Comprehensive Spending Review

– in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 9th November 1998.

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Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 2:00 pm, 9th November 1998

Members will have received a paper on the comprehensive spending review and will have had an opportunity to peruse it. After the Minister presents his proposals arising from the review to the House, Members will have an opportunity to put questions to him. Members should restrict their questions to the subject matter of the presentation. They will only be able to ask one question, and that should be as brief as possible. Members should not make speeches or extensive statements — we want to give as many Members as possible the opportunity to put questions to the Minister.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Mr Initial Presiding Officer, Members of the Assembly and friends, I would like, first of all, to say that if I am seen to take out from beneath this podium a glass containing a transparent liquid, it should not be assumed that it contains gin and tonic, as it might do for the Chancellor of the Exchequer — it contains Northern Irish water. By the end of this afternoon’s session, I may need refreshment of another kind!

I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk to you this afternoon about the comprehensive spending review, and about what will eventually be the Assembly’s own budget. It is a measure of the distance we have travelled that the Assembly was no more than an idea when the comprehensive spending review was launched last year. Today, the Assembly is a reality, and, next year, it will have responsibility for much of the expenditure which we will be discussing this afternoon. As the elected representatives of all the men and women — and children — of Northern Ireland, Members of the Assembly will be responsible for, perhaps, some £8 billion.

As many Members will recall, I had the responsibility of chairing the final negotiations which led to strand one of the Agreement — namely, the arrangements for the establishment of the Assembly. So it is a great personal pleasure for me to be addressing the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland, and I wish them all well in their future deliberations. There will, of course, next year, be elected Assemblies for Scotland and for my own country, Wales, and I hope also, eventually, for the English regions. This great adventure in democracy, where people are represented by those who live amongst them, represents a tremendous advance.

Perhaps one of the most significant issues with which the Assembly will have to deal in the coming years is the question of expenditure. That budget of £8 billion represents a huge responsibility for the Assembly, just as it currently represents a huge responsibility for the Secretary of State and myself and our Ministerial colleagues. The significance of that cannot be overstated.

Aneurin Bevan, a fellow countryman and a great hero of mine, said, this applies to all political philosophies and certainly to government, that the language of socialism — or, one could say, the language of government — is the language of priorities. The comprehensive spending review, an exercise that was started by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, represents, not just in Northern Ireland but in the country as a whole, the priorities that the Government should have. That is precisely what will exercise your minds and attentions in the years ahead.

What priorities, as elected representatives, should you have? It is important to recognise that when people take the trouble to put a cross against your name, or, in the case of the Assembly, a number against your name, they are supporting you as an individual or as a party, and so there is a heavy responsibility on us to represent them to the best of our ability. The £8 billion which you will have to control when the Assembly is fully established will touch upon all aspects of life in Northern Ireland — health, education, local government, the environment and roads, among other things.

As a result of the comprehensive spending review in the country as a whole, the Secretary of State asked the people of Northern Ireland through their political parties, voluntary organisations, the trade union movement, through businesses and the local authorities what priorities they felt should be dealt with in the coming years. So the consultation on the comprehensive spending review by no means began in the Assembly, but it will end here because the Assembly to which you all belong, has been asked what those priorities might be.

The Government produced a paper, which most of you received in Brussels last week, in which details of their spending proposals are set out. As I said, the comprehensive spending review was the most detailed public examination ever undertaken in the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland has participated in that. The Secretary of State, my other ministerial colleagues and I have reached a view on how best to allocate the available resources.

In reaching this view, we have also taken into account the funding made available by the Chancellor’s economic initiative which was announced in May, the resources that we received from the New Deal, from the Welfare to Work programme and money from Europe, in particular the European peace and reconciliation programmes. There are additional resources earmarked for specific purposes including assisting the unemployed and helping to cement the process of reconciliation.

Government is about priorities, and we have concluded that in Northern Ireland the priorities that we were elected on are essentially no different from the priorities on the mainland — with the exception of the money spent on security, about which I will say something later — which are health and education.

We have come to the conclusion that what matters to people is the quality of life, in particular, how their children are educated, the quality of that education, together with the universality, the significance, the great ability of the Health Service to be able to deal with people’s health from the cradle to the grave. That is of vital significance to every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland.

That, if you have examined the papers in detail, illustrates where our priorities lie. You will see that the greatest increases by way of cash, or indeed by way of percentage, are in the health programme, specifically geared to reducing the waiting lists and in schools, specifically geared to lowering class sizes.

Those, coupled with the very significant and important aspect of ensuring that the security of people in Northern Ireland is dealt with properly, lie at the basis of those priorities. That does not mean that the services which are not covered by the health and education budgets are insignificant. Of course, they are not.

When I go round — as I have had the opportunity to do, though less so than my colleagues — and talk to people of all political persuasions in local authorities and elsewhere, they tell me that they also have important local priorities, whether roads, the environment, economic development, or whatever. We have chosen to concentrate on schools and hospitals in allocating the additional money.

There is a difficult question to answer — one which you will be charged with, as, indeed, will the local authorities — and that is "How do you pitch your rate?" There is, unique to Northern Ireland, a regional rate. The rating system has been abolished in Great Britain and replaced by the council tax although there is still a business rate there. You, of course, as an Assembly, when you are up and running, will be in a position to strike that rate in order to raise money to spend upon services for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland.

We have assumed, as you will have read in the comprehensive spending review, a specific increase of 8% in the domestic regional rate, which we want to gear towards the huge and difficult problem that all of us jointly face, specifically in water and sewerage. You might think that that is a fairly unglamorous subject to discuss.

This morning my ministerial colleague Lord Dubs introduced his consultation paper on the future of the water and sewerage service. The sewerage system in Northern Ireland needs enormous capital, and one way of overcoming that problem without having to eat into your expenditure on other services is to ensure that the rate is struck at an appropriate level to deal with this particular problem.

The choice, ultimately, is yours. You may decide to increase the rate even more if you want to bring in more money to spend on services which you believe are significant or you may decide to reduce it. If you do reduce it, because there is a ceiling on the amount of money that we are allowed under the block, you will have to find money from elsewhere. However, at the moment we are assuming an increase of 8% on the domestic regional rate and 5·5% on non-domestic rate.

May I briefly touch upon one or two of the issues that I dealt with. When we discuss these matters later, we can go into more detail.

The people of Northern Ireland are entitled to the very best health service that we can afford. The Health Service was born a few miles away from where I live and represent. It is probably one of the dearest things to me as a politician and, I am sure, to you as well. It affects the lives of everybody in Northern Ireland.

Public representatives and people throughout Northern Ireland have indicated that they do not want to see a reduction in the quality of the service offered by the Health Service. You will see, in the figures that you have been presented with, an increase in the amount planned to be spent on the Health Service. That amount does not include the £6 million plus which, last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave to Northern Ireland to deal with the problems of community care.

This is a major commitment to this key service. It will allow hospital waiting lists to be reduced below the level inherited from the last Government. There is an extra £74 million for community-care packages and another £30 million for childcare to safeguard the well-being of children at risk.

We have completed an exhaustive consultation on the future organisation of the Health Service, and it will fall to you to shape the Service for the health and the social-care challenges of the future. There may be difficult decisions to take, but that is what government is about and what representation is. Nevertheless, health is right up at the top of the agenda, as is education. It is one of my Government’s priorities and one of the priorities of those who represent the people of Northern Ireland. These extra resources will improve standards in schools, reduce class sizes, and, very significantly, expand pre-school education which is of vital importance in the mental and educational development of very young children, and can have a significant impact on their educational future.

We have proposed additions for further education, higher education, life-long learning and the Springvale initiative. We have given extra cash for arts, museums, youth and sport and the Odyssey Millennium project.

If we have priorities, other things will not be on the same level. The package contains some reductions on the economic development side. I hasten to add that if this package is approved, £165 million will be spent in that area next year, but it has to be viewed in the context of other things: the Chancellor’s initiative, which is vital to the economic development of Northern Ireland, and the welfare-to-work programme, which is a very significant programme in terms of improving the training opportunities for young — and not so young — people. It all adds up to a significant economic development package for the people of Northern Ireland. There is still much to be done, but this is of great significance to the people here and to Members.

Over the next three years we shall put an extra £84 million into the water and sewerage infrastructure to help to address European Union directives on water qualities.

There will also be some reduction in housing expenditure so that additional resources can be released for schools and hospitals. We expect the Housing Association Movement to act in partnership with the Government to bring greater amounts of private finance here. Similarly, a number of capital receipts have come in on housing, and that has helped.

We recognise that the agricultural industry has experienced major difficulties in recent times. Significant additions to the agricultural programme have been proposed to respond to pressures on animal health, food safety, food processing, and marketing — as promised by the Prime Minister earlier this year — as well as to improve the services provided by the agricultural colleges and increase the protection against flooding. It was evident in Brussels last week how important agriculture is to Northern Ireland’s economy — the biggest single industry — and it is very important that we bend our minds to ensure that, as we go into the next century, as much as possible is done to improve and facilitate the agricultural industry here. The figures support that.

Of considerable interest to all Members is the expenditure relating to the Assembly. Here, in Cardiff and in Edinburgh, the two Assemblies and the Parliament must have money to exist. Provision has been made for various costs relating to the Assembly, the Office of the Executive, the North/South Ministerial Council and other costs associated with the Belfast Agreement.

