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Appropriation (Northern Ireland)

Volume 163: debated on Monday 4 December 1989

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

10.14 pm

I beg to move,

That the draft Appropriation (No. 4) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 14th November, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.
On this occasion, the House is being asked to approve a Supplementary Estimate to cover additional funds for two particular votes—the Department of Economic Development vote 2 and the Department of Health and Social Services vote 4. The Department of Economic Development's vote 2 includes expenditure on local enterprise and assistance to the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, while the Department of Health and Social Services vote covers expenditure on those social security benefits which are not dependent on national insurance contributions—contributory benefits are not covered by this order. The draft order is seeking in total an additional £95·7 million over those two votes. The Estimates booklet giving full details of the additional expenditure is, as usual, available from the Vote Office.

The Supplementary Estimate for the Department of Economic Development, on which an increase of £61·3 million to the 1989–90 provision is sought, taking the total expenditure on the vote in question to some £434 million, covers expenditure on local enterprise initiatives, assistance to the aircraft and shipbuilding industries, grants to small and medium-sized firms, capital grants, industrially related research and development and the development of tourism. However, only two of those areas —local enterprise and assistance to the aircraft and shipbuilding industries—require extra funds.

The most significant increase is the £58 million required to meet further costs associated with Short Brothers plc up to 3 October 1989. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who was responsible for this matter at the time, introduced the draft Appropriation (No 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 on 20 July 1989. He referred then to the requirement for the Government to fund the losses incurred by Shorts from 1 April 1989 until the completion of the sale to Bombardier on 3 October. The Department of Economic Development has also retained the financial liabilities and obligations associated with aircraft sold in the past by Shorts, and funding is also required to cover those costs within this financial year. Those costs could not be determined in time for the July draft order, and consequently provision is being taken now, following the completion of the sale.

Hon. Members will also be aware that the privatisation of the shipbuilding business of Harland and Wolff was completed in September. Under the arrangements for the sale, the new company, Harland and Wolff Holdings plc, will receive from Government repayable loan stock, rationalisation grants and intervention aid on new merchant orders. The old company, Harland and Wolff plc, will no longer trade but will continue to be responsible for certain pre-sale commitments, including redundancies and ship-financing arrangements.

There is, in consequence, a reduction of £45·9 million in the amount of funding required for Harland and Wolff plc, the old company, but extra funding of £79·9 million is needed for the new company, Harland and Wolff Holdings plc. In addition, an increase of £741,000 is needed to cover costs incurred by the Department of Economic Development on the privatisation. The Estimate now before the House accordingly provides for an increase of £34 million, to just under £94 million, for assistance to shipbuilding during 1989–90. This will be offset by appropriations in aid of £28·5 million, representing the payment for the assets and business by Harland and Wolff Holdings and the repayment of grants by the old company.

It may be necessary to draw advances from the Northern Ireland Civil Contingencies Fund before this order is approved in the Privy Council. If so, these advances would be repaid to the Contingencies Fund under this Supplementary Estimate, in the usual way.

I hope that the House will acknowledge that the successful privatisation of Shorts and Harland and Wolff was a notable achievement. We fully recognise the importance of those two companies to the economy of Northern Ireland, and we are convinced that their return to the private sector affords them the best opportunity of commercial success. The capital restructuring required, and the packages of assistance offered to the new owners, involve a cost to Government, but we were determined that the two companies should be returned to the private sector adequately financed to promote their future success. I believe that the Government's financial contribution in each case is adequate and appropriate to meet our objectives, and that Harland and Wolff and Shorts will flourish in the private sector.

The other area for which additional funding is required under this head is the Local Enterprise Development Unit, LEDU, Northern Ireland's small business agency. An increase of £365,000, partly offset by savings of £265,000 from economies elsewhere in LEDU's budget, is required to enable it to continue its work of encouraging the development of small businesses in Northern Ireland. The additional funding is mainly required to enhance LEDU's involvement in the special initiatives for Belfast and Londonderry.

Finally, in this vote there is a reduced requirement of £3 million on capital grants. This results from a continuing decline in the number of firms seeking assistance under the capital investment grants for industrial development scheme. As some hon. Members will be aware, the scheme has been abolished but applications for grants for expenditure up to 3 March 1988—when it stopped—can continue to be made up to 31 March 1990. The scheme was always quite separate from industrial development boards and LEDU's selective industrial grants which are the main instrument of industrial support in the Province, and will continue.

The other vote involved in the order is for the Department of Health and Social Services, where an increase of £34·4 million is sought for the social security programme. Hon. Members will appreciate that expenditure under these heads is very largely demand-led, and that it is fairly routine for the estimates to be adjusted during the year.

The largest element of the increase sought—£33·1 million—is for income support, due mainly to average payments to claimants being higher than originally provided for. Similarly, higher average payments account for the increases of £1·4 million for housing benefit—mostly for rent rebates. Additional provision of £3·6 million for attendance allowances and £1·7 million for child benefit is sought because of increases in the numbers of claimants.

Two new subheads have been included in the vote. The provision of £200,000 sought at section F in the vote will enable the Department to extend transitional compensation to hostels for loss of revenue resulting from the changes in the rules governing income support payments to claimants in such accommodation. In section G, the other new subhead, provision is sought for £10,000 for residual payments to claimants in line with adjustments to the retail price index.

