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Column 965has proven statistically to be the biggest tourist centre in Northern Ireland, yet it is only by local effort that that has happened. Where are the packages prepared for marketing by central Government? I envy the packages of Fermanagh and North Antrim. Can we not, for instance, have a package that would sell tourism in South Down, both in Europe and North America? After all, we are St. Patrick's country. His whole heritage is there in brick and mortar and that can be packaged, as well as our natural resources.
Mr. McGrady : I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman is trying to claim some credit for St. Patrick. Those were pseudo St. Patricks. The only genuine one was the one who lived in the Hill of Down, the Dun Phadriig-- that is the Gaelic for Downpatrick.
As the hon. Member for North Down said, it is startling that Newcastle--the biggest tourist attraction in the north--is one area criticised in the EEC report for not having adequate sewerage. Could that scheme be speeded up as much as possible?
Education is an area that will be one of the most difficult to deal with financially in the coming year. I shall say one thing to the Minister to hand on to his right hon. Friend responsible for that Department. There is great unease about the inequality of the distribution of finances between the voluntary and the state sectors. There is, too, some unease about the inequality, or the prioritisation, of funds towards integrated schools, while established schools have been waiting many years for capital funds to erect new buildings. The Minister mentioned the art centre in Downpatrick for which I thank him.
Museums and arts are receiving £1.5 million but, if I remember rightly, the Department of Education in Northern Ireland still has no museums policy. It has a policy only for national museums. I ask the Minister to open the purse strings a wee bit wider and to give some--if only token--assistance and encouragement to the many local museums that are doing such a great job.
The primary thrust of my argument is to ask the Minister responsible to ensure an allocation of resources that will increase the environmental infrastructure of those deprived areas, of which South Down is one, and positively to encourage new industries to settle. The Minister boasted of the new inward investment into Northern Ireland. I was glad to hear of that, but that does not make any difference to my constituents, because they have not seen it. It appears that an area which has had high unemployment for decades is left with that high unemployment, whereas other areas which have had virtually full employment, but where there are now fewer jobs, receive special treatment. Why is a package not available for South Down as it is for Carrickfergus and Derry? I ask the Minister to consider the fair distribution of effort and resources in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) : Because of the great importance of the security situation in Northern Ireland and because of the vital nature of our constitutional position, occasions when we can deal with the bread and butter issues are all too few in the parliamentary process. However, I share the misgivings of my hon. Friend the
Column 966Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) about the manner in which the proceedings go forward. I would have had a great preference for having these matters dealt with in Northern Ireland in a local assembly, where local people could be taking local decisions, where they could use their own ingenuity and decide their own priorities for expenditure. Nonetheless, at least we have the opportunity to speak. It is the last trust reposed in us and, although we cannot affect the ultimate decision, at least we can give our minds to the Government so that they can, if they should grace us with the privilege, take on board what we have to say.
I shall deal with the funds in the Irish fashion, by starting at the back and moving towards the front. First, I shall deal in a more Irish fashion with a matter under the education budget but deal with it in respect of the responsibility of the Department of the Environment. I am referring to the Lagan college, which has been mentioned by several hon. Gentlemen. I believe that the Government should encourage integrated education. They should not be doing it by the back door, as is the present Government policy. I do not believe that they should be doing it at the expense of other schools. Therefore, I refrain from making too much comment about the £3.3 million being offered to Lagan college. I raise the issue of Lagan college not in relation to the Government's expenditure, but in relation to the behaviour of Lagan college's board of governors towards planning matters.
Lagan college is in the borough of Castlereagh. It is currently situated on two sites--one on Church road and the other at Lisnabreeny. Lagan college has had a deplorable record for erecting buildings without planning permission and without even applying for building control approval. One should have thought that people who have responsibility for young children, that an organisation that is headed by a resident magistrate and a body that should, above all, be showing responsibility would have behaved in a proper manner in relation to planning law.
Even when the problem has been drawn to the college's attention by the planning authorities and by the local council, it has refused to bring its buildings into line, to make the necessary applications for planning and to obey the planning departments directives in that respect. The college should not behave in such a way and I had hoped that the Department of the Environment would have exerted itself more to ensure proper enforcement action was taken so that Lagan college toed the line. I had hoped that the governors who, in another capacity, would be quick to draw to the attention of others their responsibilities in the community would have shown the same responsibility themselves rather than flout the law and trample it underfoot.
It is important to consider the general question of ex-post facto planning applications. In Northern Ireland it seems to be prevalent for the planning authority to be pushed to give permission for dwellings or other structures if the person has successfully had them built before the planning department finds out. It is felt that possession is nine tenths of the law and that, if a person can get his building up, permission will follow.
During the lifetime of the Northern Ireland Assembly--the 1982 to 1986 variety--the environment committee, of which I was chairman, put three planning proposals to the Department of the Environment. It happily accepted
Column 967two, regarding neighbour notification and objector appeals, on a test basis. During the past few weeks, I was glad to note that those proposals have been renewed.
