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I believe that that co-operation is taking place and will take place irrespective of what politicians do because it is happening already on the ground. The border is not conceived to be there in terms of that policy. I agree that there is a difference of view in respect of sovereignty and
Column 44I do not deny that for a moment. That is the big picture debate and the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev William McCrea) must be aware that I do not disregard that for a moment. However, in respect of the economic regeneration of the island of Ireland, it is very important that the ideas floated by Sir George Quigley should be considered seriously.
Mr. John D. Taylor : I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way on this subject because it is of particular interest within the business community in Northern Ireland. However, I believe that the hon. Gentleman is concentrating on the wrong aspect. It has nothing to do with politics or sovereignty. It has to do with sound commercial trade and nothing else. Of course we want to increase trade within the island of Ireland, and that means improving transport connections from the republic up to the main ports of the island of Ireland, at Belfast and Larne. Will the hon. Gentleman not keep quoting Sir George Quigley, because many involved in business in Northern Ireland are publicly stating that his projection that there is potential for 75,000 extra jobs should be taken with a pinch of salt ?
Alex Brummer wrote in the financial pages of The Guardian on Wednesday 2 February :
"With a settlement sketched in, a joint approach by the Northern Ireland Office and the Dublin government in Brussels could unlock funds from the European Investment Bank with its infrastructure funds worth eight billion ecus (£6 billion). What could be more supportive of a settlement than a fast rail link, a modern jet commuter service and a simplified telephone switching system between the two Irelands, and maybe an information highway to go with the new motorway ? If there is to be a Belfast-Dublin economic corridor, the whole island will have to make it happen rather than relying on partners across the sea."
I agree with that and it deserves serious consideration. I was saying in the House last summer what The Guardian said in February.
Mr. Taylor : The hon. Gentleman and I agree that there is potential for an increase in trade in the island of Ireland now that the trade barriers erected by the Dublin Government have to be removed because the republic, with the United Kingdom, is part of the European Union, but does he not accept that the main market for those of us involved in business in Northern Ireland remains elsewhere in the UK ? Only 5 per cent. of our trade is conducted with the republic and it is not likely to increase very much more, even with better railways and roads.
Mr. Stott : I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but I do not believe it to be correct. The potential for economic and industrial growth in Europe's internal market will be fulfilled only if the advice of myself and the right hon. Gentleman is followed. As he knows, the island of Ireland is the most peripheral part of the European Community. If the perceived advantages of the internal market are to be realised, the action that we advocate must be taken. The right hon. Gentleman has put his finger on it. The economic and financial institutions in the island of Ireland recognise that they must work together to maximise the potential that lies in the European Community.
Column 45republic : he has probably relocated to Dublin a considerable amount of Ulster bank's business. We recognise that there is potential, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the natural trade and established route lies between Larne and the Stranraer-Cairnryan corridor to the south-west Scottish ports ? Does he not foresee even greater potential if we had better cross-sea communications with the south- west Scotland ports and with north-west of England ports, through which our natural trade continues to flow ?
Mr. Stott : I agree with the hon. Gentleman, who, as one would expect, is a stout defender of Larne port, which is doing very well. I accept that there is potential to penetrate the European markets through Belfast into Liverpool and through the channel tunnel, but that does not gainsay what I said earlier. It is important that the ideas that are beginning to grow and come to fruition in the island of Ireland should come about more quickly than has occurred hitherto.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Even now, trade on the island of Ireland must be seriously hit by the IRA, which disrupts rail traffic between Dublin and Belfast. In response, the Government have had to erect border controls, which make travel between the regions less easy than it would otherwise be. Yet even in current circumstances, without the other necessary developments, there is potential for improvement in Northern Ireland's trade.
Mr. Stott : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's intervention. The IRA has a corrosive effect on every aspect of personal, industrial and economic in Northern Ireland. It is of significant interest that, if the electricity interconnector were restored, Northern Ireland Electricity Services could export some of its over-capacity to the south, which is under capacity. The interconnector would therefore serve the whole of the island of Ireland and make a profit for the Northern Ireland investor.
If the interconnector were restored, who knows whether the IRA would be as destructive as it has been in the past and whether it would blow up the interconnector ? The IRA is supposed to want a united Ireland. The electricity interconnector and the Belfast-Dublin railway line unite the island of Ireland, but both have been subjected to IRA terrorism.
