the assembly

Friday 7 July 2006

The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Madam Speaker in the Chair).

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Assembly Business

Madam Speaker: In accordance with the Northern Ireland Act 2006, the Secretary of State has directed that the Assembly should sit on Friday 7 July 2006 at 10.30 am to consider business as it appears on the Order Paper. The Secretary of State has also directed that the Assembly should rise for the summer recess at the close of business today and should return on Monday 4 September.

Secretary of State Motion

Spending Review and Priorities

Madam Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed that a maximum of four hours be set aside for the debate. The Committee also agreed that the first round of speeches should be limited to 15 minutes, with subsequent Members being allowed 10 minutes. I intend to send a copy of the Official Report of the debate to the Secretary of State.

I remind Members that a two-minute silence will be observed across the United Kingdom at 12.00 noon today to mark the first anniversary of the London bombings. It was agreed at this week’s Business Committee meeting that I should, therefore, interrupt proceedings at an appropriate moment to announce the period of silence and to allow Members and staff in Parliament Buildings to observe it. If a Member is speaking at the time, he or she will be allowed to continue after the silence with no reduction in speaking time.

If that is clear, I shall proceed.

Mr P Robinson: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. At the first meeting of the Assembly I raised a point of order about the standing of what has become known as the Ulster Unionist Party Assembly Group, which purported, at one stage at least, to be a political party. When might the Assembly expect a ruling on that issue?

Madam Speaker: As Members will be aware, the Clerk to the Assembly has been gathering information on this subject. This has now been provided to counsel and I shall rule on the matter once I have received counsel’s further advice. I, like you, regret the delay, but I want it to be an absolutely clear decision. Members will appreciate that the issue must be examined thoroughly.

Motion made:

That this Assembly notes the results of the Spending Review 2004 and the current Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 and their implications for the spending priorities for a Programme for Government to be agreed by a Northern Ireland Executive following its restoration on or before 24 November 2006. — [The Secretary of State.]

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: Madam Speaker, we are surrounded in the Assembly by mystery. We do not know what is going to happen. We are here because the Secretary of State, in his benevolence, has permitted the Assembly to meet today to discuss the comprehensive spending review.

As a Member of the Assembly representing the people of Northern Ireland, I feel that the way the business of the Assembly is conducted from the office of the Secretary of State is absolutely outrageous. All the parties in the Assembly should have had the right to be consulted about what would be debated today. No individual party should be able to dictate the business of the Assembly. We have had dictations right, left and centre — especially from the party that is conspicuous by its absence from this House today.

The time has come when this House needs to consider its own sovereignty in regard to the matters in the Act that set it up. This Assembly has responsibilities and a certain sovereignty. Listen to the Secretary of State and look at the papers we eventually receive from him about the conduct of business in this House — it is absolutely ridiculous. The rules can change within hours rather than days. This Assembly must signal to the Secretary of State that if this is the way that he wants to conduct his business, he can conduct it on his own.

There is no use in pretending that this Assembly has at least some democracy when it has very little, and indeed would have none at all if the Secretary of State had his way. I protest and put on record that Members and parties in this House should be consulted in some way about the business to come before it, especially when that business is not in keeping with the rules of the House in regard to the Business Committee or any other Committee that wants to bring forward business.

The time has come for us to tell the Secretary of State that he cannot simply call a meeting of the Assembly, and, a day or two before it, say, “Here is a bit of paper; get on with it” and then tell us that on a certain day we will be out anyway. That must be brought to an end. The tragedy is that this Assembly meets and seeks to conduct its business while one party that is much involved with the setting of that business refuses to come to the Chamber. Yet the Secretary of State insists that other parties attend the meetings of a Committee that has the authority to bring matters before the Assembly.

Madam Speaker, I do not want to weary the House or to get on your wrong side. I do not worry when you make your own decisions, but I worry when the Clerk whispers in your ear. I was told by an old Member of the first Stormont Parliament that when one sees the Clerk whispering in the Speaker’s ear one should beware. I see that the Clerk is now getting impatient and speaking in your ear.

Madam Speaker: I have listened intently to the Member, but I would now like to hear him address the motion.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: In another place we would call this a “Dan to Beersheba” motion: one can walk over the whole land — whether it be holy land or not. The motion is wide enough for that because it includes everything.

The most important issue at the present time is the security of the citizens of this land. Not only are we living in the shadow of terrorism as terrorists carry out many atrocious crimes, but individuals in the Province are being attacked, especially womenfolk. That is absolutely deplorable, and any right-thinking citizen should be alarmed by the lack of security for the individual. Every day, other matters arise that cause us to wonder whether there is any real security for the people of this Province.

Tied in with that is the agitation surrounding the marching season. Some of us think that the great persuaders in this matter are those who are out to make trouble at various marches. They seem to have so much strength that if they threaten enough, their threats are listened to.

A serious matter has arisen in the village of Dunloy in my constituency. I resent the fact that, at this time, certain Protestants cannot lay a wreath in their graveyard without being told where they should stand so that they will be concealed behind a wall. When a country cannot honour its dead in reverence, it is on the road to anarchy. I feel strongly about that, and about the fact that at that particular incident, which could have become serious, when there was opposition —

10.45 am

Mr McCarthy: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. What has this got to do with the motion on budgetary constraints?

Madam Speaker: I imagine that Dr Paisley will come to the financial implications in due course.


Rev Dr Ian Paisley: The hon Member must have forgotten that policing the Province is expensive. Vast amounts of money are laid out on that. Mr McCarthy should recognise that that must interest those who want to represent their constituencies.

Last year, as this particular parade was taking place, there was lawlessness and illegal parking of vehicles to deny the Protestant people peace to remember their gallant dead. Not one person was taken to court or made to pay the price for that lawlessness — not one. Those who have been negotiating with the police and the authorities have told me that the ante is up. Those who got away with illegal acts and lawlessness last year think that they can go one better this year, and the threat is now greater.

Those matters may not interest the Member from the Alliance Party, but they interest me and all right-thinking citizens in the community. There is great expenditure on security. If there were lawfulness in the country, less money would need to be spent.

I do not know whether the civil servant who wrote this motion for the Secretary of State realised that Members could say anything here today and tie it in to the spending of Government money. Although the Clerk may whisper in your ear, Madam Speaker, that does not alter the fact that expenditure on policing must be faced.

We can go to France, stand at the Somme and see the liberty that is given to people of all creeds to pay honour to their gallant dead. Yet, in our own country, those who carry out acts of lawlessness resist that. They get away with it and nothing is done. That is a sad comment on our land today.

Mr Gallagher: Does the Member agree that the best way to address many of the serious issues that he has raised is for elected representatives to assume responsibility for them; in other words, to have devolved government?

Does Dr Paisley recognise that the DUP is one of the parties blocking progress towards devolution, without which there will be endless hot-air debates here? The DUP, as it did at yesterday’s meeting of the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB), will take part in hot-air debates in which it criticises everybody and everything, and yet will not accept any responsibility.

Rev Dr Ian Paisley: The hon Member is himself engaging in hot-air debate. Does he not know that members of his own party were in that debate yesterday, and voted with the other elected representatives? Or does he think that children in need of special payments for their education should not be treated as they would in any civilised country? [Interruption.]

If the Member wants to make a speech, he should make it in the time given to him. There is no place for the people that the Member wants in a future Government of Northern Ireland. The gunman will not be there, and neither will the people who carry out criminal activities. Those who are associated with terrorism, from whatever side of the country, will not be there with my vote, or the vote of my party.

The Member may vote for them, and work with them, as he did in the past. We will not be working with those people. The way to peace is an utter rejection of terrorist violence and all that goes with it. I regret that the hon Member has expressed those views in this debate, because I thought that he, at least, had sympathy for those who do not want terrorism in Government.

This is an important debate, because it deals with people’s lives, their well-being and the well-being of this country. I trust that today, in spite of all the peculiar circumstances surrounding this debate, and the strong eloquence of Benches not sat on, the people of Northern Ireland will know again exactly where the truth lies, and will back that truth with all their might as the party I lead intends to do in this House.

Dr Birnie: I am very pleased that we have been granted this debate. The decree, as it were, has come down from the royal court, and the peasants have been allowed to have a discussion about what crops to plant for the next couple of years.

Mr McNarry: The croppies are not here.

Mr Kennedy: Croppies lie down. [Laughter.]

Dr Birnie: Now, now.

To cut through the convoluted wording of this lengthy motion, it seems to be saying that Northern Ireland is facing something of a squeeze on the growth of public spending. That is undoubtedly the case. We had warning of this in the Budget last December, and no doubt the forthcoming comprehensive spending review will reinforce the point.

Dr Paisley said that this was a Dan-to-Beersheba motion, and I suppose that — to continue the biblical analogies — our situation is similar to the seven lean years following the seven fat years. Beginning in 1999, we have had five or more years of rapid growth in public expenditure; between 4% and 5% on average annually in real terms. For the foreseeable future, that rate of growth is going to drop to about 2%. If, as has happened previously, the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety continues to get a rapid increase, the implication is that many other Departments will face either zero growth or, indeed, reductions in their spending levels.

The crucial implication is that if one thought that the previous Executive of 1999-2002 faced hard spending decisions, any returning Executive this year or at any point in the immediate future will inevitably face a greater host of spending dilemmas.

That is the context. In a tough expenditure environ­ment we have the logic of the comprehensive spending review. To use the jargon, the review is zero-based: no programme can be taken for granted, and everything must be justified against alternative uses of funds.

I wish to turn to some themes that relate to public spending. Aneurin Bevin, Welsh politician and founder of the National Health Service (NHS), said that socialism is the language of priorities. Indeed, given competing demands and scarce resources, all proper politics is about identifying priorities.

There is every indication that the public regards health as a key priority, perhaps even as the top priority. We must continue to respect that. From our experiences either as constituency representatives or from our own families, we know about the human tragedies that result from the avoidable suffering caused by prolonged waiting for operations, or, indeed, the unavailability of certain treatments in the NHS. Those drugs or treatments are often available to people who live elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That is the sharp end of so-called healthcare rationing. Yet we also know that since 1999 the cash available to the Department of Health has enjoyed very rapid growth; in some years there have been increases of 10%. Money has gone in at one end, but there have not always been obvious signs of output at the other.

Several years ago, the Wanless Report considered the future of the NHS across the UK. Wanless reported to the Chancellor that the NHS should continue to provide free treatment at the point of use and be funded out of general taxation. However, the report also issued a warning that sudden increases in public spending on health — above about 7% annually in real terms — were likely to be associated with bottlenecks. Hence, not all the money would be absorbed in a way that would raise standards of patient care. Our experience supports that sorry conclusion: spending grows, but waiting lists remain stubbornly high. Part of the problem is that, notwithstanding the increase in financial resources, the number of staff who deal with patient care — doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals — has often grown little, if at all.

The recent Appleby Report casts further doubt on the efficiency and effectiveness of the many structures of healthcare provision that we have in what is, after all, a small Province of only 1·7 million people. Many will feel that the current Review of Public Administration (RPA) proposals are an opportunity that has been missed to streamline administration in the local NHS.

In education, there is obviously —

Mr Burnside: Will the Member give way?

Dr Birnie: Certainly.

Mr Burnside: Before the Member continues discussing education as the second priority, will he agree that an allocation of money to the victims of terrorism has been left out of the overall funding spend? That runs across different Departments. Does he agree with other Members and with me that priority should be given to the victims of violence? They are often forgotten and pushed from one Department to another.

Dr Birnie: I thank my colleague for that point. I agree that there is a need for a cross-cutting approach to victims, who are so often neglected.

There is a multimillion pound demand for investment in the school estate. I note that the Government seem to have backed off from the public-private partnership (PPP) route. That is surely not an accident. Public-private partnerships are similar to a 20-year or 25-year mortgage, and it may be that the early PPPs, with respect to school redevelopment, did not represent a particularly good deal for the taxpayer. Many, and not just in my South Belfast constituency, would like to get to the bottom of the why, how and who of the PPP decision on Balmoral High School, which was a particularly extreme case of an unsuccessful PPP.

About five years ago, the Department of Education entered into a 25-year arrangement to rebuild that school, which was to have a 500-pupil capacity. The school now has only 200 pupils and is about to close.

11.00 am

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Wells] in the Chair)

Any consideration of allocations of public spending should not only be about how to divide the cake, but about how we can spend wisely in order to expand that cake in future. Wealth creation must be a priority. In our comments on the current Budget, my party pointed out its concern at the way in which the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) budget was being cut. An earlier so-called concordat arrangement to adjust DETI and Invest Northern Ireland spending in line with levels of inward investment seems to have resulted in year-on-year reductions. Indeed, some decisions that have been taken on tourist promotion, or, in practice, the lack of it, similarly show a “penny wise, pound foolish” mentality.

Levels of R&D spending in Northern Ireland continue to place us at the bottom of the league. Therefore, we support anything intelligent that can be done with spending or through tax incentives to boost science and technology in the region. We remain concerned by the lengthy slippage in the writing and publication of the regional economic strategy. It will shortly be a year behind schedule. We are also still waiting, after several years, for the electricity cost reduction package that the then Minister Ian Pearson announced some years ago.

When MLAs speak about public spending, the criticism is often levelled that we are swift to present the begging bowl but slow to suggest ways in which to save money. I have some suggestions as to how the output of public money could be trimmed.

Mr Kennedy: Does the Member agree that, on the anniversary of the London bombings, and given that the Prime Minister has refused a public inquiry into that outrage on grounds of cost, it is a matter of grave concern to learn of the escalating costs of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, which a member of the Cabinet now estimates at approaching £400 million? Does he agree that that clearly represents a considerable drain on the resources potentially available to both the Exchequer and the Northern Ireland block grant?

Dr Birnie: I thank my colleague for that point. It is an interesting comparison.

Mr Durkan: I can inform the hon Member that the figure of £400 million that Tessa Jowell quoted was a complete aberration. She does not know where she got that figure from, nor does anyone else in the Government. The figure is £163 million.

Dr Birnie: I submit, Mr Deputy Speaker, that, even if it is £150 million or £160 million, or £250 million as other sources have quoted, that seems a very large outlay of money for an inquiry that has satisfied very few people.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Dr Birnie: I want to ask some questions about the so-called national stadium. Is its business case robust? The Department of Finance and Personnel and the Strategic Investment Board (SIB) have so far refused to publish the business case and the economic appraisal. Will the necessary infrastructure be provided to make the stadium accessible, wherever it happens to be built? What will be done to avoid any ongoing subsidisation charges on the public purse? Surely one way ahead would be to maximise the private sector’s role in the project. That would reduce the drain on public resources and ensure that the stadium would be there to boost tourism and maximise the benefits for Northern Ireland as we approach the 2012 Olympics.

The RPA is a missed opportunity.

Mr Donaldson: I agree entirely with the Member. It is essential that the development of the Maze site be a public-private partnership. Is he aware that the two improvements to the major roads infrastructure in the Lisburn area in the past five years have both been privately financed? Is he also aware that the proposed new Knockmore link into the Maze site will also be privately financed, saving the taxpayer millions of pounds?

Dr Birnie: I am aware that at the moment the so-called national stadium has a budget of more than £100 million. We should bear in mind the examples of stadia in London and Dublin, and indeed of Olympic stadia around the world. We could be looking at substantial cost overruns. We need to consider the detail of any PPP arrangements to ensure that such overruns are borne by the private rather than the public sector.

The RPA is a missed opportunity. The commission appointed by the Government targeted the 26 district councils, which was arguably a soft option, rather than deal with the vast expanses of quango-land and the billions of pounds that are spent there. Sir John Banham recently noted, based on his experience of reform of county and city councils in England in the 1990s, that the merging of councils there did not necessarily save much money.

The architecture of Government Departments chosen in the previous Assembly in 1999 might have been right at that stage, but it may not necessarily be so after 2007. If, for example, Northern Ireland follows the other United Kingdom nations in establishing an environmental protection agency — a subject that I know is of some interest to you, Mr Deputy Speaker — we will have to look again at the relationship between the Department of the Environment and the Department for Regional Development. I am sorry for making that little point.

Mr Kennedy: No, you are not.

Dr Birnie: No, I am not.

We have argued since October 2002 that the North/South bodies should remain on a care-and-maintenance basis. We are concerned that the current Budget envisages a large growth in the capital spend of Waterways Ireland, for example. The North/South bodies should not be shielded from the general financial stringency facing all the other Departments.

This debate will largely focus on spending, but it is appropriate to mention the associated revenue-raising side. We repeat that Northern Ireland’s tax revenue would be boosted in the long term if the Government showed much more imagination in relation to corporation tax, the derating of industry, VAT on tourism and the fuel excise differential with the Republic. The wealth-creating sector can be given incentives to grow. This debate will probably force us all to face the uncomfortable reality that any return to devolution will not enjoy the best economic circumstances.

Mr Kennedy: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In an earlier ruling, Madam Speaker indicated that a Member giving way to interventions would have time added to his or her speaking time. Is that convention to apply today?

Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member is correct, but of course it applies only to those who have 10 minutes to speak. The Members making the first round of speeches have 15 minutes, and they are restricted to that.

