Previous Section Home Page

Column 605

Appropriation (Northern Ireland)

7 pm

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Sir John Wheeler) : I beg to move,

That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1994, which was laid before this House on 25th May, be approved. The draft order, which covers the main estimates for Northern Ireland Departments, authorises expenditure of £3,291 million for the current financial year. Taken together with the sum voted on account in March, this brings total estimates provision for Northern Ireland Departments to £5,824 million, an increase of 4.1 per cent. on 1993-94 provisional outturn.

The sums sought for individual services are set out in the estimates booklet, which is, as usual, available from the Vote Office. I remind the House that the estimates for the Northern Ireland Office for law and order services are not covered by the order before us tonight.

As is customary on these occasions, I shall highlight the main items in the estimates, starting with the Department of Agriculture. The net provision in the two agriculture votes amounts to some £164 million. In vote 1, some £25 million is to fund EC and national agriculture and fishery support measures that apply throughout the United Kingdom. In addition to the various pre-funded market support measures under the common agricultural policy, the vote includes some £10 million to assist structural improvements, by way of various capital and other grants ; £14 million is to provide support for farming in special areas, by means of headage payments for hill cattle and sheep.

In vote 2, some £139 million is for on-going regional services and support measures. That includes £59 million for the development of the agriculture and agricultural products industries and for scientific and veterinary services ; £44 million is for farm support, enhancement of the countryside, fisheries and forestry services ; £22 million is for central administration ; and £5 million is for the rural development programme, an increase of £3 million over 1993-94. In the Department of Economic Development's vote 1, £130 million is required for the Industrial Development Board. That will enable the board to carry out its role of strengthening Northern Ireland's industrial base and to meet its existing commitments, primarily in the area of selective assistance to industry.

The board's continuing success in attracting internationally competitive inward investment to Northern Ireland is very welcome. Thirteen projects were successfully negotiated last year, representing a total investment of £259 million, and 2,309 jobs were promoted, against a target of 2,250. The board hopes to build on those successes in the coming year.

In vote 2, some £94 million is required. Some £34 million is for the Local Enterprise Development Unit, Northern Ireland's small business agency. That will allow the agency to maintain its successful track record in developing, strengthening and improving the competitiveness of small firms in Northern Ireland.

Some £14 million is for the Industrial Research and Technology Unit, which seeks to improve the performance of local companies through increased innovation, research and development and by technology transfer. That

Column 606

underlines the importance which the Government attach to improving the competitiveness of business in Northern Ireland to enable it to meet the challenges of the international marketplace.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : The House will be interested in the work of the Department of Economic Development, but when discussions take place, as I imagine they do annually, will my right hon. Friend try to balance the protection of jobs through that work in industry and making Northern Ireland's economy competitive, with the 35,000 farming jobs, of which 10,000 to 12,000 are full time ? The average cost of agricultural support is £1,200 per farm, which is good value compared with the cost of agricultural support in the rest of the United Kingdom and with some of the economic development investments which the Government rightly make.

Sir John Wheeler : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, as he brings to the House considerable knowledge of Northern Ireland, having been a distinguished Minister in the Province. I shall urge upon my hon. Friends, in their ministerial capacities, the necessity to heed his wise advice.

Finally in that vote, £12.5 million is for the Northern Ireland tourist board to assist the further development of tourism in Northern Ireland. In 1993, a record 1.26 million visitors came to Northern Ireland, the fifth consecutive year of growth in visitor numbers.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : Is not that figure of 1.26 million visitors misleading, as most of them are people returning home or visiting relatives ? Is it possible to know how many genuine tourists there were ?

Sir John Wheeler : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for early notice of that point. I pray that, before the conclusion of the debate, the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), will be able to comment authoritatively on the division of those statistics.

In vote 3

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East) : Will the Minister give way before he leaves the subject of the tourist board ?

Sir John Wheeler : I shall not leave that subject if the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene on it.

Mr. Ross : Is it not of concern to the Minister that there now seems to be no member of the tourist board specifically concerned with the principal tourist area of Northern Ireland--the north coast ? Why does not that area have a representative on the board at present ?

Sir John Wheeler : Individuals appointed to the tourist board of Northern Ireland are appointed not on a geographical basis but on the premise that they will serve the interests of Northern Ireland as a whole. As there are many claimants to the work and services of the tourist board, I sure that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will feel that that is the wisest course of action.

