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Viscount Brookeborough: My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for her introduction of this appropriation order, thereby giving us the chance to say a few words about how Northern Ireland's finances are arranged. I am sorry that I shall be unable to keep to one subject, but we from Northern Ireland are rather thin on the ground today. I have several points on different subjects that I should like to raise.
First, I welcome the money available for agriculture, but it would be remiss of me not to mention that department in the light of the BSE crisis. Northern Ireland is a society based on agriculture, and 80 per cent. of the beef is normally exported outside the Province. At this stage I must declare an interest not just in farming but in tourism linked to farming.
The farm diversification scheme, which was discontinued last year, would seem to be a positive way of helping farmers in difficulty to become less reliant upon traditional farming. It supported the introduction of activities such as fishing ponds, golf driving ranges, and, in my case, a small business centre. Can my noble friend tell us when that scheme might be introduced? The other schemes available--such as rural development and cross-border community regeneration schemes--are not available to the private sector and individual farmers who are suffering now as a result of this other crisis.
On the tourism and IDB fronts, can my noble friend the Minister say whether there is a fair distribution of funds for new projects between those two areas? The IDB seems to have unlimited funds while tourism--one of the foremost industries in the world and equally important in the Province--is capped at £3 million to £4 million in the tourist development scheme. I heard the overall figure that my noble friend gave, but that was in the new projects tourist development scheme. Will my noble friend confirm an undertaking given by a predecessor of hers--Peter Viggers--who said:
However, the projects--for example, hotels on the Causeway coast--to take us into the 20th century now frequently cost more individually than the total amount. Perhaps my noble friend would look at that important issue, give us an answer and give the industry some hope.
On education, I note that two of the five education boards are to go. According to the Minister for Education that will save money. In the light of that, I should like to ask about the funding of Tirella Primary School in County Down. Of the pupils at that school, 95 per cent. are children of soldiers in the garrison regiment at Ballykinla, who change over every two years. At changeover times, normal transitory payments for each pupil are paid, but Tirella's position is unique as 95 per cent. of its pupils change over in a short space of time every two years. In addition, the pupils arriving during the last changeover came from, for example, no fewer than 23 different schools in England during a four-month period. During that period the children leaving--95 per cent. of the pupils from the previous
That is an abnormal task for the staff of any school, and we should remember that that happens every two years in this case. Consideration has also to be given to the permanently enrolled resident pupils who have to continue their classes during that time. An added burden is presented by 11 children with learning difficulties, and two more are to arrive shortly. That is apparently not an unusual number for any regiment.
Due to small financial difficulties, two teachers are to be made redundant on 31st August 1996. The mothers, who have accompanied their husbands to Northern Ireland on the assurance of good education for their children, are very concerned. I was surprised when I met them to find how strongly they felt that they had been let down. That is one additional worry that soldiers' families in an operational environment could do without.
I know that over several years the school's deficit has risen to £100,000, but surely in that case the department could find a way of providing some additional annual funding to do justice to our soldiers' families in this unique and difficult situation. Perhaps it could find funds from abolishing two of the boards.
I have read the correspondence between my honourable friend Mr. Ancram, the school and parents, and I am disappointed at the intransigence shown. I ask my noble friend to convey the parents' concern about this state of affairs to Mr. Ancram.
I should like to say a few words about the management of the health service in Northern Ireland. Before I do so, I must declare another interest in that I have been a non-executive director of the Green Park Healthcare Trust since it was set up three-and-a-half years ago. My comments, although relating largely to that trust, bring out examples of what is happening in other areas, which I have no time to study.
This trust provides many of the regional services for the Province, such as the cancer centre and orthopaedics. Since the formation of hospital trusts in Belfast, there has been an unhealthy open war between them over which hospitals should supply particular services, and indeed which ones should survive in any reorganisation.
The health wing of the Civil Service, otherwise known as the Management Executive (ME) should be controlling the future development of hospitals and should be insisting upon the trusts getting on with the job of running their own businesses not those of other trusts. For example, the Campbell Report has said that in an ideal world, in line with the Calman Report in England, the cancer centre should be moved from Belvoir Park Hospital to an acute hospital site.
After consultation, an option appraisal will be carried out, as has been announced, and the result will be announced in the spring of 1997. It should be noted that, due to the complexity of moving radiotherapy, that move could not be completed until 2000 at the earliest, and a sum in the region of £40 million would have to
Continual discussion and comment in the public domain is extremely damaging to the service at present. Staff are worried about their future careers, and the public is most concerned. It must be remembered that one person in three suffers from cancer at some stage in their life. That is not only in Northern Ireland. The ME seems to do little to alleviate those concerns. I ask my noble friend why the NIO has not put more pressure on it to do so.