Mr Durkan: We all need to recognise the phoniness of the exercise that we are engaged in this morning. We are supposed to be pleased to have been granted a debate. The Secretary of State is weaving between two vetoes on whether to grant debates and the terms on which such debates are to take place. He feels compelled to humour the DUP by making sure that there is a debate before the recess, but at the same time he has to convenience Sinn Féin by making sure that the topic of the debate is one from which it can be comfortably absent.

Mr Burnside: Surely the Member has forgotten the third veto. Does he not agree that his party exercises a veto by refusing to create a cross-community coalition to get Stormont up and running?

Mr Durkan: The SDLP is not the party standing in the way of the successful working of the Preparation for Government Committee. We are committed to taking forward the work of that Committee; we have indicated how we would take things forward. All sorts of people are canvassing all sorts of plan Bs for what may or may not happen after 24 November. We pointed out, more than two years ago, a way of restoring this Assembly that would have made sure that both it and the North/South Ministerial Council could be fully functional, even if the parties in this Assembly would not form the Executive.

Other parties have not responded to our proposals and ideas. The SDLP is not standing in the way of the restoration of institutions.

I mentioned the phoniness of this debate — although I do not intend to be drawn into the difficulties and shenanigans of the Preparation for Government Committee. The Secretary of State’s motion asks us to address the comprehensive spending review 2007 and asks questions about the spending priorities for a Programme for Government.

The main significance for Northern Ireland of the comprehensive spending review 2007 will be its determination of the overall increase in public expenditure for the UK and, in particular, how that expenditure will be allocated across Departments in Great Britain. The main implication for Northern Ireland is in the Barnett consequentials that it produces rather than the implications for the budget lines of individual Departments. Our main interest is the increase in Northern Ireland public expenditure as a result of the Barnett formula. Northern Ireland Depart­ments are not direct participants in the comprehensive spending review in the way that Whitehall Departments are. That is an added phoniness to this debate.

We should work through the Preparation for Government Committee to see how far we can agree in advance the broad policy colours of a Programme for Government. There may be merit in agreeing some of those priorities before restoration so that parties will have discussed strategic priorities and recognised the social and economic implications for the shape and structure of public services. Having agreed those issues before Ministers are appointed and captured and become fascinated cheerleaders for their Departments, we will have broadly agreed some priorities.

In drawing up a Programme for Government we must learn lessons from the shortcomings of earlier Budgets with their problem of short-termism. Because we were only able to produce budgets year on year, we produced annual Programmes for Government. We must produce a multi-annual Programme for Government with real strategic priorities. To do that we need a Programme for Government that is not negotiated just between civil servants in various Departments or between Ministers of various parties in an Executive as a glossy text that can be stuck beside the Budget.

Instead, with the social partners — trades unions, business, the community and the voluntary sector — we must negotiate a multi-annual programme that deals with the necessary long-term public service commitments and which sets out the real patterns of public expenditure that must be pursued if we are to deliver better public services and economic growth and allow the private sector and a strong public sector to grow alongside each other.

That is the lesson of the economic performance change in the South, where social partnership has been at the heart of strategic progress. Social partnership must be based on multi-annual programmes that create clear frameworks so that everyone knows where they stand and where their priorities lie. That way, we will not be ambushed with all sorts of implementation difficulties caused by one sectoral pressure after another.

Parties could do a great deal now, although, unfortunately, they have not got their act together in the Preparation for Government Committee. Too often, business is left to the Secretary of State to determine. I heard Dr Paisley —

11.15 am

Mr Kennedy: Given that the Member thinks that we are engaged in a sham fight, I can confirm that King William’s army appears to be in place; King James’s army appears to be seriously depleted, particularly those Members with any military experience. [Laughter.] Does the Member not welcome the participation of the political parties in the Preparation for Government Committee and see that as a limited form of progress?

Mr Durkan: I do not know of anybody on these Benches who has ever had a particularly good word to say about King James. [Laughter.] Mr Kennedy might still be fighting that fight, but some of us do not regard ourselves as ever having been part of that fight, and we do not identify with it.

Dr Paisley complained earlier that things are being determined by the Secretary of State. Well, that is the way that the parties are playing it. They are leaving it to the Secretary of State to take decisions. Some people are happy to hop between vacuum and veto, and then complain when the Secretary of State takes a decision. The next minute, those same people try to bend the Secretary of State’s ear about the next decision they want him to take. Let us get real about our responsibilities. The Preparation for Government Committee should be doing more work and better work. We want to see that work continue over the summer.

We must create a sense of confidence among the parties and the broader public that restoration is a real prospect. However, the signal that is being sent out is that the 24 November deadline is not real and that restoration is not a real prospect. If we can create a sense of confidence among ourselves, we can then create a sense of confidence with the public. As we scope the main policy pillars of the Programme for Government, we could engage purposefully with the trade unions, the business sector and the community and voluntary sector and reach consensus about the possibilities for progress.

We need to examine a number of issues in relation to the Programme for Government and the comprehensive spending review. In the past, all parties in this Assembly have recognised that there has been a capital expend­iture deficit with a cumulative effect on our poor infrastructure and poor public services. In the devolved Assembly, we placed a greater priority on a stronger capital expenditure performance. That is an absolute imperative. We must increase the scale of our capital expenditure and improve our performance.

The Strategic Investment Board has a role to play in delivering that. Direct rule Ministers have not mandated and structured the board in the best way. We had other plans, including ensuring that the board would be a social partnership body, not simply made up of people who supposedly had expertise in private finance. It would have included people from all the social partners who had real knowledge and under­standing of public-sector needs, and of the needs of people who rely on public services. It would have taken on board the insights of people who are skilled in delivery, as well as the ideas of people who can come up with good financing solutions, to ensure that we had a strong investment portfolio across our infrastructure and public services. More must be done about the strength of our capital expenditure.

We need to map out in greater detail the equality impact of our public expenditure and public-sector activity. It is interesting that Government are responding so alertly to the case for special funding measures for loyalist areas.

Some of those measures are worthwhile and are welcome. However, the Government, and direct rule Ministers in particular, have failed to respond to the fact that counties in the west and south of this region show up on maps produced by the Equality Commission as having the worst figures for long-term unemployment and as losing out with regard to employment, the distribution of new jobs over the past five years, and the location of Government jobs and public-sector activity.

If the Secretary of State is serious about the scale of our dependence, in gross domestic product terms, on public-sector activity and public expenditure, and having accepted that those maps are pretty stark pictures of inequality, then he must recognise that Government decisions have a lot to do with that. That is why Government reform programmes currently under way, including Workplace 2010, need to be tested for the creation of opportunities for decentralisation and for a greater equality yield and a greater equality outcome across the region.

Mr Hussey: Does the Member agree that in the areas he refers to in the west, the issues apply equally to the Protestant community as they do to nationalists?

Mr Durkan: I referred to counties as a whole in the west and the south; I did not make any other distinctions. The maps in the Equality Commission’s booklet are very stark and clear. Decentralisation is in everybody’s interest, and that was reflected in this House during the period of devolution. All parties were concerned to see decentralisation. Workplace 2010, however, is going ahead with very little regard for decentralisation opportunities — opportunities for the relocation and redistribution of Government-derived employment.

Other spending issues that we need to address in the context of the Programme for Government are the implications of the continued drop-off in EU funding. There will be Peace III funding, but it will not be as much as in the past, and other EU funding will be dropping off. That is why funds such as the Executive programme funds, which were abolished under direct rule in the comprehensive spending review of 2004, must be restored.

The Executive programme funds were to be our home-grown version of European funds. We also need to ensure that Departments do not just assume that the money is theirs to do with as they wish, and to scrutinise again the need for each Department to have its own separate establishment or separate support. There should be far more shared services and shared support across Departments. That will reduce the costs of individual Departments and do more to reduce the cost of Government than a reduction in the number of Departments.

We remind other parties that at the time of the review of the agreement in 2004, and at Leeds Castle, we proposed a number of changes to the workings of this Assembly. We proposed new Committees in the style of the Public Accounts Committee, with one focusing on the cost of government, that could interrogate any Department on its administrative costs and on its budgeting. Similarly, we proposed that there should be a Committee to deal with the effectiveness and performance of different policies.

All of those Committees would have been supported by the Northern Ireland Audit Office, but this Assembly would have provided a strong role in respect of accountability and scrutiny, a role that the Department of Finance and Personnel cannot provide. People think that that Department polices the spending of other Departments — it does not.

Mr Ford: As other Members have said, today’s debate is clearly a complete farce. However seriously matters are taken in this Chamber, we know that this debate was set up for one reason only and that the person who instructed that it should happen will take no notice of what we say.

Had the Secretary of State been serious, he would have taken notice of the Business Committee. Four times the Business Committee has asked for a debate on the Review of Public Administration. I understand that four out of five parties agreed that, yet the Secretary of State did not give us a debate on the RPA, which is clearly the wish of the majority of the Members of this House. Nor did he ask us to debate the work, so far, of the Committee on the Preparation for Government.

Instead, he set up this debate, as has been mentioned already, to try to get round the Sinn Féin version of the veto by giving it a motion that was not what unionists wanted and to try to get round the DUP veto on the setting-up of subcommittees. That does not suggest that it is a good recipe for engagement on serious issues.

Work was done in the Committee on Preparation for Government that would have merited teasing out further in the Chamber. Seán Farren and Alan McFarland — who currently hold the joint gold medal, possibly the world championship, for hours attended at that Committee — could have contributed significantly. However, without all parties present in the Chamber, it is not likely that we will get much from that. The very absence of Sinn Féin in its entirety from the debate calls into question whether it is truly interested in working for the restoration of Government.

Let us look, on the other hand, at an issue on which we indeed had all-party agreement, and not just four-party agreement, but five-party agreement: industrial derating. There was clear consensus in the business community that, in light of the competition presented by the Republic and our inability to vary corporation tax, industrial derating needed to continue. When that opinion was put to the Secretary of State, he took absolutely no notice. It is clear that what we say inside or outside the Chamber, even when there is five-party agreement, is having no effect on the policies of the Secretary of State.

That may explain the low attendance today: it is not only one party that is absent. Many Members have constituency business on a Friday, and others will have thought the holiday period had begun. For the Secretary of State to propose a serious debate on a critical issue on the last available day does not suggest that he is taking the Assembly seriously.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr Ford: If he continues with that level of “ad-hocery”, the quality of debate will be affected, because no one can prepare properly without notice. The level of engagement on the bread-and-butter issues, which the Secretary of State says are important, will be so low as to be non-existent. The value of plenary meetings is being devalued, not by those of us who are here engaging, but by the Secretary of State in the way that he is setting things up.

Not only does he not want to hear our opinions on economic and social matters, but he is playing party power games. That is what the debate is about today. It is a massive missed opportunity. The comprehensive spending review merits discussion in a much more meaningful way than this opportunity affords. It should not have been in a cobbled-together debate, at short notice, and purely for image — not the image of the Assembly but of the Secretary of State, showing his machismo and power in telling us to get on with work.

There is much that needs to be said about investment in hospitals, community health and social services, and schools and colleges; about environmental protection and building sustainability in supporting industry and agriculture; about improving the infrastructure and social capital of people in Northern Ireland; and about reducing crime. However, I will confine my remarks to one area that is sadly lacking from the comprehensive spending reviews of both 2004 and 2007, and which was almost ignored in all recent Programmes for Government. It is nevertheless supposed to be a key policy of this Government: building a shared future.

Much of our discussion about the spending review is inevitably on where the money should be spent. A shared future, alongside proper investment in community relations, would release significant sums of money that are currently wasted on segregation. A couple of years ago, the Alliance Party commissioned some low-level research, as a result of which we estimated that £1 billion per annum — roughly 10% of the Northern Ireland budget — is wasted on the cost of segregation. Last September, I heard Mitchell Reiss, speaking on behalf of President Bush, give the same figure. I presume that the US Government have had some additional research done — I cannot imagine that they depend entirely upon our view. The Northern Ireland Office is also commissioning detailed research on the question.

If we are wasting that amount of money, the way in which we recover it and put it to good use is a huge issue for the public purse. We cannot continue to run services in that way, and we cannot continue to fund such segregation with all its human and financial costs. The £1 billion does not include the loss of inward investment, nor does it include the tourism that is lost due to ongoing instability.

11.30 am

I have heard Orange Order spokesmen give estimates about how much revenue is generated by tourists coming to Northern Ireland to see the 12 July celebrations. However, I would love to know how much money is lost every year during July and August due to those celebrations, because when I go to the airport far more people are leaving than arriving —

Mr Burnside: The Member obviously does not understand that people in the Province have always gone on holiday during the traditional Twelfth fortnight. He should attend some orange parades; then he would realise how they can be turned into a great tourist attraction for this country. The Member should stop playing down the tourism industry, which has done extremely well in recent years.

Mr Ford: I was not playing down the tourism industry: it has done extremely well against the background of street violence that has driven people away. If we seriously addressed the costs of a shared future and considered what that £1 billion could do, we could completely negate the effects of the proposed “tap tax”. We could make huge differences to our overall public expenditure by redirecting money more efficiently, by providing more quality services and by preventing, in many cases, two sets of second-rate services rather than one set of decent services.

Recently, the Government gave priority to the costs of the criminal justice system — the costs of maintaining the rule of law — yet little priority has been given to recognising the fact that, in many cases, community relations budgets have been cut by district councils and bodies funded by the Community Relations Council when the costs of dealing with violence and maintaining the rule of law, whether in Whiterock or Ardoyne, have to be met.

In my constituency of South Antrim two schools beside each other are to close; one is controlled and the other is maintained. The North Eastern Education and Library Board is proposing a major capital investment for the controlled school. In the other controlled secondary school in the town —

Mrs I Robinson: Why is the Member in favour of integrated schools, which take a large amount of money from the controlled and maintained sectors?

Mr Ford: I am grateful to the Member for helping me to make my point.

In the case of the controlled secondary school, the North Eastern Education and Library Board is not proposing the necessary renovation of the other controlled secondary school but the renovation and expansion of it to cater for the additional pupils. At the same time, the board is faced with significant costs in transferring pupils from the maintained school, which faces closure, to a maintained school in Randalstown, which is five miles away. A local parents’ group is seeking to establish an integrated college with a building that could adequately cater for the needs of an integrated school. That would make more sense than expanding an existing school that would maintain segregation and put children on buses to take them away from their hometown.

There is a clear financial argument in support of integration, which would deal with some of the problems that the North Eastern Education and Library Board faces and which are being exacerbated by the proposal to close two schools. That situation is being replicated in towns and villages across Northern Ireland. A fully integrated school will not necessarily be the entire model, but, in many places, an integrated school or shared facilities will save significant capital sums. We have to accept the reality that we cannot maintain segregation —

(Madam Speaker in the Chair)

Mr McGimpsey: With regard to the Member’s point about saving serious capital sums, Balmoral High School in South Belfast is a case in point. It was built at a cost of £15 million under PPP, and substantial amounts of land were given over for development.

That PPP project failed because Malone Integrated College was built closer to the catchment area. Pupils who go to that school get free bus travel, whereas children attending Balmoral High School do not. The result is that Malone Integrated College has taken away Balmoral High School’s pupils, and we now have a school that has failed and cost the taxpayer something in the region of £15 million. Those sums do not add up.

Mr Ford: I do not see how failing to recognise the demand for integrated education in south Belfast and proceeding with the extremely expensive PPP scheme for Balmoral High School was necessarily in the interests of either the children of south Belfast or those who pay the costs. That is not an argument against integrated education; it is an argument for those who make the decisions having a rational plan that considers all educational sectors — maintained, controlled and integrated. I have been pressing the last three Education Ministers to do that in Antrim, and it has clearly proven to be necessary in south Belfast. However, I thank the Member for adding to my case. [Laughter.]

It is a simple reality that many of the most popular schools in Northern Ireland are integrated. That is certainly the case in my constituency: one of the smaller controlled primary schools is now the second most popular in Antrim town because it is integrated.

Mr McNarry: Will the Member give way?

Mr Ford: Is this another intervention?

Mr McNarry: It is if the Member so wishes.

Does he agree that in talking about capital, one of the advantages of the integrated scheme about which he eulogised this morning is that it invariably brings a brand new school to an area? It brings not only an educational facility but a building that has the latest and most up-to-date equipment that a school could ask for. Therefore does the Member agree that that building is attractive to parents and teachers?

However, is he asking us to opt for integrated education on the basis that the schools that he mentioned would be part of a merger? They would be part of a merger that had not been given a new building — they would have to settle for second or third best. They would also have to settle for the old crumbling building that has no room for new equipment. Is that fair?

Mr Ford: Will the Member give way? I will not have time to respond.

Mr McNarry: Having been obliged to give way, I am asking whether it is fair that integrated schools —

Mr Ford: Given that my time is limited, how long can interventions go on?

Madam Speaker: Unfortunately, Mr Ford, if you have given way, that is up to you.

Mr McNarry: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Is it fair that integrated schools use the capital to build new schools? The Member is asking us to settle for crumbling schools in areas in which he does not want schools to mature.

Mr Ford: Clearly, Mr McNarry was not listening to my point. Specifically in the context of secondary schools in Antrim, I said that there was the potential for a new integrated school in one of the redundant school buildings.

