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Column 82was asked by the planning office if there was an agricultural need, in which case it gave permission, surely that process can be reversed.
The Department of Agriculture could be asked whether the house is any longer required for agricultural need. If it is not, surely the qualification can be immediately withdrawn regarding farm worker dwelling or whatever it may be. I agree that a number of houses that are built in the countryside are not capable of being sold with the restriction attached to them.
Like many other hon. Members, I deeply regret the apparent moratorium or freeze in the Department of Education on further development, particularly on schemes which were well up the pipeline and which the schools and the boards of governors had planned to bring to fruition. Those now seem to have been stalled. I will not run to the parochialism of naming any particular one, but they are all on the Minister's desk. There is, however, one particular aspect of education regarding my constituency that I would like to address, because it has an impact on industrial development as well. That is the amalgamation which took place between the further education colleges of Newcastle and Downpatrick after considerable pressure for both colleges to amalgamate. The Minister then responsible originally indicated that he would not grant recognition to the merged college as a provider for the new higher level work for 1994-95 and beyond, but the governing bodies of both colleges have now submitted additional information which they believe would and should lead to the college being granted what is called category 2 status, and thereby being permitted to progress its development plans for higher education.
Those joint colleges are in a relatively rural area and it is very difficult--indeed, impossible--for pupils to travel regularly to the other proposed centres, which would probably be Belfast or Newry. In some instances, security risks are posed to pupils travelling to some of the colleges involved. I ask the Minister to grant category 2 status to those amalgamated colleges.
With regard to the vote of the Department of Health and Social Security, the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) referred to the Belvoir hospital on the outskirts of Belfast, which has a fine tradition of treating patients with cancer, including leukaemia. I endorse that wholeheartedly : as a personal beneficiary of the hospital, I cannot but give the highest possible praise to its environment--I think that that is the best word to use.
Its care, understanding and general feel could not be replicated in the event of transfer to a general hospital ; it is a specialist hospital which deals with a very difficult disease--a disease so heart-rending for those who suffer from it that it requires the special environment to which I have referred. I urge the Minister to reject any attempt at amalgamation out of hand as amalgamation with any of Belfast's large acute hospitals would result in a complete loss of the Belvoir hospital's special ethos.
I also make a plea for increased funds for community care. Currently, a great debate on the subject is taking place in Northern Ireland. No one is opposed to the concept of caring for a person in the community for as long as is humanly and physically possible, but there is no point in saying that we should care for people in the community if the care is not there. It is not a question of whether someone should be in a statutory or private nursing home, or in the community ; what is most important is what is best
Column 83for the patient. The elderly and infirm must have that choice, but choice can exist only if funds are available to provide back-up services in the community. Those funds are not there now. An Order in Council inexplicably imposed 12 trusts for social services provision in Northern Ireland. We do not know why ; that does not apply to England, Scotland or Wales. We have a fully integrated health and social services system, but the aim seems to be to tinker with something that is already working well. I do not know how the trusts will work--I hope that there will not be 12 different standards of provision--but, whatever happens, there is not enough money in the "care in the community" project to justify the massive change that the Government appear to be making in keeping elderly people out of residential care. The whole basis of assessment of the elderly is fraught with dangers for such people, who can well do without further trauma and stress.
Your tolerance and guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have enabled me to raise a number of subjects. Let me say to the Minister that what we are all trying to do tonight is raise the standard of living in Northern Ireland. Every day, a horrible mantle of violence falls on all of us. We all pray that it will end sooner rather than later, but in the meantime we must continue to live in the practical, factual world--and try to make living standards just that wee bit better than we left them yesterday.
I am not just trying to claw back money, or to get a bigger share of the cake. I want to secure a small rise in the tide, which will lift all the boats in every part of Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister will take some of my suggestions on board.
Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford) : The debate has been interesting and wide-ranging. I wish to raise a number of points in the remaining three hours or so, but I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I shall not compete with earlier speakers. I do not intend to take up all that time, beating records that have already been set.
Last week, we discussed matters relating to Scotland and Wales on the Floor of the House. Now it is Northern Ireland's turn. Let me say in passing that, when Scottish matters were raised, many hon. Members waved coloured job application forms issued in the Monklands constituency--I believe that they were red and green. Apparently, it was a reference to sectarianism in the area. Filling up a form of a certain colour lets the town council know that the applicant belongs to a certain religion, and he therefore has a better chance of obtaining a job.
