§ 7.9 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I hope that I may have the permission of the House to wind up this debate briefly later and reply to the points which have been raised in it, but it might be helpful to the course of the debate if I say a word or two at the outset about two important matters which received a good deal of attention when we last debated Northern Ireland affairs.
One was the proposal put forward by the Railways Board for the withdrawal of all passenger services between Dumfries and Stranraer and between Ayr and Stranraer. These proposals were of great importance to Northern Ireland because of the Larne-Stranraer link between Northern Ireland and Britain. The proposals have since been considered by the Scottish Transport Users' Consultative Committee, as required by the Transport Act, 1962—and I should mention that there is a Member for Northern Ireland on that Committee. The Committee reported to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to the effect that the proposal 1098 to close the Dumfries line would cause extreme hardship to a number of users, particularly to long-distance travellers using the Stranraer-Larne service.
The Committee also found that the closure of the Ayr line would cause hardship to a variety of users, particularly, again, to those using the Stranraer-Larne crossing. In the light of the Committee's report, the Railways Board informed my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport that if he felt unable to agree to closing the through services to Stranraer it would be possible to introduce a scheme under which the Ayr-Stranraer line would remain open, the Dumfries-Stranraer passenger services would stop, but through traffic at present using the Dumfries-Stranraer line would be routed along a loop line via Mauchline to link up with the line between Ayr and Stranraer. The direct services between Stranraer and London would be preserved, the journey time remaining approximately as at present. The services for the considerable traffic between Glasgow and Stranraer would also be preserved.
My right hon. Friend, with the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Government of Northern Ireland, has today announced that he proposes to withhold his consent from the proposal to close the Ayr-Stranraer line, except for the closure of certain small stations between Girvan and Stranraer, and to consent to the closure of the Dumfries-Stranraer line on the understanding that a satisfactory through overnight service with sleeper facilities will continue to be provided between London and Stranraer, using the Mauchline loop line.
These services will continue to connect with the steamer service to Larne. The Railways Board has informed my right hon. Friend that it will continue to carry parcels and perishable traffic on the Stranraer passenger service as at present.
The Mauchline solution will enable the Railways Board to achieve savings of £240,000 a year, as against a saving of 1099 £330,000 a year if both lines were to be closed to passengers as originally proposed. I believe that the House and the public will welcome my right hon. Friend's solution, which will preserve the essential needs of most travellers, including all travellers to and from Northern Ireland, and will at the same time save the Railways Board considerable sums of money.
The second announcement that I should like the House to hear at the outset of this debate arises from our last debate on Northern Ireland, when I said that Her Majesty's Government were ready to see that financial assistance appropriate to a major Northern Ireland industrial development project would be made available for the provision of a dry dock at Belfast substantially larger than the existing Thompson Dock, and capable of enlargement in further years so as to take the largest ships. I also said that the probability of a dock of vast proportions being needed in Belfast in the next few years seemed too small to justify what was then thought to be the very heavy extra cost.
Following my statement, the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, in consultation with the Northern Ireland Government, decided to obtain from a distinguished firm of engineering consultants a detailed survey and estimate for a dry dock of the type that the Government were prepared to support. The consultants' report was completed and made available to the Belfast Harbour Commissioners very recently—in fact, in the last week of June—and it has been considered with great urgency by the Harbour Commissioners, the Government of Northern Ireland and Her Majesty's Government.
The report shows that in view of geological and other considerations it should be possible to construct at Belfast within the level of available finance a dock of 150 ft. by 1,000 ft., which is an extremely large dock. It will be capable of taking vessels of approximately 150,000 deadweight tons. The report also shows that the difference in cost between a dock of this size and a smaller dock capable of being extended is much less than had been previously expected, and that the cost of future extension works to increase 1100 the capacity of a smaller dock would outweigh the initial difference in capital costs.
In view of this report, Her Majesty's Government see no reason why the Belfast Harbour Commissioners should not be authorised to invite tenders for the construction of a dock of this very large size. The House will appreciate that the final decision to begin the construction of this dock cannot be taken until tenders are received, at which stage questions of size in relation to cost and other financial aspects will naturally need to be looked at afresh. But I have every hope that the way ahead will now be clear. The cost of the dock will fall partly on the Government of Northern Ireland, partly on the Belfast Harbour Commissioners and partly on Harland and Wolff, who will be the main users.
This seems to me to be a favourable development, and the prospects are now set fair for going ahead with this major contribution to Northern Ireland's industrial capacity.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
It is a great pleasure to hear things which the Northern Ireland Labour Party and ourselves have advocated for so long placed being before the House as something like a blinding flash of intuition from the Home Secretary.
It was as long ago as 1955 that the campaign by the Northern Ireland Labour Party to get a dry dock in Belfast began. For years it was sneered at. It was regarded as quite unnecessary, and as purely a stunt. We received no encouragement from Government spokesmen to think that anything like this would be contemplated. Perhaps it was even worth postponing the General Election to hear this kind of thing from the Home Secretary now. We welcome the belated acceptance of the proposals which the Northern Ireland Labour Party and ourselves have been making for so long.
We have also raised the question of the Stranraer-Larne crossing on many occasions for a long time. It is remarkable how things which are at first deemed to be impossible are found to be capable of a solution when further consideration has been given to them. On behalf of my colleagues, I welcome the two announcements that the right hon. 1101 Gentleman has been able to make. But I submit that if only there had been a little more willingness earlier to listen to the voice of wisdom a great deal of the hardship and real suffering which many thousands of people in Northern Ireland have endured over the years might have been minimised.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the beginning of this great venture in building a dry dock may have consequences for Harland & Wolff which, at this point, we cannot estimate. In contracting for new work there is a requirement for maintenance to be accepted for a period of years. When the dry dock is available I hope that Harland & Wolff will be more successful, because of its maintenance policy, in obtaining contracts which otherwise it would not have been able to obtain.
Turning to the general state of the economy in Northern Ireland, we find that there is still a very high percentage of unemployment. The figure still runs at about 6½ per cent., which is equal to about 34,000 people being unemployed. I would remind the House that this is still the position in the middle of a pre-election boom. Already, we find that the economic pundits are discussing in the Press whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take measures to check the economy before the General Election. The right hon. Gentleman will try his utmost to get the election over first in the hope of a success—such as it may be—after which we may expect that the pre-election boom will, as usual, disappear and we can look forward to the lean years again.
