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Column 566--to make representations to the Department of Education, and that school authorities would normally consult parents before publishing a proposal.
The parents at those schools were not consulted by either the South-Eastern education and library board or anybody else. The board made an on-the-spot decision to close three rural schools that are catering for the education and future of the children of those areas. Schools should be more than establishments for education. They should be allowed to be the social fabric of small towns and villages. I ask the Minister to convey to the Under-Secretary of State the grave concern of parents of children at those four schools that those decisions were taken without consultation.
My area has two further difficulties in education. One is the lack of provision for autistic children. Presumably for financial reasons, the education authority has set its face against providing a modicum of specialist services in normal school provision. That could easily be done with little expenditure. The second difficulty is the provision of veterinary education. There is great concern in rural communities such as mine about the proposal to close the veterinary school in Glasgow to which all veterinary students in Northern Ireland normally go. It would be a great pity if that link between Northern Ireland and Glasgow were abolished.
I now refer to the appropriation for health and social services. I have heard hon. Members talking about £33 million for the Antrim hospital. I do not begrudge that expenditure. It is the second time in my experience that an almost identical amount of money has been allocated to that hospital. Downpatrick hospital must be replaced. A new hospital was to be built in 1956--over a quarter of a century ago--and the money, unfortunately, was diverted to Antrim hospital. I have a sense of de ja vu- -It has happened again over a quarter of a century later, without any change.
The amount of expenditure that is required to make Downpatrick a good general hospital, as proposed by consultants and vetted by competent experts, is only about £8 million to £10 million. That would make it a comprehensive, general, geriatric and maternity hospital. Geriatric and maternity facilities have already been put on site.
Perhaps more immediate is the Department's inability to force the Eastern health and social services board to provide a third anaesthetist for the Down hospital. The absence of this anaesthetist is jeopardising the provision of operational services. The board has prevaricated time and again. It uses the excuse of the lack of finance. As the Minister has already indicated his support for the appointment, it is proper that he provides the money for it. I also wish to draw the Minister's attention to the inadequacy of the staffing of occupational therapy departments. In my area and, I am sure, in many other areas in Northern Ireland there is a two -year wait for the delivery of aids for handicapped people. That is scandalous when such items do not involve a great deal of expenditure. After diagnosis and after assent has been given for the provision of the aid, surely it is not right that physically disabled people should have to wait two years for the provision of an aid. I echo the comments of the hon. Members for Leicester, South and for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) about the plight of pensioners following the social security changes.
Column 567Pensions were raised in April, but for many pensioners the increases have been completely negatived by the withdrawal of the transitional payment allowance. Many pensioners have less money in their pockets than they had before the pension increases. Surely that was never intended at a time of rising costs. I ask the Minister to consider that point sympathetically.
I congratulate the Minister's colleague in the Department of the Environment on his speedy intervention in the aluminium sulphate scare at Foffany reservoir. He has appointed an independent investigator to find out how the aluminium sulphate got there. The incident is reminiscent of what happened in south-west England, but it is on a much smaller scale. I urge the Minister to expedite the results of the inquiry so as to allay the fears of the local people. To link that with what we are debating, lest you pull me up, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the local feeling is that the withdrawal of workers and the rundown in the number employed at the Foffany works by the Department was probably a contributory factor to the pollution. Aluminium sulphate is a potent toxin in the water supply. On housing, I draw the Minister's attention to the Policy Studies Institute survey which looked into the disadvantage between Catholic and Protestant in the probability of allocation of housing in Northern Ireland. I do not want to debate the merits and demerits of allocation on a sectarian basis. I simply suggest that the imbalance in allocation of houses on a 2 : 1 ratio is partly because of the cut of £40 million in the housing budget this year. The Housing Executive has said that, because of these cuts, its modest proposals--I emphasise the word "modest"--cannot be met. In the three-year financial cycle up to 1992 the loss of grant will be £109 million. At a time when there is a downturn in the provision of new build by the private sector, surely the resources of the Housing Executive should not be cut.
Like other hon. Members, I try to make a contribution to the debate, but I would lke a response to the points that I raise. Often for good reasons, in the time available a Minister cannot reply to all the points. If the Minister cannot reply tonight to all hon. Members, I urge him to reply by letter. It is meaningless for us to take part in a debate if we do not get a reply, good or bad, positive or negative, from the Department or from the Minister to whom we have addressed our inquiries.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : Partly as a result of door-to-door canvassing for the recent local government elections and the European elections, some of us have had much closer contact with the people affected by Government decisions than the Ministers who make the decisions or, indeed, by those who advise Ministers in Northern Ireland so badly from time to time. I hope that in future real consideration will be given to the views expressed by those of us who endeavour to represent our constituents.