A few days later, in the Welsh debate, such was the temperature that I later found I was the only Opposition Member present. A Conservative Member had made some very hard statements, which eventually resulted in all Labour, Liberal Democrat and Welsh Nationalist Members walking out of the House.
Given that performance in debates relating to Scotland and Wales, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think you will agree that this evening's debate has featured a great sense of responsibility and decorum, which reflects well on Northern Ireland and its representatives from all parties in this, our national Parliament.
Column 84This may well be the last debate in which we can range widely around all the subjects affecting Northern Ireland. We can discuss everything in this debate, from the filling of potholes to the most important issues. I hope that the Minister will not simply palm us off by saying, "I will write to the hon. Member." I hope that we will be given proper answers. That, after all, is the purpose of the debate : the civil servants give the answers, and the Minister gives them to us on the Floor of the House.
If we are not given those answers tonight, however, the good news is that-- if we get our Select Committee on Northern Ireland--Ministers and civil servants will become answerable to Members of Parliament from the Province.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram) : I do not want to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but this is only one of two debates on appropriation orders this year. We shall have the chance of another gallop around the same course some time in the summer.
Several hon. Members have mentioned agriculture. I am surprised that the one aspect of agriculture that has not been mentioned so far is Northern Ireland's milk industry, which is the biggest sector of our agriculture industry. I hope that the Minister will answer some questions about the future of the industry. As he will know, a complete reorganisation of the milk marketing schemes is taking place throughout the United Kingdom, involving the milk marketing boards of Scotland, England and Wales and Northern Ireland.
We have heard recently that the proposed reforms in England and Wales have been postponed--put on hold. We want to hear the Northern Ireland milk marketing board's latest proposals to reform milk marketing. It submitted its proposals to the Department, which gave 18 February as the closing date, for people to comment on the board's proposals.
We have passed that date, but still have not heard when the Department intends to issue its response. The responses of interested people were to be made available for public inspection once the consultation period had ended. Are their responses now available for inspection, and when do the Government intend to respond to the proposals of the Northern Ireland milk marketing board ? Its proposals for a new co-operative to market milk were due to take effect as from 1 April 1994, but it is obvious that that will not be achieved, so will the Minister please update us on the progress that has been made ?
A few weeks ago, I was at a large dairy producers' rally in Banbridge which was attended by about 500 dairy farmers. It was a successful meeting, which was organised by the milk marketing board. There is tremendous concern throughout the milk industry about its future. I was impressed by the number of young farmers who were present, asking good and intelligent questions, thereby expressing their concern about the future of the greatest sector of the milk industry.
My next point is about pensions for small farmers. A new early retirement scheme for farmers has been announced by the European Community. It is meant to apply mainly to smaller farmers. The issue was raised
Column 85about eight weeks ago by my colleague and the Member of the European Parliament for Northern Ireland, Mr. Jim Nicholson. He has discovered that there are 6,620 farmers in Northern Ireland between the ages of 55 and 65 and that they own a total area of 174,800 hectares. Of those 6,620, about 5,960, who own 120,000 hectares, could benefit financially from this scheme.
The scheme is important to small farmers because it means that a farmer over 55 could have an annual pension of about £3,730, plus £233 per hectare, up to a maximum of £9,300 a year. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has said that it will take little interest in the new scheme because most farms in Britain are quite big and would not qualify for it, but the situation is entirely different in Northern Ireland, which has thousands of small family farms. It is an ideal region for the new early retirement scheme for farmers, which would enable the sons of our farmers to take over farms and get involved in agriculture. At the moment, they cannot do so because their fathers must hold on until they are unfit to continue.
Will the proposal be considered seriously by the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture ? Let us use Northern Ireland as a trial to see how successful the scheme would be and what its take-up would be by smaller farmers. I believe that there would be a good response from small farmers from all sections of the community in Northern Ireland.
My final point on agriculture, about which the Minister can write to me because it is somewhat detailed, is on sheep annual premium scheme quotas. The Department issued notes and guidance to sheep producers on how the quotas should be applied. Paragraph 38 of its document contains a phrase that seems to be causing much confusion. It says :
"You may transfer or lease all your quota rights."
Many sheep producers have transferred all their quota rights to several producers, but unfortunately the Department is now saying that they misinterpreted the document and that it should have said :
"You may transfer or lease all your quota rights to one person." It did not say "to one person", and that is the problem. Many people are caught in a trap created by this misunderstanding. I therefore ask the Minister to pursue that matter further, because I know that the situation facing many sheep producers would be eased if that misunderstanding were removed.
