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Column 369employment, there are job introduction schemes and capital grant schemes for adaptations to premises and equipment. However, that grant has been reduced by £90,000. Something is radically wrong if cuts have been made in the employment grant schemes for the disabled. This is the time to expand, not to cut, those grants.
Under vote 5, which covers expenditure by the Department of Economic Development, I must enter a plea on behalf of both industrial and private users of electricity. I trust that the Department will stop fattening the goose for privatisation. The Province can do without the privatisation of the electricity industry, bearing in mind the higher living costs in the Province. That is one privatisation which the Government can do without, and I trust that the Minister will take note of that.
I find the expenditure on assistance to the gas industry under vote 5 rather strange. Rather than trying to assist the gas industry it appears that the Government are trying to bury it, or, as the hon. Member for South Down would probably say, give the gas industry the last rites. At this late stage, will the Government change course and ensure that the proposed gas pipeline between Great Britain and the island of Ireland is routed to a location in Northern Ireland? Surely it is essential that the British people of Northern Ireland should share the national asset of natural gas. I am sure that the Minister understands that the people of Northern Ireland feel that the Government have let them down. I trust that the Government will bear that in mind and take some action.
I have to draw to the Minister's attention some issues involving the vote on the Department of the Environment that concern certainly my constituents and, I am sure, the constituents of other hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. I note that the all-party House of Commons Environment Committee is probing conservation in the Province. I welcome the visit and the investigation by the Committee, and I trust that it will do all in its power to preserve the countryside.
However, I must draw the Minister's attention to a matter of grave concern to my constituents in Mid-Ulster--the Rio Tinto Zinc operation outside Omagh in County Tyrone. A motion will be tabled in the House and I trust that it will be signed by right hon. and hon. Members concerning the environmental and social implications of that multinational gold rush in Cavanacaw, Omagh, County Tyrone. It is disgusting that a large trench has been dug in the countryside, of which my constituents gave me some photographs yesterday. I believe that the operation has continued for a year without a licence and that the Government have now granted the company restrospective planning permission.
Are the Government giving the company an unofficial nod and wink? Are they not genuinely concerned about the environmental and social implications? That huge trench has been dug only 140 m from human habitation, necessitating the removal of 40,000 tonnes of farmland. All members of the local district council representing the wide spectrum of political parties within that council have been unanimous in expressing their opposition to the project. Will the Minister ensure that the truth about the project is known, that the company does not get the land by
Column 370deception or on false pretences and that the pollution that concerns many people in the area will cause the Department to intervene as a matter of urgency?
What knowledge does the Minister have? The operation is on the verge of a scenic wildlife preserve. It is disgusting that the Government have given the company a nod and a wink and then, after a long delay, have granted retrospective planning permission that would never have been achieved had the company approached it in the proper way. However, the company went ahead. It seems to pay to railroad proposals through against the will of the people and their elected representatives.
I asked the Minister to clarify the matter. If he has no particular knowledge of the operation, I trust that he will look into it. If he goes to Cavanacaw, he will be able to look into it, as it is certainly big enough. He will have to stand to one side, or he will drop into it. Seriously, it is causing great concern and I trust that the Minister will bear that in mind.
Under the Department of Education vote, will the Minister confirm that the budget allocated for nursery school places is sufficient to meet the needs of the community? What proportion of the child population is receiving nursery education? What representation has the Department received on this matter, and what response has been forthcoming to meet the concerns that have been expressed by parents in the Province?
Will the Minister comment on the evidence given to a conference yesterday that repair and maintenance bills for Ulster schools will eat up the bulk of Government cash earmarked for education reform? That has caused much consternation within the education fraternity. There have been recent press reports of school closures. I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. Member for South Down on this issue. Whether it be the maintained school or the controlled school, there is much concern in the rural community that the promises of curriculum support for rural schools will not be kept.
Home help services have caused much concern to my constituents. The pensions given to our pensioners are inadequate, given the higher cost of energy and food in the Province. They are on a meagre pension. It is disgraceful that they are left to live on the breadline, bearing in mind that many of them grafted hard to build the Province into the industrious place that it is.
Will the Minister give a categoric assurance that the citizens of the United Kingdom, particularly of Northern Ireland, are not suffering because of the financial burden of the sight test? I should be interested to hear what he has to say about that.
I am delighted to have had the opportunity of raising these matters, which concern our constituents, under this wide appropriation order. I trust that the Minister will give us some pleasure with answers that will at least bring a little enjoyment to our constituents. 10.3 pm
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : Right hon. and hon. Members are aware that all the elected representatives of constitutional parties in Northern Ireland reject the Order in Council procedure. It is a most unsatisfactory and increasingly unacceptable method of dealing with Northern Ireland business.