I realise, as do other right hon. and hon. Members, that nothing we say tonight will change the order. Nevertheless, in order to bring the attention of Ministers and officials issues which have arisen, we do not want to give the impression that we are always on the attack. There are various sections of the order that we recognise as being of value. I welcome the efforts to ensure success of Harland and Wolff and, indeed, Shorts. I congratulate the
Column 568Department of Economic Development, the Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterprise Development Unit on their achievements to date in job creation.
We all realise that there is still a long way to go and that the level of unemployment in Northern Ireland, including that of some highly skilled young people, is far too great. Only when terrorism is defeated will we see the kind of inflow of inward investment, that will rid us of the scourge of unemployment that has existed for far too long.
Under vote 3, the Department of Economic Development, I welcome the fact that continuing emphasis is being given to the provision of community projects, youth and industrial training and employment schemes and services, including services for the disabled. I am pleased, too, to support the provision of funding for Enterprise Ulster, which serves the whole community of Northern Ireland extremely well, and most communities have benefited from the excellent environment and amenity schemes that have been carried out over the years. Those schemes have given much satisfaction to the long-term unemployed, and we are glad to see them continuing. We are especially pleased to see the increase from 8,000 to 10,000 places under the Action for Community Employment--known as ACE--provisions. I support the priority that is to be given to those between 18 and 24 years of age. There will be emphasis on structured training to assist those who are fortunate enough to obtain places on that scheme to acquire skills that will enable them to move to more permanent employment and to compete for jobs on the open market. I welcome the steady growth in places under that scheme, but I believe that in future it will have to be further expanded. I trust that funding will be made available for that purpose.
Funding of the Fair Employment Agency and the Equal Opportunities Commission alone will not achieve fair employment or equal opportunity. We hope that we will not see frightened employers, who have been fair employers, blatantly discriminating against Protestants to raise the number of other groups on their list which will have to be furnished to the Fair Employment Agency.
I agree that the unfair attacks by the promoters of the MacBride principles in the United States have done more damage to the prospects of all sections of the unemployed in Northern Ireland. Without their intervention, it is quite possible--in fact one would have expected--that there would have been more inward investment from the United States. We as Unionists have stated clearly that we have no desire to direct employers to specific areas where only Unionists will benefit. We believe that new industry should be located so that all sections of the community can benefit from the job opportunities created on the basis of their own merit. I hope that we will see continuing inward investment and new job opportunities for all to share.
I also hope that those companies that are investing heavily in producing alternative sources of energy will, in the event of the privatisation of the electricity industry, be guaranteed an outlet for the surplus electricity that they can generate and that that will be taken at a fair price. If such a guarantee is not binding, the Government grants that have encouraged the alternative generation of energy will prove to have been a waste of resources.
Under the Department of the Environment vote 1 expenditure, I would like to have seen a greater allocation of funds for upgrading the street lighting system
Column 569throughout east Antrim, and at a faster rate than presently possible. There is also a need to provide more off-street car parking for housing estates. Portland place, Magheramorne, is on the main Larne--Carrickfergus road, an extremely busy road, and householders have to park on that road. There is land available and I am sure that Blue Circle would be more than delighted to negotiate with the Department to make some land available for that purpose.
I regret that I could not identify any planned expenditure to complete the dual carriageway on the Larne-Belfast road from Gingles corner to Corr's corner. We have been waiting nearly 20 years for action to upgrade that Euro-route. I appeal to the Minister to get personal experience of the congestion caused by commercial and private traffic travelling to and from Larne harbour. If it is too much to expect funding to be provided from Europe all at once for the completion of that project, at least the Government should be working towards phasing the work until such time as it is all completed. That would improve overall road safety and traffic flow. I believe that such a decision would command the sympathy and support of those who administer the European regional development fund.
It is many years since the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), in his capacity as a Member of the European Parliament, and other colleagues had a European development fund commissioner in Larne. If our Government had proposed the project, we might have good reason to expect support for it. Given the real danger of EC funds drying up in a few years' time, I hope that the project will be completed before then. We are confident that we will obtain the commitment and support of our newly elected European Members of Parliament and of any Commissioner they invite over. With that support, our Government should feel confident enough to get that proposal through.
Glynn village, just outside Larne, was promised a bypass about 10 years ago. It should have been completed by now but, in common with many other projects, it has been put on a long finger. Money has been spent on upgrading the main road through Glynn, but if two articulated lorries were to meet on that road it would be almost impossible for them to pass each other. The narrow footpath there will not accommodate a young mother with a pram on the way to the railway station. I hope that further consideration will be given to the possibility of a Glynn bypass.
