Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 12 November 2001
The Assembly met at noon (Mr Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
I have two concerns, Mr Speaker. First, on Friday 2 November, when a vote was being taken, you had to leave the Chair; no one was in the Chair. Can the House have an assurance that when such circumstances arise in the future, a Deputy Speaker will be appointed, even if a vote is to be taken? That will allow those wishing to make points of order to do so.
Secondly, I understand that you have asked your officials to report to you on the incident in the Great Hall last Tuesday. When will that report be made available to the leaders of the parties in the House? It is only right, given the accusations that have been made about certain Members, that we should know what the officials of the House saw in the Great Hall.
With regard to the first matter, I remind the Member, as I did at the time, that the reason for my having to vacate the Chair was to give advice that had been requested. Because there was some noise and commotion, it was impossible to hear what I was being asked or for the Member to hear my response. I happily assure the House and the Member concerned that a Deputy Speaker will, in future, take the Chair even more promptly than happened on that occasion.
On the day of the untoward events last week I met with the Head of Security of the Assembly and asked for a full report. That report was provided to me at the end of the week, and I was able to read it over the weekend. A further report, including recommendations, was provided to me today. I wish to ensure that the inquiries are complete, and I wish to consider the reports and the recommendations. They will come as a full report to the Assembly Commission which, as the House knows, is the body charged with responsibility for Assembly affairs.
The principal burden of that report will be to ensure that Assembly staff managed the incident appropriately and to consider how any such incidents could best be handled in the future. If Members have complaints about the conduct of other Members — or about the conduct of anyone who is the responsibility of a Member — that complaint should be taken to the Standards and Privileges Committee, where it can be considered in the context of the House. Members also have the option of legal recourse, and I understand that some may wish to take that option.
The report will go to the Assembly Commission, not to party leaders, and it is the appropriate body. If Members have complaints, the proper recourse within the Assembly is to the Standards and Privileges Committee. I trust that that is of assistance to the House.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
I understand that. However, I would like an assurance that we will see the report. Members who have loudly accused other Members now say that they will not go to the police, because they do not accept them. That is not the way in which business should be conducted. Members of the House should be prepared to stand over the statements that they have made. There seems to be a way of getting out of that.
As I have explained to the House, the report will go to the Assembly Commission. It is the responsibility of the Commission to decide how the situation will be handled. It is one matter for Members to get caught in an altercation with one another and another matter for Assembly staff to find themselves caught up in those circumstances. I am protective of our staff. They should not fall victim to any dispute between Members of the House. How Members choose to handle the situation is a matter for themselves. I have outlined the proper procedures.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will Members see the report after the Commission? Mr Paisley was speaking, I think, about party leaders, but it is right that all Members should see it and any recommendations that it contains.
That is a matter for the Commission to decide. All Members are represented on the Commission. The minutes of the Commission’s meetings are published and made available on the Internet as soon as they are approved. Some material will therefore be widely available.
Has our gratitude to staff for their outstanding handling of the situation been conveyed to them?
I have already conveyed my gratitude to the staff for the way in which they handled a difficult situation. If the Commission is satisfied that the situation was handled appropriately, suitable approbation should be forthcoming. I should not prejudge whether the Commission will make the same positive assessment as the Member has made.
Mr J Wilson:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I shall not ask you to go into detail about what you have already read and about the contributions that have been made to the report by staff, but I would like to know whether the report takes into consideration what was happening off camera? There was some preparation to disrupt events in the Great Hall.
The inquiry has not concentrated on what was, or was not, filmed by the television cameras, but on the observations of staff and others. If Members wish to make representations to that inquiry, they are at liberty to do so. I advise them to contact the Head of Security. I have already received a preliminary report, which I read at the weekend, and a further instalment, including some recommendations, which I will be studying. However, I would not be surprised if the Head of Security were to bring me further instalments of the report as responses are received. I trust that that clarifies the matter.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the point of order raised by the Chief Whip of the Official Unionist Party, surely it is dangerous to propose that something that was not seen, and which had nothing to do with what happened in the Great Hall, be included in the report. Who can judge what happened? I have heard judgements that certain individuals orchestrated the incident. I have already made a statement on who orchestrated it, which I am not withdrawing. The videotapes prove that what I said was right. People who could make up stories should not have access to the inquiry.
