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Northern Ireland (Appropriation)

Volume 128: debated on Tuesday 1 March 1988

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10.12 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to intervene on behalf of my hon. Friends. As we were denied in the previous debate the time promised to us to discuss life-and-death issues, we are not prepared to present a charade to the House that everything is normal in Northern Ireland. The Minister can address other hon. Members, but we shall not take any part in that charade.

10.13 pm

I beg to move,

That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 10th February, be approved.
The order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The order has two purposes. The first is to authorise the expenditure of some £76 million, included in the 1987–88 Spring Supplementary Estimates. That amount, when added to the £3,447 million previously approved by the House, brings the total Estimates provision for Northern Ireland Departments to some £3,523 million for this financial year. [Interruption.]

Order. I ask hon. Members who are not participating in the debate to leave quietly.

The second purpose of the order is to authorise Vote-on-Account expenditure of some £1,598 million for 1988–89. That amount is necessary to enable Government services to continue until the 1988–89 Main Estimates are debated later this year. Full details of all the expenditure sought in the order are set out in the "Northern Ireland Spring Supplementary Estimates 1987–88" and the 1988–89 "Statement of Sums Required on Account", copies of which have been placed in the Vote Office.

I also draw the House's attention to our first published commentary on Northern Ireland public expenditure plans covering the years 1988–89 to 1990–91, which was published on 24 February. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members who are interested in Northern Ireland affairs—I am sorry that some have now left the Chamber—will find that a useful source of detailed information on public expenditure in the Province.

The House will be aware that the Northern Ireland Office Estimates for law and order are not included in the order. Those Estimates are covered by separate United Kingdom Supply Estimates presented to Parliament by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

As we are concerned with the entire range of voted public expenditure in Northern Ireland, other than law and order, I should like to highlight certain key features of the Northern Ireland economy which heavily influence the pattern of public expenditure provision. I am glad to say that unemployment in Northern Ireland continues to show a downward trend. The seasonally adjusted total for January was the eighth consecutive monthly fall.

The United Kingdom is now in its seventh successive year of steady growth and the Northern Ireland economy can he expected to benefit from growth at the national level in the years ahead. That expectation is confirmed by recent independent surveys, for example by the Confederation of British Industry, which suggest that the economic outlook for the Province is fairly encouraging, with an increase in investment intentions and business confidence in the manufacturing sector last year, despite some instability in the financial markets.

Meanwhile, the rising incomes of those in employment can be expected to provide a further stimulus to the commercial revival of Belfast and other urban centres, and to businesses in the service sector of the economy. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made clear when announcing public expenditure allocations on 24 November, one of the Government's main priorities is to strengthen the Northern Ireland economy through the industrial development programme and by supporting other programmes and schemes which contribute to the development of the Province's economic potential and to long-term economic regeneration.

I turn now to the specific Estimates before the House. I do not propose to refer to every Vote for which supplementary provision is being sought, which will be a relief to the House, but instead will concentrate on the main items. I start with the Department of Agriculture's Vote 1, which provides for the Northern Ireland expenditure on United Kingdomwide support schemes. An additional net provision of £4·5 million is required, mainly to meet outstanding commitments on two capital grant schemes, the agricultural and horticultural development scheme and the agricultural and horticultural grants scheme, both of which have now been discontinued.

The Vote also provides for expenditure of up to £7·7 million under the national element of the agricultural improvement scheme, primarily for the provision of effluent storage and disposal facilities. The Department of Agriculture's Vote 2 requires an additional £4·6 million, the major components of which are expenditure on the grassland scheme and residual commitments under the original Northern Ireland agricultural development programme, which ceased taking new investment in 1986.

General support to industry is covered by the Department of Economic Development's Vote 2. An extra £7 million is required to meet the current level of expenditure on industrial development grants under selective financial assistance agreements. That reflects continuing success by the Industrial Development Board in its main task of promoting and safeguarding employment. That increased expenditure is offset by reduced requirements, such as a reduction of £2 million for industrial development loans. The need for public sector loan assistance has been less than anticipated, reflecting a welcome increase of private sector involvement in the funding of projects. When the pluses and minuses are taken into account, the net additional provision for this vote is some £4·8 million.

The Department of Economic Development is also seeking increases in the provision for its Votes 3, 4 and 5. The House will note that those are "token" Supplementary Estimates, each for £1,000. Their purpose is to draw attention to various increases in expenditure which are being offset by savings elsewhere.

The final economic development Vote requiring an increase is Vote 6 — administration and miscellaneous services. The additional £1·5 million sought is required for increased staff costs arising from the implementation of further employment measures, including the expansion of the restart programme. In addition, the Department's computer facilities will be upgraded to cope with an increased workload. This, together with other efficiency measures, will improve management information and thus the service provided to the public.

Next we come to the Department of the Environment Vote 1 which covers roads, transport and ports. Some £3 million has been channelled into an extended programme of structural maintenance works on roads. That includes the repair works made necessary by the severe flooding of last October, for which additional resources were made available to Northern Ireland from the contingency reserve. Much of that has been financed by additional receipts and savings, leaving a net supplementary estimate of some £600,000.

On the Department of the Environment Vote 4, additional provision is sought to meet increased expenditure on environmental and miscellaneous services, including £4 million for the Belfast programme, £1·5 million for land acquired for the Ballymacoss development scheme and £600,000 for the general grant to district councils. However, the additional expenditure has been partly offset by savings and additional receipts within the Vote, leaving a net requirement of a little over £4 million.

In the Department of Education, Supplementary Estimates are being sought in Votes 2, 3, 4 and 5. In Vote 2, higher and further education, an extra £3·2 million is sought. That is largely required to cover grants to the two Northern Ireland universities, reflecting mainly the recommendations of the University Grants Committee, and to cover the additional costs of the pay award for further education lecturers agreed earlier this year. Additional requirements are partly offset by savings arising from lower than estimated numbers of awards for postgraduate study and by savings on the in-service training of teachers.