I am delighted to welcome my Ulster Unionist colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann
Column 371(Mr. Trimble). I congratulate him on the content and presentation of his maiden speech and join him in paying tribute to his loyal and courageous predecessor. I wish my hon. Friend every joy and satisfaction in a worthwhile parliamentary career. He enjoys the support of the majority of his constituents, having gained 59 per cent. --20,547--of the votes cast. The Conservative challenger polled less than 3 per cent. and received only 1,038 votes. The Alliance candidate was almost wiped out. Votes for that party fell from the 1987 election level by 1,439 to a 948 low. The Right to Vote Labour candidate polled 235 votes and the SDP candidate received 154. All the mainstream mainland parties lost their deposits along with other parties.
The two other Unionist candidates received more votes than the Conservative party, the Labour party and the SDP. Surely that is a clear message. As has already been said, it was a total rejection of the policies imposed on the Northern Ireland electorate. I make those observations to emphasise the solid support of the Northern Ireland electorate for candidates who are entirely opposed to the Anglo-Irish diktat and the Order in Council procedure.
As a matter of urgency, there should be a determined effort to establish proper procedures for dealing with Northern Ireland business at Westminster, and such procedures should largely replace Orders in Council. At the same time, establishing democratic institutions in Northern Ireland and giving the elected representatives of constitutional parties there increased responsibility would show that the enthusiasm for democracy expressed openly in the House in welcoming the replacement of communist regimes in eastern Europe is also applied to restoring democratic rights and equality of treatment within the United Kingdom for British citizens in Northern Ireland. Will our Government and the Opposition recognise the repeatedly expressed wishes of Northern Ireland Members for an end to Order in Council procedures and to many Northern Ireland Office policies?
I refer briefly to votes 1 and 2 for the Department of Agriculture. I welcome the continuing support for the marketing, production and processing of agricultural products. Northern Ireland farming families, the industry and the Department of Agriculture have worked steadily over the years to produce high quality food products that meet the ever-higher standards demanded by consumers. Will the Secretary of State and his other Ministers continue robustly to defend the meat industry and the health status of our livestock produce against the unscientific speculation that has caused unwarranted anxiety here in Great Britain? Will he reassure consumers that Northern Ireland food products are safe and that the Department of Agriculture scientific and veterinary service is adequately resourced to ensure consumer safety? Does the Minister agree with Dr. Verner Wheelock of the food policy studies unit at Bradford university, who was reported in the Belfast Telegraph as saying : "The way in which the authorities in England are reacting in taking British beef off the menu for fear of BSE is quite stupid"? Many hon. Members on both sides of the House would probably concur with that statement.
Will the sums voted in the order be adequate to cover costs that might be incurred if emergency measures become necessary to cope with exports lost temporarily as
Column 372a result of scaremongering? Has the Department of Agriculture yet offered help to the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association and to meat plants?
With reference to votes 1, 2 and 3 for the Department of Economic Development, I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) in concluding negotiations with the Japanese company, Ryobi Ltd., which will eventually provide about 100 jobs in Carrickfergus in my constituency. I share the concern that has been expressed by other hon. Members about the scarcity of jobs and job creation schemes and their feeling of loss when new opportunities are located elsewhere. If we face that problem jointly and encourage more investment to Northern Ireland, we hope that in the near, rather than in the distant future, it will be possible for areas that are not benefiting at present to achieve a fairer share of inward investment. As the constituency Member of Parliament, I am delighted to welcome that Japanese company to Northern Ireland. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the excellent industrial relations record of responsible trade unionists, and the availability of a highly educated, trained, skilled, industrious and versatile work force, backed by the support of the Industrial Development Board, will, together with an outstanding environment, and any number of attractive locations from which a company can choose to locate, continue to make Northern Ireland attractive to other overseas investors.
I am sure that the Minister will also agree that, although grants help to attract and encourage inward investment, many of those who take the decision on where to locate do so for other reasons. Grant considerations come later. Again, I pay tribute to the enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North who went an extra mile to give support to that new inward investment.
I ask the Minister to take a closer look at the provision of management training in Northern Ireland with a view not only to raising the standard of our management expertise, but to providing increased opportunities and a greater number of places on management training courses. As we get new investment, we shall need more and more management expertise.
