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Madam Speaker: I am having inquiries made. I was very concerned about the point of order which was raised this morning. I have been in the Chair for most of the day, but I assure the hon. Member and the House that I am having inquiries made. I think that the situation is rather more complicated than that put to me through points of order. That is why I want chapter and verse on the matter and not simply to listen to what is coming across the Floor of the House. I intend to make a ruling on it tomorrow.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard): Would it help, Madam Speaker, if I attempted to shed some extra light on this matter? What is for decision at the Council of Ministers tomorrow is simply the format of the visa, a suggestion that there should be a common format for visas. That was described--I speak from memory and think that I have the gist of it, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) will bear with me if I do not reproduce the exact wording of the document to which he referred--in the document as a technical matter, which is, indeed, precisely what it is. It is a matter of design rather than substance. I hope that that will go some way towards allaying my hon. Friend's anxieties.
That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 14th February, be approved. The draft order has two purposes. First, it authorises expenditure of £198.2 million in the 1994-95 spring supplementary estimates. That will bring total estimates provision for Northern Ireland departmental services to £6.0221 billion for this financial year. The second purpose is to authorise the vote on account of £2.705 billion for 1995-96. That will enable the services of Northern Ireland Departments to continue until the 1995-96 main estimates are brought before the House later this year.
Column 399As you have already remarked, Madam Speaker, the draft order does not cover expenditure by the Northern Ireland Office on law and order and other services. Details of the sum sought are given in the estimates booklet and the statement of sums required on account, which, as usual, are available in the Vote Office. I shall now turn to the estimates.
Some of the votes seek token increases only because new pressures have been offset by savings elsewhere in the vote. To give hon. Members the maximum time to speak, I shall refer only to the main areas where supplementary provision is sought. In the Department of Agriculture's vote 1, which covers expenditure on national agriculture and fisheries support measures, a token increase of £1, 000 is required. Some £2 million is for additional uptake under the farm and conservation grant scheme. That is offset by savings in other areas.
In the Department's vote 2, covering local support measures, a net increase of £25.2 million is sought. The vote includes £26.5 million for the agricultural development operational programme, as a result of a higher number of claims than was originally anticipated. There is £700,000 for the disease eradication programme, and £1.3 million represents the carry forward of capital and running costs underspends from 1993-94. Those increases are partially offset by reduced requirements in other areas of the vote.
For the Department of Economic Development, increases are sought in three votes. A net increase of some £19 million is sought in vote 1. That includes £4.7 million for the provision of land and buildings by the Industrial Development Board. That is to meet expenditure on factory buildings for recent inward investment projects, and reflects the continuing success of the board in attracting competitive companies to Northern Ireland. There is £17.7 million for selective assistance to industry, mainly for existing inward investment projects. Also in this vote, £6.5 million is required for the Shorts recapitalisation programme. Those increases are offset by increased receipts totalling £8.5 million from the sale of IDB factories and lands.
In vote 2, a token increase of £1,000 is sought. There will be about £600,000 for the Northern Ireland tourist board to enable it to increase its efforts to promote and market Northern Ireland as a tourist destination. That increase is offset by increased receipts elsewhere in the vote.
The Department of Economic Development's vote 4 makes substantive provision for the expenses incurred in the privatisation of the electricity supply industry in Northern Ireland. Those costs have been met from the second instalment of payments from the Northern Ireland Electricity share issue.
For the Department of the Environment, a net increase of some £5.4 million is sought in vote 1. That includes about £4.3 million for maintenance of the road network and for additional capital works. Some £800,000 is for the Driver and Vehicle Testing Agency. Those increases are partially offset by increased receipts, including those for car parking and ferry services. Also in the vote, more than £47 million is appropriated in respect of the sale of Northern Ireland Airports Ltd.
Column 400to the European Community sums paid to help fund the development of Northern Ireland Airports Ltd. in the past. Can the Minister tell us whether those fears that we may have to repay substantial sums are unfounded or whether they are justified? Is the subject being explored? Indeed, has such a request been made at all?
Sir John Wheeler: As I know, the hon. Gentleman takes an informed interest in Northern Ireland Airports Ltd. I, too, read many things in the newspapers, most of which I do not believe; but if I can give the hon. Gentleman an authoritative answer to his question during the debate, or in correspondence, I shall gladly do so.
In vote 2, covering housing, token provision of £1,000 is sought. The £4.7 million required for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive includes increased resources for maintenance and to offset a fall in rental income from lower than anticipated house sales. Gross housing expenditure in Northern Ireland this year is expected to be about £564 million-- £5 million more than in 1993-94.