I had the pleasure to be recently nominated to the board of governors of Round Tower Integrated Primary School, having previously been on the management committee of Spring Farm School when that was established. Spring Farm School is approximately 28 years old, has had no major renovations in that time, and is extremely popular because of the quality of education that it provides.

Madam Speaker: The Member’s time is up.

Mr A Maginness: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A very long intervention was made during Mr Ford’s speech. A Member cannot simply get up and make a speech and call it an intervention. There must be some rule for interventions.

That is an example of a Member abusing the intervention mechanism in order to make a speech. The Speaker should give some direction on that.

Madam Speaker: We discussed this at the beginning of this session, and a ruling was made — I believe the matter concerned Mr Neeson. The general rule is that Members must try to be careful not to give way if they suspect that the Member to whom they are giving way will make a speech. If an intervening Member begins to make a speech, it is up to the Member who gave way to remind him or her not to do so — as Mr Ford rightly reminded Mr McNarry.

Members give way entirely at their own discretion. However, we did ask Members to show courtesy to those who were speaking. Mr McNarry has not done that, so I now remind Members that if they ask another Member to give way, they should consider that that Member has a limited speaking time.

Mr P Robinson: Further to that point of order, I agree with Mr Maginness. Madam Speaker, I do not expect a ruling straight away; you might like to consider it with your colleagues. However, an intervention is only an intervention if it is very short. If a Member speaks for a longer period of time, then I suggest that the Speaker should intervene and ask the Member to resume their seat.

Madam Speaker: We will take that point on board. I remind Members that we had a full discussion about this at an earlier sitting, and Members were asked to do exactly what Mr Robinson and Mr Maginness suggest. I will discuss this matter with my colleagues and give a ruling, hopefully in September.

Mr McClarty: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. When did the Secretary of State last accede to a recommendation from the Business Committee?

Madam Speaker: This matter can be decided at my discretion. I will examine it again.

Mr McFarland: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. My understanding was that when this matter was discussed previously — and my recollection may not be quite correct — you decided that if a speech was under 10 minutes and a Member allowed a intervention, he or she would be allowed an additional minute of speaking time. By the logic of that ruling, an intervention should last for only a minute.

Madam Speaker: I think that I have made myself clear on the issue. The Member is quite correct; that was the ruling. The discussion arose after Mr Neeson gave way to another Member who then turned their intervention into a speech. We will examine the matter again, as Mr Robinson requested.

Mr Ford: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you also perhaps discuss with the Business Committee whether asking a question three times does not go beyond the bounds of normal good manners in this place?

Madam Speaker: I will look at that also. The first round of Members have now spoken, and from now on Members have 10 minutes.

Mr P Robinson: I am pleased to follow the remarks made by the leader of the Alliance Party about the manner in which the Secretary of State is treating this Assembly. One of the key elements of any deliberative Chamber, particularly an elected body, is that it should be master in its own house. It is very clear that in this Assembly that is not the case. There is a puppet-master outside who wants to pull the strings.

The Assembly should attempt to regain control of how it functions, both in the Chamber and within its precincts.

11.45 am

Anyone looking in on today’s debate might consider that it is not well attended. It is outrageous for the Secretary of State to have announced in the middle of the week that the Assembly would sit on a Friday. It is not a normal sitting day, and no Member is likely to have assumed that the Assembly would sit. In spite of what the Secretary of State may think about the role of MLAs, most have other constituency duties today, dealing with Ministers and others. That is one reason for the poor attendance. This is not an excuse for what may follow, but Members have had little opportunity to prepare for the debate. We were given the motion only yesterday. I hope that people will take account of that when listening to today’s speeches.

Sir Reg Empey: Mr Robinson makes a serious point, and I raised a point of order with you on that very issue at the last sitting, Madam Speaker. Does Mr Robinson agree that the implication of what he said is that the Business Committee will probably have to take decisions via a mechanism other than unanimity? The Secretary of State must let go of the reins and give you, Madam Speaker, and the Business Committee some real responsibility for Assembly business.

Mr P Robinson: I agree entirely. At times, all of us will be sore at the Business Committee for going against our wishes, but if we want to make progress, we must put some trust in the Business Committee and the party representatives that sit on it. If Members, who often have conflicting views, are prepared to trust the Business Committee, surely the Secretary of State should be prepared to do so as well.

Due to the wide-ranging nature of the debate, I want to speak about devolution. Before that, however, I want to comment on the Education Minister’s decision yesterday on the South Eastern Education and Library Board. I am not quite sure where Mr Gallagher was coming from. Perhaps he was not aware of what took place at that meeting, or of the background to the situation, when he determined to drag the issue up as a matter of division. It was not a matter of division to the political parties on the South Eastern Education and Library Board. All the elected representatives, from the parties that are gathered here and some that are not, agreed on the issue.

The background to the problem is that a previous board ran up an overspend, not because it knowingly spent the money but because officers of that board had not properly reported to it on its financial circumstances. Only after they had considerably overspent was the matter drawn to the attention of the board, and some personnel changes in the board’s officer corps indicate that that was the case.

However, the Minister is now saying that this board is to be punished not only for a previous board’s decision, but also, in effect, for the decision of officers no longer on that board. The Minister needs to be better acquainted of the circumstances. The current board should not be punished. Worse still, vulnerable children, with the most to lose, will be punished by the Minister’s decision.

Mrs Long: Does Mr Robinson agree that there is a conflict in the Minister’s messages on this issue? He has referred to the debacle of previous SEELB over­spends. Board members have all been instructed to scrutinise rigorously all proposals from officers, yet yesterday the instruction was simply to rubber-stamp those proposals. Therefore, there is a complete conflict in the messages from the Department of Education on the responsibility of board members for financial programming.

Mr P Robinson: That is right, and it is regrettable, at a time when we are trying to get greater demo­cratisation, that when there is unanimity on an issue from Northern Ireland’s political parties, the response from Government is to sweep them to the side and bring in people who will do the bidding of the Minister.

I will move on rapidly from that issue, as I am sure that others will want to make their comments known during the course of the debate. I want to talk about devolution. Via several interventions, it has become clear that the SDLP has a somewhat jaundiced view of what might be described as the “blame game”.  Apparently, anyone who does not agree with them is to blame. I had always understood that to have agreement it was necessary to have all parties, or at least a sufficient consensus of parties, agreeing on an issue. It is not simply a case of the SDLP saying, “We brought out a document, and there is no progress because you did not agree with it.” We could all say that; but it is not the way to make progress.

There has been a lot of talk about the Preparation for Government Committee. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland set out what seemed to me at the beginning, at least, to be a logical course —

Dr Farren: Will the Member give way?

Mr P Robinson: Just one minute, please. I am in the middle of developing an issue. The Secretary of State set out what was to be a logical progression. There would be a Preparation for Government Committee, which in their terms, would “scope the issues”. That, apparently, is the trendy term for attempting to identify what the obstacles were to the return of devolution. The Preparation for Government Committee would attempt to categorise those obstacles, define them in some way, and bring them forward to the Assembly.

The next stage would take place here, where each of the parties would not so much debate the issues, but say where they stood on those issues and the difficulties surrounding them, and would learn from others who would do likewise from their party position. By the time the Prime Minister commenced the negotiating process, we would have scoped the issues, understood other people’s positions and, hopefully, been able to outline that for other Members. We would be in a better position to look for a way to overcome those problems.

That is what I understood the process to be. Regrettably, because of the way the Assembly is being set tasks by the Secretary of State, I do not believe that the issues are getting a proper airing. That would help us to move to the next stage of this process. It does no good for the Secretary of State to issue threats, either about the financial losses that we will bear if the Assembly dies on 25 November, or about rigid timetables.

The parties will not take their decisions based on those factors. Their decisions will relate to principle, and to mandated positions; to issues that have been put before the electorate that has endorsed them. As far as my party is concerned, the issues that block the process are widely known. They relate to the requirement for accountability, stability, effectiveness and the operational efficiency of institutions and structures. That goes to the problems that we have had with the institutions and structures of the Belfast Agreement.

We addressed some of those in detail in December 2004. Let me make something clear: my party did not endorse the comprehensive agreement, as it contained many proposals that were not the first choice of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Mr Nesbitt: On a point of information, Madam Speaker.

Mr P Robinson: I will run out of time if I take an intervention.

Unless those issues are properly corrected by legislation, there cannot be progress. We are happy to outline them in any future debate. The critical issues are those of completion — the need for an end to paramilitary and criminal activity. Those issues cannot be washed away, timetabled away, or bought away. They are matters that stand before the electorate. The people outside know what the issues are. If we want to have stable political structures in Northern Ireland, it is absolutely essential that we do so on a basis that can last. Those structures must be robust, stable and workable. That will occur only if we have dealt with outstanding issues.

We have been going through groundhog day for long enough in Northern Ireland. Agreements are reached, but the underlying essential issues are left unresolved.

We get into some form of Administration that collapses because of the unresolved issues. It would be better by far if we took our time to resolve all those issues and ensure that we build from a firm foundation. We can then go forward and not have the collapse after collapse that damage the prospects of devolution in the future.

I trust that the Assembly will be allowed to debate those critical issues so that it can examine the problems and the nuances of the matters that each party identifies as being important for them. I hope also that the Secretary of State will trust the Business Committee so that it can programme debates to allow those kinds of important issues to be determined and real progress to be made.

I make it very clear that my party wants to see progress: we want devolution and we want an Executive to run in Northern Ireland. However, that progress must occur on a basis that the community can support and one that will ensure that the Executive will be workable and lasting.

Madam Speaker: We have about four minutes left, and rather than ask Mr Jim Wilson, the next Member to speak, to start his speech only to have to stop, I ask Members to agree to suspend for a moment. After the two minutes’ silence, Mr Wilson will begin his speech. Are Members happy with that?

I will be turning on the tannoy so that my statement about the two minutes’ silence will be heard all over the Building so that people can observe it as they wish.

The debate stood suspended.

First Anniversary of The
London Bombings

12.00 noon

Madam Speaker: The debate will resume in a moment. I invite Members and all others in Parliament Buildings, to whom this message is being conveyed, to stand, if they are able to do so, and join me in observing two minutes’ silence to mark the first anniversary of the London bombings.

Members observed two minutes’ silence.

Secretary of State Motion

Spending Review and Priorities

Debate resumed on motion:

That this Assembly notes the results of the Spending Review 2004 and the current Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 and their implications for the spending priorities for a Programme for Government to be agreed by a Northern Ireland Executive following its restoration on or before 24 November 2006. — [The Secretary of State.]

Mr J Wilson: I associate myself with remarks that have been made right around the Chamber on the fact that the Secretary of State continues to call the tune when it comes to the subject matter for debate. It would be better, of course, if we elected Members were calling that tune. We might not agree the same tune, particularly at this time of the year, but at least it would be democratic.

I wish to say a little more about that. The motion is one that was probably totally unexpected. I question its usefulness. Given the wide gulf that exists between republicans and unionists, only the most optimistic will believe that a Northern Ireland Executive will be restored on or before 24 November, although we will try to achieve restoration by that date. We will try very hard. To link that date to the 2004 spending review makes very little sense.

Why did the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and for Wales determine that that motion should be debated today? The Business Committee did not recommend it to him. I have no reason to believe that any party here recommended it to him, but, if so, I am certainly not aware of the fact.

The Business Committee made suggestions to the Secretary of State. It has a long list of motions — 16 or perhaps more. I shall mention only a few, but they include the Department of the Environment’s (DOE) failure to meet European directives. Since we are talking about spending reviews, funding and finance, the DOE risks incurring heavy fines over our heads as we speak. Post-primary education is on the no-day-named motions list, as are water charges, local property tax and assaults on emergency workers. Those are very important bread-and-butter matters for the people of Northern Ireland.

There was one other motion on the list, tabled by my party, and, in case you call me to order, Madam Speaker, this brings me to spending priorities.

It invites the Secretary of State to note:

“that there is no cross-community support for the current proposals on the Review of Public Administration as it applies to local government.”

Any spending review that will, before 2009, have to determine financial resources for a new local government structure that is fundamentally wrong and which is not supported by the four parties in this Chamber will in itself be fundamentally flawed. There is a problem for the Secretary of State. Following a debate in this Assembly on Draft Planning Policy Statement 14, the Secretary of State said:

“I will naturally want to reflect carefully on the Assembly debate … I will take account of the views where there is cross community support.”

Had there been cross-community support — and I have reason to believe that there could have been — what would the Secretary of State have said or done?

In November 2005 at the Hilton hotel, the Secretary of State said that there would be a quango cull. We know that there was no real cull, just some tinkering at the margins. He said:

“this will cut costs and transfer resources … to the frontline delivery of key public services like health and education.”

Does anyone really expect that his proposals would lead to savings from a cull on quangos?

He went on to say that:

“the RPA has never been a cost-cutting exercise … Nonetheless, I do expect the streamlining of structures to result in significant savings … tentative estimates I have received indicate savings of up to £200 million per annum”.

A colleague of mine remarked that, in a lifetime in politics, he had never seen a review of scale result in savings of any kind.

In another place, Lady Hermon asked the Secretary of State what cost savings were expected from the Government’s plan to reduce the number of local authorities in Northern Ireland. David Cairns replied:

“Savings from the Review of Public Administration (RPA) decisions on local government have been estimated at £54-£73 million.”

They have given themselves some scope to get it right somewhere in the middle, although I do not think that they will even hit the middle target. Here is the line that needs to be read twice:

“The final figures will depend on how the proposals are implemented.”

The proposed structure of local government is wrong. The associated savings are wild guesstimates; they are not based on reality. As I said earlier, today’s debate has been an opportunity missed.

Dr Farren: Like my colleagues in the SDLP, it is with some reluctance — and having participated in the Preparation for Government Committee over the past six weeks or so, considerable disappointment — that I participate in this morning’s debate. It is not the debate with which I hoped we could have concluded this session of our business. I had hoped that some progress might have been recorded in the Preparation for Government Committee. I suppose that having all the parties in the same Committee room is progress, but that is a very low threshold.

Instead, as most colleagues probably know from reading the reports of the business in that Committee, the meetings have been characterised by a considerable degree of vindictiveness and strident allegations — almost personal abuse — on the part of both the DUP and Sinn Féin. If things are not done their way — and their ways are contradictory and exclusive of each other — matters cannot be progressed in the Committee. We are, therefore, left with a situation where the Secretary of State has to decide. It is difficult for a self-respecting Irishman to accept that our business can transpire only as, when and how the Secretary of State determines.

With respect to some of the remarks made by the DUP, since it is present today, Mr Robinson tried to reject the comprehensive agreement a few moments ago —

Mr P Robinson: Will the hon Member give way?

Dr Farren: Well, he may not have agreed them, but the submission by the DUP includes an approving reference to the comprehensive agreement proposals. Among the many conditions heaped by the DUP into their submission, it seems that it is now ready to accept those proposals. It is not surprising, since, in the immediate aftermath of the publication of those proposals, Mr Robinson —

Mr Nesbitt: I see that both Gentlemen are now back in the Chamber. Mr Robinson said that his party disagreed with many aspects of the comprehensive agreement. Does Dr Farren agree that the Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party said that there was only one element that was not agreed, namely the modalities for decommissioning?

Dr Farren: Mr Nesbitt’s memory of what the DUP said is probably clearer than mine. However, it is clear —

Mr P Robinson: Will the Member give way?

Dr Farren: No, Mr Robinson did not give way to me a few moments ago. May I just remind Mr Robinson —

Madam Speaker: Mr Robinson, the comprehensive spending review and the comprehensive agreement are two different things.

Mr P Robinson: Madam Speaker, is it not usual protocol in any debating chamber that if a Member is named he is given the opportunity to respond?

Madam Speaker: You are quite correct.

Mr P Robinson: I am grateful. May I make it clear that the comprehensive agreement was not agreed in any part by any party. It was an agreement between the two Governments, who brought it forward, and was subsequently endorsed by the United States Government. It was not an agreed document. We support many aspects of that document, although not particularly in their present form. We support a range of issues, but the general context is that we have not yet supported the agreement.

Mr Durkan: The comprehensive agreement appeared as proposals put to Sinn Féin and the DUP by the two Governments; proposals which both parties had to accept before 8 December 2004. That acceptance was indicated. Consequently, Peter Robinson described the comprehensive agreement as a remarkable achievement by the DUP. Now he says that the DUP never agreed or accepted it.

Dr Farren: May I continue, Madam Speaker?

While the shenanigans continue in the Preparation for Government Committee, we are faced with a situation where, despite the best intentions — as we might describe them — of the 2004 spending review, we still live in an economy that is considerably unbalanced and seriously in need of substantial regeneration.

12.15 pm

Indeed, over the past two and a half years, all the parties participating in the Preparation for Government Committee have been meeting representatives from the Northern Ireland Business Alliance. They have been preparing a basic framework document on which to base plans for economic regeneration; all those parties have agreed the contents of the document. That frame­work document would have been a more appropriate basis for today’s debate. At the behest of the Secretary of State, subcommittees are to be established; that framework document could be further developed in one of those subcommittees.

