Lodge whose fathers—and even sometimes whose grandfathers—and sons and daughters have never had work. One need only consider the fact that unemployment may provide one of the root causes for potential recruitment to terrorism in Northern Ireland. It is shameful that Northern Ireland's unemployment problem has not been tackled in the way in which we would have liked it to be tackled.
We know that no further help is available for the unemployed to enable them to seek jobs. The Government's response to rising unemployment figures has been to cut severely the budget allocated to industrial development. That budget has fallen from £480 million in 1989–90 to £141 million in this financial year and it will be cut even further to £115 million in 1995–96.
That complacency and short-termism has caused many of Northern Ireland's economic problems. Gradual cuts year on year, instead of long-term planning for the future, have been the hallmark of the past 15 years. The Government cut today to get themselves out of the economic hole they dug for themselves yesterday.
I refer the Minister to the very interesting economic report by Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte which was published in January and illustrates the point well. It states:
That was recognised in the Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte report:
Given the size of the public sector locally—public expenditure is equivalent to around two-thirds of GDP—changes in public finances are particularly important in Northern Ireland. The fiscal squeeze imposed in the two 1993 Budgets therefore has potentially serious consequences for Northern Ireland.
In addition, we know that the fluctuating unemployment statistics, hailed by Ministers as the start of a recovery in Northern Ireland, are not the result of the creation of additional jobs in the region. That fall in unemployment, small as it was, has partly been induced by statistical factors such as people switching from unemployment benefit to invalidity benefit. While there has been an increase in employment of 2,200 in Northern Ireland, that increase, as Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte point out, has occurred in low-paid, female, part-time jobs in service industries. That is no help to the long-term unemployed and those men and women seeking full-time, secure work.
Sadly, Northern Ireland's jobless do not face a brighter future. Many of those lucky enough to be in work face equally uncertain times in the light of public expenditure restraints. In stark contrast to the quick-fix economic policies of the Government, we have constantly supported sustained training and investment in people and in the infrastructure of Northern Ireland.
In last year's debate I mentioned Sir George Quigley, the chairman of the Ulster bank. He has illustrated the point that the potential for an island of Ireland economy is there for the taking— [Interruption.] I hear the laughter from certain Northern Ireland Members, but I believe that co-operation between the Republic and Northern Ireland in economic terms, transport infrastructure and agriculture and tourism is taking place—
I will give way in a moment.
I believe that that co-operation is taking place and will take place irrespective of what politicians do because it is happening already on the ground. The border is not conceived to be there in terms of that policy. I agree that there is a difference of view in respect of sovereignty and I do not deny that for a moment. That is the big picture debate and the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev William McCrea) must be aware that I do not disregard that for a moment. However, in respect of the economic regeneration of the island of Ireland, it is very important that the ideas floated by Sir George Quigley should be considered seriously.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way on this subject because it is of particular interest within the business community in Northern Ireland. However, I believe that the hon. Gentleman is concentrating on the wrong aspect. It has nothing to do with politics or sovereignty. It has to do with sound commercial trade and nothing else. Of course we want to increase trade within the island of Ireland, and that means improving transport connections from the republic up to the main ports of the island of Ireland, at Belfast and Larne. Will the hon. Gentleman not keep quoting Sir George Quigley, because many involved in business in Northern Ireland are publicly stating that his projection that there is potential for 75,000 extra jobs should be taken with a pinch of salt?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's intervention. He asked me not to keep quoting the chairman of the Ulster bank, so I will quote someone else.
Alex Brummer wrote in the financial pages of The Guardian on Wednesday 2 February:
With a settlement sketched in, a joint approach by the Northern Ireland Office and the Dublin government in Brussels could unlock funds from the European Investment Bank with its infrastructure funds worth eight billion ecus (£6 billion). What could be more supportive of a settlement than a fast rail link, a modern jet commuter service and a simplified telephone switching system between the two Irelands, and maybe an information highway to go with the new motorway? If there is to be a Belfast-Dublin economic corridor, the whole island will have to make it happen rather than relying on partners across the sea.
I agree with that and it deserves serious consideration. I was saying in the House last summer what The Guardian said in February.
The hon. Gentleman and I agree that there is potential for an increase in trade in the island of Ireland now that the trade barriers erected by the Dublin Government have to be removed because the republic, with the United Kingdom, is part of the European Union, but does he not accept that the main market for those of us involved in business in Northern Ireland remains elsewhere in the UK? Only 5 per cent. of our trade is conducted with the republic and it is not likely to increase very much more, even with better railways and roads.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but I do not believe it to be correct. The potential for economic and industrial growth in Europe's internal market will be fulfilled only if the advice of myself and the right hon. Gentleman is followed. As he knows, the island of Ireland is the most peripheral part of the European Community. If the perceived advantages of the internal market are to be realised, the action that we advocate must be taken. The right hon. Gentleman has put his finger on it. The economic and financial institutions in the island of Ireland recognise that they must work together to maximise the potential that lies in the European Community.
Sir George Quigley has a keen interest in developing new business in the Irish republic: he has probably relocated to Dublin a considerable amount of Ulster bank's business. We recognise that there is potential, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the natural trade and established route lies between Larne and the Stranraer-Cairnryan corridor to the south-west Scottish ports? Does he not foresee even greater potential if we had better cross-sea communications with the south-west Scotland ports and with north-west of England ports, through which our natural trade continues to flow?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who, as one would expect, is a stout defender of Larne port, which is doing very well. I accept that there is potential to penetrate the European markets through Belfast into Liverpool and through the channel tunnel, but that does not gainsay what I said earlier. It is important that the ideas that are beginning to grow and come to fruition in the island of Ireland should come about more quickly than has occurred hitherto.
Even now, trade on the island of Ireland must be seriously hit by the IRA, which disrupts rail traffic between Dublin and Belfast. In response, the Government have had to erect border controls, which make travel between the regions less easy than it would otherwise be. Yet even in current circumstances, without the other necessary developments, there is potential for improvement in Northern Ireland's trade.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. The IRA has a corrosive effect on every aspect of personal, industrial and economic in Northern Ireland. It is of significant interest that, if the electricity interconnector were restored, Northern Ireland Electricity Services could export some of its over-capacity to the south, which is under capacity. The interconnector would therefore serve the whole of the island of Ireland and make a profit for the Northern Ireland investor.
If the interconnector were restored, who knows whether the IRA would be as destructive as it has been in the past and whether it would blow up the interconnector? The IRA is supposed to want a united Ireland. The electricity interconnector and the Belfast-Dublin railway line unite the island of Ireland, but both have been subjected to IRA terrorism.
I spoke of shameful statistics earlier. The Public Accounts Committee issued a scathing report demanding urgent action to stop the carnage on Northern Ireland's roads. To add to the misery caused in Northern Ireland by the deaths of thousands of people through terrorism, Northern Ireland has the highest road death toll per 100,000 of population and per 10,000 vehicles. Already this year, 27 people have died through traffic accidents in Northern Ireland.
The evidence in the Public Accounts Committee report showed that the toll of fatalities in Northern Ireland rose by a staggering 27 per cent. in the 10 years to 1991, while the increase in Wales was 4.7 per cent., in Scotland 6.6 per cent. and in England 3.4 per cent. The figure for Northern Ireland is singularly worrying and those appalling statistics should provoke even the present Government into taking action.
I fully support the Public Accounts Committee recommendation that the penalty points system should be introduced in Northern Ireland. The Department of the
Environment in Northern Ireland estimates that it would cost £1.2 million to introduce a similar scheme in the Province, but there is no cash available. The Public Accounts Committee concluded:
We accept that funds are limited but, in the light of an estimated cost of £300 million for casualties in 1992, there is the potential for significant net savings.
The Government want to save money; if they take action on this matter they will save not only money but, most importantly, lives.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Department of Environment has plenty of money in its budget, but that it spends it in the wrong way? Roads could be improved throughout Northern Ireland, but the Department spends money improving the Newry-Dundalk road to give a narrow connection to Dublin. Would it not be better to use that money to reduce road casualties and fatalities in Northern Ireland?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), who will wind up the debate for the Opposition, is a shadow Environment Minister and I am sure that he will take the hon. Gentleman's argument on board—[Interruption.] As I come from Wigan where we play rugby rather well, I can pass the ball as adroitly as the Minister.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) is right. If the statistics which the PAC has identified are correct and the introduction of that penalty payment system will cost only £1.2 million while the cost of accidents in Northern Ireland is £300 million, one does not need a degree in statistics to recognise that the introduction of some such system would reduce the terrible fatalities on the roads in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman is clearly well aware that the order contains a bit about road safety and the sums that are required both this financial year and next. He will have noticed that, when the Minister opened the debate, he dwelt only on the sums required for this financial year. Neither the hon. Gentleman nor the Minister has said a word about the expenditure required for next year. Will someone on one of the Front Benches do something about it so that we can know what they have in mind?
If the hon. Gentleman wants a more positive reply, I guarantee to give it when I speak from the Government Dispatch Box.
The Minister of State knows of my special interest in the Buddybear trust in Dungannon. If he has time in his winding-up speech, I should be grateful if he would say whether any progress been made in resolving that problem.
The words "democratic deficit" are often used in Northern Ireland debates, which are among the few occasions when Northern Ireland Members have a chance to debate what is happening in their constituencies or the Province generally. I shall therefore conclude my remarks, and my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) will pick up any other points made during the debate.
I intend to raise just one issue during this debate. I hope that, by my putting just one egg in the basket, the Minister will feel able to respond to that one issue in his winding-up speech. I expect that few subjects of greater importance will be raised during today's proceedings, for this is a matter of life and death proportions affecting tens of thousands of lives in the Province.
Before discussing the specifics of my concern, I should tell the House that I intend to sustain a charge against the Government, although I cannot be too scathing about the present holder of the office of Secretary of State and his part in the problem. The Government have been behaving in a careless—some might say reckless—manner towards the safety of those whom the nation employs as its servants. The lives and well-being of tens of thousands of people are needlessly jeopardised every day.
In hundreds of offices occupied by the Northern Ireland civil service, the imperial civil service and works units responsible to Departments, and in police stations where civil servants are also employed, the Government have been avoiding the necessity to meet fire certificate conditions under the cover of Crown immunity.
The Government say that they are so concerned about and acquainted with the need for safety that premises everywhere are, by law, compelled to have a fire certificate if, according to article 22 of the Fire Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, they are used
as a place of work".
That is as it should be. Workers must, of necessity, be protected. Prevention is vital, and there is obviously no better alternative. To ensure that the proper standards of prevention are upheld in offices throughout the Province, regulations are set down and the vast experience of capable fire officers is used to ensure that new or altered buildings meet the accepted standards.
Naturally, there are a few exceptions, such as private dwellings and churches, and some other minor ones. I do not wish to discuss those, although the House may wish to return to them later. I wish to discuss one non-disclosed exemption, which takes out of the scope of the orders Northern Ireland's largest employer—the Government.
Last November I sought, through parliamentary questions, to gather information about this issue. I asked appropriate Ministers a series of questions, but the answers were evasive and misleading. For example, I asked for a statement
on the application of the rules regarding fire certificates to Government offices in Northern Ireland.
The then Minister responsible for the Departments of the Environment and of Economic Development in Northern Ireland—this subject spans both those Departments' work and I am not sure which hat the Minister had on when answering my question—replied:
Fire certificates for Government offices in Northern Ireland are issued by the Department of Economic Development under the provisions of the Fire Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1994. The standards which have to be met by Government offices are identical to those which apply to offices in the private sector."—[Official Report, 2 November 1993; Vol. 231, c. 134.]
When I read that reply, I began to doubt the information that had started my inquiries, until I realised that the Minister had failed to give the most salient facts: how many Government offices had a fire certificate and what percentage were currently covered by a fire certificate.
I made my own inquiries within the Department and discovered that only 5 per cent. of Government buildings had a fire certificate and only 1 per cent. had a current fire certificate. The difference between those two figures is that, at some stage, a few Government offices had a fire certificate but had made major alterations since then and had not sought to have those alterations inspected for fire approval. In short, some 600 buildings in Northern Ireland, occupied by civil servants, do not have a current fire certificate.
Earlier, I defined the categories of offices that are avoiding meeting fire conditions as those occupied by the Northern Ireland civil service; the imperial civil service—the Inland Revenue and the like; works offices such as the DOE's roads and water services; and police stations where civil servants are employed. If no civil servants are employed, an exemption applies under the fire order. The first category, dealing with the Northern Ireland civil service, includes almost 350 offices housing the equivalent of more than 33,000 full-time staff; so some 40,000 staff are employed in those offices. When the other categories are included, the number of offices goes beyond 600 and the number of staff substantially increases.
What does that mean? I state the obvious: that not every building that does not have a fire certificate is a monstrous fire risk and has the potential to become a towering inferno. Undoubtedly, some buildings, if the owners applied for a fire certificate and the premises were inspected, would qualify without any alteration. Many buildings, with minor alteration, would also conform. However, there are still many other buildings where major improvements are required before they meet the necessary standards. I contend that in those buildings lives are being imperiled and safety is being compromised in a deliberately cavalier fashion.
I will not identify any specific buildings, although the men and women who work in them will know only too well the buildings in question. I will not attempt to aid the witch hunt for those who have given me the information by identifying more closely the areas of my concern. What is certain is that this "do as I say, not as I do" legislation must be changed and the Government must order immediately the inspection of all Crown-occupied buildings.
How has this come about? The legislation, by sleight of hand, gives the appearance that Crown offices are subject to regulation but then deliberately sets out to exclude Crown buildings by a process of legislative deception. Let me explain. As I said, article 22 of the Fire Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1984 outlines the principle that all places of work must have a fire certificate. Article 26 sets out the specific detailed requirements for applying for a fire certificate, and article 49 sets out the exemptions for Crown buildings. Article 49 says that articles 22—the first of the two articles that I mentioned—23, 24, 25, 27, 31, and so on, shall apply to premises occupied by the Crown.
A cursory glance at article 22, which says that all Crown-occupied buildings, as places of work, must have a fire certificate, would lead people to believe that the Crown is required to have a fire certificate. But by not including article 26 in the list of articles that apply to the Crown, that means that the Crown does not have to apply for a fire certificate, and it has constantly refused to do so. The few buildings that have fire certificates have them because of approaches by the fire service and probably because the officer responsible for them was not aware of the general trend within the Government to avoid making such applications.
The clear thrust of the order, which I believe was the intention of Parliament, comes under article 22, which is included in article 49 as applying to Crown buildings: all Crown buildings are required to have a fire certificate. I do not believe that Parliament ever intended to exclude some 600 buildings in Northern Ireland from the scope of the order.
This seems to amuse some of the Minister's staff, and I hope that the people who work in those offices will be equally amused by the fact that they are at risk. Even if the law had been framed in the manner in which it clearly has, and, therefore, there was no compulsion on the part of the Government to apply for a fire certificate and have their buildings meet the necessary standards, a responsible officer within any of the buildings would still be capable of making such an application. I imagine that that is what the House would have expected them to do.
Whatever the intention of the House may have been in the order, and whatever it may have expected from the responsible officers in each of the buildings, Government offices have avoided—I might say, skilfully—making such applications. Indeed, they not only have been irresponsible in failing to have premises inspected but have engaged in a shameful cover-up of their neglect. When one looks at the answer to my question—
Fire certificates for Government offices in Northern Ireland are issued by the Department of Economic Development under the provisions of the Fire Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1984"—
one could say that, looking at the legislation. It is just that no one ever applies for fire certificates. The answer goes on:
The standards which have to be met by Government offices are identical to those which apply to offices in the private sector.
I suspect that that is not an accurate answer. The standards may well be what is required by the House, but Government offices do not have to apply for fire certificates, and have not done so. Indeed, I ask the Minister to give us some information about the training that is given to staff in offices occupied by the Crown.
Can the hon. Gentleman postulate whether they have not provided the necessary reports in order to save expense in the budget, to pave the way for promotion opportunities or for some other reason?
I shall decline the offer to question motives; I prefer to question the Government's behaviour. What I can say is that a similar situation existed in Great Britain. When it was discovered, an arrangement was immediately entered into by the occupier of the offices and the fire service that they would have offices inspected, although it was not required by law. Indeed, I understand that new fire protection legislation is being prepared and will include that requirement.
In the case of Northern Ireland, there is no attempt, even without the requirement of the legislation, to enter into an arrangement with the fire service and the inspection unit of the Department of Economic Development. Nor is there any sign that the Government intend to change the legislation. We have the hypocrisy of a Government who tell those in Northern Ireland who are building offices, improving offices or making any alterations to offices that they must meet certain standards laid down by the order but who are not prepared to do it themselves. They wag their fingers at those whom they govern while they are prepared to refuse to apply the standards to themselves.
I ask the Minister to give an account of this ignominious behaviour and tell the House what the Government intend to do to afford the same level of safety to their employees as they expect from employers outside government.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a serious matter and, therefore, a simple answer from the Minister would not be appropriate today? The Minister must institute an in-depth inquiry into this matter and give us a detailed response, so that we can carry this matter forward in the interests of the safety of our civil servants.
I hear my colleague's comments. If the Minister needs a longer period to repent, I am happy to give it to him, but he must repent. If he is feeling under conviction at present, I would not take away the opportunity for him to clear his soul on the matter.
Finally, I ask the Minister to give an undertaking that every building occupied by the Crown will be inspected by qualified officers of either the fire service or the inspection unit of the Department of Economic Development. Whatever those officers suggest is necessary to bring those building up to the required standard should be done. I confess, however, that I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) that the reluctance on the part of the Northern Ireland Office to meet its obligations may be finance related. I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking to the House that he will not place the lives of employees of the Crown in danger for much longer.
I have listened with interest to what has been said. When I cast my mind back to the debate that was held on 18 February 1993, many similar problems were referred to—as they always are—relating to potholes, individual constituency problems and the rest. All such problems land on the Minister's desk purely and simply because of the intolerable system of governance in Northern Ireland.
I hope that, before this week is done, at least some measures will have been taken to call to account those who take decisions for the people of Northern Ireland, so that we know the reasons for those decisions and question intently and intensively those whom we believe have done so many things wrong in the Province for so many years.
The House will also recall that part of last year's debate centred around the bombs that had wrecked the centres of Magherafelt and Coleraine. Although I am happy to report to the House that quite a lot of work has been done to restore those town centres, an enormous amount of work is still to be done. It is also clear that severe economic damage has been done to those towns. I hope that when Ministers consider rebuilding those town centres they will be as generous as possible, because that will ensure that the damage is made good and that folk can get back into business as quickly as possible, rather than being left with gaping holes in those town centres for 18 months or more and not a brick being laid.
Unlike the Front-Bench spokesmen, I should like to consider what I hope will happen next year. Expenditure on school buildings has been frozen for quite a time, and no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) will also discuss that matter. I hope that the preliminary change that we have started to see in some quarters is not a false dawn and that many funds will be unfrozen so that the necessary work to improve so many schools can go ahead.
One of the side winds, one of the unfortunate consequences, of the troubled situation in Northern Ireland has been a mass movement of population. Perfectly good public buildings, such as schools and churches, which served that population, have been left behind. Those people have either chosen to move or been moved because of violence. That hidden aspect of the troubles has caused an enormous amount of public expenditure which, if the situation had remained peaceful, would never have had to be spent.
I am particularly interested in the £4.5 million that is needed by Limavady grammar school. I must declare an interest because some of my children attend it. The needs of that school have been put on a long finger for many years. The school has now been at the top of the priority list for the past two years and it wants to get on with the work.
I am concerned because the sketch plans, which were sent to the Department of Education in the autumn, have not yet been returned. Unless the Department returns them with a note to say whether they are acceptable, in broad terms, it is impossible to prepare proper working drawings.
Will the Under-Secretary of State, who will reply to the debate, and the Minister of State, who will have to find the cash, be so good as to see to it that the Department of Education returns those sketch plans to the relevant authorities in the Western board so that the architects can prepare the proper working drawings? If that happens, perhaps Limavady will not lose yet again. The work is long overdue and the local people are getting rather incensed about it.
I have no doubt that other hon. Members will discuss rural planning tonight. I understand that, since the autumn, the rules governing the design of dwellings in rural areas have been tightened up. I had a recent case in my constituency where someone who had applied for planning permission was told that he could not have a certain archway in his house, although the countryside was full of them. He was also told that his hip roof was unacceptable, although his next-door neighbours had them, and that the gable proportions of the house were far too wide. He was told that his house had to be a metre narrower.
I understand that those requirements are related to the new regulations that are being prepared to regulate the design of houses in rural areas. Why do the planners want all those changes in proportions to be made? Perhaps it is because they do not have to live in those houses; those who do, however, are not at all happy.
I have tabled a question on the Order Paper to ask what discussions have taken place with local councils on that matter. I hope that something has been done about those new rules, because local folk would like to have a word in the planners' ears and in the ears of those who are planning the new design standards.
I am sure that many hon. Members will raise concerns tonight about the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I must draw to the Minister's attention one problem that will become acute in the town of Limavady. Last week, we had the happy announcement that a factory offering 300 new jobs is to come to the town. Not only will it provide work for those living in the immediate vicinity of the factory but, as usual, further jobs will be created as a spin-off. Such a spin-off normally means that incoming workers will be employed.
Those incoming workers at the factory will almost certainly be shift workers. If an individual lives within 20 miles of the place where he applies for housing, he cannot be treated as an incoming worker. The problem in Northern Ireland is that some people living just 10 or 15 miles away find it extremely difficult to travel that distance. If people do not have a car, they are stuck, because there is practically no public transport, certainly nothing runs at 2 am or 4 am, or even at 7 pm or 8 pm, when a worker is travelling either to or from work.
When such a worker asks the Housing Executive for a dwelling, he is told that he is classified as an incoming worker, that it would like to help him, but that it has a priority system on which that person does not figure. If that person manages to get on it, however, he is so far down the list of priorities that he does not have a snowball's chance of getting a dwelling. The Housing Executive will tell him that it has all the single mothers, the homeless and all sorts of other priority groups who are in need of a house, flat or similar accommodation. The mere fact that that individual has a job and may be the only person in the vicinity capable of doing it yet he cannot find a dwelling causes immense difficulties for him and his employer.
Often, a person on shift work simply cannot get lodgings. Landladies do not like folk who wander in and out at all hours of the day or night and who may sleep during the day. Those with a nice nine-to-five job will probably get lodgings, but a 24-hour shift worker will not. I hope that Ministers will draw that problem to the attention of the Housing Executive, so that we can consider the problems that are created by its points system.
The same difficulty does not arise with incoming nurses. The number of student nurses from the Irish Republic increased from 4.94 per cent. of the total student nurse population in 1990 to 11.36 per cent. in 1993, which I find astonishing. Given the number of unemployed people in Northern Ireland, we should have no difficulty finding among our native population a sufficiency of young men and women to enter the nursing profession, without having to take one in nine from the Irish Republic. What on earth is going on? What sort of selection procedures exist that allow that to happen?
How many people does the hon. Gentleman think would travel from Northern Ireland to take up posts in the Irish Republic?
As the hon. Gentleman raised that question, I will leave it with him. If the answer is not obvious to hon. Members who represent Great Britain constituencies, it is obvious to those of us who represent Northern Ireland.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is incredible that the Northern Ireland Office is encouraging student nurses from the Republic of Ireland to work in Northern Ireland, where they will be paid by Northern Ireland taxpayers, and take up 11 per cent. of nursing school places at a time when there is increased unemployment in the nursing profession in Northern Ireland?
