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A number of the issues raised by hon. Members in a debate on the appropriations measure earlier this year have, unfortunately, not been dealt with. I trust that that will not happen tonight. Some hon. Members apparently feel that this debate is a waste of time. As happened in the past two important debates, one party is missing. Perhaps it feels that it can achieve better deals from Ministers outside the Chamber. It is about time that those who take the trouble to come to the debate and raise issues that are essential for their constituents received appropriate replies. The matters raised tonight are of grave importance to our constituencies.
Under the vote for the Department of Agriculture is the item "Castlederg Flood Defences". The estimate provision for 1994-95 is £16,000 and the amount to be spent in future years is £855,000. In winding up, will the Minister tell my constituents whether the amount to be spent in future years means directly after 1994-95, or will we have to wait before further money is spent on that item, which has been identified as of great importance for my constituents ? It is important that it automatically follows on and that that money is spent to correct a matter that has caused great concern to many of my constituents, especially the owners of property and shops in the town of Castlederg.
Deep concern is still felt within the pig industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) rightly mentioned that prices have been better recently, but the industry needs the careful eye of the Government. An important part of my constituency's industrial community is Unipork in Cookstown. I am sure that the Minister knows that I welcomed the takeover of Unipork, and it was warmly welcomed in my constituency, but in several parts of the Province workers are deeply worried about their future and that of their employment.
I trust that the Department of Agriculture and Baroness Denton, who has that responsibility in another place, will keep a keen eye on that development. I wish Unipork in my constituency well ; I wish the new firm and the people who run it every success. However, they should be keenly conscious of the people who have given excellent service to the pig industry throughout the years, whose rights must be guarded. I hope that the Minister will recognise that in her watching brief on development in the pig sector.
I shall now discuss the Department of Economic Development, and express my deep worry about what is happening in that sector. Will the Minister tell the House
Column 631the up-to-date position regarding ground intended for economic development that is owned by the Department throughout the Mid-Ulster area ? Urgent Government action is needed in the industrial development of my constituency. We need to know the up-to-date position regarding ground in Omagh, in Cookstown, in the district of Magherafelt, which is shared between my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), and in Castlederg, an area of deprivation for many years. We are thankful that Castlederg is starting to come out of the doldrums, and that things are starting to appear much better for it after many years of terrible carnage and suffering, but we need to know the plans of the Department and the Industrial Development Board for the rest of my constituency. Industrial development seems to be directed largely at certain areas. West of the Bann is identified as an area where industrial development is greatly needed, but I have studied the figures and I am worried. I hope that the Department is willing to investigate what has happened as regards industrial development. In the west of the Province, some areas outside the city of Londonderry--areas in my constituency, including the area verging Strabane, Omagh and Cookstown-- have the greatest or second greatest unemployment in the entire Province. I believe that the Department must do more to ensure that industrialists come, because there is plenty for them to see that would attract them if they were brought into the area. The IDB has done an excellent job and I join the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) in congratulating the IDB on the efforts that it and its chief executive have made. I appreciate their efforts and their work, but there must be greater incentives, and financial incentives, to encourage people. That is especially so given that the west of the Province is suffering because, while we are told of the great challenge of Europe, we lack the infrastructure to encourage the developers to come to the west.
Bearing that in mind, I naturally move to the vote concerning the Department for the Environment, and the essential part, which links with the Department of Economic Development. I ask the Minister to inform the House of the date of the commencement of the Cookstown bypass. We were visited by the Secretary of State, who has been visiting different councils and meeting councillors. He had a lunch and asked councillors, "What are the most important issues confronting your area ?" That all sounds good, but in reality it is a public relations exercise. The Secretary of State raised the people's hopes.
I was at a meeting of industrialists, the elected councillors of the area, the schools and the rest of the community representatives. They were asked what they felt to be of vital necessity for the Cookstown area. The unanimous view of everyone present, who had been invited by the Secretary of State, was that essential to the development of Cookstown was the Cookstown bypass.
The Secretary of State--a Cabinet Minister ; we could have had no one higher except the Prime Minister--visited the region and was interested in its needs and development. I thought that the most natural thing for me, as Member of Parliament, to do following the meeting which the Cabinet Minister attended, and where he listened to views with keen interest, was to send a letter asking when the Cookstown bypass would be built. We now have the vote and the details about the finances from the Department of
Column 632the Environment, but there is no mention of the Cookstown bypass, not only in the plans for 1994-95, but under the heading of money to be spent in future years.
What were the dinner--where a unanimous opinion was given--and its costs all about ? Surely there must be more behind them than just a PR exercise. On behalf of my constituents, I demand that the Government not only say that they will listen to the people but take action based on the unanimous view of the region's political parties, industrialists and educationists. That is, that the Cookstown bypass is vital for Cookstown and its future development in economic and industrial terms and within Europe. The project would not involve big sums of money, but, without it, the future of the industrial development of the region will be stymied.