In vote 3, some £204 million is for the Training and Employment Agency. That includes £53 million for the youth training programme, to support some 12,000 training places and on-going expenditure on a new training facility in west Belfast.

Column 607

Some £53 million is for the action for community employment programme, to provide 9,500 places for long-term unemployed adults in projects of community benefit. Some £24 million is for the job training programme, which offers training and work experience to unemployed adults. That is £1.6 million more than in 1993-94, and will allow the programme to expand from 5,700 places in March 1994 to 6,000 by March 1995. Eighteen million pounds is to assist companies to improve their competitiveness by training and development of their employees.

Token provision of £1,000 in vote 4 is to cover residual expenses in connection with the privatisation of the Northern Ireland electricity supply industry. That is offset by further proceeds from the share sale. A supplementary estimate, covering actual expenses and proceeds from the sale, will be presented to the House in due course.

I now turn to the Department of the Environment. In vote 1, £183 million is for roads, transport and ports. That includes about £152 million for the development, operation and maintenance of Northern Ireland's public road system. An extensive programme of maintenance work on carriageways and bridges is under way, complemented by new road construction, and improvement schemes. Construction work on the Belfast cross-harbour road and rail links is well under way, with completion of the rail link and stage 1 of the road link expected by the end of the year.

Vote 2 covers housing, where about £188 million will provide assistance, mainly to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and to the voluntary housing movement.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Will the Minister tell us what he has in mind for the dualling of the A8 and of the A26 ?

Sir John Wheeler : At this precise moment, I have nothing in mind, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State may have something in mind before the end of the debate.

When net borrowing and the Housing Executive's rents and capital receipts are taken into account, the total resources available for housing this year will be about £570 million. That is an increase of £14 million on 1993-94, and will support the continued improvement of housing conditions.

Vote 3 covers expenditure on water and sewerage services, where gross expenditure is estimated at £200 million. Nonety-three million pounds is for capital expenditure, and £107 million for operational and maintenance purposes.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene. What amount is set aside, in the capital expenditure to which he has referred, to continue the privatisation of the water and sewerage services in Northern Ireland ?

Sir John Wheeler : My hon. Friend the Minister of State will seek to give the hon. Gentleman an authoritative answer on that. If not, I shall ensure that he has a written response as soon as possible. In vote 4, £136 million is for environmental services. That includes about £34 million for urban regeneration measures, which continue to be targeted at areas of social, economic and environmental need. As in previous years,

Column 608

that will generate much greater overall investment through the successful partnerships that have been established with the private sector.

The estimates for the Department of Education seek a total of £1, 317 million, an increase of 3.6 per cent. on last year's provision. Vote 1 includes £807 million for recurrent expenditure by education and library boards, an increase of £40 million on 1993-94. That includes £760 million for schools and colleges of further education, which should maintain the pupil-teacher ratio at present levels. Forty-seven million pounds is for libraries, youth services and administration, and £40 million for boards' capital projects. That includes the provision of new laboratories and technology workshops to enable further progress to be made on education reforms. Some £133 million is for voluntary schools, and £11.5 million for integrated schools.

In vote 2, £109 million is for local universities to enable them to maintain parity of provision with comparable universities in the rest of the United Kingdom. One hundred and twenty-four million pounds is for student support, including grants and student loans. The vote also covers expenditure on a range of youth, sport, community and cultural activities, including about £17 million for arts and museums and about £3 million for community relations.

The next set of votes relates to the Department of Health and Social Services. In vote 1, about £1,293 million is for expenditure on hospital, community health, personal social services, health and social services trusts and family health services. That is an increase of 6.8 per cent. on last year.

In vote 3, gross provision of £206 million is for the Department's administration and other costs. That includes £116 million for the Social Security Agency, £14 million for the Child Support Agency, and £13 million for the health and personal social services management executive.

Some £1,302 million in vote 4 is for a range of social security benefits administered by the Social Security Agency. That represents an increase of 4.3 per cent. on last year. It covers not only the general uprating of benefits from April 1994, but an increasing number of beneficiaries.

In vote 5, £458 million is to cover expenditure on the independent living fund, housing benefit, the social fund and payments to the national insurance fund.

Finally, I turn to the Department of Finance and Personnel, where, in vote 3, about £4 million is for the community relations programme. That reflects the importance that Government continue to attach to community relations in Northern Ireland.

In my opening remarks, I have drawn attention to the main provisions of the estimates. I hope that, in replying to the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister of State will respond to the points that have already been raised with me, and any other points that hon. Members may raise during the debate.

