Home Page

Column 653

House of Commons

Thursday 29 March 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Nottingham Park Estate Bill


Read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

Great Yarmouth Port Authority Bill


River Tees Barrage and Crossing Bill

[Lords] Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Monday 2 April.

Birmingham City Council

(No. 2) Bill-- (By Order) Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [26 February],

That the Bill be now considered.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 19 April.

Mr. Speaker : As the 10 remaining Bills set down for Second Reading have blocking motions, with the leave of the House I shall put them as a single group.

Adelphi Estate Bill

(By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [27 February],

That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 19 April.

Cattewater Reclamation Bill

(By Order)

London Local Authorities (No. 2) Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Clyde Port Authority Bill

(By Order)

Shard Bridge Bill

(By Order)

Vale of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill

[Lords] (By Order) London Docklands Railway Bill-- (By Order)

London Underground (Victoria) Bill

(By Order)

London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill

(By Order)

London Underground Bill

(By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 19 April.

Column 654

Oral Answers to Questions


Small Businesses

1. Dr. Michael Clark : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many small businesses were set up in Northern Ireland in 1989 ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : That information is not yet available for 1989. The Government continue to assist the development of small businesses through the Local Enterprise Development Unit and have increased its funding by £4.7 million, or 17 per cent., to more than £33 million for 1991.

Dr. Clark : Does my hon. Friend agree that the Local Enterprise Development Unit, unique to Northern Ireland, is doing a most satisfactory job in promoting small businesses and employment in the Province? How many small businesses have been assisted by LEDU and how many jobs have been created since LEDU was founded in 1971?

Mr. Needham : Many thousands of small companies have been assisted and 43,000 jobs have been promoted by LEDU since 1971. Last year 5, 004 jobs were promoted at a cost of £4,400 per job. LEDU is upping its target for new jobs to 10,000 per year in 1994. As my hon. Friend said, there is no doubt that the creation of small businesses and the work created is crucial to the economic success of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe : What advice would the Minister give to small businesses that feel that they are being forced to use LEDU-nominated professional advisers when preparing business plans for grant applications? Will he take steps to reduce the time taken to process such applications?

Mr. Needham : I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's last point first. It is crucial that we get as much of the work through as fast as we can. I give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking on that. It is up to the company concerned to determine which professional adviser it uses. Clearly, there will be those who have greater expertise on this subject, and LEDU's advice should be listened to carefully. In the final instance, it must be up to the companies.


2. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on Government funding to hospices in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Needham : A total of £530,000, a 100 per cent. increase in the present level of funding, will be made available in 1990-91 to provide, for the first time, a firm public sector financial base for the support of hospices in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Bruce : I thank my hon. Friend for that wonderful reply. Hospices have been funded through charitable donations in the United Kingdom--in my constituency, in

Column 655

Weymouth, people have been excellent in putting money into that sector. Does my hon. Friend agree that such community involvement is similar to the Government's opting-out proposals? Does he think that that will happen even more in the Province of Northern Ireland? Where will the additional funding be spent in the Province?

Mr. Needham : There is, of course, a need for a partnership with those involved with the terminally ill. There is a wonderful record of voluntary service and help to the terminally ill in Northern Ireland. The Government feel that they must do whatever they can to help and are increasing their spending this year by £530,000--£530,000 more than last year--and in 1991-92 they plan to spend a further £200, 000. The objective is to obtain a 50 : 50 partnership with the voluntary organisations. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is crucial to keep the partnership going and to attract as many private donations and as much support as we can, particularly from the business side. I think that he will agree that the Budget measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will help in that.

Mr. Hume : As the Minister will be aware from correspondence from me, a vast amount of voluntary effort in the Derry area has gone into setting up the Foyle hospice, demonstrating the need for that service there. Is he now telling us that at last the Government will fund that hospice?

Mr. Needham : The hon. Gentleman knows that hospices in Northern Ireland are a regional service, but the Foyle hospice is not regional in that sense. However, he also knows that the Department has suggested to the boards that they negotiate the funding of the revenue element with the hospices, and that applies to the Foyle hospice. I hope that the discussions that I believe are about to take place between the Western board and the Foyle hospice will lead to a satisfactory conclusion.

Mr. Dickens : When my hon. Friend next considers the funding of hospices in Northern Ireland, will he also consider funding for hospices in the north-west, such as those at Oldham and Rochdale?

