Home Page

Column 981

House of Commons

Thursday 14 February 1991

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Midland Metro Bill

(By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 21 February at Seven o'clock.

Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill

[Lords] (By Order) Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Monday 18 February at Seven o'clock.

Aire and Calder Navigation Bill

(By Order) Read a Second time, and committed.

Cattewater Reclamation Bill

(By Order)

Hook Island (Poole Bay) Bill

(By Order)

London Docklands Railway (Lewisham, etc.) Bill

(By Order)

London Underground

(No. 2) Bill -- (By Order)

Vale of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill

(By Order)

Killingholme Generating Stations (Ancillary Powers) Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Birmingham City Council Bill

(By Order)

British Railways Bill

(By Order)

East Coast Main Line (Safety) Bill

(By Order)

London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill

(By Order)

London Underground (King's Cross) Bill

(By Order)

Midland Metro

(No. 2) Bill -- (By Order)

Redbridge London Borough Council Bill

(By Order)

British Railways

(No. 3) Bill-- [Lords] (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 21 February.

Column 982

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Paice : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many tourists visited Northern Ireland from the Republic in 1990 ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : An estimated 364,000

Mr. Paice : I thank my hon. Friend for giving me those figures. Does he agree that there are considerable opportunities for job creation in the tourism industry in Northern Ireland? What efforts is he making to promote Northern Ireland by portraying the proper image of much of it--that of a place with tremendously beautiful scenery and vistas which can attract tourists and make for an enjoyable holiday for all?

Mr. Needham : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments about the beauty of our Province. We intend to increase our expenditure on attracting people from the Republic to the north. About twice as many people from the north go to the south. A recent survey showed that some 73 per cent. of the people of the south had not been to the north, and some 72 per cent. said that they had no intention of visiting it. However, of the 27 per cent. who had been there, some 98 per cent. said that they had thoroughly enjoyed it and would like to come back. Our message to the people of the south is therefore, "Come north and enjoy yourselves."

Mr. John D. Taylor : Now that the Dublin Government have complied with the European Community's request for the removal of restrictions on the movement of visitors from the Republic into Northern Ireland, what positive steps to promote tourism have the Government taken in respect of Dublin and the Republic?

When the Minister next meets Ministers from the Republic, will he request that the Southern Irish tourist board, in its offices abroad, carry tourist literature from Northern Ireland and recommend those who come to the Republic to visit Northern Ireland as well?

Mr. Needham : I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We are spending some £800,000 jointly with Bond Failte and we have together arranged a programme of marketing to attract more people from abroad to go north when they visit the island of Ireland. As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, some 60,000 visitors to Northern Ireland go to the Republic first.

We have extended and improved our office facilities in the south and we believe that this year particularly, when many people may not be thinking of travelling abroad, there will be opportunities for us to cash in not only on people from the south but on people from Great Britain. We believe that we now have the facilities and the product--and we know that we have the people and the countryside--to make a success of it.

Column 983

Rev. Ian Paisley : How do the figures that the Minister has given compare with those for the past five years? Is the money that he is spending really producing the goods?

Mr. Needham : We have not yet started to spend the money in any great quantity. The number of visitors to Northern Ireland is increasing, from some 900,000 in 1988-89 to, we hope, some 1.6 million by 1994. The 1990 figures will show an overall increase of some 6 per cent., but a 20 to 25 per cent. increase in the number of people coming purely for holiday purposes. The total number is up to some 1.3 million.

Those are not very substantial figures, but if we improve our ability to attract visitors, we could create some 20,000 or 30,000 new jobs in the north over a period of years. None of that is helped by the image created by violence or, occasionally, by those who report on that image in a way that is not entirely balanced.

Mr. Mallon : In anticipation of an influx of visitors, especially from the Republic of Ireland, can the Minister suggest which roads they should use so that tourists, who are very sensitive to terrorism, will not be immediately faced by lookout posts and checkpoints of an inordinate nature? If tourists come to a checkpoint and find the road closed, does the Minister envisage that they will continue their journey into Northern Ireland by using other roads or that they will return to the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Needham : As the hon. Gentleman knows all too well, the reason for the checkpoints is the continuing level of paramilitary violence. If tourists have to go through hideous-looking checkpoints, I accept that it does nothing for our image or our ability to attract people to Northern Ireland. We are considering what can be done to make checkpoints easier on and more pleasant to the eye. Nevertheless, the security of people travelling from one side of the border to another is paramount.