In vote 4, covering environmental and other services, a net increase of some £3 million is sought. That includes £1.3 million for comprehensive development schemes and various adjustments between programmes. Increased expenditure is partially offset by additional receipts of £2.5 million.
In vote 5, covering office and general accommodation, £5.4 million is for new public building works, alterations and purchases. For the Department of Education, a net increase of £2.7 million is sought in vote 1. That includes about £4.1 million for grants to education and library boards, mainly for maintenance, minor works and equipment. It also provides for accommodation for Kilkeel high school following an arson attack last year. There is £1.7 million for voluntary schools, mainly for health and safety and for equipment. Those increases are offset by savings elsewhere in the vote. In vote 2, an additional £5.4 million is sought. About £3 million is for mandatory awards and student loans, reflecting increased demand. There is £1.2 million for universities, mainly for essential equipment, and £400,000 for arts and museums, including the adaptation of premises to improve access and facilities for disabled people. Increases are also required for departmental administration, youth services and the Armagh observatory and planetarium. For the Department of Health and Social Services, a net increase of £12.9 million is sought in vote 1. That includes £9 million for hospital, community health and personal social services and £6.5 million for capital expenditure. It also includes £1 million to provide help for persons disabled by violence. Those increases are offset by increased receipts and a reduction of £3.4 million in loans provision to trusts.
In vote 3, additional net provision of £2.1 million is required. That includes about £7 million for administration costs caused by increased work loads and capital expenditure. Those increases are offset by reductions elsewhere and by a net increase in receipts of some £4.9 million, mainly from the Department of Social Security for administering the Belfast benefit centre and the Belfast Child Support Agency centre.
Finally, in vote 4, which covers social security, £80.5 million is sought, mainly because of a greater than anticipated demand for income support and disability
Column 401benefits, especially attendance and disability living allowances. That is offset by a decrease in income support and family credit. In my opening remarks I have drawn attention to the main provisions of the order. I hope that, in replying to the debate, I shall be able to do my best to respond to the points raised by hon. Members. If I cannot reply tonight, I shall ensure that the hon. Members concerned receive a response in writing. I commend the order to the House. 7.29 pm
Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West): It is unfortunate that tonight's debate has been curtailed by the Government. Last year, the corresponding debate went from 4.30 pm to 11.30 pm, whereas today's debate will last for less than three hours. Do the Government think that the concerns of Northern Ireland have decreased so much in the past year? The welcome changes brought about by the peace process mean that we should be devoting more time to discussing the issues, rather than less.
Front-Bench Members must now restrict their remarks so that the elected representatives from Northern Ireland--and other Members who take a keen interest in Northern Ireland affairs--can speak. We note that, during a debate on day-to-day matters of importance to the people of Northern Ireland, there is a remarkable lack of Conservative Back Benchers compared with Opposition Members. The Government's behaviour in restricting the debate is frankly shabby, and would seem to be motivated more by petty considerations of who was in what Lobby last week than by the serious interests of the Province. In the brief time available, I shall address the order and its implications for the people of Northern Ireland.
Sir John Wheeler: I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman's remark to stand on the record. There is no question of this debate being curtailed because of the voting habits of any hon. Member. Such a proposition would be outrageous, and I strongly deny it.
Mr. Spellar: Perhaps in his closing remarks the Minister will be able to tell the House why the Government have curtailed the debate. He will have had adequate time to get an answer to that question. We must look at what the order means to the people of Northern Ireland, and what the so- called peace dividend will mean. Planted headlines in the Tory-supporting press may claim that
"Ulster people share £160 million peace bonus",
but there is not much to suggest that in the figures.
If Northern Ireland's building employers are to be believed, they are facing a peace deficit. The employers' state of trade survey at the end of 1994 makes for grim reading. There has been a 15 per cent. reduction in construction activity through 1994, and inquiry levels for new work remain below the level required to maintain any significant recovery. The employers estimate that proposed expenditure on new capital projects in the next financial year, 1995-96, will be £427 million.
That represents a fall in cash terms of some £28 million, and a fall in real terms of 8 per cent. It would seem that, far from balancing out the reduction in construction activity arising from the decline in violence, the Government are accentuating it.
Column 402We welcome the Minister's recent action-- following lobbying not only from builders but from representatives of Northern Ireland's political parties--to try to ensure a more regular flow of work to the construction industry, but that in itself cannot resolve the problem of the reduction in the overall volume of work coming from central Government.
