§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the present state of Northern Ireland; deplores the continuance of armed raids across the United Kingdom border; views with concern the continuing high level of unemployment; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to continue their contacts and strengthen their support of the Government of Northern Ireland in their efforts to attract new industries and to ensure stable conditions in industry and agriculture.It was an odd decision of the Ballot which decreed that we should have a debate on Northern Ireland just now, because there are two coincidences involved. The first is that just about the time the Ballot was taken we hon. Members who represent constituencies in Ulster had been pressing my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, as Leader of the House, for a debate on Ulster affairs in Government time. My right hon. Friend pointed out that there was always a chance of being successful in the Ballot for Private Members' Motions. That says a lot, when one couples that with my right hon. Friend's recent success at the Grand National, for his clairvoyance in the matter.
1403 I wish to make one point about that. We feel strongly that there should be an annual debate on Northern Ireland and that it should take place in the early part of each Session. I hope that my right hon. Friend will either use his psychic powers to see that we are successful in the Ballot from time to time or will provide the necessary Government time.
There is another and rather more interesting coincidence about our success in the Ballot at this time. In fact, on this day, 30th March, forty years ago, this House was engaged in debating the Second Reading of the Government of Ireland Act—the Act which brought into being the political entity of Northern Ireland about which we are going to talk now. Having read the report of that debate and looking back over forty years and remembering just what Ireland looked like then—remembering the deep-seated, bitter, vicious, violent, sectarian hatred and the assassinations, murders, bloodshed and violence of those days—can there be many who know Ireland well who would not consider in their heart of hearts, whatever side they were on, that the influence of that great Statute of forty years ago has, on the whole, been benign upon Irish affairs?
However, it will be observed that the Motion is not directed to the past but to the present—and the future. It is, I suppose, a national failing of Irishmen that they find it almost constitutionally impossible to discuss a present issue without going back to history. An Irishman—or a Scotsman—is as addicted to history as is an opium smoker to his pipe. I propose to resist that national characteristic, if I can, and come to the main terms of the Motion, but it would not be proper to have a debate on Northern Ireland affairs without looking, for a moment at any rate at a curious survival of that spirit of violence, a curious anachronism, a curious echo from those old days. I refer, of course, to what we indicate in our Motion asthe continuance of armed raids across the United Kingdom border.My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor) will be telling the House something of what it has cost us in Ulster; something of the squalid and 1404 irritating nuisance the thing has been; something of the loss of life; something of the cost in time and money to many of us. I will simply content myself with making one or two observations about it.
I think it important to realise that, as a campaign, it has been a dismal failure. First, it has not had the broad support of the Nationalist minority in Northern Ireland, and, secondly, it has been condemned by the Christian Churches. Thirdly, the Unionist majority has been calm and steady, and throughout the whole campaign there has not been one single act of reprisal. Therefore, the picture is not as someone reading casually the odd report of an incident from time to time might suppose. It is not a picture of widespread civil disturbance. It is not a picture which ought in any way to deter any man who is thinking of investing capital in Ulster. No man who is thinking of making an industrial investment in Ulster need be in the least bit afraid that his capital investment will be in any jeopardy. In point of fact capital invested in Ulster is safer than it might be in Notting Hill, in Trafalgar Square, or even were it left in the banks in London.
I come now to what is, in fact, the main purpose of our Motion—
§ Captain Orr
It is to draw attention once again to the serious unemployment problem which we have. That is our main purpose. I think that the hon. Member who said, "About time too" is really being a little less than fair.
§ Captain Orr
I have been in this House for ten years and in every single year, in every single Session of Parliament, I remember that this House has been told something about the serious position regarding unemployment in Northern Ireland.
I remember, back in 1952, drawing the attention of the House to the main ingredients of the problem. I remember pointing out then what were the principal factors in it, and that will be recollected by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). I remember saying that there was a lack of indigenous 1405 power that we had to bring our coal from across the sea. I referred to our dependence on certain basic industries, our very precarious dependence on agriculture, on linen and on shipbuilding and how especially vulnerable was Northern Ireland to the continuing rise in the cost of transport. I did not then add—it has been added since—that there is the additional hazard that we have the highest birth rate in the United Kingdom. Anyone who has taken an interest in Northern Ireland will know all this well enough.
It is somewhat frustrating to have to go on repeating the argument year after year. The main ingredients of the problem are still with us. It is true that our industry has been substantially diversified, that we are not, perhaps, so dependent on the three basic industries as we were. But they are still very important to us, and any major trouble or recession in either of these three industries would hit us catastrophically.
A great deal has been done in those ten years, a very great deal. It would be wrong not to acknowledge what has been done. Since the war, £42½ million has been spent by the Northern Ireland Government on attracting industry to Ulster and jobs for 38,000 people have been provided. In those ten years, since I first came into the House, 73 new factories have been set up in Northern Ireland, nine of which have subsequently been expanded, 47 of the old undertakings have been expanded and, in the same period, jobs have been found through the medium of those undertakings for 22,000 people. The hopeful thing about that is that two-thirds of those jobs are for male workers. Last year there were 3,000 jobs provided and, from announcements of present intentions by other new undertakings, it looks as though we shall have jobs for a further 3,000.
Our industry has been considerably diversified. Instead of three basic industries, we now have the aircraft industry, accounting machines, shoes, nylon stockings, and so on. In addition, the Northern Ireland Government recently announced a policy of building advance factories for very small undertakings. They are designed to employ forty or fifty people each, and it is hoped that they will attract people with not so 1406 large capital as those who have started bigger undertakings. There is no doubt that this has been a very great achievement. I am sure that hon. Members who have experience of unemployment in other places—
§ Captain Orr
Perhaps in Scotland— will agree that a great deal has been done by the Northern Ireland Government, no doubt with assistance from the Treasury here. It would be wrong to underrate that.
At the same time, the tragedy is that there seems to be a sort of "Parkinson's Law" operating in Ulster. The number of unemployed appears to rise in direct ratio with the number of jobs provided. We are rather in the position of Alice in "Through the Looking Glass". After a tremendous race hand in hand with the Red Queen, exhausted she sat down, only to find that she was exactly where she was when she started. When she complained to the Red Queen, the Red Queen said, "Well, in Looking Glass Land you don't run to get somewhere. You have to run very hard to stay where you are." Prodigious efforts have been made in Ulster, but the unemployment figures appear to be very nearly as bad as ever. The present rate of unemployment there is 7.6 per cent. of the insured population. By any standard, that is far too high. There is only one conclusion to be drawn from that.
§ Captain Orr
The conclusion to be drawn is that the rate of development is simply not fast enough and something has got to be done about it. There is need for an agonising reappraisal of the whole situation.
Before I come to the various suggestions which have been made—and we have not lacked advice—I wish to deal with two broad aspects which affect overall Government policy. Ulster is peculiarly susceptible and vulnerable to changes in United Kingdom economic policy. She is peculiarly susceptible to the winds of economic fortune. There have been one or two occasions during those last ten years when we thought that we were within an ace of curing the evil and when we thought that the solution to the problem was almost in sight. 1407 One was in 1950–51 when we appeared to be getting on top of the problem. Then there came the great textile recession which hit our linen industry. The other was about 1955 when again we looked like solving the problem. Indeed, the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Advisory Development Council, Lord Chandos, was of the opinion that the back of the problem could be broken in two weeks. I remember that statement. There appeared at that time a reasonable chance of solution, but then there came the necessity for restriction of credit in 1957–58 and that hit us very hard.
The point I want to make is that it is a reasonable request to make to the Government that if at any time it becomes necessary to restrict credit or to take measures to deal with a possibly developing inflation, the Government, before they do anything else, should look at the possible effects that it might have not only upon Ulster but on other parts of our community where unemployment is chronically high. If necessary, measures should be taken to insulate such areas from the worst effects of the policy. It is not that we are in any way reluctant to bear our full share and burden of anything that may be placed on the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. It is that we do not want to bear an unfair burden. We do not want to bear more than our fair share, which certainly falls upon us when this sort of thing happens.
One other general point I want to make is in connection with the present Local Employment Act and its operation. The Government are about to extend to a number of areas which they have scheduled many of the advantages that we have had exclusively, in Ulster. We make this request to the Government, that if, for instance, a company seeking to expand is refused an industrial development certificate in London, Coventry or somewhere else and its attention is directed to other places, those places shall be put to it by the Board of Trade in the order of the seriousness of the unemployment figures. As will readily be seen, at the moment Northern Ireland is at the head of the list.
We hope that if there is any great industry which the Government know is 1408 seeking expansion the Government, as soon as they know that, will see that steps are taken by the Board of Trade to inform the Northern Ireland Ministry of Commerce straight away. We acknowledge the help and advice which has been given us by the Board of Trade. The Northern Ireland Government tell me that they warmly welcome what the Board of Trade has already done for them and that relations are cordial. I hope that they will remain cordial.
Let us examine some of the suggestions which have been made. As I have said, we have not lacked advice. We have had the advice of Members of the Northern Ireland Parliament, of Ministers, of every political party, of trade unions, of committees, of university professors and of students. We have in no way lacked advice, and it is impossible in a short speech to go into all the suggestions which have been made. I should like to take what seem to me to be the more substantial points put forward.
First, it has seemed odd for some time to many people that the great Port of Belfast, with Harland and Wolff, the largest shipyard in the world, should not have ship-repairing facilities and a large dry dock. This proposition has been put forward before. I believe that the right hon. Member for Blyth mentioned it some time ago.
§ Captain Orr
My colleagues and I in the House have come to the conclusion that the time is ripe for that to be looked at seriously again. It must be remembered that four parties are involved—the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, Harland and Wolff, the Northern Ireland Government and the Treasury here. We think that the provision of such a dry dock would be of value to Harland and Wolff in seeking to attract orders.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
What have the hon. and gallant Gentleman and his colleagues been doing since 1954 to get the Government to do something about this? He asks them to look at the proposal again now, but I understand that the employment figure in Northern Ireland has been high for many years. What have hon. Members opposite been doing about this proposal?
§ Captain Orr
I think that perhaps the best method of dealing with interventions would be for the hon. Member to speak in the debate and make such points as he wishes to make and for one of my hon. Friends subsequently to deal with them.
This proposition was examined several years ago.
§ Captain Orr
By the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, Harland and Wolff and the Ulster Government. It was then decided by the three parties, for whatever reasons obtained at that time, that this was not a good proposition. Since then the Ulster Government have said that if the Belfast Harbour Commissioners and Harland and Wolff between them put forward a scheme, the Ulster Government will look at it sympathetically.
The point I want to make in this debate is that this is a question of cash and that the British Treasury is involved. I should like an assurance from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, or the Under-Secretary of State, that if such a scheme is put forward and is given the approval of the Ulster Government, it will not fail for want of Treasury support. I believe that it would be of inestimable value to Belfast, that it would provide work in building and continuing work and that it would also be of value to Harland and Wolff.
We are very anxious, too, about the future of our shipbuilding industry. A major recession in shipbuilding would be a catastrophe for Ulster. The firm of Harland and Wolff is beginning to get short of orders. Most of the great passenger liner companies have completed their post-war reconstruction schemes. Orders are beginning to get scarce. Competition from Continental shipyards is increasing. When the Government consider the Report of the Committee on the building of another Queen liner, or two more Queen liners, I ask them to consider the unique claims of Harland and Wolff. They are unique, not only because of the importance of the unemployment problem in Ireland but because Harland and Wolff, the largest shipyard in the world, already has a unique experience in the building of this type of passenger liner. Hon. Members 1410 have only to think of the "Arcadia", the "Amazon", the "Southern Cross", the "Orcades" and, a fortnight ago, the "Canberra", the largest passenger liner built since the war, to realise that what I am saying is true. I believe that the firm of Harland and Wolff has a unique claim to build such a ship if the Government decide to finance it.
One of my hon. Friends who represents a Belfast division hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and to deal with the aircraft industry in more detail, but I must point out that Short and Harland has been left out of the big mergers in the reorganisation of the aircraft industry. It is as yet too early to say whether that was a wise decision. Much depends on the Government's policy. We hope that the fact that Short and Harland has been left out does not mean that there will not be steady and continuing production there. It is a very important ingredient in our employment set-up.
The contract for the Britannic freighter has not yet been signed. We understand that it is possible to make all the plans for production and even to start production without the contract being signed, but there is no doubt that the fact that it has not yet been signed has created uneasiness among the workers in Short and Harland. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear that point in mind.
