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Mr. Latham : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to raise the matter, but surely there are some conventions of the House that should be respected. An hon. Member came into the House shortly before the replies to the debate ; he made a speech about a specific point and did not bother to stay for the closing speeches, although they were beginning immediately afterwards. I think that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) should have been more courteous to the House.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : I had not noticed what happened, but I deprecate the fact that bad manners are shown in the Chamber. Common courtesies in terms of our parliamentary behaviour should be upheld at all times. I thank the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) for making the point. What he said, and my comments upon it, will be recorded in the Official Report.
Mr. Cryer : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a convention that as soon as documents are published they are open to debate in the House. The Leader of the House implied that somehow, when the Select Committee on Members' Interests published evidence about parliamentary lobbying, it should not have been subject to debate. Surely you will agree that that is entirely wrong, but it is now on the record.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was not saying that such documents should not as a matter of order be subject to debate in the House. I was merely saying that to introduce them in the casual selective way that they were introduced in the Adjournment debate was unconstructive.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Before I call the Minister of State, it might be helpful if I made it clear to the House that debate on the order may cover all matters for which Northern Ireland Departments, as distinct from the Northern Ireland Office, are responsible. Of course, hon. Members will appreciate that police and security are the principal excluded subjects.
That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1990, which was laid before this House on 16th May, be approved. This is the main appropriation order for the Northern Ireland estimates for this financial year. It authorises the expenditure of £2,496 million. That amount, when added to the £1,817 million voted on account for 1990-91 by the House on 12 March, gives a total voted cash provision for Northern Ireland Departments of £4,313 million for this financial year. There is other public expenditure not included in the vote, for example, expenditure by the Northern Ireland national insurance fund and capital expenditure by the Housing Executive, funded by borrowing from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. Therefore, the total public expenditure for the Departments amounts this year to £5,289 million.
The estimates booklet gives full details of the sums sought and is available as usual from the Vote Office. So is the commentary on public expenditure which describes it all in a less technical way. As you correctly reminded the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, the estimates for the Northern Ireland Office and for law and order services are not covered by the order. Of course, the House has other opportunities to debate law and order. Because of your strictures, I will just emphasise that the defeat of terrorism remains the Government's first public expenditure priority in Northern Ireland. But the economic and social programmes covered by the draft order are also of great importance to the well-being of the people of Northern Ireland and make a considerable contribution to the defeat of terrorism.
As to the detail of the estimates, I will start with the Department of Agriculture. The net provision sought in the two agricultural votes amounts to about £144 million. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), will reply to the debate, so I shall not dwell on the details of those votes.
Vote 1 covers expenditure of some £35 million on those national agricultural and fisheries support measures which apply throughout the United Kingdom. In addition to certain pre-funded market support schemes under the common agricultural policy, the vote includes nearly £20 million for capital and other grants to assist structural improvements, such as grants to farmers for a range of effluent treatment, conservation and improvement works. A further £15 million is to provide support for farming in the less-favoured areas, by means of headage payments on hill cattle and sheep.
Vote 2 seeks provision of about £108 million in respect of the regional agriculture, fisheries and forestry services and support measures. Although it is a small amount, I draw the attention of the House to a new item. A token provision in these estimates of £1,000 is being made to
Column 340open an account for payments to voluntary bodies engaged in activities designed to identify the needs of, and the means of assisting, deprived rural areas of Northern Ireland. Specifically, that will enable the work of the rural action project to continue pending the outcome of recommendations from the interdepartmental committee on rural development, established by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier this year. That is a new item that will grow to larger proportions in time.
The next group of votes covers the Department of Economic Development. Vote 1 covers the Industrial Development Board's support and regeneration. About £111 million is sought to enable the IDB to carry out its vital work of industrial development activities. Hon. Members will be aware of IDB's record and its number of recent successes in attracting good quality inward investments to the Province, including Fruit of the Loom, Harris Laboratories and Data Design Laboratories from the United States. Only yesterday the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), was able to announce another new project from Japan involving about 100 new jobs. We continue to attach a high priority to strengthening the Northern Ireland economy through such measures.