Despite the fact that this boom is now causing trouble for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we see little response to this condition in Northern Ireland. This presupposes that as yet there are no grounds for hoping that fundamental changes have taken place in the economy of Northern Ireland. Indeed, this problem of depressed areas in many parts of the United Kingdom, in Northern England and in Scotland as well as in Northern Ireland, at a time when the rest of the area of the United Kingdom is experiencing boom conditions is one which of itself, indicates the complete failure of the Government to plan the economy of what is, after all, a comparatively small island 1102 as represented by the United Kingdom as a whole.
The fact that we are still no nearer to solving the problems in the worst places, such as in Northern Ireland, does not speak very highly for the competence with which the Government, here or at Stormont, have tried to plan their way out of what is now a permanent depression.
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman one or two questions about the instruments which we have already at our disposal in Northern Ireland. What is now the kind of activities which we can expect from the Chandos Council? About nine years have passed since the Council was set up and it is ironical to recall that it was set up as an alternative to the proposals of the Labour Party for a development corporation for Northern Ireland. We have had nine years in which to judge the effectiveness of this kind of instrument and it seems to me that the time has come when we should agree that it has failed.
Now that we are getting so much of the Labour Party's policy accepted by the Government, it may well not be very long before we expect an announcement on the equally important proposals of the Labour Party for a development corporation or an economic council of some type in Northern Ireland. I was hoping that today the right hon. Gentleman would have been able to make an announcement on that point. If there is anything that he can say—we give him permission to speak again in the debate—about the stage which has been reached in the discussions on this matter, we shall be very glad to hear it.
I have commented on a number of occasions on the failure of the Northern Ireland Government to recognise the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. This has proved to be a great stumbling block to the setting up of an economic council for Northern Ireland. I understand that there have been protracted negotiations between the Government in Northern Ireland and the trade unions and that there is some hope that agreement will be reached. I fervently hope that it works out that way. I have always believed that the failure to recognise the trade unions was a very benighted and backward sort of attitude for a Government to adopt.
1103 In this instance it is the case that this has been a bar to the setting up of an economic council in an area of the United Kingdom where, in more than any other, such a council is needed. I should have thought that we could not afford to be without such a council. Yet we have had a negative and grudging attitude towards what I should have thought was a helpful and positive step to bring together those representatives of the employers, trade unionists and politicians who, if they work in harmony, could do so much to improve the economic problems of Northern Ireland.
The case need not be argued any further. The principles have been accepted. Indeed, after our last debate I think that even the Home Secretary, after he had told us that this kind of thing was Socialist planning and could not be accepted, suddenly discovered that the Northern Ireland Government were coming round to the idea so that the right hon. Gentleman, who had condemned it earlier, began to make the right kind of noises. As I say, I had hoped that today his conversion would have been completed. I hope that these negotiations will come to a speedy conclusion and that in the very near future we may be told that agreement has been reached and that a new and vital piece of planning machinery will have been set up in Northern Ireland.
I wish to refer to one or two of the industries in Northern Ireland which were not mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. I have been greatly concerned at the threat to the computer industry. I understand that there was a danger that two factories would have to close and that this danger has not yet passed. There has been a temporary agreement to continue. I should have thought that this kind of industry, which is the genesis of modernisation, is the kind of industry which it is so vital for us to have if we propose to attract new industry to Northern Ireland and to modernise the existing industries there. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman replies to the debate he will tell us about the computer industry and whether I.C.T. is now in a better position, and whether we may take it that the two factories which were jeopardised will now remain open permanently.
1104 I could go further and say that what applies to Northern Ireland reflects the shocking situation of the computer industry in the United Kingdom as a whole. Twelve years ago we had great hopes of leading the world in this industry. We are now in the very gravest peril of a complete American monopoly in computers. This is largely because of the neglect by the Government. It will be a very sad day if such a monopoly becomes entrenched here. I understand that the Finance Department in Northern Ireland uses American computers and that they are also being used in its training schools. I am told that I.C.T. could have made these computers. We must be told why an industry which is based on Northern Ireland, which could produce these modern products of the scientific age, should be threatened with partial closure. This is a very serious charge and one to which I would like to know the answer.
Surely we have now reached the stage at which the failure of British manufacturing industry to adapt itself to modern techniques is something about which we should all be concerning ourselves. We cannot hope to improve our economic position, more especially where things are as delicately balanced as they are in Northern Ireland, unless we can get a more modern approach to industrial methods than the vast majority of our industrialists are showing.
When we see that much which could be such a vital element in industrial modernisation in Northern Ireland is now threatened with closure through the Government not using the products which could be made, nor, as far as I can see, attempting any educational work with the manufacturers themselves, then I believe that this is the very negation of planning in the sense that is now necessary if we are to make big inroads into the problem of unemployment and the closure of industries which we keep on seeing in Northern Ireland.
I cannot believe that this kind of neglect is caused by any lack of capital at the disposal of the Northern Ireland Government. I am told that they have at the very least well over £21 million in reserve funds. Surely this kind of capital would be far better used in the ways I am suggesting rather than merely stultifying, 1105 while there is no improvement in the economic position of Northern Ireland.
Let us look at the problems of steel in Northern Ireland. I know that there was talk some time ago about whether a small steel industry could be provided there and that this fell through. I am now told that much of British steel is being sold to foreign countries at a lower price than Northern Ireland employers can buy it. It seems to be a strange anomaly that parts of the United Kingdom greatly in need of steel cannot obtain it from the British steel industry at prices which are as low as the prices of the steel which the same industry exports to foreign countries.
I would have thought that it would pay the Government of Northern Ireland even to subsidise British steel, if necessary, and to stock it in Northern Ireland so that the manufacturers there could have the opportunity to compete effectively with foreign competitors who, apparently, are able to get British steel at cheaper prices than they can make it themselves. This is a point on which we should welcome information from the Minister.
For years there has not been a debate on Northern Ireland without the aircraft industry being the most important issue to be raised from both sides of the House. The position at Shorts is causing the gravest apprehension. I know that the Minister of Aviation was over there a short time ago and spoke of £55 million of public money being invested in different projects with Shorts and gave the impression that this was something well above average for the whole of the British aircraft industry. As I understand it, £40 million of that £55 million were invested in the Belfast transport aircraft.