The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) referred to fishing--and rightly so, because he and I represent the two fishing areas of Northern Ireland. Portavogie is in my constituency. The situation in the fishing industry is more serious now than I have known it in my 15 years as its representative in the European Parliament and now here in our national Parliament. On Saturday evening, a young fisherman from Portavogie, who is married with one child, rang to say, "We are sitting here in the house freezing ; we cannot even afford to buy a bag of coal." He was telling me the truth ; I know the chap inside out. The skipper of his boat rang me this morning with much the same story. He, likewise, was in despair. A serious situation is developing in the fishing industry. Of some 90 boats in Portavogie, 18 took part in the decommissioning scheme, but the position still remains dire. Weather conditions have been poor for fishing so far this year and fish prices have collapsed, which is causing unemployment in the Portavogie area. I join in welcoming Lady Denton as our new Minister with responsibility for
Column 86agriculture in Northern Ireland. I have had a meeting with her about various other aspects of her responsibilities, and I look forward to the day when she comes to Portavogie to see the problems for herself.
In that rural village on the east coast of County Down, which has no other sources of employment, nearly 1,000 people are involved in a fishing industry that is now in decline. Some 300 work in the processing plants and 700 in the fishing fleet.
I ask the Northern Ireland Office to impress on our national fishing authorities and Ministers responsible for fishing the need to find out whether national aids are given to rival fishing fleets in the European Union. It has been reported that France is giving such aids to its fishermen. That is unfair competition for the fishermen of Northern Ireland.
Portavogie is a village with only one public building--the toilets. No public facilities exist other than the WC. We tried to get a community centre for Portavogie but the then Minister responsible for community relations, who left us a few months ago, wrote to say that it was not possible because there were not sufficient people from the two sections of the community living in Portavogie. In other words, Portavogie was discriminated against in terms of Government funding because too many people of one religion live there.
When Portavogie applied to the International Fund for Ireland more than a year ago, it was turned down again, but for a different reason. On this occasion, it was turned down in a letter which stated, ridiculously, that although the project was recognised as interesting and worthy of consideration, a similar proposal had, however, come from Greencastle in County Donegal. That proposal was proceeding and, instead of building a second structure of a similar type in Portavogie, it was recommended that fishermen from Portavogie travel to Greencastle. There are a variety of reasons why the fishermen of Portavogie would not be happy travelling to Greencastle in County Donegal--I shall not spell them out tonight--but it was the most ridiculous reply that I have ever heard from a public authority, if one can call the International Fund for Ireland a public authority.
As a result, I raised the matter in Washington, of all places, this time last year when I met representatives of the Irish lobby there and, especially, board members of the International Fund for Ireland. I said that there was discrimination against the village of Portavogie because it was overwhelmingly Protestant. I followed that up by writing a firm letter to the new chairman of the International Fund for Ireland--in fact, I wrote to the previous chairman, but he resigned shortly after receiving my letter and the reply came from Mr. William McCarter, the new chairman. The reply was reasonably promising. I see that the hon. Member for South Down has now returned to the Chamber, perhaps because I am now discussing fishing. In the past few weeks, the International Fund for Ireland has announced a scheme for Annalong, Kilkeel, Ardglass and Portavogie. I put it on record that I greatly welcome the scheme and I hope that all our fishing villages will benefit from it. In Portavogie we are already in a good position to take advantage of the programme because, as I said, we have been working on it for the past few years. The Portavogie and district community association produced a report on what was needed in the village. Portavogie is, in fact, a small town with 3,500 people. I hope that the
Column 87Northern Ireland Departments of the Environment and of Agriculture are reading the association's report and taking it seriously. The report suggests that Portavogie should have a multi-purpose centre which would provide many facilities. As I said, we have only the one public building--the toilets. We need a multi-purpose centre to provide a location for health facilities and the training of fishermen and to provide a community hall. It would also provide accommodation for people connected with the fishing industry who have to stay in Portavogie overnight. I hope that the International Fund for Ireland, in co-operation with the Department of the Environment, will concentrate on the project now proposed by the local community in Portavogie.
The third paragraph of the press release of the International Fund for Ireland states :
"This programme will be run in conjunction with the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland and will provide a major cross-community economic based project."
