§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The debate on Northern Ireland, which it was hoped to begin at half-past three, is starting 50 minutes late. I wonder whether it would be possible to come to some arrangement to extend the time of the debate by, perhaps, half an hour, or an hour, by extending the sitting of the House this evening. Would the Leader of the House care to intervene on this matter?
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Iain Macleod)
I do not think that I can help my hon. Friend on that. Of course, in the normal course on a Thursday, when we have the business statement and, very frequently, one or more statements, it is not usual to come on to the ordinary business of the day until about a quarter-past four. If I can be helpful as regards the time of switching from one of the two subjects to the other, I shall, of course, do so, but I think that the best thing would be to proceed with the debate.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Are we exactly tied to seven o'clock for moving on to the next debate, or is it possible to go on for, say, another half-hour?
§ Mr. Macleod
The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "No". We are not tied to a precise amount of time, but, of course, it is a matter for the Chair, not for me.
§ Mr. Tom Driberg (Barking)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since there is not the usual business statement today, may I ask the Leader of the House a question about business on the day we return from the Recess? It is simply this. In view of the state of the Order Paper, which shows that the Home Secretary is not answering questions orally for well over four months at a time, would the Leader of the House consider tomorrow morning moving a further small Amendment to the Motion which he has already had amended once, and which was carried by the House earlier this week, to provide for Oral Questions for one hour when we return at eleven o'clock on 24th October?
§ Mr. Macleod
There may be precedents, but it is against the ordinary custom that we have. Written Answers to Questions on the day we return are admissible.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
I was about to make the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) made, that we are 50 minutes late in starting the debate on Northern Ireland. We should not expect for a moment that the whole of the 50 minutes would be compensated for by those right hon. and hon. Members who wish to talk about accommodation, but I am sure that, if we do happen to trespass a little beyond the agreed time of seven o'clock, there will be understanding on both sides.
It has been a matter of considerable satisfaction to those of us who represent Northern Ireland that it is now recognised by the Leader of the House and the Government that we should have a one-day debate during the Session on Northern Ireland affairs. It has been suggested that it is, perhaps, unfair to have a day devoted to Wales and a day devoted to Northern Ireland when there are not special days allocated to the north-east of England, Merseyside and other areas which may feel that they require special consideration. I cannot speak for Wales, but I think that there is a special reason why this should be so in the case of Northern Ireland.
By the Act of 1920, under which the House handed over to the Parliament of Northern Ireland powers over a very considerable field of administration, Northern Ireland Members in this House were automatically excluded from raising matters within the competence of that Parliament. Therefore, in this very considerable field, covering not only law and order, the police force and so on, but the whole range of public expenditure of education, transport, housing, roads and all local government expenditure, it is not possible for Northern Ireland Members in this House daily to question any Ministers.
671 Nevertheless, this Parliament reserved to itself overall powers of general taxation and control of the general level of expenditure, with the consequence that, although the powers of the Government of Northern Ireland are very wide, they operate within limits determined by this House of Commons. It is right, therefore, that we should, at least once a Session, debate the broad general effect of the policies of the Government upon Northern Ireland in particular. We have thought it best—we agree with the Leader of the House on this—that our day's debate should be divided in two. The one upon which we are now embarking is the second half, the first half having been taken earlier in the Session on 22nd Novemeber.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to two changes which have taken place since our last debate. The first is a sad one. We, the Ulster Members, have lost our chairman and leader in the person of Sir David Campbell, who died since our last debate. Sir David was very greatly respected on both sides and very greatly loved. I am sure that there is no one in the House who would dissent from that. We miss him particularly today, and it is right that our debate should start with a tribute to his memory.
There has been a change in Northern Ireland in that Lord Brookeborough, our very great and distinguished Prime Minister for many years, has, as a result of a serious operation, had to retire from the office of Prime Minister. It is right, at the outset of the debate, to pay tribute to his very considerable services to Northern Ireland. His place has been taken by Captain Terence O'Neill, who combines two qualities, a long and valuable experience of Government in Northern Ireland, notably as Minister of Finance, and the great advantage of youth. He has reorganised the Northern Ireland Cabinet, and the picture there now is of a youthful and energetic Administration which, we hope, will receive the full co-operation of Her Majesty's Ministers here in any new imaginative proposals which they may have to put before us.
Before we enter upon the main subject of the debate, our economic problem, I wish to make one general political point. Since the Act of Union of 1801, 672 Northern Ireland has been an integral part of the United Kingdom. During that long period, there has been a very unhappy history of bloodshed, violence and enmity between our people and the people who live in what is now the Irish Republic. In a debate like this, it is not proper to go into that history or apportion any blame, but I draw attention to the fact that there has recently been at least a change of language in Dublin. We in Northern Ireland welcome this change of language. Mr. Lemass, the Prime Minister of the Republic, made a speech at the beginning of this week which, although it did not say anything new or offer any new proposal, was couched in language which showed some change of spirit. We warmly welcome this.
Our attitude in Northern Ireland has always been that we are more than willing to enter into any agreement or arrangement with our neighbours in the Irish Republic which would be for the welfare, safety and prosperity of all the people, North and South, with only one proviso, that no arrangement entered into should ever tend to weaken our position as an integral part of the United Kingdom. Subject only to that, we are more than ready to enter into any arrangements which would be to the benefit of both our peoples.
The main subject of this debate is Northern Ireland's economic affairs. It is natural that in this those of us who represent Northern Ireland, and, no doubt, hon. Members opposite, will be drawing attention to the weak points in our economy, to the things which we think ought to be improved. I hope, however, that in doing so we shall not paint a picture of our province as a down-and-out, down-at-heel, derelict part of the United Kingdom, because that would be a great disservice to us.
We are trying now to attract new investment capital and it is vitally important that in anything we say we bear in mind the fact that we should not paint such a gloomy picture of our part of the United Kingdom—because it is not true, anyway. Northern Ireland is a bustling, thriving, go-ahead part of the United Kingdom. After all, during the past year 15,000 new motor cars have been bought there. That is no indication 673 of a derelict and down-and-out community.
Subject to that, however, we shall have to draw attention to the weaknesses in our economy, the continuing weaknesses, and the black spot is, and always has been, unemployment, and this House has known about that for a very long time.
I want now to give a brief survey. I shall be as brief as I can, but I think that it would be helpful if I described the present position. There has been no great change in the unemployment position during the last year. The last debate took place in November, and shortly after that—it was, indeed, beginning to be apparent in November—the unemployment figures for the United Kingdom as a whole started to rise fairly rapidly. The curious thing is that in the late autumn and early winter the Northern Ireland unemployment figures were somewhat better than for the year before. In fact, they showed a distinct improvement on 1961.
However, the severe weather in January and February produced a disturbing result. Our unemployment figure rose sharply to a peak of 54,600, or 11.2 per cent. of our insured population, a very serious percentage. Since then, I am happy to say, the figure has steadily declined. Nevertheless, in June this year—this is the latest figures that we have—the Northern Ireland unemployment figure stood at 36,400, or 7.5 per cent of the insured population, which by any standard is very much too high. The disturbing thing about this figure is that it does not show any improvement and is, in fact, rather fractionally worse than a year ago.
On the employment side, between September, 1961, and September, 1962, the number in employment rose from 447,300 to 455,600—a rise of about 8,000. There has been a decline in the number of people in employment since then due to the redundancy in the shipyards, but I am happy to say that the number actually in employment is now rising again. Thus, we get a picture that we have had for a long time in Ulster, which is of a steady rise in the number of persons employed and yet a static state in the number of unemployed. We are again back to the old position of 674 the Red Queen running mightly hard to stay in the same position.
There is, however, an interesting change in the actual structure of employment there about which the House ought to know. Since September, 1960—I select 1960 because that was the peak employment year—there has been a considerable change in the actual pattern of those employed. In shipbuilding, for example, the labour force has fallen by no fewer than 10,000, in textiles it is down by 7,000 and in agriculture the slow and steady decline which we have seen ever since the war still goes on and the number employed in the industry has fallen by some 2,000. On the other hand, we have seen a rise in the labour force in other industries. In the construction industries employment is up by 2,000, in other manufacturing industries by 4,000 and in distribution and services by 10,000.
I think that it might be useful if we were to look at the three traditional industries, still, our greatest industries, in Northern Ireland in which this decline has taken place—shipbuilding, textiles and agriculture. In shipbuilding, as I said, the labour force has declined by some 10,000 persons. This has caused us very great anxiety. But for this, the efforts of the Northern Ireland Government in producing new employment would dramatically have improved the employment position. But there has been this fall.
Employment now in the shipyards—Harland and Wolff's shipyard, still the greatest single shipyard in the world, employs about 11,000 people—has been fairly stable in recent months, and we have heard with satisfaction of new orders from time to time. But the outlook is still very uncertain and very difficult. We welcome the recent Government announcement about the building of an aircraft carrier. Naturally, we would hope that it would be built at Harland and Wolff's, but, even if it is not, we recognise that the provision of £60 million worth of work must have a profound effect on shipbuilding generally which is bound to be reflected in more work for Harland and Wolff.
I do not want to say any more about the industry. My hon. Friends from Belfast, who take, naturally, a very keen 675 interest in it, will develop the problems of the industry in due course.
However, there is one subject which is allied to it—the dry dock for Belfast harbour. This has been discussed in the House for a long time. I remember the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and myself having discussions about it long ago, and I remember the subject arising in the debate in1958, when we discussed its pros and cons. The Northern Ireland Government, I understand, have put up a scheme to Ministers here for consideration, and we very much hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will have something constructive to say about the subject when he winds up the debate. Again, I leave it to my hon. Friends from Belfast to develop the arguments—which are strong and potent—in favour of this project, and I very much hope that the Government will not turn down any suggestions that are made out of hand.
I want to mention, in passing, the aircraft industry. Although it is not one of our traditional activities, it is, nevertheless, very important to us and is, to some extent, concerned in these problems. The present position in Short Brothers and Harland is such that employment at present is reasonably stable, but there is considerable concern about the future. There is particular concern about the future of the design and research staff.
We were disturbed to be told by representatives of the firm that signs were beginning to appear that the depletion of the design staff was beginning at the top and at the best level in such a way as might endanger the contracts which the company has in hand. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) has taken a very keen interest in this subject and no doubt he will develop it in more detail later. I hope that my right hon. Friend will have something to say in reply about the future of this important company.
Our other great industry—the greatest single industry in Northern Ireland—is agriculture. I do not propose to say very much about it in introducing this debate, because my hon. Friends who represent country areas, if they are fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, will no doubt deal with the subject fully. We are, as it were, a nation of small 676 farmers. We have a thriving agricultural industry, but we have had a very bad winter.
There is some disquiet about the future provision of fodder following the winter and the unsatisfactory hay harvest. Our beef producers have been pleased by the indications of a change in policy by the Government on the control of foreign imports, but, again, I will leave the main arguments on this subject to my hon. Friends.
I want to talk, in particular, about the textile industry, which is one of our great traditional industries and is enormously important to the provision of employment. The decline in the labour force in the textile industry has been 7,000, and that is serious. Overall, output has been reasonably well maintained but there are certain conclusions which are deeply disturbing and certain ways in which the Government can direct help. I hope that, although these problems are not directly within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, he will, nevertheless, draw the attention of the Board of Trade and the Treasury to them.
