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A Roman Catholic maintained primary school in my constituency called St. Brides has faced a similar problem over the years of obtaining the capital funding necessary for a school that is over-subscribed. Other schools could take the children, but parental choice means that some schools are flooded while other parents are told that their children must go elsewhere.
Is the Minister satisfied with the information technology available to the Department of Health and Social Security? It seems strange that figures for a small area like Northern Ireland are regularly unavailable centrally. If they were available, it would help us to assess the needs throughout the Province. The boards have difficulty in assessing needs. With the advent of the trusts--community trusts are particularly pressured--is the Minister satisfied that there is sufficient funding? That question is especially relevant in the light of the suggestion that the boards might be amalgamated or scrapped. According to my understanding of the trust system, community trusts should provide, rather than purchase, the services. Will they be able to carry out the role that is strictly within the boards' remit? Would it be possible for one central board to carry out that function with greater effect? The boards and trusts--particularly the community trusts--in Northern Ireland deal with social services as well as health needs.
I confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) said about the use of the patients charter. In the sphere of orthopaedics, thousands have been released to cut the waiting lists. With transit funds, the
Column 110orthopaedic surgeons have been told that they cannot take anyone on the emergency list until they have removed everyone who has been waiting for more than a year.
I sympathise with those who have been waiting for more than a year, but I sympathise more with a woman of over 80 years of age who fell and smashed her hip bone. The specialist said that she needed emergency surgery, which could not be guaranteed under the new regulations. She is alone in her home, confined to bed, unable to walk and, because of the pressures and the pain, has not been eating. That form of medical treatment might be fashionable in some places, but was never part of this nation's national health service and does not match the sort of care that the people of Northern Ireland expect from their specialists. Therefore, will the Minister look at the impact of some of the guidance?
If more funds are to be put into the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, why is it not possible to allow someone to be trained there, particularly in the examination of public service vehicles? Wrights of Ballymena, which supplies coaches for London Transport and other firms, could then have them tested in Northern Ireland without the added expense of bringing someone across and having to pay not only his or her flights, but hotel, boarding and other incidental expenses.
The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency could use that person to enhance its own testing facilities. That would not cost the nation anything other than the money needed up front before the fees came in. Fees would have to be paid, but they would not include the extra expense of travel and hotel accommodation.
I do not want to prolong the gathering, but I must underline planning problems. It is said that I sometimes become perturbed by some of the responses that we are given when issues are raised in the House or directly with Ministers. Some Ministers are assiduous, but some Departments show a great facility for using word processors. The Government regularly respond, "You might like to know what goes on." We get the same churned-out response time and again. Ministers will know that a Member is foolish to ask a question if he does not already know the answer. He is trying to probe, so to receive a civil servant's letter telling him what he already knows without dealing with the issue is detrimental.
The way in which some developers have ridden roughshod over planning decisions and victimised innocent people is beyond my understanding. I refer specifically to a case affecting a dwelling in Rathfriland road, Dromara, on which I have had a continuing battle with successive Ministers. I have not yet had a satisfactory answer on why the plans laid down by the Department have not been carried through, to the advantage of a developer and the damage of a neighbour.
Does the allocation in the appropriation order reflect the relief funds agreed in the Budget to ease the pain of VAT increases on fuel? Some people believe that a con game has been played and that some of those who most need extra help may not get it. Furthermore, does the allocation fully reflect the additional training costs which the draft Children (Northern Ireland) Order will introduce? That will be one of the big items of expenditure and the order does not say whether it will go in that direction.
I urge the Minister, when he replies to the debate tonight or in the coming days, to help us to be more specific. Why was the Department caught with its pants down when it was amazed at the demand on the disability living fund?
Column 111Given that Northern Ireland, with 2.5 per cent. of the population of the Kingdom, received 16 per cent. of the previous fund, there must be something wrong with the Department's records if it did not realise that more would be needed than was allocated.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I wish to respond to a question put much earlier by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), who asked what was the purpose of the debate. He then went on to produce his own argument about it, but the question is worth considering.
A clear technical answer was initially spelt out by the Minister and is contained under various headings in the order. We are dealing with matters under appropriation, which, under Consolidated Fund provisions for Northern Ireland, are now to be adopted or rejected. That allows a wide-ranging debate on many bits and pieces, and many useful items are raised under that heading.