Will the Minister look favourably on the recently completed Glenarm village study? We need substantial expenditure on the coastal area between Glenarm and Carnlough where there is high unemployment and great potential for creating employment. Larne borough council has acquired the derelict harbour and funds are urgently needed to enable the Eglinton limeworks to be relocated to the back of the village, where there are new workings. With the proper support, we can encourage entrepreneurs to set up small businesses and improve the general economy for the community.
I was pleased when the Minister said that at long last the cross-city rail link would become a reality. We could
Column 570look forward to more visitors passing through the Larne harbour area if they were able to travel through Belfast more conveniently. I emphasise the continuing need to provide funding for renovation and enveloping grants in areas where improvement and redevelopment by the Housing Executive has been agreed. The voluntary housing associations in Northern Ireland continue to be worthy of our fullest support. They should be able to retain their own identity and should not be absorbed and mismanaged by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, a bureaucratic monster which is far too large to be properly managed.
I recently wrote to Mr. Blease, the chief executive of the Housing Executive. I said :
"I respectfully suggest that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive should seek, if necessary, authority to obtain a deposit in respect of every future allocation of residential accommodation. The deposit should be sufficient to cover the cost of inspection, repair of damage and, where necessary, steam cleaning and fumigation. Where tenants are linked to a trail of filth and vandalism, the public at large should not be held responsible for the cost of putting things right. Inspection reports should be exchanged where transfers between housing districts occur and should have some bearing on whether an exchange or transfer application is approved within a housing district."
I am grateful to the Housing Executive for the prompt response which came within a few days of receipt of my letter. It was properly addressed to me in Larne, except that it was intended for the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker). I do not know how the mistake had arisen ; he must have been on their mind or something. I shall certainly ensure that he receives a copy of the letter in case he has communicated with the executive along the same lines and has not received a reply.
I am concerned because I know from experience that we must take action. The Minister responsible must assist the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to cope with the sort of problems which I have witnessed in my constituency and which no doubt are common in other areas. At the request of pensioners, and young married couples with babies of only a few months old, I have visited properties which have been allocated by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. If I were to describe some of the conditions left behind, it would provoke illness. It almost makes me sick to think about it again. I shall give a watered-down report, which I hope will be palatable, which comes from an environmental officer. His description of the property which had just been offered to tenants said :
"Water closet basin insanitary (heavily stained and dirty). The glazed surface to the bath was damaged, normal use of the bath could not account for the small indentations in the bottom of the bath.
Kitchen area :
Rotten woodwork to window frame.
Holes in the floor and in a section of stud wall.
The cupboards were dirty and in a state of disrepair.
The house in general was dirty and strewn with rubbish." The Housing Executive is naturally interested in getting income, whether the rent is paid by the Department of Health and Social Services or by those young couples who are desperate for accommodation and who will accept accommodation in virtually any condition. It is a disgrace that young people are offered two rent-free weeks to clean the muck and filth left by somebody else. The Minister should take a good walk round sometimes to see the
Column 571neglect, mismanagement and lack of supervision. He should take steps to give powers to his officials or staff in the Housing Executive to do something about it.
The Housing Executive should not give an existing tenant alternative accommodation until it has inspected the state of the dwelling that the tenant occupies. No dwelling should be reallocated to anyone until it has been inspected, cleaned out, refurbished and repaired where necessary. There should be a thorough inspection of the roof space, the front and rear gardens areas and any other outbuildings. If any tenant has a record with the Housing Executive, the RUC or the environmental health department of causing disturbance or annoyance to adjacent tenants by noise, from whatever source, this record or offence should be taken into account by the Housing Executive if the tenant is being considered for transfer or reallocation either within the district in which he resides or to any other district.
These problems are constantly before us, especially those of us who still serve as elected district councillors. They are the problems being forced on the councils in Northern Ireland, which have few resources, so that the burden of work on the environmental health department is unnecessarily increased. I hope that the Minister will encourage the Housing Executive to take action, and that he will assist it with whatever new powers are needed to improve the situation and to implement some of these suggestions.
I am concerned that I have to raise this next matter in the House. It is a case that has come to light recently, and I trust that there are no other similar cases, although I have suspicions that there are. Under the vote for expenditure for housing, I have reason to call on the Minister as a matter of urgency to stop proceedings in respect of the Cregagh flats phase 2 contract. The Minister should hold an inquiry in the public interest to determine whether certain procedures regarding the action of the executive's consultants have been proper in all respects about the selection and approval of sub-contractors for window supply and installation.