The first one is that it is very surprising, considering that this is an industry which provides important employment in an area which badly needs it, that the Purchase Tax on its products should have been raised. Yet that is so. The Purchase Tax on hanker chiefs has recently been raised. It is not perhaps realised that this increase applies to all kinds of hankerchiefs, cotton as well as linen, since practically all cotton handkerchiefs, whether started in Lancashire or not, are finished in Northern Ireland and provide a very important and traditional source of employment.
I do not want to argue the whole case for the removal or reduction of Purchase Tax on handkerchiefs. I did so at some length in the recent textile debate. I ask my right hon. Friend to be good enough to look again at what I said then and draw the attention of the Treasury to the fact that we would take it very ill indeed in Northern Ireland if, in the next round of Purchase Tax reductions, handkerchiefs were not included. It would lead to very great resentment indeed, and we confidently expect that they will be included.
677 The textile industry is greatly concerned about the level of imports, particularly the linen section. The central council of the linen section has asked specifically for protective action against certain linen imports from Eastern Europe, particularly tea towels and towelling. There has been a substantial increase of imports from Eastern Europe and the linen section has asked for three things. First, the imposition of anti-dumping duties under the 1957 Act; secondly, that the increase in the quotas of these countries should be halted; thirdly, that the quotas should be based upon yardage rather than upon value, which would be a fairer and more equitable way of determining them.
I understand that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is prepared to look at the anti-dumping problem when he gets further information and that the Northern Ireland Ministry of Commerce is supporting the linen section and takes the same view on the desirability of some limitation of these exports. We understand that the broad general policy of the Government must be such as to balance these things, but these imports are having a very harsh effect upon the linen section of the textile industry, and we hope that the Government will look at it.
I hope that the Government will look very closely indeed at one section of the textile industry which is suffering very severely. I refer to the shirt makers. The Northern Ireland shirt making industry provides employment for no fewer than 6,000 workers in Londonderry, which is a very important area for employment because it is one where there is very little overall. This is an old industry and is extremely important to that part of the Kingdom.
It is suffering very heavily from the import of shirts from Hong Kong. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) has, naturally taken a great interest in the matter and took a deputation to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Board of Trade, representing the Shirt Manufacturers' Federation.
The deputation put three points to my hon. Friend the Minister of State. First, the quality of these imports has been steadily rising to the point where 678 they are competing in the medium-range of shirts; secondly, the imports are very little more expensive than the cloth which the shirt-makers have to import to make shirts; thirdly, the present voluntary quota system for Hong Kong provides for no specific ceiling for shirts in particular.
Again, we understand the necessity for encouraging Commonwealth trade, and so forth, and for balancing the interests of the Commonwealth against those of our own industries, but there is a feeling, and I share it, that we should not allow a valuable industry of great importance in an area of unemployment to go completely by the board because of those interests. In Londonderry, there is a feeling that the balance is not being held quite fairly.
§ Captain Orr
Yes. As I said in the debate on the textile industry, I fully share Lancashire's feelings on this matter. There is undoubtedly a feeling that it would be wrong to sacrifice an important industry in an area where employment is required entirely to these considerations. I hope that my right hon. Friend will pass these comments to the Board of Trade.
While on the subject of imports and the Board of Trade, I should like to mention an industry in my own constituency, Mourne and Newry granite industries. This is a very old industry which is very important because it provides employment in an area where it is needed. In due course I shall develop arguments in favour of some sort of control for the imports of granite, perhaps in a letter to the President of the Board of Trade, but I can now say that the imports of granite from India and South Africa, surprisingly enough, have been steadily rising.
I never knew that there was any such thing as an import of granite, but I got the figures from the President of the Board of Trade the other day. During the last ten years, imports of granite from India have risen from a little over £5,000 to £133,000 and from South Africa from £1,600 to £74,000. I do not know how this has come about, but I would be grateful if the Board of Trade would look at this matter, because I have had 679 considerable complaint from our own granite industry about it.
I have dealt with certain of our older industries and it is vitally important that when employment in the older traditional industries looks like declining, we should do everything in our power to arrest the decline and encourage these industries to keep going. None the less, the crux of the Northern Ireland problem, as the House well knows, is that we need to attract more and new industries and to expand the existing industries. This is the essence of the problem. Enormous strides have been made in recent years. One has only to think of what might happen if the present policies of both Governments had not been followed, of the catastrophic state of employment which there might be in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland really would be derelict and down and out but for what has already been done.
Let me summarise the position. On 31st March, 1963, in new and expanded industries, that is, industries assisted by Government finance, 51,000 persons were employed of whom 31,000 were men. New firms introduced under the various schemes number 192. It is curious that in the last three or four years there has been a considerable increase in that in 1962 announcements were made which promised 6,000 new jobs, in 1961, a record year, there were projects which promised 8,600 new jobs and in 1960 some 4,000. In the years before that, the average was about 2,000. There has been a dramatic improvement in the industrial development programme in the last three or four years.
The trouble is that this trend seems to have halted and this year the rate of new development has slowed down. This is causing some anxiety. The present year is difficult. We do not know quite whether it is due to the uncertainties about the Common Market or something else, but there has been a slowing down of private investment in Northern Ireland, although public investment has gone on. However, in the last fortnight or three weeks there has been some sign of an upturn again which has given us some comfort.
For example, in the last fortnight there has been the starting of a new bacon factory at Enniskillen and the renting of a Government factory at Newtonards 680 by Johnson and Phillips which will employ about 250 people. But the particular source of satisfaction is the announcement of the new cigarette factory for Carreras which over the next five years will employ about 2,000 people.
But the industrial development situation is not satisfactory and I hope that the House will face it realistically. Clearly, something further has to be done if we are to maintain the status quo of employment and to reduce the unemployment figures. It is clear that both Governments need to redouble their efforts. Between them they have done tremendously good work, but something new is needed. The Board of Trade has been enormously helpful in steering industries to Northern Ireland and in pointing out that Northern Ireland is one of the areas to which industrialists might go.
However, I feel that Northern Ireland ought to have priority. I should not like to offend my hon. Friends from other parts of the United Kingdom, from Scotland, the North-East or Merseyside, but for the next two or three years the Board of Trade might devise a method for giving Northern Ireland priority. There is a genuine need to try to prime our pump.
This would be in the national interest and not only in the interests of Ireland. The National Economic Development Council has pointed out that to achieve a 4 per cent. growth rate it would be wise for the Government to use their powers to see that the national resources are fully used in those areas where they are not now fully used. This plea which we made for an extra effort by the Government would not be only in our own interests.
At the end of our last debate, my right hon. Friend said that the Hall Committee, whose Report we have just had, would not be the last word and that the Government would continue to find ways of improving the position. I have suggested a few and I am sure that my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite will suggest others. I hope that, in co-operation with the new and energetic Administration at Stormont, the Government will see that the efforts of both Governments are redoubled and that the search for new ideas and new approaches to solve this problem will continue with full force so that Northern Ireland can 681 play a full part not only in her own development, but in the development of the whole nation's production and resources and may as a result enjoy the full benefits of an expanding economy.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
I should like to deal in detail with three points. The first has already been mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), the question of Messrs. Harland and Wolff, Ltd., which has been building ships in Belfast for a great many years.
Belfast has been renowned as a shipbuilding town for several generations, shipbuilding having been commenced there about two centuries ago. We have a large modern dockyard on which many millions of £s have been spent over the last four years. This programme of modernisation has been carried out to enable the dockyard to compete with any other in the world, and sheds have been erected so that the most modern methods of prefabrication can be used in the construction of vessels.
We have five dry docks, the oldest of which, the Clarendon Dock, has been there for over 160 years, having been laid down in 1800. Three of the others were also laid down in the last century and the most modern of our docks, the Thompson Dock, was constructed in 1911. This is a fine dock, capable of taking vessels of up to 45,000 tons dead weight, that is, 30,000 tons gross. It was a tremendous act of faith and foresight in 1911 to build a dock of such proportions.
Since the end of the last war, it has become obvious that there is a need for a new large dry dock in Belfast. Over the past few years orders for repair and refitting have had to be turned away from Belfast because the existing docks were too small or were engaged in other work. One of the main reasons for wanting this new dry dock is to provide employment in Northern Ireland. The shipbuilding yard is the largest employer of labour in the whole of Northern Ireland, and, what is much more important, the great proportion of that labour is male labour.
To ensure that the present unemployment situation is not made any worse as 682 the result of the depression in shipping and shipbuilding, it is essential that Messrs. Harland and Wolff diversify their activities. Until recently the firm has been content to concentrate on shipbuilding, and has built up a tremendous name for itself throughout the world, particularly for the construction of passenger liners. But orders for passenger liners are infrequent and are hard to win, and the directors of the company have decided that to maintain the work force in Belfast it will be necessary to do much more refitting and repair work during the years of depression in shipbuilding.
For those reasons, the construction of a dry dock, which has been debated before in this House and which I have mentioned on several occasions since I came to this House about five years ago, has become much more vital than it was in the past. The number of large tankers being built in the world has increased dramatically. There are now 113 tankers throughout the world which are too large to be dry docked in Belfast. Of this number, 26 are owned by United Kingdom owners. None of these vessels can be dry-docked in Belfast, so they cannot be refitted and repaired there.
The trend towards building large vessels is apparent if one looks at Lloyds Register of Shipping. It shows that at the end of last year 178 tankers of more than 45,000 tons deadweight were on order. This means that two-thirds of the tankers being built in the world were large tankers, and a similar figure applies in relation to orders which have been placed in the United Kingdom. Of the 29 tankers ordered during the second quarter of 1963, 23 were for tankers of more than 45,000 tons. If this country is to remain a major shipbuilding and ship-repairing nation, it is essential that we have adequate dry dock facilities not only to build these tankers but to accommodate them when they come in for inspection.
It is calculated that more than 200 vessels now on order throughout the world will be too big for the existing facilities in Belfast. I referred earlier to the modernisation of the shipbuilding yard in Belfast. Until three years ago 18 slipways were used to capacity. As a result of the depression, a number of these slipways have been dismantled, and 683 the rest have been modernised. Of those which have been modernised, six are capable of being used for the construction of ships which are too large to be berthed in Belfast, and this makes it all the more difficult for Northern Ireland to win orders for large passenger, tanker, and tramp vessels of the type that are being ordered today.
It is estimated that it would cost about £5 million to build this new dry dock. The harbour commissioners have spent a similar sum on modernising dock facilities in Belfast, and this has added 20 per cent. to the harbour dues. It is impossible for the harbour commissioners, who are responsible for constructing a dry dock, to pay for it even thought it is a vital necessity.
As I said earlier, Messrs. Harland and Wolff have spent a large sum of money on modernisation, and it is a necessary counterpart of this modernisation scheme that we should have a large dry dock to go with these new and modern slip-ways. The site is available, and I am told that little additional dredging would be necessary because of the harbour improvement scheme which has recently been carried out by the Harbour Commissioners. In fact, if we had the foresight today that we had in 1911, when the Thompson Dock was laid down, we would lay down a dry dock capable of taking vessels of up to 150,000 tons. In this way Britain could maintain her lead as a major shipbuilding country and Messrs. Harland and Wolff could maintain the proud position which the company has of being the largest single shipbuilding yard in the United Kingdom, and indeed in the world.
