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Column 1036in Craigavon in 1991. A 60-year-old woman was seriously injured in Saturday's bombing by a piece of shrapnel. The cost of repairs to Portadown stands at £8 million.
Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would underline that misleading and inaccurate telephone messages were given about the location of the bomb in Portadown and that the behaviour of the IRA in that respect was consistent with an intention to cause considerable civilian casualties. It was only as a result of the good fortune that the police spotted the bomb long before the warnings that casualties were avoided.
Rev. Ian Paisley : I accept what the hon. Gentleman, who represents that area in the House, has said. When the votes were counted in that area, and one of the Sinn Fein candidates was defeated, from the agents of Sinn Fein around the table there came the words, "But we have a buster for this town." That buster was the explosion of the bomb.
I understand that, when the Prime Minister spoke to Congressmen in America, he emphasised the close relationship between the IRA and Sinn Fein. If he is prepared to say that, in America, I do not know why he does not take instant steps here to have Sinn Fein outlawed. Not content with the destruction in Portadown, and undeterred by any security presence, the intensity of the bombing was stepped up. Once again, Belfast was the target for the illicit activities of those encouraged by the Sinn Fein voters. At 1.26 am, a 200-lb bomb devastated the Drumkeen hotel in Protestant east Belfast. The bomb also damaged the housing surrounding that business. I visited those houses early on Sunday morning, as I represent that area in the European Parliament.
I spoke to a mother who told me that no warning whatever was given to those houses. She said, "My child cried to be taken to the toilet. I lifted him from his bed. When I got to the bathroom door, I was lifted by the force of the blast, and we both found ourselves in the bath. When I came out of the toilet afterwards to take my son past the bedroom where he had been sleeping, a large piece of glass like the head of a spear had pierced through the pillow where that young child had been lying half a minute before." So it was only a miracle that there were not terrible casualties in that bombing.
It is the fourth time in 12 months that the IRA has bombed the Drumkeen hotel. Three people are in hospital as a result. A newly-wed couple had their wedding reception shattered to pieces by the explosion. The damage is estimated at £2.5 million.
Sunday was once again desecrated by bomb No. 4, in Magherafelt town centre at 10.21 on Sunday night. A 300-lb bomb blitzed the centre, and 20 shops and offices in Broad street were destroyed. The bus station, which had been rehabilitated, was annihilated and the two main banks in the town are practically rubble. The cost is estimated at £5 million.
That quartet of destruction costing £22 million in four days has been an attack at the heart of the Province. My colleague who sits on Magherafelt council and represents the Mid-Ulster constituency around which Magherafelt is spread--Magherafelt itself is in the East Londonderry constituency after the last border changes--is in America
Column 1037seeking business for the town. But what success can he possibly have in meeting companies when the heart of Magherafelt has been destroyed?
I understand that it is estimated that last year investment programmes worth £10 million did not come about because of the absolute terror that the name "Northern Ireland" brings to people's minds. The current blitz reinforces those attitudes, and well Sinn Fein-IRA knows it.
What then is to be done? Will we simply repeat, "Business as usual", as we must often do? Will we simply pay the higher insurance premiums? Will we see a cosmetic security presence for three weeks run down and retreat? If that is all we get from the Government, the IRA will be bombing as usual, in the business of terror as usual, and the security forces will be on a reactive course as usual. Over a year ago, the leaders of the official Unionists and the SDLP and I had a unique meeting with the Prime Minister, when we discussed the then deteriorating security situation. Once again, I put to the right hon. Gentleman the proposals contained in my party's security document, which calls for an offensive against the IRA. By that we do not mean what the Secretary of State has interpreted it to mean. He slanders us when he says that we want to remove all restraints from the security forces so that they can be let loose to break any law they like, as long as they get the IRA.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is an ambiguity in the statements of successive Secretaries of State that the full rigours of the law are being used against the IRA? In fact, the previous Secretary of State admitted that the Government were not using the full rigours of the law. We are calling not for the removal of restraints but for the forceful use of the law.