Trust Ports

2. Mr. Janman : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to privatise Belfast and other trust ports ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Needham : I intend bringing forward a draft Order in Council that will have regard to the provisions of the Ports Bill. This will provide the necessary powers to enable any of Northern Ireland's trust ports--Belfast, Coleraine, Londonderry and Warrenpoint--to come forward with privatisation schemes.

Mr. Janman : I am very pleased with my hon. Friend's answer and I congratulate him on his clear commitment to allow those ports to go into the private sector. May I suggest, however, that both he and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have discussions with our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport on whether privatisation of those trust ports can be included in the Ports Bill. That would send a clear signal to the IRA, Sinn Fein and others that Ulster is part of the United Kingdom and that there is no need for separate legislation for Ulster. When Ulster is affected by legislation, it should be debated fully on the Floor of the House, as debate of the Ports Bill on Report would allow it to be.

Column 984

Mr. Needham : Of course Ulster is part of the United Kingdom and will remain so as long as the majority so wish. However, this is a transferred matter and the view of many is that such matters should, if it is possible at some time, be capable of being decided by the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. I repeat however, that we intend to introduce an Order in Council early in 1992 and to have it on the statute book by the end of that year. Then we shall consider what ports can be privatised. In the meantime, a substantial investment programme in those ports is taking place and I am delighted to say that most of them are expanding rapidly.

Mr. Beggs : I have much sympathy with the observations of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Janman). I regret that the Minister has announced today that this is to be done by means of another Order in Council. Does the Minister agree that the unparalleled record of growth and development of Larne harbour and the excellent working relationships there suggest clearly the opportunities that will arise for Belfast port and the other trust ports after privatisation?

Mr. Needham : I agree with the hon. Gentleman. A large percentage of Larne's business comes from the south. The amount of business at Warrenpoint has doubled in the past five years and business has increased by 40 per cent. at Belfast. Larne is an example to any port of how to be efficient, productive, competitive and successful.

Mr. Barry Field : Will my hon. Friend go a little further and give an undertaking that when the Order in Council is introduced it will allow management and employees to opt for a management-employee buy-out?

Mr. Needham : We shall consider that question most carefully. We are already following what my hon. Friend and his colleagues are suggesting here.

Mr. Stott : It is clear from the questions to the Minister that there is a great deal of interest in the proposal. The Ports Bill is in Standing Committee, where Members of Parliament can table amendments, scrutinise the Bill and interrogate Ministers. How do the Government propose to allow Members of Parliament from the Province and others to give equal consideration to these very important Government proposals? Does he not think that it is unacceptable to privatise a major sector of Northern Ireland's economy by means an Order in Council, which allows debate for only an hour?

Mr. Needham : I repeat that it is a transferred matter. The Government are constantly looking for ways to create systems that have the agreement of the whole House on how Northern Ireland affairs can be conducted. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) never misses an opportunity to criticise, but he has not yet put forward a proposal that is acceptable to the majority of hon. Members.


3. Mr. McGrady : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what measures he proposes to introduce to compensate those persons who have suffered damage or loss, either in their businesses or occupations, as a result of security measures taken against terrorism.

Column 985

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Dr. Brian Mawhinney) : There is provision under section 28 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978 for the payment of compensation where, under the Act,

"any real or personal property is taken, occupied, destroyed or damaged, or any other act is done interfering with private rights of property".

Mr. McGrady : I thank the Minister for his answer, but surely he can inform the House more adequately that there is no provision for compensation for people who suffer loss of business, loss of jobs or loss of homes because of legitimate and proper security measures. The only way to get compensation is to suffer direct damage as a result of explosion or other terrorist activity. Surely the people who are in the front line and subject to economic and social deprivation because of the necessary buildings and fortifications which destroy businesses are entitled to be compensated for their losses on behalf of the community.

Dr. Mawhinney : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pointing out that the problem is one of security and caused by the activity of paramilitaries who engage in terrorist activity at the expense of the whole community. The community pays a price for that. I accept that there is genuine hardship in some cases. Ex gratia payments are available to some people in Northern Ireland, depending on the circumstances. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular case in mind he might contemplate some of those activities.