Although it is likely that more private investment will follow the cessation of violence--it appears from the Minister's statement that there are welcome developments there--it now appears that, in the short term, there will be a decline. We recognise that the building industry lives in the short term. Once again, the Government--in their adherence to dogma-- seem to be reinforcing the economic cycle, rather than evening it out. Ironically, the Government's actions in the construction industry run counter to their objective of reducing the levels of disadvantage between the communities, as construction has one of the highest levels of employment in the Catholic work force. The Government have demonstrated once again their inability and unwillingness to plan, and that they have a mental block that prevents them from properly integrating their efforts with funds from outside, such as from the EU structural fund, the EU initiative for peace fund and the International Fund for Ireland. It is clear that people in Northern Ireland are concerned about the lack of any clear strategic plan from the Government to co-ordinate the way in which additional funding could be used. Earlier in the year, local councillors had cause to complain about cuts in the rate support grant which weakened their ability to provide matching funds for European programmes. That shows a lack of understanding of the realities of the financial opportunities which are available. As the UK experienced in 1945, the major adjustments required by a shift to peace need a planned approach if major dislocation is to be avoided and investment is to be effective. Heaven knows, that investment is needed. Unemployment in Northern Ireland, as has been said many times from this Dispatch Box and elsewhere, is still--despite the recent welcome decline--12.1 per cent. of the work force, compared with 8.4 per cent. in Britain.
Of the 90,000 unemployed, well over half have been unemployed for more than one year. That compares only with the real unemployment black spots of Britain. In some areas, the figures are dramatically worse. In Derry--where I was on Monday--there is 23 per cent. male unemployment, and there are similar figures in Newry and Strabane. We will press the Government strongly to remove the restrictions on targeting investment on the long- term unemployed.
There is no doubt about the need for investment. If we take the vital area of communications, the amount of freight traffic on Northern Ireland's roads is growing by 7 per cent. a year. On the Belfast to Dublin route, it is growing by 20 per cent. a year. The Comptroller and Auditor-General has identified a road maintenance backlog of some £60 million, and the Government's own report on the condition of roads stated that much of Northern Ireland's road network was constructed in the 1960s and is close to the end of its desired life. The Minister rightly stressed the attractions that are needed for inward investment, and an adequate communications infrastructure is vital.
Column 403On housing, the Government are at last responding, but that is against a background of a slump in the completion of low-cost houses from 4,572 in 1983 to 1,473 in 1993, and in the face of a rising housing list which now stands at 22,740. Quite frankly, the Government would be better served by letting the Housing Executive get on with the job rather than trying to hive off work into agencies and by compulsory competitive tendering.
On energy, the Government should stop being blinded by their rhetoric, and should recognise that many companies are facing steep increases in their electricity bills. The Government should abandon their attempts to set up an electricity pool, which would make matters worse. They should consider whether the Scottish interconnector will create or cost jobs in Northern Ireland. The Government should have a major rethink about an energy policy, and should recognise that they need a policy in the first place. They cannot leave it all to a mythical and non-existent market. On water, rather than wasting money on expensive consultants' reports which tell them how to hive off each and every water authority activity, the Government should look for investment to reduce the 28 per cent. loss of water caused by leakage from reservoirs through to the consumers. They should take note of the widespread opposition across parties and communities--including the trade unions representing the work force--to the threats to privatise the water industry after the next general election, and also to the potential introduction of water metering as part of a review of the charging procedures.
The Minister may say that all I have discussed up to now involves the public sector and that the Government rightly wish to take the opportunity presented by the peace process to obtain a shift in the balance with the private sector, while recognising that the public sector plays a far larger part in the economy of Northern Ireland than in the United Kingdom as a whole. We endorse that objective, although we point out that the Government do not seem to have an effective short-term strategy for evening out the temporary dislocations of that shift.
What of that main objective to achieve the economic regeneration of Northern Ireland through the private sector? It is very clear that there is a window of opportunity, on which we must capitalise. In the words of the latest respected Coopers and Lybrand report, "Review and Prospects", which is produced each year:
"Every effort should be made to maximise the opportunities that may arise from the international goodwill displayed towards the Province."
It describes a
"window of opportunity over the next 12 months to build a foundation for future inward investment."