Rev. Ian Paisley : I accept that. It is wrong that the representatives from Northern Ireland have to answer to the people when the Secretary of State makes such a statement about security. The Secretary of State should face up to those people. He should try to explain why he is not prepared to follow the course that we are advocating. Instead, he puts up a straw man of his own making by claiming that we are advocating that the security forces should act exactly as the IRA does and kill, maim and bomb. That is not what we are suggesting.
Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to refer to my constituency and the terrible bomb at the Drumkeen hotel. Does he recognise that the people in that area view with utmost horror the response of the Secretary of State who, when asked after four days of bombing, whether he would change the direction of the failed security policy, said that he was quite happy and content with that present policy? People have no confidence in a Secretary of State who behaves in that manner.
Rev. Ian Paisley : Yes, I accept that. That reaction has been fed to me by those people, because I visited all the affected areas. The present security policy is not succeeding. We should open our eyes to that.
The Minister need only consider what has happened in this part of the United Kingdom to understand that the
Column 1038security policy has failed. I have a list of all the acts of terror that have been committed on the mainland since 17 December. Those who have been brought to court are just a mere handful of the culprits. That action has solved nothing. Matters have not been resolved on the mainland, but we in Northern Ireland are receiving the full brunt of the IRA attack.
Unfortunately, I must tell the House that that attack will continue ; it is not a one-off. It is encouraged by what Mr. Spring said down in Dublin when he was briefed on the talks that had been held between Gerry Adams, the IRA -Sinn Fein president, and the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). Mr. Spring stated :
"They know what they have to do to be part of the process. I believe that"
the hon. Member for Foyle
"is trying to get these people into the peace process by ending the violence, and I hope he succeeds in that."
The Minister should tell us whether that is the policy of the Government. If Sinn Fein states that it intends to call a ceasefire and to stop the violence, will its representatives be invited to the table for talks? Will such a ceasefire make it clear that the IRA must hand in its weapons, its stocks of bombing material and completely repudiate violence? I want to know from the Government what their policy is.
Those of us from Northern Ireland are aware of the mounting campaign of propaganda to get Sinn Fein to the table. What conditions would be set if, tomorrow, the leaders of Sinn Fein and the IRA said that there would be a ceasefire? It is not satisfactory to the people of Northern Ireland that the people who perpetrated all the acts of violence should be able to sit at the table simply by making a pronouncement that they intend to call a ceasefire and give up violence.
The Unionist people are alienated, whether the Government like it or not. That is a fact, and the Minister must face up to it. Every day, that alienation is increasing, and every day that alienation is taking a turn down the road that we all dread. As a representative of the people of Northern Ireland, I would be failing them and myself if I did not warn the Government that we face a grave, serious situation.
I have told the Government over and over again that they should decide whether they would prefer to talk to elected representatives or to people who are not elected but who are prepared to bomb, kill and main. I refer to people on the Protestant side, although I refuse to lend them the right of the name "Protestant".
We are faced with a serious, gloomy, dark situation, to which the Minister must face up. The Government must stop alienating the Protestant people, and they can do so by dealing effectively with the IRA. They should spell out that any announcement of a ceasefire is not enough. It is not enough for people to pose and say, "We will give up violence." Those very men could then say at the table, "All right, if you don't go the way we want to go, we can turn it on again." How can anybody have peace in those circumstances? Those people need to bring forth fruits, meet for their repentance. It is dangerous for Mr. Spring to encourage the IRA in the belief that, if it announces a ceasefire, it will be able to join the talks. I trust that the Minister will rebuke the southern Minister and make it clear that that is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government. If that rebuke is not forthcoming, the people of Northern Ireland will be alienated still more.
Column 1039I do not understand why the business community of Northern Ireland should be held to ransom by a security system that stops all traffic from entering the commercial centres in the mornings and sometimes in the evenings. The security forces know the areas in which the bombs are made and from where they are transported, and I do not understand why they are not given the task of blocking the exits from those areas so that the bombs cannot be transported.
Why should the law-abiding citizens and the business community of Northern Ireland be held to ransom? No wonder the ordinary man in the street believes that the policy after each bombing is that of locking the stable door after the horse has gone. The Minister must take that on board. The only way in which to deal with the problem is by blocking their exits from certain areas so that people cannot transport their bombs to anywhere they like.
