§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
I wish to draw the attention of the House to the serious situation in Northern Ireland resulting from the large-scale unemployment there. This problem is causing grave anxiety to the workers. It is a matter of great concern to the industrialists and even to those who are in employment because of the feeling of considerable insecurity which exists. These anxieties will continue unless it be found possible to reduce the substantial figure of unemployed, not by mere expediency, but on the basis of a sound, constructive and practical code which can secure full employment for the people of Northern Ireland.
When there is large-scale unemployment in any part of the territories for which we are responsible, or have some responsibility, it is important that the attention of this House should be focussed upon it. Therefore, although we are in the last hours of this Parliament, it seems 1998 to me that it would be very wrong were we to disperse without having had a debate on this subject.
It was in July last year that I first interested myself particularly in the question of unemployment in Northern Ireland. I did so mainly because of the appeal sent to us, as a political party, by members of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, who felt that they were knocking at a door which could never be opened in their endeavours to persuade their own Government and the Government of this country to take some effective action on the matter.
Subsequently, with two of my colleagues, I paid a visit to Northern Ireland. We spent five active days there, meeting industrialists, trade unionists, and vital workers, in shops, factories and dockyards, and trying to gain as much information as we could with a view to proposing some practical method of alleviating the situation. We produced some ideas which I forwarded to the Home Secretary towards the end of last year.
I do not wish to indulge in recriminations about the reasons for the unemployment. That would not gain us anything. What is important is that we should face this problem and see whether, in the time at our disposal this evening, we can arrive at a method of ameliorating the problem. It is not my intention, therefore, to lay the blame here or there, either on the Government of Northern Ireland or on Her Majesty's present Government. I do not think that this is an occasion on which we should just enjoy a vigorous political debate and score political debating points. We must examine this problem, and make an effort, first to alleviate it, and, finally, to clear it away.
What are the facts about unemployment in Northern Ireland? It always has been a difficult matter. Even during the war years, when one would have thought it was impossible to have unemployment anywhere, there was substantial unemployment in Northern Ireland in proportion to the working population. In recent post-war years the unemployment figure has never been anything like as low as in the rest of the United Kingdom. It has risen as high as 60,000 and dropped, at its lowest, to about 28,000. The latest 1999 figures, up to 18th April, show unemployment as 36,000, representing 7.7 per cent. of the working population.
If in this country we had 7.7 per cent. of the working population unemployed, it would mean an unemployment figure of 1½ million. There would be debate after debate, day after day, in this House, and Governments would fall unless they were able to produce some method of reducing the figure. As I believe the United Kingdom Government have a responsibility—for reasons which I will state in a few moments—it seems to me we must recognise that we cannot possibly allow a situation in which there is this high percentage of unemployment in Northern Ireland without doing all we can to mitigate it.
When one breaks down the figures what does one find? There are 8,000 general labourers out of work; 3,000 textile workers, 2,500 farm workers, 2,300 builders and 1,400 engineers, in round figures, who are unemployed. There is no doubt that those figures would be considerably greater but for the fact that the insecurity felt in Northern Ireland has caused a large number of the inhabitants to emigrate. My information is that since 1951 about 20,000 have gone to Canada alone.
Emigration is a very good thing, particularly for a country like ours: it is good that there should be a constant flow of people to the Commonwealth countries. It is a bad thing, however, when one part of the Commonwealth has to subscribe such a very large proportion of its population, representing in the main its most skilled people—the very people upon whom depends the provision of employment for others. When one considers the emigration figure, coupled with the unemployment figure, one begins to realise, and is able to assess, the gravity of the unemployment situation in Northern Ireland.
The number of industries making the biggest contribution to employment is not large. The Belfast shipyards are capable of employing 18,000 to 20,000 men. At present the labour force is about 16,000. Despite the fact that the programme is fairly full, it does not comprise the kind of shipping which provides employment for the finishing trades. Belfast needs passenger liners so that employment may 2000 be provided for the finishing trade operatives. If passenger liners are not available, alternative employment must be found for these skilled craftsmen.
It appears to me that the aircraft industry is providing employment for more people than could be usefully employed in that industry. The labour force is at present about 8,000 and it would appear that only 5,000 can be fully employed. Alternative work must, therefore, be found for 3,000 skilled engineering workers, or alternatively, sufficient work must be found to employ the whole 8,000.
In the textile trade, 53 per cent. of the production is in linen, and there is no doubt that the two recent tax concessions will be of great value to the linen industry. But I still regard those concessions as an expedient. It is something which should have been done and will prove helpful but it does not represent a long-term solution to the problems of the linen industry.
I know that Lord Brookeborough, the Prime Minister, spent four months in Australia and New Zealand—presumably at the taxpayers' expense—and said that he was helping to sell Ulster linen. His efforts were remarkably successful, because the result has been that Australia has imposed a substantial import restriction which will probably cost the linen industry £250,000 a year. It does not seem to me to be the right way to sell Irish linen—by sending the Prime Minister round to do so. People should be sent who know how to sell their wares.
While it may be very useful, as a good will mission, for the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland to spend four months in Australia and New Zealand—and no doubt he spent a pleasant time—it would have been better had he spent four months investigating industry in Northern Ireland, meeting the people whom we met during the five days we spent there, realising and assessing the problem, and taking vigorous steps to deal with it.
I think that a solution to the problem must be found by action along two lines. There must be a short-term programme to make an immediate inroad into the problem of unemployment. Secondly, there must go along with it a long-term programme, based on the indigenous products of Ireland in such a way that there will be permanent and full employment 2001 in accordance with the natural facilities of Northern Ireland.
The fears and anxieties of Members of the Northern Ireland Government have been expressed many times. Mr. W. W. B. Topping, the Government Chief Whip, is reported as having said:In spite of all our Government has done and is still doing, it is obvious that some drastic and dramatic action is necessary if a solution is to be found to Ulster's unemployment problem.I suggest that the problems which we put forward to the Home Secretary, and which I shall elaborate tonight, are, in fact "drastic and dramatic." I believe that if they were adopted they would certainly provide the solution by which unemployment in Northern Ireland could be permanently reduced, and by which security could return and anxieties disappear.
I do not believe that the Northern Ireland Government are competent to deal with the problem, and I use the word "competent" in its best sense. What I mean is that they cannot do the job on their own. I do not believe that they have all the necessary facilities for doing it. Therefore, it is essential that the United Kingdom Government should cooperate with the Northern Ireland Government if there is to be anything like a programme which is both drastic and dramatic and which will, in fact, cure this deep-seated problem.
First, something extraordinary must be done in order to make an inroad into the large numbers of unemployed while the long-term programme is getting under way. I believe that the Government ought to look again at the White Paper, issued by the Coalition Government during the war, dealing with the question of full employment. In that White Paper, to which all parties subscribed, it was clearly the intention that we should utilise public spending, and that we should inject public money into the economy when a situation similar to that in Northern Ireland at the present time was reached, the object being to pick up the slack by the expenditure of public money until the normal commercial position returns and unemployment is once more evened out.
Therefore, I believe that, without delay, there should be a large expansion of public works, slum clearance, the building of houses, hospitals and schools, road works, the repair of port facilities, and projects of that kind. These are all very 2002 necessary things upon which it is not wasteful to spend public money. Indeed, a great deal of public money will be spent over the next 20 years on precisely those things.
What is now required is to spend far more money than would normally be the case in order to pick up the large number of people who could immediately be employed on such work. If public works could be so speeded up by special expenditure—and here the United Kingdom Government must face their responsibility, if they want to deal with the matter—and if we could pick up those 8,000 general labourers and place them in work, then immediately the spending power and the ancillary work that goes with this sort of public work would begin to take up a good many people in other trades and professions.
In my opinion, it is only by the expenditure of a considerable sum of money now that we shall overcome the problem. It really means hastening the public works programme, a scheme which, I repeat, was contained in the White Paper on Full Employment issued by the Coalition Government during the war. It is nothing new, and nothing which hon. Gentlemen opposite or their predecessors have not accepted. There is no reason at all why work which must inevitably be done in Northern Ireland should not be speeded up or why the amount of money to be spent in that way should not be doubled, trebled or quadrupled in order to make some quick inroad into this alarming state of affairs.
If we were having to deal with the problem of a million, 1½ million or 2 million unemployed, it would be a tremendous task, but, in this case, all that we are asked to do is to find jobs for about 20,000 to 25,000 people. Of course, with people changing their occupation and factors of that sort we shall probably always find an unemployment figure of 5,000 or 7,000 in the working population of Northern Ireland. One could easily find employment for 20,000 or 25,000 people in the United Kingdom. Therefore, it is not a big task, and that is why I say that the public works programme, if speeded up, and with the necessary money available, could make a tremendous inroad into the present position.
In our proposals, we mentioned that one of the big factors which would help 2003 considerably would be the provision of a large new dry dock. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) will probably develop that matter later on if he manages to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Again, that is something which is required, and something that would be beneficial. I repeat again that it is a question of speeding up a programme, and I believe that if that were done we should take the edge off the unemployment right away.
However, that is not, of course, the whole question, and it would be quite wrong to lead any body of people to believe that we can maintain full employment for all time by merely pumping public money into schemes of this kind. We really must get on to a sound basis. What, then, is the long-term solution of the problem?
I have been looking at the Trade and Navigation Report for 1954, and at the meat and meat preparation imports into this country. The figures are really astounding. In 1954, we imported £256 million worth of meat and meat preparations from countries both inside and outside the Commonwealth. Of that amount, over £33½ million was spent with the Argentine. I just cannot understand why it is not possible so to revitalise agriculture in Northern Ireland as to provide a proportion of the vast quantity of meat and meat preparations which year after year we in this country buy.
In Northern Ireland, there are about 2,500 farm workers out of work. Anyone who has visited Northern Ireland cannot but be impressed by those beautiful acres, land so capable of producing beef. There is a very good market in this country for chilled beef of fine quality. What is required? There is required a considerable amount of money to bring farms up to date. There is required, and there must be, some guarantees about purchasing for a minimum period of five years.
