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Column 1032issues that she raised had a direct bearing on the Minister's responsibility--they related to building control and planning. I would be keen to hear the Minister's response to Miss Wilson's speech. He joined in her standing ovation at the dinner, and seemed genuinely pleased with her comments. It would be useful if he used this occasion to respond to her remarks and to tell us that his consciousness of issues to do with disabled people has been heightened. I hope that changes will occur in his Department to help the disabled people of Northern Ireland.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : This has been a wide-ranging debate, as these debates invariably are. Due to the nature of the subject matter and the way in which the government of Northern Ireland is structured, much of it has been a local government debate. I recall that we had a wide-ranging debate a few weeks ago on the occasion of the renewal of direct rule. I suggested then that it might be better--instead of holding these long, unfocused and wide-ranging debates--to consider structuring debates so that we could debate specific subjects. Incidentally, I was interested to hear the comment by the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) to the effect that we need a Northern Ireland Select Committee in which to raise many of these matters. We could also consider discussing some of them in the Northern Ireland Committee, if its format could be made somewhat less restrictive.
In the week in which the House has established a Select Committee to consider our proceedings, our sittings and the way in which our business is handled, it is clearly long overdue that we should examine the handling of Northern Ireland business and put it on a more sensible footing. It is not right to shrug the matter off by allowing Northern Ireland Members two or three nights a year in which to speak on anything they like--that does not provide a satisfactory debate.
Hon. Members have spoken about the Northern Ireland economy, and some expressed false optimism by saying that the Province had missed the recession or was not being affected to the same extent as other parts of the United Kingdom. That is false because the Northern Ireland economy did not fully recover from the first depression in the early lifetime of the present Administration. It had only started to recover when the second recession occurred. It has been said that output has not gone down, but it never recovered to its former level. Other economic problems may arise.
Textiles are an important part of Northern Ireland industry. Some textile firms import cheap yarn from third-world countries and use it to produce high quality goods. I understand that the European Community has recently proposed that anti-dumping duties should be put into effect immediately against imports of cotton, polycotton and polyester yarns from Brazil, Egypt, India, Thailand, Turkey, Taiwan, Indonesia and China. Northern Ireland imports yarn from some of those countries for further processing.
Action against the import of finished garments and fabric from low-cost producer countries would be much more effective. At least cheap yarn enables Northern Ireland to maintain a manufacturing base, whereas finished fabric from abroad is a serious threat to the textile
Column 1033industry. I hope that the Northern Ireland Office will make representations to the EC about this matter so that Northern Ireland industry can be better protected.
Some hon. Members spoke about urban development grant and the fact that it has not been fairly spread in Northern Ireland. Part of that grant comes from the international fund which has a bias towards certain areas, particularly those that are defined as border areas. Urban development grant in the main cities of Londonderry and Belfast comes directly from the Department. All the towns and villages in eastern and central Ulster, many of which are depressed, are left out. There is one such town in my constituency, the town of Gilford, and in the past 18 months a major employer there has closed. As a result, the town is depressed to some extent and urgently needs some attention, although it is not receiving any from the Department. I hope that that will be remedied.
I regret that the Minister with responsibility for water and sewerage is not in his place, because he is familiar with the problem of Kinnego bay in Lough Neagh where there is serious pollution. The problem comes from the sewage plant at Bulay's hill which discharges into the bay. Because of the location of the discharge point, the shape of the bay and the position of the breakwater, sewage cannot escape from the bay and poses a serious threat to health. Water contact sports have had to be discouraged, even though there has been substantial investment in a marina and the area contains a caravan park and a nature reserve.
The solution is either to move the sewage works from Bulay's hill and put it somewhere else or to place the discharge further into the lough so that sewage does not remain in the bay. The Minister has been fully aware of the problem for some time and knows about the effect on the area. I hope that something can be done.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) spoke about the serious problem of unadopted roads. In my constituency there are problems on the road adjoining the railway station site at Laurencetown and at Hayes park, Seapatrick. There is a particular problem in Laws lane off the Castlewellan road, Banbridge. The road is in a very bad condition. There are only five households directly on the road, although there is a small terrace off the road also served by it, with more households. A local college of further education also uses property there. The fact that it is an unadopted road in poor condition is helping to sterilise what might otherwise be useful development land.