I spoke of shameful statistics earlier. The Public Accounts Committee issued a scathing report demanding urgent action to stop the carnage on Northern Ireland's roads. To add to the misery caused in Northern Ireland by the deaths of thousands of people through terrorism, Northern Ireland has the highest road death toll per 100, 000 of population and per 10,000 vehicles. Already this year, 27 people have died through traffic accidents in Northern Ireland. The evidence in the Public Accounts Committee report showed that the toll of fatalities in Northern Ireland rose by a staggering 27 per cent. in the 10 years to 1991, while the increase in Wales was 4.7 per cent., in Scotland 6.6 per cent. and in England 3.4 per cent. The figure for Northern Ireland is singularly worrying and those appalling statistics should provoke even the present Government into taking action.
I fully support the Public Accounts Committee recommendation that the penalty points system should be introduced in Northern Ireland. The Department of the
Column 46Environment in Northern Ireland estimates that it would cost £1.2 million to introduce a similar scheme in the Province, but there is no cash available. The Public Accounts Committee concluded : "We accept that funds are limited but, in the light of an estimated cost of £300 million for casualties in 1992, there is the potential for significant net savings."
The Government want to save money ; if they take action on this matter they will save not only money but, most importantly, lives.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Department of Environment has plenty of money in its budget, but that it spends it in the wrong way ? Roads could be improved throughout Northern Ireland, but the Department spends money improving the Newry-Dundalk road to give a narrow connection to Dublin. Would it not be better to use that money to reduce road casualties and fatalities in Northern Ireland ?
Mr. Stott : I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), who will wind up the debate for the Opposition, is a shadow Environment Minister and I am sure that he will take the hon. Gentleman's argument on board-- [Interruption.] As I come from Wigan where we play rugby rather well, I can pass the ball as adroitly as the Minister.
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) is right. If the statistics which the PAC has identified are correct and the introduction of that penalty payment system will cost only £1.2 million while the cost of accidents in Northern Ireland is £300 million, one does not need a degree in statistics to recognise that the introduction of some such system would reduce the terrible fatalities on the roads in Northern Ireland.
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : The hon. Gentleman is clearly well aware that the order contains a bit about road safety and the sums that are required both this financial year and next. He will have noticed that, when the Minister opened the debate, he dwelt only on the sums required for this financial year. Neither the hon. Gentleman nor the Minister has said a word about the expenditure required for next year. Will someone on one of the Front Benches do something about it so that we can know what they have in mind ?
Mr. Stott : If the hon. Gentleman wants a more positive reply, I guarantee to give it when I speak from the Government Dispatch Box. The Minister of State knows of my special interest in the Buddybear trust in Dungannon. If he has time in his winding-up speech, I should be grateful if he would say whether any progress been made in resolving that problem.
The words "democratic deficit" are often used in Northern Ireland debates, which are among the few occasions when Northern Ireland Members have a chance to debate what is happening in their constituencies or the Province generally. I shall therefore conclude my remarks, and my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien ) will pick up any other points made during the debate.
Column 47respond to that one issue in his winding-up speech. I expect that few subjects of greater importance will be raised during today's proceedings, for this is a matter of life and death proportions affecting tens of thousands of lives in the Province.
Before discussing the specifics of my concern, I should tell the House that I intend to sustain a charge against the Government, although I cannot be too scathing about the present holder of the office of Secretary of State and his part in the problem. The Government have been behaving in a careless--some might say reckless--manner towards the safety of those whom the nation employs as its servants. The lives and well-being of tens of thousands of people are needlessly jeopardised every day.
In hundreds of offices occupied by the Northern Ireland civil service, the imperial civil service and works units responsible to Departments, and in police stations where civil servants are also employed, the Government have been avoiding the necessity to meet fire certificate conditions under the cover of Crown immunity. The Government say that they are so concerned about and acquainted with the need for safety that premises everywhere are, by law, compelled to have a fire certificate if, according to article 22 of the Fire Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1984, they are used "as a place of work".
That is as it should be. Workers must, of necessity, be protected. Prevention is vital, and there is obviously no better alternative. To ensure that the proper standards of prevention are upheld in offices throughout the Province, regulations are set down and the vast experience of capable fire officers is used to ensure that new or altered buildings meet the accepted standards.