In Larne in east Antrim a company called Sterne Fenster manufactures and markets Starglaze upvc windows. That company was encouraged with support from another Government Department to set up in Northern Ireland. It has successfully tendered and had a verbal indication that its price had been used by the main contractor to win the contract for phase 2 at the Cregagh flats. Starglaze got on to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive approved list on 13 February after, I suspect, ministerial intervention. Obstacles had been placed in the company's way. Starglaze would not join a cartel of manufacturers and be part of a cosy little club which could jack up the prices. Its windows are approved by the British Standards Institution and are made to a very high specification and that is why the company is on the approved list. The windows have been tested for wind resistance and water penetration. Under very high wind loading, no damage, deformation or water penetration occurred to the frames. Starglaze has been blocked at every stage from supplying windows to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. For a consultant architect employed by the executive to exert pressure on the main contractor not to use Starglaze frames while saying that, if Starglaze was nominated by the main contractor, its name would go forward to the Housing Executive is quite despicable. To
Column 572allege that the company has no track record in Northern Ireland is a deception designed to ensure that the company does not get a contract in Northern Ireland and is put out of business.
Starglaze has installed windows in the Brighton hotel after it was refurbished. It has installed windows in a 14-storey block of flats in the borough of Milton Keynes. It has installed windows in three blocks of 11- storey flats in the metropolitan borough of Stockport. It has installed them in two 14-storey blocks in the metropolitan borough of Sefton and it is scheduled to install its windows in five more blocks in Stockport. Those are but a few examples of the track record behind Starglaze and its high quality windows.
Starglaze has not been fairly treated. It produces high quality windows and doors at keen prices, and that is surely in the public interest. The executive's consultant architect did not give the Starglaze representative a fair hearing. The consultant architect was adamant that Starglaze window frames would not be used. I believe that the main contractor has been frightened off by the consultant architect's attitude.
The Starglaze representative made an appointment with the consultant architect and took a sample of a Starglaze tilt-and-turn window. He waited 40 minutes in the foyer of the consultant's office. Eventually the consultant architect walked past on his way to another appointment with a partner or an employer. He did not give the representative a chance. He was not interested in discussing what was happening.
Starglaze had been increasing its work force in Larne and naturally that is of special interest to me. The contract for Cregagh flats, for which Starglaze submitted the lowest tender, would have created more jobs in my constituency and enabled the company to demonstrate its capability for even larger contracts for its high-quality products delivered on time and at competitive prices.
I have tried to resolve that problem through the proper channels but without success. In a communication from the Housing Executive's acting regional director, I was informed :
"It is the main Contractor's prerogative to nominate any sub-contractors he wishes to use and provided the sub-contractors' products are on the Executive's approved list and there are no other impediments to the ue of the sub-contractor, the Executive will accept the nomination."
The products are on the approved list, so why did the contract not go to Starglaze? What is behind the comment :
"provided there are no other impediments"?
I know of none. The letter goes on to say :
"I have been assured by the Executive's consultants for this scheme that if the main contractor submits his list of nominated sub-contractors, it will be passed to the Executive for approval using the criteria applied in any other scheme."
I want an inquiry. I want the project stopped because justice must be seen to be done. That will be possible only when the practice has been exposed as unfair and the contract has gone back to Starglaze. The power of consultants to obstruct a successful tender by a manufacturer must be examined and diminished.
Who will pay the higher costs incurred by the main contractor who has recently accepted the next lowest suitable tender? Will that result in an extra cost to be paid by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to the main contractor? We must support fair competition and ensure that there is value for money in all public expenditure.
Column 573The money voted to the Department of the Environment in vote 4 covers expenditure on land registry. Earlier this year the Minister, in a written answer to me, said that a comprehensive review of land registry functions in Northern Ireland would be under way by mid-1989. We have arrived at mid-1989, and I had hoped that the Minister who gave me that reply would have been here to report progress. There are still unreasonable delays in processing transactions, with thousands of queries in a permanent log jam at the land registry office in Belfast.
I have constituent pensioners in Rathcoole, Newtownabbey, paying full rent out of their pensions for the homes that they tried to purchase several months ago. That £22 per week is causing unnecessary hardship. The money to pay for the houses is available on completion of the information that is needed for the transaction from the land registry, and that must be completed as a matter of urgency. I appeal to the Minister to provide additional temporary staff at the land registry in Belfast pending the outcome of the efficiency review that should be under way.