There is not the slightest doubt that the agricultural industry in Northern Ireland could be tremendously stimulated, and that, on that country's doorstep, there is an enormous market for products which she could quite easily provide. If the beef industry and the chilled meat industry were developed by the building 2004 of proper plants a tremendous number of ancillary industries would also be developed. From an examination of the returns, one finds that we spent over £20 million on leather and leather manufactures. Is it not possible, by establishing a chilled beef industry, to develop tanneries, glue factories and other ancillary industries? It would be possible to mop up the bulk of the unemployed if a vigorous programme based on those lines alone were developed.
We buy those goods, and we shall go on buying them, and it seems inconceivable to me that it is possible for people who live thousands of miles away to rear cattle and send beef into this country, to the tune of £33¾ million in one year when, a few hours' sailing time away from us, there is a land which could easily provide the same high-quality product, but in respect of which nothing is done, although, at the same time, 2,500 farm workers are idle.
§ Mr. Phelim O'Neill (Antrim, North)
The right hon. Gentleman has compared Northern Ireland with the Argentine. I think he will agree that conditions in the two countries could hardly be more different. The farms of Northern Ireland are, unfortunately, terribly small, and although beef production is already very large it does not readily lend itself to very small farms, as the turnover is very slow.
§ Mr. Robens
With great respect, it is that attitude which kills the whole situation in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Government say the same sort of thing. The hon. Member gives up and says, "We cannot do it; our farms are too small." Apparently he has never heard of the development of co-operative farming, or considered the fact that there are hundreds of acres of land under peat which could be removed and used for firing power stations. The land, after reclamation, could be developed, if the necessary money were spent. There is plenty of opportunity for co-operative efforts, provided that guarantees are sufficient, proper land reclamation is carried out, facilities provided, and the necessary amenities introduced. I am afraid that the hon. Member is looking for excuses. His is the wrong approach to the problem.
I am not comparing Northern Ireland with the Argentine, but I say that several 2005 million pounds could go to Northern Ireland by way of the chilled beef trade. It is criminal that 2,500 farm workers should be out of work when there is plenty of land in Northern Ireland which can be developed if the necessary money is provided and energy is put into the introduction of a practical plan. The hon. Member should try to think of ways of overcoming the difficulties instead of saying that there is no answer to the problem. I am amazed that he should take up the time of the House in order to interrupt me with a statement of that kind.
There are bound to be difficulties in connection with these matters; that is why there should be a new approach. There is a vast amount of land reclamation and co-operative work to be done, and I shall later indicate some of the ways in which it can be done. A chilled meat factory, with ancillary factories dealing with fertilisers, bone meal and glue, would help a great deal. It is criminal that the lovely land of Ulster should not be developed to the greatest extent and prosperity brought to its wonderful countryside.
I do not accept the view that merely because the farms are small nothing can be done. Denmark has shown the world what can be done in small and difficult areas, and I am sure that the same could be done in Northern Ireland through the energy, enterprise, vigour and capacity for hard work of its people—great characteristics with which they will face their difficulties, provided that they are given a lead which—in the words of Mr. Topping—is drastic and dramatic.
Such a system would bring about an enormous improvement in the employment position and the prosperity of Northern Ireland. Prosperity begets prosperity. Once an inroad is made into the unemployment problem it is surprising how quickly the situation improves. The problem begins to melt away. A start must be made somewhere, and in a fairly dramatic and bold way.
There is room for something to be done in relation to the textile industry. There is a necessity for a textile development council. Selling textiles is going to be very difficult, whether they be Lancashire textiles or Irish linen. We shall need all our skill, knowledge, ingenuity and sales technique to keep things going. We need a development council to handle market 2006 research, exports, and the modernisation and concentration of the industry. A good deal of cheap capital is also required.
I have already referred to the aircraft industry. Who is going to undertake this tremendous job of co-ordinating the various works that can be started? First, a great amount of public work is required; that is essential for a start, because the other projects will take time to mature. Who will dovetail these enterprises into the economy so that they do not become inflationary or create over-employment, thereby making things more difficult in another way? Who is to deal with the overall future, to examine the Isles Report and other reports made in connection with the Northern Ireland economy? It is essential that all these activities should be dovetailed.
The Northern Ireland Government failed because, when the original Distribution of Industry Act was passed, they decided to opt out of it and act on their own. I believe that that was a grave error. Scotland and Wales have remained in the scheme and have benefited considerably. Many sponsors of factory projects wanted to go into the Development Areas and, because there was a centralised organisation, they could be guided into those areas which offered the very best facilities, and where they could make the greatest contribution to the solution of the unemployment problem.
If Northern Ireland had been in that scheme at the beginning it would have benefited by that first flood of new factory building. That has tailed off, and it is now extremely difficult to get anything like worth-while factory projects to go to Northern Ireland. I think that the Northern Ireland Government "missed the boat" there—but that is their affair. I think that they made a mistake, but there may have been good reasons for it.
That, however, shows that the attack on unemployment must be co-ordinated; we cannot do it piecemeal. Therefore, I believe that, because the Northern Ireland Government cannot do this job on their own, that they must have the United Kingdom Government with them, there should be set up a Northern Ireland development corporation. I would make that a statutory body, representative of the two Governments, of industry, and of the organised workers within industry. I 2007 would give it powers to borrow and to lend money, to set up in business for itself, to enter into partnership with private enterprise industry. I would give it the whole task of co-ordinating all the efforts to deal with unemployment on a permanent basis, so that there could be brought into the country the kind of industry that would guarantee for Northern Ireland and her citizens—with the biggest customer upon her doorstep—full employment.
Such a development corporation could do this task. It cannot be done solely by a Government Department. This method would be part Governmental and part commercial. It would need to be outside the confines of the Civil Service and to employ some of the best people for certain specific things that are required. It would co-ordinate and develop the power programme, the reclamation of the great bogs of which I have spoken, and the chilled meat industry. With the cooperation of the farmers it could do much to assist farming. As I say, it could raise money and lend it cheaply to those people in private enterprise who were prepared to develop their plants and industries.
It would then be possible for the United Kingdom Government to have in that development corporation some of the best economists in this country—perhaps Treasury staff or people like that—with a similar type of people in Northern Ireland. With such a development corporation, working not with the restriction of a Government Department, but with the greater freedom of a public corporation, and provided that, and I repeat words which are not my own, this "dramatic and drastic action" is taken, there is not the slightest reason why there should not be full employment in Northern Ireland.
We presented these views, as I say, to the Home Secretary in November of last year. I know that there have been consultations with Northern Ireland Ministers; nevertheless, nothing has yet materialised. I hope that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will tonight carry out the promise, which he gave the House the other day, to answer many of the points which I have raised now and which I have raised privately with him before.
2008 Unemployment is high in Northern Ireland if we take it as a proportion of the working population, but when one looks at the number of jobs to be provided it is not a task which should deter anyone. The problem is soluble. It is possible to achieve full employment; it is not an enormous job. It needs new ideas and new methods. If the Government would accept the idea of a development corporation to do some of the things which I have indicated, then, within a comparatively short time, there would be full employment in Northern Ireland, with the security and happiness that that would bring to its people.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Major Gwilym Lloyd-George)
I certainly make no kind of complaint about the subject which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) has chosen for discussion tonight. On the contrary, I am glad of the opportunity to deal with some of the points which he has raised. May I say, also, that I make no complaint about the manner in which he has brought this subject forward? I am sure that the whole House will agree that he has done so in a very temperate way and has asked questions which demand answers, and with which I shall now do my best to deal.
I regret to have to say—and I know that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me—that this is not a new problem. We have been very much concerned with it, as indeed any Government would be, ever since we took office. Very shortly after taking office we had very full consultations in London with the Northern Ireland Prime Minister and his colleagues, and close consultation, both at the Ministerial and at the official level, has continued ever since. And—as I know full well—there has been constant pressure upon me from my hon. Friends from Northern Ireland since I have been responsible for this office.
I am not sure that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that the Labour Party in Northern Ireland has had no response to appeals for action; and I should like to show what has been done. I entirely agree that the problem is one of both a short-term and a long-term policy, and that it must be looked at in that way. It is not a problem that 2009 is capable of quick solution. Although the position has tended to show some improvement over the past two years, it is still serious.
As the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, Northern Ireland has persistently suffered from a greater percentage of unemployment than Great Britain as a whole. During the years 1923 to 1951, the average unemployment rate in Northern Ireland was about 16 per cent. as compared with 9 per cent. in Great Britain. From 1947 to 1951 the unemployment rate in Northern Ireland averaged 6.2 per cent. compared with 1.7 per cent. in Great Britain. When the textile recession came in 1952, the rate in Northern Ireland rose to 10. 5 per cent.; and as the right hon. Member will remember, the unemployment figures rose in the summer to about 60,000.
Since that period, however, when there was that peak of unemployment during the recession, the unemployment rate in Northern Ireland has fallen from 10. 5 per cent. in 1952 to 8 per cent. in 1953 and 7 per cent. in 1954. In 1954, the rate for Great Britain was 1. 5 per cent. These are average figures and they conceal the seasonal fluctuations which take place each year. The difference is as much as from 14,000 to 20,000 between the unemployment peak of the winter and the nadir of the summer. During the winter months the figures rise considerably and it is normally to be expected that they will fall during the summer, when maximum employment is obtainable in agriculture, building and other outdoor occupations.
Despite the picture which is drawn by some people of a deteriorating situation, it should be noted that the figures of unemployment for each of the first four months of this year have been lower than those of the corresponding four months of each of the last three years. I am very glad to say that the number of unemployed in April was a reduction on the number of people unemployed in March, despite the quite substantial laying off of workers owing to aircraft orders being altered. However, I am saying that only to show that it is not a deteriorating situation and not in any way to hide its seriousness.