Let me be clear on this matter: Mr Jim Wilson’s question, as I understood it, was whether the material that was caught on camera would be the sole evidence on which the inquiry would be based. I replied to the Member, and to the House, that the material that is being gathered concerns what staff members and others saw. Whether or not the incident was recorded by camera is another matter. The inquiry is not dependent on viewing videotapes of what happened, but on the experience of staff and others who were present.
The Minister has informed me that the incident is still being shown on Eurosport.
I am tempted to become involved, but I was brought up to resist temptation, and I will do so now.
I wish to advise Members that I received three letters dated 6 November from Members last Tuesday, each of which states:
"In accordance with Standing Order 3(8) as amended today, I give notice that I am changing my designation from ‘Unionist’ back to ‘Centre’ to take effect seven days from today."
The letters were signed by Mr David Ford, Mr Sean Neeson and Mrs Eileen Bell. In accordance with the revised Standing Orders, therefore, these Members will be re-designated as "Other", to take effect from Wednesday of this week.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you been assured that Mr Ford’s stomach will be back in good working condition after his re-designation back to the centre?
In this professional capacity, I do not generally enquire after the physical, or other, indisposition of Members, unless they bring it to my attention.
Mr Speaker, what was the position of Committees after Members’ re-designation? What was their legal status, given that the proportional balances that were put in place were altered? Are any decisions that were made during that period legally acceptable?
Order. As far as Standing Orders are concerned, that point is wide of the issue. The membership of Committees is decided by a motion in the Assembly. There was no attempt to change that, and the detail of Committee membership is a matter for agreement and votes in the Assembly. I trust that that lays the matter to rest, although if the Member wishes further clarification, I will show him which Standing Orders apply, rather than take up the time of the House. The Member can take it from me that the functioning of Committees was not adversely affected.
The Minister of Finance and Personnel (Mr Durkan):
Mr Speaker, with permission I will make a statement on behalf of the Executive about public spending allocations in 2001-02 following the September monitoring round.
In this monitoring round there are some resources to distribute as a result of savings emerging in a number of spending programmes. As I have said in previous monitoring round statements, the main purpose of these exercises is to adjust the allocation of resources to meet cost pressures in priority services. As an Executive, our aim is to ensure that our financial plans are adjusted to take account of changes in the delivery of public services. In doing so, we are, of course, guided by the strategic objectives in the Programme for Government. Fortunately we are not bound by the priorities of our predecessors. I say that on behalf of the Executive, and not in any party capacity.
Around £66·2 million was available to the Executive for reallocation in the September monitoring round. That had arisen from a number of sources. The Executive agreed in July that the balance of unallocated room to manoeuvre from the June monitoring round should be held over until September to facilitate the best possible interaction with the Budget process. Some £21·7 million has been withheld for that purpose.
Added to that, some £44·2 million of savings were declared by Departments as a routine part of this monitoring round. The Department for Employment and Learning surrendered significant sums from its employment programmes and as a result of a reduction in student loan subsidies. The Department for Social Development advised that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is expecting increased receipts from house sales this year amounting to some £8 million and is also expecting an easement on Laganside expenditure plans that will release £5·2 million.
I have frequently drawn attention to the constraints that we face in planning spending. The availability of resources through savings of this nature should not deceive us into believing that our spending programmes are not under considerable pressure. As I was reminded in the Chamber last Monday, there are significant demands for spending on services that are badly needed and that would be of clear benefit to the public.
In this monitoring round, as in most others, the bids exceed the resources available. Bids on this occasion amount to £128 million. Nevertheless, given the pressure on services and the wide range of aspirations that many people have, the Executive have looked strategically and pragmatically at how best we should use those resources.
We face major problems today and tomorrow in schools, hospitals and many other important public services. There is also a long way to go in tackling the equality agenda, reducing levels of deprivation throughout the community and making a difference to the quality of life of all our people. That will be the true test of devolution. However, with the limited resources available we have sought to relieve the most immediate of those pressures, while at the same time tackling the longer-term weaknesses in infrastructure and the shortfalls in major spending programmes.