In addition, Professor Bob Stout, a member of the Eastern Health Board, which is in practice a Department of Health agency, was quoted in the News Letter on 13th June as saying at the board meeting: first, that Green Park Healthcare Trust could be dissolved; and, secondly, that the management of Belvoir Park should be transferred to the City Hospital as soon as possible. Not only does that fuel the fire when the process of option appraisal will be taking place within a year, but why does the ME permit him to speak like that?
It is interesting that Professor Stout is also--this is rather worrying--a consultant geriatrician at the City Hospital. Does my noble friend agree that it seems most inappropriate for Professor Stout not to withdraw from that discussion while he has a foot in both camps? Yet again, the ME does not seem to care as it allows a person with a vested interest to use the Eastern Health Board to suggest that his trust hospital should take over the services of another trust.
Earlier this year the Minister, Mr. Moss, announced a 3 per cent. reduction in funds to health boards and therefore a 3 per cent. cut in their buying power. Presumably that was done after consulting the ME. A 3 per cent. cut overall was announced, but of course that could not come out of acute services--those dedicated to life-threatening problems (casualty, cancer and so forth). It took some time, and a great deal of work and money by the health boards and hospitals to show that, if 3 per cent. overall could be saved, it would have to come out of a reduction in elective surgery and procedures such as hip replacements and wheelchair provision. However, a 3 per cent. overall reduction
I turn to my final point. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, mentioned quangos when, unfortunately, I was out of the Chamber. My point is related directly to the management of the hospital trusts in general. I believe that the health service is not looking forward to the new year when the appointments of the present non-executive directors end. We were on a steep learning curve with the chief executive and non-executive directors who had previously been clinicians and so forth. They did not have management experience and therefore, three-and-a-half years ago, we were all learning together. However, when the non-executive directors finish their terms of appointment in six months' time half of the board members will be totally new. I wish to know how the Minister expects those changeovers to take place in the interests of the continuity and efficiency of the trust boards. If we are to widen the catchment area for the membership of those boards, surely we should have heard something about that by now. The Northern Ireland Office should be looking at new appointees.
I have been privileged to be a member of a trust board and I have learnt more from it than I suggest it has learnt from me. I am not sure how the posts will be advertised because the income is £5,000 before tax. If one advertises an appointment at that level of income, requiring the amount of attention that we have given it for three-and-a-half years, one could receive applications from many people in the dole queue, which may be appropriate. However, I suggest that the office must do some fairly hard canvassing to find people appropriate to the post.
The Earl of Harrowby: My Lords, I rise in the gap to make one brief point supplementary to a remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. He referred to BSE and compensation levels and I should have liked him to mention the timescale. I make a general point that cashflow is vitally important in the industry. It may well be the deciding factor in the survival of many farmers in Northern Ireland, as in the UK. The House cannot expect banks to be able or willing to bail out farmers indefinitely.
Lord Fitt: My Lords, of all the Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office, the noble Baroness has most responsibility. She is in charge of the Departments of Economic Development and Agriculture. They are the two main facets of life in Northern Ireland without which Northern Ireland could fall apart. Since the noble Baroness took over those responsibilities two or three years ago she has undoubtedly proved to be a very efficient and compassionate Minister in both those areas. I rise for only a few minutes to make a specific appeal in relation to some of the problems that we have in Northern Ireland.
West Belfast, the constituency which I represented for many years, has always been a problem constituency. Many people on this side of the water will have seen that 22,000 people in West Belfast voted for Sinn Fein in the recent Forum elections. Many people will mistakenly believe that all those people were voting in support of Sinn Fein and therefore in support of the campaign by the IRA. That is definitely not so.
I have been in touch with people in West Belfast since I became a Member of this House. Many of those votes were cast because in that area there is social deprivation. Of all the constituencies in Northern Ireland there is a higher incidence of employment in West Belfast and in the adjoining constituency of North Belfast. Many of the votes which were cast for Sinn Fein were cast out of a feeling of desperation. Many people in that constituency feel that they have been pushed to the side and are regarded as being republican activists and therefore not worthy of consideration. That would be a mistaken point of view.
I know that in recent weeks announcements have been made with the object of attracting industry into West Belfast. But what we have achieved is a small drop in a very big ocean. I know that the noble Baroness has travelled the world in an attempt to attract investment into Northern Ireland. However, if there is ever to be a solution and a change in the attitudes of those people who appear to be voting out of desperation for paramilitary spokesmen, I believe that the noble Baroness should do whatever she possibly can to attract more industry into West Belfast. Of the 18 constituencies in Northern Ireland West Belfast has been sorely neglected.