That transport seems to be pretty well doomed to be an uneconomic product when the total number of orders is 10. We now hear that there is a possibility that some of the VC 10 cancellations by B.O.A.C. may well be going to the R.A.F., so that will be the end of any hope in the numbers of Belfast transports that we can expect the R.A.F. to take. Perhaps even more serious is that any hope of the Belfast being converted into a jet for the future would be very seriously jeopardised.
1106 As I say, I understand that £40 million of the Minister's £55 million have gone that way. Another £10 million were invested in the Seacat which, at one stage, the Government wanted to cancel. They are very consistent in the way in which they first of all invest and then cancel. This has been a very great export success and it accounts for a further £10 million of the £55 million. There is not, after that, a very great deal left from the Minister's "pantry" for Shorts. He was also arguing, as I understand, that Shorts could maintain labour forces much better than other sections of the aircraft industry. This is a very old trick. The fact is that when the Ministry argues that there will be 6,000 people in Shorts for years to come hon. Members forget the terrific rundown from 18,000 which Shorts once employed.
Although I am very apprehensive about other sections of the aircraft industry it is certainly the case that there has been no rundown comparable to that in other sections of the aircraft industry. I do not know whether the Minister of Aviation has discussed this matter with the Home Secretary. He committed himself quite categorically to a figure of about 6,000 in Shorts for years to come. I would put to him a straight question: what do the Government intend to do? So far as one can see from the programme that Shorts now has, there is not within that programme, and within a short time, scope for 6,000 people to be employed there. Already, the design team has been reduced almost to skeleton proportions.
It seems to me that the Government, having decided that Shorts would not go into the consortium and only the Government could decide, they penalised Shorts because it is outside. This seems to me both unfair and cruel. Therefore, I would not have thought that a debate of this sort would have been complete unless we could have more concrete suggestions for the future of Shorts than anything that we have had so far. Shorts were dealt a heavy blow by the decision to take the Bell helicopter as against the Hiller helicopter. We all know the rights that Shorts had in Europe for the Hiller helicopter, but that, also, was something which they were not able to get.
I believe that the time has come when we must look on the United Kingdom as a united kingdom. The idea that we can have a different standard for Northern 1107 Ireland from that in other parts of the United Kingdom is wrong. The only way in which we can possibly ameliorate the problems of Northern Ireland is by far closer integration of the economy of the United Kingdom as such.
A Labour Government would set up a national industrial planning board, with boards in the various regions, and, of course, Northern Ireland would be one of those regions. It would take the same share of development and expansion as any other part of the United Kingdom. We believe that this is the way in which we could encourage capital development in the science-based industries which are the only real future for an island, or two islands in this sense, almost bereft of indigenous raw materials. In the creation of industries, in which we export brains to the maximum and raw materials to the minimum and exploit the highly scientific methods of development which are now at our disposal, the "know-how" is here.
We know that the "brain drain" is now becoming a serious menace to our hopes of modernisation. I see no signs that the Government either here or at Stormont are taking anything like the necessary methods to stop the "brain drain" and to give the apprentices a far higher standard of apprenticeship than they now get so that they can become the craftsmen and technologists of a few years' hence. It is a tragedy that at a time like this we should have to be discussing economic failures by Governments which result in heavy and sustained unemployment when, instead, we should be discussing ways in which we could modernise new industries to face competition from the world.
I do not say that there has not been a great deal of money spent in Northern Ireland. The problem is that so many of the industries which have been set up have failed afterwards. There is an over-reliance on firms on the mainland which open auxiliary establishments and small factories in Northern Ireland. Then they begin to look at the heavier transport costs and, as soon as there is a little tremor in the economy, it is the factory in Northern Ireland which has to close. The time has come when the Governments here and in Northern Ireland must accept responsibility in these matters. It 1108 is not enough merely to say that we are trying to attract industry from Britain or anywhere else to Northern Ireland. If private enterprise does not do it, the onus of responsibility is on the Government to create new industries by new agencies.
Governments are elected to look after the people in their own areas. We need in Northern Ireland an economic council, using the best brains available from both sides of industry. We do not want to see the Government working on a rather stupid basis that if private enterprise fails there is nothing left to do. How is it that there can be Governments in this country and in Northern Ireland which will not accept responsibility? I hope to see the creation of such an economic council. I am sure that from one side or the other the demand will come that if private enterprise fails Government must step in and start new industries rather than depending on people going to Northern Ireland for a few months or a few years and then leaving again.
I have outlined what would be the policies of a Labour Government. We would look upon Northern Ireland as a region of the United Kingdom whose economy is vital and in need of modernisation just as that of any other region. It is our hope, indeed it is our belief, that the time is not distant when we shall have an opportunity to put these ideas into practice. I hope that the people of Northern Ireland will come along with us instead of sending hon. Members to this Parliament who blindly follow a Tory Government no matter how they turn the knife in the wound. I hope that they will send here Members who will give some assistance to those on this side of the House.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
I shall not follow the wonderful boost for Ulster given by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee). He trotted out all the woes of Ulster. His speech was no different from that which he made in the last Ulster debate, except that this time he referred to the Larne-Stranraer railway link. Last time he tried to produce an incredible fishing boat service between Donahadee and Portpatrick. At least he is taking credit for Dr. Beeching—but there are much more important things to discuss. 1109 The one most important duty I have is to thank my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for the announcement he made, which particularly affects my constituency. I thank him because he has been most assiduous in the last two years in pressing on his colleagues and British Railways the immense importance to the whole of Northern Ireland of the Stranraer railways. I thank him most sincerely. I also congratulate the Minister of Transport. He and British Railways have produced a most ingenious solution. It looks as if they are to replace two loss-making railways with one which should make a profit. He has earned the very best congratulations of the people of Northern Ireland for doing this, and I welcome the new scheme.
The one thing I am worried about is that the people of Galloway will suffer when their Dumfries railway is closed, people who with us in Northern Ireland throughout 18 months have campaigned to keep these railways open. I can assure them that anything we can do to help them to get a decent transport service we shall do.
There are two points on this question which I shall be obliged if my right hon. Friend will clear up. One of the most important aspects of the railway connections from Stranraer to Dumfries is that it allows tourists from the northeast of England to leave Newcastle at 8 o'clock in the morning and to arrive in their hotels in Northern Ireland at 8 o'clock at night, travelling throughout in daylight. Can we have an assurance that that will be possible when the new route is open? May we also have an assurance that while the railways will be saving £250,000 they will not put up the fares from Stranraer to London just because there is an extra 40 miles of railway?
