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Appropriation (Northern Ireland)

Volume 205: debated on Tuesday 3 March 1992

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10.29 pm

I beg to move,

That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, which was laid before this House on 12th February, be approved.
The draft order has two purposes. The first is to authorise expenditure of £49·2 million in the 1991–92 spring supplementary estimates. This will bring total estimates provision for Northern Ireland departmental services to £4,725 million for this financial year. The second purpose is to authorise the vote on account of £2,140 million for 1992–93, to enable the services of Northern Ireland Departments to continue until the 1992–93 main estimates are brought before the House later this year.

The Northern Ireland block has faced significant resource pressures this year, with expenditure on a number of demand-led programmes being higher than anticipated. The extra demands placed on the law and order programme have contributed to this. But, in fact, the major increases are encompassed by the supplementary estimates we are now considering—in particular in the health and education programmes. In the interests of prudent financial management, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 9 December 1991 a temporary pause on spending on new capital contracts in order to accommodate those new demands. We have always made it clear that this would apply only to the current financial year. I am happy to be able to confirm today that this is so. Indeed, the moratorium is already effectively drawing to a close. Departments are gearing themselves to release those projects which will not now involve expenditure until the 1992–93 financial year. In addition, within the sums in the estimates, my colleagues and I will continue to take the opportunity to release projects selectively where resources permit.

Before we leave the issue of the dreaded moratorium, the Minister should be aware that what he has just said will provide a great deal of encouragement to those institutions and bodies that were clobbered as a result of it. Many of them were given the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the clamp on expenditure would be long term. In some cases it was rumoured that programmes would be put back for three years. I am glad that the Minister has been able to give us an assurance about that.

I should be distressed if people felt that programmes would be put back for three years as a result of my right hon. Friend's announcement. It was always our intention, if at all possible, to limit the pause on spending to this financial year and I believe that we shall be able to do that.

Given what the Minister has said to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), is he aware that the Department of the Environment road services division has already written to local councils to inform them that schemes have been put off as far as 1995–96?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that I have called into question what either he or the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) have said. It is open to hon. Members representing Northern Ireland and local councils to take this matter up again with Departments, should they so wish.

To give hon. Members the maximum time, I shall refer only to the main areas where supplementary provision is sought. In Department of Agriculture vote 1, the major increases are £2·3 million for payments under the agriculture and horticulture development scheme and £4·4 million for the hill livestock compensatory allowance scheme, reflecting increases in rates of allowances and in numbers of eligible animals. Those increases are partly offset by reduced requirements of some £3·4 million on other capital grant schemes, where uptake and investment levels are lower than had been expected.

In Department of Agriculture vote 2, additional provision of £4·1 million includes £2·3 million for the disease eradication programme, following an upturn in the incidence of diseases such as tuberculosis and brucellosis.

For the Department of Economic Development, additional provision is sought on three votes. In vote 1, an additional £3·9 million is sought for expenditure on custom-built factory premises, including the building of two advance factories in west Belfast, an area of particularly high unemployment. That is offset by other adjustments, including increased receipts of £3·5 million from the sale of surplus land and buildings. In vote 2, an additional £1·1 million is sought for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board. Also in this vote, an additional £2 million is sought for financial assistance to the gas industry to cover expenditure on clearing the Ormeau road gasworks site in Belfast, and £4·6 million is required for consultancy costs in connection with the privatisation of the electricity supply industry in Northern Ireland.

In relation to the Department of the Environment, vote I, an additional £4·5 million is required. That includes £1·3 million for roads and bridges, including a major road scheme in Craigavon; £500,000 is for road lighting, and £700,000 for payments to Northern Ireland Railways. Those increases are offset by reductions in other areas and by additional receipts, leaving a token increase of £ 1,000 in the vote. In vote 2, an additional £5·4 million is sought; £12·3 million is required for the Northern Ireland housing executive, mainly to enable it to repay loans. That is offset by additional receipts from housing associations and by a fall in the number of applications under the co-ownership scheme.

Department of the Environment vote 3, covering expenditure by the water service, shows a token increase of £1,000. That reflects various reallocations of resources within the vote, and includes an additional £3·4 million for consultants' fees for design work on water and sewerage capital schemes associated with EC directives. In vote 4, an additional £3·3 million is sought. That includes £3·7 million for community economic regeneration schemes, bringing total expenditure on urban regeneration to £39 million. Funds continue to be targeted at areas of social, economic and environmental need.

For the Department of Education, a net increase of £10·7 million is sought for vote 1. An additional £11·8 million is required for grants to education and library boards, including £4·5 million for the youth training programme; £8·7 million is for mandatory student awards, reflecting the success of Government policy to increase the proportion of school leavers who enter higher education. The pause on capital expenditure has had an impact on a number of capital projects in the education sector, but I assure the House that all major works contracts will be reactivated over the next few months. We also considered it a high priority to make funds immediately available to provide temporary classrooms at St. Anthony's primary school in Craigavon, which was destroyed in a despicable IRA bomb attack. I have visited the school three times, once with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and I pay tribute to the resilience of the staff, pupils and parents in their efforts to maintain the education process in such difficult circumstances.

For the Department of Health and Social Services, a net increase of 2·8 million is sought in vote 1; £2·5 million is for grants to health and social services boards to meet increased costs; and £15 million is required for expenditure on the family health services. That arises from the new general practitioner and dental contracts, increased demand for sight tests and increased drug costs. Those increases are offset by increased receipts of £2·7 million and by reductions of £13·5 million in capital expenditure, which will of course, be reconsidered in the next financial year.

In vote 4, which covers social security, nearly £15 million is sought to meet increases in the numbers receiving a wide range of benefits, including income support and disability benefits.

In these brief remarks I have sought to draw the attention of the House to some of the main provisions of the order. In replying to the debate, my hon. friend the Under-Secretary of State will respond to detailed points raised by hon. Members. I commend the order to the House.