Mr. Needham : Up to now I have not considered that, but I shall bring it to the notice of my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State who has responsibility for health matters in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Ashdown : The Minister said that he hoped that the discussions to which he referred would lead to a satisfactory conclusion, but will he confirm that the Government's view of a satisfactory conclusion includes funding the Foyle hospice, which not only serves the people of the Foyle area in a way that no hospice in Belfast can, but serves the region across the border and so builds the type of cross-border relationships that must be necessary? Will he confirm that the Government's view is that the hospice should be funded?

Mr. Needham : Of course, the hospice has to be funded. Up to now it has not been considered to be a regional hospice, and I do not see why it should be. But, as I said, it is an important movement, which has been supported at all levels in the Derry area, and the Government and the Department have been saying through their policy that we look to the Western board to come to a satisfactory conclusion with the hospice.

Column 656

Rev. Martin Smyth : I welcome the additional funds, having pressed for them in the past, and I should like to share in the tribute that has been paid to the hospice movement, but am I right to infer that it is looked upon as a regional service? If so, does that mean that there will be Government limitations on developments in Foyle, Newry or anywhere else where voluntary bodies come together?

Mr. Needham : I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has been a great supporter of the hospice movement and has done much to enable it to develop throughout Northern Ireland. As I said, the funds are earmarked for the boards and it is up to them to negotiate how those funds will be distributed in each area. The aim of the Government and the Department is to move to a 50 per cent. funding arrangement with the hospices.

Anglo-Irish Conference

3. Sir Michael McNair-Wilson : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will propose that the secretariat for the Anglo -Irish Conference be transferred to Dublin.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Brooke) : No, Sir. I have no current plans to make such a proposal.

Sir Michael McNair-Wilson : Was the location of the secretariat in Northern Ireland part of the Anglo-Irish Agreement? If not, does the Secretary of State agree that if it were to spend half the year in Dublin, the considerable security costs, which currently fall on the British taxpayer and none of which are borne by the Republic would be halved? Does he further agree that if it were in Dublin, it would enable the Irish Government to show that no matter what perverse judgments come from the Supreme Court, they stand by the good faith of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and, in particular, article 1 of that agreement?

Mr. Brooke : Article 3 of the agreement says :

"A Secretariat shall be established by the two Governments to service the Conference on a continuing basis in the discharge of its functions as set out in this agreement."

It does not specifically state any geographical location. The Secretariat is in Belfast because that is the most efficient place for it to do business. I have no evidence that the Irish Government do not stand by article 1 of the agreement.

Mr. John D. Taylor : Having confirmed that there is no reference whatever to Maryfield in the Anglo-Irish Agreement--news which will be welcomed throughout Northern Ireland--does the Secretary of State agree that that gives him the option to consider a different location for the Anglo-Irish secretariat, if there is any necessity for the secretariat? Will he confirm that our concept of the secretariat must have changed since the ruling by the Supreme Court of Dublin that the Dublin representatives have a constitutional imperative to pursue a united Ireland through their agencies, including the Anglo-Irish secretariat?

Mr. Brooke : The right hon. Gentleman is quite correct in stating that I have that freedom, as exemplified in the article of the agreement that I read out, but, as I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir M. McNair-Wilson), I do not currently have such a

Column 657

proposal. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I do not accept the premise that was contained in the second part of his question.

Mr. Peter Robinson : Does the Secretary of State recall that when the Government's salesmen were attempting to sell the advantages of the Anglo-Irish Agreement to the Unionist community, they put forward two premises--that there would be recognition of Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom by the Government of the Irish Republic, and that there would be better co-operation on security, including extradition? Now that those two claims have been blown out of the water by the Supreme Court of the Irish Republic, will the Secretary of State list for the House the remaining advantages of the Anglo-Irish Agreement that could not be obtained from other sources?

Mr. Brooke : That is the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the events, but he made a specific reference to the judgment of the Supreme Court. We do not accept the claim to Northern Ireland in article 2 of the Irish constitution. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom in our law and our international law. It is important that we look to the future. Successive Irish Governments have accepted the factual status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. Article 1 of the agreement provides that any change to the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman draws attention to extradition matters that we have raised with the Irish Government through the secretariat.

