HC Deb 06 July 1953 vol 517 cc992-1022

10.11 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Bing (Hornchurch)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Defence Regulations (No. 4) Order, 1953 (S.I., 1953, No. 885), dated 28th May, 1953, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th May, be annulled. I daresay that there are many hon. Members who do not know what this all refers to. [Laughter.] I notice that hon. Members opposite laugh, but the reason is quite obvious. It is because hon. Gentlemen opposite arranged for this important announcement to be made not here, but in the Parliament of Northern Ireland. The object of this Order is to revoke all building controls so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. That is obviously a matter of some seriousness for the people of this country and it is, therefore, worth while reading what was said in regard to the matter in Northern Ireland by the Minister of Finance, presumably—no doubt that is one of the things we shall hear tonight—after consultation with hon. Gentlemen opposite.

On 5th May, he said: I have been concerned to observe the continued high level of unemployment in the building trade, and it has seemed to me that here was perhaps the field in which, if restrictions were removed, the private citizen could do more without the Government doing less. I know that this was the view of my predecessor who had initiated discussions with the Minister of Works in Great Britain on this question. Accordingly, I pursued the question with the Minister, Mr. Eccles, and also with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am glad to tell the Committee that it has now been agreed that all building restrictions under Defence Regulation 56A shall be removed in Northern Ireland as soon as the necessary statutory instruments have been prepared and approved by Parliament at Westminster. I should emphasise that this decision is confined to Northern Ireland and has been taken in view of the unemployment situation here." That was, of course, Northern Ireland, whereupon, as in duty bound, all the Members of the Northern Ireland House shouted, "Hear, hear."

We ought first of all to consider the amount of unemployment in Northern Ireland. It is an interesting figure to consider, because it is the result of 30 years of continuous Conservative rule. That is the one place where the party opposite have been in power, without any coalition or anything else, and have succeeded in raising unemployment to a figure of 9 per cent. If there were a similar figure throughout the whole of Great Britain it would mean that we should have a total of unemployed of somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1,900,000. But, very fortunately, policies have been pursued here somewhat different from those pursued in Northern Ireland and we have not yet found ourselves in the same situation.

The unemployment figures in Northern Ireland have always been a pointer towards the figures here. When we consider a remedy for unemployment in Northern Ireland we ought to consider whether it is a suitable remedy or whether in fact we should get the same sort of difficulties as we should get here. In matters of this sort it is proper and right that we should be fair to the Northern Ireland Government and point out the sort of difficulties with which they have had to contend. While there was a Labour Government in this country it was possible to keep the unemployment figures in Northern Ireland under some degree of control. In 1949 there were only 30,000. In 1950 there were only 26,900 and in 1951 only 28,500. In the first year of a Conservative Government, under the remarkable combination of a Conservative Government in Northern Ireland and a Conservative Government in this country, the unemployment figures shot up to 48,300. In other words, the result was that the figures were practically doubled. At present the figure is 9 per cent. as compared with 3.3 per cent. in Scotland and 3.5 per cent. in Wales.

So far as we can see, the only remedy which could be thought of for this unemployment situation was to do away with all control over building; in other words to restore the sort of situation which had previously existed in Northern Ireland. One of the questions that the House ought to ask before deciding whether or not to suggest that this Order should be annulled is what, in fact, in the years when there were no controls in Northern Ireland, was the housing achieved? I hope that when the Minister replies he will give the up-to-date figures. The only figures I know are those published by the Northern Ireland Government, and they are only up to 1944. They are always a little behind-hand in view of the type of Government they have.

The document is Command Paper 224 from the Northern Ireland House. It was the Interim Report of the Planning Advisory Board. It refers to conditions of nearly 10 years ago, after only 22 years of Tory rule. At that period the deficiency of housing in Northern Ireland was 30.2 per cent. The deficiency varied considerably. One of the curious features was that it varied on a religious basis. In the area which happened to be most Protestant, Antrim, it happened to be only 28 per cent., but in the Roman Catholic area of Tyrone and Fermanagh it was 53 per cent.

In Belfast the situation is even more remarkable. The deficiency of housing in the whole area of Belfast was 37.2 per cent. but in the Smithfield ward, the poorest ward and the most Roman Catholic, it was 76.3 per cent. In the next most Roman Catholic ward—that of Falls—it was 62.1 per cent. and in Dock it was 54 per cent. That may have nothing to do with the matter. It may all have been altered since then, but that is what we want to know from the Minister. Have these deficiencies of housing, revealed in the Government's own report, been put right? No doubt we shall be told and then the House will decide whether or not to divide on this question.

The suggestion from the Northern Ireland side is that the only way to cure Northern Ireland's unemployment problem is to revoke all the building Regulations and restrictions and the machinery for preventing luxury building. Before deciding on that drastic remedy the House ought to consider whether there are not other remedies possible. I want to mention two possible remedies, one of which I know will appeal more to hon. Gentlemen opposite and the other of which will find more sympathy on this side of the House.

In Northern Ireland there is no conscription. That is one of the reasons why there may be more people unemployed. If there ever was a remedy which appeals to hon. Gentlemen opposite for getting rid of the unemployed it was to conscript men. I am only sorry that it is the refusal to indulge in party politics which has prevented the Orange Lodges petitioning for this remedy.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

There is nothing about conscription in this Order.

Mr. Bing

With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you had the misfortune not to be in the Chair when I was reading the passage which dealt with this matter from the speech of the Minister of Finance in the Northern Ireland Parliament. The argument used—and I agree that just because an argument has been used by a Minister it does not mean that it is either applicable or indeed sense—but the fact that it was so used——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Even if it was neither, it might not be in order here.

