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Mr. Stewart : I will have a word to say about that in a moment. Since the early 1980s, Shorts has been funded largely by commercial borrowings, and, because of the high development costs related to new products together with trading losses, a high level of borrowings has been built up. This in turn has placed a considerable interest burden on the company. The Government have always recognised the need to restructure Shorts' balance sheet before the company can be returned to the private sector and has been considering how and when this should best be done. We have reached the view that there would be merit in taking steps now to enable the company to extinguish the bulk of its loan indebtedness to commercial banks.
Clearly, the simplest way of achieving this would be to inject grant into the company now to enable it to repay its bank borrowings, but we have decided not to follow this course. The European Commission would not wish to sanction a definitive capital reconstruction until final details of the disposal are known. We therefore propose to replace the company's commercial debt by a convertible loan from the Government. This would be at national loans fund rates, and our intention is that it would replace all the company's commercial debt save for loans from the European investment bank which carry an interest rate well below that charged by the NLF. Our loan would be convertible, and our expectation is that it would not in fact be repaid, but be converted, either in whole or for the most part, into equity at the point of disposal of the company. This proposal would of course be subject to the agreement of the European Commission, and formal notification of our plan has already been made to it. We are hopeful that it can reach a positive decision before the end of the financial year.
The aim of replacing commercial debt with Government debt is, first, to reassure the market about our intentions on capital reconstruction ; secondly, to simplify the company's portfolio of borrowings so that final recapitalisation can be effected at the appropriate point with minimum delay ; and, thirdly, to secure a reduction in the interest burden currently borne by the company and consequently a corresponding reduction in the Government's liabilities. There may of course be other payments to conclude the sale, but such matters will arise from detailed discussion with prospective buyers.
I therefore seek the approval of the House at this stage to a payment of up to £390 million. The public expenditure consequences of this payment cannot be accommodated within the existing Northern Ireland public expenditure block and the necessary resources will be available from the reserve.
I am sure that the House will support the substantial provision proposed to replace existing commercial borrowing by Shorts. It is a positive indication of the Government's determination to give the company the best prospects for an early and successful return to the private sector.
In the Department of Economic Development's vote 3, when balancing items are taken into account, the net additional provision sought is £2.9 million. Within the overall amount, £4.1 million is provided for the expansion of the action for community employment programme, giving an average of 8,800 jobs for the long-term
Column 950unemployed during 1988-89. This figure includes the 500 additional jobs announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as part of the making Belfast work initiative.
The Department of the Environment's vote 1 covers roads, transport and ports, where a net additional provision of £10.9 million is being sought. This includes £5.9 million towards an extended programme of structural maintenance works on carriageways and footways, plus £3.1 million for new construction and improvement schemes.
In a recent statement, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport informed the House that the Government had made a contribution of £250,000 to the East Midlands air crash disaster fund and that £100,000 of this donation would be met from the Northern Ireland block. Appropriate provision has therefore been made in this vote. I hope that hon. Members will welcome this contribution to relieving the suffering caused by this tragic accident.
I now turn to the Department of Education, where net provision of £9.3 million is sought in vote 1. The main increase in this vote is an extra £5.2 million grant to education and library boards, of which £3.4 million is for recurrent expenditure on mandatory student awards, schools for mentally handicapped children and library book stocks. The boards will also receive a further £1.8 million for maintenance of school buildings. An extra £5 million will be provided for capital expenditure. Hon. Members will note that provision is made within this vote for curriculum working groups being established under the Government's education reform proposals.
An additional £4.3 million is sought for the Department of Education's vote 2. The increases are mainly for capital expenditure and will provide, for example, furniture and equipment for Magee campus in Londonderry, as the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), announced yesterday, and additional resources for physics at Queen's university. Belfast's grand opera house and the Downpatrick arts centre will also benefit. Earlier today, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State also announced that there will be increased finances for the arts, museums and sport in the coming year. For health and personal social services, a net additional provision of £46 million is being sought in vote 1. Of this total, some £29.5 million will be allocated to health and social services boards, mainly to meet the cost of the nurses' regrading and pay settlement and other review body pay settlements. The extra cash will help to maintain the high standard of health and personal social services in Northern Ireland. It will also enable further progress to be made in the transition from institutional to community care for those in long-stay accommodation.
The increase of over £10 million in the capital programme will ensure that building projects are carried forward as planned, that essential medical equipment is replaced, and that some of the most pressing maintenance jobs can be tackled. A further £10.7 million is also required for family practitioner services to meet higher estimates of demand and increased costs, particularly in pharmaceutical services.
In the social security programme, a total additional provision of £7.6 million is sought and £0.6 million of this is required in vote 3 in connection with the social security reforms. An additional £7 million is required in vote 4 to
Column 951meet increased demand on the social security budget for income support, supplementary benefits, attendance allowance and transitional payments.
In my opening remarks I have sought to draw the attention of the House to the main provisions of the order. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), hopes to reply to the debate and we will be most interested to hear the contributions from right hon. and hon. Members.