It may be due to the image that has been projected to the outside world that potential investors are reluctant to set up industries and to invest in that particularly troublesome area. However, those 22,000 votes cast in West Belfast for Sinn Fein were not cast in support of the IRA campaign. They were cast because people feel neglected and there is an air of despair in the area. Many young people over the age of 18 who voted in that constituency did not vote for Sinn Fein as spokespeople for the IRA. They voted because they had no job and saw no prospect of getting a job.
The noble Baroness has a record in Northern Ireland which far exceeds those of her predecessors. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, mentioned that when Ministers are appointed to their various portfolios in Northern Ireland they go "native", for want of a better word, and begin to develop a feeling for the Province. The success of the noble Baroness has been due to the fact that she has never been over-political in any way towards one community or the other. People accept her for what she is trying to do as a Minister in support of the whole community in Northern Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally and I were MPs in another place, and I have to say to him that a previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was not accepted by the whole community as not being political. I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Mason, now a Member of this House. The noble Lord in fact created untold difficulties in Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness has been able to carry out her functions with the support of the whole community in Northern Ireland.
Finally, the noble Baroness will know that there is great fear that the Royal Victoria Hospital may be stripped of its role in Northern Ireland and eventually close down. If that happens West Belfast would see that the hospital to which all the communities give their allegiance will be taken away. That would not be good for the morale of people who live in that area.
Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken for their interest and concern in Northern Ireland and for the knowledge which is brought to any debate on the subject. I also thank noble Lords for their courtesy. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that I believe that being a Northern Ireland Minister is one of the best jobs in government. I particularly enjoy my work as the Minister responsible for the economy because I believe that working for jobs provides the best cement for peace.
The noble Lord, Lord Cooke, was extremely generous in his remarks. I should tell him that I love visiting companies. But that creates paperwork. My officials will confirm that I do not have such a deep affection for that.
We always welcome the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, on these occasions. He omitted to mention that a major part of my portfolio is to deal with women's issues. The women in the Province create enormous strength. However, as the noble Lord said, my job is to ensure that there is hope and prosperity for all in the Province.
I welcome the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to our debates on Northern Ireland. His noble friend the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, always brought great experience to our debates. I am sure that he would be proud of the support which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, has given today to everyone in the Province.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, and I have long debated these issues and, as he pointed out with great courtesy, we have long discussed the issue of criminal injuries. The noble Lord said that he is not too unhappy that the long grass is the shape that he would wish it to be. After every debate I draw the remarks of the noble
Your Lordships have rightly identified two major issues which concern Northern Ireland at present. The first is the agricultural situation brought about by the BSE crisis; the other is the question of energy costs. I too am extremely concerned about those issues, which have major implications for the economy. The beef and dairy industry represents 4 per cent. of our GDP. I wish to clarify that before the crisis, more than 50 per cent. of our beef was exported but more than 70 per cent. represented sales outside the Province, including the United Kingdom market. Fortunately, that has not gone away completely because there is great respect for the quality of Northern Ireland beef. We continue to have outlets there; we continue to try to build on that.
As regards support for the industry, the whole policy is based on the fact that the Government's aim is to ensure that there is an industry after the crisis is over. We have based our compensation and support packages on that premise. We are determined to keep the industry. I confirm the figure which my honourable friend announced in another place. The Government will be bringing forward something in the order of £2.5 billion to ensure that there is still an industry when the crisis is over and that, because of its needs and because of the great success it had in export markets, Northern Ireland will receive more than its fair share of that. In addition, I should point out that I was able to negotiate for Northern Ireland a special programme to deal with the bulls in Northern Ireland in connection with the Dutch consumer market. Therefore, we do have support for that very serious health and safety problem which must be dealt with.
I praise those in the industry in Northern Ireland. We have received enormous co-operation; we have worked together. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, referred to traceability. Because of that and because of the high standard of the veterinary service in the Province, we have managed to cope with the problem better than in other parts of the United Kingdom. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that the backlog in Northern Ireland is coming down very rapidly due to the level of co-operation we have received. I know that some of my colleagues have had much greater difficulties than those I have experienced in the Province.
In some cases it is not necessary but we continue to draw to the attention of other European countries the high standards that exist in Northern Ireland. We do have BSE but we are dealing with it. And there is a much smaller incidence there than in other parts of the United Kingdom. The average number of cases per month is running at between nine and 12 which indicates that the measures we are taking are working. Again, that is because the farmers have abided by the requirements.