Naturally, there are a few exceptions, such as private dwellings and churches, and some other minor ones. I do not wish to discuss those, although the House may wish to return to them later. I wish to discuss one non-disclosed exemption, which takes out of the scope of the orders Northern Ireland's largest employer--the Government. Last November I sought, through parliamentary questions, to gather information about this issue. I asked appropriate Ministers a series of questions, but the answers were evasive and misleading. For example, I asked for a statement
"on the application of the rules regarding fire certificates to Government offices in Northern Ireland."
The then Minister responsible for the Departments of the Environment and of Economic Development in Northern Ireland--this subject spans both those Departments' work and I am not sure which hat the Minister had on when answering my question--replied : "Fire certificates for Government offices in Northern Ireland are issued by the Department of Economic Development under the provisions of the Fire Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1994. The standards which have to be met by Government offices are identical to those which apply to offices in the private sector."--[ Official Report , 2 November 1993 ; Vol. 231, c. 134 .]
When I read that reply, I began to doubt the information that had started my inquiries, until I realised that the Minister had failed to give the most salient facts : how many Government offices had a fire certificate and what percentage were currently covered by a fire certificate.
I made my own inquiries within the Department and discovered that only 5 per cent. of Government buildings had a fire certificate and only 1 per cent. had a current fire
Column 48certificate. The difference between those two figures is that, at some stage, a few Government offices had a fire certificate but had made major alterations since then and had not sought to have those alterations inspected for fire approval. In short, some 600 buildings in Northern Ireland, occupied by civil servants, do not have a current fire certificate.
Earlier, I defined the categories of offices that are avoiding meeting fire conditions as those occupied by the Northern Ireland civil service ; the imperial civil service--the Inland Revenue and the like ; works offices such as the DOE's roads and water services ; and police stations where civil servants are employed. If no civil servants are employed, an exemption applies under the fire order. The first category, dealing with the Northern Ireland civil service, includes almost 350 offices housing the equivalent of more than 33, 000 full-time staff ; so some 40,000 staff are employed in those offices. When the other categories are included, the number of offices goes beyond 600 and the number of staff substantially increases.
What does that mean ? I state the obvious : that not every building that does not have a fire certificate is a monstrous fire risk and has the potential to become a towering inferno. Undoubtedly, some buildings, if the owners applied for a fire certificate and the premises were inspected, would qualify without any alteration. Many buildings, with minor alteration, would also conform. However, there are still many other buildings where major improvements are required before they meet the necessary standards. I contend that in those buildings lives are being imperilled and safety is being compromised in a deliberately cavalier fashion.
I will not identify any specific buildings, although the men and women who work in them will know only too well the buildings in question. I will not attempt to aid the witch hunt for those who have given me the information by identifying more closely the areas of my concern. What is certain is that this "do as I say, not as I do" legislation must be changed and the Government must order immediately the inspection of all Crown-occupied buildings.
How has this come about ? The legislation, by sleight of hand, gives the appearance that Crown offices are subject to regulation but then deliberately sets out to exclude Crown buildings by a process of legislative deception. Let me explain. As I said, article 22 of the Fire Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1984 outlines the principle that all places of work must have a fire certificate. Article 26 sets out the specific detailed requirements for applying for a fire certificate, and article 49 sets out the exemptions for Crown buildings. Article 49 says that articles 22--the first of the two articles that I mentioned--23, 24, 25, 27, 31, and so on, shall apply to premises occupied by the Crown.
A cursory glance at article 22, which says that all Crown-occupied buildings, as places of work, must have a fire certificate, would lead people to believe that the Crown is required to have a fire certificate. But by not including article 26 in the list of articles that apply to the Crown, that means that the Crown does not have to apply for a fire certificate, and it has constantly refused to do so. The few buildings that have fire certificates have them because of approaches by the fire service and probably because the officer responsible for them was not aware of the general trend within the Government to avoid making such applications.
The clear thrust of the order, which I believe was the intention of Parliament, comes under article 22, which is
Column 49included in article 49 as applying to Crown buildings : all Crown buildings are required to have a fire certificate. I do not believe that Parliament ever intended to exclude some 600 buildings in Northern Ireland from the scope of the order.
This seems to amuse some of the Minister's staff, and I hope that the people who work in those offices will be equally amused by the fact that they are at risk. Even if the law had been framed in the manner in which it clearly has, and, therefore, there was no compulsion on the part of the Government to apply for a fire certificate and have their buildings meet the necessary standards, a responsible officer within any of the buildings would still be capable of making such an application. I imagine that that is what the House would have expected them to do.