The Northern Ireland Business Alliance, and the entire business and social partnership community, must be looking on, with despair and disappointment, at our failure to progress those issues. At the outset of this Assembly, just seven weeks ago, the Northern Ireland Business Alliance gave us a detailed presentation, in the Senate Chamber, which was widely and enthusiastically acclaimed. The alliance expected further work to progress quickly.

The establishment of priorities to underpin economic regeneration will require us to take greater advantage of the social and economic levers at our disposal and to seek other levers where necessary. Those levers are in education, training, and research and development. There are also fiscal levers, such as business taxes, that we already control and others that we may be able to acquire. No modern economy achieves success without a strong investment in education and training, especially in vocational and technical training, and in third- and fourth-level education. The people who will lead the research and development of new products and new processes, and those who will manage and develop new enterprises, are educated and trained at those educational institutions.

Northern Ireland still lags far behind other economies in research and development. An overwhelming proportion of local research is conducted in our universities. That research has resulted in considerable successes in business applications. However, we need to address the fact that much of that research does not emanate from the business sector.

The establishment of an all-Ireland research alliance, through a restored North/South Ministerial Council, would be a key initiative to achieving a more effective role for research and development. Such an alliance would mobilise the research facilities and expertise available in all the universities and colleges of technology on the island and link them with businesses, wherever they are located and wherever it is appropriate. That initiative, supported by public funds, philanthropic and research bodies, and the business sector, should be a strategic priority for restoration.

A newly established economic development subcommittee should progress that initiative in order to make our commitment more urgent. We all made that commitment to the Northern Ireland Business Alliance to show that we are determined to contribute significantly to economic regeneration.

Mrs I Robinson: I cannot let Dr Farren get away with some of his comments. I remind him that the Protestant community in Northern Ireland feels that it has not had a fair deal since the 1970s. In 1985, when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was foisted on us, the unionist population of Northern Ireland — one million Protestants and their elected representatives — were totally ignored. When asked why the unionist people were ignored, Dr Farren’s former leader Mr Hume said that it was because they would not have gone along with that deal. That comes from a party that is supposedly moderate and democratic. We do not take lessons on democracy from the SDLP.

With regard to the spending priorities, I want to add my voice to the condemnation of the Minister of Education’s actions in forcing the members of the South Eastern Education and Library Board to endorse the swingeing cuts that will hit the most vulnerable section of the community — children with special needs. I am delighted that those elected representatives stuck to their principles and refused to rubber-stamp the disastrous ineptness of the former board members, who failed to identify the looming deficit of approximately £21 million. Ultimately, it was the responsibility of the chief accounting officer to draw that to the board’s attention. Sadly, children with special needs will be the main losers in this scenario if the Government have their way. Unfortunately, the Government picked independents who are neither accountable nor elected to represent anyone in our community and who failed to stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the democratically elected board members. They are a disgrace, and I hope that parents make their views known to them.

At a time when the ongoing Review of Public Administration looms, the general view is that there should be more democracy in Northern Ireland rather than less. Those Government appointees, who outnumber elected representatives, should be done away with, and the voices of elected members should be heard. The elected representatives undoubtedly took the right decision. They took that decision on principle, and I salute the stand that those members took, including, of course, the SDLP representative.

How can we deny those vulnerable children every aid and assistance that will encourage them to reach their full potential? Our party will raise the issue in the House of Commons, and I have sought an urgent meeting with the Minister to include Peter Robinson and Jeffrey Donaldson, whose constituencies are in the board area. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Minister, following my request and having expelled the elected members, will not be rushing to accommodate those representatives as enthusiastically as she introduced the unelected personnel who will deal with the board’s finances from now on.

With regard to the comprehensive spending review, Health Service expenditure in the Province will have risen from around £1·7 billion in 1997 to £3·8 billion by 2008. It now accounts for more than 40% of the Northern Ireland budget. How the Health Service deals with those neuro conditions for which numbers of diagnoses are rapidly increasing will have significant resource implications. Those conditions include autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit disorder, as well as those that result from the impact of childhood abuse. We are part of an ever-ageing population: dementia, strokes and diabetes will use up more and more resources. Trusts are under greater pressure than ever before with the Minister’s tightening of the purse strings.

New service development was suspended, and it is proving a struggle for some trusts to even maintain existing front-line services. The escalating costs that are associated with providing services will result in even greater pressures in future.

Government continues to ignore differential need. There is a greater level of healthcare need in the Province than in the rest of the United Kingdom. The health and social care needs and effectiveness study that was published three years ago showed that more than 20% extra spending per capita is required to achieve the same standard of care that exists in England.

Several factors in Northern Ireland can only add to the disparity between standards in the Province and those across the water. Significant extra health costs result from the continuing legacy of terrorism and community tension in the Province. It costs more to provide services to a sparsely populated region, and low levels of subscription to private health insurance result in a substantially greater burden on public finances.

The Northern Ireland population is growing faster than that of anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The most expensive patients to care for are those at either end of the age spectrum. At the same time, 30% of the Province’s population is aged under 20 years, compared with 25% in England, and there are 40% more adults who are severely disabled in Northern Ireland.

The respected health economist Professor John Appleby has recognised the disparity in need. In a recent study, he stated that in an attempt to calculate future spending for health, a way would have to be found to bypass the Barnett formula. Appleby also claimed that, compared to that in England, our Health Service was under-performing and inefficient. For instance, he identified that the drug-prescribing practice in the Province has led to an unacceptable waste of tens of millions of pounds. That must be examined, because doctors are writing prescriptions ad nauseam even though other means might be used.

Progress on waiting list totals has been made in recent months, but health trusts are under great pressure to meet Government targets. Sometimes that leads to a conflict between continuing with elective procedures and dealing with unexpected emergencies that come in overnight.

The Review of Public Administration has the potential to make improvements to health structures. Health Service reform that speeds up and streamlines decision-making will be welcomed. A reduction in the number of trusts will undoubtedly mean savings on the basis of economies of scale. The one thing of which we can be sure when considering the comprehensive spending review is that the cost of providing good-quality healthcare will only escalate further over the next few years. That is why we must take every opportunity to ensure that the system within which services operate is as rigorous and efficient as we can possibly make it.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Madam Speaker: If Members are content, I shall now suspend the Assembly for lunch between 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm.

The sitting was suspended at 12.29 pm.

On resuming (Madam Speaker in the Chair) —

1.30 pm

Mr Cree: I hope that the small turnout is not due to the fact that it is my turn to speak, but I will take advantage of that.

I wish to address three issues that feed into the themes of the comprehensive spending review. The first issue that I wish to address is water charging, which has been with us for some time. The people of Northern Ireland have been paying for water and sewerage services through their regional rates and, as no reduction has ever occurred in the regional rates, one can safely assume that we will continue to pay in that manner. Water is essential for life and is a fundamental require­ment of public health. We all acknowledge that our water and sewerage system has suffered from several decades of underinvestment by successive British Governments.

The Government’s current proposals remain unfair for a variety of reasons: the proposed capital value does not take account of the ability to pay; the proposals do not take account of the amount of water used; and they do not provide incentives to save water as required by European law. Focus must be placed on needs in Northern Ireland, rather than comparisons with the rest of the United Kingdom. We are continually reminded that Northern Ireland pays less for rates and water, but that is a crude and unfair comparison as Northern Ireland’s income and expenditure profile is different. Developers should pay for the provision of services to new housing developments. The Government have conceded that point, but there is still no sign of that saving being passed on to the consumer. Road drainage costs should be paid by road users and not by water consumers.

In Great Britain, the Water Service received a green dowry of £1·6 billion to upgrade its water and sewerage services. At the same time, it was agreed that £50 million would be paid annually to Northern Ireland for water and sewerage improvements. That cash was not ring-fenced and appears to have been absorbed into the pot. We are still waiting to see some sign of the Govern­ment’s peace dividend.

There are other issues arising from the Government’s intentions. Water charging will commence next year, and by 2010 the full charges will be applied. Water and sewerage services will then transfer from the Government to the regulator who will decide the charges to be levied by the Government-owned company (GoCo). Some would speculate that the sole purpose of separate charging is to prepare the Water Service for a quick sale.

The experience across the water does not provide much comfort. The water companies wrote off £960 million in bad debts last year, and it is estimated that up to 15% of householders consistently refused to pay their bills. Leakage targets set by the regulator have not been achieved. Thames Water has applied for an emergency drought order. Those are the benefits of 17 years of privatisation.

Although I have no difficulty in supporting private industry as a principle, the Government have left too many imponderables in their plans for water charges for the project to be a success. The Government must cease their “suck-it-and-see” approach to this important matter and return to the drawing board.

The second issue that I wish to address is the reform of the domestic rating system.

The roots of the current system of rating were established in the nineteenth century. Very few Members would have been around at the time — although most would have by 1976 when the last revaluation of domestic property occurred. That assessment was based on evidence emanating from the late 1960s, and few would disagree that the system needs updating.

However, the Government’s proposal for a new system based on capital values is again unfair. Basing domestic rates on the capital value of homes is not a fairer system of assessment as it fails to properly reflect an ability to pay. Many householders in Northern Ireland are asset rich but income poor.

In 1995, the average house price stood at £43,826. It now stands at around £140,000; indeed last evening’s ‘Belfast Telegraph’ reported that the figure has now risen to £146,000. This system is not about fairness: it is about Government tapping into a lucrative housing market and squeezing as much as possible out of hard-working families. That is a recipe for disaster for society here, particularly for low-wage earners and the elderly. I acknowledge that the Government have made some gestures in their direction, but much more must be done to affect people on low incomes.

The ratepayer here is already paying far more than previously. In 1998, £166·5 million was collected from the domestic sector. Last year, £346·8 million was levied, and this year the figure will rise by a further £20 million. Government seems to be exploiting the political vacuum in Northern Ireland to impose a draconian system for local government finances.

On 3 July the Minister of State assured us — in fact he emphasised — that the reforms were not about raising more revenue. Rather, he said that they should make the system fairer — by sharing the rating burden among householders — and easier for ratepayers to understand. I beg to differ on that.

My third point relates to Belfast Harbour. Many Members were alarmed to learn recently that the Government are considering the possible sale of Belfast Harbour. The Government’s document, out to consultation until 22 September, could pave the way for selling off key parts of the Port of Belfast. The Strategic Investment Board has denied any sinister intent, but it would appear that the Government might be attempting to asset-strip the Belfast Harbour Commissioners’ property portfolio by selling key parts for the benefit of speculators.

The Port of Belfast has contributed massively to the economic infrastructure of Belfast and Northern Ireland for many years. This untimely speculation could undermine the port’s current £140 million capital investment programme. The port currently handles two thirds of Northern Ireland’s sea-borne trade and 25% of that of the entire island of Ireland.

I understand that the previous Assembly rejected any suggestion of a change in status for the Port of Belfast. That was the correct decision, and any idea of a sell-off is sheer foolishness and shows a total disregard for the future of our infrastructure.

Mr Storey: As well as seeking to make savings in health and education services, amongst others, Government must ensure that their own house is in order in relation to financial management and savings. The hon Member the deputy leader of my party referred earlier to the puppet-master Secretary of State, who would like to pull strings to operate this House. It is time that he pulled the strings of those who are in charge of the finances of Northern Ireland.

As an illustration of that, and of the necessity to focus not only on money but on the reform and quality of delivery, let us consider Northern Ireland’s waste management strategy and the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland. I refer to two specific areas. Earlier in the debate Dr Farren, the Member for North Antrim, told us about the virtues of cross-border initiatives and all-Ireland institutions that could be of great benefit to us all.

Let us look at one initiative that should have been dumped — the fridges fiasco of a couple of years ago. The Department of the Environment negotiated an all-Ireland contract for the disposal of domestic waste, fridges and freezers, but when the bid collapsed before the contract was due to be signed, some councils stockpiled fridges, while others waited for prices from other places. The Comptroller and Auditor General estimates that the delay in putting the contract in place cost the public purse at least £750,000. That money could have been better spent on public services, and on front-line services in particular.

The Comptroller and Auditor General’s report makes even more damning comment about the Government’s good intentions in promoting recycling, which were undercut because recycling facilities were too often simply unavailable. The Comptroller and Auditor General notes that the Government resorted to the hiring of a consultant — often their first port in a storm. He says:

“A fundamental cultural shift in attitude and behaviour is essential to achieving the Waste Management Strategy’s…objectives. In order to encourage this shift, EHS employed media consultants, in December 2001, to drive a £1·5 million public awareness campaign: ‘Wake up to waste’ ”.

He goes on to note that because sufficient recycling facilities and other opportunities for avoiding waste disposal were not available:

“these improvements have progressed only to a limited degree, the success of ‘Wake up to Waste’ may have been limited, in the short term, and will be more difficult to maintain, or expand, in the longer term.”

Therefore, whether we are talking about health, education, the environment or waste management, we must take an interest, not only in the money, but in the skill or otherwise with which Government can organise themselves to deliver a high-quality service to the public who pay for it.

The Department of the Environment did wake up to waste; it woke up to the reality that it was time to dump the issue with local authorities, and to have them incur the costs, so that members of local councils — some of whom are Assembly Members — would have to raise the revenue and the finance to do what central government should have done.

When the Northern Ireland estimates for the current financial year were published, they were accompanied by a statement of excess. This related to expenditure in excess of the net estimate provision for the Department of Education in the previous financial year. The excess expenditure was not an insignificant sum; it was some­where in the region of £123 million. The Department was rightly criticised by the Public Accounts Committee for lacking adequate control mechanisms to prevent the situation from arising. I trust that, to prevent any such recurrence, the appropriate rules are now in place, not only in the Department of Education, but in other Northern Ireland Departments.

Mr Dallat: Does Mr Storey agree that if this Assembly were up and running we would have our own Public Accounts Committee to scrutinise all the issues that he has raised?

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr Storey: The Hon Member should recall that the failure and the faults of the previous Assembly created some of the financial crises that we have experienced, so we should not be begging, cap in hand, for the restoration of the failed structures of the Belfast Agreement.

The hon Member earlier referred to the regional rate. It was the old Assembly — the failed Belfast Agreement version of this Assembly — that brought in a 7% year-on-year increase on the regional rate, and the pro-agreement parties supported it in this House. Therefore, the hon Member for East Londonderry should not be giving any lectures about the restoration of a devolved administration for the financial good of Northern Ireland.

1.45 pm

Mr Beggs: Mr Storey criticised the 7% increase to the regional rate incurred during the previous Assembly. Is he more satisfied with the 19% increase that was recently delivered?


Mr Storey: The hon Member from the Ulster Unionist Party should also bear responsibility, because his party negotiated the Belfast Agreement and brought about the situation in which the 7% increase was introduced.

The published Department-by-Department figures for the net administrative cost are interesting and bear some scrutiny. Adding up the net administrative costs for Northern Ireland Departments for 2005-06 and comparing those with the costs for 2004-05 and the actual expenditure for 2003-04, there is a consistent pattern: actual administration costs for 2003-04 were almost £803 million, rising to £854 million for 2004-05 and £954 million for 2005-06. Time and time again we hear that Government are committed to cutting out waste, getting resources to front-line services and doing away with superfluous administration. However, there seems to be a contrast between their words and their actions.

The House needs to pay particular attention to the House of Commons Select Committee report that confirmed that the level of fuel smuggling is so great as to warrant a reduction in the tax levy placed on the people of Northern Ireland. That is significant because a Westminster Committee, weighed down with Labour Party representatives, has concluded that such is the extent of the criminal conspiracy in Northern Ireland that it ought to affect the level of taxation.

One of the groups most responsible and associated with those who have threatened and attacked our economy, jobs and investment is the party that is missing from the Assembly today. Today, Sinn Féin stands officially condemned by that report as the public face of pirates, smugglers, counterfeiters and gangsters. It stands exposed as hypocritically demanding places in government to help to run the economy by day and seeking to destabilise the economy by night — to such a degree that the Select Committee recommends a change in Northern Ireland’s taxation.

However, one should not be surprised by that. This week, the true face of the abstentionists in the republican movement has been seen. A Sinn Féin Member of the House publicly admitted that he stole flags and bunting in Lurgan, and it was reported in the local papers. He then prides himself that that was an act of valour. A more sinister comment from a councillor in Cookstown shows the true face of republicans. The councillor determined that the Continuity IRA and dissidents are not hardliners because they have not killed any Brits yet.

That says something about the character and the credentials of the party with which so many in this House are keen for the DUP to sign a deal. Sinn Féin does not have the credentials to be in government. It has a long way to go. With regard to the finances of Northern Ireland, I would not trust Sinn Féin with the finances of my piggy bank, let alone the finances of Northern Ireland.

Ms Ritchie: The alleged purpose of today’s debate is to define:

“spending priorities for a Programme for Government to be agreed by a Northern Ireland Executive following its restoration on or before 24 November 2006.”

That is an act of political contrivance to mask and conceal the real political and economic problems that confront all Members and the wider community.

Those problems cannot be ignored, and they must be tackled if we are to achieve a political resolution that reflects the requirements of all the people.