10.38 pm

These days, it would be strange to hear a Minister's speech that did not include an electoral bribe. Northern Ireland Members will be pleased to know that the expenditure on capital is to be removed in the next financial year. I presume that it is another example of promise now, pay later.

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that, in the unlikely and bizarre event of the Labour party being elected to power, the moratorium will continue throughout the next financial year?

No, I am not saying that. Northern Ireland Members will have heard me make speeches before saying that we intend—economic circumstances permitting—to enhance public expenditure in the Province. I am simply saying that in the past few months, members of the Government have been increasing the public expenditure borrowing requirement with no apparent regard for the country's economic state of affairs. It just shows the depths to which they are prepared to stoop to bribe the electorate and gain a majority at the election. I have always respected Ministers who are responsible for Northern Ireland for their probity and lack of deceit and admired the open way in which they have addressed the House. It is appalling that, on this occasion, which is likely to be the last Northern Ireland appropriations debate of this Parliament, the Minister of State should fall from his usual high standard of probity and honesty and stoop to such low levels. It ill becomes him.

I have often thanked Ministers in such appropriation debates in the past. Leaving the bribe issue aside, I should like to thank the Minister for going through the order with such clarity and lucidity. The House will be wiser for his speech.

I have enjoyed the debates in the past four and a half years and I hope that hon. Members will agree that I have always sought to be fair, even-handed and non-partisan. It is a little unfortunate that the Minister introduced a degree of partisanship into this evening's debate. I have an added pleasure this evening because, although this is the last appropriations debate of this Parliament, I know that in the next few weeks the Labour party will be responsible for administering the affairs of the kingdom. The people of Northern Ireland can rest assured that, when that situation arises, it will herald a fresh start for the socal welfare and economic life of the Province.

I shall give way in a few minutes, because the Minister may wish to respond then.

May I give a few words of assurance to the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley)? If the Minister of State retains his seat, the probability of which is a little higher than—

May I make my own point? It is just as good as the one that my hon. Friend seeks to make.

The probability of the Under-Secretary retaining his seat is less than the probability of the Minister retaining his. The Minister has been looking harassed in the past few months. The strains and stresses of his high office over the past few years are showing, but they will quickly disappear once he is languishing on the Opposition Benches, an experience that will be new to him. It will outline for him a new life that he has not experienced since 1979, as a member of the governing party and, latterly, a member of the Government.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here this evening because I remember meeting him at the cricket ground in Leicester some years ago. He was showing his son the beauties of cricket and of the ground at Leicester. I am delighted that the Secretary of State—

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will it be possible to stick to the appropriate order, rather than wandering round the playing fields of Leicester? We have only an hour and a half, and such debates do not happen often.

That is a perfectly reasonable point of order. When the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) had finished, I was going to appeal for short speeches as I see that a number of hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, and I should like to call all those who wish to speak.

My speech will be short, Madam Deputy Speaker. This point is not out of order as the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1992 refers to the expenditure of Government Departments in the Province. Naturally, some of that expenditure is incurred in providing services and facilities to Northern Ireland Ministers. I accept that Members from Northern Ireland wish to have a considerable time for the debate and I assure them that that will be available to them. I will not wander out of order.

I am sure that the Secretary of State is looking forward to renewing his love affair with cricket. I wish that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), were present, as we shall miss his private conversations becoming public. The absence of his knowledge of agricultural affairs will be a severe loss to me and., I am sure, to the general public.

For the past four and a half years I have always paid tribute to Northern Ireland Ministers for the way in which they have sought to protect the economy and social welfare system of the Province from the worst excesses and ravages of successive Tory Governments. I pay tribute to them again. But we must never forget that, since 1979, Tory policies have had a deleterious effect on the economy in the Province. Without any shadow of doubt, the industrial base of the Province is smaller now than it was 13 years ago. There is no doubt that a sound manufacturing base is essential for the future of the Province, as it is for the kingdom as a whole.

Nationally, we shall establish the economic conditions conducive to investment and growth—conditions that the Government have signally failed to obtain. In the Province, we shall create institutions to encourage inward investment, particularly in those industries based on the exploitation of the new technologies.

My hon. Friend introduced the order with such rapidity that there was scarcely an opportunity to intervene. I seek clarification from the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) on one point. Page 28 of the report refers to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and the most appreciable increase of taxpayers' money that is devoted to it. Will the hon. Greater refer to that most appreciable investment and explain whether he finds it acceptable? Is taxpayers' money being wisely dispensed in that way?

My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) will refer specifically to the Housing Executive, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to respond to his specific point, I shall. I pay tribute to the Government for the good work that the Housing Executive has carried out. I am one of the first to pay tribute to the Housing Executive, which has sought to house people without discrimination and irrespective of the community from which they come.

One point that my hon. Friend will make—perhaps I can rehearse the argument for him—is that we are a little worried about the moratorium on capital expenditure in that sphere. We are also concerned that capital expenditure is being held down because of the need to pay compensation for damage caused by IRA terrorist activities. We hope that that moratorium will be removed and that the Housing Executive and those seeking public accommodation through that executive in Northern Ireland are not made to bear an additional punishment because of terrorist excesses. When the Minister of State replies, perhaps he will address that issue.

Previous industrial strategies have floundered on the lack of skills at all levels throughout industry. It is our intention to establish training programmes so that all young people are equipped for the labour market. We shall establish a pool of skilled labour that is attractive to new employers. Our objective is to establish a modern, diversified economic base for the Province, which offers the prospect of a job at home, rather than the prospect of dole at home or work over the water.

As proof of my good intentions—not to speak for too long—I shall conclude by saying something about the community workshops. That movement is in dispute with Ministers about levels of funding and the way in which it is provided. People in the community workshop movement feel that that reflects Ministers' lack of confidence in the movement. I should like the Minister to take this opportunity to allay that fear and to join the Opposition in complimenting the workshops on trying to provide a service to young people in the Province, especially the most disadvantaged among them.