They are not insignificant sums. This year we expect to have to find about £9.5 million for the Assembly alone, and thereafter approximately £14 million to £15 million each year. Those sums will have to be found from the fixed totals in the Northern Ireland block in the same way as for Wales and Scotland.

The targeting social need and policy appraisal and fair treatment schemes are relevant to public spending allocations. Earlier this year the Government relaunched the TSN initiative as new TSN — New Labour, New TSN — with a particular focus on the needs of the unemployed. A review of TSN in each Department is currently being carried out by external consultants. In putting together the spending proposals, we have taken account of the potential targeting social need and PAFT implications. Our policies on higher education and on Springvale, Odyssey and many other areas, such as welfare to work, strongly support TSN.

In the consultation paper we have tried to strike a balance between providing sufficient detail for meaningful consultations and a not too voluminous document. The question is whether the Assembly agrees with the overall shape of the priorities that we have provisionally decided. The overall spending totals are fixed, so any suggestions for changes have to identify gainers or losers. This is an unprecedented consultation on spending plans. It represents the Assembly’s first opportunity to consider public spending allocations to programmes. It gives the Assembly an indication of what it will face in the future.

It will be for the Assembly to decide how to respond to what I have said. It may decide that the debate is sufficient, or Members may write to me individually or collectively. We need to complete the process in the next couple of weeks to begin finalising that programme.

I thank the Assembly for the opportunity to deal with the huge problems of prioritisation. In view of all the problems that Northern Ireland has faced over the years and will face in future, it is a heavy responsibility on me, but it will be a heavier one on Members of the Assembly. That process applies particularly here.

I am not elected by people in Northern Ireland, but Members will be accountable to the electorate here for their decisions. That is what democracy is about. Spending priorities are the core of representing people in a democratic society. I am privileged and proud to have had the opportunity to see democracy in Northern Ireland for the first time in many years.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 2:15 pm, 9th November 1998

Many Members want to ask questions. I repeat that each will have one opportunity. There must be no extensive statements, and it will not be appropriate to intervene when the Minister is replying. Questions will be taken in batches of six. I shall allow as many as possible.

Photo of Dermot Nesbitt Dermot Nesbitt UUP

My question is about the regional rate. The Minister mentioned an 8 per cent increase. That is about £83 million extra to be paid to be paid by ratepayers from a base level of £200 million.

That is an astronomical increase for a particular phase of the water and sewerage system. However, I accept that the expenditure is necessary. Given that we are moving towards resource accounting — costs are allocated over the useful life of an asset — does the Minister think it is fair to charge ratepayers for something which will only be of benefit many years hence? Could we not be more imaginative?

Photo of Eddie McGrady Eddie McGrady Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the Minister as the first guest to address the Assembly. Like all Members, I welcome the additional finance for health and education.

Let me draw the Minister’s attention to the Chancellor’s economic package, announced last May. This was understood to be additional to existing resources, yet in paragraph 8 and in other places he says that there is ring-fencing for £130 million. Can he confirm that up to £100 million of this so-called additional money will come from the privatisation of the Belfast harbour — that, as it were, the family silver is being sold off? Will the Assembly be able to express a view on this privatisation? I understand that it is to be rushed through before Christmas. That is a total disgrace.

Photo of Mr Oliver Gibson Mr Oliver Gibson DUP

I congratulate the Minister on his presentation.

Does he know how welcome the Chancellor’s initiative and the £12·5 million of ring-fenced money for the A5 road are? Is he aware that, prior to that announcement, a backlog of work to the tune of £55 million had built up in the western region? Recently, in the House of Lords, the Duke of Abercorn highlighted the sentiments of everyone in West Tyrone when he pointed out that the region has no ports, harbours or airports. Its lifeline is the A5 — the Londonderry-Ballygawley road — which has suffered from a massive £35 million underspend.

Will the Minister assure the Assembly that the West will no longer suffer financial hardship, that there will be equality of treatment and that the lifeline for West Tyrone will be brought up to the standards necessary for modern commercial, tourist and agricultural activity?

Photo of Dr Dara O'Hagan Dr Dara O'Hagan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh.

Sinn Fein welcomes the opportunity to discuss the comprehensive spending review with Mr Murphy. We have a number of concerns that will be raised in the course of the debate.

The entire document is extremely vague because of its failure to identify current and capital account expenditure. This is especially so in relation to the Law and Order budget which will remain largely unchanged over the next three years. Where is the indication of the clear shift from conflict-related expenditure towards more socially useful expenditure in the light of the different political situation? I ask the Minister to produce for the Assembly a public-expenditure statement that sets out capital and current account expenditure, and includes estimates of tax revenue from all sources.

Will the Minister confirm that, contrary to media reports, the prison at Long Kesh is to be refurbished, with building work due to start in the next two to three weeks? Will he inform the Assembly about the outcome of the tendering competition for that work? Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer 2:30 pm, 9th November 1998

I said that each Member should ask one question only. However, the ingenuity of Members sometimes ensures that there is more than one route to their question. I appeal to Members to restrict themselves to one question each.

Photo of Seamus Close Seamus Close Alliance

I welcome the Minister to what has been called a consultation exercise. I trust that it will indeed be consultation and not purely a cosmetic exercise.

I am perturbed at the proposal to increase the regional rate by 8%. Does the Minister agree that we all have a duty to try to achieve open and accountable government, and that any fiscal measures that are used to provide for an increase in public expenditure should be seen by the electorate to be open and transparent?

I have been involved in local government for 25 years, and I can tell the House that every local authority in Northern Ireland abhors the regional rate. It is a totally nebulous tax, based on assumption, and it is impossible to understand how it is calculated. It is disgraceful to use it as the vehicle for increasing public expenditure and to restrict this House in such a way. If we are to have open and accountable government, it would be much more satisfactory to have tax-varying or tax-raising powers that are also open and accountable to the electorate.

The Minister said that when he returned home he did not want anyone ringing him up. We will still be here and accountable to the people, and they will wish to know how their money is being spent.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Please bring your remarks to a close.

Photo of Seamus Close Seamus Close Alliance

The water and sewerage systems are in their present state because of the neglect of previous Governments. A more accountable measure should be used to raise the necessary funding.

Photo of Mr Patrick Roche Mr Patrick Roche UKUP

I welcome the increase in expenditure on education. How will that money be used to address problems in education?

Northern Ireland has record achievements in GCSE and A-level examinations, but, at the other end of the spectrum, significant numbers of people leave education without any qualifications. That means that those people were either insufficiently intelligent or that the schools they attended failed totally in their responsibilities.

Can Members be assured that some of this increased expenditure on education will be used to address that problem?

No matter how the education system develops, we need to retain the excellence of our grammar schools. There is a problem at tertiary level.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Please bring your questions to a conclusion.

Photo of Mr Patrick Roche Mr Patrick Roche UKUP

Northern Ireland has two reasonably performing universities, but they do not have a high status either in the league table of universities or internationally. Therefore they have not attracted the top Northern Ireland students, and that has led to a significant brain drain over the past 30 years. I hope that the increase in expenditure will be directed towards those problems.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I am grateful for all the comments that have been made. I will make one or two general points about some of the questions that have been asked. I have noted those Members who asked questions involving constituency details or more technical aspects. I will write to them individually in more detail. Although I am the Minister responsible for finance, I am not the Minister responsible for education and health et cetera. There are policies about which Members need further information and they may rest assured that they will get information back from the Government on those issues.

However, I will do my best on the questions that have been raised.

I will take Mr Nesbitt’s question with Mr Close’s because they both refer to the regional rate and to the eight per cent increase to which I referred. Let me repeat that this increase is, as the Government suggest the best compromise we can have to get proper spending on those matters to which I referred – water and sewerage. It is not the only way, however. You cannot, for example, choose to spend less on something else and then spend it on water and sewerage.

You can, of course, choose to spend the rate increase on something else. But no one wants to pay rates. For 10 years I had to get up in my local authority chamber in Torfaen, South Wales, as Chairman of the Finance Committee and present a budget. I always ended by saying that as a consequence of the budget, rates would never decrease. The rates were increased to pay for this and for that.

But it is the second point that is significant. If you tell people that rates are to be used to improve the infrastructure, promote jobs and industry and enhance the quality of their lives, they understand, but they will still not want to pay.

Mr Nesbitt asked if there should be spending now on water and sewerage as the results of such spending will only be seen much later. Capital spending is about the future. We must think of that future. The problem that we are facing, after so many years of neglect, is that the water and sewerage system needs special attention. It is, in many ways, the least glamorous, the least political thing, that you can think about. But it is vital to the infrastructure of society.

Mr Close was saying that the method of taxation which the Government have chosen is flawed. In a sense I agree. The rating system is a flawed system. There are all sorts of difficulties attached to it. The actual amount, however, that is paid by people in Northern Ireland compared to the amount the people in Great Britain pay by way of local taxation is less. It is important that if you have a regional rate, you should determine its value.

In Wales there would be no such rate. There is no income possibility for the Welsh Assembly. In Scotland there will be a tax-varying power. I am not giving an opinion on whether the Assembly should have a tax-raising power. It was not part of the Agreement and in discussions afterwards, there was no enthusiasm for such a power. Thus there is none.