In the light of the Secretary of State's visit and the great hopes raised in the community, I must ask when we will get the Cookstown bypass. The question may be regarded as a hardy annual by the Minister as I have asked it on numerous occasions, but the problem will not go away until action is taken. I want not a PR exercise, but essential action. I am delighted that Ministers come to the region to see what is happening. I am delighted that they come to see the deprivation and neglect in the west of the Province, especially in the regions that I have mentioned tonight. However, I do not believe that it gives the community any heart if visits are made, questions asked about the needs of the area and seeming promises are made that action will be taken by the Department, when they all turn out to be a damp squib. That provides no help to the community.
In my constituency, in Omagh the main A5 is recognised as a trans-European highway--not many places have such big names, and it is a wonderful thing in this age of the European Union. It sounds tremendous, but means nothing. It has been so designated by Europe, but in the vote I find nothing from the Government about the money that is to be spent on it. All that I can find is that £700,000 is to be spent on stage 2 of the Omagh pass, but without phase 3 of the development in Omagh and the rest of the road network, the other work will be useless. We need not only the designation of the trans-European highway, but action to be taken on it.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Londonderry, East will join me in saying that we still await the Magherafelt bypass, which is essential for industrial development. We cannot face the challenges of Europe without the tools to do the job. If industrialists come to the area and find that they have to sit in traffic jams--time is money to them--they will not wait around for long. They will pass over the area and go somewhere else with better roads. That does not represent a fair sharing out of the available finance. I speak for an area that has suffered greatly from the lack of money that should have been voted by the House for its road development and maintenance programme.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North and others who have described the deep frustration felt in the countryside about the planning process. I resent the idea that officials care more about the countryside than do elected representatives. That is designed to give the impression that the only people who want to protect our environment are civil servants and Government officials. As a former civil servant I might add that I care just as much about the environment and the countryside as a
Column 633Member of this House as I did when I worked in the Department of Health and Social Security--and I have remained both civil and a servant to this very day.
When a council gives its unanimous approval to some project, surely that ought to mean something. The tragedy is that, oft times, once a council has given its unanimous approval to a countryside development, officials say, "We have listened to your argument ; we have consulted ; we are still going to turn you down." This causes great resentment. It is no easy matter to get the unanimous approval of a local government institution in Northern Ireland : it is tough enough getting it in this House. Officials should not, therefore, give a development the thumbs down in the face of a council's unanimous agreement.
Will the Minister give his attention to those who have been battling to save the Ballynahone bog near Maghera ? That may not sound particularly interesting to some, but the people of the area want it designated a site of special scientific interest--which it is. Recently, there was an application to rape the countryside around the Curran bog. The local community and their elected representatives made representations--the latter as the defenders of the community. Interestingly, the Department is giving the go-ahead for the rape of the countryside around the Ballynahone bog, and I feel that it should give my constituents' interests more consideration than that. I trust that the Minister will reply on that point.
I have already asked the Minister questions about the serious pollution in the River Mourne and the River Strule. There have been major pollution incidents on both rivers in recent times. Wood preservatives got into the River Strule and much of the fish life in the river was destroyed. It was a major pollution of the river. Water from those rivers is used for human consumption so there should be greater curbs on those using detergents and industrial chemicals. Farmers have to install catchment tanks for effluent from their silo pits. If there is any seepage, the Department of Agriculture comes down heavily on the farmer--and rightly so because we must not allow pollution. There are frequent court appearances. Industry should be compelled to carry out similar environmental protection in the interests of wild life. Will the Minister tell us the up-to-date position on the restocking of the Rivers Strule and Mourne ? I have been contacted by the Ardstraw anglers' club about the proposed site for a hydro-electric generator at Spamount mills on the River Derg. The anglers are deeply concerned about that and made four points. The River Derg is not a large river and the volume of water required to run the proposed plant could ruin the entire stretch of water for anglers. They are worried about the turbine design. If it has high revolutions per minute, it will be lethal and will kill a large number of fish. It is crucial that measures are taken to ensure the survival of fish in our local rivers.
With the installation of a hydro-electric generator comes the necessity for a well-designed fish pass that will be inaccessible to poachers and will allow the passage of fish in low water. The hydro-electric generator will cause a large loss of fish in the River Derg. Will the operators contribute to a restocking programme to redress that loss ? Perhaps the Minister could respond to that point.
Column 634I want briefly to draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to a number of other issues. Many people throughout the Province are concerned about the length of time that it takes the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to deal with the backlog of applications for grants. A constituent of mine applied for a grant a year ago, but he has only recently been asked for sketch plans. His application is still in the pipeline and little progress has been made. That is not a criticism of the Housing Executive ; it is an appeal to the Minister to provide the finances necessary for it to employ the staff to process the applications quickly and to meet the costs of grants awarded. The hon. Member for Antrim, South mentioned the sale of two-bedroom bungalows for senior citizens. That is of concern to people in my constituency. Can the Minister ensure that urgent action is taken on the issue of Melburn close and Melburn park in Cookstown ? We need to money to uplift the environment and improve the houses on that estate. If the money could be made available, that would be deeply appreciated by the residents.