We all welcomed the investment conference in Belfast in December and we look forward to the conference in Washington in May and hope that it will help to attract inward investment. What the Minister had to say about advance factories was also welcome. The Government must recognise, however, that in the cut-throat and competitive world of inward investment a very strong and positive Government contribution is vital. They should be not merely considering new inward investment, important though that is, but studying the impact of Government
Column 404measures and assistance on existing industry, which will provide most of any work force increase that helps to cut the horrific unemployment figures.
The Government should be asking the Ministry of Defence whether its ordering programme is helping or hindering the progress of Shorts as a world-class competitor. They should also be talking to the Department of Trade and Industry and asking it what backing it and other Departments will give, given the exciting developments in oil exploration away from the continental shelf into the Atlantic, to ensure that Harland and Wolff gets the contracts for the floating production vessels. What pressure will the Government bring to bear to ensure that the new generation of work comes to Belfast? It will be work not merely for that field but for a whole new generation of oil production developments around the world.
What are the Government doing for the mass of small firms in Northern Ireland to ensure adequate sources of finance to fund expansion? Again, one can see from the Coopers and Lybrand report that constraints on internal finance are one of the main reasons why firms in Northern Ireland have constraints on future investment. What of the new industries, such as international
communications-related industries, which are starting to spring up and to provide employment? The fundamental question is whether the Government will persuade the banks to invest some of the money in Northern Ireland industry that they are throwing away in the casinos of the derivatives market.
There is no doubt that the views of ordinary people in Northern Ireland hover between optimism and apprehension and that they welcome the return to normality and pray for it to become the norm. They recognise the unfinished agenda of jobs, homes, roads, water and energy. They--and we--need positive answers from the Minister tonight, to convince us that the order will begin to deal with those needs. If not, frankly, the Government should give way to a party that will. 7.42 pm
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East): Department of the Environment vote 1 deals with transport and harbour services. I was pleased to have the opportunity this morning to welcome the Secretary of State for Transport to Larne harbour in my constituency, as he was able to see for himself recent developments which have been completed at a cost of £7 million, assisted by a 50 per cent. European regional development fund grant, under the Department of the Environment's Northern Ireland transport programme.
Larne harbour is well established as the second busiest ferry port in the United Kingdom. Last year, 1,870,751 passengers--nearly 2 million--445,885 cars and caravans and 376,680 commercial vehicles used the modernised port facilities. Those figures represent significant increases in all sectors and reflect the efficiency and reliability of the services which have made Larne Ireland's busiest ro-ro and ferry port, catering for 36 ferry arrivals and departures daily to Ardrossan, Cairnryan, Stranraer and Fleetwood.
Despite all that expenditure and further planned expenditure, however, strong rumours are circulating that the long association of Stena Sealink with the harbour may be severed in the near future and that the company
Column 405may relocate its conventional ferry service to Belfast. A few weeks ago I was advised by Stena Sealink that a decision regarding the company's future use of Larne will be made at the end of this month. It has already been announced that Stena Sealink plans to launch a new high speed super-ferry service between Belfast and Stranraer in the spring of 1996.
The developments at the ports of Warrenpoint, Londonderry, Belfast and Larne have all helped to mitigate the peripherality and disadvantages of Northern Ireland, and the substantial investment and European Union grants to the ports have helped Northern Ireland firms quickly to access European markets and have helped to increase tourism to Northern Ireland. The objectives of the grants for port and harbour modernisation have been realised and we now have reliable, economic and efficient services for shipowners, importers and exporters.
I am concerned that one of the key elements of the Department of the Environment's transport development strategy, in giving Larne harbour a complementary role to Belfast as Northern Ireland's principal ro-ro and passenger port, may be thwarted if the rumoured move of Stena Sealink becomes a reality. That concern is widely shared by employees and their families, whose livelihoods depend on employment provided at Larne harbour. Businesses have relocated to Belfast in the past, but after a time the same businesses returned to Larne. If the rumoured relocation of Stena Sealink to Belfast becomes a reality, it will have damaging consequences for the future prosperity of Larne and East Antrim, where hoteliers are currently planning to increase accommodation to cope with an expected upsurge in tourism if the present peace becomes permanent.
I call on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and on Ministers responsible for environment and economic development to initiate inquiries urgently to determine whether the higher average level of European assistance--up to 75 per cent. in the case of trust ports and Belfast port, compared with the 50 per cent. European Union assistance at Larne--has led to, or is leading to, distortions in competition.
Secondly, could business be attracted to ports prior to privatisation through very low tariff charges, perhaps made possible by cross-subsidy, with benefit expected to come on stream after privatisation, to the benefit of the new owners? Will Ministers investigate such charges and whether any inducement is being offered by any Northern Ireland port?
