Monday 18 December 2006
The Assembly met at 10.30 am (Madam Speaker in the Chair).
Members observed two minutes’ silence.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. When will you be able to explain the security regulations of the House to the Members of the Assembly? There seems to be an effort to remove members of our police force from parts of this House. I want to know what that is and why new rules, which did not operate before, have now come into force. Members need to know exactly where they stand. I hope that at some convenient time — not today — you will be able to make a full statement from the Chair, as happened in the House of Commons when it experienced similar trouble. Let us keep to the same rules.
Madam Speaker: Thank you, Dr Paisley. I have not heard of any such changes. As you know, I told the House that I was looking into the matter. The Assembly Commission has set up a special security review, involving its members and other invited personnel. At this stage — as I have already explained to you — there is an interim agreement with the PSNI for security in this Building on sitting days from 8.30 am until 6.30 pm. That arrangement will stay in place until full devolution, when it is hoped that we will have our own corps of PSNI people to look after us.
That is as far as I can go at the moment, because that is as far as the security review has gone. There is no change or diminution of security, especially on sitting days. I will be reporting back.
Mr P Robinson: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. There have indeed been further restrictions on members of the close protection unit (CPU); can the CPU be taken into consideration when the review is being carried out? Can you also look at the access being provided to the CPU as compared with that being provided to the non-police escorts of other members of the Assembly?
Madam Speaker: Thank you, Mr Robinson. I certainly will be looking into that. As all Members will appreciate, I cannot discuss security in any great detail on the Floor of the House. I hope that Members, and everyone else who comes to or works in the Building, feel safe and looked after. Your and Dr Paisley’s comments will be taken into account. That is as far as I can go on the Floor of the House. I hope that you appreciate that.
Madam Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow two hours for each of today’s debates. The proposer of each motion will have 15 minutes, and all other Members who wish to speak will have 10 minutes. Two amendments have been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The amendments will be proposed in the order in which they appear on the List. When the debate has concluded, I shall put the Question that the amendment be made for each amendment in turn. If amendment No 1 is made, I shall not put the Question on amendment No 2.
Mr Robert McCartney: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On the Marshalled List of Amendments, amendment No 1 appears to be down in my name, unless there is another R McCartney. [Interruption.]
Oh, there is? Thank you very much. Madam Speaker, he must be travelling incognito, because I have never come across him in the Assembly.
Madam Speaker: I am sure that that is to his detriment. Mr Raymond McCartney is here, and unless you want us in future to call you Mr McCartney QC to make it clear —
Mr Robert McCartney: No, just call me Mr Robert McCartney and the other Mr Raymond McCartney; that would seem to be the proper way to do it.
Madam Speaker: As always, Mr McCartney, I will listen to what you have to say.
Mr Cree: I beg to move
That this Assembly notes the Government’s unacceptable proposals and legislation for the introduction of separate water charges in Northern Ireland, and calls on the Minister for Regional Development to examine and review the provision of water and sewerage facilities so that an improved service may be provided and an acceptable funding arrangement be enacted to cover the costs involved.
This motion was drafted some time ago, during the summer. It would have been nice to have had the opportunity of discussing it before the legislation had been passed, but obviously the Secretary of State was not prepared to let us do that. Things have moved on since then and I am aware that there are two amendments, which is entirely fitting. The first one contains a lot of detail and merit. The second, which is the amendment from the hon Member for North Belfast Mr Maginness, also has quite a lot to commend it, and I would be prepared to take that one on board.
During the past three decades our water and sewerage infrastructure has suffered significant underinvestment by successive British Governments. The Water Service now faces a £3 billion investment requirement to comply with EU directives on water quality, to respond to increasing demand for water and sewerage services and to replace ageing infrastructure.
In May 2002, the Chancellor announced the new borrowing power for the first Executive to finance infrastructure investment, subject to the debt being paid from additional local revenues.
Few people would object to paying more for an improved service, but the scheme devised by the Government does not have the support of consumers, any of the political parties or the trades unions. This is the first time that the Government have got all parties to agree on something. We were told that we would not have to pay towards the charges, but the Government have reluctantly had to agree that that is untrue.
In 1997, the comprehensive spending review (CSR) changed the system, but no reduction was made in the local rates. Prior to the privatisation of the Water Service in England and Wales, the Government paid a green dowry, and Northern Ireland was given a £50 million annual payment for the improvement of its water service. That money has not been ring-fenced — it has gone into the pot, or, should I say, a black hole.
While we might, therefore, share in the benefits of water reform, it will be at an unacceptable cost. The scheme is fundamentally flawed. Members know that a financial agreement was signed by the Treasury and the Secretary of State in 2005, but no one has seen that document. However, we know that it is central to the decision-making process, the financial model, the licence and the handling of assets. A letter of governance will give effect to the transfer of assets from the Department to Northern Ireland Water Ltd, the new company, and that letter will not be subject to scrutiny either.
I am also concerned about the disposal of surplus land. In reply to a parliamentary question, we were informed that the Water Service has 130 sites that it has deemed surplus to requirements and, therefore, suitable for selling. Some of the decisions on those sites go back 16 years, and nothing has happened yet. Under the Government’s plans, we do not know how those disposals will be dealt with or who will get the proceeds from the sales in the first three years.
Lord Trimble: The Member is concerned about who will receive the proceeds from sales in the first three years. Under the legislation, disposals are subject to approval by the Department. However, during last Monday evening’s debate in the House of Lords, Lord Rooker — speaking on behalf of the Government — said that the Department would be immediately issuing a general authorisation for disposals, and that from that point onwards there would be no Government or departmental regulation of disposals. On that point, Lord Glentoran, for the Conservative Party, believed that he had received a concession from the Government whereby the regulator would have a regulatory function with regard to those disposals from 2007. Is the Member aware of what the position is on that issue, because there was doubt on Monday night as to whether Lord Glentoran had received anything of substance?
Mr Cree: I thank the hon Member for his intervention. Last week, the Subgroup on the Comprehensive Spending Review and Programme for Government; Rates Charges; and Water Reform received evidence from a group of people, one of whom was the regulator. I am conveying the information that he supplied to the subgroup, so it may well be that the noble Lord has been sold a pup.
Members have not had access to the strategic business plan, but we know that the cost of capital will be 5·8%, and that is the highest in the UK. The debt provision has been set at 5%, which is low considering the experience across the water. One in four county court judgements in England and Wales are for non-payment of water bills. Last year, there was a 43% increase in legal action. Who will pick up the cost of non-payment of bills?
There is a major concern about the efficiency targets for the new company and who will pay for any failure to meet them? The Water Service’s land and assets are valued at £5·6 billion. They will be written down to £1 billion, and that will become the capital value of the new company. A dividend of £58 million — 5·8% of £1 billion — will be paid to the Government. If the dividend is not paid in full each year, the Department for Regional Development will have to make up the difference. We are told that the capital figure was recommended by the consortium led by the Union Bank of Switzerland and was necessary to ensure that the business would continue to be financially sustainable.
Clearly, that arbitrary valuation is costly to consumers. If it were a third less than the £1 billion figure, consumers could save £20 million each year. Remember that ratepayers paid for a significant portion of those assets over the years, with taxpayers paying the rest.
During subgroups’ evidence sessions, I was surprised to learn that access to the borrowing requirement depended on the introduction of water charges. Price protection must be extended until 2015, or until the new company breaks even. Of the £3 billion planned for investment, it has been estimated that approximately £1·4 billion relates to the capital backlog from the past. The Treasury should pay that to alleviate the capital problems of the company, whose arbitrary capital value is a significant cost to consumers. The strategic business plan must be available for public scrutiny before the Minister signs it off. The asset management plan and the estate management plan must also be considered. Neither is available yet, although the water reform legislation has been approved.
Following strong representations from the Consumer Council and other bodies, the Government developed an affordability tariff for those households that are in receipt of benefits. Whilst it was welcome, there is no indication of what will happen to the tariff after 2010. Will the Government continue to fund it, or will other consumers have to pay more? Will other services be cut by the same amount? The affordability tariff will apply to 200,000 households, that is approximately one third of all households, a large and important section of the population. However, another large group of households, which is just above the lowest income group, will be dramatically affected by water charges and other increased costs that are in the pipeline. Those people are concerned about their financial situation, as many are retired and living on limited pensions. Government has not addressed the major problem that others may fall into the poverty trap.
There are many problems with the Government’s proposals for water reform. They have pressed ahead and paid little attention for the concern expressed by political parties, the Consumer Council, the trades unions and everyone else, including the High Court. In the last few days, both the subgroup on economic issues and the subgroup on the comprehensive spending review, rates charges and water reform have taken evidence from the key players. Much useful information has come to light that reinforces our concern on how the Government have formed their view. It seems to be a mishmash of public spending rules and business practice without much common sense. We do not have the necessary information to enable us to form a detailed critique of the proposals. However, we know that what is being delivered is seriously flawed.
When the Act comes into effect in April 2007, a range of organisations will be involved in overseeing water and sewerage services. The Department for Regional Development (DRD) will have a general oversight role, and the Department of the Environment’s (DOE) Environment and Heritage Service (EHS) will be an environmental regulator and overseer of private water matters. The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL), the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), the regulator and the Consumer Council will also have a role to play.
Are the roles of those bodies clear? Are there adequate and workable relationships in place in order to ensure that co-ordination is effective? We regret that the Secretary of State refused to listen to the Programme for Government Committee’s call for the deferment of water charges so that the Assembly could debate the matter. I contend that there is still time, and that we must wait until the Programme for Government Committee has concluded its deliberations next month.
Mr Raymond McCartney: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Tairgim an leasú. I have always taken comfort that there are two McCartneys in the Assembly. I hope that Mr Robert McCartney also takes some comfort from there being another McCartney to join him.
Mr Robert McCartney: None at all.
Mr Raymond McCartney: No offence taken. [Laughter.]
Mr Robert McCartney: It was given. [Laughter.]
Mr Raymond McCartney: I beg to move amendment No 1: Leave out all after “charges” and insert
“and further notes:
agreement within the Preparation for Government Economic Challenges sub-committee and the Programme for Government committee;
the work of the subgroup on Comprehensive Spending Review and Programme for Government; Rate Charges and Water Reform;
the ongoing work on an Economic Package for an incoming Executive;
and calls on the Secretary of State to make all necessary provisions to allow an incoming Executive to examine alternative models to deliver the public service that is the Water Service.”
I want to state my party’s support for the motion; to offer the rationale for its amendment; and to seek support for it.
All parties in the Assembly have stated their opposition to water charges publicly. However, despite that united opposition, not only has the British direct rule system allowed the opposition to be ignored, it has permitted the Department for Regional Development to proceed in a way that has treated public opinion with utter contempt.
Even though legislation has now passed through the British parliamentary system, all parties in this Assembly should send a clear message that the incoming Assembly and Executive will seek ways to offset that legislation and its effects. Not to do so would only strengthen the view that it suited the parties in the Assembly to allow direct rule Ministers to introduce charges while we took cover through suspension. Let the issue serve as a timely reminder that we, as political representatives, have let down the people on whose behalf we have been mandated to legislate. The Assembly should be in the position to do what it was elected to do.
We must ensure that the Assembly and the Executive will not allow this unfair tax to remain on the statute book unchallenged. We will explore all alternatives. The Coalition Against Water Charges provided the Subgroup on the Comprehensive Spending Review and Programme for Government; Rates Charges and Water Reform with a paper written by David Hall, which looks at more equitable alternatives — in particular, the payment of charges through the regional rates system.
Our message must be clear that the Assembly offers a way out of all this for those who will face an uncertain future because of water charges; those who are already in the cycle of poverty; those who will inevitably find themselves in that cycle in the not-too-distant future; and those whose jobs become more uncertain by the day as privatisation looms large in the background. By supporting the amendment, we will more than just reaffirm our opposition to water charges.
Last week the Subgroup on the Comprehensive Spending Review and Programme for Government; Rates Charges and Water Reform took evidence from a number of concerned groups. The evidence provided by the Anti-Poverty Network and the trade union representing Water Service workers shows that this is a real and present problem. We have the power to do something about it, and Sinn Féin wants to do something about it.
The Assembly should learn the lesson that initiatives should not be rushed into without full appraisal of all possible outcomes — a lesson that was learnt from the reinvestment and reform initiative. The Department for Regional Development — like consecutive direct rule Ministers in the past — has used the reinvestment and reform initiative as the rationale for the need to levy charges for water usage.
Sinn Féin accepts that there is a need for investment in water and sewerage infrastructure and believes that the blame for the lack of proper investment in that infrastructure over the years lies squarely with the British Government. With that in mind, Sinn Féin has argued for the required investment to come from a peace dividend, and that remains high on the party’s agenda in its discussions with the British Government. My amendment points to some practical steps that can take us away from the disastrous consequences of water reform.
I am also aware that Mr Maginness — and in case there is any confusion I mean Alban Maginness rather than Martin McGuinness, who is also a Member of the Assembly — has also tabled an amendment. Sinn Féin will withdraw its amendment and support his amendment.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.
Madam Speaker: I call Mr Alban Maginness to propose the second amendment published on the Marshalled List of Amendments.
Mr A Maginness: I beg to move amendment No 2: Leave out all after “Ireland” and insert
“, deplores the Secretary of State’s refusal to heed the Programme for Government Committee’s call for deferment of the Water and Sewerage Services Order, and believes that in the absence of a known Strategic Business Plan, Asset and Estate Management Plans, final licence details, adequate regulation or due consumer protection, the public can place no reliance on the figures which Ministers are indicating for future water charges and awaits a report from the Programme for Government Committee.”
I am grateful to Mr Cree and Mr Raymond McCartney for indicating that they will accept the amendment tabled in my name on behalf of the SDLP.
I hope that the House will reach the same broad consensus on the issue that has been reached in Committee. The Committee on the Preparation for Government and the Programme for Government Committee have made great progress in achieving political consensus on the issue.
The Government’s proposals, which Mr Cree ably outlined, are in effect a privateer’s charter. There is no doubt that the Government framed their proposals with a view to ultimately privatising the Water Service. With that privatisation will come a huge asset-stripping exercise by whoever buys or takes over the Water Service in whatever form it takes.
The assets at this moment are in the region of perhaps £5 billion. Those are rich pickings for anyone in the private sector who takes over the Water Service.
We have had the experience of Northern Ireland Electricity and the Northern Ireland International Airport being sold off. Will we ever come to our senses on selling off public assets, which are for the good of all of the community? They should not benefit private greed. They should be there to service the people, and if there are assets that are surplus to the requirements of the Water Service, or indeed any other public body, then they should be disposed of in a proper and transparent fashion, in the full interest of the people. The public interest must be served.
If Members look at the proposals that have been made, they can see the lack of transparency with, for example, the strategic business plan. There is no transparency with the licensing of the Go-co, the liabilities that that company may have, or the sustainability of that company when it goes into operation on 1 January 2007. There are disturbing reports of high levels of inefficiency in the Water Service. That inefficiency can create a situation in which the new company is unsustainable in the medium term. If it does become unsustainable in the medium term, what then happens to the company and the Water Service?
The Government’s lack of transparency has been deliberate and is to disguise their objective, which is ultimately to privatise the Water Service. We should be in the position of protecting the public ownership of the Water Service and the land and assets belonging to it.
Mr Robert McCartney: Will the Member give way?
Mr A Maginness: Yes.
Mr Robert McCartney: I am grateful to the Member for giving way. When the Member talks about sustainability in the short term, does he agree that it will always be sustainable, in so far as the public and the consumers will be used as a cash cow to ensure its sustainability?
Mr A Maginness: That is the very point that I would make to the House, and I am grateful to my learned Friend for raising it.
The reality is that the company itself is not going to be given the proper support that is necessary to ensure its sustainability. Despite the fact that successive British Governments have failed to invest in the Water Service, the Government have not presented the people of Northern Ireland with the necessary additional funding to invest in the Water Service. There has been no green dowry for the Water Service here. The present underinvestment is solely the responsibility of successive British Governments, and yet they are asking the people of Northern Ireland to pay for their neglect. That is the reality, and it is totally unacceptable to the people of Northern Ireland.