I sincerely support the aims and objectives set out in the framework document for the Training and Employment Agency. I know that other hon. Members from Northern Ireland will be watching its progress carefully. We hope that that body will be successful in helping to ensure that employees in Northern Ireland have an attractive range of skills and expertise that will enable them to benefit from new employment opportunities.
Vote 3 relates to the community workshops. Unlike the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), who referred to the problems experienced by community workshops, I shall be direct and simply ask the Minister to tell us the Government's long-term policy towards them. is there a timetabling target for reducing those schemes? It is thought in some quarters that the assurances and guarantees given by the Minister are not being honoured in the same spirit by officials, who have diluted them.
How many of those workshop schemes have already been forced to close because they cannot operate under the new funding arrangements? Will the Minister assure the House that adequate support is available on request to assist workshop providers to manage the limited resources
Column 373allocated to them, and endeavour to ensure that payments for claims submitted from the workshops are speeded up as much as possible? The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) referred to the provision for the disabled in the same vote. In my experience, disabled people want to help themselves, and we have a duty to provide the resources to enable them to do so. With more funding, more could be done.
Let me again register a protest about the fact that consumers in Northern Ireland are being denied choice in the type of energy that they wish to use. They are also being denied access to cheaper natural gas. It is not good enough to blame past records of gas used ; the gas produced in Northern Ireland has always been too expensive. Consumers in Northern Ireland should be given real choice and access to a natural gas supply. I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to making choice available, and to seek EC funding to provide a cross-channel link to Northern Ireland from the British gas grid. Can he tell us whether the words
"assistance to the gas industry"
--in vote 5--would permit an assessment of the cost of a pipeline to Northern Ireland from Morecambe bay or the Scottish coast to be carried out?
Teachers in all schools find that the administrative demands arising from the education reform programme are impinging on their teaching time. For most conscientious Northern Ireland teachers, it also impinges on their out -of-school time. Can the Minister, at the earliest opportunity, consider further reducing pupil-teacher ratios in Northern Ireland, and making available more discretionary posts to area boards for distribution to schools where a need for extra part-time support has been identified? Can he also give an assurance that curriculum demands arising from the reform programme will not force the closure of all small schools serving isolated rural areas, and that the Department of Education and Science will make every effort to retain viable education in our rural areas?
Many parents are annoyed that in the current transfer procedure their children are unable to obtain places in the school of the parents' first choice. Parents in the Craigavon area claim that they have no real choice. The Minister should consider closely the validity of that claim made by people who feel aggrieved. I should also appreciate it if the Minister would tell us what arrangements there are to permit parents who are dissatisfied with the outcome of the transfer procedure to appeal.
I record my support for the case made by the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) for improved pollution control and an end to the dumping of sewage off our seaboard. It is absolutely disgraceful that the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland has still not made provisions in my constituency and others to end the practice of disposing of raw sewage into the sea. My constituents make no distinction between untreated sewage and chopped-up sewage. They do not want it dumped in the coastal area and the rich fish harvest damaged or contaminated in any way. I trust that steps will be taken to help us to improve further the tourist attractiveness of the area, which is already deemed to be
Column 374one of outstanding natural beauty, by ensuring that proper sewage farms are in place and that our coastal waters and beaches are free from pollution.
Ministers responsible for the environment and economic development should also get together as quickly as possible to discuss how to solve the blight and the eyesore created by the limestone works in Glenarm village. That village is deemed to be worthy of conservation, but it and the surrounding area have been contaminated and polluted by limestone dust. I sincerely believe that the company is prepared to bear its share of the cost of relocation. It would greatly enhance our attractive Antrim coast road if those works were relocated. Before we next meet to discuss an appropriation order, I trust that positive steps on some of those issues will have been taken. 10.22 pm
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) : Before I comment on the draft appropriation order, I join others in welcoming to our Chamber the new hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). I do so not for the sake of convention, but because I genuinely welcome him here. The hon. Gentleman and I have known one another for many years. In the past 20 years we have served on many committees and spoken together on many platforms. Those of us who heard his fine excellent maiden speech will recognise that he will bring a considerable knowledge of the law not only to his party but to others and that that will aid deliberations in this Chamber. He has brought commitment, ability and conviction on Unionist principles to an area which had a tremendous constituency Member.
Having fought the by-election, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the high regard that the constituents of Upper Bann had for the former Member. He will know, therefore, that he inherits a constituency which has been well looked after and that he also inherits a mission. It was the dying wish of his predecessor that the Anglo-Irish Agreement should be destroyed and that an acceptable alternative should replace it. The hon. Member for Upper Bann will willingly lift up that torch and fight the same cause for his constituents.