I commend the order to the House.

7.18 pm

Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan) : I thank the Minister for taking the House through the allocation of funds among the spending Departments in Northern Ireland. I do not intend to delay the House unduly this evening, because this is the opportunity for Members of Parliament from Northern

Column 609

Ireland to mention a wide range of concerns- -which I am sure they will, judging from past debates. However, I shall discuss several issues.

The Minister talked about funding for transportation. I do not know whether he was in the House this afternoon when the Prime Minister presented a report on the European summit meeting in Corfu, but one of the items on the agenda was European transport integration. The Prime Minister mentioned the link between Dublin and Belfast. I thought that money had already been made available for the improvement and upgrading of that railway line. I should be grateful, as I am sure would everyone else, if the Minister would say, when he winds up, precisely what that means in terms of European funding for transportation infrastructure in the island of Ireland.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, as this is an important cross-party point. There are benefits in running a line across to Wales and then to Dublin, but it is worth emphasising to my hon. Friend the Minister that using the line up through Scotland to Larne will be of great advantage, not only for Northern Ireland, but for the northern part of the Republic of Ireland. In the European discussions, I hope that the needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be overlooked, and that the Republic of Ireland will not gain all the benefits from the line to Wales.

Mr. Stott : As I said, it is my impression that an allocation of 50 million ecu has already been approved for the upgrading of the Dublin- Belfast railway line. As the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) will know, as a former Minister, Northern Ireland Railways is shortly to conclude work through Belfast to Larne, so that there will be a direct link from Dublin to Larne for people who want to travel that way, which is all to the good.

The Minister mentioned funding enterprise, and funding training. I hear what he has to say, and I make no apologies for the fact that I have previously raised the Government's record on unemployment in Northern Ireland. Overall unemployment continues to be a key concern in the local economy, and is of overriding importance to those people in Northern Ireland who are out of work or face the uncertainty of unemployment prospects.

The people of Northern Ireland continue to feel the full force of the Government's ineptitude, and are experiencing the highest rate of unemployment in any region in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland is about the size of a riding of south Yorkshire, and has a population of a little over 1 million. Unemployment in Northern Ireland is 13.1 per cent. of the total work force--an appalling level.

I genuinely welcome any decrease in the rate of unemployment, and I note that the figures for May show a slight fall in the level. But closer inspection and an accurate interpretation of those figures show that there is no room for complacency. Anyone who has read the "Northern Ireland Economic Review and Prospects" by Coopers and Lybrand will see that clearly.

More than half those registered as unemployed in the region are classified as long-term unemployed, and have been out of work for a year or more. While there has been

Column 610

an increase in the number of people in employment of about 2,200, which is to be welcomed, the increase is made up entirely of female part-time jobs.

I welcome the creation of a flexible job market which extends choice to workers whose life style and needs suit part-time employment, but more than one fifth of the region's unemployed have been out of work for more than five years. It is therefore self-evident that the creation of part-time posts has had no significant impact on the number of long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland. They are the people who seek genuine security for themselves and their families, and are attempting to shed their state dependence through secure full-time employment.

The number of employees in full-time employment in Northern Ireland fell by 3,290 between December 1992 and September 1993. Despite what he said, the Minister has this evening been unable to offer any new hope to the long- term unemployed in order to help them back into full-time employment.

On closer inspection of the most recent figures, we see that the most appalling statistics are revealed in the travel-to-work areas. Eight out of the 12 travel-to-work areas in Northern Ireland have unemployment of 18 per cent. or more. Strabane continues to suffer the highest unemployment, with more than one quarter of the work force in its travel-to-work area unemployed. Of the 566 Northern Ireland wards 107 have a male unemployment rate of more than 30 per cent.

Those statistics lead to the undeniable conclusion that the Government are simply not doing enough to get the unemployed of Northern Ireland back to work and to help give them a future. It is perhaps the youth unemployment rate that, above all, highlights the worst neglect of skills and potential among Northern Ireland's population. More than a quarter of those aged between 17 and 24 are unemployed. What hope does the Minister bring to the Dispatch Box for them this evening ?

Wherever young people live in the United Kingdom, their unemployment leads to widespread poverty, homelessness and a justified resentment. However, in the Northern Ireland context, it leads to disillusionment, and a spin-off, because the paramilitary organisations are readily available to exploit the problem. Unemployment and the lack of hope are probably the greatest recruiting sergeants for paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland.