This morning, the hon Member for North Antrim Dr Paisley informed us that this House was surrounded by mystery. Then, the hon Member for East Belfast Mr Robinson told us that we were not masters of our own house. How can we be, when the DUP and Sinn Féin refuse to allow restoration to take place? It is clear what the DUP must do. It must sign up to a commitment to power sharing and to partnership government. Sinn Féin must sign up to the principles of policing and an end to criminality, as defined by the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee report that was published this week.

Dr McCrea: Does the hon Member really believe that the Democratic Unionist Party can sign up to putting into government those who are wedded to a continuation of terrorism, criminality, paramilitarism and extortion? Does the Member really expect us to put those people into government?

Ms Ritchie: The SDLP firmly believes in inclusion. If we want to move forward, and if we want, for example, to correct the funding problems presented by the South Eastern Education and Library Board and counter its unacceptable introduction of commissioners, the political institutions must be restored. Both parties must stop protecting their own territory and get down to the business that the people of Northern Ireland elected us to do. That is the challenge.

Mr Storey: Will the Member give way?

Ms Ritchie: I will not give way. We have already been served a diet of that terrible behaviour in the Preparation for Government Committee. We have been served a diet of insinuation and cruel insult. The people of Northern Ireland are saying that they have had enough. They want us to get down to business and deal with the real priorities. If this was a real debate, we could do that, and be able to define our priorities. We only have to look at our roads infrastructure. For example, one of the key objectives of the Department for Regional Development’s corporate and business plan is to:

“maintain the road infrastructure to keep it safe, effective and reliable and to preserve the value of the asset”.

We have work to do then. There is extreme concern in the construction and quarry-products industry, as the SDLP and other parties have pointed out, that the financial allocation of £58 million for roads maintenance this year is totally inadequate. To protect an asset, resources should not be reduced. We must continue to invest in those resources. Recent statistics have highlighted a £9·8 million reduction in the budget allocation across the four Roads Service divisions for asphalt and bitmac resurfacing in Northern Ireland.

Mr Storey: Will the Member give way?

Ms Ritchie: I will not give way; I have limited time. If the DUP would get down to the business of government, we would not be dealing with this petty squabbling, to which many of us have been subjected in the Preparation for Government Committee.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr Storey: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The issue that I wished to raise was not an example of petty squabbling. I wanted to raise a matter of fact with the Member. That was why I asked her to give way.

Madam Speaker: That was not a point of order, Mr Storey.

Ms Ritchie: I have already dealt with the roads infrastructure and the roads maintenance budget. However, my party believes that, generally speaking, there is also short-term thinking in the comprehensive spending review. We believe that the British Government are passing the buck to the public, who must pay for the renewal of our infrastructure through additional taxation in the form of water charges. That is not just short-sighted but morally bankrupt.

The direct rule Administration has been responsible for neglecting our infrastructure for decades. They diverted investment towards other purposes, such as security, although we would readily concede that both sides’ paramilitaries carried out terrible acts during those years.

It is right that there should be a complete end to all forms of criminality and terrorism. The sectarianism that breeds discontent and terrorism should also end. The correct course of action for the Government would be for them to make good their neglect and make up for past deficits.

If we had restored institutions, we could define spending priorities for infrastructure. There are other issues to consider, including the crucial North/South dimension. If we are to tackle the impediments that partition has caused, we need to deal with the all-island spatial planning strategy, which has come about as a result of the regional development strategy in the North and the national spatial planning strategy in the South. Now that that document has been published, work needs to start immediately.

Other all-island regional development measures must be factored into a comprehensive spending review, and we could do that if there were restoration. Such measures include the creation of an all-island transportation and infrastructural body and the all-island free-travel scheme, which, thankfully, will be implemented next April. For the life of us, we do not understand why that is subject to a consultation here and not in the South. We need a strengthened all-island approach to road safety, given that this week we have seen terrible tragedies, some of which resulted in death.

We also need an integrated approach to road signage, marking, speed measurements and penalties. The benefits of an all-island approach to spending on our infrastructure are already visible as a result of the Dublin Government’s investment in the City of Derry Airport and the joint management of the Newry/Dundalk road construction project, which, coincidentally, Roads Service manages.

Fundamental to the debate is a need for the DUP and Sinn Féin to change their political attitudes and mindsets. We witnessed the semblance of a love-in of the Preparation for Government Committee. That attitude needs to be restored, and I hope that we will see some of its benefit.

The obstacles to political progress must be removed so that all our political institutions can be restored. That will ensure that together we can define the spending priorities for a new Programme for Government that will facilitate the renewal and rebuilding of a sustainable economy and infrastructure on an all-island basis.

That includes our social and recreational spheres of life. From a comprehensive spending point of view, we should also look forward to the 2012 Olympics and to what we in the North of Ireland can do to contribute to a greater investment in sport and recreation and to the Olympics — perhaps that contribution can be made on an all-island basis.

Our communities demand the restoration of political institutions, and they demand that we all grow up and politically equip ourselves properly. They want a reinvigorated approach to developing our infrastructure. That can be achieved through making infrastructure a major priority in the Programme for Government and for a new Executive.

The SDLP cannot wait for the day on which the DUP and Sinn Féin wise up to their responsibilities and join with the rest of us in forming that new Executive and in making decisions for people here, so that we do not encounter the problems such as those that the South Eastern Education and Library Board encountered yesterday. We should be able to put financial programmes in place for that board so that it can cater for children who have special educational needs. Concessionary travel passes were removed from children who attend schools in the South Eastern Education and Library Board area, thus marginalising those who live in rural communities. Those passes should be reinstated.

We look forward to defining those spending priorities for a new Executive.

Mr McNarry: It appears that the price that we will pay for this debate will be the formation of sub­committees under the charge of the Preparation for Government Committee. If it is to be believed, Sinn Féin will grace the Chamber to debate the reports of the supposed subcommittees.

However, not one of the subcommittees that the Secretary of State has conceded to Sinn Féin will cover a Programme for Government. Instead, the issue has been shunted here for us to take note of today. Surely the work of a priority subcommittee — directed by a Committee that is charged with preparing for government — would be expected to include a report on the essence of a Programme for Government.

2.00 pm

Perhaps it is deliberate that the instinct of a natural agitator, with form and history of rubbing people up the wrong way, is all too obvious in the choice of motion that he has sent to us to debate today. Perhaps it is his warped, cynical arrogance that, in an effort to find favour with Tony or Gordon, leads Peter to report back and say, “Look at clever me. I have contrived to have the democrats in the Assembly reach consensus.” In truth, the consensus is not to prepare for or restore devolution, but one based on disdain for the Secretary of State for having the audacity and temerity to insult this House with this motion.

The motion draws attention to a Programme for Government. When was it agreed that a proper Northern Ireland Assembly, if restored, would inherit and adopt all the aspects of governance and management that have been introduced and practised under direct rule? If this Hain Assembly threw out its sponsor’s own motion, what effect would that have on Government thinking?

What purpose is there in noting the action of the direct-rule decision process on spending, when the outcome would, more than likely, be entirely different if those spending actions were brought to a proper Assembly by its own Minister? Surely Peter Hain should consider asking this House whether his regime is fit for purpose and fit to govern in the manner that any other part of the United Kingdom would expect, because he is failing to govern in that way in Northern Ireland. I suspect that he knows the answer to that question, and I would be concerned if he did not.

What mark out of 10 would we give him on education, health, infrastructure, fishing, agriculture, closing down crime and protecting the vulnerable from thuggery? We on this side of the House would be hard pressed to give him four out of 10.

Let us set aside spending and look first at the costs involved in education. The Minister with responsibility for education cannot account for the costs of running education in Northern Ireland, because, like her predecessors, she does not know the costs. There is no bottom line, no starting point on expenditure and no monetary or fiscal strategy. The Government are working without a sustainable schools policy. How can someone run a business, a charity, or even a social club, let alone a Government Department, without having a sustainable policy in place? When our community groups put together a funding plan, the first question that they are asked, and the big question that they must answer, is whether their plan is sustainable, yet this Government runs our Department of Education without a sustainable schools policy.

I cannot take note of the motion, Madam Speaker, because that would give the impression that I am content with a spending review that relies on savage spending cuts. The spending review introduces education budgets for the purpose of whipping in punitive measures that act ultimately against children.

However, the Secretary of State refuses to grant us an education debate or an RPA debate that includes education. His arrogance hides his lack of bottle. He knows that in playing the consensus card he sends an open invitation to certain people to use their veto — as they did today and will continue to do until the situation changes. That is what has happened.

Not only does Sinn Féin refuse to come into this Chamber to debate with us, but the Secretary of State now enables it to dictate what will be debated. As a result, he bottles out of approving a debate that was requested by those who show respect to the House, who will attend and who will take part in debates. Instead, we are landed with a Hain motion for the Hain Assembly on the Hain regime spending review allied to the Hain Programme for Government.

It has been said — correctly — that we are all at fault. Although I passionately believe that the objective of devolution is to make elected Members masters of this House, it would be foolish to let that aspiration transpire without first ensuring that there would be a transition period for devolving Departments into the hands of an agreed Executive. What would we take over? We would be ultimately accepting the blame for, and the consequences of, direct rule. The legacy of direct rule will be an inherited shambles, based not on what is best for Northern Ireland and its people but on what the Exchequer sees fit for Northern Ireland and its people in costs only.

It is therefore nonsense to think that I would take note of spending reviews and spending priorities for a Programme for Government unless I had a practical input into agreeing a Programme for Government to be recommended to the people of Northern Ireland. Government cannot be approached without the comprehensive agreement of the vision enshrined in a Programme for Government.

Coming out of terrorist activity and compounded by lamentable direct-rule governance, we need to restore confidence not only through offering a vision for the future but by being capable in this House of delivering the costs of such an agreed vision. It would be irresponsible to do otherwise, and it would be downright stupid to negotiate the restoration of a devolved Assembly on the basis of becoming accountable by default and of inheriting and therefore administering for the foreseeable future not our vision but the policies of the outgoing Government.

Madam Speaker, there was talk earlier about the Preparation for Government Committee. Despite the reference in the Hansard report of a “love-in”, the prospects of consensus in that Committee were not served by remarks identifying some of its members as “the Taliban”. I take exception to that, even though those remarks were not made in my direction. I sat through some 20-odd — and some of them were very odd — hours of intensive discussion and grilling and for one party it was a case of “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”.

We are assembled here. Rather than take note of the Secretary of State’s motion, I ask through you, Madam Speaker, when is he going to take note of the democrats elected to this House, willing — and showing their willingness — to be in their place of work? When will he do so in a manner that denies the abstentionists any more oxygen for their veto?

Will it be better come September? That remains to be seen, and the onus between now and then is on the Preparation for Government Committee. Does that mean that debates will now be regulated continuously by the Secretary of State? Or does it mean that this Assembly will take control of its business and begin to be master in its own house?

Perhaps, Madam Speaker, over the recess, a decision could be reached and relayed to us corporately. If not, look around you. Is the action of the absentees deliberately intended to bring disgrace to this House? If you were a member of the public, what would you think of what you see here today?

It is incumbent upon the Secretary of State to deny the veto process adopted by one party. Otherwise, he is making a shambles of this Assembly.

Mr Shannon: Some specific issues show that the spending review falls down in its delivery to the people of the Province. It is a challenge to outline where it will not meet its mark and where it will not deliver.

One issue, alive in the minds of those of us who represent the east of the Province, is that of children with special needs, particularly in the area covered by the South Eastern Education and Library Board. The boards are under pressure to cut spending, and those cuts will impact specifically on children with special needs. The spending review disadvantages the children of Northern Ireland, especially since the Government are keen to make what they term “efficiency reviews” and savings.

The DUP is, with other parties, committed to helping those most in need — the children. Unions, parents, teachers and elected representatives vigorously oppose the imposition of a commissioner to the South Eastern Education and Library Board. That matter has already been raised in this Chamber, but the point must be made.

Government are enforcing budgets and threatening education and library boards with court action if those budgets are not adhered to, never mind that the needs of the children increase each year. How can parents be expected to cope when two new taxes are imposed, yet their much-needed services are removed because the Government want to save money? It is unrealistic for the spending review to talk of delivering services while, at the same time, taking them away.

The Government seem desperate to shave off money here, there and everywhere, while imposing taxes on the populace at alarming rates. Labour is the party of taxation; some 80-odd taxes have been introduced in its nine years in Government. That says a great deal. Perhaps two foreign wars and the consequent loss of life are taking their toll on the Treasury. The fact that enough decent, modern equipment cannot be supplied to the armed forces is an indication of how bad the situation is, and the Government should be reprimanded for that.

Perhaps this Government have delivered very little on promises to the people of the United Kingdom. If anything, things have gone backwards. If the record is examined, the previous Tory Government are blamed for anything that has gone wrong. However, in nine long years the Labour Government have not delivered; they have passed the buck, ducked and dived. Now they have begun to impose taxes in order to look as if they care about education and the Health Service.

Even under the Tories, nurses were not being sacked because of budget cuts.

2.15 pm

In my constituency of Strangford, and across the entire Province, tourism has the potential to boost the economy and lead to more jobs. It could lead to diversification for the rural economy and the farming community. In times of hardship, the rural community has been held back by draconian planning rules and regulations. We have already debated ‘Draft Policy Planning Statement 14’ in the Chamber. If planning regulations were eased, tourism could be boosted in the rural economy. That issue should be examined in the spending review.

In the past few days, the financial boost given to 12 July parades has been a topic in the press. That boost to at least one section of the community is welcome and could be replicated across the Province to benefit many areas. That wonderful, colourful celebration of culture is of historical importance, and it has tremendous tourism potential. If the same financial opportunity were afforded to others, thousands of jobs could be created.

Many families in my constituency are already feeling the strain from the lack of investment and spending. Many of my constituents look after elderly relatives without any support from the NHS and social services because the budgets cannot meet their needs, such as one hour a week of respite. Long lists of people need the services of the NHS, but the services are limited because of budget cutbacks and lack of investment. The spending review does not address those issues. Waiting lists in my constituency, and in many other constituencies, show that it is the volunteers — the carers — who look after the elderly and the ill. The Eastern Health and Social Services Board and the Ulster Community and Hospitals Trust do not have the budgets to deliver a satisfactory carer service to the community. The demands will increase because there are more old people. Will the spending review match that? I believe that it will not. For that reason, I have grave concerns.

In 2001, my colleague Kieran McCarthy and I raised the issue of roads. What we said was very clear: the minor roads budget for the Ards peninsula and the Strangford constituency is the same today as it was 10 years ago. How can a roads budget remain at the same level as it was 10 years ago? Those roads are 10 years older and in need of repair. The population has grown and road traffic has increased. There is no logic whatsoever to the roads budget. The spending review does not address the issue of road provision.

Mr Storey: This is a point that we wanted to raise earlier with the hon Member from the SDLP. There has been a £50 million reduction in the Roads Service’s maintenance budget. Under the Review of Public Administration, roads provision will become the responsibility of the new councils. Does the Member agree that one of the first tasks for the new super-councils will be to raise the rates in order to fix this basic asset, which will be neglected between now and 2009 because of that financial deficit?

Mr Shannon: After many lean years for the roads budget, the new super-councils — should there be seven, 11 or 15 — will be facing hard times. It is only fair that councillors who are responsible for roads are given a budget to address the issue. The Member is absolutely right.

The spending review should include a job-creation strategy, whether it comes from Invest Northern Ireland or directly from Government, that gives people the opportunity to find jobs.

This week, again, there have been more job losses in my constituency. One small village with a population of 800 or 900 people has lost 120 jobs over the past two years. Across the area, 3,000 jobs have gone. The onus is on Invest Northern Ireland and the Government to deliver a strategy and a plan of action that creates opportunities for people in my constituency and which also creates wealth and gives an economic boost to the area. That is not happening, and I find that very worrying.

With regard to the spending review, farming, fishing and rural affairs have suffered under Governments over time. Farmers tell me that when they apply for grants and premiums, although there is a timescale within which they should receive the money, they often have to wait three months or six months longer for payment. The faceless bureaucrats do not see the hardship on the farms; they do not see that the grant is part of the farm’s budget and is needed to keep the farm going and to pay the bank on time. It should be possible in this age, with modern technology, to make grant payments within the timescale. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development should have a system that is capable of doing that.

The backbone of my constituency is farming and fishing. People working in those industries already face severe hardships under the current spending budget and under this review. I hope that the Government will ensure that the extra taxes that they propose to raise will be poured into the budget of this country for spending in this country, and for spending in our constituencies on issues that really matter, such as children’s education, the safeguarding of jobs and doing the best for the people whom we represent. This spending review, set up by the Government, does not deliver that. Therefore, we must register our concerns about, and our opposition to, the review.

Mr Hillis: Like others, I begin by registering my complete dissatisfaction at the way in which we have been expected to debate this motion with less than 48 hours’ notice. The Secretary of State continues to treat us with considerable disrespect.

Although the wording of the motion is somewhat cumbersome, and the sentiments perhaps a little presumptuous, it is nonetheless an important debate. Everything hinges on money. Quite a few Members have made important points in the debate, and I am glad that a few Members are left in the Chamber as we continue. In the time that I have, I want to concentrate on the tourism industry and explain why I believe that spending on this area must be high on the priority list in any future Programme for Government.