My constituents in east Antrim and those elsewhere whose homes were built nearly 30 years ago can reasonably expect funding for rewiring, central heating, improvements to old-fashioned and inadequate kitchens and the replacement of warped metal window frames which cannot be permanently straightened. In the interests of energy conservation alone, it would make a lot of sense to replace those metal framed windows immediately in all Housing Executive houses. Will the Minister also bear in mind the many people who were encouraged to buy their homes from the Housing Executive? As first-time buyers they knew nothing about caveat emptor. The executive in my area has been replacing thousands of faulty flues. First-time buyers are committed to mortgage repayments and cannot raise another £600 to replace a faulty flue. Surely it would not be unreasonable to devise an entry point into the grants scheme which would enable people who have bought faulty homes from the Housing Executive at least to have some grant aid and assistance to replace a faulty flue. We still have a responsibility to those who have purchased properties which could put their health at risk and we should not duck out of it.
Vote 6 on page 4 of the order makes provision to fund the Northern Ireland fire authority. I and my constituents appreciate that the Northern Ireland fire authority serves all sections of the community well. There are limited numbers of full-time firemen in Northern Ireland, so the service is dependent on volunteer, part-time firemen who are on either 24-hour or 12- hour call. I should like to make an appeal to the Secretary of State through the Minister that suitable provision should be made to enable all the trained, part-time firemen who are employed in Government Departments, education and health boards, district councils and the private sector to respond to call-outs for the fire service during normal working hours. Employers should encourage that, provided that no one in their place of work is endangered if they respond to a fire call.
I trust that none of the money voted in the order is planned for capital work in connection with the proposed residential fire training depot at Old Manse road, Jordanstown, in Newtownabbey, in my constituency. The
Column 574peace and privacy of that residential area would be adversely affected if such a proposal were to go through on appeal in future. There are much more suitable sites for a residential training establishment for the Northern Ireland fire authority. I hope that the Minister will use his influence and will be seen to support the residents in their objections, the views of Newtownabbey council and the objections that I have lodged, and encourage the Northern Ireland fire authority to withdraw the appeal which is pending with the Department of the Environment or seek to have the application refused.
I join other hon. Members who register concern about the long waiting list for urgent treatment in our hospitals. Long waiting lists are not acceptable and should not be condoned, especially by the representatives of a Government who endeavour to project themselves as a caring Government.
One of my constituents, a pensioner, a lady who had had a hip replacement operation nearly 18 months ago, has been waiting to have her other hip replacement. Her husband pleaded with me to do something. She refused to say at which hospital she had been treated and she refused to name the consultant, as she said that she appreciated what they did for her so much that she did not want to get anyone into trouble. She suffers discomfort and some bad pain, and there must be many others who could be relieved of pain if it were possible to shorten the waiting lists. I hope that that will be possible. No hon. Member could sit idly by and look at his mother or a relative in the same circumstances without urging that something be done quickly. Not everyone can afford private medicine and those who are in genuine need and cannot afford private treatment should not have to wait 18 months for necessary medical attention.
We in Larne are well served by Moyle hospital. The Moyle action committee has been endeavouring to persuade the Minister and the Prime Minister that the grand hospital plan for Antrim is not in the best interests of the people of east Antrim and is not necessary. The Estimates, according to my interpretation, show that at present rates over £40 million could be spent on the Antrim hospital. I want the people of Antrim to have adequate hospital facilities, but we have heard tonight about the closure of wards in existing hospitals. How can we justify spending millions of pounds to build new hospitals when existing facilities are not being fully utilised? Like the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), I think that small expenditure on Moyle hospital would provide us with adequate hospital facilities for a lifetime. Proper use of the teaching hospitals and facilities in Belfast would be a much better use of public money.
Over the past 15 years successive Ministers, goaded on by officials, have supported that out-of-date proposal. The Ministers and the Ministers' nominees on the health boards--they are not elected and are not accountable to anybody--are the main supporters, together with a few who will benefit directly from new specialist employment and major posts created at Antrim.
I wish to record my opposition to the running down of Moyle hospital in Larne and to state clearly that the expenditure proposed for the Antrim site will not provide value for money. Unfortunately, the Public Accounts Committee cannot investigate the expenditure until it has taken place. It is a pity that its powers could not be extended to examine some of the proposals being made.
Column 575I know that other hon. Members wish to make a contribution, so I shall conclude. I welcome the provision that has been made for expenditure at Larne high school in my constituency. I regret that there is no mention of the funding for the final development at Larne grammar school. It is a pity that, when the contractors were on the site and the parents had raised the money to complete the project, the work could not be finished. I suspect that it will now be on the long finger.