In considering those issues, we came to the view that health, education and roads were among the services facing the most acute difficulties and that they would have to be given some priority. However, the key difficulty in meeting that challenge was to find ways of addressing those priorities without simply shifting the burden to another sector.
I have said before that the Executive want to adopt a more forward-looking approach to our financial management and give spending authorities greater stability for planning purposes. We also want to get better use out of the spending power available and to take account of the Assembly’s views on how we might achieve that.
In drawing up the draft Budget for 2002-03 which I presented to the Assembly on 25 September, careful heed was taken of Members’ points about the levels of reallocation in all monitoring rounds so far and the high levels of underspending at the end of a year.
We agree that we need to make better use of our resources and improve financial planning and estimating. In the draft Budget we looked at how the pattern of underspending in monitoring rounds could be used to advantage and concluded that some £48 million of spending power could be allocated for planned carrying over into 2002-03 without undue risk and based on anticipated underspending this year. We are confident that it will be possible to manage resources in the next few monitoring rounds and through 2002-03, and to make good that requirement.
With that aim in mind, the Executive’s approach to this monitoring round has been based on the assumption that it would be prudent to set aside approximately £21 million now, leaving a balance of £27 million to be found in the December and February monitoring rounds. Based on analysis of foreseeable underspending patterns, I am confident that we can proceed.
One consequence of this approach is that the scope for meeting additional bids is less, but I am sure that we will find it preferable to use resources more effectively at the planning stage than always to face late reallocations in monitoring rounds. I am, however, especially conscious of the needs expressed by the Ministers from the Departments of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Regional Development, Social Development and the Environment. I assure Members that the issues highlighted by those Departments and others will be considered further in the December monitoring round.
Of the remaining £44·9 million available, the Executive have decided to allocate £33 million now and to earmark a further £11·9 million to meet pressures in the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure on which we cannot currently take a final decision. I will return to that point later.
Details of the additional allocations are set out in the table attached to my statement. While I do not propose to explain every allocation in detail, I will indicate some of the more substantial or significant items.
For the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of the Environment we will meet more of the costs associated with foot-and-mouth disease. We will also help the former to provide disabled access to Forestry Service premises.
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure will also receive support to provide disabled access to premises, to meet urgent health and safety requirements in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland and to meet costs associated with the Golden Jubilee celebrations. That Department also faces some fundamental funding problems, which I will too.
In the Department of Education, provision has been made for special schools and to help ensure that meeting the commitment to deliver Classroom 2000 does not impede the drive to improve standards and raise attainment levels.
Additional allocations have been agreed for the Department for Employment and Learning to meet pay increases which were higher than planned and to support those with disabilities on Disability Advisory Service programmes.
Substantial provision is also being made to meet contractual commitments for Worktrack and to respond to the unexpected demand for individual learning accounts (ILAs). The suspension of ILAs was announced by Dr Farren on 26 October because of concerns about aggressive mis-selling by providers, and new accounts cannot therefore be opened. However, the Department for Employment and Learning still requires additional money to meet existing commitments.
For the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment we have agreed that a substantial part of the inescapable costs so far incurred in the creation of Invest Northern Ireland should be met from easements identified in other areas in the Department.
In the Department of Finance and Personnel additional funding has been provided to cover the costs of completing the census.
Health Service costs are again a major feature of the monitoring round. Some £8 million was allocated to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to address some new costs that are associated with further pay pressures that arose from contractual, legal and regrading issues and increases in the drugs bill. The Department of Finance and Personnel is providing funding to address the immediate and increasing demands for dialysis and to reduce the waiting lists for cardiac surgery.
Funding is also being provided to replace medical equipment in the Royal Group of Hospitals’ cardiac surgery unit and to provide two linear accelerators for Belvoir Park Hospital. That will replace equipment that is past its normal life expectancy and reduce waiting lists and waiting time for people who require cancer treatment.