Sir William Clark : Irrespective of the location of the secretariat, does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be much fairer if both Governments shared the costs?

Mr. Brooke : I am delighted to welcome my hon. Friend's steady fiscal attitude, but I am also concerned with the efficiency of the secretariat, and that is most efficiently conducted in Belfast.

Inward Investment

4. Mr. Tim Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about inward investment into Northern Ireland.

Mr. Needham : We have achieved a number of notable inward investment successes during the past two years, and I am confident that we shall be able to build on those successes.

Mr. Smith : Does my hon. Friend agree that those successes demonstrate the confidence of overseas investors in the economy of Northern Ireland? Can he say from which countries the investment is principally coming?

Mr. Needham : It is not always appreciated how great the change in the fortunes of the Northern Ireland economy has been over the past few years and how it is growing. In the past year we have had Fruit of the Loom from the United States--the single largest American investment in Northern Ireland for 10 years--Daewoo from Korea, Montupet from France and Holian from Hong Kong. We are about to announce a German company coming soon to the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) and another company coming from Japan. We have Harris Laboratories from

Column 658

the United States. We are creating thousands of new jobs from inward investment in Northern Ireland because the people who come there realise what a wonderful place it is and what wonderful people we are.

Mr. Beggs : Does the Minister agree that, within a reasonable time after interview, officials of the Industrial Development Board should be capable of providing a new business promoter with a letter of offer indicative of the support that might be forthcoming from the IDB? Does he further agree that every inquiry must be treated seriously and with sensitivity, to ensure that we do not lose anyone who might ultimately locate in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Needham : Of course, I agree with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman. It is crucial that the scope and scale of inward investment is fully understoood before the IDB--a body which spends taxpayers' money--makes an indicative offer. Subject to that, an indicative offer can and should be made.

Rev. William McCrea : Does the Minister accept that the bombings in Castlederg and Ballymena have hampered his efforts to attract inward investment to the Province? What encouragement have the Government given to investment in the Mid-Ulster constituency which has suffered so much from unemployment? Is it not true that it is better to have a stable environment, with the defeat of terrorism, and to allow the jobs that have been set up to remain, rather than, after years of hard work by the Department, to allow the IRA to demolish that in a few seconds with a bomb?

Mr. Needham : I am pleased to be able to agree with the hon. Gentleman for once. The recent damage at Castlederg was another dreadful, exasperating and pointless blow to that little town. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that we are establishing a project in Castlederg, which will involve all its people, to find a way forward, to attract investment and to bring the community together to rebuild its soul. For maniacs to blow apart the wishes of the ordinary people of Northern Ireland is utterly despicable.

Mr. Skinner : Does the Minister agree that if the poll tax were introduced in Northern Ireland, it would greatly affect inward investment? Does he know--and will he condemn it--that East Antrim Conservative association has called for the implementation of the poll tax in Northern Ireland? Is he aware that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) is a member of that association? I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that all of them are infected with mad cow disease.

Mr. Needham : The community charge is unlikely to have any effect on inward investment in Northern Ireland. One of the incentives that we offer is that people do not have to pay rates. That is one of the main reasons for people wishing to invest in Northern Ireland.


5. Mr. Teddy Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to develop the tourism potential of Northern Ireland ; and if he will make a statement.

Column 659

14 Mr. Boswell : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he is taking to promote tourism in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Needham : Encouraging progress is being made in implementing our published strategy for improving the economic return from tourism in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Taylor : Does the Minister agree that, with the obvious exception of Southend-on-Sea, Northern Ireland is probably one of the most delightful places to enjoy a holiday? Will he use the powers of British embassies to destroy Northern Ireland's unfair reputation abroad and to explain that one can enjoy a holiday and delightful scenery and expect much hospitality at a low cost in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Needham : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I spent a holiday with my family in Northern Ireland two years ago, and it was one of the best holidays that I have ever had. I am sure that it will not be too long before you, Mr. Speaker, spend a holiday in Northern Ireland golfing, walking, sailing, eating, drinking, or pony trekking. We must increase the number of people employed in tourism, which at present is only 9,000 compared with 90,000 in the Republic. Once people have spent a holiday in Northern Ireland, they come back time and again.

Mr. Boswell : Further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), does my hon. Friend agree that agriculture can be supplemented by tourism as a major revenue earner in all parts of the United Kingdom, particularly in Northern Ireland? Will he confirm that those who visit the countryside of Northern Ireland are as much at risk from terrorism as from a case of snakebite?