The committee also put forward a proposal about ex-post facto applications. If the DOE is made aware of buildings that have been erected before an application has been submitted, it is essential that there should be a significant cost for subsequently submitting an application for such buildings. At the time of the Assembly, we suggested that the application should be ten times the normal application fee, which would discourage those who embarked upon such building.
Such proposals should not, however, remove from the DOE the responsibility to treat any application as if the building was not there in the first place and to adjudge the application in that light. I believe, however, that the Department gets bullied into giving permission for buildings that it would not otherwise give permission for simply because someone has had the audacity and the cheek to proceed with the building before submitting an application. It is also important to consider the long-awaited Belfast urban area plan. I fear that serious problems will arise regarding building in the city of Belfast because the planning department has been forced to kick for touch because many of the major developments in and around the city are waiting for the report from the planning commissioners as a result of the hearings that they held about that plan. The delay is not the responsibility nor the fault of the commissioners. Most of us who have some involvement with planning matters in Belfast know that, in some instances, those self-same commissioners have been unable to hand over their other duties to other commissioners, because, I suspect, of the failure to appoint sufficient commissioners to assist with the volume of work. We recognise that the commissioners have a heavy schedule, but I had thought that they would be willing to provide the Department with the various categories covered by the Belfast urban area plan. For instance, they could have informed the Department at different times about commercial use, recreational and housing use and transportation plans. Such information could have been passed to the Department piecemeal but that would not have required the Department to make its overall statement on a piecemeal basis.
If such information had been available to the Department, it would have been possible for it to digest the various aspects of the Belfast urban area plan report as presented by the commissioners. The Department would therefore need to take much less time when considering its final statement on the report. As it is, a two-month delay is contemplated before the Department can prepare its statement.
I am concerned about the Belfast urban area plan for several reasons. First, I must confess my vested interest as a Castlereagh councillor. We have plans for major recreational provision, but they require comment in the Belfast urban area plan report before we can successfully proceed. Some of my constituents are eager to establish whether certain road proposals, which will bring blight upon certain parts of my constituency, have been turned down by the planning commissioners--even now I hope that that is the case.
Column 968My constituents are concerned at the flyover at the Castlereagh roundabout and about much of the road widening scheme on the Albertbridge road and the further provisions in the Sydenham area. Decisions on those proposals are eagerly awaited as they are affecting house prices in the Belfast area. People are unable to get the proper price for their houses because of the blight that is hanging over them.
On top of that, many of my constituents are concerned about various housing proposals, and they want to know how the Department will finally decide on them. Other constituents are eager for such proposals to proceed, so that the houses they need can be built to allow them to live in the Belfast urban area rather than having to move outside that area.
When the Minister replies, I hope that he will give some idea of the present timetable and when we can expect the Department's decision. Is there any possibility of an internal arrangement between the Department and the commissioners that could speed up the process?
It is perhaps unexpected for a Member representing a Belfast constituency to consider agricultural matters, but if those Members representing rural constituencies will forgive me, I am more concerned about the consumers of agricultural produce. I am anxious about the effects of the salmonella egg scare. I welcome what the Minister said about the Northern Ireland egg being given a clean bill of health. That is not exactly news to many of us, as we were aware of its healthy condition.
Unfortunately, the poultry sellers in my constituency and people whose shops rely entirely on the sale of chickens, eggs and poultry products have found that at least 70 per cent. of their business has gone as a result of the egg scare, in spite of the fact that it does not affect eggs in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister please encourage his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to spend some considerable time, effort and, if necessary, finance on advertising to the Northern Ireland consumer the fact that there is not the danger that there is on this side of the water in purchasing poultry products in Northern Ireland? That would come as a considerable relief to my constituents who rely for their employment on the poultry industry. No doubt it would do no small good to those involved in agriculture as well.
As expected, I now come to the issue of the Department of Economic Development, and I could not have avoided it. As the Minister gallops around my constituency putting "for sale" signs on the main employers, he will recognise that I and my constituents are, to put it colloquially, on tenterhooks about what will happen over the next few weeks. The outcome of the present negotiations with the bidders for Harland and Wolff and Shorts is of no small moment to the people of east Belfast and the city in general. Like the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), I shall not rehearse the importance of those two industries to the Northern Ireland economy. That has been done by all the political parties in Northern Ireland, with perhaps one exception. It has been done by Church groups in Northern Ireland, by many of the community organisations in the Province and by hon. Members of all parties in the House. The Select Committee on Trade and Industry produced a report that stressed the importance of those industries to the Province.