An additional £476,000 is sought under Vote 3 for Department of Education miscellaneous services and administration. Total increases in that Vote are £918,000, but those are partly offset by reduced requirements, mainly in respect of loan liabilities. I particularly draw the House's attention to the £200,000 required for our new community relations initiative to promote cross-community contact between schools and among the young people in Northern Ireland. Also to be noted is the £85,000 required to fund the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools, whose main objective will be to promote high standards of education in these schools.

Other additions include extra resources for the Belfast urban programme, provision for the Northern Ireland contribution to the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, payments to the Northern Ireland Training Authority in respect of the open learning centre, and increased expenditure on departmental administration, mainly on consultants' fees and equipment.

In Vote 4, which covers grants to education and library boards, an additional £11·4 million is sought. Some £8·4 million is for recurrent grants to boards, including increased expenditure of £3·5 million on rates, £2·2 million on salary costs and £2·1 million for mandatory awards and special schools. The increases sought will also enablle education and library boards to carry out certain essential maintenance work on school buildings. In particular, there will be extra money to cover the costs of repairs to schools in the Western board area, following the storms last autumn.

The additional provision in capital grants to education and library boards is £4·5 million. That is partly offset by increased receipts from the sale of land and buildings of some £1·5 million. The increased provision for capital grants is required mainly for conversion work due to the closure of gas undertakings in Northern Ireland, for expenditure on the capital elements of the youth training programme and on the vocational education and 11-to-16 programmes.

Turning to the Department of Health and Social Services, gross spending on health and personal social services this year will increase by £28·6 million. Some £2·1 million of this provision is the Northern Ireland share of the £100 million additional resources made available from the reserve in 1987–88 for the health services throughout the United Kingdom, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Health on 16 December. Of the total increase, some £16·7 million will go to health and social services boards. That will enable them to meet most of the cost of higher than anticipated pay settlements in 1987–88.

The £28·6 million increase in spending will contribute towards maintaining the high standard of health and personal social services which we have in Northern Ireland, and assist in the process of transition from institutional to community care for those in long-stay accommodation. That is in line with one of the main themes of the regional strategy — the development of community care as a real alternative to care in institutions. The increase in the capital programme of just over £1 million will be applied principally to minor works and the essential replacement of medical equipment. The sum of £9 million is required for family practitioner services to meet increased demand and higher costs, particularly in the pharmaceutical services.

In the social security programme, an additional provision of £15·4 million is sought, £6·3 million of which is for DHSS Vote 3, for administration and miscellaneous services, of which £3·4 million is needed to ensure the successful completion of the reforms in the administration of social security benefits and to maintain momentum in the computerisation programme. The balance of £2·9 million is required to meet a shortfall in receipts from the national insurance fund.

Finally, in Vote 4, an additional £9·1 million is required to meet increased expenditure on the supplement to the national insurance fund, supplementary pensions, attendance allowance, payments into the social fund, maternity grants and expenditure on retail prices index adjustment payments.

I have outlined with remarkable completeness the main expenditure provisions in the draft order, which I commend to the House.

10.26 pm

I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to learn that it is not our intention to divide on the order, and we hope that we will not detain the House at great length. I assume that those hon. Members who are present are interested in the order to follow.

We generally welcome the order and the Minister's statement, particularly on the Government's recognition of the importance of public expenditure in supporting economic development and developing essential services in Northern Ireland. We welcome the publication for the first time of the commentary by the Northern Ireland Office. In some cases it is an apology for public policy, but it is a welcome development. The commentary says on page 9:
"The Government's public expenditure plans for Northern Ireland must take account of the political, economic and social conditions in the Province."
Against that background, I would like to examine the Government's proposals and judge them in the light of the economic and social needs in the Province.

The Northern Ireland economy has deteriorated over the past 20 years. Since the early 1970s, there has been a massive decline in employment, particularly in manufacturing industry. Industries such as the synthetic fibre industry have virtually disappeared. Industrial output is now well below the level of 1973. Unemployment figures are consistently twice the national average, with more and more people falling into the category of long-term unemployed.

The future economic prospects are not good, particularly in traditional industrial areas such as shipbuilding, textiles and clothing, all of which have an uncertain future. Many people are living on the poverty line. Low pay, especially among women, is endemic. Since 1979, the inequality gap has widened substantially. That is not a phenomenon peculiar to Northern Ireland; it has occurred throughout the United Kingdom since the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was first elected in 1979. So it is against that economic background that we need to examine the needs of Northern Ireland.

The overriding need of the Province is for peace. I regret the absence of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and his hon. Friends who, in a show of pique some 20 minutes ago, absconded from the House, presumably to take an early bath and have an early night. They did not think the matter sufficiently important to stay here at this relatively early hour to discuss the essential economic and social requirements—in addition to security—of Northern Ireland. I deplore the hon. Gentleman's absence and the manner of his leaving.

As I said, the Province's overriding need is for peace. Since the start of the troubles in 1969, there has been tragic loss of life and a crippling effect on the economy and economic development of the Province. Figures published in 1984 by the New Ireland Forum estimate the direct costs of the troubles at about £4·5 billion, and further indirect costs in lost economic and employment opportunities at about £3·3 billion — a total cost to the economy of about £8 billion. An economy as fragile as that of Northern Ireland cannot bear that sort of crippling expenditure. It is only through the pursuit and attainment of peace in Northern Ireland that these costs can be removed and more and more finance channelled into economic and social development.

I do not intend, as did the Minister, to pick out detailed points from the order. Rather, I want to highlight areas which are of concern to my party, and which require further explanation and additional expenditure. I shall mention them in conjunction with the relevant spending Departments.

First, I mention the Department of Economic Development. Will the Minister who is to reply comment on the future of Harland and Wolff? Last Thursday I put down some questions on that subject to the Under-Secretary of State. It is vital that the Minister takes this opportunity to dispel rumours about the future of the company. The Government and the House accept that Harland and Wolff is of strategic importance to the economy of Northern Ireland, and vital to hundreds of small suppliers which depend on the yard for orders. It is essential that the Minister give a positive answer on the future of the company.