I look forward to more being spent on the Northern Ireland Assembly. We hope that it will prove necessary to increase the budget of the Assembly so that it becomes a real, not a shadow, Assembly.

If I may be allowed to stray out of order for one final sentence, we wish the talks, whether they are held now or after the election, all the best.

10.50 pm

We have heard speeches by both Government and Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen this evening. The people of Northern Ireland will remember the old saying, "Live old horse and you will eat grass." The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) assured us that if the economic situation held up, we would be well looked after. That reminded me of the old professor in college who used to say that if a cow had a long enough tail it would reach the moon—"if".

I welcomed the comments by the hon. Member for Leicester, South about the community workshops. We have pressed the Minister on them before; I hope he can assure us that, far from falling over the next three years, expenditure on the workshops will be maintained, to deal with the challenges that await them.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that Labour Governments have always sought to deliver to the Province on the economic front.

When Labour was in power we were treated as a full part of the United Kingdom, not pushed on to the sidelines—despite claims to the contrary. But the economic situation is not so bright as the hon. Gentleman painted it. He asked us to believe that there would be an economic revival under a Labour Government. What I have to say will be of cold comfort to the House, but the people of Northern Ireland will not be taken in by such promises.

I do not imply that the Minister misled the House tonight, but people in the Province know that the true picture is quite different. We look forward to the Minister's commitments this evening being put quickly into practice.

The Poswillo report made several sweeping recommendations on the use of general anaesthesia, sedation and resuscitation, but the Government have failed—we heard nothing more about this today—to allocate funds to its implementation in Northern Ireland, despite having provided £9 million for that purpose in Great Britain, as announced in a statement on 22 January.

Dentists who do not receive help have two options: they can use their own money, thus cutting back on an already under-funded area of the national health service; or they can refer patients to hospitals and thereby take up beds and hospital time, both of which are under pressure from other sectors. Will the Minister ensure that the necessary funding is allocated?

Does the Department of Health and Social Services vote contain any provision to bring the allocation to the Northern Ireland hospice into line with that recently announced for England and Wales? I understand that allocations for hospice provision in England and Wales amount to 42 per cent., whereas it is 30 to 33 per cent. in Northern Ireland.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) will remember a conversation that I had with him and his colleague the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham) about the funding of Fairholme in my constituency. I am still waiting for a definitive answer. I understand that the matter has been batted around Departments.

From time to time emergencies may cause upsets, but there is a degree of short-sightedness in the Department when planning future expenditure. I refer specifically to the provision of a surgery in Great Victoria street. That has been on the stocks since 1988 and the Department and its valuer have been aware of it. Now the Department says that it cannot even consider the matter at least until the summer, and possibly not until the 1993–94 funding. What is to happen to the property in the meantime? It is in a redevelopment area.

There has been talk about the needs of west Belfast. That property was in west Belfast before the last redrawing of the boundaries, as the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) will confirm. It is in an area of need, and work in an inner-city practice is being held up because the Department is not able to say that the problem can be taken on board, although it has been aware of it since 1988 and has been seeking to provide a facility. The Minister should consider the practical outcome of delay and act accordingly.

10.56 pm

I am sure that to hon. Members who are not from Northern Ireland these appropriation debates seem exceedingly parochial. But until the House determines that it will deal with Northern Ireland business in a better way and until Northern Ireland itself has structures capable of dealing with day-to-day issues in a better way, Northern Ireland Members have no choice and therefore make no apology for getting down to grass roots issues under the appropriation accounts.

Vote I for the Department of Economic Development covers expenditure relating to the Industrial Development Board. I do not intend to make any cheap jibes about the publicised statistics on the IDB. All Northern Ireland Members are aware of the difficult task faced by the IDB in trying to encourage investment in Northern Ireland. Now there is an opportunity for the Government to ensure something of a new start for the IDB.

When the Government are considering a replacement for the outgoing person in the IDB, Mr. Tony Hopkins, they should put in post someone who has the drive and enthusiasm to bring jobs to Northern Ireland and to sell the Province as a suitable location for investment. Much can be done if the right person is in post and I, like many others, think that it would be better to look to the business world for someone to fill it.

In the vote for the Department of Economic Development, under the heading of labour market services, expenditure is set aside for the use of the Fair Employment Commission. This evening's issue of the Belfast Telegraph states that on Monday the commission intends to publish its religious breakdown of workers in 1,700 companies in Northern Ireland. The list will give details of the number of Protestants and Roman Catholics in each firm in the Province.

That move has, I believe, been opposed by all the employers' organisations. It has certainly been opposed by my colleagues in the House and, I understand, by the Ulster Unionists. It is an act of utter folly: the commission will, in effect, be publishing a hit list for terrorist organisations.

I can think of no greater administrative lunacy than to publish a head count of Protestant and Roman Catholic work forces throughout Northern Ireland. It will help terrorist organisations to target employers who, in their view, are not employing appropriate percentages and enable members of a work force to know exactly who is Protestant and who is Roman Catholic, thus helping to isolate small numbers of people.

Just as serious in economic terms is the fact that such a list will undoubtedly provide a basis for the boycotting of certain goods throughout Northern Ireland. We shall now have Protestant and Roman Catholic goods, and people will be encouraged to buy goods that happen to have been made by firms that are either Protestant or Roman Catholic. That may seem far-fetched to some hon. Members on this side of the Irish sea, but there is not the slightest doubt that it will come about if the list is published.

My party opposed the proposal to publish such information, in the best interests of both communities, and to protect them in their work-places.

I do not doubt that every hon. Member holds the same view. The danger is just as great for one section of the community as for the other. When disaster strikes—as it undoubtedly will—let them turn to Bob Cooper and ask him why he had to be so pig-headed and proceed with this lunacy, in the face of all the advice that he had received from so many people who had been involved in both the business and the political worlds in Northern Ireland.

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that, over the past few years, the commission has published a series of reports in respect of individual firms—for instance, banks and insurance companies? The reports have concerned a large number of employers, but there is no evidence that any of those firms suffered any diminution of their trade or income as a result, or that their work forces were attacked. If evidence of what he says exists, will the hon. Gentleman present it to the House?