Will the Minister deal with the question of the provision of science laboratories ? I received a response to that point from the Minister responsible for education, but there is urgent need for the new-build science accommodation at the Cookstown high school. I have been promised the provision of two science mobiles from September 1995, but given the finance available in education, action ought to be taken to meet that high school's urgent needs.
Mention was made of the Child Support Agency, about which there is deep concern in all parts of the House. One of my constituents was blamed for fathering a child but was totally innocent. An apology was finally offered but there was no recognition of the deep hurt and anxiety suffered by the families concerned. That accusation against a totally innocent man nearly smashed a marriage. He was sent a simple apology saying, "We're sorry this happened and will try to make sure that it doesn't happen again." Such an attitude is totally unacceptable and redress ought to be available to individuals who have suffered in that way.
It is time that the Child Support Agency devoted its energies to tracking down fathers who pay nothing rather than going for those who have consistently and honourably paid for their children's upkeep down the years and have never dodged their responsibilities. It seems that the CSA's efforts are directed mainly at fathers who are already paying, and it is placing an intolerable burden on them. I resent that, and so do my constituents.
There is deep concern in the Province and further afield about the rights of disabled people in employment. The Government must produce meaningful and appropriate legislation to tackle that issue. Pressure must be kept up and legislation put before the House quickly. If the Government acknowledge their responsibilities to the physically or mentally handicapped, such legislation will quickly be on the statute book. Without it, we will simply be listening to words, and the community will not forgive inaction in that regard. Handicapped people are getting a raw deal in finding a proper and appropriate place in society. They are one of society's most neglected groups. My colleagues join me in supporting action and legislation that will bring that iniquitous situation to a conclusion forthwith.
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Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : It is a pleasure to note that the debate will be wound up by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), because this morning I had the pleasure of welcoming him to my constituency and to Banbridge high school. As the Minister will appreciate, some of his comments on that occasion with regard to tonight's debate have proved most apposite.
It was a pleasure to see the hon. Gentleman cut the sod for the new building at Banbridge high school. It was a most happy occasion. I am sure that the Minister appreciates that he will maintain his popularity in the area by also releasing funds for the school playing area that will be necessary when construction of the new building, which is on the site of the old playing field, is complete. Schemes are going ahead in the rural part of Banbridge to amalgamate primary schools. Unusually, those schemes have the complete support of the local community, but there are financial problems--and they should be remedied as soon as possible. It is a pity in some respects that the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and his party colleagues are not present this evening, because the hon. Gentleman had an interesting written question down last week, relating to the number of jobs promoted in each Northern Ireland district council area over the past 10 years. My eye naturally turned to the two council areas that comprise my constituency. I noted the healthy but not surprising figure for the borough of Craigavon, which has the second largest concentration of manufacturing industry after Belfast in terms of size.
My other council area, Banbridge, was a very different story. Over a 10- year period, the Industrial Development Board had promoted a total of 200 jobs--and it should be borne in mind that the IDB recognises that only about two thirds of jobs promoted are actually created. None of those jobs involved investment in the area. That is particularly annoying given that the IDB announced only a few days ago that it was abandoning proposals for industrial development to land adjacent to Banbridge's dual carriageway, which would, in principle, have been a very suitable site.
Mr. Stott : Both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) have mentioned the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady). He and the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon)--who are very good attenders of Northern Ireland debates--are not with us this evening because they had to give evidence to the Boundary Commission, which was doing its review today.
Mr. Trimble : I thank the hon. Gentleman for that information. May I point out that the Newry inquiry is also considering the seat of Upper Bann ? Newry and Armagh council proposes its division into two parts to form new constituencies. That merely reflects the view that hon. Members take of their priorities.
The figures that I cited--which were obtained by the hon. Member for South Down--relate to a 10-year period, and clearly demonstrate neglect on the IDB's part. I stress the word "neglect". Both the IDB and the Local Enterprise Development Unit seem to have a fixed state of mind : once they move south of Lisburn they can think only of Newry, forgetting about Banbridge on the way down there. Perhaps they think that Banbridge is a prosperous town,
Column 636because it appears to be expanding ; but most of the expansion is caused by people who are coming to live in a "dormitory" town, rather than to work there. It will not be healthy for the town's future if the population expansion is not matched by an expansion of job opportunities.