Another possibility is that we could have a wider and more integrated debate because this is probably the nearest item to a Budget for Northern Ireland. Were we having a Budget debate, we would expect Front-Bench Members to set out clearly their differences in attitude and position, which would be reflected in the speeches of Back-Bench Members. Although, to an extent, Front-Bench Members do that, Members representing Northern Ireland, whose major concern this is, deal only with bits and pieces, although they are often of considerable interest. Interestingly, their position appears to be interventionist as they seem to want to be involved in many areas and to seek developments in their constituencies where there is unemployment, deprivation and the need to keep open and extend various services.
I have been in the House for many appropriation debates, because we have two each year. We will continue to have two such debates each year, even when a Northern Ireland Select Committee is set up, because that will be an investigatory Committee, not a legislative Committee. Therefore, we shall need to go through that process. Although I hear such interventionist and rather collectivist views from Northern Ireland Members representing the Democratic Unionist party, the Ulster Unionist party, the Ulster Popular Unionist party and the Social Democratic and Labour party, what I do not get from those speeches is any clear understanding of the economic and social position and programmes of those parties, partly because they are obviously tied to the politics of persistent opposition. Being in persistent opposition, they must fight their own corner and sometimes they end up fighting in ways that are not always consistent. I do not necessarily see hon. Members from all the parties to which I have referred trooping in the Lobby in a rather interventionist way with the Labour party, which is still slightly more interventionist than the Conservative party.
From those debates, I should like to understand not only the massive problems that can be listed under the various headings but the general idea among the different political parties about how to handle the economic and social problems that exist in Northern Ireland.
Column 112I shall quote briefly from the citizen's inquiry, the Opsahl report, which dealt not only with constitutional and political matters but economic and social concerns. Unfortunately, we have had little discussion about that document, although there was a two-hour debate about it in another place recently. The submission of the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust suggested how we should look at the economic and social problems of Northern Ireland :
"The notion of the mini Marshall Plan of recovery for Northern Ireland could captivate the imagination and build upon the ad hoc approached to date. Northern Ireland currently operates in a planning vacuum totally dependent upon the exigencies of the British economy. Without an indigenous economic and social strategy, we restrict ourselves to a peripheral dependent status with little impetus for change and development. A broad- based regional strategy with challenging goals and targets set within a realistic timescale could transform our political economy. The process of compiling a recovery plan, symbolic of the collective response to adversity and opportunity, could intrinsically be an important part of the healing process that urgently needs to take place in Northern Ireland." If it were possible for discussions about a recovery plan to take place in Northern Ireland, that could help the political process. The beauty about economic and social issues is that comprise can work within them. Arguments can be put forward in negotiations, say, between trade unionists and employers. What can happen is that a temporary compromise solution for today is reached so that people can involve different tactics to achieve an improved position for the future.
When discussions are political, about boundaries and the flag, those matters are not subject to compromise and reflect the problems that exist widely in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the more we can involve ourselves in discussing bread and butter issues, and tie them to an overall strategy for Northern Ireland, the better that will be. I appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House to take the appropriate debate seriously.
My hon. Friends on the Opposition Back Benches do not take the debate seriously enough. Besides my speech, we have had a speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy), but we are the only two Back Benchers who have been here throughout the debate. The debate does not pull in other Labour Members, apart from our Front-Bench spokesmen and those who are on duty.
If we managed to pull our hon. Friends into this debate they would probably be alienated by much of it, which is technical, detailed and limited. We need to extend the scope of the debate, but without extending the length of speeches, to consider other matters. I know that hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland have difficulties because the House offers them no decent procedures to enable them to discuss their concerns. This is one of the few opportunities for them to express their constituency concerns, but that distorts the nature of the debate.
The debate is a good opporunity to talk about matters of key concern to Northern Ireland. It could be fruitful in terms of improving the situation there. Nothern Ireland is about not just violence, boundaries, flags and borders but the day-to-day life of the people and the conditions with which they live--for example, high unemployment. Every year, 8,000 new people come on to the labour market, but just 4,000 jobs are found for them. Those who fail to find a job have either to take unemployment benefit or move to Britain for employment opportunities. In the past 20 years, Northern Ireland has witnessed a far greater decline in its industrial base than that experienced in Britain.