Mr. Needham : Yes, or mad cow disease for that matter. Some 1 million people visited Northern Ireland last year--the first time that that figure had been achieved since 1969. We have set ourselves the objective of raising that figure to 1.6 million by 1994. Next year is Ulster-Canada year, when we expect to double the number of Canadians visiting Ulster. We shall have a tremendous festival in Belfast so that the city can have a year of fun and enjoyment, and everyone here is welcome.

Mr. A. Cecil Walker : Will the Minister join me in congratulating Belfast city airport on achieving such an impressive record in passenger throughput in the limited time that it has been in operation? Will he assure the House that in the event of Bombardier geting rid of that valuable asset, a monopoly will not then be created whereby the Northern Ireland international airports might be interested in taking over Belfast city airport? Will he further ensure that Belfast city airport will be encouraged to develop as a single entity?

Mr. Needham : Airports are not my responsibility, but I am sure that the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who is responsible, has listened carefully to the question.

Mr. Stott : I am sure that the Minister is aware that a recent article by Mr. Bert O'Hara, who is the executive director of the Northern Ireland tourist board, in the The House Magazine sets out clearly how well tourism is doing in Northern Ireland. The Minister referred to the figure of

Column 660

1.12 million people who have visited Northern Ireland in the past 12 months to take a holiday. We welcome the increase in that figure and hope that it will continue. Will the Minister comment on a rather interesting suggestion from Dr. William Hastings, the president of the Northern Ireland chamber of commerce and industry? He addressed a meeting recently and called for

"a chamber of tourism for all Ireland."

Will the Minister comment on what I believe is a good suggestion?

Mr. Needham : Certainly for tourism to succeed in the north, it must be carried out in co-operation with the south and with Bord Failte. I have no doubt that we shall build on those links because we have an awful lot to offer to anyone who comes from the south and who would like to spend a few extra days in the north with us. I always listen carefully to the views of Dr. Hastings and we shall see what further links we can build between north and south to attract more people to come.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I remind the House that single questions at Question Time mean that we can get further down the Order Paper, which is for the benefit of the whole House.

Downpatrick (Anaesthetist Post)

6. Mr. McGrady : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when the hon. Member for South Down may expect an answer to his written question of 5 March about the appointment of the permanent third anaesthetist post to the Down group of hospitals in Downpatrick.

Mr. Needham : The answer was given on 15 March 1990.

Mr. McGrady : Does the Minister agree that for the anaesthetist's post not to be filled at Down hospital for two years is a public health hazard? Is he aware that the anaesthetists at Down hospital have a work load two and a half times that at Belfast City hospital? Will he intervene with the board, as his noble Friend the Under-Secretary did last September, when he insisted on compulsory competitive tendering to save a few pounds? Will the hon. Gentleman intervene now and direct the board to appoint a permanent anaesthetist to save a few lives?

Mr. Needham : The hon. Gentleman and I have been corresponding on the third anaesthetist consultant post at Down hospital for almost as long as I can remember. I wrote to him in February 1989 saying that a third consultant post was to be advertised. I also wrote to him in July 1989 saying that it would be a locum post while anaesthetist cover was examined not only for Down hospital, but for Lagan hospital and the others in the area. I realise the difficulties there, which must be sorted out. The hon. Gentleman is in discussion with the chairman of the board and I shall pass on his points to my noble Friend. The hon. Gentleman has been told exactly what the position is.

Mr. Molyneaux : Is not there a real need for improvement in communications between the Department of Health and Social Services and the various health boards in the light of the experience of the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and in the light of my

Column 661

own experience? It took the Department three solid months to reply to me saying that it had passed a constituent's problem to the relevant health board.

Mr. Needham : If there has been an error between the Department and the health board, I am sure that the Department will apologise for it. Generally speaking, I have found that relationships between the boards, the Department, Ministers and the chairman are very good and work extremely well.

De Lorean

7. Mr. Cryer : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the progress of recovery of money from the De Lorean car company and associated ventures.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Cope) : So far, £12.6 million has been recovered. A number of claims are still being pursued in this country and abroad.