I do not want to deal with the question of the dry dock. Other hon Members will no doubt catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and speak on that announcement which was extremely welcome. I move to the question which is always completely forgotten on the Labour benches in these debates. One never sees many Labour experts on agriculture present in an Ulster debate. I wish to talk about the small farmer who accounts for 99 per 1110 cent. of Northern Ireland's agriculture. The problem we have is one of small farms and intensive livestock production. Up to the end of June we had little to complain about as the weather has been good. There are two things, however, which we see as a threat to the future of small farmers. One is the factory production which is taking over the intensive livestock operations which have been the sheet anchor of the small farmers. The best example of this is the case of a farmer with 500 or perhaps 1,000 or 2,000 laying birds who with these can make a living on 25 acres. If egg production passes to the factory using half a million or a million hens and the small farmer loses his income from eggs he will be badly hit.
The same can happen with barley, beef and pigs. I ask that the question of protecting the small producer of eggs with a flock of 500 or 1,000 birds should be gone into thoroughly. Can the small producer be helped to compete against the multi-million egg producer?
There is an allied question to this, the price of feedingstuffs. In Northern Ireland small farmers with intensive livestock producers cannot provide their own feeding-stuffs. At the moment we are producing only a third of our requirements and we must import.
The Minister of Agriculture introduced his scheme for standard quantities and the Ulster Farmers' Union accepted this on the condition that it did not prejudice the right of Northern Ireland to get its feedingstuffs at the cheapest possible price. I am not prepared to say that this has happened yet, but there are reasons to believe that the costs of our feedingstuffs is turning out to be £19 10s. ex-Liverpool, which means that we shall get them on the farm at about £22 a ton, which is £2 or £3 a ton more than the equivalent cost in England. That must reduce the profits of Northern Ireland farmers and may even halve their income. I should like an assurance that Northern Ireland will be able to continue buying cheap feedingstuffs for our cattle, pigs and poultry.
I wish to speak to the point and as briefly as possible, because other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. The problem of the small farmers cannot be solved simply by egg production and the provision of cheap feedingstuffs. This 1111 is a problem with which we have to live, and as years pass it will become more and more difficult to bring the standard of living of the small farmer up to that of the industrial worker, who has nothing like the same stake invested and puts in nothing like the same number of hours. I believe that something in the form of a new small farmers scheme is essential.
We must tackle the problem of land tenure and the size of farms. It is dynamite to touch land tenure in any country, and particularly in Ireland, but a lead must be given, and I believe that the lead and the money must come from here. We must look at the land tenure problem, and the problem of amalgamation and of the con-acres, and see whether we cannot make certain that the average small farmer in Northern Ireland has 45 acres and not 30 acres. Larger farms are evolving at present but we need something to speed up the process. I should like a lead from this country. We are ready for it, and if the lead is given I am certain that it will be followed.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)
One might get the impression from the sparse attendance today that hon. Members are not interested in Northern Ireland, but that impression would be false. Many more hon. Members would have been present for this debate had they thought that there was the slightest chance of anything new being said, but since they are all aware, as we are all aware, that nothing new will be said, they do not see why they should sit through a long debate and they find something else to occupy their minds.
Nothing new will be said by me. I have never said anything new on this problem for the last 20 years, and I have made quite a number of speeches about Northern Ireland over the years, many of them long and most of them argumentative and provocative, and in some quarters considered offensive. I am very sorry about that, but I have introduced the one subject which really matters in Northern Ireland—religion. No one else has introduced the subject of religion today. Apparently the feeling is that we should not introduce it.
1112 I read an article in The Guardian some weeks ago in which a man who used to be chairman of the Northern Ireland Labour Party said that when the last census was taken in Northern Ireland no mention was made about how many lefthanders there were or how many right-handers but that it was known to the very last man and woman how many dug with the left foot, how many with the right foot and how many did not dig at all—and we all know what that means in Northern Ireland.
Tonight I do not wish to be argumentative or provocative, or to mention religion, except possibly once in passing. One reason for that is that one gets tired of saying the same thing over and over again, just as people get tired of listening to one saying the same thing over and over again. All the speeches which I have made about Northern Ireland have achieved precisely nothing, and I do not suppose that anything I say tonight will do anything useful either.
I remember that during the last debate the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) accused me of having old-fashioned ideas about Northern Ireland. I freely confess that that is so. My ideas about Northern Ireland are indeed old-fashioned—and so are his, and so are the ideas of everyone who talks about this subject, and so are the ideas of almost everyone who dwells in Northern Ireland.
The moment one arrives in that fascinating province one is conscious of having taken a step backwards into the past. In some ways this is very charming and mentally very relaxing, but in some respects, too, it is sad and it is dangerous. But everyone one meets—and this is the case on both sides, irrespective of religion and politics—has these old ideas. They are people to whom old memories are still vivid, people to whom old prejudices and old fears, which should have disappeared years ago, are still new and fresh.
This is the cause of a lot of trouble. In fact, the more one reflects the more one realises that these old prejudices and fears are the main cause of whatever hardship and injustice there is in Northern Ireland. Without being too provocative this evening, I must say that there is a certain amount of hardship and 1113 injustice there. A deputation came here recently from the Nationalists. I cannot call them a Nationalist Party, because I do not think that there is a united party as such. There is a loose group of people who assemble and whose ideas are more or less shared by them all.
They come here to speak to hon. Members about what they alleged to be social injustices which are committed in Northern Ireland. They alleged, for example—and I must say that they produced a mass of rather convincing evidence—that even employment in Northern Ireland is governed by religious considerations. It is alleged that men are given jobs and families are allotted council houses by local authorities not according to need or to merit but according to religion. This happens nowhere else in the United Kingdom, and everybody must confess that it is a sad state of affairs.
I find it difficult to believe that this is done out of sheer malice, but I can understand that it could happen through old prejudices and these old fears which I believe to be thoroughly groundless. This fear, I might say almost phobia, spreads beyond the boundaries of Northern Ireland and over the whole country. This has been going on for a long time. I remember a rather light-hearted verse written in this connection by G. K. Chesterton 50 or 60 years ago:The men who live in black Belfast,Their heart is in their mouth,They're always seeing murder,In the meadows of the south.They think a plough's a rack, they do,And cattle-calls are creeds,And they think we're burning witches,When we're only burning weeds.It is a pity that this mentality exists today. This is plain in the lack of contact, for example, between the two Governments. I am told that the Government of the Republic made an approach to the Northern Ireland Government to suggest some co-operation in tourism and met a blank refusal. I am told that that is so, although I cannot vouch for it. The tourist industry is important to Northern Ireland because we know that potentially Ireland, north and south, is a holiday maker's paradise. Surely this is an area in which there could be great co-operation between the two Governments.