Laws lane presents a problem slightly different from that posed by other unadopted roads. Many years ago, there was litigation on the matter, and in 1963 a compromise was reached on terms that led local residents to believe that they had been absolved from any future liability to maintain the road. Some local residents argue that the terms of the settlement, or the implications of those terms, meant that the then council accepted an obligation to maintain the road. If that was the case, the obligation would have been transferred from the old Banbridge council to the Department when other road functions were transferred from councils to the Department in 1973. I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), has returned to the Chamber, because he will remember the
Column 1034Laws lane case. It was raised at the Northern Ireland Assembly, and a suggestion was made that the position should be examined, and legislation on unadopted roads introduced. I understand that the Minister is planning to introduce legislation on private streets next year, and I urge him to take the opportunity to include in it provisions on unadopted roads.
There is a general problem throughout the Province. The last time the possibility of bringing Laws lane up to standard to be adopted was considered, the cost was estimated at more than £200,000. The handful of residents in Laws lane could never afford that. There is a clear case for public money to be used, or for some other provision to be made. Next year's legislation will provide the opportunity to clear up the issue.
I am sorry to say that all the health matters that I wish to raise relate to the Southern health and social services board, which is not covering itself with glory in Upper Bann. Most of the problems seem to be focused in the town of Banbridge. We have the problem of the day centre--or, at least, the problem is that we do not have the day centre any more.
A month or two ago, there was a serious bomb incident in the town and a number of public buildings were affected. Most were quickly brought back into service, but the board has used the incident as an excuse to close the day centre. It was open after the incident, but a few days later it was closed and has not been reopened. People who used to attend it now have to go to Portadown, where they feel that the provision is less suitable than was the case in Banbridge. The board has given no clear explanation of the position with regard to the day centre, and has not said when it will be reopened. Clearly the situation is unsatisfactory.
The position of the Spelga house element of Banbridge hospital is unsatisfactory, too. I have had occasion to refer to the matter before in the House, and things are not getting any better. Spelga house is an old block providing continuing care for the elderly. It is reasonable for its use to be discontinued, and the board took a decision in principle to dispose of it some years ago. The problem is the provision of an alternative.
Local people were given to understand that, on the closure of Spelga house, its occupants would be accommodated elsewhere on the site of the Banbridge hospital. At a recent board meeting, the unit manager said :
"there was an understanding every effort would be made to ensure that alternative services were local and accessible alternative provision would have been made in Banbridge. Whilst not stated it was inferred".
It was more than inferred. The Rev. Roger Purse, a minister in Loughbrickland and Scarva, who was the spokesman for a delegation representing all the clergy of the area at that meeting of the board, said :
"Patients were aware of the initial decision to close Spelga House, but guarantees were given again and again that they would not be moved off the Banbridge hospital site."
Mr. Purse continued :
"The Chairman of the former board, at a meeting I attended on 8 March 1989, stated that, with the planned closure of Spelga House the 30 patients would be relocated within the main hospital." Instead, on 11 June, the new board apparently took a decision in principle to run down the number of people in Spelga, to move the remainder to Lurgan during the refurbishment of the main Banbridge site and then, 15 or 20 months later, to move them back to Banbridge.
Column 1035That is not acceptable. There is a need for continuing care in the locality. Lurgan is some distance away and there is inadequate transport, particularly public transport, to it. There is also the question of the risk to the old people of the move from Spelga to Lurgan. In similar cases in England and Wales there has been significant attrition where people have been relocated. The new board will have to consider that carefully and not be too casual in running risks with people's health in the move to Lurgan.
The solution is obvious : it is to leave the patients in Spelga house until the refurbishment of the main site is complete and then to move them on to the main site. If that were done, the problem would not arise. People were given to understand that that would happen, and it should still happen.
We also have a problem with the casualty unit at Banbridge hospital, which has been in difficulties for some time. It has been run on a half-day basis because of the shortage of junior consultants. Constant representations have been made to the board about it and, until recently, the board said that it was trying to recruit junior medical staff to cover casualty at Banbridge.
On 21 June, the clerk of a committee of Banbridge district council telephoned the unit general manager at approximately 2 pm simply to inquire what the current position was. The clerk was told by the unit general manager that interviews for junior medical staff were taking place and that an appointment would be made soon. Less than half an hour later, Banbridge council received a telex from the unit general manager saying that casualty was closing immediately. Someone made the decision to close the unit ; it was obviously not the unit general manager. It is a terrible way to administer a service to be telling people at 2 pm that the recruitment of junior medical staff to run casualty is going ahead and then to close down casualty completely.
When the council queried the closure of casualty, it was told that an additional reason for the closure was the proposed refurbishment of the main site, which would make it difficult to run the casualty service. That inevitably gives rise to the question of what other facilities will be affected by the refurbishment because other parts of the hospital, too, should continue in operation throughout the refurbishment period.