The additional requirements that I have outlined are partly offset by estimating adjustments of £5—9 million elsewhere in the vote, and £5—6 million of this relates to family credit, where the uptake is lower than originally anticipated despite a strong and ongoing publicity campaign to encourage applications. The remaining £300,000 is due to a revised estimate of requirements for rates rebates reflecting lower than anticipated take-up.

I have been brief in outlining the order so that hon. Members will have time to contribute to the debate. I shall do my best to respond to any points raised by hon. Members. I commend the order to the House.

10.25 pm

I note that there are substantially more hon. Members here for the debate than is the custom on such occasions. I notice a cluster of hon. Members behind the Minister and I am tempted to believe that that may be because of factors other than the order that is before us. If I am proved wrong, I hope that Conservative Members will maintain their interest in Irish affairs throughout the remainder of the Session. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) is here because he always likes to hear what I say to ensure that it is in line with his views and those of the parliamentary Labour party.

The Minister has taken us clearly through the details of the order and we are all delighted that he has managed to do it so concisely. I hope to follow his example. He rightly told us that the order is in two parts. Vote 2 continues the Government's commitment to the privatisation of Harland and Wolff and Shorts. Vote 4 deals with various changes in social security.

The order is quite narrow but fortunately for the House the two votes which have been chosen allow a brief discussion on economic trends in the Province and on the consequences of the Government's recent social security changes.

Hon. Members will notice that such debates are becoming somewhat ritualistic. The Minister stands up and expeditiously takes us through the details of the order and usually, though not on this occasion, pats himself and the Government on the head for increasing public expenditure and achieving an economic miracle in the Province. I am sure that that was not a deliberate omission by the Minister and that it will be rectified when he winds up the debate. The ritual then continues and I congratulate the Minister, but everything is not as it would seem from the Minister's remarks. It is always my duty on such occasions to introduce a note of realism and caution, and it will come as no surprise to the House that that is my role today.

Repeatedly we hear from the Northern Ireland Office that the Province's economy has been transformed and that Northern Ireland faces a viable future led by the flagship of privatisation. That view is wildly optimistic and flies in the face of all the available evidence. I should like to cite three examples of the danger facing the economy in the Province. The Minister will be aware that the Economic Council recently published its report for the year to 31 August 1989. It said:
"Despite significant improvements in the Northern Ireland economy over the past year, these are primarily a reflection of unusually rapid growth in the United Kingdom economy as a whole and do not suggest a fundamental change in the performance of the local economy."
It concludes by saying:
"It will be difficult for the Province's economy to build upon the gains made over the past year."
The second example comes from a recent survey of the construction industry for the third quarter of 1989—that is, July to September. It was carried out by the Federation of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors. If anything, it was even more pessimistic. Its report shows clearly that output and activity are falling and that the number of firms reporting less work has increased by 21 per cent. to 44 per cent. In other words, nearly 50 per cent. of construction companies in the Province are reporting less work than they had earlier in the year. It also shows that the number of firms expecting to operate at less than 50 per cent. capacity has increased by 6 per cent. to 16 per cent. of the total number of building firms in the Province.

The third example is a study of manufacturing performance which is reported in volume 23·5 of the 1989 regional studies document. It shows that the low average productivity level in Northern Ireland is persisting and shows little sign of increasing. It is still hovering around 80 per cent. of that in Britain.

Those three example show beyond a shadow of doubt that, despite the Government's claims to the contrary, there has been no economic miracle in the Province. If we are to maintain the slight improvement that has been achieved in the past five years, there is still a need for indicative planning in the north of Ireland and for continued public expenditure on economics as well as on social matters.

The Minister mentioned both Harland and Wolff and Shorts. I am a little concerned about Harland and Wolff. I know that the Minister has the excuse of saying that he is not responsible for the future of the company now that it has been privatised. We warned against that situation prior to privatisation. Nevertheless, I hope that he will attempt to answer the questions that I put to him.

The Minister will know as well as anyone that currently there is only one ship in the yard and that all steel work on that ship has been completed. The three ships ordered by Fred Olsen have still not come on line. I am informed that the steel for those ships is not readily available. I am not aware of all the reasons for that. I understand that there is some problem with the ordering of it. If those three ships do not come on line quickly, there is a strong possibility that up to 500 steel workers could be laid off by the end of this year. If there is a problem, I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what it is and the likelihood of resolving it before the end of 1989.

Although the Minister is new to the Northern Ireland Office, he will be aware that under the old management there were regular meetings between the management board and the work force and its representatives. I should have hoped that that would continue after privatisation. However, my understanding is that Harland and Wolff has now restructured itself into five operating units, and the holding company is insisting that discussions and negotiations should be with the five operating units and not with the holding company board. I hope that the Minister will agree that that is not the best situation for developing good relationships between the new company and the work force and its representatives. I hope that if the Minister continues to have influence with Harland and Wolff he will urge the management and the new holding company to have direct discussions about all the issues which will affect the new company and thus its work force and its future. I hope that the Minister will provide answers to those two specific questions.

My party condemns the two bomb outrages at Shorts some days ago. Despite the differences that we have had with the Government about the privatisation of Shorts, in no circumstances are we prepared to accept bomb attacks on Shorts, which will further undermine the weak economic base in the north of Ireland. All parties are united in their determination to ensure that, despite terrorist attacks and atrocities, prosperity will come to the north of Ireland and all communities—the majority and the minority—will be free from threats of terrorism, from whatever quarter, and will be able to achieve full economic wellbeing. Beyond any shadow of doubt, we condemn those attacks on Shorts.