1114 My hon. Friend the Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) mentioned the refusal to give recognition to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, although many workers in Northern Ireland belong to unions which are affiliated to the Congress. The only reason I have heard advanced is that the headquarters is in Dublin, which is a foreign capital. I cannot see much force in that argument. Surely they have relations with other organsations which have their headquarters in foreign capitals. Why should they refuse to recognise these unions which are affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions?
I still maintain that all this is based—this is the sole theme of the speech I shall make tonight without arousing any emotions—on old prejudices and old fears. I do not know what can be done about it. As I said earlier, all the speeches I have made have accomplished nothing at all, save only to annoy people, which I do not wish to do tonight.
May I make a suggestion to Northern Ireland Members, most of whom I know? I cannot think of one of them who would willingly condone an injustice. I hope that they will not think that I am being pompous, offensive or patronising about this. That is the last thing I want to be. Like the rest of us in the House, Northern Ireland Members have responsibilities to their constituents, even to those who did not vote for them. Some of their constituents are not getting their fair share of things. Hon. Members should be distressed about them. I am sure that they are. I know what difficulties face them. I do not suggest for a moment that they should make public speeches about it. I know that could be difficult and might not even be helpful.
However, they could do something privately. They have friends in the Government. They have friends on the Government-appointed boards. Perhaps they could discuss, even privately, these matters with their influential friends. Possibly they have done so already. I hope they will continue to do so. If this tiny little point which I have made is taken up by even one hon. Member opposite, the little speech I have just made will have accomplished far more than all the long speeches I have made about Northern Ireland in the past.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
This is the first time that I have heard the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) speak, and I will certainly look up the poem of G. K. Chesterton which he quoted.
The news about the dry dock announced by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary fills me as a Belfastman, and as a Belfast Member, with delight. I was not present when the last Ulster debate took place a year ago. I was not then a Member of the House. It was with tremendous interest that I read in the local Press at that time of the intention to construct a dry dock in Belfast. I do not pretend to be an authority on shipbuilding, nor, indeed, on dry docks. However, I have gone into the subject in considerable detail. I had the temerity, during the course of my by-election campaign last autumn, to suggest a dry dock of 150 ft. width.
Therefore, it is with tremendous delight that I learn that the speculative comment which I made a year ago is now to become a reality. With ships currently being built with a beam of 141 ft., which is the width of some of the recent Japanese tankers, it is very welcome news that the new dry dock will take account not only of the largest current ships being built, but also of ships which may be built during the next decade or two.
There was only one point made by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) with which I would agree. That was his expression of regret at the current high level of unemployment in Northern Ireland. I agree with him there. However, it must not be forgotten that this level is declining and for the last two months has declined considerably and impressively. It is very important indeed that these figures should not be seen as an indication of a distressed or depressed economy, but rather, which they are, as the price which one must temporarily pay when an economy is changing from being predominantly agricultural to being industrial. It is, in fact, the price to be paid when one seeks to adapt oneself to the changes and challenges of modern technology.
Anyone present in Northern Ireland yesterday, on the occasion of the annual 12th July demonstration, could not have failed to be impressed by the very considerable 1116 sense of prosperity, contentment and general economic well-being which existed wherever one went. This is surely something which even the most casual bystander could not fail to have been impressed by. This is as good an indication of any of the current level of prosperity in Northern Ireland. It was, indeed, most heartwarming.
I agree that we cannot be satisfied with our present economic position until the unemployment figures have dropped very drastically. The way in which we can attract employment is by determination, not by crying wolf and bleating depression. There is nothing more demoralising or, indeed, infectious in the wrong sort of way, than an air of depression. Just as an atmosphere of confidence succeeds in breeding and expanding a sense of well-being, and of confidence, so an atmosphere of depression can beget a deep and distressing gloom. I must correct one thing said by the hon. Member for Newton. He gave the latest figure of unemployment as 34,000. It is, in fact, 32,000, but we shall not fall out over that.
Thirty thousand redundancies have been caused in the past few years in the major traditional industries of shipbuilding, linen and agriculture. It is significant that, if these redundancies had not taken place, and the wind of ill-fortune had not struck those three fundamental industries as it did, we should now be virtually an economy of full employment.
Another fact which must not be forgotten is that there are more people in employment today in Northern Ireland than at any time in our history. In fact, over the last 12 months these figures have increased by no less than 7,000, which is quite impressive in a province the size of Northern Ireland.
There are two acknowledged guides to national prosperity. One is the trend of population growth. The other is the trend of personal savings. These guides are widely accepted. To them I would add a third, namely, the trend in the number of Income Tax payers. The Ulster population is growing steadily, in sharp distinction, perhaps, to the other part of Ireland. Surely this is an indication of faith in our future prosperity.
§ Mr. Pounder
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, that is not a valid point. There is a difference between a population eruption and that which happens in a progressive Western economy.
As to the second guide, which is the trend of small savings, the total sum being saved and put into the National Savings movement in Northern Ireland is growing steadily month by month, and this trend has continued uninterrupted for at least the past two years. Savings last year up to the end of October showed an increase of no less than £5 million as compared with the period to the previous October. In Belfast alone, the first 10 months of 1963 showed an all-time record of personal savings in the National Savings movement of £13 million, an increase of over £3 million or one-third, on the first 10 months of 1962. Although thrift has been a characteristic quality of the Northern Ireland people, this is, nevertheless, a fair indication of the economic state of Ulster.
Although successive Chancellors of the Exchequer have reduced the level of taxation and have increased personal and ancillary tax allowances during the last few years, which has resulted in an ever-increasing number of wage and salary earners not paying Income Tax, in Northern Ireland the number of taxpayers has increased by over 20 per cent. over the last five fiscal years.
