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Issue of sum out of the Consolidated Fund for the year ending 31 March 2020 and appropriation of that sum

Part of Northern Ireland Budget Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:13 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 6:13 pm, 30th October 2019

My hon. Friend makes a most helpful intervention. It would benefit the whole Province, not just his constituency.

Education needs a massive injection of sustained funding, not one-off projects. Schools have not received the correct inflation-based moneys they need. I have been liaising with the Education Authority and the Secretary of State to ensure that schools have enough funding to sustain the high-level quality education expected in Northern Ireland. We must also find a solution to the union issue. I look to the Minister, as we always do, to outline how he intends to ensure that teachers and staff are happy and being appropriately paid and correctly treated. I gently ask him to intervene so that after-school clubs, which often round out social education, can continue without teachers having to break through the picket line.

My right hon. Friend Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson referred to the importance of special educational needs provision in schools. Lady Hermon and I have constituents who attend Clifton Special School in Bangor—60% of its pupils come from my constituency—but it needs investment, as does Killard House School. Our teachers and staff do a phenomenal job with finite resources that are not rising in line with inflation or the increased expectations from parents. It is past time we resolved the union issues. Although the Education Authority has been working on this, perhaps ministerial intervention is needed to push it over the line. Information I have shows that, although more money has been allocated this year, the fact that the 2016-17 allocation was so low means that all we are doing is playing catch-up.

We need to address those things. The money available to individual schools may have increased since 2016, but it does not make up for the two years of underfunding. We are nowhere near where we need to be. I feel frustrated, but I look forward to a new Parliament and a new opportunity to push for appropriate funding for Northern Ireland. In the meantime, however, I have no option other than to support the Bill so that we can keep ticking over until direct rule or a fit-for-purpose Assembly does the right thing and takes its seat.

When I met the Chief Constable, Simon Byrne, just over a month ago, I raised two issues with him. I asked him to ensure that a police training system was in place, and to give me a commitment, if the funds were there and he had the wherewithal, to train 1,000 officers in order to increase the number to the necessary 7,500. He gave an important commitment on community policing, in which I am a great believer: I think that every one of us who represents a constituency anywhere in Northern Ireland understands how important it is.

Our hospitals need more funds. The money allocated to each trust area is not adequate. I want especially to thank the permanent secretary of the of the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, Richard Pengelly, who has said this:

“it costs £26 billion a year to run Northern Ireland but only £17 billion is being raised. The amount needed to maintain the health service goes up each year. At the moment to run the same service this year as we did last year and next year, it’s about 6% increase per annum. If we continue on that trajectory, within about 20 years the health service will need virtually all the money that’s available”

—in the block grant—

“to the executive.”

Richard Pengelly thinks that we need a new health strategy in Northern Ireland that will focus on diabetes, heart, stroke and cancer services and occupational therapy, and on the fact that the waiting lists for operations are getting longer and longer.

Let me make three final points. There will be a greater need for health services for an ageing population that is growing dramatically. In mid-2018, 308,200 people were 65 or older, and 37,700 of those were 85 or older. Given that we are producing fewer children, the pressure will be on healthcare for that ageing population.

I want to say something about cancer care, because cancer affects so many people. So many of my friends have contracted it recently, or, unfortunately, have passed away as a result of it. It is a major issue, especially in an ageing population. The most common cancers in men are cancers of the prostate and lung, and the most common in women are cancers of the breast and lung. Successive one-year budgets are impeding planning and investment in Northern Ireland’s health and social care services; we need the money to ensure that those things happen.

Early diagnosis and care at the outset are extremely important. A significant proportion of cases in Northern Ireland are diagnosed at a late stage: 20% are diagnosed at stage 3, and 26% at stage 4. Late diagnosis can be due to a number of factors, but what we need is earlier diagnosis, which will save lives, help our health service, and, in particular, help those with cancer. We also need a system that will shorten the timescale between the visit to the GP and referral to a consultant.

My last point is about mental health. My right hon. Friend Nigel Dodds has fought the case for mental health treatment extremely well in the House. We all have constituents with mental health issues, and I am very conscious of the need for funds to address them. There is a particularly high level of mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, among those who have served our Province in uniform—in the police, the Army and other emergency services. Another issue that I face every day is the mental health of children, especially those at primary and secondary school level.

I thank you for your patience and your time, Mr Speaker. I just wanted to put on record how many things need to be done in Northern Ireland, and how many things could be done if we had a working Assembly that could respond to all the people there—and who is holding that back? Sinn Féin.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.