I say that also because Shorts represents a toehold for the Province in the high technology industries which will provide the wealth of the future. It would be to the lasting shame of each and every one of us if that toehold were lost as a result of terrorist activity. It is ironic that the Provisional IRA should pick on Shorts. The new owner of Shorts, Bombardier, is as firmly committed to fair employment opportunities in the Province as are all of us who supported the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1989. I am sure that Bombardier, and through it Shorts, will actively implement the provisions of that legislation.

The Minister will think that 1 am being churlish and uncharitable about the increases that he has announced in social security payments. If he thinks that, so be it, but my role is to point out the financial hardship that many people in the Province are facing. If the Minister reads back copies of Hansard in the relatively small amount of spare time that he may get, he will see that in previous debates on appropriation orders I have repeatedly warned that the Government's changes in the social security system would increase financial hardship and indebtedness in the Province. It gives me no pleasure to say, "I told you so", but that situation has come about.

The Minister is probably aware of a recent survey conducted by the Andersonstown citizens advice bureau which shows that indebtedness per person in west Belfast is approximately £1,814 compared with a national figure of £350. That is a colossal amount of debt per individual. To my mind, and I think to all fair-minded people, it is a sign of the financial hardship that many people in the Province experience. They are unable to make ends meet with social security payments, and they are unable to get money from the social fund, so they are driven to increased indebtedness, many of them into the shadier side of loans. I urge Ministers to press their colleagues to change the system, not back to what it was before, but to something that offers universal benefits and assistance to people in need.

The Minister will also be aware that electricity disconnections have increased by almost 30 per cent. in and around Belfast. That also shows the extent of financial hardship in the Province. The order will do little or nothing significant to improve economic or social conditions for the least well off in the Province. For that reason, if for no other, it is to be regretted.

10.41 pm

It is right that we should voice our concern about the economy and the social services of Northern Ireland. My first remark must be that, once again, we protest at the way in which Northern Ireland business comes before the House. We protest that, at this hour, we have to deal with matters that are relevant to the basic needs of the whole community of Northern Ireland. How different it would be if we were discussing legislation or administration matters for any other part of the United Kingdom.

It is only right that, as we come once again to appropriations, we, as representatives from Northern Ireland, voice our indignation that the rulers of the House have not given us long since what is ours by right—the right to deal with legislation like any other part of the United Kingdom.

Seeing your unease, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not pursue that topic further, but I thank you for your condescension in giving me the liberty to make my protest I trust that Ministers will take heed of what I have said, and that right hon. and hon. Members on the other side of the Chamber will support me.

I think that I discerned a tinge of jealousy when the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) rose to speak because nobody was behind him, but I noticed that, after the first part of the Minister's speech, his companions fled because there was no more image of them to be seen in the debate. I am not fond of images, so that will not affect the type of speech that I shall make.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South was right to call attention to our deep anxiety about the Northern Ireland economy. We are not convinced that the coming days will witness any significant change in the economy. I do not want to be pessimistic. I want to be optimistic because Northern Ireland representatives have the most to lose. It is our business to see that Northern Ireland prospers, that the economy is in good shape and that the prospects will help all sections of our community. It does not help us in the least to draw attention to worries, but it is our duty and we must do it as ably as we can.

The Minister mentioned the Local Enterprise Development Unit. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on what it is enabled to do. Most Northern Ireland Members would say that on the whole it has done a reasonably good job. I trust that it will be able to continue to do so. But some of us are concerned about its present policies. I was naive enough to think that LEDU was involved in supporting all small industries that could give employment and seemed to be viable; indeed, that it was to help those that have been giving employment and need further aid to extend their business. According to LEDU, that is no longer the proposition.

When we assist applicants to make their case we are told that LEDU is not tied to such guidelines and that certain small businesses cannot obtain grants under any circumstances. I am thinking of local newspapers. I do not understand why a newspaper that is putting out the news in a community and providing employment cannot be supported. It is beyond my comprehension. I know of a newspaper in Banbridge in County Down that in the past days has had to pay off about 16 employees. It is amazing and alarming that LEDU says that it cannot support that newspaper. I cannot understand why community newspapers that are circulated freely in particular areas and paid for by advertisements cannot be assisted. I trust that the Minister will shed some light on this matter and tell us what LEDU's guidelines are and what we are voting money for. Is it for certain businesses only or for all sections of the community that are endeavouring to provide employment?

I trust that when I leave the House tonight I shall understand what the Minister understands the money for LEDU is for. I do not want to go into the details of further cases because I intend to meet the directors of LEDU once again to put these cases. I think that it needs to be highlighted in the debate.

I shall leave it to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) to deal with Shorts and Harland and Wolff, which are in his constituency. I shall leave it to him also to deal with the matters which were raised by the hon. Member for Leicester, South from the Opposition Front Bench.

There is a great need for respite facilities for the families of the profoundly handicapped. I am sure that their position will strike a note of sympathy and support with all hon. Members. It is a great affliction when one member of a family, or two members, are profoundly handicapped. As a minister of a congregation for over 40 years, I have some pastoral experience of the effect of that on a family. One sees manifested immediately the care, the love and the compassion of both parents and the other members of the family for the disabled person. In many instances, the entire family revolves round the one person, or two persons, who needs, or need, careful care and attention.