Did the police have certain intelligence on Friday evening that a bombing might take place in Portadown? That is generally said to be the case among the business community in Portadown. Was there a relaxing of security in that area as a result of a police directive some weeks ago? Is it the case that, on Saturday, the police in Portadown were hard pushed and reserves had to be called in from elsewhere which would not usually be used? Will the Minister answer those questions, which are disturbing the minds of many in the business community to whom I have spoken?
What is the Government's attitude to the border? Will they seek to seal it off? It is to the Government's shame that, every time the Secretary of State attends an Anglo-Irish conference, the Government issue a statement saying that the relationship between the police and the Garda was never so good. They have said that at every meeting. It must surely be through the heavens by now. All the Irish papers today report that the relationship was never so good.
Sir James Kilfedder (North Down) : The hon. Gentleman will recall that a number of police officers have been murdered by a sniper using a telescopic lens operating from the other side of the border who has not yet been apprehended.
What about Angelo Fusco, the IRA murderer? He has been sentenced to three life terms for murder. He is not in jail. He is free in the Irish Republic. He is not even in hiding. The local council pays him £140 per week in benefits for his wife and family and has provided him with comfortable furnished accommodation in Tralee, where he spends his days fishing, riding his imported American motor cycle and acting as a pretentious godfather of violence.
Another convicted IRA killer, Paul Magee, was freed on bail by the Irish courts in April. Where is this co-operation? Nothing is said about those men at the Anglo-Irish conferences, or nothing is done, and the people in Northern Ireland are asking the simple question, "What on earth are the Government playing at?"
Rev. Ian Paisley : Yes, I accept that wholeheartedly. I also accept that the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour party used the same machine that is used to send out reports of the bombings to issue a report on his talks with Gerry Adams. The release was headed "Sinn Fein". I have a copy of that. The two leaders put out their information together in that way.
Today I read more disturbing information concerning a republican business man in Northern Ireland who runs several lorries round Northern Ireland distributing the goods that he manufactures. He said that he has contacted the RUC and told it that, if any of his business transactions were delayed due to traffic hold-ups at checkpoints, he would sue the RUC for damages. Where are we getting to in our Province? I should like the Minister to say that such requests, if they can be called requests, will be met with the reply that, if we need to take security actions, we will take them irrespective of what happens.
Terrorism in Northern Ireland has cost 3,056 lives, and IRA bombs have cost £1,000 million in two decades. Death and destruction have become a way of life. Today, Northern Ireland has a simple message to the House--enough death, enough destruction and enough ineptitude by the Government.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Mates) : I have listened with great care to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I understand and share his anger and distress, and that of the other hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies who are here this morning, at these cowardly and cynical attacks. The sympathy of the House goes out to those whose homes and livelihoods have been wrecked and to those who have been injured, and we send our best wishes to them for a safe and speedy recovery. Were it not for the alertness and quick response of the security forces, to whom the community is so much indebted, casualties might have been much higher.
I have seen for myself the damage caused in Belfast. I was due to go to Portadown on Tuesday but, as hon. Members will know, I was detained here for the debate on the Railways Bill. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has visited Magherafelt. The terrorists of the Provisional IRA, like their loyalist counterparts, debase the causes by their barbarity and criminality that they claim to represent. But even by their standards, the attempt to dignify the shattering of the livelihoods and homes of hundreds of ordinary citizens, Protestants and Catholics, Unionists and nationalists, by describing them as attacks on economic targets is despicable in the extreme.
Schools--secondary, primary and nursery--have been damaged, as has a home for the mentally handicapped and more than 300 private dwellings. Where do they figure in the terrorists' definition of legitimate or economic targets? We hear so much about the IRA's so-called concern for the unintended victims of their attacks. We hear of their hypocritical apologies. They disgust me and will disgust all Members of the House.
Column 1041Let no one be deceived : the terrorists cannot cloak their deeds in any false legitimacy, attempting to justify their actions as assaults on a British war machine. As on so many other occasions, including the bombing of 1,000 homes last September at Newtownbreda, they care not whom they hurt.