We feel that many of these problems can be placed at the door of the new boards that have been established. I have to tell the Minister that, so far, our experience of the new boards has not been particularly satisfactory. We queried the basis of their creation and the absence of a representative element. People have noticed, however, that there seems to be a certain geographical spread in relation to the persons serving on the boards. Not unnaturally, noticing that a person resident in the Banbridge district had been appointed to the board, Banbridge council sought a meeting with that person, only to be told, in a reply from the chairman of the board, that members of the board would not be meeting district councils.
We know that there is now no representative element in the administration of the health services but it is most unsatisfactory for board members to be instructed by their chairman not to meet local councillors to hear their views. It is not good enough to say that consultative councils will sit in parallel with the board. If board members are
Column 1036obstructive, that in itself is unsatisfactory. [Hon. Members :-- "Is that a general ruling?"] I do not know--perhaps the Minister will tell us when he replies.
I should have liked to raise other matters, but some of my colleagues have been in the Chamber since the beginning of the debate and they are anxious to speak. I shall conclude, and give them the opportunity to do so.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : I wish to direct my remarks to the vote covering the Departments of Economic Development, the Environment, Education, and Health and Social Services. I shall try not to take up all the time available, as I know that other hon. Members are waiting patiently for the opportunity to speak. Of the 3,100 jobs lost in Northern Ireland recently, a disproportionately high number have been in my constituency. While I welcome the announcement today of another 500 jobs for Belfast, and support a fair distribution among able-bodied and disabled people, those jobs are not readily accessible to many of my constituents. We urgently need a major employer to locate in our area. The town of Larne expanded rapidly with the development of BTH, which later became GEC, and then GEC Alsthom. The seriousness of the 500 recently announced job losses can be appreciated and put into perspective only when it is understood that the former work force at that plant was three times that number. It has steadily reduced over the years. Job opportunities that would absorb 500 employees are not readily available in the area, so it is vital that new resources are found from the ecomomic development budget, and directed towards east Antrim. The local economy has suffered terribly, with the closure of ICI, Courtaulds, Clingers Yarns and Carreras, with constant job losses in other manufacturing industries. Northern Telecom, formerly Standard Telephones and Cables, is a vital part of the community in Newtownabbey, but there have been redundancies in recent years, and now the company has announced a further 205 job losses. Forced redundancies begin this month, and will run until the end of the year.
There is a thriving retail trade in Newtownabbey, but many of those who use the shopping facilities come from outside the area. That disguises the genuine hardship that has resulted from high levels of unemployment in east Newtownabbey and, in particular, in the huge estates in that area. In addition to the 205 redundancies, a further 350 temporary workers at Northern Telecom were laid off earlier this year. East Antrim cannot sustain that level of job losses. Following the announcement of the redundancies, the Under-Secretary was reported in the local press as having said that Northern Telecom would continue to play a vital role in the area. That is welcome, but it is not much consolation for those who have been made redundant, their families, or the local businesses that will undoubtedly suffer.
A number of shops in Larne have already closed, and traders badly need a confidence boost. Indeed, the whole community needs a morale boost, which only a new major industry can provide. The area has a fine tradition of hard work. The skills are available but the local work force is not being given the opportunity to demonstrate just what it can do. A special effort must be made.
Column 1037I appreciate the efforts and support of the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), recently when the employees of Circaprint made a special effort to protect and defend the jobs that were about to be lost there. Sadly, most of the major industries that have been set up in the past 30 years have now gone, but the skills which were learned are still there. We need a commitment to revitalise industry in east Antrim.
It seems a long time to go back, but my first employment was at the then BTH plant in 1957. The Duke of Gloucester said that the project was an example of faith in industrial development in Ulster. At the opening ceremony, the factory manager proposed a toast to the Northern Ireland Government, saying that he was happy to be able to regard the Government as a friend, always willing, ready and able to help. I hope that, before too long, I can pay the same tribute to the Minister.
The then Prime Minister said that the Northern Ireland Office was always eager to extend all possible help to new industry. That was the legacy of the Stormont Administration, always willing and able to help new industry. The Stormont Administration did much to bring inward investment to the Province and to east Antrim. My constituency was a prime beneficiary of their forward-looking policies. The Ulster Unionist Government worked hard to attract investment in Northern Ireland and had a clear policy on how to achieve that end. Promoting the Province was not superficial ; it was not a shop window competition. Before promoting the Province to potential investors, the Stormont Administration made sure that conditions for investors in industry in Ulster were at the level necessary for large-scale manufacturing industry.