That brings a strain on family life. It brings a strain for father and mother and for mother and the other members of the family, but these parents do not want to be rid of their handicapped children. To suggest otherwise is a slander on their compassion. They want to be able to care for and have the child for as long as possible, but they need respite facilities.

I know that the Minister will tell us that there is fostering, that fostering is good and that there are those who are dedicated to it. We all remember the terrible calamity when the British Midlands Airways plane crashed. One of the victims was a foster parent of profoundly handicapped children. Her loss was one of the greatest losses experienced. Parents were able to call upon that lady at a time of tension, and she was always willing to give them the benefit of the care that their children needed. The parents said that her death was a calamity for her own family and a calamity for the entire community in which she lived.

I do not want the Minister to say that fostering should not be spoken against because I am not doing that. However, a foster parent cannot always be called in a moment of intense need and pressure, because that person has commitments like everyone else. Sometimes there is a crucial moment when help must be given, and if it is not available the result can be the breakdown of the family. There can be a colossal effect on the entire family.

I accept that helpers can be sent into the home. It is not always the best help, but it provides some relief for the parents. I am sure that the Minister will be aware that on the western side of the Bann, the Stradreagh part of the Gransha hospital, in Londonderry, is used to give respite to parents by caring for profoundly handicapped children. The Minister will know of the very successful pilot scheme that operated last summer at Harberton house in Londonderry. A unit was set up in which four children could be placed under supervision for a week or a fortnight, allowing complete respite to their hard-pressed parents—especially the mothers. It was, however, only a pilot scheme. Such units are needed throughout Ulster, across all the various board areas: I am not speaking only for the area east of the Bann. That would enable us to launch a three-pronged attack on the problem, adding the units' work to the help provided through fostering and assistance in the home.

The advantage of such a unit is that its existence is evident to parents, who, whatever the circumstances, can arrange for their children to be taken in at times of crisis, thus removing pressure from themselves.

I am told that it would cost £90,000 a year to set up a unit serving approximately 30 to 40 children. That is not much in terms of the Government's budget. I understand that the Government's policy is that the old and infirm should not be isolated, but should be related to the community so that the community can make every effort to help them. I am asking for the same kind of community care to be provided for those profoundly handicapped children.

The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that it is in his power to designate allowances granted to the various boards. I ask him now to designate certain sums for such care, and for respite for parents. I want boards to be told that they cannot use the money for any other purpose. I make that plea on behalf of children who cannot speak.

A dear mother who came to my church had two handicapped children, one aged five, the other three. One took a virus and died; five days later, the other took the same virus and died as well. I had always known what was in a mother's heart for such children, but now I saw that mother place on the shrine of her little boy a note that read, "I know you could never see me or understand, but I did love you." She went to the grave with a little parcel, saying, "This was his Christmas gift: bury it with him."

That illustrates how mothers feel about their handicapped children. I may be termed emotional, but I do not mind; this is an emotional subject. If the Minister were to designate sums as I have asked, I believe that he would bring honour on himself and the Government. People would know that he was a man of feeling, and that he felt for those who really need help.

I am worried about the proposed cuts in the home help services. They should be extended rather than diminished. Northern Ireland has a large number of elderly people who need help.

I am concerned about the privatisation of the health and social services. I fear that it will lead to a grave reduction in the standard of service.

Pensioners need realistic pensions. They should also be able to travel free of charge on public transport. Free television should be offered to those pensioners who still live in their own homes. If they live in sheltered accommodation where there is a warden, they pay practically nothing for their television. Pensioners who still live in their own homes should not therefore have to bear the burden of a large television licence fee.

Order. I appeal for brief speeches in a brief debate.

11 pm

I join the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in condemning in the strongest possible terms this unacceptable and undemocratic system of bulldozing Northern Ireland matters through the House without meaningful debate or powers of amendment.

My leader, the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), succinctly and clearly expressed the views of our party in a debate on the Queen's Speech. He said:
"only minor amending legislation would be required to sweep away the monstrous colonial rule Order in Council procedure which was introduced as a temporary device when Stormont was abolished in 1972. Its perpetuation for 17 long years constitutes a standing reproach to this Mother of Parliaments and arguments for its retention have lost any validity that they ever had. If the Poles and East Germans are entitled to parliamentary democracy, there can be no justification for denying it to the parliamentary representatives of a part of the United Kingdom."—[Official Report, 21 November 1989; Vol. 162, c. 53.]
I am sure that everyone in Northern Ireland who wishes some degree of democracy to be restored to the Province agrees with those sentiments. Their implementation could be a first step in the slow process of building meaningful relationships between the communities. I hope that the Government will see the sense of redressing that imbalance. Perhaps the next appropriation order will benefit from the application of the same parliamentary structures as apply to the rest of the United Kingdom. We cannot amend the order, but at least we can make our views known, in the hope that action will be taken later.

As for vote 2, needless to say the Northern Ireland community is incensed by the terrorist outrages carried out by the IRA against our aircraft industry. Those barbaric acts are obviously designed specifically to cause suspicion and dissension among the work force. I hope that there will be no lack of Government resolve to take whatever action is necessary, for the benefit of all, to protect one of our largest employers from the murderous attacks of those whose goal is to promote anarchy and disruption through their evil intention to undermine the efforts of those who wish the Province to prosper.