Column 113We must not consider Northern Ireland as a spin-off of the British economy, because 44 per cent. of its work force is dependent upon the operation of the public sector. The Government's attitude to the public sector and the restraints that they impose on it in Britain are not only entirely inappropriate for Britain but especially inappropriate for Northern Ireland. The Government must adopt a different approach, which offers a strategic plan for Northern Ireland and which does not rule out the position in the island of Ireland.
According to some of the views presented today, it is as though a fixed prosperity exists in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. The hon. Member is criticising hon. Members who have spoken according to the confines of the draft appropriation order. All the speeches--I have listened to a great many of them because I have been in the Chair twice this evening--have been entirely focused on the varying elements of the order and entirely correctly. Had hon. Members broadened that to a strategic debate involving the whole of the isle of Ireland, I would have had to bring them to order-- as I am doing the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Barnes : I am not denying that all the speeches have been in order. I was not complaining about that, but questioning whether they were, at all times, relevant to the major problems in Northern Ireland. One can argue against people's speeches on political, economic and social grounds without arguing that those speeches were somehow procedurally incorrect.
Developments within Northern Ireland, which link it with the island of Ireland, are also appropriate to the debate.
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North) : The hon. Member seems to be arguing that the situation in Eire is much better than that in Northern Ireland, yet is it not correct that it has an unemployment rate of 19 per cent. compared with 14 per cent. in Northern Ireland?
Mr. Barnes : That reinforces the view that, sometimes, economic and social matters should be considered not just on a regional basis with Northern Ireland, but on an all-Ireland basis, because prosperity is not something that is restricted to specific areas. Overall conditions, which allow trade to develop between different areas, produce prosperity--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his views, and if this were a general debate on Northern Ireland, such comments would be entirely appropriate. This evening's debate is clearly drawn within the appropriation order. The hon. Gentleman must confine his comments to the elements of the order and forget the broader brush, until such time as the House has a broad-brush debate on Northern Ireland's future.
Mr. Barnes : There have been arguments about investment in the Larne area and whether that should take priority over investment that would link developments with Ireland. Even in the context of the appropriation order, what occurs in different areas of Northern Ireland is of significance in respect of trade, development and economic furtherance in the whole area.
The argument is sometimes put as though there is a contest between, for example, the constituencies of South Down and Mid-Ulster as to which should be the target of
Column 114resources, when what is needed is the encouragement of economic growth and development from which both can benefit. I suggest that the same applies to the island of Ireland. There should be concern for the whole area, and the strategy for the north of Ireland is relevant.
Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : Northern Ireland Members have expounded the needs of their constituencies and developed the principles that they consider are right for the Province. All aspects of the needs of the people of Northern Ireland have been covered. I shall draw a few of those strands together and deal with a number of issues arising from the order--particularly in respect of health and social services, and housing.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker), who has a special interest in housing, dwelt on a number of issues. I consider that health and housing are connected. If we believe in putting people first, as we do, and in preventing ill health, we must tackle the causes of ill health. My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) dealt at length with unemployment, which contributes to poverty. Poor housing and the lack of affordable housing leads to ill health in families, greater hardship, anxiety, and greater pressures on general practitioners and the health service.
Housing is a significant factor. In line with Government demands, a housing strategy was provided by the Housing Executive committee last October, following wide consultation with interested organisations and individuals throughout the Province. That strategy revealed that over the next three years Northern Ireland needs 4,500 additional dwellings. Of those 1,500 homes per year, 1,400 will have to be new properties. Those figures are based on a rising level of urgent housing need, increased housing formations, community care pressures and a decline in accommodation re- lets.
Some of the details in that strategy report on urgent needs are as follows. In March 1990, 9,210 applicants were registered as requiring urgent need. In 1991, that figure increased to 9,906. In 1992, it increased to 9,922. Last year, it increased to 10,395. Therefore, there is a growing need for the Government to look at housing needs in Northern Ireland.
The number of housing allocations in March 1993 was 10,248. In March 1992, it was 11,170, so there is a relative and constant allocation of properties. The population in the area over the 10 years from 1981-91 increased by 40,663. The number of households increased by more than 68,000. That is what has developed over the past decade in respect of the need for housing. We have witnessed a reduction in the provision of resources for housing need. If we look at the resources available in 1987- 88, we can see that the allocation was £57 million. The projection in the order for 1995-96 is £57 million. In other words, there is no increase, but a decrease in real money available for new housing. Therefore, a significant factor has to be considered when looking at the resources for housing need.