I emphasise the fact that 90 per cent. of Portavogie's 3,500 population are Protestant. There is cross-community co-operation but, obviously, it has to be limited in the context of the balance of the population. I hope that the fact that Portavogie is mainly Protestant will not be held against the village and prevent it from receiving benefits.
The hon. Member for South Down mentioned Strangford lough. There is an important meeting tonight about the future of Strangford lough in the main town of my constituency in Newtownards. I had hoped to attend the meeting last Thursday in Killyleagh in the hon. Gentleman's constituency but I could not because of the "Newsnight" programme on the Select Committee for Northern Ireland. I cannot be in Newtownards tonight either, but I underline the concern of the fishermen in and around Strangford lough about the Government's proposals for a marine nature reserve. It is suggested that dredging, trawling and dive collection will be forbidden and that the maximum boat length which is currently allowed will be reduced from 15.23 m to 12.19 m.
Families have been fishing in Strangford lough for generations. The hon. Member for South Down would perhaps claim that they have been doing so since the day St. Patrick arrived in South Down.
Mr. Taylor : We come from two different traditions, but we are agreed that it is important that Strangford lough is preserved. It is, however, also important for the livelihood of the people who live in and around and work on the waters of Strangford lough.
There have been three great meetings--the first was in Portaferry, the second in Killyleagh and the third is in Newtownards tonight. I understand that the meeting at Killyleagh was quite noisy. I am glad to hear it--it was a typical Ulster meeting at which everyone made known their views, forcefully. I hope that the officials from the Department who are present will report back to the Minister and that, having undertaken a consultation process with the local people, the Minister will now decide to hold a public inquiry about the proposal for a marine nature reserve for Strangford lough before a final decision is made.
Column 88The hon. Members for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea) and for South Down paid tribute to Belvoir Park hospital. As it is in my constituency, I am very aware of the problem facing the hospital and I appreciate the hon. Gentlemen's cross-community support. In its report on acute hospital services, the Eastern area health board recommended in three lines the closure of Belvoir Park hospital and its transfer to another site in the city of Belfast--that was the effect of its recommendation, but I do not have the exact words with me.
The important thing is that Belvoir Park hospital, which has been praised by hon. Members on both sides of the House and which is respected and appreciated by thousands and thousands of people in Northern Ireland who suffer from cancer and other diseases, has been dismissed in three lines without one reason being given for the board's decision. The way in which public bodies override public opinion in Northern Ireland at the moment is scandalous. There is no answerability under the system of government in the Province. I have met the chairman of the hospital trust that controls Belvoir Park hospital and I have discussed the matter with Baroness Denton, the new Minister with responsibility for health. She was due to visit the hospital last Thursday and I hope that the visit took place. I understand that it would take £30 million or £40 million to relocate the hospital--which is recognised as a good hospital--in the centre of Belfast.
It would be a total waste of public funds when other hospitals throughout Northern Ireland need money. We should spend some of that £30 million or £40 million on improving Belvoir Park hospital and we should allocate the rest to other hospitals in the Province. The road system from all parts of the country to the hospital is excellent. The interesting point is that, although the Eastern board is suggesting closing down the hospital, none of the other boards that use it has reached the same conclusion.
As I have mentioned in previous debates, one has to watch the political pull--I do not mean party political--of those connected with the hospitals in the city of Belfast. The population there has fallen from 500,000 to only 290,000. If one followed what was happening in Great Britain, one would reduce availability in the city of Belfast and one would increase availability in areas such as North Down and Strangford where the population is increasing.
The reverse is happening in Northern Ireland. There is a political pull by those involved in hospitals in Belfast to try to get more into their area at the expense of those who live outside Belfast. In the case of Belvoir Park hospital, I ask the Government to pay no attention to the report by the Eastern health board and instead to consider the wishes of the people in this matter. Each hon. Member, no matter which party he comes from, is receiving letter after letter, day after day from his constituents saying, "Please save and support Belvoir Park hospital."
I now turn to roads and ports. Some of the subjects to which I wish to refer have already been touched on by other hon. Members. I simply want to lend my support in some cases because points need to be underlined. A few weeks ago, I attended a one-day conference at Belfast castle, which was organised by the university of Ulster. The subject was the problems of peripherality in the European Community in terms of roads and ports.
Unfortunately, the Northern Ireland Office Minister who attended the conference and gave a short address had already left when an important paper was delivered by the
Column 89European Commission spokesman. The spokesman referred to ports in Europe and he showed us many great maps on the screen. Four important ports were shown for the island of Ireland : Dublin, Waterford, Dun Laoghaire and Rosslare.