I know that the Minister will be aware of the significance of those two firms to Northern Ireland as a
Column 969whole. There are features in common between Harland and Wolff and Shorts, but there are many differences between the two privatisation issues. I do not intend to argue the ideological issues. Unfortunately, it is not a question of privatisation or public ownership. The question that the Government have placed before us is of privatisation or closure--or at least bringing in people to sell off many of the assets. Such a choice would convert one fairly quickly to the cause of privatisation, even if one was not an ardent fan beforehand. Although I am not convinced that privatisation is in the best interests of either of those companies, and certainly not in the best interests of both at this time, we must do our best, even with the doubts we may have, to ensure that the Government's plans succeed.
There are two bidders for Harland and Wolff and I have come to the same conclusion as the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) and the hon. Member for Leicester, South. I have studied the two propositions, as far as they are known publicly, and as far as I can understand them, having spoken to the participants in both. Although the Government will undoubtedly be careful about the financial package that they finally agree, that is not my prime concern. Just as it was for the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, my prime concern is to ensure that the priority is towards achieving a viable and lasting solution to the sale of those industries, rather than achieving the best financial deal. If that meant an extra couple of million pounds or even an extra £10 million or £20 million, it would be money well spent.
I have learnt recently from the Northern Ireland Office that it is nearing the final stages of the negotiations on Harland and Wolff. I was somewhat perplexed to learn that there is some haggling over finance, which is not helpful to the smooth and orderly handover of the company to private ownership. If the Minister goes for the lowest cost, he could put the new owners in a position where they will not have sufficient strength and capital reserves to allow customer confidence and companies from whom they purchase will be dilatory in giving the credit that is needed during the first few years. It is important that the yard is transferred on a firm and viable financial basis. I urge the Minister to consider as a priority the Secretary of State's terminology to the Select Committee when he said that he was looking for a safe and secure future for Harland and Wolff. Although I recognise that it would be irresponsible of him not to consider such matters, finance should not be his overriding consideration.
I concur with the comments that have been made about the management at Harland and Wolff, and especially about John Parker. In view of the interest that has been expressed by Fred Olsen and his group, one could ask why they were not prepared to go directly to the Government to express an interest in purchasing the company. Anybody who knows the nuances of the situation would know that the Olsen group is putting in significantly more capital than it is getting in shares. Therefore, it could have come to terms with the Government easily if it had gone to them directly. The answer to that question shows neither respect nor distrust of the Government ; it is rather a sign of confidence in the chairman, the management and the men of Harland and Wolff.
When Fred Olsen learned that the management and men had sufficient confidence in the future of Harland and Wolff that they were prepared to put their own money into
Column 970the company, that gave him the enthusiasm to back those people in that task. The confidence that has been expressed by someone of the standing of Fred Olsen in the shipbuilding and ship-owning world shows the high level of expertise at Harland and Wolff at present. That is just one of the reasons why I favour the management-employee buy- out.
Although this is not often mentioned--perhaps it should be mentioned much more frequently in Government circles and even by the Minister himself-- Harland and Wolff has a responsible trade union group, which has acted with the utmost responsibility throughout the discussions on privatisation. It would have been easy for those who have great ideological problems with the issue of privatisation to be unco-operative throughout that period. However, as pragmatic trade unionists, those people have recognised the essentials for a viable future for shipbuilding in Belfast and have made them their priorities as they sought that future.
At the recent meeting between the Northern Ireland party leaders and the Prime Minister, those present were encouraged by the Prime Minister's grasp of the position at Harland and Wolff, by her enthusiasm for transferring Harland and Wolff to the private sector and by her belief that it would work in the private sector. The Prime Minister suggested that an essential ingredient would be a good working relationship between men and management and between men, management and the new owner, whoever that may be.
In the last few days, I have been encouraged to receive a copy of a communication from the Harland and Wolff trade unions to the Prime Minister, stating not only that they had reached agreements in the past with the management that were far in advance of anything agreed in the United Kingdom on flexibility or working practices, but that they were still flexible and co-operative in that respect and that they would be willing and delighted to work in co-operation with any new owner.
The trade unions should be encouraged--rather than, as is often the case with Tory Ministers, discouraged--because they have acted in a responsible way over the privatisation issue at Harland and Wolff. The unions at Shorts have been much criticised publicly in recent days because of their concern over a pay issue and because they have said publicly that there could be industrial action over it. Industrial relations is not a matter simply of unions having disagreements ; they have disagreements with managements. Just as the problem affects unions and managements, its resolution is a matter for both. A responsible attitude on the part of both at Shorts can and must avert industrial action at this time. Such action would be an act of folly. Unions and management must reach agreement in the coming few weeks, when the industry will be the showcase to those with an interest in purchasing.
In this case we have bids from Bombardier and from GEC-Fokker. Like the hon. Member for Leicester, South, I fear that the JFX project may become the victim of the privatisation issue. Not only does Bombardier have a rival project, but I understand that Fokker also has a similar development in progress. I was encouraged when speaking recently to an industrial editor from Amsterdam to learn that the local talk in his country is that, if Fokker is successful, it will not continue with the JFX project, but will bring its alternative project to Belfast and pursue it there.