§ Mr. Robens
How does the hon. and gallant Member suggest that work on such a venture can start without the contract being signed?
§ Captain Orr
We are assured that it is possible to go to the extent even of cutting metal, but I agree that we ought to get the contract signed as soon as possible in the interests of everyone.
May I say a few words about agriculture? It is our largest industry and we are very dependent on it. It is a thriving, prosperous and efficient industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) hopes to make his maiden speech to the House on the subject of agriculture. He has had a long experience as a farmer and considerable experience as a prominent member of the Ulster Farmers' Union.
I will confine my remarks on agriculture to stating that we are very dependent on the industry and that there 1411 is a certain uneasiness—certainly I have found it in my constituency—whether it is the Government's intention, in the face of European free trade, gradually to run down their support for agriculture. We should like an assurance that it is the Government's intention that our agriculture shall continue steady and prosperous.
I want next to deal with a subject ancillary to agriculture. A suggestion has often been made that we ought to develop some of the industries which are related to agriculture. The right hon. Member for Blyth and many others have made the point from time to time that, for instance, we ought to develop our dead meat industry and that, rather than export cattle on the hoof, we should export dead meat.
The trouble about that is that we are up against hard economic facts. Only last weekend I heard of an example. A leading Ulster farmer, a man who had taken a great part in the Ulster Farmers' Union and a man of substance and ability, got together a few other farmers and industrialists and made a determined effort to see whether they could not start a company to do this very thing. They went to the Midlands and to the north of England and found a ready market. They got some indication as to price, and carefully costed the whole operation right back to the beginning, taking into account transport, overheads and so on. Even allowing for the bare minimum of profit margin, they came to the conclusion that the price which they could offer to the farmer simply would not justify the operation. It might have justified it for a month or two in the year, but no one could start a business on that basis. We are up against economic facts, and I do not know that there is any great future in that idea for the solving of our unemployment problem.
I want to deal with one other matter which has been widely canvassed in Ulster, particularly by the party opposite. I should like to assure hon. Members opposite that what I have to say about this is not animated by any doctrinaire prejudice. We in Ulster are not too proud or too party-politically-minded to take advice from any quarter if we think there is anything in it, and if we 1412 think it will provide one more job for the unemployed in Northern Ireland.
This is a question whether the Northern Ireland Development Council should be abolished in favour of a full-scale statutory development corporation. This suggestion has been canvassed for some time. As I understand it, what would be proposed would be that we should have a statutory body with powers and with the backing of both Governments, here and at Stormont, with its own administrative and technical staff, with a full-time chairman, and with a provision of capital, it has been suggested, of about £25 million or £30 million.
It is suggested that this corporation should have power to issue shares or to take shares in companies, even to take control of companies if it were necessary, to make loans and to finance public works. The argument, as I understand it, is that it would make more capital available, and, in particular, attract such Northern Ireland capital as is at present invested outside Northern Ireland. I have heard it said that £650 million of Northern Ireland capital is invested outside and that if there were a body of this sort it would be invested at home.
I have tried to examine that as fairly and objectively as I can, but I cannot see what it would do for our unemployment problem that is not already done. If it is a question of attracting industry, of exciting the interest of industrialists, of advertising and propaganda, I cannot see what such a body could do that has not already been done by the Northern Ireland Development Council. If we argue that the Development Council does not do enough, it simply means that the Development Council needs more money.
§ Captain Orr
I do not think it is a question of power. I think it has all the power it wants in that direction. If it is a question of dealing with new industries in Ulster and of making grants and loans where necessary, I cannot see what such a corporation would do that is not already done by the Ulster Minister of Finance, and particularly by the New Industries Department of the Ministry of Commerce. If it is a question of public works, I cannot see that it would be better to have public works financed 1413 by such a corporation than to have them financed through the medium of a Government Department or a local authority. I think we get better public control in the latter way. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that there is not very much to be said for a change in that machinery.
This brings me to the very kernel of the problem. I do not believe—and the Northern Ireland Minister of Finance is on record as agreeing with this—that the real problem is capital. It is now an accepted proposition by all Governments that in order to spread employment throughout the country they should use public money. We should use the device of preventing development in places where it is not needed and should use public money to attract industry to those places where it is needed. I am not sure that we are using the right method of spending public money.
Attention has so far been directed entirely to capital, but what we in Ulster want is not necessarily the man who is short of capital to start an industry. The people we want to attract to areas where there is chronic unemployment are people who are contemplating expansion on a long-term basis. They are the bigger public companies with plenty of resources behind them, which are capable of withstanding a down-turn in our economic affairs and of standing up to periodic slumps. What we do not want to see are little factories starting up with little behind them which, when we get a recession, close down, with the bitterness and disappointment which that causes.
We want to see the big companies coming to Northern Ireland. The average big company is not short of capital. It has its own capital resources, and it has the ability to raise money on the Stock Exchange and by loans from the bank. What the big industrialist looks for is something long-term. He is not concerned with merely getting his capital back, but with being able to stay there for ten years or more.
What we ought to direct our attention to, and what I should like the Government seriously to consider, is that we should seek the incentive to industry— and this applies not only to Ulster but to every other place where there is unemployment—in the realm of taxation. 1414 The point has been conceded with regard to Malta, and a taxation incentive has already been proposed to attract industry to Malta. I should like to see it applied throughout the United Kingdom where unemployment is serious, and particularly to see it applied to Northern Ireland. I believe that if there were an allowance against taxation for, say, a period of ten years, that would be a greater attraction than any capital inducement, and I look to the Government to consider that point.
Many suggestions have been made and points raised. I know that many of my hon. Friends and some hon. Members opposite would like to speak in this debate, and we should like to hear as many views as possible. Therefore, I will come now to one suggestion which I think ought to be seriously looked at. I have heard it suggested that we ought to have a Minister for Northern Ireland Affairs, and that that, in some way, would help us. I personally do not think that that is the sort of new machinery that we require, because I think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is, in effect, Minister for Northern Ireland affairs. I do not see that any one new Minister could do anything more than my right hon. Friend does at present. We acknowledge warmly his continuing interest in Ulster and his concern about us. I think that some new machinery is now needed, and that that machinery ought to take the form of some sort of joint Ministerial committee. It would meet, in the first instance, to make a reappraisal, a review, of the whole situation, and it would continue as a permanent organisation, meeting from time to time to review what is being done.
I should like such a joint committee to consist of my right hon. Friend in the chair, the Minister of Transport, the President of the Board of Trade, and a Treasury Minister, on the one side. On the other side I should like the Northern Ireland Minister of Finance, the Northern Ireland Minister of Commerce and perhaps the two Ministers of Agriculture on either side. I believe that such a joint committee is the right sort of machinery for producing the reappraisal of our situation which we want, and I believe that meeting from time to time it could look into all these problems.
One wants to look at the constitution and relationship. One wants to try to 1415 deal with the curious fiction of the Imperial contribution. One wants to look at our transport problem all over again. One wants to look at the cost of our coal all over again. One wants to look at the matters which I have already discussed.
It may have appeared to the House as if Ulster were a poor relation, coming here pleading for help from Ministers and from the Treasury. That is not the case. We have had to lay emphasis upon our difficulties. We have had to lay emphasis upon our serious employment problem, because it is by far the most urgent and the most necessary. It must not be forgotten that we are far from being a poor relation. We have much to contribute to the economic life of this country. Our export trade in textiles, shipbuilding and aircraft, contribute to the economic life of this country. Our agriculture helps to supply the larders of this country. We feel that we have much to contribute.
We feel that we have a right to say that, as it is now the Government's policy to spread employment in this country, we have the first claim on their attention. Our problem is the worst, and we confidently call upon the Government to tackle it. If something new is done, if a new approach is made now, we shall be well satisfied with this debate.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John E. Maginnis (Armagh)
I beg to second the Motion.
I heartily support my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) in all that he has said about Northern Ireland. I know that I may, by tradition, count upon your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, and that of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House on this memorable occasion of my maiden speech.
Before going on to speak about agriculture in Northern Ireland and the effects of the recent Farm Price Review, I should like to take a few moments to introduce myself to the House. I represent one of the most important, if not the most important, constituencies in the United Kingdom, Armagh. The City of Armagh is the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland, and the County of Armagh is commonly known as "The Garden of Ireland". In 1416 its famous orchards, nine-tenths of all Irish apples are grown, along with considerable quantities of soft fruits. Although largely agricultural, there are many other industries, including linen, pottery, carpet making, furniture and engineering.
I am deeply interested in the welfare of all the industries in my constituency and the hard-working people engaged therein, but, as I intimated at the beginning of my remarks, I will now proceed to deal with Northern Ireland agriculture in general. As my hon. and gallant Friend stated, agriculture is the largest single industry in Northern Ireland and, as in other parts of the United Kingdom, the recent Farm Price Review has caused considerable comment. The biggest talking point is the cut in the guaranteed price for eggs.
At first sight, the estimated loss to poultry keepers in Northern Ireland is approximately £500,000, but when the alteration to the profit and loss sharing arrangements between the Government and the British Egg Marketing Board is taken into account, it may well be that poultry keepers will receive a better price for their eggs in 1960–61 than they did in 1959–60, despite the cut of 1.38 pence per dozen.
The announcement of this alteration by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture after the Price Review, and also when replying to the debate on the Supplementary Estimate for Agricultural and Food Grants and Subsidies, was not given the publicity it deserved. I hope that on future occasions such an important announcement as this will be widely publicised in all Northern Ireland newspapers. Many egg producers are still unaware of the new arrangements and may be criticising the Farmers' Union unjustly.
While welcoming this important change, I do not agree that the present guaranteed price is adequate. Poultry keepers in Northern Ireland have been steadily reducing their flocks. In December, 1959, the number of birds fell by almost 1 million compared with the 1958 figure. Since the announcement of the recent cut, orders for day-old chicks have been steadily decreasing. It is almost certain that there will be a shortage of eggs this year, resulting in 1417 higher prices and a consequent increase in the cost of living index.
The reduction in production grants will mean a considerable increase in the cost of fertilisers and lime. This will be partly offset by a reduction in the prices now operating for these fertilisers. The net result may well be a restriction in their use, and a consequent lowering of yields. The cut in grain subsidies, amounting to £40,000, while not a severe one, could lead to a further reduction in the area under the plough. The cut in the prices for fleece wool sheep and lambs is a double blow and will amount to between £50,000 and £65,000. Sheep farmers in Ulster are bound to feel discouraged at receiving the full force of the axe in all three commodities at once.
I should like now to ask my right hon. Friend a direct question. Could he not have spread the burden over more than one Price Review? While recognising that the Government have an obligation to protect taxpayers and consumers and that trade commitments have to be taken into account, I am still convinced that the amount by which the guarantee has been cut is not fully justified. It would require a considerable addition to the 1959–60 prices to keep the real income of the farmer comparable with the 1948 level.
One word is used in every Price Review which has become almost as famous as the House of Commons itself. It is the word "efficiency". Paragraph 6 of the White Paper says thatthe Government assessed the industry's increasing efficiency at about £25 million for review commodities"—that is, over the whole of the United Kingdom—which represents a gain of about 2 per cent. per annum on gross outputAdvantage is taken of this to reduce the amount of the total guarantee. The reduction for 1960–61, after taking into account the increased costs of the industry, is £9 million for the whole of the United Kingdom.
I am well aware that the reduction could have been £19 million, but I am still of the opinion that the efficiency estimate of 2 per cent. per annum may prove too high and that the farming community will find themselves in a less 1418 favourable position financially than those engaged in other industries.
It is very difficult to explain to farmers why they suffer a reduction in guaranteed prices by becoming more efficient. Many of them feel that they are being treated like the children of Israel, who, at first, received straw from the Egyptians to make bricks, but, later, had to gather the straw themselves and still produce the same quantity. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider issuing an explanatory leaflet on the subject.
Turning to the brighter side of the Review, Northern Ireland pig producers will benefit by £600,000. This is merely because Northern Ireland has a very high pig population. I welcome the new arrangements whereby the quality premium is now separated from the guarantee. Although the guaranteed price for milk is reduced by £100,000, this will be partly offset by the increase of a million gallons in the standard quantity; the net reduction to dairy farmers being in the region of £35,000.