Other Government Departments, as well as the IDB, have neglected the town during the past 10 years. A number of public bodies used to have offices and employees there, but that number has diminished : Departments have been closing offices and moving them out, and the number of public jobs in the area has consequently declined. Those issues need to be tackled, especially the issue of land development. As I said, the IDB was right in principle to consider developing land next to the dual carriageway. There were problems with the particular site involved, but others are available ; they may be closer to Dromore than to Banbridge, but they are still in the Banbridge district council area. I hope that the IDB will deal with the position as a matter of urgency, so that we can have good-quality industrial development land in the district council area. Let me deal more generally with issues involving the IDB and LEDU. There seems to be a certain inflexibility in the approach of the two agencies. For example, a firm in the Craigavon area has been a client of LEDU for some time ; it is now thinking of expanding in a way that might make it more appropriate for it to become a client of the IDB, but there are difficulties in transferring a client from one agency to the other. LEDU is making difficulties about transferring the client to the IDB, although the size and development of the firm make the transfer appropriate. It is remarkable that these bureaucratic issues, which seem to be connected as much with the empire building of agencies as anything else, are acting in a disadvantageous way. Inflexibility arises in another way. One valuable development in the Craigavon area has been the Craigavon industrial development organisation--one of the first local authority initiatives in this respect, which the Government are now encouraging. That is fine. It is a challenge to which Craigavon local authority has responded imaginatively, but it has not received a similar response from the agencies, in which I include the Department of Economic Development. They have their own settled patterns and a cast of mind which says, "not invented here". If they have not thought of the idea, they are reluctant to accept the thinking of other people.
We are trying to promote a Craigavon partnership, whereby the local authority's initiative can operate as an overall body to bring together the statutory agencies. We are not receiving the response from the statutory agencies that we should be. I hope that there will be more wholehearted co- operation between the statutory agencies and Department of Economic Development and local authorities engaged in such economic development.
A small example of such non-co-operation is that CIDO wishes to expand and have a third unit providing slightly larger
accommodation--5,000 sq ft--in the Lurgan area. A private enterprise partner is prepared to put money into the project. The proposal has been with the statutory agencies for quite some time, but it is moving at a snail's pace. One almost feels that the agencies resent the initiative and drive that the local authority is showing. That is not an appropriate response or attitude for it to take.
Last week saw the first publication by the Fair Employment Commission of one of its affirmative action proposals. This is a matter to which I may return in the
Column 637future, but I shall make a few comments on it now. The proposals reveal in clear terms a criticism that we have made of the FEC and of the fair employment programme, but which has been denied by Government--the concept of quotas. We said that legislation is heading towards quotas. The Government said, "No, it is not ; we do not intend to have quotas".
Last week's publication contained six so-called affirmative action programmes of action that must be taken by an employer. The programmes are legally enforceable because the FEC is in a position to issue directions to the employer. The FEC has placed on the employer the requirement of achieving a certain percentage of applications and appointments. What is that if not a quota ? A quota cannot sit alongside the requirement of appointments being made on merit. There is an important issue of principle here. It is amazing to see a Conservative Government ignore this issue of principle, because were it to happen on their home patch they would take a different approach. There is a distinction between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. It is right that there should be equality of opportunity, but nobody in his right mind thinks that, even where there is complete equality of opportunity, it will automatically and fairly result in equality of outcome in every place of employment. That is not to be expected. Talents and circumstances will vary and historical patterns will apply in various places. Equality of opportunity is one thing ; equality of outcome is totally different.
The Fair Employment Commission, as announced by its chairman a couple of reports ago, has set itself the target of achieving equality of outcome in every place of employment in Northern Ireland. It has said that it is setting quotas for all those places. It does not initially set quotas for all of them, but if a firm comes to the FEC's attention or annoys the chairman in some way, he can bring the apparatus to bear and require people to enter affirmative action programmes. That can be backed up with statutory declarations and firms can be given a specific quota that they must achieve, with ferocious penalties to be applied if they do not achieve it. The matter must be considered. A couple of years ago, the then Home Secretary, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a speech in the House dealing with questions of racial equality in England and Wales, stated that the Home Office had decided that it was not appropriate to try to achieve equality of outcome for ethnic minorities in England in all places of employment because of the problems to which that would give rise. Yet that is exactly what is happening in Northern Ireland.
It is only a matter of time before some of the disadvantaged ethnic minorities in England and Wales--the employment disparities for Afro- Caribbean people, for example, in England and Wales are just as great as, if not greater than the employment disparities in Northern Ireland--say, "Why are special measures adopted in Northern ireland, but not in England ?" It is only a matter of time before they say that the reason is that nobody is shooting people or letting off bombs on the issue in England. It is then only a matter of time before thoughts move further among disadvantaged people in England and Wales. The Government need to think about the matter
Column 638more clearly. One cannot corral the issues into Northern Ireland and expect them to have no application in equivalent situations elsewhere.