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) : I thank the Minister for taking us so carefully and definitely through the order and I am sure that most of us are now far wiser about its detail and consequences. I certainly found his explanation enlightening. It makes a pleasant change to be able to start these proceedings with agreement. On a more personal level, it is good to see the Minister restored to full health and I hope that, within the next few weeks or months, he will be able to run around Westminster as he used to.
This evening we have the opportunity for a general debate on the social and economic state of the Province, and I suspect that this debate will be less emotionally charged than the previous one. I shall repeat the point that I made when winding up the previous debate--the economic and social aspects of life in the North of Ireland are of great importance to ordinary people. To the many people who do come into contact with violence, they are of paramount importance. Matters such as whether one has a job, or a reasonable prospect of getting one, whether one has a house and whether it is in decent repair, mean a great deal to ordinary people. We must bear in mind that we are talking about policy issues that have an impact on the vast majority of decent men, women and children in the north of Ireland.
I think that there is complete agreement in the House that Northern Ireland is perhaps the most deprived region in the United Kingdom. It is also one of the most deprived countries in the European Economic Community--as shown by its objective one regional status under EC regulations. I think that there will be further agreement that the security problem diverts resources away from social and economic development, and handicaps the generation of new internal and external investment.
However, within these parameters and constraints, the Government have enjoyed some success in attracting inward investment. The Minister mentioned Montupet, which is to be welcomed and on which I have already congratulated him. The Government have also been successful in encouraging economic activity through local enterprise initiatives, which are also to be welcomed.
Having given credit where credit is due, it remains the Opposition's view, and one that I have previously expressed, that the Thatcherite approach to the economic and social life of this kingdom is totally inappropriate in Northern Ireland. It is based on the concept that the size of the public sector in Northern Ireland creates a dependency culture and stifles enterprise, initiative and risk-taking. The Government believe that the Province must adjust and that the public sector should take a lower
Column 952percentage of Northern Ireland's GDP. That policy is shortsighted and offers limited scope for the successful development of the Province's economy.
The narrow emphasis on law and order--important though that is--must be broadened and the Government must recognise that, when dealing with community conflict, they should also tackle other issues to promote a fair and equitable society for all citizens. The ban on public cash for Conway mill in the Lower Falls area of Belfast is to continue, despite the pressure--including that from local clergy and other community leaders-- which has been applied. I have visited the mill and am aware of the sort of danger to which the Secretary of State alluded when he said that public funding would not be given to the mill, either directly through the Vote or through international funding. However, a great deal of useful work takes place at that mill and many local people gain experience and useful information. It is a crying shame that it is continually denied public funding of any kind.
This example highlights the problem that the Government face with their blanket refusal to give their reasons for denying funds to specific organisations. The project is a place to which people can go to receive education, training and experience. When the Government continually fail to provide funding for such projects, that reflects badly on them and creates the impression that they do not care for the section of the community which use such places. Will the Government look again at that institution?
I have an 18-inch pile of press releases from the Northern Ireland Office in which Ministers gleefully announce that they have received additional resources for their Departments from the Treasury. However, both the Ministers and the press releases fail to point out that those resources-- although I agree that they are additional--are totally inadequate to redress the increased poverty in the North of Ireland. During the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1988 debate last year, the Opposition argued that the Government's social security changes constituted a cruel, cost-cutting exercise which failed to recognise the enormous problems of poverty and deprivation in Northern Ireland. We received some vague assurances and heard some glib political comments during that debate, but, unfortunately, our fears have proved to be well founded. The Government will know that the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux in Northern Ireland recently carried out a survey among 30,000 of its clients. It found that eight out of 10 people on income support will be worse off when additional liabilities, such as the payment of rates, are taken into account.
More than half the families on family credit are now worse off, if changes in housing benefit and the loss of free school meals are taken into account. That is an illustration of a case in which the Government claim they have provided additional funds, but instead of the lot of people living in poverty being alleviated, large numbers of people have been left in worse poverty than before. It ill behoves the Government to claim that they are doing a great deal to remove poverty in the North of Ireland.
I should be grateful if the Minister would answer the following questions about the social fund. A few months ago my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) asked the Government some questions about the amount of underspend from the fund and the number of applications to it which have been refused. After six
Column 953months, only 12 per cent. of the grants budget had been spent and only 33.5 per cent. of the loans budget had been spent. What are the recent percentages of expenditure from the grants and loans budgets? If we can be given those figures, and if, as we suspect, they still show a large degree of underspend, may we be told why?
Why are so many people who seek assistance refused it? Thirty-four per cent. of applicants for grants are refused, and 37 per cent. of applicants for loans are refused. One in three applicants for grants and loans are refused. How do those rates of refusal compare with rates in the rest of the United Kingdom? If, as we suspect, they are higher in the Province, why is that so? We fear that if people are refused grants or loans they will inevitably be thrown into the eager arms of the loan sharks and money lenders. As the Minister knows, per capita debt in Northern Ireland is already frighteningly high, and we should hate to feel that these measures made it worse. There is already a debt time bomb ticking away in Northern Ireland, and Government measures should not make the problem worse.