Whatever the intention of the House may have been in the order, and whatever it may have expected from the responsible officers in each of the buildings, Government offices have avoided--I might say, skilfully--making such applications. Indeed, they not only have been irresponsible in failing to have premises inspected but have engaged in a shameful cover-up of their neglect. When one looks at the answer to my question--
"Fire certificates for Government offices in Northern Ireland are issued by the Department of Economic Development under the provisions of the Fire Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1984"--
one could say that, looking at the legislation. It is just that no one ever applies for fire certificates. The answer goes on : "The standards which have to be met by Government offices are identical to those which apply to offices in the private sector." I suspect that that is not an accurate answer. The standards may well be what is required by the House, but Government offices do not have to apply for fire certificates, and have not done so. Indeed, I ask the Minister to give us some information about the training that is given to staff in offices occupied by the Crown.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Can the hon. Gentleman postulate whether they have not provided the necessary reports in order to save expense in the budget, to pave the way for promotion opportunities or for some other reason ?
Mr. Robinson : I shall decline the offer to question motives ; I prefer to question the Government's behaviour. What I can say is that a similar situation existed in Great Britain. When it was discovered, an arrangement was immediately entered into by the occupier of the offices and the fire service that they would have offices inspected, although it was not required by law. Indeed, I understand that new fire protection legislation is being prepared and will include that requirement.
In the case of Northern Ireland, there is no attempt, even without the requirement of the legislation, to enter into an arrangement with the fire service and the inspection unit of the Department of Economic Development. Nor is there any sign that the Government intend to change the legislation. We have the hypocrisy of a Government who tell those in Northern Ireland who are building offices, improving offices or making any alterations to offices that they must meet certain standards laid down by the order but who are not prepared to do it themselves. They wag their fingers at those whom they govern while they are prepared to refuse to apply the standards to themselves.
Column 50I ask the Minister to give an account of this ignominious behaviour and tell the House what the Government intend to do to afford the same level of safety to their employees as they expect from employers outside government.
Rev. William McCrea : Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a serious matter and, therefore, a simple answer from the Minister would not be appropriate today ? The Minister must institute an in-depth inquiry into this matter and give us a detailed response, so that we can carry this matter forward in the interests of the safety of our civil servants.
Mr. Robinson : I hear my colleague's comments. If the Minister needs a longer period to repent, I am happy to give it to him, but he must repent. If he is feeling under conviction at present, I would not take away the opportunity for him to clear his soul on the matter.
Finally, I ask the Minister to give an undertaking that every building occupied by the Crown will be inspected by qualified officers of either the fire service or the inspection unit of the Department of Economic Development. Whatever those officers suggest is necessary to bring those building up to the required standard should be done. I confess, however, that I share the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) that the reluctance on the part of the Northern Ireland Office to meet its obligations may be finance related. I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking to the House that he will not place the lives of employees of the Crown in danger for much longer.
Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : I have listened with interest to what has been said. When I cast my mind back to the debate that was held on 18 February 1993, many similar problems were referred to--as they always are--relating to potholes, individual constituency problems and the rest. All such problems land on the Minister's desk purely and simply because of the intolerable system of governance in Northern Ireland.
I hope that, before this week is done, at least some measures will have been taken to call to account those who take decisions for the people of Northern Ireland, so that we know the reasons for those decisions and question intently and intensively those whom we believe have done so many things wrong in the Province for so many years. The House will also recall that part of last year's debate centred around the bombs that had wrecked the centres of Magherafelt and Coleraine. Although I am happy to report to the House that quite a lot of work has been done to restore those town centres, an enormous amount of work is still to be done. It is also clear that severe economic damage has been done to those towns. I hope that when Ministers consider rebuilding those town centres they will be as generous as possible, because that will ensure that the damage is made good and that folk can get back into business as quickly as possible, rather than being left with gaping holes in those town centres for 18 months or more and not a brick being laid. Unlike the Front-Bench spokesmen, I should like to consider what I hope will happen next year. Expenditure on school buildings has been frozen for quite a time, and no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) will also discuss that matter. I hope that the preliminary change that we have started to see in some
Column 51quarters is not a false dawn and that many funds will be unfrozen so that the necessary work to improve so many schools can go ahead. One of the side winds, one of the unfortunate consequences, of the troubled situation in Northern Ireland has been a mass movement of population. Perfectly good public buildings, such as schools and churches, which served that population, have been left behind. Those people have either chosen to move or been moved because of violence. That hidden aspect of the troubles has caused an enormous amount of public expenditure which, if the situation had remained peaceful, would never have had to be spent.