There is the regional rate — the only method by which the Assembly has an opportunity to raise income. Indeed, were the Assembly to be given the opportunity to raise funds by local income tax — some would regard that as fairer; others would have doubts — such a tax would be imposed in any event, and probably for the same purpose, namely the water and sewerage systems.

It is a flawed systems method, but Members will have to decide, if they do not want to put that rate up, where they will take the money from, if the issue of the water and sewerage system is to be addressed.

On Mr Nesbitt’s point about accounting, Government accounting, at present, means that the capital has to be scored up front, and the necessary expenditure has to be funded. He asked about consultation. Lord Dubs will consult the Assembly on the future of water and sewerage facilities in Northern Ireland.

Mr McGrady referred to the Chancellor’s economic package and to the fact that it is additional. He was worried about the sale of Belfast harbour. I can confirm, and the Chancellor has also made it clear, that part of this package depends upon the results of the sale of Belfast harbour.

It is unique for the Chancellor to retain the receipts from such a sale; normally such receipts go into a pool and are swallowed up by the budgetary process in Whitehall. That is not the case on this occasion. The receipts are to be ring-fenced and used in Northern Ireland for the infrastructure and the other works referred to. However, it is not true that the harbour will be privatised by December, and it is true that Lord Dubs will consult the Assembly for its views on such a course of action.

Mr Gibson referred to the problems of the west and the difficulties with transport. He welcomed the A5 improvements, but indicated, like many people who represent Tyrone and the west of Northern Ireland, that there is much more to be done. He also indicated that the lifeline of that part of the province depends very much upon a proper road-transport system. He, and others, made that point to me when I visited Omagh Council in the summer, and I understand its significance. I am sure that when the Assembly decides upon packages for transport and roads, that point will be borne in mind. Some of the Chancellor’s package will be going to those areas.

Ms O’Hagan referred to a number of issues, some of which I will write to her about, but I will explain the Northern Ireland Office budget in relation to law and order. One of the reasons why that budget has not been reduced in the coming year is that compensation for Omagh and other places has to be paid for out of it.

We also do not know what the outcome of the Patten Commission will be regarding the restructuring of the police force. We do not know what the Criminal Justice Commission will ask us to do — time will tell. I will just make two points.

First, if the security situation in Northern Ireland improves month by month and year by year, inevitably it could be argued that there will be savings. However, Members will know as well as I do that such savings are most likely to occur in manpower. Redundancy payments and payments related to early retirement will have to be paid for, so it is not so simple. Secondly, the Northern Ireland budget and the budget that the Assembly will eventually deal with, which combined come to some £9 billion, will, after devolution, be separated.

The Assembly will not, for example, have to pay for compensation. That will fall upon the Northern Ireland Office budget. It will not come out of the budget for housing or education or whatever. Where there will have to be some very difficult negotiations will be with the Treasury, and with the Government centrally, in London on where the division of an overall amount would be made, between the Northern Ireland block on the one hand and the Assembly block on the other.

But Northern Ireland will not be on its own in that because the Welsh and the Scottish will have to undergo a similar negotiation — I was going to call it a battle — as well. Of course, the Northern Ireland budget, by virtue of the security input, is much higher than the budget in Wales and, to a lesser extent, in Scotland.

Mr Roche raised the important question of standards in schools and, of course, it is a huge budget. I dealt with the education brief as a shadow Minister, and for the six months or so that I held that brief, I was deeply impressed by the quality and standards of education in Northern Ireland. At the same time I was unimpressed by the fact that there is clearly more work to be done in many schools in Northern Ireland, whether it be in terms of the school buildings or the equipment they need, the computers that have to go in, and we have already tackled this to a certain extent, the class-size issue. As a former teacher myself, I can say that what is most significant and leads to success in the classroom is the number of children in it: the bigger the class, the less chance a child has. That may be a truism, but it has been forgotten for a long time, and that is why, in my view, the most significant thing that can be done to improve a child’s education is to ensure that the class size is smaller.

The future of grammar schools and the education system itself is something that you are going to have to debate in the months and years ahead. We have put into the budget a very large amount of money for the programme to support the schools in areas of social need, for training for primary teachers and for training for principals of schools, which is very important — when I was young, principals were not trained to manage. We were trained to teach; that is what attracted us in the first place. Now they have to do both, and sometimes no teaching at all. That is a mistake; all principals should teach now and again, as all head teachers should, just to make sure that they understand what is going on. It is very important that principals of schools get the opportunity for such training.

In addition to that, we are looking at a strategy for promoting good behaviour in schools, a development planning process and a host of other things as well. The idea behind all of this is to improve standards in schools so that no matter where your home is, no matter how poor or deprived you may be, the opportunity you get as a young boy or girl is not squandered because of the system and you can develop your potential. That is why everybody, no matter what community or place he comes from in Northern Ireland, believes in the value of education.

Photo of Robert Coulter Robert Coulter UUP 2:45 pm, 9th November 1998

Does the Minister’s reference to future security spending levels fully take into account the levels of inflation that have been estimated and the undertakings given by the Prime Minister with regard to potential severance payments for members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary? Is there likely to be up to a £4 million underfunding for the most recent pay award and another cut of around £24 million in current spending at a time when 20,000 troops will, if the present reduction in violence is maintained, be withdrawn?

Would it not be common sense to ensure that the levels of operational policing are enhanced? Would the Minister confirm that the reality is that there is a £28 million reduction in funding?

Photo of Tommy Gallagher Tommy Gallagher Social Democratic and Labour Party

The allocation for home-school transport arrangements does not allow for the present arrangements to continue beyond the end of the next school year. Thereafter, the intention is to charge pupils over 16 for transport to school.

Three years ago the Department of Education proposed a similar initiative which would have severely penalised pupils in rural areas. In my own constituency, some of the pupils would have been required to pay £700 for transport to school. Tampering with school transport arrangements invariably hits pupils in rural areas hardest and is unlikely to achieve worthwhile savings, as some research undertaken in the west of the province shows. Will the Minister withdraw this particular suggestion?

Furthermore, in relation to higher education and the allocation of an extra 2,000 places may I point out that we have to see this in the context of the current year where students have to pay a £1,000 tuition fee and where maintenance grants have been cut in half. From next year maintenance grants will be replaced by student loans. Students face the prospect of leaving university with a millstone of debt around their necks. It is very discouraging for young people from poorer backgrounds who might progress into third-level education. Is the Minister aware of the concerns that many Members have about future higher education places being available and filled, not on merit, but on the ability of people from privileged families to pay for them?

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon DUP

My question is in relation to the Water and Sewerage Service. When in opposition, the Labour Party opposed privatization of national institutions. Will the Minister confirm that the current Government now supports the privatization of the Water Service? As I understand it, a paper is being prepared by Westminster civil servants at this very moment.Could it be that the proposed water charges of £35 to £70 per household, is a pay-off for the fat cats? How can he justify that increase? Furthermore, how does the Minister reconcile the double standards that the Labour Party has so very clearly shown?

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Minister, in the spending review you have referred to four key supporting aims and it seems to me that while they are all very worthwhile, they tend to be vague and there is not as much emphasis on targeting social needs, although you made mention of it earlier.

What concerns me is how this can be worked out in practice. Take my own constituency, West Belfast, for example. If it were to be designated a health action zone, then extra resources will be required for the Health Service. Introduction of the Children Order will put greater stresses on the criminal justice system in the area. It may even lead to the closure of one of the homes in the area. Extra resources would, therefore, also be needed in the social services budget.

May I point out that your colleague endorsed, just a couple of days ago, the need in West Belfast. You need to take account of this need in the four key aims and I would like to know how you actually measure social need in a constituency like West Belfast.

Photo of Mr Billy Hutchinson Mr Billy Hutchinson PUP

My question is in relation to a lack of clarity surrounding cuts in community development. Minister, you mentioned the Springvale and Odyssey projects. This paper goes on to say there is scope for adjustment to existing urban regeneration community development baselines to help support higher priority projects elsewhere. I think that nowhere could you say that either Odyssey or Springvale has been community led. One is an education programme and the other is a mixture of leisure and other areas. Particularly in relation to the Odyssey project, it could not be said that it is supported from a community development point of view, by most people in east Belfast.

The Agreement says

"The participants particularly recognise that young people from areas affected by the troubles face particular difficulties and will support the development of special community-based initiatives based on international best practice."

It concerns me that when we are trying to move forward in the spirit of the Agreement that the Government are now suggesting that we should put our money into projects which are nothing other than Government flagships. Will you clarify and give us an assurance that the Odyssey and Springvale projects will not drain money away from community development projects?

Photo of Ms Jane Morrice Ms Jane Morrice NIWC

We welcome the priorities which the Minister has set for health and education, and particularly for pre-school education. I, like Mr Hutchinson of the PUP, am concerned about the ambiguity over whether certain areas of expenditure will be cut in order to accommodate these priorities.

We want to focus on training, which the Minister mentioned. He said that existing programmes could be "reconfigured" to emphasise the new priority given to skills enhancement. I would like to know what is meant by this. In particular, we would like to know whether the Action for Community Employment (ACE) programme, which Northern Ireland people have a great attachment to, will be totally swallowed up by the new deal or whether it can be properly resurrected as a fine example of an existing training programme?