Mr. Bing

With great respect, what was in fact proposed was that these Regulations should be revoked by this Parliament in order to enable unemployment to be cured in Northern Ireland.

It was said by the Minister of Finance: I should emphasise that this decision is confined to Northern Ireland and has been taken in view of the unemployment situation here. Therefore, before we take a decision based on unemployment in Northern Ireland, we are entitled to suggest that there may be some other methods of curing unemployment there.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think we may suggest them, but to go into detailed methods would be out of order.

Mr. Bing

I note that there have been no representations from the Orange lodges on this matter, and they did not suggest that conscription was one of the methods.

Now I come to another matter, that of the school leaving age in Northern Ireland, and the suggestion that it should be fixed at the same age as it is here. The school leaving age here is 15, as against 14, and one of the reasons why it is difficult for people in Northern Ireland to get work is that they are competing with people who have had the opportunity of a better education. It is not their fault that they have been deprived of education, but the fault of the Government they have got, and it may well be not only advisable, not only more moral, but cheaper as well, to give greater education in Northern Ireland, and not just revoke the application of Defence Regulation 56A.

I hope that, when the Joint Under-Secretary replies, he will tell us exactly how luxury building in Northern Ireland will help in this matter. When, previously, this freedom to build as much as was desired existed, no building was, in fact, done other than luxury building. If we look at the Interim Report, which is practically the Bible on this matter, we see that one of the major provisions for providing houses in Ireland was the application of the Irish Labourers Act, 1883. If one looks to see what comment was made by one of the most experienced Northern Ireland politicians—Mr. Edmond Warnock—we find that he points out that in Fermanagh no houses were built under this Act since 1912.

If, in fact, no houses are to be built for people who need them, how is unemployment to be relieved by revoking the Regulations and by building houses for people who do not need them? Has the political situation and the economic situation in Northern Ireland become so bad that we have to apply this special sort of remedy, or will the Government revoke the Regulations in respect of Liverpool? The degree of unemployment in Liverpool is 4.4. If they had a school leaving age of 14 and no conscription, they might well have an unemployment rate of 9.0. Why should people in Liverpool be penalised because they serve in the Armed Forces and go to school until they are 15? What question of principle animates the Government in this particular matter?

If we are to have houses built, we must get rid of this religious attitude towards those who are to occupy them. Mr. Teevan, who used to sit for a Northern Ireland seat in this House, remarked on one occasion that he must attack the treacherous policy of giving houses to Roman Catholics, but the houses that are given to Roman Catholics may well have been built for Protestants.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I do not think there is anything here about who should occupy them.

Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

Oh, but surely.

Mr. Bing

I do not think we ought to have this attitude towards houses based on a matter of religion, on the one side or the other. It is no use revoking the building Regulations if a policy is to be pursued internally which will deprive people of houses on all sorts of other grounds.

The real answer to Northern Ireland's problem of chronic unemployment has nothing whatever to do with building, and cannot be cured by fancy building of various sorts. It can only be cured by paying proper attention to what is the basic industry of Northern Ireland, that is, agriculture. But, even when hon. Members opposite get up and speak about it, the reply of the Minister is so vague that it is even noticed as being vague in the Northern Ireland papers, and, my goodness, they have had experience of vagueness from their own Ministers over the years, so that is a standard on which we congratulate the right hon. Gentleman opposite on achieving.

What is required is not this piecemeal approach to this problem. It should be realised that Northern Ireland is a special problem, that, after all, the expenses incurred by the Government there are ultimately met by the taxpayer here. I think I speak for all my hon. Friends on this side of the House when I say that if it meant a slightly larger contribution from Great Britain so that the school-leaving age in Northern Ireland could be raised, we would be in favour of it. What we are not in favour of is that there should be a sudden shifting to Northern Ireland of all the materials which may be required here for building miners' houses, for factories in areas where we need further development, and everything else, just because they have a Government who have proved themselves incapable for 30 years of dealing with their own unemployment problem.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)

I beg to second the Motion.

I have only a few sentences to add to what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has said in so ably moving the Motion. It is rather a surprising thing that this is the first debate that we have had in my recollection on unemployment in Northern Ireland during the past seven or eight years. I certainly do not recollect a previous one, and if there has been one we have heard very little about it. My hon. and learned Friend has moved this Motion with studied moderation because, in point of fact——

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

The hon. Gentleman cannot have heard the speech I made on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Mr. Hale

I said there has been no debate on unemployment in Northern Ireland. We have had a debate on Lancashire and other Development Areas, but it is amazing that the Northern Ireland Members have not asked for a debate on this very important subject because the figures of unemployment there are relevant to the consideration of this matter.

I should have thought that, taking a large area which has a population only just in excess of that of Birmingham, an area with vast agricultural resources and with some of the best shipbuilding yards in the United Kingdom, no one but an effete Tory Administration could, at a time when we need more food and more ships, have brought about the appalling situation which we contemplate over the water today.

My hon. and learned Friend said that the unemployment figures had risen to about 8.5 or 9 per cent., but in point of fact in July, 1952, in the first year of the present Government, they rose to 60,000, or 13 per cent., a very unlucky number indeed for those who were suffering under that Administration. If we take the relevant figures for the last available month, April of this year, we find that unemployment in the North Midlands of England is 0.7 per cent. The highest figure for any region of England is 2.5 per cent.

Mr. Gerald Nabarro (Kidderminster)

The hon. and learned Gentleman said 4.4 per cent.