Will the Minister also turn his mind to the issue of the Northern Ireland electricity board and the Kilroot phase 2 conversion? What do the Government have in mind for the future ownership of the board? We are keen that they should take the decision to proceed with the Kilroot phase 2 development. With regard to the Department of the Environment, the Government's commentary states:
"Poor housing has been a major social problem in the past".
That is a sentiment and conclusion with which we agree wholeheartedly.

If that has been true in the past—we believe that the problem continues today — why have the Government taken decisions to reduce expenditure on housing when we know that, first, house waiting lists are increasing; secondly, that new building by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is being reduced; thirdly, that the numbers of dwellings in need of repair is increasing; fourthly, that the backlog on improvement and repairs is increasing; and, fifthly, that 51,000 homes are now classified as being unfit and that 131,000 dwellings are in serious disrepair. This is a time not for reductions in housing expenditure but for further expenditure.

I presume that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has no political axe to grind. If we accept its views, the Government's allocation of finance represents a cut in real terms off £118 million over three years. Not only will that cut lead to fewer houses being built but, we are informed by the Housing Executive, it could lead to a loss of 3,000 jobs.

In the light of reductions in housing expenditure, what is likely to happen to the development of schemes such as that at Divis? The Minister knows that I have a particular interest and concern in that scheme; I believe that that interest and concern is shared by the Minister.

With regard to education, despite what the Minister has said about additional expenditure in certain areas, we believe that further expenditure is required. The Minister will know that evidence has been provided by the education and library boards and the teaching trade unions about, first, the increasing numbers of teachers leaving the education system and, secondly, despite an increase of £500,000 that was announced a few months ago, the fact that there is still a growing backlog of school repairs. That shows that further expenditure is required.

I draw the Minister's attention to the provision for youth, sport, recreation and community services, which is outlined on page 75 of the commentary. The provision is being reduced this year and for the next two years. Will the Minister say why a reduction is being made, given that this is a time of mass unemployment in the Province, which particularly affects young people?

Hon. Members who take an interest in the problems of Northern Ireland are aware of the fact that the DHSS and the Health Service in particular are facing serious problems. That is being said not only by the Opposition but by the health boards and the National Health Service trade unions in the Province. What we are witnessing in the Province is a growing and potentially catastrophic crisis in the National Health Service.

The Minister has no excuse for being ignorant of the scale of the problem. It has been brought to his attention many times. He must know that in key areas the numbers of beds are being reduced. Evidence to support that argument appears on page 87 of the Government commentary. Waiting lists are growing; staff morale is at its lowest ever ebb.

The problems are highlighted by the desperate proposals of the Eastern health board. To save £7·6 million, it has had to make the dramatic proposal of a cut in surgical beds of approximately 100 and the rationalisation of vital casualty services in Belfast. In this sense, rationalisation means a reduction in the level of service rather than maintaining the existing level of service or providing better service at reduced expenditure.

The Minister must also be aware of the major reduction in services at Lagan Valley hospital in Lisburn, proposed by the Eastern health board. These proposals and others have rightly provoked an outcry of rage in Northern Ireland. The solution to the problem lies in the Government's hands and it is for them to produce it.

The Minister of State mentioned social security. I realise that he has limited discretion in that area of policy-making, but I direct his attention to the implications of the introduction of the social fund to Northern Ireland. The Minister will be aware that, in 1986, more than £38 million was disbursed in single payments. In the first year of the social fund—1988–89—the social fund budget provides for only £21·1 million, of which only £7·2 is available as grant. That represents a horrendous cut for the poorest in Northern Ireland. Opposition Members believe that Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office should be pushing their right hon. and hon. Friends at the Treasury and at the DHSS in London to ensure that further additional funds are provided for the Province in the light of its economic plight and the desperate need of many people in poverty.

The Opposition recognise the imperative of security — despite what the Minister said in his reply to the previous debate—but it must not be at the expense of other services, which appears to be the case in some key aspects. Despite some of the opinions expressed in the previous debate, we need to encourage further economic co-operation with the Republic. I accept that at the moment political difficulties make further progress in that direction difficult for the Government. However, we should continue to press the view that further economic co-operation is vital for the development of the economies of both the North and the South of Ireland. We must impress on those on both sides of the border that the island of Ireland is one market and not two markets arbitrarily divided by a land frontier.

We need to encourage more inward investment. In that context, I suspect that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland may have words to say about fair employment legislation at some time in the near future. If we are to encourage more inward investment to the Province, especially from the United States, the Government must show beyond any shadow of a doubt their commitment to fair employment opportunities for both communities in Northern Ireland. Unless they do that, the problem will continue to cast a shadow on incoming American investment in the Province. For the sake of those living in Northern Ireland, we must encourage as much investment a s we possibly can.

The House will be pleased to know that we shall not be calling a Division on the order. We welcome many aspects of the order, but I hope that the Minister will answer some of my substantive points on it.

10.44 pm

Like the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), I very much regret the absence of colleagues from the North of Ireland who have left the Chamber. I am struck by the fact that, last week, a filibuster took place, for the ostensible reason that the debate should not be allowed to continue while colleagues of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) were in gaol. I have checked with the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker), and have discovered that all the hon. Members are now out of gaol. The excuse this week seems to be different, although, judging by the suntan of the hon. Member for Belfast, North, there may be something attractive about gaol at present. I fear, however, that we shall have to do without the intellectual input and the unique insights that we would have encountered had those hon. Members remained in the Chamber.

I shall be very brief, and I shall say nothing that I have not said many times before to the Ministers concerned. The Minister, who has responsibility for the environment, knows that I believe—and I believe that he knows that I am right—that proper funding has never been given to the part of my constituency known as South Armagh. The Minister has already created a precedent in relation to Health Service spending in one of the area boards, on the ground that it had previously been underfunded. I ask him to take especial interest in the roads in the area, so that they can be brought up to a standard equal to that in the rest of the constituency, and of the North of Ireland.

Let me impress on the Minister the concern about the completion of phases 2 and 3 of the Newry bypass—not, of course, to the detriment of expenditure in the rest of the area. It is crucial that the rural areas that have suffered from neglect for so long are brought up to date, and up to the required standard. It is essential that phases 2 and 3 be continued very quickly, because, as the Minister knows—being well aware of the geographical circumstances of Newry—because of the river and the canal, there is at present only one way in and one way out. A huge bottleneck will result from the completion of phase 1.