Ministers continually claim that Northern Ireland receives a higher allocation per head for health than equivalent regions in the United Kingdom, and I do not doubt their claim. But they fail to take into account the health of the citizens of Northern Ireland. The Eastern health board recently published a report on Belfast showing that the general standard of health there is worse than in any other part of the United Kingdom, and among the worst in western Europe. The profiles on immunisation targets, congenital handicaps, coronary heart disease and chronic arthritis are the worst in the United Kingdom. So it is not enough to claim that the allocation per head is higher in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the country, true though that may be. Far higher levels of expenditure are required to deal with the problems there.
One of the results of this comparative underfunding has been deteriorating services and growing waiting lists for in and out-patient care, particularly in the acute sector. The Minister knows that waiting lists for community care are growing, and that people receiving it have had their provision cut back throughout the Province, not just in any particular health board area. That augurs ill for the future, especially in the light of the Government's determination to press ahead willy-nilly with increased emphasis on community care.
The Government must treat the problem of health seriously and go back to the Treasury before Tuesday of next week to try to obtain even greater sums from the billions of pounds floating around there to deal with the problems as they exist, not as Ministers would like to think they exist.
We welcome the Government's encouragement of integrated education and applaud the decision recently announced by the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), to give £3.3 million to Lagan college. However, Ministers will know that that decision has not been unanimously applauded in Northern Ireland. Every press comment that I have read so far has more than paid lip service to the principle of integrated education, but has then gone on to say that capital expenditure spent on it should not be made at the expense of capital expenditure programmes for other schools. The Government must take heed of that problem and convince people that the
Column 954£3.3 million is additional expenditure, not made at the expense of capital expenditure on other sectors of secondary education. The Government must also accept that there is a backlog of capital expenditure requirements in Northern Ireland. I urge the Minister to go to the Secretary of State in the first instance, and then to the Chancellor before Tuesday, to seek additional funds with which to make a more determined effort to remove the outstanding capital expenditure needs of other schools in the North of Ireland. In general, Government plans for integrated education have our full support.
The Government must be a little concerned about the low morale that is apparent, especially among secondary school teachers. It is clearly related to inadequate funding, particularly of the new GCSE exam. Recently, the Irish National Teachers Organisation revealed that funding for the GCSE was clearly inadequate and sporadic, leading to problems with course planning and shortages of textbooks and equipment, all of which has put excessive pressure on teachers. This pressure has contributed to the accelerated retirement rate due to ill health during the past year. I understand that it accelerated by 42 per cent. in the Province last year. In the light of that increase, will the Minister confirm the latest pupil-teacher ratio in the Province? He will recall that when a question on that subject was put to him last year, the figure was given at 18.5 : 1 compared with the United Kingdom figure of 17.4 : 1. It is common ground between us that any substantial increase above 18.5 : 1 would have adverse consequences for the Province's education system. My own view--which I hope is shared by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar--is that in view of the Province's particular requirement for imparting expertise, so that people may obtain jobs created from the investment that the Government seek to attract in Northern Ireland, a teacher-pupil ratio not equal to but better than that of the United Kingdom should be achieved.
On housing, the Government are proud of their success, and rightly so. I have previously paid tribute to the Government on that aspect. Nevertheless, they should not allow their success to breed complacency. Much remains to be done, and that will require additional resources. A recent report from Shelter Northern Ireland indicates the extent of the housing problem there. Forty-two thousand homes are unfit for occupation, 115,000 homes are in need of major repairs, and 28,000 homes lack at least one basic amenity. The report also indicates that more than 22,000 applicants are on housing waiting lists, of whom more than 13,000 urgently need accommodation. Those problems will not be overcome unless expenditure is increased. There is currently doubt as to whether the Housing Executive's budget will increase or decrease in real terms. I hope that it will not decrease, given that 42,000 homes are unfit for habitation, 115,000 need major repairs, and 28,000 lack basic amenities. This is not the time to cut the housing budget but to increase it. Will the Minister confirm or deny that next year's Housing Executive allocations will be less in real terms than this year? If they are to be greater, will he give that figure instead?
Also of great concern, not only to people living in Belfast but throughout Northern Ireland, are the two companies currently facing the threat or prospect--whichever verb one likes to use--of privatisation.
Column 955Decisions that the Government will take in the next few days, weeks or months will impinge directly on the lives of 10,000 people and their families living in Belfast, and indirectly on the lives of thousands of others.