I was particularly pleased to note that the Government have recognised the difficulties of potato growers by granting a small increase of 5s. 6d. a ton. I am also very pleased to see that the arrangement under which a transport subvention may be paid, and that the arrangements for the processing of surplus potatoes will be continued. I hope that my right hon. Friend realises that the potato growers in Northern Ireland, who produce the finest seed and ware potatoes obtainable anywhere in the world, are placed at a disadvantage by the regulations brought into force last year whereby the support price per ton was replaced by a guarantee to the industry. This had a serious effect on potato prices last season, and I would be very grateful if the Minister would look into the matter with a view to making some improvement in the present arrangements.
I note that prices for fat cattle will remain the same. An increase in the guaranteed price would have been welcomed, as the cost of producing beef has been steadily rising.
Farmers have to plough back a considerable amount of their profits, and if the Government persist in keeping farm profits too low it will inevitably lead to a contraction in the industry, which would 1419 aggravate our already serious unemployment problem. I, along with other farmers, am grateful for the large measure of support given by the Government, and I am glad that they have undertaken to continue this support for at least the duration of the present Parliament.
I hope that my right hon. Friend and hon. Members on both sides of the House realise that the farmer has to work a seven-day week, and that he has to contend with all kinds of weather and disease which can completely rob him of his profit. He is doing a wonderful job for the nation, and I sincerely hope that he will always receive a just reward for his labours.
In all their dealings with Northern Ireland, I would ask the Government to bear in mind the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who, when he was Prime Minister, said:But for the loyalty of Northern Ireland, the light which now shines throughout the world would have been quenched.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Robens (Blyth)
It is my very pleasant duty to congratulate the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) on his maiden speech. It is clear from what he has said that he is a great authority on agriculture, and I am quite sure that when we have our agricultural debates, in particular, we shall look forward to his speeches with considerable interest. The House is always interested in speeches made by people who are authorities on their subjects, and I know that the hon. Gentleman would find himself quite at home and at ease in agricultural debates in this House.
I hope, however, that the Home Secretary, who has some responsibility for Northern Ireland, will put to his colleague the Minister of Agriculture the suggestion that together they might produce a short booklet on making bricks without straw. It might, at least, make entertaining reading.
I do not wish to take up much time, but it is important that we on this side of the House should say something about the very difficult problem that faces Northern Ireland. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) made an interesting speech, but I hope 1420 that he will not take it amiss if I say that I was rather disappointed. I thought that he would have devoted his speech to constructive suggestions and ideas for dealing with the very difficult problem that has been facing Northern Ireland for so many years, a problem that seems insoluble—the problem of high unemployment.
Instead of that, he proposed the setting up of another committee, which I do not think would gat him anywhere. I doubt very much whether Ministers of the Imperial Government could possibly find the time to attend any more meetings than they do at present. I doubt whether it would achieve very much, and I doubt very much if the hon. and gallant Gentleman would get very much from it.
He also wanted special Income Tax concessions for Ulster. I doubt whether the Government could look at that. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and such a concession would mean similar concessions to other black spots in the United Kingdom where unemployment is just as high. It would blur the whole picture of the unemployment situation.
The solution really lies in Ulster itself, with, of course, the backing of this House and the Government of the day. The solution really does lie in Ulster. When I read the debate that took place on 15th March in the Northern Ireland Parliament I was, again, very disappointed. There, again, Ministers seemed not to have grasped the fact that what is wanted in Northern Ireland now is not a recital of what has happened over the years, not a paternal back-slapping operation over what has been accomplished, but a facing of the fact that unemployment will be solved only by taking brand-new initiatives, even though the Ulster Parliament and Government may doubt those initiatives at the present time. There was, at least, something in what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said about his being prepared to look at any proposal, irrespective of any political bias, in an effort to solve the problem.
We must look at the size of the problem and put our ideas together in order jointly to try to solve what is not a political matter, in the sense that we all want to get rid of the areas of heavy unemployment in Great Britain or 1421 Northern Ireland. Unemployment in Northern Ireland has now reached about 3.6 per cent., in comparison with the national average of 1.9 per cent., but I look at the other figures which show an even worse picture—the relationship of the numbers of people unemployed to the vacancies on the register.
It is remarkable and a little alarming to realise that in England, for every vacancy, there are two people unemployed; in Wales, there are four; in Scotland, there are ten, but in Northern Ireland there are forty-two people unemployed.
That is not the worst of the story, because about 5,000 people emigrate from Northern Ireland each year. Speaking in parenthesis, as it were, I would say that it is a bad thing to lose young manpower year after year to that extent. If it were not for that emigration, however, the figures would be altogether too terrible to contemplate.
This is a long-standing problem. There are special difficulties which all of us who have studied the question recognise. The hon. and gallant Member made some reference to them, but I shall not go over them again because I am quite sure that they are perfectly well known to everyone in this House.
There is the problem. What is the solution? The simplified solution is to find 20,000 brand-new jobs for Northern Ireland. That would take care of about 30,000 unemployed people, because new jobs in themselves begin to attract and make employment for others. How are we to get 20,000 new jobs? The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South indicated that, whilst a good deal had been done by the Development Council, by the Government and all sorts of interests, nevertheless new jobs have not been provided in sufficient numbers. In other words, the increase in the population must be taken care of at the same time as one deals with the problem of the present unemployed.
There is at the moment on Northern Ireland's plate one problem which can be met by two solutions only. One must be short-term and the other long-term, and I think it is important that the problems should be divided in this way. Short-term, the problem is clear. Northern Ireland already has its unemployment. It 1422 is no use waiting for long-term solutions to a present-day problem. One must see what can be done about present-day problems. The present-day problem is not so much the amount of unemployment at the present time. There is anxiety in the minds of people in Ulster that the unemployment situation arising from the decline in the shipbuilding and aircraft industries will deteriorate rather than improve.
In Northern Ireland there are some of the finest shipbuilding facilities in the world. Belfast is noted througout the world as one of the great builders of ships over the years. For the quality of its craftsmanship and its ability to turn out good ships no one has to advertise Belfast. No one has to advertise Northern Ireland. That fact is accepted by ship owners throughout the world, and that is one thing in favour of Northern Ireland.
It was a pity that when in 1954 suggestions were made, with a good deal of publicity behind them, to build a dry dock, it was not started. To build a dry dock now will help in the years ahead, but it will not meet the immediate problem. "Canberra" was launched only the other week. Where will it go to be fitted out, and where will it go for repair? It cannot go back to Belfast because there is not a dry dock large enough to take it. Shipping is becoming bigger and bigger. The tanker companies are going in for 100,000 ton tankers. They can never go to Belfast to be repaired. There is no hope of a repair job there for the big tankers. The big tanker during the course of its life has to come back to be almost rebuilt, for its plates wear out because of the cargoes that it carries.
Unless Belfast is provided with a dry dock, I believe that in the years ahead it will be left behind as a shipbuilding yard, because the tendency will always be to build a ship where it can be repaired. That is good shipbuilding practice, and where practical it is done. The dry dock is among the matters which must receive immediate action. It is a great pity that the Ulster Government six years ago did not get on with the job of building that dry dock, whatever the cost and whatever the consequences. The world requirement for large dry docks is considerable; there are plenty of small dry-docking facilities 1423 but there are not enough large dry docks.
Let me say what is wrong with the Northern Ireland Government. Ministers have been in their jobs far too long. They need a shuffle. Even here in the Imperial Parliament Ministers are moved around in the same Government. How many Ministers of Defence have we had —five, six, or seven? The Minister of Transport and the Leader of the House have been in many offices during the last few years. Ministers can be too long in their jobs. They lose initiative and drive. I say with the greatest respect to them, most of whom I have known personally and for whom I have a high personal respect, that it would be a good thing to get a bit of fresh air into the Parliament of Northern Ireland. Let them try some new people and get some more initiative from people who are prepared to do something more than just repeat this long recital, to which I have already referred, of how good they have been in the past but without a suggestion of what they might do in the future. The shipbuilding facilities at Belfast have got to be provided, with the dry dock, in such a way that Northern Ireland can tender and take work in, and that must be done immediately.
With regard to aircraft, here again the establishment is there. So are the machinery, the workshops, the men, the skill and the craft. They are outside the merged firms. Therefore, being outside the merged firms, and having a fairly healthy dose of State capital within the organisation, the Northern Ireland Minister in charge has a right to demand from the Government at home a firm statement of what is proposed to be done about the declining aircraft industry, with particular reference to the aircraft industry situated at Belfast.
This is essential because although engineers in this country can change their jobs with some facility—if they are in Birmingham they can go to Coventry, and so on—where does an engineer who is out of work in Belfast go to? He has to take an aeroplane or a boat to this country. It would be very much better to sustain that industry in Belfast. Here again, the Government are the people who order aircraft. They decide where the aircraft shall be built. 1424 What should be demanded now is a clear exposition by the Government at home of what they propose to do in the allocation of orders and what proportion of orders will go to Short Brothers at Belfast during the next few years.
I have been a little surprised when reading the reports of previous debates in the Ulster Parliament. I remember an intervention by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland twelve or fourteen months ago in the House announcing that the Britannia was to be built. Now the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South says that the contract has not yet been signed. This is appalling. Who in the Northern Ireland Parliament has made a scene about the fact that the Britannia contract has not been signed? Members should have been on their feet every day demanding from the Government that this contract should be signed.
It is the crying child that gets the most milk in this world, and it is no use sitting back and complaining, fourteen months after the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland interrupted one of my colleagues on the Opposition side—that small, happy band of men who keep that Parliament alive—to announce "We have got the contract for the Britannia." It is not signed yet. If this is not a case of dilatoriness on the part of the Government of Northern Ireland, I do not know what is. We will support those hon. Members in their demand for the Government to state their real proposals for the aircraft industry, for we are also interested to know what the proposals are for this country as well as Northern Ireland.
In the short term, we must deal with the present indigenous resources of Northern Ireland—shipbuilding, engineering, aircraft and, of course, agriculture. I bow to the superior knowledge of the hon. Member for Armagh on agriculture, but I am bound to say that I have never understood why thousands of people should have left agriculture in Northern Ireland when, on their doorstep, is the biggest customer in the world for agricultural produce.
§ Mr. Robens
The hon. and gallant Gentleman says there is mechanisation, but can he assure me that the whole of 1425 agriculture in Northern Ireland is so fully utilised that the best is being obtained from every single acre? I very much doubt it. All I know is that from a country that did not treat us too happily during the war and after—the Argentine—we take meat to the tune of £58 million a year. The Argentinians do not complain that they are thousands of miles from the shores of this country. They sell us the meat, and it is, presumably, sold at prices which enable it to be bought and sold in the shops here.
Do hon. Members from Northern Ireland really say that the short distance between Northern Ireland and this country is to be compared with the long haul from the Argentine and that their meat trade cannot be put on such a basis —by chilling, by using air freight or by developing the fresh meat trade—that they can have a substantial part of the meat trade which the Argentine is now doing with this country? If so, I shall be very surprised and, with great respect to the hon. Member for Armagh, I shall draw the conclusion that the industry is not as efficient as it is made out to be.
It seems to me, also, that Northern Ireland ought to be establishing a good many industries secondary to the agriculture industry. In this country, the demand for pre-packed foods grows week by week. Supermarkets are being built all over the country and, of course, this country, which is a part of the United Kingdom, is not the only place where pre-packed foods are required. They are required on the Continent and elsewhere. There is not enough planning behind developing agriculture in order to create secondary industries to provide things such as, for example, tannery products. Why do the people of Northern Ireland import 1,250,000 pairs of shoes every year, when they could, obviously, if tanning were a really good secondary industry, do a good deal of the work themselves?
The figures are there. The hon. and gallant Member has but to look at the Trade and Navigation Accounts, as I have, to see exactly what this country is buying and to see exactly what Northern Ireland could supply. He must then ask himself the question, "Why cannot we supply, over a few miles of water, some of those things?" Again, he will come back to the answer that Northern 1426 Ireland's industry is not organised to do the job and elsewhere industry is. This is where initiative is required.
It is no use coming here to say that a Cabinet committee or some more money here or there will do the job. It will not. It will be an "ambulance", it will help on the way, but it will not do the job. The solution to Northern Ireland's problem lies in Northern Ireland, through bringing all that country's indigenous resources and skilled manpower together, working them together, and finding out exactly what can be done in order to supply this huge market which lies upon its doorstep. What is really needed is a good deal of initiative.
That is the short-term solution. In the long term, what is needed is a development corporation. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South suggested that the present Development Council will be as effective as a development corporation would be. I do not agree at all. If there were a corporation on the basis which he indicated—I would put its capital at far more than £25 million—I could tell him where some of the capital could come from. It is costing already about £5 million a year, in very rough figures—it may be much more—to provide unemployment pay for the 30,000 unemployed people of Northern Ireland. That sum in itself would service a loan of £100 million.