The fact is that many ordinary people--men, women and children--are targets for the terrorists on both sides. The fact that those attacks have been deliberately timed to take place in the immediate aftermath of the local government elections serves simply to underscore two points--the terrorists' contempt for the democratic process and their misunderstanding of the British Government and the people of Northern Ireland.
Terrorism will not prevail. I simply state the inescapable truth. The resolve of the Government and the people during the past 23 years has been tested by evil assaults from terrorists of all kinds. That resolve has not weakened, nor will it. Those who think otherwise mistake the character of the people of these islands. They particularly mistake the mettle of the people of Belfast, Portadown and Magherafelt. The fact that, despite the bombing, the traditional may fair was successfully held yesterday in Magherafelt is typical of the resilience and courage of the whole community in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman spoke about Sinn Fein and the IRA and a ceasefire. I repeat what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said some months ago. A cessation of violence, for whatever reason, would be welcomed by all hon. Members. But simply to say that there will be a ceasefire does not give anyone who espouses violence the right to come to any conference table or to be accepted. That is the British Government's position.
There would have to be not only a cessation of violence but a renunciation of violence as a means of achieving political ends. That is the sine qua non ; that is the dividing line that has to be crossed by the men of violence before those who want to see change, or want to see life pursued by democratic means, will talk to them. Until that has happened and has been shown to have happened, there is no question that this Government or, I suspect, any other will deal with the men of violence.
The work of clearing up and restoring the damage so wantonly caused is well under way. workers and social security staff--were quickly on the scene to help begin the process, by carrying out repairs and providing advice. That work is continuing, with the local authorities playing a vital co- ordinating role. Wherever we have gone, the people seem to have been very pleased with the way that the authorities have responded.
Rev. Martin Smyth : I share the Minister's tribute to the response made by different agencies, but can he assure us that, in speaking to his alter ego, he will ensure that money will be forthcoming to get businesses back in business? Above all, will he ensure that the security presence is not removed because of lack of overtime payments?
Column 1042point, we always do our best. However, the Compensation Agency is spending Government money, and the rules for the disbursement of taxpayers' money must be observed.
I have made every effort, and I know that the Compensation Agency will continue to make every effort, to make interim payments as quickly as possible. The legalities arise with final payments, and sometimes they do get held up--but that is for reasons by which we are all bound, because we are paying out taxpayers' money.
The security of the realm and the safety of its citizens are duties all Governments must make their first priority. It is the first priority of the Government in Northern Ireland, who set the policy and provide the resources. To confront and defeat terrorism is also the overriding concern of the Chief Constable, supported by the General Officer Commanding, who directs the operations of the security forces to achieve that goal.
We each bear responsibility for it, in different ways ; and so does everybody in society. We each have our part to play in protecting those most fundamental human rights--the right to life, and the right to live free from fear and intimidation and the destruction of one's home and livelihood. The threat to those rights comes from terrorism, and we are committed to overcoming that threat, from whatever quarter it comes.
The security forces carry out and will continue to carry out a whole range of operations, including patrolling, checkpoints and searches, to disrupt and deter the activities of the terrorists. The House will know that the police and the Army continue to achieve very significant successes. To the beginning of May this year, 136 people have been charged with terrorism- related offences, and 84 firearms, 20 rocket and mortar launchers and large amounts of explosives and bomb-making equipment have been recovered.
Let me give some specific examples. Since the middle of March, four bombs in transit, containing over 300 kg of explosives, have been intercepted, resulting in several arrests. More than 6,500 kg of fertilizer, used in the manufacture of explosives, have been recovered. A range of other weaponry has been seized, and several other murderous attacks by paramilitaries on both sides foiled, with the capture of republican and loyalist gunmen en route to commit murder. As a result, those charged since the end of March include two with murder, two with attempted murder, two with conspiracy to murder and possession, and two with possession of weapons or explosives. The publication this morning of the Chief Constable's report for 1992 provides further evidence of the excellent work which the RUC has carried out during the year. As the Chief Constable brings out in his foreword to the report, the RUC, with the Army in support, has continued to maintain the essential stability of the Province. Day in and day out, the security forces work ceaselessly not just to respond and react but to be a step ahead of the terrorists. They make real inroads into terrorist operations. They aim to deter as well as to detect.