Under the Ulster Unionist Government, the transport network in Northern Ireland was greatly improved, and an electricity service of the highest standard was developed. All that was achieved in co-operation with the Westminster Government. Sadly, little has been done since direct rule and our loss of the Stormont Administration. East Antrim has now lost most of its larger employers. Resources must again be made available to promote the area and to attract investment there. Such resources have already been made available to west Belfast and Londonderry. East Antrim is a neighbour of Belfast, on the eastern seaboard. It has the second busiest port in the United Kingdom, and it accommodates two of Northern Ireland's four power generating stations. Yet, as a result of the loss of much of its manufacturing sector, it urgently needs the same level of resources and commitment to the unemployed as have already been given to west Belfast and Londonderry.
The people of east Antrim have taken a lead in generating business confidence against all the odds, and the people locally--trade unionists, educationists, public representatives and the business community--plan to revitalise the town's industrial sector. They have the co-operation of the local council, despite its limited powers, but they need the co-operation of Government to succeed in their objectives. I ask the Minister tonight for that commitment and support and whether he has yet had
Column 1038any success in promoting interest in the huge GEC-Alsthom complex where nearly 2,000 people were once employed.
We need to invest in further training provision in east Antrim as a whole and in Larne in particular. The area has a tradition of skilled and willing workers, good industrial relations and excellent education facilities. Excellent training was provided for years by GEC. Many of the people trained there were either head hunted or poached by smaller employers who did not involve themselves in training. Newtownabbey has a Government training centre.
Larne and Carrickfergus need the same provision as has been made available at Newtownabbey and at the Government training centre in Ballymena. In view of the difficulties that have arisen from the closure of GEC, will the Minister consider as a priority providing Government support for a training centre in Larne? The younger generation must be given the opportunity to learn the skills that their elders learned in the factories of east Antrim. They need more than a youth training programme job in a bakery or shoe shop. When he takes into account our serious job losses, will the Minister provide guidance to his planning service on the need for flexibility and common sense? There must be a sensible relaxation of the rules concerning land that is zoned as special or of outstanding natural beauty. For example, there is the prospect of developing a small hotel-leisure facility at Ballycarry in east Antrim. That would create 30 to 40 jobs. We desperately need any jobs. We must have assistance if we are to attract jobs to the area. The project has the support of the local council.
There is no reason why, therefore, common sense should not prevail. The project could be constrained by means of the enforcement of planning conditions, thereby ensuring that it fits neatly into the area for which it is designed. That would meet local needs and provide employment opportunities. At the same time, it would satisfy the planning conditions. If they were not complied with, I should support their enforcement.
As for money voted to the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland, I draw attention to the importance of Larne harbour to the Northern Ireland economy and also to the importance of the Larne-Belfast road to the Province as a whole. Larne is the second busiest port in the United Kingdom. It is at one end of the Larne-Stranraer corridor. It is the shortest sea crossing between Northern Ireland and the mainland. The successful development of Larne harbour, through private initiative and with European Community grant aid, deserves the whole-hearted protection that Northern Ireland Office Ministers and Her Majesty's Government can give. It must be defended and supported so that what has been achieved can be protected against the designs of the Irish Republic, which wishes to redirect passenger and freight traffic along the Dublin-Holyhead route.
It would be an absolute disgrace if public money were to be used to duplicate what has already been provided, through EC funding, and to destroy the local initiative that has already been established there. I hope that, as a demonstration of good faith the Larne-Stranraer corridor is given at least equal status, as a Euro-route, from the island of Ireland and that there will be a clear announcement by the Minister that money will be made available to upgrade the Larne-Belfast road. it would be
Column 1039most satisfying if we also heard from him that an application had already been submitted to the European Community for the requisite funding for this project.
There is a black spot on the Antrim coast road in my constituency, which is, of course, one of the most beautiful in the British Isles. That black spot is an old limestone whiting mill. One knows when one is approaching the area half a mile before reaching it because every house, shop and church in the village is affected by limestone dust. The village needs more than a mere face lift--it needs a commitment from the Department of the Environment and support from the Department of Economic Development to ensure that the money spent on the Glenarm village study was not wasted and that the report was not another merely to be pigeonholed and forgotten.
The village community would like a commitment for funding to relocate the old whiting mill from the coast road inland. I understand that the Eglinton limestone company is prepared to make a substantial financial contribution to help the village meet its long-term objective, but that Government intervention and support would be necessary to make it a possibility. I hope that that matter will be dealt with at an early date. As the local community would be the main beneficiary of a move inland by the limestone company, the use of public funding to encourage the company to make that move would be well justified.
I also appeal on behalf of the tenants of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in Nos. 1 to 8 in Roscor square in Rathcoole. I support the tenants in their wish to remain in their homes. They have taken pride in them and they have a secure mini-community. The houses should not be demolished ; they should be refurbished and improved as has happened elsewhere. I hope that the Minister will be able to advise the Northern Ireland Housing Executive that tenants' wishes should be given priority over those of the people who wish to promote landscaping and redevelopment schemes, however attractive and desirable they may be.