The Government’s contempt can be seen not just for the political consensus on this issue within this House and among the wider trade union movement, voluntary groups and the Consumer Council; their contempt for the legal process here could be seen when the Government Minister in the House of Commons rejected the recent ruling by Mr Justice Weatherup on the lack of consultation that the Government engaged in on these proposals.
Mr Justice Weatherup’s point was not a narrow technical one. It was based on good legal precedent — the Coghlin principles. Those principles demand that any public body should conscientiously enter into consultation with its consultees. In other words, one cannot just pretend to consult; there must be a conscious effort. The Government were in neglect of their heavy legal duty to do that. Mr Justice Weatherup made a point of legal substance, but the Government, in the House of Commons, rejected his findings. That is deplorable, but it is typical of this Government’s determination to treat the people of Northern Ireland with contempt. This issue is simply a further reflection of that contempt.
In the SDLP’s view, the utility regulator will not have sufficient power and the breadth that is necessary to regulate the water industry. Furthermore, the regulator will have no control over the disposal of assets, no matter what Lord Glentoran was assured of in the House of Lords. The reality is, as my Friend Mr Cree has said, that he was probably sold a pup. Lord Glentoran was given an assurance, which he accepted, and for which he will rue the day, because there is no additional power going to the regulator in relation to that assurance.
It is disgraceful that the Government have put a time limit of three years on the affordability tariff. What will disadvantaged and vulnerable people in the community do after that date, when the tariff runs out? How are they going to deal with the increased costs and charges that the water company will be under pressure to impose? The Government have shown gross irresponsibility on this matter.
There are many other concerns that one could address in relation to this woeful piece of legislation.
Madam Speaker: Mr Maginness, your time is up.
Lord Morrow: I congratulate Mr Cree on bringing this motion before the Assembly. It is an important issue that has united all sections of the community and all political parties. However, the Government are, sadly, not prepared to pay any heed to what any of the parties has to say, or, indeed, what the people of Northern Ireland and the trades unions have been saying about water reform.
It has been correctly said that this is a classic example of the Government doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Any justification for the Government’s intentions must surely have been removed by the High Court declaration of 22 November; but, alas, according to Lord Rooker, who spoke on the matter in the House of Lords on 8 December, it is not to be that way. It seems that nothing can change this Government’s attitude on this important issue.
None of the Ministers who have steamrollered this through and who will implement it will have to live with their decisions. They will demand that the people of Northern Ireland pay up, but they will be far away when the bills drop through the letter boxes.
It is clear, from the positions taken by the political parties, that there is widespread opposition to the Government’s proposals. Indeed, the DUP won a substantial mandate in the 2005 Westminster election on the basis of a manifesto commitment to oppose Government proposals on water charging. Therefore, there is no support in the Province for the Government’s plans. Time and time again, the Government must get the message that they are a Government of imposition and do not rule with consent. The Government intend to impose these swingeing water charges, but, of course, they will not have to pay.
In this parliamentary session, water charging is one of the most, if not the most, important issues to affect Northern Ireland. Due to the process by which Northern Ireland legislation is dealt with at Westminster, the Order will receive scant attention in a Committee, with no possibility of amendment. For a Bill that has 308 clauses and 13 schedules, it is constitutionally outrageous that Government should give a mere hour to an hour and a half to debate something that will have such an impact on the people of Northern Ireland. The pre-legislative consultation process does not make up for that inadequacy.
Although there are significant accounting issues on whether water services in Northern Ireland should be self-financing, the evidence for, or detail of, water charges should, ultimately, be a matter for the people Northern Ireland to determine. There are spending implications for Northern Ireland if we do not proceed with water charges, but those choices should be left to the people of Northern Ireland.
In addition to the general considerations that I have set out, there are several specific objections to the Government’s proposals.
First, they do not take account of the contribution already made to the provision of water services. Although not specifically related to the detail of the Order, no account has been taken of the contribution that is already made towards the cost of water services through the regional rate. Inevitably, that will increase the average water charge and make the introduction of water charges more unaccountable than would otherwise have been the case. It is one thing to pay for water; it is quite another to pay for it twice.
Secondly, the Government were disingenuous with their justification for water charges. The Government have sought to justify water charges on the basis that they were addressing the Water Framework Directive. However, they then devised a system that did not meet the requirements of the directive.
Thirdly, the Government have used water charges as a mechanism, and as a cover, to increase massively the level of local taxation in Northern Ireland. At the same time, there has been a significant increase in the regional rate, and a new rating valuation system. Although there may be justification for a separate charging mechanism for water services, that does not mean that there must be a significant increase in the overall tax burden.
Fourthly, the Government have reneged on proposals in relation to the reinvestment and reform initiative (RRI). As originally proposed, water charges were to be regarded as qualifying revenue when considering the capacity to avail of the borrowing power under RRI. Since then, the Government have changed the rules, and, as a result, there is no advantage, in terms of borrowing, to water charges. When compared with the overall Northern Ireland budget, water charges make up a very small percentage of local spending. The significant additional burden of water charges on the householder makes little difference to what can be done about spending.
The DUP continues to oppose the privatisation of the Water Service in Northern Ireland and believes that any future change to the status of the Water Service should come about only in circumstances where there is widespread support in Northern Ireland.
It is unreasonable to expect householders to pay the cost of road drainage. That should be met from other sources.
My party believes that the option of voluntary metering, with appropriate consideration given to infrastructure costs, should be available for all Northern Ireland consumers. We reject both the requirement for universal metering, as it is too costly, and no metering, as it is too unfair. The capital value of a home is too inaccurate a measure of the householder’s ability to pay for it to be used as the only method of assessing water charges. The argument that only the better-off would opt for metering could be negated by setting the fixed cost element at an appropriate level. Ultimately, wider availability of water metering will promote greater conservation of water. In the Government’s proposals metering is made available to certain groups, and we welcome that, but we do not believe that it should be limited to those groups. It is not clear that vulnerable groups will benefit from metering. Therefore, the alternative of metering, as presently proposed, may prove to be an empty gesture.
Over the past few decades, Northern Ireland has faced greater challenges than any other part of the United Kingdom, and Northern Ireland is less able to pay water charges than any other region. In those circumstances, my party believes that the average water charge in Northern Ireland should be no higher than the average paid in England and Wales, with a maximum charge fixed at that level. That should produce an appropriate balance: Northern Ireland’s householders would be required to make a real contribution towards the cost of water, but not be punished for a lack of Government investment. The Government’s proposal to protect vulnerable groups is one of the more welcome aspects of the package, but we believe that such protection should not be temporary. The DUP will continue to oppose water charges, and we support the motion.
Mr Neeson: I welcome the debate and thank Mr Cree for bringing the motion before the Assembly. The Alliance Party will support the amendment proposed by Mr Alban Maginness, which brings the motion up to date.
No issue has created more public concern in Northern Ireland than that of water charges, not only among the elderly, but among householders generally. The Government have misled the community by claiming that we do not pay for water at present. We are paying water charges through the regional rate. If the Government introduce water charges next year, will the regional rate be reduced? That needs to be addressed.
We all know that there have been problems with the Water Service. In the twenty-first century, it is unacceptable that raw sewage is pumped into Belfast Lough at Blackhead. There are many other shortcomings in the service. Those must be addressed, and EU directives on water must be met. How has this situation arisen? The simple answer is underfunding by direct-rule Ministers over the years.
It is easy to point the finger at direct-rule Ministers, but Northern Ireland was coming through 35 years of turbulent Troubles, during which budgets had to be redirected away from the Department of the Environment and the Water Service. The legacy of the Troubles cannot be ignored. In the Subgroup on the Economic Challenges facing Northern Ireland, the so-called peace dividend was discussed. One of the issues put before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, when he met a delegation of Members, was the question of delaying implementation of the legislation until the Assembly was up and running.
There was a negative response from the Chancellor; he said that if we were prepared to sell off the assets of the Water Service, we could keep the money. His bottom line was that if we sold off the Bog Meadows, we could keep the money.
A lot of interest groups have voiced their opposition to the introduction of water charges. I congratulate the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland for its work. That organisation went to court and got a ruling in relation to the haste with which the Government carried out its so-called consultation.
As other Members have said, there is a need for transparency and for the publication of the strategic business plan.
The legislation is deeply flawed. Once again, there is the issue of the people who will, unfortunately, get into debt because of water rates. A class society is being created — a society in which those less well off will have to pay their debts sooner than those who are better off. Many other issues also show that the legislation is deeply flawed.
We are witnessing the introduction of the privatisation of the Water Service through the back door. A few years ago, I wrote to Mr John Spellar — he became a Minister in the Northern Ireland Office — voicing my concerns about the possibility of water privatisation being introduced to Northern Ireland. Mr Spellar wrote back saying:
“I am fully aware of the very strong opposition to water privatization across the board in Northern Ireland.”
He went on to say:
“Apart from privatization itself, I am also concerned at proposals to introduce legislation through the back door, particularly on water metering.”
To the Members of the House I put the question: can we trust this Government? The answer is no.
Mr Robert McCartney: I would not buy a new car from them, let alone a second-hand one.
Mr Neeson: That is true.
I wish to express my disappointment with the stance taken by Lord Glentoran in the House of Lords last week. Normally, Robin would be very supportive of the interests of the people in Northern Ireland.
We have to put the water charging being proposed by the Government into perspective. It is not a utility tax; it is a property tax, because the charges are being based on the value of people’s homes.
I must question the relevance of the debate in the House today and the other debates that have taken place. The people who should be dealing with this issue are those who were elected by the people in Northern Ireland. Sinn Féin and the DUP may bleat about the question of water charges, but the timetable for deliverance is there. The question is: can the DUP and Sinn Féin deliver within that timetable?
Mr Robert McCartney: I support the motion and the amendment in the name of Mr Maginness. There is no support for these proposals from the consumers, the unions or, indeed, the parties. Today, I have listened to speeches that would have done credit, both in material and presentation, to another place. However, I regret to say that those considerations, so ably put, have come rather late in the day. Although Members are concerned with the future, we must examine the past: it was a devolved Assembly that put forward the proposals, albeit in embryo form, for the hikes in the regional rate and the imposition of water charges that are being suffered.
In May and June 2002, the then Minister of Finance and Personnel, Seán Farren, talked in the Chamber about future financial provision and fresh streams of revenue. I questioned his use of such euphemisms to describe what he meant when clearly the only streams of revenue available to him were an increase in the regional rate and the imposition of water charges. All of that goes back to the failure of the parties who signed the Belfast Agreement to spend adequate time on the financial considerations of accepting devolution. According to the former Secretary of State, and effective political Minister in 1998, Paul Murphy, the parties spent exactly 15 minutes discussing those considerations. At that time, it was known that there was a black hole of capital underinvestment of some £10 billion, to which I repeatedly drew attention in the House. In May 2002, again in November 2004, and most recently in July 2006, I wrote major articles for the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ outlining what was in prospect for the regional rate and water charges.
Why were the parties in the Assembly so tardy in responding to what would clearly be a fundamental issue? The reason is plain: the parties had, in large part, been responsible for what is now being imposed. The constant defence of Northern Ireland Office (NIO) Ministers, in relation both to the imposition of water charges and the hike in the regional rate, has been that they are merely putting into practice what the devolved Assembly contemplated and intended to do.
As Lord Morrow quite properly said, it is sad that the Government are not prepared to listen. Members must always remember that a devolved Assembly, if restored, can only do what is possible within the financial limitations that the British Treasury will always impose upon it. Minister Hanson made that point when he said that if devolution were restored and the Assembly decided not to impose water charges, it would have to find from other sources the £300 million that water charges would have raised.
The Secretary of State has pointed out that if there were any capping of regional rates or any other amelioration of the rates burden, the money to allow for that would have to be found from within the financial resources of Northern Ireland.
It is all very well to talk about what a devolved Assembly would do and how it would alleviate these problems, but it will be possible for it to do that only by extracting money from other sources. Whether the cake is divided up by a NIO Minister or by some resurrected Assembly, it is the same cake. The only function that the Assembly, if resurrected, will have is to make provision for different slices for different public needs. However, the amount of money in the pot will never increase. When Members talk about what can be done, what will be deferred, or how they will improve the lot of the consumer, they must bear in mind that there is no magic touchstone that will, if the Assembly is restored, provide a panacea for our economic ills.
I wish to comment on the parties who attended the St Andrews talks and variously signed up for a road map, a route map, a new agreement, or, as some people claim, a review of the Belfast Agreement. Whatever they signed up to, it appears — according to the Secretary of State in Parliament — that the UKUP, and myself in particular, are the only people who are not crying “hallelujah” about it.
What did those parties who were for the St Andrews Agreement bring back to address our economic problems? Absolutely nothing, other than an airy-fairy promise of an economic package, which those two fraudsters outside No 11 Downing Street represented as £50 billion over the next 17 years. When that package was examined, it had not a single ha’penny of new money in it.
Absolutely nothing was brought back from St Andrews. The capping of rates was hailed as a triumph, but it will help only 3,000 households in Northern Ireland and will have absolutely no bearing on the vast bulk of the people who face huge rises in regional rates. Another claim is that something has been done about water charges. In fact, absolutely nothing has been done. The £300 million will still have to be found.
Will the Assembly cut back on education programmes? Will it cut back on money that is necessary for health, or for the environment? Where will the Assembly find the money to distribute largesse in the form of abolishing water charges? Where will it find the money to do something about the rates system? When the Assembly was in charge, until October 2002, it did not find any means within the limitations imposed on it by the British Treasury to do anything other than consider the imposition of water charges and carry out a fundamental review of rates on a capital-value basis. It is time for everyone to be realistic, and not simply to stand and protest, if that protest is to be a futile and meaningless one.
Whether Members belong to the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP or the Ulster Unionists, they cannot continue to con the people that they will wave some type of magic wand and usher in a golden age when devolution is restored. They will still face the same problems that were faced by the Northern Ireland Assembly when it was up and running.
While it gives me no pleasure to point out the realities, it gives me an increased sense of well-being to realise, from the quality of the speeches that have been delivered, that there is a new awareness. It is an awful pity, therefore, that, in April 1998, Members did not possess such awareness when the terms of the restored, devolved Assembly were agreed.
Mr Shannon: At the beginning of the debate on this issue, a press release issued by the Department for Regional Development on behalf of David Cairns stated that:
“Legislation which will shortly go to Parliament will provide a framework to improve drinking water, better protect the environment, enhance the ability to sustain economic growth, improve essential services and introduce new protections for customers.”
That is exactly what Northern Ireland needs: the rest of the UK has enjoyed such services for years, while, because of the Troubles, we have been denied them. David Cairns pointed out just what we have been missing out on in Northern Ireland. No one here will question that, except, perhaps, the point about drinking water: if we need improved drinking water, what quality of water have we been drinking for the past 30 years?
Undoubtedly, this inefficient and unstable system must be reformed. The problems that Members of the Assembly — and, indeed, the people of the Province — have are the manner in which the reform is being carried out and the question of who will foot the bill. In many cases, how will people be able to afford the hike on top of their rising rates, heating, fuel and food bills? David Cairns has issued assurances that over a quarter of customers will receive automatic assistance with their bills, but that begs the question: what will the remaining 75% be made to sacrifice to enable them to pay their water charges?
Not satisfied with the rates hike, which means that households will have to strain to pay more based on the capital value of their homes, the Government are further burdening families and small businesses with water charges, which are also unfairly distributed. An example of this unfair distribution would be a four-bedroom home, housing five children and their parents. Under the proposed system, the parents would pay a higher bill proportionate to the amount of drinking, washing and bathing water that they need. Ten years later, however, when the children have flown the nest, leaving their parents alone in the house, is it fair that they must continue to pay the inflated charge based on the number of taps in the house? Should those parents continue to face the high charge in spite of the fact that they will use no more water in their four-bedroom home than they would in a one-bedroom flat? Is that the fairness and equality that have been mentioned? Is it any wonder that my constituents are asking for meters to be installed to ensure that they do not pay extra for their water? This is simply unacceptable.