I refer also in the same vote to the excellent efforts by our tourist board to promote the Province. The tourism awards, sponsored by British Airways, are highly commendable and go a long way towards enhancing Northern Ireland's image by making it a more attractive proposition to the outside world. It is important to realise that tourism can flourish only in a settled community. It is gratifying to know that the industry transcends all boundaries and religions, which is generally recognised as the reason for its richly deserved success. In this connection, it is imperative that the world should be aware that the fight against terrorism will be the Government's first priority and that there will be no ambiguity in this commitment.

One of the greatest tourist attractions in the Belfast area, of which the citizens in the north and west of the city are justly proud, is Cave hill, which is a landmark for travellers, whether they enter Belfast via Aldergrove or from the Belfast lough. Cave hill, with its beautiful wooded slopes, is appreciated by nature lovers and conservationists alike. The Belfast zoo is also situated on the hill, and there are plans afoot for a development of a further 700 acres on behalf of the citizens by Belfast city council.

The proposal to grant a prospecting licence for exploration of the hill was, understandably, received with great trepidation and anger and prompted bitter reaction from all strands of political opinion. The public and their representatives were unanimous in their condemnation of such a proposal and, following meetings with the Minister, I understand that they have been assured that, irrespective of the outcome of the test drilling exploration, mining is definitely out of the question. Although I accept the Minister's word that there will be no desecration of this wonderful tourist asset, I am naturally concerned that permission was given to allow test drilling when subsequent mining was not to be considered.

Further to vote 4, I pay sincere tribute to the work of the Northern Ireland hospice, which caters for the terminally ill in the Province—a function which could not possibly be matched by the general health service. Only those who have witnessed the traumas affecting the terminally ill can really appreciate what the dedicated and caring staff in this hospice can do for such unfortunate people in making their lives more bearable in their final days on earth. I am worried that, although promises have been made by the Government that help is on the way, such help has not yet been translated into hard cash. We need a commitment now from the Government that the necessary cash will be made available immediately to put this great caring facility on a sounder financial footing.

I draw a comparison with the Scottish Office, which is giving £1 for every £1 raised, up to 50 per cent. of the running costs of a unit. As far back as 1985 when the matter was raised, the Government stated that they recognised that the hospice movement could not be expected to bear its costs alone. The public have been very supportive—that is a tribute to the efforts to the hospice's director, Mr. Peter Quigley—but it is unrealistic to expect it to raise running costs of nearly £1 million per year. I trust that the Minister will take the necessary action to enable it to continue its great work on behalf of the terminally ill in our community.

I welcome the additional funding for the Housing Executive. The Government should be more involved in determining how these funds should be allocated. I criticise the Government and Ministers for staying aloof from the executive's activities in its commitment to the Province. Many activities under this autocratic umbrella are not being addressed. Scarce resources have been wilfully wasted in many hare-brained schemes which have little bearing on housing requirements. The Government auditor has exposed many of these anomalies, but little seems to have been done to redress the examples of gross mismanagement.

In my area, I am concerned at the lack of progress in the executive's maintenance and improvement schemes. The cut-off dates for grant applications are leading to a serious deterioration of housing stock. Tedburn estate in Ballysillan is a striking case in point where a cowboy builder sold substandard housing to an unsuspecting public who cannot now obtain grants to keep their homes wind and water proof.

I also condemn the lack of progess in the provision of defensible space for the elderly. Those members of the population are receiving grants and housing benefits, and are involved in support schemes, but they are living in terror of the vandals who are systematically defacing and destroying their houses which, incidentally, are run by the Housing Executive. The executive should now look realistically at social needs and the provision of housing in north Belfast. That area has suffered more than most from deprivation over the years. Many of the houses there are more than 100 years old, so a programme of planned renewal is required urgently for the benefit of that community, which has had the tenacity to remain and to subscribe to that neglected part of the Province.

The proposals for the establishment of area committees would bear closer examination when considering the management structure of the Department of Health and Social Services. There is consternation in Northern Ireland that the decision to replace the present district health and social services committees with four new area committees will not accomplish what the Minister intends. The National Health Service review stated that the area committees would represent consumer interests in the services and focus on the quality and standards provided for patients and clients. There is some doubt about the realistic function of the proposed area committees as the new management boards will wholly exclude local government representatives, professional bodies and other interests. In those circumstances, there is a vital need for a strong advisory body to provide consumers and clients with real say and influence. Such a body would have to have meaningful responsibility, and to be truly representative its membership would have to be drawn from the community and from voluntary organisations to ensure a proper mix. Secretarial and adminstrative support would have to be of the highest order and to be associated closely with management functions. Members' expenses would have to be commensurate with the responsibilities of the job.

There have been many responses to the proposals from responsible groups which are intensely interested in the proper administration of the Health Service and I hope that the Minister will give due attention to those submissions. There must be no suggestion that the new committees will have a low priority in terms of consultation and democracy, or the whole exercise will be of little consequence and will lead inevitably to more insecurity and chaos in the Province.

With regard to vote 4, under the new social security order which comes into operation on 9 October applicants must satisfy the Department that they are taking active steps to find a job if they are to qualify for unemployment benefit, income support or national insurance credits. Those steps can include applying for a job, contacting employers and taking part in schemes designed to help people to return to work. The job seekers will need to show what they have done in their search for work. They are expected to keep a record and progress may be reviewed from time to time. They should also keep all letters from prospective employers to prove that they have applied for jobs.