The hon. Gentleman has our best wishes as he commences his parliamentary career. I agree with so many of his remarks that it is impossible to go over each one, but I noticed how carefully he chose the terminology of representative institutions. The Province is so bereft of democratic structures at any level that it is clear that more responsibility needs to be put into the hands of locally elected representatives. The hon. Gentleman will have seen from his short experience of the House the exceptional way in which Northern Ireland is dealt with. He referred to a planning instrument, which I will deal with later, setting up an entirely different procedure for Northern Ireland from that for other parts of the United Kingdom. Having heard his colleague the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) talking about grass cutting in his constituency and about broken windows in public sector housing, he should not feel in the least embarrassed in following his hon. Friend down that road, for this is one of the few opportunities that we have to raise those nitty-gritty, bread-and-butter issues in the House. No one in any other chamber has an opportunity to raise them.
The debate may not lend itself to cramming the House full of interested listeners, as happens at Question Time. I,
Column 375too, wish that the Tory Whips, when planting questions, would at least ensure that hon. Members can read the questions properly, instead of muffing them, as happened recently. We are happy to see Members from other parts of the United Kingdom taking a genuine interest in Northern Ireland issues--we just wish that they would spread their interest more evenly over the deliberations on Northern Ireland.
On the appropriation order it is usually best to make most of one's remarks on the subject matter which is the responsibility of the Minister who is to reply to the debate. One has a better chance of getting answers because he does not have to consult other Ministers, and one does not get the standard reply. "My colleague will write to you." The Minister should know the answers to all the questions. As a member of East Belfast conservative association, the Minister will want to do everything possible to assist the people of East Belfast. If he does not, I will tell them that the Conservative party will do nothing for them. If he does something, however, I will tell the people of East Belfast that I have done something for them, too, so he cannot win either way.
Vote 2, expenditure by the Department of the Environment on housing services, comes under the Minister's environment portfolio. I want to talk about one housing estate, Mertoun Park, which is on the boundary between my constituency and that of the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) and on the periphery of the city of Belfast. The residents of that housing estate, which was built six or seven years ago and consists of about 106 houses, feel that they have been forgotten. The houses are good, but the estate is deplorably designed. It is so badly designed that the in-house architects for the Housing Executive refer to it as an experiment that went wrong. The residents can confirm that the design has led to a series of problems which are part of their day-to-day lives and require special attention from the Housing Executive.
The design is such that the houses surround small courts. In a space little greater than that between the Benches in front of me is a playground for 50 or 60 children. By any modern standards, that would be insufficent for the layout of Housing Executive estates. The children have no alternative play area other than the road, which has not been properly adopted--or if it has, it was adopted only in the past few days or weeks--six or seven years after the housing estate was built. I urge the Minister to provide the Housing Executive with the finance necessary to provide adequate play facilities for that area because the Housing Executive owns the field adjacent to Mertoun Park.
If it was not bad enough that the residents have all those housing difficulties in relation to design features, they happen to be opposte Kinnegar Army base, which provides them with another problem. The helicopters from the Army base fly low directly overhead. The net result is that the houses shake, their windows rattle and people looking out often wonder whether the helicopters will manage to clear the houses and the trees around the estate. In other districts, grants have been made available for double glazing and it is clearly essential that that should be done in this case.
Mr. Kilfedder : The hon. Gentleman is referring to a matter that is in my constituency of North Down. I have already pursued the issue a number of times with the Ministry of Defence and asked about getting money to
Column 376provide double glazing for residents in the Holywood area of my constituency. I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's support. He may rest assured, as may the residents, that I have not given up the battle.
Mr. Robinson : I am grateful for those comments. If the hon. Gentleman refers to the electoral register, he will see that Mertoun Park is split between our two constituencies. He is right that a small part of the estate is in his constituency, and a larger part is in mine. Together we can happily join forces in urging the Minister to take prompt action to deal with a district which, sadly, has been so badly neglected by the Housing Executive and where residents are under so much strain because of the Army camp nearby.
The residents in no way want to make it difficult for the Army operations to continue. They simply want to enjoy the facilities granted to the residents of other Housing Executive estates affected by noise pollution. I trust that the Minister will do something to alleviate that problem.
I wish to refer to an issue that I have raised with Northern Ireland Ministers over the past four years--for that is the length of time that people living in the Bloomfield area have suffered a blight which affects house sales, the quality of life, and the environment. There is a large area known locally as the Sunblest bakery site. After the bakery was burnt down, rubble remained there and the residents have had to live with the consequences, including bricks being thrown through their windows, young people gathering and making bonfires, and all the other nuisances associated with an abandoned site.