My noble friend Lord Harrowby is no longer in his place but I should tell him that we well understand the problems of cash flow. I have great experience of Northern Ireland and I have seen that the banks play a sustainable role. We are grateful to them. But as a government we have arranged that payments of some £300 per animal should be paid on account. Also, I have asked that my officials should work overtime to ensure that all payments due to farmers go out as quickly as possible. Therefore, we are dealing with the problem and we seem to be having some success.
Electricity and energy prices are high. However, the situation is changing. I am well aware of the needs of the Province in that regard, in particular those of residential users. Competition is coming, and we look forward to welcoming gas to the Province. I am delighted also that one of the largest users, Shorts, has committed itself to combined heat and power. The company's experience in that regard will prove a very good role model for other large users. I look forward to that coming on stream.
I understand the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, but I believe it inappropriate for me to comment on the financial performance of a private company. The regulation of the electricity industry is now the responsibility of the independent Director General of Electricity Supply for Northern Ireland. When his appointment was announced, I was extremely pleased that it was praised both by NIE and the chairman of the Electricity Consumer Council. That marks the respect in which he is held. The director general is currently engaged in the first electricity price controls review since privatisation and his proposals will take effect from 1st April 1997. The director general also published in January 1996 a consultation paper on the introduction of greater competition and consumer choice in the electricity market in Northern Ireland. He plans to issue a further paper with his definitive proposals shortly.
It is more expensive to produce and distribute electricity in Northern Ireland than in most regions of Great Britain. Power stations are small, the spinning reserve margin is higher and the customers, on average, are more dispersed. When making comparisons, it always appears that we are behind in the privatisation programme by about two years. That has an effect. However, I also believe that a more relevant comparison is not with London prices but with prices in Cornwall.
I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Cooke, that the Government will continue to encourage both efficiency and competition. We believe that there is a role for all in that respect. As I said, the discussions between NIE and the generators about the revision of the generator contracts are a matter for the companies concerned. It is the regulator who has the responsibility to examine the proposals arising from discussions to amend an existing generator's contract and, if not content, to consider a possible referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.
We believe that we should await the outcome of the regulator's efforts to introduce greater competition, and his initial review of NIE's price controls, before deciding on the use of the remaining £60 million which was made available to the Province. I hope that the noble Lord will appreciate that that is a sensible decision. We hope there will be a change in the situation to the benefit of users.
The noble Lord will be pleased to know that the recently published sulphur strategy for the United Kingdom proposes a new system of control which will in effect remove the concept of the regional bubble. It future, it is proposed that an application will be made in respect of individual plant based on the principle of best available techniques not entailing excessive cost. When the proposed Industrial Pollution Control (Northern Ireland) Order comes into effect next year, it is anticipated that the authorisations for the Northern Ireland electricity industry will take effect from mid-1998. I suspect the noble Lord will think that that is too slow. I promise him that it is being done with all due speed.
The noble Lord also raised the question of EU assistance for the natural gas project. The EU is providing a total of £49 million between 1994 and 1999 for the undersea natural gas pipeline between Scotland and Northern Ireland, and a grant of £14 million will be available for the high pressure main from Ballylumford to Carrickfergus. We in Northern Ireland have reason to be very grateful to the European Union for the support that it shows.
There was considerable comment both from my noble friend Lord Brookeborough and from the noble Lord, Lord Williams, on the question of priorities and the ability to manage the issues, which are enormous, in the health service. I should point out that the health service in Northern Ireland is funded at 14.5 per cent. more per capita than in England. But, even so, priorities have to be set so that the service may live within its budget. A reduction of services in low priority areas will enable additional resources to be found for community care, which is so important, renal services and additional drugs for cancer patients.
However, there is always an issue. The noble Lord, Lord Williams, raised the suggestion that operating theatres may close at the Royal Victoria Hospital. I am afraid that I do not have knowledge of that but I shall write to the noble Lord on the matter. My noble friend Lord Brookeborough and the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, also asked what was happening as regards the hospital and spoke about the position of affection in which it is held within the community. The proposals which have emerged from Dr. McKenna's committee are with my honourable friend and are being considered. The results of that consideration will be made known.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, and also my noble friend Lord Brookeborough, referred to quangos. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the people who serve on quangos in Northern Ireland. We place great demands on those people. We invite people to take up positions. We say the position will take up half a day a month but they quickly realise that they have to devote two days a week to the post in some instances. I have witnessed high levels of commitment from those people. They are experienced but in many cases they experience a big learning curve, as my noble friend said. However, they are always anxious to offer the best service.