It is an uphill fight to achieve a reduction in the numbers of unemployed, for the following substantial reasons. Whatever may be said about emigration—I am 2010 not disagreeing with the right hon. Gentleman—the fact remains that the working population of Northern Ireland is increasing at the rate of about 2,500 a year. The measure of all the efforts of both Governments is that they have only kept pace with this increase. The prospect for the next five years would be, in the ordinary way, that 12,500 new jobs would have to be found to keep unemployment down to its present level, but the outlook is affected by the fact that the Government of Northern Ireland propose to raise the school-leaving age in 1957. This step is likely to result in the withdrawal of approximately 7,500 young people from the labour market. The net increase in the working population in the next five years may be about 5,000. Even so, the situation gives anxiety and concern to Ministers both of Northern Ireland and of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.
While it is true, as the right hon. Gentleman stressed, that responsibility for matters relating to employment in Northern Ireland rests with the Government of Northern Ireland, the economic links between the two countries are such that the United Kingdom Government are closely involved in the unemployment problem in Northern Ireland. United Kingdom Ministers recognise their responsibility to do everything possible to assist the Government of Northern Ireland in dealing with the problem.
May I remind the House of the steps which have been taken both by the Government of Northern Ireland and the Government of the United Kingdom to combat the unemployment problem. I do not want it to be thought that nothing has been done. That is far from being the case. The Government of Northern Ireland offer a number of inducements under legislation designed to encourage the development of new and existing industries. These inducements are very generous indeed, and go well beyond anything offered anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
The Minister of Commerce has power, under the Northern Ireland Industries Development Acts, to make grants or loans to new and expanding undertakings, to assist in the provision of basic services and to hold or acquire factories or sites for lease or sale to manufacturers. Since the war, well over £1 million have 2011 been spent on grants under these Acts and about £350,000 in loans. In addition, more than £5 million have been spent by the Northern Ireland Government on building factories. There is even now a substantial factory-building programme in Northern Ireland, including provision for advance factories, which are not being built in any other part of the United Kingdom. Since 1945, therefore, the Government of Northern Ireland have in one way or another created about 26,000 new jobs.
The inducements offered by the Government of Northern Ireland to encourage industrialists to set up or to expand in Northern Ireland are supplemented by the Board of Trade. This is an important point, because it touches on something to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, centralised knowledge and so forth. The Board of Trade does everything possible, both at headquarters and through its regional offices, to make the attractions of Northern Ireland, as well as those of the Development Areas, known to industrialists in Great Britain who want new quarters.
In Great Britain, any industrial building of more than 5,000 square feet requires an Industrial Development Certificate from the Board of Trade certifying that the development can be carried out consistently with the proper distribution of industry. This requirement of the Town and Country Planning Acts places the Board of Trade in touch with virtually all industries which are expanding and provides an opportunity of ensuring that Northern Ireland is not overlooked as a possible location. The location rooms of the Board of Trade, both at headquarters and at the regional offices, contain information about the economic advantages of Northern Ireland—about labour, sites, and so on—and about the inducements offered by the Northern Ireland Government.
As the House probably knows a handbook which has just been produced by the Board of Trade, called "Room to Expand," contains a special chapter on Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Government have also produced a pamphlet which is aimed at encouraging people to come to Northern Ireland. The Board of Trade works in very close cooperation with the Northern Ireland 2012 Ministry of Commerce and the progress made in attracting new firms to Northern Ireland has been encouraging.
During the past year, factories have been established by Dunlop Mills Limited, Fox's Glacier Mints and the Hughes Tool Company of America. In three years since March, 1952, 22 new firms and expansion schemes have been assisted by the Northern Ireland Government under the Industries Development Acts and these now provide employment for over 7,000 people. These figures are expected to increase. Further, about 6,000 jobs are expected to accrue from firms which are not yet in production but which are expected to start shortly.
A particularly promising new development is the construction of a large new factory at Larne for the British Thomson-Houston Company, for the manufacture of electrical equipment, much of which is intended for export. A number of other firms are actively considering establishing themselves in Northern Ireland. Under the Re-equipment of Industry Acts, 1951 and 1953, the Minister of Commerce is further empowered to pay grants of up to one-third of the cost of approved schemes of re-equipment and modernisation undertaken by firms in Northern Ireland between mid-1950 and mid-1957.
Over 400 applications have been received under these Acts, and of these about 240 have been improvements involving grants totalling about £4¼ million. These Acts of 1951 and 1953 have now been replaced by the more comprehensive Capital Grants to Industry Act, 1954. Under that Act the Ministry of Commerce may contribute one-quarter of the net cost of plant, machinery and new building work undertaken by firms in Northern Ireland over a period of three years starting in 1954.
Also, under the Aid to Industry Act, 1953, £750,000 a year is available for payments to industrial undertakings on the basis of their coal consumption, including consumption in the form of gas or electricity. The textile industries have been the main beneficiaries under this Act. As I have already mentioned, with the help of these various arrangements, the Northern Ireland Government have assisted in providing employment for 26,000 people since 1945.
2013 The progress made with industrial development is of fundamental importance in providing a long-term solution to Northern Ireland's unemployment problem. But there is need also for increased expenditure on social investment, particularly on the building of houses, schools and hospitals. In the short run, this will provide additional employment in building, besides indirectly stimulating employment in other industries. In the long run, it will help to make Northern Ireland more attractive to industry, for example by raising standards of education and technical training.
The importance of going ahead as fast as possible in this respect is fully recognised by the Northern Ireland Government. Their investment programme envisages an increase in total expenditure on new building for the social services of from about £17½ million in 1954–55 to over £20 million in 1955–56. The trend of hospital and schools building is now definitely rising. The increase in school building is of particular interest in view of the raising of the school-leaving age as soon as possible to 15. The expenditure on new housing in Northern Ireland has fallen off somewhat during the past few years.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned the raising of the school-leaving age as soon as possible. Is there any time limit on that?
§ Major Lloyd-George
Housing has fallen off from the peak it reached in 1952–53, partly because of difficulties about obtaining suitable sites for development in and around Belfast. The Government are considering ways of overcoming this and other obstacles, and they hope to bring about a substantial recovery in the rate of house building in the next two or three years.
In addition to social investment, the Northern Ireland Government are using their investment programme to provide additional employment in a number of ways. The estimates of the Ministry of Commerce envisage an expenditure of £2.6 million on factory building in 1955–56 compared with £1.1 million last year, and there is to be increased work done on roads and harbours. It may be of interest to the right hon. Gentleman if I tell him that the work to be carried 2014 out on Belfast Harbour in 1955–56 is estimated at £2 million, which will enormously increase the efficiency of that port.
Much work is also being carried out on investment in agriculture, drainage and forestry development. Taking new building work of all kinds, including industrial building, this is expected to be about 20 per cent. greater in 1955–56 than in the preceding year. That is an increase that should bring substantial additional employment to the building and constructional trades.
About one-quarter of the population of Northern Ireland is dependent for its living on agriculture, and I do not have to emphasise to this House the importance to the United Kingdom economy as a whole, both in peace and in war, of maintaining a high level of agricultural production in Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, although production has increased, the population on the land has been declining steadily for many years. This increased production is largely due to increased mechanisation.
With the decontrol of agricultural marketing, the Northern Ireland Government were, naturally, anxious that producers in Northern Ireland should not have to bear an undue burden as the result of the return of a free market. Accordingly, on 18th February, 1954, my predecessor announced that a financial adjustment would be made between the two Governments for the purpose of assisting the agricultural industry, the amount of the adjustment being subject to annual determination. The calculation of the payment for the first year is nearing completion and an announcement will be made very soon.
Apart altogether from this special grant the House must remember that Northern Ireland farmers receive the benefit of the various agricultural subsidies provided by the United Kingdom Exchequer, notwithstanding the constitutional position of independence which Northern Ireland enjoys in regard to agriculture.
Turning to the manufacturing industries, Northern Ireland enjoys the benefit of the administrative measures designed to help the Development Areas in Great Britain. Thus Northern Ireland firms receive the same preferences in the letting of contracts by competitive tender as the firms in the special areas. The extent to 2015 which Government Departments can place additional orders to Northern Ireland is necessarily limited by the nature of Government requirements and by the need to spend Government moneys as efficiently as possible.
Within these limits, however, the Departments have done everything possible to give Northern Ireland a generous share of what business is going. For example, since the beginning of rearmament, in 1950, the Ministry of Supply has placed orders for £49 million, including £20 million of textiles and £16 million of aircraft. Also on the Admiralty side between 3,500 and 4,000 workers are at present employed by Harland and Wolff on naval new construction, and naval establishments in Northern Ireland employ a further 2,700 civilian workers.
The ability of the Government to place contracts in Northern Ireland is limited by the capacity available. Where it is suitable, as in the case of the textile finishing trade, Northern Ireland receives a very substantial part of the orders going. It is only fair to add that it gains those contracts by competitive merit.
Apart from textiles and the aircraft industry at Short and Harland's, other manufacturing capacity in Northern Ireland is mostly small engineering units. In 1952, a Ministry of Supply team visited Northern Ireland and made a detailed survey. As a result some orders, mostly for ammunition, have been placed.
As the House has already been informed. Her Majesty's Government have taken steps to offset the setback in employment in the aircraft industry due to the suspension of work on the Comet and the cancellation of certain Swift subcontracts. As announced by the Minister of Supply on 16th February, three Bristol Britannias have been ordered from the Bristol Aeroplane Company on the understanding that they will order the production of a total of eight Britannias Mark 250 by Short Brothers and Harland in Belfast, with whom they are associated. The labour force needed to make these eight aeroplanes will build up to about 1,500 within about 18 months.
I am glad to be able to inform the House that an order for a further seven Britannias has now been placed by the Bristol Company. These are in addition 2016 to those I mentioned before. The Minister of Supply has also made arrangements with the English Electric Company to subcontract to Messrs. Short Brothers and Harland the construction of additional Canberra aircraft. This order will help to fill the gap until Britannia production gets fully under way. It will provide work for 200 people by June, working up to about 600 in due course.
Looking further ahead, the outlook for Short and Harland's does not look at all unhopeful. A great deal will, of course, depend on the success of the Britannia aircraft, and from this point of view the recent annual statement by the Chairman of the Bristol Aeroplane Co. is distinctly encouraging.