Such a project would greatly assist the unemployment problem. Many new industries, some at considerable expense, have been started in Northern Ireland. In recent years Standard Telephones, Michelin Tyres and British Enkalon have all established plants in Northern Ireland. We are all extremely grateful for the money which has been spent, and the assistance which has been given in starting these plants, but it must be realised that these plants, being modern and automated, employ only about 2,000 men each whereas three years ago Messrs. Harland and Wolff were employing more than 20,000 men. That figure has dropped to about 11,000, but this firm is still the 684 major employer of men in the area, and therefore the expenditure of several million £s by Messrs. Harland and Wolff would have a much more important effect than if it were spent in any other way.
The case for the construction of this dry dock has been supported by all parties. It was debated in Stormont on 28th March this year, and a Motion was approved by all parties.
Mention has already been made and Questions have been asked this week by myself and other of my hon. Friends on the aircraft carrier programme. The Minister of Defence has announced that a new large aircraft carrier is to be ordered, and that this will be tendered for by all the ship builders in Britain. I would point out that many aircraft carriers in the past have been built in Belfast and that we have a very fine naval building record. I should like to put a plea to my right hon. Friend that this aircraft carrier order should go to Northern Ireland. In fact, within the last few months two special missile carrying frigates have been completed in Belfast, and we have a tradition of naval building which is represented in all classes of vessels sailing in Her Majesty's Navy today.
Here, again, we need a new large dry dock so that we can build such vessels. It would be inconceivable, if we are to have a new generation of aircraft carriers, that none of them should be built in Belfast because, though we could build them, without a dry dock we could not finish them in Northern Ireland.
I could say a great deal more about Harland and Wolff but, because of the lateness in starting the debate and the number of my hon. Friends whom I know wish to take part in it, I shall keep my remarks short, as I am sure that other hon. Members will.
I should like to say a few words about another large industry which lies in my constituency, and that is the aircraft factory of Short Bros, and Harland. It has been debated frequently in the House over the past few years, and the situation in Short Bros, and Harland is causing great concern in Northern Ireland. I am particularly pleased to see on the Front Bench my hon. Friend from the Ministry of Aviation, and I hope that he will pay particular attention to this plea. In the 685 Financial Times today there is an important article on the main news page dealing with the concern felt for the future of Shorts. I shall not waste the time of the House by going over it in detail, but I should like to refer to the main points about which we are all concerned in Northern Ireland.
In Short Bros, and Harland we have built up a very fine design team. It is the future of that design team which is causing us the gravest concern. I might mention a Report which has been published very recently by the Feilden Committee. This was on engineering design and Short Bros, and Harland submitted evidence to the Committee. One of the main recommendations by the Committee, in page 2, paragraph 10, is that the Government should use development contracts to encourage the creation of design teams of high quality. This is one of the conclusions of the Committee, and it is dealt with at greater length in paragraph 153 of its Report.
Short Bros, and Harland have not been in any way backward in setting up such a design team. They do some of the most complex and advanced design work in Northern Ireland and have played a very big part in helping the technical education of the youth of Belfast. A Chair has been set up at Queen's University, due very largely to the work of Short Bros, and Harland, and much work has been done through the technical colleges. Unless this design team can be kept fully occupied, there is the danger that many of those engaged in it will leave Northern Ireland, and this would threaten the future of the aircraft industry in Northern Ireland. This, like shipbuilding, is an ideal industry for Northern Ireland. The manpower is available and very little raw material of the highest quality has to be imported, so the transport costs are minimal. The transport costs, which is one of our obstacles to industrial development in Northern Ireland, plays a very small part in relation to these projects, and for this reason and because a large amount of skilled labour is being employed that it is a most suitable industry for Northern Ireland.
At the moment it is engaged in producing ten Belfast aircraft. We have never been able to understand why an 686 order for ten of these aircraft should be placed. We read in the newspapers every day of increasing tension particularly in the Far East. We read of the Chinese build-up on the Indian border. We think of our commitments in India, Malaysia and the Far East, and we wonder, in view of the threat that there has been over the past year, even of actual aggression in India, how we could fulfil our commitments and get our Forces out there in time.
An order has been given for a new freighter aircraft which is to be known, I believe, as the WG681. These aircraft will not be in service, until the 1970s. The aircraft carrier which I have mentioned might be used for the same purpose, to reinforce our Forces in the Far East, but it cannot be sailing and fulfilling its function until the 1970s. We are at the moment, it appears, and will be for the next five, six or seven years, virtually unable to reinforce our Forces in the far corners of the world and carry the numbers of men and the type of equipment they need without new large transport aircraft.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
When the hon. Member said that orders for ten Belfasts had been placed, I think that he meant that he was surprised that an order for only ten was placed. He might have been misunderstood.
§ Mr. McMaster
I thought that I made my meaning quite clear by my following remarks. Ten is an inadequate number. Allowing for the fact that two of these aircraft are to be used for development purposes, that leaves only eight for our Forces. If we intend to spread the entire development cost of these aircraft over ten, it makes the expense ridiculous. Irrespective of that, the need of our Forces is for far more than ten, and an order for twenty, which could be produced within the next two or three years, would give plenty of work in Belfast. These aircraft are very much larger than the WG 681 which has a hold of only 9 ft. by 9 ft. whereas the Belfast has a 12 ft. square fuselage, big enough to take a Chieftain tank. This aircraft, with a new engine and a 20 ft propeller instead of the existing one which is 16 or 18 ft., would be quite capable of 687 enabling our Forces to fulfil their commitments throughout the world. It seems very illogical and unwise in the light of our new defence programme to say that ten Belfasts are adequate, and that this plane is not capable of development. The first will fly before the end of this year, and I am sure that it will be a great success.
I should like to mention briefly another type of work which has been going on in Belfast. Short Brothers and Harland pioneered the vertical take-off project which has been very much in the news lately. They produced the SC1—the first multiple-jet vertical take-off aircraft in the world. The Government decided that a new fighter should be developed for use both on land and at sea, based on the different scheme—the Hawker scheme of vectored thrust. Experience of the Paris Air Show has indicated that the French Balzac, which incorporates Short Brothers scheme has great virtue, and that for a heavier aircraft, such as a transport aircraft, it would be ideal. I suggest that an order should be given straight away, or a feasibility study made with a view to incorporating the Short Brothers scheme in a British aircraft.
I do not suggest that the Hawker 1154 aircraft is not entirely suitable for its job, but heavier transports which must have short or vertical take-off capacity should be powered by multi-jet Rolls-Royce engines, which have now been developed so that they have a fantastic lift capacity—a capacity of lifting sixteen times their own weight. A feasibility study should be made to enable the technical know-how of the Short Brothers scheme to be used to the benefit of the country generally and our Armed Services in particular.
I am not in any way criticising the Hawker scheme. In fact, it might be wise to develop both schemes together. It is possible to incorporate both vectored thrust and vertical take-off engine pods together in the same aircraft. This might be a possible way of achieving the end we desire, which is for a small transport aircraft capable of vertical take-off. I suggest that consideration should be given immediately to the possibility of placing an order for the purchase of existing aircraft such as the Breguet 941, which many hon. Members went to see demon- 688 strated at Northolt recently. It is a French aircraft with surprisingly short take-off features.
Such an aircraft could be purchased and fitted with pods by Short Brothers. The cost of this would be less than £1 million and the technical know-how and advantages gained would be inestimable. It could be the forerunner to the scheme which the Government have announced and in respect of which there have been recent questions in the House, concerning the possibility of adapting vertical take-off to the WG681 when it is in production later in this decade or at the beginning of the next. But we must get on with the job straight away or we shall lose our lead in the world, and also possible export orders, to our competitors in France, Germany and the United States.
I must mention missiles. Short Brothers have produced the most successful British missile—the Seacat—which is being exported to six foreign countries. Two or three other countries have shown an interest in it and might place orders for it. But unless the missile design team can be kept together in Short Brothers it may not be possible to fulfil all those orders. In that event the loss to this country of valuable exports, can hardly be over-stated. If it were possible to place some of the development orders that I have suggested for vertical take-off, I believe that we could use the same design team for both tasks, because the same missile design team did a lot of the original work on the SC1. In this way Short Brothers could maintain its production of missiles and consolidate its knowledge of vertical take-off. This could not fail to be for the benefit of the whole country.
Other Members representing Belfast constituencies will want to deal with other aspects of the problem of Short Brothers, especially in relation to maritime reconnaisance aircraft. I will leave that subject there and conclude by saying that I support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South said in opening. Northern Ireland has taken on a new look in the past six months. The new Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Captain Terence O'Neill has been very energetic in emphasising that Northern Ireland must rely to a great extent upon self-help. That is a point of view that all my colleagues representing Northern 689 Ireland constituencies will support. This was mentioned particularly in the Hall Report of last year. We cannot pull ourselves up entirely by our own boot strings. We have made great strides in the past five years in reducing unemployment, but the unemployment rate still remains at over 7 per cent., and it was as high as 11½ per cent. only three months ago.
We appreciate the help that has been given by the British Government. I know from my own experience that the Board of Trade and the Treasury have taken many measures to help us find new industries for Northern Ireland, and so to prevent unemployment from becoming a much more serious problem. I must also pay tribute to the Northern Ireland Government. It is part of our duty in this House to try to collaborate with the Northern Ireland Government in any proposals we make to Her Majesty's Government. I want to express a special word of praise for the liaison which exists between the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, the Home Secretary and other Ministers here, and for the way in which they deal with the points which are raised. There have, perforce, to be many private conversations, because in this House Northern Ireland debates are infrequent. I take this opportunity of saying how much I appreciate the attention and care which is given on both sides—by the Northern Ireland Government and Her Majesty's Government—to the problems that I have mentioned.
Because of the offices which they hold, some of my colleagues who represent Northern Ireland constituencies cannot speak in this debate, especially my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Knox Cunningham) and my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), but I know that much has been done in the past five years to assist Northern Ireland through their pens, which are always busy and are always working very hard for their constituents in Northern Ireland. They make their points strongly and firmly to the Government.
Our aim must be to further a strong and united kingdom. That is the meaning of the United Kingdom. It must be a prosperous kingdom. We must strive to increase its capital wealth and to take full advantage of the technical advances which 690 have been mentioned in the recent Feilden Report, among others. We must make much more use of our capital assets, our brains, and particularly our manpower resources.
Earlier, during Question time today, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury referred to the shortage of manpower as being a limiting factor in road construction. There is no shortage of manpower in Northern Ireland. It must be the ambition of this Government and this House to improve the standard of living throughout the Kingdom—and that includes Northern Ireland—besides improving our hospitals, schools and welfare services. The key to this lies in positive Government action. The Government must take courageous and ambitious action. I have mentioned two ambitious schemes today—the dry dock scheme and the vertical take-off project. We must look far into the future, and we must rely on the vigour, industry and the unquestioned loyalty of the people of Ulster.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
I agree with the remedies offered by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) regarding the manufacturing side of industry in Belfast. I think that the hon. Gentleman was right to draw our attention to the problems in the shipbuilding and aircraft industries, because, no matter how we look at the position in Northern Ireland, it is still the case that manufactures bring in exports amounting to £249½ million of the total of £334.3 million. Therefore, unless we can have a continued boost in manufactured goods there will be no solution to the problem.