With respect to the moneys voted to the Department of Health and Social Services and the Department of Education, I ask the Minister to take a chance and bank on the fact that in Northern Ireland we tend to underspend, so the Minister should anticipate sufficient underspend to allow for the provision of an additional speech therapist at Hillcroft special school in Newtownabbey. The parents of handicapped children there have been greatly distressed because more children were enrolled and statemented because they required speech therapy. To cope with that transitional problem, many of those who have been receiving speech therapy and who have no other means of communication and so are dependent on the help of speech therapists no longer have that benefit because time has been allocated to the younger handicapped children.
To provide an extra therapist would not be a major item of expenditure. It is a safe bet that more than the salary of one speech therapist will be left behind in the underspend before the end of the year. If even one additional child is statemented as requiring speech therapy in another special school in my constituency, additional staffing will be required there. It would be appropriate for the Minister to authorise the appointment of one additional speech therapist in east Antrim. If necessary, that speech therapist could be peripatetic and employed between the special schools where definite needs have been established.
Other hon. Members have already referred tonight to the long list of children awaiting the opportunity to receive even limited nursery education. Carrickfergus and other parts of my constituency have the same problems as those to which other hon. Members have referred. The principals of nursery schools are embarrassed. They have 90 or 100 children on the waiting list, but they are allowed to enrol only just over 20 children. Of those 20, they have to accept six or so because they have been recommended by health visitors or others for good reasons. The education and library boards cannot deal with that matter on their own because of cuts in successive years. They do not have the funds to provide sufficient nursery places. Surely such education could be provided at less cost if it were possible to utilise existing vacant classrooms in our primary schools. Where that is not possible, a definite commitment in the east of the Province would be welcome. The Government could signal to the North Eastern education and library board that money could be used to provide nursery school places, and I hope that that will be possible. I also ask the Minister to deal sensitively with the proposals put forward by the South Eastern education and library board. The hon. Member for South Down earlier referred to the problems associated with state education in that area. I gladly and wholeheartedly support his comments. If the Minister accepts the proposals coming from the South Eastern education and library board and refuses to take account of the opinions of parents and
Column 576teachers in the area, there will be a greater exodus, so great that they will need no state schools in South Down. That is happening at a time when the Minister is saying that parents must have choice. I therefore appeal to him to listen to what they are saying. South Down also experiences high unemployment. If the status of Down high school is destroyed, it will be difficult to encourage into the area the young executives who we hope will set up new industries. If Down high school's status is changed from that of a grammar school, many parents will be forced to send their children far beyond the area of the school. That school has a good history, a good tradition and an excellent record, and should be retained as the grammar school for the area.
I hope that the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland will not contribute to driving out the people who maintain an interest in Down high school and who represent a diminishing group in the state sector in that area.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : I begin by giving my full backing to what the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) has just said about Down high school and to the other hon. Members who spoke earlier when, unfortunately, I was not able to be present. This is a serious matter. I have raised it in the House previously and I do so again tonight because that grammar school is the only gramar school for the Protestant community in that area. If it disappears, the Roman Catholic children will still have the opportunity of a grammar school education, but Protestant children will not. Working-class protestants will be bereft of grammar school schooling while those who are wealthy will be sent to schools in Belfast where they will have to be resident. Working-class children will not have that opportunity.
As the hon. Member for Antrim, East has just said, there will be an exodus from the area. That is not only my view ; it has been put to me by the governors of the school and the residents of Downpatrick. The Minister must take that view on board because, if he does not, as one governor said to me, we shall be forced to come to the conclusion that there is deliberate discrimination against one section of the community whose children will not be offered proper schooling. I trust that the Minister will take on board the other issues raised about school closures. He must pay careful attention to this serious matter.
This is a tragedy, because the small schools in the rural areas of Northern Ireland have been a cement in the community. We talk about keeping the community together, but the cement is being removed and the fabric destroyed. The community will be without the facilities that keep it together and that contribute to a whole society. I turn now to the equally serious matter of Mitchell House school which provides residence for severely physically handicapped children. Recently, without notice to any of the parents, the staff were suddenly told that they would all be made redundant and that the resident part of the school would be closed. Physically handicapped children will no longer have the opportunity to reside there. Indeed, the parents have now been told that the children who were resident will be sent back to their homes. The facilities to give respite to the parents of
Column 577seriously physically handicapped children will be taken away. It is a terrible indictment of the Government that, in this age, such facilities are to be taken away.
I want additional facilities made available so that those parents can have the break that they need. I hope that tonight the Minister will give some ray of hope to them. He should talk to them and recognise their frustrations and the problems that they are up against. He should understand the condition of their children and the necessity for them to be treated humanely. The Government should take quick action in this matter.
