Previous Section Home Page

Column 1049

select pupils by ability, its financial resources and independence and its political influence."

Here we find a recurring theme in what has been said about Northern Ireland education :

"On the other hand there is an underprivileged section marked by the meanness of its funding, its responsibility for looking after the casualties of present day society, its lack of resources and political power and the persistence of Government refusal ever to offer more than token support."

The continuation in Northern Ireland of a selective system of secondary education is corrosive and disgraceful. At this moment, many parents are involved in a costly appeal procedure to get their children into schools of their choice. The Government pretend to favour parental choice, but in Northern Ireland they fund and maintain a system of secondary and grammar schools with unequal resources and parental esteem. The selection of children at 11 has taken place in Northern Ireland since 1948 and it is wholly discredited. I oppose a divided and inequitable system of education, funded by public funds.

I was interested to read a question tabled by that well known renegade, the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) asking the Minister to delineate some examination results. Granted, A-level passes in Northern Ireland are superb, principally because there is a selection system. If it did not achieve those results, the system would not be worth the paper it was written on. The written answer to the hon. Gentleman's question went on to say that children leaving Northern Ireland schools without a single qualification make up 16.4 per cent. of the school population.

My children went through the comprehensive education system. I failed the 11-plus. I am on the side of the 16.4 per cent. of kids in Northern Ireland who do not get a decent chance because of selection at 11 and because of the resources put into selective schools. Wherever it comes from, Northern Ireland or Wigan, taxpayers' money should not be used in this way. In the competitive labour market of the future, qualifications will be important. If these kids are to stand a chance of finding jobs, they must leave school with a decent education and some qualifications.

I want to mention local management of schools. The first tranche of locally managed schools in Northern Ireland has caused grave problems in teaching and non-teaching sectors of education. The crisis engendered by the introduction of LMS was so grave that the Government were forced to release an additional £2.7 million to relieve the problem. That clearly shows the real threat of LMS to the education system. The problem has been worsened in Northern Ireland by the absence of an agreed redeployment scheme for teachers and the imposition of cash limits by the Government for funding for premature retirement.

The lack of funding implicit in Northern Ireland's locally managed schools has been accentuated by the total removal of flexibility caused by the overall global budget being broken up into smaller budgets. Schools throughout Northern Ireland are facing problems coping with provision for educational needs and funding the existing teaching staff.

Teachers throughout Northern Ireland face the threat of redundancy, and the threat is not alleviated by the


Column 1050

Minister's statement of 24 June when he said that 543 schools, 214 in the maintained sector and 329 in the controlled sector, would have a reduced share of resources.

It is no consolation to schools in Northern Ireland that 689 schools will get additional resources while 543 schools will lose out on their budgets. The net effect is destructive to school life with greater pressures being imposed on teachers and consequent loss of morale. There is an urgent need for the Government to consider removing the teachers' salary element from LMS and injecting monies to make formula funding more workable.

I touched on other aspects of education in Northern Ireland when I spoke in the debate on a Northern Ireland education order. The Minister became angry when I trotted out one or two unfortunate statistics on nursery education, but those statistics remain. In Northern Ireland only 13 per cent. of three and four-year-olds receive nursery education, compared with 25 per cent. in England and Wales and 34 per cent. in Scotland. I suggest to Northern Ireland Members that, to say the least, 13 per cent. is lamentable. They should press the Minister to do more about that.

On special educational needs, one wonders what the Government have been doing about the Education and Library Board Order 1986 which sought to promote special education in Northern Ireland. That order addressed many problems, but they have not been resolved. The Government have made no progress on that.

Hon. Members have spoken about the report just published by the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. That report reveals substantial imbalances in expenditure between Catholic and non-Catholic schools. The differential in capital expenditure has always been clear, as Catholic schools are eligible for only 85 per cent. capital funding. In practice, the payments scheme means that the true cost to Catholic schools is over 15 per cent. That could be remedied by a more streamlined procedure in the Northern Ireland Department of Education and the newly established council for Catholic maintained schools.

Mr. William Ross : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Stott : No, because I am coming to the end of my speech. The report of the standing Advisory Commission makes a strong case for reviewing the 85 per cent. capital funding. Although the Catholic Church believes that it should be responsible for some capital funding, the logic of the present breakdown of costs is debatable. The present system is justified in terms of the degree of managerial control preserved by the Church. However, that is undermined by the national curriculum, the reduction in managerial independence and by the decision to give 100 per cent. funding to integrated schools, with which I do not argue.