The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) described this debate as the second half of a debate which began on 22nd November, 1962, and I agree. I do not wish to repeat many of the things which I said to the House on that occasion. Nor do I wish to paint the gloomy picture which the hon. and gallant Gentleman asked that we should not paint. I agree that there have been accomplishments. But, like the hon. and gallant Member, I must emphasise to the Government that the effort which has been made, although I do not seek to disguise its value, has 691 not produced the result that we all want to see.
The problem is that Northern Ireland is still the area of the United Kingdom with by far the highest rate of unemployment. I agree that this year there has been a reduction in the developments which we have seen in previous years. I think this is a reflection of Government policy last year when deflationary policies were in vogue. Now we see the result in the diminution of development which has been referred to. Those who take part in these debates have listened to the reports of what has been done and the efforts both by this Government and the Government of Northern Ireland. As I have said, it would be wrong to decry them. But we must face the fact that, despite those efforts, we are still faced with the great problems which we are discussing.
It would seem that the most successful export effort yet has been in human beings. Between 1951 and 1961 the natural increase in the population was 146,349. The actual increase was 54,500. There was a net migration of 91,800 people. But, despite that, we are still faced with a high level of unemployment. During the debate on 22nd November, I criticised the Hall Report, and said that it appeared to me to be an appeal for more migration and less wages. This despite the migration rate which I have described and a level of wages which was the lowest in the United Kingdom. We spoke then of the hopes which had been built up by the then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland about the Report which the Hall Committee would publish, and hon. Members will remember that he suggested:The members of that Committee have the best brains we have here. If those brains cannot solve the problem, I do not know the remedy.If Lord Brookeborough was right in so describing the members of the Hall Committee, it is a pretty dismal prospect, because the Report, when published, proved a terrible disappointment.
On present showing, it would appear that the Committee was right when it suggested that there would be no real improvement in the unemployment problem for a number of years. In November last year I suggested a link-up with the N.E.D.C. and representatives of Northern 692 Ireland in order that we could get a scientific regional analysis reinforced by the first-hand knowledge of people from Northern Ireland competent to offer suggestions. I ask the Home Secretary, what has happened since then? On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman told us about all the jobs in the pipeline. He made a point of that. But on the figures we have now, one can only assume that there must have been a huge gaping hole in that pipeline, because the things for which the right hon. Gentleman hoped have not happened. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman said:…as long as I hold my present position, I pledge myself to do everything in my power, working with the United Kingdom Government, to assist the Northern Ireland Government in solving these problems."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 22nd November, 1962; Vol. 667, c. 1537.]Let us have a look at the results which have been achieved. On 10th June of this year, the unemployment figure for Great Britain as a whole was 480,000, or 2.1 per cent. of all employees. For Northern Ireland the figure was 36,422, which is about 7½ per cent. Over 22,000 have been unemployed for more than eight weeks, and there is about 8.5 per cent. of the male population unemployed. This relates to midsummer when seasonal employment is at its height. We must anticipate that with the coming winter we may well again be in very serious trouble. The scope for increase in unemployment during the winter period, when seasonal unemployment begins to show, may be reckoned by the fact that the figure in January of this year was 45,948, or 9½ per cent., and in February it was 54,583, or 11.2 per cent. of the working population.
I concede at once that the weather last winter was exceptional. But it is also the case that if we consider 1962 as a whole the rate of unemployment was about 7.6 per cent. If we take that figure and then reckon the increased seasonal unemployment which is bound to come with the winter, I think that the figure cannot be less than 9 per cent. or 10 per cent. of the working population.
In the debate last November, I asked not for the first time, for a development corporation. I said to the Government:…I put it to them that they should again examine the suggestion of a development corporation which could channel investment in the 693 right directions, which could examine research and that kind of thing which is so essential if we are to set up new industries…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1962; Vol. 667, c. 1468.]The Hall Report had commented on the demand for a development corporation and economic council which had been made for years by the Northern Ireland Labour Party. The Committee said:We do not think it either constitutionally appropriate or practically necessary to set up an autonomous body of either kind.The Home Secretary went one better. As reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT of 22nd November, he said:when hon. Members opposite talk about an economic planning council, either they mean direction of industry or they mean nothing at all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd November, 1962; Vol. 667, c. 1541.]I should like a straight answer from the right hon. Gentleman today. Is N.E.D.C. an economic planning council, or nothing at all? I should think that the members of the N.E.D.C. would be quite interested to hear the answer from a responsible member of the Government which set it up. I ask why Northern Ireland cannot be represented on the N.E.D.C., or have a comparable development of its own?
Since the debate in November we have had issued to us a pamphlet published by the Northern Ireland Economic Sub-Committee of the National Association of British Manufacturers. It is in many ways a remarkable document. I thought at first that it had been drawn up by members of the Northern Ireland Labour Party, until I came to some of the detail with which I do not agree. The writers of this document go miles further than the right hon. Gentleman or any member either of the Stormont Government or our own has ever gone. I shall quote one or two things from it which I think are vital to the success of our efforts in Northern Ireland. On page 2 they discuss human relations in industry and say:No progress can be made in any individual factory or industry except there is co-operation between management and the unions representing the workers in that establishment. In viewing the Northern Ireland industrial scene overall it follows that if business and industry as a corporate group are to prosper there must be similar co-operation between management and unions at the national level. Some formula must be found to end the present impass between unions and government; the non-recognition of unions represents an absolute 694 bar to the co-operation which in our preceding paragraph we have said is a 'must'.This is from the employers' organisation, not something produced by the trade unions. On more than one occasion I have got hot under the collar about the attitude of the Stormont Government on this matter. I am delighted to see that enlightened employers are putting the case so well. Whether hon. Members like it or not, there is no alternative to representation by responsible trade unions.
§ Captain Orr
There is no dispute about this, but what the employers are saying is that a way should be found out of the impasse. I have appealed to the hon. Member many times in this House to find a way out. The difficulty, as he knows, is that this is a committee which we would be perfectly happy to welcome, and the Northern Ireland Government would be perfectly happy to recognise and co-operate with, if it represented a T.U.C. of its own or a British trade union, but it represents a trade union organisation in another country.
§ Mr. Lee
I do not accept that this is an insurmountable barrier. Those who have written this pamphlet are as conscious of the problem from the employers' side as is the hon. and gallant Member. Responsible trade union leaders over there, whom I know very well, are equally conscious of the problem. Neither side, neither the trade unions nor the employers, are saying that we cannot get over this problem, given the possibility that the Northern Ireland Government want a settlement of it. I see no reason why we should not get co-operation to do this.
To quote again from this remarkable document, which I read with great pleasure, on pages 3 and 4 the writers say that they are very much in favour of an industrial development corporation. I do not know if the Home Secretary has yet read this document. The writers obviously believe that his arguments against it were spurious and ignorant arguments and that he did not understand the nature of the problem. They are very much in favour of this being brought about. They tell us that:The use of public money should be accompanied by public control of that money…695 This is really dangerous—and we see the Industrial Development Corporation as a suitable means to this end.This is almost like reading Lenin a few years ago. I do not want to go on reading from it, but it is a fascinating and enjoyable document. It goes on later to put the case for an economic council, and says that the economic council should be the executive of the development council. In other words, it should plan closely the way in which the economy of Northern Ireland could be made more healthy and refurbished as a result, (a) of a development corporation, (b) an economic council, and (c) the use of public money in private industry, providing there were proper safeguards for the money which the public invests.
This is a very great step forward. I hope that the Home Secretary is now to tell us that it is accepted. I put this straight question to him. Is it the case that at Stormont there is now acceptance of the need for an economic planning council? I am told that there is. I am told that the trade unions are being approached for nominations and that six nominations can be made.
Here we come up against the old bogy. The trade unions would be very willing to nominate suitable people to sit on such a body, but they certainly will not co-operate with any people nominated by the Stormont Government ostensibly to represent trade unions but in fact not accepting the kind of representation they want. In other words, they want the right to select their own representatives whom they believe could represent them very well on a council of this type. If we could get that kind of co-operation and could erect the sort of furniture for it to move in this way, I am sure many of the great problems which face us would be capable of solution, which so far we have not found. I again remind the Home Secretary of the words he used, and I hope he will withdraw them:when hon. Members opposite talk about an economic planning council, either they mean direction of industry or they mean nothing at all.The pamphlet also mentions the terrifically important problem of freight rates. I sometimes think that this is the greatest single problem we all face. No matter how efficient the industry of 696 Northern Ireland becomes, we shall still have the great problem of getting goods across without adding a sort of on-cost to production costs which makes it impossible for manufacturers there to compete on price in our markets. There is much to commend the idea that we should invest our money on specific issues rather than spread it too widely over a number of issues which cannot give the return we require. This question of getting our priorities right is most vital. I know that there is no contention in this House on this question because hon. Members on both sides have mentioned the great problem of freight rates. I should like to see the two Governments decide to tackle the problem, perhaps from an entirely new angle.
The question was raised in the Hall Report about the attitude to public works. I thought it terribly backward and the pamphlet I have quoted agrees with me on this. Will the Home Secretary tell us today that there is no veto on the enlargement of our effort in public works if it is felt that this can assist in the solution of the general problems we are discussing? On the question of transport costs my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) received a very interesting letter—which he showed to the Home Secretary—some time ago. It was from a gentleman asking that we should study the short sea route. He mentioned that the distance between Donaghadee and Port Patrick on the Scottish side is a mere 18 miles, three miles less than the Dover Straits. He is of the opinion that developments at that point could make an appreciable difference to the cost of freight. I know that a large amount of capital would be invested to get the port facilities on both sides——
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
If I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman, the problem is not so easy of solution. The difficulty is at Port Patrick. One is not much nearer to British industry at Port Patrick than one is at Donaghadee. Stranraer is only eight miles from Port Patrick——
§ Mr. Lee
The hon. Gentleman should not interrupt until he has heard the whole of the case. I do not profess to be completely au fait with this matter, but I have heard the arguments and I think that we deserve an answer from the Government. I am told that a ferry such as 697 the "Maid of Kent" on the Dover run would cross in 70 minutes and could transport 1,900 vehicles a day in 10 trips. Taking the charges which are now operative on the Dover-Calais run and applying them to the short crossing to which I have referred, this would represent a great improvement in costs.
On the present run from Larne to Stranraer, a distance of 34 miles, it costs nearly twice as much to take a car across as for the 68 miles journey between Dover and Ostend. This matter needs investigation. I want to know whether the Government can give an answer to the problem, because we are concerned with getting the costs down. I am told that whereas in 1950 British Railways carried 17,460 vehicles across the Channel, by 1961 the figure was 340,000. Therefore, there is obviously scope for a vast increase in the traffic. The tourist trade between the mainland and Northern Ireland would get a great shot in the arm and the Northern Ireland industries would probably benefit enormously from such an increase. This may not be a "runner"—I do not know—but I believe that this is the kind of suggestion which should be considered, and I am sure that the economy would benefit if we could make a go of it.