I appear to have raised a hare that some of my hon. Friends may want to pursue. That matter is certainly of concern to many people, not least when more than 1,500 nurses from the Republic are working in Northern Ireland. That is only the number that we know about—we do not have the total.
Both the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom are members of the European Union, the terms of which provide for free movement of labour. If there is unemployment in the Republic of Ireland, presumably people there will look wherever they can, including Northern Ireland, to find employment—as people from Northern Ireland will look elsewhere. If the hon. Gentleman's hare is to be run, perhaps we should bear that in mind.
I should have thought that, if the Irish Republic was as successful as was thought, after 70 years it would not need to export its citizens to Northern Ireland or to this larger island. The fact that the republic has a surplus of people looking for work elsewhere shows that state's economic and social failure.
The hon. Gentleman disagrees, and I am not surprised. This is one of the few countries in the European Union that subsidises states whose economic system has failed. The Irish Republic is one such state receiving large handouts.
So is Northern Ireland.
I hate to reply to sedentary interventions, but Northern Ireland is part of this unitary state, the United Kingdom. As such, it is entitled to share in the benefits of belonging to this state. That is one reason the people of Northern Ireland want to remain in it.
I refer to a further problem that will be created by the new Limavady factory and others that we hope will follow. The Minister will be aware that we have long been seeking a bypass. The factory will make the need for a bypass even more urgent. For my party, that has second priority. The first is the Larne-Belfast road, which needs to be enormously improved, and swiftly. At the top of my constituency priorities, however, is the Limavady bypass. When the Minister visits the town tomorrow, I hope that he can give us good news.
A few weeks ago, I tabled a number of questions on the abundance or scarcity of wild animals in Northern Ireland. It was plain from the answers that nobody has the slightest idea. We are constantly assailed from all sides by conservationists claiming that this animal or that is scarce and is in danger of being wiped out, yet no one has a clue as to the base number. I ask the Minister to commission a survey, so that we may proceed on a solid foundation, rather than be subjected to wild and unwarranted claims about the number of animals that are alive and well in the Province.
I am particularly interested in destructive animals, such as mink, grey crows and magpies. Anyone who has kept sheep knows the problems created by grey crows—particularly for hill sheep farmers. Most of those accursed birds are to be found in Minister of Agriculture forestry plantations. We wish that the Minister would accept some responsibility for the vast increase in those corvids over the years. That issue is of significance to everyone who takes an interest in conservation and wildlife, and I hope that the Government will do something about it.
At the beginning of this debate, especially after listening to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), I began to question its purpose. It is apparently the plan or purpose of those who speak at the Dispatch Box for the official Opposition to get Northern Ireland linked in some way to the Republic, by hook or by crook. That forced link arises in every Northern Ireland debate.
We are told about the money that would come from Europe, but if it was really worried and concerned about the good people of Northern Ireland, and about suffering and deprivation in the Province, Europe would not tie its giving hand to a link with the Irish Republic. It would give gladly to the people of Northern Ireland.
There are those who want to help us, so they say, provided that we go towards Dublin. I make it abundantly clear—whether it is Sir George Quigley who is quoted or any other knight in shining armour—that although the Opposition, and the Government in recent days, want to get Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom, the people of Northern Ireland have no intention of leaving the family.
Unfortunately, we must bear the reality when the Government tell us that we have no selfish or strategic economic interests in staying in the United Kingdom. Down the years, Northern Ireland has suffered with the rest of the United Kingdom—rightly so, because we are part of it. We have paid with distinction and honour the price of being part of this free family.
Unfortunately, in recent days, some in high positions and in government have played with the enemy in seeking to thwart the will of the people of the Province and try to throw us from the family. But, tonight, in this United Kingdom Parliament, I raise matters that are relevant to my constituents. I do so having a genuine concern to see the condition and well-being of my people bettered.
At the commencement of the debate, I thought that we would be talking about dividing the financial cake and looking at the different Departments, until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan who speaks for the Opposition. I have to say that there are many day-to-day matters, some of which we dismiss, but they are very relevant to my constituents. Therefore, I want to raise them in the House on behalf of those who elected me to this Chamber.
I deal first with the vote for the Department of Agriculture. On behalf of my constituents, I urgently demand action by the Minister to save the pig sector of the agriculture industry. One matter that causes grave concern is the cost to my farmers of feedstuffs, which is beyond what the industry can afford. Surely the Department is aware of those difficulties. Therefore, assistance must be forthcoming, whether by subsidy or intervention grain.
Many pig farmers in the Province are in the quagmire of debt. Help must be given to save that sector. I mention in particular the Unipork factory in Cookstown. I am sure that the Department has been aware of the major problems in Unipork Holdings. I deeply regret the loss of producer control in the processing plants throughout the Province, especially in Cookstown, but my overriding concern is the survival of that factory.
The decline in Unipork's profitability over several years is to be regretted, but we cannot close our eyes to the need for a major injection of finance into that factory. The rescue plan that was initiated by Bridgewater Food Holdings is, I hope, a genuine attempt to secure the Cookstown plant for the future.
It is my intention to meet Mr. Ronnie Wilson to discuss the situation in Cookstown. I personally trust that my constituents shall enjoy job security through an energetic development of Unipork in Cookstown, and that that will assist in safeguarding a significant portion of the Northern Ireland pigmeat industry. Perhaps the Minister will draw the attention of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the concern in my constituency about the cut in the hill livestock compensatory amounts.
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, does he not feel that it is very unfair for the pig industry in Northern Ireland not to have a level playing field to play on? In other places, intervention grain, which is paid for and transported by EC funds, is made available in days of difficulty in sections of the agricultural community, whereas our people are losing out on quite a considerable amount of money for the price per tonne that they have to pay because of transport costs.
Why cannot there be an equalisation scheme whereby parts of the Community, such as Northern Ireland, can benefit from that intervention grain, and that grain be released? Does my hon. Friend not think that it is time that the Government took that on board? When one thinks of what the southern Government do for their farming community, and then thinks about the Northern Ireland Office dragging its feet, one is amazed that opportunities in the EC are missed.
I whole-heartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I mentioned that matter earlier, and asked the Minister whether he and his hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture would assist, either by subsidy to the pig farming industry or by intervention grain. That is vital to the pig farmers in the Province as a whole and in my constituency in particular.
The cut in the hill livestock compensatory amounts is causing concern in my constituency—a rural constituency. Many small farmers are farming on the hillsides of the sperrins. Therefore, it is vital that we give support to hill farmers through the hill livestock compensatory amounts. The Government have been rich in verbiage about their concern about the drift from the land and the rural development in the countryside. Unfortunately, much has been said but little action taken to back up their sayings. Surely it must be accepted that the farming community is the backbone of the rural economy, yet in reality little is given to encourage our youth to stay on the farms.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) mentioned rural planning. In my constituency, many of the young people are being forced out of the countryside by planners who seem not to have sympathy with farmers' sons, the backbone of the community, being kept within the community. I appeal to the Department to ensure a relaxation in the farming community being able to build in that community, and not to encourage the drift from the countryside.
I shall now deal with the vote for economic development, which is vital to my constituency, bearing in mind the massive unemployment there. The hon. Member for Wigan said that he was visiting west Belfast and talked about the deprivation and about many people not having jobs. I do not accept that that can in any way be an excuse for recruitment to terrorism; I totally deplore that connection. My constituency has the second highest unemployment level in the United Kingdom, yet the vast majority of my constituents have turned their backs on the terrorists.
I do not think that the hon. Member was here when the speech was made, but if he reads Hansard tomorrow, he will clearly find that association. I must say that I will not accept unemployment as an excuse for anyone joining a terrorist organisation, whether it be in the Falls or in the heart of Mid-Ulster.
What I said was that, while there might not be a direct correlation between unemployment and the recruitment of unemployed young men into paramilitaries, where young men have been unemployed for more than a year—perhaps two or three years—it makes it all the more easy for them to be recruited into either paramilitary wing in Northern Ireland, because those young men do not have the dignity and discipline that employment brings.
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that, in his constituency, unemployed people have not resorted to terrorism, I applaud what he is saying, but it cannot be overstated that the high levels of unemployment in Northern Ireland are a means of attracting young idle hands into paramilitary activity. I have no doubt whatever about that.
Those who read Hansard will see very clearly that an earlier statement has been redrafted. I stand by what I have said: Cookstown, in my constituency, has the second highest unemployment level in the UK, but we do not accept that that is any reason or excuse for anyone to join a terrorist organisation.
Interestingly, many of those who have been apprehended were financially well off; unemployment was not the cause. I remember a famous case outside Omagh. People throughout the United Kingdom saw pictures of the funeral procession, which began at one of the most massive and beautiful houses in the countryside. Clearly, that did not involve one of the depressed people who had been cited: it is obvious that the two factors should not be linked.
Many of those who have been stirring the pot and keeping it going are both well heeled and well educated. Let us not insult the good people of the Province, who, although they have endured the hardship of unemployment—I shall say more about that—totally reject the bomb and the gun. They do not believe that such action contributes to the well-being of any society.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East mentioned the bombs in Coleraine and Magherafelt. Can any hon. Member say what good blasting the economic heart of Magherafelt did the unemployed? How many jobs did it give those on the unemployment list? In fact, it put many employed more people on that list. There is no excuse for the vile terrorism that our Province has endured.
I hear hon. Members tell the House of neglect in their constituencies. I am sorry that the hon. Members for Foyle (Mr. Hume), for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) are not present; much of that talk has come from them. They have told us of the Government's failure to invest and provide grants.
Foyle is next door to my constituency. It is interesting to note that members of the SDLP—the party of those three hon. Members—go around my constituency telling my constituents that the way in which to secure grants is to instate an SDLP Member of Parliament; there has been so much investment in Foyle and Newry that that seems to be the only way in which to get it.
Let me say, with great respect, that the SDLP cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, its members say that their people are neglected in terms of grants; on the other, they say, "We are the party that can get you the grants." On the one hand, they say, "It is our constituencies that are enduring massive unemployment"; on the other, in the likes of Mid-Ulster, they say, "Ah, but if you had an SDLP Member of Parliament, you would secure thousands of jobs."
Those claims show the party's utter hypocrisy: the truth is that jobs are not provided in Mid-Ulster—or, indeed, throughout the Province—largely because of a lack of Government investment.
Was not part of the legacy of unemployment in Mid-Ulster the contribution of one of the hon. Gentleman's predecessors, who was lauded in the House and claimed to speak for the working class? She only wanted employment for the fire brigade; she said, "Burn the factories."
They called her Joan of Arc.
They did; others had other names for her, but it would not be appropriate to mention them now.
It is important to clarify the position, to avoid any misplaced sense of appreciation in regard to that former hon. Member. The House should be reminded, even today, that that same person declared a recently murdered terrorist to have been the greatest republican of them all. She was referring to one Dominic McGlinchey—or "Mad Dog McGlinchey". That was a former Member of Parliament's opinion of a murdering rascal who is alleged to have killed more than 30 policemen and members of our British Army. How foolish can hon. Members continue to be?
A certain person—a former Member of Parliament—clearly stated that Dominic McGlinchey was the finest son that Ireland had ever produced. He was murdering scum; that is all he was. He has gone out and found, in one second of eternity, that he has reaped the harvest he sowed. I leave him to the Almighty.
Let me now deal with lesser beings: Ministers, who have a responsibility to which we will hold them tonight. I am sure that they would like me to talk about divine persons, and forget some of the issues that are relevant to my constituents, but I assure them that I am not so foolish.
My constituents are angry because certain constituencies claim a large slice of the financial cake, much to the detriment, deprivation and suffering of others. They are also aggrieved by the fact that, if an area can claim the existence of continued terrorist unrest, the Government will pour in grants to try to buy the people off; but they will not give an adequate portion of the cake to law-abiding communities that live together in peace and harmony.
My constituents in Omagh, in Cookstown and throughout Mid-Ulster abide by the law, and—despite vast deprivation—do not stoop to civil unrest. They feel that they have been penalised as a result of their civil behaviour, and they resent the way in which the financial cake has been divided. Many in the Province have cited as a glaring example the choice of a road from Newry to Dublin—to Dublin, as usual—and the rejection of the necessary road from Belfast to Larne. That was a clear and deliberate political decision, which the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland find repugnant.
May it happen soon! I am glad that there is another Northern Ireland debate this week, when Ministers will be brought to heel; they will have to answer for their decisions in Committee, and respond to Northern Ireland Members of Parliament. I am sure that certain Ministers will find that an unrestful experience—
They will find it exhilarating.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the public expenditure on road development between Belfast and the Irish Republic was unjustified and unfair, as the Larne-Belfast road already carries twice as much traffic as the Belfast-Dublin route? There has been political interference and injustice, which must be put right in future.
I agree with the hon. Member's clear statement of fact. The problem was that the Larne road did not lead to Dublin, so Ministers were not concerned. A Minister here cannot make an announcement without a Dublin Minister making it before he reaches the Dispatch Box. Ministers here cannot even acknowledge that fact and rebuke someone from a foreign country for interfering in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland.
Is there not a more serious aspect to the Larne proposal? There will be competition for traffic moving to the channel tunnel. As Larne is the second largest port in the United Kingdom, the Government have made a grave move by trying to cut the advantages to Northern Ireland of the use of the Larne port.
There is much alarm about what is happening in the Warren Point area of the South Down constituency. I was in that area the other day, and I received representations. Without a proper road into Larne, the Holyhead route will be exploited by the Irish Republic, which has received EC grants for new culverts for its roads. No such grants have been applied for by the Northern Ireland Office.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's reply, because he has heard that charge clearly made. These matters require a response. The Minister who opened the debate, the right hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), avoided answering anything, but the Minister who must reply, the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), cannot avoid the questions that are posed. Plenty of time is available for him to give very detailed responses, and I am sure that the scribes to his left will get those ready answers for him.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such responses must be given on the Floor of the House and not in writing or lodged in the Library, because many people outside the House would like a full answer?
We must have a detailed answer. I hope that the Minister will treat this matter with the same seriousness as hon. Members do. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed grave concern. They feel that, for mere political reasons, an injustice has been done to the people of and to the industrial future of Northern Ireland.
Ministers speak of the challenge of Europe, but they ensure that we cannot meet it. Decisions are made to help a neighbouring foreign country instead of assisting the industrial base of a part of the United Kingdom.
How many jobs have been created in the past five years in the 17 constituencies? It is vital that we can see the spread of the cake. It is time that we were aware of how much industrial development finance has been poured into constituencies because it is about time we laid some of the charges to rest. Such matters will be dealt with only by a free exchange of detailed answers to hon. Members' questions.
What civil servants' jobs will be reallocated from the central offices in Belfast to my constituency, bearing in mind that Omagh has an excellent office block, the former Tyrone and Fermanagh hospital, which is ready for occupation? Or do the Government intend simply to move those jobs to Londonderry? I believe that some were supposed to go to Downpatrick, which would assist and please the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), who is here, but certainly none have come in the direction of Mid-Ulster.
Instead of sending and attracting jobs to Mid-Ulster, I was astounded to hear that the works services department is actively considering options for change in respect of the Coleraine and Omagh office regarding architectural services to PANI, to court service office accommodation branch, to the Department of Agriculture, to vehicle inspection centres and to forestry services.
I am told that service management are considering organisational changes—what are commonly called saving proposals—with the consequences of possibly closing the Omagh and Coleraine offices and instead building up the central office in Belfast. Some employees will face a round trip of 160 miles a day. That is unbelievable, as it runs contrary to what is commonly known as the Government policy of centralisation.
I have been sitting here for the past hour listening to this. I sit for a north-western seat, and we get a debate on our region about once every Preston guild. Are not these speeches self-evidently an argument for a Select Committee, where all such matters can be dealt with, but are they not an even stronger argument for some sort of local government for the Province—devolution, integration or some other magic formula—so that we in this Chamber do not have to listen to arguments about a local bypass, pigs, electricity prices or whatever?
We in the north-west would welcome the opportunity of a debate on the Floor of the House. It is rightly and properly a local and provincial matter that can be dealt with there.
It is not the fault of the Ulster Democratic Unionist party that we are in this situation. It is the fault of the Government, who try to rig democracy. That is the problem.
I am doing my best.
I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is doing his best, but the charge must be made of Ministers, who tell us that we cannot have democracy in Northern Ireland, except through some deal with Dublin. They hold the people of Northern Ireland to ransom.
That is what is so despicable and vile about this bunch. They are turning their back on democracy and are saying, "You can have a forum to deal with these matters." We would be delighted to have a forum in Northern Ireland, but the price of it is not that we should go to Dublin or be taken over by the Irish Republic. We want a forum on British democracy, on British democratic lines, and hon. Members will have to confirm that the Ulster Democratic Unionist party gave a valuable contribution—
Order. Can we get back to the order?
I should be delighted to do so. I was led astray by someone who is connected with the Government. I was responding to that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it was the House that chose to discuss these matters, not the Northern Ireland electorate or the representatives of Northern Ireland? One day a year, we try to travel from Dan to Beersheba, discussing our grievances as public representatives, but we are being told, "Don't bring this stuff here; take it upstairs to some Committee"—
Order. The fact is, we are discussing the order, and it would be helpful if we could get back to the debate.
I am happy to move on. Whether or not one believes it, such matters are relevant to my constituents, who elected me to this Chamber to raise these matters, and I shall raise them, whether they relate to pigs, goats or anything else.
Still on the Department of Economic Development vote, what steps are being taken to acquire adequate land for industrial development in Cookstown? I recently met representatives of the industrial development board and the divisional planning officer to discuss the availability of land. I was told that approximately 5 hectares of industrial land at Derryloran is currently underdeveloped and thus available for industrial development.
Most of the remaining land zoned for industrial purposes by the East Tyrone plan is unattractive for that purpose at this time because of poor access. In light of these difficulties, and in an effort to secure sufficient land to attract inward investment, the division of planning officers is currently in consultation with the IDB to identify a possible short-term solution to the problem which will provide sufficient industrial land for Cookstown until the East Tyrone area plan materialises.
I am not looking for a short-term plan. My constituents have a right to have proper land set aside for proper development to attract inward investors to what is, after all, the centre of the Province. Some of the land does not have proper access, but it is vital that access is available, which can happen only if we have the bypass that has long been promised. The Secretary of State visited Cookstown a few weeks ago and was concerned. He met all the relevant bodies, so will he now take action and authorise the Cookstown bypass, to open up the industrial site? It is of great importance to my constituents, and I ask the Minister to give me a date for the commencement of the bypass.
What progress has been made in acquiring land in Omagh for industrial development? A former Minister acknowledged the urgent needs of Castlederg and accepted that it suffered great hardship because of terrorist activity. Reports were commissioned, and I wonder whether the Minister can tell us what action is to be taken to regenerate the area.
I deal now with matters relating to the Department of the Environment. I had a meeting with representatives of the chamber of commerce in the Omagh area. They have many concerns and one of the major ones is the lack of a road network. Omagh is a major market town with a population of 22,000. It is on the main A5, which has been recognised as a "trans-European highway". I love that term—it is a pity that it does not mean anything. We have fancy names and get carried away but, unfortunately, there is no money to do anything about the "trans-European highway".
People's lives are put at risk. As the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) knows, there is a link from Omagh to Ballygawley and from Ballygawley to the M1. That entire section of road needs to be dealt with urgently, and money needs to be made available. I appeal to the Minister to inform the House and to inform me, as the Member of Parliament for that area, what action the Government are taking.
On my way here today, I was asked by some workers at the airport what relevance the High Court judgment on part-time workers has to Northern Ireland, and whether we should be brought into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. Perhaps the Minister will deal with that matter, as it is causing great concern in the Province.
The Department of Education vote is also important in Cookstown. The high school there urgently needs two extra science labs. The Secretary of State's wife visited the school recently and saw the excellent work being done. However, visits are one thing: action and money to do something about the problem are another.
As for the vote on the Department of Health and Social Services, we recently had two good debates in Committee. One was on the proposal for a draft Children (Northern Ireland) Order, and we are still awaiting responses. Perhaps the Minister will have something to say, as he also spoke for the Government in Committee.
One issue that goes to the heart of my constituency is the decision by the Western board to remove maternity services from Tyrone county hospital. I raise the matter again because, in Committee, I was promised that, as the Minister was new to the job and wanted to know about our problems, she would be happy to meet us. Immediately following the sitting, I made a request to the Minister, but it was turned down. I ask the Minister here to discuss the issue with the Minister concerned—Baroness Denton—because it is a matter of life and death for children and babies in my constituency.
It is disgraceful that my constituents are being treated differently from those in the rest of the Province in respect of maternity services. All the health boards received a copy of a discussion paper on the future provision of maternity services. Considering maternity services into the next century, the Western board decided, with the agreement of the Government, that the Tyrone county hospital's maternity unit would be closed. Other boards were supposed to do likewise, but only Tyrone county will have to ensure such a closure because other boards have stepped aside, and some have not even considered the provision of maternity services.
My constituents are being treated differently from those in other parts of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. That is not British justice. Surely the Minister will have to say that the Government must examine the provision of maternity services in the Province as a whole and not remove the little Omagh hospital, whose maternity services have been tried and proven to be excellent but are now to be taken away from my constituents. It is disgusting that the Government are treating a part of Northern Ireland differently from the rest.
When another board was examining the issue, and there was a hue and cry, the issue was sidestepped or put on ice, and decisions were put back. The Western board is the only board that has gone ahead. Surely the details of maternity provision should be the same in Mid-Ulster as they are in the other 16 constituencies.
It is right that the Government should answer that point. I demand a withdrawal of the decision in the Western board and Tyrone county hospital. Northern Ireland should be treated properly, as a unit, and not in piecemeal fashion, with one community being divided from another.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that County Tyrone Gaelic football team is one of the best Gaelic Athletic Association teams in the island of Ireland. Is he aware that, if the policy that he has criticised this evening is pursued to its finality, the County Tyrone GAA team will disappear? One of the requirements for playing for that team is to have been born in the county of Tyrone. If there are no more maternity services in County Tyrone, in time there will be no one who is qualified to play for that well-known Gaelic team.
I bow to the right hon. Gentleman's information. I am sure that he is fully aware that no one is less qualified than I to talk about the GAA. I believe that the GAA discriminates against my constituents who are in the security forces. Until it removes that discrimination, I shall treat it as it should be treated—that is, I shall cast it aside as the GAA has cast aside those who are protecting it.
However, I bow to the right hon. Gentleman's submission. I do not know whether he is speaking in an official capacity. One thing I do know is that I have absolutely no knowledge of the GAA. I do not want to go down that road.
I tell the House very seriously that my constituents have been denied rights to maternity services equal to those in the rest of the Province, and I assure the House that that is causing grave concern. I implore the Minister to honour his pledge to me that he would make representations to Baroness Denton, the Minister with responsibility for health. I ask the Minister to encourage his noble Friend to receive a delegation and to allow us the right to put our concerns.
I do not know how anyone can say that it is British democracy or justice to remove maternity services and to treat my constituents differently from people in the rest of the Kingdom, when they are not given the right to make representations to the relevant Minister. I ask the Minister to further his representations to his noble Friend on that point.
The elderly in my constituency are also a grave concern; I mention here the Derg Valley hospital. There is grave concern that the hospital is to be closed. I do not decry the value of private nursing homes, but I believe that state-run homes for the elderly and geriatric units have a vital part to play. I appeal to the Minister to consider that provision.