It is not just new housing that must be examined. In 1987-88, £45 million was allocated for improvement and
Column 115repairs of private sector dwellings. In 1995 -96, the allocation is £43 million, which represents a reduction in the amount being made available for housing improvement. Hon. Members who have addressed the debate on behalf of their constituents have made it clear that there is a general need for more resources to be allocated for housing improvement and repairs. If the hon. Gentleman had been present in the debate, he would have heard one Member after another express the view that they need more resources for housing need and new housing.
We then had the situation of homelessness in Northern Ireland. In 1991-92, there were more than 10,000 applications for housing need. In 1992-93, the figure was 10,099. The percentage of people accepted as homeless in Northern Ireland has remained constant at around 40 per cent. Therefore, I consider that a further issue that must be addressed.
Modernisation was referred to by a number of hon. Members. It is a vexed issue because, when the Housing Executive makes a contribution to improve houses in certain areas, because of the lack of resources that are available, there are aggrieved people who are not included in the current programme. They fear that, because of the reduction in resources being made available, their turn in the improvement programme could be put further back, or even delayed to the extent that the tenants of the property would never see the improvements or modernisation carried out. The Housing Executive is often placed in a Catch-22 or no-win situation : it wishes to carry out improvements and modernisations, but because of the reduction in resources it must advise frustrated tenants that it is not their turn. That makes it more difficult for its administration to continue.
The Housing Executive has not the resources to carry out a major programme. Tenants suffer considerable anxiety when it is forced to provide some houses with new kitchens, bathrooms and windows and leave others, because of the lack of finance. The other tenants worry about when their houses will be modernised. There is always doubt about the present Government's policies, and people have every right to fear that the extra modernisations will not be carried out. In addition to the usual funds, block resources should be made available to tackle the problem posed by this vicious modernisation programme. If the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Heald) is concerned about the need to improve houses in Northern Ireland, he should read the 1991 housing conditions survey, which suggested that some 40,660 sub-standard dwellings would remain to be improved over a four- year period. If he is interested, he should join us in our efforts to ensure that the tenants of those sub-standard houses are allowed to have improvements carried out.
Targeting and additional resources are also needed for renovation grants. The housing survey revealed that more than 50,000 houses in Northern Ireland were sub-standard, and that many were unfit for habitation. In Fermanagh, 23.3 per cent. of housing stock is in need of renovation ; in Magherafelt, the figure is 17.8 per cent. We cannot have a concerted programme to deal with that under the provisions of the order.
Why is that? Why can we not have a concerted, one-off action programme to carry out the necessary renovations
Column 116and provide the additional money? That would give some hope to people living in sub-standard houses. I consider it a universal right to have a warm, comfortable house, and that is what the Northern Ireland Housing Executive wants to provide. The only obstacle is the fact that the Government will not provide the resources.
The Government are providing a budget of £538 million for housing in 1995-96. According to the Housing Executive's survey, that will leave a shortfall of £54 million in the next three years. I do not think that that is an unreasonable amount to allow the Housing Executive, over three years, to increase its housing stock--and that is the policy that I shall pursue on behalf of the Labour party. If the Government are really interested in helping people in Northern Ireland to obtain reasonable homes, they must provide the necessary resources.
The Minister should consider the issue of housing revenue account income in the form of rents. The Government keep increasing rents in Northern Ireland by 6, 7 or 8 per cent. more than the rate of inflation. That is higher than any other increases in Northern Ireland. They then complain that housing benefit payments are much too high. The Secretary of State for Social Security has said that people who are in receipt of high housing benefit payments will be taken out of high-charge housing--evicted--and put into cheaper, sub-standard accommodation.
Ministers are being hypocritical in charging rents that are way above inflation. People on housing benefit in Northern Ireland whose rents have been increased are now being told that they will have to leave their high- rent properties and move into low-rent, sub-standard properties, which will affect their health.
Housing and the health service must be considered together. The health service has never faced a greater threat or been under such pressure, and that point must be addressed by Ministers. Hospital trusts are being established in Northern Ireland, which will mirror what happens in the regions of Britain. Problems that are affecting trust hospitals in the rest of Britain--a lack of funding for patient care, doctors having to pace themselves to prevent a funding gap before the end of the financial year-- will occur in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members have referred to delays in operations being carried out. In other parts of the United Kingdom, the waiting list for cataract operations is more than 18 months. Waiting lists are growing and the patients charter has no meaning. If that is what will develop as a result of the order, I say that privatisation and
commercialisation--hallmarks of the Government's changes to the health service--are not the way forward for the health service in Northern Ireland.