A report has been published about discrimination in funding in Northern Ireland. Wild allegations have been made, but I have not yet had the opportunity to digest the report fully. I take this opportunity to draw to the attention of the House the statistics published in Hansard of 29 April on expenditure per pupil in England on books and equipment, and the statistics published in Hansard of 30 April at column 131 referring to expenditure on books and equipment in primary and secondary schools in Northern Ireland.
Those statistics--regardless of whether schools are Protestant or Roman Catholic--show that expenditure in Northern Ireland on primary and secondary school pupils since 1978-79 has been to the disadvantage of Northern Ireland primary school pupils. Expenditure was approximately £10 less per primary pupil in Northern Ireland than in England. In 1988-89, that disadvantage had been reduced to £4.40 per pupil. However, the real gap in funding for pupils in secondary schools in Northern Ireland in 1988-89 compared with those in secondary schools in England shows a disadvantage of approximately £20 a pupil.
In both our primary and secondary schools, all our children have been losing out. If my interpretation of the figures contained in Hansard on those two dates is inaccurate, I wish to be so advised. Although some
Column 1040movement has been made to bridge the gap, in 1989-90, according to the statistics available, much more must be done.
How can the Secretary of State justify discrimination against Northern Ireland pupils? Funding has been the same in Protestant and in Roman Catholic schools, but at a lower level than that provided in England. I want an assurance that all school pupils in Northern Ireland will be treated fairly and equally, and that funding will be provided at the same rate as for comparable children in schools in England. I also want to know what steps can be taken to make up for the shortfall in funding over all those years for books and equipment in Northern Ireland schools.
I must again refer to the funding under the order for health and social services. My constituents in the Larne-Carrickfergus area would never forgive me if I failed to appeal again to the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who is responsible for health, and to the Secretary of State to consider further the case presented by Carrickfergus and Larne borough councils and by the Moyle action committee for the retention of acute hospital facilities at the Moyle hospital in Larne. I record my thanks to the Minister in his absence for his usual courtesy in informing me in advance of his visit to the Moyle hospital last week. It was not possible for me to meet him on that occasion, because I was representing the borough council at the 75th anniversary of the battle of the Somme in France.
I would also like the Minister to know that we in Larne, the councils in Carrickfergus and Larne and the Moyle action committee will avail ourselves of the opportunity to meet him formally and to discuss our problems in the very near future. Limited expenditure on Moyle hospital now would upgrade it and provide accessibility to acute hospital provision for the isolated coastal area equal to that provided for patients elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Such upgrading should happen before any commitment is given to proceed with phase 2 of the new Antrim hospital project. The vast majority of general practitioners in east Antrim and the overwhelming majority of the population are unconvinced by the arguments of the northern health board in favour of the new Antrim hospital. I again appeal for an independent option appraisal on the future of the Moyle hospital before any services are removed.
Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North) : I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to say a few words, especially as I realise that there is at least one other hon. Member who wishes to speak, and I know that the Minister will need as much time as possible to wind up. I am sure that the Minister is aware of the problem of the flooding in north Belfast last weekend. That brings me to a subject of great concern--the fact that the gullies did not seem to be able to take the heavy rain that fell last weekend, as has happened on other occasions. What concerns me more is the fact that the Department of the Environment does not accept any responsibility for the damage caused to houses as a result of the flood. In the circumstances, the Department should be far more sympathetic to claims.
I know of widows who are on very limited incomes and cannot afford to take the Department to court. They
Column 1041depend on what the Department can do to honour its obligations as a result of the flooding. I hope that the Minister will consider that aspect with a view to trying to help those unfortunate people who are suffering as a result of the flooding which frequently happens in Northern Ireland, particularly in north Belfast, because water does not quickly run off the hills.
I have with me a news release from the Housing Executive which states that a survey of 11,000 dwellings in Northern Ireland is to be carried out by the Housing Executive and that earlier surveys carried out in 1974, 1979, 1984 and 1987 have provided valuable information. I do not know where the Housing Executive conducted its survey, but it cannot have surveyed north Belfast to any great extent, particularly the Shankill road, where vast areas of ground are lying derelict and countless numbers of people, particularly the elderly, are looking for decent accommodation and cannot get it. Every week, perhaps 20 or 30 people from that area look for housing but cannot find it.