We are conscious of the need to spread the posts among as many people as possible. I am particularly proud that the percentage of women serving on public appointment boards in Northern Ireland is higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom. We are always seeking to extend that. Since I took office I have seen councillors serving in this capacity. We have tried to spread appointments as widely as possible. My noble friend referred to the appointment to the HSS trust boards. Those appointments are made by the Department of Health and Social Services with the approval of the Secretary of State. The department seeks to achieve equality of representation. We are all well aware of the need to balance experience with the need to introduce new views and new experiences to the board.
As regards Northern Ireland, we shall, of course, implement the suggestions made by the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. However, we have to bear in mind the fact that the two communities there do not always agree--I say that gently--but both must be involved in decision making. I must inform my noble friend Lord Brookeborough that Belvoir Park Hospital has rightly developed a tradition of high quality care which is much respected by those who have been treated there and by their relatives and friends.
The cancer working group's report is the subject of public consultation until 10th July. Everyone is well aware of the issues involved. Even if the results of the consultation exercise and an option appraisal support the relocation of services from Belvoir Park Hospital, that could not realistically be carried out before the year 2000. There is no question of services currently provided at Belvoir Park Hospital being run down or diminished. I understand the anxiety of my noble friend as regards the insecurity generated by media reports. However I am sure my honourable friend the Minister for Health in Northern Ireland would always be pleased to reassure people who have anxieties in that regard.
My noble friend also referred to the comments made by Professor Stout. I assure him that Professor Stout is not a member of the cancer services working group. Nor has the HSSB been involved in any of the decisions relating to the location of Green Park's services. People who have experience of this matter have a right to comment. However, I have great respect for the tradition of your Lordships' House of declaring an interest before making such comment.
The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, referred to West Belfast. I have sympathy with his anxiety for that area but I am more hopeful than he appears to be. I believe that our targeting social needs policy is beginning to make a difference. I spent much time in West Belfast last August trying to learn about people's concerns. One anxiety was that if one applied for a job with a BT 13 postcode the chances of being accepted were much reduced. I believe that the position is now changing. People are learning to overcome that problem.
I am delighted to tell the noble Lord that unemployment in West Belfast has reduced by nearly 14 per cent. That is nearly three times the national average. We have companies such as Fujitsu, the Europa Tool Company and Colorite. There is the significant announcement by F G Wilson which seeks to take 400 jobs into West Belfast. Now that people can achieve aspirations, I hope that it will give them more confidence.
There is also the growth of local companies in the enterprise parks which the Government have created throughout the area. Glenwood Enterprise Agency, which I visit frequently, has some thriving, growing small companies. I believe that there is hope, and I think that there is change.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, raised the question of integrated education. I assure him that the Government remain fully committed to supporting viable proposals for new integrated schools. There are now 28 integrated schools with an enrolment of almost 6,000 pupils but with potential to achieve enrolment in excess of 7,500. A number of new integrated schools, two secondary and two primary, will open in September 1996. The recurrent expenditure on integrated schools is estimated to be £15.4 million in 1996-97 with capital expenditure of £7.3 million. I hope that I reassure the noble Lord that we are not considering lessening our support. However, those proposals have to be viable, and wanted by the parents of the pupils.
On education, my noble friend raised the issue of Tyrella Primary School. It is obviously important that we ensure that children who travel with parents who are part of the security team in the Province are provided for. I assure my noble friend that that school has a high per capita expenditure level compared with the average for primary schools in that area. It is receiving its full budget allocation. That makes allowance for the extra-curricular pressures which a small school faces with fluctuating enrolment of children from Army personnel. However, as my noble friend requested,
Perhaps I may reply to the ACE issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. It is a matter of concern. The percentage reduction is not the 40 per cent. that was mentioned in another place; the figure has been 25 per cent. But it was based on the number of people in place at the time. The balance had to be made without full consultation because the issue was a budgetary matter and could not be discussed ahead of the announcement of the financial issues. There has been intense consultation since. The aim in making that reduction was to balance our training towards ensuring that the jobs we create in the Province go to the people in the Province. We moved away from community work to ensuring that we skewed training for the jobs available. At present we have a record number of vacancies in Northern Ireland. That was the reason that that balance was made.
The opportunities are easing through and we have been working closely with other departments using the service of ACE employees and in the development of the community work programme. In it we work with companies to try to ensure that people go into specific work opportunities which put them at the top of the ladder when jobs come along. We hope to see a great increase in the number of opportunities and, therefore, in the amount of trust we can expect from the long-term unemployed by showing that we are dealing with the problem. The decision was not made lightly and it was made on the policy that, I am pleased to say, the economy is growing.
I thank everyone in your Lordships' House who has taken part in the discussion on how we plan the future of the Province. If I have not dealt with any matters, I shall ensure that I write to noble Lords. With that, I commend the order.