The Northern Ireland Office decided to permit two housing associations to purchase the site so that they could build homes on it. Unfortunately, the Minister has not provided the money necessary to enable that to be done. Both the Minister and his Department recognise that houses are needed in that area, but money has still not been forthcoming. Not only are people being deprived of accommodation on an available site, but existing residents are suffering the consequences of the dereliction. I urge the Minister somehow to squeeze out of his budget the finance required to allow the two housing associations to start building.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann referred to the planning and building regulations draft order that the Minister is promoting. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) referred to a gaping hole in his constituency and said that the Department had granted retrospective planning permission almost as a matter of course. In some instances, that seems to developers to be a better way of obtaining consent. I have raised the same issue with the Minister before, and I suspect that I shall have to do so again as his new proposals do not meet the case.
The Minister's solution for dealing with retrospective applications is to give the Department power to require a person who has built without obtaining consent to make an application subsequently. That is not a suitable punishment for breaching planning controls. In many ways, it will not even serve as a deterrent. Only if a builder refuses to make an application, having already ignored planning controls, will any fine be levied.
I have put to the Minister the argument made in a previous Northern Ireland Assembly that a proper penalty should be imposed on those who commence building without receiving planning permission, which could take
Column 377the form either of a fine or a more expensive retrospective application. I urge the Minister to re-examine that issue and to make the necessary changes to the 1972 order so that it makes clear that people are required to make a planning application in advance, rather than only after the Department catches up with them. If the Minister does not recognise that that it is a major issue, he should contact town halls throughout the Province.
I have told the Minister before in the House that 25 per cent. of the planning applications made to Castlereagh borough council relate to schemes on which building work had already commenced. At every planning meeting, the council deals with retrospective applications, and that is in a borough where much house building and other types of building is going on.
I urge the Minister to take this matter seriously because by and large people are building without permission and hoping that they will get away with it. They know that if they do not, the Department will not look closely at the merits of the case in planning terms but will consider whether the person can be asked to pull down the structure. The Minister now has the opportunity for a new planning order to address this issue and find a solution which will be a proper disincentive to people who are tempted to build without planning permission.
I stress the point made by the hon. Member for North Down about the rights of objectors. Those rights must be protected, and that can best be done through district councils--so long as they have the power to call for an article 22 inquiry. The new draft planning order provides an opportunity to amend that article by removing the two-month requirement. That would significantly strengthen the hand of district councils and balance the scales between planning applicants and local objectors.
On the matter of the Department of Health and Social Services, I strongly concur with what my hon. Friend the Member for North Down said about the elderly. He has raised the matter in the House on several occasions and on each occasion I have endorsed what he said. I wish that somebody would listen to the two of us and recognise that there is a real need for proper concessionary licences and free transport for the elderly. Those things could be done at very little cost. They would probably cost less than it cost the Government to run the Upper Bann by-election campaign for the Conservative candidate and would do much more good for the people of Northern Ireland.
It is essential to remove the anomaly about concessionary television licences. I do not like the way that the Minister appears to be moving towards eliminating the anomaly by making everyone pay the full television licence fee. I urge him to set a concessionary fee for the elderly right across the board rather than continuing with the present inequitable system.
The last matter that I wish to raise may cause me to step on the toes of the hon. Member for North Down, but I know that he will be happy to support me because he and I share a concern about the issue. It relates to a proposal by the Eastern health and social services board to close two play schools--one in the hon. Gentleman's constituency at Tullycarnet and one in mine at Knocknagoney. The proposition by the board, which I assume is to meet the requirement for cuts in the Health Service proposed by this Tory Government, means that
Column 378people who are much in need of such facilities and who made great use of them are to be disadvantaged by their loss.
I trust that the Minister will urge his colleague who has responsibility for such matters in the Department of Health and Social Services to use his influence on the board. The board should be told that if it wants to engage in penny pinching it should not do it where it will hurt people. I am talking about areas in which there is much need. The board must not remove facilities which have been an excellent aid to people. In my constituency and in the constituency of North Down the united view held by local government
representatives and parliamentary representatives is that the Minister should step in and do something about this.
It is right to pose my final question now that the Secretary of State has joined us. It comes under the heading of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am sure that the Minister will look at the sums granted in the appropriation fund, and give his considered opinion as to whether it will soon be necessary to present a money order to grant further sums to the Assembly. Does he expect a greater use of that building to be made over the next few months?