Another fact is that although a couple could have paid £80,000 for their house 15 years ago, that house could now be worth £200,000. That couple’s income may not have risen at the same rate, yet they are being asked to pay a huge amount in charges. For how much longer will the middle classes who just “get by” have to foot the bills of the inadequacies and inefficiencies of Government practice?
As it stands, the strategic business plan for Northern Ireland Water Ltd does not set out a sustainable future. It seems that, for the objectives of the plan to be fulfilled, there will have to be further price hikes, more burdens placed on the average households and an endless accruement of mounting charges. That approach does not seem to pass the consumer-fairness test. The capital value of a person’s property has no link to his or her ability to pay the proposed water charges or to be able to keep up with those payments in the event of an illness or retirement. It is a grave mistake to assume that a large house means a large income, and the general public cannot be expected to underwrite that mistake.
As the findings of the judicial review initiated by the Consumer Council show, the legislation has been rushed through, with the result that we have been handed an unfair, messy, piecemeal effort that will need much clarification and tidying before it can go any further. Despite assurances from Government officials, it is clear that there is less accountability than there is with energy provision or other products. Why is this? Is this yet another attempt to push through unsatisfactory legislation that benefits no one but the Treasury and Government accountants? Is this another abuse of direct rule to punish us for not jumping through Labour hoops?
For three years, Northern Ireland consumers will have the cushion of the Government’s pledge to pay the £30 million affordability tariff, but what will happen after that? Will consumers pay? If the Government want to ensure fairness and equality, confirming that the majority of consumers will not be forced to pay for the minority who cannot afford the charges, they should offer us a positive assurance that they will continue to provide the subsidy along with other alternatives.
As the Consumer Council has clearly and concisely stated, that can be achieved by making a bond to continue to pay the affordability tariff, by continuing price pegging beyond the current three-year promise and by requiring the Go-co to deliver a business plan that will ensure sustainability and guarantee protection and the best possible service provision to the people who foot the bill. Surely that is not too much to ask for — indeed, we are entitled to that.
The proposed system does nothing more than grab at money, with no thought given to the future and how those targets can be reached and sustained. Over the next 20 years, an additional £3 billion will be needed for the new system, which, on top of other bills, equates to some £10,000 per household. That does not take inflation in the housing market into account, which is another hidden burden, meaning that more families are on the breadline. That is no exaggeration, given that over 350,000 people are officially on the poverty line in Ulster, with 24% unable to pay for adequate heating. The majority of people have no savings and are, according to the Simon Community, only two pay cheques away from homelessness. The added burden of water charges can only push more people towards the poverty threshold. There are over 200,000 vulnerable households in the Province, and those who are just above this level cannot afford to maintain this load, and they should not be expected to.
There are worries not only about the costing and financing of the proposed legislation but about accountability, which I mentioned earlier. The £1 billion loss due to electricity privatisation and the Thames Water plc increase have been cited as clear examples of what happens when regulators are not accountable; something must be done about that. The question rightly arises: does the legislation provide the framework of accountability to stop tests that have been failed in the past from failing yet again? This rushed job has not provided that assurance. When will the assets totalling £5·6 billion be available to sell? Who will regulate the regulators? Most importantly, to whom will the regulators be held accountable? Those are issues that must be clarified; without that clarification, the legislation should not, and cannot, go forward.
I have highlighted only a couple issues, because I know, given that the legislation is a quagmire, that other Members will want to dwell on other areas. There are many other issues such as bad debt, price pegging and the capital backlog. However, even the few points that have been made are enough to illustrate how ill conceived this legislation is. Consequently, I support the motion for an immediate in-depth review of the legislation by the Minister with responsibility for regional development. David Cairns stated that, after the devolved Administration was put in place:
“It will then be for local ministers to decide how best the policy might be developed to provide protection for those who need it most.”
I believe that that is impossible. It not only indicates that the Minister is aware of the fact that Members of the Assembly should create a policy that benefits the people of Northern Ireland, but it clearly shows that the legislation, in its current form, does not protect the people of the Province and is being used as another prod in the direction of devolution at the cost of our constituents.
This cannot and will not be tolerated by members of the DUP or Members of the Assembly. We will not allow ourselves to be held over a barrel at the risk, and to the detriment, of Northern Ireland. We have long been neglected in this area, and the legislation does not include the necessary amendments; it cannot continue any further. If we wait until devolution to amend the legislation, that will be like shutting the gate after the horses have bolted. The legislation is useless, intolerable, unacceptable and seriously undemocratic.
Madam Speaker: Members, Ms Kathy Stanton will now make her maiden speech. As Members know, it is the convention that such a speech be made without interruption.
Ms Stanton: Go raibh míle maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.
I support amendment No 2, proposed by Alban Maginness. Under these water reform proposals, water affordability will be out of the reach of many households in the North. This is not a green or an orange issue but an issue that unites all of us. If the legislation is not deferred, it will have drastic and long-term effects on all people, but especially on the 150,000 families that will be driven further into poverty and debt. Income will not be enough to meet the ever-increasing privatisation of public services. If the proposed legislation is adopted in its present form, an income at or above the relative income poverty line will not be enough.
The Northern Ireland Anti-Poverty Network (NIAPN) has estimated that roughly 37% of the average non-itemised rates bill goes towards water and sewerage provision. The Minister’s proposed additional water charges will be based on the value of a person’s house. That is deeply worrying for low-income households, as well as for those on benefits or in receipt of a pension. We have already been paying for our water, yet we are now being asked to foot the bill for the British Government’s failure to invest in our infrastructure.
The value of people’s homes has risen dramatically over the years. It has been quoted that house prices are rising £100 a day. People’s incomes, however, have not increased in line with that rise in order to meet what the Government propose. On average in the North, where there is a higher cost of living, people earn 20% less than they do in Britain. Water charges will simply push people further into poverty and debt. We already have worse poverty figures than anywhere else in Britain or Ireland.
My constituency of North Belfast and that of West Belfast contain 17 of the 20 most deprived super-output areas (SOAs) in Belfast, yet those two constituencies receive a mere 8·3% of total inward-investment assistance between them. The groups and communities that are least able to pay will be affected most by the proposed charges. As I said earlier, the legislation will drive 150,000 families deeper into poverty and debt.
It is ironic that the British Secretary of State published an anti-poverty strategy last month, yet the Minister with responsibility for regional development is simultaneously proposing charges that will significantly increase poverty levels. Where is the logic in that? To introduce water charges contradicts the latest DRD report, which reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to effective protection for those on low incomes.
The North of Ireland has experienced failed policies from England that have resulted in lower wage levels and in higher levels of family and child poverty, of inequality, of disability and of illness. Save the Children estimates that one in three children in the North live in poverty. Fuel poverty is already a major issue, but the British Government’s plans to introduce water charges could lead to many homes in socially deprived areas also having to come to terms with water poverty. NIAPN is on record as saying that to privatise water and sewerage services will, in effect, privatise all of the North’s households. Tenants will face growing charges at a time when some private landlords are already bleeding their tenants dry.
Any private company’s priority is to represent the interests of its shareholders in order to ensure that they get a return on their investment. The only way in which to guarantee that they get that return is to continue to increase charges. We only have to look at past mistakes — namely, the privatisation of NIE — to learn from them. The people actually pay the levy that NIE says that it contributes to deprived communities. The result is that the poorest in society pay the most, and even then they are only paying for basic needs.
The Transitional Assembly should ensure that people are put before profit, and we should not allow the British Government to blame the people for not having adequate incomes, for being unemployed or for having to live in poverty. It is the Government’s responsibility to protect the rights of citizens, and water provision is one of the most basic rights. Statistical evidence has shown that unemployment has dropped yet poverty has increased. Inadequate social-welfare payments are much more a cause of poverty than unemployment.
Therefore, once again, we see with this latest piece of legislation the dominant theory prevailing — we have been set up to fail the people. Will the poor always be with us? Put simply, the answer is yes, but the numbers of poor will also be increasing. Brigid Reynolds, in her paper ‘Mind the Gap between Rich and Poor’, asked a conference that I attended last year how we can expect our economic and social infrastructure to catch up with that of the rest of Europe if we gather less taxation income than it takes to run the infrastructure that is already in place in most of those European countries.
We will never bridge the social and economic infrastructure gaps unless we invest a larger share of our income in building a fairer and more successful Ireland.
Sinn Féin supports the role of trades unions, Water Service employees, anti-poverty groups and the Consumer Council in their bid to ensure that the privatisation agenda is reversed.
Mr McGimpsey: I support the motion.
Like most Members, I believe that water is not an economic commodity to be charged for; it is a human right. The debate is not about how much water people use; it is about how much water they need. We have a water system for good reason: 100 years ago, diseases such as cholera and typhoid were rife in Belfast, and the solution was to ensure the proper disposal of waste through a sewerage system and to ensure the delivery of clean drinking water to each household.
Even in the halcyon days of free enterprise and business in Britain, it was recognised that water services could not be provided privately at a profit. Therefore, it was public expenditure that provided the sewerage system, built reservoirs to store water and provided a system to deliver clean drinking water to each house. That is the system that we inherited. It was reinvested in over the years religiously and, over the years, everybody in Northern Ireland paid for water through the regional rate. We continue to pay for our water to this day, so the assertion that we do not is simply untrue. There is, of course, a problem with crumbling infrastructure.
When the Executive took over in November 1999, they discovered that the infrastructural deficit in Northern Ireland was approximately £15 billion. That was no surprise. Over 30 years, the cost of the war was around £500 million each year. Although successive direct-rule Ministers said that the money was provided over and above normal revenue and would not affect normal provision of services; it did. In fact, that £500 million a year, which was used to pay for all the burned buildings and buses, for the agony and misery and for the Army and police, came from normal funding revenue. Funding for the Water Service was no different.
The Executive took over the need for massive investment in hospitals, roads and public transport, and some of the results of that investment can be seen today. The Water Service was an area under consideration. However, it is not true that the Executive intended to privatise water services or to start charging for water. Certainly, the then Minister, Peter Robinson, proposed some options, but that was as far as it got.
It is true to say that, historically, a green dowry was provided for water provision in Northern Ireland, as was also provided for England, Scotland and Wales. Central Government made massive investments in the water industries in England, Scotland and Wales in order to fatten them up for privatisation. Water services in England and Wales were privatised, but Scotland did not follow suit. However, no similar investment was made into Northern Ireland’s green dowry. That is why there is such a huge problem now.
Mr Robert McCartney carefully analysed our problems, he did not analyse the solution so carefully. We are clearly facing a privatisation agenda. The steps taken so far make sense only if they contribute to selling off the water industry. Therefore, a sustainable level of charges per household must be created. Alban Maginness talked about sustainability, which is one of the problems in the Water Service’s business plan. Currently, each household pays around £130 per annum for water through regional rates; under charging, that figure will treble to around £400 per annum, and that is just the start. Those charges will create the cash flow and funding for the new company.
In the legislation, I notice that Peter Hain has christened the new company a “Go-co”. That is an interesting name. As we know, the Go-co will have a captive market for providing our water. Water is an absolute essential — we cannot do without it. People will have to pay pretty much what the new company dictates. I have no confidence in regulators. I have seen how the electricity and gas regulator operates, and he does not do a particularly brilliant job for the consumer.
The water and sewerage service is a public asset; it has worked as a public asset for 100 years — there is no need to sell it. Instead, the need is for investment, which we must seek ways to secure. The last thing that we should do is to sell our water utilities. There is no need to sell that public asset, and members of the public do not want it to be sold. In every consultation that has been carried out on this matter, the public tell us not to sell water utilities, but that is being done, over their heads. That is pretty much what one gets under direct rule, and that demonstrates the need for devolution.
If we have a devolved Assembly, this issue certainly will not be any easier to address, and the situation may not be much better, but at least we will be managing the matter ourselves. At least we will deal with this matter with regard to the priorities that must be considered, rather than have the current situation whereby we go annually to London with a begging bowl for money.
Northern Ireland’s financial situation — not least as a result of 30 years of war — leaves us with a gross Treasury spend of about £16 billion and a tax take of about £10 billion. There is a gap of about £6 billion, and the Treasury and the Government are now telling us that, with the war over, we must be treated in the same way as every other part of the United Kingdom and that we will have to pay a bit more. One of the key ways to address that problem is to increase our tax yield through more business activity, more enterprise, etc. That would allow us to manage our economy well and to pay our bills better. However, Northern Ireland is by no means the only region of the UK that is in the predicament of deficit funding.
The way forward is to manage those matters ourselves through devolution. There are ways and means of addressing the problems. For example, such has been the level of underinvestment that, currently, about 50% of all pumped water is wasted through leaks in pipes. That demonstrates how badly the water system has been maintained over the years. There has been a substantial number of new housing developments, all of which have new water systems installed. It will take years to do the necessary work to address the problems with the old systems that were originally installed.
The last thing that we should do is to sell up and follow the privatisation agenda. When Mo Mowlam was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, she promised on behalf of the Labour Government that there would be no privatisation of the water industry. We must look hard at how we can force the British Government to honour at least one of their promises, and that promise in particular.
Ms Ritchie: Madam Speaker, I am afraid that I have a cold, so I apologise if my diction is not altogether clear. On behalf of the SDLP, I thank Mr Cree for his timely motion. I also thank the parties that have supported the amendment standing in the name of my colleague Mr Alban Maginness.
Successive British Governments have defied collective political and community opinion in Northern Ireland, which voiced clear opposition to new separate charges for water and sewerage. The current Government are no different and have defied the collective political will of this Assembly, the reasoned protestations of the Committee on the Preparation for Government for the deferment of the legislation, and the legal judgement of Mr Justice Weatherup, which clearly demonstrated that the Department for Regional Development had not carried out an adequate and proper consultation with the major stakeholders in respect of the draft legislation. All of that happened in spite of the fact that the Secretary of State and his coterie of Ministers insist that they listen to the collective will of this Assembly, take on board our views and opinions and take on board the views of the wider public, who have voiced opposition to such charges. However, none of that opposition was listened to.
Notwithstanding all of that opposition, water and sewerage charges will be introduced from 1 April 2007. Until we have restoration of our political institutions and a major change in Treasury policy on the management, allocation, and distribution of public finances, our ability to do much about that is gravely restricted.
However, we can lobby strenuously to ensure that the Go-co remains in public ownership; that the necessary regulatory and consumer-protection safeguards are put in place; that the full implications of the draft licence for the operation of the company are made available; that the strategic business plan is made available; and that the privatisation of the public’s assets is resisted at every turn and opportunity.
A cursory look at the Government’s propaganda leaflet of a few weeks ago tells us why we need to pay for water and sewerage services. We all know that it costs money to make water safe to drink and to remove sewage and waste water from our homes, but the leaflet deliberately fails to mention that we already pay for the provision of those services. The Government did not take sufficient steps, over the long period of direct rule, to improve the infrastructure significantly, and now they want the people of Northern Ireland to pay for the infrastructure deficit that, through their serious neglect, they allowed to occur.
Water charges will affect all households, irrespective of income. We will all pay water charges. The Government have stubbornly refused to take on board the fact that incomes in Northern Ireland do not compare with those in many regions of Great Britain. We pay more for food, electricity, insurance, clothing and energy, yet we earn much less. The Government have obdurately failed to extend the affordability tariff beyond 2010. What will happen to those most in need and those who cannot afford to pay? Water, as has already been said, is essential to our very existence. Water poverty could become a reality for some individuals, like fuel poverty has become, so measures must be taken to address the issue.
Furthermore, the Government have failed to acknowledge that many people who live on or just above the breadline, or who are above the threshold for benefit eligibility, will be forced into poverty through having to pay new, separate water and sewerage charges, combined with a new rates valuation under the review of rating policy. We know that the Government, in their quest to set up a self-financing company, sought to use a billing and debt-recovery mechanism that would have stigmatised people — so much for egalitarian principles.
The draft legislation is now in place. It does not set out a system that is fair, affordable or sustainable. Consumers are expected to pick up the bill for past under-investment and to pay charges based on the capital value of their homes. Political solutions are required in order to address the situation, and we must provide the lead.