Column 971Will the Minister say whether the JFX project will be killed off by privatisation? If so, does he expect that an alternative project will be available for the aircraft building side of Shorts? Is he aware that it is essential that all three divisions of Shorts should remain intact in Belfast?
Mr. McNamara : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we want more than the building of the aircraft to take place? The question of design is vital to this issue. Unless we have a secure design base, the future will look grim.
Mr. Robinson : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. If the design capability was lost--if it was supplied from elsewhere in Europe--the research and development side would be in jeopardy and ultimately the manufacture and production side would be in danger.
In the documentation on Shorts provided by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, the Minister responded to a number of questions put by the trade unions and said that 27 firms had expressed an interest in Shorts. It has been announced that two firms have been asked to submit a final bid. How were the numbers whittled down? Is there any prospect of other firms expressing an interest and, if they do, is there still sufficient time for them to act in the matter? The Minister will appreciate that my constituents are greatly concerned about the two industries of which I have spoken, remembering that about 10,000 people in east Belfast and the surrounding areas are affected. While I recognise that the sensitive nature of the negotiations limits the amount of information that the Minister can give, it would be helpful to my constituents if he would say what progress has been made.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : I support the plea of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) about Harland and Wolff and Shorts. The Minister referred to the buoyancy of the economy. If those firms went down, not only people in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland, but people in many areas in Scotland, England and Wales would suffer because of the knock-on effect. Both firms play an important part in the economy of Great Britian as well as of Northern Ireland. When the Minister referred to the buoyancy of the economy, was he contradicting the views of PA Management Consultants which has pointed out that, while there has been an improvement, the prospect of loss of jobs in manufacturing and even service industries is a threat to the future?
Under vote 2 for the Department of Education I welcome the expenditure on arts and museums but I regret that there is no mention of anything for the Ulster orchestra ; is that to come out of the funds for the arts? We recognise the important part which the orchestra has played in Northern Ireland affairs over the years, but now it is in financial difficulties.
I question the provision for pensions under vote 3 of the Department of Education. No doubt the point affects not just Northern Ireland, but I raise it because women teachers in Northern Ireland have been in touch with me. Apparently widowers' pensions have been introduced with effect from 6 April 1988. Married women will have the opportunity of purchasing service prior to April 1988. I
Column 972understand from the information I have that the Government insist that women buy back the years in question--1972 to 1988--if they are to be counted towards widowers' pensions. Male teachers can already count those years for widows' pensions. I am told that since 1972 women have paid the same contribution as men. Why, therefore, should those years not be credited to women, free of further charge? On health, matters affecting Belfast also affect the Province as a whole because the services are regional. I regret that under vote 1 of the Department of Health and Social Services there is nothing for the capital development required at the Royal Belfast hospital for sick children. The Minister responsible will know that I have been pressing the Department on the matter. Discussion has been going on since 1964--for 25 years. In 1983 the then Minister announced a capital project of £4.4 million, about half of which has been spent. I understand from my contacts with the Department and with the Eastern health and social services board that discussions are still going on about what might be done, yet the announcement in 1983 involved an immediate injection of capital to deal with pressing requirements, pending the development of a new hospital. When will the current discussions end and the capital injection be made? In addition to the fears of the past, there are now fears for the future with the possibility that the Royal Victoria hospital, perhaps in conjunction with the City hospital, may become a hospital voluntary trust and may have difficulty in acquiring the capital required for work in the children's sector which supplies regional cardiac and paediatric services for Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) said that far more money per capita is spent on health provision in Northern Ireland than elsewhere. That is because the population is smaller and scattered over the Province and that automatically adds to capital cost. I suggest that the injection of capital from public sources to different parts of the country does not go to deprived areas, but far more is being spent per capita in the south-east. We would love that capital injection for job promotion, research and defence contracts. It would be a tremendous help in lifting the Province out of poverty.
The Royal Victoria hospital has been trying to develop capital for its ophthalmic services, which are a basic regional speciality. Those who work in the ophthalmic unit at the Royal Victoria hospital have saved large sums of money over the years and have provided an excellent service to the region. But that service is now being impeded and the damage to the standard of training in that specialty may be irreparable if the hospital does not have the theatre service and other provisions it requires. I understand that although there has been a clear indictment of the cardiac surgery provisions, which is also a regional specialty, the hospital is hoping for some provision in August this year. Will the Minister give us an assurance or guarantee that that will happen?