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : I found it interesting when, earlier, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) joined the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) in speaking about pollution from North Down into Belfast lough. Some people in Northern Ireland think that there is greater pollution in other parts of North Down, nearer to Belfast, and we should like that to be cleared up as well.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). We served together in the Northern Ireland constitutional convention, on which he also represented south Belfast. As he is a senior lecturer in law at Queen's university, in my constituency, that is another reason for welcoming him, although my alma maters were Magee university college, Londonderry and Trinity college, Dublin. I came from what was the bastion of loyalty, and he comes from what has, in the past 20 years, been a bastion of republicanism. I am delighted that his presence tonight has shown something of his ability.
My hon. Friend succeeds the late Harold McCusker, who came from close to Lurgan. Those who know Northern Ireland know that that is the spade town of Ulster, where we call a spade a spade. Harold was prepared to do so. Sometimes people did not like that, but at least they could not say that they did not understand what he was talking about. The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) teased my hon. Friend by saying that one should not be controversial in maiden speeches, but that my hon. Friend was getting close to it, and that he would not be heard in silence in future. My hon. Friend could have been even more controversial. He could have reminded the House that a Tory was originally an Irish Jacobite, and in this tercentenary year of the battle of the Boyne, we are glad that we beat the Tories again in Upper Bann.
Vote 1 for the Department of Health and Social Services deals with money for hospitals. A constituency case highlights the problem not only in Northern Ireland but in health care provision in the rest of the kingdom. We
Column 379are told that people are being given more choice. At times, I suspect that it is the choice of the turkey just before Christmas, which means that there is little choice left for the poor bird. The Jubilee hospital in south Belfast, which is part of the city hospital, has served the local community, and the wider community, for many years. I should like some clarification on this issue.
I tabled an oral question for the latest Northern Ireland questions, but because of the popularity of television appearances, and the movement towards the by-election, a large number of hon. Members representing other parts of the kingdom asked questions. As a result, I received only a formal written response. I wanted to know what guidance was given to the boards and units of management throughout Northern Ireland on the provision of services. I understand that the senior official in the Eastern health and social services board has told the unit of management, in the presence of others in City hospital, and Jubilee hospital in particular, that the board will not be purchasing obstetric and maternity services from Jubilee hospital. That is one way of stopping provision. I ask the Department to examine the matter. What does it have to say about in-house tendering? What does it have to say about competitive tendering? If my memory is correct, Jubilee hospital has been undertaking about 3, 000 deliveries a year at a more economic rate than other hospitals. That runs counter to the judgment that the Eastern board and other boards must accept the lowest bid in competitive tendering. We have been told this evening that responsibility lies with the board, not with the Minister. The same is true of education and library boards. When I heard the Minister's response, I was reminded of an incident in my boyhood, when my mother chastised my brother and I for splashing water round the kitchen. I said, "It wasn't me." We were twins, and I was holding my brother up to the tap so that he could splash the water. The Minister seemed to be saying what I said when he told us, "It is not my responsibility. The responsibility lies with the board." But who appoints the board and who ensures that the elected representatives who are members of the council are in the minority so that the Department, through its nominees, has the whip hand? I ask that consideration be given to the development of hospital services. It would be much better to tell the people that a hospital is to be closed rather than to have a moratorium, place pressures upon the staff and demoralise all those within a hospital that provides a service to the community.
The work of occupational therapists comes under vote 1 of the Department of Health and Social Services. They are a group whose care and provision affect the entire community. Are there enough occupational therapists? If not, why has their establishment been frozen? How many of them are in the various boards? How many of them are
Column 380involved in community occupational therapy and are geared for domiciliary services? We are supposedly thinking and moving in the direction of care in the community, and those people will be needed even more. As I understand it, the basic grade in our hospitals has been the subject of a freeze, and in north and west Belfast there has been a waiting list since 1988. How can we say that we are providing care in the community if a waiting list means a wait of six weeks? We must try to help people to develop their skills and to rehabilitate themselves to live in the community. Occupational therapy needs to be examined with greater accuracy and understanding.
When he replies to the debate, the Minister will have been told by a close colleague in the Department on this side of the water that Project 2000 has been promoted. This week it was announced that funds have been provided for it and that various schemes have been cleared. How far have we gone to develop Project 2000 in Northern Ireland? Have I missed an announcement that the scheme has already started, and that it has been recognised in one of the nursing schools? Is there a shortage of funds in that field, especially in the Eastern health and social services board, which has to provide so much specialised one-to-one nursing, partly due to the impact of the terrorist campaign? I understand that the impact of the regrading scheme for nurses left the board with a £6 million shortfall in the budget before it began this year. The board cannot make that up by economies and savings.