We must change the way in which the Government view hospital trust programmes. The so-called episode of care is now recorded in hospitals-- patients moving from one ward to another or simply returning to a different bed after visiting the operating theatre. Such actions are counted as a new activity. That is the record of patient care in trust hospitals.
I appeal to the Minister to have regard to these two important issues-- housing and health--because I consider that one is dependent on the other. The Government must act to improve housing so that we can then improve health care. I ask the Minister to consider very carefully the points that I and other hon. Members have made.
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The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram) : May I quickly refer to the speech of the hon. Member for Normanton(Mr. O'Brien), who understandably spoke of resources? We are all concerned about resources ; indeed, the order is about resources. It was interesting to hear him use this opportunity effectively to commit his party to a major increase--£54 million--in public expenditure on housing. He knows that to achieve that under the consequential formula of the block there would have to be a substantial increase in United Kingdom public expenditure. I merely wish to inquire whether the hon. Member has cleared that pledge with the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), the shadow Chief Secretary, or whether it is another pledge by a Labour spokesman that will be disowned by a Labour Treasury spokesman at the first opportunity.
We have had a good debate and I have a little time to answer some of the questions that have been asked, as I have been invited to do. It is not often that I am invited to speak at great length, but that was the invitation made by a number of hon. Members and I shall take advantage of it as long as the Clerks and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, permit.
Anyone who has listened to the debate from its beginning at, I think, 4.30 pm must have learnt a lot about Northern Ireland. We have talked about Northern Ireland from north to south, from east to west, back to front and in the smallest detail. I do not think that there is a road or hospital that has not been mentioned, and I regard that as a healthy aspect of the debate because it provides us with an opportunity to deal with problems that are important to the people who live in the constituencies of the hon. Members who have spoken. Clearly I shall not be able to respond to all the matters that have been raised. As for those that I do not have the time to cover or which need to be dealt with in such detail that, rather than risk inaccuracy, I should like to check my facts before replying, I shall write to hon. Members or ask my colleagues at the Northern Ireland Office to do so as appropriate.
Several references have been made to St. Patrick. I learned a long time ago that I should never become involved in arguments about him, but, when I visited the Ulster museum the other day, I wondered how many figures he had had, in view of the number on display in glass cases in the museum.
The background to the debate is that we all want a prosperous Northern Ireland. We want a Northern Ireland that will attract investment and jobs. For that reason, I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) began his speech in his traditional way, telling us how bad and awful everything was in Northern Ireland. There is a tendency for hon. Members following such a speech perhaps to concentrate on the downside of what they perceive to be the problems of Northern Ireland rather than on the upside.
With due respect to hon. Members, I hope that in debates such as this we can sometimes try to talk up Northern Ireland. Whenever I come back from Northern Ireland and talk to people who are considering investing there, I certainly say what a wonderful place it is, how good the education and services are and what a good place it is to make an investment and create jobs. It is worth our remembering that in our debates.
Column 118The hon. Member for Wigan referred to the Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte report, but he was very selective. He omitted to mention that the review concludes that the Northern Ireland local economy has continued to perform well relative to other parts of the United Kingdom and that the outlook for the Northern Ireland economy in 1994 is probably one of the best for a number of years. A survey carried out for the review found that more than half of local firms interviewed are committed to expansion in 1994. That is good news, and I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would mention it. There are other pieces of good news. The PA consulting group quarterly survey of business prospects in January 1994 stated that the recession was over for the manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland. The Confederation of British Industry's Northern Ireland business confidence survey, also from January this year, said that companies' own business confidence and their confidence in the Northern Ireland economy were at record levels. It is important to make those points because they will attract industry and jobs to Northern Ireland and, my goodness, we need that in view of the fact that much of the publicity concentrates on the troubles rather than on the good things.