I cordially invite the Minister to come with me to view the Shankill road and see the problem for himself. The Housing Executive is dragging its feet. Prime land which is suitable for elderly people's accommodation--it is close to shops and all amenities--is not being developed. Some of it has been offered to the private sector. As I understand it, there is no great interest in it. Some of it will be turned into playing fields, and so on. That is completely wrong and it is opposed root and branch by the people of the area. I congratulate the Minister on his service to Northern Ireland. He is the longest-serving Minister in the Province--long may it continue. Although I have much sympathy for the homeless, in some situations there is exploitation. The Housing Executive, in its desire to house an many homeless people as possible, is not properly examining the real facts. It is giving houses to supposedly homeless people who are making themselves homeless. Houses are being used for what we now know are giro drops. We find that it will take the Housing Executive more than a year to go through the process of trying to remove so-called homeless people from houses that they are not even inhabiting.
I now refer to solid fuel fires. Many glass-fronted room heaters have run their course and are causing great trouble. They are emitting fumes and causing problems for the elderly. Many elderly people are now opposed to them. I hope that the Minister will now consider providing a more acceptable form of heating. Economy 7 is now widely demanded by the elderly. Some would much prefer an open solid fuel fire which they can control. Elderly people have great difficulty in moving the ash pans on glass-fronted heaters and, as a result, are sometimes injured in the process.
My hon. Friends the Members for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) and for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) referred to unadopted roads. I should like to refer to unadopted entries, of which there are innumerable examples in north Belfast. It is unfair that residents should have to maintain such entries and that services are not provided. The Government should now decide that all entries should be adopted and be brought up to a decent standard of
Column 1042repair. That is necessary, because there is a problem with people falling into them, especially the elderly. We should examine that issue carefully and as soon as possible.
I am sure that we all remember our nursery rhymes from school and learning about simple Simon meeting the pieman when going to the fair and about four and twenty blackbirds being baked in a pie. That brings me to my next subject. I refer to the draconian public health measures. Quite a number of people in north Belfast follow the tradition of pie-making, of which there is a great tradition throughout the United Kingdom.
Those poor people in my constituency, who have been making pies for generations without any problems and have exported them throughout the United Kingdom, are being put out of business because they cannot meet the draconian environmental health provisions. The Government should look at this matter carefully. If they are to insist that those people are put out of business, they should ask the Local Enterprise Development Unit to do something specific and to acquire new premises so that those people can continue their activity of piemaking and protect the jobs that are in danger of being lost. I said that I did not want to speak for long, and I shall refer only briefly to the privatisation of the health authorities. Many people connected with the health boards are concerned about the benefits that are accruing from the privatisation of the services. They tell me that undue emphasis seems to be placed on administration and that the savings which accrue from the privatisations are not being channeled into medical services or into community health care. I should like the Minister to look into that to see where the savings are being directed.
In conclusion, I congratulate the Minister on the action for community employment schemes in the Province which are doing an imaginative job. The training initiatives are working well. From my experience, I know that more than 50 per cent. of those who have had 12 months' training are now getting jobs. That is an excellent record, and I commend it to the Minister with the thought that perhaps the schemes could be enlarged. Nevertheless, they are doing an excellent job for the young people of the Province.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I thank the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) for completing his speech early to allow me time to speak before those on the Front Benches reply. This is a peculiar appropriation debate. We are used to having only three hours late at night- -we do not usually start as early as 4.30 pm--to deal with important matters relating to Northern Ireland, such as agriculture, economic development, the environment, education, health, social services and the like. However today, because of the peculiarities of the timetable and because the Government have run out of business--they are not being generous to Northern Ireland--they are allowing us to enjoy a fuller debate on Northern Ireland issues ; there has been an opportunity for a much more wide-ranging debate than usual.
I do not know whether hon. Members have made use of the longer debate to discuss general issues in Northern Ireland, its bread-and-butter problems and the details of
Column 1043economic and social development. I appreciate that Northern Ireland Members have used the debate as an opportunity to deal with their constituency problems. It is a great chance, and it should be done. However, I sometimes think that that should be put in a different framework, so that general matters of economic and social concern can be raised.
If we get economic and social development right, we help to handle many of the wider problems in Northern Ireland. Some time ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) argued from the Opposition Front Bench that economic and social developments, although important in their own right, had another purpose. They aided peace and security in Northern Ireland. Gloomy job prospects and economic deprivation and all the problems that flow from it were conditions that bred sectarianism. Therefore, a comprehensive economic strategy needed to be developed for Northern Ireland. That has been absent under this Government in the past 12 years. My hon. Friend said that the top priorities were economic regeneration and partnership between public and private capital, and he stressed Labour's policies on training. In Northern Ireland, the standard of use of the educational system and of qualifications is high. But training appropriate for the jobs that should be created by economic regeneration in modern technological circumstances also needs to be in place. That is part of Labour's programme
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South also stressed the European dimension. He referred to the European structural fund. He said that it should not be hidebound in Northern Ireland by the principle of additionality, under which funds that were available from Europe could not be utilised fruitfully. It is disgraceful that the principle operates generally, but if there is a place where its operation is most disgraceful, it is Northern Ireland. If more funds are needed anywhere to assist economic and social development, it is Northern Ireland. If money is available to do many of the things that have been suggested by Northern Ireland Members tonight, it should be grasped and made use of. There is a case for killing off the principle that the Government are following in Northern Ireland, and it would be of great benefit to do so in the rest of the United Kingdom too.