It is surely the Government's duty to offer those young people hope in the form of increased opportunities and, in so doing, frustrate those who seek to take advantage of the frustration of Northern Ireland's young unemployed. The Government have consistently failed to deal with the problem of unemployment in Northern Ireland. I have outlined the statistics to show that this evening.

Rev. Ian Paisley : Will the hon. Gentleman comment on the training of young people in Northern Ireland, and the cuts taking place in training facilities ?

Mr. Stott : The hon. Gentleman speaks of a subject of which I have some experience. I recently visited a number of higher education institutions in the Province. There, I was told of the conflict between what the institutions can offer young people in terms of engineering training and qualifications, and what the training boards are doing in Northern Ireland. The two organisations seem to be at cross purposes, and funds are not properly directed at the

Column 611

problem. The Government have not focused on the problem of training in the way that the hon. Gentleman and I believe they should. I wish to mention the prospects for public expenditure in Northern Ireland. The Government have been engaged in across-the-board cuts in public expenditure, as well as the implementation of increased taxation and value added tax, in an attempt to dig themselves out of the economic hole into which they have plunged this country. In Northern Ireland, the increase in public expenditure announced by the Minister today and on other occasions amounts to a rise of just about 4 per cent. in 1994-95, which, allowing for inflation, represents very little change.

Recent changes to the health service in Northern Ireland have done nothing to redress the increased resources spent on health management and patient care. Instead, the health service in Northern Ireland has been faced with an extension of the Government's obsession with privatising, and commercialising health and social services care. The Government use the language of the marketplace in an attempt to sell ill-health and rationalise the sick. In particular, the Government have repeated mistakes already made in other parts of the United Kingdom, and have failed adequately to fund the provision of community care in Northern Ireland. Caring for patients in the more familiar surroundings of their own homes will cost money. If the Government are genuine in their offer to those people, they must clearly find the wherewithal to ensure that care in the community is effective.

One effect of the Government's so-called rationalisation of health provision has already been felt by the Royal group of hospitals in Belfast. The city's hospital provision is to be cut by means of the merger of Northern Ireland's two biggest hospitals. This move will reduce already limited bed capacity by 20 per cent. of the total--that is, by 750 beds by 1997.

The record of the Royal Victoria hospital is agreed worldwide to be one of the very best. It currently boasts 36 specialties on the site--not only the greatest number in the United Kingdom but the greatest number in any hospital in Europe. In addition, at least five senior consultants at the hospital rightly enjoy worldwide reputations, and their opinions and lecturing skills are in demand the world over.

The plans to destroy the world-class capacity at the Royal Victoria hospital are strongly opposed by patients, medical staff and both local communities--and by people from across the region who receive such excellent care at the hospital.

The Royal Victoria is situated in the middle of the worst killing ground in Europe ; it is regrettable that its experience is still required. Will the Minister therefore ask his noble Friend to look closely at the plans of the Eastern health and social services board, and to intervene to prevent the dismemberment of the Royal Victoria and the royal group of hospitals ?

I note that the Prime Minister last week received a deputation of Northern Ireland doctors, who brought to his attention the enormous number of people who had signed a petition. There is real feeling in Northern Ireland, especially in Belfast, about this hospital. I hope that the Minister's noble Friend will not just brush off these genuine feelings.

As for electricity privatisation, the isolation of Northern Ireland's key electricity system, and its consequent vulnerability, mean that the strategic implications of privatisation should have warranted a much higher place in

Column 612

the consideration of the surrounding issues. It is clear, however, that the key factors behind the decision had nothing to do with an energy strategy, and were primarily based, first, on decisions by Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office that, in order to win their ideological spurs, they needed to play their part in the privatisation policies of the Government--however belatedly. Secondly, the Treasury needed to acquire the assets from the sale to fund the ever- burgeoning public sector borrowing requirement. Both are short-term approaches. It is abundantly clear that energy provision needs instead to be based on strategic planning. Indeed, this short-termism is evident in the hands-off approach which the Department of Economic Development is now adopting.

Having put the legislation and the framework for privatisation in place, the Government and the Department have taken key decisions that have tied up long-term supply contracts, none of which can be cancelled before 1996. Further, the regulator is debarred from expressing an opinion on the decision to proceed with the interconnector to Scotland.

In my view, the DED and Ministers have taken decisions that are in the best interests of the DED and Ministers, not of Northern Ireland Electricity or the consumers there. They have achieved the political objective of privatising a major asset in Northern Ireland. They have brought £700 million into the Treasury and have been forced to concede only £14 million over four years to the larger groups of energy consumers by way of recompense.