In vote 2 of the Department of Economic Development other economic support measures are provided, including about £143 million to provide assistance to the aircraft and shipbuilding industries. That is primarily related to the privatisation of Short Brothers and Harland and Wolff, which we have previously discussed. In addition, in vote 2 some £36 million is sought for the Local Enterprise Development Unit, Northern Ireland's small business agency. I had a lot to do with small businesses in my previous job and I am glad to say that that represents the highest-ever financial support for the agency and underlines the Government's commitment to helping small firms in Northern Ireland.
The House will be pleased to note that LEDU promoted 5,944 jobs in the last financial year, the highest in any year since it was established in 1971. That is a commendable performance. The resources sought will enable the agency to direct resources towards the development of established firms with growth potential and to encourage new enterprises.
Vote 3 of the Department of Economic Development covers expenditure by the new Training and Employment Agency--something of which I have also had experience on this side of the water. It has a budget of about £166 million, and undertakes a wide range of activities, including the youth training programme, the action for community employment scheme--the ACE scheme--the job training programme and the manpower training scheme.
The next group of estimates is for the Department of the Environment. Some £162 million is sought for vote 1, which covers roads, transport and ports. About £135 million of that is for the roads programme, the greater part of which is required to finance the operation and maintenance of the Province's road system. It also enables new construction and improvement works to be undertaken. A list of the major construction projects is contained in the estimates booklet. Preparatory work continues on the Belfast cross-harbour road and rail
Column 341bridges project, with a view to starting construction in 1991. There is also an extended programme of structural maintenance work across the Province.
DOE vote 2 covers the important sectors of housing, for which £185 million is required, mainly to provide finance to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and to the voluntary housing movement. When the net borrowing by the Housing Executive to fund its capital programme, to which I have already referred, is taken into account, the Government's net public expenditure allocation for housing will be £243 million in 1990-91. That is supplemented by rental income and capital receipts, which will mean that gross expenditure on housing should be more than £500 million.
In the DOE's vote 4, £34 million is included for urban regeneration measures. Those are aimed primarily at improving the economic health and environment of districts that have suffered urban dereliction. As in previous years, the sums sought are expected to generate much higher overall investment through the successful public-private partnerships that currently exist in the Province.
The three biggest votes in all the estimates are for education, health and social security. For education, a total of £997 million is sought, of which the schools sector, vote 1, accounts for about 60 per cent. The total is up by more than 10 per cent. The resources will ensure that schools and teachers are properly prepared and have the necessary facilities to implement the reforms in the period up to 1992-93.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : I understood the Minister to say that money would be available for the schools to meet the challenges in the reforms after 1992. One school in my constituency, Rathmore grammar school, has already had 180 grade 1 applicants and has been unable to take any of the grade 2 applicants. The trustees are seeking mobile classrooms. Will that be permissible so that they can meet the needs in that district?
Mr. Cope : I cannot answer questions about a particular school off the cuff, but a total of £83 million has been set aside for the reforms in the period up to 1992-93. Obviously, the education and library boards are involved in all such decisions, as well as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney).
Vote 1 also includes provision for salaries and the related costs of the 18,888 full-time equivalent teaching posts of the current year--a total of £384 million. That will maintain the planned overall pupil-teacher ratio at the present level of 18 : 3. There is also provision for lecturers in the institutes of further education, which will allow for about 30 additional lecturing posts from next September.
Expenditure by the five education and library boards will amount to £314 million in the current year, on the day-to-day operation of the education service in Northern Ireland. That is an increase of 9 per cent. over 1989-90, and includes special additions of £7 million for the maintenance of buildings and £3 million to improve standards of provision in the classroom. About £45 million is sought for education and library boards' capital provision.
Column 342In vote 2 of the Department of Education, £116 million is sought for expenditure on Northern Ireland's two universities, the Open university and teacher training. Vote 2 also provides for grants to the new youth council for Northern Ireland. That body has taken over the advisory role previously carried out by the youth committee, and is also responsible for assessing and paying grants to voluntary youth organisations.
The next set of votes relates to the Department of Health and Social Services. A total net provision of £940 million is sought for health and personal social services--partly in vote 1 and partly in vote 3. That is to maintain and improve the standard of the Province's health and personal social services. Much of it is for the expenditure of the health and social services boards, but £195 million is for the family practitioner services. Public expenditure on the health and personal social services programme in 1990-91 for the first time exceeds £1 billion in Northern Ireland.