There is an extra-European dimension. To a large extent, Europe needs democratic institutions, especially through the European Parliament, and a social content. The social charter and the principles that follow from it could nowhere be made use of more beneficially than in Northern Ireland. Some of the advantages that have been lost under this Government's policies in recent years could be brought back by the adoption of the social charter. That is why the Trades Union Congress found some attraction in the social contract, and had a new look at the position in Europe.
The social charter is particularly appropriate to Northern Ireland, where European provisions have often operated to make grants and moneys available. It might not have qualified for such grants under the criteria, but it qualified to some extent, because the European Community realised the problems that existed there. In the past 12 years, the Government have pushed forward the enterprise culture. That culture is competitive and divisive, and it encouraged a divided society in which there are already two distinct communities. If anything is destined
Column 1044to make things worse, it is an inappropriate response to economic and social problems. The difficulty with the enterprise culture and the principles of Thatcherism is that they operate as though there were universal truths which must apply to all circumstances and conditions. Those truths manifestly did not apply to the conditions in Northern Ireland.
Cuts in direct taxation, and the Government's privatisation policies, are of little relevance to Northern Ireland. The Government are still pushing for the privatisation of the electricity industry in Northern Ireland when the people, the constitutional political parties and those outside that structure are opposed to it. The trade unions and other organisations also object to the proposal. The reaction to the apparent consensus identified by the Government is disgraceful and should not be accepted.
The Secretary of State has taken steps to try to draw Northern Ireland together, but he has also often had to come to the Dispatch Box to advocate doctrinaire measures in line with Government policy. That action has been foisted upon the right hon. Gentleman as result of Cabinet decisions--and such decisions are still being taken despite the change of Prime Minister.
Where do the politicians of Northern Ireland stand on the broader political principles? We have heard a great deal about their concern for the well- being of certain areas, the Moyle hospital and other issues. We should treat the appropriation debate like the Budget debate, but it is important to know where those politicians stand on the issues other than those that divide the two communities. Often, those issues are not addressed unless they involve the politics of the border.
The broader political issues are often left to one side, because the hon. Members representing Northern Ireland are not involved in forming a Government in the United Kingdom. They would come into play only if they were in the peculiar position of holding the balance of power. If that were to happen, where would they stand on the issues I have outlined? Would they favour a comprehensive economic strategy or an enterprise culture? Would they want the Government's principles to be adhered to? I should like to hear where those hon. Members stand on those issues.
Just as economic and social development aids peace and security, so peace and security aids economic and social development. One must move on both fronts to achieve progress. Many things are happening in Northern Ireland that show that people are prepared to be brave and to stand up for peace. I have mentioned previously organisations such as Families Against Intimidation and Terror, which is run by Nancy Gracy, and the trade union support for the campaign "Hands Off My Mate".
Another important development is the peace train that will travel between Belfast, Dublin and London. That train will use the Holyhead route to London, so I hope that that is not judged ideologically suspect, given some of the comments made tonight. The idea is that the line between Belfast and Dublin should not be disrupted by terrorist threats, as it often has been by the IRA. In the past years, travel on that line has been disrupted in both directions. Because of the IRA's action to disrupt the rail services in this country and the death that occurred at Victoria, it has been decided that the peace train journey will have a three-way link from Belfast to Dublin, through Holyhead,
Column 1045to Euston. The train will travel from Dublin to Belfast next Thursday and people will then be brought here on the Friday to meet in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons. The attitude that such action symbolises needs wide support, as well as the economic and social measures that I outlined earlier.
Column 1046Improved economic and social conditions, which undermine the position on which sectarianism stands, seem to go hand in hand with the actions of those who stand for peace and security. They allow trade to take place, and they make economic and social development possible.