I sometimes feel that tourism is regarded as something of a bit player in the greater scheme of things in Northern Ireland. It must be emphasised that tourism is a growing part of the Northern Ireland economy, with much potential for further growth. Sadly, at present, income from tourism represents only about 2% of gross domestic product (GDP), which is a big contrast with the Republic of Ireland, or with Scotland or England, where tourism represents between 5% and 6% of GDP.

With imagination and vision, we can build on previously untapped assets. I agree with Mr Shannon, particularly with regard to events around 12 July. For example, we are now in the midst of what some people would call the “marching season”, and for years tourists have been told that it is a bad idea to visit Northern Ireland during the Twelfth, presumably because the nasty orangemen would be on the march. The overt message was that something nasty might happen to the hapless tourist. To my mind, that is absolute piffle.

I am disappointed at the negative remarks made earlier by the leader of the Alliance Party. For years others and I have advocated that the Twelfth celebrations be marketed as a major tourist attraction. Why not? It makes complete sense.

It would never threaten the carnival of Rio, but it is unique; there is plenty of colour, music, pageant, culture. Given a chance, it could be a major tourist attraction.

My party and I welcome the fact that money has now been set aside to market the Twelfth as a major festival. My hon friend the Lord Laird of Artigarvan and I find it extremely difficult to understand why tourism that supports Ulster Scots is not more readily available. There are about 22 million Scots Irish living in America, many of whom are anxious to come back to their homeland for a visit. Ulster is the only part of the world where one can get Ulster Scots culture. Why is there not much more targeted funding to allow us to tap into this market? An opportunity awaits us from which everyone — and I mean everyone — can benefit.

Since 1994, the total visitor numbers have grown by 60%, with revenue increasing by 80%. Now tourism is expected to contribute well over £400 million to the Northern Ireland economy. Members will agree that those are positive figures. It would appear, however, that the financial mandarins are intent on jeopardising the excellent work of our tourism industry. I base this statement on the fact that the draft ‘Priorities and Budget 2006-08’ did not include any resources for some areas of tourism additional to the bid made by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board of £1·5 million — not an enormous amount — for regional tourism partnerships (RTPs).

These partnerships have critical responsibility for regional promotion and for the development of the regional tourism product. They market the regions, sell city breaks, and attract cruise ships, conferences and activity breaks. The co-ordination of effort and resources across local councils and individual industry members means that the RTPs’ key successes have helped remedy duplication and inefficiency in the delivery of tourism. Since their creation they have proved a positive example of public-private sector partnership, and now over 2,000 private/commercial sector business members are in partnerships with RTPs.

Much public sector investment in RTPs has to date been from EU funds that came to an end in March of this year. The current Budget made no provision for these partnerships beyond that date, leaving a void when the EU funding ceased. This was filled by the industry, local government and from the NITB funding, leaving less in its already depleted budget.

The Northern Ireland Tourist Industry Confederation explained the gravity of this situation recently in its response to the draft ‘Priorities and Budget 2006-08’:

“Failure to direct public sector funding to RTPs will be extremely negative to the tourist industry.”

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment tourism spend has, I admit, risen from £184 million in 2004-05 to £219·5 million in 2007-08. This increase is very welcome indeed.

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Those figures do not include the funding that has been ring-fenced for the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre. While I am on that subject, I appeal to all concerned organisations to quicken the pace on the visitor centre. I am glad that a design has been chosen, but we have been without a visitor centre for some time.

The global environment for tourism is highly competitive. I have had the pleasure of visiting the World Travel Market in London on more than one occasion. It is quite frightening to see what is on offer in the holiday market. Eastern European destinations are now posing great competitive pressure, and the EU in general is losing out to the Far East and the Middle East, a trend that is likely to continue. If Northern Ireland is to compete in this environment, it is essential to have an investment structure to meet the needs set out in the Northern Ireland Tourist Board’s Strategic Framework for Action 2004-07.

Unfortunately, many of Northern Ireland’s depart­mental budgets and priorities mention tourism as an add-on, rather than as an important sector of the economy. I sometimes think that tourism is the Cinderella of our economy. There must be adequate provision for, and sustainable investment in, our tourism industry in any future Programme for Government. If that does not happen, I will have serious concerns for Northern Ireland plc.

Mr Dallat: I will begin on a positive note and assume that everyone here wants to get back to work as quickly as possible in an all-inclusive power-sharing Assembly. In such circumstances, we need a Programme for Government that has the soundest financial control — public scrutiny. That has been sadly lacking for the past three and a half years of suspension.

Assuming that common sense prevails and a new Assembly can be formed, an audit strategy should be put in place to address issues relating to the management of money and risk assessments. Proper guidelines should also be put in place to show civil servants where their remit begins and ends.

The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in West­minster, Mr Edward Leigh, influenced by talks that he has had with United States congressmen, has been calling for improvements in financial scrutiny. Mr Leigh has drawn to the attention of Parliament the willingness of the National Audit Office to support the Committee. From my experience as a member of several Committees in the previous Assembly, we would have welcomed such support and co-operation from the Northern Ireland Audit Office. That would have given us the opportunity to address previous errors and failings.

We have not been allowed to take any interest in the financial affairs of the Assembly, but there is a budget of more than £1 billion of taxpayers’ money. It is surely incredible and unique in the world of finance that a corporation, if I may call the Assembly that, is responsible for so much money, yet exercises no financial control over it.

However, it is much worse than that: the 108 Members continue to be paid, while those who refuse to reach agreement to run the Assembly complain about plans to increase rates, introduce water charges and threaten the very future existence of the manufacturing industry. Only yesterday, children with special needs were told that their rights to equality were finished, and today there is a commissioner crawling all over the books of the South Eastern Education and Library Board to do just that.

Several investigations are under way relating to the manner in which public money has been spent. Every­thing must be done to ensure that any future Programme for Government is not impeded by costly investigations that could be prevented if proper strategies are in place to ensure that Members have the appropriate written and oral briefings from the Audit Office.

How much longer must we rely on journalists to uncover what is wrong with the financial affairs of this Assembly? When will we derail the gravy train that rumbles on bringing direct-rule Ministers, senior civil servants, and other heads of non-departmental public bodies to the four corners of the earth for reasons that are ill defined and poorly justified?

Again, on a positive note, there is an opportunity to enhance the work of the Public Accounts Committee. This is particularly important because we must review the practice where public expenditure is reviewed after the event, rather than before the horse has bolted. In order to achieve that, I would like to see an approach made to the Comptroller and Auditor General at the Northern Ireland Audit Office to ensure that the Public Accounts Committee can play its full part in strengthening financial scrutiny within its current terms of reference. This is vital if we are to address issues relating to risks to future delivery that can be assessed and managed.

A new Assembly must avoid the embarrassments where millions of pounds are wasted on projects such as DeLorean, the sheep annual premium scheme and various other training schemes that did not achieve their purpose. We must bring to an end the scandals of millions of pounds being spent on transatlantic trips of questionable value to the ratepayer.

It is equally important that any future Programme for Government, and the money attached to it, makes clear where it is appropriate, if at all, to accept hospitality such as dinners, galas, days at the races, and so on. Indeed, the whole area of public procurement or contracts, worth many millions of taxpayers’ money — has been undermined by scandals relating to hospitality and gifts.

I do not propose to go into any detail because there are ongoing police inquiries, and I would not wish to prejudice those in any way. However, if the Assembly were up and running there would at least be an opportunity to ask searching questions about who is on the gravy train, how much they have benefited from it, and when it will stop.

Mr Storey: Does the hon Member for East Londonderry also agree about, and include in that list, the abolition of the Civic Forum, which cost the previous Assembly and the taxpayers of Northern Ireland over £2 million and delivered absolutely nothing?

Mr Dallat: I am happy to say that the Civic Forum was a splendid organisation. [Laughter.]

The Civic Form took up the issue of literacy and numeracy — a matter very close to my heart — and it produced a splendid report. Given that 25% of the population, or 250,000 people, in the North, leave school with the lowest skills in reading and writing, I do not understand why it is a laughing matter.

All those issues must be worked on so that any new Assembly has the mechanisms ready to roll when it takes over responsibility for the Programme for Government — that is if it is serious about it and does not find it a joke.

In conclusion, one of the first tasks is to draw up the criteria for an effective internal audit mechanism, and the involvement of the Northern Ireland Audit Office is crucial. So, too, is the strengthening of the work of the Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee, and this would entail a change in its terms of reference.

The Committee on the Preparation for Government should devote time to examining the current procedures, look at best practice in other jurisdictions and have in place mechanisms that will radically change current procedures, which are more about shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, rather than ensuring that there are controls in place internally that would prevent scandals, embarrassments and bad practice in the first place.

However, much depends on how sincere we are about taking responsibility for the Programme for Government.

Nothing that I have heard recently indicates that there is any real hope that political morality is about to dawn on this Assembly. In the meantime, credibility is fast going out the window, public patience is at breaking point, and much of what I have said is falling on deaf ears. People refuse to listen, and minds cannot comprehend that we have moved on.

This may be our last opportunity to convince the world that we really care, but I doubt if anyone will be convinced that there is any real desire to take responsibility for what we are paid to do. Perhaps I am wrong; I hope that I am wrong. Many people feel sick at the behaviour of elected representatives who are blocking the democratic rights of people to take charge of their own affairs. Today, we have had a lot of hot air from the DUP and cold water from Sinn Féin.

Madam Speaker: The next Member to speak is George Ennis. This is his maiden speech, so please show him the usual courtesy.

Mr Ennis: Thank you, Madam Speaker, for those kind words.

I welcome the opportunity that this Assembly has been given to discuss the comprehensive spending review. The review covers much too wide a range of subjects for me to attempt to cover in this short speech.

Members have raised many important issues already. In order to benefit the economy in the best way, the comprehensive spending review must be directed at the areas of greatest importance and those that will deliver the greatest return. The case against the removal of industrial derating has been put in the Chamber already, and I fully support that case. Like industrial derating, the issue of corporation tax has been raised many times in the Assembly, and in other forums, in recent months. However, we must continue to discuss the issue. The comprehensive spending review should focus on issues that must be addressed in order to make Northern Irish businesses more competitive. If we are to deliver this world-class Northern Ireland that is often spoken about, we must recognise that corporation tax is a barrier to achieving that most laudable of aims.

Northern Ireland faces many different challenges to those faced in the rest of the United Kingdom, because of the land border. A review of corporation tax levels is needed so that we are not placed at a competitive disadvantage to our neighbours. However, that is not the be-all and end-all; that measure will not miraculously jump-start the Northern Ireland economy. It must be part of a broader plan and a strategic approach adopted in areas such as the comprehensive spending review. That review can target investment at the most important areas and stimulate high-quality investment in the local economy, which will then pay the highest dividends.

Government cannot continue to use the argument of cost to justify any reluctance in this area. We are not asking for a blank cheque or an unquantifiable return from investment. This would be a strategic investment in the future of Northern Ireland, leading to Northern Ireland positioning itself among the best places in the world in which to invest, and bringing in the spin-off benefits that such a position would create.

Some small steps have already been taken. For instance, the last Budget increased the research and development tax allowance to firms above the current small and medium-sized enterprises’ research and development tax credit threshold. Such mechanisms will deliver investment to Northern Ireland, but it will be a guaranteed investment, with a high-quality reward. Such investment must be targeted through mechanisms such as the comprehensive spending review.

We must encourage other ventures — for example, knowledge-transfer partnerships. For some time, our universities have been involved with such partnerships, which can deliver information and expertise to the business and private sectors. Those partnerships are of particular use to businesses that previously have not invested in research and development, and Northern Ireland companies are low in research and development financing.

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They are also a way for smaller businesses to make use of high-quality knowledge, with direct benefit to their business. The Department of Trade and Industry currently provides 60% of the funding for knowledge-transfer partnerships for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). As much encouragement as possible should be given to SMEs to participate in those schemes and the benefits should be made clear to them. An increase in support to businesses, particularly smaller businesses and those not previously involved in that scheme, could help to encourage further participation.

Similarly, those on the other side of the partnership must be fully supported to enable them to help as many businesses as possible. Support must be given to ensure adequate resources on the academic side of the partner­ships to deliver the knowledge and expertise to those businesses that can be encouraged to take up the offer.

Although the main focus of knowledge-transfer partnerships is often through universities, some further education colleges are already involved in such programmes. Different businesses have different needs, and not all will require the high-level expertise of the university sector. Improving the networks between local business and further education colleges can help to bring businesses into the system at a relevant level and on a scale that is manageable for small businesses.

All those proposals could help to increase research and knowledge in Northern Ireland’s business sector. Everyone knows that the public sector plays much too great a role in the economy; that will not be turned around overnight. It will require a strategic focus from the Assembly and at least a medium-term investment in those areas that will deliver the best returns for Northern Ireland plc. Outside the political process, the economy is the most important aspect on which Government must focus if any semblance of stability is to be achieved.

I hope that notice is taken of the motion and of this afternoon’s debate in the Chamber. We remain to be convinced that previous debates have been taken on board, but we, as elected Members, must continue to put forward our case. I hope too that the correct strategic approach to developing the economy can be put in place.

Rev Dr Robert Coulter: I have learned from my engineering experience that, when it comes to this time in the afternoon, the longer the spoke the greater the tyre.

I support Members who said that this is no way to operate an Assembly. It shows a flagrant disregard for the seriousness of the public business that we are trying to conduct. At the heart of the problem lies a total lack of meaningful consultation, and behind that lies a lack of respect, verging on contempt, for the Assembly. I appeal to all Members to recognise that we have it in our power to end the Secretary of State’s control over all those matters that are so vital to the interests of our constituents.

Lack of consultation is also at the heart of what I have to say about the spending reviews of 2004 and 2007. The point is that direct-rule Ministers produced those reviews without consulting the Assembly. Indeed, MLAs were summoned to the Long Gallery to be told the details of important aspects of the spending reviews — and that was after the event had been publicly announced and the details given to the press. That shows scant regard for the democratic process.

There are important items that are not catered for in the spending review, with particular reference to my own party brief, which is health. To begin with, the failure of the Review of Public Administration to separate primary and community care budgets from hospital budgets will mean that hospital budgets will continue to drain resources and starve primary and community care of the funds needed. That, of course, runs counter to Government policy, which is to boost preventative medicine. The best way to do that would be by funding primary and community care separately from the hospitals.

Leaving primary and community care at the end of the queue after hospitals makes it an “Aunt Sally” service, and fatally undermines the whole process of the Review of Public Administration with regard to health services. We should demand that that situation be reviewed at the earliest opportunity, before it is set in stone and we create another service that will go wrong at the planning stage. I call on the Secretary of State to ring-fence primary and community care budgets as a matter of urgency.

Secondly, with the central trauma centre being located in Belfast, extra demands will inevitably be placed on the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, for which additional provision must be made. I call for the establishment and proper funding of an air ambulance service to ferry seriously ill patients to the new central trauma centre. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that does not have a dedicated air ambulance service. That is an absolute necessity if we are not to abandon whole swathes of rural Northern Ireland to inadequate emergency cover. I speak here of Tyrone, the county of my birth. The western and northern parts of Northern Ireland will not have adequate cover in an emergency. We have not been consulted, and this matter has not been properly budgeted for.

I draw the Assembly’s attention to two salient points in relation to health budgets. First, the Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability (Northern Ireland) spoke of serious deficiencies in investment in mental health in Northern Ireland compared to Great Britain. That underinvestment affects the real lives of real people, especially in view of the suicide rates here among young men.

Thirdly, it is important to note that the Appleby Report of 2004 stated that an additional 7% is needed in general health budgets to meet all needs. The common theme that emerges from these matters is that there is no substitute for the democratic control of public business by this democratically elected Assembly. I appeal, therefore, to the Secretary of State to give the Assembly control of its own agenda. It is only by doing that that some order can be brought into the conduct of public affairs in Northern Ireland.

Mr B Bell: Does the hon Member agree that in any future Programme for Government or any future spending programme, provision should be made by the Northern Ireland Assembly for free care for elderly people, similar to that which pertains in Scotland?

Rev Dr Robert Coulter: When one comes to my age one can identify with those sentiments. My party and I would fully support the idea of free personal care for the elderly.

Mr A Maginness: I had a dream last night. The dream was that we were in this Assembly on 25 November. The Benches were full, but I saw four figures hugging one another, glad-handing and clapping one another on the back. Who were they?

Madam Speaker: I must point out, Mr Maginness, that that day is a Saturday. What about Monday 27 November? [Laughter.]

Mr A Maginness: You have ruined the punchline. It was a dream, so I should be permitted a bit of poetic licence, Madam Speaker.

The four figures were Willie McCrea, Alex Maskey, Mervyn Storey and Gerry Kelly. Where is Mervyn? I see that he is not here. They were hugging one another and patting one another on the back and asking, “What Ministry do you have?” They walked out of the Chamber down the corridor to room 21 to meet with Ian Paisley, the First Minister, and Gerry Adams, the Deputy First Minister.

Dr McCrea: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can Members really lead us down the path of fantasy? Surely we should be debating reality.

Madam Speaker: That was not a point of order, but I would like Mr Maginness to continue.