We are not talking about large employers; we are talking about every firm in every back street that employs 25 people or more. The opportunities are thus multiplied considerably, and people will become much more exposed and vulnerable.

Let me join the hon. Members for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) and for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) in supporting the call for the Government to make clear their intention in relation to the community workshop projects. Those hon. Gentlemen have already said that there is something of a crisis in the community workshops in Northern Ireland. I should have hoped that every hon. Member would strongly approve of those bodies because they have a very worthwhile role in the Province.

Indeed, if it were not so, the Government would not have funded them initially, but there has been no significant increase in the money available to them since the financial year 1989–90. To date, they have still not been told what increase—if any—there might be for the new financial year.

If it is the Government's intention to add the community workshops to the moratorium, those organisations will expect a reduction in the amount of money made available to them. Although, thankfully, inflation has decreased considerably in the past few years, it is still in the round and likely to be 4 per cent. in the next financial year. That means that there will be less money available to the community workshops in that year while, at the same time, their expenditure is likely to increase.

I ask the Minister, therefore, if he will assure the community workshops that the finance available to them will be increased above inflation because they are lagging behind, not only in terms of inflation but in comparison to equivalent organisations such as other training centres. I understand that the average cost per place is about £550 higher in the training centres than under community provision, so I hope that the Government will examine the issue and remove the concern of those deeply involved with the community workshops.

In his opening remarks, the Minister referred to the moratorium. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said that there had been concern in Northern Ireland that the moratorium might have been longer lived than the Minister implied. There is much concern in Northern Ireland that vital projects—especially road and housing projects—have been held back, and for much longer than the Minister said. I cite the example of the roads programme.

In the borough of Castlereagh, two vital projects at Purdysburn road and Ballymaconaghy road have been put off until the mid-1990s well beyond the date of the moratorium. If those projects do not proceed, one can conclude only that the Department is not going to live up to the promise that it made in the Belfast urban area plan that, where it zoned for housing and other purposes, it would provide the infrastructure as a priority. If there is no such infrastructure, there will be no housing. If there are no houses, there will be fewer homes for people and fewer jobs in the construction industry.

I know that, if the Minister at the Department of the Environment had more money available for roads, we would certainly be able to use it. The Treasury must ensure that finance is made available for those roads. There are only pence in the purse of the Department of the Environment's roads services and the money must be increased considerably.

I was concerned to discover that, because of the IRA terror campaign in Northern Ireland, the Housing Executive's budget was being cut. It seems that the people of Northern Ireland have to pay twice for terrorism. They have to endure the attacks of the Provisional IRA and its bedfellows and, at the same time, the finances are cut for the essential projects that might make life much easier for them. That is unfair, especially for my constituency. When cuts are made, they hit east Belfast harder than west Belfast. I shall not take this opportunity to tell the Minister where the bombers come from who wreck Belfast and who cause compensation to be paid, but it is surely unfair that my constituency has to suffer more as a consequence of IRA terrorism. Indeed, it has to suffer twice over. If the Housing Executive has to make cuts, I hope that it will be even-handed.

There is a long-awaited report—this may stretch the Minister—on the Crumlin road and the consequences of separation. There are consequences for the community generally. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us when the report will be produced and when the Government will be prepared to act on it.

11.11 pm

I am grateful to the Minister of State for speaking briefly and enabling more hon. Members to take part in the debate, but I would have been grateful also if he had outlined the reason for the moratorium on public expenditure. It commenced on 9 December, and it has caused great distress in Northern Ireland. The local buzz was that it was the result of the IRA bombing campaign in Belfast in the autumn of 1991 and onwards. It was thought, however, that the ensuing claims would not enter the pipeline for at least two or three years and could not be a draw, as it were, on the current budget. It was felt that a substantive budgetary error had been made.

During business questions and questions to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I requested that a statement be made to explain why a moratorium on all public expenditure—both capital and revenue, as far as revenue could be withheld—was applied for four months of the fiscal year, without explanation to the House. I find that remarkable and unsatisfactory.

I was told by the Leader of the House that I had an opportunity to raise the matter during this debate. It is only three weeks before the end of the fiscal year, and four months of the year have been dead in terms of expenditure. I do not understand why that should have been so, and I find it unsatisfactory. The moratorium had a devastating effect on the provision of services across the community. The construction industry and service industries suffered a tremendous cut, and that contributed in no small measure to increasing unemployment. Why did the moratorium occur? I hope that the Minister of State's assurances that it is now over will be further explained. I am not clear about what the hon. Gentleman said and what he meant.

The Minister who opened the debate was responsible for education and was involved with the Dromore high school's playing fields. There were difficulties because this large school had no playing fields and was landlocked. there was a willing landowner, however, and a contract, was signed, at long last, three weeks ago. Then the Department said, "Sorry, you can't do that. Send the money"—£600,000—"into the central kitty. It would not be fair to the North-Western education board which had to hand in £2 million, if you spent that money."

I inquired, and discovered that the North-Western board did not hand in £2 million. Are we now being told that that contract, which was signed, can be fulfilled tomorrow, and the £600,000 spent as planned by the Southern education board, in co-operation with Banbridge district council and the Department of Education? That would be a clear explanation of the whole thing and we would know where we were going from then out.

I wish to comment in particular on health and social security matters. It is evident to me from my constituency experience that massive cuts are being made in the provision of health care to the consumer —both in hospitals and in the community. I can only extrapolate from those experiences and assume that the rest of Northern Ireland is suffering in exactly the same respect.

Take the three hospitals in the South Down area—the Downe hospital, Downpatrick, the Mourne hospital, Kilkeel, and the Cowan Herron hospital, Banbridge. One has been closed; one is in a state of flux and no one knows whether it is opening or closing; the other—the Downe hospital, Downpatrick—has been waiting 26 years this month for rehabilitation and resiting. A quarter of a century is a reasonably acceptable period after which to ask when and if that rehabilitation and resiting will happen.