Column 104710.41 pm
Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) for limiting his thoughtful contribution to 10 minutes and allowing me a little time to sum up the debate. As is the custom during debates on the appropriation order, hon. Members have spoken about a wide range of issues that affect their constituencies and the people of Northern Ireland. By the time the Minister has replied to the debate, we shall have debated the order for almost seven hours, which may be a record. Having sat through most of the debate, I pondered long and hard on whether there should be a different forum where many of the issues could be discussed. I do not wish to be controversial at this late hour, but I merely drop that sultana in the pudding of the politics of Northern Ireland. Perhaps hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland on both sides of the Chamber should try to find a different way for such debates to proceed.
Mr. Stott : I am not running away from anything. I do not want to enter a discussion about that issue. I was simply attempting to suggest that a more appropriate forum to discuss many of those issues could perhaps be found in Northern Ireland. So that the Minister has adequate time to reply, I shall simply leave the hon. Gentleman to ponder that matter.
I wish to concentrate on a serious issue for which I have Opposition responsibility--education. It is now nearly 18 months since the Minister of State introduced his Northern Ireland reform order. Many hon. Members present tonight will remember the debate on it. The proposals had the unique effect of unifying all the hon. Members from the Province against the Government--[ Hon. Members :-- "What do you mean?"] It is a pity that that degree of unanimity and sense of purpose has not been continued in the past few months. However, I shall leave that issue as a second sultana in the pudding for hon. Gentlemen to consider.
During the past 18 months I have visited many schools and colleges in Northern Ireland and had meetings with all the individual trade unions which represent the teaching profession in Northern Ireland. Three weeks ago, I had a meeting in Belfast with the umbrella group of teachers unions that represent the entire teaching force of the Province. All is not well-- we have heard that during this evening's debate. There are serious problems in the educational system in Northern Ireland.
Before the Minister accuses me of making party political points, I shall refer him to his own report--that of Her Majesty's inspector of schools, which concluded that one third of Ulster's secondary schools had accommodation deficiencies which adversely affect children's education. The inspectors said that, in one school, to which I think the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) referred, there were 17 temporary
Column 1048classrooms, and pupils were also being taught in corridors and in alcoves. In another school, youngsters had to sit on broken chairs. The major investigation conducted by Her Majesty's inspectors said that 20 per cent. of post-primary schools had heating systems that were inefficient and/or noisy, and there were problems that could endanger the health and safety of children. One school had inoperative smoke doors and a padlocked exit. In one fifth of the 58 schools formally inspected over the past year, inappropriate or inadequate books were being used in some classes, with pupils occasionally required to share books.
With the education reform now the law of the land, the inspectors say that there is a wide diversity in schools in the timetable allocation for a common curriculum. The only subjects being taken by fourth and fifth form pupils are English, maths, physical education, religious education and careers. The inspectors said that only one quarter of the schools had developed "particular effective" policies of assessment and that many schools had no co-ordinated policy on marking or homework. The report continued :
"The absence of a policy led to a wide divergence in the quality of marking in the majority of schools at times the marking was thorough at other times superficial and on occasions work was left unmarked".
The inspectors confirmed--this is regrettable--an all too depressing trend in Northern Ireland, with low-ability pupils receiving a "raw deal". Those words are not mine, but those of the Government inspectors. Children in Ulster's educational system are receiving a raw deal. They are frequently excluded from important sectors of the curriculum and have inadequate access to other parts of it. That report is a damning enough indictment in itself, but when added to other reports that have been published--not necessarily by a Government Department, but by other people with a great interest in education--the position seems a great deal worse. A study by the campaign group, the Association for Comprehensive Education in Northern Ireland--ACE--argued that
"declining pupil numbers and the policy of open enrolment will make it impossible to achieve parity of esteem between grammar and other post- primary schools, despite the new common curriculum and assessment system. It is much more likely that the gap between the haves and the have nots will widen and that the welcome idea of a common curriculum will perish."
I welcome the idea of a common curriculum and I have no doubt that the Minister has heard those arguments on many occasions. He may know one of the authors of that report, Mr. Robert Crone, who commented in a document, "The Transfer Market : Selection for Secondary Education in Northern Ireland 1947-1991" :
"It is difficult to avoid the feeling that what is said one day by the grammar school lobby becomes Department policy shortly afterwards.
Since the Second World War all the procedures for selection have been biased in favour of the grammar schools, which in effect opt out' of the state system.
The Association believes the willingness of Ulster parents to pay fees to secure grammar school places for their children negated the sort of community opposition which resulted in comprehensive education on the mainland.
After more than a decade of serious decline in pupil numbers the voluntary grammar schools have hardly felt any difference. There have been variations, with Belfast the worst sufferer, but clearly the contraction of secondary education has been managed by the sacrifice of controlled and maintained secondary schools in order to preserve the priviliged voluntary grammar schools. The effect of the flaws and fallacies of open enrolment will be the creation of a split system of education--one defined by its exclusive right to