Another group that I wish to mention are the disabled, and specifically young deaf people. What provision is being made to train them? I am speaking in particular of the Department of Economic Development vote 3. What provision has been made to train employers and social workers to handle young deaf people who are seeking employment? One of their difficulties is that they are not as literate as other young people, but many of them, if they are treated with understanding, could be outstanding in their jobs. But many employers dismiss them straight away because they cannot communicate with them. I know that young deaf people in England and in Northern Ireland are seeking to promote and to help training. Is the Department doing anything to help through its training programme? I mentioned transfer procedures earlier, and my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) also raised the matter. I believe that appeals must be in by 1 June and will be decided by 15 June. If the evolution of the education system means that we put more people into the grammar school system--that is the choice that people make, and if they have the qualifications to go there they feel deprived if they are not given the opportunity--will we not endanger many secondary schools which could provide the technical and vocational training that so many of our young people need?
Column 38110.58 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : It is often stimulating to study similar situations and try to find the differences. Often the media are interested in the differences that exist inside major political parties, rather than the distinctions between them. In Northern Ireland the position is somewhat different, and we are often aware of the differences between political organisations--they can be the most extreme differences imaginable--but sometimes it is instructive to consider the similarities between diverse political parties within Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) talked about a trench and showed us a picture of it. It is interesting to note that all the differing parties in the council concerned were united on the issue. As a new Member in the House, I learned a lesson when a deputation arrived from Strabane to try to persuade the Government to provide money--as is done under the Bellwin scheme--to deal with flooding, because the deputation included people with the widest possible range of political views.
I have been impressed by the extent to which agreement on social and economic questions has been reached. Reference has been made in the debate to pensioners' rights and social welfare provision and to the fact that the Government are not doing what is right for Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland appropriations provide us with an opportunity to discuss the nearest thing that we have to a Northern Ireland Budget. They are the stuff of politics. You ruled, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the police and security cannot be discussed in the debate. It is right that we should hold Northern Ireland debates from which the police, security and terrorism issues are excluded. Unfortunately, whenever Northern Ireland appropriations are discussed, most hon. Members think that it is time to go. Nearly everyone disappears. That is partly due to the fact that there will be no Division and that no amendments can be made. I wish that those hon. Members who are interested in security questions and who receive a great deal of press coverage came to these debates to deal with the stuff of Northern Ireland politics.
I refer in particular to Opposition Members. We claim to be democratic Socialists and to be concerned about people's welfare. That is exactly what the Northern Ireland appropriations deal with. They allow hon. Members to discuss economic policies and the budgetary provisions for Northern Ireland. There is sometimes a tendency to get bogged down in the details, partly because there is no other means by which to deal with such issues. A devolved form of government for Northern Ireland would solve that problem. Northern Ireland Members of Parliament want to highlight the many constituency problems that they have to face.
The whole of the island of Ireland increasingly has to involve itself in international economic issues. The solution to Northern Ireland's serious economic problems will be part of a much broader pattern of economic development. It can be likened to the need for all countries to take action to solve the problem of global warming. One nation can do its bit by taking action to counter the greenhouse effect, but correct solutions will not be found unless there is international co-operation. That applies just
Column 382as much to economic problems as to pollution of the environment. Nevertheless, something could be done and some steps could be taken that the Government have not contemplated. Northern Ireland has its own special problems in addition to having our problems multiplied to the nth degree.
It is interesting to consider the Department of Employment's figures on unemployment in connection with tonight's debate. When the debate finishes at 11.30 pm, we shall have heard three speeches from Conservative Members. According to the Government's unemployment figures, the constituencies that they represent have fewer than 2,000 people unemployed. The constituencies represented by my hon. Friends and I have unemployment figures of between 2,500 and 5, 000--unemployment in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is 5,000 and the figure for my constituency is just over 2,500. My constituency is marginal--half is Conservative territory and the other half is Labour territory, with unemployment concentrated in Labour areas. The problems of homelessness and indebtedness in my constituency are universal in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North.
According to the Government's figures, unemployment in the constituencies of hon. Members representing Northern Ireland is above 4,000 and sometimes considerably more. The highest unemployment figure for a constituency in Northern Ireland is 9,624. We must remember how often the Government adjust the unemployment figures. Those adjustments reduce the unemployment figures for the constituencies of hon. Gentlemen who have spoken tonight, except those of Conservative Members. Seven of the nine constituencies with the highest unemployment figures are in Northern Ireland, where such problems cut across the political divide.