The third of the very large blocks is social security. Vote 4 seeks £932 million for social security benefits--income support, housing benefit, payments into the social funds and family and
non-contributory benefits. In addition, and outside the estimates, more than £800 million is spent on contributory benefits from the Northern Ireland national insurance fund.
Towards the end of the estimates there is one other small but important item to which I draw the House's attention, because it is a new vote under the Department of Finance and Personnel which I have the honour to look after and assist. I refer to vote 3, in which £1.25 million is sought for community relations purposes. When expenditure by the Department of Education is taken into account, it is planned to spend about £4 million on community relations projects in 1990-91. That includes £1.5 million to encourage cross-community contact ; about £300,000 for the new community relations council, established in January to encourage and support those working to improve community relations ; about £600,000 for a new programme to encourage district councils to promote improved community relations ; and £1.4 million for the cultural traditions programme. The aim of improving community relations in Northern Ireland is shared by all and I hope that the House will be glad to see this new vote entering the estimates.
I have sought to draw the attention of the House only to some of the main provisions in the order ; hon. Members will want to raise specific points to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will do his best to respond at the end of the debate, or, if they are very detailed, thereafter in the usual way. Meanwhile, I commend the order to the House.
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South) : As is customary on these occasions, I thank the Minister for taking us so expeditiously through the order. He seems to improve every time he goes through the ritual and I certainly look forward to the next time he moves an appropriation order.
The Minister referred to the overriding importance of eliminating terrorism in the Province--a point that does not fall within the ambit of the order-- and that is certainly a shared objective. Irrespective of the expenditure required, we all agree that the money must be provided to eradicate terrorism from both communities in the Province. There is no difference between us on that topic.
Column 343It is of paramount importance ; the sooner we eliminate terrorism the greater will be the impact of the votes that we are discussing on the lives of ordinary people in Northern Ireland.
As the Minister also said, these votes are of real importance to the living standards of people in the Province. It is regrettable that terrorism-- inevitably--grabs the headlines so that attention is not focused on these votes, but it is they which make life tolerable and often better than it was before. It is unfortunate that they do not receive due attention from the press or the House.
It seems only a few weeks since we last discussed an appropriation order. Despite what the Minister said this time, I recall that it was a wide- ranging order admitting of debate on most aspects of economic and social life in the Province. I do not want to bore the House, but it is necessary to remind hon. Members of one or two points that I made in that last debate.
The Minister may recall that I questioned the Government's approach to industrial development and urged them to introduce a proper strategic plan for economic development. I also urged a concentration of investment in human capital through training, and drew attention to the underlying poor performance of the economy in Northern Ireland. I do not mean to detract from the efforts that the Government have made or from what success there has been, but compared with the rest of the United Kingdom and with some of our major competitors in the European Community, and despite the progress that has been made, the underlying economic performance of Northern Ireland is still relatively poor and a great deal still needs to be done.
My final point in this catalogue of reminiscence is that I recall criticising the Government's complacency on all the issues that I have just mentioned.
I found it a little strange today that the Minister did not draw attention to the recent publication by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland entitled, "Competing in the 1990s : The key to growth". It sets out much of the Government's strategy for the Province and it appears to incorporate some of the suggestions that I made in our last debate. That may be purely coincidental--or it may have been to do with the power of my arguments.
I do not want to criticise the objectives of the document, but by no stretch of the imagination could it be called a strategic plan for economic growth. I hope that I am not being over-generous when I call it both timid and short-sighted. The document gave the Government the opportunity to outline a comprehensive economic strategy for development, for which many people, including the Opposition, have been calling.
The game is given away on page 6, which states :
"This paper does not set out to be a comprehensive economic development strategy".
Why not? It is what the economy of Northern Ireland is calling out for.
The whole flavour of the report is that Government intervention is essentially bad and should take place only when it is unavoidable. I notice the Secretary of State shaking his head at that, but I do not know whether he is agreeing with the flavour of my remarks or with that of his document, which gives the impression that Government intervention should be tolerated only when there is no other possible line of action. The document also clearly shows that the Government will continue to intervene in
Column 344the economy only in the same grudging spirit that they have hitherto displayed. That augurs ill, as I have said on previous occasions, for the economy of Northern Ireland.
On the positive side, I certainly welcome the document's sectoral approach to investing in the economy. The Minister may recall that that was one of the points that I emphasised in our last debate--it is the way ahead. I also welcome the document's emphasis on training and investment in skills, but some of the Government's decisions in recent weeks and months will fundamentally undermine that approach to training.