Northern Ireland is one big development area. N.E.D.C. a while ago referred to growth points and so on. There could well be a co-operative effort in developing the Scottish side at Port Patrick along with the development that I have suggested on the Irish side. I know that the railway cuts are to apply to Northern Ireland as well as on the mainland. I believe that the line to Larne will be left in being, although on the Scottish side the Stranraer link is to go. We would reach a fantastic position if this scheme were to become operative, for Dr. Beeching would have to get out the pack mules when the traffic reached the Scottish side. I hope that the Home Secretary will consider my suggestion and will make sure that we shall not be robbed of its value by a silly move to close the railway link at Stranraer while developments are made on the other side.
Let me give some figures to show that the Stranraer link is vital. I am told that 40 per cent. of the people who travel on the boat to Larne go by rail to Stranraer in the first place and that in last year's 698 accounts the steamer's income increased to £286,000 from £200,000 in the previous year.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East referred to Short Brothers. I take a pretty dim view of the way in which the Government have handled that firm's affairs. Last year has been one of great anxiety for the management of Short Brothers. We all remember that they got the conditional grant of £10 million for the completion of the Belfast and the Seacat contracts. No further Belfasts have been ordered and the firm is almost in a desperate position. A year ago the Minister of Defence announced to the Press that the sub-contract for the R.A.F. VC.10 would be placed with Short Brothers. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman can tell us what has happened to that contract. I know that a small amount of tooling has been authorised, but of course one cannot go on re-tooling in anticipation of projects if they do not materialise. Surely the time is overdue for Short Brothers to be told whether they can go ahead with confidence with re-tooling for the job.
The House was told that a sub-contract for the AW681 would be placed with Shorts. We know that the aircraft is still in an embryonic stage. Even as regards design—and I am not suggesting that we are near the end of that part of the business yet—I understand that Shorts have not been consulted, and neither has that company been brought into any negotiations or arrangements about it. I should like to know whether the company is to share in the design work and what kind and size of sub-contract it will get. These are major uncertainties which the firm in its present state cannot continue to carry.
I should like to know whether Short Brothers will be brought into discussion on these matters, and if so when. I am told that on the design side the development teams are moving rapidly towards almost sheer calamity. The air-fraft design team is losing staff at a dangerous rate. There was considerable voluntary retirement, of course, but this has accelerated since the Home Secretary made an awful gaff on 20th April by saying that only a couple of design teams were needed though out the whole of the British aircraft industry. We are now reaching the stage where we shall see a 699 flight of this type of highly-skilled labour from Belfast unless we can get speedy answers to these questions.
§ Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will take into account the fact that a firm outside the group, Handley Page, is receiving a contract for laminar flow, which shows that an outside firm can be used. As to the Belfast, will the hon. Gentleman recall what happened last night in the defence debate? One of his hon. Friends did everything he could to deprecate the Belfast.
§ Mr Lee indicated dissent
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
The hon. Gentleman should not shake his head. Some of his hon. Friends pose as experts in these matters. What we need is a little organisation so that we can give the people the backing that they need. If one gives a dog a bad name it sticks. The people in Northern Ireland want a helping hand.
§ Mr. Lee
Never mind about that—statements which denigrated the whole level of British effort in the world, I can give them to the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, these days one gets the impression that there is not entire unanimity in the Tory Party on human issues. If we say that one side of the House is representative of those issues and the other is not, I do not know where democracy will get to in the House of Commons. I do not want any of my hon. Friends to denigrate any effort which we are making. However, it must not be said that, because opinions differ on both sides of the House, there is anything the Front Benches should do to stop that.
I believe that Seacat has already been sold to seven navies and that other orders are almost certain to follow. I understand that the ability of Shorts to accept any further export orders may well be in jeopardy because of the extent to which its design teams are now leaving. It would be a great tragedy if, export 700 orders being there for the taking, Shorts could not fulfil them because of a shortage in its design teams.
The Government's attitude towards Shorts has been very bad. When the Government brought the aircraft firms together into consortia, they made it quite clear that it would not be possible to obtain Government orders unless firms joined the consortia. Shorts are as to nearly 70 per cent. owned by the Government. Therefore, the only people who could decide whether Shorts went into the consortia were the Government. They did not decide that Shorts should go in. Now the Government are penalising Shorts because they have not gone in. This is fantastic. We would like to hear the right hon. Gentleman's views on this.
An hon. Member mentioned the enormous importance of the work which Shorts are doing in education in Belfast. I have been to Queen's and seen what is going on. It would be a major tragedy if all that educational work were to go for nothing either because Shorts were used merely for sub-contracting or were allowed to run down altogether. I will not read the figures of apprentices who have been trained or tell the House the work they are now doing. Most of us know how enormously important this is to the people of Northern Ireland.
These are some of the issues on which we should like to hear the Government's comments. It is not enough for us merely to say that we keep on putting in money, that unfortunately we do not get as good results as we should like, but that at any rate it stops it getting any worse. Thirty-six thousand unemployed at the height of the summer is a tragedy. We have suggested ways which have not yet been tried of bringing better results if we concentrated upon them. Previously I made the contentious suggestion that the Government should organise certain sections of industry. The silence from the Government Front Bench has been deafening.
The time has come when dogma of this type must be out. Both the F.B.I. Report, which we discussed in the science debate, and the Report of the manufacturers, which I mentioned earlier, accept the need for public money, in many instances allied with private money inside the same firm. I, for my part, demand a 701 better return to the public for the money invested than the pamphlet does.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept that nowadays economic planning is a prerequisite to success. In Northern Ireland this is accepted by the employers. The trade unions and the Labour Party have advocated it for years. Only the Government are out of step. May we be told tonight that the silly dogma that there is something about competitive private enterprise which shall never meet public investment has gone and that the right hon. Gentleman has caught up with the Prime Minister's statement that the Tories are now planners? The truth of that can be demonstrated by their attitude to this debate. We shall listen with great interest to hear whether the right hon. Gentleman has been converted.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
I did not know that I was to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee). I had prepared a speech on Northern Ireland's largest industry—agriculture—which the hon. Gentleman did not mention.
§ Mr. Clark
One hundred and ten thousand are employed in agriculture, 11,000 in shipbuilding and 66,000 in textiles, if I remember correctly. The hon. Gentleman made an interesting speech about Northern Ireland. We were glad to know that he had read a pamphlet about it before he spoke. That was the pamphlet produced by the Northern Ireland Economic Sub-Committee of the National Association of British Manufacturers. I know the authors of this pamphlet very well. Like the hon. Gentleman, I think that the parts of the pamphlet with which I agree are excellent. The hon. Gentleman did not go into any details about the parts he did not agree with.
I thought that much the most significant sections of the pamphlet were those dealing with training for industry We all agree that there must be co-operation between unions and management and between both of them and the Government. In the training of people for industry there is probably more room for real co-operation between union, management and government than in 702 any other section. There are industries in Northern Ireland which cannot expand because they have not enough skilled labour. I am sorry to say that the stumbling block in training skilled labour is the old fashioned restrictionist idea of some trade unions. I can produce evidence to support my contention. if I am forced to. However, I do not want to expand on this because I have much to say on other subjects.
I was surprised that a Front Bench speaker for the Labour Party should spend a considerable portion of his speech supporting an idea for a new sea route between Donaghadee, which has not got a railway, is at the end of a very congested road system and where the harbour is fit for fishing boats only, and Portpatrick, which has no railway and also has a port which is fit for fishing boats and little more. This is not an exciting idea which commends itself to anyone in possession of a few facts. Again, the hon. Gentleman spoke about cross-Channel freights and said that these were the nub of the whole problem. However, he did not mention the D. V. House Report which, bad as it was, was a definitive report on freights across the Irish Sea.
The hon. Gentleman took an extremely friendly interest in Ireland and said a number of very wise things. I should like to thank him. I shall now concentrate on agriculture, which is the largest, the completely predominant, industry in Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people work in it. I should think that half the population of Northern Ireland have a direct interest in agriculture. Northern Ireland has about one-fortieth of the population of the United Kingdom, yet we still manage to feed one in fifteen of the population of the United Kingdom. Each year we export about £65 million of agricultural produce.
This year we, like everybody else, have had a bad year. The weather we had in the winter was probably better than that experienced in England, but the spring has been worse. The hay harvest may have been saved from being a disaster in the last three or four days. Like all really bad harvests, its effect will not be felt till the farmers start running short of fodder in the spring of next year.
Like many of my hon. Friends, I am very concerned, as are the farmers in 703 Northern Ireland, about the prospect of a very large grain harvest coming in rather late this year and competing with continental grain harvests, with an absolute collapse of grain prices. We were glad to hear the assurance given by my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that this position is being watched and that something will be done. Farmers in Northern Ireland were also very glad to hear the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 22nd May when he assured us that he had plans ready to control imports of food products. We have also welcomed the higher beef prices which followed the negotiations with Argentina earlier this year.
Many people in Northern Ireland, not least the farmers, have been interested, though somewhat puzzled, at the 14 points the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown) has put forward as the Labour Party's policy for agriculture following the next General Election. Fortunately for all concerned, the party opposite have little chance of putting it into action. It is a bromide policy if ever I saw one. We are told, for example, that guaranteed prices will be continued, but the right hon. Member for Belper made no mention of the concept of standard quantities. Are they to be increased or decreased, or is the whole concept to be done away with?
The right hon. Member for Belper made no mention of farm incomes; whether they would be guaranteed and at what level they should be stabilised. In his 14 points he said that he would look to international agreements to stabilise prices, but he did not say anything about the level of stabilisation. Are grain prices to be stabilised in the region of £35 a ton, as the French suggest? Is our food bill to be increased by £50 million in relation to the 10 million tons of grain to be imported? If the party opposite wish to put forward an agricultural policy, the least they can do is to make it specific and meaningful.
We are told, and this is probably the most ominous of the 14 points, that we are to have commodity com- 704 missions—or is it commisars? It appears that these are to apply to the main imported foodstuffs and that these commissions are to be given wide powers. Are they not the usual stalking horses which one can disclaim when bad things happen and for which one can claim responsibility when things go well? Is it not a new Ministry of Food bulk buying system under a new name?
It seems that one cannot speak about agriculture these days without calling for international commodity agreements. When I see one I will applaud loudly. The only one which seems to work is not an international but a Commonwealth one—the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement. The World Sugar Agreement has gone while the World Coffee Agreement is hardly worth the paper on which it is written. If there are to be world commodity agreements we want to be told by the party opposite how they will work. The Labour Party base a great deal of their agricultural thinking on the concept that one can solve the problems of the old world by dumping surpluses on to the under-developed new world. I can claim a little more knowledge of the under-developed countries, certainly some of them, than the right hon. Member for Belper. The way to boost their economies is not to pour a steady stream of cheap food into their markets, which will destroy their home agricultural industries.
No one is more anxious than I to assist the under-developed countries. Famine food in emergencies is one thing, but steady streams being poured in, killing local industries, is probably the worst turn we can do them. Faced with the alternative which I have described, the fanners of Northern Ireland—although some of them would probably not admit it—are reasonably content with the Conservative Government, at least compared with the alternative. Needless to say, there are plenty of complaints.
§ Sir A. V. Harvey
Would my hon. Friend care to say what he thinks about the other proposals of the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. G. Brown), for instance, the Land Commission?
§ Mr. Clark
Fortunately, Northern Ireland is insulated from the Land Commission, but the winding up of it was widely applauded.