I am as careful as anyone about spending public money, but I would rather see money servicing a big loan for capital development than pay money out to men and women who are out of work and who would be much happier working than receiving unemployment pay. The best way to use public money is to use it for development purposes, not for the payment of subsistence allowances. With such a loan of about £100 million, which unemployment and other allowances on top would service, it would be possible for a corporation having the right itself to develop industries really to go ahead and do something.
Industry will not come running to Northern Ireland and say, "We want to put a factory here". No doubt, people in Northern Ireland have been tremendously encouraged by the Council and much has been done, but what is required is a corporation with money and power 1427 to set up industries and have its salesmen throughout the world selling the goods which can be made. All over the world, developments of enormous size are taking place. In Africa and Australia, for instance, and many places throughout the Commonwealth, vast sums of money are being spent on engineering and engineering products. In my view, in Northern Ireland there could be a number of firms meeting the requirements of some of these enormous engineering projects throughout the world. Energetic people could set up smaller engineering shops for the production of such things. But one must go out into the world and sell the commodities, and, before one can sell them, one has to have the commodities to sell. The Council is not at the moment in a position to do that, but a corporation would be. It could set up its own organisation and own its own factories.
But, of course, the real problem is that neither the Government here nor the Ulster Government like State ownership of anything, and they are prepared to accept the failures of private enterprise— this is what has happened in Northern Ireland and this is why so much Northern Irish money is invested outside—rather than swallow a bit of political pride and say that, as private enterprise has failed in Northern Ireland, they must go in with State enterprise and do something about it. The world is Northern Ireland's oyster just as it is the oyster of Great Britain or any other great manufacturing country. But, of course, people have to go all out to do these things.
The short-term solution can be applied, I think, only with tremendous help from the Government here at home. The job cannot be done in Northern Ireland itself. The long-term job is a Northern Ireland job, and it is a job that can be done. There are men there with the capacity to do it. It is a first-class country with first-class people in it, with good craftsmen, and a reputation which is high throughout the world. The people of Northern Ireland have all they need to do a good job except a good Government to ensure it.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. R. A. Butler)
I know that we all join with the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) in congratulating 1428 my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) on his excellent maiden speech. The right hon. Gentleman, very adequately, I think, expressed our views on this happy occasion.
I shall not go into detail in answering my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh on the subject of agricultural policy except to say that I will of course take up his suggestion for more explanation with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The more the Government's agricultural policy is explained, the more successful it is, because, of course, it is so good that further explanation cannot but add to its great value and enhance its prestige.
When I listened to my hon. Friend, I thought, at first, when he spoke about the children of Israel, that he was engaged upon the Book of Lamentations, but, a little later, when he came to his paeans and psalms of praise, the objects were the pig and the potato. I am glad that some aspects of this year's Price Review, at any rate, pleased our friends in Northern Ireland.
I remind my hon. Friend, also, of the Small Farmers' Scheme, introduced only a short time ago, the operation of which I myself have watched as it has assisted the small farmers of Northern Ireland. It has been one of the most beneficial Measures of its time in helping the small farmer in Northern Ireland. The number of schemes which have improved the position of Northern Ireland farmers compared with the total number of schemes is quite staggering, and it has been a Measure essentially designed to assist Northern Ireland as well as small farmers in other parts of the United Kingdom.
If there is time, my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will try to answer other points. I shall be brief, because I do not wish to stand in the way of the debate more than I can help. The right hon. Member for Blyth gave us an example in that. I thought that no possible exception could be taken to the tone of his speech, except that I did notice a difference of emphasis between the way he spoke about the Northern Ireland Government and the way he spoke about the Northern Ireland Opposition. He seemed to be somewhat prejudiced in favour of the latter. Apart 1429 from that, we could not take exception to his lively and energetic intervention in the debate which was, I feel certain, intended to put forward constructive ideas for the future of Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Member referred to me as the Minister primarily responsible for Northern Ireland. I suppose that, broadly, that is so, but I must point out that the matters referred to in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), whom we should congratulate on his good fortune in drawing a place in the Ballot, fall almost exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Northern Ireland Government.
To do the right hon. Gentleman justice, his speech made that quite clear. It is very important, if we are to have discussions in this House, that that should be acknowledged from both sides. If the spirit of the debate so far is maintained, nothing but good can come of it. But the idea that we are solely responsible for these matters will not do at all, nor would it really be accepted by the Northern Ireland Ministers.
My other colleagues in the Government—the President of the Board of Trade, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister of Labour, who has been sitting with us for most of the debate—have just as much to do with the affairs of Northern Ireland as I, but, as the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will know, it is a proud tradition of the Home Office that we can help from time to time in coordination or in personal help with the problems of Northern Ireland.
I wish to deal with only two matters, unemployment and the danger to the Border, both of which were referred to in the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South. Before I deal with those matters, however, I want to make one general observation. During my visits to Northern Ireland I have sensed a feeling of unity between us that Northern Ireland is at present and must remain an integral part of the United Kingdom. If the debate can also underline that fact, so much the better.
To deal shortly, but, I hope, sincerely with the problem of unemployment, I knew about this when I was Chancellor of the Exchequer. In fact, I asked 1430 Lord Chandos to go there are help us with the constructive work which he has been doing since in helping to entice more industries to Northern Ireland. I have been specially concerned with it in visits and here since I have been Home Secretary. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South has drawn attention to the high level of unemployment. During practically the whole period of the existence of Ulster this has been a serious problem, and it is bound up with the general economy in the country.
We have had this constantly in mind, and in answer to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South, may I say that I think that we have enough consultative machinery. I have been in touch with the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, and he certainly takes the view that we should pursue our present methods of consultation and working together rather than the specific proposal made by my hon. and gallant Friend. That does not mean that we shall not pursue these consultations. We must do so, as I shall shortly show.
It has been quite rightly stated that unemployment stands at the large figure of about 7.6 per cent. In the textile recession it was at one time as high as 10 per cent., a period during which I was Chancellor. We managed to reduce it by a variety of measures, including some to deal with the linen industry, to 7 per cent. in 1954. That was a very considerable improvement in two years. There are 36,000 unemployed. The right hon. Gentleman's figures put the position in an alarming but not inaccurate way. The figure of unemployment is now 4,800 less than it was a year ago. There is, to that extent, no room for complacency, but, also, there is no room for deep despondency.
The right hon. Member and my hon. and gallant Friend referred to the many steps taken by the Government of Northern Ireland—the Industries Development Acts, the Capital Grants to Industry Acts, the continuation of the Northern Ireland Development Council and the recent decision of the Northern Ireland Government to participate in the United Kingdom Investment Unit in New York. I discussed this matter with the Prime Minister on my recent visit. I am glad that the Government there are taking part in this, because we must not 1431 only attract industry from the United Kingdom but I think that there is a great opportunity of attracting industry from the United States. If we can do that, it will help considerably to find some of the jobs to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. Therefore, in all these ways there has been an improvement.
As has been said, 73 new firms in the last ten years, and 22,000 new jobs, indicate that an effort is being made. I believe that this effort can be pushed forward, although I do not accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, basing myself on the statements of the Minister of Finance of Northern Ireland, that a corporation should take the place of the Development Council. I do not believe that it is solely on grounds of ideology that this decision has been taken. Whatever decision is taken in this matter should be on the basis, to which the Minister of Finance in Northern Ireland referred, of getting extra jobs and finding more factories and enterprises. Any machinery that can be developed to that end should be encouraged.
I want to refer, in answer to a request from the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, to the operation of the Local Employment Act and what further steps can be taken in relation to the Act. On the Third Reading of the Local Employment Bill, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade said:I should like to confirm, whatever is said in the Bill… that in operating the industry development certificate system we shall certainly bear in mind not only the unemployment requirements in Great Britain but in Northern Ireland as well."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd February, 1960; Vol. 616, c. 1180.]That is the intention of the Government. In the debate on 23rd February the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade said:… we try to use the powers that we have of refusing industrial development certificates to help steer industry to Northern Ireland". —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1960; Vol. 618, c. 314]I want to make plain that we in the Government here explain to all firms intending to expand the benefits to be gained by establishing themselves in Northern Ireland and other places of high unemployment. But we have agreed to take one further step. In future, the 1432 Board of Trade will do its very best to inform officials of the Ministry of Commerce in Northern Ireland of the names of all firms who are known to be interested in expanding, or who, through the refusal of an industrial development certificate, are obliged to look elsewhere for their needs. This will be done in all cases where the firms themselves agree. In this way, the Minister of Commerce will be able to point out the attractions of Northern Ireland.
This has been done as a result of representations from and after consultation with the Government of Northern Ireland about the effect on Northern Ireland of the measures proposed for Great Britain in the Local Employment Act. That is the idea in the letter from the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland which I have here. The Prime Minister goes on to say that he hopes, at a mutually convenient time, to discuss the employment position with me personally and to pursue any suggestions of a constructive character which may be made in this debate.
§ Mr. Mellish
Do I understand that the whole of the Local Employment Act, as it applies to Britain, will now apply to Northern Ireland? If so, that was not the original intention. May we have this matter quite clear?
§ Mr. Butler
It applies in the sense that I have mentioned, namely, in dealing with the refusal of a certificate; and we propose to make it possible for the Minister of Commerce to advertise the vacancies in industries in Northern Ireland and to use this method of publicity to attract firms which are refused certificates here to Northern Ireland. It does not mean that we shall forget the other areas of unemployment in Great Britain, but it does mean that we wish, where possible, to encourage firms to go to Northern Ireland. I believe that this will help the situation in relation to firms taking up their position in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Member for Blyth referred specifically to the Belfast dry dock and to the signature of the Britannic contract. The Belfast dry dock was referred to as late as 15th March by Lord Glentoran at Stormont. He said that the partners, to whom my hon. and gallant Friend quite fairly referred, are 1433 not clear whether they wish to continue with the project. It was put to him that one of the partners wished to continue with it, but he did not regard this as sufficient evidence of certainty that it would be finally a good scheme. He said, however, that Government financial assistance would follow if the scheme was found to be sound.
I cannot add to what the right hon. Gentleman himself has said. There would be great advantages in such a scheme if the partners concerned considered it a good thing. For our part, if any such scheme is found by those on the spot to be advisable, we should certainly wish to see it go forward for the very good reason that when they lose their children—the Canberra—the Belfast boys would like to see it come back.
In the case of the Britannic contract, I have nothing to add to the debates which took place on Supply this year, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air indicated his wish that we should get further ahead with it. To be quite fair, the right hon. Member for Blyth was inclined to blame the Northern Ireland Government for this. I do not want myself to assume the blame, but I think that we should hasten towards the signature of the contract. The fact that there is no formal contract has not held up the work, but a great deal of money and eventually, a great many machines of one type or another will be involved. The fact that no contract has yet been signed has not hitherto held up the work. I accept, however, the advice of the right hon. Gentleman that the sooner we get the contract signed, the better it will be.
Before I sit down, as there are other hon. Members who wish to speak, I simply want to say this to Northern Ireland about the Border, which I have twice visited: your Border is our Border; your soil is our soil. That is why we are jointly interested in the defence of Northern Ireland from irresponsible and sometimes violent terrorist attacks.
The people of Northern Ireland have shown restraint and calm in the face of provocation. We should recognise the particular efficiency of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the continued sacrifice of the Special Constabulary, many of 1434 whom I have met, who have combined their strenuous life in maintaining the security of the Border with, in many cases, their own personal occupations and businesses.
I know that there has been feeling in Northern Ireland that stronger measures should be taken by the authorities in the Irish Republic to put down terrorism. It is a cause for satisfaction that both the present Prime Minister of the Republic and his predecessor, who is now President, have spoken against violence and are aware of the need to keep the peace in the Border area. There is a great deal more improvement yet to achieve, although we must recognise a welcome decrease in the number of terrorist attacks last winter. I hope that this will indicate the signal failure of the terrorist efforts.