I have criticised the concept of quotas. Even if one accepts quotas, one has to say that the Fair Employment Commission in Northern Ireland is applying the quotas in a dishonest and unbalanced manner. I take as an example one of six firms--a bakery in Castlereagh ; I am not sure whether it is in Belfast, East or in Strangford. The FEC has set a quota for the firm by reference to its catchment area, or what it takes to be the catchment area. It has taken the area of the city of Belfast and the district council of Castlereagh. It has looked at the people who are economically active in those areas and has found out that there is a certain percentage of Catholics. It has then set a quota with reference to that figure. That is a dishonest way in which to proceed.
The firm is situated in Castlereagh in east Belfast, and the bulk of the employees are drawn from east Belfast. Is east Belfast taken as the catchment area ? Oh no. The catchment area is broadened to include north and west Belfast, where there are very few employees. If it is broadened to include north and west Belfast, why not broaden it on the other side to include North Down and Ards ? Geographically, they are no further away. In terms of communications and in terms of journey time, they are closer. In terms of human, social and geographical factors, they are closer than west Belfast. It is a question of sauce for the goose and sauce for the gander. It is a question of adopting a consistent approach. Such an approach has not been adopted in this case, and that is why I say that the matter is dishonest.
The quota system is unfair in the way in which it operates. I take the example of a firm called Quinns in Fermanagh. The employees are predominantly Catholic and there are only a handful of Protestants--1 or 2 per cent. A quota has been set for that firm. It has been told that it must achieve a target of 12 per cent. of applicants and appointees. I am quoting from memory, so I may not have the figure exactly correct. It is not clear how that figure is arrived at. In what the FEC takes to be the catchment area of Quinns, 45 per cent. of those who are economically active are Protestant, yet the quota is 12 per cent., not 45 per cent. Why ?
The third example is a firm in my constituency. The catchment area, as determined by the FEC, is 40 per cent. Catholic, so the quota is 40 per cent. Catholics. Why is there a disparity between that firm and Quinns ? There is something unequal. In the six cases, there is a pattern of inequality in the FEC's approach. I fear that it is an issue to which we shall return again and again. As I have said, a wrong approach, in principle, has been adopted. Not only is it wrong in principle, but it is being carried out in a dishonest manner. I am using the word "dishonest" deliberately. I am not saying that it is by mistake or through negligence, but that there is malice involved. I make that reference knowing full well the personalities involved. That issue, especially with regard to fair play, is one that I may develop again on another occasion.
Mr. William Ross : When my hon. Friend is detailing the different approaches used by the Fair Employment Commission, he neglects to mention that, in my area, it leaves out of the reckoning those people from the Irish Republic and elsewhere in the British Isles who are
Column 639employed by firms such as Quinns, organisations such as the Western health and social services board and many others.
Mr. Trimble : My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. Those issues are left out. There are many more things that one can say. The statistical basis on which the Commission is operating is inaccurate because it is drawing from figures relating to the number of persons employed and unemployed in some areas, which we know are not accurate, especially in the rural areas and close to the border.
Anybody who has had any dealings with the issue knows that the two greatest elements which affect economic activity and which are most likely to create a black economy are agriculture and the cross-border areas, where many people take jobs in one jurisdiction and claim benefit in others, or engage in activities such as smuggling. In certain areas, the employment statistics are not reliable. At a firm not very far away from Lurgan in my constituency, the management in a previous dispensation were in the habit of laying on a bus on Fridays so that the workers could go down to Newry to claim benefit. Of course, they no longer have to claim in person, but that is a different issue.
I shall move from the issue of the Fair Employment Commission to something that falls directly within the scope of the Minister : arts policy and matters related to cultural traditions. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) also touched on that issue when he referred to the local government legislation and the provision for street names in Irish. I wonder how many of those street names in Irish will be in Ulster Gaelic, or whether they will be in the dialect of Gaelic taught in certain schools--a modern invention based on what is thought to be the Gaelic spoken in the centre of Ireland.
Those who have studied the area know that there are three different forms of Gaelic spoken on the island of Ireland. The schools and others who are promoting the so-called Irish language in Northern Ireland today, under the aegis of the Minister, are not promoting Ulster Gaelic. One wonders why that is so. Most people who are involved in its promotion are perhaps not aware of the distinction between Ulster Gaelic and the Gaelic spoken in the centre of Ireland. Ulster Gaelic is on the borderline between Scots Gaelic and that spoken a bit further south.
Returning to arts, cultural traditions and so on, I am disturbed by the policy papers being produced by the Arts Council. It seems to be recognising only what it calls a classic tradition and an Irish tradition in the arts and related matters. Where is the British tradition ? The classic tradition, as it recognises it, refers to certain forms of high art. It also recognises what it calls an Irish culture and supports certain forms of cultural activities in the broad sense which are passed off as being Irish. Where is the British in that ?
The Minister will also be familiar with the pipe bands association. I am sorry to say that, in the recent world championships, the Ulster pipe bands were temporarily demoted from their dominance of pipe-band playing. They
Column 640will be back. The Field Marshal Montgomery pipe band will be back, I am quite sure, as the champion of champions, having being the champion of champions for many years and having lost it only this year.