The Government correctly place greater emphasis on the importance of a highly trained and motivated work force to economic recovery in Northern Ireland. Given the circumstances in the Province, it is right to stress the role of the youth training programme. To my mind and to the minds of many people in the Province, there are three fundamental concerns about the programme as it stands.
The first is a general concern about the arrangements for its funding, the second is the impact of the programme on further education, and the third is its impact on community workshops. The Minister of State will recall that the Government gave an undertaking that the levels of block funding would be based on last year's occupancy rates. The current figures show that there is a shortfall of £338,877 on the figure for last year. Will the Minister give an undertaking that it will be made good?
The correct and proper working of the system depends on the careers service assessing each young person leaving school to see what level of premium each is likely to attract. The evidence coming to me shows clearly that the careers service is either unable or unwilling to fulfil the role given to it by Government Departments in the Province. Inevitably, more of the training organisations are having to make the assessment and those that do not do so have to take on young people at the lowest level of premium. If that situation is seen to be widespread, I should like a commitment from the Government to look at the ability of the careers service to carry out the duty the Government have imposed upon it. If the Government conclude that the service cannot carry out that duty, the responsibility and the money that goes with it should be given to the training schemes. The Government will be aware that private companies setting up to provide training are one of the growth areas in the Province. I do not criticise that, but I should like to see the private companies made subject to the same scrutiny that the Department of Economic Development applies to community workshops. If a great deal of training is carried out by private companies, those companies must be subject to Government scrutiny. Perhaps the Minister will assure us that the Department of Economic Development will be given the power to do that.
Under the old system, colleges of further education provided free training for people on youth training schemes. That is to be changed, and any training that is received in further education colleges will have to be paid for. The Government have given an assurance that that will not have a great effect upon people employed in colleges of further education, and I accept such an assurance at face value. However, there is evidence that the education and library boards are already trawling for 165 voluntary redundancies. That may be incidental, but I think that it is a direct consequence of the imposition of the new training regime.
Column 345Such redundancies may be just the tip of the iceberg. If the managers of the training schemes become reluctant to buy expertise from the colleges of further education and decide to provide more training in-house, it will have a knock-on effect on employment in colleges of further education. I am not necessarily a defender of teachers or lecturers in colleges of further education or even in higher education establishments, even though I used to teach in a polytechnic.
Jobs are important, but perhaps even more important is the standard of training. If the in-house training is of a substantially lower standard than that which is available in the colleges of further education, it will affect the expertise that is imparted to young people and will undermine the regime for new training. I urge the Government to keep that matter under review.
The Government will know that when the changes relating to community workshops were first discussed they produced anger and dismay among those who work there. The people in the workshops launched a campaign and the Government were prepared to make some concessions. I have a letter dated 1 February 1990 from the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham). Speaking about modifications, the Minister said :
"There is three months advance funding payable on 2 April, guaranteed funding for one year amounting to 90 per cent. of each workshop's current overhead budget, and a substantial increase in premium levels 1 and 2. It is my intention that in the autumn"-- I think the Minister meant this autumn--
"my Department in co-operation with the Association of Community Workshops will organise a conference at which the community workshops network can give their views on the practicalities of the new arrangements."
The practicalities of the new scheme are already becoming abundantly clear. The number of workshops has fallen from 44 to 41 and those that have survived are in a parlous state. In many cases there is a severe shortage of money and that has forced an estimated 30 per cent. redundancy rate among the staff of community workshops. The workshops say that they claimed for the extra premium at the end of April on the basis of their April occupancy levels. They say that, despite assurances that the matter is being looked at by officials in the relevant Department, no additional payment has yet been made. I urge the Government to look into that and to do so urgently in view of the severe financial difficulties facing many workshops. The Minister's letter referred to a meeting that was to be arranged this autumn. I understand that the meeting had been arranged for October but that the workshops have been informed that that date is no longer available to the Minister. I am not quite sure what that means, but it has started alarm bells ringing in the minds of those involved in community workshops. I should like assurances that it does not show any lack of determination on the part of the Minister to meet the people and to make progress in solving their problems and that, if the meeting has been postponed, that is purely because of a conflict of diary entries. I also hope that the Minister will carry out as soon as possible his promise--his obligation--to meet the representatives of the community workshops.