I am particularly interested in the £4.5 million that is needed by Limavady grammar school. I must declare an interest because some of my children attend it. The needs of that school have been put on a long finger for many years. The school has now been at the top of the priority list for the past two years and it wants to get on with the work.
I am concerned because the sketch plans, which were sent to the Department of Education in the autumn, have not yet been returned. Unless the Department returns them with a note to say whether they are acceptable, in broad terms, it is impossible to prepare proper working drawings.
Will the Under-Secretary of State, who will reply to the debate, and the Minister of State, who will have to find the cash, be so good as to see to it that the Department of Education returns those sketch plans to the relevant authorities in the Western board so that the architects can prepare the proper working drawings ? If that happens, perhaps Limavady will not lose yet again. The work is long overdue and the local people are getting rather incensed about it. I have no doubt that other hon. Members will discuss rural planning tonight. I understand that, since the autumn, the rules governing the design of dwellings in rural areas have been tightened up. I had a recent case in my constituency where someone who had applied for planning permission was told that he could not have a certain archway in his house, although the countryside was full of them. He was also told that his hip roof was unacceptable, although his next-door neighbours had them, and that the gable proportions of the house were far too wide. He was told that his house had to be a metre narrower. I understand that those requirements are related to the new regulations that are being prepared to regulate the design of houses in rural areas. Why do the planners want all those changes in proportions to be made ? Perhaps it is because they do not have to live in those houses ; those who do, however, are not at all happy. I have tabled a question on the Order Paper to ask what discussions have taken place with local councils on that matter. I hope that something has been done about those new rules, because local folk would like to have a word in the planners' ears and in the ears of those who are planning the new design standards.
I am sure that many hon. Members will raise concerns tonight about the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I must draw to the Minister's attention one problem that will become acute in the town of Limavady. Last week, we had the happy announcement that a factory offering 300 new jobs is to come to the town. Not only will it provide work for those living in the immediate vicinity of the factory but,
Column 52as usual, further jobs will be created as a spin-off. Such a spin-off normally means that incoming workers will be employed. Those incoming workers at the factory will almost certainly be shift workers. If an individual lives within 20 miles of the place where he applies for housing, he cannot be treated as an incoming worker. The problem in Northern Ireland is that some people living just 10 or 15 miles away find it extremely difficult to travel that distance. If people do not have a car, they are stuck, because there is practically no public transport, certainly nothing runs at 2 am or 4 am, or even at 7 pm or 8 pm, when a worker is travelling either to or from work.
When such a worker asks the Housing Executive for a dwelling, he is told that he is classified as an incoming worker, that it would like to help him, but that it has a priority system on which that person does not figure. If that person manages to get on it, however, he is so far down the list of priorities that he does not have a snowball's chance of getting a dwelling. The Housing Executive will tell him that it has all the single mothers, the homeless and all sorts of other priority groups who are in need of a house, flat or similar accommodation. The mere fact that that individual has a job and may be the only person in the vicinity capable of doing it yet he cannot find a dwelling causes immense difficulties for him and his employer.
Often, a person on shift work simply cannot get lodgings. Landladies do not like folk who wander in and out at all hours of the day or night and who may sleep during the day. Those with a nice nine-to-five job will probably get lodgings, but a 24-hour shift worker will not. I hope that Ministers will draw that problem to the attention of the Housing Executive, so that we can consider the problems that are created by its points system.
The same difficulty does not arise with incoming nurses. The number of student nurses from the Irish Republic increased from 4.94 per cent. of the total student nurse population in 1990 to 11.36 per cent. in 1993, which I find astonishing. Given the number of unemployed people in Northern Ireland, we should have no difficulty finding among our native population a sufficiency of young men and women to enter the nursing profession, without having to take one in nine from the Irish Republic. What on earth is going on ? What sort of selection procedures exist that allow that to happen ?
Mr. Ross : As the hon. Gentleman raised that question, I will leave it with him. If the answer is not obvious to hon. Members who represent Great Britain constituencies, it is obvious to those of us who represent Northern Ireland.