Having taken the key decisions, Ministers can now stand back and, should anything go wrong, transfer the blame to the three key operators : the generators, the regulator and what they call market forces. The decisions already made on long-term contracts and the Scottish interconnector mean that the Department has effectively cut off debate about new generating capacity, and has tied the regulator's hands and ability to control existing generating contracts for some time to come.

I do not wish to trespass on the territory of tomorrow's debate on the privatisation of Belfast harbour, but I suspect that my hon. Friends will show that the dogmatic approach adopted by the Government, while refusing to take into account the unique regional circumstances of Northern Ireland, is short-sighted, and no more than an attempt to get their hands on the cash from that valuable asset. This order represents nothing more than a shuffling of an already meagre budget for Northern Ireland. The Minister has nothing new to offer, particularly for the unemployed. Of that, the Government should be thoroughly ashamed

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Ancram) : Just before the hon. Gentleman sits down, will he answer one question ? He accuses the Government of spending too little in Northern Ireland. How much does he intend to spend if he comes to power--and how would he pay for it ?

Mr. Stott : The Minister and the Northern Ireland Office have produced a report for the scrutiny of the House ; it is my function to point out its shortcomings to him, which I believe I have done with some clarity. It is not my duty this evening to tell him what we would or would not do : it is the Minister who has to answer for his actions in Northern Ireland. I am pointing out to him the disgraceful amount of

Column 613

unemployment there. In his position as a retread, he cannot get away from the fact that the Government have been in office for 15 years, or from the issue of unemployment.

7.36 pm

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : This debate gives us an opportunity to deal with matters of grave concern to those who represent Northern Ireland in the House. The Opposition spokesman highlighted the high rate of unemployment in our Province. No public representative of Northern Ireland could be happy with that. Some of our constituencies enjoy better rates of employment than others, and we are happy for those who are in that fortunate position. In general, however, every Northern Ireland Member feels grave concern about the matter.

I regret the fact that no member of the Social Democratic and Labour party is present for the debate. We may disagree vigorously with the SDLP about the constitution, but here is one matter that should unite all our public representatives : the future well-being and prosperity of the people of Northern Ireland. Our people should be able to earn their livelihoods, get a rate for the job and bring up their families in the conditions that they would want. Let no one underestimate the seriousness of the unemployment problem in our Province. Ministers on the Front Bench--they appear to be smiling at the moment, but I do not suppose that they are smiling at this-- need to acknowledge the seriousness and scale of the problem, and show us that they have in mind measures to bring about some alleviation of it. Perhaps then we will be on the road to the day when there will be ample employment for members of every class of society in Northern Ireland.

I am especially concerned about training in Northern Ireland. Those in the training centres training our young people fear that there is to be a cut in funding that will result in great heartache for our youngsters, especially in the working-class districts of our city of Belfast. I note that the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) is nodding and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) fully agrees with what I am saying.

I am not in a position to speak for parts of the Province other than the city in which I live, but there is a concern throughout Northern Ireland that financial cuts in training projects will knock the heart out of many young people who, when they leave school, look first to training. I pay a warm tribute to those who have dedicated their lives to training. I have visited the training centres and I am amazed by the large percentage of the youngsters whom they train who obtain permanent jobs rather than simply joining the unemployment queues. We should be grateful for that. The Minister's mind must be full of all the information that he is about to release. It will be like Noah's flood. Can he tell us something about training ? Will there be a serious cut in funding ?

There has been a series of crises in agriculture. The low prices in the pig sector seem to have stabilised or to have improved a little. However, there is still a difficulty because of our peripheral location and our distance from United Kingdom and EC markets. That means an added cost on imports, especially animal feed and, consequently, an increase in output costs. Northern Ireland producers face

Column 614

a supplement of at least £12 a tonne on freight costs for feed. That is a disadvantage and I urge the Government to do something about it.

There are two ways in which the Government could tackle the problem. First, there could be a feed cost equalisation premium to ease the farmers through their days of difficulty. Secondly, we could do something that other EC member states do--exploit our EC membership. We could ask for intervention grain to be stored in Northern Ireland. The EC, not the Government, would then pay for the transport. It would also pay the rent for the grain to be stored. When the farmers have an emergency, they could use that grain for the same price as is being paid in the remainder of the United Kingdom. That is what other EC countries do, so why do we not do so to help the hard -pressed farmers of Northern Ireland ?