There is a feeling, rightly or wrongly, among those who work in community workshops that the Government want
Column 346to see a reduction in their number, and are prepared to sit back and see community workshops go down one by one. I should like to hear the Minister's reply to that suggestion, and I should like him to reaffirm the Government's determination to support, and their commitment to, community workshop projects.
The estimates show an increase of 8.5 per cent. on the 1989-90 total gross provision for health. I know that Ministers delight in quoting that figure and, in their delight, imply that it will lead to great improvements in the Health Service in the Province. Our view, like that of most professionals in Northern Ireland, is that this increase is nowhere near big enough to meet existing unmet demand. The reality of the Health Service in Northern Ireland is more ward closures and longer waiting lists. At the Belfast City hospital, the waiting list is 112 per cent. higher than it was last year, and at the Ulster hospital it is 50 per cent. higher than it was last year. In addition, the determination to proceed with rapid privatisation of certain aspects of the Health Service is proving an unmitigated disaster leading in many cases to dirty kitchens and unwashed linen. There has also been a massive increase in the number of unplanned hospital discharges because of the pressure on beds. Apart from the distress this causes, it is inefficient because these patients inevitably have to be readmitted. Rather than taking undue pleasure in the 8.5 per cent. increase in the health vote this year, the Government should be saying that, while this is a step in the right direction, greater financial resources will be provided, to make a real impact on health provision in the Province.
I have spent some time talking about the economy of Northern Ireland and the need for further action to increase economic growth. One growth area in the economy of Northern Ireland is in the consultancy studies being carried out into energy requirements and the future of the energy industry in the Province. In 1989-90, £391, 000 was spent on the consultancy fees for such studies, but next year that will increase to £1,301,000--an increase of two and a half times. There we have an example of a growth industry. We must ask ourselves what kind of information and what kind of answers these studies will produce. I hope--I gather that this is likely to be a fruitless hope--that these studies will emphasise that the main problems in energy are generation and distribution rather than privatisation. I understand that this year Northern Ireland Electricity is likely to make a profit of £50 million. I hope that that will be invested in improving the generation and distribution of energy rather than used to fatten up the cow for privatisation in the next 18 months or two years. There is an urgent need for the replacement of old switchgear, particularly in Belfast. I recognise that it cannot be done overnight and that even that £50 million will not be sufficient to pay for the replacement scheme. However, Ministers should be emphasising to the chairman and the members of the board, and the managing director, that, whereas in the Province switchgear is replaced in a cycle of 50 to 60 years, in the rest of the United Kingdom it is replaced in a cycle of 20 or 30 years. We should be encouraging a change to the shorter cycle.
We know that the capacity generated by the power stations in Belfast and Derry will cease in the next 10 years. This was a subject that came up at the last Northern
Column 347Ireland questions. To replace that capacity, the Government have decided to go for Kilroot 2 and the interconnector between the Province and Scotland.
I hope that Ministers will give us more information about this. At the last Northern Ireland questions, the Under-Secretary gave me an assurance on this, but I repeat the appeal that I made to him : will the Government publish their analysis of the energy requirements for the Province so that an informed discussion can take place before final decisions are taken? The Opposition are not convinced that the best configuration for the supply of electricity for the Province is the completion of Kilroot 2--although we support completion of that facility--and the interconnector between the Province and Scotland. My last point is on one of my old hobby horses-- lignite, the one indigenous pure fuel resource in the Province. It is regrettable that it is not likely to be exploited in the foreseeable future. I would find it regrettable if the exploitation of lignite was sacrificed on the altar of short-term expediency.
I understand that a consortium in Northern Ireland is seeking to obtain private capital to finance a lignite-burning station. Has the consortium approached Government Departments in the Province? If approaches have been made, what has been the response of Ministers? If it is considered feasible to build a lignite-burning power station in the near future, it would be regrettable if the project were to be abandoned purely because of the decision to which the Government may have come over Kilroot 2 and the interconnector between the Province and the United Kingdom.
Rev. Martin Smyth : The hon. Gentleman referred to sacrificing the exploitation of lignite on the altar of short-term expediency. Does he agree that it would be wrong if the environment of Northern Ireland were sacrified for a quick profit for the producers of power through the burning of lignite, especially when we consider the devastation of parts of eastern Europe?