The two companies concerned are familiar names in this House. They are Harland and Wolff and Shorts. There is no need for me to rehearse the arguments about the importance of those two companies to the economies of Belfast and Northern Ireland. The decisions that are to be made about those companies--especially about Harland and Wolff--must be made quickly. In my more cynical moments--fortunately, cynicism is not one of my natural bents- -I begin to believe that the Government want to see the closure of Harland and Wolff, which, over the past few years, seems to have suffered death by a thousand cuts. That shipyard, led by John Parker, with the support of the trade unions and work force, has made valiant efforts to compete internationally. I pay personal tribute to John Parker who, in the few months that I have known him, has striven with every ounce and fibre of his body to protect the shipyard and ensure its survival. I am convinced that he has full support for all his efforts.
It would be a tragedy--not just a personal tragedy for John Parker--if the time and effort of all those people who have striven so hard over the past few years to make the company more internationally competitive came to naught. The Government can help by making a quick decision. They have only two bids to choose between. One is the management-employee buy-out, and the other is Bulk Transport. The Government should quickly decide which is to be the successful new owner of Harland and Wolff. My view is that the Government should prefer the management-employee buy-out, but whichever decision they make, it should be made quickly. The Government must also give sufficient capital guarantees and restore the possibility of intervention funding without further delays.
Turning to Shorts, in a previous debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) made it clear that we wish to see the company sold as a whole. He also suggested in a private notice question last week that that could best be achieved by the Government retaining a golden share in the newly privatised company. I again urge that course of action upon the Government. The two bids for Shorts that are before the Government, from GEC-Fokker and from Bombardier, both present problems, particularly in respect of the JFX project. Before the Government choose between GEC-Fokker and Bombardier, they must seek cast-iron assurances about the future of the JFX project. My own view is that if the GEC-Fokker bid succeeds, the likelihood of the JFX project getting any further will be slim. I would be happier if the Bombardier bid succeeded, because even if the decision was made not to develop further JFX, Bombardier's own keen involvement in the development of new regional jets, and the success that the company has had with Canadair, should ensure that such aircraft will continue to be built in Belfast. Shorts is a centre of technical and engineering excellence that must continue, particularly if Northern Ireland is to retain a place in the aerospace industry. The Government must ensure the provision of capital restructuring and other assistance to give Shorts a fair
Column 956chance of succeeding in the private sector. If the Government do anything less than that, they will betray not only the workers at Shorts but all the people of Northern Ireland.
Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North) : I join the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) in congratulating the Minister on the presentation of the appropriation order. I sympathise with the Minister on his physical problems. I am glad to see him back in the House.
As usual, I object to the way in which these iniquitous draft orders are imposed upon the Province. Many people say that the method is corrupt. Many hon. Members have exposed this unacceptable system of undemocratic government, and to govern in this way at this time is completely wrong. Northern Ireland Members want to be treated in the same way as other hon. Members.
There is a sincerely held belief in Northern Ireland that our Ministers can exercise supreme powers without being answerable to us in any way. People believe that we have no means of redress or of pointing Ministers in the right direction. That may be so, but as responsible elected representatives who have to answer to our constituents, we must at all times endeavour to represent them to the best of our ability. Where necessary we must be ready to take issue with the Government on matters that concern our people. The order gives us some opportunity to do that. We know that we cannot change it, but at least we can put to Government our suggestions for improvements that would be to the benefit of the Province and its citizens. With that in mind, I should like to draw attention to vote 3 on page 4 for expenditure on housing services by the Department of the Environment. I am dissatisfied at the reduction in funding to the Housing Executive and the way in which the funds are distributed to the various sectors under the Housing Executive umbrella. I am worried about the reduction in grant provision for repairs and renovations. The Minister must know that the poor condition of housing stock which is more than 25 years old has reached disastrous proportions. Consequently, grant applications are at an exceptionally high level. It is unacceptable for the Housing Executive to announce a £6.5 million cut in this year's budget and that repair grants are now considered cut in this year's budget and that repair grants are now considered only for declared housing action areas, for houses affected by statutory notices, or for applicants who are suffering financial hardship.
It is worrying that renovation grants are available only for housing action areas or for those who are disabled or suffering from financial hardship. The Minister knows that I have often spoken in the House about the criteria for grant aid. I am most concerned about people who purchased their houses in the 1950s when demand was high and standards were lamentably low. It is unfair that the owners of those houses are now denied the means to repair and renovate them. There are some Orlit type houses in private ownership and they did not qualify under the housing defects orders. The Minister should take a special interest in the grant side of the Housing Executive budget with a view to more realistic funding and to obtain better value for money. That is important when it is
Column 957remembered that in 1986 the allocation was £56.8 million. This year that has fallen to £30 million which is less than half the 1986 amount when one allows for inflation.
I draw the Minister's attention to correspondence that I have had with his office about the concept of defensible space and its importance to many tenants living in houses built by the Housing Executive in areas where crime and vandalism are rampant. The people in such houses, many of whom are elderly, are tortured by hooligans. Those elderly people require the privacy that is given by walls and fences.