I also call on the Secretary of State and Northern Ireland Ministers to monitor the impact on Northern Ireland ports of the vast sums of money being pumped into the Irish Republic--estimated to be running at the rate of £1 million per day for the next six years--especially when Interreg assistance for maritime links between Wales and the Irish Republic, combined with the profits from duty free sales on ferries, could cause further distortion and competition. Will Belfast harbour privatisation result in the clawback of some European Union grants?
Part II of the Department of the Environment vote 1 deals with roads. On previous occasions, I have mentioned the necessity of upgrading the Larne to Belfast road and I urge the Minister to endeavour to advance the start date for extending the dual carriageway from Gingles corner, Larne, and to follow the example set by the Secretary of State for Transport here and to plan thereafter
Column 406a succession of phased road developments until we have a dual carriageway all the way between Larne and Belfast. A start is required earlier than the 1997 date that has been promised. I again appeal for priority to be given to the Carrickfergus to Belfast road project and for genuine sympathy, consideration and compromise to be shown by officials when negotiating with the frontagers whose homes will be severely affected by the necessary road works. The recent and current severe weather conditions in Northern Ireland have highlighted the total inadequacy of the Department of the Environment's road gritting programme in frosty conditions. I therefore ask for a reappraisal of the funding allocated and the inclusion of all school bus routes in regular salt and gritting schedules. Additional funding should be provided for the Department's road maintenance programme and future expenditure plans.
Does the Minister accept that Northern Ireland still has the lowest quality of early-years educational provision in the United Kingdom? Does he agree that children who have access to early-years nursery education or pre- school care and education are likely to achieve higher educational performance, less likely to be become involved in criminal activity in later life, less likely to have contact with welfare agencies, less likely to experience marital breakdown in adult life, and less likely as teenagers to get pregnant and become single parents?
Will the Minister confirm that the promised classroom assistants for Northern Ireland primary schools will be in post by September 1995? Will he confirm that the time allocation to each school will be based on the number of primary-one children of compulsory school age only enrolled at the school? Have the Departments of Finance and Personnel, of Health and Social Services and of Education reached interdepartmental agreement on the future funding of the Northern Ireland Preschool Playgroups Association yet? Can we be assured of equality of funding across Northern Ireland? Is it not disgraceful that in 1994 parents contributed £1 to £2.50 per day while health boards contributed only from 35p a day per child in the generous Eastern board area to as little as 10.4p per day in the Northern board area? [Hon. Members:-- "Shame."] Shame, indeed.
How can funding for pre-school play groups in Northern Ireland continue to be kept lower than that received by most groups in England, Scotland and Wales? I hope that the Minister recognises the value of those groups and, in the absence of adequate nursery school provision, will better fund the Northern Ireland Preschool Playgroups Association while seeking to increase nursery school places in Northern Ireland.
I have strong reservations about the system of allocating extra funds to a school's budget for the purpose of targeting social deprivation and educational disadvantage. On what evidence was the decision made to allocate funds to schools based on the number of pupils receiving free meals in those schools? That funding is directing vast sums of money to maintained schools and significantly lesser sums to controlled schools, and is clearly perceived to be discriminating against the controlled sector. I wholeheartedly support the concept of targeting need fairly and equitably, but a more selective method of assessing entitlement to extra funds for social deprivation and educational disadvantage must be quickly found.
Column 407Construction costs in Northern Ireland have increased significantly of late, with the result that tender prices being returned to education and library boards for capital projects are higher than the present permitted spend level. Will the Minister carry out an early review and raise the ceiling at which education boards can accept tender prices and award contracts? At the same time, could any future moratorium on public spending in the Department of Education be lifted sufficiently early in the financial year to enable permitted expenditure to be incurred?
I pay tribute to the Minister responsible for education for his assistance in enabling Newtownabbey community college to become established smoothly and for providing the necessary funding to meet the needs of pupils and staff of the former Hopefield and Rathcoole high schools when they came together in the newly opened Newtownabbey community college. Will the Minister assure us that, where rationalisation or amalgamation of schools has been agreed by education boards, parents and teachers, he will in future seek to provide the necessary funding for permanent accommodation to be in place at the time of the amalgamation, merger or rationalisation? Such an assurance helps teachers, parents and boards to reach agreement more easily when decisions involving school closures have to be made.