My main reason for intervening tonight is to assure hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland of our sympathy and support. While we find that their Motion does not, perhaps, take full account of all that has been done, we understand very well that in an atmosphere of Northern Ireland politics, or mixed with House of Commons politics, it is a habit of Northern Ireland public men to put things in black and white rather than grey. Realising that that is a natural characteristic, and supporting what the right hon. Member for Blyth has said about the great value of the character, workmanship and ability of the citizens and those who contribute to the wealth, whether in agriculture or industry, of Northern Ireland, recognising their great loyalty to this country and to the Crown, we welcome the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South and the fact that this debate has taken place.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I intervene in this debate because during my period at the Ministry of Aircraft Production I had some responsibility for the transfer of Short Bros, and Harland from this country to Belfast. At that time, we had considerable difficulty in persuading technicians and design staff to go and live in Northern Ireland.
Belfast has one of the finest aircraft factories in the Kingdom. Technically, 1435 the Northern Ireland people, both workmen and designers, can hold their own with anybody in British industry. This country and the Government have an obligation to fulfil what were, in effect, pledges made when that factory was transferred to Northern Ireland, and every step should be taken to ensure that, if it cannot be supplied with aircraft work because of the change of emphasis in aircraft, at least alternative work should go there.
Speaking as a rival competitor for industry from Scotland—because Scotland has 100,000 unemployed and desperately needs industry—I emphasise also the fact that unless the Government take the matter of the location of industry seriously, there will be a growing number of unemployed at the fringes of our civilisation. Already people are leaving the islands of the North and moving to the mainland, and life is contracting towards the centre. If the Government are not to allow London and Birmingham to contain the entire population of the country, a determined effort must be made to see that industry goes to other areas. That applies to Northern Ireland as well as to Scotland.
§ Mr. Woodburn
I agree. Perhaps the North-East Coast is the most civilised place, after Scotland. Naturally, we have very great sympathy with the "Sudeten" Scots who live there, just as we have the greatest sympathy with the "Sudeten" Scots in Northern Ireland. No one can dispute the character, or the capacity to work, of the people in the North.
Belfast has one of the most enterprising engineering works in the United Kingdom, managed in a way in which very few people manage industry, with energy and enterprise. I am satisfied that it is not for want of trying that that engineering works is not fully employed. I have seen factories in Northern Ireland and I have been able to compare them with similar factories elsewhere, and I 1436 can say that they give workmanship and conscientiousness second to none.
However, they will not get work unless a determined effort is made. There are two methods by which that can be done. The other day I heard it described as "push and pull". Northern Ireland and Scotland can pull industry towards them by various inducements, and the Government can help in that. The Government can also help by pulling industry from many of the places where labour is not available and pushing it to areas where labour is available. We have either to allow the population to drift to where industry is, or see that industry is established where the population is. If we accept that the North, Scotland and Northern Ireland are to be populated, then it is the business of the Government to get rid of their prejudices against Government action and to push industry into those areas.
Northern Ireland has a disadvantage compared with Scotland. On the Clyde, we suffered for many years because of the slander that labour conditions were disturbed. Competitors spread rumours about labour disputes and bad labour conditions on the Clyde, so that industry did not go there, and we suffered accordingly.
Northern Ireland also suffers in that way and will continue to do so as long as there is strife on the Border, which will prevent industry coming from other countries. Such difficulties cause uncertainties to people who do not know the circumstances. People in Northern Ireland live on a frontier, which is not a healthy occupation, and industries do not want to be in the position of the Israel and Arab nations who have to watch each other across their borders while getting on with their work.
Most of the people who carry out raids and disturbances across the Irish Border consider themselves to be Irish patriots, but what they do is not patriotic, because many of their friends and relatives live in Northern Ireland, and such activities help to prevent industries from going to Northern Ireland and providing jobs for those friends and relatives.
Scotland is a little envious of Northern Ireland, because, after the Labour Party here started to attack the Government about not helping Northern Ireland, the Government began to get a move on and 1437 began to pour money into inducing industries to go to Northern Ireland when they might have gone to Scotland. Such efforts should not be confined to Northern Ireland but should be applied to all areas which are losing industries. It is clear that the Government have got to get down to the problem of the location of industry and decide that they will push and will help with the pulling. The Government have a power which nobody else has. It is an essential part of our civilisation that Scotland, Northern Ireland and the north of England should have industries so that people can earn a livelihood in a dignified way.
The first troubles started in 1954 when the I.R.A. resurged out of retirement and attacked three military barracks. I regret to say that they were in part successful and they made off with a quantity of arms. My opponent in the 1955 election was elected after one of these raids and while he was lodged in prison. He subsequently recanted and gave up the I.R.A. He was sent home and I am told he is taking no further part in political activities.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lieut-Colonel R. G. Grosvenor (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I hope that the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) will forgive me if I do not follow him along his industrial paths, because I represent an agricultural border constituency and my intimate knowledge of industry is nowhere near as great as his. However, I entirely agree with the remarks he made about the border.
I wish to speak as briefly as possible to that part of the Motion which reads:That this House … deplores the continuance of armed raids across the United Kingdom border …".As the right hon. Gentleman said, this is a land border, and many people in Great Britain forget that it is the only land border within the United Kingdom. I represent a constituency which for the last three years has had 150 somewhat unhappy miles of this border.
Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has now left the Chamber. He paid us a visit before Christmas and at a news conference when he was leaving he did not say anything about sanctions. I assure the House that the situation on the border 1438 has become increasingly quiet since he said nothing about sanctions. My only regret is that he did not "say nothing" about sanctions a good deal earlier.
The discussion tonight has been mainly on the economics of our country, and I should like to try to show that the economic troubles, which we have been suffering with the I.R.A. across the Border, have been shared by the I.R.A. The I.R.A. is an illegal force, both in the North of Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. Curiously enough, it is not an illegal organisation in Great Britain. That is an anomaly which is sometimes difficult to understand. The I.R.A. is well armed. It has bought and stolen arms. It is well trained. It is divided into small guerrilla groups which operate with speed, silence, and occasionally with efficiency, across the border against Her Majesty's Forces, both police and Army.
These excursions across the border have resulted in two principal upsets in our economy and life. First, we have had casualties. When I say "we", I do not mean we Ulster people, I mean we British people. Four policemen have been killed, and 26 policemen and soldiers wounded. They were British policemen and soldiers. We have also suffered damage which is estimated at about £700,000. That is a charge on the British taxpayer, and not on the Ulster taxpayer alone. It is shared because we are part of the United Kingdom and it is a charge on the taxpayers throughout the United Kingdom. We have suffered casualties, death, and destruction, we have widows and orphans, and we have this bill to pay. That is one effect which this illegal force has upon the economy of Northern Ireland.
In spite of this, and although we have a heavy unemployment problem, industry has expanded. My hon. Friend has told us of the new jobs which have been found. In spite of this, too, agricultural efficiency and production has increased —although certain criticisms of it have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis). We have been fighting a land battle on the border while the interior has continued not only to exist but to flourish. That is a great tribute to the police and the Armed Forces, whose job it is to keep law and order, and to keep the members of the I.R.A. at bay.
1439 We talk of these people coming over the border. They operate almost entirely from the Republic of Ireland. The relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland has been made abundantly clear over the years. The Republic of Ireland became a separate State in 1920. It subsequently decided to opt out of the Commonwealth. It chose its way of life and we chose ours. We wished it well; we wished it success and prosperity—and especially prosperity, because no state is comfortable with a pauper as a neighbour.
§ Lieut-Colonel Grosvenor
I can only say that it made itself a pauper. I am trying to deal with the present and the future. That State sent its young people in thousands over here. They are now employed in profitable jobs, and we are delighted to have them. They help us. We are glad that, up to a point, the Government of the Republic of Ireland have tackled the problem of the terrorist menace in our part of the United Kingdom, but I hope that Her Majesty's Government will maintain conversations with the Government of the Republic of Ireland in order to see that those efforts are not only continued but strengthened.
The police and Armed Forces of Northern Ireland are doing all they can, but if a man runs for a hundred yards across the border into Northern Ireland and shoots somebody, or lets off a mine full of gelignite, and then runs back, we cannot send in men behind him to stop him. The Government of Northern Ireland have done everything they can with the forces available to them, and it now rests with Her Majesty's Government and the Government of the Republic of Ireland to do the rest.
I have talked about the economics of the situation, and have given relevant figures, but there are still other figures. We have to remember the extra police, clothes, wireless sets, armoured cars, rifles and machine guns that are required, all of which would be entirely unnecessary if we and our neighbours could live at peace. It is only right that British people living in the United Kingdom should be allowed to live peacefully in their homes, in their home country.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. G. A. Pargiter (Southall)
My only excuse for intervening in a debate on Northern Ireland is that I happen to represent a trade union which is very concerned with the vast number of skilled workers in Northern Ireland, so many of whom are now unemployed. This has been a matter of continuing anxiety to my union. Representations have been made by the union to the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Supply over a long period. In return, we have always received expressions of sympathy, but sympathy does not fill bellies, and that is what we are concerned about.
That is why I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has introduced this Motion. It gives an opportunity for hon. Members on this side to say something about the matter. I am sure that if certain members of my union who are in Northern Ireland had been elected to this House they would have made a much more vociferous protest about the position of Northern Ireland than has been voiced by hon. Members opposite. It is always the problem that we get a one-sided representation and we fail to hear the true voice of the people. Now we are getting an opportunity which we ought to have had a long time ago.
Let us examine the labour position. I understand that out of every 100 coming on to the labour market only about 20 obtain jobs; 15 per cent. remain unemployed, and 65 per cent. emigrate. One of the greatest problems which Northern Ireland has to face is the gradual depopulation of the country because of the failure of the economic system to provide work, wages and conditions which would keep the people happy and contented. There is no getting away from this. It is the product of the economic system—
§ Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin (Belfast, West)
Surely the hon. Gentleman is aware that the population in Northern Ireland is increasing faster than in any other part of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Pargiter
Northern Ireland increases its population, but it is decreased by emigration. Exactly the same is happening in Southern Ireland. There is considerable emigration from Northern Ireland, especially among skilled 1441 workers. I should have thought that Northern Ireland could ill afford to lose such workers, but inevitably they will be lost. Though a man may not wish to leave his home country, he is almost bound to do so in the interests of himself and his family, because there is little prospect of employment for him in Northern Ireland.
We talk academically about unemployment. It is one of those things which every hon. Member should encounter at some time during his life. The fear of unemployment is one of the most compelling factors in human relations. At present, there is a greater fear of unemployment in Northern Ireland because of the position of Short Bros, and Harland, with which I will deal in a moment.
A great deal has been said about the Northern Ireland Development Council, of which Lord Chandos is the Chairman. I cannot say that the Council has been conspicuously successful in dealing with unemployment. It has no power to do so, and because it has not the power it has not been successful, despite the eminence of its Chairman. Its efforts have been attended with so little success that we might well have a similar sort of council in the Greater London area, where there is too much industry, because perhaps it might manage to get rid of some of it to the benefit of some of the other areas to which we are referring.
Between August, 1951, which is a significant date, and February, 1952—these dates are rather important for hon. Members opposite—the unemployment figure in Northern Ireland increased 2½ times. There has been a decrease, but the figure has remained substantially higher during practically the whole period of the present Government, and there is not much cause for complacency among Government supporters, even though they express sympathy with the situation. Even at the present time the proportion of unemployed males is almost one in nine, which is a terrible number to be unemployed with little prospect of future employment.
§ Mr. Harry Randall (Gateshead, West)
I am interested in the comments of my hon. Friend about the unemployment situation, which is even worse among Post Office employees. Northern Ireland contains more part-time labour in 1442 the Post Office than any other part of the United Kingdom, which to a certain extent is the result of the employment situation.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I appreciate what has happened and I realise that there is an inability to provide proper employment for the workers.
We know that shipbuilding will face difficulties in any case, and we know the problems concerning ship repairing. We know that there will be intensive competition between Northern Ireland, Scotland and Britain for ship repairing, quite apart from foreign competition, which is likely to continue. Belfast is likely to be in a lesser position to compete because of the failure to provide large dry dock facilities.
It seems to me that if it is in the national interest, and in the interest of providing employment, that the Government should provide £50 million for Colvilles for a strip mill in Scotland, there is a case to be made out for providing a dry dock for Belfast. Is it not possible for something to be done? Surely, these things are comparable. I do not think that, on the question of whether it is needed or not, it should be allowed to go by the board. I hope that Northern Ireland Members will keep close track of this matter, because what is sauce for the goose in Scotland is equally sauce for the gander in Northern Ireland. I am sure that it would be beneficial for those shipyard workers now facing such a bleak outlook.