In my constituency the Housing Executive has recognised that need and has provided small walls with railings and gates in such areas as New Lodge and Ardoyne. It has done that with great success, but there are areas in Shankill, Crumlin and Oldpark that have suffered as much from criminal vandalism and have not yet been provided with this necessary buffer zone in spite of promises made to me by the Housing Executive as far back as 1984. The executive said that the work would be undertaken as a matter of urgency. If the Housing Executive will not fund that work perhaps Belfast action teams could do it, possibly by way of community action. I hope that the Government will facilitate such an initiative because it would restore confidence to the people in these vulnerable areas.
I should like to deal with the new tenants agreement that has been proposed by the Housing Executive. My party is worried about some of its proposals because it feels that they are dictatorial and repressive. In part II, paragraph 1, the Housing Executive promises :
"To keep in repair the structure and exterior of the building." In practice that is far from the case. Promises are one thing but practical application is another. The delays in carrying out repairs and the quality of such repairs are often pathetic. The fact that the inspection rate is so low in relation to the number of repairs must be a factor in the encouragement of shoddy and dishonest practices. Part II, paragraph 2(c), says :
"The Executive is not under any duty to rebuild or reinstate the dwelling in the case of destruction or damage".
There is a certain amount of ambiguity there and it deserves an explanation. Does the tenant have to live in a tent or in a damaged house until the Housing Executive decides what it will do? Is there an obligation to rehouse or is compensation available to tenants who find themselves in such circumstances? Tenants deserve to know. Paragraph 2 goes on :
((c) The Executive is not under any duty to rebuild or reinstate the dwelling in the case of destruction or damage by fire tempest flood or other inevitable damage.
(d) In determining the standard of repair or maintenance necessary for compliance with the Executive's obligations in that connection, regard is to be had to the age, character and prospective life of the dwelling at the time of the need for the relevant repair or maintenance.
(e) The Executive is not under any duty to carry out any work by virtue of its obligations to repair or maintain until a reasonable period has elapsed after the District Manager has been given written and specific notice (by or on behalf of the Tenant) of the need for such work.
(f) The Executive's duties to repair, maintain and decorate are subject to any additional limitations provided for in Schedule 4."
Column 958What happens in an emergency, or does the Housing Executive not allow for such things? What about electrical breakdowns or water problems that are not caused by any action by the tenant? The agreement needs to be more specific and the meaning should be clear so that people can understand the paragraphs.
The other part of the document that is causing great concern is part III, under the heading of "Improvements". It says :
"4. The Executive has the right to carry out any works in or in respect of or in connection with the dwelling (whether works of repair alteration improvement internal or external decoration, or otherwise) and the Executive shall not be responsible for the cost of any redecoration work necessitated by such works of repair, alteration, improvement or otherwise and further shall not be responsible for any claim by the Tenant for any inconvenience or disruption or for any physical damage to the dwelling or items therein arising from or consequential upon the carrying out of such works other than any such claim arising out of the negligence of the Executive or its employees."
That scandalous abrogation of responsibility must rate as the most diabolical and repressive example of dictatorship ever to be penned by the minions in the Housing Executive, obscured by this autocratic, secretive, monolithic structure. Such a statement must infringe civil and human rights, and, so far as responsibility is concerned, a body that could expect to impose such conditions would have no compunction about denying any claim arising out of its negligence or that of its employees. I shall not say any more about this subject, except that, no doubt, the Minister will wish to look very carefully at such repressive and, in my opinion, unlawful conditions.
Turning now to the Department of Health and Social Services--vote 1--I strongly oppose any proposal to diminish the night casualty facilities at the Mater hospital. The Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance has presented to the Government an excellent case setting out in detail why this great hospital, which, since its inception, has endeared itself to the whole community of north Belfast, should not be interfered with at this time. The Minister will appreciate that the hospital is in a very deprived area. The Government have recognised that the special circumstances in such areas justify allowing for local conditions. I cite, as examples, Notting Hill, Bristol and Liverpool 8.
The Mater hospital has a catchment area encompassing the whole of north Belfast and parts of Newtownabbey. The rate of work done and the number of patients seen, in relation to the number of staff employed, must be among the highest in the United Kingdom. In times of emergency--and in north Belfast those are frequent--it is totally impractical to send seriously injured people to the City hospital or the Royal Victoria hospital. If there were delays arising from disruption, such people could die in transit. Furthermore, the night casualty departments in the City and Royal hospitals, particularly at weekends, are often fully occupied, necessitating unacceptable delays in treatment.
I ask the Minister to consider very carefully any proposal by the Eastern health and social services board to interfere with the exceptionally well run casualty department at the Mater. In future there will be discussions as to how the various hospitals should operate within the proposed new structure. That will be time enough to have an in-depth look at how the Mater hospital should be affected by these proposals.