Mr A Maginness: Of course, there are historical precedents for such events. Brian Faulkner, John Hume, Gerry Fitt and Paddy Devlin all shared the same Cabinet table in the power-sharing Administrations in which they worked together for the good of the people of Northern Ireland.

That was my dream. Of course it is not true, but come 25 November it could be the reality, and I hope that it will be. However, it will not come true if the DUP continues with its obstructionism and Sinn Féin continues with its abstentionism. We have the two great negatives: the negativity of Sinn Féin and that of the DUP.

You can whinge all that you want today, and you have had an absolutely cracking session of whinging. The Secretary of State has been so badly kicked that he is barely conscious. He has been kicked, stoned and generally derided and ridiculed. Why? It is because he exercises power. You could exercise that power if tomorrow you signed on the dotted line and said to Gerry Adams and the rest of them that you will form a power-sharing Executive for the good of the people of Northern Ireland.

Mr Nesbitt: When the Member talked about our whinging, he spurred me on to ask a question. Although I have just come in, I wish to note —

Mr A Maginness: I was not talking about you.

Mr Nesbitt: I did not say that you were. However, I noted that you praised the Government of the Brian Faulkner era of many years ago. Do you agree that the Government that was formed then, although it was short term, was formed on the basis of a voluntary coalition between the SDLP and unionism?

Mr A Maginness: Let me put it this way: the notion of power sharing is fundamental to remedying a divided society. All the parties, including Brain Faulkner’s, accepted that power sharing was fundamental to the future. I do not care whether you call that a voluntary coalition or an involuntary coalition: it was a power-sharing coalition. That is the fundamental objective for all of us if we want to reform this society and create a sustained peace. We must create a power-sharing Executive if we want to create harmony instead of disharmony and tolerance instead of intolerance.

That is the only way forward, folks. We can say goodbye to any form of power unless it is shared. That is the message that the Secretary of State and all reasonable people in the community are sending to you.

Mr Donaldson: With all due respect to the Member, that is not the message that the Secretary of State is sending us. If the message were simply that we should form a power-sharing Executive, we could do that with the Member’s party tomorrow.

The message is very different: we can have a power-sharing Executive only if it comprises a range of parties, including Sinn Féin. The Member knows the difficulty that we have with that. We are not against the principle of power sharing; we simply need to know that the criminality, violence and intimidation, which happen in his constituency and in mine, are at an end.

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Mr A Maginness: All the significant elements that make up the political landscape of this Assembly and this society must be included in government — it is as simple as that.

You cannot exclude a significant section of the political community in Northern Ireland. You cannot do that and hope for stability and to progress to a new and dynamic society in which there is real peace and harmony. If you think otherwise, you are quite wrong. You must be mad if you think that the SDLP will suddenly say, “Aha, that is the solution to the problem. We will form a voluntary coalition” — as you call it — “with the unionist parties, and that will solve the problem”.

Mr Donaldson: I remind the Member that, in the previous Assembly, his party sought to exclude the DUP from the Executive; therefore, it is not true to say that the SDLP has been consistent on this issue. Were the SDLP consistent, it would accept the principle that there can be no Executive without the DUP.

Mr A Maginness: The Member is wrong. The SDLP fought long and hard to achieve power sharing. From the early 1970s and right through the 1980s and 1990s, that was our political objective. We fought long and hard to achieve that and to bring everybody together, including the DUP. We never told the Ulster Unionists to exclude the DUP. You should know that, because you were in the Ulster Unionists at the time. Perhaps your memory is fading. However, every significant element of political opinion in Northern Ireland must be included in the power-sharing arrangements.

Mr McFarland: Do I take from the Member’s exhortation that all parties should form a Government now and that his party is comfortable with going into government tomorrow with Sinn Féin, which is clearly not dedicated to law and order and which does not support policing? I understood the SDLP’s position to be that it would not go into government with Sinn Féin until that party supported law and order. Is that still the case?

Mr A Maginness: It is quite simple, Madam Speaker. If the opportunity arises, we in the SDLP would form an Administration with the DUP, the Ulster Unionists and Sinn Féin tomorrow. We have not set preconditions for Sinn Féin or any other political party. Of course Sinn Féin should sign up to the new policing arrange­ments; it has been disgraceful and irresponsible in not supporting them.

Indeed, in many areas of Belfast and elsewhere throughout Northern Ireland we see the result of the fact that there is a policing vacuum, which has been caused in part by Sinn Féin’s irresponsibility. People are suffering as a result of that vacuum. Yes, Sinn Féin should sign up to policing, and we want it to do that, but we do not make it a precondition to establishing an Executive.

I have no criticism of your raising all the issues that you have talked about today. It is right and proper that you do so, because you are concerned about your constituents and about the future of the Northern Ireland economy. However, if we want to deal with those issues, the only way in which to tackle them is to get to the very heart of the political problem here. How is power to be transferred to you, as public represent­atives, in a way that includes everyone of significance in this Building and in this Assembly? That is the central issue with which you as politicians must deal. I return to my dream — of course it was a dream. Rev William McCrea said that it was a fantasy, but I do not think that it was.

It could well come true, although perhaps not on 25 November.

Unless you face up to the reality of power sharing, we will not move forward as a community. We will not move forward as politicians and exercise real power. Also, in part, you, by the paralysis that you have brought to the political system, are causing —

Madam Speaker: Please draw your remarks to a close.

Mr A Maginness: In part, you are causing the very things that you are criticising today: the rates increases; the problems with derating; and the difficulties in relation to expenditure and education etc. You are partly responsible for that because of your inability to face up to the political realities.

Madam Speaker: Members should really speak through me and not refer to one another as “you”.

Mr Beggs: In January the Secretary of State launched his comprehensive spending review of Northern Ireland Departments. That review has been repeated in other regions of the United Kingdom and in other Departments that are not controlled in the Northern Ireland block grant. Therefore it is a very encompassing review, and we must bear that in mind.

On several occasions the Secretary of State has highlighted the over-dependence on public sector funding in Northern Ireland. It is right that we re-examine our spending and our priorities in Northern Ireland. However, Government must also examine the wider policies in the United Kingdom that can adversely affect this region in particular.

Ulster Unionists support that reassessment of how Government does its business. We must attempt to reduce bureaucracy in the Civil Service in Northern Ireland so that more money can be spent on front-line services such as health and education, and to enable the Northern Ireland economy to grow and to be sustainable.

As my colleague Esmond Birnie said, that will become increasingly important in future. In the past few years we have experienced relatively large increases in public expenditure, and in future that expenditure is likely to be rather lean.

Public service must be about making a difference to the quality of life in Northern Ireland. It should not be about frustrating the public and the many skilled and hard-working civil servants by requiring high levels of administration and mountains of paperwork to be completed. That was well illustrated recently in the Long Gallery when the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) provided a pile of documents that was about a foot high that each farmer must read in order to complete their paperwork. There must be a review of how the Civil Service process is completed in Northern Ireland. It must be sensible, and it must be lean.

The Secretary of State has also criticised the over-reliance on public-sector funding in Northern Ireland. However, that must be set in context. Northern Ireland has suffered from 30 years of violence. That resulted in a loss of investment and in higher policing and security costs. The relatively high levels of organised crime in Northern Ireland inhibit business, and they affect us all. We must support the necessary funding for the police, the Assets Recovery Agency (ARA) and Customs and Excise. Government should also reassess their policies, which on some occasions have created opportunities for criminals.

Although we welcome the increased numbers of customs officers in Northern Ireland, would it not be much better to harmonise fuel duties? Sir Reg Empey suggested that idea in January, and the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee recently supported it. That would end fuel smuggling at source by eliminating the profit. A result would be achieved much more simply.

Sir Reg Empey: Does the Member agree that the funding that could be saved from the roughly 164 customs officers, plus all the policing time, could free up some of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) budget to honour the commitments that it made to provide resources for the new policing college in Cookstown?

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr Beggs: All the parties in the Chamber would certainly support that. It is dreadful that such an important decision has been delayed. The future training of officers is being inhibited by the lack of funding. The Treasury must address that urgently.

During the troubles, relatively few private sector investments were made. Many of our brightest young people chose to take their skills elsewhere. We do not necessarily need less public-sector spending, but we do need more private-sector investment and employment. The Government must review their policies, which should encourage and support the private sector.

With regard to taxation, Northern Ireland’s land border with another EU country means that it can be more adversely affected by neighbouring fiscal regimes than can other UK regions. I ask that the Secretary of State and the Treasury take that into consideration when determining tax levels in Northern Ireland. Careful adjustment could even, in some instances, increase the Treasury’s income from Northern Ireland taxes. For example, the high level of excise duty on fuels means that those who live in border areas choose, legally, to fill their vehicles south of the border. Moreover, the opportunity to deal with fuel laundering is being missed.

There is a need to reduce corporation tax levels and to increase R&D opportunities in Northern Ireland. As other Members have said, that is an area of concern. Research and development is largely being led by the universities, and there is an urgent need to increase the level of funding in the private sector. Without that, the future of our industry is questionable. We must be at the cutting edge; our products must compete in the global market.

The Northern Ireland section of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) recently advocated diverting higher levels of corporation tax in order to fund additional research and development. I believe, as do many of my colleagues, that this idea has much merit; it might overcome the Treasury’s apparent reluctance to reduce Northern Ireland’s corporation tax levels to those in the Republic of Ireland. Anything to improve Northern Ireland’s competitiveness and encourage investment in R&D and investment by industry must be welcomed. I ask the Secretary of State to pursue that vigorously with the Treasury.

With regard to industrial rates, the success of the manufacturing sector is vital to the Northern Ireland economy as a whole. Many service-sector jobs are dependent on money that was initially generated by the manufacturing industry. What would happen if the industrial jobs were lost? It is clear that all those jobs are interrelated.

There is the potential for some companies to relocate to the Republic of Ireland, which is seen as more business-friendly. Why should Invest Northern Ireland be allowed to spend millions of pounds in encouraging inward investment, when the full rates proposed for industrial premises have the potential to export or end many existing industrial jobs?

The Northern Ireland Manufacturers Focus Group’s campaign to cap manufacturing rates had the unanimous support of all of the Assembly Members present at the recent debate on the subject. I urge the Secretary of State, even at this stage, to heed that.

I support my colleague Norman Hillis, and many other Members, in the view that we must build tourism opportunities in Northern Ireland. Our gross domestic product for tourism is approximately 2%; we are missing out on the levels of tourism experienced in the rest of the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland, where it is closer to 6%.

The Twelfth of July should be a community festival. It used to be, and there is no reason for it not to be again. There was, of course, disruption, organised for political purposes, and the sooner that Sinn Féin turns off those that it unleashed, the better for everyone in the community and for our entire society.

On electricity, my colleague Esmond Birnie indicated his concern at the lack of an announcement about the cost-reduction package. Northern Ireland suffered as a result of the highly profitable electricity privatisation contracts, which were sold at inflated values to the benefit of the Chancellor. Business users still await the support promised by the former direct-rule economy Minister, Ian Pearson. When will that cost reduction come?

Another report that gave me concern was that produced by the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors.

The report states that, for the past eight years, some £44 million had been used to support victims and survivors of the troubles. The physical and psychological damage inflicted by the troubles must be addressed, given that 3,500 murders and almost 50,000 injuries have been recorded. The individuals and families concerned must be helped. However, there is no long-term strategic plan for victims and survivors, and the current proposals could result in the existing limited support being reduced dramatically. That situation must be rectified.

3.15 pm

Although I welcome the opportunity to debate the priorities contained in the spending review, I am concerned about the absence of Northern Ireland Scrutiny Committees in which we would have had a chance to get to grips with the detail behind the Budget. In the absence of those Committees, it is difficult to be fully knowledgeable about the subject. However, I hope that the Secretary of State listens. Regrettably, I fear that he may simply note the Official Report.

Mrs Foster: The SDLP Member for North Belfast told us that devolution of power to this Assembly lies at the heart of the problem. He is not correct, of course. The criminal and paramilitary actions of Sinn Féin/IRA, its inactions in not supporting policing and justice, and the fact that it will not identify the graves of the disappeared are the issues that lie at the heart of the problem. I would have thought that the Member would have recognised that those issues lie at the heart of the problem and that they continue to concern people.

Like my colleagues, I want to register my disgust at the way in which the Secretary of State has treated the House — yet again. He treats the House, and Members, with contempt. By implication, he also treats those who have elected us with contempt. A motion has been foisted on us that is so broad that there has been little continuity in the debate. I regret that.

Money seems to fascinate the Secretary of State, be it the comprehensive spending review or the ability of members of my party to sustain themselves after 24 November if agreement is not reached. I want to put on record — should the Secretary of State take the time to read the Official Report — that he can carry out as many secret assessments as he likes, but he must realise that monetary considerations will have no impact on the decisions to be taken this autumn. The way in which that issue was spun to the media shows that the Secretary of State knows nothing about what motivates me, my party colleagues and, even more alarmingly, the majority of Northern Irish people who vote for the parties here. That is a pretty damning indictment of a man who has been Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for quite some time.

Ethnic minorities face difficulties in my constituency and throughout Northern Ireland. Before I am prevented from speaking for not addressing the motion, I should point out that there is a spending review implication in relation to that issue. Last month in Dungannon, at a meeting of local residents who felt frustrated at the lack of social housing in the town, views were expressed that caused me concern. Houses that are on the market for sale and for rent are being snapped up by investors and developers, resulting in first-time buyers being priced out of the market. Those houses are let to people from ethnic backgrounds who have come to Northern Ireland to work in local factories and to provide employers with quality employees. For monetary gain, those developers pack the houses with 10 to 12 people, which not only exploits the scarce housing situation in Dungannon but exploits those from ethnic backgrounds. Those landlords charge rent per head, and if 10 people are living in a house at £80 per head, per week, it is difficult for young couples to compete in that market.

This, of course, has the knock-on effect of alienating young indigenous people in the local community and causing community tension, something that, unfortun­ately, as we have seen from recent reports, is on the rise.

How should the Government, and indeed all of us, deal with this? First, I want to congratulate local police for the stand that they have taken and the drive that they have shown in dealing with ethnic tensions. However, Government finance has a part to play. Last year the Government launched a racial equality strategy but, unfortunately, little has been done, and negligible resources have been set aside to deal with what was to be a cross-departmental action plan.

Recently, at a meeting with the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities the chief executive of that organisation expressed his dismay at Government will to deal with what has become a large social issue in this country. My colleague Lord Morrow and I contacted the Minister for Social Development to seek a meeting in relation to the ongoing difficulties in Dungannon, in particular the housing issue, which is one of the key causes of problems in the area. We will push on that issue on behalf of those from the ethnic minority community and on behalf of those from the indigenous community who feel frustrated and alienated in their own local area.

Another issue that I wish to address with regard to Government spending — and colleagues would be surprised if I did not mention the west — is the need to see Northern Ireland as a whole and not as two halves. Other Members have addressed the disastrous conse­quences of the RPA for the west of Northern Ireland. This week, however, I was pleasantly surprised when I attended the launch of the fuel poverty strategy. In the Fuel Advisory Group’s report, the first recommendation was that strategies to tackle fuel poverty should be rural proofed. I welcome that realisation and call upon the Government to acknowledge that in their action plan.

Infrastructure deficits are most acute in the south-west of Northern Ireland, and I call upon the Government, when considering the new investment strategy for Northern Ireland, to ensure that due consideration is given to areas such as Fermanagh and South Tyrone that urgently need a huge investment in roads infra­structure. The divisional roads office in the west has submitted new roads schemes for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, and I ask the Government to take due notice of those bids.

The west of Northern Ireland is falling behind, not because of the will of those of us who live there, but because of the Government’s unwillingness to look at Northern Ireland as a whole rather than as two distinct halves. If the Northern Ireland Office is serious about sustainability and long-term growth, nothing less is required.

Mr Donaldson: While none of us likes the manner in which the Secretary of State called this debate, nevertheless any opportunity that public representatives have to at least address these issues is welcome, even if we do not have the power, at this stage, to do much about them. It is good that three of the main parties are here — and the Alliance Party was here earlier — but it is a matter of regret that, on an important issue of concern to the public, Sinn Féin is missing. It saddens me that the Secretary of State seems to give a veto to Sinn Féin on certain issues and that the party does not participate in debates in this Chamber, yet it chides other parties, including the DUP, for not seeking to make progress. It talks about the need for engagement, yet it will not engage on these issues. That is highly regrettable. Just as Sinn Féin abstains and absents itself from Westminster, it absents itself from this place. Its contribution on these matters is sadly lacking.

I turn to the issue of sport. With the World Cup coming to a conclusion and Wimbledon well on its way, many people will have been watching sport. That is an area in which we need to do more in Northern Ireland. Throughout the period of the troubles, sport in Northern Ireland was an activity that brought people together and it continues to bring people together across the community. It is something that we need to invest in.

We congratulate Italy and France on reaching the World Cup final, and we look forward to a good game.

Some Members: Hear, hear.

Mr Donaldson: Some of my happiest memories are of Northern Ireland doing well on two occasions when it got through to the World Cup finals. We need to invest in sport to get the best out of our sportsmen and sportswomen if Northern Ireland is to get back into the World Cup finals. We need proper training facilities and stadia.