There are many questions that the Government should answer. Why did the direct-rule Administration exceed their duties as a temporary caretaker? Why are the Government usurping the role of a future Executive and tying that Executive’s hands for decades to come? Why are there insufficient resources in health and education? Where is the money that we are owed for years of underfunding of our roads, railways and water infrastructure? Where is the money that was specifically given for improvements in our water infrastructure? How much of that was diverted into security? Why are we being forced to pay for direct-rule neglect? Why did the Government recruit consultants, at a cost of over £18 million, to prepare for water reform or privatisation? That money could have been invested in the upgrading of the beleaguered infrastructure. Why did the Government insist on weak regulation in their legislation to govern the work of the regulator? What kind of Government classifies people as “rock bottom”? What an insulting remark to make about many vulnerable, disadvantaged people in Northern Ireland. The British Government should be ashamed of themselves.
Mr Dawson: Does the Member agree that another fundamental question that must be asked is why the Government increased the capital value of the company that is to become the Go-co so that water charges would be increased beyond what is necessary?
Ms Ritchie: I thank the Member for that information — I agree with him. It is all about preparing the Go-co for privatisation, when it will sell off the assets that belong to the people of Northern Ireland. My constituency of South Down supplies a large proportion of the water that the city of Belfast uses. There is no way that we will stand by and allow the public assets of Spelga Dam and the Silent Valley to be sold in order that the fat cats can earn money at our expense. That should not and will not happen. We must resist it.
Much could be said in this debate. However, as a priority, questions must be asked about the legislation that has already been passed, and much must be done by the Programme for Government Committee. Basically, are the capital value and the standing charge the fairest premise for water charging; is the Treasury and Secretary of State’s financial deal the best one for water customers; is the Go-co the best model; is self-financing the best system; and is the charge fair, affordable and sustainable?
The draft strategic, estate and management plans must be published. How on earth was legislation enacted before those plans were published and before there was any consultation on them? The reason is that people are trying to bring in privatisation by the back door.
The full impact of the governance and the licence must be revealed — what is in public ownership must remain in that domain. Full authorisation and enforcement must pass to the regulator next April, and there must be no exceptions. Concrete arrangements must be put in place to make it a duty for the Go-co to consult the Consumer Council on all matters that impact on consumers. Above all, we need a first-class water and sewerage infrastructure, which should have been provided over a long period of time — the local community should not have been forced to pay for it. Notwithstanding that, we must ensure that rigorous and robust measures are put in place to protect the people whom we represent and all consumers in Northern Ireland.
Lest we forget, the majority of people in Northern Ireland have indicated their opposition to the imposition of new water and sewerage charges. We should not forget also that there will be two charges — a water charge and a sewerage charge — and that will particularly affect city and town dwellers.
Mr McCarthy: I support the proposal and amendment No 2. Members may recall that, a few years ago, the cross-channel Minister Lord Dubs told us that an increase of £70 per household per year would make up the necessary water and sewerage investment required for Northern Ireland for years to come. That amount was included in the regional rate at that time.
That same Labour Government are now ignoring that investment and are screwing householders in Northern Ireland with a new, separate, diabolical and disgusting charge for water and sewerage. I call it a tap tax. This is the biggest con perpetrated by any Government. It is deceitful and fraudulent. The Labour Government are being downright dishonest, and they should hang their heads in shame. Of course, the Government are not alone as regards this shameful new tap tax; some blame must be placed on the Executive in the previous Northern Ireland Assembly.
It all started when Tony Blair and Gordon Brown landed at Belfast City Airport with a bag full of money and were greeted by the then First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The Alliance Party was sceptical of that bag of goodies and said so. We knew that the money was not a gift and would have to be repaid by the people of Northern Ireland. The chickens have now come home to roost at a dreadful cost. I recall a Member of the same Executive coming out of a posh hotel in Belfast and telling us that if we wanted services we would have to pay for them.
I give credit to David Trimble, who was First Minister at the time, for his efforts in the House of Lords last week. After having given their commitment to support Mr Trimble, the Tory Lords, including some from Northern Ireland, stabbed him in the back.
As I said, tap taxes are only a front for handing control of the water and sewerage services to the highest bidder. That may not happen today, but it will happen in the days ahead. Every Member who has spoken in the debate has stated that that is a process of privatisation. That process is wrong.
Some local people are saying that this Assembly is being delayed deliberately from getting back to work so that the London Government can introduce all those iniquitous schemes that will cost our constituents dearly. At the same time, our local, new Executive can wash their hands of those schemes and absolve themselves of any blame for draining constituents of their hard-earned cash.
We have any God’s amount of water in this country — some people say that we have far too much. Of course, nothing comes free; we all pay income tax, rates and so forth each week and month. The solution is to simply manage resources better. As I said earlier, we pay already for water and sewerage services through the regional rate. That point has been made repeatedly in the Chamber this morning. We should check out Lord Dubs’s efforts a few years ago. Why have we been treated differently from people in Scotland? They got a green dowry to put their services in order, and the rate was increased slightly so that those who earn can pay their way, and, where necessary, other less-fortunate people get an allowance.
This new charge is nothing short of a tap tax. The Government have been deceitful, fraudulent and hypocritical in asking people to pay on the value of their homes. Conservation of water is not mentioned at all, despite the fact that the European directive was supposed to be about conserving water.
I refer to a conversation that Shaun Woodward had some time ago with a meeting of cross-party Assembly Members. In that meeting, he threw down the gauntlet and told them that they will have the powers to repeal those charges. I challenge those parties to make that an election pledge: as soon as a working Executive is established, their first priority should be the repeal of the iniquitous tap tax.
Mr A Maginness: I shall be brief. I want to thank Assembly colleagues for supporting the amendment. In particular, I thank Mr Cree for supporting it, and I also thank Sinn Féin’s Raymond McCartney for his support.
The amendment reflects a general consensus that exists in the House. That consensus opposes the legislation, which has been passed in Westminster. It also supports in great measure the community’s opposition to privatisation, and it also gives positive support to the disadvantaged, who will find that any water charging is a heavy burden. It is important that a strong and clear message goes from this House to the people of Northern Ireland and, particularly, to the British Government that a clear consensus across all the parties — and across the community — rejects the Government’s proposals and legislation. That consensus also rejects the introduction in the near future of water charging.
Mr Raymond McCartney: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.
When I spoke earlier, I said that our party would withdraw the amendment. Mr Cree’s motion and Mr Maginness’s amendment cover the points that we would have wished to make.
It is good to see cross-party support in total opposition to water charges. Members have made the point about the impact that those charges will have on poverty levels in the North of Ireland. We all realise that there is a great fear of privatisation. The Department for Regional Development’s consultation process has been exposed — by the General Consumer Council, in particular. It is to be supported in its efforts to ensure that any future consultation process will be efficient and effective.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment. Go raibh maith agat.
Amendment No 1, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr Beggs: I am pleased that Leslie Cree has brought this motion to the Floor of the House today, and I thank Alban Maginness for his constructive amendment. It is also helpful that there is a degree of cross-community support gathering around the issue of water charges. If we speak as a united group, we have a much better chance of influencing change.
Under direct rule, our water services have suffered from 30 years of underinvestment. Northern Ireland Office Ministers frequently diverted funds towards security budgets. That was perhaps most evident with regard to in-year allocations. Instead of money being made available for water services, schools or the Health Service, it was moved to overextended security budgets. In England and Wales, the upgrade of water services was largely funded by the green dowry. Although Northern Ireland received £50 million a year for that purpose, that money disappeared into the block grant; it was not directed to the Water Service. Consequently, there has been a lack of investment, and it is unfair that Northern Ireland consumers should be expected to pick up the tab at this stage.
My colleague Leslie Cree mentioned a number of unsatisfactory issues with regard to the draft Water and Sewerage Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, in particular the lack of clarity and the governance arrangements, which makes the amendment in the name of Alban Maginness most appropriate. It refers to the absence of a strategic business plan, of asset and estate management plans, and of final licence details. Why have those been kept secret?
There is inadequate regulation, particularly in the first number of years. That is especially relevant with regard to the sale of any surplus assets that the new Go-co will determine. Of even greater concern is the fact that Lord Rooker, in the course of the debate in the House of Lords, indicated that, in the first three years, there will be a general authorisation for those sales. Why has the regulator’s role been limited during that period?
The General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, which has campaigned actively on behalf of consumers, has highlighted that it does not agree with OFREG’s assertion that it has the necessary consumer protection powers in law, particularly in the crucial three years leading up to 2010, when customers will be expected to take on the full cost of water and sewerage services.
Interestingly, in responding, I suspect, to that comment, the regulator, Mr Osborne, stated in an email that emerged during the course of the General Consumer Council’s action in the High Court:
“If DRD think I am happy, they are deaf and stupid. Will step up the volume further next week. Perhaps they are not truthful.”
There are a number of issues that give the public serious cause for concern in the light of comments from the General Consumer Council and from the regulator. I suspect that Mr Osborne would rather that some of those comments had not been made public. However, there is deep concern in the community about the Government’s proposals.
There are two other aspects of the Go-co, which was opposed by the Ulster Unionist Party, that I wish to address. A Go-co is defined as a company that is initially publicly owned but destined to be privatised. In England and Wales, water companies have a commercial value, and that is demonstrated in the stock market. That is why they often change hands in takeovers.
Initially, the stock market was not interested in such a proposal for Northern Ireland because of the huge holes in our infrastructure and the potential for fines falling on consumers. Essentially, its concerns were that suitable returns could not be achieved. Is the Government, by the back door, through limiting the role of the regulator, creating freedom and opportunity for private sector investment during that initial period? That is a matter of deep public concern.
During the legal action taken by the General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland, a senior civil servant was quoted as saying in a memorandum that the Treasury was pushing for a minority shareholding to be sold to the private sector, and that the Treasury wanted the new body to be sold off before 2008. He went on to say that there would be limited restrictions on sales of assets.
There is real and genuine concern in the community about this. Is this good for the public? I suspect not. Perhaps profit is being created to attract that private sector minority shareholding interest within the next three years. That is not in the public interest and it is not in the interests of Northern Ireland consumers or ratepayers.
The new dividends demanded by Treasury are also causing concern. In Northern Ireland that dividend has been calculated at a value of 5·8% of the assets — initially, £58 million a year will be returned to the Treasury. Why is the dividend set at 5·1% in England and Wales, and, interestingly, at 4·1% in Scotland? Why are Northern Ireland consumers being asked to pay over the odds as regards the dividend to the Treasury? There are several areas of concern, and I urge Members to come together and support the motion as amended by Alban Maginness.
Question, That amendment No 2 be made, put and agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this Assembly notes the Government’s unacceptable proposals and legislation for the introduction of separate water charges in Northern Ireland, deplores the Secretary of State’s refusal to heed the Programme for Government Committee’s call for deferment of the Water and Sewerage Services Order, and believes that in the absence of a known Strategic Business Plan, Asset and Estate Management Plans, final licence details, adequate regulation or due consumer protection, the public can place no reliance on the figures which Ministers are indicating for future water charges and awaits a report from the Programme for Government Committee.
The sitting was suspended at 12.18 pm.
On resuming (Madam Speaker in the Chair) —
Madam Speaker: The Business Committee has agreed to allow two hours for the debate, with the Member who moves the motion having 15 minutes to speak and all other Members who speak having 10 minutes. Two amendments have been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The amendments will be proposed in the order on which they appear on the list. When the debate has concluded, I shall put the Question that each amendment be made in turn. If amendment No 1 is made, I shall not put the question on amendment No 2. If that is clear, I shall proceed.
Mr McCarthy: I beg to move
That this Assembly accepts the findings of the Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability (Northern Ireland) and calls on the Ministers responsible for all appropriate departments to take immediate steps to implement its recommendations.
I declare a real interest in the contents of the Bamford Review in that we have a 37-year-old daughter with profound learning difficulties, and my family and I know about all the problems surrounding mental health, as do hundreds of other families throughout Northern Ireland.
We want the best services available, be it in health, education, housing, respite care or whatever. For too long, mental health, well-being and learning disabilities have been the Cinderella of all statutory agencies. That must stop now. Everyone in society is entitled to equality and life, and if the Assembly supports my motion today, we will have played our part in bringing a better quality of life to a great many people.
I also serve on a cross-party group on mental health, and I put on record my sincere thanks to the other Assembly Members who work closely together to get the best for their constituents. I offer thanks to the Northern Ireland Association of Mental Health, to Alan Ferguson, Graham Logan and everyone in University Street for their help and co-operation on every level.
In October 2002, the Health Department initiated a major wide-ranging and independent review of the law, policy and provision affecting people with mental health needs or a learning disability in Northern Ireland. Four years of hard work have now largely been completed, and I sincerely thank those involved for their dedication.
The Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability is the most significant and comprehensive review of mental health services and learning disabilities ever undertaken in Northern Ireland. The review has been overseen by a steering committee comprising representatives from professional and other interest groups in the mental health and learning disability fields. Much of the review’s work has been carried forward through 10 expert working committees, which have presented their reports with recommendations for the modernisation of mental health services in Northern Ireland. There is a paper, not a report, on autism spectrum disorder.
It is vital that the recommendations stemming from the review are implemented to the fullest extent. The review was under the chairmanship of Prof David Bamford of the University of Ulster until his untimely death in January 2006. It would be remiss of me if I did not refer to the debt that the review owes to David Bamford. He was an excellent leader and a real professional in his work.
The subsequent and vital impact on services would be a fitting tribute to his life and work. It was in recognition of Prof Bamford’s contribution to the work of the review that the then Minister of Health, Shaun Woodward, agreed to the request from Prof Roy McClelland and his colleagues that the review be recognised formally as the Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability (Northern Ireland). Prof Roy McClelland took over the reins of leadership at that time, and I sincerely thank him and his team for their continuing work.
The review took into account recent policies and other developments here and in the rest of the EU. It sought to address how best to provide services to people with special mental health needs or learning disabilities, in accordance with the statutory equality obligations of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, while considering how to promote their social inclusion.
The review also sought to address how to promote positive mental health in society by analysing the relevance of key concepts such as community education and promoting mental health awareness. It undertook research to facilitate its work, and it has set out examples of best practice that are available regionally, nationally and internationally.
The review has come to fruition with most of the reports now complete. It has been a mammoth task, and the steering committee and expert working groups involved deserve great credit for what they have accomplished.
‘Equal Lives: Review of Policy and Services for People with a Learning Disability in Northern Ireland’ is a report that deals primarily with people with learning disabilities. The needs of that group are different to those who have mental health problems. It is vital that the recommendations contained in the report are considered on their own merits.
There are more people with a learning disability in Northern Ireland than there are in any other region in these islands, and the numbers are likely to increase by around 20% in the next 15 years. Investment in new styles of services has not kept pace with changing needs and aspirations. There are more people living in long-stay hospitals and residential homes, and those accommodations provide poor value for money. We have many fewer places in supported accommodation, hence families have to continue caring for longer. Almost one third of family carers in Northern Ireland are single parents, and they are mainly widows aged 65 years or over.
People with a learning disability do not have the same opportunities as their peers as regards further education, vocational training and paid work. The ‘Equal Lives’ document contains 74 recommendations to take forward its vision for the future. To maximise the impact of change, it will be essential to progress each of the objectives in parallel. Although some recommendations will not require funding, they will require considerable investment of planning time from staff and will also have to be introduced incrementally.
The ‘Equal Lives’ document sets out an ambitious programme for change, with a clear policy direction for people with a learning disability. The values and objectives of that review should form the benchmarks by which future policy and service developments should be measured. It is incumbent on Government Depart-ments to move without delay towards establishing the implementation arrangements necessary to underpin the new vision for improving the life chances of all people with a learning disability, and the lives of their families.
On 31 October 2006, the Bamford Review formally closed at the ‘Making it Happen’ conference in the Stormont Hotel in Belfast. Prof Roy McClelland, chairman of the review, declared that the baton for the reform and modernisation of mental services must be handed over to the politicians.
The onus is on the Government to ensure that the Bamford Review’s recommendations are implemented. I call on the Government and the Members here to think mental health and to think learning disabilities. It will be our responsibility to make it happen in what will be, I hope, a devolved Assembly on 26 March 2007. It is a major responsibility. The mental health of our citizens and future citizens depends on the implementation of the recommendations, and on us.