Much of that work is necessarily unpublicised, but it may give some idea of the scope of the operations if I say that, in addition to the numerous patrols of various kinds operated by the RUC each day, the Army undertakes hundreds of patrols in the Province day in, day out. Let no one doubt that many more prospective terrorist operations
Column 1043fail or are aborted than come to fruition. That may not be newsworthy, but it is vital to the safety of every member of the community in Northern Ireland.
But let there be no suspicion that there is any complacency, either in Government or in the security forces. The Chief Constable keeps constantly under review the pattern of security force operations in the light of the prevailing security situation. He is not only responsible for all security operations but is also the Secretary of State's principal adviser on security matters, and the Secretary of State met him for a full review of the security situation earlier this week.
The security forces will continue to receive all the support that they require from the Government. Sometimes, I get the feeling that Ministers can say that until they are blue in the face but will not be believed, so perhaps the House will be interested to know that the Chief Constable had this to say at his press conference to launch his report this morning :
"When a terrorist outrage occurs there is often a reaction suggesting that the handcuffs should be taken off the police and the Army--that our hands should be untied from behind our backs. There are no restraints on the security forces save those imposed by the law and by the very nature of our democratic society. There is no political restraint stopping us from doing our duty or doing our best. What we have asked the Government we have received, and if more is needed at any time we shall ask for more and expect to receive it."
I know that, coming from my lips, those words may be greeted with cynicism, but I hope that they are not greeted with cynicism when they come from the lips of the Chief Constable.
There are no operational options from which the security forces are being held back for political reasons. The only constraint, as the Chief Constable said, is that they must operate within the law. The Government's security policy is clear : terrorism will be met with stern and unyielding opposition, by forces that act proactively as well as defensively. The operation of that policy by the security forces must be both within the law and effective, in the sense of leading towards a lasting peace, as well as affording immediate protection to people from terrorist attack, and bringing about the capture of terrorists and their conviction in the courts. That aim cannot be achieved, in any real or meaningful sense, by the use of measures which step outside the law, or which seek to impose, through draconian force, an artificial "peace". Even if such an approach were sucessful in creating a temporary calm--and that is open to question-- it would not be a lasting one. The damage which such measures would cause to the integrity and credibility of constitutional politics, and of the institutions of the state, would be irreparable.
To do so would not only be wrong--it would, I believe, be ineffective. Civilised society must deal with terrorism effectively and decisively--but within the law, or else the divisions which the terrorists feed off may simply be deepened. As I have said, we all have a part to play in defending our society and the lives of our neighbours.
The Chief Constable has emphasised the importance of close co-operation between the police and the community they serve in isolating and defeating the terrorists. The RUC does not, and cannot, operate at a remove from the community. If loss of life is to be prevented, we must use
Column 1044our sense of right and wrong, take our responsibility as citizens of a civilised society, and act upon it in support of the law. To quote the Chief Constable's report once more, recent events "point clearly to the pressing need for a positive, concerted, cross -community alliance against violence with unequivocal support for firm and impartial action by the police and Army".
Co-operation with the police is the wedge that will isolate the terrorists.
The Government for their part are committed to providing the security forces with the resources they need to undertake their difficult and dangerous tasks. In the past two years, the establishment of the RUC has been raised by 441 officers, the recruitment and training of whom has now been completed, while two reinforcement battalions of soldiers have been deployed in the Province for over a year and will continue to be deployed there for as long as they are needed, despite the many other pressures on the armed forces.
But the resources that are needed go beyond manpower and equipment. The other side of our determination to defeat terrorism within the law is the need to provide the security forces with a legislative framework which gives them the powers they need to tackle terrorism effectively.
While on the subject of legislation, it is appropriate to pause briefly to note that Lord Colville's report on the operation in 1992 of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act was published yesterday. The debates next month to consider the renewal of that Act will provide an opportunity to consider Lord Colville's report and the recommendations in more detail.
I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the great contribution that Lord Colville has made as a reviewer of the emergency legislation over the past seven years. His constructive and penetrating commentary and his contribution to the form that the legislation takes have been invaluable.