The major surprise in the report is the discovery that there are substantial imbalances in recurrent spending. The grammar school sector, the state Protestant sector, spent £1,652 per pupil in 1989-90. The equivalent figure for Catholic schools was £1,557--in other words, only 94 per cent. of state school expenditure. The report calls on the DENI to monitor all funding decisions with respect to their impact on such differentials and on the promotion of equality between the two sectors.


Column 1051

Given the implications of educational attainment for status in the labour market, equality of opportunity in education is essential if fair employment policies are to retain their credibility. I am flagging the issue so that the Minister can reply fully to the debate. I am sure that the House will want to know the Government's intentions in regard to the SCHR report. Is there any foundation for the report's conclusions that a sector of Northern Ireland schools has been inadequately funded for a number of years? It has been suggested that the inadequacy in funding could amount to about £70 million. If that is so, the position should be rectified as quickly as possible.

How can one best sum up the demise of education in Northern Ireland, which is in a very difficult state? I have been reading a book called "Northern Ireland--The Thatcher Years". The right hon. Member for Finchley was still Prime Minister when the Minister of State introduced the Northern Ireland education reform order. The book is by Frank Graffikin and Mike Morrissey. I propose--on your instructions, Mr. Speaker--to paraphrase one of their paragraphs, because I could not think of a better way of describing the position.

The decomposition of the state school system into a number of competing institutions is ultimately based on this Government's theory of social Darwinism--the survival of the fittest. The real agenda behind the reforms may be the construction of a three-tier system, made up of independent schools--schools in the private sector and the city technology colleges-- public sector schools, both grant-maintained and local education authority, well enough reinforced by parental choice and the voluntary sector, and a third sector--an underclass of school located in areas of poverty, forced to exist on basic funding and less cushioned than previously by discretionary funding by the local education authorities. I regret to say that that is what we have in the Northern Ireland education system at the moment. Perhaps, in a year's time, when roles are reversed and Labour Members are on the Government Benches, we can put that problem right.

11.2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : If I tried to answer all the points that havbeen covered in this varied, interesting and always lively debate, I could spend at least half an hour answering the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) and probably still only deal with half the points that he made. Having said that, I shall do my best. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) asked about the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, and the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) drew attention to the problems of his district council in that regard. I have nothing to add to what my hon. Friend the Minister of State said, except that the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland does not issue endorsements for any particular banks. I do not think that even the hon. Member for Leicester, South would wish the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland to advise him on where to place his savings. What we do is refer local authorities to banks on the Bank of England's list. But as my hon. Friend said--and, of course, without commitment--my officials will meet the officials of the council to discuss the implications.


Column 1052

The hon. Member for Leicester, South, who is usually careful with his words, had one slight slip when he talked about the Royal Victoria hospital "opting out" of the national health service. Perhaps he has listened too much to the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards). There is absolutely no question of the Royal Victoria, or any other hospital that wants to become a trust, opting out of the NHS.

The question for the Government is whether the health service boards, as purchasers, will determine the type and volume of patient care that will be provided by the hospitals. If the hospitals wish to establish themselves as trusts--which I believe would make them much closer to the communities they serve--the question is whether they will be able to provide, in a competitive way, services to the boards in the best interests of the patients. It is to the best interests of the patients that the health service reforms are directed. The hon. Member for Leicester, South spoke about the ravages of the past 12 years of Conservative Government in Northern Ireland. That was echoed by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North- East (Mr. Barnes). I am not absolutely sure how often they visit the Province. Those who come to Belfast, Londonderry or the small towns of Ulster will see a difference in the economic livelihood of Northern Ireland that cannot be compared with the position that we inherited from the Labour Government.

I accept that unemployment as a percentage is higher in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain, but when the Labour party left power, unemployment in the Province was 2.3 times that of Great Britain ; now it is only 1.7. There is nothing in our record of which we cannot be proud.

I am aware of the views of the hon. Member for Leicester, South on Northern Ireland Electricity. The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), with whom in Committee I discussed the question of gas in Northern Ireland, will be interested to know that British Gas has now shown an interest in the purchase of a generator in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) said that he has ambitions to be standing in my place this time next year. If he can do anything to ensure that he is not in charge of Northern Ireland--should that day ever come, and I doubt that it will--I shall do so. Let us consider Labour policy and, if it were ever put into operation, the effect that it would have on the economy of Northern Ireland.