I am also concerned about the Buddybear trust, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Wigan. I believe that the Government should give proper financial support to that trust.
On behalf of my constituents, I give my support to the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), who represents the area that takes in Belvoir Park hospital. The hospital stands out in its assistance in the treatment of cancer patients from the whole of the Province. I have been inundated with petitions and representations from my constituents asking me to give the hospital my whole-hearted support.
I assure the House that I did not need such representations, because I give the hospital my whole-hearted support. As a pastor, I know how people suffer from cancer, and I know the value of the environment of Belvoir Park hospital. To suggest that such an environment could be provided in a hospital such as the City hospital does not take into account the great needs of those who suffer from that disease.
I support the Shaftsbury Square hospital in its treatment of people addicted to alcohol and to drugs. I ask the Minister to ensure that the Department and the board give continued backing to the excellent work done in the hospital. Sadly, many of my constituents have had to rely on treatment there to bring them back to health.
On 14 December 1993, the Secretary of State announced details of new public expenditure for Northern Ireland for 1994–95 and the Government's three public expenditure priority areas. There is continuing concern that £931 million has to be allocated for the provision of law and order services in Northern Ireland in the next financial year, with the aim of defeating terrorism.
Citizens of the Province, taxpayers throughout the United Kingdom and members of the security forces have all paid a high price in cash terms for the foolishness of past appeasement policies. Many have lost their lives and many will never fully recover from the injuries caused to them by terrorism. If more public expenditure were properly used in a concerted campaign to end terrorism, most people would accept restricted expenditure in other sectors. A large part of the money devoted to law and order could then be reallocated more constructively to badly needed social and economic regeneration programmes in future. We are not satisfied that enough is being done to defeat the terrorist campaign and to protect lives and property in Northern Ireland.
I welcome the emphasis on strengthening the economy and the additional allocation of £5 million for industrial research and technology. However, although I note the provision of £23 million extra for factory building, I should like the Minister to tell us what he expects the likely uptake to be in 1994–95. Perhaps he will tell the House whether the major inward investment project that was blocked last year by the Governments of the Irish Republic and of Spain has yet been approved by the European Commission and whether it is likely to proceed in Northern Ireland.
One cannot take issue with the priority being given by the Government to targeting social need, to seeking to reduce deprivation and to ensuring greater equity throughout the community. However, some envy has been caused in Glenarm in my constituency. Glenarm urgently requires regeneration and proper recognition of the social deprivation and high unemployment there, which equate with those of neighbouring Carnlough, which is approximately two miles north on the Antrim coast. Glenarm would then receive additional funding. I should like to see more resources made available to Glenarm and I hope that the future public expenditure plans will be directed to encouraging speedy regeneration and employment creation on that part of the north Antrim coast.
Part of the moneys allocated for economic development is directed towards the development of tourism. May we have a review of the restrictions on hotel development in my constituency? The extent of areas of special control and areas of outstanding natural beauty are preventing job creation and additional provision for tourism. For example, a major project attracting inward investment for a hotel and chalet complex in Ballycarry, County Antrim, could not proceed and will not be able to proceed unless there is some relaxation and greater flexibility in the stringent planning regulations. How can we help ourselves if we are hamstrung by regulations? Some common sense must be introduced before too long.
The Secretary of State and Ministers will be well aware that the new Antrim hospital will open this month and that patients will be transferred there from Moyle, Larne and Waveney Ballymena hospitals. A few weeks ago, it took me almost an hour and a half to make my way from Larne to the airport. There was a sudden and heavy snowfall, but the journey took so long because there was not a single passing point on the road. Once we left the dual carriageway, it was single track all the way.
It is a matter of great concern that higher priority has not been given to the upgrading of the A8 from Larne to Belfast. Additional traffic is generated as people decide whether to use the Antrim or Belfast hospitals and we need to see improvement between Gingles corner on the Larne side and Con's corner on the Belfast side. At the very least, there should be development between Gingles corner and Ballynure, where the road goes to Antrim. It is a matter of being properly concerned for the safety of all road users.
As was predicted, I defy an ambulance to travel from Larne to Antrim hospital in 16 minutes on the A8. At the risk of convicting myself, I seized an opportunity to travel faster than normal along that route and I thought that I made good time when it took me 26 minutes. For an ambulance to do it much faster would put at risk other road users and the patients who are being conveyed. There will be more ambulances and increased private traffic as patients are conveyed to the new hospital or people go to visit them. It is important that, since the road serves the whole of Northern Ireland and parts of the Irish Republic, it be upgraded without further delay.
As has been said, it is bitterly resented that so much public expenditure has been directed towards Belfast and Dublin road and rail development. It is more bitterly resented that neither Northern Ireland Ministers nor United Kingdom Ministers responsible for representing Northern Ireland interests in Europe have successfully backed up the representations made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) as a Member of the European Parliament, his colleague Jim Nicholson, Alex Smith, the Member of the European Parliament for Scotland, South and myself for recognition of the fact that the Stranraer, Cairnryan, Belfast and Larne corridor is the second busiest ferry route in the United Kingdom.
Not a single map which emanates from the European Commission recognises that corridor as a Euro-route and it is about time that proper representation was made on our behalf in Europe, especially by United Kingdom Ministers. It is not too much to expect that Northern Ireland is recognised in that way on the map because it has, after all, the shortest sea crossing between the island of Ireland and Great Britain.
The second priority road to which I shall draw the attention of the House is the Belfast to Carrickfergus road. It is the second most congested road in my constituency. At peak periods in the morning and in the evening, there are traffic tailbacks of almost a mile towards Carrickfergus and Whiteabbey village. That is because there has been postponement of investment time and again and nothing of any significance has been done to that road. The problem is increasing because of the popularity of the Carrickfergus borough area and because there is so much residential development there.
Information given to members of Carrickfergus borough council suggests that the delays in undertaking that investment scheme are having a negative impact on further development in the borough. Examples can be quoted of companies that were interested in becoming established in Carrickfergus going elsewhere because of their dissatisfaction with the road network.
A scheme in the five-year programme shows that work to widen the road from the end of the dual carriageway to Silverstream should commence in 1997–98. I ask that due consideration is given to the priority of upgrading that road and, in advance of that time, that the congestion on the Carrickfergus to Belfast road be relieved. At worst, I hope that the Minister will give an assurance that that scheme is not likely to be postponed by any cut.
When will the moratorium on capital expenditure for schools be lifted? The Minister will be aware that there is tremendous pressure on capital expenditure in schools arising from the need to rationalise existing school provision. Will he try to ensure that appropriate funding is released to provide permanent accommodation where rationalisation or amalgamation of schools is to take place? It is essential that work at the receiving school should be completed before school closure and pupil transfer.
I am especially anxious that, when Rathcoole high school closes later this year, Newtonabbey community school should be capable of accommodating the additional pupils likely to enrol there, and that that new secondary school should get off to a good start and be as attractive to parents and pupils as existing post-primary schools in the area. Will the Minister assist the education and library boards by giving special support for capital projects arising from the rationalisation of school provision?
I hope that the Minister will be able to give his support and encouragement for teachers in Northern Ireland who willingly accompany school trips to the continent. Throughout my teaching career and as a member of an education and library board, I have encouraged those who organise school trips to European countries. I invite the Minister, both directly and through the appropriate authorities in the Foreign Office, to protest most strongly at the interference of rebellious French fishermen on 4 February this year.
A party of 32 pupils and four teachers left Lane in my constituency at 8 o'clock in the morning. They arrived at Dover at five past 10 in the evening and were told that all sailings had been cancelled because the authorities on the French mainland had no control whatever over the protesting French fishermen. Surely we are entitled to freedom of passage within the European Community. I hope that the Minister will register our protest so that that kind of thing does not happen again. I trust that the experience will not dissuade the same party from returning on another occasion.
The moneys voted to the Department of Agriculture provide for assistance to marketing and processing and for scientific and veterinary services. I invite the Minister to tell us whether greater use could be made of computerised records of cattle in Northern Ireland, on which we hold the details, from birth to slaughter or death, of every animal on a Northern Ireland farm. Those records have enabled the Department to control very efficiently the disease status of Northern Ireland cattle.
We should proclaim to the world the fact that we have that capability. We should make use of our computer records to demonstrate the disease-free status of our beef for export. We are probably unique within the European Community in having such information. We should not, then, be suffering disadvantage as a result of the minor and occasional outbreak of brucellosis, tuberculosis or even BSE, because we can identify every affected herd. I trust that that matter will be looked into.
A small number of beef producers threaten the livelihood of the great majority of small Northern Ireland farmers by unlawfully using growth-promoting substances. I ask that greater efforts should be made both to identify those people and to secure punitive action through the prosecution of those offenders.
May I comment on the last point raised by the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs)? In the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, we heard from the Commission the amazing statement that it has no real checks on the use of hormones in beef coming into this country from the United States or third-world countries. When we pushed, the Commission told us that it had one inspector for the whole of the United States—and he has recently retired—and 12 inspectors to look after the whole of the beef-producing world which can put beef into our markets.
Punitive measures are taken against our own farmers, and rightly so—the agriculture interests and authorities, decent farmers and the unions have all agreed that that should be so—but if there is access through the ports for meat from other countries that has been produced in that way, what use are all the regulations applied to farming communities in the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks on that issue. I hope that the Minister has taken stock and will ensure that there is fair competition for the Northern Ireland industry and more opportunities for Northern Ireland beef exporters to export throughout the world as a result of the excellent health standards of our livestock.
I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
Northern Ireland Ministers who are present today should remember that Northern Ireland differs from most parts of the United Kingdom in that it has an agriculture-based economy. If agriculture does well, the Province does well. If agriculture does not do well, the Province will not do well. Our eyes should therefore be on agriculture.
I am not often encouraged by what Northern Ireland Ministers do, but I am greatly encouraged by the attitude of the new agriculture Minister, Baroness Denton, who informed me, at a meeting that I had with her last Monday with various agriculture interests, that she had approached the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and secured the assurance that when Northern Ireland agriculture interests are to be discussed at the Council of Europe, she will be able to be there herself to put the Northern Ireland case. That is something for which we have argued for a long time.
It is not enough for officials to attend, because officials can talk only to officials. The responsible Northern Ireland Minister needs to be present to talk to other Ministers; to be party to the trade-offs that take place at those meetings; and to put the case for Northern Ireland. I therefore welcome the initiative of Baroness Denton and the immediate action that she has taken in expressing her intention of being at the conference table when the Council of Ministers deals with matters relevant to Northern Ireland agriculture. I am sure that that will be welcomed by all Northern Ireland's representatives.
Northern Ireland's agriculture faces a very grim time. The European Commission has just proposed that milk quotas throughout the Union be reduced by 1 per cent. this year and by a further 1 per cent. next year. That is not intended to benefit the United Kingdom's milk industry; it has to do with problems in the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Italy and Greece and with the over-assignment of quota to the east German lander.
The Commission is about to hurt our industry in an attempt to rectify problems in countries that have not kept the laws of the common agriculture policy. I trust that the Minister of State who replies to the debate will be able to tell us that he has taken this matter on board and that there will be a strong effort to resist what the Commissioners have in mind. We need a solution to a problem created by other countries' breaches of European law.
There are many worries in the pig industry, which has already been mentioned, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea). We are in a period of crisis. The market is very depressed. This year's prices are well down on last year's and well below the cost of production. No industry could prosper in such conditions.
Surely United Kingdom Agriculture Ministers, together with their Northern Ireland Office colleagues, should be seeking to ascertain what state subsidies are received by the pig industries of other European Union member states. At a time of pressure on the pig industries of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, it is entirely unfair that other European Union member states are exercising the right to subsidise part of their industries. It ought not to be beyond the ability of Her Majesty's Government to make inquiries through embassy and consulate officials. They should be able to find out exactly what is happening elsewhere—especially in France.
The hon. Gentleman rightly draws attention to the decline in pig numbers in Northern Ireland. Does he agree that, bearing in mind the fact that, in the Irish Republic, pig farming is thriving and the pig population is growing, this is rather strange? There ought not to be much difference between pig producers in the north and those in the south.
Any industry that is encouraged through disguised subsidies has a very great advantage over one in a country that provides no support whatever. As the hon. Gentleman knows, our pig industry has never had state support.
Since the United Kingdom's accession to the European Community our intensive sector has been cut very badly. Farmers are unable to buy feed on the world market and, therefore, have to pay higher prices than previously. We have already had a cut in our intensive industry, but we are now going into a very deep trough. I hope that we shall be able to get out. The Government must accept responsibility. Have they really taken into account what is being said by farming interests across the United Kingdom, especially in Northern Ireland?
There has been mention of the good animal health record that Northern Ireland has had for many years; in fact, our record is second to none in the United Kingdom. We are proud of what our farmers have achieved.
I should like to refer to the current bovine spongiform encephalopathy problem. Last week, at a meeting of the agriculture committee of the European Parliament, an official admitted that the incidence of BSE was decreasing rapidly in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland's figures are indeed low. After the meeting, I asked an official whether the disease was called by another name in other countries of the Union and, therefore, was not subjected to the strictures that we impose.
I was told that I was absolutely right. In other parts of Europe, where the disease is given a different name, people can eat as much meat as they like. In contrast, the German Government now say that they will defy all European Union laws by shutting out meat from the United Kingdom. What are the Government doing about that? Do they intend to accept Germany's action?
The single market will lead to the removal of border controls, and our high animal health status will be put in jeopardy. An asset will be destroyed. What do the Government intend to do about it? Northern Ireland did not qualify this year for European Union beef promotion funds. Will the Government push for such funds in the coming year? What steps are they taking to secure a level playing field?
If the competitiveness of Northern Ireland's specialist cereal growers is to be maintained, we may need some co-operation from European Union officials with a view to securing a satisfactory formula for the calculation of arable area payments under the arrangements for reform of the common agriculture policy. Northern Ireland is a specialist region in cereal production. The Government ought to be taking up these issues now if our farmers are to be helped during the grim days that I fear lie ahead.
It may be important that we have reform of the CAP, but that will have major implications for Northern Ireland agriculture. We have not yet seen the effects of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, but I have read in a farming newspaper that the United States Secretary for Agriculture has been boasting that, following the achievement of GATT, the United States will engage in agricultural produce flooding. What does the United Kingdom intend to do about that?
Is the hard-pressed farming community to become prey to a development arising from a deal made by Commissioner Ray MacSharry when he was about to retire? I am glad that I voted against that deal in Strasbourg. I do not agree with it and I believe that we will have a real reaping of a dreadful sowing. It is all very well for a Commissioner to receive a golden handshake and to say, "Goodbye, I've got the thing fixed up." But what will happen to our farming community?
The farmers of Northern Ireland need the help of Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office. I am pleased about the appointment of Baroness Denton. I am glad that she will attend Councils in Europe and I wish her every success. However, we must ensure that the Government are prepared to fight for the rights of the farmers of Northern Ireland in the same way that the Dublin Government fight for the rights of their farming community. I am afraid that we have lagged behind in that respect.
I want to mention fishing because fishermen joined us at the meeting to which I have referred. The fishing industry in Northern Ireland should be a priority for the Northern Ireland Office. According to figures that I have seen, it seems that because of the cruel quota system and because, under the fishing agreements, our waters can be fished by other European Union nations, at the end of the week one of our crewmen receives £100 net. That must spell the end of our fishing industry.
If there is no reduction in the number of boats and no proper decommissioning scheme, what will happen to Northern Ireland's fishing industry? I trust that the Minister will explain to us why other boats can continue to fish in the Irish sea while our boats must return to port and be tied up. Is the Minister absolutely satisfied that the quota system is in keeping with the fish available in the Irish sea? Why does Northern Ireland have such a very low quota?
I can understand why fishermen become very angry when they have to return to port while fishermen from the Irish Republic can continue to fish and to bring in their catches. I want to know what the Minister intends to do about that problem.
Representatives of the fishing industry met officials from the Northern Ireland Office last week. The representatives informed me that they were told that, under the structural funds, they are to receive £9 million. However, the Government official told them, "We are going to pocket £3 million of that and you will get only £6 million." Instead of there being additional funds, the Government will pocket £3 million because of what they say they have already done for the fishing industry.
Those funds are structural funds. They are supposed to be additional funds. Was the Government official right when he spoke to the Anglo-Irish Fish Producers Organisation Ltd. in Kilkeel? I assure the House that that organisation has nothing to do with the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Did that official tell the truth? Has £3 million gone? Has it been pocketed by the Exchequer or by a treasurer for the Northern Ireland Office? Will only £6 million be available? That is an important point about which the Minister should come clean when he replies to the debate.
I want now to consider the very difficult subject of rural planning. The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) and I were present for the publication of a booklet on rural planning. The strange thing about that booklet was that it contained nothing about the farming community. It seemed to be an amazing booklet to produce. Do farmers live in the country or do they not live in the country?
Farmers have two grievances that Ministers must consider. The first involves the almost complete inability of a member of a farming family, who no longer works on the farm because it can no longer support that person, to build on the farmland that that person's father or grandfather owns. That is a great difficulty.
I have visited many farms on which parents have said that they want their daughters to be close to them. They claim that the farm is their heritage and, after all, they are told to try to use their farm holdings to the best effect. The problem is great. Will the hard line adopted by planning officers, when they say no to farmers, be relaxed?
Many houses in Northern Ireland are tied up in agricultural agreements. Planning for those houses was granted on the understanding that they would be used and occupied by a helper on the farm. However, the farming community can no longer support those people. A parent who obtained a farmhouse when he or she retired may have died. There is no place for a farm worker, because that person is not required. Many people working on farms are now part-time farmers. However, the house to which I have referred is still held in the cruel net of that agricultural entanglement. It cannot be sold other than to provide accommodation for a farm worker in the area.
As a result of that problem, many houses are lying vacant in the country. No one can occupy them. We cannot break that jam unless we have regulations or legislation. That is the only way out of the problem. The problem has arisen because of a change in the nature of farming. I hope that the Minister will consider that point and have his officials examine the matter because the problem is recurring in the farming community.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very valuable point about property subject to agricultural occupancy conditions. I suggest that we do not require legislation. We simply require a change in departmental policy so that instead of having a condition relating to a person whose income is wholly or mainly derived from agriculture, the condition may relate to a person who is substantially or significantly engaged in agriculture. There could be a change of policy and, where necessary, there may simply be an application to vary the existing conditions. There is no need, therefore, for legislation. The problem could be resolved by the Department, if it so wished
That makes it easier. The Department should take action; it should not allow houses to be vacated and not allow anyone to live in them. If someone who is not working in agriculture is allowed to live in such a house, the law is broken and violated. The Department can start to take action through the courts, which would be a serious matter. If the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble), who is a lawyer, is correct in stating that the Department could resolve the problem, let us bury the regulations and find a way to release houses in the countryside.
The hon. Member raises a further problem. People cannot even afford to buy dwellings on which planning permission is granted on condition that the owner is employed on the farm land. No one can obtain a mortgage to assist him to buy such a house because of that condition.
The right hon. Gentleman may not believe it, but my next sentence was along those lines. The value of the home is restricted; hence the banks and building societies restrict the mortgage. The regulation perpetuates rural poverty because people cannot buy those houses. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has found something on which he and I agree, because recently he said that he agreed with the President of the Irish Republic more than with me. I am glad that there is common ground between us on agricultural housing.
I call on the Government immediately to consider dealing with the restriction. If it can be dealt with in the way in which the hon. Member for Upper Bann described, so be it. Let us get on with it.
Why does not the Minister with responsibility for planning institute planning and advisory bureaux throughout his Department so that people can receive proper advice and readily ascertain the Department's attitude to building and house construction in certain regions? It would be far better if the Department set up proper advice bureaux.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that it would be more sensible if civil servants or those working in the Departments listened to elected representatives on district councils? They should have the final say on planning permission—officials should not dictate where one can or cannot build.
Elected representatives should have the final say. Instead of planning officers telling elected representatives what we should do—we should tell planning officers what to do—I agree whole-heartedly. But as we all know, that does not happen. We are tied by planning regulations. Planning officials in some regions grant planning permission, but, in the same circumstances, a planning official in another region will refuse it.
A constituent told me, his public representative, that he could take me to a site that ran parallel to another one in a different constituency. He said, "If you live in one constituency, you can get planning permission; if you don't live there, you will not."
As I have said before in the House, planning officers should be civil servants. I detest the attitude adopted. As a planning officer and I walked up a lane in my constituuency to visit a site, he told me that the applicant would not receive planning permission for it. I wrote down the time so that I could then say that before the officer saw the site he had told me that planning permission would not be granted. The applicant happened to be a Roman Catholic. It was not the bigoted hon. Member for Antrim, North who had kept that man from receiving planning permission, but a planning officer employed by the Minister's Department who made the decision before he saw the site.
After a stiff and hard battle, we secured planning permission. But the applicant was first told to clear out the dunghill on his farm and build his house there. That is the sort of behaviour displayed by some planning officers. It is time that the Minister talked to employees in planning departments and told them that they should be civil to people. We need proper planning advisory bureaux where people can be met courteously and talk to planning officials about what they want.
Last week, I was informed of an officious planning restriction which, if passed, would rob Northern Ireland of £10 million-worth of business investment and the possibility of up to 300 jobs. Two years ago, a business consortium told me of an extensive plan to build a state of the art equestrian centre with conference and hotel facilities. That major project received backing from an enthusiastic American hotelier.
While the Prime Minister was in America, he asked America to invest in Northern Ireland. The American hotelier had said he wanted to invest, but what happened? The answer was no. Antrim borough council supported the planning application 100 per cent. If we elected representatives had had our say, we would have had £10 million worth of investment and 300 jobs. But officious planners said no. I have written to the Secretary of State on that matter. I hope that the Minister will reverse that tragic decision.
The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that I have discovered from the planners that equestrian activity is deemed to have no relationship to agricultural matters. One of my constituents wanted to adapt his farm to incorporate an equestrian site, but his plan was turned down because the use of horses for that purpose is not considered an agricultural activity—how ridiculous. I am not surprised by the hon. Gentleman's story.
I could understand the Government discriminating against asses, but not against horses. They had better put on their running shoes. The people of Northern Ireland put up with a lot of stick, but they are frustrated by planning issues. Hon. Members and Members of the European Parliament are told to try to win investment, but when an American organisation wanted to invest £10 million in Northern Ireland, it was not given planning permission.
Earlier today, I spoke to the business man to whom my hon. Friend referred. When the planners brought the application to Antrim council, they did not make any recommendations, but wanted the council's view. Yet when the council gave its unanimous view, the Department rejected it. Does my hon. Friend also agree that, as part of that scheme, it is intended that a provision will be made for bloodstock, so the site would have an agricultural use as well?
Yes, I know that that is a big problem. I know about the matters that my hon. Friend has put before the House. To my knowledge, he has been given the same information as I have. I do not know why the Government are not prepared to do something to keep that investment in Northern Ireland.
May I give another illustration about planning? In the north of my constituency is a thriving market town called Ballymoney, with an exceedingly narrow main street, so the planners decided to make it partly pedestrian. They proposed to do that by narrowing the street even more, yet still allowing traffic to go down it. I was there a couple of days ago and met my constituents and the traders, who pointed out to me the absolute folly of the planners.
One would think that the planners would have done their homework before deciding to narrow a street. But they arrived with concrete blocks, which they laid out on the street to the measurements that had already been agreed in the planning office. They then hired an Ulster bus, which they tried to get to manoeuvre down the street. The Ulster bus knocked down the concrete bricks, so the planners pulled them back a little and made the Ulster bus try again and again until at last it could get through. But a low-loader came down the street and knocked all the bricks to pieces.