Whichever of the three yardsticks one uses for measuring prosperity, Ulster emerges satisfactorily. Of course, there is more that can and must be done in the way of creating employment opportunities. That we seek constantly to do, but one thing is absolutely certain. Those who seek to portray Northern Ireland as a depressed and dispirited area of the United Kingdom are not only guilty of inaccuracy; they are also doing a great disservice to the industrial development of Northern Ireland.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
We have just listened to two extraordinary speeches from Ulster hon. Members opposite. First, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) began by praising his right hon. Friend for all the wonderful work he had done on behalf of Northern Ireland. There followed a great deal of criticism about the work that needed to be done for the small farmer, to improve the system of land tenure and to improve the activities of the Egg Marketing Board. He was also concerned about the provision of railway services between Newcastle and Belfast. The sum total of his speech was that the Minister had left more undone than he had done.
§ Mr. Bence
I do not object to his criticising the present conditions in Northern Ireland. He is only one of many hon. Members, including several on the benches opposite, to complain about conditions there.
Then we had the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder), full of eulogies for Northern Ireland. He told us how tremendously prosperous a place it had become because of increased savings. I am sure that the thousands of people out of work there will consider it extraordinary that Ulster should suddenly have become such a prosperous province, simply because the country's savings—not their savings, let it be remembered—have increased by £5 million. It is a shame that they have not been able to share in the increase. I trust that the hon. Member for Belfast, South is aware that although, according 1119 to him, Northern Ireland is prospering, according to his hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North the general level of incomes has been reduced. Not only have the small farmers been losing a great deal of their earnings but unemployment has not significantly been reduced.
§ Mr. Pounder
I quoted figures of savings, but I did not say that those who had subscribed to the savings movement were necessarily all tycoons.
§ Mr. Bence
I was not saying that they were tycoons, just that the 90 per cent. of small farmers whose incomes have been reduced, according to the hon. Member for Antrim, North, and the thousands of people unemployed could not have contributed to the increased savings. The most amazing statement that the hon. Member for Belfast, South made was to the effect that unemployment in Northern Ireland was not a very large temporary price to pay for a change in the country's industrial development.
§ Mr. Bence
At least for 13 years Northern Ireland, relative to the United Kingdom generally, has been the weakest place from the economic and other points of view. I am merely saying that 13 years is a long temporary period for such a temporary price to be paid. We achieved a great deal when in office, but as soon as the party opposite took over the situation became gradually worse.
§ Mr. John E. Maginnis (Armagh)
I trust that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind the population increase in Northern Ireland compared with the rest 1120 of the United Kingdom, remembering that we must cater for a great many more school-leavers compared with the rest of the country.
§ Mr. Bence
That may be so, but it is no reason why the general economic situation in Ulster should have been running at a lower level of activity than the rest of the United Kingdom. That there are more school-leavers is not, in itself, a good enough reason for this lowered economic activity.
How can this trend be reversed if the Government in Westminster do little to help the efforts of Northern Ireland? For the last few years one noteworthy point of general agreement has been evident in the House; the fact that hon. Members on both sides, including those who represent Northern Ireland, have been unanimous in complaining at the way in which the Government have treated Short Bros. & Harland. There is general agreement that the Government's attitude towards this firm has been disgraceful.
§ Mr. Bence
Because they have failed to give Shorts essential continuity of work and adequate contracts and, when decent contracts have been awarded, the work has been withdrawn. I am not saying that this has not happened in other sections of the aircraft industry; just that to a place like Northern Ireland it has been particularly harmful. Who knows what part Shorts and the aircraft industry of Ulster will have to play in the next 20 years? Who knows the way in which the aircraft industry of the world will change in the coming years? Who knows what will happen after the elections in America? Shorts can play a great part in Britain's aircraft industry if it is treated properly. I understand that Her Majesty's Government hold about a 70 per cent. share in the firm. Despite this, and despite the fact that Shorts has an excellent labour force available, although it has been reduced over the years, no one in the industry in Northern Ireland is certain what will happen tomorrow, and the Government in Westminster must be held responsible for this.
I always take part in debates on Northern Ireland, and over the years I 1121 have heard hon. Members opposite complain about the situation there and the attitude of the Government. I believe that Northern Ireland should be treated like any other depressed area in the United Kingdom. We should think in terms of units, referring to Northern Ireland the way we refer to Scotland and other depressed areas. This should apply with special meaning to Ulster, and new industries should be established there. But, above all, we should ensure that for transport the cost per unit of production is relatively small.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy), I have listened to the same sort of speeches time and again, and my experience of British Governments is that they have to be told time and time again. It takes about 30 years for anything to sink into their heads. Historians have written that in the British parliamentary democracy it takes about 35 years for an idea to get from the back benches to the Departments. It will therefore take a long time for us to drive home this idea of pushing to the perimeter of the United Kingdom, not the basic industries, or what I would call the low-convertibility industries, but industries of which the computer industry is a notable example.
In that industry there are great skills and high techniques by which the raw material is converted from a very low value to a very high value, with the result that the transport cost per unit is not so heavy as it is in, say, the heavy engineering industry. This is very important. We have a plan for south-east England which will provide for further movement of population, but the population that moves out of Ulster—and out of Scotland—very often consists of the technicians, the draughtsmen, the industrial designers the experts, the highest craftsmen, and the situation can soon be reached, as is now happening on the perimeter of our economy, where desirable things cannot be done because the skilled men are no longer there.
One may well find a position arising in Ulster in which the very environment in which men can be trained has contracted, or has been destroyed—
§ Mr. Bence
I have no doubt that Short Bros, and Harland, with its industrial and technical base, is capable of tremendous versatility in its products.
Hundreds of the new products developed in the last few years by the National Research and Development Corporation, have been sold to the United States, but which could have been taken up by manufacturing units in Northern Ireland working as subsidiaries of the Corporation. Why has that not been done? Many of those products produced by N.R.D.C. have a very high convertibility from raw material to finished product, and I am sure that much of this could have been done in Northern Ireland—as it could have been done in Scotland.
In many respects there is a great affinity between Northern Ireland and Scotland. We in Scotland feel that the problems of the people of Northern Ireland are very similar because, like us, they are on the perimeter of the economy. Very little is being done to move into this important area these technical industries that demand high qualities of skill and have that very high conversion value that makes transport costs less significant.
The Home Secretary has listened to five years of pleading from some hon. Members opposite and from all those on this side who are interested in Northern Ireland. There is little time before the General Election for him to do much more than make the same sort of promises as were made before the last election, but I can assure hon. Members opposite that after October the ideas which we have expounded for the last 13 years will be applied to Northern Ireland, and I have no doubt that in three or four years' time the Northern Ireland people will realise the great difference between the one Administration and the other.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)
I join in welcoming the announcement that the rail connection from London and the South and Glasgow and the North will remain open for the Lame-Stranraer route. This will give great satisfaction to the people of 1123 Ulster, as it is one of its gateways from Great Britain. I should also like to say how much I welcome the announcement of the building of a really big dry dock which will take ships of 1,000 ft. by 150 ft. beam. One is delighted to hear that announcement.