The privatisation of Harland and Wolff and of Shorts would never have happened. Those two companies, which had been a millstone around the neck of the economy of Northern Ireland and which had demoralised their work forces, are now two immensely successful businesses. What would a 60 per cent. tax rate do for incentives in Northern Ireland? What would the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), who said that he would like to be the last Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, do for the confidence of business people thinking about investing in Northern Ireland? Very little, I suspect. What confidence can come from a Government who would say to the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, "We think you are wrong ; we would like you to go somewhere else"?

The hon. Member for Wigan said that he would abolish the grammar schools in Northern Ireland. I am sure that that will be greeted with pleasure by all the parents who


Column 1053

have this week, as he said, seen their children get the opportunity for an educational service that gives the highest levels of attainment in the country. Of course he is right to draw attention to the problems of those at the lowest end. That is why the Government, through "Making Belfast Work" and "Making Derry Work", and through the programmes that we are initiating in the most deprived areas, are concentrating resources in that sphere.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) became Minister with responsibility for education, those with no qualification stood at 24.6 per cent. ; now it is 16.4 per cent. We are moving in the right direction. The hon. Member for Wigan would have slightly more credit in this House if he did not knock Northern Ireland and at the same time follow a policy that would take it out of the United Kingdom and undermine and immensely damage the confidence of Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) said that we do not have an economic strategy. As I said, some Opposition Members do not appear to visit Northern Ireland very often. However, we do have a strategy, and it is called "Competing in the Nineties". We aim to have a strategy which matches inward investment with the growth of small businesses in Northern Ireland and we back winners. We want to do that through a partnership. We are doing it through a partnership in Northern Ireland with business people. I agree with the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) : I do not mind business people being involved in politics. The more involved in politics they are, the happier I would be.

In the Northern Ireland context, it is that partnership that we are determined to achieve, and we are already beginning to show the successes of that partnership in the way that we are managing to ride the recession, as the right hon. Member for Strangford said. That is an extraordinary achievement, which is due entirely to the people of Northern Ireland. They are managing to get through the recession better than any other region of the United Kingdom. This is the first time that that has happened since the 1920s. It is due entirely to the confidence that the Northern Ireland people have in themselves, which would be wrecked if the hon. Member for Wigan ever found himself on this side of the Dispatch Box.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asked me about Harland and Wolff and the child support agency. Harland and Wolff is eligible for intervention aid grant under the EC seventh directive, and that also applies to the purchase of engines. The hon. Gentleman made the point about employing disabled members of staff, and I shall certainly consider that, but the majority of the staff there are new.

The right hon. Member for Strangford and others referred to the MacSharry proposals and the problem of the damage that they could cause to Northern Ireland agriculture. The Government cannot tonight give definitive answers to those proposals which, as hon. Members said, have only been tabled today. However, the Government will firmly resist any proposals that are not fair to our farmers, and that obviously includes Northern Ireland farmers.

Having said that, I quite accept the need in Northern Ireland to ensure that agriculture works together. Many


Column 1054

hon. Members will have read the Davies report, which offers a way forward in the dairy industry. We have some fine companies in Northern Ireland in the beef, poultry and dairy industries. They must work together to give added value and a product that we can export throughout the United Kingdom and Europe.

The right hon. Member for Strangford talked about advance factories. He said that there were no advance factories in this year's budget. Next year's budget has not yet been decided. Of the Industrial Development Board's capital budget of £20 million, £16 million will be spent on factory building, £3 million on the purchase of industrial land and £1 million on developing and landscaping industrial estates. Two advance factories, one at Glen road and another at Ballygomartin, should be completed and ready for occupation at the end of November. A further 40 acres of land will be acquired at Poleglass to meet the needs of that area of west Belfast.

I am confident that we shall continue to obtain inward investment during the next year. The figures were not as encouraging last year as the year before, but there were reasons for that. There is a recession not only here but in the United States and many other parts of Europe. However, we have in the pipeline a number of inward investment propositions which we will be able to clinch--if I might use that elegant word--during the course of the year.