Apart from the general point that such legislation is wholly inappropriate to Northern Ireland, where applications per job vacancy far outnumber the ratio in the rest of the United Kingdom, the legislation also fundamentally contravenes the new fair employment legislation for Northern Ireland. The Fair Employment Commission specifically outlaws contacting employers directly, which is called "speculative application". It prefers employers to recruit personnel by placing advertisements in places which are generally available to both Protestant and Catholic communities, such as central job markets and advertisements in the local newspapers. The Department of Social Security directive to claimants to contact employers directly drives a wedge through the fair employment legislation by encouraging speculative applications.

In practice, the legislation is a charter for pestering employers, who will have to give refusal letters to all the claimants who contact them direct. It will also mean large numbers of unemployed people applying for jobs for which they are unsuitable and, in some cases, for jobs that they do not want, just to obtain an employer's letter of refusal so as to satisfy the Department of Health and Social Services. In some instances, claimants have already stretched the resources of the Department of Health and Social Services by applying for jobs in the Department itself. Replying to such applications takes up staff time and makes the work of the Department—administering benefits—much more difficult.

I am concerned that top management at the Fair Employment Commission has not complained about the new legislation, which encourages speculative applications. By that omission, the managers are inviting the accusation that their own lucrative jobs were obtained by that method of application. I ask the Minister to examine those allegations carefully. It would be extemely difficult for some people to conform to the instructions, which would be detrimental to their right to benefit. It is also wrong, in my opinion, to expect such draconian measures to be implemented by the unemployed, especially given that jobs are so scarce.

11.15 pm

It is pathetic that so few hon. Members are present for this important appropriation debate and deplorable that we have so little time.

The time available to me is extremely limited, and I must therefore dispense with all that I wished to say about employment and industry in Northern Ireland, except to comment briefly. There is no doubt that the economy of Northern Ireland is fragile, that the image that Northern Ireland presents abroad and the campaign of terror waged by the IRA deter people from investing in the Province and that we need investment. It is the policy of the IRA to bomb the employed—Protestant and Catholic—on to the dole heap. That is a policy that we all condemn, and in that respect I agree with the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) who opened the debate for the Opposition.

I repeat to my hon. Friend the Minister that it would help the cause of reconciliation in the Province if a delegation made up of Nationalist and Unionist politicians went abroad—particularly to the United States of America—to seek investment, although I am not too sure whether all hon. Members would get on with members of another party. I believe in the cause of reconciliation and that Ulster Members ought to he heavily involved in the task of bringing people together and bringing money and jobs to the Province.

As time is limited, I propose to confine my remarks to the vote for the Department of Health and Social Services. Last week during our debate on the Queen's speech, I paid tribute to the devoted service provided for our senior citizens by home helps in my constituency of North Down. Those elderly people have given a lifetime of service to the community. I was disappointed to learn, therefore, that the Eastern health and social services board had refused permission for a deputation of home helps to speak at its monthly meeting a week ago. I am perplexed that the board should deny such a dedicated body of workers an opportunity to comment, from their own direct experience, on the home help service in their area. I urge the board to change its mind; perhaps the Minister will induce it to do so. The home helps wish to show that cuts in the service are having a detrimental effect on elderly people in my area. I endorse that view.

I have lodged a protest with the board relating to the new restrictions imposed on the service. I have also protested to the Minister responsible for the Department of Health who sits in the other place. The bureaucracy emphasises that there are no cuts, but that is not so. I had a letter from the board which stated clearly that the board is in the process of reviewing the existing provision of home help services to reduce the hours available to the elderly and, in some cases, to stop that service. The reason is lack of finance. The letter also said that the board would not be able to offer home help services to most new applicants. That is an extraordinary and disgraceful state of affairs.

My constituency has a higher percentage of retired people than elsewhere in the Province and that number is increasing as more people retire to live in my constituency because it is so delightful, as I am sure the Minister knows.

I shall illustrate the scale of the problem by quoting one example— one of many—of a lady called Elizabeth who is 84 years old. She has been in hospital for heart treatment and suffers from arthritis of the spine. She must wear a surgical corset, is unable to stoop and also suffers from diabetes. Because of her medical condition she desperately needed home help to clean her home and to change the bed clothes during the week. She had made arrangements with her home help to do that cleaning, but that came to the notice of the Eastern health and social services board which said that the home help could not clean her dwelling. Even though she is unable to stoop, the board concluded that the cleaning was desirable, but not essential. The help provided to that lady has been restricted to one hour a week for laundry alone. That example shows the callous face of the social services, which should be there to help the elderly to enable them to live out their remaining years in dignity and comfort. I made that point in the debate on the Queen's Speech.

Yesterday I attended the annual christingle service at the Clifton special care school for the handicapped. I attend that service every year and yesterday, as usual, the church was packed with relatives and with mentally handicapped people. The young people at that school performed much of the music for the Christmas service of carols and lessons. That service speaks volumes for the dedication of the principal and the staff of the school and also makes one aware of the tremendous demands on the parents. For them there is no respite and, for some, looking after their mentally handicapped offspring is a 24-hour vigil.

I urge the Government to recognise the service performed by parents. Although it is a labour of love, none the less it causes sheer physical and mental exhaustion. There is an overwhelming need for more places in North Down where the sons or daughters could stay for one or two weeks to give some respite for their hard-pressed parents.

I know of a case in which the parents were told that their daughter was too much for the specialised staff of one unit, and were asked to take their daughter home after she had been there just one night. Surely this should not have happened. I appeal to the Minister, for whom I have great respect, to intervene in this case. I know that it does not fall within his Department, but I hope that he will ensure that my words are carried in the right direction.