I also seek clarification on a second point, which Members will appreciate from their visit to Brussels. The Minister had budgeted for the peace and reconciliation programme to run beyond the year 2000 into 2001 and 2002. While Members are all lobbying to try to keep it, we cannot understand why the Minister has budgeted for it up until 2002 when we understood that it was to end in the year 2000.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Mr Coulter raised the issue of inflation and the question of the Northern Ireland Police Authority’s grant for law and order over the next few years. It is currently being held at broadly the same level as that for this financial year. That means, as the Member knows, that the Police Authority and the RUC will have to make some efficiency savings to cover police pay. But, generally speaking, there is no great difference between the grant now and the grant for the year ahead.

I did say, and I repeat, that we do not know what the Police Commission will recommend. We do not know what the security situation will be like in the coming years. Suffice it to say that current policing levels in no way put at risk the security of people in Northern Ireland. But, of course, we await with interest the Commission’s recommendations.

Mr Gallagher referred to two things: the question of home-school transport charging and higher education. On the first point, he rightly refers to the fact there is to be no change next year, which is the first of a three year programme. It is in the second and third years that the decision will have to be taken. I fully accept his point about rural areas, but ultimately it will be for the Assembly to determine how high a priority that is in education as a whole. Across the water in England, Scotland and Wales, there are varying methods of school-transport support, according to local circumstances. The Assembly may feel, for example, that, particularly in rural areas, some special help should be given because of size. That is just a suggestion for the second and third years, but, ultimately, that will be for the Assembly to decide.

In relation to the point about higher education, I sympathise entirely. I was the first member of my family, on either side, who went to university. I understand the significance of being able to ensure that you do not have to worry about the financial consequences of going to higher and tertiary education. I do not think that it is going to be as bad a picture as Mr Gallagher painted. For example, it is estimated that only 25% of students will pay the £1000 tuition fee. Some 35% will pay less than that, and 40% will pay nothing at all.

We also have to bear in mind what we mean by post 16-17 education. Many people did not benefit from advanced further education. We concentrated so heavily on those taking degree courses that people in advanced education, which was not at degree level, lost out. We need to ensure that there is fairness and equity, so that as many as possible can benefit from it.

Mr Shannon referred to the privatisation of the water and sewerage services. There will be full consultation with my colleague, Lord Dubs, and the use of private finance in public-private partnerships is something which the Government certainly believe is the right way to go about such matters, particularly where major infrastructure is concerned. There is nothing wrong with that.

There is, of course, the option of complete privatization — and that is one of the options open — but we have made no decision on it. It is very much a matter for consultation before we decide what to do.

Mr Maskey referred to targeting social need and policy appraisal and fair treatment. Of course those schemes are vital — very significant indeed. In terms of the measurement to which he referred, there are technical means of measuring relative needs. We can, for example, use indicators such as unemployment — and these are used in targeting social need assessments, as he knows.

I think he is concerned that these schemes will, in some way or other, get lost in the whole budgetary exercise. I can assure him that that is not the case. It is very much in the mind of the Government — and I am sure it will be in the mind of the Assembly — that Targeting Social Need and Policy Appraisal and Fair Treatment be kept very much to the fore.

Mr Hutchinson referred to cuts in community development. It is not only the question of Odyssey or Springvale, to which I referred, but also of improving, as I hope we are, education, schools, areas of social need or the health of people in more deprived communities. If we look at the welfare to work situation we can see that all these things can be looked at by way of helping people in areas which need the help particularly because of the social difficulties they face. There are many areas, including his own, in Northern Ireland, which we need to look at. I will, of course, write to him in detail regarding some of those matters, but we also have to bear in mind the European programmes.

I refer to Ms Morrice’s point about the peace and reconciliation programme. That will eventually come to an end — of course it will. As far as that problem is concerned, part of our visit last week was to see what can replace the current European programmes to ensure that we get the best possible deal.

I do not want to see any programme swallowed up by the new deal, as the Member put it, but it is very important to understand the enormous help that has come through the welfare to work programme, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced. We really do need to try to understand the whole picture in training terms. My experience over the years is that it is a very complicated picture and that sometimes people can slip through the net on training. It is important to look at the whole situation as far as training is concerned — including welfare to work. I understand Members’ concerns and will ensure that they are met as best as possible.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 3:00 pm, 9th November 1998

I would like to press further on the issue of the privatisation of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. Would the Minister agree that the hundreds of acres of prime redevelopment land, currently controlled by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, is largely unrelated to port activity, has the potential of handing exorbitant profits to property speculation and may lead to uncontrolled development which would exacerbate the socially unacceptable doughnut effect within the City of Belfast?

Furthermore, is he aware of the potentially unfair economic advantage that a privatised Belfast Harbour Commission would have over the other ports in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Ms Brid Rodgers Ms Brid Rodgers Social Democratic and Labour Party

My question relates to something that has already been raised — the impact of the reduction of the targeting social need and policy appraisal and fair treatment schemes. I listened to the Minister’s reply but it does occur to me that the welfare to work programme is being managed as part of an inter-departmental budget at UK level and will, therefore, be outside the scope of this consultation and, in a sense, outside the control of the Assembly.

Since this is to outweigh the negative impact of the reduction of the targeting social need and policy appraisal and fair treatment schemes, we could find ourselves being unable to deliver on the commitment to equality which is part of the Agreement. Perhaps the Minister could deal with that.

The decision to treat the Springvale project as a private finance initiative will also place it outside the scope of this consultation.

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea DUP

As the Minister noted, agriculture is Northern Ireland’s largest industry. Almost every sector of that industry is currently in crisis. Farming incomes are falling dramatically, and farmers do not know where to turn. During the recent crisis in the pig farming industry, the French Government introduced a series of measures to support their producers. These included special payments to farmers in difficulty, special arrangements for pig farmers and a package worth 30 million francs to support farming families affected by the crisis. What hope can the Minister offer to this industry in these spending proposals?

Photo of Conor Murphy Conor Murphy Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh. I welcome the additional funding for education, particularly for schools in the most disadvantaged areas. I would be grateful if the Minister could quantify the additional funding for Irish-medium schools and clarify whether, given that most Irish-medium schools are to be found in disadvantaged areas, that additional funding is in addition to funding for schools in disadvantaged areas.

Photo of Séan Neeson Séan Neeson Alliance

I would like also to raise the matter of the sale of the Port of Belfast. In the Chancellor’s statement, it is stated quite clearly that the Belfast-Newry road, and other new projects, will be partly funded by the proceeds of the transfer of the Port of Belfast from the public sector to a public-private partnership. However, in the Minister’s statement, it is made clear that, if these receipts do not materialise, these projects would only proceed if funding on other Northern Ireland projects were reduced. Where does the truth lie? The people of Northern Ireland did not derive any benefit from the sale by the previous Government of Belfast Airport and Northern Ireland Electricity. The best way to fund these new projects is to use the existing profits from the Port of Belfast, rather than by selling off the family silver.

Photo of Robert McCartney Robert McCartney UKUP

The Minister will, by now, appreciate the distaste with which all parties regard the proposals for the use of the profits from the sale of the Port of Belfast.

Will there be any funding, in addition to the £8 billion block grant, to compensate for Government mis-management of, for example, the crisis in the agriculture industry, as referred to earlier by Rev William McCrea? This crisis, especially in the beef industry, was brought about by the negligence and mismanagement of the previous Government, and is, therefore, not the responsibility of anyone in the Northern Irish beef industry, which had the best system in the United Kingdom for tracing cattle. Yet, in spite of this, the Province suffered disproportionately from the European Union beef ban because of the relative size of the beef industry here.

In relation to the point made by Ms Rodgers, the Welfare to Work programme is a central Government project, but it is taking people from welfare to work — and some of the Welfare to Work programmes are of questionable economic value — while other policies are running into the ground (people who have worked assiduously for generations in the agriculture industry).

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I am getting the message as far as Belfast Harbour is concerned. There are a couple of detailed points in reference to the issues raised by Mr Beggs, Mr McCartney and Mr Neeson. The land bank is clearly an important issue. The Belfast Harbour Commissioners are to bring forward their own scheme which will have to be assessed by the Government to ensure that the land arrangements are properly considered and to ensure competition. Larne, as you know, is already owned by the private sector.

With regard to Mr Neeson’s query about the proceeds of the proposed sale, the estimates, because of the commercial difficulties and the commercial significance of it, have to be confidential at this stage. Not all of the Chancellor’s initiative has been funded from the sale of the port. The Chancellor is making substantial funding available from central resources but receipts also make a contribution. As the port is not publicly owned it is not open to the Government to use its profits to augment the Northern Ireland block.

I will appraise Lord Dubs and the Secretary of State of the views that have been expressed here today, and you will have an opportunity to discuss this matter again in the Assembly.

With regard to TSN and PAFT, overall there is no reduction in funding — quite the opposite. There are large increases in education and health, and Welfare to Work targets the needs of the individual. There is surely no better way of ensuring that TSN objectives are met than by going to the individual concerned. I do accept the significance of TSN and, in particular, new TSN. I have not dealt with this policy personally, but I am informed by my colleagues who have dealt with the policy, that it is very significant in what it can and what it is hoped it will achieve. As far as the budget is concerned, both those areas act as a backdrop to those decisions we have to take on socio-economic matters.