705 Despite the comments I have made about the Conservative Government serving the interests of Northern Ireland's farmers, there are legitimate complaints, and an important one is mentioned in a letter received from a constituent by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Knox Cunningham). It is concerned with plant breeders' rights. When will the Government take action to give plant breeders the rights they deserve for their own inventions? We in Northern Ireland are famous for our rose and daffodil growing, the breeding of potatoes and other plants. The industry is stagnating because the man who spends years producing an excellent species too often finds that he is robbed by a foreign agency. Will the Government take early action to solve this problem?
Another difficulty faces us because we are trying as hard as we can to expand our bacon industry and to increase our sales to this country. One can now see the beginnings of a large campaign we are waging. One of our troubles is that, because of the constitution of Northern Ireland, the marketing board which the Northern Ireland Government can set up cannot concern itself with sales outside Northern Ireland. The reason is that the Northern Ireland Government are restricted to home affairs. Any marketing body must be restricted to Northern Ireland. This is a somewhat small but extremely irritating point and I hope that, if an application comes from the Northern Ireland Government, time will be found in this House to amend the Government of Ireland Act to allow our marketing boards to concern themselves with exports.
In another connection, it is worth recalling that, for similar reasons, we cannot concern ourselves with foreign affairs. We are autonomous regarding animal health, but when international conferences are held on brucellosis or foot-and-mouth or other diseases a representative of Northern Ireland attends by invitation and not of right. I hope that this matter can be looked into.
The Larne-Stranraer steamer route has already been discussed. One could speak for hours on this issue but today I will merely stress the importance of this service to the farmer. If it goes it will 706 affect the agriculture industry probably more than any other. It is important to remember that one of its most important cargoes is perishable goods—mushrooms, chickens, vegetables, and so on. These goods are of the utmost importance to small farmers, to whom they can give a big income. A route such as this for perishable goods is vital to small farmers, many of them in my constituency.
The main reason for discontent among Northern Irish farmers at the moment, however, is the question of the subsidy that should have been paid on potatoes in 1960. It might be helpful if I gave the background to this issue. Until 1959 potato subsidies were paid on the basis of a guarantee to the growers. From 1959, under Order No. 983, the guarantee was placed on a new basis, as a guarantee to the industry. In 1959 potato prices were fair in the United Kingdom and no subsidy was paid. In 1960 prices in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom fell to a disastrously low level.
The new subsidy rate was being worked on the basis that the Government would pay to the industry the difference between the average price in the United Kingdom and the guaranteed price. At the end of the 1960 harvest the average price was about £2 below the guaranteed price and, therefore, the Government were due to repay about £4½ million to the potato industry. An agreement was reached whereby one-eighth of this sum would go to the potato growers of Northern Ireland—a completely ad hoc agreement about which the growers of Northern Ireland do not argue. So seven-eighths was to be paid to the Potato Marketing Board in Great Britain and one-eighth, or about £½ million, to the potato growers of Northern Ireland. That stage was reached early in 1961. Then discussions began about what should be done with the money due to the Northern Ireland growers, who had had a disastrous potato harvest in 1960.
Throughout 1961 discussions took place between the Ulster Farmers' Union and officials of the Ministry of Agriculture about the means by which this £500,000 should be paid to the potato growers. There was discussion as to whether it should be paid on a tonnage or acreage basis. Throughout 1959 and 1960, and, indeed, throughout 1961, there 707 was no doubt among potato growers, officials of the Farmers' Union or, as far as I know, the officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, that that £500,000 was due to the potato growers of Northern Ireland and would be paid to them.
After these negotiations about how the £500,000 should be distributed had continued for about eight months, suddenly, early in 1962, the Minister of Agriculture at Westminster announced that he was not going to allow this £500,000 to be paid at all but proposed to put it in a fund for support buying in future.
Farmers had been led to believe that if they grew potatoes there would be a guaranteed price for them and that if the price which they received in the market fell below the guarantee they would receive some form of return to make good their losses. They went on believing that throughout the planting season and throughout the harvest. Almost a year after the harvest, believing that that money was due to them, suddenly the Minister told them, "I am sorry, I do not propose to pay it this time".
That was, I believe, a complete breach of faith. Thousands of farmers all over Northern Ireland think that the Minister has broken faith. A fair number of them also think that he has broken the law because, frankly, if what he did was not a breach of the law, it was distinctly sharp practice. The question of taking legal action against the Minister was gone into, and I am told that it was very much touch and go whether counsel's advice was to proceed or not to proceed. A sum of £500,000 or a little less has been deposited with the Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. It is under the control of the Minister of Agriculture at Westminster. This money was due bylaw to the potato growers in Northern Ireland in 1960. The Minister says that he proposes to use this money for support buying. He justifies his action in not paying that money by saying that support buying is the best way to support the price. We are in full agreement that support buying is the best way to do that. The Ulster farmers have been trying for years to persuade the Minister to go in for that policy, but he has continually turned it down.
708 If the Minister believed that support buying was best, he should have done his support buying for the 1960 crop in 1960. All he did was to spend £60,000 for a little bit of assistance in respect of the sea transport costs. There was a real breach of faith by the Minister of Agriculture against the people who grew potatoes in Northern Ireland in 1960. I want to leave the Home Secretary and the Ministry of Agriculture in no doubt about that whatsoever. But that is bygones. What we want to know now is what will happen to this £500,000. The fund has been in existence for over a year and interest has been accumulating on it. About £40,000, which is, I think, less than the interest which has accrued on the £500,000, is being used this year to open the potato meal factories. We have had experience of money being put away in the funds of the Ministry of Agriculture for good causes. There was a fund for flax about five years ago and another for grass seed a few years before that. They never seem to see the light of day.
Is this £500,000 a completely ad hoc fund? Is there any system for administering it? I should like the Minister to give us a clear statement on how this money will be used and an assurance that if he cannot see his way to using it for support buying in a reasonably short time he will do as he undertook to do when he made the order in 1959, namely, distribute it to the people who grew potatoes in 1960, many of whom lost a great deal of money in the process.
§ Mr. John E. Maginnis (Armagh)
Would my hon. Friend agree that our trouble stems mainly from the fact that we do not have a ware potato marketing board in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Clark
I agree. There is a great deal to be said for having such a board in Northern Ireland to which this £500,000 could be paid instead of leaving it dumped, hoping that it may be forgotten in due course so that when we want a new agricultural college the Minister will be able to say, "I have found £500,000,"and so we get a new agricultural college. But that will not happen until 1980 or 1990.
I do not wish to labour this point. The farmers of Northern Ireland are not doing too badly, although they are not doing as 709 well as they would like. They have a number of complaints and I have detailed some of them, but the 1960 potato subsidy is one thing which will not be forgotten. We have a phrase in Northern Ireland, "Remember 1690". I am rather afraid that, if the Government do not do something, the potato farmers may say, "Remember 1960."
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) into the details of the agriculture industry in Northern Ireland because I am not competent to talk on the agriculture industry. However, I have always believed that the land of any nation is its most precious possession and that it should be used, developed and never wasted. It should be tilled and cultivated, and I believe that it is a highly desirable economic and social thing to do to support a nation which uses its land efficiently.
Although I criticise the Government, I was very sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman, who is a member of a party which supports the Government, charging them With such a serious breach of faith in so far as they have let this country down so badly in supporting agriculture in Northern Ireland. I am glad that as he developed his theme he came to the conclusion that marketing boards which gave stable prices would be highly desirable in preserving the countryside and the agricultural way of life and in expanding the prosperity of the people engaged in agriculture, because at first he seemed to deprecate these commissars, marketing boards or international bodies which bring some basic stability to agricultural prices.
I have always thought that I was lucky compared with those who farm the land and produce my food. I was an engineer. If we did not sell a product today, we put it on the shelf and sold it the next day. If it went out of date we melted it down and manufactured something else. One cannot do that with a carcass of beef or a sack of potatoes. I have always thought that the producers of food were in an unfortunate position. I am prepared to pay a little more to the people who provide me with good, sound wholesome food from the soil of my country if at the same time they keep that soil in good heart so that future 710 generations can be fed. I support any Government which does that and keeps that in mind, although it may make a number of mistakes in doing it. There are very few of us who do not make mistakes.
My main reason for taking part in this debate is to refer to what is to me a tragedy in Northern Ireland concerning the firm of Short Bros. and Harland. I do not know the company very well, although I made some tools for it when it was at Kingstown, I think. I built eight jigs for the assembly of the bomb carriage doors on one of the bombers which it was manufacturing. I remember making these huge jigs. It was a long and difficult job. The company sent us some standard assembly fixtures which I had to use as copies. They were excellently made and designed, and they were well preserved. On checking them, I found that they were very accurate. I have always had a great respect for the company ever since.
I have been in this House for 12 years and have watched what has happened in the aircraft industry. Before I go on to my main point, I wish to deprecate those people who talk adversely about the aircraft industry and its products and who are always ready to condemn a product in the process of development. In the modern engineering world, especially in the aircraft industry, a design team sets out with a specification to design an aircraft with a certain performance, but it is always in a state of development and is never complete. As with the TSR2, as development proceeds all sorts of side issues and new developments arise. This and that are incorporated, somebody brings along another design and the whole thing is always in the design melting pot. It is the easiest thing in the world for lay people to say that a product which is popular today will be of no use tomorrow. That is what happens in engineering in the twentieth century.
Harlands did much good work during the war. I am dismayed at the danger of a design team starting on a design project but being stopped for all sorts of political reasons. After the team had been engaged on the Belfast and the Government said that they would place an order for it, it was stopped. This is disheartening to those who are engaged in the dynamic process of development.
711 A design engineer does not design a product on the drawing board and then decide to cancel it because he knows that it will last only 12 months. If he did this, he would never design anything. All our lives we have been designing and producing things which have lasted for two or three years and then have been replaced by something better. That is the dynamic law of the engineer. He is always making out-of-date tomorrow what he made yesterday.
This is one of the political failures of the Government, perhaps of the country. Perhaps it is because of the conservative attitude of the British people. Perhaps we do not like waste, as we might call it. When design engineers and metallurgists who are working on high-speed aircraft get half or two-thirds of the way through a project, something else might come along and change it, but as a result of their metallurgical work there is many a man driving a motor car with platinum on the distributor, the quality and life of which have been developed as a result of metallurgists working on aero engines in Rolls-Royce or in Shorts, Belfast. It is not all lost. Research and development in armaments, in naval or aircraft work, may not ultimately come up to expectation, but a great deal of the work done in research and development can be used by other industries and is not completely wasted. As long as we take too narrow a view, we will be in danger always of being behind other industrial nations who spend more and more in scientific development.
There was a time when a dozen skilled men could by their skill create employment for 200 or 300 unskilled men. This is still true in many industries, but it is becoming true in fewer industries. A modern production plant requires far more skilled men to utilise the capital investment and to keep it productive than the plant in production will employ in unskilled people.
New industries could be taken to Northern Ireland at a tremendous cost in investment and employ a large number of highly skilled men in electronics or some of the new, highly technical engineering processes, which it takes a lot of skilled labour to bring into production. Once they are in production, however, few unskilled hands can operate them.