The Minister cannot fail to be aware of the number of Scottish pipe bands that exist in Northern Ireland and the high level of activity in them. Has the Arts Council ever recognised it ? Does the Arts Council recognise it ? Has it done anything to promote that aspect of popular culture ?
Anyone who goes around our towns, particularly on a Friday night, cannot help but notice the large number of band parades that take place. That is another clear demonstration of popular culture. Thousands of people are involved in musical activity in connection with such bands. The Arts Council will not support pipe bands, which do not fall within its concept of classic culture or Irish culture. Something is being left out. That reinforces the unease that many of us have felt about the Arts Council and other cultural traditions in Northern Ireland in recent years. We feel that the Arts Council does not reflect what most people want and do. It reflects only certain aspects of culture as a result of pressure generated sometimes by pressure groups within Northern Ireland and sometimes by pressure groups outside.
Time is moving on. I should like to make a few brief comments about some of the points that have been made by other hon. Members. Some references have been made to transport matters and in particular the transport links of the northern corridor through Belfast, Larne and Stranraer to Carlisle. The Minister will know that we return to the issue again and again because it is tremendously important to the Northern Ireland economy. We are distressed at the number of occasions when people give public support to a different corridor which will not benefit the Northern Ireland economy so much. We appreciate the help that we are beginning to receive from the Scottish Office in representations to Europe about the northern corridor. I only wish that the Northern Ireland Office was just as vigorous on that matter and, in particular, took account of the disadvantage that we suffer because we are not eligible for funds from the cohesion fund. We know that the rules of the European cohesion fund cannot be changed. We do not qualify for cohesion fund moneys, but the southern corridor does. Consequently that part of the country will be able to invest to the disadvantage of our major outlets. What does the Northern Ireland Office propose to do to rectify that imbalance and ensure that the northern corridor and our major outlets of Belfast and Larne are not placed at a disadvantage, especially in view of the effect that that will have on our economy and on unemployment ?
Planning has been mentioned in the debate, as it has in other debates. I find myself in fundamental agreement with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) on agricultural occupancy conditions. The conditions restrict the occupancy of certain of the properties in the countryside which are subject to them to persons who are wholly or mainly employed in agriculture or were last so employed.
The important point is that, given that farming units in Northern Ireland are much smaller and that half the people who own farming units work only part time, to what extent is it reasonable to draw the agricultural occupancy condition so tightly that the person has to be wholly or mainly employed in agriculture ? Particularly as changes take place in agriculture and the income derived from it
Column 641diminishes--as it will as the years go on-- an agricultural occupancy condition restricted to people mainly or wholly employed in agriculture is too tight.
It might be more appropriate to restrict agricultural occupancy to people who have a genuine connection with the countryside and a bona fide reason for living there. The conditions must be more flexible. The Department can do something about that immediately. It does not require legislation. It is a matter of policy and the way in which the agricultural occupancy condition is framed.
Mr. William Ross : Considering what my hon. Friend is saying, and as the Government are pushing the whole question of diversification, surely it is feasible that anyone who is involved in such diversification fails to qualify.
Mr. Trimble : I take the point that my hon. Friend makes. If we have a more flexible approach, and if the occupancy condition relates to people who have a genuine connection with the countryside and a good reason for living there in terms of family connection or whatever, that would take care of the problem. I am not arguing for the removal of agricultural occupancy conditions entirely. There was a time not long ago when the planning service was rather lax. It was granting permission under the exceptions to the rural planning policy and not attaching an agricultural occupancy condition to it, and the temptation to make a quick killing by selling the property to persons who did not have a connection with the countryside was too great. I agree therefore that there must be some form of condition, but it must relate to the circumstances that exist in Northern Ireland, in social terms and in terms of farm size. I shall make one further point on this matter. As many people wish to live in the countryside, not necessarily in individual farm dwellings but certainly outside towns, I am sorry that the planning service has not given more thought to creating new villages in the countryside. If new villages were created, it would help to absorb some of the demand that has been generated by persons not connected with the countryside who want to live in a more rural environment. There are places where new villages would have developed if there had been no planning controls. I can think of one area in my constituency adjacent to the shores of Lough Neagh. If there were no planning controls, a village would be beginning to emerge naturally in that area. Planners are trying to prevent those natural developments from taking place through planning controls. Is that desirable ? We should have a slightly more imaginative approach on that issue.
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) : I defend the right of my colleagues on both sides of the House to pepper the Minister with every sort of problem on every vote contained in the Northern Ireland estimates, which are effectively the appropriation order. However, I shall concentrate my fire on one matter.
In that, I have the pleasure of directly following the issue raised by the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) about planning. I know that, if the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) were here, he would be assenting as well, because it is an issue
Column 642that he raised during the debate on the previous appropriation order, when he emphasised the considerable frustration of people with the planning service.