Our response to terrorism must and does include a recognition that terrorism can be brought to a permanent end only if security policy and security measures are complemented and reinforced by effective political, social and economic policies and programmes. Terrorist violence cannot be dealt with in isolation, because terrorism takes place not in a vacuum but in a society on whose political divisions the terrorists try to feed.
Our commitment to the defeat of terrorism, and to securing a just and tranquil future for the courageous people of Northern Ireland, is undiminished. I believe that the message is getting through to the terrorist godfathers on both sides that the security forces will continue to pursue them with unremitting resolution.
Mr. John D. Taylor : We have heard all this from the Government before. They have offered Northern Ireland nothing new this morning. The Minister's deplorable reply will increase the distaste for his system of government in Northern Ireland among the majority community. We were hoping for a change of direction in security policy, but nothing new has been announced. The message for the people of Northern Ireland is that they must continue to suffer at the hands of the IRA, who are now winning the battle.
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn) : I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about an important matter that affects my constituency. I thank the Minister for coming to reply on behalf of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the Baroness Cumberlege ; I also thank a consultant at the Stobhill hospital, Dr. Matthew Dunnigan, who helped me with my research, and Dr. Frank Dunn, who is a specialist at the hospital.
Last Sunday, an impressive gathering took place in the grounds of the hospital, which is in my constituency. Six thousand people assembled at 1 pm. They had one thing in common : they were all protesting at the possible closure of Stobhill. These were not the kind of protesters who normally become involved in rallies and demonstrations ; they were simply men and women who live in my community and the neighbouring constituencies, and who use the hospital.
As I made my way to the demonstration, I was impressed by the number of friends and neighbours, including pensioners, who were heading for the hospital grounds. By any standards, it was a most impressive turnout. Those people spoke with one voice : they all said that they did not want the hospital to close. It was a massive gathering. At exactly 2 pm, they all linked hands and surrounded the hospital to show that they were not happy with what was proposed by the bureaucrats in the Scottish Office and Greater Glasgow health board. My thanks must go to Sam and Jeannette Watson for their excellent work in organising the demonstration.
I do not want Stobhill hospital to close. Everyone in the north end of Glasgow, and the surrounding areas, has a high regard for it ; and I have a close link with it. My son Paul was born there, my daughter Mary was treated there not long ago, my wife--also called Mary--was treated there, and 10 years ago I received treatment. I can testify to the hospital's dedication : it is first class.
According to the Government, who have plucked an arbitrary figure out of the air, 1,000 beds must go in the Greater Glasgow area. The health board, however, seems determined to carry out the Government's wishes. As the Minister will know, every member of the board is hand-picked by the Government. Solid medical evidence from people who are highly regarded in the profession suggests that the loss of 1,000 beds will severely damage the health of local people.
Dr. Matthew Dunnigan, whom I mentioned earlier, presented a paper to the health board. As he explains, it is proposed to close Stobhill and amalgamate its service with that of the Royal Infirmary. Even if the Government were to do that tomorrow, the hospital would be needed for five to 10 years. I hope that the Minister will comment on that. There is talk in Government and health board circles of building a mega-hospital--an amalgamation of Stobhill and the Royal Infirmary. That would mean a reduced service for those who currently use the Royal Infirmary, which--in terms of discharges--is the second largest hospital in Scotland. Stobhill is the fifth largest. Those in the north end of Glasgow would be particularly affected by the resulting disruption. Moreover, although the amalgamation could not take place overnight, Stobhill would be expected to maintain its high standards despite the sentence hanging over it.
Column 1046Dr. Dunnigan states :
"A combination of rising demand, current saturation of hospital bed capacity at peak demand and the absence of forward planning to provide compensating capacity in the community make it unlikely that there can be any significant reduction in Glasgow's bed capacity within 5 years and possibly within 10 years. However, Greater Glasgow Health Board is under pressure from the Management Executive to announce plans to reduce bed capacity and to close two hospitals before funds are allocated for hospital redevelopment and rebuilding in the city.
It seems likely that GGHB will announce a strategy for acute beds within the next few months, possibly in June 1993. No hard information on a final decision is yet available but it seems probable that GGBH will opt for option (c) of their discussion document Review of Acute Services and Maternity Services to the Year 2001'. This will result in an announcement of the closure of Stobhill General Hospital and the amalgamation of the Victoria Infirmary and Southern General Hospitals on a single site. Hospital services will be concentrated on three sites in the Western/Gartnavel complex, the Royal Infirmary and in a combined hospital on the south side of the City.