712 I was surprised to read that even in agriculture, where one would not think that these techniques were as highly developed, there has been a fall of 22,000 in the labour force in Northern Ireland, although there has been an increase in the output from the land. This is desirable. If we can make two blades of grass grow tomorrow where one grows today and with less labour, that is all to the good. If I buy my wife a vacuum cleaner so that she can throw away her carpet brush and pan, she is delighted. It saves her much hard labour. The rôle of the engineer and the scientist is to do just that.
Northern Ireland, this integral part of the United Kingdom, which has its 7½ per cent. unemployment, has an excellent agricultural base, feeding its own people and exporting a surplus. It also has an excellent scientific and technical base, both in shipbuilding and in aircraft, two great industries which can provide a great deal of work, and highly skilled work, in other industries than their own. A prosperous agricultural base can provide a lot of highly skilled work in many directions in satisfying that agricultural base.
I see no reason why 110,000 agricultural workers employed in industry should not make the same economic and social demands upon the society in which they live as 110,000 engineers or men in all sorts of distributive trades. If one recognises skill, concentration and loyalty to a job, one has to look for it in the farm worker, who has to, sacrifice himself for animals, plants and all sorts of things. He cannot attend to them only when he feels like it, but must tend them when they feel like it. The engineer, however, can deal with his functions as an engineer when he chooses. The steel does not care whether it is operated on today or tomorrow. It will not perish if it is not handled today. That does not apply to the farmer's produce. Therefore, I have great sympathy with the men engaged in agriculture. There are many of us who enjoy the products of Northern Ireland, especially at Christmas time, when they are particularly good. A Northern Ireland turkey is just as good as one from Norfolk and I would just as soon have it.
When one builds up a team of research workers and developers in an industry, particularly in the aircraft industry—I have not worked in it, but have done a lot of tooling for it—the association of 713 individual experts and their working together in development produces after a time a tremendous unearned increment by the association of those experts working as a team in a given direction of research and development. I have seen this in the motor industry and I presume that it is true of the aircraft industry. It is certainly true of the steel industry and of mining. The bringing together of a team of young men, draughtsmen, designers, metallurgists and physicists, yields excellent work over a period, but once they work together, once the product comes into view and into development, there arises a tremendous increment of profitability and benefit from their growing association and their growing confidence in the future and the integrity of those who employ them for the product on which they are engaged.
I say this as one who spent a good deal of time in the motor industry. There is no greater joy as a skilled man than in feeling that one is performing something under the direction of men like William Morris, Sir Frederick Mills, as he was then, and the late Herbert Austin, of the Austin Motor Co. It is a great thrill to work for men who, one feels, have complete confidence in the product on which they are employing people. It is the duty of the Government to support the aircraft industry. The Government do support the aircraft industry, because the Government, through their institutions, B.O.A.C., B.E.A., the Army, the Navy, are the greatest customer of the industry, and therefore the Government must be the greatest patron.
It must be very disheartening for anyone in Short's of Belfast to have been—over the last 10 years so far as my experience goes—in the almost continuous situation whereby the people to whom they are responsible, the Government of the day, seem to have no faith in what they have been doing. It is most disheartening, and I think it is unfair, and if I were in that industry, or an institution like that, I should say to the Government, "Make up your mind. If you are going to close the institution, close it." I should be inclined to get out of it, because I should feel myself to be working for people with no faith in the institution. It is shocking that there has been this shillying and shally- 714 ing about Short Brothers and Harland of Belfast.
I come to the question of training in modern industry. The training of a group of boys in an industry should be such that the technicians of the future can be drawn from them. That is not always easy for employers. I recognise that. I am sorry that there was an hon. Gentleman opposite who introduced the question of opposition by the trade unions to apprenticeship training. That is not so. An apprenticeship and training system, as I see it, must not be a system merely to provide turners and fitters. It ought to be such as to produce technicians for the future. I am not blaming the employers for this, but many of the productive institutions, are not suitable institutions for the training of apprentices.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the firm of Short Bros. has a splendid apprenticeship scheme of great benefit to the young lads in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Bence
Yes. I shall be coming to that in a minute.
I am just developing an argument that there are many production institutions engaged solely in such production that apprenticeship can only mean creating teams of skilled turners, fitters, millwrights, and will not provide sufficient background for development and research, in which I believe every apprentice should have an insight, and with which he should have some contact. I say that because I believe that an apprenticeship system should be such that out of it we can produce more and more highly skilled technicians. In my day, out of, say, twenty students there would be produced perhaps five or six highly skilled technicians. The rest would be fitters on the factory floor. This is where the trade union opposition comes in. What industry requires is not more skilled operators on the floor but more skilled technicians off the floor. It is up in the drawing office where we want them; it is in the design department.
I dare say that there are in Northern Ireland, as there are in Scotland, craftsmen from the old types of crafts, skilled men who are unemployed—craftsmen, journeymen unemployed; and yet we are short of skilled people in Scotland and the people we are short of are the 715 skilled technicians. Many of the new industries now demand fewer and fewer unskilled people and more and more skilled people.
In Northern Ireland there are two institutions which are in a very low state. One is the aircraft industry, whose situation is very unsatisfactory, and yet it is an institution which would provide us, not only with excellent aircraft, but, through research and development, and the production of technicians, with an increasing corps of highly skilled men, not only for use in the aircraft industry but in other industries, quite apart from the aircraft industry, because they all require the same basic training.
§ Mr. H. Clark
There is some difference between Scotland and Northern Ireland and we are talking about Northern Ireland at present. There are very few tradesmen, lowly chaps who just fit in on the workshop floor, or higher technicians, who are out of employment in Northern Ireland. What Northern Ireland is crying out for all the time is people trained in the simple skills such as carpentry and bricklaying, and it is because of the trade unions' restrictions on the number of apprentices in training that a number of factories cannot expand production, and a number of programmes cannot be carried through.
§ Mr. Bence
That is one reason but not the main reason. The reason why we get these shortages is that a lot of skilled men in the building industry and in the engineering industry leave Northern Ireland. They are here in London; they are in the Midlands. There is migration from Northern Ireland of these skilled men. They are not going to stay there to do the semi-skilled work. They move out. Of course they do. It is within this framework that we get the trade union opposition, and it is quite understandable.
What I am asking for is that in every major productive institution, especially where the Government are interested, as they are in Short Bros, and Harland, as the Government are a part shareholder, there should be kept development teams to produce first-class, skilled men with ability. Instead of reducing or destroying centres out of which, by training and education, one can produce first-class technicians, we should keep them. 716 To me, in the modern world, it is as important to produce the technician of tomorrow as it is to produce the aeroplane of today.
I am sure that Harland's have done this very well. It is true that I am not associated with them, but I have known them, and I have seen their men. They were bombed out of—Kingston, I think it was—and came up to the Midlands during the war, and I met their people, and I was very impressed by the quality of the people I met.
The trouble is that there is a failure on the part of the Government to appreciate that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom—and I want to conclude with an old plea which I have made before. There are 55 million people in the United Kingdom. I do not know how many there are in Northern Ireland. We Members of Parliament in London often meet Americans, and I have heard them say that it is farther from New York to Los Angeles than from New York to Liverpool. In talking of the United Kingdom we are talking of a much smaller—a small—country, and yet when we have debates about the situation in Wales or Northern Ireland or in Scotland people always talk about those parts of the United Kingdom being a long way from the markets. I spent my life in the light engineering industry where I saw the development of automatic processes and mechanical handling, and when people talk about being a long way from the market in this country I really wonder, because it seems to me absolutely crazy to talk of being a long way from the market in this little island, where we are all on top of one another. We are not a long way from the market in any sense at all.
What we do lack—I think this is the point my hon. Friend was making when he was talking about transport from Northern Ireland—are the best means of transport. My hon. Friend was talking about the cost of transport being high. Handling is the cost of transport. One could introduce mechanical handling. It can only be successful if the volume is there. It seems that in Northern Ireland we cannot make an investment in mechanical handling because we have not got the volume; we do not get the volume because we have not got mechanical handling.
717 The Government must make a decision to have a big social investment in the field of transport in the form of mechanical handling. The cost of transporting a product from here to there is the cost of loading and unloading it. That was in my day, and a long time ago. That was a high cost.
No matter from which port in Northern Ireland the products come, at those terminals must be created, even if other terminals have to go out, the volume of traffic which will justify the most modern systems of mechanical handling. The Government must make a serious effort in the interests of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is entitled to it; it has had a very rough time for 10 years. If they do not, I would not accuse them, like the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) said, of breach of faith; I would accuse them of lack of interest.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I am very glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr), in opening this interesting debate, paid tribute to the late Sir David Campbell. He was a man who came late to the House, at the age of over 60, after a lifetime of distinguished public service elsewhere. He made his mark in his own charming way on the House of Commons and played his full part in its affairs for ten years or more. I would say that he made not a single enemy here, and on both sides of the House we miss his wise and modest figure.
There has been another change since our last debate in November, and that was a change in the Premiership of Northern Ireland. I count myself fortunate that, at this time last year, when I first assumed my responsibilities in the United Kingdom Government towards Northern Ireland, I gained the privilege of Lord Brooke borough's friendship and of his unique experience as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland for many years. He has served the United Kingdom as well as his own Ulster most devotedly. I think that all of us would wish that a warm message of goodwill and good wishes should go out from this debate to him and Lady Brookeborough.
We welcome Lord Brookeborough's successor, Captain Terence O'Neill. I can say with confidence that as Home 718 Secretary I have already established with him an equally close working relationship, and I attach tremendous importance to the closeness of the liaison between the Home Secretary and other United Kingdom Ministers on the one hand and Northern Ireland Ministers on the other.
The House may have noticed that not long ago, when the then Northern Ireland Minister of Home Affairs came to discuss with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport the possible closure of the Stranraer railway link, I made a point of being present. It will be my object, whenever a Northern Ireland Minister is coming to discuss some major question with a United Kingdom Minister, to be there too, if I can, so that I can make sure that I am fully informed and can exert all my influence to the best of my ability.
§ Mr. Brooke
I will answer that in a moment, but I wonder whether I might ask right hon. and hon. Gentlemen not to interrupt me, if possible, because there is an agreement that we should pass on to the second subject of debate at 7.15 p.m. or very soon afterwards. I will do my best in that limited time.
Before there can be any question of the Stranraer railway link being closed there would have to be a specific proposal from Dr. Beeching to close those lines.
§ Mr. Brooke
That would then have to remain open to objections and representations for a specified period. It would be examined by the appropriate consultative committee, and a final decision would be taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. I can say with assurance that before he took that decision my right hon. Friend would certainly wish to pay attention to all that I should say to him, if he did not know it already, about the importance of the sea link with Northern Ireland.
There seems to me to be on the other side of the House a somewhat superficial approach to the real nature of Northern 719 Ireland's problem. In fact, though unemployment is still far too high, there are a great many encouraging features, and I can say that without any complacency. During 1962, as is well known, unemployment increased very substantially in Great Britain. In that period—between December, 1961, and December, 1962—unemployment in Northern Ireland fell, against the trend on this side of the Irish Sea. In September, 1962, the latest date for which figures are available, the number of people who were in employment in Northern Ireland was 9,000 higher than 12 months before. The industrial developments announced in 1962 foreshadowed more than 6,000 new jobs when they were all complete. That followed the record year of 1961, when developments which were going to give 8,600 new jobs were announced.