Before the planners had that madcap scheme, they said that they would build a new road at the back of the business properties so that the businesses be serviced at the back instead of at the front. That scheme has been scrapped because of lack of finance, but the planners are continuing with narrowing the main street.
The Minister has a full report on that problem, because one of his top officials met us at my request. I hope that he will tell us today that the scheme will not proceed and that the street will be kept as wide as possible. If the Minister can get us that new road to service those businesses, I press him to do so. The businesses would be excited at that prospect, but it is certainly not happening at the moment.
We have many problems to consider, but some developments are good for the community. I welcome the fact that, just this week, the Academy of Strasbourg has entered into an agreement with the North Eastern education and library board arranging inter-community projects.
But all is not rosy on the educational front. Northern Ireland educationists seem to want to do away with rural schools. Rural schools are part of the cement that holds the community together. They are a meeting place for parents taking their children to and from school and for the community taking part in social activities at night. The curriculum is now crammed to unmanageable levels, making both teachers and pupils alike suffer. Teachers have told me that it is impossible to do all the paperwork and still find time to instruct the pupils.
I am trying, without much success, to keep open Moyarget primary school in my area. Many other schools are also being closed. I hope that if the school increases its number of pupils again, we shall be able to hold on to it. The numbers went down because the previous principal could not attend to her duties. The school was sometimes closed for one or two days a week and once it was closed for four days.
The parents asked me to tell the education authorities about it. I did so, and they told me that they were having the difficulty of disciplining that principal. The problem continued for more than a year. Naturally, the parents took their children from the school and left it in the doldrums. The school now has a very good principal and has been helped out of some of its difficulties, but, because of the education authority's policy, the board has said that, as the pupilship has gone down, the school is no longer viable and must be closed.
The Government must look into the whole issue of closing rural schools. In the near future, rural society will be regenerated throughout the European Union. If we destroy our rural communities, we shall not benefit from the funds that will become available. So the Minister has some hard thinking to do on education.
On economic development, a business man came to me the other day to tell me that he had set up a business that was an economic success. The Local Enterprise Development Unit had given him a grant of £60,000 over an 18-month period. For security reasons, I do not wish to mention the town in which he has set up the business, but it is outside Belfast. All his employees are ex-service men who served in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment or the Territorial Army.
Two weeks ago, LEDU officials told him that he could not have the grant unless he relocated in west Belfast. That was their ultimatum. We have heard in the House today accusations about consideration given to republican areas. Here is a case in point.
That business man is doing well in a predominantly loyalist area. The men who work for him could not do so in west Belfast without taking their lives in their hands. I have been in touch with the Department and I trust that I shall be in touch with it after today. Will the Minister look into those sensitive matters? Let us not destroy the good work which business men are doing.
I had an interesting happening today. When I first came to the House, a right hon. Member with an English constituency said that, in a Northern Ireland debate on an appropriation order, one could tour the land from Dan to Beersheba. That is a scriptural expression, with which undoubtedly those who know the Bible are acquainted. Enoch Powell said that—I have never forgotten it. I referred to that earlier when my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) was speaking. I got a note from Hansard asking whether it was the city of "Dun" and the city of "Masheba". I simply wrote back on the note: "Read your Bible!"
Which county are they in?
The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), who led for the Opposition, might wish them in another territory altogether. What I am saying is that we have been moving from Dan to Beersheba today. It is our responsibility, as elected representatives in the House, to use this opportunity to deal with these issues.
I could continue for another two hours on the problems in my constituency—I have only scratched the surface. I welcome the fact that we will be able to question Ministers in a different forum about giving an account of their stewardship. I can assure them that those questions will be put to them in the spirit of the defence of hard-working people in Northern Ireland who deserve the very best service from Government officials and from Ministers.
Judging from the earlier speeches, we could be forgiven for wondering whether we are having a political or a financial debate. I shall not be led down the path of answering the political remarks that were made, because it would not be fruitful to this debate and I would gain your disapproval, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I shall address the problem of the financial situation in Northern Ireland in the most general terms.
My major concern and that of my party—and probably all the parties in Northern Ireland—is to enhance the general quality of life in Northern Ireland. Basically, that means to ensure that public moneys are spent in the best possible way to give a good standard of living—and any good standard of living begins with a good job and a good house.
Coming from a constituency with an unofficial unemployment rate of some 22 per cent., I know what unemployment does to the community, the family and the individual. I say "unofficial" because unemployment statistics are not available for the constituencies of Northern Ireland as they are for England, Scotland and Wales. The area that I represent in the northern section is dealt with under the euphemism of "greater Belfast". I do not know where the statistics for the southern part of the constituency are dealt with.
My calculations show that there has been between 21.5 per cent. and 22 per cent. endemic and continuing unemployment not only in years of recession but in years of plenty. I do not think that unemployment could be any worse without a total disintegration of the rural community that I represent.
It is appropriate that part of the first vote deals with agriculture and fisheries. As some hon. Members have said, agriculture and fisheries are the bedrock of our communities in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the industrial base is centred on certain conurbations. The rural communities, by and large, have been devoid of inward investment and therefore still depend entirely on agricultural income and fishing income.
Two of the three major fishing villages are in my constituency, the other being in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor). Many references have been made to the lower income of farming communities over the past couple of years and the increase in basic overheads that they must contemplate not only this year but in the years to come. In real terms, the net income has reduced substantially over the past few years.
Reference has been made to hill livestock compensatory allowances and milk quotas. I shall not repeat them, although I endorse them completely. I draw the attention of the Minister to the aspects of agricultural policy which relate to maintaining an efficient and updated structure for the farms of Northern Ireland. The farming community greatly regretted the withdrawal last year of the agricultural development scheme, the ADOP. Since that scheme was withdrawn, there has been little or no reconstruction of farm buildings and the provision of service houses has been restricted.
I tabled a parliamentary question on the matter, which was answered on 22 February. In reply, the Minister told me that negotiations were continuing with the European Commission under the auspices of the Northern Ireland structural funds. Hopefully, the outcome will be a new scheme called the community support framework. I hope that that scheme is implemented urgently and backdated, if possible, to the point at which the agricultural development scheme stopped.
The second structural fund grant—the farm conservation grant—related to farm conservation. Those grants still exist, but in June 1993 they were reduced from 50 per cent. to 25 per cent. as a result of a budget decision rather than an EC decision. It is ironic that many farmers who applied before the changeover date in June 1993 were penalised on two grounds: the new budgetary resolution, and—this is unforgivable—the high level of bureaucracy within the Department of Agriculture, which was unable to process the applications that were made in time and before the change in policy.
I have received innumerable representations from farmers who submitted applications before the closing date. They did not receive any acknowledgment, and when their claims were processed, they were granted only the 25 per cent. rate. That is a despicable and mean way to service the agricultural community, who did what was legally required.
I said that the second part of the first vote relates to fishing. All hon. Members who have participated in the various debates on fishing know the traumatic time that the industry is going through at present. Not only have the quotas and total allowable catches been restricted year by year; we also have the so-called Fish Conservation Act 1993 which restricts the days of fishing at sea. As the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said, fishermen in the Northern Ireland ports will be able to go to sea for only 100 days per year if the Act is fully implemented.
Fishermen cannot and will not survive, for the simple reason that the economics of working only 100 days out of 365 is not viable. The upkeep of boats must still be maintained, and insurance must still be maintained. If a crewman is able to work only 100 days per year, obviously he will drift away from the industry, and the lifelong expertise of such people will be lost for ever. Therefore, the Act must never be implemented. It was introduced to the House under the guise of a conservation measure, but it is not a conservation measure because it does not apply to the other nationalities which fish in the Irish sea.
As has already been said, it is galling for the fishermen of Kilkeel to see, just a few miles away, boats from the Republic of Ireland going out to sea to fish for as long as they like. The fishing industry of the republic has a quota that it cannot catch. It has a surplus quota. In 1991, I was able to arrange for that element of the surplus quota to be transferred to the fishing industry of Northern Ireland. I should be pleased if the Minister responsible, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Baroness Denton, would repeat that arrangement, so that the surplus quota not caught by the republic could be transferred to Northern Ireland's fishermen through a swap or a deal between the two Governments.
On a more mundane, but relevant, issue for Ardglass and Kilkeel, those ports are still awaiting the provision of small capital sums that would enable them to sustain their present fishing industries. Kilkeel needs such capital to build an ice-making plant, and I should like to think that the Department of Agriculture could assist the local fishing industry by providing immediate funding for that project. In Ardglass, an early start should be made to provide new market buildings which will contain chill rooms. They are urgently needed to meet the new health and hygiene regulations, which require that the existing facilities should be replaced. If the fishing industry is to sustain its current level of activity, despite all the factors that operate against it, those modest capital projects should be implemented as soon as possible.
I am sure that the right hon. Member for Strangford shares my concern about the future of the lough fishermen who use Strangford lough. They are deeply concerned about the intention of the Department of the Environment to declare all Strangford lough a marine nature reserve. They maintain that their means of livelihood, which has been practised by generations of fishermen, would be greatly restricted. It would be appropriate for the Minister with the environment portfolio to hold a meeting with those fishermen—they are not unreasonable people—to try to work out a modus vivendi to accommodate all uses of the lough.
I thank the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) for the great tribute that he paid to my hon. Friends the Members for Foyle (Mr. Hume), for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) and for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron) on the magnificent way in which they represent their constituents and on bringing inward investment, capital and enterprise to their constituencies. I noted that he did not mention me, because he obviously recognises that I am the exception that proves the rule. I cannot boast that I have been successful in attracting new inward investment to South Down, no matter what pressure I have exerted. As a result, my constituency, in common with many other rural constituencies in Northern Ireland, has a high level of unemployment.
On one occasion I remember when the Industrial Development Board, through the Northern Ireland Office, replied to a letter from me and said that my constituency was too far from the main port of Belfast. The northern part of the constituency of South Down is 10 miles exactly from the centre of Belfast and its harbour. Month by month, announcements are made about inward investment to parts of Northern Ireland that are quite remote from port facilities, and good luck to them, but my constituency is not only close to Belfast harbour, but the southern part is serviced by the harbour of Warrenpoint. That port is equally accessible and could handle the export and import trade that inward investment would entail.
The Under-Secretary of State who is to reply to the debate wrote to me to say:
However, every effort is being made to encourage inward investors to establish their new businesses in the areas of high unemployment, including South Down.
That is a laudable statement, but is it borne out by the facts? For the three years ending 31 March 1990, 1991 and 1992, the number of visits from potential inward investors to Northern Ireland was 175, 231 and 240 respectively—a grand total of 646. Of that total, only 15 investors were asked to visit any part of the greater South Down area in those three years. I am bold enough to describe it as such because the figures given to me related to the district councils. Fifteen visits in total were made to Banbridge, Down and Newry and Mourne district councils. That does not represent a real commitment to the area.
Between April 1992 and 31 March 1993, no visits were made to Banbridge district; five visits were made to Down district council, with one repeat visit and four visits were made to Newry and Mourne district council, of which two were repeats. In 1992–93, the period for which the latest figures are available, a total of 333 first and repeated visits were made, of which nine were made to those three district councils. Surely any reasonable person would say that that does not represent reasonable endeavour in trying to attract industry to an area which has as high unemployment as any other area in Northern Ireland and which is convenient to the two harbours of Belfast and Warrenpoint.
The figures speak for themselves. I am dissatisfied at the way in which resources and endeavour have been allocated in this context. I am almost afraid to say that I have something in common with the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster, because I too complain about the way in which the cake, as he called it, has been distributed.
I must ask the Minister for clarification about a new proposal from the EC, which is causing great concern to the management of Warrenpoint harbour and docks. I have been unable to get a great deal of information about it. It is proposed to set up a new maritime zone between Wales and the Republic of Ireland for the purposes of committing grant aid in the Interreg programme for 1994 to 1999.
I understand that the introduction of such legislation would lead to the establishment of an irrational division of the Irish sea, which could seriously disadvantage the ports of Northern Ireland and inhibit their development, particularly that of Warrenpoint, which would be just north of that new Irish sea box. It is not a fishing box, but an Interreg programme box between Wales and the Republic of Ireland, running from Wexford north to Dundalk. We must consider carefully how that would effect the ports of Northern Ireland and the traffic to and from them.
Vote 2 deals in part with tourism. I hope that the Minister will encourage the International Fund for Ireland and give fair wind to the proposal to establish a Patrician centre in Down in the immediate future. That proposal is before the board of IFI and it would be an exciting venture in attracting tourists to South Down and Mourne.
The northern part of Mourne is, generally speaking, patrician country, with many churches, ruins and historic monuments relating to that period. The Patrician centre would at long last give a focus to the whole concept of the area. We have, rightly, the concepts of the north Antrim coast and the lakes of Fermanagh, among others.
The real concept of the Patrician country around Lecale and Mourne has never been fully developed. Its potential could reach not only throughout Europe, in which many villages and towns were developed by Patrician missionaries but also the north American continent. That centre will be absolutely crucial if and when we enjoy a peace dividend, when tourists will be able to visit our country without fear or inhibition.
I readily understand the hon. Gentleman's interest in a Patrician centre in Downpatrick and his loyalty to that area, because he is its elected representative in this national Parliament. However, the hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that several areas claim an attachment to St. Patrick. One of the great delights of life in Ireland is that St. Patrick was British. When he came to Northern Ireland as a Briton and landed at Bangor 1,500 years ago, he founded his church not in Downpatrick but in the ancient city of Armagh, which has the premier claim on anything to do with St. Patrick.
I do not know whether to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because it was riddled with historical inaccuracies beyond belief. St. Patrick landed in 432 at a place called Saul Brae, which is Gaelic for a barn. The local chief, Dichu, gave the barn to St. Patrick as his first church—and Saul Brae happens to be the townland in which I live. St. Patrick not only lived and worked there but legend has it, because there is no written history of the time, that he returned to Downpatrick and is buried on the hill of Down from which Downpatrick gets its name—Dun Padraig means the hill, or the fort, of Patrick. The remains of not only St. Patrick but Bridget, Colmcille and Malachy also rest there. In Downpatrick, you get four saints for the price of one.
On a more serious note, I urge the Minister to give fair weather and full support to that interesting concept of a Patrician centre, which will complement Downpatrick cathedral, St. Patrick's grave and the Down museum, all of which are within walking distance of the proposed site.
Vote 4 concerns the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity. I was disappointed that more attention was not given to the cost of energy in Northern Ireland in the fattening process prior to privatisation and after. To me as a lay person, Northern Ireland energy costs seem likely to increase significantly, which will be greatly detrimental to the area's economy in terms of production costs and, equally important, expense to the ordinary householder, who is paying more and more for the energy he uses.
In a written question, I asked the Minister what concerns the Government had, and was informed that it was a matter between two private companies. There is no competition for energy supply in Northern Ireland. There may be competition on paper for electricity generation, but not for its distribution. I can obtain electricity from only one supplier, and that company can charge me whatever it likes, despite the regulator's so-called powers. It was farcical for the Government to pretend that there would be competition. We shall pay the penalty in energy prices to industry and householders.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the high cost of electricity to industrial users poses a real threat as Northern Ireland tries to attract more inward investment? Is it not essential that the Government find a means of controlling the cost of electricity to domestic consumers and of reducing overall costs to industrial users?
I fully agree. As the hon. Gentleman was a particularly interested member of the Standing Committee that dealt with the privatisation Bill, he will recall that one of the Minister's key arguments was that privatisation would reduce energy costs, particularly to industry. That was the thrust of the Government's argument. It was said that the big buyers would be able to negotiate a bargain basement price, but that has not happened. We never believed it would, but we lived in hope. We have totally abandoned that hope.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) mentioned the enormous problems that the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel would cause in Northern Ireland. The basic level of energy costs in the Province adds to that, because the VAT element will be even bigger in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for emphasising the point made by the hon. Member for Wigan that Northern Ireland has always suffered much higher fuel costs than the rest of the UK. There is the added factor of the fattening of the calf for privatisation and subsequent increases. Another 17.5 per cent. will eventually be added by VAT, to fuel costs that are already inflated in the six counties.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Meekathara is seeking to develop lignite generating stations, which would provide for competitive prices, but that because of commitments made to the purchasers of the generating stations, there is no chance of that competition before 1997?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. There is also the question of competition from the Scottish interconnector project, which will cost £175 million.
There is an absence of competition not only in generation but in distribution. The company that buys electricity as a wholesaler can retail it at whatever price the company likes. Consumers have no redress except the nebulous regulator. From current statistics on energy costs, the regulator does not seem to be doing a very good job.
There is not much point in hon. Members coming to the debate and arguing, as I am now, for inward investment if the infrastructure is not there. We are told that there will be enormous cuts in the funding available for roads. The problem with many rural areas is that, in these times of plenty, they were not developed any way, so in times of scarcity there is little hope of getting a reasonable share of the cake.
I hope that the Minister will take on board a suggestion that was made to his predecessor—that the budget for roads should be split in some balanced way to enable those areas that have not had reasonable road development to have such development now whether or not they have the traffic capacity by which they are now judged on priority, because if we continue to allocate in the order of strict traffic priority, the roads that were not developed in the years of plenty will fall further into disrepair and any chance of providing a reasonable infrastructure to them will have gone forever.
It was interesting to note that Professor Austin Smyth, who heads the transport research group at the University of Ulster, said that Northern Ireland already suffered because it was a small peripheral state on the edge of Europe, and warned that the north would seriously lag behind even the Republic of Ireland on transport spending. He went on to say that the Irish Government will spend about 15 times more than the Northern Ireland Office on infrastructure during the next seven years. Apparently, the Republic of Ireland has agreed to spend £1,950 million on roads, rail and port facilities, but the Northern Ireland Office said that it will spend less than the £125 million that it spent during the last round.
An interesting book was issued by the Department in November last, called "Transportation Programme for Northern Ireland 1994 to 1999". On page 15, paragraph 124 states:
Northern Ireland's agricultural producers stress the importance of the region's green image in marketing their products in GB and mainland Europe. Investment in facilities which sustain the disease-free development of Northern Ireland's agricultural industry, together with the swift transportation of fresh produce, is crucial given the importance of the agricultural sector to the
region's economy as a whole.
If the Department is saying that and believes it, then it has not put its money where its mouth is. The programme contained in the transport programme for Northern Ireland does not give effect to that particular sentiment.
That is to be seen in the context of the overall spending of some £189 million on transport generally—ports, airports, railways, Ulster Bus, DUB, Northern Ireland Transport Holdings. Of that, some £14 million has been spent on roads, and of that, £8.5 million is coming by way of grant. The Department appears to be spending some £5 million net on a four-year programme. It is not a very ambitious programme. We must take out of that the priority programmes. Once that has been done, the rural communities and road services will suffer more and more.
The irony of that is that those communities are totally dependent on the provision of roads, as there are no railways in South Down, the bus service is inadequate and the roads have been neglected. Not one penny of capital expenditure has been spent on a major programme in the entire constituency for the past 14 years. That is the type of misallocation of resources about which I complain from time to time.
I shall now deal briefly with planning. Several hon. Members have quite correctly and eloquently touched on the question of rural planning and all the problems pertaining to it. A new influence is coming aboard in rural planning where the planners dictate the type of brick, the colour of the roof, and all that nonsense which we had hoped they had forgotten about 10 years ago. It seems to be coming back into vogue again. It is an enormous irritation to people who have gone through the whole planning process only to be beaten at the end of the day by the colour of their roof or walls. I am not talking about houses that are painted pink or yellow, but ordinary red-brick or white-finished houses, which are appropriate to the countryside that is Northern Ireland.
One of the most frustrating aspects of planning is the double permissions that are required. In theory, planning is a one-stop shop; in practice, it is a two-stop shop. One goes to the planning office and, with luck, it will give planning permission, subject to approval by the roads people. The roads people stay right in the background, never surfacing in public. They never go to individual cases to the district council, or to anybody else, yet it seems to have the authority to say whether a planning application goes through.
I make a plea to the Minister to pass on to his ministerial colleague the need to harmonise the permissions that I suggest are required from the planning officer and the roads officer. It should be a one-stop shop for that, instead of people getting the go-between and run-around between those two departments. One would think that they were separate departments of government, but they are in the same building—perhaps different corridors, but actually they are usually in the same building.
One has to go through a whole rigmarole to get a planning application past the roads people. Will the Minister take on board the comments already made about agricultural dwellings and other qualifications attached to housing, where the rundown of the agriculture work force makes those redundant? I do not know whether it would be legal or whether it requires legislation, but I suggest that, as in the first instance when the Department of Agriculture was asked by the planning office if there was an agricultural need, in which case it gave permission, surely that process can be reversed.
The Department of Agriculture could be asked whether the house is any longer required for agricultural need. If it is not, surely the qualification can be immediately withdrawn regarding farm worker dwelling or whatever it may be. I agree that a number of houses that are built in the countryside are not capable of being sold with the restriction attached to them.
Like many other hon. Members, I deeply regret the apparent moratorium or freeze in the Department of Education on further development, particularly on schemes which were well up the pipeline and which the schools and the boards of governors had planned to bring to fruition. Those now seem to have been stalled. I will not run to the parochialism of naming any particular one, but they are all on the Minister's desk. There is, however, one particular aspect of education regarding my constituency that I would like to address, because it has an impact on industrial development as well.
That is the amalgamation which took place between the further education colleges of Newcastle and Downpatrick after considerable pressure for both colleges to amalgamate. The Minister then responsible originally indicated that he would not grant recognition to the merged college as a provider for the new higher level work for 1994–95 and beyond, but the governing bodies of both colleges have now submitted additional information which they believe would and should lead to the college being granted what is called category 2 status, and thereby being permitted to progress its development plans for higher education.
Those joint colleges are in a relatively rural area and it is very difficult—indeed, impossible—for pupils to travel regularly to the other proposed centres, which would probably be Belfast or Newry. In some instances, security risks are posed to pupils travelling to some of the colleges involved. I ask the Minister to grant category 2 status to those amalgamated colleges.
With regard to the vote of the Department of Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) referred to the Belvoir hospital on the outskirts of Belfast, which has a fine tradition of treating patients with cancer, including leukaemia. I endorse that wholeheartedly: as a personal beneficiary of the hospital, I cannot but give the highest possible praise to its environment—I think that that is the best word to use.
Its care, understanding and general feel could not be replicated in the event of transfer to a general hospital; it is a specialist hospital which deals with a very difficult disease—a disease so heart-rending for those who suffer from it that it requires the special environment to which I have referred. I urge the Minister to reject any attempt at amalgamation out of hand as amalgamation with any of Belfast's large acute hospitals would result in a complete loss of the Belvoir hospital's special ethos.
I also make a plea for increased funds for community care. Currently, a great debate on the subject is taking place in Northern Ireland. No one is opposed to the concept of caring for a person in the community for as long as is humanly and physically possible, but there is no point in saying that we should care for people in the community if the care is not there. It is not a question of whether someone should be in a statutory or private nursing home, or in the community; what is most important is what is best for the patient. The elderly and infirm must have that choice, but choice can exist only if funds are available to provide back-up services in the community. Those funds are not there now.