If the Minister has a chance to visit the area in the near future, I hope that he will be able to bring good news about both the bypass and the continuing nuisance of the presence of the customs station on what is known as the Dublin road. It is the most appalling situation imaginable. No doubt the Minister will readily tell me that it does not come within his brief, and I accept that. But the roads on which the lorries are parked do, and when he sees the bottleneck created in a residential part of the town which carries an enormous volume of traffic towards Dublin, I think he will agree that there has been undue delay.

I have heard from people involved in the proposed building of the new customs station that there has been a nod from on high, suggesting that there should be no rush. That is causing enormous problems, and will continue to do so.

Again, the Minister will know that my requests are very humble. I am satisfied with very little—and I receive very little, so I am not very satisfied.

In the past three years, the expenditure on street lighting in my constituency could be counted on two hands. I hope that the Minister will accept that that is an accurate assessment. I have sought confirmation from the Department that expenditure will be made on various places such as Peter's place in Newry, the Dublin road in Newry and the Monog road in Crossmaglen. However, I am then told that the only expenditure will be on new housing. What is wrong with the people in the existing housing? They should receive such expenditure after waiting years and years to get it. I know that I have raised simple constituency matters, but I believe that all hon. Members would agree that those people who believe that such matters are simple are taking a simplistic approach to the subject.

Will the Minister also consider the problem of water supply to farmers in the Granemore area? I think that it is incredible that, in this day and age, farmers cannot avail themselves of the mains water supply. They can be taken to court and prosecuted if effluent from their farmyards and silos seeps into public streams and rivers, yet those farmers do not have a water supply to wash and properly tend their farmyards and farm buildings, so it is unfair that they should risk prosecution. I hope that the Minister will reconsider this matter, because it is archaic that people are expected to farm without a proper mains water supply.

I am rather confused about the agricultural development programme. I had hoped that, towards the end of the month, that programme would be announced. However, having listened to the Minister, I am not sure whether that will happen. It is absolutely essential that that programme is quickly reinstated for the farming community in the North of Ireland. I may have misunderstood the Minister; I hope that I did, because I am keen that that programme is re-established. I hope that the Minister will confirm that when he replies.

Another broad area of crucial importance is the position of the Northern Ireland farmer in relation to the non-devaluation of the green pound. As a result of our unique situation, the Northern Ireland farmer must compete with the farmer from the Republic of Ireland on an inequitable basis. The devaluation of the green pound in the Republic means that those farmers are able to outbid and outbuy the Northern Ireland farmer consistently. I know that that problem does not exist in England. However, as the hon. Member for Leicester, South has said, Ireland is one island, irrespective of the political divisions. Indeed, agriculture is an example of how things should be geared. As it stands now it makes no sense: it should be dealt with on an all-Ireland basis.

I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would not wish me to go into details about how pigs or cows often stray across the border, and the headage payments that must be met when those animals stray. One way to deal with that unique form of farm diversification would be to equalise the green pound rate so that the Northern Irish farmer is not at a disadvantage.

The rural development programme has already been studied by the European Parliament and reported on by the Maher report, and it must be given serious consideration. Until we get to grips with all the factors that affect the rural farming community in terms of infrastructure, job creation and agriculture, we will never do anything more than a piecemeal job.

My final point relates to the provisions of the new Social Security Bill. It has been rightly stated that less money will be available under the social fund than was available under special permits. I could speak for a long time about the potential effects of the Social Security Bill, but I shall home in on one issue and ask the Minister to examine it carefully.

It seems that the Bill will affect mostly those people who are not well below the required income for subsistence, but those who are borderline cases. Those who have jobs but are very poorly paid and have dependants in their homes will move from family income supplement to family credit and will lose, especially in regard to school meals.

I visited a number of schools in my constituency and talked to teachers, pupils, parents and those who work in the school kitchens. There is no question or doubt that, as a result of this legislation, many children will not get one square meal a day. There is no question whatsoever that much of the £2·55 per week allocated to school meals in the family credit system will not go towards feeding those children in the way that school meals now feed them. That will be a serious social problem that can be avoided. Because of the unique problems of the North of Ireland, we should ensure that every child at school has at least one square meal in the day. We should get to grips with that problem before it becomes as immense as I believe it will.

10.56 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. To save time tomorrow, at the outset of my speech I referred to the leader of the Democratic Unionist party as the hon. Member for South Down. May I correct that, out of deference to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), and give his correct constituency, namely the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)?

10.57 pm

Once again in speaking to this appropriation order I must object most vehemently to the way in which such orders are imposed upon the Province. From time to time, I have paid tribute to the Government for their commitment to the needs of the people. Sadly, I cannot pay any compliments on this occasion, when the Government are abrogating their responsibility to our beleaguered Health Service.

In the absence of democratic institutions within the various health hoards, the Minister simply cannot fudge the issues for which he must carry the can. He cannot run out of the kitchen to escape the heat. If he considers that the people whom he has appointed are not fulfilling their obligations, he should say so categorically and without reservation. He cannot simply say that there is no more money.

There is a strong suspicion in the Health Service that resources are not being effectively deployed and that they are being absorbed to maintain a top-heavy bureaucratic administration.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) mentioned that the Eastern health and social services board has assessed a shortfall in funds for 1988–89 of £7·6 million and the area executive team has identified options which it says need to be considered within the service.

There are widespread objections to some of these options, and where they specifically affect the elderly population and those in need of medical care I wholeheartedly endorse them. The Minister must be aware that the public have not been convinced that Health Service spending is adequate, particularly when there is a steady increase in the number of 75-year-olds, with corresponding problems that will create the greatest demand on medical and social services.

It is in that context that any proposal to reduce geriatric provision must be considered. In my constituency the Throne hospital, although an old building, has provided the most cost-effective and economic geriatric care in the Eastern board's region. Any proposal to close that hospital would be a tragic betrayal of the rights of the elderly to gain hospital care, where needed. Too often in the past the needs of our elderly population have been neglected and overridden. The Throne hospital has an occupancy in excess of 90 per cent., with over 75 per cent. of the patients requiring long-stay care.