Reference is made in the appropriation order to cold weather payments. Pensioners are already suffering from the cold and we are only at the beginning of December. There is a need to consider their sorrowful condition. Many reduce the heating in their homes because they cannot afford to pay large electricity bills. We can best judge our society—as I am sure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would agree—by how we look after the vulnerable groups in our community, of which the elderly are one. Heating is essential to them.

Some elderly qualify for the heating cold weather payments when the weather is extreme. But should they have to wait until then? Many are on the border line and do not benefit at all. Therefore, I urgently appeal to the Government to ensure that more elderly people receive payment to enable them to heat their homes in the winter.

11.26 pm

I concur with the remarks of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in protesting against the methodology of dealing with Northern Ireland legislation. I renew the offer to him, and the other Northern Ireland Members who have spoken, to sit round a table and discuss new ways and means of providing new institutions that would enable us not only to debate legislation, but to frame it in such a way that it is tailor made to the needs and the people of Northern Ireland.

We have a limited debate tonight on votes 2 and 3. Time, of necessity, makes me brief. The Minister said that the substance of vote 2 was substantial moneys for Harland and Wolff and Shorts Brothers and enterprise in the towns of Belfast and Derry by way of additional funding. That is welcome and will be of great benefit to those for whom it is intended, but it will not give a great: deal of impetus or heart to those in the rural communities of Northern Ireland who will not substantially benefit from the announcements that the Minister has just made.

The industrial development boards and their sub-. agencies, the local enterprise development units, should concentrate more of their research and development on the base industries which make up Northern Ireland: the produce of the land and sea. Agriculture and fishing are not producing the jobs or values for their labours by way of enhancement of value before exportation, which they could. They are renewable natural resources of nature, fertility and the sweat of the brow for both the farmer and the fisherman.

I draw particular attention to the plight of the fishing industry in the harbour of Ardglass, which seems to have been left behind in the provision of docking facilities for the three main fishing harbours in Northern Ireland: Ardglass and Kilkeel in my constituency and Portavogie in the constituency of the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder). A small amount of money is required to make the harbour of Ardglass safe. It has been promised for many years, but has yet to be put into effect or to give safe anchorage to the enormously increased number of boats anchoring there. Over the years, the number has increased from three to 21.

Enhancement of value and diversification are methods of stabilising the rural populations and giving them a better standard of living. I was disappointed at the poor way in which the Department of Economic Development handled the funding from the international fund for Ireland and its budget for diversification.

The other matter that must be dealt with is that of packages that are often talked about for rural development in various guises. I do not have time to go into that now, but it seems that we are chasing around in circles about providing a basic infrastructure of rural development for farmers, the tourist industry and the crafts industry which will sustain the rural population of Northern Ireland and prevent the drift to the cities which creates housing, transport and environmental problems in the greater cities.

I urge the Minister or people in his Department to take a look at the structure, ideas and hopes of a small community group in my constituency, the See Connell community committee. That is the embryonic method by which a vital renewal of the rural population can take place and provide sustainable incomes to keep people in the place where they are most happy—their home towns.

Vote 4 contains many issues demanding attention, such as the paltry pension increases to the over— 75s, the continuing insult to pensioners of the £10 Christmas bonus, and the poor allowances for people in need of care and to people caring for those in need. They are the subject of legislation and I should like to speak about matters that have to do not with legislation but with its administration. There is a crisis in community loans and on how the scheme is being administered in Northern Ireland. From my constituency work and some brief research, there seem to be differing approaches to people who are entitled to crisis loans. Such people are suffering enough from deprivation and need and should not he put off by administrative bureaucracy over the application of the loans.

There is definitely a dichotomy in the attitudes of the DHSS offices in Belfast and those in the rural areas. That is certainly the case in relation to my constituency. There is leniency in Belfast and harshness towards those who apply in rural areas. I ask the Minister to ask his colleagues who cannot answer in the House to have an urgent review of attitudes before Christmas.

My final comment on vote 4 is about family credit. In opening the debate, the Under-Secretary of State expressed a concern about the low uptake. The reason for that is simple. It is that the forms are grossly bureaucratic. They are far too complex and the only people who can render them with some ease and get family credit are people on a straight wage or salary. Our community is built upon small farmers and workers in the building industry, almost all of whom are sub-contractors and therefore self-employed.

Farmers and self-employed building workers are in the low-income sector and have to provide accounts or statements of earnings. The bureaucracy that that incurs and the questions that the Department asks have to be seen to be believed. People are being turned away by the dozen or put off by the gross and insensitive bureaucracy. That means that small farmers, sub-contractors and small self-employed people are not benefiting from the rights to which they are entitled under the family credit legislation. I again ask the Minister to review that in the next few weeks if at all possible.

There was a bottleneck on or about 8 October when allegedly new regulations were introduced by the Department of Health and Social Services. I and no one else to my knowledge has been able to obtain a copy or even find out the content of those new regulations. I do not think that they exist but are a bureaucratic reason for stalling on the payment of family credit to people who richly deserve it.

Now that the fibre optics links are in place, in the so-called start programme, with the nodes of that system in many towns and villages, the Department of Economic Development in Northern Ireland should take a positive initiative and locate rural areas which would be suitable for low level, sensitive office development so that jobs could be imported from Europe and America, as has happened successfully in some places, so providing more employment.