Rev William McCrea referred to how important agriculture is in Northern Ireland and how incomes have been slashed over the months and years gone by. The Government have taken various measures to alleviate these problems, for example, pig producers were assisted through a pig welfare slaughter scheme and compensation was also provided for flagged herds. This assistance totalled nearly £1·2 million.

I am also aware of the difficulties that are faced as a consequence of the fire at the pig production factory in Ballymoney and the significance of that fire. It is important that we consider how best to deal with this problem. If Mr McCrea looks at the budget for the next three years he will note that the CSR provides support for services worth £25 million, for example, in testing and meat inspection. This should instil confidence in the agricultural industry, particularly in dairy products, which is absolutely necessary.

After talking to people in Europe last week it is our view that the Northern Ireland farmers will be recognised for the very important changes that have occurred in the industry in Northern Ireland and how the farmers have dealt with these crises. Mr McCrea will see, if he reads the budget, that these problems are not forgotten. The Government are certainly conscious, as I am sure the Assembly is, of the importance of agriculture to the well-being of the many thousands of people who live and work on the land in Northern Ireland.

Mr Murphy is aware that, under the Agreement, the Government have committed themselves to passing legislation to ensure that Irish-medium education will be available. The viability criteria have been adjusted so that schools can more easily be established where there is demand. He will also be aware that in my constituency Welsh-medium education is flourishing, so I will place no impediment in the way of those who wish their children to be educated through the medium of the Irish language.

I have covered most of the points, but I will write to Members on some of the detail on points which have been raised.

Photo of Mrs Joan Carson Mrs Joan Carson UUP 3:15 pm, 9th November 1998

With reference to our roads and transport system, the Chancellor’s economic package will provide £87 million — though spending is dependant on receipts from the transfer of the port of Belfast to the private sector. The port of Belfast is vital to the strategic, economic importance of this Province and must not be regarded as a throwaway bargain; I must emphasise that.

The comprehensive spending review allocations will reinforce this package by a further £11 million for roads operation and maintenance. Will the Minister confirm that no long-term provision has been made within this three year programme for essential long-deferred items? I could give him quite a few examples from South Tyrone.

Photo of Sean Farren Sean Farren Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Government, in presenting this consultation paper, quite rightly remind us that their overarching aim is to achieve peace, stability and prosperity. In the first sub-paragraph following this, they commit themselves to ensuring the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement.

In the light of that, I would like to point out what I see as a serious omission in the Spending Review. With respect to allocations that will arise out of the establishment of the Civic Forum and the North/South Ministerial Council, there is a brief reference to the office of the Executive on the North/South Council. I take the allocations indicated there to refer specifically to the secretarial aspect of the Council, but with respect to the North/South implementation bodies, I think that we could have expected some more information on what might need to be allocated in that area.

My question refers to paragraph 31 and the Trade, Industry and Energy Section. There is to be a reduction of approximately 4% over 3 years with respect to this area. Given the reference to energy in the title of this section, the imminence of reports dealing with the possible extension of the gas supply to the north- west and the possibility of the extension of gas supplies should an interconnection with Scotland be provided and a link between Belfast and the border, I am particularly concerned that the capital expenditure required to meet such necessary investments might not be forthcoming due to the reductions signalled in this section of the review.

Photo of William Hay William Hay DUP

I ask the same question as Mr Farren about the extension of the natural gas pipeline to the rest of the Province, and especially to the north and north-west. There is a strong political lobby to ensure that the extension takes place. The Government have completed a feasibility study on natural gas for those areas. However it was a narrow study and we, the representatives of the north and north-west, want assurances that natural gas will be supplied to the rest of the Province. We have no problem about gas for the Greater Belfast area, but for the sake of industry and economic development, and in terms of social issues, it is important that the rest of the Province gets a natural gas pipeline. I ask the Minister to set money aside for that.

Photo of Mary Nelis Mary Nelis Sinn Féin

At the recent economic forum in Derry, which was organised by Derry City Council, it was stated that since 1939 that area has had the highest unemployment in the Six Counties. Strabane has an equally bad record. Unemployment is directly related to ill-health and poverty, and one of the objectives of the review is to enhance the quality of life for people in the north and invigorate TSN initiatives. How can that be achieved if expenditure on training and on tackling unemployment is to drop by 4% over the next three years? That percentage allows for inflation. It would be useful to have information on how TSN decisions ensure the funding is correctly targeted. I join my comrades on Derry City Council in putting the case for natural gas. It will help to tackle our long-term endemic unemployment.

Photo of Esmond Birnie Esmond Birnie UUP

Industrial development is mentioned on pages 12 and 13 of the review. A substantial real-terms reduction in expenditure is proposed. It would be helpful for such documents to make explicit assumptions about inflation. How does that reduction, especially in the context of selective financial assistance, relate to the ongoing review of the structures of the main industrial development agencies, to the recent performance of the IDB and LEDU and to the Department of Economic Development’s economic strategy review? That review is not yet complete, and we, as democratic representatives, have not had the chance to contribute to it.

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party

How can the stated aims of sustained economic growth and an improvement in the Northern Ireland economy be achieved in the light of the projected reduction in the budget of the Department of Economic Development? I welcome the fact that there will be 2,000 extra higher education places over the next three years. I hope that Tyrone will not be the only county without full-time higher education provisions. TSN and PAFT should ensure that the county town of Tyrone gets some places.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

First, I will respond to Mr McCartney’s point about access to the reserve, which I have not completed but have not forgotten. The Member knows that it is always possible, if there is a genuine and UK-wide crisis, to obtain certain moneys from the reserve. Indeed, the cost of BSE and the difficulties associated with that crisis were a drain on the reserve. However, it is not designed for local emergencies, except where the scale is such that it is impossible for the amount to be met from internal resources from the block. It depends on the circumstances of the issue we are dealing with.

Mr McCartney and Ms Carson referred again to the question of the Port of Belfast, and in particular the provision for long-term items. The port would certainly not be sold for a bargain. Water, education capital, and roads capital are examples of long-term items. Again, we would be more than willing to listen to the views of Members of the Assembly — and they have expressed them strongly this afternoon — on how best to deal with this particular issue and I will be taking that message back.

Mr Farren referred to two things. First he referred to the Belfast Agreement and the commitments made there regarding the Civic Forum and the North/South Ministerial Councils and the expenditure necessary on them as a consequence of the Agreement. The Assembly may rest assured that there will be proper provision made within the estimates in the budget for such commitments in the Agreement, and we will ensure that that will be visible.

Mr Farren’s second point, also raised by Mr Hay and Mrs Nelis, referred to the lack of Natural Gas in the north of Northern Ireland. A year or so ago I talked to Derry City Council and they were very strong in their view of how important it was that Natural Gas be extended to the north-west. Until I came to Northern Ireland as Minister, I was unaware that there were no such facilities. As someone who uses gas for cooking and heating I can understand people’s views on this. There is no actual provision in these plans for new gas pipelines. As Members will know, it is very expensive and will need to be critically appraised.

It will be a matter for the Assembly to decide whether it is possible, by some method or other, to persuade the Treasury to increase the block grant or to ensure that there is some sort of agreement, achieved by negotiations with private companies, to bring it through. I understand that the case is there and the Assembly, ultimately, will have to find such funding but certainly not within the estimates as they are presented today.

Mrs Nelis also referred to unemployment. Let me remind her that the welfare-to-work programme will provide £240 million for Northern Ireland during the current Parliament — a very large amount indeed. That amount is set against a general picture of falling unemployment and increases in health and education. I do not underestimate the huge significance of the need — particularly as we move into a more peaceful setting — to retrain people and to give young people the skills necessary to ensure that they can have a fulfilling and useful life in the next century. That is very significant for us all.

Dr Birnie referred to the Industrial Development Board. The cuts in the budget are relatively modest. We will still be spending £165 million in 1999-2000. We believe that the more peaceful climate, and the progress made in this Assembly, will strengthen the attractiveness of Northern Ireland as a good investment location. The strategy to which he refers is, indeed, under way. The IDB’s level of assistance to industry will remain very competitive and will continue to provide a high level of support for attracting new inward investment — a point made by Mr Byrne also.

I do not underestimate the work being done by the Department of Economic Development or by the IDB. Indeed the recent 11-city tour was hugely significant, and I hope that much will come of it.

The estimate is reasonable and, over the next few years, it should provide sufficient funds for industrial investment. A report on the IDB and regional development generally will soon be issued.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson DUP 3:30 pm, 9th November 1998

I welcome the suggestion in the statement that more will be spent on improving Northern Ireland’s water and sewerage infrastructure. Last week some homes in my constituency were flooded for the fifth time in a year and sewage was running through the houses because of the inadequacy of the sewerage system.

The question of urban regeneration has been highlighted on a number of occasions. As Billy Hutchinson has said, expenditure on the Odyssey project will be offset by urban regeneration programmes. Nothing specific is mentioned in the paper. Which urban regeneration programmes will be affected, and will urban regeneration in East Belfast generally be affected by directing funds to the flagship project?