Mr. Hale

The hon. Gentleman should listen before he opens his mouth. My hon. and learned Friend said that the unemployment figure for Liverpool was 4.4 per cent., but that is part of the Northern area, for which the figure is 2 per cent. In Wales the figure is 3.3, in Scotland it is 3.5, in Northern Ireland it was 8.5 in April of this year, and April is a month when unemployment is normally low. It is an appalling suggestion that we are to remove the whole basis of our planning in Northern Ireland at a time when it is most needed.

My hon. and learned Friend referred to the fact that the only announcement of this proposal came from a speech in the Northern Ireland Parliament. But when it comes before this House it is in the form of a Statutory Instrument. It is a short but highly complex statement. It purports to repeal Section 56A of the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939, so far as they apply to Northern Ireland. It purports to repeal certain parts of the Schedule to those Regulations. By implication, many other Statutory Instruments which apply to Northern Ireland will fall to the ground because of the repeal of the authorising Measure so far as Northern Ireland is concerned.

And what does the explanatory note to this important Statutory Instrument say for the assistance of hon. Members of this House? There is no Explanatory Note at all. Not a word. It is a complete defiance of the rules laid down in respect of Statutory Instruments. But it was intended that this important Measure should travel through this House incognito; indeed, it might have done so but for the vigilance of my hon. and learned Friend.

He referred to the school situation. It may well be urged that it is difficult in Northern Ireland to extend the school-leaving age because there is no adequate school accommodation. Why not build schools? There are people unemployed in the building industry. There is not an area in the United Kingdom which is more in need of planned building than that. There is no area which needs more modern factories. There is no area which is more behind with its housing. And at this moment right hon. Gentlemen opposite say that they propose to create in this small area across the Channel an oasis of old-fashioned Toryism of the type that can perpetuate unemployment, that can perpetuate class distinction, that can make an area there in which all the evils of the past are reproduced.

I know it may be difficult for hon. Members for Northern Ireland to apply their minds to this problem, because we were told a few weeks ago that they are fully occupied in applying their minds to Bills before this House which do not apply to Northern Ireland, and that they have to consider those Bills, in spite of that fact, in order to give the present Government a majority in the Division Lobby. That, I agree, is a hardship on them, but they ought——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I think the hon. Gentleman is getting a little beyond the Order now, is he not?

Mr. Hale

I am much obliged, Sir Charles, and I had finished with that point at the time you called my attention to it.

I will conclude by giving what I think is the one relevant figure which my hon. and learned Friend gave quite briefly. Under a Labour Government unemployment had been brought down in Northern Ireland to one of the lowest figures it has ever known in peace time, 26,000 in 1950, 28,000 in 1951. Under a Conservative Government it was up to 60,000 in July, 1952. At the time when the people of Lancashire were flocking in their thousands for unemployment pay, Northern Ireland was suffering the same results. It is less now, but it is still half as much again as it was under a Labour Government for those two whole years, and it is still much higher than it was practically throughout the whole period of a Labour Government.

My hon. and learned Friend asked, and I repeat, what is the principle behind this proposal? What is the principle that applies to Northern Ireland and does not apply to the rest of the country? Is it the policy of Her Majesty's Government to abolish these restrictions everywhere progressively? Are they proposing to do something like this in England and Wales and Scotland in the months to come? Is that what they intend?

Mr. Nabarro

I hope so.

Mr. Hale

We have the authentic voice of the active back benchers on this matter, and we know how they influence Government policy. They have had some modest success in other fields recently.

I ask the Minister to tell us that. We are entitled to know. Do the Government believe in these restrictions, or do they not? If they believe in them, they must believe in them as a matter of principle and they must believe in them for the whole area. Nothing can be worse than this business of having piecemeal legislation, with conscription here and no conscription there, one school-leaving age here and another there and building restrictions here and none there.

I say quite seriously in seconding the Motion that the time is coming when this House may have seriously to consider the whole question of Northern Ireland and the whole question of legislation with regard to Northern Ireland. Nothing will speed on that consideration more than this habit of trying to make special concessions to that area, special provisions for that area and special licences for that area that do not apply to the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth.

Mr. Michael Foot (Plymouth, Devonport)

On a point of order. Before you call the Minister, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will you not call on one of the numerous Members from Northern Ireland who are so eager to speak in this debate?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is no point of order. I call on Members when they rise and catch my eye, but nobody did so. Mr. McKibbin.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Alan McKibbin (Belfast, East)

Regarding the allegations made by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) that the Roman Catholics did not get fair play and that there was discrimination against them, that is not the opinion of the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Healy), who sits in the Ulster House of Parliament as well as in this House. He made a speech in which he said: I am free to bear witness to the fair play that all needful cases meet under the Belfast Corporation as well as the Housing Trust and some other public bodies in the vicinity of Belfast or in the Counties of Antrim and Down. He said that in a debate on housing in the Ulster House of Commons on 24th May, 1951, and it is reported in Vol. 35 of HANSARD at paragraph 1261. No other man in this House knows more about conditions and how the Roman Catholics are treated in Northern Ireland than the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Regarding the question of conscription, which the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch kept on talking about, when the 1939 war broke out——

Mr. Bing

Before the hon. Member leaves that point, will he allow me——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. We cannot have a debate on conscription on this Order. It relates entirely to housing.

Mr. Bevan

On a point of order. If it is suggested that the Order is necessary to provide employment for certain unemployed persons in Northern Ireland, is it not in order to suggest alternative methods of doing so?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The suggestion can, perhaps, be touched upon, but to have a debate on the various things that might be done would be out of order. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman means. I allowed conscription to be mentioned but I did not want a debate on it, and I shall adhere to that.