An Order in Council inexplicably imposed 12 trusts for social services provision in Northern Ireland. We do not know why; that does not apply to England, Scotland or Wales. We have a fully integrated health and social services system, but the aim seems to be to tinker with something that is already working well. I do not know how the trusts will work—I hope that there will not be 12 different standards of provision—but, whatever happens, there is not enough money in the "care in the community" project to justify the massive change that the Government appear to be making in keeping elderly people out of residential care. The whole basis of assessment of the elderly is fraught with dangers for such people, who can well do without further trauma and stress.
Your tolerance and guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have enabled me to raise a number of subjects. Let me say to the Minister that what we are all trying to do tonight is raise the standard of living in Northern Ireland. Every day, a horrible mantle of violence falls on all of us. We all pray that it will end sooner rather than later, but in the meantime we must continue to live in the practical, factual world—and try to make living standards just that wee bit better than we left them yesterday.
I am not just trying to claw back money, or to get a bigger share of the cake. I want to secure a small rise in the tide, which will lift all the boats in every part of Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister will take some of my suggestions on board.
The debate has been interesting and wide-ranging. I wish to raise a number of points in the remaining three hours or so, but I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I shall not compete with earlier speakers. I do not intend to take up all that time, beating records that have already been set.
Last week, we discussed matters relating to Scotland and Wales on the Floor of the House. Now it is Northern Ireland's turn. Let me say in passing that, when Scottish matters were raised, many hon. Members waved coloured job application forms issued in the Monklands constituency—I believe that they were red and green. Apparently, it was a reference to sectarianism in the area. Filling up a form of a certain colour lets the town council know that the applicant belongs to a certain religion, and he therefore has a better chance of obtaining a job.
A few days later, in the Welsh debate, such was the temperature that I later found I was the only Opposition Member present. A Conservative Member had made some very hard statements, which eventually resulted in all Labour, Liberal Democrat and Welsh Nationalist Members walking out of the House.
Given that performance in debates relating to Scotland and Wales, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think you will agree that this evening's debate has featured a great sense of responsibility and decorum, which reflects well on Northern Ireland and its representatives from all parties in this, our national Parliament.
This may well be the last debate in which we can range widely around all the subjects affecting Northern Ireland. We can discuss everything in this debate, from the filling of potholes to the most important issues. I hope that the Minister will not simply palm us off by saying, "I will write to the hon. Member." I hope that we will be given proper answers. That, after all, is the purpose of the debate: the civil servants give the answers, and the Minister gives them to us on the Floor of the House.
If we are not given those answers tonight, however, the good news is that—if we get our Select Committee on Northern Ireland—Ministers and civil servants will become answerable to Members of Parliament from the Province.
I do not want to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but this is only one of two debates on appropriation orders this year. We shall have the chance of another gallop around the same course some time in the summer.
I hope that, in return, the Minister will take my point: he will be given a greater chance to answer in detail when we have our Select Committee.
Several hon. Members have mentioned agriculture. I am surprised that the one aspect of agriculture that has not been mentioned so far is Northern Ireland's milk industry, which is the biggest sector of our agriculture industry. I hope that the Minister will answer some questions about the future of the industry. As he will know, a complete reorganisation of the milk marketing schemes is taking place throughout the United Kingdom, involving the milk marketing boards of Scotland, England and Wales and Northern Ireland.
We have heard recently that the proposed reforms in England and Wales have been postponed—put on hold. We want to hear the Northern Ireland milk marketing board's latest proposals to reform milk marketing. It submitted its proposals to the Department, which gave 18 February as the closing date, for people to comment on the board's proposals.
We have passed that date, but still have not heard when the Department intends to issue its response. The responses of interested people were to be made available for public inspection once the consultation period had ended. Are their responses now available for inspection, and when do the Government intend to respond to the proposals of the Northern Ireland milk marketing board? Its proposals for a new co-operative to market milk were due to take effect as from 1 April 1994, but it is obvious that that will not be achieved, so will the Minister please update us on the progress that has been made?
A few weeks ago, I was at a large dairy producers' rally in Banbridge which was attended by about 500 dairy farmers. It was a successful meeting, which was organised by the milk marketing board. There is tremendous concern throughout the milk industry about its future. I was impressed by the number of young farmers who were present, asking good and intelligent questions, thereby expressing their concern about the future of the greatest sector of the milk industry.
My next point is about pensions for small farmers. A new early retirement scheme for farmers has been announced by the European Community. It is meant to apply mainly to smaller farmers. The issue was raised about eight weeks ago by my colleague and the Member of the European Parliament for Northern Ireland, Mr. Jim Nicholson. He has discovered that there are 6,620 farmers in Northern Ireland between the ages of 55 and 65 and that they own a total area of 174,800 hectares. Of those 6,620, about 5,960, who own 120,000 hectares, could benefit financially from this scheme.
The scheme is important to small farmers because it means that a farmer over 55 could have an annual pension of about £3,730, plus £233 per hectare, up to a maximum of £9,300 a year. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has said that it will take little interest in the new scheme because most farms in Britain are quite big and would not qualify for it, but the situation is entirely different in Northern Ireland, which has thousands of small family farms. It is an ideal region for the new early retirement scheme for farmers, which would enable the sons of our farmers to take over farms and get involved in agriculture. At the moment, they cannot do so because their fathers must hold on until they are unfit to continue.
Will the proposal be considered seriously by the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture? Let us use Northern Ireland as a trial to see how successful the scheme would be and what its take-up would be by smaller farmers. I believe that there would be a good response from small farmers from all sections of the community in Northern Ireland.
My final point on agriculture, about which the Minister can write to me because it is somewhat detailed, is on sheep annual premium scheme quotas. The Department issued notes and guidance to sheep producers on how the quotas should be applied. Paragraph 38 of its document contains a phrase that seems to be causing much confusion. It says:
You may transfer or lease all your quota rights.
Many sheep producers have transferred all their quota rights to several producers, but unfortunately the Department is now saying that they misinterpreted the document and that it should have said:
You may transfer or lease all your quota rights to one person.
It did not say "to one person", and that is the problem. Many people are caught in a trap created by this misunderstanding. I therefore ask the Minister to pursue that matter further, because I know that the situation facing many sheep producers would be eased if that misunderstanding were removed.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) referred to fishing—and rightly so, because he and I represent the two fishing areas of Northern Ireland. Portavogie is in my constituency. The situation in the fishing industry is more serious now than I have known it in my 15 years as its representative in the European Parliament and now here in our national Parliament. On Saturday evening, a young fisherman from Portavogie, who is married with one child, rang to say, "We are sitting here in the house freezing; we cannot even afford to buy a bag of coal." He was telling me the truth; I know the chap inside out. The skipper of his boat rang me this morning with much the same story. He, likewise, was in despair.
A serious situation is developing in the fishing industry. Of some 90 boats in Portavogie, 18 took part in the decommissioning scheme, but the position still remains dire. Weather conditions have been poor for fishing so far this year and fish prices have collapsed, which is causing unemployment in the Portavogie area. I join in welcoming Lady Denton as our new Minister with responsibility for agriculture in Northern Ireland. I have had a meeting with her about various other aspects of her responsibilities, and I look forward to the day when she comes to Portavogie to see the problems for herself.
In that rural village on the east coast of County Down, which has no other sources of employment, nearly 1,000 people are involved in a fishing industry that is now in decline. Some 300 work in the processing plants and 700 in the fishing fleet.
I ask the Northern Ireland Office to impress on our national fishing authorities and Ministers responsible for fishing the need to find out whether national aids are given to rival fishing fleets in the European Union. It has been reported that France is giving such aids to its fishermen. That is unfair competition for the fishermen of Northern Ireland.
Portavogie is a village with only one public building—the toilets. No public facilities exist other than the WC. We tried to get a community centre for Portavogie but the then Minister responsible for community relations, who left us a few months ago, wrote to say that it was not possible because there were not sufficient people from the two sections of the community living in Portavogie. In other words, Portavogie was discriminated against in terms of Government funding because too many people of one religion live there.
When Portavogie applied to the International Fund for Ireland more than a year ago, it was turned down again, but for a different reason. On this occasion, it was turned down in a letter which stated, ridiculously, that although the project was recognised as interesting and worthy of consideration, a similar proposal had, however, come from Greencastle in County Donegal. That proposal was proceeding and, instead of building a second structure of a similar type in Portavogie, it was recommended that fishermen from Portavogie travel to Greencastle. There are a variety of reasons why the fishermen of Portavogie would not be happy travelling to Greencastle in County Donegal—I shall not spell them out tonight—but it was the most ridiculous reply that I have ever heard from a public authority, if one can call the International Fund for Ireland a public authority.
As a result, I raised the matter in Washington, of all places, this time last year when I met representatives of the Irish lobby there and, especially, board members of the International Fund for Ireland. I said that there was discrimination against the village of Portavogie because it was overwhelmingly Protestant. I followed that up by writing a firm letter to the new chairman of the International Fund for Ireland—in fact, I wrote to the previous chairman, but he resigned shortly after receiving my letter and the reply came from Mr. William McCarter, the new chairman. The reply was reasonably promising. I see that the hon. Member for South Down has now returned to the Chamber, perhaps because I am now discussing fishing.
In the past few weeks, the International Fund for Ireland has announced a scheme for Annalong, Kilkeel, Ardglass and Portavogie. I put it on record that I greatly welcome the scheme and I hope that all our fishing villages will benefit from it. In Portavogie we are already in a good position to take advantage of the programme because, as I said, we have been working on it for the past few years. The Portavogie and district community association produced a report on what was needed in the village. Portavogie is, in fact, a small town with 3,500 people. I hope that the Northern Ireland Departments of the Environment and of Agriculture are reading the association's report and taking it seriously.
The report suggests that Portavogie should have a multi-purpose centre which would provide many facilities. As I said, we have only the one public building—the toilets. We need a multi-purpose centre to provide a location for health facilities and the training of fishermen and to provide a community hall. It would also provide accommodation for people connected with the fishing industry who have to stay in Portavogie overnight. I hope that the International Fund for Ireland, in co-operation with the Department of the Environment, will concentrate on the project now proposed by the local community in Portavogie.
The third paragraph of the press release of the International Fund for Ireland states:
This programme will be run in conjunction with the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland and will provide a major cross-community economic based project.
I emphasise the fact that 90 per cent. of Portavogie's 3,500 population are Protestant. There is cross-community co-operation but, obviously, it has to be limited in the context of the balance of the population. I hope that the fact that Portavogie is mainly Protestant will not be held against the village and prevent it from receiving benefits.
The hon. Member for South Down mentioned Strangford lough. There is an important meeting tonight about the future of Strangford lough in the main town of my constituency in Newtownards. I had hoped to attend the meeting last Thursday in Killyleagh in the hon. Gentleman's constituency but I could not because of the "Newsnight" programme on the Select Committee for Northern Ireland. I cannot be in Newtownards tonight either, but I underline the concern of the fishermen in and around Strangford lough about the Government's proposals for a marine nature reserve. It is suggested that dredging, trawling and dive collection will be forbidden and that the maximum boat length which is currently allowed will be reduced from 15.23 m to 12.19 m.
Families have been fishing in Strangford lough for generations. The hon. Member for South Down would perhaps claim that they have been doing so since the day St. Patrick arrived in South Down.
Long before that.
We come from two different traditions, but we are agreed that it is important that Strangford lough is preserved. It is, however, also important for the livelihood of the people who live in and around and work on the waters of Strangford lough.
There have been three great meetings—the first was in Portaferry, the second in Killyleagh and the third is in Newtownards tonight. I understand that the meeting at Killyleagh was quite noisy. I am glad to hear it—it was a typical Ulster meeting at which everyone made known their views, forcefully. I hope that the officials from the Department who are present will report back to the Minister and that, having undertaken a consultation process with the local people, the Minister will now decide to hold a public inquiry about the proposal for a marine nature reserve for Strangford lough before a final decision is made.
The hon. Members for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) and for South Down paid tribute to Belvoir Park hospital. As it is in my constituency, I am very aware of the problem facing the hospital and I appreciate the hon. Gentlemen's cross-community support. In its report on acute hospital services, the Eastern area health board recommended in three lines the closure of Belvoir Park hospital and its transfer to another site in the city of Belfast—that was the effect of its recommendation, but I do not have the exact words with me.
The important thing is that Belvoir Park hospital, which has been praised by hon. Members on both sides of the House and which is respected and appreciated by thousands and thousands of people in Northern Ireland who suffer from cancer and other diseases, has been dismissed in three lines without one reason being given for the board's decision. The way in which public bodies override public opinion in Northern Ireland at the moment is scandalous. There is no answerability under the system of government in the Province.
I have met the chairman of the hospital trust that controls Belvoir Park hospital and I have discussed the matter with Baroness Denton, the new Minister with responsibility for health. She was due to visit the hospital last Thursday and I hope that the visit took place. I understand that it would take £30 million or £40 million to relocate the hospital—which is recognised as a good hospital—in the centre of Belfast.
It would be a total waste of public funds when other hospitals throughout Northern Ireland need money. We should spend some of that £30 million or £40 million on improving Belvoir Park hospital and we should allocate the rest to other hospitals in the Province. The road system from all parts of the country to the hospital is excellent. The interesting point is that, although the Eastern board is suggesting closing down the hospital, none of the other boards that use it has reached the same conclusion.
As I have mentioned in previous debates, one has to watch the political pull—I do not mean party political—of those connected with the hospitals in the city of Belfast. The population there has fallen from 500,000 to only 290,000. If one followed what was happening in Great Britain, one would reduce availability in the city of Belfast and one would increase availability in areas such as North Down and Strangford where the population is increasing.
The reverse is happening in Northern Ireland. There is a political pull by those involved in hospitals in Belfast to try to get more into their area at the expense of those who live outside Belfast. In the case of Belvoir Park hospital, I ask the Government to pay no attention to the report by the Eastern health board and instead to consider the wishes of the people in this matter. Each hon. Member, no matter which party he comes from, is receiving letter after letter, day after day from his constituents saying, "Please save and support Belvoir Park hospital."
I now turn to roads and ports. Some of the subjects to which I wish to refer have already been touched on by other hon. Members. I simply want to lend my support in some cases because points need to be underlined. A few weeks ago, I attended a one-day conference at Belfast castle, which was organised by the university of Ulster. The subject was the problems of peripherality in the European Community in terms of roads and ports.
Unfortunately, the Northern Ireland Office Minister who attended the conference and gave a short address had already left when an important paper was delivered by the European Commission spokesman. The spokesman referred to ports in Europe and he showed us many great maps on the screen. Four important ports were shown for the island of Ireland: Dublin, Waterford, Dun Laoghaire and Rosslare.
I could remain quiet no longer. I said, "Mr. Chairman, may I intervene? Why are the two largest ports in the island of Ireland not on this map?" I did not mention what the two ports were at that stage. The Commission man looked shocked and he did not know what I was talking about. To help him, I said, "Belfast and Larne." He then coughed and muttered, and finally said, "Oh, this map is not finalised yet. Those ports could still be added."
It is a total disgrace that, after years of public debate, the Government, through the Northern Ireland Office, and the United Kingdom representation in Brussels—UKREP—have failed to get the European Commission to recognise that Larne and Belfast are the two biggest ports in the island of Ireland and should get priority treatment from the European Community ahead of any other port in the island.
Despite the fact that the Conservative Government have gone for privatisation, could it be that they are penalising the private ports of Larne and Stranraer and supporting trust ports, such as Dublin?
I cannot answer that; it is up to the Government. Perhaps the Minister will take up that matter when he replies. The interesting thing is that market forces in Northern Ireland and, to a considerable extent, in the Republic of Ireland have dictated that Belfast and Larne shall be the two main ports in the island of Ireland. The present policy of Northern Ireland Ministers of trying to divert traffic away from Belfast and Larne down to a new port in Dublin and other ports in the Republic runs contrary to what market forces require in the island of Ireland. I must tell the hon. Member for South Down the bad news; he touched on it himself and he was perfectly right.
During the conference, I spoke to many transport people from Dublin; I will not mention them by name because it would embarrass them. I said, "This Northern Ireland Office of ours is spending money on roads and railways between Northern Ireland and Dublin and you now intend to spend a lot of money—£50 million—on improving Dublin port. Will that not be a great waste of money? Would it not be better to put that £50 million into improving the transport system to the ports that Northern Irish and southern Irish business wants to use?" The man to whom I was speaking laughed and said, "You are probably right, but we want to have a big port ourselves."
I said, "If you get a big port in Dublin for £50 million from the cohesion fund of the European Community and if, in the meantime, we build these lovely roads and railway lines down to Dublin, what will happen to our ports?" The Dubliners replied, "Belfast will be okay and Larne will be okay, but we are afraid that Warrenpoint will probably die a natural death." That is the way they see it. Warrenpoint will lose because of the way in which money will now be spent in Dublin at the expense of Warrenpoint harbour.
For the purposes of accuracy, I refer to the report issued by the Department of the Environment on its transport programme. Table 4.6 shows traffic in and out of the various ports of Ireland, both north and south: Belfast has 8.1 million tonnes, Dublin 7.7 million tonnes, Larne 3.7 million tonnes and Warrenpoint 1.5 million tonnes. Those statistics were correct at November 1993. The largest port is Belfast, followed by Dublin and then by Larne.
The hon. Gentleman was referring to freight only, but we are considering passengers as well. Larne is the second largest passenger ferry port in the British Isles, never mind in the island of Ireland.
Surely, if there had been any fairness in the way in which that matter had been approached, due reference would have been made to the four important ports in Northern Ireland. That includes the service that is provided through the modernised port at Londonderry. It is in our interest, in the interests of commerce in Northern Ireland and in the interests of all those users of our present facilities to ensure that proper recognition is given to all four ports in Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We have four important ports, as he says. The hon. Member for South Down, the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionist Members should be uniting to save Larne, Belfast, Londonderry and Warrenpoint. Warrenpoint has a shaky future if the present developments on which the Northern Ireland Office and the Dublin Government are co-operating proceed without a challenge from the elected representatives of Northern Ireland.
I shall now turn to the issue of the roads leading to those ports. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) mentioned the importance of the road to Larne. I underline what he has said and shall quote one simple fact which, as a civil engineer, certainly makes sense to me. Road traffic and civil engineers decide road strategy on the present and projected use of road systems. Therefore, one would expect that a road that has a high level of vehicular traffic would have priority over other roads with less traffic. That is not the case in Northern Ireland, and certainly is not since the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Before that agreement, priority on road projects in the Department of the Environment estimates was decided on traffic density. Since that agreement, there has been a change of policy and road schemes are selected for roads that cross the border into the Republic of Ireland. Those roads are given priority over roads that are used more.
I shall state some facts. The road to Larne, the second largest port in the island of Ireland, carries 16,000 vehicles per day. The road to Dublin carries only half that traffic—8,000 vehicles a day. Yet Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office, for reasons known to them and for reasons arising from the Anglo-Irish Agreement, have decided to downgrade the road to Larne, which is twice as busy, and instead upgrade and give priority to the road to Dublin.
The same happened at the Foster Green junction, which is near the boundaries of Belfast, South and my constituency. The Foster Green junction carries 50,000 vehicles per day—not 8,000 to Dublin, but 50,000 to Belfast—and the scheme there was supposed to begin in 1992. The tender documents were drawn up to go out to contract, but the new policy emerged in the Northern Ireland Office and, because of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, priority had to be given to transport systems to Dublin. Suddenly, the great scheme proposed for the Foster Green junction was postponed for another four years and the money that was to be spent on it was transferred to the bypass at Newry.
Those facts cannot be denied. I assure the Minister that people in the borough of Castlereagh, whether Unionist, Democratic Unionist or alliance, are all agitated at the loss of that major road scheme and on their behalf I ask for it to be brought forward as a matter of urgency.
In my European context, I want to back plans for the road to Carrickfergus, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East. I have a vested interest because I go to Carrickfergus every week, where I have a small business. From personal experience, I know of the dreadful traffic conditions on the A2 from Belfast to the borough of Carrickfergus, just past the university. Suddenly, instead of a dual carriageway, one is trained into a single track.
Carrickfergus is the fastest growing town in Northern Ireland. Perhaps due to the problems in Belfast, many people are moving to live in that most attractive town. It is the fastest growing town in Northern Ireland, with the greatest traffic chaos getting into it and out of each day. The road is right beside our biggest university and it certainly needs to be improved quickly. I ask the Minister who is responsible for roads—I know that he will not be replying to the debate—to recognise the importance of Carrickfergus as one of our fastest growing towns, as my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East said, and to give priority to that road scheme.
The Comber bypass in my constituency, a scheme which was due to commence two years ago, has been postponed. Yet again, the £2 million to £3 million that had been allocated to that bypass has been reallocated to the route to Dublin as a result of the present policies of the Northern Ireland Office.
The final matter that I want to mention in relation to roads is a very local one. After all, it is to air such matters that we have these debates. It is a reflection on the whole system of government in Northern Ireland that the Secretary of State and his Ministers demand that they decide which potholes should be filled and which minor road schemes should be carried out. They do not allow local authorities to deal with those matters, which they could do most effectively—and probably much better than central Government because they have the local knowledge. While the present system pertains, however, I am forced to mention some points which, although they may seem small to hon. Members, are certainly not small to the local community.
In the Comber area, we have two examples of what I regard as lack of consultation between the road service and the local community. A third example has arisen recently in the Ards peninsula between Greyabbey and the Roman Catholic chapel at Kircubbin. I have visited the road outside the Roman Catholic chapel and seen the problem there. I have been to Castle street in Comber to inspect the problem there. The other problem, which was drawn to my attention only on Thursday and which I have not yet seen, is at Lisbane outside Comber.
The road service is closing roads to carry out minor works, and in doing so is quite unnecessarily putting local people and workers going to work in the morning and returning home in the evening to great inconvenience. Two Mondays ago at 10 o'clock, I visited Kircubbin on my way to Portaferry to see the great new aquarium that is about to be opened there. The sign said "Road closed".
I had already heard about this nonsense, so I said to the chap who was with me, "We'll drive on and see what this is like." We drove on and discovered that, the whole way from Greyabbey to Kircubbin chapel, there was not a workman or a machine on the road—yet the road had been closed to the public all weekend. Imagine the inconvenience caused to farmers, to workers going to Belfast, and so on. There was nothing on the road. One could have driven along it quite easily.
The same happened in Comber. Admittedly, they are laying a pipeline down the middle of Castle street; it is certainly a larger scheme, which needs to be controlled more tightly. The Department of the Environment put up signs at each end saying "Road closed". We are talking about the main street in the town of Comber, both sides of which are lined with shops. A new petrol filling station has just been built at a cost of £500,000.
For three months, a sign was to be in place saying "Road closed". That would have meant that no one could get into a shop or the filling station for three months. No business man could survive for three months without people calling into his shop or his filling station. All that was needed was an arrangement whereby, instead of notices saying "Road closed", we had notices saying "No through road" or something of that nature. People would then have known that they could still drive into the street and go to the shops although they could not get out at the other end.
I gather that the same is now happening at Lisbane. I cannot comment in further detail until I have been there, but I have received complaints from constituents there to the effect that the road is closed and damage is being done to businesses. I appeal to the road service in the Comber and the Ards area to show a little more understanding to the business community and the public and not to inconvenience them in this way.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that those of us who live in the west of the Province and who depend on the M1 motorway for access to Belfast—where much of our constituency work has to be done as we visit the various Departments—are not at all surprised by what he says? The M1 is in a constant state of contraflow or lane narrowing because of work that is supposedly being done. But if one drives down the motorway, one finds that there are comparatively few people working on it. No thought is given to the convenience of those who travel from the west of the Province and are totally dependent on that motorway.