In their recent Green Paper, the Government emphasised the need to change the emphasis on transport. The Odyssey project is a good example of decisions being made ahead of changes that may be needed to public transport. The Department has cut car parking spaces by 3,000, on the basis that there will be adequate public transport to facilitate the Odyssey project in East Belfast. If planning decisions are made on the basis of adequate public transport, what money has been set aside for transport to ensure that programmes will be implemented?

Photo of Mr Mick Murphy Mr Mick Murphy Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh.

Is the Minister aware of the lack of watermains in many parts of the Six Counties such as the Sperrins, the Glenavy Valley, Sixmilecross and parts of my constituency in South Down? A special budget needs to be established to address that aspect of unfit rural housing. Will the Minister set up a task force and establish a special fund to bring mains water to every home in the Six Counties, thereby helping to bring many rural homes up to the standards that are expected in the new millennium? Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Ken Robinson Ken Robinson UUP

I thank the Minister for answering our questions and for accompanying this group to Brussels. He had the role of a schoolmaster in looking after us all, but I suspect he enjoyed it. Does he agree that it is incumbent upon the Assembly wisely to allocate the increased funding for education and economic development, and to maximise the potential benefits to education and the economy in a way that is free from political ideologies designed to place the maximum number of posteriors on padded upholstery?

Can the Minister give the House more details about the proposed levels of capital and revenue funding that has been set aside for the Springvale campus, the percentage of Northern Ireland’s education budget which this equates, and the cost of relocating the current College of Art from North Belfast to Springvale with the loss of local jobs and the possible damage to the proposed cathedral quarter, with its newly designated arts, craft and cultural ethos?

Can he indicate how much money has been set aside specifically to retrain teachers in information technology, to raise standards in schools and to develop the skills necessary for delivering that? Also, how much has been set-aside for training pre-school teachers and providing for the accreditation of those skills so that they may be properly recognised?

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Please bring this series of questions to a conclusion.

Photo of Ken Robinson Ken Robinson UUP

May I also ask that teachers be suitably financially rewarded for attaining these new levels of excellence and that disruption to schools be kept to a minimum during the retraining process.

Photo of Mr Donovan McClelland Mr Donovan McClelland Social Democratic and Labour Party

My questions refer to Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL). Is the Minister aware that the predicted growth forecast for DEL in Northern Ireland over the next three years, in cash terms, is 3·6%, while the figure for the United Kingdom is 5·9%? Would the Minister allay our fears that the decision on public spending has less to do with the Barnett formula and more to do with a realistic understanding of the public expenditure needs of Northern Ireland?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

Minister, Croeso y Senydd, welcome to the Assembly.

I note in your statement the extra £74 million for community care, but as one who has a professional background in that area I must say that it is somewhat inadequate.

But it particularly concerns me that yet again the Government are demanding 3% efficiency savings from health and personal social services. Does the Minister seriously believe that after a decade of such cuts there is any more fat left in the system, or does he agree with me that we are now cutting back into the core services?

Photo of Mr Gardiner Kane Mr Gardiner Kane DUP

Will the Minister confirm whether it is planned to cut back on recruitment to the Royal Ulster Constabulary Reserve? Is it this Government’s policy to shelve recruitment to a body which has served this country faithfully for the past 28 years?

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Mr Sammy Wilson asked a number of useful questions about water and sewerage and expressed his dismay. Indeed, I have also been expressive in my own area over the last few weeks about the appalling effect that flooding can have on people’s lives. It can be a devastating experience, and I understand the significance of the points he has made. In fact, the budget provides for a significant amount of money to deal with flooding.

The Member also raised questions about urban regeneration and transport — in particular, parking provision. Transport is, of course, a matter for Lord Dubs, and I will make sure that he receives the point made by the Member. He will provide the Member with a written response.

The Urban Regeneration Programme has been mentioned by a number of Members, and I can tell them that the Government are planning to spend about £120 million between 1999 and 2002. There are resources for Making Belfast Work, the Londonderry Regeneration Initiative and joint projects with the International Fund for Ireland. Further resources will be available from the International Fund and from European Union programmes such as the Special Programme for Peace and Reconciliation.

We have not finally allocated those resources, but we believe that they will be sufficient to deliver a substantial programme of regeneration measured throughout the region.

Odyssey is not being offset directly, but in setting forward plans we cannot, of course, ignore other events.

That was one of the reasons for our visit last week — to press home with the European Union, and particularly with the Commissioners, the need to ensure that our most difficult and deprived areas are funded properly not just by the United Kingdom Government, but by the European Union as well. The European Union has been good to us over the years, and I hope that our visit will ensure a continuation of good funding.

Mr M Murphy raised the question of water and, particularly, the lack of provision in rural areas. I agree with his points, and that is why we are proposing such a large capital increase in the spending on water and sewerage services. I would not have thought that there was a need now for an extra fund, but if the Assembly feels, when it debates these issues — and it will do so in the near future when proposals are put to it — that an extra fund is worth examining, I certainly would not dismiss it and neither, I am sure, would Lord Dubs. Ultimately, however, it will be a matter for the Assembly.

Mr K Robinson very kindly referred to our visit in Brussels last week. I think I needed a little looking after myself by the time we arrived back at our hotel on the Thursday. We had a busy few days, very exhausting, but very worthwhile. I think that all parties would agree that we certainly got the message across to the Commission and to Europe about how important it is that a link be established. The Assembly will eventually have a very important role itself in Brussels, ensuring that the points that were made earlier in the debate about urban regeneration, community and economic development are put directly to the people there.

With regard to Springvale, I will reply to Mr Robinson in detail. I will say, however, that in April we announced an investment of £40 million towards the development of a unique further-and-higher education complex at Springvale, on the peace line between North Belfast and West Belfast, costing £70 million. Details of the split in spending will be contained in my reply.

Mr Robinson also referred to various aspects of teacher training. We believe that substantial resources have already been allocated, and I will reply in some detail on that one as well.

Mr McClelland referred to public spending and to the Barnett formula. In the next couple of years this will be a major issue that the United Kingdom Government have to face — not just because of Northern Ireland, but because of Scotland and Wales as well. The Assembly will have difficult negotiations with London to ensure that the Assembly grant meets the needs of the people in all aspects. I have no doubt that the Government have goodwill towards the Assembly; but it needs more than goodwill. It will mean hard bargaining and negotiations.

Mr Ford referred to the 3% efficiency savings in health and community care. I respect the fact that he has a background in this area, one that has been neglected over the years. Community care is a good concept, but it needs backup and resources. The money that passed last week from the Chancellor of the Exchequer allocated to community care will certainly be of great service.

As to Mr Kane’s point about the RUC Reserve, I will make sure that my colleague, Mr Ingram, is so informed. Mr Kane will see that there is very satisfactory financing and budgeting for police services in Northern Ireland.

Photo of Michelle Gildernew Michelle Gildernew Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat.

With reference to points 18 and 19 on pages 6 and 7 of the consultation paper, could the Minister explain what the adverse consequences are for the new and invigorated targeting social need initiative and the one or more public appraisal and fair treatment categories? Does this mean that targeting social need is no longer a priority, and will the setting of the regional rate under devolution consider targeting social need areas as having special status in relation to raising the £22.5 million extra in 1999/2000?

Photo of Mr James Leslie Mr James Leslie UUP 3:45 pm, 9th November 1998

My question is about the agriculture budget. A visitor from Mars attending this debate might be rather perplexed by the fact that we are trying to find £60 million for water services while in the agriculture budget we have to find £6 million to protect against flooding. I draw the Minister’s attention to the line on responding to pressures in animal health and food safety. When we farmers hear of more money being given to the Department for pressures in this area, we say "Oh, no; this must mean more inspections." Is this money to be used to enforce more regulations or to help the farmer comply with regulations that are already in place?

Photo of Mr Eamonn ONeill Mr Eamonn ONeill Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the positive aspects of the budget for health and education. I am a teacher, and my poor, long-suffering wife is a nurse, so there is something of a vested interest in the matter. My concern, however, relates to housing.

What has happened to the housing budget in Northern Ireland over the past 10 years under the Minister’s predecessors is nothing short of disgraceful. Year after year, stop/go economic policies have caused considerable difficulties for housing throughout Northern Ireland. Financial restraints meant that 150 Housing Executive jobs had to go — fortunately by voluntary redundancy — last year, the Housing Executive had to surrender its residual new-build role, and its grants and rehabilitation schemes had to be reduced. What will the effects of this relentless reduction in funding be for the Housing Executive, and will the Minister relent on these issues?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds DUP

I thank the Minister for his willingness to come to the Chamber to answer questions on this policy document. I also thank him for his role last week in the visit to Brussels. In relation to EU funding, to what extent are predicted levels of receipts and allocations from Europe taken into account in this review? At what level are the expected European receipts and allocations set in terms of Government thinking? This is particularly relevant to the continuing debate on Objective 1 status.