It is worth reminding the House that we have had inward investment in the past two years from Canada, The United States, Japan, France, Korea, Norway, Germany, Great Britain--a range of countries. We are now managing to improve our image and obtain a quality of investment which, contrary to what the right hon. Member for Strangford said, I do not believe will necessarily disappear at the first wave of recession that comes along. We should never forget the importance of smaller companies in Northern Ireland and the need to grow them and to back and support them, which is the basis of our strategy. The right hon. Gentleman talked about urban development grant being too slow. I take that point, and it is something that I shall look into. He also talked about the urban development programme as supported by the international fund for Ireland and the need to ensure that that programme spreads equally in the east and the west of the Province. I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's point on that. Clearly we must look to those areas in Northern Ireland, whether they are east, west, north or south, which have the greatest problems and deal with them. That is exactly what we shall do. If we can get enough funding, we shall spread it as widely as we can. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not go into too much detail regarding his school points. However, I shall make sure that my right hon. and noble Friend the Paymaster General provides him with a reply.

Three hon. Members referred to the reduction of acute services at Ards. There is no question of any change being made in acute services at Ards, unless there were to be a major refurbishment at the Ulster, which is five miles away. Even if that were to be proposed, there would have to be public consultation--as would happen, as the hon. Member for Antrim, East said, in the case of the Moyle. The right hon. Member for Strangford referred to cuts. When I became a Health Minister, the budget for the health service in Northern Ireland was £650 million. This


Column 1055

year it is £1.166 billion--almost double within the space of five years. That shows the Government's commitment to the health service in Northern Ireland.

The right hon. Gentleman said that 10 per cent. of the services are in the North Down area, while 40 per cent. of the population are there. That is true. However, as the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) said, we have the City hospital, the Royal Victoria hospital and the Ulster hospital. These are very well-equipped, professional hospitals in the middle of our capital city. Yes, people have to travel to them, but when they are there they find a quality of service that many elsewhere in the world would envy.

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not expect me to go into too much detail about the pedestrian crossing at Millisle, or the need for a light at Gransha. I shall happily look into the question of a light at Gransha, and into the view that there ought to be more lights there. It is felt that there is insufficient light in the area. Suffice it to say that lights sometimes shine into people's bedrooms, which they do not always like.

The right hon. Gentleman then raised a very important point about the Holyhead-Dublin-Belfast rail link. I am the Minister with responsibility for transport in Northern Ireland. Therefore, my job is to protect and expand the ports, harbours and railways of Northern Ireland. I am absolutely determined to achieve that. The vast majority of traffic in Northern Ireland is on the roads. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) nearly shot his fox. We have an excellent port facility. A large number of goods from the south come out through Larne to Stranraer. The Government will do everything they can to ensure that the interests of Northern Ireland, Larne, Belfast and Warrenpoint are protected. We have a road infrastructure there. I agree with the hon. Member for Antrim, East that we must improve the A8, the road between Larne and Belfast. Everything that needs to be done will be done. We must not be complacent, but we should not be unduly concerned when we take into account the competence and the efficiency of Northern Ireland hauliers and the way that they manage to get goods into and out of Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland. I am sure that that will continue.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred--as did the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe)--to the appalling accident last night at Broughdone. I gave an undertaking to the hon. Member for Antrim, South in the absense of the hon. Member for Antrim, North that I would look immediately tomorrow into whether we can bring forward the programme for the introduction of half-barriers, to be phased in over the next few months. I give an undertaking that that will be done.

There will have to be an inquiry to discover what happened. Northern Ireland Railways has assured me that the lights were working when the accident occurred, but that will be investigated. As the hon. Member for Antrim, South said, there have been far too many such accidents, and we must do all that we can to ensure that the right system is installed as quickly as possible.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North gave us a dissertation on nominees to boards. For those boards for which I have responsibility, one of my concerns is to ensure that there should be a community and a sex balance, but the main concern is to ensure that all those boards contribute to the success of the organisation in


Column 1056

which they serve. I am not aware of and have no evidence of any political discrimination. The political views of those who serve on the boards are irrelevant to the jobs that they must do.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the hospital at Coleraine. He has heard me talking about that more times than he would wish. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East also mentioned the hospital, but I must state that I no longer have responsibility for it, although I hope that a decision can be made soon.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North also mentioned his problems with a planning officer in his constituency. I look forward to meeting the officer with the hon. Gentleman, so that we can discuss how he goes about his business. Northern Ireland is a very beautiful part of the United Kingdom. Some of us--I count myself as one--feel that some planning decisions taken in Northern Ireland during the past few years have perhaps allowed too many foreign-looking bungalows on our hilltops. Through a policy of siting, location and design we are trying to stop the rural sprawl that has developed in, for example, Donegal.