My hon. and gallant Friend is perfectly right in saying that at the moment there seems to be a pause. That is because the effect of the past slackening of private investment, with which we are so familiar in this country, is now being felt. It also may be because of the disappointment over the Common Market, which has created uncertainty. But I believe that interest will revive as soon as the spare capacity which there has been in the British economy, and especially in the metal-using firms over here, has been taken up, encouraged by the various forms of stimulus which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has applied.
I think it is interesting that between 1961 and 1962 industrial production in the United Kingdom as a whole rose by 1per cent. in all industries together. In Northern Ireland production in all industries together increased not by 1 per cent. but by 3½ per cent. One sees the same favourable trend if one looks at the output per person employed in the industrial sector. In Northern Ireland between 1961 and 1962 that increased by about 7 per cent. compared with 1 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole. That is, of course, a reflection of the capital intensity of the new industries and their use of skilled techniques for production in Northern Ireland. That is the kind of thing about which the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) was talking; but the fact is that we are doing it.
720 It is the same with public investment. Public investment in Northern Ireland as a proportion of public investment in Great Britain is in most fields higher than the proportion which the populations of the two countries bear to one another. Expenditure on roads in Northern Ireland is double the proportional figure for the size of population. In the case of hospitals it is almost three times as high. It is higher in many other fields as well.
Public investment in factory building in Northern Ireland is nearly half the total public investment for this purpose in Great Britain. That illustrates, of course, the magnitude of the Northern Ireland Government's advance factory programme, which is such an important part of its policy. The number of houses completed in Northern Ireland last year was 8,215, which was an advance of 16 per cent. on the previous year. At the end of last year there were 9,950 houses under construction in Northern Ireland, which was 2,200 higher than two years ago.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) mentioned agriculture. I will come in a moment to what he said about potato guarantees. He will no doubt be aware that agricultural output in Northern Ireland has been raised by 80 per cent. since before the last war. The value of the grants approved under the Small Farmer Scheme for small farmers in Northern Ireland is nearly one-third of the total for the United Kingdom as a whole. My hon. Friend also mentioned most effectively the outstanding importance of agriculture to the Northern Ireland economy. Under the Farm Improvements Scheme 50,000 proposals have been approved at an estimated total cost of over £24 million, and grants already paid amount to nearly £5 million.
I cannot accept my hon. Friend's charge against my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that there has been a breach of faith over the potato guarantee. The sole question at issue is: how can this sum of about £500,000 be used to the best advantage of the growers? My hon. Friend seemed to suggest that it was lying idle and that nothing was happening to it. But, in fact, before we came to this summer, about £63,000 of it had already been spent on support operations, and it is 721 expected that another £70,000 or so will be used for support operations in the current year in buying up the end-of-the-season surpluses which existed at the end of the 1962 season. My hon. Friend can therefore see that the money is being used to good purpose, and I submit that the Northern Ireland potato growers in the long run gain more by this Fund being utilised for their benefit in these sort of ways than if it was simply distributed in cash.
§ Mr. H. Clark
Can my right hon. Friend give some information on how the money is to be controlled? The Minister of Agriculture has made no public statement. He merely deposited the sum. An expenditure of £100,000 over three years is not a full utilisation of over £500,000.
§ Mr. Brooke
As I understand it, the Northern Ireland Government are advising on how this money can best be utilised. I would have thought that they were in the best position to know.
There was talk about an economic planning council. The Northern Ireland Government have announced their intention to set up an economic planning councilto consider and recommend on means of furthering the economic development of Northern Ireland, with particular reference to the provision of employment, the promotion of economic growth and improved economic efficiency.I hope that it will be a great success. I hope that employers, trade unionists, and others from outside, will take part.
This is very different from the Socialist fallacy of economic planning, which springs to the false conclusion that one can remove unemployment by the Government planning a factory into some area of unemployment. It is perfectly easy to set up a Government factory. The essence of it is that the factory should be a success and pay its way. Unless it can cover its costs and be a success one is simply raising hopes only to dash them again.
I am sure that one of the points the electorate will grasp by the time of the next election is that economic planning in the Socialist sense involves direction of industry. We believe that Government guidance which results in factories being set up by private enterprise is far more likely to be a successful means of 722 stimulating the economy and removing unemployment.
§ Mr. Brooke
I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) about the position at Short Bros, and Harland. The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) most unwisely described the situation there as almost desperate, and the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East described it as disheartening. The fact is that the size of the labour force is higher now than it was two years ago, in sharp contrast with the experience of the aircraft industry elsewhere, where there has been a substantial fall compared with two years ago.
What the Government have already done, with the Northern Ireland Government, is to provide up to £10 million in financial assistance to enable the company to complete current orders. Shorts are to carry out work, under sub-contract, on the VC10 at an additional cost of £2¾ million. I understood the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) to suggest that the firm had not got this work. But it is in fact going ahead. We need have no doubt about that and the right hon. Gentleman need not create alarm and despondency by casting doubt upon it.
§ Mr. Brooke
We have heard a great deal from right hon. and hon. Members opposite about the dreadful things that are to happen. The fact is that Shorts are employing more people than two years ago.
§ Mr. McMaster
My main concern is over the design team, 80 members of which have left over the last couple of months.
§ Mr. Brooke
I am coming to the design team. Quite clearly there will be need for an efficient design team at the company for years ahead. It may not be as large as it has been but there are various projects which Shorts are putting up to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation. I know that in due course he hopes to be able to announce his decisions on them.
723 There need be no anxiety that the design team is to be totally dispersed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There is no truth in such a suggestion, and in fact my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation fully recognises the need for an adequate design team to back the Seacat production, whereas the hon. Member for Newton insinuated that we might be throwing away export orders for lack of a design team.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Is my right hon. Friend not aware that the firm has been asked to cut its existing design team on the Seacat work by half, and that this will place it in very great difficulty in completing export orders?
§ Mr. Brooke
I hope my hon. Friend will read in HANSARD what I have just said about my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation's intentions.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South asked about the aircraft carrier. Obviously I cannot say where that will be built. The order will be placed by the Admiralty in accordance with normal contract procedure, and, as always, it will bear in mind the special problems of the shipbuilding industry. It is clear also that an order for a ship of this size and complexity will involve sub-contracts to firms in many parts of the country. Northern Ireland has great experience in many skills which should stand it in good stead when it comes to making a bid for this important work.
My hon. and gallant Friend also touched on the broader question of the relationship between North and South in Ireland. He said there was a new language being heard in Dublin. No words of mine should in any way prejudice the hope of old enmities being melted away into new friendliness. I entirely agree with what he said about the essential condition of that friendliness, but I believe that on both sides of the border there is a widespread desire that some of the hard words spoken in the past should disappear into limbo, and that this new co-operation, which must accept the existence of the border, should grow into a sweetened relationship throughout Ireland.
I regret that I cannot take up every one of the points which have been made by hon. Members, but I will certainly 724 make sure that each suggestion which has been put forward and which concerns in the main not myself but one of my right hon. Friends is brought to his attention. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary was here when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South was referring to Purchase Tax on handkerchiefs. I will see that what he said about the shirt industry in Londonderry is mentioned to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has very much on his mind the question of plant breeding, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Antrim, North.
Several of my hon. Friends asked about the Belfast dry dock. The Northern Ireland Government have put forward proposals for financial assistance to be given towards the cost of constructing a large new dry dock in Belfast. The largest dry dock in Belfast is the Thompson Dock, built fifty years ago, which is only of medium size and which cannot take vessels of more than 42,000 tons deadweight.
Proposals for a new and larger dock have been discussed in Northern Ireland for a good many years, and the case for giving Government aid towards the cost of this construction was considered last year by the Hall Committee. On the information before it at the time, the Hall Committee commented that it would require a very large outlay of money with a relatively small return in terms of employment. It regarded the provision of a dock like that as desirable rather than essential. The Committee's conclusion was that the construction of a large dock entirely at Government expense would not be justified, although, as Harland and Wolff is the only shipbuilding firm on the Lagan, it might be justifiable for the Government to contribute a larger share of the cost than elsewhere.
I remember saying at the end of our last debate, on 22nd November, that the Hall Report was not the final word. Since the Report was published there has been an important development. Harland and Wolff have decided to expand the repair and conversion side of their work to create additional employment in order to counter the falling employment on new 725 construction which, of course, is affecting shipyards everywhere. In these circumstances, the question of a new dry dock assumes much greater importance. It would add substantially to the amount of extra employment that could be provided. There can be no doubt that without a new dock expansion in ship-repairing would be handicapped.
In these circumstances, Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are in full agreement with the view of the Northern Ireland Government that it is highly desirable that a new dock should be provided and that it should be substantially larger than the existing Thompson Dock. The United Kingdom Government have it in mind that it should, if possible, be so planned and constructed that if the need arises in future years it can be enlarged so as to take some of the largest ships being built.
At the moment, there are very few ships being built of exceptional size and the probability of a dock of vast proportions being needed in Belfast in the next few years seems too small to justify the very heavy extra cost which, in terms of extra employment, would be almost entirely unproductive. Her Majesty's Government propose therefore a new dock considerably larger than the Thompson Dock which will give Harland and Wolff, for as far ahead as can be foreseen, the facilities needed to expand the repair and conversion side of its work in the way it proposes. The day may come when there will be a requirement in Belfast for a dock of the very largest size if the percentage of huge ships, at present tiny, grows in the course of time. If so, the dock will be capable of enlargement to meet that future need, should it become a reality.
Any approved project for the construction of a large new dock would be eligible for financial assistance under Northern Ireland legislation. The level of assistance generally available to industrial development in Northern Ireland is more generous than in the rest of the United Kingdom, because of Northern Ireland's special problems.
The Northern Ireland Government will now no doubt wish to enter into further discussions with the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, who in the past have provided all the dry docks in Belfast, 726 to work out detailed practical proposals for the early construction of a new dock substantially larger than the Thompson Dock from the outset, and capable of being extended to a very large size later on, including matters such as the responsibility for its construction and management, and the method of financing the whole project.
If satisfactory arrangements on these points can be made, we will be ready to see that financial assistance appropriate to a major Northern Ireland industrial development project is available. For this will be a major project; and over and above the employment which will be given during the construction period, it will create an invaluable permanent addition to the range of Northern Ireland's industrial capacity—the repair and conversion of big ships on the Lagan.
I suggested a dock of 150,000 tons. Would my right hon. Friend be a little more specific? Will it be at least larger than 100,000 tons?
§ Mr. Brooke
At this stage I had better not be too specific because, following my statement, the experts had better get on to the ground in Belfast and see how a dock substantially larger than 42,000 tons can be planned in such a way that in years to come, if need be, it can be enlarged to a size capable of taking the very biggest ships.
§ Mr. Brooke
What I said was that it would be a dock substantially larger—and I meant substantially larger—than the Thompson Dock. This is a dock which will need to be built by the Harbour Commissioners. Following on what I have said today, discussions between the Northern Ireland Government and the Harbour Commissioners can start. I am sure that consultants will be needed to report on what would be the ideal way to carry out this project, but at this stage and at this moment I am not prepared to give an exact figure of what size the new dock will be. Indeed, it would be wrong to give a precise figure before these further discussions have taken place.