I could remain quiet no longer. I said, "Mr. Chairman, may I intervene ? Why are the two largest ports in the island of Ireland not on this map ?" I did not mention what the two ports were at that stage. The Commission man looked shocked and he did not know what I was talking about. To help him, I said, "Belfast and Larne." He then coughed and muttered, and finally said, "Oh, this map is not finalised yet. Those ports could still be added."
It is a total disgrace that, after years of public debate, the Government, through the Northern Ireland Office, and the United Kingdom representation in Brussels--UKREP--have failed to get the European Commission to recognise that Larne and Belfast are the two biggest ports in the island of Ireland and should get priority treatment from the European Community ahead of any other port in the island.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Despite the fact that the Conservative Government have gone for privatisation, could it be that they are penalising the private ports of Larne and Stranraer and supporting trust ports, such as Dublin ?
Mr. Taylor : I cannot answer that ; it is up to the Government. Perhaps the Minister will take up that matter when he replies. The interesting thing is that market forces in Northern Ireland and, to a considerable extent, in the Republic of Ireland have dictated that Belfast and Larne shall be the two main ports in the island of Ireland. The present policy of Northern Ireland Ministers of trying to divert traffic away from Belfast and Larne down to a new port in Dublin and other ports in the Republic runs contrary to what market forces require in the island of Ireland. I must tell the hon. Member for South Down the bad news ; he touched on it himself and he was perfectly right.
During the conference, I spoke to many transport people from Dublin ; I will not mention them by name because it would embarrass them. I said, "This Northern Ireland Office of ours is spending money on roads and railways between Northern Ireland and Dublin and you now intend to spend a lot of money--£50 million--on improving Dublin port. Will that not be a great waste of money ? Would it not be better to put that £50 million into improving the transport system to the ports that Northern Irish and southern Irish business wants to use ?" The man to whom I was speaking laughed and said, "You are probably right, but we want to have a big port ourselves."
I said, "If you get a big port in Dublin for £50 million from the cohesion fund of the European Community and if, in the meantime, we build these lovely roads and railway lines down to Dublin, what will happen to our ports ?" The Dubliners replied, "Belfast will be okay and Larne will be okay, but we are afraid that Warrenpoint will probably die a natural death." That is the way they see it. Warrenpoint will lose because of the way in which money will now be spent in Dublin at the expense of Warrenpoint harbour.
Mr. McGrady : For the purposes of accuracy, I refer to the report issued by the Department of the Environment on its transport programme. Table 4.6 shows traffic in and out of the various ports of Ireland, both north and south : Belfast has 8.1 million tonnes, Dublin 7.7 million tonnes, Larne 3.7 million tonnes and Warrenpoint 1.5 million
Column 90tonnes. Those statistics were correct at November 1993. The largest port is Belfast, followed by Dublin and then by Larne.
Mr. Taylor : The hon. Gentleman was referring to freight only, but we are considering passengers as well. Larne is the second largest passenger ferry port in the British Isles, never mind in the island of Ireland.
Mr. Beggs : Surely, if there had been any fairness in the way in which that matter had been approached, due reference would have been made to the four important ports in Northern Ireland. That includes the service that is provided through the modernised port at Londonderry. It is in our interest, in the interests of commerce in Northern Ireland and in the interests of all those users of our present facilities to ensure that proper recognition is given to all four ports in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Taylor : My hon. Friend makes a valid point. We have four important ports, as he says. The hon. Member for South Down, the Ulster Unionists and the Democratic Unionist Members should be uniting to save Larne, Belfast, Londonderry and Warrenpoint. Warrenpoint has a shaky future if the present developments on which the Northern Ireland Office and the Dublin Government are co-operating proceed without a challenge from the elected representatives of Northern Ireland.
I shall now turn to the issue of the roads leading to those ports. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) mentioned the importance of the road to Larne. I underline what he has said and shall quote one simple fact which, as a civil engineer, certainly makes sense to me. Road traffic and civil engineers decide road strategy on the present and projected use of road systems. Therefore, one would expect that a road that has a high level of vehicular traffic would have priority over other roads with less traffic. That is not the case in Northern Ireland, and certainly is not since the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Before that agreement, priority on road projects in the Department of the Environment estimates was decided on traffic density. Since that agreement, there has been a change of policy and road schemes are selected for roads that cross the border into the Republic of Ireland. Those roads are given priority over roads that are used more.