Mr. Marshall : Of course. I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why I asked for the publication of the information that is in the Government's possession. The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the problems with coal-burning power stations is sulphur emissions. I want to know if the possible expenditure of £200 million has been included in the figures that are available to the Government. That would be the sum required to provide scrubbers for the elimination of sufficient sulphur from existing power stations in the Province. Until all the information, including all the figures, is available, none of us will be able to make any definitive statements or reach any conclusions on the methods used to generate electricity in the Province.
I am sorry to have detained the House for so long. My speech would have been two minutes shorter had it not been for an intervention. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and Northern Ireland Ministers will be pleased to know that, as is customary on these occasions, it is not our intention to divide the House on this latest anniversary of the appropriation order debate.
Column 348contribute to the debate this evening than on a previous occasion. In other words, I am pleased to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble).
On 14 October 1971, the Payments of Debt (Emergency Provisions) Act (Northern Ireland) became law in Northern Ireland. It was a response to the rent and rate strike and a special procedure to circumvent the strike. It enabled deductions to be made from benefit payments for debt, even without the debtor's permission. During the consideration of the measure before it became an Act it was clearly stated that the sooner the rent and rate strike ended, the sooner the Act would lapse. That was in 1971, and it is now 1990. However, the emergency measure is still in existence. Even today, tenants who have their houses disrupted by repairs or improvements are refused redecoration grants because they are in rent arrears. In other words, workmen disrupt an entire house and the tenant is unable to redecorate because the Northern Ireland Housing Executive holds on to the money that would have been made available in the form of a redecoration grant because of the tenant's arrears.
Electricity consumers who have cleared their arrears still have deductions made from their benefit payments because the accounts department, or the Housing Executive, fails to cancel the original order at the Department of Social Security. Today, almost 20 years after the Act took its place on the statute book, direct deductions are still being made from wages and benefit payments. The Housing Executive continues to withhold redecoration grants. Even court claims are withheld so that ordinary civil debt can be cleared. No attempt is made to investigate the needs or circumstances of those concerned. The Act makes no provision for the examination of personal financial circumstances. Nor does it provide a formal right of appeal against the level of deductions from income or benefit.
I repeat that in May 1990, almost 20 years on, the Act remains in force, even though the emergency which prompted its enactment has long since passed. Anyone who reads the debates on the measure before its enactment will agree that it was never intended to be used for ordinary civil debt. The Secretary of State should repeal the Act as soon as possible and restore a little dignity to the lives of those who are forced through circumstances to get into unwanted debt. I have been encouraged lately by the efforts being made by the Department of the Environment to improve living conditions and the general condition of the countryside in Northern Ireland. There is a seemingly small but increasingly frustrating problem of untended grassed areas. Unfortunately, the planners or designers of estates require builders, especially private builders, to leave a certain space for grassed areas, or for trees, bushes and shrubs. These areas become a wilderness because no one seems to be responsible for them. Those who pay £40,000 or £60,000 for their homes find that outside their door there is an area which ultimately becomes a dump because no one will take responsibility. The local council will say that it is not its responsibility and that it is not required to look after those pieces of ground. The Department of the Environment seems to have no responsibility because these areas are left by private builders. The planning department will say that it required the builder to leave the open space within the estate, but that it is not responsible for keeping
Column 349it in good order. Anyone who becomes involved in such an issue finds himself going round the various authorities in a circle. With our interest in the environment, surely some method could be devised whereby the local council is given sufficient funds to keep grassed areas in good order. I believe that the Minister responsible for these matters should give careful attention to such a scheme. Public representatives are frustrated because they seem powerless and unable to get anything done. Those who live on the estates are similarly frustrated.
A problem of the past, which seemed to disappear, is now rearing its head again for various reasons. It arises when a developer does not make up the road to the required standard to be taken over by the Department of the Environment. People may be living in homes for three years with an artificial lake outside the door where there is supposed to be a road. When the Department is approached it says that it is very concerned and has a bond which it will use. Unfortunately, bringing the bond into operation seems to be such an unwieldy process and seems to take so long that everyone gets frustrated. I understand that if the builder comes along after being threatened with the bond and puts in two or three kerb stones, the Department will not use the bond. That is a terrible loophole. Will the Minister get the Department to study the problem and tighten up the rules so the object of the exercise, the bond, can be a means of taking action quickly if the builder does not fulfil his obligations?