I certainly understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. The reason for the contraflow is the current motorway bridge improvement scheme. I am sure that, just as in the case of the Greyabbey-Kircubbin road, motorists must endure a contraflow or even leave the route altogether. In fact, people travelling along the M1 towards Belfast sometimes have to leave the motorway at Lisburn. If, in those circumstances, it is found that no work is going on, people become upset.
I should like to conclude with a reference to education. During this debate we have heard about the increasing unemployment of nurses in Northern Ireland. As has been said, the Northern Ireland Office encourages people from southern Ireland to come to the Province for training and sees that they are given all the benefits. It is ridiculous that, at a time when our own nurses are being thrown out of work, 11 per cent. of student nurses in Northern Ireland are from the republic. That contradiction requires the serious attention of Ministers if they are really concerned about the people of Northern Ireland and about the provision of jobs in Northern Ireland for nurses from the Province.
In our universities one finds a similar contradiction. Northern Ireland's two universities now have 2,000 undergraduates from the republic. I understand that the education of those people costs the British taxpayer £5 million a year. It may be argued that that is forced on the Northern Ireland Office by new European Community regulations, but that is too easy a dismissal. This situation has serious consequences for Northern Irish 18-year-olds who have just obtained their A-levels and want to pursue a university education.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a higher proportion of young people in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the United Kingdom are capable of going on to university? Is not that a result of Northern Ireland's retention of its grammar schools, where young people get a thoroughly sound and structured education? Such an education makes people more eager to go to university, and it is a great pity that they should be crowded out.
I always like to agree with the hon. Lady. She and I have worked closely together for many years. On this issue, as on many others, she is right. The standard of education in Northern Ireland is very superior to what is found in Great Britain, especially England and Wales. I hear someone whisper that the people of Northern Ireland, too, are very good. Our grammar school system has resulted in the maintenance of a very high level of education. But my main point is that the higher chances that should result from better A-levels are diminished by the invasion of 2,000 southern Irish students, who, I repeat, are being paid for by the constituents of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman).
If I introduce a note of religion, it is to explain that education in Northern Ireland is divided along sectarian lines. The Roman Catholic Church—perfectly within its rights—demands control over its own schools. It is a tradition that many Northern Irish Protestant students go to university in Britain, especially Scotland. Indeed, 40 per cent. of the undergraduates of Dundee university are from Northern Ireland. I am glad to report that there is even a pretty strong Ulster Unionist presence at Dundee university today.
It has not been the tradition for Catholic students to leave Northern Ireland. They normally studied at Queen's university and more recently, at Ulster university in Jordanstown and in Coleraine. However, over the past four years, instead of just 5 per cent. of Catholic students leaving Northern Ireland for university, the percentage of Catholic students having to leave Northern Ireland has increased to 30 per cent.
That has happened for two reasons. First, there are fewer places available in Northern Irish universities because of competition from applicants from the south of Ireland. Secondly, as thousands more students from the Republic are applying to enter the two universities in Northern Ireland, in response to supply and demand, the Northern Ireland universities are raising their entrance requirements.
It is becoming more difficult for students to gain entrance to universities in Northern Ireland. As standards are much lower in English universities, they can gain entrance to those universities much more quickly. It is easier to enter an English university now than it is to enter a Northern Irish university because so many southern Irish students are applying for entrance to Northern Irish universities.
The result of that cycle of events is that the working class population of Northern Ireland—and a very large percentage of the Catholic community is working class—are suffering severe discrimination with regard to the availability of university education in Northern Ireland. Working-class parents are forced, because of the lack of places in Northern Irish universities, to spend more money to send their children to universities across the water in Great Britain.
I mentioned that severe problem a year ago. It has become worse over the past 12 months. Roman Catholic parents agree with what I said a year ago. They are losing in relation to the availability of university places in Northern Ireland.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is resentment within the Province, which I have heard expressed increasingly by students in the west of the Province, about young people not being able to gain entrance to what they term their own universities in the Province? Does he agree that there is suspicion that there is a plan to get the young people of Northern Ireland to leave the Province in the hope that many of them, especially those from the Protestant community, will not return?
The hon. Gentleman may well be right. Northern Ireland is full of suspicion and innuendo. I began by saying that this dreadful situation has arisen from a European Community decision. I conclude that it is hurting the less well-off people in the community, who include a large section of the Roman Catholic minority. Those people, who had been gaining much from university education at Queen's university and Ulster university over the past 20 years, are being placed at a disadvantage and must pay to send their students across the water. Thirty per cent. of all Catholic students are leaving Northern Ireland as a result of the new pressure to which I referred.
I should have liked to say much more, but I am afraid of beating the record set by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). If we had our own say in the affairs of Northern Ireland, the money that is spent on educating southern Irish students could be used to provide nursery school facilities throughout the length and breadth of the Province.
There is a dearth of nursery school facilities in Northern Ireland. At the moment, only 5,000 children receive nursery school education in Northern Ireland, when there are 55,000 children who should be at nursery schools. Of course, the Northern Ireland Office says that it has no money and it cannot provide nursery schools. We can find £5 million every year to educate southern Irish students and we can throw millions of pounds at educating southern Irish nurses, but we do not have a penny to spend on nursery schools in Northern Ireland.
I raise those issues in the hope that the Minister will give a fuller response to them. He may say that he has no time and that he will send us some letters. I warn him that a letter will not satisfy the Select Committee for Northern Ireland when we get it.
Northern Irish colleagues do not often have an opportunity to debate their affairs, so I shall not take up too much of their time. I think, however, that they will appreciate comments from a Scottish Member. Scotland and Northern Ireland have close social, cultural and economic links. I should like to give the House the benefit of an outside view. I know that another Scot will wind up the debate for the Government, but I do not suppose that my Northern Irish colleagues will be as happy with his speech as with mine.
The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) mentioned his presence at Scottish and Welsh debates and said that today's debate was being conducted with much more decorum. Perhaps that is connected to the fact that, unlike hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland, the majority of hon. Members who represent the fellow Celtic nations of Wales and Scotland do not support the Government.
The debate is about money, which is important. It is also important that there is closer scrutiny of spending in Northern Ireland, which has a unique position in the United Kingdom. There is a danger of apathy and non-scrutiny resulting in officials and Ministers taking decisions that do not have the support of the public or of Northern Irish Members.
It is appropriate to mention the costs of violence when debating estimates and the appropriation order. As a Scottish Member talking about Northern Ireland I shall give no moral lectures, but it is relevant to discuss the costs of violence. I am not anti-spending in that sector. The rest of the United Kingdom, Britain, owes a debt to Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland on which we have depended for support, not least in the first world war.
I have with me an independent report that traces expenditure in the British Government Departments in Northern Ireland. That expenditure is expressed in constant prices. The figures are derived primarily from the Government's expenditure plans and priorities for 1993–94 to 1995 published by the Department of Finance and Personnel and Her Majesty's Treasury. The report includes a graph which shows how the spending percentages in the total cake in Northern Ireland have changed. Between 1987–88 and 1995–96, the percentage of the cake spent on law and order will have moved from 11 to 12 per cent. That is the cost of the violence. That money could be much better used to deal with some of the problems mentioned by my Northern Ireland colleagues.
The percentage of the total to be spent on industry, energy, trade and employment initiatives by the Northern Ireland Office between 1987–88 to 1995–96 has dropped from 8 to 6 per cent. Housing spending has dropped from 7 to 3 per cent. of the total. I was impressed by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive officer, who happens to be called Mr. McEvoy—spelt with an "e"—and who is a competent official.
Spending on social security increased from 31 to 33 per cent. of the total now. Spending on health and personal social services increased from 17 to 19 per cent. The increase in health and personal social services and in social security is the price not of violence but of unemployment. It is the price of failure, which the Government have imposed on the people of Northern Ireland. The Government have failed to do something about those conditions.
I realise that the Minister must have a long list of points to answer but I should like to add one or two to that. The Compensation Agency has received a number of new claims because of the new emergency provisions. Claims have risen from 3,560 in 1990–91 to an estimated 4,600 in 1993–94, which is an increase of more than 1,000 claims. What is the background to that increase? The Compensation Agency's total expenditure for the period 1993–94 amounts to £94 million. What a waste that that money must be spent as a result of violence and not used positively on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.
The report shows a notable decline in the planned expenditure on compensation in the period from 1991–92 to 1995–96. Given that position, how can the Government plan a reduction in expenditure on compensation? The report includes a line about trade, industry and employment, to which I shall return later, with regard to incentives to commercial enterprises to expand.
Legitimate fears have been expressed about the risk of terrorists attacking the interconnector between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It has been mentioned that the cost of installing the interconnector from Scotland to Northern Ireland will be £175 million. Apart from the fact that many parts of rural Ayrshire will be devastated, I am not convinced that that interconnector will be safer from terrorist attack than the interconnector between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The Department of the Environment spent £1 million between 1987 and 1988 but the report does not show how much was spent on ports. I have heard the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), time and again, raise the point about Larne, on which I support him. Why is there no specific spending on ports?
A number of hon. Members have mentioned the rural nature of many parts of Northern Ireland. I notice that spending on housing is to be reduced over a period of years. The Government may argue that they have almost completed their job in inner cities, which is where most of the problems have been, but the level of unfitness and serious disrepair in private sector rural housing still stands at 65.3 per cent. How can the Government reduce spending on housing from 7 per cent. of the total cake in 1987–88 to 3 per cent. in 1995–96, when rural housing is so important to many people in Northern Ireland?
Another item in the report gives current and future estimates by the Department of Finance and Personnel and other public services. In 1987–88, £10 million was spent on financial administration and central management of the civil service and other services. By 1994–95, that figure will have almost trebled to £29 million. It will be interesting to hear why a Conservative Government dedicated to reducing the number of civil servants has trebled spending on the financial administration of the civil service during that period. If only grants and other employment measures had trebled, too.
My colleagues have also rightly made the point that the level of health is poorer in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. One of the officials from the Northern Ireland Office who gave evidence to the Public Accounts Committee said that Northern Ireland is comparable to Scotland in that respect. I do not think that we can underestimate or totally ignore the effect of unemployment on people's health, as the Government seem to do. That conclusion has been resisted by the Government for years, but they now seem to accept that unemployment and deprivation affect people's level of health. It is the classic situation that, if one does not spend money, it costs money in the long run.
Expenditure through the European regional development fund dropped from £46 million to £34 million in the period that I mentioned. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) referred to the operations of the European Community. My colleagues, especially my Unionist colleagues, mentioned doubts about co-operation with the Republic of Ireland. When I look at the job that the Republic of Ireland has done in getting some of its money back from the Common Market, it makes me envious, and I wonder why this Government cannot get some of their money back from the Common Market.
I shall spend a few moments on the record of the Republic of Ireland, which comes from a journalist who is not unknown to the Minister and not unsympathetic to his ideology. Today in the Glasgow Herald, Murray Ritchie said:
Well, guess which EU state these days has a growth rate miles ahead of the rest and whose manufacturing sector is booming compared with all its partners. Which state has enjoyed the lowest inflation in the past five years? Fastest rise in exports? Biggest external payments surplus in the EU? Lowest level of borrowing?
And what is regarded as an indicator of wealth—
Proportionately more home owners in the EU than everyone except the Portuguese?
That is how the Republic of Ireland operates the system. Why does the Northern Ireland Office not operate the same system? Why do not the Government ensure that Northern Ireland gets its share of the European Regional Development Fund the way that the Republic of Ireland is getting its share?
I have already spoken and I do not want to take up any time, except to say that the hon. Gentleman has left out one of the other things which the Republic of Ireland has as the biggest in the European Community—its emigration rate.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I know that he thinks that people from the Republic of Ireland are all heading for the north. I am not sure whether he has any figures to prove that, but I shall accept what he says.
My point is that this small country, which is just across the border from part of our country, is more successful in getting more of its money back from the Common Market than Northern Ireland.
It is your money.
I am talking about the Republic of Ireland's money. I am certainly in favour of the United Kingdom taxpayer getting more money back from the Common Market. The Republic of Ireland is conning money out of the Common Market which has been paid for by the British surplus. The blame lies with the British Government, not with anyone else.
Before I deal with the next item, I shall declare an interest of some sort. Unlike my hon. Friends, I am sponsored by the Co-operative movement. Of course, there is no personal gain in that. The Co-operative movement—the CWS, the Co-operative Retail Society and the Belfast Co-op—has expanded its retail operations, which has meant an increased share in the retail trade. In common with other commercial operators and shops, it has suffered bomb damage from the terrorists. What incentives has the Minister offered to commercial operators who are willing to develop and expand their field of activities in Northern Ireland, as the Co-op has done? I should like more positive incentives to be given to them.
The Co-op pursues an own-brand sales policy and a large percentage of the brands sold are made in the island of Ireland. although I am not sure of the specific details. Anything that affects the economy of the island must surely be of benefit to all. The Co-op ensures that 15 per cent. of its total lines are Irish brands, and that can only be good.
The political philosophy of co-operation can be helpful. I will not hear any moral lectures from anyone outside Northern Ireland. According to that philosophy, people come together for the common good to ensure that trade operates to the benefit of ordinary people, but that philosophy of co-operation can be extended through all facets of life. I suggest humbly that the principle of co-operation has much to offer to the people of Northern Ireland.
It was just a short time ago that I attended the funeral of a constituent of mine, Police Constable Johnston Beacom. I was subsequently present at the graveside when his body was interred. He was a young community police officer and a deeply committed Christian, who harboured no ill will for anyone in the entire island of Ireland. It was his greatest wish to do good whenever he got the opportunity.
That man was slaughtered, like so many others before him and many more to come, by Irish republican terrorists, who believe that, by killing and destroying, they can force the people of Northern Ireland to capitulate and the British Government to engage in further clarification of the Downing street declaration.
I was deeply moved at the service when I saw his young wife. I realised that he had left behind tiny tots who are now fatherless, and parents who have been left with a tremendous void in their lives. I compare the sacrifice that he and many others like him have made in the past 26 years with the evil men who skulk around Northern Ireland and elsewhere doing their evil deeds and engaging in carnage.
The sad thing for the people of Northern Ireland is that, at present, those terrorists and their political wing and political sympathisers are basking in the limelight of publicity. That has followed the entreaties made to them to engage in the peace process. I hope that peace comes to Northern Ireland; certainly the people of Northern Ireland deserve it.
When I heard tonight that the high unemployment in west Belfast was the fault of Britain, I could only laugh at that claim, because unemployment—certainly the greater part of it—in west Belfast, and elsewhere throughout the Province, is due to the machinations of the Irish Republican Army and all the other terrorists in Northern Ireland. They are the ones who blow up businesses and destroy factories.
The IRA is adept in the United States, through its political organisations, at trying to dissuade business men from investing in the Province. It is the terrorists who are creating unemployment and driving young people away from Northern Ireland. It is a matter of deep regret to me thatm the media in the United States gave so much publicity to Mr. Gerry Adams on his recent visit there.
The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) rightly criticised the financial aspect of students coming to Northern Ireland universities. I was glad of the opportunity to study at Trinity college in Dublin. The value of attending a university is not just obtaining a degree but the opportunity for young people of different religions, cultures and races to meet. The more that people get together, the better for Northern Ireland. I think in particular of my own constituency of Bangor, whose abbey and college were destroyed 1,300 years ago by Vikings, who came in their hordes and slaughtered the monks and students.
Those Vikings subsequently travelled farther down the coast and created the modern city of Dublin. Bangor was already ancient when Dublin was created—a centre of learning for students from all over Europe, which was good for them and for the people who lived in that part of Ireland centuries ago. I am all for the movement of people and the exchange of ideas, because the more that young people get together, the better chance there will be of creating understanding and harmony.
It is lamentable that some bureaucrats play down unemployment in my constituency from the safety of their offices, pensionable jobs and statistics. They ignore the fact that unemployment causes great hardship for people of all ages but particularly for the young in North Down. I doubt that the bureaucrats who treat that information just as statistics and not as the records of human beings know what it is like to be on the dole.
Those bureaucrats, and perhaps Ministers as well, ought to call at homes in my constituency and talk to the unemployed fathers, mothers, sons and daughters who are robbed of the dignity of going to work and bringing in a wage or salary, to allow them to provide for the necessities of every family and home and to give their children the opportunities they themselves did not have when they were young.
I make a particular appeal in respect of school leavers and college graduates in my constituency, who may have to abandon Northern Ireland to find work in England or elsewhere. Northern Ireland needs its young people—they are its real wealth. Young, talented people with idealism and fervour, who are anxious to work and to make a career for themselves, are needed if the Province is to be transformed into a prosperous and vibrant society.
A society can only be judged by how it cares for its senior citizens. Many elderly people in North Down, as in other parts of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, live isolated lives, and some experience financial difficulty. I urge the Government to do more to help them. I think particularly of the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel.
I ask the Government to encourage others to offer their services in caring and looking after the elderly. It is much better if the elderly can stay in their own homes among their treasured possessions and in a neighbourhood they know, rather than be put in a residential home.
I am worried about the standard of care offered by a number—albeit a minority—of the private residential homes in the United Kingdom. Greater inspection is needed rather than less to protect those vulnerable people who, the moment the relatives leave, are at the mercy of those who control those homes. The vast majority are dedicated staff—I know a number of them in residential and nursing homes and can speak highly of them—but I worry about some of the homes and how the people are cared for. The Government must provide better and greater inspection.
That brings me to the subject of the Banks residential home, with which I link Enter house, a residential home in Dundonald. They are statutory homes and must not be sold off. Speculators are waiting in the wings to purchase them. I have certainly heard it suggested that the Banks would be purchased under the guise of saving it as a residential home. No doubt in the course of time it would be closed, divided up and sold off, with considerable profit to the speculator.
I recently had a meeting with the new Minister at the Department of Health, Baroness Denton, at which I made a passionate plea on behalf of the three hospitals in the North Down area: the Ulster at Dundonald and the Bangor and Ards hospitals. She listened sympathetically. I hope that, in due course, she will respond in the way that I suggested.
I had called for the reopening of the ward that had been closed at the Ulster hospital. It is scandalous that, under recent cuts, some patients are being diverted from the Ulster hospital in Dundonald to hospitals in the centre of Belfast—the Royal Victoria and City hospitals. I urge the Minister to keep in mind the needs of the people of Bangor. Bangor has a population of some 75,000, which continues to increase, yet Bangor hospital has been run down.
I demanded of the Minister then—I repeat that demand now to the Minister who will be replying to the debate in great detail and at great length—that the services provided at Bangor hospital should be enhanced with the provision of a maternity ward and casualty department. The people of Bangor desperately need a hospital suitable for the size of the community, a hospital that is worthy of the area, a hospital to look after all the people, young and old, who live in Bangor or the surrounding area.
The Ards hospital is a former workhouse and needs a replacement. The ideal solution is to provide a new major hospital between Bangor and Newtownards. But since that is not likely in the foreseeable future, the people of North Down are entitled to have the existing hospital services enhanced and increased to meet the needs of the people living in the area. I pay tribute to the doctors, nurses and staff at all those hospitals. They and the people of Bangor, Dundonald and Ards deserve a fair deal from the Government.
I conclude by making reference to St. Patrick, whom we shall be celebrating—at least some of us will—on St. Patrick's day on 17 March. St. Patrick seems to have been hijacked by Irish Republicans, but he was a Briton, kidnapped and taken to Northern Ireland, or what is now Northern Ireland. He returned of his own free will and landed, as I claim, in Bangor, in my constituency. His holy footsteps are no doubt there to be followed by many others. Without doubt, he was a Briton—and presumably, if he returned today to Northern Ireland, where he landed before, the Republican terrorists and their political sympathisers would tell him to go home: "Brits go home," they would say.
St. Patrick is an Ulsterman by adoption. I think that all the people of Northern Ireland should recognise him as a person whose life is worthy of celebration, and I like to think that everyone there will celebrate his name day on 17 March.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) spoke of treading from Dan to Beersheba—covering all the ground open to us. I intend to speak—harshly, unfortunately—about only one aspect of life in Northern Ireland.
Much of what we are considering today will have a far-reaching financial effect on the day-to-day lives of the people whom I represent. That may appear to be a fairly self-evident truth, but I do not necessarily mean a beneficial effect. Sadly, although those who administer our affairs in Northern Ireland live and work no more than 100 miles from the furthest extremity of the Province, some of them might as well live halfway around the world, in terms of their understanding of our rural population.
Rural Northern Ireland—and we are, or at least were, a rural community—is being gradually but ruthlessly decimated by the conduct of our affairs under the direct-rule system of government. To live in a rural area is to be a victim of blatant social engineering. The most culpable in that regard are the planners, who are, in practice, a cabal of the most arrogant, unreasonable, dictatorial and conniving bureaucrats whom one could ever hope to avoid. They operate an unrestrained victimisation of the rural community. We used to have an impartial Planning Appeals Commission, to which we could refer; it has now been packed with, and dominated by, planners, losing much of its independence as a result.
Let me tell the House about the attitudes of those people. One applicant living in one of a small cluster of houses in a rural area wanted to develop what would have been an infill site to provide a home for his elderly sister, who badly needed family support. The planner refused permission; when I argued the case for the limited development, I was told, "No. She is nearly 80 years old"—in other words, "If we give her a year or two, with a bit of luck she will be dead and will not need a house."
Another constituent was eventually given permission to build his new bungalow, adjacent to a self-feed cattle silo and a slurry lagoon. When I argued that he should be allowed to move 20 yards away from the smell, the same planner told me, "Remember, it is a farmhouse." With apologies, I would interpret that as meaning "If you are a farmer, you should expect to have to live in cowshit."
I do not accept that. I have held my tongue for too long; let me now put on record a few more planners' decisions that have caused grief to the applicants and to me. It must be realised that people who have worked the land for perhaps 50 years or more do not want to be banished from it—banished from the community to which they belong and the church that they have visited with their children on Sunday after Sunday, close to where they hope eventually to be buried—just because they have reached retirement age or are making way for a son or daughter to succeed them.
At the other end of my constituency, I argued for planning permission for an aging retiring couple in indifferent health, who could no longer work the land and who, having no one to succeed them, intended to sell all of it except a plot where they wanted to build a bungalow. The planning officer, for no good reason, would not approve their choice of site but suggested his alternative, which was in a low-lying field that each winter, almost without fail, lies under 2 ft to 3 ft of flood water. How am I expected to be able to deal with such pigheadedness?
The same planner recently refused to allow another farmer who has 450 acres of land and hundreds of head of cattle, whose son is married and intends to occupy the main farmhouse, to build adjacent to his extensive farmyard. Unlike his colleague whom I mentioned earlier, this one wants to move the applicant away from his farmyard across and down a main road. He probably does not know that cows sometimes calve during the night and that a farmer cannot afford to be out of touch with what goes on at any time of day.
I could cite literally dozens of perverse decisions such as that. A farmer wanted to build a retirement home for himself and was refused permission on the ground that his proposed site was too prominent. With photographs, I produced evidence to show that this was not so, but the planner's decision was upheld by the planning directorate—a cabal within a cabal. On inquiry, I discovered that someone in the planning department had submitted alternative photographs to mine and had cheated by contriving to gain elevation at the point from where the photograph was taken to prove their point about undue prominence of the site.
I took the matter to the Planning Appeals Commission and proved to the satisfaction of the presiding commissioner—an ex-chairman of that body and a thoroughly decent man who visited the site—that planning approval should be granted. When he submitted his positive findings he was overruled by the other commissioners, too many of whom are ex-planners whose first objective is to protect the system but too few of whom have any affinity with things rural.