Mr. Peter Robinson : Is the Minister aware that there are four men in Maghaberry prison who lost their jobs because of terrorism? They also require compensation. Will he compensate those men--known as the Armagh Four--with a retrial?

Dr. Mawhinney : The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a matter for me. He also knows that these are matters which are presently under review.

Mr. Molyneaux : Does the Minister agree that every citizen in Northern Ireland has, directly or indirectly, suffered loss and damage at the hands of terrorists? Does he accept, or is he aware of, the perception that there are occasions when the terrorist is compensated rather more generously than the victim? Does he agree that all hon. Members and those of us who serve on councils have a duty to support the forces of the Crown in eradicating terrorism from whatever quarter it comes?

Dr. Mawhinney : I agree wholeheartedly with the first and last points made by the right hon. Gentleman. As for the second point, I should be sad if such a perception existed. The right hon. Gentleman knows that anyone who claims compensation in Northern Ireland is treated under the law without any particular favour, and certainly with no particular bias towards those who may in some way have been involved in terrorist activity.

Mr. Allason : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the best measures against terrorism would be the introduction of video cameras during interrogation? That would increase the chances of conviction because it would be more difficult for the suspects to withdraw the confessions that they had made before the camera. As that measure has been recommended by Lord Colville, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a satisfactory measure to take now?

Column 986

Dr. Mawhinney : The matter referred to by my hon. Friend was a matter of considerable debate when Standing Committee B was considering the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill. My hon. Friend may find the arguments deployed in that debate of some interest.

Mr. Jim Marshall : Will the Minister remind his hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) that that hon. Gentleman was himself a member of that Committee and actually voted against the proposal to introduce video recordings in such cases?

Does the Minister accept that he told the Committee that schemes existed for making ex gratia payments in such areas? Does he further accept that that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs and that what we really require is a statutory scheme so that every claim can be treated on its merits and every settlement can be seen to be fair?

Dr. Mawhinney : The hon. Gentleman will remember that we debated the matter at some length in Committee. He advanced certain arguments, and so did I. I made it clear that the Government, with some reluctance, had reached the view that it was not possible to take the steps urged on us in Committee. I remind the hon. Gentleman that I also said that I would reflect on what had been said in Committee--without any commitment--and that we would consider the arguments that had been deployed. I am happy to reaffirm that, without any commitment, we will certainly reflect further on those arguments.

School Sport

4. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on sport in schools in Northern Ireland.

Dr. Mawhinney : Physical education, which embraces sports activities and games, presently forms a common but voluntary element of the primary and secondary curricula in Northern Ireland. From next September, physical education is to become a compulsory part of the Northern Ireland curriculum. My right hon. and noble Friend the Paymaster General is currently considering advice from the Northern Ireland Curriculum Council on the content of the programme of study for this subject.

Mr. Greenway : I congratulate my hon. Friend on the fact that physical education and games are to become a compulsory part of the curriculum. Can he assure us that such activities will be suitably geared to the ability of each individual boy and girl, and can he say how well Northern Ireland schools are doing in out-of-school games and physical education on Saturdays and in the evenings?

Dr. Mawhinney : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments and for the constructive interest that he takes in these matters. Physical education is obviously geared to the abilities of the individual child. My hon. Friend asked about games out of school hours. He will know that Northern Ireland schools have a proud record of sporting activity and achievement. Although I do not have the figures to prove it, I would guess that, given the size of the population in Northern Ireland, we probably produce greater sporting excellence than any other part of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Trimble : May I direct the Minister's attention to another aspect of training and education and ask him to

Column 987

consult the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to see what steps can be taken to retrain the 140 workers at C. S. Brooks--a factory in my constituency--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The question is about sport.

Dr. Mawhinney : I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said, as has my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, but the question is about sport in schools.


6. Mr. Stanbrook : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the progress of negotiations with the political parties on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke) : I continue to seek agreement on a basis for formal talks which could lead to a comprehensive political accommodation satisfactory to all relevant interests and addressing all relevant aspects of the matter. I regret that it has not yet proved possible to bridge the gaps between the various parties' positions. I remain convinced of the powerful case for transferring political power, authority and responsibility to locally elected representatives in Northern Ireland, provided this can be done on a basis enjoying widespread support.