Mr. Bevan

May I say with respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that there are other considerations? It may, for instance, be suggested that although conscription is remote from the consideration of the Order, the retention of the existing powers is necessary to get building materials and labour into the building of schools. That, surely, would be strictly relevant to the school leaving age. In other words, if there is a Regulation for certain purposes, it is permissible to argue that the powers proposed to be annulled should be used for other purposes.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is what I said. I allowed the subject to be mentioned but not to be debated in detail. I do not think that that would be in order in a debate on this Order.

Mr. McKibbin

The only reason why I was raising the question of conscription was because it was referred to so many times by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch. All that I wanted to say was that when the 1939 war broke out, the Ulster Government asked for conscription and it was refused by the British Government. When the Korean war broke out, I asked for conscription in this House and it was ruled out of order.

10.40 p.m.

Sir David Campbell (Belfast, South)

The hon. and learned Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing), as is his universal custom when any mention is made in this House of Northern Ireland, has found fault with the Government of Northern Ireland. This time, it is on the ground that it is a retrograde Government which has increased unemployment, and shown racial discrimination.

Hon. Members


Mr. Bing

Does the hon. Member mean anybody who is not orange?

Sir D. Campbell

It is true that the unemployment figure in Northern Ireland has increased during the last two years, but the reason is not far to seek. The reason is almost entirely to be found in the depression in the linen trade. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has raised this question of the linen trade in this House, and we believe that the present purchase tax system is adverse——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

There is nothing at all about the linen trade in this Order; I do hope that hon. Members will try to keep to the point.

Sir D. Campbell

The hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch did discuss the issue of unemployment and blamed the Conservative Government in Northern Ireland for having produced it. I regret that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have ruled me out of order, and that it is not possible for me to deal with the matter, but I am sure that the House will agree that it is not because of any action by the Northern Ireland Government, or the failure by that Government to take any possible action, that there is unemployment. That Government is striving in every way possible to relieve unemployment by encouraging the setting up of new factories. It is doing that with the help of the Government here at Westminster, and I equally pay tribute to the Labour Government which, when in office, helped us in trying to achieve prosperity.

The hon. and learned Member discussed the question of religious bias in Northern Ireland. One complaint which I have heard on many occasions in South Belfast is that there is a bias, but that it is in favour of the Roman Catholics. It is said that they have more of the new houses than do their Protestant brothers.

Reference has also been made to the effect of removing restrictions in the building industry, and the hon. and learned Member quoted figures up to the end of June, 1944. But, in fact, the figures for the period 1st June, 1944, to 31st March, 1953, show that the total number of houses built is 39,009, and that the number under construction on 1st April this year was 7,045; while those approved, but not yet commenced, totalled 4,624.

Mr. Bing

But will the hon. Member give the percentage deficiency figures? They are important, because if it was 30 per cent. in 1944, what is it today?

Sir D. Campbell

I have not those figures with me, but I think that the figures which I have given will show that the Northern Ireland Government, and the local authorities over there, have made a determined and magnificent effort to remedy the lack of housing accommodation. This applies not only to Belfast, but to all the counties of Northern Ireland, and I trust that the House will not grant this Prayer.

The Acting Minister of Finance in Northern Ireland put it rightly when he said that this Order will enable the Northern Ireland Government to provide employment for many in the building trade. It will not in any way interfere with the programme for the construction and betterment of hospitals and new schools, or interfere in any way with the programme of work being carried out by the Northern Ireland Building Trust and local authorities in providing accommodation for our workers in Northern Ireland. I earnestly trust that the House will refuse to vote for this Prayer.

10.46 p.m.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

The speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Sir D. Campbell) has surely given to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) the whole of the case he wished to make—that there exists in Northern Ireland a very serious problem of unemployment. This Order could only be justified if it were going to assist employment, as the Minister in Northern Ireland said. The hon. Member has told us that unemployment in Northern Ireland has no connection with the building trade; he has told us that it is due to the recession in the linen industry. Does he want us to believe that the building of more houses in Northern Ireland could be obtained under this Order by those engaged in the fine operations of the linen trade using cement and trowels and building houses?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

What about conscription?

Mr. Hudson

I shall not deal with conscription. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There is quite a lot to the story about conscription, and I am the man who could say something about it, but I shall avoid breaking the rules and will stick to the short point that the hon. Members for Northern Ireland have raised. They have proved to us that, instead of this Order assisting to overcome the evil they say exists, it has no reference whatever to the evil of unemployment. They apparently do not know how to deal with it in the linen industry and they make confusion worse confounded by this Order, which will add to difficulties of housing in Northern Ireland as well. I hope the Motion will be supported.

Sir D. Campbell

I did not say that this Order will not help in the question of unemployment; it certainly will, but on a small scale, I agree. I did not say that we would wish to employ expert linen weavers on building houses. But the building of houses will give employment to a number of people in the building trade and will also stimulate the construction of factories.

10.49 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

I did not intend to speak and I shall try to be as brief as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), but something ought to be said about the most astonishing speeches we have heard from the hon. Members for Northern Ireland. They were two of the most astonishing speeches we have heard since the speech of the senior Member in this House—who has now gone to another place—when he moved the election of the Speaker in the first speech made in this Parliament.

The speeches were not only astonishing but ignorant. They were obviously made by men who had not read the Order. When they tried to rebut the statement made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) about religious discrimination in the allocation of houses, all they could do was to quote a Member of the Northern Ireland Parliament and some obscure constituents of the hon. Member opposite, whereas, my hon. and learned Friend quoted figures.