Mr. John D. Taylor : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is incredible that the Northern Ireland Office is encouraging student nurses from the Republic of Ireland to work in Northern Ireland, where they will be paid by Northern Ireland taxpayers, and take up 11 per cent. of nursing school places at a time when there is increased unemployment in the nursing profession in Northern Ireland ?
Column 53than 1,500 nurses from the Republic are working in Northern Ireland. That is only the number that we know about--we do not have the total.
Mr. Barnes : Both the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom are members of the European Union, the terms of which provide for free movement of labour. If there is unemployment in the Republic of Ireland, presumably people there will look wherever they can, including Northern Ireland, to find employment--as people from Northern Ireland will look elsewhere. If the hon. Gentleman's hare is to be run, perhaps we should bear that in mind.
Mr. Ross : I should have thought that, if the Irish Republic was as successful as was thought, after 70 years it would not need to export its citizens to Northern Ireland or to this larger island. The fact that the republic has a surplus of people looking for work elsewhere shows that state's economic and social failure.
Mr. Eddie McGrady (South Down) indicated dissent .
Mr. Ross : The hon. Gentleman disagrees, and I am not surprised. This is one of the few countries in the European Union that subsidises states whose economic system has failed. The Irish Republic is one such state receiving large handouts.
Mr. Ross : I hate to reply to sedentary interventions, but Northern Ireland is part of this unitary state, the United Kingdom. As such, it is entitled to share in the benefits of belonging to this state. That is one reason the people of Northern Ireland want to remain in it.
I refer to a further problem that will be created by the new Limavady factory and others that we hope will follow. The Minister will be aware that we have long been seeking a bypass. The factory will make the need for a bypass even more urgent. For my party, that has second priority. The first is the Larne-Belfast road, which needs to be enormously improved, and swiftly. At the top of my constituency priorities, however, is the Limavady bypass. When the Minister visits the town tomorrow, I hope that he can give us good news.
A few weeks ago, I tabled a number of questions on the abundance or scarcity of wild animals in Northern Ireland. It was plain from the answers that nobody has the slightest idea. We are constantly assailed from all sides by conservationists claiming that this animal or that is scarce and is in danger of being wiped out, yet no one has a clue as to the base number. I ask the Minister to commission a survey, so that we may proceed on a solid foundation, rather than be subjected to wild and unwarranted claims about the number of animals that are alive and well in the Province.
I am particularly interested in destructive animals, such as mink, grey crows and magpies. Anyone who has kept sheep knows the problems created by grey crows--particularly for hill sheep farmers. Most of those accursed birds are to be found in Minister of Agriculture forestry plantations. We wish that the Minister would accept some responsibility for the vast increase in those corvids over the years. That issue is of significance to everyone who takes an interest in conservation and wildlife, and I hope that the Government will do something about it.
Column 545.46 pm
Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster) : At the beginning of this debate, especially after listening to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott), I began to question its purpose. It is apparently the plan or purpose of those who speak at the Dispatch Box for the official Opposition to get Northern Ireland linked in some way to the Republic, by hook or by crook. That forced link arises in every Northern Ireland debate. We are told about the money that would come from Europe, but if it was really worried and concerned about the good people of Northern Ireland, and about suffering and deprivation in the Province, Europe would not tie its giving hand to a link with the Irish Republic. It would give gladly to the people of Northern Ireland.
There are those who want to help us, so they say, provided that we go towards Dublin. I make it abundantly clear--whether it is Sir George Quigley who is quoted or any other knight in shining armour--that although the Opposition, and the Government in recent days, want to get Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom, the people of Northern Ireland have no intention of leaving the family. Unfortunately, we must bear the reality when the Government tell us that we have no selfish or strategic economic interests in staying in the United Kingdom. Down the years, Northern Ireland has suffered with the rest of the United Kingdom--rightly so, because we are part of it. We have paid with distinction and honour the price of being part of this free family.
Unfortunately, in recent days, some in high positions and in government have played with the enemy in seeking to thwart the will of the people of the Province and try to throw us from the family. But, tonight, in this United Kingdom Parliament, I raise matters that are relevant to my constituents. I do so having a genuine concern to see the condition and well-being of my people bettered.
At the commencement of the debate, I thought that we would be talking about dividing the financial cake and looking at the different Departments, until I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Wigan who speaks for the Opposition. I have to say that there are many day-to-day matters, some of which we dismiss, but they are very relevant to my constituents. Therefore, I want to raise them in the House on behalf of those who elected me to this Chamber.