When the Minister replies and releases that tremendous flood of information on us, will he also respond to that vital point ? I have been pressing it for a long time. Indeed, I have pressed it in Europe and the Commissioners tell me that they envisage no difficulty with my suggestion. Therefore, we should be prepared to exploit the system for the benefit of our farmers.

There is great concern in Northern Ireland about animal health and the dangers posed to the Province through the introduction of diseased animals from countries where internal controls and health measures are less vigorously enforced. Northern Ireland has an agriculture system second to none. We can boast about it and the way that it is run.

I pay tribute to the noble Lady Denton, the Under-Secretary. She has given her energy and zeal to helping the farming community and it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that. Indeed, I was glad to carry her bags to the plane today as I felt that it would show that some people appreciate what she has done for the Province. I am glad that she is to join the Minister at talks in Brussels so that there will be direct representation of the Northern Ireland position. Anyone who knows anything about Europe knows that deals are made between Ministers, not civil servants.

A tremendous problem faces Northern Ireland agriculture. I believe in the environment and I believe that we should preserve our heritage and our environmental assets in the rural countryside. However, instead of being dictators, environmentalists should be partners with the farming community. They should help the farmers to preserve the rural environment. That is important.

The Minister must face the difficulties in agricultural planning. All hon. Members with rural constituencies with farming communities are pestered daily with a particular problem. The mother and father have done their stint on the farm and they want a retirement bungalow on their land. They want to end their lives on their own property. The Government are doing all that they can to block the necessary planning applications. I raised the matter on the last occasion that we debated the appropriation order, but nothing has happened. The cottages are tied to an agricultural lease and must be used by someone working in agriculture.

When old people retire and die a house is vacant, but that house cannot be let to anyone other than someone working full time on a farm. Today, there are few full-time farmers in Northern Ireland. The agricultural position in Northern Ireland is different ; there is a different playing field. The former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member

Column 615

for Bridgwater (Mr. King), knows all about that. I ask the Government to investigate the matter and release houses so that they can be sold or rented to people who want to live in the countryside but cannot fulfil the present lease agreement. I urge the Minister to study that matter urgently.

A document that was published on planning in the countryside mentioned farmers only once. It was very good of its authors even to mention that farmers lived in the country. I asked one of them to show me the word "farmer" and he replied, "That was a big mistake. We should have used it more often."

We were told that there would be an easing of planning procedures, and that appeals would run more smoothly and be more realistic. That is neither my experience nor that of my colleagues in the House, who have complained to me that they have great difficulty with rural planning.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South) : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the relaxed procedure was introduced as a consequence of a court case that found against the planning service, but a subsequent action overturned the original decision--so the planners are back where they started ?

Rev. Ian Paisley : I want not procedures founded on a court case, but the law changed so that the lease and original planning condition can be broken. We know that the system is not working. There was a time when it was all right and people were happy, but that is not so today.

Linked with farming is fishing, and investment is needed in modern port facilities. The Minister with responsibilities for that aspect knows that to be true, from her visits to fishing communities. I am sure that they put their case far better than I could. Slipways are needed, specially at Kelkeel, and so are improved ice production plants, to meet the needs of the fishing fleet.

General Government policy in Europe is greatly restricting days at sea for our fishermen, who are being pushed to the limit. There is strict policing of fisheries in Northern Ireland--there are no Nelsons putting their telescopes to a blind eye. Serious problems have arisen at the quayside, and the Government must seriously pursue that matter.

We are seeing the opening up of the waters of the Irish box to the Spanish fishing fleet. When they arrive, it will not be like the Spanish Armada, when God sent his winds and broke it to pieces. This time, the Spanish will break our fishing facilities to pieces. One thinks of the number of Spanish vessels with double bottoms, so that they can take from the sea three or four times the allowed quota. The United Kingdom had a good card to play, because it is our waters that the Spanish are fishing, but previous Governments and the present Government have not played that card. They should have vetoed some of the concessions that were made to other nations in respect of access to our fishing waters.

A problem also exists in respect of the electricity interconnector with Scotland. Carrickfergus and Larne councils have come out in opposition to the interconnector. It is feared that 700 jobs in the Northern Ireland power industry could be lost. With electricity prices rising, a serious situation could arise. Also, environmental damage could be done to the unspoiled part of Island Magee. Environmental groups in Galloway are also opposed to the Scottish installation.

Next Section

  Home Page