Before I refer to that matter, I must endorse the remarks made by the hon. Member for Upper Bann about the Full Employment Commission and its behaviour with so-called goals and timetables, and the total inconsistency of the way in which it applies the legislation, which is sometimes little short of a personal vendetta for those who do not toady to the chairman of the Full Employment Commission. We shall come back to that issue.
I shall not follow the hon. Gentleman down the road of the Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterprise Development Unit. I shall keep my powder dry on that matter, as the Select Committee is presently examining it.
I raise these issues because, by and large, if I can get a satisfactory response from Ministers on matters of constituency interest, I do not feel that it is necessary to bring them to the attention of the House. I find that Ministers are helpful in dealing with those issues, and I rarely find it necessary to bring a grievance to the House.
There is a major problem affecting the borough of Castlereagh, part of which is in my constituency of East Belfast, part of which is in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), part of which is in the constituency of Strangford and part of which is in the constituency of North Down. Not only was the borough divided so badly. Back in the early 1980s, when my party was in control of the council, we had to adopt a recreation policy for the whole of Castlereagh.
We looked around, and we did not have to look much further than neighbouring Belfast to see the folly of building conventional leisure facilities which cost ratepayers millions of pounds. In Belfast, some £8 million is spent in leisure services on facilities which are duplicated on street corners all around the city and which cost considerable amounts to run. There is a limited clientele for those facilities and, while we have excellent leisure facilities, they are all of the same kind throughout the Province, and they are competing for the same market.
My colleagues and I concluded that it would be sensible for us to look for a niche which was not being catered for by other councils and one which, in financial terms, would do more to pay its way and attract larger numbers of people. We proceeded on the basis of a development at Dundonald, which was to have been the Dundonald international ice bowl. The property was to contain an
international-sized ice rink, ten pin bowling, children's play centres, a laser area, restaurants, and function suites for all sorts of recreational activities.
A tourist park was to be built outside the facility, which was to include a large man-made lake with boating, sporting and wildlife aspects. There were to be tennis courts, a golf course, a driving range, camping sites, an hotel, a cinema and other facilities and provisions.
We approached the Department of the Environment, which was having none of it. We were told that, if we wanted to proceed with the scheme, the normal 75 per cent. grant which was being accorded to all of our sister councils across Northern Ireland would not be accorded to us, because it was more of a commercial enterprise. The council, rather than burdening the ratepayers with a provision similar to that which everyone else had done, decided to go it alone. In doing so, the council knocked on the door of Europe, seeking funding on the basis of providing tourist facilities in Northern Ireland.
Column 643In 1985, the council was successful in being offered a grant of £4 million for the provision, and it was agreed with the European Community that the scheme would proceed in two phases. The first phase opened in 1986, and has returned a trading profit every year since. It has made a trading profit of about £1 million in a period when some £50 million was lost in Belfast on leisure services. In terms of our intention to save ratepayers money and provide new facilities, it was a success. But the problems started to occur when we attempted to fulfil the remainder of our obligation to the European Community following the building of the leisure park provision. First, we submitted our case to the Belfast urban area plan hearings.
Hon. Members from outside Northern Ireland may not be fully aware of the planning restrictions in Northern Ireland. District councils are not capable of giving themselves planning approval : they must go to the Department of the Environment and put in an application like everybody else, whether it is for an extension to a garage or whatever.
The Department of the Environment decides on those issues after consultation with the district council and following the normal public consultation process.
We put in our planning application to the 1998 Belfast area hearings. Everyone had the opportunity at the public hearings to argue for or against the proposals. When the Belfast urban area plan 2001 was issued, I was pleased to note that the planning commissioners, who had listened to the evidence, and the Department of the Environment and its then Minister, supported the second phase of Castlereagh scheme. We therefore felt sure that everything would move smoothly from then on.
Full of enthusiasm, as soon as the Belfast urban area plan came out, we immediately got our architects and consultants to prepare the easiest of the schemes, so that we could start immediately. We planned to follow up with the rest of the scheme while the first phase was proceeding.
The Department of the Environment, however, refused to accept it in that manner, and stopped us immediately proceeding with the scheme. At considerable cost and effort, it required us to undertake the lengthy process of bringing in all our consultants to submit the entire scheme in one go. We sought to accommodate the Department, and withdrew our planning application for part of the development, in deference to the advice that it had offered to us.
The consultants were brought in and asked to work up the entire plan. We then had detailed consultations with all the Government agencies concerning road services and relevant environmental issues, and had discussions with the planning department and whomsoever. We assumed that, once we had given the Department of the Environment, to its satisfaction, the details that it had requested on various matters, the rest of the process would be a simple one.
We did not take into account the fact that, regrettably, a local government election was in the offing. The local Tory party, which had no other policy that it felt would be attractive to the ratepayers of Castlereagh, sought to make an election issue of the theme park. It did so in an attempt to generate some publicity for itself and to create noise far greater than its strength in the area. As a result, the Department of the Environment ran scared and called for a public inquiry.