Column 959Finally, I want to refer to the Department of the Environment--vote 4. As environment spokesman for the Ulster Unionist party, I want to draw the Minister's attention to the seemingly insurmountable problem of the litter that is being dumped all over the Province. I am sure that Ministers, as they go about their business, are as concerned as anyone else about the unsightly and unhealthy deposits alongside the roads. Irresponsible litter louts tip rubbish on almost every plot of vacant ground in the city. The existing legislation does not appear to be sufficient to deal with the problem, and local government byelaws are obviously ineffective. I should like to see the Minister using whatever authority is required to give councils the power to take the necessary action to stop these irresponsible practices, which are destroying our environment and contributing so much to deterioration and deprivation in the whole community.
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : This debate cannot do justice to the myriad problems that affect the Province of Northern Ireland, nor can it do justice to the large amount of money that this appropriation represents. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) has given some of the reasons for the people of Northern Ireland feeling that they are discriminated against in the manner of the presentation of this appropriation order. The time allowed for debate is limited, and it would be impossible to cover all the subjects if all Members wishing to take part were to speak. I intend, therefore, to be brief.
I endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) in his thoughtful speech, particularly about the Belfast shipyard, which is so important to our economy. I join the hon. Member in urging the Government to come to a quick decision. I, too, believe that if the shipyard is to be privatised, the best course would be to sell it to the management and the employees. That would be the best way forward for Harland and Wolff.
As the hon. Member for Leicester, South said, this debate is taking place only a few days before the Chancellor unveils his Budget. I hope that some of the money provided will be made available to meet the problems that we in Northern Ireland have to face. The hon. Member pointed out that we have many problems. Indeed, Northern Ireland is rightly described as a deprived area.
In opening the debate, the Minister mentioned the fact that more money has been made available for the arts, museums and sport. This I welcome. Despite the campaign of terrorism, which has lasted for 20 years, despite the dark and difficult days that campaign has brought for the people of Northern Ireland, there is a need to foster the arts. Of course, that is additional to the need for jobs, adequate housing, modern hospitals and good schools.
As time is limited, I propose to deal with just four points, the first of which concerns schools. There is a desperate need in my constituency--in Bangor--for more schools, particularly for girls, who, at present, are discriminated against. I urge the Department of Education to ensure that a decision is made, without further delay, on the provision of a new school on the site of the former Forsythe nursery. That site would be ideal for the
Column 960provision of larger premises for Glenlola collegiate school and Bangor girls' high school. Those schools could then expand, incorporating the existing Glenlola buildings, which are right beside those of Bangor girls' high. It is intolerable that pupils in Bangor have to receive their education in temporary classrooms. I understand that those two schools have about 50 temporary classrooms. That is acceptable only on a short-term basis, and it is high time that prefabs throughout Bangor were replaced.
I am all for integrated education. Over the years I have fought for it, and I am glad that the Minister who is now responsible for education is pushing it ahead. Again I join the hon. Member for Leicester, South in urging the Government to make sure that the amount of money made available to Lagan college is additional to the amount provided for the Department of Education. We must have good schools. The children of Northern Ireland deserve the best possible education because they are the wealth of the Province.
Much attention has recently been given to the environment by the British media and the Government. That attention has been concentrated on beaches along the coastline of Great Britain. Many people in Northern Ireland have been protesting about pollution in Belfast lough. That pollution defiles the beaches of my constituency of North Down and makes some of them a health hazard to bathers and other users of the beach, particularly young children.
Millions of tonnes of untreated sewage go into the Irish sea every year, and that is quite apart from industrial waste and the plutonium that is discharged from Sellafield. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) joins me in protesting about emissions from Sellafield. As the Conservative party has now become the green party--if we are to believe it--the people of Northern Ireland have a right to expect an end to the dumping of sewage and industrial waste into the Irish sea.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, in the EEC survey of beaches in Northern Ireland, Belfast lough came out all right? A beach in Newcastle and one in North Antrim had problems.
Mr. Kilfedder : That may be all right for the people of Belfast and Belfast lough, but I am talking about what happens when sewage sludge is dumped in Belfast lough. It creeps around, and waves bring it back on to beaches at Orlock and Ballyholme. All sorts of things are thrown up on beaches. I have seen the results. It may be all right for the hon. Member for Belfast, South, but if he made use of beaches in North Down he certainly would not wish Belfast sludge to be dumped on them.
Each year, approximately 326,000 tonnes of sewage sludge is dumped in Belfast lough. That is no small quantity. It is not like somebody removing it from his backyard. It is nearly twice the amount that is dumped in Dublin bay. Many of my colleagues have criticised Dublin. Even though Dubliners may protest about sewage being dumped in their backyard, twice as much is dumped in Belfast lough. Together with the 1,700,000 tonnes of sewage sludge that is dumped in Liverpool bay and Bristol channel, the Irish sea has been polluted to an unacceptable degree. The Irish sea is virtually an inland sea as, I am told, there are insufficiently strong tidal currents rapidly to dilute and disperse sludge.