It is useful to have this paper and presentation because they emphasise the amount which Northern Ireland receives in the block —£9 billion for 1998-99, rising to £10 billion at the end of the financial period. That compares with £1 billion over five years from Europe. Therefore, in terms of money coming into Northern Ireland, while many people rightly and importantly focus on Europe, more attention needs to be given to money from the Exchequer. It is a far greater amount, and it is sometimes overlooked when talking about Europe.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Sinn Féin

I join in thanking the Minister for presenting the document and answering questions. I had an opportunity earlier and elsewhere to talk to the Minister about the comprehensive spending review. The Secretary of State outlined public expenditure priorities and referred to extensive consultations with the political parties, district councils, the business sector, trade unions, the voluntary and community sectors and others. I was disappointed by the reference to new TSN and PAFT. In the consultation, it will have been made clear to the Minister and his colleagues how much priority is attached to ring-fencing these measures. They are seen as essential for delivering quality and parity of esteem.

There were representations that these should not simply be guidelines, but a constant policy requirement on the allocation of public expenditure. Guidelines are a less than satisfactory response to what I can testify personally was a strongly felt argument that was presented directly to the Minister in the consultations. The disparities over many years on infrastructure developments such as roads, ports, airports and energy — the case has been made about the gas pipeline — are obvious cases in terms of new beginnings. Education is another. Some areas have twice the deprivation and unemployment of others. Those issues were raised directly, but where in this document is the Minister’s response or a sign that attention was paid to those issues? I certainly cannot find any such references.

Go raibh míle maith agat.

Photo of Danny Kennedy Danny Kennedy UUP

I welcome the opportunity to ask questions on this important document, but I am concerned about the short notice. Many Members were away last week, and we have not had a proper opportunity to study this matter. We are getting answers, but I should like to see the deadline on this important document extended so that Members may have more time to consider this important document and make representations.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Ms Gildernew referred to TSN and PAFT and to how the regional rate might be used to promote those schemes. Mr McLaughlin also spoke about those issues. So far as housing is concerned, there may be a small effect on PAFT, but that will be more than outweighed by the positive impact on health, education and other programmes in the budget. We are committed to TSN. It is a priority theme for all public expenditure programmes and, although it is not a programme in itself, it applies to all programmes.

I propose to write to Members who have spoken about TSN and to other Members on the points they have made. That will enable me to respond in more detail than time allows today. I understand the significance that Members attach to TSN.

Mr Leslie rightly raised the problems of agriculture. His plea was not for more inspections, but for more direct help. I am informed that the improvements are designed to help to meet existing requirements but not new impositions. I shall write to the Member on some of those matters.

Direct help to the farmer rather than bureaucracy is important. The aim should be to ensure proper help to address the farming difficulties that have been identified in the debate.

Mr ONeill referred to housing. Housing has been very badly hit over the last decade, not just in Northern Ireland but throughout the United Kingdom generally. The move towards housing associations is a welcome one. They have done a lot of good work in Northern Ireland and are able to access funding well beyond what the Housing Executive has to deal with. A total of £600 million is to be made available for housing in each of the next three years, and in the Chancellor’s package of last May an additional £11 million was made available for housing in the worst estates.

A number of receipts have also been incorporated into this budget, but ultimately, if the Assembly feels there is inadequate support for social housing in this comprehensive spending review, the ability is there, as the year develops, to change some of this spending.

Mr Dodds referred to how successful last week’s European trip was in terms of making the point to those who matter in Europe — the key players — that there is no division in this Assembly, on political grounds, as regards the need to put Northern Ireland’s case and to get the best possible deal. With regard to the question of receipts being taken into account, in respect of the existing structural funds for the year 1999-2000 they have been, but after 2000, we cannot be certain what help will be made available. That is why we went to Europe — to try to ensure that we get help in the future. This will occupy the minds of Assembly Members for the next year — how to get the best possible deal. They saw the difficulties that we face, but they also saw the great deal of goodwill that exists in Brussels — and this is obviously something that we need to harness.

I apologise to Mr Kennedy for the lateness of this reply, but I will make two points. I do not think that the Assembly has done badly, so far, in making its views known in very considerable detail on various aspects of the budget. We are making a careful note of everything that has been said, whether on agricultural, targeting social need or policing. We have already had a lengthy consultation period, and the views expressed do not differ very much from the points that have been made here today. Obviously there is now more detail — the flesh and the figures are there. You can rest assured that we will take the Assembly’s views into account, particularly in the controversial areas that have been mentioned today.

Photo of Eugene McMenamin Eugene McMenamin Social Democratic and Labour Party

The recent report on the Industrial Development Board by the Northern Ireland Audit Office showed a poor performance with regard to delivering jobs in West Tyrone — particularly in my home town of Strabane. Can you assure me that a fair proportion of the £165 million economic development package will be dedicated to this area?

Photo of Ian Paisley Jnr Ian Paisley Jnr DUP

Can the Minister tell Members how he intends to meet the needs of the community that lives outside the greater Belfast area, in terms of road traffic infrastructure and job creation?

May I draw his attention to the Secretary of State’s 14 July 1998 statement on the issue of additional spending in Northern Ireland when she indicated that her priorities included modernising the transport infrastructure before the end of 2002 and, by March 2002, securing a commitment from the Industrial Development Board’s client companies to create 23,000 jobs? Does the Minister share my concern that, in terms of road infrastructure in North Antrim, the Glarryford to Ballycastle junction has seen about 303 road traffic accidents, causing 21 deaths and over 600 people to be injured in the past 10 years?

When will money be provided to address that programme? In terms of economic development in the same area, is the Minister aware of the Industrial Development Board’s audit report, which shows that the areas of Moyle, Ballymoney and Ballymena, which account for almost 6% of Northern Ireland’s total unemployed, have had no significant job promotion programme in the last 10 years? How does he react to that picture of economic and social neglect and, indeed, job discrimination?

Photo of Francie Molloy Francie Molloy Sinn Féin 4:00 pm, 9th November 1998

A Chathaoirligh, I welcome the increase in spending on health and education and hope that this will be used to ensure the retention of small rural schools, such as Carland in my own area, which we have been lobbying for. I also urge that extra money be used to retain hospitals such as the South Tyrone and the Mid-Ulster.

Throughout the comprehensive spending review, it appears that the Chancellor’s initiative is substitute rather than additional expenditure. Can the Minister provide the Assembly with a detailed breakdown of the proportion of the Chancellor’s initiative that is additional?

Photo of Eileen Bell Eileen Bell Alliance

I have two questions about the review. First, the Minister’s report said — and I welcome this wholeheartedly — that there will be a further 6,300 pre-school places by 2001. Mention was also made of capital and maintenance for schools. I would like to ask about the additional support being made available for integrated education and Irish-medium schools. Can the Minister give an assurance that the three integrated schools — Strangford, Oakwood and Ulidia — that have satisfied the criteria will receive finance for administration support? In addition, there are the Irish-medium schools. There are Meánscoil Dhoire and eight primary schools from Derry to Maghera, Castlewellan and Downpatrick, whose needs must be considered too.

My other concern relates to the current levels of provision for public libraries. Anyone, especially from North Down, knows that the libraries need only what is mentioned in the review: new stock and new buildings. The library in North Down is a safety hazard. I seek the Minister’s assurance that there will be moneys for what is noted in the review as well as for refurbishment, restocking and generally improved facilities for the libraries.

Photo of Mr Sam Foster Mr Sam Foster UUP

I too welcome the Minister to give Members a little insight into this very important document. It is evident that there is not a pot of gold that never empties.

I welcome the input into the social services budget, although I am concerned about whether it is enough. It needs to be increased by 7% year on year, just to keep up with medical advances.

My main question relates to roads. In the south-west of the province the roads leading to County Fermanagh, especially the part of the A4 from the Ballygawley roundabout to Augher, are snake-like tracks, and there is no sign of anything being done about this. The A4, which leads to the province’s lakeland area, needs to be improved. Is there any proposal to upgrade it?

Furthermore, we need a throughpass in Enniskillen, which is a bustling town that is presently choked with traffic, especially at rush hour. Are funds available within the budget for such a scheme?

Photo of Mr Danny O'Connor Mr Danny O'Connor Social Democratic and Labour Party

Like my colleague Mr ONeill, I should also like to speak about housing.

Page 16 of the review refers to the provision of housing by associations rather than by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and to the introduction of a common waiting list. What steps have the Government taken to ensure that the tenants of such associations are not discriminated against or disadvantaged over their rights to repair or to buy their own homes or to receive discounts on such purchases? During civil unrest in July some Housing Executive tenants in my constituency who were forced from their homes were rehoused by an association. The discounts that they had accrued from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive no longer apply because they were rehoused by an association.

I note the continuing cuts with great concern. The Minister said that one of the benefits is that private finance can be attracted to the industry to supplement public resources. My concern is that the cuts are not intended to supplement public resources but eventually to replace them, thus doing away with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. That is my main concern.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

Mr McMenamin referred to Strabane. I think that everyone is aware of Strabane’s unemployment problem. It is important for industrialists to consider such peripheral places. Part of my own constituency is far from the M4. It is easy to get the companies to come to the part that is close to the M4, but difficult to encourage them to come to the top of the valleys. It is a problem for industrial development boards and economic development Ministers. The difficulty is that ultimately it is the company’s decision regardless of how many benefits are put before it. Every effort should be made to attract firms. Mr Paisley referred to North Antrim in that context. The infrastructure of places that are outside areas of greater prosperity should be developed. That is easier said than done, but I am sure that the Assembly will lend its mind to it. Adam Ingram, my colleague in the Department of Economic Development, is conscious of the need for that.