There is an inherent danger that the Government will do nothing more than pay lip-service to the review and leave it on the shelf to gather dust.
We must not allow that to happen. I call on my fellow Members to agree that mental health and the implications of the Bamford Review be afforded the highest importance in a newly devolved Assembly, and that a major priority for the Assembly be the imple-mentation of the review’s recommendations. The review has done its job. The future mental health of all our citizens is in the hands of their elected represent-atives in the Assembly. It is up to the Assembly to grasp that opportunity and ensure that the Government take action on the set of recommendations with which they have been presented. [Interruption.]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mr McCarthy: How will the recommendations be implemented? The review goes one step further and provides a briefing paper titled ‘Reform and Modern-isation of Mental Health Services and Learning Disability’.
There is a need for a new vision, prioritisation of the mental health of the people of Northern Ireland and a refocusing on the needs of those with mental ill health and learning disability. The strategic priorities road map identifies several key issues, which include the promotion of positive mental health and the prevention of mental ill health as a priority for the entire community; reform and modernisation of mental health services; and the need for a person-centred approach that values people with a learning disability as citizens, and that enables them to use mainstream services and be included fully in the life of the community. Anything less is totally unacceptable.
The recommendations demand a multi-sectoral approach. The danger of siloing them into the health portfolio must be avoided. There are clear and important implications for all Departments, including the Depart-ment of Education, the Department for Employment and Learning and the Department for Social Develop-ment. The implementation of the Bamford Review’s recommendations necessitates adequate resources. The review recommends doubling the present spend on mental health services and learning disability from approximately £300 million to £600 million over 15 to 20 years. I call on my fellow Members to agree that a percentage of the peace dividend moneys should be soundly ring-fenced for the implementation of the Bamford Review.
Mr S Wilson: Given that, to date, the peace dividend money has amounted to nothing, a percentage of nothing will not help the situation.
Mr McCarthy: I suspect that the Member, when he is negotiating with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, is in a position to squeeze as much as he can out of them.
The Government must draw up a comprehensive post-Bamford action plan to oversee the necessary step change. At the Bamford Review’s ‘Making it Happen’ conference on 31 October 2006, Minister Paul Goggins highlighted the important role of a new champion for mental health. He said:
“I want mental health and learning disability to move to the top table of the health service.”
Members will agree with that 100%.
Minister Goggins continued:
“We need someone to champion its cause, and fight for the new services that people need. I am pleased to announce that the new post of Director for Mental Health and Learning Disability has been advertised today. This person will be crucial in taking forward the Government’s response to the Bamford review.”
The Minister also highlighted the fact that the Government would have to take action as a result of the review when he said:
“Many of the review’s recommendations impact not only on health and social care, but on all public services in Northern Ireland, including education, employment, training, housing and social security benefits. I have decided, therefore to establish an Inter-Departmental Task Force to oversee the whole Government response to the review.”
At least Paul Goggins is committed. Those are encouraging words from him. However, there must also be action. It is up to the Assembly to ensure that the Government adhere to the strategic priorities for the implementation of the report. I call on the Assembly to think mental health, to think learning disability, and to give the motion the support that it deserves.
Dr McCrea: Although it is true that the Minister has said some fine words, and has made an announce-ment about appointing a champion for mental health, without providing the finances that are needed to back up those fine words, all the words of the day will not solve the problem. Does the Member agree?
Mr McCarthy: I absolutely agree. The major disappointment of the conference in the Stormont Hotel was that although the Minister said many fine words, he did not say that there would be any extra funding. It is up to us, as Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, to fight for that, and I am sure that we will. Every Member knows people who have mental health problems or learning disabilities. For too long the mental health services have been the Cinderella services of Northern Ireland, so I ask Members to give their full support to the motion.
Mr S Wilson: Will the Member give way?
Mr McCarthy: Yes.
Madam Speaker: I am sorry, Mr Wilson, but Mr McCarthy has finished.
Mr S Wilson: But he gave way.
Madam Speaker: According to our clocks, he was in his last minute of speaking time.
Please be quick, Mr Wilson.
Mr S Wilson: The Member raised a lot of issues and mentioned that the necessary finance is not available to address all the issues. To which of the priorities identified in the Bamford Review does he think that the Assembly should give priority?
Mr McCarthy: As I said at the start, I have personal experience of learning disabilities, as my 37-year-old daughter has learning difficulties, so I would certainly choose that issue. However, mental health covers suicide, self-harm and other issues, and we all want a fair share of the money that is available.
Mr McElduff: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you make a ruling on the use or non-use of mobile phones during debates in the Chamber?
Madam Speaker: Mr McElduff, I do not need to make a ruling. It is convention that a Member should not have a mobile phone on — especially if the Member is a Chief Whip.
Mr Adams: Maith thú, a Cheann Comhairle.
I beg to move amendment No 1: At end insert
“; calls on the Programme for Government Committee to ensure that the required extra financial investment in services as identified by the Bamford Review is included in the discussions for a financial package for a new Executive; and further calls for the full resourcing and immediate implementation of all the recommendations of the Bamford Review in relation to suicide and self harm.”
I think that we will get support from the Benches opposite for this amendment, because it deals with some of the issues that our Friends have raised.
Ba mhaith liom a rá go n-aontaím le Kieran McCarthy, nó is ceist an-tábhachtach í an cheist seo, go háirithe ceist an fhéinmharaithe.
I want to deal specifically with the issue of suicide and how the Bamford Review recommends that we should begin to deal with this dreadful scourge. Our colleague John O’Dowd will deal with the background, breadth, undertakings and implications of the Bamford Review.
Suicide is the biggest killer of our young people, and although young men are statistically at the highest risk of suicide, the problem transcends gender, age, class, ethnic background and religion. The suicide rate in my constituency of West Belfast is over twice the regional average — and the rate in North Belfast follows closely. The Bamford Review quite rightly points out that the challenge that we face in addressing the issue of mental health promotion requires action at personal, public and political levels. It recognises that suicide prevention is an integral part of mental health promotion and further recommends that suicide prevention be made a public health priority.
In the last year, a suicide strategy, ‘Protect Life: A Shared Vision’, has been launched for the Six Counties. The development of this strategy is in no small measure attributable to the campaign of the families and friends of those bereaved through suicide.
I mo cheantar féin tá barraíocht daoine — fir agus mná óga go háirithe — ag cur láimhe ina mbás féin. Is fadhb ollmhór í, agus caithfidh muid a bheith soiléir faoi sin ag gach leibhéal sa chomhphobal.
As MP for West Belfast, I am honoured and humbled to be in a position to work with many families from West Belfast, the Shankill, North Belfast and beyond in their campaign to achieve the aims of this strategy. This Assembly and the Executive must make tackling suicide and self-harm a priority.
I would be surprised if there were Members in the Chamber who have not been touched by the scourge of suicide within their broader family circles. One only has to talk to any of the families, friends, parents, partners, or siblings who have lost a loved one through suicide to understand the devastating impact that it has on our communities. When we talk to families, we also realise just how inadequate our society and our health services are in dealing with suicide and its impact. As political representatives, we must rectify that. That includes rising to the challenges set by the Bamford Review.
Bhuail mé le daoine ó theaghlaigh atá fágtha i ndiaidh duine féinmharú a dhéanamh, agus caithfidh mé a rá go raibh mé an-tógtha faoina ndóigh. Caithfidh muid a bheith cinnte go ndéanfaidh muid ár seacht ndícheall le cuidiú leo i gcibé dóigh ar féidir linn.
All of us must play our part in the destigmatisation of mental health problems. We must challenge the so-called macho culture that exists in our society, and which leaves many of our young people feeling that the only option they have left in the world is to end their own lives. However, challenging that culture is not enough. We must ensure that when people seek help, the services exist to help them. Services must be there 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, because the problems that cause a sense of hope-lessness do not end at 5.00 pm or take the weekend off. Services must be tailored to suit the needs of our people.
I and other Members have heard many families express total disbelief at how their loved ones sought help from the statutory services only to be denied treatment, put on a waiting list, or — worse still — ignored by some uncaring, or perhaps overworked, service providers. That cannot be allowed to happen again.
The Bamford Review rightly states that we need more community-based services, more psychiatric nurses, more psychiatrists and more psychologists. All of that requires funding, planning and the political will to implement the report. Sinn Féin is doing its best to secure the increased funding that is required to provide the type of services envisaged by the Bamford Review.
I am committed to doing all that I can to ensure that the issue of suicide prevention is addressed in a strategic manner. I appeal for all-party support for families who have been bereaved through suicide. We owe a huge debt of thanks to those bereaved families who have made a real difference in raising awareness, as well as in securing more resources. We must also acknowledge the very hard work of the healthcare professionals who, with poor resources, have also done their best. They too deserve our gratitude. They and the affected families need this issue to be given the proper political priority. They need Members to ensure that the proper resources, funding, training and staff are available.
Both of the elected Chambers of this island must act together. Suicide is a problem throughout Ireland. In 2003-04, there were 577 deaths by suicide. Official records for 2005-06 show that the number of such deaths has risen — a total of 645 people across Ireland ended their lives through suicide during that period. Those figures do not take into account those who have tried to take their own lives and failed, or those cases that were not reported.
The number of deaths by suicide exceeds the number of road deaths. This is a national disaster and it requires a national disaster plan. That is why Sinn Féin has called for suicide prevention strategies North and South to be integrated into an island-wide programme, and for this issue to be given governmental priority by the North/South Ministerial Council.
Tá mé cinnte — agus tá daoine eile anseo cinnte fosta — go mbeadh Rialtas na Breataine ag déanamh i bhfad níos mó dá mbeadh an líon céanna daoine ag fáil bháis sa Bhreatain.
If that many people in Britain were losing their lives through suicide, the British Government would take more action than it has here thus far.
The Government in London do not have the political will to implement and fund the recommendations of the Bamford Review, so it is up to us, the representatives in this Chamber, to do that job.
Tá Sinn Féin ag obair le grúpaí ar fud an oileáin seo agus ar fud na sé chontae, nó is fadhb í an féinmharú in achan áit in Éirinn. Tá cúpla focal scoir agam i dtaca leis an ábhar.
Sinn Féin’s 2006 health policy document, ‘Healthcare in an Ireland of Equals’, identified suicide as a distinct priority area, requiring concentrated co-operation between the Governments, the health services, the voluntary sector and the communities — in other words, a multi-agency approach. We continue to lobby for and support those affected by suicide to ensure that that becomes a reality.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.
We all have to co-operate. We have to work together no matter what our differences are. The current rate of suicide is a national crisis, which needs a national, united, joined-up approach. The communities that we represent, especially our young people, deserve nothing less. Go raibh maith agaibh.
Mrs D Kelly: I beg to move amendment No 2: At end insert
“supported by adequate financial and other resources.”
I thank Mr McCarthy for moving the motion. The reason for our amendment is to ensure that additional finances and resources will be provided and that the Minister is left with no doubt about what is required. I acknowledge that there is little difference between our amendment and the one tabled by Sinn Féin.
The SDLP welcomes the findings of the Bamford Review and congratulates all those who participated in it. The review represents a comprehensive analysis of current mental health and learning disability services and provides a vision for future service delivery. It has long been recognised that both of these services suffer from chronic underfunding, and the Bamford Review continually refers to that deficit.
I attended the ministerial launch of the review a few weeks ago, and, like practically all of the attendees, I was astounded that the Minister failed to acknowledge that the implementation of the review would require additional financial investment and other resources. No new moneys are available for mental health and learning disability, yet the Civil Service practice of employing consultants continues unabated.
We heard this morning that over £18 million was spent by the Water Service on consultancy fees alone — money that could and should have been spent on service delivery, whether in health, education or housing. Finances, and other resources such as staff, are already overstretched. My colleague, the Member for South Belfast Mrs Hanna, will speak compre-hensively to the motion. I shall deal primarily with the recommendations in relation to child and adolescent mental health services.
According to the 2001 census, 451,514 people in Northern Ireland — 27% of a population of 1·7 million people — are under 18 years of age, and 398,056 people — 23% of the population — are under 16 years of age. Those figures were published by OFMDFM in 2004, yet the Bamford Review found that there has been no comprehensive study of child mental health. Instead, we have to rely on research conducted in England and elsewhere.
In Great Britain, it has been shown that 30% to 40% of young people may at some time experience a mental health problem, while up to 20% will have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. As Members know, however, Northern Ireland has higher levels of socio-economic deprivation. We are also emerging from conflict and continue, sadly, to be a deeply divided society. Children and young people are inevitably affected and influenced by community tension and can be directly caught up in violence.
Furthermore, we are all acutely aware of the alarming rise in the number of young people who are becoming alcohol-dependent. It is not uncommon to hear of children as young as 12 years of age consuming alcohol. Substance abuse is also increasing. What does this say about how our society protects its young? It is important to note that Northern Ireland has a higher overall prevalence of mental illness of a magnitude estimated at 25% higher than that in England.
Although that refers to rates in the adult population, it can be assumed that rates in children are similarly higher than in England. The Bamford Review noted that, at its lowest estimate, approximately 45,000 children and young people aged between five and 15 years will have a moderate to severe mental health disorder and require intervention from specialist child mental health services, while 340 children and young people will require inpatient services.
No specialist residential facility exists for those 340 children and young people: shame on the Minister, and shame on the Department. Meanwhile, young people with learning disabilities, and their carers, find it harder to avail of appropriate therapeutic interventions and environments than adult sufferers.
Physiotherapy graduates cannot find employment in Northern Ireland. Currently, many must go to the US, Australia and New Zealand to practice. I must declare an interest, as a former occupational therapist. According to the Bamford Review, there are no occupational therapists in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), yet the waiting lists for these therapies remain unacceptably long — in my con-stituency, it takes over 18 months to get a first appoint-ment — at a time when personal development is of the utmost import.
Suicide levels and instances of self-harm continue to be a huge concern. I welcome the establishment of a Regional Suicide Task Force. However, that is only part of an overall series of recommendations.
The Bamford Review clearly and correctly acknowledged the need to integrate health, social and educational services for children and young people in particular, but also for wider society.
The Minister must ensure that the actions set out in the report are followed as swiftly as possible, and provide adequate financial and staffing resources to do so. The Bamford Review recognises that staffing levels are inadequate to meet even present requirements. Failure to implement the review will condemn thousands of the young, and their carers, to a bleak future, and will represent a high cost to society. I support the amendment.
Mrs I Robinson: There is a lot of work to be done to lift mental health higher up the Northern Ireland political agenda, and as various Members have stressed, there is good reason to pursue that course. A Member asked which area of mental health should be prioritised. In my view, there is no area that could be singled out for priority. All areas in this sector are crucial and are crying out for help.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 19% of the total burden of disease in Western European countries is attributable to mental illness, compared with 17% for cardiovascular disease, and 16% for cancer. It found no other health condition responsible for more than 8% of disease.
Statistics show that the prevalence of mental health problems in Northern Ireland is 25% higher than in England, yet the share of the health and personal social services budget that is spent on mental health in England is 11·8%, compared to 9·3% in Northern Ireland. Based on the 2003 figures, to match the English share, spending on mental health in Northern Ireland would have to be increased by 26%, or £60 million.
It is now possible to estimate the cost of not promoting mental health. The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health (NIAMH), estimated that the total cost of mental health to the Northern Ireland economy was £3 billion for 2002-03. Their research applies and adapts analysis methods used by the Sainsbury centre that are now accepted and quoted by Ministers.
Effective mental health promotion is essential. Better services are required for people with mental health problems and learning disabilities, within a clear framework to promote positive mental health and to reduce stigma. We must invest more in mental health promotion. Northern Ireland must have a comprehensive and sustained mental health promotion campaign. That was highlighted in the Bamford Review, and in particular in the report of its Mental Health Promotion Committee entitled, ‘Mental Health Improvement and Well-Being — A Personal, Public & Political Issue’.
I quote from the review:
“Promoting positive mental health and the prevention of mental ill health is a priority for the entire community.”