Mr. Stanbrook : Will my right hon. Friend give up his honest and brave attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable and will he eschew all new political initiatives involving the so-called Irish dimension and concentrate instead, with the political parties in Northern Ireland, on providing a decent system of local government and firm and fair central Government and, to coin a phrase, on "extirpating the IRA"?

Mr. Brooke : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the tone of his question. But I am determined to pursue the process on which we are engaged until it is absolutely clear that the positions of the various parties are incompatible. On the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, I will consider any workable proposals for changes in the role of local government in Northern Ireland if they seem likely to command widespread acceptance.

Rev. Martin Smyth : Can the Secretary of State say what are the inherent defects of the Anglo-Irish intergovernmental process which inhibit Ministers from responding positively to British suggestions and recognising Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom? A week ago today the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition united in opposing terrorism and seeking to maintain democracy. Does the Secretary of State recognise that that would demand retrospective restoration of democracy to Northern Ireland? Will he take steps speedily to restore it?

Mr. Brooke : If the hon. Gentleman had listened closely to my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), he would have heard me say how anxious I was to effect the transfer for which the hon. Gentleman asks. In terms of the context of the hon. Gentleman's question, political parties from both sides of the community want any talks to cover matters which must necessarily involve the Irish Government.

Column 988

Mr. Kilfedder : Will the Secretary of State comment on the recent Dublin proposals? Does he agree that whether or not the talks fail, a considerable amount of goodwill has been generated by them and that it would surely be a tragedy if efforts were not made to build on that goodwill at either an official or an unofficial level?

Mr. Brooke : I have received some further proposals from the Irish Government. I believe that they have merit and will keep us in play, but I do not know whether they offer us the opportunity of reaching our goal. They are further evidence of the Irish Government's desire to contribute to bridging the gap. I concur with what the hon. Gentleman has said about the goodwill that has been engendered by this process, but, as we come to what I think will be the conclusion of this part of the process, I think that it will be necessary in the closing stages for there to be considerable political will to make sure that we bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

Mr. Mallon : Will the Secretary of State confirm that in the summer of last year the Social Democratic and Labour party presented to him a written position which opened the way for full talks and negotiations? Will he further confirm that last week the Irish Government presented a written position paper to him which held out the prospect of moving forward to those real negotiations? Does he expect at any stage a written position from the Unionist party which might hold out some hope of moving towards the type of negotiations that we want?

Mr. Brooke : The hon. Gentleman is correct in what he says about both his party and the Irish Government, but he will be aware from the conversations in which we have been engaged mutually that there have been sticking points in all parties' proposals about how we proceed. We have sought to accommodate those in the decision that we reach. In response to the hon. Gentleman's question about the Unionists, he will recall his reluctance to engage in direct conversations and negotiations until we had reached an accommodation as to the basis of such talks. Therefore, he must find a way of putting that question to them by some other means.

Mr. Amery : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the House has been patient with him over the negotiations? We were led to believe that we would be given some statement by Christmas, yet we are now deep into February. That is frustrating. If the Secretary of State cannot make a statement yet, will he discuss with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate in which we can discuss all the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook)?

Mr. Brooke : I am grateful for the patience of both my right hon. Friend and the House. The only time when we had hoped that I could make a statement was at the time of the renewal of powers debate last year. I understand the anxiety of the House to see progress in these matters. I believe that they are coming to a conclusion. I hope that in the aftermath of that, it will be possible for us to debate them.

Mr. Hume : Let me put the Secretary of State right on his recent mistaken remark. The position of the SDLP, long before the right hon. Gentleman became Secretary of State and since he has held that office, is that my party will

Column 989

sit down tomorrow with the Unionist parties to discuss any subject under the sun without any precondition. The Unionist parties chose to follow a process whereby they will talk to us only through the Secretary of State. Throughout that process I have seen written positions from the right hon. Gentleman and the Irish Government, and I have put the written position from my party. However, I have never seen a written position from either of the Unionist parties.