I appreciate that we are dealing with the departmental budget and not the Northern Ireland Office budget which covers security, but I must raise the problem of security at the Royal Victoria hospital. The Minister may say that there is no security problem at the hospital and that that is ill- founded rumour. I understand that more than a year ago equipment was provided to assist in the security at the hospital, but there has been some dispute with the unions about the deployment of manpower and the equipment is
Column 973not in use. Since it is not a normal security problem that affects any large institution in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom, should it be funded from the hospital budget--the DHSS vote 1--or should specific security problems at the Royal Victoria hospital be dealt with by the security budget? The board considers that it would be far too much for the hospital to provide, given the finance required to care for patients.
Only a week ago a person visiting the hospital discovered that his car was missing from the car park. Eventually, he received a telephone call to an ex-directory number from someone claiming to represent an insurance company, saying that the car was in Andersontown. The police do not know who telephoned. They do not know anything about it, but that is where the car was found. However, there are supposed to be security officials there and it is important that we examine whether they have the authority to stop and search vehicles entering and leaving the hospital.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) dealt with the problems for hospitals and the matter of accident and emergency provision which will affect the whole city. Is it not the case that there is no emergency disaster plan in the Northern board area? Is the board relying ultimately on the Eastern board to provide that plan?
The Western board deals with the provision of mental health services in County Fermanagh. There must be provision for patients in the community before they are decanted from the hospitals. The present procedure for obtaining approval and funding for housing association schemes is extremely time consuming and that makes it difficult to plan the services in a concerted way. Would it be possible for the entire mechanism for approval of proposals to be speeded up?
I understand that the problem with regard to the provision of bridging funds in Fermanagh relates to the very low level of existing provision in terms of mental health services. The county is virtually destitute in terms of that provision and that is the result of the previous board's low-funded base line. Those of us who understood what was happening under the resource allocation working party will recall that the Western board carried through a strict budgetary requirement and every year it lost more money from the budget. As a result, the board is in difficulties. I plead that the board should receive an adequate share of the bridging funds being made available by the Department of Health and Social Services to enable it to provide the appropriate infrastructure in the community before transferring people from the hospitals.
People leaving hospital also face financial problems. It would appear that the main problem is that, because the majority of ex-patients are receiving invalidity benefit of a certain level, they are not eligible for income support and are not therefore eligible for a community care grant. In those circumstances, the board has to consider providing the funds for the initial essential furnishing and bedding requirements of those clients.
It is understood that there may be a resettlement allowance which will be payable weekly to long-term patients returning to the community. The object of that, however, may be to help patients pay off loans for furnishing. It is the considered opinion of the professional social workers dealing with those clients that that is wrong. They are totally opposed to the idea of their clients being put out of mental hospitals into the community and
Column 974starting their lives in debt. They do not believe that that is the answer to the problem of funding their clients' initial requirements. It might be better if the resettlement allowances could be paid as a lump sum to the clients. Another alternative might be for the resettlement allowance to be paid to the board on behalf of the client to offset payments which the board has to make for furnishing.
Is the Minister aware of the pressures now developing with the Government's move to the provision of private nursing and residential accommodation? The costs are rising, ceilings are being set and as a result residents in those homes are being pressed to obtain extra provision. They depend on charities to provide extra funding. Is the Minister also aware that, much more deplorably, patients' private pocket money, the £8 allowance which they should use for their own purposes, is being taken by the owners of those nursing homes to top up the residential costs? It is deplorable that the Government should have a policy of putting people into private and residential homes and then cut the money to support them.
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : I hope that I shall be forgiven for intruding in a debate that seems to be exclusively for hon. Members from Northern Ireland, but that is an important part of the United Kingdom. I represent an English constituency and, as chairman of the Conservative parliamentary aviation committee, having recently visited Short Brothers plc, I feel that I can make some contribution to this important debate.
I was most interested to hear what was said by a number of hon. Members today about the future of this very important company, Short Brothers plc, which is the largest manufacturing employer in Northern Ireland and one of the most important aerospace companies in the world. I was pleased that hon. Members gave credit to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry and to the report that it produced following the Government's statement that the company was to be privatised.
The report highlighted the problem of the company's size. Following the mergers, aerospace companies today are of an enormous size and capability. Two examples in Europe are Aerospatiale and British Aerospace, both of which have turnovers in excess of £3,000 million per annum. Short Brothers plc is at the bottom of the European league table with Casa of Spain, both having turnovers which hardly reach £200 million a year.
That is not to say that, within its three divisions, Short Brothers does not produce work of extremely high quality. In fact, the essence of Short Brothers is the quality of its products. In particular, the SD3 series is a winning one with types flown all over the world. Short Brothers also hope to launch the FJX, which is another aircraft of great potential. It faces competition but British Airways is already committed to buying 20, which is a good sign and gives the aircraft the stamp of approval which it needs. Hon. Members raised the matter of launch aid for the FJX project. Although the project will cost £500 million, Short Brothers' share of that is only £120 million. Therefore, since launch aid amounts to only 50 per cent. of that figure, only £50 million to £60 million of taxpayers' money will be used. That puts the amount into perspective.