If one reaches the point where deceit must be employed by planners and where the decision is so finely balanced that the presiding commissioner and his fellow commissioners disagree, should not the benefit of doubt be with the applicant?
We all know that the latter decision went the way that it did because planners could not be seen to be beaten by a Member of Parliament. That could be the thin end of the wedge for them. It is not that I am paranoid, but I challenge the Minister to set up an independent inquiry into how the system works. I promise that I shall bring him dozens of such cases and I am sure that colleagues and Members of other parties from Northern Ireland will agree about what needs to be done.
That is probably the only alternative to our arriving at a stage where people such as myself will be forced to encourage those who are desperate to ignore the planners. Even at this stage, and having had to deal with this most perverse and destructive cabal for years, I am reluctant to do that. It is not in my nature or in that of the rural community to flout the law, but we will have no other redress unless the Minister does something now.
It is time someone took an in-depth look at the destruction of rural life in Northern Ireland and asked, for example, whether it is in anybody's interest to close our rural primary schools and decimate happy, stable little communities like the one at Carnteel near Aughnacloy, where I grew up. I went to a school there which had 72 children on its roll, but there are no children there today. What has happened? Carnteel school has gone and so have the neighbouring Mullycar and Loughans schools, and neighbouring Lisfearty school is currently under threat. Next week, I am going to plead with the Southern education and library board to reprieve that school until the board can provide a new school to cater for the area that was once served by Carnteel, Mullycar and Lisfearty schools.
Are the planners oblivious to the change? I think that the answer is no. This is social engineering—the type which, in the past 30 years, has encouraged people from their traditional, self-sufficient, rural way of life and thrown them, without thought or adequate provision, into housing estates in the nearest towns. We cannot rewrite history, but we could cease compounding the folly.
Yes, there was a real need to improve the standard of the housing stock in Northern Ireland, and I give full credit to the Housing Executive for what it has done. Yes, it is easy for me to be wise after the event, but I am convinced that less money—that is what we are here to discuss—would have been required if we had allowed people to upgrade their rural properties, instead of destroying a way of life that had survived for generations.
Ministers understand that many things have conspired to cause the terrorism in Northern Ireland over the past 24 years, but its continuation owes much to the search for identity among those who have been thrown into what are little more than urban ghettos. I would be the last to excuse violence, but a way of life has been eroded by the depopulation of rural areas and it will be difficult to replace that ethos. In what is left of our rural communities, there is an integrated society. We must stop the planners in their attempts to destroy it, and we must stop them now.
The problem is not only the refusal to permit rural development but the madcap idea, on which the planners are now working, that all new rural housing should somehow take on the design features of cottages built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Successful farmers are to be denied the right to build houses with adequate space and are to be restricted to smaller rooms, smaller windows and smaller everything. "Traditional houses" are the buzzwords and the planners are having a field day imposing their concepts on the community.
More often than not, the planners have no architectural qualifications. These are the people who, a few years ago, thought that electricity pylons should be shoved up mountains where they are eyesores on the skyline instead of tucked away among the contours of the valleys where they are at least less obtrusive. I am not suggesting that country houses should have large balconies and balustrades or that they should be built on the skyline, but a farmer should be allowed the same amenities as everyone else.
One old tradition that I want to support is that a farmer should be able to have his family around him. Planners refuse to acknowledge that the family factor has any place in their deliberations. No one wants to protect the countryside more than those who live in rural areas—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Madam Speaker. I am being distracted.
No one wants to protect the countryside more than those who live in the rural areas do, but we must have some sanity in dealing with the issue. As was said earlier, there is no consistency between one area and another. I assure the Minister that there is no consistency in decision making within areas. Not just anger, but deep resentment, is building up in the countryside towards the planners. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will agree to an inquiry into the abuse by the planners of their almost absolute power.
I hope, Madam Speaker, that you will forgive me if I preface my remarks by objecting to the way in which appropriation orders are taken through the House, which allows no opportunity for amendment. Northern Ireland Members are elected on the same basis as other hon. Members, so why are we treated as if we come from some banana republic? Northern Ireland is still a part of the United Kingdom and, unless and until its people decree otherwise, the Government should face up to their responsibilities and should rule it accordingly.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) mentioned a business man who was trying to locate in Northern Ireland and who wanted to bring in considerable investment from the United States. The business man mentioned that the Local Enterprise Development Unit had encouraged him to relocate in west Belfast. The hon. Gentleman objected to that and said that the work force of this gentleman friend of his were all Protestants who came from a security background. The hon. Gentleman's friend can still come to west Belfast—to the Shankill road—where he will have an excellent and willing work force comprising Protestants, if that is what he wishes, to help him with the promotion of his business.
As my party's spokesman on environmental issues, I am naturally concerned about that important aspect of our everyday lives. I am especially critical of the elements in our society who would expose our population to dangerous levels of pollution through either ignorance or greed. The Government know very well the deep distrust felt by Northern Ireland Members about the activities at Sellafield, which is on our eastern seaboard. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) for their sustained opposition to the threat that the nuclear plant poses to the people of Northern Ireland.
There is now a further development by way of the controversial thermal oxide reprocessing plant which is likely to come into operation in the near future. It is extremely scandalous and dictatorial to proceed with this diabolical, radioactive cesspool against the express wishes of the local county council, which asked for and was refused a public inquiry. Ministers exceeded their powers when they ran roughshod over the people most affected. The air over the Irish sea will now be further polluted when the radioactive emissions caused by uranium and plutonium being separated from nuclear fuel are released into our atmosphere.
There is always the possibility of human error in such operations which many countries would not touch with a barge pole. A despicable example in recent times was the deliberate leaking of radioactive gas into our atmosphere by Nuclear Electric on Anglesey, which is within striking distance of our shores. The human error factor was ably demonstrated when staff at the power station released that gas without considering the information available to them. They did not know or check the wind direction at the time. No one knows what harm has been caused to our environment by such accidents.
We have heard about concern over Strangford lough. As recent comment indicates, there is continuing disquiet about the future development and management of that lough. That continuing unease underlines the inadequacy of existing structures and raises grave issues in respect of a vital and threatened natural resource. Local media comment shows that none of the conflicting interests are satisfied with present proposals or structures.
It is not my purpose to campaign on behalf of any one grouping, yet I understand the concerns of each of the conflicting interests. The commercial fishermen who are under attack for allegedly fishing across nursery beds may claim that they are following a way of life that has been pursued for generations. They can point to the fact that the discharge of sewage and agricultural effluent has a more damaging effect than their activities.
That internationally recognised waterway provides a diverse wildlife habitat and a sanctuary to numerous bird species. Some observers argue that there should be no shooting on the lough, yet wildfowlers could argue a sound case that their controlled activities pose no threat compared with recreational activities such as jet skiing and power boating.
Those limited examples may show the range of conflicting demands on that resource. It seems that the vital missing ingredient is a proper unitary authority, with power to consider the whole picture, which will take appropriate action without fear or favour. Simply, that is not happening with the existing division of responsibility between Departments and the Strangford lough management committee. I remind the House that, although the first report of the Environment Select Committee under Sir Hugh Rossi made but one specific recommendation regarding Strangford lough, numerous other recommendations applied to the welfare and preservation of the area.
I return to what, for me, is a core issue. On recommendation 26 of that report, I maintain that the need for an independent environmental protection agency for Northern Ireland is vital and I reiterate that my party is committed to achieving that end. I maintain that, in spite of minor delegations of powers, the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland has not met the spirit or the letter of that report and, until it does, the unsatisfactory situation will continue.
Of course, various designations, be they areas of special scientific interest or marine nature reserves, are valuable, but the continuing piecemeal approach does not resolve any fundamental criticism that the gamekeeper, who is also the poacher, cannot provide the satisfactory solution which is required.
On those matters of special scientific interest which relates to welfare of wildlife, our airports could do a lot more to provide grass cover during the breeding season. There are vast areas of grassland at our airports, which is the natural habitat for ground-nesting birds and animals, but, unfortunately, the grass-cutting programme destroys that habitat at the most vulnerable time. Airport authorities will say that their operations are based on fire risk, but during the growing season there is little of risk of fire. Fire risk increases as grass dies down, in the autumn when all breeding has ceased.
My other responsibility is for housing, which in Northern Ireland relates mostly to the responsibilities of the Housing Executive. Several concerns deserve the attention of the Government. One of the most important, which is causing physical and mental anguish to the elderly, is the operation and condition of many of the glass-fronted fires installed in most of the pensioners' dwellings across the Province. Many senior citizens live in great fear of what is known as the silent killer. I refer to the fumes from those fires, which are not detectable and which can result in death from carbon monoxide poisoning. Many people are physically unable to look after the fires. They cannot manage the effort involved in removing the throat plate or handling the ashpan—two extremely dangerous operations for the frail elderly.
Furthermore, many elderly people are living on the standard pension and cannot bear the cost of the expensive fuel that the fires require. Consequently, some coal merchants are supplying chemical fuels, which are not suitable and which can aggravate the problem. The Housing Executive insists on frequent chimney cleaning—which is, of course, necessary—but, quite apart from the cost, elderly people do not always remember such things. I state categorically that, were it not for home helps, voluntary workers and caring neighbours, many serious accidents and even fatalities would result from the operation of glass-fronted fires in pensioners' homes.
The exceptionally high cost of maintaining the fires and relining chimneys is of concern to the Housing Executive. As the appliances become older, the costs escalate dramatically. There is also a serious lack of liaison between the executive and the coal advisory service in relation to repairs.
There is medical evidence that the fumes from the fires have an adverse effect on the health of children and of elderly people alike. For three years, an eminent paediatrician in a large Belfast practice has been monitoring the health of children where such children live in homes with glass-fronted fires. The conclusive evidence is that they are suffering from asthmatic and other respiratory problems. During the past year, a survey of 300 households with such fires was undertaken in north and west Belfast. Some 56 of those questioned were asthmatic and a large proportion of them were children. A large proportion of the adults were suffering from catarrh.
The Province has more coal-burning appliances in proportion to the size of its population than any other area in the British Isles. Consequently, it has greater air pollution problems. The executive should seriously consider the provision of an alternative form of heating system. Children and the elderly appear to be the most vulnerable. An environmentally friendly Economy 7 system would particularly appeal to senior citizens, especially those who live on their own.
I am also concerned about the response times for Housing Executive repairs. The simplest repairs are now taking weeks to complete. Since the direct labour organisation was disbanded, the quality of work has also suffered, largely because some of the contractors now employed are in the cowboy category. They get away with shoddy work because of the lack of supervision.
It is said that only one in 20 jobs is inspected. That gives rise to fraudulent claims against the executive by some disreputable contractors. Honest builders who act responsibly are penalised by not being paid on time. The executive is supposed to honour invoices within 21 days of the beginning of the following month. In many instances, however, contractors do not receive any money within eight weeks. That could be part of the reason why contractors are taking short cuts or adding fictitious amounts to their invoices.
I am concerned about the low level of improvement grant approvals, which affects the housing stock. I should be interested to hear how many such grants have been approved in each of the Belfast regions in the past two years. Applicants are experiencing delays of months in obtaining confirmation—so much so that, in many instances, costs have increased dramatically. I also query the unfitness criteria, which seem to vary between one inspector and another. The local building control office is best placed to make efficient decisions on interpretation.
I should like to turn to a few constituency matters relating to the Department of Economic Development and the Department of the Environment. Among public representatives and community workers there is concern about youth training schemes. Because of the lack of funding, many schemes have been forced to close, leaving many young people on the streets and vulnerable to the influences of the gangster element.
The youth training programme has been further eroded through a proposal to slash participants' wages by 30 per cent. Under the job skills scheme, the Training and Employment Agency will cut by £10 the fee paid to second-year YTP trainees. Those affected—mainly 17 and 18-year-olds—will be given just £25 a week instead of the current £35, with training centres, workshops and management expected to make up the shortfall.
The intention behind the Training and Employment Agency's proposal is to encourage the programme's trainees to move into employment, where employers are expected to meet the shortfall so that a young person may receive at least £35 a week. That will fail. Young people will simply leave the scheme, thereby putting in jeopardy the whole concept of youth training. I hope that the Minister will look carefully at this matter, which is causing such concern and dissension in the community.
In my constituency, many elderly people suffer ill health of various degrees, requiring medical or surgical attention. The patients charter was introduced to limit the waiting time for operations. On the surface, that is commendable, but consultants are concerned at the fact that, in many instances, the charter's effects are iniquitous. Under the charter, a consultant cannot admit a seriously ill person with a deteriorating condition if other patients have been waiting for more than a year and must, therefore, have their operations before 1 April 1994.
Consultants are thereby frequently forced to operate on patients who, although they have been waiting longer, are suffering little—people who, although their condition may require surgery, are not in urgent need of such a procedure. By virtue of Government policy, including the patients charter, consultants are not allowed to use their clinical judgment in respect of those matters. I believe that such circumstances were not envisaged when the patients charter was drawn up. There should be latitude to enable consultants to operate on people with serious and deteriorating conditions.
My constituency suffers dreadfully from deprivation and unemployment, which lead to problems involving the welfare of children. Young people who are brought up in such an environment need all the help and assistance that are available. There is a serious literacy and numeracy problem. As a result, teachers face almost insurmountable difficulties at primary level. The Government should provide resources to enable schools to staff their intake classes adequately to provide the individual attention that children need if the proper groundwork for future success is to be laid.
There is a serious lack of nursery school provision. It is important that children are provided with such opportunities in their formative years and are thus prepared for primary education. Teachers criticise the requirement that children undergo a formal assessment procedure at key stages. That procedure can label children as failures.
I am concerned about the current legislation on historic monuments, which was formulated before the advent of the metal detector and was designed to deter people who resorted to excavating on ancient sites or mounds. Time and progress have overtaken the Northern Ireland legislation. It should be replaced by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, which has worked in Great Britain and, in fact, is the envy of many European countries.
I appreciate that my colleagues have ploughed much of the ground and sometimes have harrowed it as well. The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the right hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), who moved the order, kept very tightly to his notes. At one stage, he reminded me of one of the black jokes in Northern Ireland about someone on the Magnus Magnusson show. As that person received quick-fire questions, he replied, "Pass, pass, pass, pass," until one of his friends in the audience stood and shouted, "That's right, Gerry, tell him nothing."
I hope that tonight, and after tonight, we will receive more specific answers to questions. The Minister of State told us where large sums of money were to be spent. He then said that there would be savings. However, we do not know where the savings will be made or what impact that might have on different aspects of services. It would be helpful if we were aware of that.
I reiterate the points made by several right hon. and hon. Members about education. It would be helpful to know what reciprocal funding is being spent in other European Union countries on tertiary standard education for young people from the United Kingdom. I realise that we will not obtain much information about that from the Republic of Ireland, where that money is not even spent on Republic of Ireland students so our students would not benefit if they went to the Republic.
There has been pressure on the education budget in Northern Ireland, to the detriment of all sections of the community. Only this morning, I received a letter from the Belfast education and library board in response to an issue that I raised about nursery education. I was told that the board could not cope with that provision, as it did not have the necessary funding. While the board believed that nursery education should be funded, it said that, if funding were brought forward, it would have to be spent in the first instance in what the board termed "areas of deprivation".
The Prime Minister has placed nursery education on the agenda. I should like to think that it will be carried through in Northern Ireland to all sections of the community. As the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who is to reply to the debate, will be aware, we are waiting for a response in my constituency in relation to Wellington college.
It is bad enough to have a moratorium on spending, but when we go through the mythology of saying that boards are responsible for spending the funds allocated to them and when they have a list of priorities, the Department steps in and says, "No, you must take that one out." It is monstrous that a school that comprises prefabricated buildings and has occupied inferior premises for a long time should be pushed further down the list in an area of social deprivation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is reprehensible that school principals can go over the heads of their area boards and appeal directly to the Department for funding and that the boards are then instructed by the Department to allocate priorities to meet the requests from some principals'?
I take that point. While other Departments pass on the money, they do not direct how that money should be spent. The grapevine suggests where that money should go.
A Roman Catholic maintained primary school in my constituency called St. Brides has faced a similar problem over the years of obtaining the capital funding necessary for a school that is over-subscribed. Other schools could take the children, but parental choice means that some schools are flooded while other parents are told that their children must go elsewhere.
Is the Minister satisfied with the information technology available to the Department of Health and Social Security? It seems strange that figures for a small area like Northern Ireland are regularly unavailable centrally. If they were available, it would help us to assess the needs throughout the Province. The boards have difficulty in assessing needs. With the advent of the trusts—community trusts are particularly pressured—is the Minister satisfied that there is sufficient funding? That question is especially relevant in the light of the suggestion that the boards might be amalgamated or scrapped.
According to my understanding of the trust system, community trusts should provide, rather than purchase, the services. Will they be able to carry out the role that is strictly within the boards' remit? Would it be possible for one central board to carry out that function with greater effect? The boards and trusts—particularly the community trusts—in Northern Ireland deal with social services as well as health needs.
I confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) said about the use of the patients charter. In the sphere of orthopaedics, thousands have been released to cut the waiting lists. With transit funds, the orthopaedic surgeons have been told that they cannot take anyone on the emergency list until they have removed everyone who has been waiting for more than a year.
I sympathise with those who have been waiting for more than a year, but I sympathise more with a woman of over 80 years of age who fell and smashed her hip bone. The specialist said that she needed emergency surgery, which could not be guaranteed under the new regulations. She is alone in her home, confined to bed, unable to walk and, because of the pressures and the pain, has not been eating. That form of medical treatment might be fashionable in some places, but was never part of this nation's national health service and does not match the sort of care that the people of Northern Ireland expect from their specialists. Therefore, will the Minister look at the impact of some of the guidance?
If more funds are to be put into the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, why is it not possible to allow someone to be trained there, particularly in the examination of public service vehicles? Wrights of Ballymena, which supplies coaches for London Transport and other firms, could then have them tested in Northern Ireland without the added expense of bringing someone across and having to pay not only his or her flights, but hotel, boarding and other incidental expenses.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency could use that person to enhance its own testing facilities. That would not cost the nation anything other than the money needed up front before the fees came in. Fees would have to be paid, but they would not include the extra expense of travel and hotel accommodation.
I do not want to prolong the gathering, but I must underline planning problems. It is said that I sometimes become perturbed by some of the responses that we are given when issues are raised in the House or directly with Ministers. Some Ministers are assiduous, but some Departments show a great facility for using word processors. The Government regularly respond, "You might like to know what goes on." We get the same churned-out response time and again. Ministers will know that a Member is foolish to ask a question if he does not already know the answer. He is trying to probe, so to receive a civil servant's letter telling him what he already knows without dealing with the issue is detrimental.
The way in which some developers have ridden roughshod over planning decisions and victimised innocent people is beyond my understanding. I refer specifically to a case affecting a dwelling in Rathfriland road, Dromara, on which I have had a continuing battle with successive Ministers. I have not yet had a satisfactory answer on why the plans laid down by the Department have not been carried through, to the advantage of a developer and the damage of a neighbour.
Does the allocation in the appropriation order reflect the relief funds agreed in the Budget to ease the pain of VAT increases on fuel? Some people believe that a con game has been played and that some of those who most need extra help may not get it. Furthermore, does the allocation fully reflect the additional training costs which the draft Children (Northern Ireland) Order will introduce? That will be one of the big items of expenditure and the order does not say whether it will go in that direction.
I urge the Minister, when he replies to the debate tonight or in the coming days, to help us to be more specific. Why was the Department caught with its pants down when it was amazed at the demand on the disability living fund?
Given that Northern Ireland, with 2·5 per cent. of the population of the Kingdom, received 16 per cent. of the previous fund, there must be something wrong with the Department's records if it did not realise that more would be needed than was allocated.
I wish to respond to a question put much earlier by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), who asked what was the purpose of the debate. He then went on to produce his own argument about it, but the question is worth considering.
A clear technical answer was initially spelt out by the Minister and is contained under various headings in the order. We are dealing with matters under appropriation, which, under Consolidated Fund provisions for Northern Ireland, are now to be adopted or rejected. That allows a wide-ranging debate on many bits and pieces, and many useful items are raised under that heading.
Another possibility is that we could have a wider and more integrated debate because this is probably the nearest item to a Budget for Northern Ireland. Were we having a Budget debate, we would expect Front-Bench Members to set out clearly their differences in attitude and position, which would be reflected in the speeches of Back-Bench Members. Although, to an extent, Front-Bench Members do that, Members representing Northern Ireland, whose major concern this is, deal only with bits and pieces, although they are often of considerable interest. Interestingly, their position appears to be interventionist as they seem to want to be involved in many areas and to seek developments in their constituencies where there is unemployment, deprivation and the need to keep open and extend various services.
I have been in the House for many appropriation debates, because we have two each year. We will continue to have two such debates each year, even when a Northern Ireland Select Committee is set up, because that will be an investigatory Committee, not a legislative Committee. Therefore, we shall need to go through that process.
Although I hear such interventionist and rather collectivist views from Northern Ireland Members representing the Democratic Unionist party, the Ulster Unionist party, the Ulster Popular Unionist party and the Social Democratic and Labour party, what I do not get from those speeches is any clear understanding of the economic and social position and programmes of those parties, partly because they are obviously tied to the politics of persistent opposition. Being in persistent opposition, they must fight their own corner and sometimes they end up fighting in ways that are not always consistent. I do not necessarily see hon. Members from all the parties to which I have referred trooping in the Lobby in a rather interventionist way with the Labour party, which is still slightly more interventionist than the Conservative party.
From those debates, I should like to understand not only the massive problems that can be listed under the various headings but the general idea among the different political parties about how to handle the economic and social problems that exist in Northern Ireland.
I shall quote briefly from the citizen's inquiry, the Opsahl report, which dealt not only with constitutional and political matters but economic and social concerns. Unfortunately, we have had little discussion about that document, although there was a two-hour debate about it in another place recently. The submission of the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust suggested how we should look at the economic and social problems of Northern Ireland:
The notion of the mini Marshall Plan of recovery for Northern Ireland could captivate the imagination and build upon the ad hoc approached to date. Northern Ireland currently operates in a planning vacuum totally dependent upon the exigencies of the British economy. Without an indigenous economic and social strategy, we restrict ourselves to a peripheral dependent status with little impetus for change and development. A broad-based regional strategy with challenging goals and targets set within a realistic timescale could transform our political economy. The process of compiling a recovery plan, symbolic of the collective response to adversity and opportunity, could intrinsically be an important part of the healing process that urgently needs to take place in Northern Ireland.
If it were possible for discussions about a recovery plan to take place in Northern Ireland, that could help the political process. The beauty about economic and social issues is that comprise can work within them. Arguments can be put forward in negotiations, say, between trade unionists and employers. What can happen is that a temporary compromise solution for today is reached so that people can involve different tactics to achieve an improved position for the future.
When discussions are political, about boundaries and the flag, those matters are not subject to compromise and reflect the problems that exist widely in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the more we can involve ourselves in discussing bread and butter issues, and tie them to an overall strategy for Northern Ireland, the better that will be. I appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House to take the appropriate debate seriously.
My hon. Friends on the Opposition Back Benches do not take the debate seriously enough. Besides my speech, we have had a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy), but we are the only two Back Benchers who have been here throughout the debate. The debate does not pull in other Labour Members, apart from our Front-Bench spokesmen and those who are on duty.