I shall state some facts. The road to Larne, the second largest port in the island of Ireland, carries 16,000 vehicles per day. The road to Dublin carries only half that traffic--8,000 vehicles a day. Yet Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office, for reasons known to them and for reasons arising from the Anglo-Irish Agreement, have decided to downgrade the road to Larne, which is twice as busy, and instead upgrade and give priority to the road to Dublin.
The same happened at the Foster Green junction, which is near the boundaries of Belfast, South and my constituency. The Foster Green junction carries 50,000 vehicles per day--not 8,000 to Dublin, but 50, 000 to Belfast--and the scheme there was supposed to begin in 1992. The tender documents were drawn up to go out to contract, but the new policy emerged in the Northern Ireland Office and, because of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, priority had to be given to transport systems to Dublin. Suddenly, the great scheme proposed for the Foster Green junction was postponed for another four years and the money that was to be spent on it was transferred to the bypass at Newry.
Column 91Those facts cannot be denied. I assure the Minister that people in the borough of Castlereagh, whether Unionist, Democratic Unionist or alliance, are all agitated at the loss of that major road scheme and on their behalf I ask for it to be brought forward as a matter of urgency.
In my European context, I want to back plans for the road to Carrickfergus, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East. I have a vested interest because I go to Carrickfergus every week, where I have a small business. From personal experience, I know of the dreadful traffic conditions on the A2 from Belfast to the borough of Carrickfergus, just past the university. Suddenly, instead of a dual carriageway, one is trained into a single track. Carrickfergus is the fastest growing town in Northern Ireland. Perhaps due to the problems in Belfast, many people are moving to live in that most attractive town. It is the fastest growing town in Northern Ireland, with the greatest traffic chaos getting into it and out of each day. The road is right beside our biggest university and it certainly needs to be improved quickly. I ask the Minister who is responsible for roads--I know that he will not be replying to the debate-- to recognise the importance of Carrickfergus as one of our fastest growing towns, as my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, East said, and to give priority to that road scheme.
The Comber bypass in my constituency, a scheme which was due to commence two years ago, has been postponed. Yet again, the £2 million to £3 million that had been allocated to that bypass has been reallocated to the route to Dublin as a result of the present policies of the Northern Ireland Office.
The final matter that I want to mention in relation to roads is a very local one. After all, it is to air such matters that we have these debates. It is a reflection on the whole system of government in Northern Ireland that the Secretary of State and his Ministers demand that they decide which potholes should be filled and which minor road schemes should be carried out. They do not allow local authorities to deal with those matters, which they could do most effectively--and probably much better than central Government because they have the local knowledge. While the present system pertains, however, I am forced to mention some points which, although they may seem small to hon. Members, are certainly not small to the local community.
In the Comber area, we have two examples of what I regard as lack of consultation between the road service and the local community. A third example has arisen recently in the Ards peninsula between Greyabbey and the Roman Catholic chapel at Kircubbin. I have visited the road outside the Roman Catholic chapel and seen the problem there. I have been to Castle street in Comber to inspect the problem there. The other problem, which was drawn to my attention only on Thursday and which I have not yet seen, is at Lisbane outside Comber.
The road service is closing roads to carry out minor works, and in doing so is quite unnecessarily putting local people and workers going to work in the morning and returning home in the evening to great inconvenience. Two Mondays ago at 10 o'clock, I visited Kircubbin on my way to Portaferry to see the great new aquarium that is about to be opened there. The sign said "Road closed".
Column 92I had already heard about this nonsense, so I said to the chap who was with me, "We'll drive on and see what this is like." We drove on and discovered that, the whole way from Greyabbey to Kircubbin chapel, there was not a workman or a machine on the road--yet the road had been closed to the public all weekend. Imagine the inconvenience caused to farmers, to workers going to Belfast, and so on. There was nothing on the road. One could have driven along it quite easily. The same happened in Comber. Admittedly, they are laying a pipeline down the middle of Castle street ; it is certainly a larger scheme, which needs to be controlled more tightly. The Department of the Environment put up signs at each end saying "Road closed". We are talking about the main street in the town of Comber, both sides of which are lined with shops. A new petrol filling station has just been built at a cost of £500,000.
For three months, a sign was to be in place saying "Road closed". That would have meant that no one could get into a shop or the filling station for three months. No business man could survive for three months without people calling into his shop or his filling station. All that was needed was an arrangement whereby, instead of notices saying "Road closed", we had notices saying "No through road" or something of that nature. People would then have known that they could still drive into the street and go to the shops although they could not get out at the other end.