Having said that, I shall deal with some of the specific points that have been made. The hon. Members for Wigan and for North Down (Sir J. Kilfedder) mentioned income support levels as against fuel costs. Income support levels, including premiums payable to pensioners, families and disabled people, are intended to cover normal day-to-day living expenses, including heating costs. No specific amount is identified for expenditure on fuel. The rates of benefit were increased by 3.6 per cent. from April 1993 and people on income support are better off, as they are no longer required to make a 20 per cent. contribution towards domestic rates from their benefit.
From April 1994, pensioners and disabled people will receive an extra 50p a week or 70p for couples, on top of uprating for inflation, to help with fuel bills. I am sure that hon. Members will argue that that may not be enough, but I say to my hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friend the Member for North Down, that that shows that the Government have recognised that there will be problems and have sought to try to meet them.
The hon. Member for Wigan also raised the question of the Buddy Bear trust, as did the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea). I have to be a little careful in what I say here because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a judicial review before the courts. For that reason, I have to be cautious about my comments. However, I can say that the Buddy Bear trust conductive education school is not eligible for grant aid as it is provisionally registered as an independent school ; that is part of the problem. To qualify for grant aid, it would have to make a successful application for grant-aided school status through the normal statutory procedures. The school has been inspected, which has led to the identification of certain weaknesses in its educational provision which remain the subject of discussion with the school trustees. The hon. Gentleman must accept that I cannot say more at the moment because of the judicial review.
The Public Accounts Committee report on road safety was raised by a number of hon. Members. Obviously, we want to consider the report's recommendations and the comments made by hon. Members in this debate most
Column 119carefully before a response is made to the Committee in due course. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) asked why no reference had been made to funding for 1994-95 in terms of the general debate and of road safety in particular. That will, of course, be the subject of a separate debate later in the summer when the main estimates for Northern Ireland Departments for next year are presented. The order touches only a part of next year to see us into the early part of it before the next order becomes operative. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) raised the question of fire regulations. I listened carefully and seriously to what he said. I wish that he had given me notice of his question, because it is a serious issue. I should like to look into the matter closely before replying to him. If he had given me notice, I might have been able to do so at the time. I am sure that he appreciates that, given the nature of what he has raised, rather than trying to answer off the cuff or with incomplete information, I should like to look into the matter and then to answer him. Given the interest expressed by hon. Members in what the hon. Gentleman said, I shall try to make arrangements to ensure that other hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, and possibly others more widely, are made aware of my reply.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East, who gave me his apologies for having to leave and not being here for the winding-up speeches, mentioned capital provision in education, as did a number of other hon. Members. Some £50 million will be spent this year, with £20 million going to major building works. He spoke about Limavady grammar school in his constituency, and I shall write to him on that matter.
The moratorium on capital spending was not an easy decision for me to take. I have to allocate my share of the block according to the priorities, as I see them. Those decisions are never easy. Given the nature of the block this year, I thought that it was important that I concentrated the available resources on classroom and teacher provision. I am sure that hon. Members who have been involved in education would agree that that had to be the first priority. The result was that I had to announce a moratorium on capital spending. I hope that the moratorium will not need to last long. It allows me to match my resources in terms of the budget that we have set ourselves for this year. I hope that it will not cause more than some small delays, rather than actually stopping any particular projct from going ahead. I cannot be exact on that, because we are not yet in the financial year to which the moratorium refers. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East also mentioned the Limavady bypass. It is now included in the Department of the Environment's current major works programme and the first stage is programmed to start in 1997-98.
The hon. Members for Londonderry, East and for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) made a lot of the question of the rural planning strategy. The hon. Member for Londonderry, East asked what would happen to rural planning, on which the Department of the Environment has published a new strategy.
The main thread of the new rural planning strategy is to assess and balance the need for development, houses, jobs and so on in any especial area againt the need to protect and
Column 120conserve the environment. It is about getting the right type of development in the right place with the right design. That will require the willing co-operation of all key players in the rural development area.
Having once been a planning Minister in Scotland, I understand the difficulties of planning and I was pleased to be informed--I hope that it is correct--that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone has arranged a meeting with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, where he will be able to discuss the issues that he has raised tonight. Given the detail of what the hon. Gentleman said, I suspect that my hon. Friend will be better briefed for that meting than is normally the case when we meet hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster spoke of the reduction in the rate of hill livestock compensatory allowance. Hon. Members will be aware of the pressure on public expenditure and the agriculture budget is not immune from those pressures. The reduction in those allowances has to be seen in the context of hill farm incomes. Those have increased substantially for a second year, helped significantly by improved cattle prices and increased livestock premiums. Those include a higher rate of suckler cow premiums in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain. There are strong indications that that trend will continue in 1994-95 with further increases in premium payments for cattle.