Mr. Brooke : I do not want to get into an altercation with the hon. Gentleman about this. He is slightly misremembering the process in which we have been engaged in the past 13 months if he does not believe that he has occasionally raised a point that has caused us to pause in that debate.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Can the Secretary of State confirm to the House that the first position paper ever given to the Government was given by the united Unionists when we engaged in talks with his predecessor? Will he also confirm that at the last meeting that he had with Unionist leaders a position paper was given to him and that we have given him other position papers during the talks? Will he now please confirm to the House the definition that is now accepted by his Government of widespread support? Is he saying to the House that the Anglo-Irish Agreement was given widespread support, or that that widespread support does not come from Ulster but that it is widespread as long as Dublin goes with it, because Dublin stopped him from making a statement in this House on 5 July?

Mr. Brooke : In the terms of the first two questions put by the hon. Gentleman, I so confirm what he said. Position papers were put to my predecessor and myself by the Unionist parties. I reiterate, however, that I do not believe that we shall be able to reach a constitutional framework in terms not only of Northern Ireland, but of relations with the Government of the Republic arising therefrom unless there is a broad support for it across the community.

Mr. McNamara : Last week the Secretary of State spoke about putting up the shutters on the negotiations and today he anticipated that they would come to a conclusion. However, last week, having received the proposals from the Irish Government, he seemed to show a degree of greater optimism, but I am not quite sure how one measures the degree of greatness. Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman was unable to give, for reasons we well understand, those proposals to the Unionist leaders last Thursday, but he has said that he is prepared to test the present procedures to destruction. May I inform the right hon. Gentleman that the Opposition would prefer him to continue to test and probe and that we hope that all the parties concerned will consider the seriousness of the consequences should the talking cease? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when he hopes to meet again the leaders of the Northern Ireland parties and representatives of the Irish Government as that will give us a better picture of what has been going on in the past 18 months?

Mr. Brooke : I thank the hon. Gentleman for the support that he gives to the process in which we are engaged and for urging us to continue with it. I have already said that I believe that matters are likely to come to a conclusion in the reasonably near future. By

Column 990

definition, that will not be a unilateral or arbitrary act on my part and it will involve, of course, conversations with all the others concerned.

Rural Towns

7. Mr. Knapman : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his Department's proposals for the regeneration of small rural towns.

Mr. Needham : In March last year the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland and the International Fund for Ireland joined together in a £16 million initiative specifically aimed at the regeneration of Northern Ireland's disadvantaged smaller towns. Assistance has been approved for Coalisland and Castlederg and a number of proposals for other small towns and villages are well advanced.

Mr. Knapman : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. Unfortunately good news rarely hits the headlines. Can he say how many towns and villages are likely to benefit under this excellent scheme?

Mr. Needham : A large number of towns and villages in Northern Ireland need to benefit and will benefit. Established throughout Northern Ireland are a large number of community projects, including Armagh, Newry, Carrickfergus, Strabane and the Tyrone development association, all working together cross-community. The projects involve councillors, usually Members of Parliament, community groups and voluntary groups, all trying to bring success and regeneration in the face of a long history of violence and an image of terrorism. Anybody going to those towns will see the determination of the local people to get together to find a better future. It is being shown physically in the towns that I have mentioned.

Mr. John D. Taylor : While the urban development grants are welcome, does the Minister recognise that generally they are restricted to smaller towns and villages in the western part of the Province? Does he recognise that many small towns and villages in counties Down and Antrim in the eastern part of the Province are being denied grants and feel that they are being discriminated against? Will he look into the possibility of extending urban development grants to smaller towns and villages in the eastern part of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Needham : It is possible for disadvantaged towns or areas of towns to come forward under the CRISP initiative with plans and programmes. The areas that have worked together, often with the support and backing of the local Member of Parliament, have come much further than the others, which do not have the same degree of consensus. The concept that we are adopting is the same in principle for all towns throughout Northern Ireland. Clearly, we are making sure that we deal first with the most disadvantaged.

Community Relations Officers

8. Mr. Moss : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many district councils have agreed to use Government funds to appoint community relations officers ; and if he will make a statement.

Column 991

Dr. Mawhinney : All 26 district councils have been invited to submit proposals to improve community relations in their areas. The proposals should include the appointment of a community relations officer and programmes to develop cross-community contact and increase mutual understanding and appreciation of cultural diversity.