Since my election to Parliament, I have campaigned for a national stadium. I have long believed that Northern Ireland needed a first-class facility. The Government considered all the options about where the new national stadium might be located; they have gone for the Maze site, which happens to be in my constituency. I welcome that prospect.

I wish that the debate would move on from location to the type of facility that we need. We politicians gripe about the need for spending money; the Government are offering the people of Northern Ireland a stadium, yet some people seem to want to look that gift horse in the mouth. I do not; I want to see the money used wisely, not only for this generation but for future generations of sportsmen and sportswomen, and I look forward to the day when the new stadium is open on the Maze site.

I was disappointed and a little surprised that the Member for South Antrim, Mr Burnside — who is no longer in his place — criticised the Maze project and favoured Belfast. The debate on location has moved on, but since Antrim and Newtownabbey, which are in his constituency, will form part of the new council that includes the Maze, I am amazed that he, as a public representative and an Assembly Member, should oppose a proposal that will bring benefits to the rate­payers whom he represents. I am sure that the point will not be lost on the Member for South Antrim, Rev Dr McCrea, who was victorious in the elections in 2005.

Mr Kennedy: Will the Member confirm that all members of the Democratic Unionist Party, wherever they are elected, share his enthusiasm for the Maze site?


Mr Donaldson: The Member will know that the DUP, as with all democratic parties, has a variety of opinions. The DUP, unlike the UUP, takes its seat on the Maze panel and is fully engaged in the project because we see the benefit of it for all the people of Northern Ireland. The leadership of the party decided that, since the location of the stadium had been settled, we had to move on. I hope that the Ulster Unionist Party will shortly join us on the panel and get on with the job of creating this facility. The DUP is consistent on the issue and is not sending out mixed signals, unlike the hon Member’s party.

Turning now, Madam Speaker, to the issue of education, I join Members who today mentioned the South Eastern Education and Library Board, which is of great concern to me. We talked today about democracy, yet here is an example of dictatorship. The Secretary of State, the education Minister and the Northern Ireland Office have decided that the democratically expressed views of the elected representatives on the board are to be ignored. That is a matter for regret.

There are historical financial difficulties to which the Member for East Belfast sketched the background, as did the Member for Strangford. It is simply not good enough for the Government to introduce a commission into the South Eastern Education and Library Board, without allowing the issue to be more fully explored. I commend the councillors on that board: they have at heart the interests of the people that they represent — especially funding for vulnerable children who have special needs and funding for special-needs schools.

3.30 pm

It is entirely wrong for the Government to proceed in such a way.

Mr P Robinson: Since I last spoke on this issue, I have realised that there is a very set procedure with regard to appointments. There is a process whereby the Commission has to clear appointments and, even in emergency circumstances, where it needs to be informed. Will the hon Gentleman join me in calling for an open statement from the Government as to whether they complied with the appointments system that they set out, and, if they did not, that the appointments that have been made should be dissolved?

Mr Donaldson: The hon Member is absolutely right, and I thank him for making that point. We have asked for an urgent meeting with the Education Minister; that point must be clarified, because it smacks of a diktat. I listened to the Govern­ment’s announcement last evening, and it was clear that the issue was pre-cooked and pre-determined. They had already decided that they were going to appoint commissioners and who they were going to be.

It smacks of the kind of attitude that we have had from the Government recently whereby, regardless of any political consensus, whether it is on education, industrial derating, water charges, planning laws or other issues, the Government will choose to ignore all that and simply press ahead with their own agenda. They lecture us on the need to achieve political consensus on the way forward, but when we do agree on issues that matter to the people that we represent, the Government choose to ignore it. That is regrettable.

The Democratic Unionist Party is a devolutionist party, and we want a devolved Administration back in Northern Ireland as soon as possible. Mr Maginness said that he would go into government if the opportunity arose — the key issue is how we determine what that opportunity is. There is no difference of opinion on this side of the Chamber about power sharing being the way forward. The hon Member should read the DUP’s manifesto. We went to the country on the basis that the only form of government that would work in Northern Ireland is one that has the support of a majority on both sides of the community. We have accepted that, and that must mean that we work together in the Assembly to provide good government for the people of Northern Ireland.

The DUP would like to have moved forward immediately, and we have put to the SDLP the idea of a voluntary coalition supported by other parties in the Chamber. For its own reasons, the SDLP has decided that that is not the way forward. Therefore, if the only way forward is in an inclusive Executive, we need to know that everyone in that Executive meets the requirements for a commitment to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. We cannot afford to have another false dawn where we establish the Assembly and in six months’ or a year’s time it collapses again, because those who say that they are committed to peace and democracy cannot help themselves and return to criminality and involvement in violence and intimidation.

That is why the DUP wants to finish the job. We want to ensure that this time we get it absolutely right. We will not be tied down by timetables and deadlines. It is important that we know that those who are in government with us support the police, the rule of law and abide by the rules of democracy. That is all that we ask, and I do not think that it is a big ask of any political party, that our partners in government should comply with the rules of democracy.

Let us work together to achieve that objective. It can be achieved, but it will take a lot more determination than we have seen so far, and it simply will not do for the Secretary of State to tell us to go into government on 24 November and deal with the issues later: we need to deal with them now.

Mr Dawson: I am very disappointed by the SDLP’s view that the inclusion of IRA/Sinn Féin in the Executive would, in some way, be of economic benefit to Northern Ireland. That view is not shared by the parties in the Republic of Ireland, who are in no rush to include IRA/Sinn Féin in their Government, partly because of the economic nonsense expressed by IRA/Sinn Féin in their policy documents. For example, their document entitled ‘Rights for All’ states that everyone has the right to remuneration above the statutory minimum wage.

The damage potentially inflicted on our economy by the comprehensive spending review would be as nothing compared to having Sinn Féin in our Government trying to implement such a policy.

Consider also Sinn Féin’s policy that there should be universal public services funded through direct and progressive taxation. That means that Sinn Féin is the party of high taxation. Its loud declaration outside the Chamber that it opposes the imposition of local taxes is laid bare, because it is the party of high taxation. Its stated policy is to increase tax, undermine the private sector and destroy economic advance in Northern Ireland — and, equally, in the Republic of Ireland.

Mr A Maginness: Is the hon Member saying that if Sinn Féin were to abandon its eccentric and nonsensical economic policies, he would be willing to accept it into an Administration?

Mr Dawson: Of course not. I share and am committed to the views of my party. The Member is back in his dream world once again.

It is also true that the only party standing in the way of establishing an economic committee in this House is Sinn Féin, and Dr Farren referred to that earlier. It seems that it has swapped its armed terrorism in Northern Ireland for economic terrorism.

With regard to the comprehensive spending review, one of the pivotal questions that must be answered is not only what services are going to be delivered, but how they will be delivered. We suffer from a huge amount of red tape and bureaucracy in Northern Ireland, and Members have referred to that already.

In his speech to the Fabian Society, the Secretary of State said that if “education, education, education” had been his Government’s mantra, Northern Ireland’s mantra was “bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy”. Of course, he failed to point out that it was the same Government implementing the bureaucracy here. I am sure that the Secretary of State would suggest that he has dealt with Government bureaucracy in what he has ambitiously called his “quango cull”. However, as they have already said, Members in this House would disagree with him, given that over 60% of the unaccountable quangos will remain in existence even after his alleged quango cull.

Members will share the frustrations we have from time to time as each one of us tries to break through the barriers of bureaucracy, inefficiency, unresponsiveness and, sometimes, downright obstruction.

Mr Nesbitt: I am intrigued by a member of the DUP talking about getting rid of the quango cult and its inefficiency. Perhaps he would explain — and I choose my words very carefully so as to be accurate — why his party agreed in December 2004 that if any of its members became Ministers in an Executive, it would support the creation of an all-Ireland civic forum and an all-Ireland parliamentary forum, which are two quangos. I remind the Member that he was totally against a Northern Ireland civic forum. I would like some clarification on the quango dimension.

Mr Dawson: I am quite happy to respond to that. The hon Member does not point out that in December 2004 the DUP proposed an efficiency commission or panel that would examine all of the efficiency issues in relation to the Belfast Agreement and beyond, and, no doubt, we will return to that in the future.

Mr Donaldson: Does the Member agree that the two bodies that the hon Member for South Down referred to are not quangos? Quangos are non-governmental organisations that have powers, budgets, and so on: these are inter-parliamentary groups and not quangos, and they do not meet the definition of a quango. Did this party, Madam Speaker, not propose an efficiency commission to get rid of all the other unelected quangos that are not needed?

Mr Dawson: I thank the hon Member for his clarification. Given that time is moving on and that I have several other points to make, I will continue.

Whatever our political philosophies or party allegiances, I trust that the House can agree that the role of Government ought to be to deliver first-rate public services. All too often Government perceive that their goal is to invent new bureaucracies, more red tape and increasingly complex ways of governance, regardless of the costs.

Granted, Government acknowledged that there was a problem and set up the Review of Public Administration, but the review, as established in 2000 by the then Minister of the Environment from the Ulster Unionist Party, was fatally flawed because it did not concentrate on the bloated bureaucracy born out of the Belfast Agreement. My party has been alone in calling for a cull of superfluous spending, and a reduction in the size of this Assembly and in the number of Government Departments, along with other elements of our oversized central Government. However, I am pleased to say that in recent times large sections of the business community have risen to support our view­point. It is utterly unacceptable that, for no other reason than the appeasement of selfish political interests, the people of Northern Ireland endure an Administration the size and scale of which is unprecedented in the rest of the United Kingdom.

Can it be right, for example, that in a population of 1·7 million, there is an Assembly Member for every 15,700 constituents? Compare that to the Welsh Assembly, where there is a Member for every 48,300 constituents. I appreciate that my remarks may well have a hint of turkeys calling for Christmas — or, perhaps, given the Secretary of State’s deadline, turkeys calling for Thanksgiving.

Likewise, with 11 Departments and provision for a twelfth, our Administration dwarfs those of Scotland and Wales. The savings to be made in those areas are far greater than any that will be generated by the RPA. In a written answer to a parliamentary question asked by my party colleague Gregory Campbell, the then Minister of the Environment, Angela Smith, said that the savings from the RPA would be between £140 million and £200 million — although I note from Members’ comments today that the Government seem to be reneging on that commitment. We have estimated that by cutting the size of Government and Departments in Northern Ireland the expenditure saving could be in excess of £0·5 billion. The Government of Northern Ireland, whether devolved or direct rule, should be setting an example to the people of the Province. It is unacceptable to demand ever-increasing amounts of revenue in the form of higher rates, water charges or industrial rates to assist in funding for higher public spending while simultaneously doing nothing to curtail the size and cost of the highest tiers of our Government. We want investment in public services, but we do not want that investment to be wasted in bureaucracy, structures and administrations.

First and foremost, the Government must look at themselves before asking the people to pay a single extra penny in rates or water charges. Government have a duty to set an example by ensuring that bureaucracy, red tape and administration are stripped back to the bare minimum. Any restored Administration will face several hard choices: I would suggest that cutting the cost of Government is one of them. That is an easy choice and not to take it would be a dereliction of duty.

I note that we are approaching recess, and, in an effort to encourage new experiences and attitudes, particularly among my colleagues opposite —

A Member: And new dreams.

Mr Dawson: — new dreams and a better community for us all, I wish all Members a very happy, peaceful and enjoyable Twelfth. I assure the Members opposite that they would be very welcome at many of the demonstrations. To aid the tourism in Mr Hillis’s area I can assure him that that most unique part of orangeism, the Independent Loyal Orange Institution, will be in Portrush on 12 July. I look forward to seeing him there.

3.45 pm

Madam Speaker: Adverts are not allowed.

Dr McCrea: I listened with care and interest to the speeches from Members on the SDLP Benches, but Mr Maginness’s “I had a dream” speech took the biscuit. When I heard the Member for North Belfast utter those words, I thought that he was about to break into a broad American accent. I was not sure, either, whether he was going to continue in English or French, because he is used to speaking both languages — or rather, speaking English with a French accent. Nevertheless, I will continue in such a way that Mr Maginness will understand everything that I say.

The Secretary of State has shown a blatant disregard for Members of this Assembly. Before the summer recess, Members wanted to discuss and address a number of serious motions. However, the Secretary of State cast all those motions aside to enable him to present us with a motion on which he had decided. The motion is so wide-ranging that he knew that it would be impossible to home in on every issue.

However, it is important to mention some of those issues — for example, health. Some hospitals are closing and others are recommended for closure. Acute and maternity services are to be removed from the Mid-Ulster Hospital and Whiteabbey Hospital. The community has serious concerns: trolley waits in hospitals are a disgrace and the waiting lists for operations are unbelievable. The Secretary of State must listen to the voice of the community.

It is interesting to note that the Secretary of State is demanding consensus from all the political parties in Northern Ireland. Even if that were achieved, the Secretary of State, or the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, would continue to do what they wanted to do. There was consensus in mid-Ulster, but they were not willing to listen.

There is supposed to be care in the community, but many older people are blocking hospital beds when they could be in nursing homes in the community. Many elderly people are traumatised because they no longer receive the necessary attention. I pay tribute to all hospital staff who try to give them that attention. However, many staff are overworked and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety seems to care little for their rights or needs.

The spending review also makes me think of education. The building of a new high school in Magherafelt, a new Rainey Endowed School and a new primary school has been announced. Promises have been made and budgets committed, but I want to know when they will be built.

When the Assembly was up and running, the controlled sector was discriminated against. The Sinn Féin/IRA Minister discriminated against those schools even though they were in his constituency. He was more concerned about providing finances for, and meeting the needs of, the maintained and integrated sectors. He completely closed his heart and mind to the needs of the controlled sector, especially the Protestant and unionist community. That is an absolute disgrace and an indictment on him.

Direct-rule Ministers have announced that those three new schools will be built, and I want to ensure that the money is committed and a commencement date set, so that the rights of those living and being educated in deplorable and despicable conditions are the same as those in the maintained and integrated sectors.

Take, for example, the announcement that the new police college, for which there great hopes and dreams, would be built in Cookstown. It would not only be for Northern Ireland, but would serve an international purpose. Yet, the Government has reneged on the financing of the project. All the promises and hot air from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and those in authority will not provide the necessary finance. They must allocate that money, and I appeal to the Secretary of State to listen to this House and ensure that the new police college will be built. The site is excellent, and I am absolutely thrilled that Cookstown was chosen. However, we must have the bricks and mortar; we must get the college up and running so that it can provide the up-to-date police training and services that are required.

We see throughout the Province the lack of infrastructure in roads, water and sewerage. It is a disgraceful situation. It is true that in the past, while England, Scotland and Wales had their infrastructures brought up to a modern standard, in Northern Ireland the money was allocated to dealing with the terrorist threat. We were denied the building of a proper infrastructure, and now that we are light years behind the rest of the United Kingdom, we are being asked to bear the burden of bringing those infrastructures into the modern era.

We have been waiting for the Magherafelt bypass for 35 years. Although there has been an acknowledge­ment of the need for it — and I am delighted with the work that my colleagues Mr P Robinson and Mr Campbell did as Ministers for Regional Development with the rural strategy to move that forward — it must be put on the programme and given a date for commencement, as must the Cookstown bypass.

We need to face the challenges. There has been no great injection of investment; neither Invest Northern Ireland nor its predecessors sent many investors to those areas. However, instead of complaining, the people there pulled themselves up by their bootstrings. Now they have practically the lowest unemployment rate in Northern Ireland. That is to be commended — but let us not strangle them. Let us ensure that the infrastructure is there to help them to move forward.

There is an urgent need in Northern Ireland for social housing, which seems to have gone by the board. The Government must take that issue seriously, because there are many young people in Northern Ireland who, because of the cost of housing, cannot afford to buy.

Then we think of agriculture, which is the backbone of Ulster life, and which affects every constituency. But because of a lack of urgency in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, many payments that should be made to farmers have been withheld. Claims should be settled and the bureaucracy should be eradicated. No one can underestimate or overstate the pain that has been suffered by the farming community.

There are many problems in the community.

I heard SDLP Members say that somehow we could wave a magic wand and devolution would be the answer. Let me make it abundantly clear: when we had devolved Government, the Assembly recommended closing the Mid-Ulster Hospital, the Whiteabbey Hospital and other hospitals in the west of the Province.

Madam Speaker: I ask the Member to draw his remarks to a close.

Dr McCrea: I am doing so.

It was that non-democratic Sinn Féin Minister who recommended the destruction of our good grammar-school education in the Province.

Therefore, we face challenges. We want devolution, but we are not willing to put terrorists, hoods and gangsters into Government. We have to be sure that we will have a restored democratic Government in Northern Ireland and that the day of criminality and paramilitarism is finished completely and that we are moving forward on the solid basis of democracy alone.

Question put and agreed to.


That this Assembly notes the results of the Spending Review 2004 and the current Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 and their implications for the spending priorities for a Programme for Government to be agreed by a Northern Ireland Executive following its restoration on or before 24 November 2006. — [The Secretary of State.]

Madam Speaker: I shall refer the decision of the Assembly to the Secretary of State by sending him a note of the debate and of what has happened.

Adjourned at 3.56 pm.

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