Some 20 or so years ago the Northern Ireland roads system was second to none. Many good improvements were made and the Province was moving forward. Now, because of the deterioration in the infrastructure, many strategic roads are outdated and capital funding has been over-restricted for many years. I have had a peep at the pamphlet "Roads for Prosperity" that covers roads in England. I trust that a similar document will be prepared for Northern Ireland. A strategic plan for Northern Ireland has been proposed, and I hope that it will show what will happen to the roads in the Province. I am greatly disturbed by the proposal that all the main traffic to the Channel tunnel should go over the border and via Holyhead to Wales. Associations within Northern Ireland local government have made representations about that. I hope that the Minister will tell us about his plans. There appears to be a dragging of feet on the subject of the roads to Larne. If the Larne port is to retain its prosperity--something that has been helpful to the whole east Antrim district--we need to know what is in the Government's mind for the extension of proper road facilities in that area. I trust that the people of Northern Ireland will soon be told what the Government intend to do.
There is congestion on the west link to Belfast, which will be further increased with the construction of the New Cross harbour bridges. What does the Minister intend to do about relief work to deal with the congestion?
Will the Government consider the construction of lengths of dual carriageway or climbing lanes on the roads to ports which support heavy lorry traffic? I understand that a large grant is going to the Irish Republic for the culverting of roads that are out of date. If so, and if the Irish Republic is to receive a large grant to update its roads, may we be assured that Her Majesty's Government have made application to ensure that, when heavier traffic comes on to the roads of Northern Ireland, we will be able to take advantage of EEC grants?
When is it expected that the dual carriageway into Ballymena will be completed? Will it take 10 years, the time stated at the inquiry? I have also been asked to mention the concern of many people about the Newry bypass. When will that be completed?
I am reliably informed that it will cost £200 million to bring the water service in Northern Ireland up to EEC standards. Is that money available? Is it a fact that when that work is done, £200 million having been spent on it, there will be no more water available than is available now? Will there be reserve capacity to take account of future industrial expansion in Northern Ireland? Has that
Column 578been taken into account in forward planning? New industry and more jobs in Northern Ireland will require a good reserve capacity of water.
I confirm what was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, East about the Housing Executive. Why does it not have a plan to bring all the houses under its control, when they are being rehabilitated, up to a common standard? I have in mind houses in Ballymena with old steel windows. It seems strange that the Executive puts new wooden windows into some houses, and then argues with the tenants of other houses that their old steel windows are fine, that the wind and rain does not get through them and that they must be content to live with them.
The Minister had better consider this issue. I regularly go into houses and see, for example, newspapers stuffed between the brickwork and the steel windows, and the tenants tell me that the housing executive intends to take the old windows out, straighten them and put them back again. I can think of one area, Wilson avenue in Ballymena, where there has been almost civil commotion about the fact that the management will not renew the windows properly. The time has come for the Housing Executive to accept that a common standard should apply to all houses.
Matters of this kind cause great concern to tenants, especially when they have the upheaval of the Housing Executive moving in to do rehabilitation work. Hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies will appreciate the commotion that occurs when that happens, with people being forced to live in one bedroom. I visited a house recently in which all the floorboards had been taken up, with only two boards being left to enable the tenants to cross the floor to get to bed.
In other places, the Housing Executive moved the people out and made other provisions so that they could be outside while the work was being done. We have heard about the repair of flues. I have been in houses in my area when people have been called in to repair flues, and they have almost destroyed the whole house. I have seen the mess that they have made with soot and so on. The Housing Executive said, "We will not give you a new carpet even though the carpet has been destroyed." Suits of clothes hanging in wardrobes were completely destroyed, and then there was an argument about compensation. Housing Executive tenants must be dealt with humanely. There must be an opportunity for them to have their rights. Those matters have concerned hon. Members in our constituency work.
Why can the University Grants Committee back-up scheme, which is available in the rest of the United Kingdom, not be made available to Northern Ireland so that Northern Ireland students can benefit from it? Hon. Members will know that, apart from all the other troubles in Northern Ireland, basic matters concern the well-being and life of the community. They must have priority. The Government and the Northern Ireland Office must take those matters into account. It is impossible for the Minister to answer all the questions that have been raised tonight, but we would appreciate a written answer to those questions that he cannot answer tonight so that we can go back to our constituents and say, "This matter was raised in the House ; here is the answer," and then take it further.
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Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : My approach to the appropriations is similar to the approach that I would have taken if there had been time to call me in the debate on direct rule, although what I want to say now is different from what I would have said in that debate.