I want to refer to the question of the Britannic. I am amazed by the position. We are now told by the Government that they are hopeful that a contract will shortly be signed. In the early summer, a deputation from my union—the A.E.U.—came to see Members of Parliament over here, and this question was gone into with the appropriate Departments. Having been told, "Things are pending and going on very nicely", my hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) went to see the then Minister of Supply. That was in midsummer. He was told, "Don't worry; it is going on very nicely. The contract will be signed very shortly." What does "very shortly" mean to the Government? We do not expect much. We have had a change. We have not now 1443 a Minister of Supply but a new Minister of Aviation. It becomes "very shortly" each time a new Minister takes over because he is only interested in what has been done since he has been there. This is a most disgraceful state of affairs. This aircraft is badly needed. The air lift to Libya recently indicated the urgent need for transport aircraft for our armed forces. Before long, another one thousand workers of Short Brothers and Harland will be facing the possibility of being out of work unless something is done very rapidly about this contract.
It is no good the Government telling us that something will be done "very shortly". Let someone speak authoritatively from the Government Front Bench and tell us the date when this contract is to be signed. Let us be told something about it, so that the workers in Northern Ireland can have some assurances as to their future. This is most important. It is one of the things for which the Government have a great deal to answer.
I want to return to my earlier point. A specific promise was made by the then Minister in the middle of the summer, that this contract would be signed very shortly. I can give the exact date when that statement was made. This was after some months of probing and questions concerning not only the Britannic but other types of aircraft under consideration for use there.
Another matter of vital importance is: where do Short Brothers and Harland fit into the general scheme of the reorganisation of the aircraft industry? It is high time the Government let these people know where they are. It is high time these people were given some idea of where they are going, where they fit in, or whether they are to be left out on a limb and given something which others are not particularly keen about—something which does not quite fit in with the pattern the Minister has in mind for the air consortia of the country. Aircraft production is not something to be dealt with from the point of view of Great Britain not including Northern Ireland. These things must be dealt with urgently.
We have to think about agriculture in Northern Ireland and the running down of the flax industry. That is vital to the 1444 country when we consider that Northern Ireland now imports flax because it does not produce enough itself. A lot of economic reasons will perhaps be given for that, but the prosperity of Northern Ireland seems to have gone by the board. We should think of the cities and towns which are going derelict because of failure to look at them from the point of view of industrial development. Belfast is obviously an important centre, but it is not the only place where new industry is needed in Northern Ireland. No doubt other hon. Members will deal with this matter. I ask the Government to say what intentions they have, in conjunction with the Government of Northern Ireland, to deal with the position there.
Having regard to the time, although I have a great number of notes, I shall not go further. I am concerned to get an answer on the question of the Britannic so that the workers concerned may go to bed comfortably in the knowledge that they have a job ahead of them.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Sir David Campbell (Belfast, South)
Most of the ground affecting the situation in Northern Ireland today has been very ably covered by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). My hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis), in a maiden speech, has given a clear picture of the agricultural industry and the possible effects of the recent Price Review. When we lost Mr. Christopher Armstrong, who formerly represented Armagh, I was a little afraid that, having had such a good Member, it was a gamble on whom we could get to represent the constituency, but I am very glad to say that in my hon. Friend the present Member, Armagh is well and truly represented.
The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) rather poured cold water on the remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South about the employment situation. He said that my hon. and gallant Friend made no suggestions for a short-term solution of the problem. Then he went on to speak for a considerable time about two strong points made by my hon. and gallant Friend, which have been referred to in further speeches by hon. Members opposite. My hon. and gallant Friend tackled the question of a dry dock. We are very glad to get 1445 support from any hon. Members in connection with the construction of a dry dock in the yards of Harland and Wolff. We realise that this is a matter of very great importance.
The right hon. Member for Blyth asked why, when this was mentioned in 1954, it was not given immediate effect, but it is necessary to have someone to run a dry dock. To "plonk" it down in Belfast and not to tie it with Harland and Wolff would be a ridiculous decision. It is necessary to get the harbour masters to co-operate, because they are connected with the port.
We fully appreciate the reasons given by my hon. and gallant Friend and the right hon. Member for bringing repairing work to Belfast, but it would be a much greater attraction for a large company if, after a new liner had been ordered, it were known that it could be taken to the same yard where it was built in order to be repaired. We are all in favour of this and I earnestly hope that in the very near future Harland and Wolff, the Harbour Commissioners and the Ministry in Northern Ireland will produce a scheme for this dry dock. I emphasise that the finances required for the development of such a scheme may be outside the resources of the Northern Ireland Government. We shall then look to the Government here to help us to ensure that that dry dock is established quickly.
Another point made by my hon. Friend which the right hon. Member for Blyth repeated concerned the finalising and signing of the contract for the Britannic freighter. This is not the Britannia, as the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter) described it, but the Britannic. I listened with great pleasure to the fine tribute which the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) paid to the firm of Short Bros, and Harland Ltd., to its workmen, its planning, its management, the fine work which it has done in the past and its capacity to continue to turn out equally fine work.
§ Mr. Pargiter
I spoke of the Britannic, which I understood to be a commercial version of the Britannia.
§ Sir D. Campbell
I apologise to the hon. Member. I thought that he was referring to the Britannia throughout his speech. Perhaps it was the right hon. 1446 Member for Blyth who made that mistake. It is the Britannic freighter which we are discussing. This is not a very material point.
In any event, we agree with the right hon. Member for Blyth in wishing that the contract should be signed as early as possible, although we have been assured by the Minister concerned that the absence of the formal signing of the contract has not held up the general project. I am not in a position to say that that is not so, but I am in a position to say that the general feeling in Northern Ireland, in Short and Harland in particular and among the fine body of men working there, is one of uncertainty. It is essential that this contract should be finalised and signed as early as possible. Whether it will make production go ahead much quicker I do not know, but it is essential for the general well-being and morale of our people in Northern Ireland, and particularly in Short and Harland, that the contract should be signed at once.
Those are the two principal subjects on which I trust and hope that my right hon. Friend, in winding up the debate, will be able to give us some assurance— that the Government will favourably consider any scheme for helping Northern Ireland to finance the provision of a dry dock in Belfast and, secondly, that they will get on at once with finalising the contract for the Britannic.
The right hon. Member for Blyth referred to agriculture and cast doubts on the efficiency of our farmers. Perhaps he was not brought up on a farm and does not know very much about farming. They must forgive his ignorance in this respect. But I know something about farming and how a farm is run, and I know that our farmers in Northern Ireland are splendid workers, know how to make the best use of their land, and are hard-working and efficient in every way. The production of our farms in Northern Ireland has greatly increased and is still increasing year by year.
The right hon. Gentleman says, "If the Argentine can sell beef at these low prices, even after having shipped it to this country from the Argentine, why cannot the Northern Ireland farmers do the same?" Does he wish our standard of living in Northern Ireland, whether on the farms or in industry, to be 1447 reduced to that in the Argentine? That is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman.
I know that a number of other hon. Members want to join in this debate, and I conclude by saying to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who spoke earlier, and to my right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, who I understand will wind up the debate, that we are grateful for the assistance which the Imperial Government have given to Northern Ireland. But the problem is still there. It is a very difficult one, and we ask not only that they should continue their assistance, but that they should step it up.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Sir D. Campbell) is a very respected Member of this House and, in a way, I am sorry that I have to follow him in the debate. I wish that I had been following the hon. and gallant Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut-Colonel Grosvenor), because, indeed, I intended to refer to some of the things that he said. However, I should like to say to the hon. Member for Belfast. South that one of the good things about this debate is that, for the first time in this House, it has been a debate on Northern Ireland in which we have not had a long wrangle about the religious controversy. For that we can be grateful.
The hon. and gallant Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone made reference to T.R.A. raids on the border. I should like to say that I do not think his speech contributed very much towards what I would regard as a satisfactory solution of the problem. I am one of those people who have always believed that the people of Southern and Northern Ireland have got to get together at some time, for no nation as small as this can continue to be divided. Therefore, I should have thought that anything that was said in this House would have been directed towards that purpose. I do not want anyone to misunderstand me. While no one would wish to defend the terrorist raids which have taken place, we can all have sympathy with the ordinary decent Irishman who is in the southern part of Ireland and who has certain passion- 1448 ate feelings about what happened in yesteryear. I do not defend any terrorists anywhere, whether in Cyprus or Southern Ireland, and I never will.
§ Lieut-Colonel Grosvenor
I assume that the hon. Gentleman does not believe in the unity by force of the two parts of Ireland, which is what these people believe in?
§ Mr. Mellish
It must never be forgotten that the future of Ireland was not decided by Ireland but by this House, and that is something that we must clearly understand. The British Government carry a great responsibility. The Irish people know that. That is why there is a great deal of animosity about it.
I wish to say this about the problems of Northern Ireland. It seems to me that it is something of a fraud that in this House we get a large number of Members of Parliament representing Northern Ireland constituencies who owe almost their entire allegiance to the Conservative Party. I gather that the term "Unionist" is also used by these Members of the Tory Party. This has been one reason why very many decent hon. Members from Northern Ireland have not been so outspoken about the problems of their country as they might have been. It is a lesson to us on this side of the House. Their loyalty to their own Front Bench, indeed, is simply remarkable, for they will do almost anything rather than embarrass it. In that respect, I admire them. I can understand party loyalties, and I respect them for showing that loyalty.
There are now problems that are very obvious, and it does not matter what the hon. Member for Belfast, South said about the dry dock, because as long ago as 1954 this scheme was proposed. It was being discussed then, but I do not recall anyone from Northern Ireland getting up here and making a scream in order to find out what was going on in those long, weary years. I do not remember anybody on that side of the House screaming out for this to be done, but now they are saying that this dry dock is absolutely essential. It was six years ago, but if we started building it now, it would only mean further long delay.
§ Sir D. Campbell
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. With 1449 regard to the dry dock—I tried to explain this and I should like to repeat it—it is true that the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) mentioned it in 1954, but he did not state as I did that a dry dock is necessary for ship repairing. It is no good introducing a dry dock, whether it is built by the Government here or by the Northern Ireland Government, manning it and putting people in charge to make a success of it unless it is tied up with the shipyard of Harland and Wolff. We have also got to get Harland and Wolff together with the Belfast Harbour Commissioners to agree a scheme for a dry dock, and then we can ask for the support of the Government. If that occasion had arisen, we Ulster Members would certainly have demanded from my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench that the Government should give the necessary financial assistance.
§ Mr. Robens
In 1954 I was in touch with the managing director of Harland and Wolff. The firm was entirely in favour of the scheme.
§ Mr. Mellish
What the hon. Member for Belfast, South has just said could hardly be described as an intervention. It lasted quite a while. However, it brings me back to my point. In theory, the Motion is supposed to be some sort of censure on the Government, but at one stage I thought that it was the Loyal Address to the Queen. It was pathetic It mentions the I.R.A. raids. That is only a diversion from the real troubles which face the northern part of Ireland today.
§ Mr. Mellish
It has very little to do with the economic problems of Northern Ireland. The hon. and gallant Gentleman started talking about the cost of the raids to Northern Ireland, but the I.R.A. situation has hardly anything to do with the economics of the problem, as every hon. Member opposite who represents an Irish constituency knows. I do not defend I.R.A. raids, and I want that to be perfectly clear, but to mention I.R.A. raids is a diversionary tactic.
§ Mr. Mellish
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) has just made 1450 his maiden speech. He should keep quiet now. The last thing I should want to do is to say anything horrible to the hon. Member on the day of his maiden speech. He has that to come later on.
The trouble is that the economics of Northern Ireland are very wrapped up in the affairs of Her Majesty's Government. I am a little tired of this Government who talk so patriotically and with so much gush in the House about Northern Ireland. The Home Secretary repeated it tonight. He said, "These wonderful Northern Ireland people are part of this great nation of ours. Together we march forward". To what—to 7½ per cent. unemployed? We hear a great deal of patriotism from the Government Front Bench when it comes to Northern Ireland. One becomes almost sick with the treacle we hear on this subject. The theory is that Southern Ireland, toy implication, is unpatriotic and un-British. But the truth is that the Government have not done for Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland people what they should have done. They have deprived them of many moneys which they should have had in the past.
The Local Employment Bill, which went through the House some months ago, dealt with the problem of Scotland. How many Nothern Ireland Members protested that Northern Ireland was not included? How many of them fought for its inclusion?
§ Mr. McMaster
Both replies to which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred today were in answer to two interventions by me on Second Reading and on Third Reading.