I gather that the same is now happening at Lisbane. I cannot comment in further detail until I have been there, but I have received complaints from constituents there to the effect that the road is closed and damage is being done to businesses. I appeal to the road service in the Comber and the Ards area to show a little more understanding to the business community and the public and not to inconvenience them in this way.
Mr. Maginnis : Does my right hon. Friend accept that those of us who live in the west of the Province and who depend on the M1 motorway for access to Belfast--where much of our constituency work has to be done as we visit the various Departments--are not at all surprised by what he says ? The M1 is in a constant state of contraflow or lane narrowing because of work that is supposedly being done. But if one drives down the motorway, one finds that there are comparatively few people working on it. No thought is given to the convenience of those who travel from the west of the Province and are totally dependent on that motorway.
Mr. Taylor : I certainly understand the point that my hon. Friend makes. The reason for the contraflow is the current motorway bridge improvement scheme. I am sure that, just as in the case of the Greyabbey- Kircubbin road, motorists must endure a contraflow or even leave the route altogether. In fact, people travelling along the M1 towards Belfast sometimes have to leave the motorway at Lisburn. If, in those circumstances, it is found that no work is going on, people become upset.
I should like to conclude with a reference to education. During this debate we have heard about the increasing unemployment of nurses in Northern Ireland. As has been said, the Northern Ireland Office encourages people from southern Ireland to come to the Province for training and sees that they are given all the benefits. It is ridiculous that, at a time when our own nurses are being thrown out of
Column 93work, 11 per cent. of student nurses in Northern Ireland are from the republic. That contradiction requires the serious attention of Ministers if they are really concerned about the people of Northern Ireland and about the provision of jobs in Northern Ireland for nurses from the Province.
In our universities one finds a similar contradiction. Northern Ireland's two universities now have 2,000 undergraduates from the republic. I understand that the education of those people costs the British taxpayer £5 million a year. It may be argued that that is forced on the Northern Ireland Office by new European Community regulations, but that is too easy a dismissal. This situation has serious consequences for Northern Irish 18-year-olds who have just obtained their A-levels and want to pursue a university education.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a higher proportion of young people in Northern Ireland than in other parts of the United Kingdom are capable of going on to university ? Is not that a result of Northern Ireland's retention of its grammar schools, where young people get a thoroughly sound and structured education ? Such an education makes people more eager to go to university, and it is a great pity that they should be crowded out.
Mr. Taylor : I always like to agree with the hon. Lady. She and I have worked closely together for many years. On this issue, as on many others, she is right. The standard of education in Northern Ireland is very superior to what is found in Great Britain, especially England and Wales. I hear someone whisper that the people of Northern Ireland, too, are very good. Our grammar school system has resulted in the maintenance of a very high level of education. But my main point is that the higher chances that should result from better A-levels are diminished by the invasion of 2,000 southern Irish students, who, I repeat, are being paid for by the constituents of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman). If I introduce a note of religion, it is to explain that education in Northern Ireland is divided along sectarian lines. The Roman Catholic Church-- perfectly within its rights--demands control over its own schools. It is a tradition that many Northern Irish Protestant students go to university in Britain, especially Scotland. Indeed, 40 per cent. of the undergraduates of Dundee university are from Northern Ireland. I am glad to report that there is even a pretty strong Ulster Unionist presence at Dundee university today. It has not been the tradition for Catholic students to leave Northern Ireland. They normally studied at Queen's university and more recently, at Ulster university in Jordanstown and in Coleraine. However, over the past four years, instead of just 5 per cent. of Catholic students leaving Northern Ireland for university, the percentage of Catholic students having to leave Northern Ireland has increased to 30 per cent.
That has happened for two reasons. First, there are fewer places available in Northern Irish universities because of competition from applicants from the south of Ireland. Secondly, as thousands more students from the Republic are applying to enter the two universities in Northern Ireland, in response to supply and demand, the Northern Ireland universities are raising their entrance requirements.
Column 94It is becoming more difficult for students to gain entrance to universities in Northern Ireland. As standards are much lower in English universities, they can gain entrance to those universities much more quickly. It is easier to enter an English university now than it is to enter a Northern Irish university because so many southern Irish students are applying for entrance to Northern Irish universities.