To date, 10 district councils have appointed community relations officers and eight others are expected to appoint officers in the near future. Discussions about policy and programmes are continuing with a further five councils.

Mr. Moss : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the development of community relations is a major help in defeating terrorism through the promotion of better understanding between communities? How does his Department propose to help in the funding of district council community relations officers?

Dr. Mawhinney : I agree with my hon. Friend and thank him for his comments. To the extent that people understand each other better and misunderstanding and mythology are removed, so communities have greater cohesion and greater common ground. On funding, the budget for the programme for next year is about £1 million and the Government will pay 75 per cent. of agreed costs.

Mr. A. Cecil Walker : In congratulating Belfast city council on maintaining its proposed rates in line with inflation, does the Minister agree that it would be better to employ community relations officers directly and second them to the city council and to the district councils? Would not that be a better solution to rate increases?

Dr. Mawhinney : I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that 10 councils have already accepted funding on the basis that I outlined and eight others are about to do so. I can see no reason why Belfast should be treated differently. Given the behaviour and some of the debates that have taken place in Belfast recently, community relations still have some way to go within the council chamber, never mind outside it.

Rev. William McCrea : Does the Minister find it strange that his proposal for the appointment of community relations officers has found great acceptance among Provisional Sinn Fein in local government? Does he also find it strange that in Magherafelt district council recently, Provisional Sinn Fein voted for the appointment of community relations officers under the Minister's scheme, yet at the next meeting, after a bomb which was designed to destroy and mutilate the residents of Magherafelt, Provisional Sinn Fein would not condemn the IRA for its action? Is that the sort of community relations office that we shall have in the future?

Dr. Mawhinney : I repeat what I said when I paid a visit to see that bomb damage in Magherafelt--that I was pleased that Magherafelt council had unanimously voted to accept the proposal. That is the best of all cross- community support. I think that there is some merit in the hon. Gentleman's comments about Sinn Fein.

Column 992

Social Security Fraud

9. Mr. Nicholas Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the detection and prosecution of social security fraud in the province.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Jeremy Hanley) : The Government are giving high priority to detecting and prosecuting social security fraud. More staff are now engaged and we are up to 107 in the Province ; more cases have been uncovered, with 1,000 people prosecuted last year ; and greater savings have been realised, of over £6 million this year. We shall maintain our efforts against fraud in the interest of all, but we must also encourage anyone entitled to benefit to claim.

Mr. Brown : Is the Minister aware of the scathing Public Accounts Committee report on this issue which was discussed in the House in 1987? If not, will he ask the present Secretary of State about it, as he was the Paymaster General at the Treasury when the matter was debated? Is it not a fact that the Government are unable to inquire into the extent of social security fraud in Northern Ireland because of gangsterism and because the Conservative party is tolerating much higher levels of abuse than it would tolerate in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Hanley : I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that he is talking absolute rubbish. We are completely in tune with the normal ways of trying to combat social security fraud. We understand entirely the sensitivity of the issue, and that makes the job much more difficult to tackle there than in Great Britain. We have restructured the Department, extra staff are deployed, we give them extensive training and we give them very good guidance indeed. They perform an extremely courageous task. New computer systems have been installed to help detection and staff have been deployed where the risks are greatest.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe : We congratulate the Minister on looking after the public distribution of public money. Has he considered looking at the situation where some fraudulent claims are made out of need as opposed to those that are made out of greed?

Mr. Hanley : Claims should never be made out of greed. There are plenty of allowable parts of the social security system that allow those in need to claim. Indeed, we encourage people to claim. We have information and advice centres and a free line telephone system, so people should not go without.

Coronary Disease

10. Mr. Simon Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what new intitiatives he is proposing to combat coronary heart disease.

Mr. Hanley : The "Change of Heart" coronary prevention programme launched in 1986 has been at the forefront of the strategy to reduce preventable illness and death and will be further developed in the coming years by the recently established Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Coombs : My hon. Friend will be well aware that Northern Ireland has the highest incidence of heart disease

Column 993

in the world. Does he agree that this is a serious situation which calls for a major campaign of education in diet and health? Does he feel that the general practitioners of Ulster have a part to play in teaching people how to look after themselves and thereby reduce the incidence of heart disease in the Province?

Next Section

  Home Page