§ Mr. Mellish
I listened to a great deal of that Bill, and one of the features which impressed me was the determined fight put up by my hon. Friends representing Scottish constituencies. They fought for what they believed to be right. The fought because unemployment was greater in their part of the country. They showed Parliament how to right at 2 o'clock and 3 o'clock in the morning. How many Northern Ireland Members were even present?
What are this great patriotic Government, who use the Union Jack as a tablecloth every time they have a public 1451 meeting, doing to protect Northern Ireland? They made certain that they excluded Northern Ireland from the Local Employment Bill. Now we learn that there have been conversations—this shows the futility of Northern Ireland Tory Members in the House of Commons —between the Home Secretary, on the one hand, and the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, on the other. They have discussed this matter and reached certain agreements. They realise that there are certain problems and that there are certain dispensations which can now be given to Northern Ireland, but which the Government did not give before the Local Employment Bill was introduced.
We have heard that two interventions were made by one Northern Ireland Member. The Motion shows clearly that the energy expended and the political work undertaken by Northern Ireland Members for their constituents is very low indeed. It is all because of the great loyalty they owe to their own Front Bench.
The Motion comes before the House today purely by ballot. Names were put into a hat. By a little luck, or unfortunately—that is what it adds up to—one of their names was drawn. Probably it was the only Northern Ireland name put into the hat. The hon. and gallant Gentleman's name came out of the hat first, and he was compelled to table a Motion. Being a Northern Ireland Member, he had to table a Motion concerning Northern Ireland. However, he tabled it in terms designed to be as kindly and friendly as possible to the Government Front Bench, despite the 7½ per cent, unemployment figure.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
Would the hon. Gentleman suggest what sort of Motion a Labour Member for a Northern Ireland constituency would have put down?
§ Mr. Mellish
Yes. As a matter of fact, a Labour Member for a Northern Ireland constituency would have put down a Motion, and would have asked the Leader of the House every Thursday for an opportunity to discuss it. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Clark) should not intervene unless he is quite sure that we on this side do not 1452 know the answers. I could give the hon. Member and his hon. Friends lessons on how to put down Motions on the problems of Northern Ireland—and then let us see if they will take any action. The truth is that they are frightened of their own Front Bench.
Mention has been made of money being found for steel strip mills for Northern Ireland. The money has not been found, although it is found for private enterprise mills. Why cannot some money be found for the introduction of strip mills in Northern Ireland? There is great demand for the strip; we need it badly. Why cannot something be done for these people? Has the matter been discussed with any Government Department?
In a recent debate in the Northern Ireland Parliament the suggestion of a new type of development corporation was put forward by a Labour Member. I do not necessarily accept all that he said about it, nor do I accept that it would solve all the problems there. He said that the present Board is not able to do much that either the Northern Ireland Government or this Government want. It has not the necessary powers or finance. I gather that the sort of corporation envisaged by some Northern Ireland Labour Members would need money from the United Kingdom Government.
Can we be told whether the Government have been approached about this, and whether they are prepared to look again at the whole question of replanning Northern Ireland and the industry it needs through such a corporation? Are they ready, if asked, to find the moneys necessary to bring such new industries as steel strip mills to that part of the United Kingdom?
Have the Government any long-term plans for Northern Ireland? Can they say what they, as the British Government, have decided to do to help this great little country in its hour of need? It is about such things that the Northern Ireland people want to know. This Government have the control, and a great deal of the money, and it is about time they redeemed some of their promises to Northern Ireland.
Let me say this for the Conservative Party. It has certainly had wonderful 1453 dividends from Northern Ireland. A Unionist Government have been in power there for forty years—and how wretched is the record. After getting power, they have resorted to every possible exploitation and then, in the last resort, they claim patriotism itself as something belonging to them alone. The true patriot is the man who considers all that is happening in this country; who considers all the people, and not just a section. I tell the Northern Ireland Members opposite that the day they start attacking the present Government will be the day when they will begin to gain some respect from us.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin (Belfast, West)
I have great pleasure in supporting the Motion moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr). It is a very important matter for Northern Ireland when we have an opportunity to discuss its problems in a fair and—until the speech of the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish)—reasonable manner. We all have the welfare and future of Northern Ireland at heart, and it has, indeed, been very pleasant to learn that there are so many hon. and right hon. Members opposite who feel as we do, and understand as we do, the needs of our part of the world.
Having listened to the hon. Member for Bermondsey, I can only say that I sincerely hope that he does not express the opinions of a large number of hon. Members opposite. If he does— particularly in relation to our situation and our way of living—it is fairly obvious why Northern Ireland freely and democratically sends only Unionist Members to Westminster.
It was also very interesting to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) make such a very reasoned speech and, as we would expect from him, a speech very knowledgeable except on the one issue of agriculture. I suggest to him, with all due respect, that it would be a good thing to get a little better liaison or perhaps a better Opposition in Stormont on the agricultural line, and then perhaps he would not have presented the problems as he did. He always has a strong and wise approach, and it is a great pity that he 1454 has not been able to brief himself on agriculture in Northern Ireland as fully as he might have done.
Ulster is interested in international and national affairs which are the concern of Her Majesty's Government. This fact must be stressed. We are not here to support and work only for Northern Ireland. We are here to work for, support and take our full part in all the responsibilities of the United Kingdom Government. Ulster, as part of the United Kingdom, is fully aware of her responsibility and accepts it fully and willingly. She expects Her Majesty's Government to reciprocate equally in fulfilling their responsibility for the welfare and well-being of the people of Ulster.
Devolution has worked very well indeed, but Her Majesty's Government must surely be aware that market trends in Britain and in the world affect us in Northern Ireland more acutely than in any other part of the United Kingdom. They hit us very hard and for a much longer time than is the case in many other parts of the world which have greater resilience and power to come back into the market. Whatever may be said here, the Northern Ireland Government are powerless if the economic climate in Great Britain is not sound and good. We must have a sound economic climate, and it is because the economic climate is sound today that we believe that the next push forward to tackle Northern Ireland's problems can now be undertaken. We can hope to see in the next few years a great improvement—something which has been going on steadily—in our efforts to bring our plans to a stage of final fruition.
However sympathetically the Home Secretary has spoken, and however much we respect his opinions, Her Majesty's Government cannot pass the buck to Stormont and forget about the matter. They have got to take full responsibility for creating the economic climate in which development flourishes. This is the first and prime essential. While we are ready and willing to work more closely, and while we recognise that our own development is closely allied with and follows upon everything that happens here, we also have the right to demand that full recognition of our special needs is kept in the forefront here at Westminster.
1455 May I remind the House that on many occasions we have brought forward Northern Ireland's points of view and have taken our full part in the major issues with which the House must be concerned. I am glad that the Northern Ireland Government and Her Majesty's Government had more faith than apparently the right hon. Member for Blyth had when, on 5th May, 1955, in a speech in this House, he suggested that the figure of 8,000 employed in the aircraft industry was not a realistic one, but that a figure of 5,000 would be more suitable and that alternative work must be found for the other 3,000, or failing that, alternative work must be found entirely for the 8,000.
That was a sensible and laudable idea, but the Government had faith and the aircraft industry has continued, despite the fact that we are today suffering great difficulties and despite the worries of the people who work in the factory. Their families know the importance of a man coming home with a wage packet on a Friday and the assurance that he will bring another wage packet home the next Friday. Despite these worries, we are confident that the aircraft industry in Northern Ireland will continue and will develop.
I must, however, earnestly ask, as others have asked—indeed, I think I have the right to demand—that whatever is holding up the signature of the Britannic contract should be swept away as quickly as possible. Until this contract is signed, the workers at Shorts will always feel insecure. I do not believe that the Government can afford to be unbusinesslike in the signature of contracts any more than ordinary business concerns can afford to do so. I hope very much that speedy action on the Britannic contract will be the first important thing to emerge from this debate.
In my view, the Government here should take a more active part as the major shareholder in this aircraft company of ours. If I were a shareholder in a company like that, I should sit on its doorstep until I was satisfied that everything was as it should be. A good deal more could be done by the Government, as major shareholders, to see that this balanced firm continues as a balanced firm.
1456 We do not want just one Britannic contract. We want our light freighter, the SC7, to have a chance to develop into something really worth while, as a marketable, versatile aeroplane, an aircraft which can work as an ambulance, spray crops, carry a motor car, take off from a half-mile airstrip, parachute heavy loads, and do a great many different things. It could become a very well worth while and marketable aircraft, given half a chance and real support. Our SC1 vertical take-off craft and all the other magnificent products of, as yet, only half-developed ideas coming from the design team should be given a fair chance so that our developing aircraft industry can grow into something really strong instead of having whatever shoots it does put out here and there cut off for lack of Government finance or lack of Government push to see that ideas are taken up and developed for the markets of the world and really sold on a commercial basis.
I ask my right hon. Friend to do his utmost to ensure that there will be no further delay in regard to the Britannic contract so that the men of our aircraft industry can really look forward to a long-term plan of development, with reasonable security for their work. I am told that there is but a very small trickle of work coming into the shops at the moment, and this is very disturbing to the men. Moreover, it is not good for the works in general. There must be a change as soon as possible.
Much has been said tonight about the shipbuilding industry in Northern Ireland. This is more than a Northern Ireland problem, and we, as part of the United Kingdom, recognise it as a United Kingdom problem. Let us face it for what it is. We want a dry dock and we need to have every single new idea or possibility explored in order to make our own yards the very best and most versatile they can be; but, with a dry dock, wonderful slipways and all the machinery, one must have the orders too.
What will the future be? It is not very bright and not very clear at the moment. We recognise quite well that the difficulties affect very much all parts of the United Kingdom which are concerned with shipbuilding. What plans have the Government for ensuring that 1457 we do not, in a few years, have an outmoded, out-dated merchant fleet unable to compete in high-speed sea transport taking our goods from this country all over the world and bringing back to us the raw materials without which our land cannot flourish? This is something much wider than our own individual worry in Belfast, and, indeed, our worry in Belfast cannot be overcome until the worries of the whole of the United Kingdom in this matter are overcome. Somehow, manufacturers, ship owners and people likely to give orders must be enthused, enlivened and made confident about the future and encouraged to build the ships of the future to keep Britain and her seaways the best in the world.
This will mean a great deal of thought and a great deal of money, to put it crudely. There will have to be loans and hire purchase on a big scale. I believe that the Government, while advancing the money for these ships, could, at the same time, advise those to whom they advance the money about where they will get speediest delivery of ships and which particular shipyards can help them most in the shortest possible time. A great deal could be done through this to help Northern Ireland and her problem of unemployment.
There are about 22,000 men employed in the shipyards and about 35,000 men who depend, not all of them directly but some directly through sub-contracts, and so on, for their weekly wage packet on the shipbuilding industry and all its ancillaries. For us, this is a major long-term traditional industry which not only deserves but must have full consideration and a plan of development for the future which will include the dry dock and not exclude any possibility of new work which can be brought through Government support for a new merchant fleet to give Britain that new leap ahead which she needs in world markets.
There is also the question of the "Queens". They are being talked about almost as airy-fairily as the queens in fairy tales. Will they remain the fairy tale of the 1960s or will they become a practicality? Perhaps they will not be the overblown ships of early days. Perhaps they will be longer, leaner, racier and smaller vessels, but, whatever they are, they must be of the 1458 most up-to-date design. Whatever happens, one of them must come to Harland and Wolff. This would provide over the years a basic security for many of our workers who in the past have built some of the finest vessels which have ever sailed the seas. We should get a very fair measure of Government consideration in all these matters.
Apart from this economic problem, we have the problem of trying to educate our younger people in skilled trades, through apprenticeships, and in a particular craft which will give them a good living. Today, one of our big problems is that of the numbers of unskilled men standing about waiting for work. Our biggest problem is work for men. The figures and the percentages have been bandied about in this House in many different ways, but our figure for unemployed men is 8.8 per cent., although how it is possible to have .8 of a man I do not know. These are the people about whom we are worried. If a man has a steady job and a wage packet in Northern Ireland his wife is only too glad to stay at home and fulfil her function of mother and wife instead of trying to support father if father has not the means to do it for the family.
The problem is to find work for the men and the young men of the future. We will not be able to do that unless the young men are trained. If there are too many apprenticeships, in the long run the same problem is created—too many skilled people looking for work which is not there. A vast number of young people are coming on to the labour market every year. However hard we work to catch up, we must face the fact that we can never take up the backlog of those still waiting for work while new people are coming along looking for work which is not there. It is not fair to expect the unions to agree to more and more apprenticeships if there is no prospect of young men getting skilled work after being trained.