I note the comments of the hon. Members for Mid-Ulster and for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) on the problems of pig farmers. If I may, I shall draw those to the attention of my noble Friend and I shall ask her to communicate with the hon. Members about that. The hon. Member for Mid- Ulster also talked about the takeover of Unipork by Bridgewater Foods Holdings Ltd., and I recognise the importance of that factory to his constituency. I am told that the Industrial Development Board will be maintaining contact with the company and will be considering what assistance can be made available when a business plan is available. It is not possible at this stage to comment on the future size and shape of the business, as those matters are under the commercial judgment of the new owners. The hon. Members for Mid-Ulster and for Antrim, North raised the question of the Newry bypass in connection with the Larne road. I realise that that has been a matter of contention for some time. The hon. Members suggest that there is some significant political interference, but that is simply not borne out by the facts. The A1 Belfast to Dublin road and the A8 Belfast to Larne road have always enjoyed a high priority in the roads service major works programme. The completion of the Newry bypass will resolve a long-standing problem experienced by traffic using the A1 and, it is hoped, will lead to expansion of trade at the ports of Larne and Belfast. It is worth remembering that, because it was referred to by a number of other hon. Members.
The Belfast to Larne road is already of a high standard, with some 30 per cent. being dual carriageway or motorway. In general, it can cope with existing volumes of traffic, but ultimately it is planned to dual the remaining single carriageway section. That first stage of dualling has been included in the latter part of the 1997-98 major works programme. The remaining stages will be taken forward as funding permits.
I can assure hon. Members that the Government are committed to maintaining and developing transport links
Column 121between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. All Northern Ireland ports and airports receive substantial European regional development fund grant support. In the years 1994-99, more than £100 million is available under the European regional development fund programme, aimed at improving access to major transport links. I hope that hon. Members will see, therefore, that a lot of work will be possible in the next few years.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster also raised the question of the location of industrial projects. The Government cannot force private sector companies to locate in specific areas. Recent inward investment successes by the IDB have shown that a good spread of projects can be achieved throughout Northern Ireland--a consideration which is always very much in the mind of the IDB in trying to encourage inward investment.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the recent decision to extend industrial relations legislation governing unfair dismissal to part-time workers in this country and asked whether it would apply in Northern Ireland. The Government's view is that Northern Ireland industrial relations legislation should in general conform with that of the rest of the United Kingdom unless there are special local circumstances to be taken into account. It is hard to see that such circumstances apply in this particular case.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the closure of the Tyrone county maternity services. I am sorry to hear that he has not yet met my noble Friend. I understand that she has agreed to meet him. If that is not also his understanding, I will check to ensure that it is the case.
The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) asked about capital spending on schools. I am aware of the problems in his area, and I will of course bear them in mind along with the other priorities currently before me. The hon. Gentleman mentioned school visits to France. I must say that, much as I should like to help, I have no authority over French fishermen, although I recognise the point that he made.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to additional funding for factory building. The additional funding for such building will be used in a number of recent inward investment projects secured by the IDB. The outlook for the future also looks promising in this regard : negotiations are at an advanced stage with major investors from Japan, Taiwan, the United States and Korea, and the IDB assistance will include assistance for the factory building requirements of some of them if they succeed in coming to Northern Ireland.
A number of questions were asked about agriculture. If I may, I will ask my noble Friend to write to hon. Members because I am conscious of the time constraint that I am under at the moment. The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor) asked about Strangford Lough marine nature reserve. Although it has been suggested by some fishermen that the designation of that reserve will result in a ban on commercial fishing, that is not the case. The stated objectives of the Department of the Environment for the management of the MNR make it clear that commercial exploitation of the fish stocks should continue on a sustainable basis. A six-week period of public consultation is, as I understand it, currently under way, and we shall have to await the results of that consultation.