Column 975Shorts Brothers plc faces not only a debt problem but a productivity problem. When the Select Committee visited Queens Island, Short Brothers' management went out of its way to stress the importance of additional capital investment and quoted as examples figures of companies such as Northrop, which has a fixed asset to employee ratio of almost £19,000, and of Boeing, which has a ratio of fixed assets to employees of £11,000. Short Brothers comes at the bottom of the scale, with a fixed asset to employee ratio of £3,300. That could be for one of two reasons--either because the company has not put the money which it has received from the Government into capital investment but has been using it to pay off its revenue debts or because the company's productivity is not high due to overmanning and restrictive practices within the work force.
It is significant that, although the company's turnover has not increased much over the years, during the past 14 years, the work force has risen from 5,800 to 7,600. Other aerospace companies have reduced the size of their work force as their productivity has risen with the introduction of much more modern methods of production. When we toured the plant we were struck by the fact that some of the machine tools and equipment being used by highly skilled engineering employees should have been in a museum.
The company must tackle productivity. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave evidence to the Select Committee he stressed that he was going to seek three assurances from companies that might bid to take over Shorts. One was that the company's manufacturing base should stay in Northern Ireland ; another was that the company's headquarters and research and development facilities, which must be retained, ought to stay in Northern Ireland. The third was that there should be some assurances about the level of future employment-- there is the rub. No Government can guarantee to go on employing people in the quantities that Shorts does. I hope that its order book will expand ; it stands at £1,000 million now, which is good, and I should like it to be bigger.
If the order book expands, the labour force may be able to stay the same size. However, if the company is to have the capital injection that it needs to improve productivity, there must be some rationalisation of the work force, which must be told honestly that that will happen.
Rationalisation has already occurred in other acts of privatisation, of which British Airways was a good example. The Government restructured the balance sheet and the work force eventually shrank by a third. The company was then successfully privatised, and Shorts must learn that lesson. The company has already proved that it can do this, because the Shorlac company, which is building the highly successful Tucano, has already increased productivity by working a cell system, cutting out demarcation and reducing sectarianism in the work force. In Shorlac, not only is the work force much younger--about 30 on average--but there is a higher percentage of Roman Catholics in that part of the work force than in any other.
This is my message to the company management and workers. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say something about manning levels and capital investment in Short Brothers.
Column 976I now want to mention a wholly different industry--the licensed trade--for which I know the Minister is responsible, and about which I have an interest to declare. The pubs of Northern Ireland are a great asset to good community relations. They are non-sectarian. Hon. Members have already referred to the importance of tourism. Grants from my hon. Friend's Department are available to build hotel rooms there, but not to enable publicans to add rooms to their pubs, which are far nicer places to stay in. I know that my hon. Friend is reviewing that problem as part of his general review of tourism. Has he come to a decision on giving such grant aid to assist public houses to provide accommodation?
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I often seem to be called near the end in Northern Ireland debates. I once had to make a three -minute speech on the subject, and this time will be much the same.
I want to mention one specific point and then provide a trailer of what I might be able to discuss some other time. The Minister mentioned expenditure on flood damage in Strabane. On 5 November 1987 I raised on the Adjournment the subject of an underground fire in my constituency. The Bellwin scheme came into that. Money had been spent on gale damage in the south of England, so I mentioned the flood damage in Strabane and asked whether the Bellwin scheme would apply, which allows, after a penny rate has been spent in the counties, or a 0.15p rate spent in the districts, 75 per cent. grant aid for the rest of the expenditure involved.
Has such an arrangement been allowed for the flood damage in Strabane, or has some other provision been made? That affects not only my constituents but the parts of Scotland in which there has been gale damage and which have not yet received the provision that the south of England did.
I turn to the trailer for my remarks on a future occasion. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) commented that there are few opportunities to discuss the politics of Northern Ireland-- the kind of matters that are covered by the appropriation, concerning the conditions of ordinary working-class people. This debate has allowed the House to do so, and that is why I have been pleased to participate in it. Had I the time available, I would have developed some of the themes that have been introduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who often comments on matters relating to police involvement, might instead be able to provide some democratic answers to the problems of Northern Ireland.
I would have addressed myself also to some of the democratic and social aspects. I would have spoken of democracy in the sense of making a claim for devolved Government, but having a bill of rights, and of Socialism in terms of collectivist expenditure, public investment and public ownership as a means of meeting the problems of the Province. Where the greatest areas of deprivation and the greatest problems are to be found, Socialist solutions begin to be appropriate.
It would be useful if the Government began experimenting in Northern Ireland, applying not the policies used for the rest of the United Kingdom but others. Startling solutions might come from that. Northern Ireland could take the lead, because it has a
Column 977Protestant and Catholic working class that suffers from high levels of unemployment, low pay, National Health Service problems, housing problems, and other exacerbated difficulties of the kind found in the rest of the United Kingdom--and to which Socialist answers of the kind I wanted to talk about might be entirely appropriate.