I was grateful for the support of the hon. Member for North Down for the planning office. However, I accept that there must be sensitivity and an understanding of local circumstances. It is difficult to achieve a balance, and where there are problems, hon. Members know that I am always prepared to do what I can to try to find a solution. Nevertheless, it will not always be possible. If we are to protect the environment in Northern Ireland for the future, we shall not be able to give everyone what they think is reasonable and what they desire.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Rathlin Island, and I was grateful for his compliments. I agree that there is a need for the harbours, and work on them is in progress. I have already dealt with the hon. Gentleman's point about agriculture.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East mentioned the incinerator. I compliment him on his investigation into and work on it. I understand his suggestion that we proceed with caution. I have already said that the incinerator will be subject to an environmental impact assessment and a very thorough public inquiry. All the issues will have to be fully debated and resolved, and seen to be debated and resolved. I shall not deal in detail with the matters that the hon. Gentleman raised, because they will be discussed during the inquiry. I agree that it is important to protect the green image. He asked me about my discussions with Mr. Flynn. The question is, do we need an incinerator in the island of Ireland? Can the waste be disposed of indefinitely elsewhere? What is happening to the waste at the moment? Are we sure that it is being disposed of properly?

What will happen if we do not build an incinerator? Will we lose jobs in the places creating the waste if the waste cannot be got rid of? That may be a real fear in the future. All the issues need to be discussed and will be discussed. I make the point to the hon. Gentleman that we cannot just say that the waste can disappear. The hon. Member for North Down said that incinerators can be dangerous. I suspect that toxic waste can be rather more dangerous than an incinerator, if the incinerator is properly run. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East made a fair point about the need to have it properly run, controlled and manned. I agree with


Column 1057

the hon. Gentleman that all those matters will have to be discussed in the fullest detail and depth, and will have to be argued out publicly.

The hon. Member for Londonderry, East made some fairly derogatory comments about the Local Enterprise Development Unit, and I am glad that the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) put a little balance on that. Bank managers are not much easier than LEDU is on inventors. We give 50 per cent. of a maximum grant up to £1,000 for an invention. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East mentioned three cases. It is important that the chairman of LEDU, who is a business man and is meant to represent the interests of his clients, gets to grips with the three cases. Perhaps we could get together with the three people concerned and discuss the matter with the chairman to see how we can take it forward.

The hon. Member for South Down mentioned farming, and I hope that he will agree that I have dealt with that. He also mentioned training and the fishermen. I will take that matter up with the Training and Employment Agency, and I will bring the other points about fishing to the attention of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley).

The hon. Gentleman also made the point about there being only one annexe to the training centre in South Down. I understand that point, which was not dissimilar to that made by the hon. Member for Antrim, East, who was concerned about what we do with the work force at GEC and with the training centre there. I understand the point about the lack of transport facilities to get people to and from such training centres. I will look into the matter and discuss it later with the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for South Down also spoke about an Industrial Development Board-LEDU merger. I have some sympathy with the concept, but the problem is that it would require statutory regulation. We do not have enough time to do that. We must consider how we can build our economic strategy with our present institutions. However, I accept that we must ensure that they work as closely together as possible. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the IDB is very aware of the pressures that he and other hon. Members bring on back office and inward investment. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that tourism is crucial to the Mournes and the St. Patrick's trail. I may initially have had something to do with starting that. I agree that it is an important aspect.

The hon. Member for South Down mentioned roads. We are, as I have told hon. Members before, having a review of the whole road system. I cannot give answers at the moment, but I will do so as soon as possible. The review will probably show that we need to spend money on


Column 1058

roads. However, the problem is that, if we do that, where will the funding come from? It does not fall off a tree, and we will need to look carefully at other budgets.

The hon. Member for South Down raised a series of issues about attendance allowance and mobility allowance, as did the hon. Member for Belfast, South. I will bring those issues to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes. If there are particular cases, we will consider them. However, in such distressing cases, one has to consider the age of the person and his condition. The hon. Member for North Down talked about democracy, and there was a general discussion about the way in which we conduct our business. I had hoped that, at some time over the past 10 weeks, when hon. Members were doing whatever they were doing while the rest of us did whatever we were doing, we might have moved somewhere on the matter. However, that has nothing to do with me.