Such patients are a heavy responsibility on the nursing service. They require considerable attention. I pay my respects to the staff of this hospital who have striven to provide such a high standard of care for their patients, as is evidenced by the active, voluntary and continuing fund-raising programme that provides furnishings, comforts and outings for these inmates.

North Belfast has a greater proportion of residents who are over 65 than anywhere else in the Province. That population will continue to increase, particularly over the next two decades, so, instead of decreasing facilities, the Department should be looking at ways of increasing them. The suggestion that private nursing homes will accommodate patients at present requiring long-term care is incorrect. It is deceitful to suggest that they could in any way cater for those people, who in my opinion should be accommodated in the Throne hospital

I trust that, in the light of what I have said, the Minister will examine very carefully any proposal regarding the Throne hospital. Then I sincerely believe that he will concur with my views in relation to one of the best and the most caring establishments for the elderly in the Province.

Another matter that I must bring to the Minister's attention concerns the Mater hospital. There is a proposal to close the casualty department from 3.30 pm every day, with the possibility of complete closure at weekends, together with the closure of gynaecology wards and a reducation in the number of surgical beds. I respectfully ask the Minister to visit this hospital, which for the last 100 years has served the people of north Belfast impartially and has delivered the highest standards of care that are available anywhere.

If these proposals are implemented, the people of north Belfast will lose an acute hospital to which they have every right. The casualty department serves north Belfast and also other areas, such as Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus, Greenisland, Antrim, Whiteabbey, Ballyclare and Glengormley. If these proposals go ahead, the people of north Belfast and those who live in a large part of the county of Antrim will lose a valuable and essential accident and emergency service. In such a case there would be no casualty service between Ballymena and the Royal or City hospitals. That would inevitably lead to the death of seriously ill patients in transit from any of these areas.

In addition, my constituency has the highest number of sectarian incidents in the Province. The Mater hospital has played more than its part in saving the lives of patients, who would almost certainly have died if they had been transferred to any other hospital. The Mater hospital also treats a large number of children. If the unit closed at 3.30 pm, these children would have to be treated at the children's hospital in the Royal complex, which is stretched to breaking point and could not possibly cope with the increased work load.

Eleven million pounds is currently being invested in a much-needed new block for the Mater hospital. This new block was intended to house a new casualty unit, a new X-ray suite and an observation ward, and to provide updated and more modern facilities to meet the health care needs of the people. I am very concerned that any dilution of services at the Mater will result in the new block becoming a vastly expensive white elephant with no acute services left to be transferred to it. Surely it would be a more financially sound proposition to ensure that acute services were retained as at present, so that completely efficient use could be made of this new facility.

The Eastern board, in a strategic plan document, recognises the need to make increased use of the resources of the Mater hospital because of this investment. It now appears to me that financial logic and the needs of the patients are being totally disregarded in a frantic effort to cut money from budgets.

I would also contend that the board would not realise the financial savings estimated to accrue from these proposals inasmuch as much greater demand would be placed on the ambulance service to transport patients to and from hospitals, thereby increasing the amount of money that would be needed to meet that demand.

Going on to the section on housing services, I take issue with the Minister on the cut-off date for repairs grant aid, which has been standing at 31 December 1956 for far too long. The Department, as the funder of the scheme, has set these rules and guidelines, and the Housing Executive cannot entertain applications for properties built after 1956. The Minister must be aware that in the period 1958–1960 we experienced some of the very poorest housebuilding. The owners of these properties are now having to live with the results of the jerry-building of those houses. It seems completely unfair that the Housing Executive can actively pursue a repair and renovation programme based on a 25-year cycle which now caters for properties built up to 1963, whereas the private tenants, most of whom purchased their houses with the encouragement of the Prime Minister, have been left out on a limb without any means of redress. I suggest to the Minister that he raise the cut-off point to an appropriate level, in the interest of justice and fair play for those who accept the responsibility and consequences of home ownership.

In conclusion, further to any proposals to cut provision for the elderly, serious consideration should also be given to the criteria for housing need in sheltered schemes provided by housing associations. The Housing Executive now operates on a basis of 35 places per 1,000, fixed by the Department and based on Scottish special criteria. But this is completely inappropriate to the Belfast situation, where we have had a drift of the younger and more mobile familes to the suburbs, which has left the population completely distorted, with a much higher proportion of elderly in need of care. Apparently it is the Government's intention to release more elderly back into the community, but if this is the case they must provide the type of accommodation needed to cater for them. There are little pockets of land all over Belfast in areas very compatible with the needs of the elderly where sheltered schemes could be built quickly and economically.

I ask the Minister to examine this acute situation sympathetically and as a matter of extreme urgency.

11.9 pm

I charge the Government with financial discrimination against Northern Ireland in the Health Service. In the recent review of public expenditure for the United Kingdom, Great Britain was given a 6·3 per cent. increase to allow for inflation for the financial year 1988–89, but Northern Ireland was granted only 5·3 per cent. That means only one thing: the Government are discriminating against the sick in Northern Ireland. I urge the Government to think again.

The Northern Ireland health boards will have less real money than last year when they made cuts. Public expenditure cuts last year and in preceding years have deeply and adversely affected the hospital and other services. That has been particularly true in my constituency.

Last summer the Minister published a regional strategic plan for health in the Province. The disparity in the provision to meet inflation in Great Britain and in Northern Ireland means that the Minister's strategic plan has been undermined. There will be less real money available this year than last year, taking inflation into account. There will be further reductions in the number of beds available in hospitals for ordinary and geriatric patients and less money available for the services provided by district nurses and home helps. Day centres, too, will be affected, although they are very useful to the people. There will be less money available for the disabled and mentally handicapped.

I represent an area of great population growth. There is also a high percentage of elderly and retired people in the area, yet North Down and the adjoining Ards area are facing massive and unacceptable cuts in hospital and social services. To save money, the Eastern health board is considering the closure of the accident and emergency facilities at Ards hospital and the transfer of patients to the Ulster hospital at Dundonald.