It might be worth noting that the local government election gave its own verdict to those Tories who had led
Column 644the campaign--most of them lost their deposits, and all were rejected by the electorate. Not one of them was returned to the council.
The public inquiry was held on 5 January 1993, but up until this moment, we have still not received an answer as to whether approval has been given. The development would bring literally thousands of jobs to Northern Ireland, both in the building industry as the project proceeds and in the services industry when it has been constructed. The issue is of considerable importance in terms of employment and in terms of the finance from Europe. As I said, we had support from Europe in grant aid, part of which we took up for the first phase of the development, while the rest is still sitting there.
We subsequently received a letter from the Minister responsible for the Department of Economic Development. He is also, peculiarly enough, the Minister responsible for the Department of the Environment. Wearing his DED hat, the Minister told us that, if we had not completed the theme park by 31 December 1994, the grant would be withdrawn. At the same time, wearing his Department of the Environment hat, the Minister is refusing to give an answer to our planning application so that we can proceed.
We cannot win until the Minister sorts himself out. I do not ask him to act on the planning application and the report, which he will by now have received from the planning commissioner--who, in the middle of the process, had a heart attack but, happily, is now back at his desk. That added further delay to the process.
I simply ask for an expeditious response from the Department to the Planning Appeals Commission report. It is essential that we have that immediately if we are to have the least chance of meeting deadlines set by the Minister under his Department of Economic Development portfolio.
We also ask the Minister to be flexible in terms of that deadline. We need a speedy response from the Department of the Environment's planning service to the reserve matters that must be dealt with, for the whole matter must be dealt with in a few months' time. That does not mean that the £30 million to £40 million development must go up within that time, but enough of it must go ahead in order that we receive EC funding.
First, we need a speedy response to the planning application ; secondly, we need flexibility in terms of the deadline ; and, thirdly, we need some movement from the planning service to help us get speedy approvals for the reserve planning issues.
If the Department of the Environment planning service is considering planning legislation, and a new draft order is in the slips, will it deal with some of the issues which it has failed to deal with thus far ? The first concerns ex post facto planning applications, an issue which I have raised it in the House before. Northern Ireland now has almost an epidemic of people who start construction--even of housing estates--and put in their planning applications afterwards. They reckon that, once the construction is there, it will be difficult for the planning department to demand that it be knocked down, which gives them the edge with their application.
I suggested to the previous Minister responsible for the environment that a possible solution was to institute a penalty system for those forced to put in a planning application after construction had begun. I suggested that the cost of an ex post facto planning application should be 10 times as much as a normal one. That could amount to a considerable sum for those who breach the law on major
Column 645housing developments and other aspects of construction. The new order, when the Department eventually gets round to it, should consider that issue.
Another issue which the Government should deal with, either through the new order or through regulation, is what I would call an anomaly whereby a privileged position is given to those involved in agriculture. I do not argue against that, but those involved in equestrian sports and rearing horses should be entitled to the same planning leniency as those directly involved in agriculture. Equally, those involved in tropical and ornamental fish do not have the same privileges as those involved in the farming of other fish or in agriculture. The same encouragement should be given to them as is given to those directly involved in farming.
I support the view that has been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about reform of the agricultural occupancy conditions. As mine is a suburban constituency, several of my constituents have expressed anxieties about that. The Department must consider the issue.
I also think that the Department must bring into law, as opposed to general precedent, a right of appeal for objectors, and an entitlement to neighbour notification. During those glorious days of the Northern Ireland Assembly, from 1982 to 1986, the Environment Committee, of which I was Chairman, made a recommendation to the then Under-Secretary of State, who is now warming himself in Hong Kong, to the effect that people should have the right to neighbour notification--that they were entitled to know if someone intended to build close to their home or business, so that they might be properly consulted and have the right to object.
We went a step further than the Department eventually did ; we asked not only that they should be written to directly, but that what are termed "planning poles" should be erected on the site--I think that some Scandinavian countries do it--so that not only the people who live adjacent to the place where the building will be erected, but the people who use that area, can see that there is an intention to develop a piece of ground.
I would ask that, instead of that being done as a matter of precedent in the Department, where it is not required by law but is done by the grace and favour of the Department, it be brought into an Order in Council, so that it would be a legal right on which people could rely.
The same is true of the right of appeal for objectors. It depends on the grace and favour of the Department whether, if two thirds or more of a district council supports objectors to an application, the matter can go before a public hearing--what is now in article 30 in the new planning order. I ask that that be part of a new planning order, instead of just a general regulation in the Department. I trust that the Minister will consider those suggestions, which, speaking as one who is involved at the grass roots with planning issues, would do much to take away some of the frustration that many of us feel in knowing what is needed in our areas but having bureaucrats tell us what is good for us.
I have no axe to grind against the people who are involved in the planning department. I recognise that they have a difficult task, and that decisions have to be taken.