As I indicated earlier, additional capital receipts from the Housing Executive from favourable conditions for house sales were a major source of the savings that have been redistributed in the monitoring round. That has led to reduced rental income for the Housing Executive, and the Department of Finance and Personnel is providing the Department for Social Development with funds to make up for that. It is also meeting the costs of some public liability claims.
The Department of Finance and Personnel is allocating funds to the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to cover the cost of foot-and-mouth-disease advertising and to meet the commitments of the North/ South Ministerial Council.
As I indicated earlier, there are two further bids from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to cover the costs of library services. They must be given serious consideration in the coming months. In agreeing the draft Budget for 2002-03, the Executive recognised the serious consequences that would arise if the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure had to absorb the pressure from an ongoing job evaluation of library staff along with other pressures. The Executive agreed that it would be untenable to expect the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure to meet the cost of implementing the results of the evaluation exercise. A consultancy study on the job evaluation was carried out to ensure that the proposed allocation of such a large sum was fully justifiable. However, it is likely that the bid will have to be met, and the final position will be clarified as soon as possible.
The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure also faces growing difficulty as a result of inherited deficits in museums. The sum of £1 million was included in the draft Budget proposals to address that problem in 2002-03. However, the Executive understand that further resources are required to make good the deficit up to 31 March 2002. Therefore they have agreed that resources should be set aside to cover that pressure, subject to further analysis by the Department.
The Executive have concluded that while some important issues of principle must be addressed, it is likely that we will have to meet pay arrears of £10 million for librarians and a £1·9 million deficit in the main museums. Thus, the Executive have agreed that it would be prudent to set aside £11·9 million now so that if we are satisfied on the outstanding issues, the allocations can be confirmed quickly. The outworkings of the outstanding matters will be confirmed in the December monitoring round statement, if not before.
In a similar vein, the Department for Regional Development has highlighted several difficult pressures, particularly with public transport. However, the Executive concluded that consideration of those pressures should be deferred until the December monitoring round.
It is important to reflect on the approach that we should take in future monitoring rounds. In recent times we have been extremely fortunate because considerable sums were available for reallocation through monitoring.
Indeed, this has been unprecedented when viewed against historical patterns, though we should not underestimate the effect of not having to cover security costs, which consumed substantial amounts of in-year room to manoeuvre in the years before devolution. We have, perhaps unknowingly, been enjoying the benefits of a significant peace dividend since the introduction of devolved government. The room to manoeuvre has been welcome, but the pattern cannot be expected to continue. The situation has created the expectation that we will always be able to meet a substantial amount of any emerging pressures. There is evidence that, as a result, there is a growing dependency on monitoring that we will not be able to sustain. The Executive have acted to promote more strategic forward planning by taking some in-year room to manoeuvre into the Budget planning. This means that we can use the spending power in that context when the full range of planning issues is being addressed together. This should produce a better outcome than could be achieved in the more limited context of monitoring. We will continue to apply this approach with prudence.
In addition, we have agreed that we must concentrate on addressing pressures through effective management and reprioritisation of our activities. In future Budgets and monitoring rounds, we may have to deal with unexpected increases in costs by reducing previously announced allocations. That means retaining real flexibility for the Executive and focusing more on delivering the outputs and outcomes that are being sought from public services, from existing allocations.
Inevitably, we must face up to the hard choices that lie ahead and take the tough and unavoidable decisions that confront us — that is the very essence of government. The Executive will not shirk this responsibility, and, by taking the necessary decisions, we remain determined to make a difference to the way our public services perform. As Minister of Finance and Personnel, I am for public services and wish to see improvement and development for the good of all those who need and depend on these services. I commend the reallocations to the Assembly.
The Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning (Dr Birnie):
The Department for Employment and Learning was a substantial net contributor to this monitoring round to the tune of £12 million, and that was recognised in the Minister’s statement. This does not concern me per se, but the Committee is concerned by some of the reasons that have come to light for easements in the area of the Department for Employment and Learning, particularly the New Deal easement. Some of that was engendered by the decline in unemployment, which is welcome. However, does the Minister agree that £4 million of the reduction in spending on New Deal arose from a bottleneck in the delivery system in the relevant Departments, particularly with staff vacancies in jobcentres and weaknesses in the Social Security Agency system for identifying New Deal clients?