I hope that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) will forgive me if I do not follow him. I think that he does, as he said, rather live in the past, because I can assure him that in dealing with my constituents I do so regardless of their religious or non-religious beliefs, and I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House do the same.
Very considerable changes have been taking place in Ulster, and I should like to deal with the position in South Antrim which, incidentally, with an electorate of over 105,000 is the largest constituency in the whole of the United Kingdom. We are fortunate in Antrim in having an unemployment rate of only about 3½ per cent. Since 1959, some 17 new firms have commenced production there, and a further six firms have expanded with the assistance of the Government of Northern Ireland. Employment in these projects is about 6,000 and the figure is expected to rise to about 11,000. Twelve of the new firms and five of the firms that have expanded are in Government-built premises.
Those figures and facts are bare bones but, to speak from personal experience, I refer to the change that has taken place over all the area. I think, in particular, of a firm that has come from Europe-British Enkalon, which has started a factory in Antrim. The local authorities have assisted with housing and the firm is now established and giving good employment, and gradually an increased population will build up in the area. I think also of another European firm, Michelin, at Hyde Park. This firm has not yet started production—the buildings are just going up. I would not like the House to think that only firms from Europe are coming to Antrim. We have firms from Great Britain, such as the great firm of Courtaulds, whose factory has been in production for some years at Carrickfergus. It runs on three shifts, 24 hours a day, all the year round, and it has never stopped running since it 1124 started. It gives considerable employment in this area.
There is the I.C.I. factory at Kilroot and the new Carreras factory which is starting at Trooperslane, Carrickfergus. I understand that this is expected to give 2,000 jobs when in full production.
I should not like the House to think, after my referring to factories and firms which have come to Northern Ireland from Great Britain and Europe, that the indigenous firms have been outdistanced. They have not. Over the years they have been providing employment and many have been developing rapidly. I can think, for example, of the Everton Sheet Metal Works at Newtownabbey, a go-ahead firm built by Ulster men. It has its own private aeroplane for its sales staff in Britain, Europe and elsewhere abroad. These are a few examples of the rising prosperity for which one must pay tribute to the work of the Government of Northern Ireland, assisted by the Conservative and Unionist Government here and by the Northern Ireland Development Council, to which a somewhat slighting reference was made earlier in the debate. It is, of course, the skill and hard work of Ulster people who work in the factories, in management and on the floor which makes for the success of this development. Let there be no mistake about it, we in South Antrim have a success story to tell.
I hope that when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary replies to the debate he will be able to say something about the development of the new civil airport at Aldergrove. The old airport at Nutts Corner had a one-storey building. When the new airport at Aldergrove was designed it was no doubt thought to be adequate, but owing to the greater increase in air traffic and in the number of people travelling it becomes congested, particularly at the weekends if there are any delays in arrivals and departures and if, as often happens, there are a great number of visitors. It becomes physically difficult to move about. I hope that there will be some enlargement of the air terminal building.
As I have said, the building at Nutts Corner was on one floor but at Aldergrove arriving passengers have to travel 1125 up three flights of stairs and then go down a ramp before they reach their aeroplanes. This is all right for most people, but for the elderly it is difficult and one hopes that some arrangement might be made for at least a one-way escalator. There is also need for car parking facilities for people who travel to the airport not only from Belfast but from all parts of Ulster. Better arrangements should be made and an easier method of entering and getting out of the car park should be provided.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will say something on these small but important points because we are anxious to see Aldergrove made into one of the best airports in the United Kingdom. In my constituency we are achieving success. The development is rapid and the people are enjoying a much higher standard of living than they had in the past. We shall go on doing our best to see that this improvement continues and increases rapidly in the future.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
I am sure that we are all delighted to hear of the large number of companies which have come into the constituency of the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) and of the prosperity which has resulted. The hon. Member told the House that the unemployment rate in his constituency had fallen to 3½ per cent. If his constituency is the largest in Northern Ireland and unemployment has fallen to that level, this obviously means that in the rest of the province the rate must be much higher than the 6½ per cent. quoted by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee).
The other thing that I would like to say to the hon. Gentleman is that if he and others on the other side of the House continue to paint such a rosy picture of the economy of Northern Ireland, as they sometimes tend to do, naturally when they come to ask for something the Government will feel that their claims have a fairly low priority. Certainly this has happened in the case of Short Bros, and Harland, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence). The position of Short Bros, and Harland has been raised in the course of many years in this 1126 House and the situation is no better now than it ever has been. In fact, I understand that some redundancies have already taken place in the drawing office there, and it will be very difficult to keep this company in being as a complete entity even if it should continue to carry on sub-contract work on behalf of other companies.
I am sure we would all agree—for this is not a political question—that it would be an absolute tragedy for the economy of the province if an industry of this kind, which is based on new technology and in giving young people in Northern Ireland a valuable training which they would not otherwise have, were to be lost to the province. I hope the Government are thinking of every possible means of maintaining an aircraft industry in Northern Ireland and, as far as they can do so, by means of their own orders, keeping the factory going until a new aircraft can be designed and brought into production there.
As I understand it, after the existing orders for the 10 Belfasts are completed the company will be entirely dependent on whatever it can sell from its new Skyvan production which it hopes to start soon. I am glad to know that great efforts are being made by the company to sell the Skyvan overseas because I think this is an aircraft with enormous potential in under-developed countries. Incidentally, I should like to say how pleased I am to see the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation in his place. I am sure we are grateful to him for coming to this debate, and I trust that he will do whatever he can to improve the position of Short Bros, and Harland.
The Skyvan, as I said, has great potential in under-developed areas. It can take off on very short strips. It does not need a very sophisticated airfield. It might be worth while for the Government to make an offer to some of the under-developed countries with whom we are in aid relations, to give them some of these aeroplanese so that they can try them out for themselves. I know that in general we favour untied aid, but this is a kind of tied aid which was considered last year for the shipyards of the North-East and I do not see any reason why the same principle should not apply to aircraft produced by this company.