Someone referred to Northern Ireland as a land of emigrants. That is not strictly true. In the past, we from these islands—from all parts, not excluding Scotland—have sent out people to populate and to start new ideas in underdeveloped parts of the world. We are still doing it today from Northern Ireland. We have no desire to run down 1459 the population in our part of the world. What we want to do is to run up the work and when the two match, then, indeed, we will be the best part of the United Kingdom and the most secure.
One of the things which affects us greatly is transport. Everything that comes to the mainland, as we call it, or everything we bring from the mainland, has to come either by ship or by aircraft. Here we meet a serious part of our difficulty. It is not the same as in Scotland, where there is overland transport. It is not the same as in Wales, which has a similar situation and goods can go by road or by rail. Every time that anything goes to Northern Ireland, if it is heavy at all, it must be shipped. Everybody knows how costly that can be and sometimes how long that can take.
We have, however, a success story to tell. Our transport system has improved beyond recognition. The faith of people, not only of the British Transport Commission—
§ Mrs. McLaughlin
I cannot give way. I want to give the Minister time to reply. [Interruption.] Hon. Members have had a fair deal and I am sure that Northern Ireland appreciates it. I shall appreciate a fair deal, too.
In transport, a great deal has been done, both privately and through the Transport Commission, which has bought new ships and helped to develop new transport lines across the sea. Today, we can offer to industrialists a service which is much better than most of them expect. I hope, therefore, that when people talk about us and about the difficulties of going to Northern Ireland, they will remember that this serious difficulty is much less than people realise and that the matter of getting goods to and from is much quicker, safer and easier than it was even a few years ago.
We are shipping a much greater quantity of goods. It will interest hon. Members to know to what extent some of our products have increased. We have increased almost seven times since prewar our total agricultural output, and that is a very large increase. We have done that overall, as my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) said, in so many of the things which 1460 are useful, important and vital here to the people who enjoy the end-product of the hard work of the Ulster farmer.
There are many points concerning employment generally. Northern Ireland has suffered greatly every time there has been a recession. Between the wars, we had a great deal of difficulty to overcome. Then came the war. We put our heart and soul into it, the same as everybody else. Since the war, we have continued to develop and to exercise every means within our power and we have done our utmost to ensure that our part did not fail.
We cannot expect to make up the leeway in five minutes, but I have been in this House almost five years and, ever since I came here, it has been my business and responsibility, together with my colleagues from Northern Ireland, to see that our special position and needs were kept fully before the Ministers here and before the House.
At the time when the Britannic contract was given, it was interesting to note that, however much hon. Members opposite now express sympathy and great support for us, there was great criticism on the benches opposite about why the contract was given direct to Short's and why it was not given to another firm and the sub-contracts given to Short's to keep them going. That cannot be denied. These are the points which a debate like this provides an opportunity of making clear.
I hope that the Motion which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South has so ably brought forward will have given us an opportunity to make the up-to-date position of Northern Ireland quite clear, both in this House and outside. I hope that the Motion will have great value in pinpointing once again the difficulties of our part of the world and reminding people of the determination of our people to take their full share in hard work and what they expect as a result of it.
Perhaps in this instance one suggestion would be of value. Could the Board of Trade, through the Ministry of Commerce in Northern Ireland, draw attention to facilities available abroad for people who wish to seek out new markets? I have found that there is a 1461 certain amount of ignorance about the opportunities for trade and commerce and about what facilities are available in other countries.
I have much pleasure in supporting the Motion.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)
I hope that the House will forgive a second ministerial intervention, but I can assure hon. Members that it is well within the rules of order, although I am bound to be as brief as was my right hon. Friend. It is only on a few occasions that we have the opportunity of debating affairs in Northern Ireland and there are some specific points which have been put since my right hon. Friend spoke and to which I wish to address myself.
We had a rather provocative speech from the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), but I hope that my hon. Friends will not be too disturbed by that. We know the hon. Member and on occasions we appreciate his somewhat good-humoured interventions. I am sorry that more of my hon. Friends who represent Northern Ireland constituencies have not been able to intervene in the debate, because I realise that their opportunities of speaking in the House are somewhat limited in that so many subjects which hon. Members debate from time to time are transferred subjects in the case of Northern Ireland. Thus an occasion like this provides my hon. Friends with an opportunity.
Despite what the hon. Member for Bermondsey said, I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who diligently support the House and the Government. As the hon. Member knows, I have the support—
§ Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)
How many English hon. Members are present to support the Northern Ireland Members tonight?
§ Mr. Vosper
I was about to say that, as the hon. Member for Bermondsey knows, I have the support of two of my hon. Friends from Northern Ireland on the Betting and Gaming Bill, which has now had 23 sittings. I am very grateful for their support on that Measure, which concerns a matter in which Northern 1462 Ireland is two years ahead of Her Majesty's Government.
I should declare my interest, particularly as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) moved the Motion. I happen to have been married in his constituency and the house in which I now live is named after one of the most pleasant parishes in his constituency. I am, therefore, happy to be associated in a small way with this debate. I am also pleased to have had an invitation from the Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland to visit Northern Ireland later this year and see some of the things of which my hon. Friends have spoken. I hope to see a little more of some of the problems which have been mentioned.
§ Mr. Vosper
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke in general terms of the relationship between Her Majesty's Government and the Government in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members will appreciate that many of the matters which have been raised in subsequent speeches are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Government and, in some cases, of other Government Departments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis), whose maiden speech I much appreciated, spoke of Northern Ireland's major industry, agriculture. I am sure that his speech was more moderate in tone than the expressions of some of his farmers about the Price Review. He spoke with great knowledge of the subject. I appreciate the great importance of agriculture to Northern Ireland. It is primarily a transferred subject and is a matter for the Northern Ireland Government, but it is covered by the Price Review which is undertaken on a United Kingdom basis.
I want to refer to the Price Review as it affects Northern Ireland. It has been suggested that Northern Ireland farmers are inefficient. The Price Review machinery allows for increasing efficiency among farmers in the United Kingdom to the extent of about £25 million per year. That is the basis of the Price Review and my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh rather deprecated that. In 1463 the latest Price Review, about £3 million of that efficiency margin was returned to the farmers. I appreciate his concern, but he knows that the Government have had to take account of the respective demands for food in relation to the supply.
The cost to the taxpayer of agricultural support has gone up from £241 million last year to £259 million this year. Of that amount, about £20 million accrues to Northern Ireland farmers by way of subsidies. We have made no major changes in production policy. The policy is not restrictionist, and we are not setting a low farm output target. I should like my hon. Friend, who has great influence in Northern Ireland, to understand that what we are trying to limit is the liability of the taxpayer.
My hon. Friend was concerned about several commodities with which I would not wish to weary the House at the moment, except in two respects. I realise the great interest of Northern Ireland's farmers in egg production, but their needs must be balanced against the threat of overproduction which would be more disastrous than the effect of the price cut in this Review. As we were told last night, the egg subsidy is now running at about £36 million a year, or about 1d. an egg. The cut that has been made in the Price Review is less than could have been effected, but I am glad that my hon. Friend appreciates that the new arrangements for revised profit and loss sharing arrangements will be of benefit to the farmers. I accept his opinion that that has not been made sufficiently public.
My hon. Friend was also concerned, as Northern Ireland must be, about potatoes. Here there has been a price increase and he will note that Northern Ireland was mentioned in the White Paper in regard to new arrangements that will have to be made for the future.
My hon. Friend will also be aware that an additional grant of £1 million is made to agriculture in Northern Ireland on account of its remoteness. I have spoken about agriculture, because it is the basic industry in Northern Ireland.
In some respects, the problems to which hon. Members have addressed themselves—employment and industrial problems—spring from the fact that 1464 employment in the agricultural industry is not as great as it was. Like my hon. Friend, I appreciate the seriousness of the employment position in Northern Ireland, and certainly no one would wish to be complacent about a percentage of 7.6 unemployed.
I think that the reasons for that situation were made clear by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South and by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). I think that the right hon. Gentleman did not share my hon. and gallant Friend's view that the geographical separation of Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom was a contributing factor, but I am sure it must be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) referred to the fact that there are few natural resources, and the decline in the traditional industries of textiles, agriculture and shipbuilding all make this a difficult situation. Employment is a transferred subject and is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Government, but Her Majesty's Government and their predecessors have always accepted that there is a responsibility on the Government in Westminster to do all that they can to assist.
Quite a few instruments are available for assisting in this problem. I liked the reference by the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) to pull and push, because that is what happens. The Northern Ireland Government do the pulling, and the Government in Westminster help by way of pushing. The instruments available to the Northern Ireland Government to direct industry are considerable. My right hon. Friend referred to them. There is the capital grant available to existing industry at a rate that has recently been raised to 33⅓ per cent. There is the assistance under the Industries Development Acts, which are designed to attract new industries, to which the normal grant is 33⅓ per cent., and there are the new advance factories which have been built by the Northern Ireland Government. All these have been mentioned in the debate. They are all designed to pull industry to Northern Ireland.
Her Majesty's Government have always given Northern Ireland what used to be called development area treatment where 1465 Government contracts were involved, and the Britannic—about which I shall say a word—is a case in point.
My right hon. Friend referred to the new arrangement whereby the Board of Trade will inform the Northern Ireland Government of firms who are refused I.D.C.s in this country. If they are willing, their names will be passed to the Northern Ireland Government, who can then offer inducement for them to go to Northern Ireland.
I have no time to deal with the financial aspect of the question. There is the Imperial contribution, the reduction of which makes more money available to the Northern Ireland Government. Then there is the Development Council. This is sometimes abused, but provided one remembers that it is an advisory body, designed to give publicity to the attractions of Northern Ireland, and not an executive body, one realises that it has achieved some good work. Taken together, these push and pull operations add up to a considerable amount. I know that it is the view of the Northern Ireland Government—a view which Her Majesty's Government share—that, taken together, they offer as much as, if not more than, is offered by the Local Employment Act operating in this country, in the way of inducing firms to go to Northern Ireland.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South asked for further consultation, but my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Blyth took the view—which seems also to be the view of the Northern Ireland Government—that facilities for consultations are at present adequate.
I was asked some specific points, most of which my right hon. Friend has referred to, but the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Pargiter), my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West and one or two other hon. Members returned to the question of the dry dock. I cannot add anything to the very clear explanation which my right hon. Friend gave earlier. Again, I have been asked about Short's. Hon. Members want to know when the contract will be signed. I would like to be able to give a firm date before I sit down, but, as my right hon. Friend said, this matter involves many millions of pounds. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation is 1466 aware of the urgency of this matter— or if he was not aware of it before this debate I can assure the House that he will be made aware of it. But I cannot give a firm date in this debate.
I was also asked about amalgamation. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Aviation referred to this question on 15th February—
§ Mr. Pargiter
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, if this contract is not signed before long, such is the present rate of obsolescence that we shall require to start upon a new design?
§ Mr. Vosper
I will see that that consideration is brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend. As I was saying, my right hon. Friend referred to the question of amalgamation. He said that in view of the special position of Short and Harland's he did not think that amalgamation was a suitable course to take at the moment, but he said that he would watch the position and consult the Northern Ireland Government.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey asked about strip mills. That is a problem for the Northern Ireland Government. If they made an approach to Her Majesty's Government consideration would be given to the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West talked very seriously about shipbuilding, and I share her concern, coming as I do from the Merseyside area. In the remaining two minutes available to me she will not expect me to say more than that I will see that her words come to the notice of the appropriate Minister. She also made a special plea that one of the "Queen" liners should go to Belfast. Hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies may take different views, but, again, I can assure her that her plea will be noted.
Lastly, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor) referred to the Border incidents. When I came to the Home Office, six months ago, I was given to understand that hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies feared that the present winter would be a serious one, in view of the release of internees in the Republic of Ireland. That fear has proved unfounded, and I think that my 1467 hon. and gallant Friend will agree that the recent winter has been the best one for several years in this respect.
The Government accept the Motion moved by my hon. and gallant Friend. The constructive comments which have been made by hon. Members on both sides of the House are welcomed here, as they will be in Northern Ireland. I, personally, look forward to seeing some of these problems at first hand later in the year.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the present state of Northern Ireland; deplores the continuance of armed raids across the United Kingdom border; views with concern the continuing high level of unemployment; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to continue their contacts and strengthen their support of the Government of Northern Ireland in their efforts to attract new industries and to ensure stable conditions in industry and agriculture.