Another main industry in Northern Ireland which has been going through difficult times is linen. The decision of the Government to remove Purchase Tax entirely from linen cloth and household textiles is a concession which cannot fail to assist the linen industry. Apart from the various specific measures of assistance I have mentioned, a good deal of assistance is given from day to day in the course of, and as a result of, the very close and continuous consultations which take place between the two Governments at both ministerial and official level.
In one way and another, a great deal has been done, and a great deal of anxious thought has been given to these questions over a long period of time. I need hardly say that the Northern Ireland Government and ourselves are always willing to look into suggestions put forward from any quarter for the improvement of the unemployment situation.
As soon as I came into office, proposals were put to me by many of my hon. Friends from Northern Ireland and, later, by the right hon. Member for Blyth and some of his hon. Friends. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me when I say that they have received very careful attention both by our own people and by the Government and Ministers of Northern Ireland. By no means all the suggestions put forward were new ideas. I am not saying that in criticism; it is a fact that they were not all new. One example that I have in mind is a proposal for a geological and geophysical survey of Northern Ireland.
2017 Such a survey has been operating since 1947, but I am sorry to say that, so far, no indications of the presence of oil or natural gas have been revealed, and only very small deposits of coal have been found. Both deep and shallow borings in the hope of finding coal are continuing, and the economic possibilities of the deposits of obsidian and peat are still being explored. The right hon. Gentleman knows that we are interested in what he was saying about peat. I have seen such schemes in practical operation. Later, I will say something which may help in this respect.
Nevertheless, whether the suggestions were old or new, all of them have been examined afresh. I will not go into all the details. They include a proposal for hydro-electric schemes. We know that two schemes have been examined, and that there is fierce objection from the agricultural industry. There is the development of a chilled beef industry. Something has been done about that already, and I believe there is great hope for improvement there. But, as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, a great deal will depend upon having a very steady flow of livestock to the market, because if there is to be continuity of employment there must be continuity of throughput. At any rate, attention has been given to the proposal and further projects are in course of formation.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to an oil refinery. That is not a great labour user, and I doubt whether the capacity of the United Kingdom development is being utilised. Then there is the question of nuclear energy establishments, which will come in their time, taking the place of natural fuel. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will realise that every one of the items that has been mentioned could be covered by the suggestion that I am going to make.
As I have already explained, the Ministry of Supply and the Admiralty already bear in mind Northern Ireland's unemployment difficulties, but it is inevitable that the levelling off and the changes of emphasis in the defence programme should have their effect in Northern Ireland as, indeed, they have elsewhere. We shall continue to do what we can to help, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that arrangements have just been made by the Admiralty to place "Perseus," an aircraft maintenance 2018 carrier, at Harland and Wolff for refit later this month. This refit is expected to provide work for 500–600 men for 12 months, involving the use of almost all shipyard trades.
I have already at some length dealt with the steps which have been taken and are being taken by both the Northern Ireland Government and ourselves, and have touched on the not unsubstantial results which have been achieved. These measures will certainly be continued and wherever possible intensified.
I now come to the point to which the right hon. Member for Blythe referred, the setting up of a development corporation to encourage, initiate and undertake the establishment of new industries of a permanent character. This matter has received very careful consideration indeed. As a result of that consideration, and in consultation with the Government of Northern Ireland, we have come to the conclusion that a development corporation with executive powers would not be a desirable instrument.
Inevitably, we feel, it would overlap many of the proper functions of the Northern Ireland Government and of the normal business activities of private enterprise. It could do nothing which could not be done by the two Governments, and in an area as small and compact as Northern Ireland there are strong arguments against dividing responsibility and multiplying executive functions.
In the course of the discussions which we have had with the Northern Ireland Ministers we have agreed, however, with the view of the Northern Ireland Government that they should set up without delay an advisory development council, including representatives of both sides of industry from both sides of the Channel, to assist in tackling this stubborn problem of unemployment in Northern Ireland. This council will advise the Government of Northern Ireland on ways of promoting further economic development.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
When the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says "we have decided," can we take it that the Northern Ireland Government are wholeheartedly in favour of this proposition?
§ Major Lloyd-George
I thought I made that perfectly clear. They certainly are. I repeat, that in the course of our discussions we have agreed with the 2019 Northern Ireland Government. There is no question about that.
The appointment of this council will not in any way derogate from the general responsibility of the Government of Northern Ireland. It will be for them to carry into effect such recommendations of the advisory council as they may approve.
Her Majesty's Government have promised the Government of Northern Ireland that we shall be ready to support this new venture in whatever way seems most appropriate in the light of the recommendations adopted by Northern Ireland, not excluding, of course, the provision of such supplementary finance as is needed to give effect to these recommendations. The details of this new arrangement are being worked out at present between the two Governments and I hope that a further announcement will be possible in the near future.
There is a vast experience, particularly in the Board of Trade, of the benefits to be derived from this form of organisation. We have been particularly successful in Scotland in encouraging and providing markets, and so forth. All the projects which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned, and which my hon. Friends have mentioned, will come within the terms of reference of such a body.
§ Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)
Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman remember that we established an Industrial Development Council in Wales, in 1932, but did not get any new projects in Pembroke Dock until the war broke out?
§ Major Lloyd-George
The reason was that there was another Act afterwards. At that time I represented that constituency and did, in fact, get two factories down there.
§ Major Lloyd-George
It does not matter how it is done. Nobody can deny that in Scotland a council like this has done a tremendous job. What I am saying, and I think right hon. Gentlemen agree, is that we should make use of all the experience we have in South Wales and elsewhere. After all, all the remedies to which the right hon. Gentleman 2020 referred are already applicable to Northern Ireland and we would all agree that it is a good thing to use every possible method to improve the situation.
As I emphasised at the beginning of my speech the problem of unemployment in Northern Ireland is not only serious in degree, but, unfortunately, one of long standing. In spite of the efforts of successive Governments, no complete solution has been found, but I know that we are all anxious to make matters better if we possibly can. In conclusion, I should like to assure the House, and especially those hon. Members who represent constituencies in Northern Ireland, that Her Majesty's Government will continue to give all the assistance that lies within their power towards finding a solution of this very serious problem.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
Though I represent a Leeds constituency, I make no apology for intervening now to discuss the question of unemployment in Northern Ireland, because in another capacity I have some responsibility for the engineering trade, and especially for the trade unionists employed in it. To me and to my union a fitter or a turner unemployed in Northern Ireland is just as important as a fitter or a turner unemployed in Leeds or London.
It was in that spirit that I went to Northern Ireland last February. I have always recognised that unemployment, to paraphrase the maxim of Litvinov, is, like peace, indivisible; that, generally speaking, patches of unemployment in Northern Ireland, patches of unemployment anywhere, are a threat to full employment everywhere. When I went to Northern Ireland, the engineering employers were already talking in terms of reducing wages and lengthening hours, in effect threatening the standard of life of British engineering workers, in order to batten down the general price level and to get contracts and work for Northern Ireland.
That is not what any of us want. We want a stable price level. We want engineers, and working men generally, to be employed at the trade union rate in Northern Ireland, just as they are in any other part of the country. No one could go to Northern Ireland almost as a stranger, as I did, and fail to appreciate 2021 that the question of full employment or unemployment is front page news. When my aircraft touched down at the airport I found the Press waiting for me, and I am only a back bench Member of the Opposition, though I went in my capacity as the Secretary of the Trade Union Group of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
When I got to my hotel the whole of the Press was there. One sensed in this community what I have never seen since the 1930s, the stark fear of unemployment. There can be no question of that. On the day that I visited Belfast, the whole of the shipyard workers had stopped work, not because I went there but as a protest against another 1,600 redundancies at Harland and Wolff Ltd. It was the first time in the history of the Province that the whole of the engineering workers in Belfast stopped work on what was fundamentally a political issue.
Although the Press said that I addressed about 5,000 people, it is a fact that nearer 20,000 had stopped work. They poured in from all parts of the city to protest against unemployment. I am addressing the Treasury Bench on this matter because I want them not to underrate the fear that there is in Northern Ireland. I have known unemployment. I had a year of it during the first three years of my married life. Men who have gone through the experience of unemployment never get the chill of it out of their bones.
This is a question of the fundamental insecurity of the working class. I felt for these people whom I saw out there; I felt akin to them. It was certainly the biggest meeting I have ever addressed, and there could be no doubt about the stark apprehension. One need only think of the serious position in the necessitous areas in the 1930s to recall all the old terrors. In Northern Ireland one thought of Dunne's time theory and imagined that one had gone back 20 years to the bad old times which one had hoped would never return.
While we sit here in London glibly talking about unemployment, it is worth bearing in mind that if the unemployment figure in this country were similar to that in Northern Ireland, it would mean that we should have over 2 million unemployed. On my return from 2022 Northern Ireland I put a Question to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), about this. I said that the loyalty of Ulster, or rather of Northern Ireland, could not be maintained merely by considering Ulster as a bastion in time of war, or on the empty bellies of the workers. We should retain that loyalty by making the people of Northern Ireland feel that they are an integral part of this country, and that it is not some sort of Formosa of the British Isles.
I found in Northern Ireland a sentiment which was expressed by the hon. and gallant Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde)—I hope I do not misinterpret him—in a recent debate. There is a considerable body of opinion in Northern Ireland which holds that their affairs would be far better handled at Westminster. In fairness to hon. Gentlemen opposite, I should say that they did not want Stormont in the first place. But Stormont has been established and has set up its own Civil Service. It has its own vested interests.
Speaking generally, if we take the size of Northern Ireland and compare it against the world canvas, it is a Ruritanian puppet State. Its Government is a ridiculous, glorified county council, trying to deal with the Province's own trading economy in a vast world. When one considers some of the implications of the Treaty one finds that it has resulted in the complete ruination of Londonderry. I do not wish to discuss the political difficulties, but regarding the matter geographically, and from the point of view of modern economics, one finds a shocking state of affairs.