The Minister will probably say that that is a matter for the Eastern health and social services board. But the terms of the 1948 Act—if I remember rightly, require equity of treatment and accessibility of provision for the consumer. This has not been implemented in the Downe area and is not being provided by the board, and the Minister must surely have a duty to direct that they should be provided.

Similarly for community and residential care, there is a litany of closures. St. Leonard's house, Warrenpoint closed. Mourne house, Newcastle is threatened with closure. Navan house, Newcastle is to be closed, and other homes have been targeted—not on the basis given by the Southern and Eastern boards in those cases, which was to divert money into the community services. I know, as sure as I am standing here tonight, that we are talking not about transfers of finance but about cuts in finance.

The community service will never see the money that has allegedly been saved by the closure of those residential homes. The level of community service now is very poor indeed. Those cuts have allegedly been made in the interests of providing better care in the community, but I do not think that that will ever materialise. We are talking about straightforward financial cuts without any compensation. I shall be glad if I am proved wrong about that.

The closures also belie the Government's own policy on residential and community care. The Government have stated clearly that consumers will have a choice between the public and the private sectors. I have given a litany of cases tonight in which public provision is being obliterated in a scheduled way. There will be no choice for consumers: they will be forced into the private sector whether they like it or not.

On the general question of the provision of health care, will the Minister take on board—now that he has direct responsibility for it—the fact that waiting lists are growing day and daily? In nearly every aspect of medical care, including cardiac surgery, orthodontics, dermatology, opthalmology and the ear, nose and throat specialty the queues are getting longer.

In reply to my parliamentary question about cardiac surgery, which is probably the most vital surgery because without it, people die, I was told that, between 1981 and 1986, there was a 250 per cent. increase in the waiting lists for cardiac surgery at the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast. The Minister will respond to that by saying that he has provided a fourth cardiac surgeon and has set up an additional unit. However, we need a fifth cardiac surgeon to keep alive the young men and women who are not receiving the medicine, care and surgery that they need. The House need not take my word for that; hon. Members need only refer to the detailed report of the Northern Ireland Chest, Stroke and Heart Foundation, which provides a more detailed story than I can relate.

I was interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) about the roads executive budget, which I believe he referred to as pence instead of pounds. I understand that, for the next financial year, there will be £3 million for actual road works. On the basis of £1 million a mile, we are going to get three miles of new road in the next fiscal year. What annoys me so much about that is that, in the years of plenty, when roads were built, nothing was done in the area that I represent.

For 13 years, not a single pound has been spent on major capital road works in my constituency. The new ring road proposed for the town of Downpatrick has been abandoned in the past two months. That is a very sad reflection, because, like the hospital to which I have referred, it was subject to much study over the decades. Indeed, that led me to coin the phrase "paralysis and analysis". It got nowhere at all.

We must also consider unadopted roads. 1n that respect, I mean not necessarily roads on new estates, but countryside roads that have never been properly transferred into the public sector from the old days of local government.

I hope that the Minister will be able to address those points when he replies. If he cannot, I hope that he will write to me. This is my first experience of a Parliament running down and, although I am not sure whether it is appropriate, I want to put on record my sincere thanks to Northern Ireland Ministers for the courtesy with which they have always received my requests. On many occasions we have differed vehemently on policy and practical matters, but at all times I have received courtesy and help, which I appreciated.

11.22 pm

I can raise only two matters in the short time available to me if the remainder of my colleagues from Northern Ireland are to be allowed time to speak in this debate.

The town of Hollywood in my constituency has a very ancient history and concerned citizens of all ages from that town came together at a public meeting to protest in an orderly and effective way about the lamentable lack of recreation facilities in the town. Hollywood has grown in size by leaps and bounds in the past 20 years and, because of the size of its population, the town deserves proper facilities for all ages in the community, including the provision of a swimming pool. I have raised the issue in the House before and I have made representations to the Minister who always points out, rightly, that this is a matter for North Down council. However, I urge the Minister to use his considerable influence to persuade the council to place on its list the need for a recreation complex for Hollywood. If necessary, the Minister should earmark a sum of money for that provision.

The Queen's hall in Hollywood has been mentioned as a possible place where some recreation facilities could be provided, but I am against that because Queen's hall is the civic centre of the town of Hollywood and should be kept as such. Therefore, I ask that a separate site be provided for that much-needed complex for the people of Hollywood who deserve it. It would certainly be beneficial for people of all ages, in particular the young and the elderly.

My maiden speech in 1964 was about the needs of the elderly, and in the dying days of this Parliament it is right that I again refer to that matter. I have mentioned it many times during my time in the House. In fact, I have urged that there should be a Bill of Rights to protect the elderly and retired people in our community. Many people suffer mental stress worrying whether they can meet heating and food bills, for instance. I pointed out in the House last month that many elderly people turn down their heating because they are scared that they will not be able to meet their bills. They worry about ill health and what will happen to them when they become ill.

Not only the elderly, but all retired men and women worry about whether they have made enough provision for old age. Retirement should not be the beginning of the deterioration of life but a period when people should be able to relax and enjoy life, having spent their lives working and contributing to the country. It is essential that the quality of life be maintained, and every support should be provided by the Government to enable people to do so in their own homes, in residential homes or in hospitals.

I note what the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady), said about cuts—sometimes savage cuts—in hospital social services. There is not time to mention all of them, but I refer again to hospitals, such as the Dundonald and Bangor hospitals where cuts have meant that beds have had to be closed and nurses dismissed.

The time may come when an invalid person must forsake his or her cherished independence and seek the support of a residential home. I am deeply concerned about the standard of some residential homes—fortunately, there are not too many such cases—and there is a need for more thorough and frequent inspections.

In my constituency is the Banks residential home. The Minister is a caring person, and he may have had that home pointed out to him. It is a beautiful building in an idyllic setting on Groomsport road, Bangor. It has a friendly atmosphere and efficient and helpful staff. I am shocked that the Eastern health authority is considering expelling the elderly residents and taking over that wonderful building for its own bureaucracy.