As discussed in detail elsewhere, this scenario will not be in the best interests of Glasgow's hospital services and will run contrary to national trends in planning hospital services in the next century. The immediate result of a decision to close Stobhill General Hospital when circumstances permit will be to place a sentence of death over the Hospital. The Hospital is currently operating at full capacity and there is no prospect of Stobhill's present capacity being taken up The combination of announcement to close the Hospital in the face of a continuing need for its services over this time scale will produce a potentially destabilising series of developments for the Hospital and its efficient functioning in relation to its catchment area.
Once the closure announcement is made public, all staff will immediately, in their best interests, seek to obtain employment elsewhere as and when the opportunity arises.
Employment will be easily obtained in shortage specialties such as Anaesthetics, Psychiatry and Geriatrics, and by highly trained senior technicians in laboratory specialties whose services are easily transferable. Hospital secretaries are in short supply and will also find it relatively easy to find alternative employment. Once the closure of the hospital is announced, suitable replacements will prove difficult to find, other than by locum appointments and poorly trained staff who cannot obtain employment elsewhere. Loss of staff and shortage medical and surgical specialties (already evident in the loss of a Senior Radiologist and an Anaesthetist) and natural wastage due to retirement, sickness and normal job turnover will make it progressively more difficult to find replacement staff in all categories. It would take only the loss of several key personnel in shortage specialties and laboratories to produce a situation in which the Hospital cannot offer an adequate or safe standard of care to its catchment area of 200,000. This potentially disastrous scenario is already the subject of widespread speculation in the Hospital. The Hospital's difficulties in finding staff replacements will be compounded by the advent of self-governing hospital Trusts. Before the advent of Trusts it would have been possible to offer long-term security and redeployment in the Board's Hospitals or within the National Health Service in Scotland. Since there will be few or no directly managed hospitals within a relatively short space of time this prospect may be removed with the coming of self-governing Trusts who will have their own priorities and will be unwilling to guarantee employment for staff outwith their own hospitals. Thus, the coming of trusts will increase insecurity in Stobhill Hospital's medical, nursing and ancillary staff and accelerate their desire to find secure employment outside the hospital as soon as possible. GGHB must ponder carefully the consequences of announcing the eventual closure of Stobhill Hospital while dependent on its efficient functioning for the next 5-10 years. The Hospital serves one fifth of the population of Glasgow and currently discharges 68 per cent. as many inpatients and 60 per cent. as many outpatients as the Royal Infirmary. The
Column 1047Royal Infirmary is totally unprepared to cope with this demand in the foreseeable future if Stobhill's capacity to manage is compromised by an exodus of key staff.
A similar situation may be created by the announced amalgamation of the Victoria Infirmary and Southern General Hospital since rationalisation may be required at all grades of medical, nursing and administrative staff in the combined hospital. The prospects of staff losses with a failure to recruit suitable applicants will make the prospects for the effective staffing and management of all three Glasgow hospitals in the short and medium term highly uncertain." Dr. Dunnigan makes four points in summary :
"Demand for acute hospital beds in Greater Glasgow Health Board continues to rise each year. On present evidence, based on trends analysis for acute medical and surgical specialties, the claim that 30 per cent. fewer acute beds will be required by the end of the century is difficult to sustain.
At present, there is no evidence of significant under-use of acute hospital beds in Glasgow hospitals. On the contrary, bed capacity in most acute specialties is fully occupied at times of peak demand. With pressure on beds, difficulty in accommodating patients at such times is leading to patient inconvenience and distress and impeding their efficient management.
District General Hospitals of moderate size such as Stobhill General Hospital (about 500 beds) provide optimum geographical and functional relationships with primary care and community services in catchment areas which do not exceed 200-250,000 and should not be closed. Stobhill hospital is currently working at full capacity with winter bed occupancy rates approaching 100 per cent.