It so happens that today I talked to Mr. H. Lord, one of our trade union organisers, who has been making an investigation in Northern Ireland. He told me that there were 2,400 people unemployed in Londonderry. That may not seem a large figure to us, but is it not breathtaking when we realise that it represents 18 per cent. to 20 per cent. of the employable male population of Londonderry? Does not that fact make Londonderry the kind of "black spot" which we knew in the 1930s?
We find all sorts of subsidiary matters springing from unemployment. In Northern Ireland, boys leave school at the 2023 age of 14, and they find difficulty in getting jobs with a future. My friend came across a boy who had accepted a job at £1 a week which had no prospects at all. The effect of the Treaty and unemployment has completely distorted the balance of the sexes. In Londonderry, the population comprises 40 per cent. males and 60 per cent. females. I have no statistics of the relative age groups. I do not know whether the same number of young women and young men emigrate from Northern Ireland. No one would suggest, however, that an ill-balanced population augurs well for the future of Northern Ireland.
I do not wish to go into the problems of the textile industry except to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Thornton) made an investigation. He cannot be present tonight.
Many of these matters indicate the reactionary nature of the Northern Ireland Government. For many years engineering apprentices in this country have been released from their ordinary work for a day a week in order to be properly trained, because we need a greater number of technicians. The Government of Northern Ireland have just awakened to that fact. A statement has been issued by the Ministries of Commerce and Education that it is a desirable thing to do. That has been construed by the trade union movement as a somewhat belated statement, and probably nothing more than an Election gamble.
An hon. Member who intervened on the day on which I asked the Prime Minister a Question, complained that the title of No. 1 shipbuilders, which was formerly held by Messrs. Harland and Wolff, had been captured by a Hamburg firm, the reason being that the Germans could give a firm price and a guaranteed delivery date. The hon. Gentleman wanted to know, in the interests of shipbuilding workers in Belfast and elsewhere, whether the Prime Minister would cause inquiries to be made as to why shipbuilding here could not give the same facilities. He asked whether, if necessary, the right hon. Gentleman would give Government backing to enable them to do so.
2024 I was not very encouraged by what we heard from the Home Secretary this evening. He said that a development corporation would overlap the functions of Government in Northern Ireland and that it could do nothing which could not be done by the two Governments themselves. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman suggested an advisory body. The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) intervened at that stage because he was very concerned with unemployment in South Wales during former days. I remember that he wrote a book on the subject.
Advisory bodies did not get us anywhere very much with regard to the Development Areas. It seems to me that we are concerned more with the prestige of Governments, both here and in Belfast, than with really getting on with the job. Something far more imaginative than this should be done.
I wonder whether the best way would not be to put one of the atomic reactors there as an indication for all time in the future, and as a symbol, that we are committed towards the maintenance of Northern Ireland as an integral part of this country, and as an investment for the future.
Northern Ireland has no minerals. A geophysical survey has shown that. If we staked our claim with one of the dozen or so atomic reactors which there are to be round the country, that would indicate where the House of Commons stood. Northern Ireland suffers from political as well as industrial considerations. There is a fundamental feeling among her trade unionists, shall I say, in the industrial sense—though more often than not they vote for the party of hon. Gentlemen opposite for political considerations into which I will not now go—that their destiny is better cherished from Westminster than from Stormont. They have a sense of belonging. And I think that some attention should be given to that aspect of the matter.
This development corporation should be run as part of the general economic life of this country. The Six Counties really need some extra consideration because of the undoubted geographical disadvantages from which they suffer. Big factories cannot be erected in them. The question of transit and conveyance enters 2025 into the matter. Apart from shipbuilding, a very big diversion is necessary. Commodities for Government Departments, for the Post Office, and things of that sort, could be produced.
Speaking as an engineer, it seems to me that a good many secondary industries, such as the plastics industry, are wanted there. Northern Ireland has too many heavy industries. She cannot take up the slack of the older workers, the semi-skilled workers, and those kinds of people. I should have thought that there was a future for the plastics industry there.
I want hon. Members to believe that the Amalgamated Engineering Union is concerned with its members in Northern Ireland, because it is an international organisation. It has members, not only in Ireland, but in every part of the Commonwealth. The trade union card I carry allows me to transfer to any part of the Commonwealth.
A great many people from Woolwich Arsenal and Kent went over to Northern Ireland when production of the Comet began there. Those people, who were once my friends and neighbours, are suffering because of unemployment. I plead for larger vision in this matter. We should not regard Northern Ireland merely as a strategic base, or something which is politically desirable. We should not consider Northern Ireland as the "kept woman" of the Tory Party, but as an integral part of the Commonwealth, which has to be nourished and cherished in peace time as in war.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Lieut-Colonel H. M. Hyde (Belfast, North)
I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell) in his criticisms of what the Northern Ireland Government have or have not done, because I should probably be out of order if I did so. I should like to say, however, that I listened with great attention to his speech. He made a number of remarks with which I am certainly in agreement, and I imagine that my colleagues who represent Northern Ireland constituencies also agree with him. He said he hoped that Northern Ireland would not be regarded as the "kept woman" of the Tory Party. We should like to think of her as the "white-headed boy" of the Tory Party.
2026 The hon. Member spoke about unemployment, and having felt it in his bones. We who have lived in Northern Ireland, and have experienced its tragic results, could not agree more. We all feel that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) introduced the debate in a very moderate manner, which we appreciated. Unemployment is not a subject out of which party capital should be made, or a momentary electoral advantage gained.
There are one or two small points in the right hon. Member's speech upon which I should like to say a few words. He referred at the outset to the question of emigration from Northern Ireland, and suggested that the present unemployment figures would be very much higher were it not for the emigration which has been going on. That may or may not be so, but it is also fair to point out—especially as he referred to Canada—that much of that emigration has been going on from Northern Ireland to Canada for over a hundred years, in good times as well as bad. The City of Toronto, for example, is populated largely by those from Belfast and the surrounding countryside.
The right hon. Member also spoke about the non-competence of the Northern Ireland Government to deal with this problem, and with the necessity for assistance to be given by the United Kingdom Government. He referred to the Northern Ireland Government opting out of the opportunity to participate in the benefits of the Distribution of Industry Act, but under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, to which the hon. Member for Leeds, West referred, such matters as labour, employment and industry were made the special concern of the Northern Ireland Government and, constitutionally, there was no question of that Government's opting out; under that Act they could not opt in to such a scheme as that provided for in the Distribution of Industry Act. To appreciate these problems it is necessary that this peculiar constitutional relationship existing between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom should be borne in mind.
We have also heard a very full statement from my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary, in which he has set out the record of the Northern Ireland Government and the assistance 2027 which the United Kingdom Government have given to our province by providing additional work. We appreciate what he has said, and we are grateful to him for his references to the activities of the Northern Ireland Members. We make no apologies for having been a nuisance to him and to his colleagues, particularly to the President of the Board of Trade, to the Minister of Labour and to the Service Ministers. We have badgered them in season and out of season. We may not have received the publicity which right hon. Gentlemen opposite have received. We have worked in perhaps a quieter, but I hope none the less effective, manner to try to play our part in solving this terrible problem.
I do not wish to recapitulate the story—it has already been set out in some detail—but it is only fair to bear in mind that something concrete and considerable has been done. We have heard of the capital grants of about £4½ million which have been made, with £5 million to follow. That is something. We have heard of loans to industry, and of about 50 factories which have been or are being built and which, when in full production, are expected to provide work for about 40,000 people. That is something for which credit should be given where it belongs.
Some might think that the assistance given to us by the United Kingdom Government should have been greater, but it has been quite substantial. We have had our fair share of Government contracts. In fact, it could be argued that we have had more than our fair share, but certainly we have had a good helping of what has been going. As the Economic Secretary to the Treasury stated quite recently, contracts to the value of £12 million were allocated to Northern Ireland in the last year.
Mention has been made of the situation in the aircraft industry at Short Brothers and Harland. That industry came to Northern Ireland just before the war and was built up during the war until it employed about 17,000 workers. Then, of course, as with the aircraft industry in other parts of the United Kingdom, it suffered. At the beginning of the lifetime of the present Government in 1951, Short Brothers and Harland were employing about 5,000 workers, but, notwithstand- 2028 ing the setback resulting from the suspension of the production of the Comet, there are now nearly 9,000 workers employed at that firm. With the contracts for the Canberras and the Britannias we hope that not only will those figures be maintained but that there will be work to absorb even more workers. We have had also the contract from the Admiralty for the "Perseus," which should give a great feeling of encouragement in the shipyards.
The right hon. Member for Blyth spoke about shipbuilding and drew a rather gloomy picture, but it was only the other day that the contract for the new 28,000-ton Union Castle passenger liner was allocated to the Belfast yards. That is certainly something which will do a good deal to relieve the redundancies among the fitting and finishing end of shipbuilding which resulted from the completion of the "Southern Cross."
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. and gallant Member would agree, would he not, that while we pay tribute to the initiative of the yard in getting that order, it was against tremendous odds in view of the now severe competition from shipbuilding on the Continent?
§ Lieut-Colonel Hyde
I quite agree that there is competition from the Continent. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McKibbin) and myself, not so long ago, visited the shipyards of North Germany at Bremen and Hamburg and we are fully aware of that competition.
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. and gallant Member said that I was a little gloomy. Is he very optimistic, in view of that intense competition which he found, that orders for a number of passenger ships will be pouring into the Belfast yards?
§ Lieut.-Colonel Hyde
No; but it is something that we have the order for this vessel from the Union Castle line and also from the Elder Dempster line; and other orders are coming along. I do not take perhaps as gloomy a view as does the right hon. Member, although I do appreciate the situation that is caused by what is happening in the North German yards. We should, however, recognise that something has been done. Some of us think that it is not enough, but if it had not been done the unemployment figures would be much higher.
2029 I should like to say a final word on the question of the development corporation, on the one hand, which was proposed by the right hon. Member and the advisory development council, on the other hand. It may well be that in substance there is not a great difference between what has been proposed by the right hon. Member and by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary with the concurrence of the Government of Northern Ireland.