I see Socialism and democracy or aspects of Socialism and democracy as essential in resolving major problems faced by working people, whether they be Catholic, Protestant or of any other denomination or loyalty. Democratic and Socialist solutions seem to me to be appropriate. I see Socialism and democracy as interlinked concepts. Socialism without democracy becomes bureaucratic abuse. Democracy without Socialism, as we experience it throughout the United Kingdom, is shallow and inadequate. Just as devolved government with a Bill of Rights could allow the healthy development of non -sectarian politics in Northern Ireland, we need an economic and social transformation in Northern Ireland on Socialist and democratic terms, with the democratic and participative transformation of the economy, or at least we need to do what we can about nudging it in that important direction.
How can the Protestant and Irish working class co-operate and aid one another if they are expected to be passive recipients or victims of the economic process? If they are expected to be victims of a system that operates cut-throat enterprise activities and a cut-throat enterprise culture, those are not the conditions and circumstances in which the co- operation that is required in the Province can be nurtured and extended.
The voting patterns of hon. Members from Northern Ireland on the Government's enterprise culture initiatives is likely to prove instructive. It is something that in future we might look at closely in terms of debates concerning appropriations.
Let us look at the economic plight of Northern Ireland which these appropriations and Government policy do nothing to improve. Like Wales and the north-east of England, Northern Ireland is an area of industrial decline, shipbuilding and textiles being at the centre of the loss of its manufacturing base. Northern Ireland has shared little in the claimed recovery of the British economy, having a low GDP per head of the population. It is not seen by overseas investors and many others as an attractive area for capital location, and has little inward investment.
There was a rise of foreign investment in the 1960s, especially from the USA, with movements at a peak in the mid-1970s, with transnationals concentrated in mechanical engineering and textiles. Following the 1973 oil crisis, energy costs soared in the Province and areas such as artificial fibres went into terminal decline. Previous gains were often lost. In 1981, transnationals accounted for 23 per cent. of manufacturing jobs ; by 1983, that was down to 16 per cent.
Bombardier--a most unfortunately named firm to come to Northern Ireland--is being given Short Brothers, with Government funding, without appropriate public control of the equity that is being provided. Most of Northern Ireland's economic problems rest on a change of direction in the United Kingdom economy, and perhaps in the world economy, away from closures, contractions, mergers and movements of high finance and corporate
Column 580headquarters to the south of England, away from tax and benefit cuts which open up the inequality gap, and away from the enterprise culture.
Economically, socially and politically, Northern Ireland needs something like the popular planning models that are recommended in a publication by the Transport and General Workers Union, which calls for a regional development bank to co-ordinate investment and target funds, with local authorities drawing up structure plans in association with their communities and trade unions, conducting job audits of the impact of total public sector activity and identifying business opportunities. Local projects would be integrated into an overall strategy, supported by community education and training programmes, with roles for bodies such as trade union resource centres similar to the Belfast unemployment centres project under the EEC's anti-poverty programme.
Essential for such measures of economic democracy is a context of political democracy, a devolved government with a Bill of Rights giving some scope for socialist policies, and interests which require that conflicts of race, gender, religion, sectional interests and sectarianism are overcome. Economic and political aspects of Socialism and democracy are appropriate to handling the problems within Northern Ireland. Those are the principles that I would have propounded in the earlier debate, had time been available. I have given some indication of what economic and social advances can be made within the Province. I would associate them with similar political developments of a constitutional nature that are required. 10.14 pm
Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) : I apologise for the fact that I was not in the House for the beginning of the debate. I sat through the last debate without being called and I feel that I have an opportunity to say now some of the things that I had wished to say then.
Rather than deal with the specifics of the appropriations, I shall deal with the generalities and, to some extent, with our problems. Those problems are not caused by the lack of finance--I doubt if anyone taking part in the debate has complained that Northern Ireland is under-financed-- but by the fact that the administration of the affairs of the various departments in Northern Ireland leaves so much to be desired that the finance is to a large extent wasted. The reason for that is partly the direct rule system, which, when influenced by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, means that Ministers are constantly junketing around Northern Ireland, almost begging for approval from the populace for the way in which they administer the area.
Two Ministers are especially adept at that. The Ministers with responsibility for educational matters and for health and environmental matters are for ever junketing around the Province telling us about the money that they have found for this and for that project. However, what they are really doing is distributing in a belated manner money that has already been allocated to Northern Ireland. They are distributing that funding in a piecemeal fashion, and that makes it difficult for civil servants to plan ahead. Most hon. Members will know that last week the Public Accounts Committee suddenly found that the Northern