The result of that cycle of events is that the working class population of Northern Ireland--and a very large percentage of the Catholic community is working class--are suffering severe discrimination with regard to the availability of university education in Northern Ireland. Working-class parents are forced, because of the lack of places in Northern Irish universities, to spend more money to send their children to universities across the water in Great Britain.
I mentioned that severe problem a year ago. It has become worse over the past 12 months. Roman Catholic parents agree with what I said a year ago. They are losing in relation to the availability of university places in Northern Ireland.
Rev. William McCrea : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is resentment within the Province, which I have heard expressed increasingly by students in the west of the Province, about young people not being able to gain entrance to what they term their own universities in the Province ? Does he agree that there is suspicion that there is a plan to get the young people of Northern Ireland to leave the Province in the hope that many of them, especially those from the Protestant community, will not return ?
Mr. Taylor : The hon. Gentleman may well be right. Northern Ireland is full of suspicion and innuendo. I began by saying that this dreadful situation has arisen from a European Community decision. I conclude that it is hurting the less well-off people in the community, who include a large section of the Roman Catholic minority. Those people, who had been gaining much from university education at Queen's university and Ulster university over the past 20 years, are being placed at a disadvantage and must pay to send their students across the water. Thirty per cent. of all Catholic students are leaving Northern Ireland as a result of the new pressure to which I referred.
I should have liked to say much more, but I am afraid of beating the record set by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). If we had our own say in the affairs of Northern Ireland, the money that is spent on educating southern Irish students could be used to provide nursery school facilities throughout the length and breadth of the Province.
There is a dearth of nursery school facilities in Northern Ireland. At the moment, only 5,000 children receive nursery school education in Northern Ireland, when there are 55,000 children who should be at nursery schools. Of course, the Northern Ireland Office says that it has no money and it cannot provide nursery schools. We can find £5 million every year to educate southern Irish students and we can throw millions of pounds at educating southern Irish nurses, but we do not have a penny to spend on nursery schools in Northern Ireland. I raise those issues in the hope that the Minister will give a fuller response to them. He may say that he has no
Column 95time and that he will send us some letters. I warn him that a letter will not satisfy the Select Committee for Northern Ireland when we get it.
Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen) : Northern Irish colleagues do not often have an opportunity to debate their affairs, so I shall not take up too much of their time. I think, however, that they will appreciate comments from a Scottish Member. Scotland and Northern Ireland have close social, cultural and economic links. I should like to give the House the benefit of an outside view. I know that another Scot will wind up the debate for the Government, but I do not suppose that my Northern Irish colleagues will be as happy with his speech as with mine.
The right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) mentioned his presence at Scottish and Welsh debates and said that today's debate was being conducted with much more decorum. Perhaps that is connected to the fact that, unlike hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland, the majority of hon. Members who represent the fellow Celtic nations of Wales and Scotland do not support the Government.
The debate is about money, which is important. It is also important that there is closer scrutiny of spending in Northern Ireland, which has a unique position in the United Kingdom. There is a danger of apathy and non- scrutiny resulting in officials and Ministers taking decisions that do not have the support of the public or of Northern Irish Members.
It is appropriate to mention the costs of violence when debating estimates and the appropriation order. As a Scottish Member talking about Northern Ireland I shall give no moral lectures, but it is relevant to discuss the costs of violence. I am not anti-spending in that sector. The rest of the United Kingdom, Britain, owes a debt to Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland on which we have depended for support, not least in the first world war.
I have with me an independent report that traces expenditure in the British Government Departments in Northern Ireland. That expenditure is expressed in constant prices. The figures are derived primarily from the Government's expenditure plans and priorities for 1993-94 to 1995 published by the Department of Finance and Personnel and Her Majesty's Treasury. The report includes a graph which shows how the spending percentages in the total cake in Northern Ireland have changed. Between 1987-88 and 1995-96, the percentage of the cake spent on law and order will have moved from 11 to 12 per cent. That is the cost of the violence. That money could be much better used to deal with some of the problems mentioned by my Northern Ireland colleagues.
The percentage of the total to be spent on industry, energy, trade and employment initiatives by the Northern Ireland Office between 1987-88 to 1995-96 has dropped from 8 to 6 per cent. Housing spending has dropped from 7 to 3 per cent. of the total. I was impressed by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive officer, who happens to be called Mr. McEvoy--spelt with an "e"--and who is a competent official. Spending on social security increased from 31 to 33 per cent. of the total now. Spending on health and personal