I hope that there will be representatives of both labour and management, from the textile industry, agriculture and engineering, on both sides of the Irish Sea, as well as experts serving on the council. We should take encouragement from what has been done in this direction by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry which has a number of striking achievements to its credit and which has an energetic chairman of its executive committee in the person of Lord Bilsland. I hope that in the chairman of the advisory development council we will have, not a figurehead, but a real live wire with energy, initiative and drive, who can make the new council a real success.
It must be our constant hope and prayer in Northern Ireland that, with the establishment of this council, a new era will begin in the industrial history of Ulster. Good will and co-operation are necessary from all parties; and if this debate is productive of anything the greatest good it could do would be to foster good will and a determination to put aside purely party and selfish considerations in order to work together to overcome the terrible problem of unemployment in Ulster.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ Mr. C. W. Armstrong (Armagh)
I want to deal briefly with one point in the textile unemployment problem in my constituency where, after agriculture, linen is the biggest industry. It happens that the speciality of that industry in the county is the making of linen handkerchiefs.
The abolition of Purchase Tax on piece goods, sheets, towels and other household textiles, has been of great help to that part of the industry, but for Purchase Tax purposes linen handkerchiefs are classed as garments and not as piece goods. They get no benefit from this abolition. I do not know whether paper handkerchiefs can properly or even 2030 decently be classified as garments, but the Purchase Tax on paper handkerchiefs has been abolished.
The handkerchief may seem a rather trivial part of the linen industry, but, in fact, the manufacture of linen handkerchiefs is about one-quarter of the total linen manufacture in Northern Ireland. Under the Utility Scheme it was possible for linen handkerchiefs to be sold in quite large quantities but under the D Scheme virtually no handkerchiefs can be sold free of Purchase Tax. That has had a very serious effect upon the industry in my constituency.
I make no apology for raising this question, because it represents one of the pockets of unemployment which are extremely difficult to deal with, and which cause much misery in the areas where they occur. For instance, in the two towns of Lurgan and Portadown, which are the main centres of this particular industry, out of 5,652 looms, 2,110, or well over one-third, were idle on 2nd April. This is a higher proportion than in the linen industry generally in the north of Ireland. The abolition of Purchase Tax has failed to help this section of the industry, which needed it most.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has at last agreed to relieve Lancashire, although there is no unemployment problem there because workers who are out of work can find employment quite easily in other industries. In the north of Ireland that is not the case. Those who were thrown out of work by these changes in taxation were, by and large, the skilled men who can make these high-quality articles. There is no alternative employment into which they can be absorbed.
In his statement on Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that the structure of Purchase Tax would be kept under review from the point of view of high-quality articles which are important to the export trade. The great bulk of the linen manufacture is exported, and 70 per cent. of it is exported to hard currency areas, whereas its raw materials are not purchased with dollar currencies. Therefore, I am encouraged to ask for an immediate review of the position of this trade in linen handkerchiefs, and, with that, I would ask for consideration for articles which are primarily intended 2031 for embroidery. They previously attracted a low rate of tax as unfinished articles of educational and therapeutic value.
Retail traders are notoriously shy of committing themselves to orders for goods which are liable to Purchase Tax, because of the complications of invoicing and still more because of the risk of loss if the Purchase Tax is taken off. Because the Purchase Tax has been taken off other lines of linen goods, that reluctance will now be concentrated on this unfortunate trade in linen handkerchiefs.
I most earnestly ask that the necessary adjustments in Purchase Tax be made to remove the anomalies which I have tried to describe, and I ask that that should be done before retailers stock up for the autumn and Christmas trade. If, for any reason, it is impossible to do that, I ask that the injustice done to this industry when the Utility Scheme was superseded by the D Scheme might be removed by raising the D level for these articles by 100 per cent.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Sir David Campbell (Belfast, South)
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Lieut.-Colonel Hyde) has dealt with the main issues which have been raised in this debate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Armstrong) has dealt specifically with the linen industry. I must express my gratitude to the Home Secretary for the very clear and comprehensive review which he gave us of the deplorable unemployment position in Northern Ireland, and also for his clear account of the steps which the Northern Ireland Government and our Imperial Government have taken to deal with that problem.
I welcome, and I know that all the people of Northern Ireland will welcome, the announcement which my right hon. and gallant Friend made tonight of the agreement which the Northern Ireland Government and our Cabinet have arrived at on the setting up of an advisory development council. It will form a most useful link between the two Governments, and I trust that it will bring to bear upon the problem, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Belfast, North has said, some of the best brains from the business community's side and from the employees' side to help us deal with it.
2032 The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) made a most useful contribution to the debate on the question of our unemployment. We in Northern Ireland and certainly we Ulster Members on this side of the House welcome any help we can get to deal with this issue. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of the short time problem, and there again we agree with him. I may add that the Northern Ireland Government are also concerned, and they are taking steps, as my right hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, to increase very considerably their expenditure on social services during the next five years.
There is one matter which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned to which I take exception. He referred to the visit of our Prime Minister, Lord Brooke-borough, to Australia and New Zealand. He rather sneered at the fact that Lord Brookeborough went out in connection with the development of trade, that the visit was at the expense of the taxpayer, and that instead of visiting Australia he would have done better to spend his time studying the industrial problems of Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman spent five days in Northern Ireland. Lord Brooke-borough has spent a lifetime in its service and is fully aware of its industrial problems. He will continue to serve Ulster and the people there. Although it is most unfortunate that Australia has had to cut its quota of imports, which includes linen, I am sure that when it is in a position to resume importing it will be found that Lord Brookeborough's visit will have borne good fruit. He not only went there on a mission of good will on behalf of our industries but on a mission of good will from loyal Ulster citizens, and in that I know he has done much good.
I should also like to welcome the assurance given that the Imperial Government will come to the assistance financially of the Northern Ireland Government to implement new schemes for dealing with this problem.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Alan McKibbin (Belfast, East)
The name of Messrs. Short Brothers and Harland Ltd. has been mentioned very often tonight, and I am very perturbed about the unemployment there because its factory is in my constituency. Since I 2033 raised this matter as long ago as June, 1954, I, together with the other Ulster Members, have done everything in our power to get further work for this factory.
I appreciate that the Minister of Supply has done a great deal for Northern Ireland in getting work for Messrs. Short's, but I should like to raise a point put to me by some of the workers in Messrs. Short's who are here tonight. These workers consider that more could be done, especially in the present circumstances when it is most required.
They have been studying the annual report of the Bristol Aeroplane Company Limited, which is associated with Messrs. Short's, as is the British Government, and I should like to quote one paragraph from that report:Short Brothers and Harland, Limited—In recent years we have been seriously concerned about the difficulty—through shortage of men—of further expansion in the neighbourhood of Bristol where employment is at an exceptionally high level … even the Sabre repair line, which we undertook for the R.C.A.F. in Europe, has now been subcontracted to Scottish Aviation Limited at Renfrew.I would like to know on their behalf why this contract for repairing Royal Canadian Air Force Sabre jets could not have been given to Northern Ireland. It cannot be said that they have not the facilities for doing this, as I am informed by these workers that they are working on American Sabre jets and other similar aircraft, and that these Sabre jets are sent by the American Government on aircraft carriers to Short Brothers and Harland in order to save transport costs.
I do not expect the Home Secretary to be able to answer this point, but if I cannot get an answer now from the appropriate Minister, who is the Minister of Supply, I hope that we shall get it on a future occasion.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Phelim O'Neill (Antrim, North)
I will not detain the House long, but as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) was good enough to mention at considerable length in his speech our greatest industry, namely, agriculture, I would like to say a few words about this matter. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be more at home in the industrial region of Northern Ireland than in, as he rightly described them, our pleasant fields and countryside.
2034 As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, the land of Northern Ireland is probably as intensively cultivated as any land in the United Kingdom. I give as an example the fact that in. Northern Ireland 88 per cent. of the entire cultivable area is farmed, whereas in England and Wales the comparable figure is 79 per cent. It may be of interest to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) if I compare the agricultural production in Northern Ireland with that of Wales. In some ways the two areas are fairly similar. Wales has an industrial belt along its south coast but, otherwise, it is largely agricultural. Outside Belfast, Northern Ireland is overwhelmingly agricultural.
It is an interesting fact that recent statistics show that in the 13 counties of Wales there were 238,000 pigs. In the Six Counties of Northern Ireland there were 676,000 pigs. It is an extraordinary fact, but true, that our small area of Six Counties in Northern Ireland produced last year rather over one-sixth of all the pigs produced in the United Kingdom. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that one of our problems in Northern Ireland is the fact that our farms are too small. We are very dependent on the commodities which produce a rapid turnover, which is so necessary for the small farmer, namely, pigs, milk and poultry produce.
Our beef industry is considerable. I agree that it should be expanded as far as possible, but it is difficult to see how it can be greatly expanded when our system is already so intensified, without some reduction in our milk production, and, of course, the monthly cheque is so valuable to the small farmer that he is loath to give it up.
I entirely agree that we should exert all our endeavours to produce the most modern abattoir and refrigeration plant. This is not altogether a simple matter. As my right hon. and gallant Friend pointed out, an important factor is a constant flow of cattle throughout the season. That is not easy to achieve on our very small farms. We have tended, though we are trying hard to correct it, to have a very large flush of fat cattle in the autumn period. Until we can level out the flow—and I hope we shall be able to do so—a really large-scale abattoir and 2035 refrigeration plant will take some time to organise.
I am never absolutely confident that my right hon. and hon. Friends are fully seized of the very great difficulties that are being faced by our very small farmers in these days. I was interested to hear from my right hon. and gallant Friend that the implementation of Clause 16 is now being discussed and that an announcement will soon be made. This announcement is awaited with the greatest interest and also with the greatest anxiety by all the farmers in the whole of Northern Ireland. They expect Her Majesty's Government to fulfil the promise which they made over a year ago both in the spirit and in the letter, and I feel that the intentions of Her Majesty's Government towards the problems of Northern Ireland generally will very largely be judged by the generosity with which this implementation is made.