It found that, central to the success of mental health improvement and well-being, was a recognition at all levels that mental health is everyone’s responsibility. It further states:
“mental well-being underpins all aspects of health and well-being; and mental health, like physical health, is a resource to be promoted and protected.”
To achieve this, the report concludes that what is needed is:
“increased cross-sectoral, collaborative work among key agencies and central government departments – partnerships between health and social services and education agencies hold particular potential”.
The Minister with responsibility for health, social services and public safety, Paul Goggins, has announced the establishment of a mental health directorate early in 2007. That is welcome; however, it will require commitment to a cross-sectoral, interdepartmental approach to mental health promotion.
There is a danger of mental health promotion being “siloed” into the health portfolio. We must ensure that all Government Departments are signed up to mental health improvements and well-being. When cutting the first sod of Craigavon Area Hospital’s new mental health unit, Paul Goggins said:
“The future of mental health service provision will require a multi-agency and a multi- disciplinary approach.”
The ‘Mental Health Improvement and Well-being — a Personal, Public and Political Issue,’ report expresses the view that to realise the vision for mental health promotion there is a need for a focused, resourced, centrally driven, cross-sectoral, cross-departmental and prioritised approach. None of us can quibble with that.
The review recommended the establishment of a regional mental health promotion directorate, with a regional director at the heart of Government. That recommendation was designed to ensure that mental health promotion should be a policy priority across the whole of the public sector and provide a sustainable regional strategic focus for mental health promotion. The creation, instead, of a new post, of director of mental health and learning disability who:
“can work across government and act as a chief advocate for the improvement of the mental health of Northern Ireland population”
is undoubtedly welcome, as I have indicated.
However, the report on mental health improvement and well-being expresses the view that:
“If this post negates the creation of a Regional Director for Mental Health Promotion, then the Review considers it essential that as part of this post’s wider responsibilities there must also be a priority for the provision of a regional strategic focus for mental health improvement and well-being.”
I concur with the view expressed in the report that :
“Mental health promotion must take place in a range of settings, for all stages of the life cycle and at various delivery levels”.
It states that it must occur in places such as schools, primary care, the workplace, further and higher education rural areas and communities, including marginalised groups and faith communities.
Mental health promotion must be delivered and be accessible at all stages of life, particularly for children and adolescents, older people and people in receipt of statutory mental health services. There must also be various levels of action to ensure an effective mental health promotion strategy. Those should range from regional, down through local communities to families and to individuals.
The building at regional level of a capacity to deliver mental health promotion in all these sectors and settings is essential, and it requires a focus on training, guidance and research. I will use one example. Mental health promotion in the school setting is an obvious opport-unity for cross-sectoral working. The report made clear reference to the fact that schools have a significant influence on behaviour, attitudes and development of young people.
I know from experience in my constituency of the importance of good understanding of mental health issues in the classroom. Just last week I saw a girl of 12 who is suffering severe bullying at school. She came into my office with her parents. She was crying because her life was not worth living, because bullying was reaching beyond the school into her home, and, through her mobile phone, to the places she would go for leisure. That girl wants to die. She and her family are at their wits’ end. What can seem a relatively trivial matter to some may have massive repercussions for others. There are well-documented examples where bullying has led to young people committing suicide.
Reduced self-esteem in young people can have a marked impact on their development. Members need only look at the number of young women with eating disorders for whom self-esteem is a contributing factor. It is good that we are going to have improved hospital facilities for children and young people with mental health needs. However, a lot more needs to be done for those with eating disorders. People in Northern Ireland cannot afford to continue to rely on travelling to England for the best services.
The Bamford Review report ‘A Vision of a Comprehensive Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service’ states:
“Mental health promotion and prevention in the school setting should be developed across all schools to include Independent School’s Counselling services, the health promoting schools, and pastoral care initiatives.”
However, targets set in the ‘Promoting Mental Health Strategy and Action Plan for 2003-2008’ regarding education and mental health promotion have not even been addressed, let alone delivered. In that context, it is alarming that the funding for a post in the Health Promoting Schools Project has been discontinued. The post had been funded for three years yet neither the Department of Education nor the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has seen fit to fund it in the future. That is a disgrace.
I am aware that I am running out of time. There is a lot more to discuss on this subject, which is dear to my heart, having had a member of my family die with Alzheimer’s Disease and another with mental health illness. I would love to have said a lot more about various points in relation to mental health. However, I support the motion.
Mr Kennedy: Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I congratulate Mr McCarthy for bringing the issue to the Assembly’s attention, and I apologise on behalf of the Member for North Antrim, Rev Robert Coulter, who is unable to attend this afternoon. He strongly supports the recommendations contained in the Bamford Review, as does the Ulster Unionist Party.
The historical under-investment in our metal health services in comparison with the rest of the UK — and the higher levels of ill health here — together with the impact of mental health on families, communities and business all point to the very pressing need for the Bamford Review’s recommendations to be implemented.
Northern Ireland needs modern mental health services that respect the fundamental dignity of service users and which are oriented towards recovery.
Children and young people must have access to mental health services that far surpass the present provision. The promotion of mental health is crucial to our economic health and well-being and it must become a key concern for the Government. Through the Bamford Review, the next Executive has a roadmap for delivering the mental health and learning resources that Northern Ireland needs urgently. If we are going to move to a fair and more decent society the Bamford Review must be heeded and its recommendations implemented.
Last year, 200 children in Northern Ireland were placed in adult mental health units: that is a shameful fact. If our society is serious about the obligation we have to all our children then it is essential that we implement the Bamford Review’s recommendations.
The report, ‘A Vision of a Comprehensive Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service’, states:
“Mental health disorders in young people impact significantly on the lives of those affected and the quality of life of those around them.”
Wider society pays a high price for the failure to tackle those problems effectively. Collectively, the cost is reflected in social disruption through educational attainment, mental ill health, antisocial behaviour and the financial costs related to each of those. I wish to take the opportunity to congratulate the hon Lady for Lagan Valley Ms Lewsley on her appointment as Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People. The Children’s Commissioner, Barney McNeany, in August described the services as “clearly not good enough”, and said that:
“the Government must now act with increasing urgency to improve services.”
Our society’s children and young people, some of whom are extremely vulnerable, deserve better than overstretched and under-resourced mental health services. The impoverished state of those services results in the need for more costly interventions after childhood and mars the lives of individuals and families, robbing them of opportunity, stability and normality. It is essential to implement the Bamford Review’s recommendations to create social justice and a fair and more decent society for our children.
The Bamford Review challenges everyone: the general public, health professionals, all Government Departments and elected representatives to commit themselves to promoting mental health and well-being. It states that “social cohesion”, economic competitive-ness and the “quality of life” in our society are all dependent on mental well-being.
I strongly endorse the Bamford Review’s call for a regional directorate for mental health promotion to be created at the heart of government in Northern Ireland to drive forward a mental health promotion strategy. The high personal, social and financial costs of Northern Ireland’s poor mental health require the promotion of positive mental health to be a priority for the Government, as it is for the Scottish Executive. Scotland’s National Programme for Improving Mental Health and Well-being demonstrates the potential for devolution, whereby locally elected representatives and local Ministers can drive forward practical strategies for a fair and decent society.
The Bamford Review provides a roadmap and a comprehensive strategy for Northern Ireland. It offers the hope of a society in which the mental health and well-being of every person is promoted. I support the motion.
Mr Storey: I support the motion. There is a growing body of research on the effectiveness of mental health promotion and robust evidence based on specific interventions. However, much of the research focuses on mental illness as opposed to good mental health. Promoting positive mental health is necessary at all stages of life. Early intervention for children and adolescents has been proven to enhance their resilience to mental health problems. Older people, an ever-growing population group within society, also have specific needs. There is strong evidence to show that good mental health can be promoted in a range of settings, such as schools, the workplace and further education colleges. It is crucial to pay attention to rural areas too.
Mrs Foster: The Member for North Antrim and I represent rural constituencies. Would he agree that rurality is often an additional stress faced by those who need to access mental health services?
Mr Storey: I thank the Member for her intervention and concur with her comments. Members who represent rural constituencies will have no difficulty in agreeing with her comments.
The effective delivery of mental health promotion in all sectors and settings in Northern Ireland will depend on building knowledge, expertise and capacity. That process should include training, provision of information, guidance and further research.
There is an extra dimension to the causes of mental ill health in Northern Ireland. The fabric of many communities has been destroyed by the legacy of over three decades of terrorism. It is a matter of some regret that, in the House today, the party opposite seemingly displayed a conscience about deaths — given the fact that it supported mass slaughter of the innocents in Northern Ireland.
Communities need to grow and develop. In so doing, they will enhance the levels of trust, sense of belonging and the potential for participation to promote emotional well-being. Although some progress has been made towards that vision, much still needs to be done. Spending on mental health services has mushroomed in recent years. In 2003, the health trusts in Northern Ireland spent £150 million, which was an increase of more than 31% on the figure four years before.
That comprised £85·5 million for hospital services; £25·5 million for community health services; and almost £40 million for personal social services. That figure does not include the £34 million cost of GP consultations on mental health, or £44 million for psychiatric drugs. Moreover, the costs to our economy of lost output, informal care by family members, and the impact on individual quality of life, have not been considered.
Much good work has been done recently in the Province on suicide, particularly through the task force led by Colm Donaghy. The establishment of that task force was triggered by the large occurrence of suicides in the Province, particularly among young people. After heart disease and cancer, suicide is the greatest cause of lives cut short in the Province.
Greater community and voluntary sector involve-ment is needed. More resources must be invested, including extra training for health professionals. Improved co-ordination among schools, youth organisations and health bodies could also help.
With the increasing popularity of television and the internet, people lead more solitary lives. The sense of community has been diluted; individuals have less contact with their families and their neighbours and, as a result, they have fewer people to confide in. Bereaved families describe little available support when dealing with the aftermath of suicides. That is a crucial deficiency to address. Often, family members can feel personally guilty after a suicide.
Much more must be done to tackle the stigma of mental illness and increase public awareness about mental ill health and the risk of suicide. That will require substantial funding. The increasing prevalence of suicide among young men is not confined to Northern Ireland; the same pattern is reported across the United Kingdom and in many other countries.
A large majority of those who commit suicide were suffering from mental disorders at the time of death. Chronic ill health can be a contributory factor, and many suicidal individuals have a history of alcohol or drug misuse. Unfortunately, binge-drinking is increasingly common in society, and suicide can also result from transient mood swings associated with alcohol consumption.
The role of the media must also be considered. Reports in 1999 showed that suicide rates increased after television programmes about suicide. Other reports in 1986 and in 1990 showed that the means and timing of suicides were influenced by earlier suicides that attracted attention in local communities or that had received widespread publicity in the media.
Mental health services have always suffered in terms of funding compared to specialities, treatments and conditions that are deemed to be more acute. However, access to mental health services for children and adolescents is a particular area of concern. Despite a higher number of suicides among teenagers, children and young people, they have had to wait for up to four years for an initial psychiatric assessment in the Province. In my constituency of North Antrim, the chief executive of Causeway Health and Social Services Trust confirmed that the waiting time for children who needed to see an occupational therapist was some 44 months. That is unacceptable in the twenty-first century.
Social and cultural factors have led to more young people requiring assessment. Drugs, sexual abuse and difficult domestic environments are also contributory factors. Many more behavioural conditions and autistic-spectrum disorders are now being diagnosed, and those numbers will continue to rise.
Planning for future resources must take into consideration the changing demands of this specialist field. We need to invest in more psychiatry staff — not only consultants, but junior medical staff, nurses, social workers, occupational therapists, psychologists and physiotherapists — for work with children and adolescents. Current resources are already overstretched.
I conclude by drawing to the attention of the House the impact that inadequate funding would have on some services. In my constituency, there is an excellent organisation, the Compass Advocacy Network, which is a self-help organisation for people with learning disabilities. Some time ago, I received correspondence from that organisation that underlies and underpins the importance of ensuring that there are adequate resources for such organisations. Unfortunately, such organisations face severe funding problems. If the Compass Advocacy Network did not exist, that would have an adverse impact in my constituency and, in particular, in Ballymoney. We raised that issue with Paul Goggins, the Minister with responsibility for health, social services and public safety, when he visited the organisation a few weeks ago. The correspondence states:
“Over 30 individuals would lose the opportunity to avail themselves of training opportunities/meaningful work placements within the Compass facilities;
These individuals would be forced to return to the generic provision of day care which is already over-stretched and bottle-necked and inappropriate for most individuals’ needs;
Over 240 group members would be unable to access an impartial advocacy service and would lose the social, recreational, support, confidence and empowerment benefits of being part of an independent group. They would also lose the information service”
— provided by organisations such as the Compass Advocacy Network —
“in relation to signposting, benefit information and family/carer support”.
That is only the beginning of the awful impact that losing the Compass Advocacy Network would have.
Madam Speaker, I support the motion.
Ms S Ramsey: Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.
Like other Members, I want to thank Kieran McCarthy for tabling today’s motion. I hope that he takes on board the amendment proposed by my colleagues. All Members who have already made a contribution to the debate have referred to, and highlighted, the issues of suicide and self-harm, so the amendment strengthens the motion.
In late 2002, the then Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Bairbre de Brún, launched a major review of mental health policy and, more importantly, mental health legislation. All the proper policies may be in place, but Departments will carry out their statutory duties only when legislation is enacted. Like other Members who have already spoken, in 2002 I was a member of the Committee on Health, Social Services and Public Safety. The Committee welcomed the Bamford Review, because members dealt with mental health issues all the time. The Committee went further and called for additional moneys to be made available immediately, in the interim, in order to deal with those issues.
People often talk about mental health provision and children’s services as being the Cinderella services of the Health Service. The Committee asked for moneys to be ring-fenced for those services, because, depending on the prevailing Health Service crises, money could have been taken away from mental health provision and children’s services to be spent elsewhere. I agree with Iris Robinson that much work remains to be done to ensure that mental health issues stay at the top of the agenda. The Bamford Review has achieved that and has even gone somewhat further.
I want to commend members of the Bamford Review team for the reports. Much work, time and energy was expended on the review, and we all have a duty to ensure that Professor Bamford’s legacy lives on by implementing all the recommendations as quickly as possible.
It is not possible to build good mental health simply by focusing on areas where there are problems and responding to them. Good mental health for our children and young people requires energy and investment in promoting mental health from birth. Just as good nutrition from birth helps to reduce rates of disease, that timescale applies to mental health. We must begin by ensuring that parents are informed and supported to allow them to give the their children the best chance of enjoying good mental health throughout their lives. That must not be overshadowed by the need for further investment at the sharp end of mental health services.
To properly implement the recommendations of the Bamford Review and to address mental health issues, emotional well-being must be promoted from birth onwards. To support that, we must ensure the provision of accessible, community-based services with expertise in promoting mental health. The infrastructure for delivering such services is already in place in many communities, and we should not lose sight of that. Many local community groups are doing positive work. That work can be developed further through the extended schools programme. However, as I said earlier, funding must be put in place to allow adequate staffing and training resources to be made available.
Many Members mentioned children’s and young people’s services. Children and young people, and their families, must be able to access the therapeutic services that they need within their local communities without experiencing long delays. My colleague Mervyn Storey highlighted some of the delays that people face. Waiting 44 months for an appointment is, in my view, unbelievable and should not happen in this day and age. We need also to balance statutory services with the role of the community and voluntary sectors in delivering early intervention and prevention services. In recognising the role that those sectors play, we must ensure that those services are funded from the outset.
As has been highlighted, many children who are referred to child and adolescent mental health services can wait from between 18 months to two years for an initial appointment. If some of those children could access community-based services quickly, they might not need psychiatric services and their difficulties would not worsen while they wait. If someone were to wait for four years for an appointment to see a dentist, his or her tooth would eventually need to come out.
Funding for level-one services should be a priority and must be the first strand in an overall funding strategy for mental health services. However, it is also crucial that further funding be made available for services at levels two, three and four. Long waiting times and the failure to provide the services required must be addressed as a matter of urgency. Simultaneous investment across all levels of services, both community and acute, is required if there is to be any impact on addressing current levels of mental health, as well as promoting emotional well-being.