If we managed to pull our hon. Friends into this debate they would probably be alienated by much of it, which is technical, detailed and limited. We need to extend the scope of the debate, but without extending the length of speeches, to consider other matters. I know that hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland have difficulties because the House offers them no decent procedures to enable them to discuss their concerns. This is one of the few opportunities for them to express their constituency concerns, but that distorts the nature of the debate.
The debate is a good opporunity to talk about matters of key concern to Northern Ireland. It could be fruitful in terms of improving the situation there. Nothern Ireland is about not just violence, boundaries, flags and borders but the day-to-day life of the people and the conditions with which they live—for example, high unemployment. Every year, 8,000 new people come on to the labour market, but just 4,000 jobs are found for them. Those who fail to find a job have either to take unemployment benefit or move to Britain for employment opportunities. In the past 20 years, Northern Ireland has witnessed a far greater decline in its industrial base than that experienced in Britain.
We must not consider Northern Ireland as a spin-off of the British economy, because 44 per cent. of its work force is dependent upon the operation of the public sector. The Government's attitude to the public sector and the restraints that they impose on it in Britain are not only entirely inappropriate for Britain but especially inappropriate for Northern Ireland. The Government must adopt a different approach, which offers a strategic plan for Northern Ireland and which does not rule out the position in the island of Ireland.
According to some of the views presented today, it is as though a fixed prosperity exists in Northern Ireland.
Order. The hon. Member is criticising hon. Members who have spoken according to the confines of the draft appropriation order. All the speeches—I have listened to a great many of them because I have been in the Chair twice this evening—have been entirely focused on the varying elements of the order and entirely correctly. Had hon. Members broadened that to a strategic debate involving the whole of the isle of Ireland, I would have had to bring them to order—as I am doing the hon. Gentleman.
I am not denying that all the speeches have been in order. I was not complaining about that, but questioning whether they were, at all times, relevant to the major problems in Northern Ireland. One can argue against people's speeches on political, economic and social grounds without arguing that those speeches were somehow procedurally incorrect.
Developments within Northern Ireland, which link it with the island of Ireland, are also appropriate to the debate.
The hon. Member seems to be arguing that the situation in Eire is much better than that in Northern Ireland, yet is it not correct that it has an unemployment rate of 19 per cent. compared with 14 per cent. in Northern Ireland?
That reinforces the view that, sometimes, economic and social matters should be considered not just on a regional basis with Northern Ireland, but on an all-Ireland basis, because prosperity is not something that is restricted to specific areas. Overall conditions, which allow trade to develop between different areas, produce prosperity——
Order. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his views, and if this were a general debate on Northern Ireland, such comments would be entirely appropriate. This evening's debate is clearly drawn within the appropriation order. The hon. Gentleman must confine his comments to the elements of the order and forget the broader brush, until such time as the House has a broad-brush debate on Northern Ireland's future.
There have been arguments about investment in the Larne area and whether that should take priority over investment that would link developments with Ireland. Even in the context of the appropriation order, what occurs in different areas of Northern Ireland is of significance in respect of trade, development and economic furtherance in the whole area.
The argument is sometimes put as though there is a contest between, for example, the constituencies of South Down and Mid-Ulster as to which should be the target of resources, when what is needed is the encouragement of economic growth and development from which both can benefit. I suggest that the same applies to the island of Ireland. There should be concern for the whole area, and the strategy for the north of Ireland is relevant.
Northern Ireland Members have expounded the needs of their constituencies and developed the principles that they consider are right for the Province. All aspects of the needs of the people of Northern Ireland have been covered. I shall draw a few of those strands together and deal with a number of issues arising from the order—particularly in respect of health and social services, and housing.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker), who has a special interest in housing, dwelt on a number of issues. I consider that health and housing are connected. If we believe in putting people first, as we do, and in preventing ill health, we must tackle the causes of ill health. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) dealt at length with unemployment, which contributes to poverty. Poor housing and the lack of affordable housing leads to ill health in families, greater hardship, anxiety, and greater pressures on general practitioners and the health service.
Housing is a significant factor. In line with Government demands, a housing strategy was provided by the Housing Executive committee last October, following wide consultation with interested organisations and individuals throughout the Province. That strategy revealed that over the next three years Northern Ireland needs 4,500 additional dwellings. Of those 1,500 homes per year, 1,400 will have to be new properties. Those figures are based on a rising level of urgent housing need, increased housing formations, community care pressures and a decline in accommodation re-lets.
Some of the details in that strategy report on urgent needs are as follows. In March 1990, 9,210 applicants were registered as requiring urgent need. In 1991, that figure increased to 9,906. In 1992, it increased to 9,922. Last year, it increased to 10,395. Therefore, there is a growing need for the Government to look at housing needs in Northern Ireland.
The number of housing allocations in March 1993 was 10,248. In March 1992, it was 11,170, so there is a relative and constant allocation of properties. The population in the area over the 10 years from 1981–91 increased by 40,663. The number of households increased by more than 68,000. That is what has developed over the past decade in respect of the need for housing. We have witnessed a reduction in the provision of resources for housing need. If we look at the resources available in 1987–88, we can see that the allocation was £57 million. The projection in the order for 1995–96 is £57 million. In other words, there is no increase, but a decrease in real money available for new housing. Therefore, a significant factor has to be considered when looking at the resources for housing need.
How much should be spent, then? What is the Labour party's policy?
I am coming to that, and I will advise the hon. Gentleman what should be spent on housing.
It is not just new housing that must be examined. In 1987–88, £45 million was allocated for improvement and repairs of private sector dwellings. In 1995–96, the allocation is £43 million, which represents a reduction in the amount being made available for housing improvement. Hon. Members who have addressed the debate on behalf of their constituents have made it clear that there is a general need for more resources to be allocated for housing improvement and repairs. If the hon. Gentleman had been present in the debate, he would have heard one Member after another express the view that they need more resources for housing need and new housing.
We then had the situation of homelessness in Northern Ireland. In 1991–92, there were more than 10,000 applications for housing need. In 1992–93, the figure was 10,099. The percentage of people accepted as homeless in Northern Ireland has remained constant at around 40 per cent. Therefore, I consider that a further issue that must be addressed.
Modernisation was referred to by a number of hon. Members. It is a vexed issue because, when the Housing Executive makes a contribution to improve houses in certain areas, because of the lack of resources that are available, there are aggrieved people who are not included in the current programme. They fear that, because of the reduction in resources being made available, their turn in the improvement programme could be put further back, or even delayed to the extent that the tenants of the property would never see the improvements or modernisation carried out. The Housing Executive is often placed in a Catch-22 or no-win situation: it wishes to carry out improvements and modernisations, but because of the reduction in resources it must advise frustrated tenants that it is not their turn. That makes it more difficult for its administration to continue.
The Housing Executive has not the resources to carry out a major programme. Tenants suffer considerable anxiety when it is forced to provide some houses with new kitchens, bathrooms and windows and leave others, because of the lack of finance. The other tenants worry about when their houses will be modernised. There is always doubt about the present Government's policies, and people have every right to fear that the extra modernisations will not be carried out. In addition to the usual funds, block resources should be made available to tackle the problem posed by this vicious modernisation programme.
If the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) is concerned about the need to improve houses in Northern Ireland, he should read the 1991 housing conditions survey, which suggested that some 40,660 sub-standard dwellings would remain to be improved over a four-year period. If he is interested, he should join us in our efforts to ensure that the tenants of those sub-standard houses are allowed to have improvements carried out.
Targeting and additional resources are also needed for renovation grants. The housing survey revealed that more than 50,000 houses in Northern Ireland were sub-standard, and that many were unfit for habitation. In Fermanagh, 23·3 per cent. of housing stock is in need of renovation; in Magherafelt, the figure is 17·8 per cent. We cannot have a concerted programme to deal with that under the provisions of the order.
Why is that? Why can we not have a concerted, one-off action programme to carry out the necessary renovations and provide the additional money? That would give some hope to people living in sub-standard houses. I consider it a universal right to have a warm, comfortable house, and that is what the Northern Ireland Housing Executive wants to provide. The only obstacle is the fact that the Government will not provide the resources.
The Government are providing a budget of £538 million for housing in 1995–96. According to the Housing Executive's survey, that will leave a shortfall of £54 million in the next three years. I do not think that that is an unreasonable amount to allow the Housing Executive, over three years, to increase its housing stock—and that is the policy that I shall pursue on behalf of the Labour party. If the Government are really interested in helping people in Northern Ireland to obtain reasonable homes, they must provide the necessary resources.
The Minister should consider the issue of housing revenue account income in the form of rents. The Government keep increasing rents in Northern Ireland by 6, 7 or 8 per cent. more than the rate of inflation. That is higher than any other increases in Northern Ireland. They then complain that housing benefit payments are much too high. The Secretary of State for Social Security has said that people who are in receipt of high housing benefit payments will be taken out of high-charge housing—evicted—and put into cheaper, sub-standard accommodation.
Ministers are being hypocritical in charging rents that are way above inflation. People on housing benefit in Northern Ireland whose rents have been increased are now being told that they will have to leave their high-rent properties and move into low-rent, sub-standard properties, which will affect their health.
Housing and the health service must be considered together. The health service has never faced a greater threat or been under such pressure, and that point must be addressed by Ministers. Hospital trusts are being established in Northern Ireland, which will mirror what happens in the regions of Britain. Problems that are affecting trust hospitals in the rest of Britain—a lack of funding for patient care, doctors having to pace themselves to prevent a funding gap before the end of the financial year—will occur in Northern Ireland.
Hon. Members have referred to delays in operations being carried out. In other parts of the United Kingdom, the waiting list for cataract operations is more than 18 months. Waiting lists are growing and the patients charter has no meaning. If that is what will develop as a result of the order, I say that privatisation and commercialisation—hallmarks of the Government's changes to the health service—are not the way forward for the health service in Northern Ireland.
We must change the way in which the Government view hospital trust programmes. The so-called episode of care is now recorded in hospitals—patients moving from one ward to another or simply returning to a different bed after visiting the operating theatre. Such actions are counted as a new activity. That is the record of patient care in trust hospitals.
I appeal to the Minister to have regard to these two important issues—housing and health—because I consider that one is dependent on the other. The Government must act to improve housing so that we can then improve health care. I ask the Minister to consider very carefully the points that I and other hon. Members have made.
May I quickly refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), who understandably spoke of resources? We are all concerned about resources; indeed, the order is about resources. It was interesting to hear him use this opportunity effectively to commit his party to a major increase—£54 million—in public expenditure on housing. He knows that to achieve that under the consequential formula of the block there would have to be a substantial increase in United Kingdom public expenditure.
I merely wish to inquire whether the hon. Member has cleared that pledge with the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), the shadow Chief Secretary, or whether it is another pledge by a Labour spokesman that will be disowned by a Labour Treasury spokesman at the first opportunity.
We have had a good debate and I have a little time to answer some of the questions that have been asked, as I have been invited to do. It is not often that I am invited to speak at great length, but that was the invitation made by a number of hon. Members and I shall take advantage of it as long as the Clerks and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, permit.
Anyone who has listened to the debate from its beginning at, I think, 4.30 pm must have learnt a lot about Northern Ireland. We have talked about Northern Ireland from north to south, from east to west, back to front and in the smallest detail. I do not think that there is a road or hospital that has not been mentioned, and I regard that as a healthy aspect of the debate because it provides us with an opportunity to deal with problems that are important to the people who live in the constituencies of the hon. Members who have spoken.
Clearly I shall not be able to respond to all the matters that have been raised. As for those that I do not have the time to cover or which need to be dealt with in such detail that, rather than risk inaccuracy, I should like to check my facts before replying, I shall write to hon. Members or ask my colleagues at the Northern Ireland Office to do so as appropriate.
Several references have been made to St. Patrick. I learned a long time ago that I should never become involved in arguments about him, but, when I visited the Ulster museum the other day, I wondered how many figures he had had, in view of the number on display in glass cases in the museum.
The background to the debate is that we all want a prosperous Northern Ireland. We want a Northern Ireland that will attract investment and jobs. For that reason, I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) began his speech in his traditional way, telling us how bad and awful everything was in Northern Ireland. There is a tendency for hon. Members following such a speech perhaps to concentrate on the downside of what they perceive to be the problems of Northern Ireland rather than on the upside.
With due respect to hon. Members, I hope that in debates such as this we can sometimes try to talk up Northern Ireland. Whenever I come back from Northern Ireland and talk to people who are considering investing there, I certainly say what a wonderful place it is, how good the education and services are and what a good place it is to make an investment and create jobs. It is worth our remembering that in our debates.
The hon. Member for Wigan referred to the Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte report, but he was very selective. He omitted to mention that the review concludes that the Northern Ireland local economy has continued to perform well relative to other parts of the United Kingdom and that the outlook for the Northern Ireland economy in 1994 is probably one of the best for a number of years. A survey carried out for the review found that more than half of local firms interviewed are committed to expansion in 1994. That is good news, and I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would mention it.
There are other pieces of good news. The PA consulting group quarterly survey of business prospects in January 1994 stated that the recession was over for the manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland. The Confederation of British Industry's Northern Ireland business confidence survey, also from January this year, said that companies' own business confidence and their confidence in the Northern Ireland economy were at record levels. It is important to make those points because they will attract industry and jobs to Northern Ireland and, my goodness, we need that in view of the fact that much of the publicity concentrates on the troubles rather than on the good things.
Having said that, I shall deal with some of the specific points that have been made. The hon. Members for Wigan and for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) mentioned income support levels as against fuel costs. Income support levels, including premiums payable to pensioners, families and disabled people, are intended to cover normal day-to-day living expenses, including heating costs. No specific amount is identified for expenditure on fuel. The rates of benefit were increased by 3.6 per cent. from April 1993 and people on income support are better off, as they are no longer required to make a 20 per cent. contribution towards domestic rates from their benefit.
From April 1994, pensioners and disabled people will receive an extra 50p a week or 70p for couples, on top of uprating for inflation, to help with fuel bills. I am sure that hon. Members will argue that that may not be enough, but I say to my hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friend the Member for North Down, that that shows that the Government have recognised that there will be problems and have sought to try to meet them.
The hon. Member for Wigan also raised the question of the Buddy Bear trust, as did the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea). I have to be a little careful in what I say here because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a judicial review before the courts. For that reason, I have to be cautious about my comments. However, I can say that the Buddy Bear trust conductive education school is not eligible for grant aid as it is provisionally registered as an independent school; that is part of the problem.
To qualify for grant aid, it would have to make a successful application for grant-aided school status through the normal statutory procedures. The school has been inspected, which has led to the identification of certain weaknesses in its educational provision which remain the subject of discussion with the school trustees. The hon. Gentleman must accept that I cannot say more at the moment because of the judicial review.
The Public Accounts Committee report on road safety was raised by a number of hon. Members. Obviously, we want to consider the report's recommendations and the comments made by hon. Members in this debate most carefully before a response is made to the Committee in due course. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) asked why no reference had been made to funding for 1994–95 in terms of the general debate and of road safety in particular. That will, of course, be the subject of a separate debate later in the summer when the main estimates for Northern Ireland Departments for next year are presented. The order touches only a part of next year to see us into the early part of it before the next order becomes operative.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) raised the question of fire regulations. I listened carefully and seriously to what he said. I wish that he had given me notice of his question, because it is a serious issue. I should like to look into the matter closely before replying to him. If he had given me notice, I might have been able to do so at the time. I am sure that he appreciates that, given the nature of what he has raised, rather than trying to answer off the cuff or with incomplete information, I should like to look into the matter and then to answer him. Given the interest expressed by hon. Members in what the hon. Gentleman said, I shall try to make arrangements to ensure that other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, and possibly others more widely, are made aware of my reply.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East, who gave me his apologies for having to leave and not being here for the winding-up speeches, mentioned capital provision in education, as did a number of other hon. Members. Some £50 million will be spent this year, with £20 million going to major building works. He spoke about Limavady grammar school in his constituency, and I shall write to him on that matter.
The moratorium on capital spending was not an easy decision for me to take. I have to allocate my share of the block according to the priorities, as I see them. Those decisions are never easy. Given the nature of the block this year, I thought that it was important that I concentrated the available resources on classroom and teacher provision. I am sure that hon. Members who have been involved in education would agree that that had to be the first priority.
The result was that I had to announce a moratorium on capital spending. I hope that the moratorium will not need to last long. It allows me to match my resources in terms of the budget that we have set ourselves for this year. I hope that it will not cause more than some small delays, rather than actually stopping any particular projct from going ahead. I cannot be exact on that, because we are not yet in the financial year to which the moratorium refers.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East also mentioned the Limavady bypass. It is now included in the Department of the Environment's current major works programme and the first stage is programmed to start in 1997–98.
The hon. Members for Londonderry, East and for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) made a lot of the question of the rural planning strategy. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East asked what would happen to rural planning, on which the Department of the Environment has published a new strategy.
The main thread of the new rural planning strategy is to assess and balance the need for development, houses, jobs and so on in any especial area againt the need to protect and conserve the environment. It is about getting the right type of development in the right place with the right design. That will require the willing co-operation of all key players in the rural development area.
Having once been a planning Minister in Scotland, I understand the difficulties of planning and I was pleased to be informed—I hope that it is correct—that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has arranged a meeting with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, where he will be able to discuss the issues that he has raised tonight. Given the detail of what the hon. Gentleman said, I suspect that my hon. Friend will be better briefed for that meting than is normally the case when we meet hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster spoke of the reduction in the rate of hill livestock compensatory allowance. Hon. Members will be aware of the pressure on public expenditure and the agriculture budget is not immune from those pressures. The reduction in those allowances has to be seen in the context of hill farm incomes. Those have increased substantially for a second year, helped significantly by improved cattle prices and increased livestock premiums. Those include a higher rate of suckler cow premiums in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain. There are strong indications that that trend will continue in 1994–95 with further increases in premium payments for cattle.
I note the comments of the hon. Members for Mid-Ulster and for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) on the problems of pig farmers. If I may, I shall draw those to the attention of my noble Friend and I shall ask her to communicate with the hon. Members about that.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster also talked about the takeover of Unipork by Bridgewater Foods Holdings Ltd., and I recognise the importance of that factory to his constituency. I am told that the Industrial Development Board will be maintaining contact with the company and will be considering what assistance can be made available when a business plan is available. It is not possible at this stage to comment on the future size and shape of the business, as those matters are under the commercial judgment of the new owners.
The hon. Members for Mid-Ulster and for Antrim, North raised the question of the Newry bypass in connection with the Larne road. I realise that that has been a matter of contention for some time. The hon. Members suggest that there is some significant political interference, but that is simply not borne out by the facts. The A1 Belfast to Dublin road and the A8 Belfast to Larne road have always enjoyed a high priority in the roads service major works programme.
The completion of the Newry bypass will resolve a long-standing problem experienced by traffic using the A1 and, it is hoped, will lead to expansion of trade at the ports of Larne and Belfast. It is worth remembering that, because it was referred to by a number of other hon. Members.
The Belfast to Larne road is already of a high standard, with some 30 per cent. being dual carriageway or motorway. In general, it can cope with existing volumes of traffic, but ultimately it is planned to dual the remaining single carriageway section. That first stage of dualling has been included in the latter part of the 1997–98 major works programme. The remaining stages will be taken forward as funding permits.
I can assure hon. Members that the Government are committed to maintaining and developing transport links between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. All Northern Ireland ports and airports receive substantial European regional development fund grant support. In the years 1994–99, more than £100 million is available under the European regional development fund programme, aimed at improving access to major transport links. I hope that hon. Members will see, therefore, that a lot of work will be possible in the next few years.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster also raised the question of the location of industrial projects. The Government cannot force private sector companies to locate in specific areas. Recent inward investment successes by the IDB have shown that a good spread of projects can be achieved throughout Northern Ireland—a consideration which is always very much in the mind of the IDB in trying to encourage inward investment.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the recent decision to extend industrial relations legislation governing unfair dismissal to part-time workers in this country and asked whether it would apply in Northern Ireland. The Government's view is that Northern Ireland industrial relations legislation should in general conform with that of the rest of the United Kingdom unless there are special local circumstances to be taken into account. It is hard to see that such circumstances apply in this particular case.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the closure of the Tyrone county maternity services. I am sorry to hear that he has not yet met my noble Friend. I understand that she has agreed to meet him. If that is not also his understanding, I will check to ensure that it is the case.
The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) asked about capital spending on schools. I am aware of the problems in his area, and I will of course bear them in mind along with the other priorities currently before me. The hon. Gentleman mentioned school visits to France. I must say that, much as I should like to help, I have no authority over French fishermen, although I recognise the point that he made.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to additional funding for factory building. The additional funding for such building will be used in a number of recent inward investment projects secured by the IDB. The outlook for the future also looks promising in this regard: negotiations are at an advanced stage with major investors from Japan, Taiwan, the United States and Korea, and the IDB assistance will include assistance for the factory building requirements of some of them if they succeed in coming to Northern Ireland.
A number of questions were asked about agriculture. If I may, I will ask my noble Friend to write to hon. Members because I am conscious of the time constraint that I am under at the moment.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) asked about Strangford Lough marine nature reserve. Although it has been suggested by some fishermen that the designation of that reserve will result in a ban on commercial fishing, that is not the case. The stated objectives of the Department of the Environment for the management of the MNR make it clear that commercial exploitation of the fish stocks should continue on a sustainable basis. A six-week period of public consultation is, as I understand it, currently under way, and we shall have to await the results of that consultation.
The hon. Member for South Down referred to funding for care in the community. I am pleased to be able to inform hon. Members that, in 1993–94, boards were allocated and additional £29 million, including £24·6 million transferred from the social security budget which was specifically earmarked for the implementation of the new community care arrangements. In the coming year, the allocation to boards under "People First" increases by £41·2 million to more than £70 million. There may always be arguments about resources, but the Government are putting substantial resources behind the initiative——
I did not want to intervene at the beginning of the Minister's speech, but he asked where I suggested the money should come from to finance housing. May I suggest to him that he scraps all the consultancies and consultations in connection with the privatisation of water and sewerage in Northern Ireland and uses the resources from that to finance other projects in Northern Ireland?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has come up with an answer that will save him from the wrath of the hon. Member for Peckham, at least for the moment, although I suspect not for long.
A number of hon. Members asked about Belvoir Park hospital. I am aware that there is a great deal of concern about that and other hospitals in the Eastern health and social services board area. The board published its strategy for acute services at the end of last year and that is now under consideration by my noble Friend Lady Denton who has recently taken over responsibility in these matters. I understand that my noble Friend is currently engaged in a programme of meeting hon. Members and representatives of district councils and community groups and hopes to be able to announce her conclusions before Easter. Hon. Members would not expect me to comment any further on that at this stage.
One other question was raised at some length by a number of hon. Members—that of Republic of Ireland students studying in Northern Ireland. I am sure that hon. Members know that there is a requirement under a European Court decision that it would be discriminatory to treat students from other member states less well than home students. Thus, fees are paid for Republic of Ireland students, as well as other European students, who come to Northern Ireland universities. I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for North Down, who, in a splendid speech, made it clear that universities exist to help people to mix. It would be appalling if Northern Ireland universities were for Northern Ireland people only, and if nobody else could come to them. I am very glad that my hon. Friend gave us his support.
We have had a very full debate. I believe that there is in Northern Ireland much about which we can be pleased and of which we can be proud. I hope that in the next Northern Ireland appropriation debate, in the summer, we shall hear the good news about the Province and see evidence of the resulting jobs and investment that it deserves.