Column 961I commend members of the Orlock residents' association for their vigorous lobbying over the past few years in their campaign to clean up beaches in their area. They wish to see a sewage treatment plant installed for the district, instead of an extension to the sewage outfall at Briggs Rock. They fear that, as before, sewage will be swept back on to the beaches.
I commend also an organisation called Help The Aged. It has as its organiser a Mr. Will Glendenning, formerly a conscientious Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Perhaps he may not have been favoured by some of my colleagues, but he was a hard-working Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Help The Aged has collated statistics which prove that pensioners in Northern Ireland have suffered severely as a result of the Government's public expenditure cuts. The old-age pension should be substantially increased to meet the needs of the elderly and to keep pensions in line with inflation. Because of the shortage of time, I will not refer to the statistics in detail, but I ask the Minister to look at them. I believe that that organisation has submitted them to the Department. Perhaps the Minister will think with compassion about the elderly in our midst. I single out one item affecting the elderly. One way in which Ulster pensioners could be helped is to provide them with free public transport. Is it not obnoxious that pensioners who have given so much to the community should have to plead for a little comfort and dignity in the fullness of their years? My maiden speech in the House, which was in October 1964, was on behalf of pensioners. More should be done for pensioners. I hope that the last speech that I make in this House will be on that subject, whenever that occasion may occur. [Interruption.] I do not like hon. Members welcoming that day. The need for more jobs is paramount in Northern Ireland. A job provides not only money but dignity for the wage earner and his family. There can be nothing more soul-destroying than being in a dole queue month after month, year after year. I feel for all people who are unemployed.
I repeat the suggestion which I made in this Chamber on two occasions in the past two years. With representatives of the SDLP and any other constitutional party, I am prepared to go to the United States or anywhere else if the Government would organise such a delegation to get jobs for employment black spots in Northern Ireland. I have mentioned Strabane. I should like more jobs in my own constituency. I am prepared to work with my colleagues, regardless of their political party, to make sure that the people in Northern Ireland who want work get it.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) : As I listened to the presentation of the estimates, one matter that struck me was the depletion in real terms of the Housing Executive budget. The Housing Executive is one of the success stories in Northern Ireland in its design and redevelopment of housing and the clearance of slums. It is a pity that the Government have not continued to update and promote housing in Northern Ireland to the extent that they did in the past. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive's present budget is not even capable of meeting the rather mean target that it was forced to set for itself in previous budget allocations. That is notwithstanding the fact that
Column 962compulsory rent increases of 10.25 per cent. have been imposed on the public housing population who are suffering from the multiple deprivation articulated by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) regarding social security and the lack of take-up. I always assumed that rent increases would go hand in hand with, and not be greater than, inflation. Are we to understand that the Government's target for inflation next year is 10.25 per cent.? That is the rate of imposition in the public sector, and, as announced yesterday, it is 10.5 per cent. in the private sector.
The fact that the Housing Executive has not received an adequate budget gives rise to a considerable clawback of its proposed, and already reduced, building programme. The Housing Executive will receive £40.2 million less in 1989-90, compared with 1988-89. In real terms, over the three-year strategy period, the Government's net contribution to the executive is £110 million less than the modest strategy period bid.
What does this mean in terms of bricks and mortar? It means that only 1,400 houses can be expected over the next three years ; that is the equivalent of saying that 780 dwellings which might have been improved under the previous standard of financing cannot now be improved and that 2,250 improvement grants, or 7,750 repair grants, cannot now be given. That is for a housing stock acknowledged to be among the poorest in western Europe and certainly in the United Kingdom. It comes on top of the fact that two new pieces of legislation have imposed severe additional burdens on the Housing Executive. One is the welcome legislation on homelessness and the other is the order on multiple occupancy which, it is expected, will affect between 2,500 and 3,000 dwellings in Northern Ireland. When we hear the horror statistics of those multiple occupancies we realise just how bad the problem is : 40 per cent. of them are below the minimum required standard ; 55 per cent. are in the category of inadequate ; 80 per cent. have no alternative escape routes. That is another massive problem that the Housing Executive must face on a reduced budget.
Some time ago I urged the responsible Minister--who is not on the Front Bench at the moment--to stabilise and assist the Housing Executive in a planned and progressive way to achieve reasonable targets and to give it a five-year programme, not the stop-start, start-stop programme that we have had in the past two years but a confirmed five-year programme which would enable it to put contracts out in a proper way and establish a reasonable housebuilding programme.
My constituency of South Down is primarily an agricultural one. It is for the most part a less advantaged area in almost its entirety. We hear much talk about the need for farm diversification but the purse does not appear to be following the words and there is little that I can see by way of a comprehensive and adequate programme for farm diversification, something that is badly needed in view of the restricted income of the Northern Ireland farmer in general and the South Down farmer in particular, faced as he is with the withdrawal of the beef subsidy, the poor pig market and the problem of the milk levies.
It is a great pity that farm diversification schemes were not properly taken into account when the farm conservation grant scheme was introduced, particularly
Column 963with regard to mushrooms which have provided a useful, and could provide a much more useful, diversified source of income for the small hill farmer in South Down.