Another problem, which may seem minor in this honourable place, is the Housing Executive's reaction to broken windows. In certain areas recently windows have been broken by vandals--or perhaps I should use the term "thugs". I know of homes in which all the windows have been broken by thugs, for whatever reason. If tenants go along to the Housing Executive and say that they have had all their windows broken by a crowd of people who they do not know, the Housing Executive will say that it is nothing to do with the Housing Executive because of the agreement with the tenant which means that the tenant has to put in new windows. If the tenant goes to the police, they will say that it is a matter for the Housing Executive- -obviously, the police cannot replace broken windows. Such vandalism is bad and the Housing Executive or the Department of the Environment should consider whether they can help the people affected and perhaps transfer them to other areas.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : Is my hon. Friend aware that tenants on some estates have had their homes repeatedly damaged month after month? Many are pensioners and have been transferred to new accommodation only to go through the same experience again, and they cannot afford to replace windows. The problem must be addressed as a matter of urgency by the Housing Executive and the Minister must approve changes to meet their needs.
Mr. Forsythe : I completely agree with my hon. Friend as this is a serious problem in some areas. On rare occasions, people are helped. It is bad enough having all the windows broken and being threatened without having
Column 350the further problem of not being able to find the money to put in new windows or to have them boarded up. The problem must be considered as quickly as possible.
Perhaps the Minister is as disappointed as I am at the delay in the Slaght crossing inquiry. I am well aware of the legalities of the situation and that there may be good reasons why the inquiry has not got off the ground as soon as we should have liked--indeed, I know there are good reasons. However, there was an accident at the crossing and there are a number of similar crossings in Northern Ireland with a history of accidents. Unfortunately, the general public are still unaware of what happened. I have met the inspector of the inquiry--a sensible and responsible person who takes a serious view of the matter and has made great efforts to do whatever is necessary--but we still do not know what happened. People are very anxious about the matter and many people now take much greater care at such crossings.
Video cameras were installed at three open crossings in the Province. I understand that the cameras were installed to monitor the performance of, or conduct at, the crossings. I have two questions for the Minister. First, were the cameras installed because of fears about what was happening at those or at other crossings? Secondly, is there a video recording from each of those cameras which could be used to show what happened, or are the cameras monitored visually every day, without a recording being taken? I hope that the Minister will give an explanation.
I have asked the Department whether any fully automatic or half-automatic barriers had been changed to open crossings in the past few years. I understand from answers given to me that no crossing had been changed in such a way, but I understand from other information--albeit not official-- that two crossings were changed from either full or half-automatic barriers to open crossings. Will the Minister tell me officially in the House whether that is so? I am pleased at the great improvement in the international airport in Belfast. The airport is of a high standard and we look forward to the standard being higher, but I have one niggle of concern --that the airport is being fattened up, to use the expression used earlier by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), for privatisation. I am interested to know who will be involved in such a privatisation. We have a say about it in this House, but if the airport is privatised we may not be able to influence the running of the airport in quite the same way.
As for the Department of Finance and Personnel--vote 1, A11--we read on page 147, dealing with the international fund, that
"This subhead covers the administrative costs of the Fund." They amount to £343,000. The running costs come to £248,000. Grant in aid amounts to £93,000. I ask the Minister to spell out what it costs the United Kingdom taxpayer to administer the international fund.
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) about community workshops. I am fortunate to have a splendid community workshop at Bangor in my constituency. The staff are enthusiastic. When I visited it I was greatly impressed by those who had enrolled. My experience of that community workshop leads me to
Column 351believe that encouragement and help must be given to similar workshops. I should deprecate any attempt by the Government to reduce the number of community workshops in Northern Ireland.
I echo what was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) about Belfast airport. The travelling public are treated disgracefully, particularly by British Airways. It treats its passengers like cattle at the London end. That is unacceptable. It is high time that proper services were provided at Heathrow so that passengers could walk straight on to aircraft. There should be no more excuses when delays occur because there are no back-up aircraft.