Mr. Cryer : Does the Minister accept that I warned Labour and Conservative Governments, who poured £84 million into the venture, that it was fraudulent from the very beginning? I suggest that the Minister should ask some of the social services inspectors, who are busy hounding single-parent families, to turn their attention to the outstanding sums of money. In particular, will he assure the House that he will pursue the recovery of the £20 million that was spirited away by Lotus Cars through GPD Investments?

Mr. Cope : I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's long connection with and involvement in that matter. I am also aware of what went wrong. We shall continue to pursue all the money that we can in every available court here, the United States and Switzerland.

Mr. Latham : Is my right hon. Friend aware that those of us who sat on the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into that disgraceful affair want to know how my right hon. Friend is getting on with his legal action against Arthur Andersen and also why no one has been brought to trial for the criminal swindling which was clearly revealed in the report?

Mr. Cope : I am not prepared to discuss in detail the current litigation against Arthur Andersen except to say that it is continuing. The Serious Fraud Office is continuing its inquiries into the matter and one person is currently on remand to Belfast magistrates court in connection with that.

Northern Ireland Electricity

8. Mr. Ron Davies : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the privatisation of Northern Ireland Electricity.

Mr. Brooke : A White Paper on privatisation proposals will be published later this year.

Mr. Davies : I thank the Secretary of State for that unusually helpful answer. Will he give us a likely estimate of the increase in electricity prices that will flow from privatisation on the one hand and from decoupling from

Column 662

the Great Britain link on the other? Can he also give us an idea of the number of jobs that are likely to be lost as a consequence of privatisation?

Mr. Brooke : Earlier this month I announced the increase in the tariff as from 1 April. That statement was made in the context of present circumstances. The Government have nothing further to say on tariffs at present and will certainly not speculate about tariff levels beyond the coming year. The principle underlying tariffs in the future will be that of charging the economic price for producing and delivering electricity efficiently in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Kilfedder : May I make it clear that I am totally opposed to the privatisation of the Northern Ireland electricity supply because once that monopoly is placed in private hands, the price of electricity, which is already far higher than in Scotland, will increase to the detriment of industrial and domestic consumers in Northern Ireland who already suffer the highest cost of living in the United Kingdom? I say to the Government, "Hands off our electricity."

Mr. Brooke : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making clear beyond peradventure his attitude towards privatisation. However, as he knows, appropriate measures of regulation will accompany the introduction of privatisation.

Mr. Jim Marshall : The Secretary of State will recall that some months ago the Minister of State promised that we would have a White Paper on privatisation in the near future. That statement was made at the back end of last year, but there is still no sign of the White Paper. Will the Secretary of State tell us when, or if, that White Paper will see the light of day?

Mr. Brooke : I have already said that it will be published later this year. The "near future" is an elastic term in Northern Ireland.

Shoppers (Free Movement)

9. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the progress of the European Court case brought by the Government following restrictions made by the Irish Government on the free movement of shoppers from that country.

Mr. Cope : The case against the Government of the Republic of Ireland was brought by the European Commission, and was heard by the European Court of Justice on 21 February when the United Kingdom Government was represented by Treasury counsel, who advanced our view that the restrictions were contrary to European law and damaging to the economy of Northern Ireland. The Advocate-General of the court delivered his opinion on 21 March, but a date has not yet been fixed for the court's judgment.

Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is disgraceful that the Irish Government are persisting with this absurd restriction, which will have to go? Will not that be much to the benefit not only of traders, but of Irish consumers?

Column 663

Mr. Cope : Yes. We have made it clear, not only through the courts, which I have just mentioned, but to Irish Ministers, through the Anglo-Irish Conference and in other ways, that we completely oppose the 48-hour rule. It has been in force for too long ; the sooner it goes, the better.

Mr. Foulkes : Is the Minister aware that the Sealink and rail services from Northern Ireland to south-west Scotland are used by many shoppers who travel between those two parts of the United Kingdom? Is he further aware that British Rail is planning to axe the sleeper service from Stranraer to Euston? What representations has the right hon. Gentleman or his right hon. and hon. Friends made to British Rail about this? If they have not made any such representations, will the right hon. Gentleman assure me that he will make representations to British Rail to stop the axing of that vital service?

Mr. Cope : It must be a matter for British Rail. Not many people use that service. In any case, it does not arise out of this question, which is about travellers from the Republic of Ireland.

Next Section

  Home Page