I do not see how the Dundonald hospital can cope with the extra patients. Last year 26,000 people were treated by the casualty unit in the Ards hospital in Newtownards. So many extra patients at the Ulster hospital, where people already have to wait long periods, would create an intolerable and unacceptable situation. It would add considerably to the misery not only of patients but of their families. At the very least nothing should be done by the Government until extra money has been made available for the Ulster hospital at Dundonald to increase facilities and medical and other staff.

The Government are thinking of saving money with cuts here, there and everywhere. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) said, they should cut out the fat in the bureaucracy. I urge the Minister, instead of cutting and saving money, to think of the cost in human terms. Regional hospitals have provided a good standard of medical and nursing care and support at Dundonald, Bangor, Newtownards and in the geriatric unit at Crawfordsburn hospital. But year by year the Government have chipped away at the hospitals in North Down and elsewhere in Northern Ireland.

There is an additional problem. The Eastern area board, which covers North Down and Ards, also takes in the city of Belfast, to the detriment of the hospital facilities in my area. For years I have advocated dividing the Eastern board and establishing a separate board for Belfast so that a proper and balanced Health Service could be provided in North Down.

It is essential in a modern society—I hope that the Minister will heed my words—to provide a decent level of health care, and sufficient resources should be made available to ensure such a service. I have been impressed by the dedication of the staff at the Bangor, Ulster and Ards hospitals, but every reduction in service means a reduction in medical staff, student nurses, ancillary staff and, of course, in all the other facilities that should be available.

In addition to social factors, which are relevant when considering the question of hospital facilities, the age of the population is highly relevant. In the Eastern health board area, those over the age of 65 account for 50 per cent. of the use of all hospital facilities. The work load has increased in the Eastern health board area with a 6 per cent. increase in admissions to general hospitals, despite a decrease of 9 per cent. in the number of beds available. The reduction in the number of beds is due to the board's cut, dictated by the Government.

The number of surgical beds has been reduced by 15 per cent., despite the 11 per cent. increase in the number of major operations. That is surely bad for those in need of medical care. Waiting lists continue to increase and that means further anxiety and suffering for many patients and their relatives. I refer particularly to the waiting lists for ophthalmic surgery which are at an all-time high, despite the efficiency of the staff.

The ophthalmic medical staff at the Royal Victoria hospital, a distinguished team led by Professor Archer, stated in a submission to the Eastern health board:
"The past two decades have seen a progressive decline in the funding of the ophthalmic specialty in the Eastern Area Board both relative to similar ophthalmic specialties elsewhere in the United Kingdom and other surgical specialties in Northern Ireland … centralisation of the speciality at the Royal Victoria Hospital site has resulted in a net loss of 4 operating sessions and the reduction of ophthalmic beds far below any norm for ophthalmic inpatient accommodation in the United Kingdom."
The staff stated that the minimum required to provide a basic ophthalmological service for the area is the provision of a third operating theatre and the necessary running costs, an immediate increase in the ophthalmic bed complement, the appointment of two consultant ophthalmic surgeons, the improvement of out-patient facilities and nursing services to take care of the current patient load and allow some development of day surgery, and the funding of the outstanding ophthalmic equipment list, amounting to about £250,000.

I hope that the submission made by the ophthalmic unit at the Royal Victoria hospital will be studied carefully by the Minister. I do not expect him to answer tonight, but I should like, in due course, to hear from him that he is prepared to respond positively to the proposals of Professor Archer and his team.

The threatened closure of Crawfordsburn hospital, which deals with geriatrics, continues to cause anxiety to the staff, the residents and their relatives. I have been told that approaches have been made to a private nursing home in Donaghadee to take 40 residents from Crawfordsburn.

I should like to know whether there is any truth in that rumour. What will happen to the residents who wish to remain in the Crawfordsburn area so that they can be close to their relatives?

I do not understand how vitally needed money is denied to hospitals, which could provide essential services, yet money is made available by the Local Enterprise Development Unit to establish some private residential homes, while it is not given to others. I should like to know from the Minister how much taxpayers' money has been spent in setting up such residential homes, which are companies for private profit. Presumably, money is provided only to establish industries where no similar industry exists, but Northern Ireland has a plethora of private nursing homes. Therefore, I should like to know how much taxpayers' money has been spent setting up those homes, and how much money will go back to the taxpayer or at least be made available to the hospitals.

I conclude by making a personal appeal to the Minister. I urge him to provide more money for hospital services in the North Down area. I urge him to come with me to meet the surgeons in those hospitals and the consultants, doctors, housemen, nurses and ancillary staff who work together to provide what I believe is the most efficient hospital service in the whole of the United Kingdom. I ask him to come and meet them because if he listens to them and sees their patients and the patient care and studies the record of their work, I am sure that he will come to only one conclusion and will provide more money for a service that is vitally needed in my constituency.

11.21 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Richard Needham)

I shall, of course, respond to the points that have been made by hon. Members as fully as I am capable, but if, by any chance, I miss one jot or tittle of a comment that has been made, I shall study Hansard most carefully and write in full.

I begin by welcoming the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) to our debates on appropriation orders, which are usually rather more colourful affairs than we have been able to have tonight, as the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) removed himself and his colleagues from the Chamber. Further, the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) is not here. Therefore, what is usually a fairly thick Irish stew has turned into rather thin gruel. I mean that with no disrespect to the hon. Members who have contributed. However, it means that perhaps we shall get through the feast rather quicker than we usually do.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Leicester, South will considerably broaden his experience and understanding of Northern Ireland affairs when he has been through a series of these debates. I am grateful to him for the fact that he has no intention of seeking to divide the House this evening, and supports—or rather does not oppose—the Government's expenditure plans. However, the fact of the matter is, as he well knows—as do most hon. Members — that about 70 per cent. of the GDP of Northern Ireland is generated through public expenditure. Even for the wettest of the wets, that figure must cause some alarm in terms of the requirement to improve private sector income generation, wealth creation and so on. If the hon. Gentleman is not aware of it, it may interest him, and the House, to know that public expenditure per head in Northern Ireland is 40 per cent. higher than the figure for the rest of the United Kingdom. We must consider public expenditure as a whole in the light of those large sums of money. I shall deal in a moment with the points made by the hon. Members for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) and for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) as to whether it is realistic to suppose that at the present time this Government, or any other, could increase the amount of public expenditure in the Province.