Why have they not got the figures to answer? Surely they must have them? Surely they must have come here tonight prepared for this debate? Therefore, they must not make these wild allegations, and merely quote obscure people we have never heard about. I would give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I am sure his intervention would not be any longer than his speech was. But surely one would have thought that the Members for the Northern Ireland seats would have been the first to have welcomed the speech which was made by my hon. and learned Friend. It was a very constructive speech—a speech whose aim was to cure unemployment in their own constituencies, a problem which apparently does not affect them very much. It was a very constructive speech.

He proposed, for example, that Northern Ireland should be treated as a specially distressed area, as a special problem needing special remedies. Have they anything against that? He proposed, furthermore, that the school-leaving age might be raised in Northern Ireland. Have they anything against that? He proposed, furthermore, that, if necessary, we on this side of the House would be prepared to consider an even larger contribution to be made to the coffers of Northern Ireland. Have they any objection to that?

Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)

I have.

Mr. Delargy

I know very well that the hon. Member has strong objections to the spending of money in Northern Ireland, and many other places, such as spending it on the health services, and on people coming into this country from other countries. But the very constructive measures, which would benefit Northern Ireland, which were suggested by my hon. and learned Friend, do not seem to find favour with those who represent Northern Ireland, and I firmly hope that their constituents will take very grave notice of it.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)


Mr. Delargy

Has the hon. and gallant Member read the Order?

10.53 p.m.

Captain Orr

Like the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), it was not my intention either to make a speech on this Order, which has been handed to me. Northern Ireland, as the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing), who seems to be so interested in our affairs, has said, presents a special problem. The hon. Member for Thurrock referred to Northern Ireland being in a very special position. I think this country as a whole was conscious of the very special position which Northern Ireland occupied during the late war, and I trust that no one will endeavour to measure the strategic value of the loyalty of our people in terms of pounds, shillings and pence.

Mr. Delargy

Why take pounds, shillings and pence away from them after the war?

Captain Orr

This is a very special problem. As has been pointed out, our level of unemployment is very high, and it is far too high. All of us are conscious of that, and all of us are not concerned with making cheap party debating points late at night, but with trying seriously and sensibly to see what is the cause of this unemployment, and seeing if there is anything we can devise to overcome it. Unemployment does exist there, and is running at 9 per cent., and it does cause us very serious disquiet. It is, in the main, due to that very special geographical position which we occupy—the fact that we have got a cross-channel service, the fact that we have got a channel of water between ourselves and the rest of the country, with the double handling of freight, and so on, which adds so much to the cost of bringing our raw materials to our industry, and bringing our products from our industries to their markets. That is the basic cause of the malaise in Northern Ireland.

The other cause is that we are far too dependent on certain basic industries, such as the textile industry and shipbuilding. If there is a recession in any one of those, as we recently had in textiles, it disorganises the whole of our employment fabric. Therefore we can say that at the moment we suffer from the grievous disability of cross-channel freightage; that we have not got conscription, and we ought to have it, and that in spite of all efforts our industries are not yet diversified enough.

Yet we are employing infinitely more people than before in Northern Ireland. In spite of having had to deal with the additional complication of the people across the Border from that paradise to which the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch would consign us——

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

Is it not the fact that in Northern Ireland a person who has not had previous employment has to have a special permit from the employment exchange to work in an industry while there are any members of that industry unemployed?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That deals with a subject which is beyond the scope of the Order.

Captain Orr

If I may be allowed to say so, that is true. The paradise from which the immigrants come is not sufficiently attractive to keep them and we have to make some regulation to prevent them coming across the Border in absolute hoards and taking the jobs from our people. I am not in the least ashamed of that. I hope the House will reject this Prayer. I hope the electorate in Northern Ireland will read carefully what was said by the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch and others. I hope they will notice the support given by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and the attempt by the Labour Party to sabotage a measure designed to relieve unemployment in Northern Ireland.

10.58 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)

I will begin by answering some of the points made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). He asked whether it was the case that a number of other Regulations fell with this Regulation. I am advised that the only Orders that fall within this Order are those actually made under it. The hon. Member also asked why there was no Explanatory Note to the Order. I asked the same question myself until I had read the Order, when I found that the answer was fairly apparent. It does not need an Explanatory Note because the Order is quite plain.

Mr. Hale

To say that we are repealing Defence Regulation 56A does not convey anything to hon. Members of this House, let alone to members of the public. No one knows what Defence Regulation 56A is. It is the whole purpose of an Explanatory Note to warn hon. Members. We have 2,000 Statutory Instruments a year. None of us could go into the Library and see what they all mean. We should have been warned that this applied to building restrictions in Northern Ireland.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

If the hon. Member reads the Order he will see that it states on the face of the Order that Regulation 56A relates to the control of building and other operations specified in the Schedule——

Mr. Bing

In the Schedule, yes.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The Order has been considered by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Committee has not drawn attention to it, no doubt for the reason I have given.

The debate has been over a fairly wide field and, in order to bring the matter into perspective, I must state the broad principles on which this Order is designed. The Government of Ireland Act provided that certain powers should be transferred to the Government of Northern Ireland and certain powers reserved to the Government at Westminster. The transferred powers dealt mainly with domestic matters, such as law and order, health, agriculture, and housing, with which this Order is concerned. Those which were reserved were, for the most part, concerned with external matters, such as foreign policy and defence.

The war-time legislation, of which the Defence Regulations formed part, was essentially a matter of defence and, for that reason, it was treated as being a reserved matter; it was dealt with by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, and not as a power transferred to the Government of Northern Ireland. Regulation 56A is no exception to that rule, notwithstanding that it deals with housing which, in the ordinary way would have been treated as a transferred matter. It has continued to be treated as a reserved matter because the control of building operations has been dealt with as a problem for the United Kingdom as a whole. The difficulty has been shortages of materials and labour, and it has been closely related to our overseas exchange position.