I sincerely trust that the great faith that all our people have put in Her Majesty's Government for so long will be taken into consideration, and that we shall really see not only a square but also a generous deal.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)
According to those who study the records, this is the first debate on the affairs of Northern Ireland that we have had for many years. Indeed, I am not sure that it is possible to trace the record of when we last had a full-scale debate, except on constitutional issues.
§ Lieut-Colonel Hyde
Going back less than 12 months, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) and I introduced the question of Purchase Tax, and it ran for a whole day.
§ Mr. Callaghan
—and also during special debates on the textile industry, we have had speeches from hon. Gentlemen representing parts of Northern Ireland about their own individual interests. What I am saying—I do not think it is open to contradiction; at 2036 least, I hope it is not—is that this is the first full-scale debate that we have had for a very long time on Northern Ireland, viewing the economy of that territory as a whole. I take it that that is not challenged.
It ought also to be said that the debate has been held on the initiative of the Opposition, and that the Opposition has set aside time for the affairs of Northern Ireland to be discussed. I regret that this has been necessary. I wish that the Government themselves had found time to discuss these matters, because the whole House would have benefited by a discussion, the Government would certainly have benefited and perhaps there might have been some beneficial result to the people of Northern Ireland. However, the Opposition has provided the time in the last day but one of a dying Parliament. From the atmosphere of the Chamber tonight, it is quite clear that this Parliament ought to be dead and we ought to be away to the hustings to get back again as soon as possible.
It was extremely significant that in the Conservative Party manifesto the only reference to the affairs of Northern Ireland should be on the constitutional question. I do not understand why, in a situation in which all the Ulster Unionists Members support the Government, the only reference we can have in the party programme is to the link with the United Kingdom. We all know how important that is and we all know, as has been said tonight, that that link must be preserved, but there are other problems.
It is to those other problems that we are addressing ourselves and to which I should have thought that hon. Gentlemen opposite would have wanted to address themselves in the appeal they are making. Those of us who visited Northern Ireland for the first time last autumn were shocked by the amount of unemployment there. We were also shocked by the helplessness and hopelessness of those who were suffering that unemployment. I shall not speedily forget meeting a committee of the unemployed in Londonderry and talking with them, meeting the chairman, and seeing his son.
The son was a bright young boy of 18 or 19 years of age. I saw him coming in late one night with his books under his arm. I said, "What job do you do?" He said, "I do not work." I said, "What 2037 is your job?" He said, "I have not worked since I left school. I am studying to be an accountant and when I qualify I hope to leave this country and go to England to work. I have one day a week on the football pools." His father had been out of work for seven years. It may be asked why he did not move. He had five children and if one is living on the dole and one's capital is exhausted and one has not had very good work, it is not easy to uproot oneself and move to another part of the country to establish oneself once again.
It was that sort of person who talked to us with gratitude, because they thought that we were people trying to take an interest and help them in their work. That kindled the continued interest of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) and myself and other Members who went over there. That is the problem we want to solve. Whatever else may be said of the Home Secretary's speech tonight, I cannot take the view that he has held out any hope to those young men, or, indeed, to those older men in Northern Ireland, that they are very likely to be back at work earning a decent wage in the near future.
After all, that is the only test, and if a Government cannot pass that test, the Government fail. We ought to know by now how work can be provided. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth said, this is a tiny problem. We are dealing with 30,000 people at most. My right hon. Friend said the figure was less and he is probably right. We may be dealing with only 20,000 to 25,000 people. I say to the Home Secretary that there was nothing in his speech which betrayed any proposed drive by the Government really to get down to this problem and solve it, and we therefore regard his speech as disappointing.
To him the debate must have been reminiscent of debates in the House about the position of South Wales in the 1930s when we had reviews of what was being done. We had descriptions of all the activities that were being undertaken. The debate flowed peacefully on to its close, although not nearly as peacefully as this debate is coming to a conclusion. South Wales Members sometimes used to be much more ferocious than hon. Gentlemen opposite have been in defending the interests of their constituents; but nothing 2038 was done, the men stayed out of work; and that is all we can say is likely to happen as a result of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's very comprehensive review of the situation tonight.
I do not want—and I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth does not—to pour any particular obloquy on the travels of Lord Brookeborough to Australia. The people of Northern Ireland will make up their minds themselves whether or not the journey was worth while. I would say to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Sir D. Campbell) that it is really no use sending people like that out there, because the Australians see through them. I have had communications from Australia about such people. They call them "Titled bagmen." That is their description.
They have scorn for such people, because they do not know their job. They go out breathing good will everywhere but quite unable to sell the products or to put across the case that needs to be put across. With all good will to Lord Brookeborough, I would say that it would do Northern Ireland far more good if it would send out there people experienced in textiles who really know their job. That is all that my right hon. Friend wanted to convey, and certainly all I want to say about that matter.
My information agrees with that of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Armstrong) that the abolition of Purchase Tax will not help the linen industry as the Government may have thought that it would, and certainly it will not help that part of the industry which most needs help. I am sorry that the Home Secretary did not have more to say about that aspect tonight.
I come to a more general question, and that is whether the situation is relatively deteriorating or not. I am not in a position to say whether it is; I just do not know. The figures that the Home Secretary gave were, I thought, relatively reassuring, but I should like to quote from what Professor Isles said recently in Northern Ireland. He is well known as a professor of economics at Queen's University. He made a broadcast, art economic survey of Northern Ireland, and he said:While total employment in all industries has been growing at about 4,500 workers a year since the war, it has not been enough to keep pace with the net growth of the labour 2039 force—despite emigration—let alone take up the slack of unemployment, which never fell much more below 20,000 workers even during the war.That is his opinion. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman takes a more optimistic view.
§ Major Lloyd-George
I made it perfectly plain, I think, in so many words, that the situation was no better but we were able to keep pace with the extra number coming in. That is true not only of this Government but of their predecessors. That should not be forgotten. The other thing I said was that the situation, while serious, was not deteriorating. The figures for each of the first four months of this year were lower than those for the corresponding months of each of the last three years. The actual position is better, but I still say that it is quite serious.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I do not want to get at cross purposes with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman. He said that the position was serious and, of course, we all agree. Professor Isles said that the growth of employment has not been able to keep pace with the net growth of the labour force, so that I deduce that he thinks that the situation is deteriorating. That is all. It may be that the position is just being held but, whatever it is, it is not good enough.
I should like to say to the Home Secretary that his review of progress, including the facilities available at the Board of Trade, I thought was very fair. From one small experience that I have had of the way in which the Board of Trade deals with inquiries on this matter, I would say that it is worthy of all commendation, and that it really does try to bring to the notice of industrialists the facilities which are available in Northern Ireland. I can only regret that the Board of Trade has not been able to persuade industrialists to do the job, but I am afraid that the defect in the philosophy of the Ministers in charge of the Board of Trade makes it impossible for it to do its job. That defect was expressed by the Home Secretary—
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham) rose—
§ Mr. Callaghan
I will give way to the hon. Member in a moment.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman said that a development corporation was undesirable because it would overlap the existing Government functions and the functions of private enterprise. If the Government propose to rely on private enterprise to solve the problem, if the Board of Trade is to have no more than persuasive powers, we may as well say to the unemployed in Northern Ireland, "There is no hope for you," because private enterprise will not solve this problem.
As I understand the position, the Board of Trade has no power of control over a company which wishes to extend its buildings. If an industrialist in London wishes to put up an addition to his factory, he can do so without let or hindrance. That is private enterprise in action and it is what we expect industrialists to do. But we cannot have private enterprise acting in this way, anxious to make a profit, believing that to be the motive power which drives industry along, and at the same time say to this isolated corner of the British Isles, "You are to have the same sort of help. You are to have the same sort of things as the people in London."
I say to the Ulster Unionist Members, "You really ought to be Socialists, because the unemployment problem in Northern Ireland will not be solved until there is conscious purpose of direction of industry in your direction." The people of Northern Ireland understand that, and when the Home Secretary says that the overlap with the normal functions of private enterprise makes a development corporation undesirable, he is being true to his philosophy as a Liberal-Conservative. But he is not able to say to the people of Northern Ireland, "We will take the powers necessary to ensure that industries are set up in Northern Ireland."
That is exactly what was done after the war. How did the 500 factories get into South Wales, except through the operation of powers which were used? The iron hand was there with the velvet glove over it. It was used skilfully and with great persuasiveness, but the only way we got 500 factories in South Wales, 2041 and industry at all in South Wales, was because of the residual powers which were there in the background. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth is absolutely right. Northern Ireland missed the bus after the war when they contracted out of the Act—the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) is so anxious to interrupt me that, although Gillingham is a long way from Northern Ireland, I will allow him to do so.
§ Mr. Burden
I wonder if the hon. Gentleman would read the 1950 Budget speech of the late Sir Stafford Cripps. It is there made clear that although there may be direction of factories, competition is something which Socialism or any other "ism" cannot do anything about. Unless these factories are producing goods of the right quality and at the right price, they will not gain the world markets necessary to keep them going. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the facilities available at the Board of Trade. They should be brought to the notice—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
Order. This interruption appears to be developing into a speech.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I should not like the hon. Gentleman to think that I wish to prevent him from making any point that he desires on this aspect of the matter, because I think that the contrast in our philosophies should be thrashed out and clearly understood by the people of Northern Ireland. The hon. Member brings me now to the point I wish to make.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has interpreted Sir Stafford Cripps correctly, and what he said, but I would put this to the Board of Trade. Supposing that the Board of Trade had power today to 6ee that the development of the scientific instrument industry of this country was planned, what objection would there be to establishing part of it in Northern Ireland?
I can see some very good strategic and economic reasons for doing that. What is more, it would have the overwhelming advantage that the scientific instrument industry comprises articles of small bulk and high value. Therefore, the transport cost problem which always afflicts Northern Ireland, and which is always likely to do so, would not be of such significance.
2042 However, the Board of Trade cannot do anything about this. It put itself outside the boundary, and there is no more chance of a scientific instrument industry being set up in Northern Ireland than there is of the hon. Member for Gillingham being returned to this House after the next election.