I was amazed recently when, despite the sound advice of principal teachers in Larne and the Carrickfergus area, the needs of a small number of parents resulted in discrimination against the vast majority of the population. The Minister proceeded to announce that there would be another new integrated post-primary schools in east Antrim. The existing schools require substantial capital investment. All existing secondary schools have a measure of voluntary integration at pupil and staff level, which has been developing steadily, slowly and effectively.
The decision to create a new integrated school in an area where a voluntary grammar school, two Roman Catholic maintained schools and a controlled secondary school have closed in the past 10 years, and where more than 600 secondary school places are already vacant, is irresponsible. The decision will threaten the stability of the remaining post-primary schools, whether they be grammar schools, controlled secondary schools or Roman Catholic maintained secondary schools.
The reality, which should not go unnoticed, is that the percentage of Roman Catholic children in the Carrickfergus area is 6.5 per cent. and in the Larne area the total maintained primary school population is 16 per cent. of the school population. So there simply are not enough children to produce an integrated secondary school. Is the Minister determined to lower enrolment for a viable integrated school, and does the Department of Education expect area boards or the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools to maintain the same standard? From where will the children be bussed to that new school? Is the Minister prepared to sacrifice the voluntary integration that has already occurred? Will he assure me that the established needs of existing post-primary schools in east Antrim will receive the capital funding they need before money is released for a new integrated post-primary school?
Column 408It may be of interest to the House to know, and the Minister should seriously note, how matters are developing. Just the other day, the Braidside integrated primary school in the Ballymena area advertised for a teacher to teach Roman Catholic religious education in an integrated school. I understood that there had been agreement in all the main Churches that there was to be a common religious education curriculum. I do not think that that will be well looked on in Roman Catholic maintained schools, where children would already be having their religious education.
When does the Minister intend to audit the cost to the education service of Northern Ireland of providing free transport beyond the nearest appropriate school? I believe that the Minister will be shocked at the escalating transport costs when he carries out such an audit.
I note that in part II the sum of £416,000 is authorised for expenditure by the Office of Electricity Regulation. In answer to a recent question, I was informed that the transitional relief scheme was introduced to give industry time to adjust to the application of cost-reflective pricing following privatisation, and that it will have served its purpose by the time it ends on 31 March 1996. There is only a year to go, and there is no hope of achieving that. I must tell the Minister that consumers, whether they be domestic or industrial, are very worried about electricity prices in Northern Ireland and would like greater intervention by the regulator, so if there is not to be an extension of transitional relief to take account of the high costs of electricity in Northern Ireland, perhaps the regulator can find a way.
I urge the Minister to consider carefully and sympathetically the application being made by Nigen for a non-fossil fuel obligation tranche in respect of its energy-from-waste project for Belfast West. The project, when operational at the Belfast West plant, would provide better environmental solutions to the Northern Ireland problem of how best to deal with waste disposal. Approval would also obviate any need for a super-dump at Magheramorne in my constituency and could make possible a major environmental and recreational project for which millennium funding will be sought.
The Prime Minister's investment forum held in Belfast was a credit to all involved in the organisation and to all who participated. We have just lost a further 100 jobs in Larne in my constituency, and my constituents and I are keen to know whether there has been any positive sign that there has been, or is likely to be, additional inward investment as a result of that conference. We in Larne and in East Antrim would like to share in that, as no doubt would other areas of the Province.
Finally, I am sure that other Members present in the Chamber would welcome an explanation of schedule part I, Department of Economic Development, paragraph 4. A sum of £1,000 has been granted, but in the appropriations-in-aid column there is a figure representing an increase of £186,131,000. I should be pleased, as I am sure would others, to know what that has to do with the privatisation of the electricity industry in Northern Ireland.
Column 409economic position in which we might be involved with the advent of peace in Northern Ireland. He might have discussed not only the advent of peace being the absence of violence and therefore giving confidence for economic and commercial development, but the announcement of the various additional fundings that may, and hopefully will, be available for economic development in Northern Ireland; 300 million ecu for 1996, 1997 and 1998, the International Fund for Ireland, structural funds from the EEC in addition to those that already exist and the inward transfer of money from the security budget to other departmental budgets.
I should have thought that the debate was an opportunity to make a statement about the future economic development of Northern Ireland in that new context of peace and of substantial additional funding. It appears to me that Departments of Government, the Industrial Development Board and, to a lesser extent, the Local Enterprise Development Unit and the tourist board, which are the primary job creators in Northern Ireland in the public sector, have no new plans whatsoever regarding that new dimension--that new dispensation. I find that not only surprising but very alarming, because there are about to be made available to us those very substantial fundings, which can be dissipated in short-term, poor projects or wisely invested and garnered to create long-term economic regeneration and more permanent job creation.