I listened carefully to the points made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) about Connswater housing association and about what happened on the golf course. As I go down the Knock dual carriageway, I will consider what we can do. He made several points about disability. I have a lot of sympathy with him on the issue of what Monica Wilson said. We have a strategy in the public service. The Department of the Environment is funding three access offices for the Northern Ireland Council on Disability for three years. We are working closely to produce guidelines for developers, and we are ensuring that all public buildings have access.

I shall write to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) and deal in detail with the issues that he raised. As for GEC Alsthom, there are two people who have showed some interest in the factory. We have still to market it and sell it. I cannot deal in detail with the points which were made about education in Northern Ireland. As the SACHR report has been publicised, I do not think that it gives as fair a picture as it should. Hon. Members will know that 75 per cent. of recurrent teaching costs are not included in the figures, but there is a narrow area of costs that the Government will have to examine.

I think that Northern Ireland is in good heart under the Government ; it is well ruled and well financed.

Question put and agreed to .

Resolved ,

That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, which was laid before this House on 11th June, be approved.

SCOTTISH GRAND COMMITTEE

Ordered ,

That for the remainder of the present Session Standing Order No. 97 (Matters relating exclusively to Scotland) shall have effect as if the word eight' were substituted for the word six' in line 12.-- [Mr. Nicholas Baker.]


Column 1059

PETITION

Castleford Hospital

11.30 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford) :

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

The Humble petition of Brian Bullock on behalf of 8,289 people residing in the Pontefract and Castleford, Normanton, Hemsworth, Elmet and Wakefield constituencies showeth that I oppose the closure of the casualty minor injuries unit at Castleford hospital whether on a temporary or a permanent basis. I believe that the casualty unit provides a valuable and necessary service to the local community, and therefore thoroughly urge members of the Pontefract health authority to reconsider their decision.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your Honourable House urges the Secretary of State for Health to advise the Pontefract health authority to reopen the casualty minor injuries unit at Castleford hospital on a permanent basis.

Your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table .


Column 1060

Manchester Airport

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Nicholas Baker.]

11.31 pm

Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the future of Manchester airport. I am sorry to keep my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment so late, but I am sure that he realises that it is no fault of mine that other hon. Members wished to talk until 11.30 pm.

In the past decade, Manchester airport has grown from handling 4 million passengers a year to 11 million. It is the fastest growing airport in Europe. It is important to me because it is the largest employer for my constituency. It is just outside my constituency, but it happens to employ more of my constituents than any other employer.

I pay tribute to the Government because, since they took office in 1979, Manchester airport has changed from what was basically a regional airport to become the 17th largest international airport in the world. There have been significant advances in recent years, including Cathay Pacific flying to Hong Kong, Singapore Airlines to Singapore, Qantas to Australia, South African Airlines to Johannesburg, the emirates airlines to Dubai, and British Airways and Pakistan International to Islamabad. Canada is served by both Canadian International and Air Canada.

The crunch has come largely in the efforts to get sufficient licences for United States airlines which want to serve Manchester. About five years ago, American Airlines was offered a temporary operations permit to Chicago, and I pay tribute to American Airlines for the work that it has done on the route. Things were not quite so easy as they could have been in the beginning, but the airline persevered. The route has now become the most successful and profitable of the airline's international network. That has helped to prove what many of us have always believed--that with the airport's catchment area of about 20 million people, there is always demand. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson) for his work while Secretary of State for Transport. It is largely due to his persistence and it is thanks to him that an agreement was reached with the United States Government to grant a further two licences that were available to any non-London airport. There were eight applications for the licences, all the applicants choosing to serve Manchester to Atlanta in preference to any other regional airport. That says a great deal for Manchester airport. This year, those two licences were awarded to Delta Air Lines which, in the last week of June, began a service from Manchester, and to American Airlines which only last week began a service to New York, alongside that of British Airways. That shows American Airlines' faith in Manchester.

I should like to draw to my hon. Friend's attention the fact that there are 28 scheduled services between Manchester and the United States, compared with 393 from London. That illustrates the imbalance between north and south. I hope that the interest that has been evinced in introducing new services by a number of United States airlines will be given favourable consideration by the Government. After all, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who is my hon. Friend's boss, expressed support for the economic benefits that flow from the expansion of regional airports.