The two constituencies with the highest unemployment figures are Belfast, West, which is represented by Sinn Fein, and Foyle, which is represented by the SDLP. The constituency of Mid-Ulster is next and there is high unemployment in constituencies represented by Ulster Unionist Members. Although we have tried to tackle many of the problems in Northern Ireland with fair employment provisions, those measures cannot work properly without some strategy for tackling unemployment in the Province.
If time permitted, I could say much more about the problems and difficulties in Northern Ireland that represent an extension of many of those that exist in our own constituencies. There are problems of indebtedness : figures published by the Housing Executive show the number of families who have had their electricity cut off. That occurs much more in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
There is widespread homelessness, despite the work of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Many houses in Northern Ireland are old, and, according to a survey produced by the Housing Executive, 60 per cent. of dwellings were built before 1919. There is much overcrowding, inadequate food storage facilities and lack of proper facilities generally.
To tackle those problems, we need collective, co-ordinated and planned action. I attend these debates regularly, at which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) suggests such action. He said that there should be more social welfare provision and
Column 383economic development. The market philosophy and the principles of free enterprise and entrepreneurship, as propounded by the Government, are most damaging to Northern Ireland.
There are problems with collective, co-ordinated and planned action, but they can be solved by instigating democratic practices. No democracy can operate without vast bureaucracies but by extending democracy bureaucracies can be made to work better. Devolved government for Northern Ireland seems essential.
That is not to deny the difficulties of the political divisions and the deeper divisions in Northern Ireland. A Bill of Rights is particularly appropriate to Northern Ireland's problems, because it would prevent bias against the communities, thereby making them feel more protected and assured. The Secretary of State's responses show that he is not entirely opposed to that development.
Mr. Barnes : A case can be made for a Bill of Rights, but it is argued that, because of the civil liberties problems and divisions between both communities, before a Bill of Rights can apply to Northern Ireland it must be worked out for the United Kingdom, but that argument does not hold. A Bill of Rights is appropriate to tackle special problems, so it might be useful to instigate it initially in Northern Ireland. We might benefit and learn from that and be able to develop it more generally. The Government thought that it would be advantageous to introduce the poll tax first in Scotland. Luckily, they have not introduced it in Northern Ireland. They could take progressive action by introducing a Bill of Rights initially in Northern Ireland, from which we could benefit later.
The one democratic advantage of Northern Ireland is that it does not have the poll tax. Its franchise is therefore healthier than the rest of the United Kingdom, where 600,000 people have disappeared from the electoral register. It has the right franchise, but it cannot use it properly because the framework in which to operate it is wrong. If we want the young people of Northern Ireland to respect each other, to develop a social conscience and to be involved in the democratic process, we cannot continue to preach greed, ruthlessness and competition between people. The opposite qualities are exactly those which are required for Northern Ireland. They are the qualities of democratic socialism, which are required for the rest of the United Kingdom. Let us start doing something in that direction, because there is a crying need for social and economic provisions. 11.14 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in the debate for the constructive way in which they have approached the problems of Northern Ireland addressed by the spending in the order. In particular, on my behalf and that of the those who either heard the speech of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) or heard reports of it, I say that his speech will be remembered as one of the best maiden speeches that has been made in this Parliament. I speak as
Column 384someone who was elected at a by-election. An hon. Member from the other side said how much he appreciated my speech and how much better it was than that of my party leader. I shall not be as damaging as that because the hon. Gentleman's party leader has not spoken in the debate tonight.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann spoke in a way that showed no sign of nerves. His precise delivery may have betrayed the fact that he made a full -time living as a lecturer and could have continued to do so. But that is not the way the result turned out. We look forward to hearing from him more often. The hon. Gentleman shares with the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) a gift of understatement which is not always characteristic of Members of Parliament from Northern Ireland. He also speaks rather than proclaims, which again is welcome.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) referred to meat. I have tried to avoid putting meat into the headlines. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland did well at Balmoral yesterday in answering open questions in an open way. Without in any sense seeking to be secret or private, I believe that we are coming to a time when the level of publicity given to BSE should fall. I predict that during the next 12 months no one in the whole of the European Community will die of BSE. Some 55,000 people will die on the roads. How much more useful it would have been if half the publicity about BSE and meat had been diverted to areas in which we can save lives over and over again.