Tourism has already taken a distinct upward turn in the past six months. I continue to find it startling that the tourist board does not appear to have restructured its policy and agenda to take advantage of that. We need a regeneration of our tourist infrastructure and a renewal of facilities. Had the Minister done that, it would have been a useful contribution to the debate tonight, but my response to it would have been somewhat different. I would have asked, "Who will share in the economic regeneration?" The history of the past 25, if not the past 70, years of administration shows that the area that I and others
represent--south-east Ulster, roughly the local government districts of Banbridge, Down and Newry and Mourne--has suffered blatant economic discrimination. I wish to know whether the Government, at this very late stage, will take account of that.
When I make that statement, it is often said that I exaggerate the position. I do not begrudge the inward investment in Belfast, the Antrims and Derry, and I wish those people well in their new prosperity, but something more direct and positive must be done for an area that has endemic social and economic deprivation and endemic high unemployment, such as the parts of south-east Ulster that I have named.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way on that subject, because there is greater endemic unemployment in Belfast than in south-east Ulster. Does he accept that, in the latest figures for chairmen and directors, the director of Norbrooke Laboratories leads the list, with a salary of about £750,000 a year? Is that a reflection of poverty in the area?
Mr. McGrady: I do not know whether I welcome the hon. Gentleman's question, because it has confused me. The salary of the chairman of Norbrooke Laboratories is the pay and salary, exorbitant and disgraceful as it is, of one person, not of his employees in the town of Newry.
Column 410The area that I am referring to is rural, and when there is not sufficient concentration to allow one to see the consequences of unemployment and social deprivation, one tends to think that they do not exist. However, the problems are simply scattered. The numbers are there, the people are there and the suffering is there. I shall give an example of what has happened in my constituency. I welcome the recent announcements about inward investment, and I hope that those who will benefit from that investment will have long, successful and happy lives. In 1989-90, less than 1.5 per cent. of the total number of potential investors who visited Northern Ireland, visited south-east Ulster. In 1991, the figure was less than 1.5 per cent. and in 1991-92 it was less than 1 per cent. Under the aegis of the IDB or the Local Enterprise Development Unit, the entire area received less than 1 per cent. of visits from inward investors. The last figure that I have is for 1992-93, when there was an "enormous improvement" of 3 per cent. of visits by inward investors for the whole of south-east Ulster. To me, that represents deprivation. The Industrial Development Board and the Department of Economic Development tell me constantly that they are striving to correct that situation. In his opening remarks tonight, the Minister referred to the sale of industrial development sites. However, no such sites have been provided in the district town of Downpatrick, in spite of much dithering in the past four or five years. According to an advertisement that I saw a few weeks ago, industrial sites are being sold in Newcastle, Ballynahinch, Kilkeel, Warrenpoint and Downpatrick. How can we have economic development if we are losing all the areas that have been designated for that development? According to the latest information that I have received, the Department of Economic Development and the planning division are playing ping pong with the issue. They cannot sit around the table and work out which industrial sites should be allocated for inward investment.
The Department of Economic Development and the IDB say that they cannot bring investors to the area that I represent because we are too far away from the ports. It is 10 miles from the northern part of my constituency to the centre of Belfast, the biggest port--apart from Larne--in Ireland. There is also a port at Warrenpoint in the south. So that excuse is null and void.
Another excuse that I am given is a valid one. I am told that the road structure is such that it would not encourage inward investors to consider investing in my area. The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs), who has just made his speech, spoke about completing work on dual carriageways and building new roads in his constituency. He should be thankful that there are dual carriageways in his constituency. We hardly have one single carriageway that is capable of carrying an articulated truck. How can we attract inward investment to areas of deprivation unless we have a programme of infrastructure development to go with it?
I refer specifically to the A7 from Belfast to the district town of Downpatrick and the B8 from there to the port of Warrenpoint. Not one pound of capital moneys has been spent on new road infrastructure in the entire area to which I have referred in the past 14 years. The same was true for many years before that. That is another sign of the lack of commitment on the part of Governments and agencies to the area that I represent.
Column 411The fishing industry is concentrated in my area, and we all know what is happening to that. Various European Community regulations, the Hague preference, the total allowable catch and the days at sea provision are depressing the fishing industry and are affecting not only the fishermen but the food producers who are dependent on the fish harvest.