I, too, welcome the new Member of Parliament for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I remember the last occasion when I had a long talk with Harold McCusker, his predecessor. On that occasion he came to have dinner with me in my home. I shall always remember his great courage and spirit, despite his illness. If the new Member of Parliament for Upper Bann carries on the tradition that was followed by Harold McCusker in this House, he will do well by his constituents. The first speech that I made in the Chamber was a passionate plea on behalf of the elderly. I believed then, as I believe now, that our senior citizens, after long years of work either in the home or in factories, shops or offices, have earned the right to dignity and comfort at the end of their lives. What I said then is true today : those who have reached retirement age ask for certain basic rights, such as an adequate pension. I made that point when I last spoke in an appropriation order debate. National resources should be provided so that people who can no longer cope in their own homes can be cared for properly.
Most elderly people prefer to stay in their own homes. That is often possible only if they are provided with domiciliary help. If that is impossible, they have to seek sanctuary in residential or nursing homes, which should be supervised and inspected regularly if we are to ensure that the elderly are treated properly and with compassion.
Many years ago I drew attention in an Adjournment debate to the plight of those who look after an elderly or sick father or mother. It is usually the daughter who forfeits the prospect of marriage to devote herself completely to the constant daily care of a parent. At that time such total dedication went unrecognised and unrewarded by the state, even though vast sums of public money were saved because those elderly people did not have to be taken into care.
A recent survey published by Crossroads, a worthy organisation that deserves the respect of the community, emphasised that half the 6 million people in the United Kingdom who look after elderly relatives at home are at breaking point. It confirms that many carers who have given up work to look after frail parents feel like prisoners in their own homes. It is a physically demanding and stressful task that in many cases isolates the carers from the outside world. Those people--who, as I have said, are usually daughters--can lose contact with friends and acquaintances and the organisations to which they formerly belonged. Because of their total commitment to their elderly father or mother, they become thoroughly demoralised and worn out. What undermines their great spirit, which we all recognise, is the lack of recognition of their dedication and the Government's failure to provide adequate support for them.
Column 352Residential care for the elderly in the United Kingdom costs about £1 billion annually--a considerable sum of money. Such a staggering sum makes it imperative to encourage, wherever possible, the care of the elderly in their own homes. However, the carers, many of whom give up their jobs and marriage prospects, must be paid properly for looking after an elderly father or mother, or a sick or handicapped relative.
I refer also to the treatment of pensioners. Since the changes to the social security regulations, pensioners who formerly were in receipt of supplementary benefit now find that, because of the slight increase in their pension, they no longer qualify for rent or rate rebates. That has put an additional burden on many pensioners. I have raised with the appropriate authorities the fact that many pensioners have to pay the full television licence fee. Pensioners who live in warden-controlled accommodation benefit from paying only a nominal television licence fee, whereas pensioners who do not live in such accommodation have to pay the full fee. That anomaly has been made worse. Pensioners who move into accommodation where residents benefit from the concession are forced to pay the full licence fee. It is wrong that we should treat our senior citizens in that way. Pensioners living alone or with another pensioner should have the benefit of free television. It is their window on to the world ; it provides them with entertainment and, above all, it gives them companionship. It is high time that the Government recognised that justice should be done and that pensioners should be allowed to watch television without having to pay a single penny.
I am concerned about the proposed privatisation of electricity. I have already warned the Government to keep their hands off our electricity--the electricity of the people of Northern Ireland. It would be wrong to put it into private hands as that would create a monopoly. Northern Ireland is not the same as the rest of the United Kingdom where there are several electricity suppliers. Here in England there is a supply of natural gas which has been denied to the people of Northern Ireland. Even now, perhaps with the prompting of the Common Market, the Government should provide a gas pipeline to the island of Ireland. Perhaps such a pipeline should run from the Morecambe fields to the territory of Northern Ireland and gas could then be supplied to the Irish Republic.
It would be completely wrong to sell Northern Ireland's electricity supply industry as Northern Ireland already suffers from expensive coal. The price has recently been increased by 50p a bag, or £10 a tonne, which represents an unacceptable increase compared with the price charged in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is high time that we had an investigation into the cost of living in Northern Ireland which is higher than it is in most parts of Britain.
The Government are very strong on pollution. In the past year or two they have become very green and have dedicated themselves to improving the environment. But it is no use just talking about improving the environment ; we want action. Quite apart from places such as Antarctica where international action is needed to turn the territory into a world park and save it from speculators and polluters, the Government need to ensure that raw sewage is not dumped into Belfast lough and is not dumped off the coast of North Down. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) would agree that the sewage from Belfast should not be dumped into the sea and washed up on to the coast by the tides or the