Column 122The hon. Member for South Down referred to funding for care in the community. I am pleased to be able to inform hon. Members that, in 1993-94, boards were allocated and additional £29 million, including £24.6 million transferred from the social security budget which was specifically earmarked for the implementation of the new community care arrangements. In the coming year, the allocation to boards under "People First" increases by £41.2 million to more than £70 million. There may always be arguments about resources, but the Government are putting substantial resources behind the initiative--
Mr. William O'Brien : I did not want to intervene at the beginning of the Minister's speech, but he asked where I suggested the money should come from to finance housing. May I suggest to him that he scraps all the consultancies and consultations in connection with the privatisation of water and sewerage in Northern Ireland and uses the resources from that to finance other projects in Northern Ireland?
Mr. Ancram : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has come up with an answer that will save him from the wrath of the hon. Member for Peckham, at least for the moment, although I suspect not for long. A number of hon. Members asked about Belvoir Park hospital. I am aware that there is a great deal of concern about that and other hospitals in the Eastern health and social services board area. The board published its strategy for acute services at the end of last year and that is now under consideration by my noble Friend Lady Denton who has recently taken over responsibility in these matters. I understand that my noble Friend is currently engaged in a programme of meeting hon. Members and representatives of district councils and community groups and hopes to be able to announce her conclusions before Easter. Hon. Members would not expect me to comment any further on that at this stage.
One other question was raised at some length by a number of hon. Members-- that of Republic of Ireland students studying in Northern Ireland. I am sure that hon. Members know that there is a requirement under a European Court decision that it would be discriminatory to treat students from other member states less well than home students. Thus, fees are paid for Republic of Ireland students, as well as other European students, who come to Northern Ireland universities. I agree very much with my hon. Friend the Member for North Down, who, in a splendid speech, made it clear that universities exist to help people to mix. It would be appalling if Northern Ireland universities were for Northern Ireland people only, and if nobody else could come to them. I am very glad that my hon. Friend gave us his support. We have had a very full debate. I believe that there is in Northern Ireland much about which we can be pleased and of which we can be proud. I hope that in the next Northern Ireland appropriation debate, in the summer, we shall hear the good news about the Province and see evidence of the resulting jobs and investment that it deserves. Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 15th February, be approved.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Michael Brown.]
Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East) : I am never sure whether I have a greater dislike of the House being full and emptying, or of the House being empty and emptying even further, when I get up to speak in an Adjournment debate. But that is my last attempt at humour in this contribution, which will be brief, as I want to give my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) an opportunity to participate. My hon. Friend has concerns similar to mine, and we have the Minister's agreement to his participation.
I have two reasons for initiating this debate. The first is a tragedy that occurred in my constituency in 1992. Two young brothers--Alan and Trevor Leighton--died from carbon monoxide poisoning. It is alleged that the landlord of their flat reconnected a gas supply to an appliance that had been condemned by a qualified gas fitter. I realise that the Minister will not be able to comment on this case, as the landlord is being prosecuted for breaches of health and safety legislation and of regulations governing the safety of gas installations.
My other reason for bringing this matter to the attention of the House derives from my hearing a Radio 4 programme called "Face the Facts", which showed that my impression that this was an isolated case was wrong--that such incidents were happening across the country.
The fact that they occur in different places at different times may give the impression that there are not many of them. However, it is estimated that 30 people a year die from carbon monoxide poisoning, and that more than 400 end up in hospital casualty departments. Other estimates put the figures higher. According to some, there is a death every week--52 a year. The tragedy is that many of those involved are young people who have moved into multi-occupation accommodation at the start of lives of their own.
A very sad aspect of the case to which I have referred--that of Alan and Trevor Leighton--is that they realised that there was something wrong. But they did not know that the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning were the result of a faulty gas appliance. Something must be done to ensure that such avoidable tragedies do not happen. No court action or feelings of vengeance will bring back those brothers or any of the other victims. Not even justice can do that. We need to forget about the after-effects of these tragedies and consider prevention. That must be our aim, but it can be secured only by three means. First, we need greater public awareness-- awareness among students, landlords, doctors, and so on--of all the symptons of carbon monoxide poisoning. In addition, we need tougher enforcement of current regulations. There are regulations in force that should be enforced with the fullest rigour of the law. Such enforcement could prevent needless deaths.
The third point--I hope in this respect that the issue will not stop being a non-party political matter, as I am sure the Minister shares my concerns in this regard--is that we may need new regulations. The Gas Consumers Council has done quite a good job. I am not complaining that it has not tried. The council allocated a week last September as gas safety week. During that week, and after it, leaflets were sent to students,