I wish to say in all earnestness to the Ulster Unionist Members that I hope they are going to be much more ferocious in the future than they have been in the past. One of my correspondents in Northern Ireland said that they were nothing but lap-dogs of the Tory Party. I personally could not say that about hon. Gentlemen with whom I work in amity. In any case, lap-dogs bark and bite, and we have not seen much of either of those attributes from these hon. Gentlemen in the past. They will have to press for Governmental powers in order that action can be taken on issues of this sort if there is to be any solution to the problem. No solution will be found until they do that.
I am delighted that the "Perseus" is going to Northern Ireland. I think that is an excellent arrangement, but it is no more than something that the Civil Lord has conceded, and I have no doubt that he has more than one yard that he would have liked to put it into if he had not been pressed to put it into the Northern Ireland yard.
What Northern Ireland must have is indigenous industries of its own. Of course, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. P. O'Neill) was right in supporting my right hon. Friend in his demand for a chilled beef industry, refrigeration plants and ancillaries that go with an agricultural industry. Those are indigenous industries that one can set up without being left with slop-overs. [An HON. MEMBER: "Short's."] I will come to Short's. What I am going to say about Short's should be faced up to. The firm of Short's is not so much of an asset to Northern Ireland as it should be, and it will never be until it develops a successful plane of its own, and designs and builds it.
Short's lived on Swifts, which were unstable, and the orders for which have been cancelled. It has been living on Canberras, which are obsolescent. It was living on Comets, on whose unfortunate history there is no need to dilate. It is 2043 now living on the Britannia, which is an excellent aircraft. I have flown in one, and I thought it a first-class machine. But none of those planes started in Bristol. In recent years Short's has produced only one plane, the Seamew. Short's sold them to the Navy, but what the Navy are going to do with them I do not know. That is the only indigenous plane produced by Short's.
The hon. Gentleman makes my point completely that Short's must have a first-class design chief and a first-class staff who can design and build a plane. I am delighted that Scotland, which has seen the fruits of so much Socialist activity in the form of a Development Area, should want to join in.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
Would I be wrong in saying that it was a piece of Socialist planning which moved Short's, which was doing tolerably well, into Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Callaghan
Of course it was moved. Does the hon. Gentleman think it should not have been moved?
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am delighted to see some liveliness creeping into this debate. Of course it was right to move Short Brothers to Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Callaghan
One does not give private enterprise factories design teams. They should create their own—and these people are supposed to be still working under private enterprise.
I hope that the House will forgive me for speaking in my usual rather dogmatic and combative way. It is sometimes worth doing it that way, because it gets some sort of response. I very much regret that the Home Secretary had nothing to say about a dry dock. I understand that the proposal by my right hon. Friend and others who went to Northern Ireland met with favour in that country, and the information now given is that the Minister of Commerce has indicated that he has 2044 also been pressing for it, so I suppose that he has been turned down.
I would remind the Government and the Civil Lord—whom I am delighted to see here—that Britain is short of dry docks. During the last war one of our greatest shortages was of dry docks, and now that ships are being built with broader beams we shall be even more short of them. The great expansion of the tanker fleet makes it even more important that we should have a sufficient number of dry docks. So far as I know, only one or two have been built in this country since the end of the war. One was built on the North-East Coast, but I do not know of another of any significant size, apart from Bailey's at Newport.
There has been a Governmental inquiry into this matter—of which I was at one time the Chairman—and there is upon record the recommendation that we should encourage the expansion of dry dock facilities. It seems that Belfast is eminently suitable for a dry dock of this nature, first, upon strategic grounds, and, second, upon employment grounds. One of the reasons why Harland and Wollf's employees are paid off so regularly is that when the building gets to a certain point all the employees go, because there is no repair work for them to go to. They are engaged purely upon building.
Other yards, particularly those on the North-East Coast, which have both building slips and repair slips, are able to transfer their shipyard workers from one job to another, and I would remind the Civil Lord that he has a very great interest in this matter. The Ulster Unionist Members have an extraordinarily good case upon all kinds of grounds for pressing for a dry dock in Northern Ireland, and I am sorry that the Home Secretary did not make reference to it.
I come finally to the development council which it is proposed to set up. The Northern Ireland Labour Party said that if the Government did not take this step they themselves would do it. I suppose that they are now to be relieved of that obligation, and there will be an official development council. Alas, it will be advisory; alas, it will have no power, and, alas, the Northern Ireland Government will be able to ignore its recommendations if they want to. I think it is a step forward, because it is always a step forward to have somebody prodding, 2045 poking and pushing at Governments and Civil Services, but I cannot regard it—and I do not think that Northern Ireland will regard it—as anything more than a disappointing second best.
What is really needed to tackle this comparatively small problem in Northern Ireland is a development corporation with a high-powered executive, with finance provided by the United Kingdom Government upon favourable financial terms, either by way of loan or grant, and with the power, drive and energy to start a series of new enterprises in Northern Ireland to overcome the neglect of the past. It is no use spreading the matter over a series of Government Departments and expecting that they will do the job. If they could have done the job they would have done it. I am sure that they have tried their best and that they have done all they could, but they have not succeeded.
Unemployment, which was at the level of about 20,000 for many years, soared to about 60,000 in 1952. It has since receded to between 35,000 and 40,000. There it stands, and nothing seems to be able to drive it down. I do not think that the advisory council will put back a single man into a job. I wish I could think that it would.
Although the Home Secretary has been painstaking and courteous in all he has had to say, and comprehensive in his review, all the practical proposals which he has made will meet with intense disappointment in Northern Ireland, and will mean the frustration of a great many hopes which have been built up as a result of the recent Government announcement that he was to make a statement on Government plans. I regret that, because my major objective—whatever may be my minor ones—is to get the men back to work.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth)
I think I can fairly say that the tone of the debate on all sides has been one of determination and of moderate optimism. Even the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) could not help letting a gleam of optimism escape when he said that the possibility of the establishment of a scientific instrument factory is as good as the possibility of my hon. Friend the 2046 Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) being returned with a good majority to this House.
He suggested that we might have had an earlier debate on this subject, but I would remind him that this is a matter which can only be dealt with in this way either in Supply or on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, and that it is for the Opposition rather than for the Government to select the time. Indeed, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Home Secretary was very glad to have this opportunity. I think the House will realise that he was able to show that the Government have this subject very much at heart, and that we are taking definite and strenuous steps to deal with the situation.
I do not really want to add anything to what he said—indeed, I could not do so—but I would say that the various suggestions which have come from both sides will be given very careful consideration. I regret that I cannot say that about the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Armstrong). He raised the question of the Purchase Tax on handkerchiefs. The reason why those have not been exempted from the Tax while sheets, for instance, have been, is that, as my right hon. and gallant Friend has said, handkerchiefs fall into the category of clothing, being classified for Purchase Tax purposes in the same group as such articles as ties, collars and scarves.
§ Sir W. Darling
While not denying that the Department concerned can do as they like in this, why put handkerchiefs in the same category as sheets?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
They are not classified by my Department, but I think that the classification is reasonable.
As the Chancellor explained in the Budget debate, the cost to the Exchequer of exempting clothing from Purchase Tax would be too high for him to be able to contemplate at the present time. It would not be reasonable to make a special exception for handkerchiefs, in spite of what my hon. Friend has said.
On the great majority of linen handkerchiefs, of course, the tax paid is relatively small; it is only a matter of pence. Such handkerchiefs enjoy the advantage of a higher D level than handkerchiefs 2047 made of cotton or rayon, and the tax is payable only on the amount by which the value exceeds the D figure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McKibbin) asked why the Bristol Aeroplane Company sent a certain sub-contract to Scotland. I think he was referring to the Sabre jet repair contract. That originated from the Canadian Government, who were able to choose who should do the work; and they chose Scotland. That is the explanation.
§ Mr. McKibbin
Could it not have been directed to Northern Ireland in view of the present circumstances, when we so much need the employment?
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
My right hon. and gallant Friend has no power to direct the Canadian Government in what they should do.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East raised the question of a dry dock at Belfast. I must tell him that this is not required strategically and its long-term value would, therefore, depend upon its usefulness for ship repairing. The bulk of naval ship repairing is carried out in the Royal Dockyards. Additional work is shared among all the ship repairing areas and Belfast already obtains its fair share.
As regards merchant ships, there is no reason why local enterprise should not build such a dry dock if, in their opinion, it would be economic. That is the present position.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I beg the Under-Secretary not to accept that Departmental answer. Strategically, I am sure that it is wrong. Our dry docks are in a most vulnerable area. On the economic aspect, we all know that it is quite impossible for a private man to build a dry dock today.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I said that there is no reason why local enterprise should not build such a dock. As regards the strategic aspect, that is of course a matter of opinion, and I think that the hon. Member would even agree that his opinion may be wrong.
§ Mr. Robens
I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman should be briefed to say that local enterprise should provide it. He surely must know that it would cost a considerable sum of money. It is quite impossible for private enterprise, on its own, to provide a dry dock of that character.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I appreciate that the people on the spot want such a dock, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that that in itself cannot be the sole criterion and that the other considerations which I have mentioned are formidable and must be borne in mind. Of course, all those concerned will mark what has been said in the House today. Those matters will be duly taken into consideration.
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. This is the sort of thing which disappoints the people in Northern Ireland very much. The hon. Gentleman spoke about local interests building a dry dock if they so desired, but he should have made it clear that it was not within the capacity of local industry to provide such a dry dock. What my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) said about strategic values is correct. This should be a joint effort. Public money would have to be used, and the dry dock made available at least to the shipbuilding firms for a period of years. The job could be done.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I heard what the right hon. Gentleman said, but I cannot carry the matter any further at the moment, as he will appreciate.
These are the only points that call for answer in this debate. The whole House has united in showing a determination to do what we can, so far as our responsibility lies, in helping the people of Northern Ireland in this difficulty. I can certainly give an assurance that my right hon. and gallant Friend has this matter 2049 constantly in mind, and will do all he can to further the scheme which he has laid before the House this evening.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.