A problem which is becoming rather alarming but is at this stage still in its infancy is the increased incidence of bovine tuberculosis. When the Minister is distributing his wealth, will he consider providing 100 per cent. compensation for cattle found to be so infected? It would encourage an immediate eradication of the beast or beasts in question ; and perhaps the farm conservation grant scheme could be extended to buildings, crushes, pens, and so on, thus providing for proper isolation and treatment.
I am also concerned at the possible closure of the veterinary college in Glasgow, which has always served Northern Ireland. Our veterinary students nearly all go to Glasgow and it would be a tragedy if those interested in following such a career were prevented from doing so at that particular institution.
Another agricultural matter which is often not mentioned is the increasing amount of their reduced income which farmers, particularly in the south of South Down, for some historical reason, have to spend on keeping up farm roads which should have been taken into the public domain many years ago. I ask the Minister responsible to take account of the fact that so many roads which lead to farms and to clusters of farms and which would appear to be public roads are, in fact, private roads. Keeping them up to standard drains much needed resources from the small farmer.
On health matters, has the Minister noticed the increased incidence of Crohn's disease, particularly in a village near my own town, Drumaness, where there have been 12 cases in the recent past? This intestinal disease is very often related to water supply. Will the Minister take a serious look at this in the immediate future? Perhaps the Minister has read the Belfast Telegraph of yesterday evening and found that Ulster has its own ozone hole and that the incidence of skin cancers, according to Professor Lowry, who was the Minister's own appointee into a previous cancer-related investigation, is 10 times higher than the United Kingdom average? Would he do some further research into that particular project? I do not know whether we have our own special ozone hole or not, but, if there is one and this is the result of it, let us do something about it.
On the general question of hospitals and hospital provision, two factors have worked together to provide a situation which will reduce the quality of the services to which patients are entitled. One is the ongoing struggle of nurses to receive a proper award under the new scheme. Whatever has happened in the past is water under the bridge, but there is great dissatisfaction among the nursing fraternity as to the way the awards have been allocated. If that requires additional money for the health and welfare of the service which also means the health and welfare of the patient, it must be attended to in such a way that there is job satisfaction and tranquility within the wards so as to produce a high standard of service.
Perhaps I may make a parochial plea for the hospital at Downpatrick, which has awaited the outcome of a promise made by a certain Mr. Morgan, the then Minister of
Column 964Health in the old Stormont regime, over a quarter of a century ago. Will the Minister consider that as a new venture?
The environment causes problems that affect us all, and I have often spoken about pollution, as did my hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) earlier. Tonight I want to comment on the absence of an adequate environmental infrastructure in South Down. We have always been outside the new pale that has been created around Belfast lough and in that sense we are still a deprived area. We had the Matthew report in the early 1960s with its key town concept. Downpatrick was one of the key towns, and it is the only key town centre which has never been developed. All the rest were substantially developed by way of infrastructure, for example, good roads and other environmental provision, which in turn enabled and encouraged industrial development to take place.
This is significant when one considers the new harbour, which is capable of much greater use, at Warrenpoint. The reason why it is insufficiently used is the totally inadequate road network which prevents it being readily accessible to its hinterland for export purposes.
Reference to that lack of infrastructure leads me on to say that two things which concern most people are a good house and the prospect of a job. It is that inadequate infrastructure which has been the greatest drawback to industrial development in South Down. It is a situation which can be remedied only by the immediate application of some of our present-day resources, such as were not applied in times of plenty, to that particular area. I cannot accept the argument that only a limited amount of money is available and so other areas must have priority. In the times of plenty the other areas received priority, but we did not. I ask for that situation to be reconsidered.
Please assist in bringing jobs to the people and not people to the jobs. Bringing people to the jobs is the most unsociable activity in which a Government can be engaged. It leads to massive urban conurbations with social, environmental parking, and transport problems. Why not bring jobs to the people and let people stay in the environments to which they are accustomed and in which they are happy?
I hope that the Minister is conscious of the plea I am making to him about the Star Plan development. The new fibre-optic miracle will bring us into the 20th century. Unless Northern Ireland has an adequate fibre-optic link to Europe, the entire north--not just my part of it--will be completely marginalised. Talking in the context of countries, industry will be drawn to the core. We shall be completely marginalised in the north Atlantic unless we have the infrastructure and, especially, the fibre-optic linkage communications. Without that we will be left behind when it comes to the new technology. Even today, industry can be transported on block from as far away as north America into little villages if they have the fibre-optic link. A prime example is the New York Life Assurance company which has transmitted its entire operation to the little village of Castle Island in county Kerry. It was able to create employment in an area which had nothing before, because of the fibre-optic link. I make that plea for my constituency and the whole of Northern Ireland in this respect.
Tourism is the other great job creator in Northern Ireland and of which my constituency should be a prime example. As the Minister will probably agree, Newcastle