Column 1061

It is good to have a Secretary of State for Transport who does not come from the great London area but from Scotland, and is therefore well aware of the problems in those parts of the United Kingdom that are further from London.

The benefits, which have been quantified, show that each new daily United States air service creates 1,400 new jobs and improves the regional economy by £14 million. That brings me to one of my main points. There are rumours that Stansted airport will soon be opened up to United States airlines. If that is true, it will not be of any assistance to the regional airports, nor will it help to relieve aviation congestion in the south- east. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to quash that rumour.

I pay tribute to the part that the Government have played in improving the regulatory process in Europe, which has allowed more opportunity for the airlines and has helped to meet demand from north-west travellers. Only a few years ago, the Manchester-Paris route had only three or four flights a day, but it now has 10. Virtually every major European city is now served from Manchester. The other important point is that Manchester has developed airline services from other British cities, so that passengers from other British cities can get to Manchester and link into its long-haul network.

All that has had an effect. Manchester has now overtaken Gatwick as the largest summer holiday airport. Last year, Manchester airport was awarded the "silver globe" award, Heathrow being second and Gatwick third. The success of Manchester Airport is also due to the provision of facilities for passengers. The construction of terminal 2, which will double the airport's capacity to 25 million passengers, is on schedule and on budget. I thank the Government for their support for the development, which they view as a project of national importance and, in that regard, have authorised the appropriate borrowing powers.

Another vital question relates to the airport's rail link. I used to think that Manchester was not very good at providing a means of getting those who land at Manchester airport into the centre of Manchester. A slight hiccup some time ago caused some anxiety, but I understand that British Rail has now allocated the money to finalise the link. Such a link is long overdue and will be an enormous asset for travellers to Manchester airport. Again I make a comparison with Stansted. The link from Stansted into central London cost £80 million and carries some 50,000 passengers a year. The Manchester rail link, even according to British Rail's conservative estimate, will carry a million people a year.

Looking to the future, several European Community issues could affect the airport. First, the possible abolition of the duty-free facilities causes a great deal of anxiety. If abolition were approved, it would mean a loss of jobs. I know that the Government have not reached a final decision and that they are sympathetic to the proposals made by Manchester airport for up to five years of transitional arrangements, thus saving jobs and avoiding a significant increase in scheduled and charter air tariffs. Secondly, there is the worry that air tickets and holiday accommodation, which are currently exempt from value added tax, could have VAT added by the European Community. That would inevitably mean an increase in


Column 1062

cost both for air fares and for holiday accommodation, thus threatening jobs and the stability of the vital travel industry. My hon. Friend the Minister may be interested to know that I recently received through the post a copy of a letter from a man called B. A. Didsbury, the district secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union. The letter was sent to an Opposition Member. I have no idea where the copy came from--it came in a plain envelope and had a Manchester postmark. At first I thought that it had been wrongly sent to me, but because I have a curious nature, I suppose, I read it and I am glad that I did so. Perhaps one of the leakers who has been so helpful to the Labour party has decided that the balance should be redressed and that someone should leak something to the Conservative party.

Whoever sent the letter to me has my thanks, as it makes interesting reading. I will gladly let my hon. Friend the Minister have a copy of the whole letter to pass on to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Transport who, I believe, should see it. I will quote just one extract :

"Increasingly, elected members are refusing to be involved with local authority grievance and disciplinary procedures, and have almost totally withdrawn from negotiations.

Likewise at Manchester Airport where councillors, who are directors, repeatedly have refused to meet with shop stewards. Fortunately, for as long as the Airport remains in local ownership, then the underlying company policies can be influenced by political, rather than strictly economic considerations.

To this end, and following stupendous efforts by Paul McDermott and other branch officials, airport workers are forming themselves into a political pressure group. This, we intend, will have a significant impact on local Labour Parties. The Airport and the job security of its workers will become a major political consideration in the selection and promotion of local Labour Party candidates." I do not know what my my hon. Friend the Minister thinks about Mr. Didsbury, but he scares me--to him, economic factors are unimportant, but political commitment is the thing.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : Is my hon. Friend aware that it has been estimated, I believe, by Councillor Howarth, who is a former chairman of the airport, that excess manning costs at Manchester airport amount to £2 million per year? Does he agree that that should be dealt with, because Manchester airport has a great future as an airport which serves more United Kingdom airports than any other airport in this country?


Next Section

  Home Page