If officials need offices, there are plenty of places in Belfast, Dundonald and the streets of Bangor, but not in that beautiful place, which was specifically built for retired people. The bureaucrats in the Eastern health board have specially woven carpet in their entrance hall, at great expense to the taxpayer. I appeal to the Minister to use his influence to make sure that those bureaucrats do not close the beautiful Banks home.

The board has offered the lame excuse that there has been a rapid expansion of the voluntary and private sectors and that there is no waiting list for the Banks. I assure the Minister that that is not correct. I know many people who are waiting for a place at the Banks, but they are turned away because the bureaucracy do not want to provide them with beds. If people are in that home, it will be more difficult for the bureaucracy to close the building and take it over for its own purposes.

The board also claims that it is under pressure to switch resources from residential care to domiciliary care—in other words, it is blaming the Government. It is high time that the onus was placed on the Eastern health board.

I now refer to a case involving one of my constituents. She is 94, it is not long since her husband died, and she is now living alone in a large house. On the evening of Monday 20 January, she became very ill. She called her doctor, who was worried when he examined her. She had a temperature and a bad chest cough. Naturally, as the patient was a woman of 94 years, he was anxious about her health. Therefore, the doctor called an ambulance at 11.15 pm to take her to hospital, where he thought that tests could be carried out and she could stay for a period of observation. He gave the ambulancemen a letter in which he set out her medical condition.

At about I am the following morning, that elderly lady was told by the hospital medical staff that she was being sent home. The old lady, who has an agile mind, pointed out that there was no one at home and the fire would be out. She was agitated, but none the less she was turfed out of the hospital. She was brought home by ambulance and left in her empty house at 1.20 am. That is a disgraceful experience for a person of any age, but for an old lady of 94 years it is absolutely disgusting.

Not surprisingly, the lady's doctor was amazed. I am still amazed at the callous treatment that was meted out to her. I wonder how many other elderly patients have suffered in the same shocking way. It is possible that the duty officer decided that she was not in need of hospital care or medical observation, despite her doctor's comments and his anxiety, but how could anyone send a woman of that age who lived alone back to her home in the early hours of the morning? The reason could not have been a shortage of beds in the Ulster hospital: there are plenty of beds. The only trouble is that the Eastern health board has closed them. Surely a spare bed could have been found for her.

The reason may have been a shortage of nursing staff, as the board now employs fewer nurses—to the detriment of my constituents who are in need of nursing attention. I am deeply disturbed by that disgraceful position. I represent the area of North Down, which has an ever increasing number of retired people. We must protect the elderly. We must fight for them because they are vulnerable and they cannot fight for themselves. We must ensure that their dignity is not undermined and that their lives are not shortened as a result of callous and inhuman treatment.

11.31 pm

It has been said that it is only through debates such as this that Northern Ireland Members can raise matters that are probably local government matters and would be handled by local government in Northern Ireland if there was any local government worth the name. It is utterly unsatisfactory that we are given only this brief opportunity of merely an hour and a half to debate the matter. As other hon. Members wish to speak and we wish to allow the Minister to reply, one must keep one's comments extremely brief and simply highlight certain main issues.

As has been said, the moratorium has been handled in a most unsatisfactory way. There has never been a proper statement in the House. Proper information has never been given to the House. Written questions were tabled by me and other hon. Members. They were not answered. I hope that at some point the Minister will get round to giving an answer. We want to know the precise effect of the moratorium and what programmes have been affected. The Minister of State claimed that the effect of the moratorium was spent and programmes were being reinstated. We want details of what has been reinstated and when. I know of one scheme—the Minister knows to what I refer—which has not been reinstated. We would like something to be done on that matter.

I suspect that, if the truth were told about the moratorium, we would find that the financial affairs of the Northern Ireland Office and the Departments of Ministers were in a mess and that Ministers were not in a position to come clean about it. That underlines the need to have a more satisfactory way of handling such matters and to have better parliamentary scrutiny of the Northern Ireland Office. That ought to be done through a Select Committee. The Public Accounts Committee tells us that, of all the Departments with which it deals, the Northern Ireland Office is the worst in terms of how it handles its money. A Select Committee would remedy the lack of scrutiny.

I must raise one important issue—that is all that I can do in the short time available—concerning the United Meat Packers plant at Annsborough, near Lurgan in my constituency. As the Minister will know, a receiver has been appointed for the plant, with the consequence that farmers who supplied carcases to it are not being paid and are having to prove that they are unsecured creditors. They find the comparison between treatment of that plant—it is owned by the Halal group—and the group's four other plants, one in the Republic of Ireland and three in Great Britain, extremely distressing. The three plants in Great Britain were wound down and closed in a relatively orderly fashion and farmers there were paid in full. The plant in the Irish Republic is being administered by the court, under its equivalent of the "Chapter XI" proceedings, and farmers are also being paid in full there.

I am told by the Department of Agriculture that the plant in Northern Ireland was one of the best-equipped plants and was a profitable undertaking, but the Northern Ireland farmers who supplied it are not being paid. It appears that the financial liabilities of the firm have been cast upon a profitable element and that other elements, which were not so profitable, seem to have got away.

I appreciate that the Minister's actions are limited because of receivership. Will he find out whether there is some way to inquire into the financial affairs of the group, not merely at the plant in Lurgan but at other plants that it operates, and into the connections between plants and other overseas bodies which I believe were involved with it? At the moment we do not have a lot of information, but one gets the feeling that there is more to this story than meets the eye. It is an appropriate case for a thorough inquiry.

That was the major item that I wished to mention, but I cannot forbear commenting on the matter raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson)—the Fair Employment Commission's proposals to publish the religious breakdown of 1,700 firms within Northern Ireland. Only a couple of weeks ago we met the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham), and forcefully expressed to him our reservations about that course of action. We were told at that stage that, although the Fair Employment Commission proposed to publish that detail, the Secretary of State was considering the timing and content.