As one enters the Chamber, one sees the statues of two Prime Ministers-- Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. They were the leaders of what A.J.P. Taylor described as war Socialism. During the war, Socialism was used to build military defence, to handle social problems, and to unite the nation. When a statue of the present Prime Minister is erected, it will be interesting if she adopted a new policy for Northern Ireland. She may then be remembered for her Socialist achievements in Northern Ireland while helping to destroy the rest of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh) : It will be difficult to say in four minutes all that I intended to say. It is difficult for an hon. Member such as myself from the North of Ireland, who has been in the Chamber since 3 o'clock, to make the points that he wants to make. Like the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), I shall simply put down a marker and a trailer.
One thought that struck me forcibly during the debate was that, rightly, considerable time has been spent on the problems of Shorts. However, approximately five times the number of people employed by that company are employed in the agriculture industry in the North of Ireland. Since entering the House, I have never had an opportunity of addressing the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food across the Floor of the House. I address my first request to the Prime Minister and to the Whips Office-- that our biggest single industry be recognised by the appointment of a Minister to deal with the North of Ireland's agriculture as the important industry that it is. To me, there seems to be a cheapening and devaluing of our most important single industry. The North of Ireland has two natural resources. One is grass and the other is people, yet agriculture seems to be excluded from the body politic and from the thoughts of the House. My second request is for a look at the development of bovine tuberculosis in the North of Ireland, especially in the border regions. I make no political point whatever about this because the matter is purely agricultural. The problem is developing because, in border areas, there are many movements of security personnel, fences are cut and, for various obvious safety reasons, gates are not used. I should like to make three suggestions and I must do it in shorthand. I suggest the setting up in the border regions of a full- time veterinary centre that will be able to act immediately. When there are fatalities, damage to stock as a result of low-flying helicopters or abortions in cattle or sheep, inspections can be carried out immediately so that claims can be processed.
Two months ago I had an interesting meeting to which the Secretary of State for Defence saw fit to send representatives to discuss these problems. Believe it or not, the Department of Agriculture in the North of Ireland did not see fit to send a representative to see me and the farmers and to hear about the problems.
Column 978In addition to the veterinary inspection centre, I should like to see set up a veterinary inspection team which would be available to make an assessment immediately and not 24 hours or a week after something happens. That would enable a report to be made and people would not be at a financial loss.
In relation to bovine TB, I should like to see the setting up of a Government agriculture insurance scheme that will give 100 per cent. compensation for TB reactors. At present, if a farmer declares a reactor, he is offered 75 per cent. compensation. That is very damaging to the industry and will cause long-term damage. If farmers were offered 100 per cent. compensation, it might enable us to get rid of the disease as well as the beast that is infected. At present it is being recycled.
The whole herd of 43 cattle belonging to one of my constituents was shut down because of bovine tuberculosis. He gets 75 per cent. of the market price of the cattle and that invariably involves a loss because his profit would have come long after the period when he held the cattle. He also loses the headage payments. He potentially loses his milk quota and must then rebuild his herd on 75 per cent. compensation. He cannot get income support and inevitably he will go out of business. That problem is occurring time and again throughout the North of Ireland. Agriculture is our main industry and employs four to five times as many people as the other industries that we have rightly been debating. The problems of agriculture are going by the board.
The Minister who is responsible for the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland might well take the view that I sit up at night thinking up unique and quaint circumstances and instances for him to deal with. However, there is one problem that can be dealt with only at ministerial level. In the area of South Armagh surrounded by the Camlough mountains all primary legislation about drainage was handed over to the mill owners in the village of Bessbrook. Departments were absolved from any responsibility. Those mill owners have gone out of business, and the anomaly as we approach 1992 is that no Government Department is responsible for arterial drainage in that area. The result is that the Department of the Environment is spending about £12,000 per year on remedial road works deriving from the fact that the Department of Agriculture is not responsible for drainage in that area. It is unique ; it is quaint ; it could happen only to the present Minister--and he will appreciate the import of that remark, as I have referred certain other types of problems to him. To his credit, he has dealt with them, but this is one that must be grappled with quickly.
I am very concerned about my final point, although I do not have time to expand on my concern. I am delighted that I was present for the presentation of the ten-minute Bill dealing with problems in relation to residential and nursing homes. There is increasing reason for concern about the way in which the entrepreneurial bent is being used in the care of old people in residential homes. I do not have time to take the matter any further, but it is one of immediate concern to all of us. The people that we must treasure most are those who cannot help themselves. We owe it to those who, like all of us, are getting older to make sure that any homes that are set up are run in such a way as to ensure the maximum protection for their residents.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers) : I have sat through many debates without gettinan opportunity to speak, so I am sure we all feel a great sense of satisfaction that everyone who sat through this one had that opportunity-- albeit, at the end, briefly. My only regret--and it is a very serious and sincere one--is that I will not be able to reply to all the points that were made, some of them very serious and very important. I counted more than 30 points that require some response from the Dispatch Box, but I simply will not be able to reply to all of them, and for that I apologise to the House.