Under paragraph 15 of the Regulation, the powers which are exercisable by the Minister of Works in Great Britain are vested, in the case of Northern Ireland, in the Home Secretary. Defence Regulation 102A permits delegation in the case of Northern Ireland, and the powers given by Regulation 56A were, in fact, delegated to the Government of Northern Ireland. They were first delegated by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) when he was Home Secretary, and there have been subsequent delegations. The position hitherto has been that they were delegated to the Ministry of Finance in Northern Ireland subject to general directions which could be given by the Home Secretary. In that way, the powers were exercised in Northern Ireland, but the general position of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom was maintained.

The basis of keeping on the control of building has been the need to defend our economic position generally, and that is why these powers have hitherto been reserved. But the position in Northern Ireland has been, and is, changing; and there are at present circumstances there which have to be borne in mind when considering the need for this Order. In the first place, there is no large volume of unsatisfied demand for building in Northern Ireland. The estimate is that the total increase, including factories and all other building in Northern Ireland, as a result of this Order becoming effective will be of a value of £1 million a year. That is an almost insignificant increase in relation to the total building in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Hale

Only a few minutes ago we heard from the hon. and gallant Gentleman for Down, South (Captain Orr) a passionate plea for diversification of industry. How can we diversify industry unless we build some factories?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I am not dealing with that aspect of the matter. I have said that there is not a very large unsatisfied demand in Northern Ireland. It is certainly not large at all in relation to the total volume of building in the United Kingdom. In the second place, there is unfortunately a plentiful supply of building labour in Northern Ireland. I am not now speaking of unskilled labour only. There is, of course, a surplus of skilled building labour in Northern Ireland. In the third place, there are available in Northern Ireland adequate materials to cover the needs which will arise as a result of freeing the building industry there.

There is no risk, as a result of the making of this Order, of any interference with the supplies of building material in Great Britain. Any increase in demand for cement will be virtually covered by the opening of the new Magheramorne cement works this year. There may be some small margin which will be required to be imported from this country, but I am advised that only an insignificant call will be made upon our resources. Enough bricks are produced locally in Northern Ireland to cover all foreseeable needs in that country. Softwoods, which are scarce both here and in Northern Ireland, will remain subject to the same restrictions there as here, so that there will be no question arising in that respect.

It was in those economic circumstances that the Government of Northern Ireland thought fit to approach Her Majesty's Government in Westminster to ask for the removal of these restrictions which can be removed only by an Order in Council. The matter was considered and Her Majesty's Government were most willing to grant the request. That was stated, as the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) has said, in an announcement made by the Minister of Finance in his Budget Statement in Northern Ireland on 5th May. I need not trouble the House by referring to that again, but I think that it is only right that I should say what the reaction to that statement was in the Parliament at Stormont.

Mr. Diamond is a Member of the Northern Ireland House of Commons. He is certainly not a Tory. He describes himself as a Socialist Republican. He said, in this debate: The Minister has mentioned—and at the same time I will pay tribute to his efforts in this regard—that a Defence Regulation of a very restrictive character was about to be removed so far as building construction in Northern Ireland is concerned. There, again, I think that we failed in past years. We did not fail so much out of lack of proper representation, but we failed for reasons of false pride and prestige in trying to assume a certain position and in refusing to have Northern Ireland recognised as a special area. … Then, he concluded that part of his speech by saying: The effect of that restriction"— that is to say, all the restrictions imposed by Regulation 56A— has been tremendous. It has, to my mind, been largely responsible for the heavy incidence of unemployment at the present time.

Mr. Bing

I think I ought to tell the House that this gentleman was the same gentleman who was expelled from the Irish Labour Party for his un-Socialist approach to the various problems of Northern Ireland.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I can only suppose there is some similarity between the Socialist Party in Northern Ireland and the Socialist Party over here.

Mr. Nabarro

Split in two.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

This control, so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, has passed from being a matter of defence altogether. It is no longer part and parcel of the general economic policy of the United Kingdom as a whole. In present circumstances this important matter is a social and internal problem for Northern Ireland itself. I am not for a moment suggesting it is not important, but I do suggest that it is not a matter for which this House should take responsibility any longer.

If I may I will quote a paragraph from a speech made by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) in a debate in this House on 1st June, 1951. He said: I want to make this quite clear. It is no part of the duty of the Home Secretary in this country to defend here the actions of the Northern Ireland Government. If they impinged on any subject which had not been transferred to them, it would be my duty at once to assert the authority of this House and of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, but in the Act we have delegated to them certain quite specific functions, and they must answer for them to the people to whom they are responsible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st June, 1951; Vol. 488, c. 624.]

This question of the control of building has been properly treated in the past as a matter for the United Kingdom as a whole. While it was so treated, it was for the Home Secretary to answer in this House, but the matter has become a question properly to be dealt with in Northern Ireland, having regard to the needs of the people of Northern Ireland. It is for that reason that we have thought fit to ask the House to make this Order, which will take away the effect of Regulation 56A upon Northern Ireland. I ask the House to reject this Prayer against it.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. Aneurin Bevan (Ebbw Vale)

I think the House will agree that as the Joint Under-Secretary of State has spent a little time necessarily in explaining the Order, it would be perfectly proper for me to take a little time explaining why we cannot agree with it.

I want, in the first place, to enter a very strong protest against the language in which the Order is made. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), was correct in protesting against the absence of any effective and adequate Explanatory Note. If hon. Members will possess themselves of the Order, I think they will see it is one of the most complicated Orders that the House has been asked to consider for some time. It contains a whole lot of references to previous pieces of legislation, and I defy anyone, at first reading, to understand what the Order is about.