After that meeting, I felt that there was some conflict between what the Minister and the chairman of the Fair Employment Commission—who was also present—was saying, and I wrote to the Minister. I received a reply on Thursday last week, which, while somewhat opaque, left one with the impression that he was still seriously considering what was to be done about publication.

I appreciate that time is short, but I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will state exactly the Government's position on the matter and what will be done. I endorse completely all the comments made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East about the consequence of that publication.

11.37 Pm

Time is short and the Minister will want to reply, so I shall be brief. I back up what the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) has just said about the fair employment issue. It is not right for the House to think that there have been no repercussions from other publications.

A frantic employer phoned me no less than seven days ago. His firm had been named before and his deputy managing director's car was shot up by a gunman in the factory yard because of the lady's religious persuasion. That man employs a large number of people and he told me, "I have now to decide whether I will close this entire undertaking and go back to where I came from." So it is wrong to say that there are not legitimate fears.

I also met Mr. Cooper with my colleagues and with two representatives of small firms, who said that there is a great difference between pinpointing the religious breakdown of a firm with 200, 300, 400, 500 or 600 employees and that with only 25. There is great fear. I will hold the Fair Employment Agency responsible if those firms are picked out by gunmen, on either side of the divide, for intimidation or killings. The House should take note of that great fear.

Will the hon. Gentleman also acknowledge that other reports on the religious persuasion of the work force in the banks have dealt with the total work force employed, rather than with the make-up of employees in specific branches? It is important to acknowledge that.

Yes, that point must be stressed.

If the Minister is unable to reply to me tonight, I hope that he can write to me about the progress reached on the local hospital in which I am interested. I know that an announcement has been made about money, but I should like to know about the timetable for progress. The Conservative candidate in my constituency announced that the brickwork for that hospital had been completed, but it has not even been started. Such is the honesty we are up against.

A deputation has been to see the Minister about the River Bush and we would like to hear what he has to say about it.

The Government must do something about the community workshops, which inspire a united front. The people served by those workshops must be treated properly.

I back up what the hon. Member for Upper Bann said about United Meat Packers. Is it the Government's policy to withhold their grants in respect of that firm? If the company changes hands and becomes viable, I trust that that money will not be taken by the present receiver to pay the debts to the banks. I hope that that money will be used to repay the debts to the farming community. In my constituency, a young man, not long in business but doing well, was owed £18,000 by that firm. His cheque from it bounced and that young man suffered a complete nervous breakdown. That firm has left a trail of sorrow.

I must not say any more, because other colleagues want to speak.

11.42 pm

I want to discuss Department of the Environment vote 1, which relates to the moneys spent on roads and certain associated services.

Many of my constituents on the Shore road at Green island are concerned about the proposed realignment of route A2. They consider that proposal even more objectionable than earlier ones, which were subsequently abandoned. The DOE officials seem to be judge and jury on their case. It is felt strongly that a process of attrition is being conducted by the visiting officials to wear down the objectors to the scheme proposed. Those officials have tried to buy off or negotiate away legitimate objections to the development.

Many of the 130 frontagers would have objected in writing, but as a result of contacts with others they have decided that that is pointless. It is disappointing that consultation should come to that and that those who believe that they have valid objections should give up rather than pursue them through appropriate procedures.

Has Government approval been given for the scheme? Is it not possible to hold a public inquiry? Is the Minister satisfied that the scheme is not flawed on social or environmental grounds and that his officials are not ignoring DOE legislation? Will the Department vest the land and buildings to enable the project to commence? If so, when will that happen, and when is work likely to start?

Various questions arise in relation to road work throughout Northern Ireland. For example, is the Minister aware that there is no regulation in force in Northern Ireland on noise insulation? Circular 10/73 entitled "Planning and Noise" has never officially been adopted in Northern Ireland, although it is recognised as a useful planning tool by planners and local authority environmental health officers. Will the Minister promise to examine the matter with a view to having the noise insulation regulations that apply in England, Scotland and Wales being applied to Northern Ireland?

I wish that there had been time to address many other matters. I would have gone into the failure to encourage the development of nursery schools; the difficulties faced by education and library boards because of the insurance policies, or lack of them, operated by the Department when schools and libraries burn down; and the failure of the Northern Ireland tourist board to consult adequately with district councils before publicising information internationally. Because time is short, however, I will resume my seat to enable other hon. Members to speak.

11.46 pm

Time is not on our side tonight, so in deference to the Minister, who I know wishes to reply to the debate, I shall keep my remarks as short as possible. The House will have an opportunity on Thursday to debate the political future of, and security situation in, Northern Ireland, but the appropriation Orders that come before hon. Members from time to time raise the real bread-and-butter issues that concern the elected representatives of the Province. It is therefore only right that they should have the opportunity to explain to the Minister their difficulties and the problems facing their constituents. I make no complaint about that. I have often complained about the Order in Council procedure, but it is not for us tonight to take up the time available to hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies.

I have a few matters to flag up to the Under-Secretary, who I appreciate is not responsible for education in the Province. The Minister of State was formerly responsible for education there and was responsible for introducing the relevant education instrument. I am pleased to see him in his place, because the only item in that instrument with which I agreed resulted from his dedicated work on behalf of the Province's integrated schools. I reinforce that view tonight, for he did remarkably well in helping the growth of integrated education in Northern Ireland.

Like other hon. Members, last week I had a meeting with the chief executive, Fiona Stevens, and chairperson, Fiona Stelfox, of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education and we discussed the whole issue of integrated education in the Province. I will not tonight go into that in detail, but having listened carefully to the Minister's opening remarks about the financial allocation to the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, I was suprised that the hon. Gentleman did not once mention nursery education.

The chief executive and the chairperson of the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education are extremely worried because their nursery schools, which are attached to the existing integrated schools in Portadown, Dungannon, Omagh, Larne, Portrush, Ballymena and Belfast, are feeder integrated nursery schools for four and five-year-olds who are at a crucial stage in their education development.