I cannot agree altogether with some of the comments by the hon. Member for Leicester, South because, having accepted, it seemed to me, the basis of the Government's position, he then went on to make calls for substantial additional funding. Nor can I altogether agree with some of the comments that he made about the future of some of the industries. He is quite right to say that some of the basic industries of Northern Ireland face difficult times, but I am not prepared to accept, for example, that textiles, clothing or linen are industries which are not doing extremely well in Northern Ireland at the moment, that they have not got a fine record and that they are not likely to improve on that record in future.

I hope that the hon. Member will, on reflection, reconsider that point, because I am sure that he would not want his words to give the impression that those industries are not doing well and will not continue to do well. They have a very fine record and make some very fine products.

I am sure that the Minister does not wish to take my remarks out of the context in which I made them and that, on reflection, he will accept that the industries to which I referred employed in the past substantially more people than they do now. The point that I sought to make was that the industries which employed substantial numbers of people in the past are no longer capable of sustaining those levels of employment.

I accept that point, but there are many industries which employ substantially fewer people than in the past and which now have very much higher levels of output, productivity and wealth creation. If the hon. Member looks at industries making linen, clothing and textiles such as Desmonds, for example, he will see enormously successful companies. I hope that this success will continue.

Agriculture faces difficult times, not only in Northern Ireland but in the rest of Europe too. The Government understand and accept the problems of agriculture in Northern Ireland, and spend approximately four times more money in agricultural support there than they do elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member asked me about Harland and Wolff. I have nothing further to add to the answers given to questions by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State last week. The future of the yard must depend on the ability of the management to win orders within the European Community sixth directive on shipbuilding. That cannot be the Government's responsibility; it must be the responsibility of the management.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South went on to ask me about Northern Ireland Electricity, and the decision on whether or not to proceed with phase two of the Kilroot conversion. As he is well aware, no new generating capacity is expected to be required in Northern Ireland until the mid-1990s. The Government will, of course, consider and evaluate the options, including phase two of Kilroot, before coming to a decision on what would be the most appropriate additional generating capacity at that time.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South also questioned the amount of support being given in the housing budget in Northern Ireland. He commented on the number of houses that are unfit and in need of repair. While I accept that the figures are not as good as any of us would like, they have improved dramatically in the past seven or eight years, with unfitness coming down from 14 per cent. I am certain that when the new figures come out from the household survey they will be lower than that. The Government accept that there is a major requirement to continue the housebuilding programme in the public sector at higher levels than elsewhere in the country; and this year the amount that will be spent on public housebuilding in Northern Ireland, in capital expenditure, will be double the amount spent in England. The public expenditure contribution is £338 million, with a gross expenditure of £552 million.

The Government are determined to move from public expenditure, where it has fulfilled the needs, to more private expenditure in joint ventures with the private sector. More will be done with housing associations—a point made by the hon. Member for Belfast, North — which is a crucial area of joint partnership. We are spending much more with the private sector on urban regeneration. The sum of £21 million will be spent in Belfast in the forthcoming year. Castle Court is a major new scheme costing £60 million, £50 million of which will come from the private sector, and £10 million from the Government, to rebuild and regenerate the heart of Belfast.

The Laganside proposal will cost £240 million spread over 10 years, £210 million of which will come from the private sector and £30 million from the public sector. The Government will provide the infrastructure for the scheme to go ahead. We have announced in our forward rolling programme plans for new bridges across the Lagan — road and rail bridges, which will cost £60 million.

In Londonderry the William street and Spencer road development will be funded totally by the private sector — a scheme worth some £11 million. Throughout the Province we want to build on the success of regenerating the private sector — industrially, commercially and in retailing.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South referred to the problems facing the construction industry because of the reduction of Government money. The hon. Member must look at the whole construction industry and take in what is happening in the private sector. The industry figures in the third quarter of this year were up by 22 per cent. when compared with last year. Many major public and private construction projects are coming forward in the programme over the next few years. The redevelopment of Great Victoria street, which is crucial to Belfast, involves spending £3·5 million for the provision of a new multi-storey car park and a new bus station, which, together with retailing and commercial aspects, will cost a total of £10 million.

We are not forgetting the need to provide adequate funding in the public sector. The hon. Member mentioned Divis. I am sure he is aware that we have come forward with the proposal to have Divis knocked down, as well as Unity and Rossville flats. It is not only a question of finding the finance; it is a question of priorities and time and finding the space and a place for those people to go to, particularly in west Belfast, where housing space is not easy to find. So those things must be phased in.

We must proceed as fast as we can, within the constraints of the budget and while ensuring that adequate land is available, not only for construction but for the future of west Belfast; land that can be used for industrial and commercial development.

Does the Minister accept that if the proposals put forward by the Divis residents' association and their planners were accepted, which could form the basis of a planned redevelopment, many of the people who remain in Divis would be able to live on the existing site in the new homes?

Many of the people would, but not all of them. We already have a large waiting list. It is not possible to redeploy all the people at the moment and put them into the areas to which they want to go. The balance must be struck between the facilities available and funding in the budget.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South next spoke about education provision and drew particular attention to the backlog of school repairs. He will appreciate that the position has been fully recognised in recent expenditure allocations. An additional £1·5 million has been made available this year for additional minor works and maintenance on schools, and 24 major new school projects have been released at an overall cost of £21 million. The House will accept that this is a clear indication of the priority that the Government accord to education.

While the hon. Member for Leicester, South spoke of reductions in provision for some recreation and community services, he will appreciate, having accepted the overall thrust of the Government's policies, that this has not been an easy year from the point of view of the public expenditure survey in Northern Ireland. We have had to make difficult decisions between the various blocks—to which I will come—in relation to health. The law and order block and the employment and industry block have taken a greater share than we had anticipated, and this has meant our being unable to do all that we would have done in more normal times.