The hon. Member rested his defence upon the use of the language "building and other operations." What other operations? The other day I gave evidence on a Committee upstairs on delegated legislation. This is delegated legislation. It was understood and accepted by hon. Members in the war Parliament and afterwards that Regulations of a complicated kind should carry on their surface indications of what they were about. This does not. It is sneak legislation. I repeat, sneak legislation. It was intended to get the consent of the House of Commons to an Order in ignorance of its purport, on the assumption that it was some obscure matter, and we would still be in that position if my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) had not conducted his investigations in his usual assiduous fashion and called our attention to them. So I say at once that if the House did its duty it would ask the Government to take back the Order.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments did not do its duty?

Mr. Bevan

On the contrary. The Select Committee now upstairs was appointed by the House because the existing procedure is unsatisfactory. That is the whole point of it. Indeed, it has been found to be unsatisfactory, and if the hon. Member knew his business better he would have found it out.

The Statutory Instruments Committee discovered that the spate of legislation is such that unless they have some indication of what is meant by a Regulation they cannot do their duty of calling the attention of the House to it. When they look at this Regulation, how can they, without investigation, find out what it means? It is the duty of the Government to assist the Statutory Instruments Committee so that they need no make such investigations. In this case the Government have sought to sneak it through the Statutory Instruments Committee and then through the House of Commons. I see that the Joint Under-Secretary's hon. Friend is coming to his rescue.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hugh Molson)

I was only wanting a little elucidation from the right hon. Gentleman, who knows so much about this subject. Does he mean to say that the Statutory Instruments Committee have no power to get elucidation at the present time?

Mr. Bevan

I said the very opposite. I said there are thousands of Statutory Instruments presented to the House—2,000 a year—and that the Statutory Instruments Committee's work in digesting them and directing the attention of the House to what is in their opinion important or otherwise would be assisted, in the first instance, by an Explanatory Note. Our protest is that there is no Explanatory Note.

Therefore, if the House was doing its duty merely as a workshop, quite independently of the content of the Regulation and the substance of the argument advanced from both sides, it should insist on the Government taking back this Regulation tonight and re-presenting it in a form that would enable hon. Members to do their duty properly. That is the first thing it would do.

I was really quite shocked when I looked at the Regulation—because I have been responsible for many Regulations in my time—to find that there is nothing at all to indicate its intention. We must remember that Explanatory Notes are intended not only to indicate the purport of the Regulation, but also the intention of the Government in making it. It is only by having an Explanatory Note of that kind that the Statutory Instruments Committee can be given a danger signal that they ought to make further investigation.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

indicated dissent.

Mr. Bevan

The hon. Member shakes his head. He had better read his own previous speeches on the subject, because he would then realise that I am correct.

I hope that I shall have support from all parts of the House in the strictures which I have felt it necessary to make. Concerning the content of the Regulation, the House is presented with a microcosm of the policy of a Conservative Administration in the event of rising unemployment in Great Britain. For reasons that have been explained by one or two hon. Members on both sides of the House, there is in Northern Ireland an unemployment problem running to the order of 8 or 9 per cent. A great deal of that is in the building trade. What was the purpose of the restrictions on the building industry both here and in Northern Ireland? The hon. Gentleman was wrong in what he said. They did not derive from defence. They derived from the Supplies and Services Act. It was only because all the restrictions on the employment of labour and the use of materials from 1939 were contained under the umbrella of a Defence Act. That was the reason, and therefore to say that considerations of defence have now disappeared from Northern Ireland is plain nonsense.

The hon. Gentleman and his officials have allowed themselves to be deceived by questions of pure nomenclature. In fact he should have realised that for the last six or seven years we have been discussing all kinds of restrictions and inhibitions upon the employment of labour and the use of materials of various kinds under the umbrella of Defence Regulations, although they have nothing at all to do with defence. So that that argument goes by the board. To say that there are no longer any defence considerations for Northern Ireland, and therefore we can relax the inhibitions, is absurd.

I met the Minister of Health from Northern Ireland over and over again and gave assistance, which I believe was valuable, in enabling them to deal with their housing problem. In fact, I had expressions of gratitude from them on several occasions because we made available to them the arrangements we had made for prefabricated housing in Great Britain, and on several occasions we sacrificed a considerable number of prefabricated buildings in order to relieve the situation in bombed Belfast. So that we had here a very close connection with the housing problem in Northern Ireland.

What was, and is, the purpose of these restrictions on building? It is to try to canalise the building resources of the nation into directions where they are most needed. That is the whole point of them. We retain them in Great Britain today. They have been relaxed in some degree by the Minister of Housing and Local Government for his own reasons which I cannot argue now, but the purpose was to enable us to see to it that in this vital, pivotal segment of industry the State should still have the power of directing labour and materials where they were most needed in the national interest.

But, says the Minister, there is a surplus of building labour in Northern Ireland. Yes, but the surplus is artificially created. If the Northern Ireland Parliament had been doing its duty of building more houses, building more schools, building factories for the diversification of Northern Ireland industry, there would be no surplus of labour. This is not a natural creation; it does not come down from the sky.

Captain Orr

Surely we must have someone to occupy them?

Mr. Bevan

I thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman expressed regret that Northern Ireland had not been scheduled as a distressed area. What is the point of scheduling an area as a distressed area? It is to build factories there that would not have been built by undirected private enterprise. These are elementary lessons in national planning, and hon. Gentlemen opposite ought to know that we denied over and over again, for 6½ years, and we still deny, I hope, certain people who wanted to build in London because we do not want this conurbation added to and in order to direct them to build in those parts of Great Britain where it is most desirable for them to build. We used the licensing procedure for that purpose. It is the negative direction of industry. Therefore, it is absolutely nonsensical to say that building in Northern Ireland should be freed because that country has not got diversification of industry. It has not got diversification of industry because it has not used its powers sufficiently.