It must be remembered that we are talking about Northern Ireland. The two people who came to see me last week told me that, if funds are not forthcoming, all those nursery schools, which deal with a crucial stage of children's educational development and are attached to Northern Ireland integrated schools, will have to close in June this year. There appear to be no such funds in the appropriations that we are discussing this evening.

I realise that the Under-Secretary of State is not directly responsible for education in Northern Ireland, but something should be done, in the brief period in which the Government are the custodians in Northern Ireland before we take over, to assure the integrated schools movement that nursery provision is protected. Although nursery provision in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom is woeful beyond belief, it is embryonic in Northern Ireland and we should ensure that it survives.

I should have liked to say an awful lot more tonight, but the best speeches always fall on the cutting room floor. In deference to the Under-Secretary of State who will answer the debate, I shall leave him the remainder of the time.

11.52 pm

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) for his kind generosity, which is typical of the courtesy that is extended on these occasions. I also thank all those who have participated in this debate for the measured way in which they have expressed matters of grave concern to them and their constituents. These debates are among the best that we have and are a model for debates in the House of Commons. They rarely sink to the level of some of the parliamentary procedures that we experience.

I exclude the opening speech by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), who had a good old go at the Government about the economy in Northern Ireland. In his visits to the Province, he must have ignored the health of Harland and Woolf and Short's. He said that the Government had denuded manufacturing industries of investment, but in the past three years output in production has risen by 6 per cent. and in manufacturing industry it has risen by 7 per cent., which is even better than in Britain. So the hon. Gentleman's target is completely wrong.

I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I cannot deal with the points that he and others raise in interventions.

May I draw attention to the recent survey of manufacturing firms, which shows that employment is likely to fall by 2 per cent. in the current year?

A number of reports have been published recently. I was simply explaining that, over the past three years, Northern Ireland's economy has been extremely healthy, and that we shall continue to do all that we can to ensure that that record continues.

Naturally we do not wish to impose a moratorium on the Province, but when one is managing a block of some £6·5 billion, resources inevitably need to be reallocated from time to time in line with new requirements and block priorities. During the year, we found increases beyond what we had expected in valuable areas. For instance, in education, there were higher numbers and costs of mandatory student awards and the increased cost of the youth training programme. In health, requirements under family health services increased. Those included general medical, dental, ophthalmic and pharmaceutical services. Increases also arose from the review body for pay awards. In addition, the need for cover for security costs increased. All those items needed to be adjusted during the year.

The total amount that has been secured from that is only £30 million to £33 million net, so we have had good value. The impact on particular projects may seem severe to those who had expected them to be completed by now, but I am sure that they will be resuscitated within schemes as soon as possible.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South mentioned the moratorium on the Housing Executive. The amount of income to the executive from all sources has been reduced in total by the swingeing sum of 0·1 per cent. The only impact has been a delay in the starting dates of some of the schemes by two or three months.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), who is always wise and thoughtful, raised the subject of hospices, which are dear to my heart. I am sure that he knows that Her Majesty the Queen visited the Northern Ireland hospice last year. In Northern Ireland, there is already almost 50 per cent. funding of hospices, and the extra money that has been granted in England in the past few days was designed to try to give hospices here the high standard of support of those in Northern Ireland. We have a good record on hospices, and shall try to continue that—it is one of my priorities.

With regard to the Poswillo report into dental anaesthesia, there is four times the level of anaesthesia in dentistry in Northern Ireland than in England. It is therefore a serious matter which will be addressed, but at present there is no specific allocation of funding.

The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) mentioned a number of matters. I shall not be able to cover all the points. However, I assure all hon. Members that the appropriate Minister will write to them in the near future.

In relation to community workshops, the current youth training programme rates in Northern Ireland compare favourably with those elsewhere. Following representations made recently by the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) and representatives of the Northern Ireland Association of Community Based Training Organisations, the Government have agreed to extend assistance to the payment of redundancies and arrangements for advanced funding for a further period. Those concessions should help the community workshops to continue their important work.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will report to the House in the near future on the matter of prisons, which was raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, East.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) also mentioned the moratorium, and I believe that I have addressed that issue. He also spoke of care in the community. There is no relaxation in our drive for care in the community. The points that he raised were important and specific, and I will write to him on them. We are close to an announcement on waiting lists. There is a commitment in the patients charter, of which my hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke just a few days ago. We shall achieve the aim of a maximum waiting list of two years for almost all matters.

There are particular problems in relation to cardiac surgery, and we shall set a date slightly more than two years ahead to clear the backlog. But when the hon. Member for South Down says that, if a patient does not undergo an operation, that patient will die, I can assure him that clinical need is paramount. There will be no shortage of operations for those registered as needing those operations now. Such operations now take place throughout the United Kingdom—the world is becoming a much smaller place in terms of heart operations. I am pleased that we shall be able to reduce that backlog. I hope that, within a time scale to be published within a few days, we shall be able to reduce such waiting lists to the two-year limit.

No one has espoused the cause of the elderly more assiduously and eloquently than the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder), and I will certainly write to him about his 94-year-old constituent.

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) also mentioned the moratorium and the case of United Meat Packers, as did the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley. I am concerned about the issue. As the hon. Member for Antrim, North knows—although, if I were a betting man, I would not admit it in his presence—I would bet that everyone will be paid. However, that is a matter for the receiver. We in the Department of Agriculture are trying to help to find a buyer as it is a good plant and, unlike some of the other plants mentioned by the hon. Member for Upper Bann, it is a going concern. There is a secure future for its suppliers, employees and customers, and we must ensure that we obtain exactly the right deal. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's show of concern today.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North mentioned Causeway hospital. I think that it will be taking patients before the end of the century—before the end of the decade. We hope to buy the land soon. Bricks and mortar will follow the purchase—

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

Question agreed to.


That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, which was laid before this House on 12th February, be approved.