I want to focus on those children who have learning difficulties. Assessing the type of mental health services that those young people need is often difficult. Experience tells us that the mental health of young people with learning difficulties is overlooked. For example, a young person with learning difficulties, who is also suffering from depression, will often have their depression overlooked as simply being an aspect of their overall condition. However, recognising depression as a specific condition for which a young person with a learning difficulty needs treatment can make a huge difference to his or her quality of life and ability to reach his or her full potential.
It is crucial that there is a clear recognition of mental health issues among young people with learning difficulties. It is vital that a mental health professional be included in multi-disciplinary teams to work with children and young people with learning difficulties.
All Members have mentioned the issues of suicide and self-harm. We are all aware of the tragic suicide rates, particularly in my constituency of West Belfast and in the North Belfast constituency. The fact that all Members have highlighted the problem of suicide shows that we need to take that issue on board. Indeed, that is why my colleagues tabled an amendment to the motion to ensure that, in the interim, we can tackle some of the issues that the Bamford Review raised.
The review was a huge undertaking and has made many recommendations to take forward mental health issues. It is crucial that a mechanism be established to monitor the outcomes of the recommendations. All too often, the best recommendations are made, but the real problem is in their monitoring and implementation and whether they prove to be effective in addressing mental health needs across the community. I support the amendment to the motion.
Mr McFarland: I commend Professors Bamford and McClelland, and their colleagues, on their report. Mental health has always been a Cinderella service throughout the United Kingdom, but, in Northern Ireland, it is an enormous ticking time bomb. The legacy of 30 years of conflict is beginning to show.
I am familiar with the work of Combat Stress, which is the Army’s mental health organisation. Each year sees former members of the regular Army, the UDR and the Royal Irish Regiment experience increased mental health problems due to their service in the Province. From my time on the Policing Board I know that former RUC members have similar difficulties. Post-traumatic stress and mental problems affect family life and can manifest themselves in alcohol abuse and in an inability to lead a normal, balanced life.
There is little new about this. All conflicts produce mental casualties. Shell shock was first observed during the First World War. In some cases it was considered to be a form of cowardice, until the might of medical opinion changed that. In the Second World War there were some who dealt with all of this more easily than others. It can increase with age; as you get older you have time to examine what you have gone through, and sometimes older people have much more difficulty as they start to dwell on the things that they have done in their lives.
I have spoken to both loyalists and republicans who were involved in the conflict. Both sides have similar problems with some of their activists. Whichever side you were on in the conflict, the medical services in Northern Ireland are going to have to pick up the tab for the last 30 years.
The Bamford Review proposals for improved medical care must be properly funded and put in place if we are to be ready for the coming increase in mental casualties of the Troubles. I commend the motion to the House.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Molloy] in the Chair)
Mr P Ramsey: I support the motion and the amendment.
This motion affects every constituency in the North. The Bamford Review is long overdue, and we should not delay in implementing its recommendations. There is now recognition on the part of the Government that we need to improve the standard of delivery of all our mental health services.
In my constituency, Foyle, we have one treatment facility for people with mental health difficulties. Gransha Hospital is an old-fashioned building with out-of-date wards and no special provision for young adults. It is not designed to treat people with complex mental health difficulties, and it is not meeting the needs of the people in the constituency. While funding has been announced for a new mental health crisis service at Gransha, we do not know the time frame for its delivery. The current crisis service is only for adults; yet again we have gaps in the service, with no provision for children and young people.
We have no provision for out-of-hours services between 1.00 am and 8.00 am for people with mental health difficulties and no support mechanisms for those with relatives threatening suicide or in need of specialist treatment. That should not be happening in our society. We should not be sending people who need advice, support and treatment home to wait for a community psychiatric nurse to come on duty in the morning.
Some months ago my child had to go to the health centre. There I met a friend who had taught me at the local technical college. He was in tears because his 21-year-old son could not get any support on a Sunday afternoon. The locums did not understand the situation. He had to wait until Monday, literally sitting on his son to prevent him from committing suicide.
We need the Government to devise an action plan for the implementation of the Bamford Review’s recommendations. We need specific dates for each action, and appropriate funding must be made available. It is time that the Government compensated for the years of underfunding of our mental health services and made a firm commitment to improving them. We cannot delay in implementing these recommendations. The current service provision in my constituency is appalling and cannot continue.
At this time of year the support that those suffering from depression and mental illness desperately require should be available. I dread to think about the availability of psychiatric nurses and out-of-hours services over the Christmas holidays. Christmas should be a time of rest and relaxation. This time last year, a neighbour of mine, who had been struggling, went into the River Foyle. We have difficulties in Derry with people jumping into the river for whatever reason. It took a month for that man’s body to be found.
Today, another family waits for news of a son. He went into the river two weeks ago, but his body has still not been recovered. Suicide brings a legacy of trauma to families.
For some families this time of year will be filled with worry and stress. Those families may have to support someone who has mental health difficulties, and they may have to do so without the help of statutory agencies. Let this Christmas be the last that those people with mental health difficulties have to rely on their families and friends. I demand that the Government step up and meet the challenge of reforming our mental health services.
Members have spoken passionately about mental health difficulties and compassionately about those who suffer as a result. Sometimes when we are preparing for these debates, we wonder whether permanent secretaries will take note of them, or whether the Secretary of State will, by right, direct Departments to take appropriate action. Judging from the comments of Members in this debate, it is clear that politicians in Northern Ireland are saying that enough is enough. I sincerely hope that the Secretary of State will properly recognise that, particularly where this subject is concerned.
Dr McCrea: I congratulate Mr McCarthy on tabling the motion. He has performed an excellent service in allowing this matter to be brought before the House.
I also have considerable sympathy with the wording of the second amendment. “Adequate financial and other resources” are essential ingredients that the House should consider seriously, and those words are appropriate additions to the motion.
I come to this debate with no specialist knowledge. I have no experience in those professional fields — such as psychology — with which the motion deals. However, I speak to the motion from a pastoral position, having experienced the solemn and sad realities of what it is like for those plagued with the tragedy of mental health difficulties. I have often said to people that if they have never experienced the pain of mental health problems, they ought to get down on their knees and thank God. Other sicknesses can be understood, and although people give easy solutions such as, “Pull yourself together”, they may as well drive a dagger into the hearts of those who suffer. Had it been possible, those people would have pulled themselves together already. They feel that they are consumed by an illness that they cannot understand. If a person has a gash or a broken leg, the doctor will prescribe the medication or treatment that is necessary to cure it. In the same way, people with mental health problems can understand the healing process, but they cannot understand the depths of what is happening to them. Their lives are changed completely.
Some Members have talked about suicide without embarrassment and without apparent consciousness of what causes it. As far as this House is concerned, the terrorism of the past 35 years drove many of our people to suicide. That has left a tragic mark on society that will take years to heal.
A great deal of emphasis has been put on mental health problems. I want to deal, however, with those aspects of the Bamford Review that deal with learning disabilities. The Member for South Belfast Carmel Hanna will remember that when she was Minister for Employment and Learning, I led a delegation of concerned parents from across the community in Northern Ireland to discuss with her the important issue of learning disabilities. Since then, we have kept the group together and extended it. We have met regularly with Mr McClelland and with others, and we have also met with the departmental group that the Member for South Belfast set up. We have met on numerous occasions, and we continue to meet because, five years later, we are not much further down the road.
It is absolutely necessary to tackle moderate and severe learning disabilities.I was first faced with the reality of this situation when I met two mothers and a father. They were concerned about where their severely disabled children would be placed when they reached 19 years of age and were put out of what is the best provision for children with special needs in Northern Ireland — special schools where they receive excellent, A1 provision. Those facilities, whether in Magherafelt, Antrim, Newtownabbey or other parts of the Province, give provision that is second to none. Parents tell me constantly that their children receive the best possible help, education and assistance up to the age of 19. However, when the children reach that magical age there is nothing available for them.
Mrs D Kelly: I thank the Member for giving way. Does he agree that although the best provision is still available, there is a chronic underfunding of therapeutic services and that many children in special schools are denied that service because of lengthy waiting lists?
Dr McCrea: I accept the Member’s point. Children receive that service until they are 18. However, once they reach their nineteenth birthday, even though their mental capacity and learning ability may remain that of a five-, six- or seven-year-old, they are told that their education is finished. It is a crime and it is inhumane. My heart goes out to their parents. They are told that their children — if they can get a place — will be put into an adult centre along with 60-year-olds. Those young people will sit in a corner and fossilise — if they are fortunate.
I met the Member for South Belfast, who was in the Executive at the time, and brought a group of people who had been told that there were no places for their children. Those children had received provision until they were 19, and then they were told that there was nothing available for them — even in an adult centre, which would have been totally inappropriate. I salute the adult centres; they provide appropriate provision for the appropriate age. However, they do not provide for a young person of 19 years of age with a mental capacity of a seven-year-old.
I brought those parents to see the then Minister because they were at wits’ end corner. They had been told that their children had received provision until they were 19 and that they might be offered a place in an adult centre. However, they were told that no places were available and that their children would have to sit at home until some provision could be found. The mother of one of the children was a single parent trying to hold down a job to give as much as she could to her child. She was at wits’ end corner. An official from the Department asked her whose child she wanted to put out of the adult centre so that her child could have a place. The mother did not want to put any person out; she simply wanted some provision for her child — as any mother would.
There is not only inadequate provision for 19-year-old children: there is no provision. This society had better realise that the human rights of those young people are being completely denied, and if Govern-ment do not do something about it, those people should have recourse to the courts to establish their rights.
What other child of seven would be told that their education is finished? Not one. Society says that there should be lifelong learning. There was, and is, a weakness in the former Department of the Member for South Belfast. Its emphasis is not on learning: it is on employ-ment. Many of those young people will never be employed, as they have severe physical and learning difficulties. If people are unemployable, they are cast onto the heap and no provision is made for them.
It is an absolutely scandalous disgrace that any Government in the twenty-first century regards it as progress to tell a child who has the mental capacity of a seven-year-old that their education has finished and that no more is available for them.
Given that special schools cater for people up to the ages of 18 and 19, such schools ought to exist for older people. If a child who goes through primary education reaches 11 years of age, they naturally progress into the next stage of education, and into the next and so on — that is what is called lifelong learning. However, children with learning disabilities are not given that opportunity.
We must change our mindset about the matter. That is why I support the second amendment, which states that the review has to be:
“supported by adequate financial and other resources.”
I ask the Assembly to support our young people and those who cannot speak for themselves. I reject the first amendment because it puts the matter on the long finger. The Government must take its responsibilities seriously by starting the job right now.
Mr Shannon: Given today’s speeches, there is no doubt that everyone is passionate about the issue and that everyone can give an example of someone whom they know who needs help. The Bamford Review has been long overdue, and its findings are in no way surprising. Its recommendations range from dealing with those who suffer in the community as a result of mental illness, to those who suffer in hospitals, to those serving custodial sentences, and to those who are institutionalised.
Paul Goggins said that the system needs major modernisation, and he has announced the creation of the post of director for mental health and learning disability. The creation of that post is one of the report’s recommendations. Although that innovation is welcome, it reflects the necessity to have a driving force that will lend a degree of permanence.
Mr Adams: On a point of order. The Member who spoke previously said that the first amendment put those measures on the long finger. However, the first amendment actually says that:
“extra financial invest-ment in services as identified by the Bamford Review”
“included in the discussions for a financial package for a new Executive”.
The amendment also calls for the “immediate implementation” —
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. That is not a point of order. However, Members will vote on the amendment later.
Mr Shannon: There is a clear need for increased cross-sector collaboration and partnership between different Departments, especially the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Department of Education.
Mental health statistics for Northern Ireland are shockingly frightening, and everyone has mentioned them today. One in four people in the Province is affected by a mental illness at some stage of their lives. Of those who claim incapacity benefit, a third do so under the heading of mental illness, and the number of adults who suffer as a result of mental illness is 20% higher than on the mainland. Indeed, my colleague Dr McCrea has commented on that point.
There is also the noteworthy fact that those who suffer as a result of mental illness have the lowest employment rate among all disabled people. In 2003, over £44 million was spent on psychiatric drugs, in comparison with the £25·4 million that was spent on community health services. That shows a clear over-dependence on suppressing the effects of mental illness rather than curing the problem. That is not to say that I wish to see medication halted or decreased; rather, I support the recommendations to promote positive intervention and positive mental health needs.
Mental health professionals and charitable institutions alike have called for the funding that is allocated to mental health services in the Province to be doubled. Currently, £100 million is spent on those services. The time has come to move towards a more responsive care-and-treatment package in which GPs and community teams work in tandem to give effective counselling and personal support in an attempt to reduce dependency on medication.
To achieve that, more psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health workers need to work together. They must be dedicated to integrating their patients back into society. That will lessen the burden on carers and families and will enable sufferers of mental ill health to work and have a positive influence on our society.
The appointment of more trained anorexia or bulimia professionals is one area that should be considered. There is anger and helplessness when we recall the story of the 17-year-old girl who was starving herself to death in the Ulster Hospital because she was held firmly in the grip of anorexia, which is a mental illness. Nothing could be done to help her. Her family had attempted everything, including getting help from specialists who suggested that she should go to England, where she would be at the bottom of the waiting list for such help. That area has been overlooked, and it is time that we considered it.
Over 1,700 people in the Province are suffering from anorexia; many more suffer from bulimia, but there are no specialist centres here to deal with those conditions. That is a major issue to be addressed in the area of mental illness. The disorders can affect children as young as seven, and if the recommended positive and early intervention measures were implemented, it might mean that the scourge of eating disorders would be addressed rather than ignored and swept under the carpet.
The report cites the need for reform in the spheres of education, employment, training, housing and social security, and the Government Departments must begin to work together to promote good mental health and to do all in their power to re-integrate those who are ill into society instead of adopting the previous mantra of medicate and redesignate.
Mrs I Robinson: Does the Member agree that Daisy’s Cafe at the Ards Hospital in the Strangford constituency is a model of employment — in fact, a centre of excellence — for people who have special needs and learning disabilities? There, young people over the age of 19 are trained in catering, and they enjoy employment in serving and cooking. Does the Member agree that it is a wonderful role model that should be rolled out across the Province and one that people should visit with a view to emulating in their own areas?
Mr Shannon: I thank the Member for her inter-vention, and I certainly agree with her. It is a place that I attend regularly, and most Members from the Strangford area will also have done so. It helps young people and gives them an opportunity that, perhaps, they are not getting elsewhere.
The Bamford Review deserves full credit for its full and clear recommendations, but there are many areas in which it does not go far enough. Too often in my constituency — for which Iris Robinson is also a representative — I have not only seen how individuals are affected by having a learning difficulty or mental illness, but how their families are affected, and those effects are exacerbated by a lack of support for them.
One must not forget about the elderly people who have mental illnesses. The Bamford Review states that by 2018 there will be a 50% increase in the number of older people in society. If those numbers are applied to the area that my colleague Iris Robinson and I represent, they show that our constituency will require approximately 150 beds that we do not have. Help and support are required now. There are presently 14 people in my constituency who do not have accommodation. They are still in hospital, and they need to get out. That is another issue that must be addressed, and the Bamford Review clearly sets out other areas that need to be tackled.
The role of carers is taken for granted, and their needs are overlooked. That must also be examined. The responsibility borne by a carer often leads to depression and mental exhaustion, and that leads to illness. Statistics recorded by Mencap show that 50% of carers suffer from ill health, and, more worryingly, 80% of families feel close to breaking point. I have spoken to some of those families and carers, and there is obviously a problem with their situations that must be addressed.
That matter should fall firmly within the remit of the mental health and learning disabilities forum, and, as we seek to renovate the current system, it should be addressed. Cross-departmental co-operation will be a great aid in combating that problem. For instance, if the social worker of a child with autism were to notice that the mother was depressed, there should be a clear system to advocate the speedy provision of care and respite in an attempt to halt the progression of depression.
The more information on a patient that is com-municated to relevant Departments, the more the patient’s welfare will benefit. For instance, when a child with Down’s syndrome finishes school, there should be an open door from the education system to the next step in what should be a fully resourced and individually tailored training programme in the training network. It should be the aim of the training network to find work in which a young adult will be happy and in which he or she will benefit the community and his or her family.