Kilkeel in my constituency is the biggest fishing town in Northern Ireland, but the fishermen cannot get in and out of the harbour because the Northern Ireland Harbour Authority will not provide a groyne to keep the boats safe. I welcome the expenditure of £6 million on another part of Northern Ireland for pleasure purposes, but I think that £3 million could be provided to establish a groyne for the economic fishing base in the harbour and the port of Kilkeel.
That development has not taken place because the Government will not finance the Northern Ireland Harbour Authority to carry out that work. The authority proposes to levy the fishermen to pay for the project, but their income is running down rapidly and they cannot afford to pay. I witnessed a good fishing boat being burnt on a beach in County Down because the owners could no longer afford to run it. That is the extent of the deprivation in that community.
Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am sure that he will recall that when the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs visited Kilkeel--the hon. Gentleman organised that visit, as the local Member--Committee members were appalled to learn that, because of the difficulties at the harbour, the fishermen were losing more than £200,000 in revenue each year.
Mr. McGrady: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I agree with what he says, but in fact the losses are much greater than that if the fishermen are prevented from going to sea for weeks on end.
I see that you are watching the clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as my time is running out, so I shall conclude my remarks. We can see the same pattern of non-funding in other areas. It was announced last week that some £63 million will be spent on school rehabilitation programmes, but not a penny will go to my entire area--except the money which the Minister announced tonight for the rehabilitation of a Kilkeel school which suffered an arson attack.
Because of the time constraints, I cannot comment in detail about hospitals and the provision of social services. New hospitals have been built in Antrim, Moyle, Derry, Belfast and Coleraine, yet the hospitals which serve my area have been in a queue for funding for 30 years. They have not yet received a penny, in spite of many promises. That pattern of non-funding cannot be denied. I would supply other evidence of lack of funding, but time does not permit me to do so. The people of my area have strived to live together and we have worked hard. We have cast out from our community the men of violence and those who espouse the cause of violence for political purposes. We have accepted, by and large--there are always hiccups in every community--the diversity of political opinion and religious belief, and we have lived together. If we had
Column 412blown one another apart, money would be flowing into the area, but because we have lived together like ordinary, decent people, supported one another and kept out the men of violence, we are ignored and neglected.
I will make one final request of the Minister and abandon the rest of what I had hoped to say. Will he take a message back to the Departments of the Northern Ireland Office--because he has overall charge of finance and personnel--and ask them to set up a task force for economic regeneration similar to the ones that are set up when jobs are lost in other areas? Our area never had the jobs in the first place. We would love to be facing the loss of 100 jobs; we do not have 100 jobs to lose. We want a fair share of the cake and of the development and the funding that will accompany the new era of peace and economic development. If the Minister can provide that, we shall be able to fulfil our commitment to provide jobs, reasonable wages and an adequate standard of living for the people of Down and south-east Ulster.
Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster): I can understand much of the frustration expressed by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) about the lack of industrial investment and of Government finance in his area. If the hon. Gentleman believes that he has problems, he had better listen to me because there are plenty in the constituency which I have had the honour of representing in this place for the past 12 years.
I shall develop some of the important themes on which hon. Members have already touched. The vote on the Department of Economic Development certainly involves matters that must be considered and attended to.
The first vote concerns the Department of Agriculture. I come from and represent not only a farming home but a farming constituency. The farming community has been the backbone of Ulster's economy and prosperity over the years. It has been through rather difficult times and still faces grave difficulties--for example, grave concern has been expressed to me recently on behalf of pig farmers, especially those with farms of smaller unit size, about the viability of their units in future.
The matter has been raised in Europe. The European Commissioner has money to assist pig farmers, but I am told that he has stated that they must depend on market forces. I have heard that before. Having said that farmers must depend on market forces and take their place at the whim of the market, in the next breath the Commissioner tells us that those same farmers are not permitted to buy cereals on the world market, but must buy dearer cereals from Europe. Farmers in the Province find those cereal prices exorbitant and colossal, and they add to the burden placed on the agricultural sector of our community.
The same vote applies to the fishing industry. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members have received numerous representations on behalf of the fishing industry which is under threat, particularly from the recent decision taken in the House and another place concerning the Spanish fleet.
As that decision was taken in Europe, will the Minister assure the House tonight that the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the Department of Agriculture will seek to gain extra money from Europe to permit appropriate decommissioning of fishing vessels without taking money out of the fishing budget? I am led to