I deal first with the vote for the Department of Agriculture. On behalf of my constituents, I urgently demand action by the Minister to save the pig sector of the agriculture industry. One matter that causes grave concern is the cost to my farmers of feedstuffs, which is beyond what the industry can afford. Surely the Department is aware of those difficulties. Therefore, assistance must be forthcoming, whether by subsidy or intervention grain.
Many pig farmers in the Province are in the quagmire of debt. Help must be given to save that sector. I mention in particular the Unipork factory in Cookstown. I am sure that the Department has been aware of the major problems in Unipork Holdings. I deeply regret the loss of producer control in the processing plants throughout the Province, especially in Cookstown, but my overriding concern is the survival of that factory.
The decline in Unipork's profitability over several years is to be regretted, but we cannot close our eyes to the need for a major injection of finance into that factory. The rescue
Column 55plan that was initiated by Bridgewater Food Holdings is, I hope, a genuine attempt to secure the Cookstown plant for the future. It is my intention to meet Mr. Ronnie Wilson to discuss the situation in Cookstown. I personally trust that my constituents shall enjoy job security through an energetic development of Unipork in Cookstown, and that that will assist in safeguarding a significant portion of the Northern Ireland pigmeat industry. Perhaps the Minister will draw the attention of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the concern in my constituency about the cut in the hill livestock compensatory amounts.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, does he not feel that it is very unfair for the pig industry in Northern Ireland not to have a level playing field to play on ? In other places, intervention grain, which is paid for and transported by EC funds, is made available in days of difficulty in sections of the agricultural community, whereas our people are losing out on quite a considerable amount of money for the price per tonne that they have to pay because of transport costs.
Why cannot there be an equalisation scheme whereby parts of the Community, such as Northern Ireland, can benefit from that intervention grain, and that grain be released ? Does my hon. Friend not think that it is time that the Government took that on board ? When one thinks of what the southern Government do for their farming community, and then thinks about the Northern Ireland Office dragging its feet, one is amazed that opportunities in the EC are missed.
Rev. William McCrea : I whole-heartedly agree with my hon. Friend. I mentioned that matter earlier, and asked the Minister whether he and his hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture would assist, either by subsidy to the pig farming industry or by intervention grain. That is vital to the pig farmers in the Province as a whole and in my constituency in particular.
The cut in the hill livestock compensatory amounts is causing concern in my constituency--a rural constituency. Many small farmers are farming on the hillsides of the sperrins. Therefore, it is vital that we give support to hill farmers through the hill livestock compensatory amounts. The Government have been rich in verbiage about their concern about the drift from the land and the rural development in the countryside. Unfortunately, much has been said but little action taken to back up their sayings. Surely it must be accepted that the farming community is the backbone of the rural economy, yet in reality little is given to encourage our youth to stay on the farms.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) mentioned rural planning. In my constituency, many of the young people are being forced out of the countryside by planners who seem not to have sympathy with farmers' sons, the backbone of the community, being kept within the community. I appeal to the Department to ensure a relaxation in the farming community being able to build in that community, and not to encourage the drift from the countryside. I shall now deal with the vote for economic development, which is vital to my constituency, bearing in mind the massive unemployment there. The hon. Member for Wigan said that he was visiting west Belfast and talked
Column 56about the deprivation and about many people not having jobs. I do not accept that that can in any way be an excuse for recruitment to terrorism ; I totally deplore that connection. My constituency has the second highest unemployment level in the United Kingdom, yet the vast majority of my constituents have turned their backs on the terrorists.
Rev. William McCrea : I do not think that the hon. Member was here when the speech was made, but if he reads Hansard tomorrow, he will clearly find that association. I must say that I will not accept unemployment as an excuse for anyone joining a terrorist organisation, whether it be in the Falls or in the heart of Mid-Ulster.
Mr. Stott : What I said was that, while there might not be a direct correlation between unemployment and the recruitment of unemployed young men into paramilitaries, where young men have been unemployed for more than a year--perhaps two or three years--it makes it all the more easy for them to be recruited into either paramilitary wing in Northern Ireland, because those young men do not have the dignity and discipline that employment brings.
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that, in his constituency, unemployed people have not resorted to terrorism, I applaud what he is saying, but it cannot be overstated that the high levels of unemployment in Northern Ireland are a means of attracting young idle hands into paramilitary activity. I have no doubt whatever about that.