That system may seem simple to many, but the practicalities of such a system require money, time and dedication, and it is hoped that the new post that has been created will go some distance in achieving that. The onus on achieving that lies with the newly appointed director and Ministers, and I call on them to speedily implement the findings of the Bamford Review and to take on board the wider mental health and learning disability issues that should be addressed.
The Bamford Review has clearly illustrated that the key to improved service lies within communication and individual assessment of needs. A much stronger support network must be made available, not only to the sufferer, but to the family, and those needs must be immediately attended to and not hindered by needless red tape and bureaucracy.
The co-operation of the planning department is required to ensure that beds are set aside for the elderly, mentally-infirmed patients. It is wrong that the planning department can obstruct the provision of those beds when the opportunities for them to be provided do exist. A more flexible and sympathetic understanding from the department would enable those beds to be realised in other areas of my constituency. I support the motion.
Mr Deputy Speaker: I call Mrs Carmel Hanna to give her winding-up speech on the second amendment.
Mrs Hanna: I also commend the initiative from the Member for Strangford Mr McCarthy in tabling the motion. I support both amendments. At the outset, I want to mention that Prof David Bamford, who was originally appointed to chair the review, sadly died before the work was complete. His deputy, Prof Roy McClelland, ably took forward the task. Both those men, and all the participants on the steering committee and members of the expert working committee, have shown great commitment and dedication.
A strength of the Bamford Review is its compre-hensiveness. Its reports cover all aspects of mental health and learning disability, including human rights and equality, forensic services, child and adolescent mental health, mental health promotion, alcohol and substance misuse, ‘Equal Lives’ learning disability and adult mental health services. I hope that the two largest political parties can resolve their differences on the acceptance of power sharing and of signing up to a lawful society in order to enable the Assembly to get on with the real business for which it was elected — to govern Northern Ireland and, indeed, to implement the strategies of the Bamford Review.
Nothing is more important than protecting the most vulnerable in society — those who are mentally ill and those who have learning disabilities. As a member of the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health’s all-party Assembly group, I have appreciated the opportunity to work with, and learn from, other elected representatives, service users and carers.
Just as we all have accepted the vision of a National Health Service that embraces the promotion of positive health rather than a service that treats ill health and picks up the pieces, mental well-being must be positively promoted, encouraged and protected. Mental and physical well-being are inseparable; there cannot be one without the other.
As a social democrat, the belief that everyone in society needs a helping hand sometimes is at the core of my political philosophy. Few of us get through life without a challenge. Mental ill health should not be treated differently to physical ill health. No stigma is attached to cancer. The vast majority of people face times in their lives when they cannot cope, so why should anyone be reluctant to acknowledge that?
The Bamford Review states that mental ill health affects one person in four and costs an estimated 3% to 4% of gross domestic product (GDP), yet that statistic is understated. Many people in our community are embarrassed about their situation and tough it out because of the fear of admitting to vulnerability. That is a very human and understandable trait. However, we must open the window and let the daylight in on that situation, so that openness towards mental health becomes as societally acceptable as it is for physical health. Next month, the mental health charity Rethink will launch a month-long campaign to try to unpick that stigma, and much more.
We live in a competitive society with unprecedented pressures, particularly on young people. The pressures of consumerism and the fixation on youth and appearance are all around us. Human beings are more than that, however: we are citizens. We must re-establish core values that respect the dignity, integrity and autonomy of the individual human being. Members are aware of the high incidence of suicide, especially among young men. The figures are horrifying, especially when one thinks about the young people and their families. A suicide prevention strategy is in place that works with bereaved relatives and community workers and, indeed, provides GP-awareness training. However, the challenge highlights the need for a joined-up service and more appropriately trained personnel.
The proposed resourcing of modernisation and reform has significant capital and revenue investment implications, which many Members have mentioned. The health budget already accounts for 43% of Government spend. However, additional core funding is absolutely essential if the priorities listed in the Bamford Review are to be addressed.
It is well documented that taking positive action and applying resources as soon as a problem is identified can avoid a much greater spend later, and that applies particularly to health issues. Per head of population, funding for mental health services in Northern Ireland is far behind that in Great Britain. That shortfall is compounded by the well-documented fact that there is more mental health illness in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain. The motion rightly mentions cross-departmental responsibilities; the health budget cannot be expected to take all the strain.
I welcome the assurances that Paul Goggins, the Minister with responsibility for health, social services and public safety, gave in a letter to me. He said that strengthening mental health and learning disability services in response to the Bamford Review has been identified as the number one priority for the forthcoming comprehensive spending review. However, it is up to all of us to ensure that adequate resources accompany that prioritisation.
I also welcome the decision to appoint an independent chairman — a champion for mental health — to head a cross-sectoral, cross-departmental directorate.
The Bamford Review, and its various strands, is extraordinarily wide ranging. The Bamford Review’s all-embracing nature, which makes it very exciting, innovative and life enhancing, also makes it a challenge to implement. We must remain focused on the vision and the big picture, but leadership and teamwork at provider level are also crucial. Modern-isation and reform depend on changes to existing systems and practices, and new partnerships must be developed between the statutory and voluntary sectors. Appropriate cross-sector working must be cultivated.
Making social inclusion a reality requires those bodies with responsibility for education, housing, employment, leisure, and health and social services to be fully committed and involved. That would really be joined-up government with a vengeance. Given that our small, intimate society has a population of only 1·7 million and that, unlike in Great Britain, health and social services are already integrated in Northern Ireland, the review presents us with a real opportunity — provided the goodwill, commitment, positivity and energy are there to make it work.
It will involve a culture change across all disciplines. We must develop new ways of working and build on international best practice. We need to challenge traditional ways of doing things and think of imaginative and creative ways to involve support staff, volunteers, users and carers. Working in the mental health field is challenging, and we must retain our excellent staff. Training opportunities must be maximised.
A more holistic approach is needed. For example, should a GP find that he or she has no community psychiatric nurse to whom to refer a patient, and that the consultant’s list is at least a year long, he or she is most likely to prescribe drugs to the patient rather than take a more holistic approach.
In particular, people with a learning disability must be valued as citizens and be empowered to use mains-tream services so that they can be fully included, as of right, in the life of the community. That can happen only if there is a genuine commitment on all our parts to work proactively at all levels of society to include the learning disabled as equals — in schools and in employment, and where housing issues are concerned. They must be able to participate actively in decisions that affect their lives. That requires families and carers to be supported to enable the learning disabled to take managed risks and to lead more independent lives.
There are 180,000 carers in Northern Ireland; 7% care for somebody with mental health needs, and a further 15% care for someone with mental and physical health needs. Carers and family members are usually the first, and sometimes the only, source of support for a person with mental health problems, especially in Northern Ireland.
We should help to build support networks to decrease the loneliness and isolation experienced by people with mental health problems and those who care for and support them. The National Health Service could not survive financially without carers.
Mr Deputy Speaker: Will the Member draw her remarks to a close?
Mrs Hanna: Much will revolve around how we imagine ourselves as a society. Large sections of our community have been brutalised by the past 30 years. We must build a civic and caring society and re-examine our values and our attitudes to alcohol and drugs. We need to recreate a sense of community.
Mr Deputy Speaker: The Member’s time is up. I call Mr John O’Dowd to make the winding-up speech on the first amendment.
Mr O’Dowd: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
I thank the proposer for tabling the motion. Kieran McCarthy and I have worked together on the Bamford Review and Action Mental Health in its monthly briefings and in lobbying Ministers on the review.
When Bairbre de Brún said in October 2002, a LeasCheann Comhairle, that there would be a major review of mental healthcare and learning disabilities in the North of Ireland, she made it clear that the review would be carried out with a strong user focus, including user and carer representation on the main steering groups that would oversee the work. She announced that Prof David Bamford of the University of Ulster would chair the review.
The background against which the review was commissioned was one of historic and grossly inadequate psychiatric care, with treatment limited at times to drug therapy, often without any regard to diagnosis. There was a scarcity of acute and psychiatric beds, a lack of options of therapy, and there were Victorian facilities, one of which I visited. In my 10 years as an elected representative it was the most depressing place that I have ever been in. The facilities in which long-term mental healthcare patients were kept were disgraceful. The only good aspect was the determination and commitment of the staff to do all in their power for their patients.
Recently, I visited excellent facilities in our health system, but, unfortunately, they are the exception rather than the rule. The provision of mental health services to adults, children and adolescents throughout the island of Ireland has proven to be inadequate — one in every four Irish people is expected to suffer some form of mental illness. Psychiatric services for children and adolescents remain scandalously under-resourced and underprovided for in every part of Ireland. Many children are deprived of psychiatric treatment due to a lack of inpatient beds, while services for adolescents have been totally unsatisfactory.
In the intervening period since the then Minister de Brún announced the various expert working committees and task forces involved in the review of mental health and learning disability, including service users and carers, under the guidance and leadership of Prof Bamford, the professor set about a momentous task with diligence and professionalism. The work of the committees was extremely wide-ranging, as demonstrated by even the most cursory description that I can give here of the working groups’ remits.
The learning disability working group reviewed policy and services for children and adults with learning disabilities; the adult mental health working group examined primary care provision, acute services, rehabilitation and community care for adults with mental health problems; the social justice and citizenship working group considered relative legislation and other requirements particularly related to human rights, discrimination and equality of opportunity; the legal issues group reviewed the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986; and the Mental Health Commission and the Mental Health Review Tribunal examined issues relating to people who cannot look after their own property and affairs as a result of mental ill health. Added to these are the equally important working groups that examined mental health promotion, child and adolescent mental health, dementia and the mental health issues of older people, alcohol and substance misuse and forensic services.
These working groups sought to address and correct the lack of proper service provision and the absence of much needed assistance and lack of access to professional healthcare when such help was initially needed. However, it had long been recognised that early interventions are especially important for people with mental health problems, particularly the young.
Mental-health provision is a much-neglected area of the Health Service. In recent years, funding for mental-health provision has fallen behind other more media-friendly and politically popular health and education services such as the acute sector. Before the Bamford Review, no service framework was in place to deal with mental ill health, and no attempt had been made to implement a mental-health promotion strategy. Child and adolescent mental-health services were similarly underdeveloped.
The stigma that was wrongfully attached to the subject meant that service users with a mental-health difficulty or a learning disability and their carers were often not in a position to exercise their grievances in the same public manner as those, for example, who used accident and emergency (A&E) departments. In short, successive direct-rule Ministers believed that they could put the needs of those with mental health difficulties or learning disabilities on the back burner because not as many voices were shouting loudly enough.
Thanks to the work of Prof David Bamford, his colleagues, and all those service users and carers who participated in the review, that is no longer the case. Sadly, David Bamford, for whom my party and I had great respect, died before this work could be completed. Prof Roy McClelland ably took on the leadership of the review, but the publication of the various reports cannot be allowed to be the end of the review process. Instead, their publication must be viewed as an opport-unity for a new beginning. For that new beginning to take root and to impact positively on people’s lives, the question of resources must be addressed. That is why my party decided to table its amendment. The amend-ment has not been tabled in an attempt to usurp or under-mine the motion but to strengthen and develop it further.
Prof Bamford recognised the need for additional resources to be provided, when, in December 2004, he wrote an open letter to direct-rule Minister Ian Pearson, specifically asking that money be ring-fenced to allow the review’s recommendations to be implemented. David Bamford described how, despite the best efforts of staff, many current services were at, or near, crisis point. Pro rata by population, at least £50 million should have been allocated to specific mental-health services in the North between 1999 and 2006. No such allocations were made, however, despite £1·25 billion being allocated in the same period to similar services in England, Scotland and Wales.
Lest anyone be mistaken, Sinn Féin believes that remedial action is needed to deal with the situation on an all-Ireland basis, North and South. My party has previously proposed that an all-Ireland implementation body be set up as a matter of urgency to deal with the appalling neglect of mental-health provision, which neither health Department, North or South, has succeeded in addressing. A new all-Ireland imple-mentation body to deal with mental-health issues across the country would constitute one of the most progressive achievements for the new incoming power-sharing Executive and all-Ireland institutions. I accept, however, that that issue is not the one that we are debating, and it is not immediately related to the motion or to our amendment.
The harsh reality facing the Assembly today is that about 29% of households in the North are defined as being poor, with a further 21% considered to be vulnerable to poverty, owing to low income. Half of all those households include at least one family member with a long-term illness or disability. Those are the people who suffer most from the underfunding of mental-health or learning-disability provision. Those are the real people and families experiencing the sharp edge of health inequality.
The problems confronting the Health Service and general public health in the Six Counties are the legacy of years of underinvestment and neglect by successive British Governments. It will take a substantial effort to recover the situation, but that can be achieved if the political will is there. This Assembly can demonstrate the potential of that political will today by making our amendment.
Just as the Assembly called with one voice for the rejection of water charges and greater investment in our economy, it should speak with one voice today to call for greater investment in our mental-health and learning-disability services. The negative impact of the Northern Ireland budget on mental-health and learning-disability provision has had a profoundly adverse effect on the quality of life of a substantial section of our community. There is in the wider community, however, a recognition, which our direct-rule Ministers obviously do not share, of the need to provide access to mainstream health and social services provision and education for people with a mental-health difficulty or learning disability.
One of the Bamford Review’s publicly stated goals was to anchor its recommendations in a broad financial and economic context. That is what our amendment is about. By making our amendment, this Assembly, through the Committee on the Programme for Govern-ment, can show that all parties have the political will to ensure that the required extra financial investment in service provision, as identified by the Bamford Review, will be included in discussions for a financial package for a new Executive.
If we are to treat the work of the Bamford Review seriously, ensuring delivery of those resources in order to bring about an effective, all-encompassing service provision will be the touchstone of our collective political ability. Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
Mr McCarthy: I thank all the Members who supported the motion. It is clear that mental health and learning disability issues affect every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland, and every Member who spoke today showed real concern about that.
The Bamford Review has been the most important and far-reaching inquiry into mental health and learning disabilities that Northern Ireland has ever seen, and it contains vital information and road maps for the way forward. Members wish to give their best for the people of Northern Ireland in relation to mental health and learning disability. I have no problem with the second amendment, although I do have some con-cerns about the first. At this time, there are Ministers who can take immediate action in relation to what Members have discussed, whereas the Programme for Government Committee is just that — a Programme for Government Committee, with no powers.
In relation to suicide and self-harm —
Mr O’Dowd: I wish to clarify that the Sinn Féin amendment in no way stops the Assembly from lobbying the Ministers who are in a position to act. The amendment is a continuation of that work, and ensures that the next Executive have the finance to work for it. Sinn Féin is not saying that the Minister should not be lobbied for those resources.
Mr McCarthy: Suicide and self-harm, which are referred to in amendment No 1, are vital and important, but it is not on. It would be wrong for me to speak against amendment No 1, because in the Portaferry and Kircubbin area of my constituency, we have suffered through suicide and self-harm, and I do not wish to oppose anything that might bring benefits to those people. I ask that we join together —
Mrs D Kelly: I thank my colleague from Upper Bann Mr O’Dowd for his clarity in relation to ongoing and present lobbying for resources. In our amendment, we were trying to say that it should be immediate. Given that understanding, I am happy to seek the leave of the House to withdraw my amendment in favour of the other amendment and the composite motion.
Amendment No 2, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr McCarthy: I am glad that we are all in agreement. This issue affects us all and transcends all boundaries, classes, colours and creeds. If the Assembly can agree on the way forward to provide for and implement the Bamford Review at the earliest possible moment, then it will have contributed enormously to the mental health and well-being of all the people in Northern Ireland.
Question, That amendment No 1 be made, put and agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this Assembly accepts the findings of the Bamford Review of Mental Health and Learning Disability (Northern Ireland) and calls on the Ministers responsible for all appropriate departments to take immediate steps to implement its recommendations; calls on the Programme for Government Committee to ensure that the required extra financial investment in services as identified by the Bamford Review is included in the discussions for a financial package for a new Executive; and further calls for the full resourcing and immediate implementation of all the recommendations of the Bamford Review in relation to suicide and self harm.
Adjourned at 3.54 pm.