For a city of Greater Glasgow's size, tertiary (supra-area specialty) referral services and the University's clinical academic unit should be concentrated on a single site to reduce the present dispersion of the scarce resources on several sites in the city and create the potential for a centre of excellence' in post-graduate teaching and research."
Dr. Robbie Robertson, the representative of Springburn health centre, supports Dr. Dunnigan's view. Dr. Robertson and his staff, including clerical and auxiliary staff and GPs, marched from Springburn health centre last Sunday to join the campaign at Stobhill. Dr. Robertson states that his centre alone has 30,000 patients, many of whom live in highly deprived areas, and there is an aging population in his catchment area. He has nothing but praise for the service that is given by Stobhill hospital to the health centre and GPs operating in the area. He says that laboratory specimens are lifted twice daily and that, if they reveal abnormal results, consultants will, if necessary, offer advice on the same day. There is a special coronary care hot line between the centre and the hospital, which has saved many lives.
I mentioned the aging population. Geriatricians in Stobhill have a feel for the community. Consultants and GPs have an excellent relationship. Adjoining the grounds at Stobhill hospital is Hunters Hill hospice, an excellent hospice, with which the Minister will be familiar, that is run by the Marie Curie organisation. I have visited it several times, and it must offer the finest care in Scotland for cancer patients. It depends heavily on assistance that is given by Stobhill hospital. If it were to lose Stobhill, it certainly would experience many difficulties.
The hospital, as the Minister knows, has 600 general beds and 174 long-stay geriatric patients. It serves 200,000 people in the north of Glasgow in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe). It also serves the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) and for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg). It reaches out to widespread rural areas. It is also used to teach medical students from Glasgow university.
Column 1048There are pockets of severe poverty in my constituency. As the Minister knows, poverty leads to a higher incidence of heart disease, chronic chest complaints and, unfortunately, drug abuse, which can cause terrible side effects that only a hospital can seek to repair. I wonder about the Government's argument that there are too many beds, especially when one expert at Stobhill states :
"On many occasions this last winter elderly patients with medical conditions have been transferred to surgical wards or even by taxi to other hospitals to make way for the winter peak of admissions. Consultant medical staff and hospital management have walked the wards together. They looked for patients who were in hospital but should be at home. They found almost none. On this audit, Stobhill needs the beds it has to meet the needs of a particularly needy population."
The Tomlinson report on London stated that hospitals should be located where people live, not in the city centre but out in the community. In that case, why are there proposals for mega hospitals in Glasgow when the population has moved out of the centre and has been doing so since the 1950s? The Minister will know that his own constituency has expanded immensely, especially the districts of Newton Mearns and Giffnock, due to the arrival of people who formerly lived on the south side and in the centre of Glasgow but have moved out to the areas that he represents.
In the old days hospitals were in the centre of cities because that was where the population lived. However, we are keeping hospitals there although the population has moved out. There is no economic argument for that, although economics is the case usually put forward by the Government. Every Minister, including the Under-Secretary, speaks about costs, but it is cheaper to keep and care for patients at Stobhill than at the Royal Infirmary or the Western Infirmary. The population of Bishopbriggs is expanding and the population in my constituency is increasing due to a great deal of redevelopment. There is a similarity between our previous housing problems and the problems that we are now experiencing in the health service. When Springburn had terrible redevelopment problems, it was known as planning blight. Shopkeepers would not invest in their shops because they did not know what would happen in the future. Young people moved out because the factor would not carry out property repairs as he did not know whether there was to be redevelopment. The young people moved to Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and East Kilbride. There was a general blight over the area because people were uncertain about its future. That blight is now coming to Stobhill because people there are uncertain. As Dr. Dunnigan said, if bright and talented people are uncertain about their present place of employment and are offered a more secure job in a hospital that is not the subject of such speculation, they will move on. The Minister knows that that can lead to difficulties.
I cannot see the case for closing a hospital that is highly efficient and sits in the most beautiful grounds overlooking the Campsie hills. It provides a very pleasant environment for people in need of care and attention and in which to work. I mean no disrespect to the Royal Infirmary but, as the Minister knows, the buildings are old with little room for expansion. Any expansion would be expensive because of the historical nature of some of the buildings. However, there is plenty of room for expansion at Stobhill. I hope