The Chairperson of the Committee for Employment and Learning is right to identify the Department as a significant yielder of easements in this monitoring round. There will not be the spend on some programmes that was anticipated. In the case of the Jobskills programme, that is due to reduced training costs, and the situation with New Deal is due to the later implementation of some programmes and the bottleneck issues the Member referred to. The Department is working on all of those issues, and the Executive recognise the importance of these programmes, not least because of the more questionable economic climate that we now face.
I welcome the Minister’s statement and congratulate him on his final monitoring round as Minister of Finance and Personnel. Does he agree that given the needs of our society as evidenced by the list of unmet bids, and the demands of health and education, we must find innovative ways to finance our public services? That is not only desirable, but essential.
I agree with the Member that there is pressure on our resources from commendable and attractive bids that we simply cannot meet. That shows that we need more money. We must try to obtain more money from the Treasury or else we must use available means to raise resources ourselves. We must also get more out of the money that we have. That means that we must have more effective procurement, not to save money, but to release to services money that would otherwise be spent on transactions.
We want to target our spending better to ensure that that money goes further to meet real need and to deliver bigger and better outcomes. We must also see what more can be done to supplement the public expenditure spending capacity with the spending capacity that the private sector can bring through public-private partnerships. Again, we do not wish to substitute public expenditure, but to supplement it and add to the investment that we undertake and sponsor in the public interest.
Mr J Kelly:
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.
I welcome the Minister’s allocation of £14·3 million to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. A figure of £2·5 million has been allocated for the bill for drugs; £5·5 million for junior doctors, midwives and the Working Time Directive; and £1 million for the Fire Service. That leaves £5·3 million to address the serious shortcomings in the Health Service. Given the winter pressures that the Health Service faces, the existing waiting lists for beds and the room to manoeuvre within the Budget, can the Minister re-address the shortfall in the Health Service?
I accept the Member’s observations about the distribution of the £14·3 million allocated to the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. We must meet those real issues and pressures. The allocations for the drugs bill, junior doctors, midwives and the Working Time Directive are important in their own right. I accept that that money will not go directly to new services or to meet many of the service pressures that directly affect people. However, it will help meet some of the Department’s important cost pressures. If we did not make those allocations other services would suffer; therefore those pressures must be met. Nonetheless, we have been able to put some money into service improvements. I accept that the Member would like the amount to be greater.
Our approach has been to re-allocate moneys from this year’s Budget to next year’s Budget. However, we must remember that we are attempting to secure a £48 million carry-over in order to improve the Executive’s scope in next year’s Budget. The Executive’s tight position was reflected in the Executive position report. Our adoption of that approach has enabled us to increase the money for health and social services next year by £30 million, which is over and above the original indicative allocation for next year. The room to manoeuvre that allows us to carry over money into next year has enabled us to give further priority to the Health Service in next year’s Budget.
I welcome the additional £13·3 million allocation to the Health Service. However, does the Minister recognise the community’s concern that, despite the extra money that has been pumped into the Health Service, waiting lists are still growing? Has he asked the Health Service why those lists continue to grow, despite its additional income?
I listened to the Minister’s comments on victims’ issues, and I do not doubt his sincerity in that regard. Why was the bid by the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister for funding for victims’ issues unsuccessful? If the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minster was given the same criteria as other Departments, why was its bid not made on time?
The Executive are aware of the huge pressures faced by the Health Service and the difficulties in translating the investment and priority that we offer it into performance of a standard that the public has a right to expect. The Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has worked very hard to resolve that problem. The Executive are carrying out a needs and effectiveness evaluation, involving the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Economic Policy Unit to examine issues such as those mentioned by the Member.
In the September monitoring round there was no bid in respect of victims’ issues, and that was indicated at last week’s debate on the draft Budget. Perhaps the Member is confusing the allocations under the September monitoring round with the Executive programme funds, from which a bid for victims’ funding was made.
I welcome the extra funding for the Health Service, but it is not nearly enough. The average person would not understand why the Minister is holding back, in other words why he is not spending £11·9 million of taxpayers’ money. Why is he not spending that now, when we all know that the Health Service is in dire straits and is getting worse?
I welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement that priorities exist, and health is a top priority. However, is it not time to put that extra funding into health, when the public is crying out for reduced waiting times, cancer care, nurses, community care and many other services.
The £11·9 million is not simply being held over without good intentions for its use. In my statement I explained the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure’s serious historical underfunding. The Executive have agreed to meet that deficit so that the Department’s work can progress. Therefore in all likelihood that money will be allocated to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
In the draft Budget statement I explained the attempts to carry forward money from this year’s monitoring rounds and incorporate it into next year’s Budget. That approach has enabled us to further prioritise health in next year’s Budget.
Members may recall the indicative allocations for next year that the Assembly published last year. We have now been able to add an additional £30 million to those allocations in next year’s Budget. That increase surpasses what was already planned. The practice of carrying forward money is allowing us to invest more money in health.
I too am concerned about holding back almost one third of the current allocation — over £11 million — first, for deficits in museums and, secondly, for something that we should have known about. It is a massive sum of money, and numerous questions will undoubtedly be asked about that.
Can the Minister clarify that the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s budget was to meet in total the £3·8 million for replacement equipment at the Royal Victoria Hospital and Belvoir Park Hospital? It is unfortunate that the cardiac surgery unit’s equipment was tied in with the cancer equipment at Belvoir Park Hospital. Having taken related evidence just last week, I am aware of the enormous anxiety of patients currently waiting to enter Belvoir Park Hospital. It is totally unacceptable. Will this bid now meet that cost in total? We must have answers to that. It is not good enough for us to ask those people to wait longer and longer for important information that could save their lives.
I am pleased to hear the Minister say that previously announced allocations may have to be seriously addressed. However, I am more concerned about the type of planning that is being undertaken. Will Committee members be in a position to prepare themselves for those announcements? If there are now to be cost reductions, is the Minister in any position to say where those might be?
How, precisely, the money will be used for Belvoir Park Hospital and the cardiac facilities at the Royal Victoria Hospital will be for the Minister and the Department to detail and proceed with, working closely with the Committee. I take fully the point that Monica McWilliams has made. I recently visited some friends in Belvoir Park Hospital, and I am aware of the issues there.
Many questions will be asked about some of the wider points. Many questions have already been asked about the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure’s allocation-in-waiting — the term "in-waiting" has been well used recently. If we do not meet this obligation it will have severe implications for that Department and many of its programmes. We must ask if it is absolutely inescapable, and all indications now seem to point to the fact that it is. While all the questions that have been implied will be valid, and, it is to be hoped, the answers to them will also be valid, the underlying question is do we need — and it is right — to allocate money in this area? That is the question that the Executive had to answer.
In respect of the wider issue, we cannot assume that monitoring somehow makes this a "Good Ship Lollipop" — that a few extra sweeties will always turn up. There is a danger of that; people are starting to assume that there will always be some "give" in monitoring. As some Departments and Members have reflected this morning, we must recognise that we need to look not only at the easements that are coming from elsewhere to meet the pressures we face, but that we will reach a point where we must curb back. We will have to restrain spending in other areas if we are to ease those pressures. We must reach a point where our work in monitoring rounds is more pressure-led than easement-led. As a result of these pressures and priorities we will determine what happens. I am not in a position to anticipate or speculate as to what programme areas that will apply to.
Mr J Wilson:
I congratulate the Minister on his elevation to higher office over the weekend. If he is trying to wear too many hats, and needs some more, this side of the House could help him out. We might have one or two lying about that he could wear. I could supply one or two myself, because I am not wearing them at the moment.
My question has been touched upon already. It is proper to repeat it. Above all other matters that are referred to me, there is the matter of the Health Service. There is the question of the long waiting lists for pain clinics. There is the issue of psychiatric care and the issue of waiting lists in general — the list goes on and on. Another important issue — again it arises in my constituency — is the provision of clean water. I am concerned about the treatment of foul and polluted water that daily enters our freshwater systems. Is the Minister conscious of the need for increased investment in those two areas?