In 1988-89 the public expenditure total for Northern Ireland is £5.2 billion, excluding the special addition of £390 million for Shorts. This very substantial allocation enables us to mount spending programmes which reflect Northern Ireland's higher needs, in terms of unemployment, health, housing and other issues. In response to those needs, spending per capita in Northern Ireland is substantially higher--about 40 per cent.-- than the United Kingdom average. This is, of course, the considered result of Government policy, which, rightly, provides more resources to Northern Ireland and to other relatively disadvantaged areas than to the more prosperous regions of the United Kingdom. This clearly gives the lie to those in Northern Ireland who misguidedly talk about economic withdrawal. The facts speak for themselves : the opposite is the case, and the Government are providing, and will continue to provide, the resources necessary to assist the Province to strengthen its economy through self- sustaining growth.
The House will forgive me if I pick up one point of substance for which I have special responsibility--the job-promotion duties of the Industrial Development Board. In 1987-88 the IDB achieved its highest-ever level of promotions, with 5,300 new jobs. The board set itself an even more challenging target of 5,500 job promotions for 1988-89, and I am hopeful, indeed confident, that this target will be achieved, or even exceeded. The IDB has had a high level of success recently, particularly in winning prestigious international projects--Daewoo from South Korea, Montupet from France, Science Typographers from the United States, and Huco from Germany. These successes underline the IDB's ability and determination to pursue and win major new investment.
I should add that the IDB is tasked to promote industrial development throughout Northern Ireland, and I can assure the House that the board goes to great lengths to ensure that prospective investors are made aware of what all parts of the Province have to offer. The IDB is currently assisting companies across the whole of Northern Ireland. These include : in Magherafelt, County Londonderry, Peter England--100 jobs ; in Dungannon, County Tyrone, Powerscreen Manufacturing--45 jobs ; in Craigavon, County Armagh, Interfacing Flow Systems--87 jobs ; in Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh, Adria--142 jobs ; and in County Down, at Killyleagh, Atlantic Tanners Ltd.- -121 new jobs.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) is prominent in putting forward the case that the Industrial Development Board is not fair in promoting jobs throughout Northern Ireland. In all sincerity, I say to him that, to my certain knowledge, he is wrong. I have written to the hon. Gentleman on this matter.
Column 980Mr. McGrady rose --
Mr. Viggers : If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way. I have a total of nine minutes to deal with 30 points. Montupet--the French company--gave most careful thought to the possibility of establishing its tool room in Downpatrick. I have discussed that issue with the chairman of the company. The IDB has been successful in winning jobs for the whole of Northern Ireland. I give one figure, which has not been published recently. In 1987-88 the Industrial Development Board was successful in winning about 5 per cent. of all jobs won into the United Kingdom by way of inward investment, bearing in mind that the population of Northern Ireland represents about 2.5 per cent. of that of the United Kingdom. In the current year, we have achieved a remarkable 11.6 per cent. of inward investment jobs into the United Kingdom. That is a proud record.
I will seek to deal with some of the large number of points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) raised several important points concerning social security benefits. Last year's reforms were aimed at better targeting expenditure towards areas of greatest need, and benefit levels are on a parity basis with the rest of the United Kingdom. On family credit, the hon. Gentleman should know that the rates of benefit are more generous than under previous arrangements, but the Department of Health and Social Services is concerned about the level of take-up and is taking steps to improve it.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that expenditure on community care was being cut across the Province. There has certainly been an attempt to target expenditure where it is most needed so that people can remain in the community, preferably in their own homes, with the necessary support, rather than prematurely going into long-stay accommodation or blocking beds in acute hospitals. The policy of improving throughput in acute hospitals is intended also to release resources which can be redeployed to community services. I am sure that hon. Members would support such efforts.
The hon. Gentleman specifically asked about the latest pupil-teacher ratio. The most up-to-date overall pupil-teacher ratio for Northern Ireland is 18:3.1, which is marginally below the figure that was quoted by the hon. Gentleman, although very near to it. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) asked about the evening closure of the Mater hospital accident and emergency department. A recent complementary study of the Royal group of hospitals, the Belfast City hospital and the Mater hospital resulted in several recommendations, one of which was that the Mater accident and emergency department should close in the evenings, the time of closure to be decided locally.
So many hon. Members raised questions concerning Shorts and Harland and Wolff that it would be appropriate for me to devote the 180 remaining seconds of my speech to that subject.