A well trained, intelligent work force, updated in technological matters, is waiting for jobs to be provided. The Minister should urge the task force, which he has set up, to take a more practical approach. In that way we could greatly reduce the number of unemployed, particularly among our young people.

I hope that the Minister will give urgent attention to the points I have raised, and in particular before Christmas that he will examine the issues of family credit and crisis loans.

11.36 pm

I join the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) in protesting at the despicable way in which hon. Members who represent Northern Irish constituencies are obliged to deal with extremely important matters. I shall leave the matter there because if I protested at greater length I should not have time to comment on the issues under discussion. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the way to deal with these matters is not simply to debate them in a Committee of this House, as is our right, but to have them dealt with properly in an Ulster forum, powers having been devolved to Norhern Ireland giving us our own institutions. I hope that that will happen before long.

I wish to raise two points. The first concerns vote 4 and the Department of Health and Social Services. A few days ago a constituent told me that having attempted to fix a neighbour's car he had been informed by the Department that because he was doing a task for which a reasonable employer could be expected to give him remuneration he would be taken off benefit and he might even be taken to court. He said that, although he was not receiving any finance for doing that job, that was not the Department's criterion.

I was surprised to hear that a certain individual in Northern Ireland who is an elected Member of this House —although he has never come here—is to be forced to go on a training scheme if he wishes to continue to receive benefit in Northern Ireland. I was shocked to learn that that individual—the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Adams)—is in receipt of state benefit. If the criteria being applied to my constituent were applied to that hon. Gentleman, he would receive no such benefit. After all, he is telling the people of Northern Ireland that he is doing a job, being a Member of this House. By doing that, and by doing the constituency work of an hon. Member, according to the Department's criterion he would not be able to receive state benefit.

May we be assured that there will not be two laws applying in Northern Ireland—one for the hon. Member for Belfast, West and one for my constituent? After all, the electorate offered that hon. Gentleman the job of representing them, and his position and salary are waiting for him here. Because he does not want to take the oath to Her Majesty he will not darken the door of this Chamber, though perhaps that is to our advantage.

My second point concerns Shorts' premises on Alanbrooke road in east Belfast. The Minister must be holding his breath, knowing what I am about to say. I refer to a decision over which the Minister has abused his powers in an atrocious manner. He has given Shorts authority under the emergency powers to close Alanbrooke road. Anyone else wishing to take such a step would have to apply to the Department, advertisements would be placed in local newspapers, the providers of all local services would be asked if they had any objections and all concerned, including local residents, would have their say and be able to raise objections. The Minister has bypassed that whole procedure on what he claims are security grounds. I understand that the Royal Ulster Constabulary headquarters has not objected, but there are objections at a local level. The Ulster Defence Regiment and the fire services will be affected because they are close by and an entire industrial estate will be jeopardised. Will the Minister tell my constituents who have premises on that industrial estate what recompense they will receive? They took 20-year leases on the basis of having access to their premises, which the Minister has flagrantly closed off. Will the Minister inform residents of the area what compensation there will be for them as he has cut off access to many parts of my constituency?

The Minister's communication suggests that there is to be a pedestrian approach through the area. How does it enhance the firm's security to have a pedestrian route through the area after the road has been closed off? Security in the road is a sham. If the premises were secure, there would be no need to close off the road. Will the Minister explain the security advantages of his action? Why is additional security required for the firm? Is a stockpiling of missiles taking place? The firm tells me that that is not so. Does the Minister have some other information that he wishes to divulge to the House?

11.40 pm

Hon. Members have packed many diverse points into the debate, not least the complaints about the system of holding debates such as this. I understand fully the views of hon. Members, many of whom mentioned the way in which Northern Ireland business is dealt with. There are arrangements for conducting other Northern Ireland business in the House, but I should warn hon. Members that debates on appropriation orders take place in additional time which applies only to Northern Ireland. Therefore, although hon. Members may have a point in respect of other matters that come before the House, debates on appropriation orders provide an additional opportunity to raise issues about Northern Ireland expenditure. However, such time is not available to hon. Members representing English, Scottish or Welsh constituencies.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not mind, but I will not give way as I have little time and I want to do my best to answer the debate.

Generally, I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are willing to meet hon. Members to discuss these matters to see whether we can improve the system. However, hon. Members should be careful about the appropriation orders in any proposals they advance to my right hon. Friend for his consideration.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) spoke about the economy generally. I did not do so because I thought that somebody else would and that I could then respond. I was anxious to concentrate on the order. The hon. Member for Leicester, South can always spread gloom, but he did admit that there had been a slight improvement in the economy. I can always produce some optimism. For example, the Province has the lowest level of unemployment for almost seven years and there has been a steady increase in the number of people in employment. That is the other half of the coin, and it is extremely important, particularly in the Province where the demographic time bomb is not as acute as in other parts of the United Kingdom. The latest annual figures —up to June—show that manufacturing output rose by 12 per cent. and construction output, to which the hon. Member for Leicester, South referred specifically, has risen by 9 per cent. However, I do not want to overdo it.

One hon. Member was right to mention the fact that terrorism and the image of the Province are important in trying to attract jobs to the area and improve the economy. I agree with hon. Members who mentioned the recent appalling and outrageous attack on Shorts.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business).

Question agreed to.


That the draft Appropriation (No. 4) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 14th November, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.