As my hon. and learned Friend said, the school-leaving age is 14. If the Government do not raise it to 15 and, therefore, build more schools, there will be unemployed building labour. If the building labour is not used to build factories, there will be unemployed building labour. Having created the unemployed building labour, the existence of that unemployment is used as an excuse to free all building from further restriction and inhibition.

Let us try to translate that into terms of Great Britain. Suppose that we had 8 or 9 per cent. unemployment in Great Britain. Apparently, by the same logic, the Government would not build more schools, although they are needed badly. They would not take down the slum schools and build modern schools. [Interruption.] The noble Lord should contain himself. If he wishes to make an intelligent interruption, I am prepared to sit down.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I only wished to inform the right hon. Gentleman, in case he does not know it, that there are more people besides the Government who are capable of building schools.

Mr. Bevan

I gave way for an intelligent interruption, but the noble Lord has not accepted my invitation.

We understand now, if this be the precedent upon which we are to be guided, that if there is unemployed building labour in Great Britain, instead of stepping up the school building programme, the Government would abolish restrictions on the building industry and enable more cinemas to be built—that is the logic of it. The Government would not, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, try to canalise the unemployed labour into those directions where it could serve the community best on a long-term vision, but would do exactly as was done before the war: that is, to convert unemployed workers in South Wales into liveried commissionaires in Bournemouth, providing labour for the luxury hotels built in Bournemouth, Cheltenham and elsewhere, at the expense of a dereliction of the development areas. That is the logical conclusion. It means nothing more than that.

Of course, there is always a Nemesis to this. We have got it from Italy. In 1948 I was in Italy at the invitation of the Italian Government, and I went to Naples. In Naples I saw 13 new cinemas being built with Marshall Aid steel. There was no restriction upon building. All along the Apennines there were villages and towns that had been razed to the ground in 1943, and not one single stone had been laid upon another, but there was the same Tory principle of allowing private enterprise to do what it likes whenever it has the chance.

And so they had 13 cinemas going up in Naples. I said to the Members of the Italian Government that a continuation of that policy would see its result in the Italian elections. We are seeing the result now. There is now a very large increase in Communist votes in Italy. It may not happen in Northern Ireland, but I am bound to say that when I consider the philosophy that lies behind this Order and when I consider the deplorable level of Parliamentary representation that Northern Ireland has in this House at the present time, when I consider their meagre contribution to debate, their old-fashioned arguments and the extent to which they are, obviously, under the influence of vested interests in Northern Ireland, it seems to me that the time has come that we ourselves ought no longer to be oppressed by their presence and have our legislative processes interfered with by their votes.

11.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Works (Mr. Hugh Molson)

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has raised one or two points on quite general matters and, in the course of three minutes, I should like to reply to them. First, he says that there is no Explanatory Note to this Order. But the matter has been referred to the Select Committee which, as he knows, has the right to send for representatives of the Department concerned, and that Committee is able to obtain any explanation it may require. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the House?"] It is extraordinary that he does not know what is the procedure of that Select Committee, for it has the right to send for a representative of the Ministry and ask for an explanation; and if it has not done so, it is because the members think that the Order is self-explanatory.

Mr. Bevan

Does the hon. Member know if the Committee has, in fact, yet reached this Regulation?

Mr. Molson

If it has not done so——

Mr. Bevan

Has it?

Mr. Molson

If it has not done so, then there is no point in his remark that it is "sneak legislation," because he knows that it will be subjected to scrutiny. His charge, therefore, is quite absurd.

Mr. Bevan

The hon. Member obviously is not so familiar as we are, because we have been dealing with this quite recently. It has been a part of the comment to the Select Committee on delegated legislation that quite often a Prayer in the House is put down against a Regulation before the Statutory Instruments Committee can reach it. Has the Statutory Instruments Committee reached the Order and made a comment upon it?

Mr. Molson

I do not know if the Committee has, but it so happens that I am the back bencher who, in 1944, moved the Motion, accepted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison), to set up the Committee. I was consulted by the right hon. Gentleman for Lewisham, South as to the terms of reference for the Committee, and one of the points agreed by the two sides of the House was that there should be this power of investigation by the Committee.

I am, in fact, now informed that this Statutory Instrument has been investigated, but that does not alter my point that the right hon. Gentleman should not call this "sneak legislation," especially when a Committee has been set up to see that delegated legislation does not pass through this House unscrutinised. Several hon. Members have raised the question about the building regulations. The right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale——

Mr. Delargy

On a point of order. I can quite understand providing time for a reply, but the House has had one reply and the hon. Member is now replying to other speeches.

Mr. Speaker

That procedure may be tautological, but it is not out of order.

Mr. Molson

The hon. Member for Oldham, West asked whether we believed in building restrictions as a matter of principle. The answer is that we do not believe in them as a matter of principle and ever since this Government came in there has been a series of relaxations of building regulations. When in the case of Northern Ireland there is an opportunity of removing regulations in order to set the building industry free, it is in accordance with the general principles of the Minister of Works that that should be done. We are fully satisfied that in giving this opportunity for more work in Northern Ireland there will be no excessive demand upon building materials from this country, and we are anxious to do everything we can to help the employment position in Northern Ireland. We believe that can best be done by removing building regulations.

Mr. Hale

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I have had two separate explanations from two separate Ministers. Can he say which Minister is speaking for Her Majesty's Government?

Question put,

The House divided: Ayes, 83; Noes, 114.

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