The hon. Member for Belfast, North spoke about post-1956 dwellings constructed in his constituency not qualifying for renovation grant aid. I have written to the hon. Gentleman recently, along with the Housing Executive, pointing out that the latter is carrying out an investigation into the defects in those houses and the possibility of presenting proposals to my Department for some form of assistance to the owners. We shall examine this matter thoroughly and treat it as sympathetically as possible. The renovation grant scheme will be revised in the light of the Government's home improvement proposals for England and Wales which were published in the form of a White Paper in September 1987. These issues will be taken into account in determining the future policy and legislation affecting Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), who is no longer in his place, raised issues about roads that he has raised with me on a number of occasions. I will try as soon as possible to visit the sites with him. I can think of nothing more pleasant than spending a day travelling around the south Armagh border with the hon. Gentleman examining the problems of the roads, even though it is not a subject which is looked at overall in a tremendously sympathetic way by the RUC. Nevertheless, I accept—in the hon. Gentleman's absence—that it is important to visit the area and see for oneself.

The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh has also been in constant correspondence with me over the water problems of the Granemore area. I am examining ways of trying to assist, for example, by seeing whether there are EC grants which could bring mains water to the farms about which he spoke. They are not that far from mains water, and I was wondering whether a digger and some plastic pipes might be one way of solving the problem. I appreciate the problems that the present situation causes small farmers, and if anything can be done, I will examine it.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to peripatetic pigs. We accept the need to try to find a way, within the EC, of getting rid of the differentials of the green pound and abolishing the differing green rates and the MCA system. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is fully aware of the strong feelings on this subject and I am sure that he will take it up in Brussels. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is agreement in the EC that these differing green rates should disappear. Although I cannot give him a date, I can tell him that the special aid provisions will be announced shortly. They remain at £7·5 million, which is a significant additional resource for Northern Ireland agriculture.

I turn now to the major issue that has worried and bothered hon. Members tonight—the Health Service. I say to the hon. Members for North Down and for Belfast, North that I take no pleasure in the fact that the health budget has been increased this year by only 5·2 per cent. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for North Down is engaged in conversation with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne—when he has finished, perhaps he will give me his attention.

If there was any way of increasing funds for the Health Service, I should be the first to want to do so. However, I must point out that we spend 23 per cent. more per person in Northern Ireland than the rest of England and Wales. Opposition Members constantly demand that the percentage of GNP spent in the United Kingdom should be upgraded to something like the equivalent of what is spent in France and Germany. The United Kingdom spends about 6·5 per cent. of GNP on health; France and Germany spend about 9 per cent. But the figure for spending on health care in Northern Ireland is 12·5 per cent. I do not deny that such spending is necessary and important. But when the hon. Member for Belfast, North asks for more, I must ask him where it will come from. It will have to come from some other block of the Northern Ireland budget; it cannot come from the national Exchequer. The hon. Member for Leicester, South and his hon. Friends, by deciding not to divide the House, have shown that they do not completely disagree with the amount of public spending on Northern Ireland.

This year's budget has not been as much as I had hoped it would be because of the additional money spent on law and order. Some Conservative Members, and even some Opposition Members, may think that when taxpayers' funds are spent, as they are on the Health Service, it is not wholly unreasonable that all taxpayers should at least support such spending. Some hon. Members who have not been paying all their taxes in Northern Ireland have, through their failure to pay road taxes, rates and television licences, rather put themselves out of court in this argument. Their actions do not give a good lead to the rest of the population. They also cost a lot of money because of police time, court time and prison officers' time involved. The hon. Member for Belfast, North came back — according to the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh—with a suntan from where he was last week. I hardly believe that, but it cost £120 a day. That £120 a day could, conceivably, have been better spent on the Health Service than on the hon. Gentleman's suntan—

I was not incarcerated with the rest of my hon. Friends last week. Will the Minister accept from me that the people of north Belfast who are interested in the under-provision for the Health Service have, in their opinion, no responsibility for law and order or security work? Is he saying, specifically and categorically, that none of the £100 million that is being discussed for the United Kingdom will be considered for the Northern Ireland budget?

I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman was not incarcerated with his colleagues. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there are rules of parity. Additional money that is made available on this side of the water is made available on the other side.

My argument with the hon. Member for Belfast, North concerned the 5·2 per cent. increase in health provision in Northern Ireland—the hon. Member for North Down also raised this matter—compared with the 6·3 per cent. for the rest of the country. The reason for that is that more has had to be spent on the law and order budget. Everybody in Northern Ireland must accept some responsibility for that. It is difficult for me, as the Health Minister for Northern Ireland, to see how that matter is helped by hon. Members showing their deep opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement by refusing to pay their road tax. I fail to see the connection, as, I suspect, do most people in Northern Ireland.

I say to the hon. Members for Belfast, North and North Down that the vast majority of options being put forward by the Eastern health board are for rationalisation projects that it was considering in any event within its area strategic plan. The hon. Member for Belfast, North knows very well that three legs of our plan are preventive medicine, community care and rationalisation of acute services. As to the proposals for the Throne hospital, I endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said and I pay a warm tribute to the work that has been done there. However, as the hon. Gentleman said, it is an old building and it must make sense for the patients to be properly rehoused in better accommodation, as is envisaged by the health board. I should add that we are not talking about moving them into private nursing homes.

With regard to the accident and emergency service, we have put substantial new investment into the hospital. If proposals from the Eastern board will not make proper use of that investment, I shall have to look carefully at them. The same would apply to proposals in Down, Lagan Valley or anywhere else.

I must return to the other point that the hon. Members for Belfast, North and North Down raised. The proposals that we are bringing forward are within the strategic plan. It may be we shall have to do some things faster than others. I should like to do things that we must do slower faster and those that we must do faster slower. Nevertheless, that is the position in which we find ourselves within the block. I cannot at present foresee any likelihood of finding a large amount of additional funds.

The increase in the Northern Ireland block grant of 4·5 per cent., which is 1 per cent. or more above the rate of inflation, is commendable. I am delighted that the Opposition are not opposing that increase, and I believe that the funds that we have made available will benefit the people of Northern Ireland and will continue to give a high level of services to them.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 10th February, he approved.