Mr Paisley spoke about transport infrastructure and about jobs outside Belfast. The Chancellor’s initiative provides for the Ballymena/Antrim Road but Mr Paisley referred to the Larne Road. I will certainly draw his comments to the attention of Lord Dubs. They were made to me when I visited Ballymena some months ago and talked to the council. I think it is important that jobs and roads are carefully looked at and positively discriminated for by the Assembly when it sets about its business, but it is for the Assembly to decide how to deal with that.

Mr Molloy welcomed the spend on health and education, and mentioned small rural schools. I agree that they often provide excellent education. He specifically referred to the Chancellor’s initiative, and I am advised that all of it is additional. If he wishes to write to me for further detail, I shall be happy to respond.

Mrs Bell spoke about Irish-medium and integrated education. Those matters were raised in the Commons last week, and the school in Derry to which she refers was mentioned. I spoke about help which I think the European Union is giving in that direction. The importance of looking carefully at the means by which opportunities can be improved for people who want to go to those schools was also raised in the Commons. The Government are committed to such opportunity, and I will write in detail to the Member about the schools to which she referred.

I agree that in a civilised society provision for libraries is hugely significant. We will be sustaining the library service at current levels. Funding will be available to link libraries into the National Grid for Learning, another benefit of the New Opportunities Fund. This will provide training in information technology and communications technology and will allow for the digitalisation of library contents. The Government are also putting an additional £2·5 million into provision for school libraries. My colleague Mr McFall will provide written answers to some of the more detailed points.

Mr Foster referred to the condition of roads in the south-western area generally. I acknowledge again that border areas of Northern Ireland rely very heavily on a good road network. This is currently the responsibility of Lord Dubs, and he is engaged in a review of the programme. This will include consultation with the Assembly. We should be aware, of course, that, in the not too distant future, the Assembly will have its own Minister for Roads, or Minister for the Environment, who will be able to raise these matters with you. My colleague, Lord Dubs, will, of course, consult any such future Minister.

Mr O’Connor raised the issue of housing associations and expressed the fear that public funding for these associations would be replaced by private funding. There is no reason why we cannot use both public and private funding. The local council in my area of south Wales, for instance, has not built any houses for many years, but hundreds of houses have been built by housing associations. I have also noted his points about the right to buy, the right to repair and the waiting list, and I will ask Lord Dubs to respond to him in more detail on these matters.

Photo of Mr Maurice Morrow Mr Maurice Morrow DUP

I would like to draw the Minister’s attention to the removal of border security posts. This is an unnecessary waste of public funds. It has cost countless thousands of pounds to construct these posts, and it is now costing a similar amount to dismantle them. Would it not be more cost-effective to leave them in place and re-direct these resources to rebuilding police stations which have been bombed, such as that in Ballygawley? The money could also be spent on a new courthouse for Dungannon. This was the subject of a public inquiry some years ago, but it now seems to have disappeared from the Government’s priority list.

Photo of Barry McElduff Barry McElduff Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat a Cheann Comhairle. A Uasail Uí Mhurchú, tá fáilte romhat.

Can the Minister confirm that, bearing in mind the commitments made to increase funding for education and health, adequate funding will be made available for the training of social services personnel, youth workers, teachers and all public sector employees who come into contact with children and young people in the course of their duties, in line with the requirements of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995?

Tá an cúram seo thar a bheith tábhachtach i mo bharúil féin agus caithfear airgead a chaitheamh air seo. What will be the percentage increase in funding for pre-school provision? Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of George Savage George Savage UUP

I would like to ask the Minister about the Capital Grants Scheme, mentioned at page 12 of his paper. Will there be no further funding for farm diversification under the European Union’s sub-programme for agriculture and rural development? I would also like to say that I think that an answer given earlier by the Minister was incorrect. The amount of money paid by farmers to the Livestock Marketing Commission when they bring their cattle to be slaughtered makes this process nearly self-financing.

When will the ban on beef-on-the-bone be lifted? It is important that as much meat as possible is sold. Also, why does it take so long, under the over-30-months scheme, for farmers to receive payment for animals slaughtered? Sometimes, it takes up to eight weeks for farmers to receive their payment.

Photo of P J Bradley P J Bradley Social Democratic and Labour Party 4:15 pm, 9th November 1998

My colleagues, Mr ONeill and Mr O’Connor have already raised the question of housing, and I listened attentively to the Minister’s replies, but I must ask if he would recommend to the Assembly that the Housing Executive, in its present form, be retained.

Photo of Derek Hussey Derek Hussey UUP

The infrastructural deficiency in the west has already been highlighted, as has the failure of Industrial Development Board not just in the town of Strabane, but in the entire Strabane District Council area and west Tyrone in general. Those two facts are not unrelated.

But the question I wish to ask is to do with the regional rate. Over the years, councils have been trying to lower their district rate, only to have their endeavours frustrated by the effect of the regional rate which increases the householders’ rates bill.

A major factor that district councils have recently had to deal with has been the effect of the landfill tax. The purpose of this tax is to try to reduce the amount of waste being put into landfill. Would it not be more efficient to allow a much larger proportion of the amount of landfill tax to be recouped by district councils? This would help to keep their rates lower. They could utilise that money to provide proper landfill facilities — which can be very expensive — and by doing so, they would be fulfilling the purpose of the tax.

Photo of Mr Pat McNamee Mr Pat McNamee Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat a Chathaoirligh.

I welcome the opportunity to address the Minister on roads and transport. In spite of comments about Belfast Harbour, I, like every other Member, welcome the Chancellor’s package on the roads programme. The Assembly will, I hope, have responsibility for roads infrastructure, operation and maintenance, and it will be up to its Members to prioritise and identify the areas of greatest need, such as the southern part of my constituency, Newry and Armagh.

My question is about the proposal to release additional spending power to the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company. What procedures are in place to monitor the performance of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, given that additional funding is being made available to it? I am referring not just to its business viability or accounting regularity, but also to the reason for its existence — to provide a public-transport system that is a viable alternative to the private car.

I am asking this question in the light of the reduction or withdrawal without notice of bus services, especially on the Newry-Belfast route — a primary link between Belfast and the south-east. In addition, there are large rural areas which have practically no service — certainly no viable alternative to private transport.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Minister, may I ask you to respond to that last batch of questions.

Photo of Paul Murphy Paul Murphy The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office

I shall do my best, but I cannot respond in detail on matters that are the responsibility of departmental colleagues. I shall ensure that they reply in writing on such matters.

Mr Morrow spoke about security posts. Expenditure on those falls to other budgets, but I assure him that they will not have an impact on the budget of the Assembly next year.

Mr McElduff referred to an increase in pre-school figures. If funds were available, the number of places for pre-school cohort would rise from 59% to 85%. He also raised the question of funding for the training of staff who come into contact with children. Sufficient funding is to be made available for childcare services. There will be £7 million in the first year, £11 million in the second and £12 million in the third.

Mr Savage spoke about the capital grants scheme and the sub-programme for agriculture and rural development. That was designed to improve competitiveness and to deal with other issues. The proposed cessation of that scheme reflects priorities in the agriculture budget. Grants totalling some £44·5 million will have been paid to more than 9,000 farm businesses. The Member also mentioned the ban on certain meat sales. I should like to see the return of the T-bone steak, but it has to be safe for us to eat. The market is currently examining this matter. I shall ensure that Lord Dubs writes to him on the important issue of the delay in payments.

Mr Bradley spoke about the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. There are no plans to get rid of it, and it will remain in its present form until the Assembly chooses to change it. Ultimately, it is a matter for the Assembly.

Mr Hussey referred to landfill tax. That, of course, is a national policy and is outside the scope of the Assembly. If he or others wish to raise it, I will make sure that the Government is made aware of that, particularly in relation to the striking of the district rate and the regional rate.

Mr McNamara mentioned roads and transport and the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company. He referred specifically to the Newry-Belfast route. Lord Dubs will write to him on some of those issues.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

I thank the Minister for his presentation and for making himself available for an extensive period of questioning. I tried to keep a reasonable balance among the parties. Forty-eight Members asked questions, but I rather lost count of how many questions were asked.

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

It was considerably more than 48, and they extended over some two and a half hours. It is clear that Members have valued this opportunity, and I thank them for restraining themselves to a notional period of about a minute to put questions. By doing so they were courteous to each other and ensured that a significant number of questions could be put.

Motion made:

That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [The Initial Presiding Officer]

Photo of Lord John Alderdice Lord John Alderdice Initial Presiding Officer

Sixteen Members have submitted applications to speak on the Adjournment. As agreed by the Committee to advise the Initial Presiding Officer, and as indicated to Members in All-Party Notices, Ministers and party Leaders are excluded from the selection process, as are all Members who have already made a substantive contribution to the debate in the Assembly Chamber. When the agreed exclusions were made, 14 Members remained, with six being chosen to contribute today, representing the widest possible range of parties. Members will have seen on the noticeboard the names of the six Members who have been chosen to speak. I regret to say that Assembly Member Tom Benson is ill and unable to be here, so five Members will speak.