1127 I wish to refer to the subject raised by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy). I do not suppose anyone on the other side of the House will follow him in this subject, but I think it is rather important. Although hon. Members may believe that these old prejudices and fears to which he referred are groundless today, the visit of the Northern Ireland Nationalist Senators and Members of Parliament earlier this year gave to some of us evidence of practices which we found disturbing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) saw this deputation, and so did 1. I do not understand why the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition refused to see the deputation, for to meet these gentlemen was in no way an endorsement of their political philosophy. I do not even know in detail what their political philosophy is, except that I gather that it seems to imply doing away with the border between the Province and Eire. However, I felt that the evidence they produced gave a prima facie case of discrimination in employment and housing and of gerrymandering the electoral areas at local government level.
My right hon. Friend tried to check these allegations and spoke to some of the Northern Ireland people about them, but he was unable to elicit a detailed refutation or confirmation of the figures which the Nationalist Senators had given him. I shall not weary the House with a recital of all the facts which they gave, but one I found particularly striking concerned the City of Londonderry—or Derry as the Nationalists prefer to call it. At the 1961 census, the total population of that city was 53,744, divided as to 36,049 Catholics and 17,695 of other religions. Yet the electoral boundaries there are so drawn that representation on the corporation consists of eight catholics and 12 of other religions. There is something very peculiar in the fact that the number of Catholic citizens is over twice as great as the number of Protestants yet they have 50 per cent. fewer seats on the corporation.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I think that the boundaries of local government 1128 constituencies in Londonderry are a matter for the Northern Ireland Government and nothing to do with the Government here. In that case it is out of order to raise that question. I do not think that it is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for drawing my attention to that, and I do not wish to dispute your Ruling in any way, but the United Kingdom Government have reserved powers under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, to intervene in matters which are delegated to the Northern Ireland Government. Questions which I have put to the Home Secretary on this subject have been allowed on the Order Paper. With great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think that my present remarks must equally be in order. However, if you wish me not to refer to these matters, I shall, of course, bow to your Ruling. I had not intended to go into them in great detail.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman has asked Questions on the subject in the House, I certainly would not wish to rule him out of order.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I did not wish to do more than give just one or two examples, although I have a great many other facts and figures concerning local electoral areas which were brought to our attention by the delegation of Nationalist senators and Members of Parliament. As I have said, my right hon. Friend found it very difficult to obtain confirmation or denial of them.
I do not suggest that the facts and figures we were given are 100 per cent. accurate, but it is impossible for this detailed evidence not to lead to the conclusion that there is a prima facie case of discrimination by gerrymandering. The same goes for employment. Hon. Members opposite would not condone discrimination in employment on grounds of religion, and they will all say that, in considering people for a post with a hospital management committee or with a local authority, for instance, an applicant's religion should be entirely irrelevant. But this is not what happens, as detailed figures show.
1129 Picking at random from a leaflet which was left by the delegation, I take the example of Enniskillen, the principal town of County Fermanagh, where the Nationalists, or rather the Catholics—it is by no means certain that all Catholics vote Nationalist—make up 54 per cent. of the population. There are seven jobs in the town clerk's department, none of them held by Catholics. There are seven jobs in the borough surveyor's office, only one of which is held by a Catholic. There are 34 jobs in the Fermanagh education department and 28 jobs in the county surveyor's department, and there is only one Catholic in each department.
I am not suggesting that there should be a strict relationship in percentages of employment as between one religion and another throughout these different departments of the local authority. But it is quite impossible for such a distribution of jobs to arise completely from chance, and therefore I infer, if these figures are true, that there is discrimination on the part of the local authority in selecting applicants for jobs.
I am confirmed in that view by some public utterances by members of the Unionist Party. Senator J. Barnhill, quoted in the Belfast Telegraph on 9th January last, said:Charity begins at home, and if we are going to employ people we should employ Unionists.I am not saying that we should sack good Nationalist employees, but if we are going to employ new men they should be Unionists."That is a profoundly horrifying sentiment and one which hon. Members opposite, although they do not belong to the Catholic religion, would condemn as roundly as I do.
Even worse. When Miss Shelagh Murnaghan, M.P., introduced a Human Rights Bill in Stormont, no less a person than the Northern Ireland Attorney-General endorsed the principle of discrimination in employment. He drew the analogy that if a person who was an employer happened to be black and wanted to employ only coloured people he should be free to do so and, therefore, by implication, if a person happened to be of a particular religion, he should be allowed to employ only people of that religion. This is a point of view which could not possibly be 1130 held by anyone in Britain, and it is time that it was eliminated in Northern Ireland.
Finally, the representations concerned discrimination in housing. I will not go through all the examples given to us but in the City of Derry houses are provided both by the corporation and by the housing trust. The Nationalists admit that the allocation of houses by the housing trust is done fairly and on the basis of need and that the applicants' religion has nothing to do with it. But they claim that religious apartheid operates for the houses provided by the corporation.
The Nationalists say that Nationalists in Derry are only housed in certain sections of the city—this being connected with the gerrymandering I have mentioned. They also claim that, although almost every Unionist who has sought a house has been provided for, a backlog of about 2,000 Catholic applicants have not received houses.
I wanted to have this opportunity to lay these facts before the House and to give hon. Members opposite an opportunity to deny them if they are untrue. I hope that if they are untrue I shall be corrected, but I have grave doubts as to whether people would come all the way from Northern Ireland to ventilate these grievances unless there were some sound basis for them. In view of our ultimate responsibility in this House for the conduct of affairs in the Province, it is our duty to take notice of these grave allegations.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley McMaster (Belfast, East)
I should like, first, to say how very pleased I was to hear the statement of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the dry dock. The House may recall that at the end of the debate on Northern Ireland a year ago I asked my right hon. Friend whether he could say what would be the size of the dock which was announced during that debate and that I stressed that it should be large enough to take vessels of 150,000 tons which would be built in Belfast.
Although it has taken a long time to build this dock, as hon. Members opposite has said, Harland and Wolff will benefit from having a dock which 1131 is the most modern and up-to-date in the world and a great deal larger than we had originally hoped when the announcement of a year ago was made.
There has been an extensive programme of modernisation in Harland & Wolff. It has new craneage and prefabrication sheds. I hope that this dock will be complete with craneage which will enable it to compete with any shipbuilding yard in the world and to meet the severe competition which our shipbuilding and ship companies are now facing.
I welcome the announcement by the Minister of Transport earlier this week of the new attitude, to be incorporated in the Government's Bill, towards unfair shipping practices, particularly as adopted by the United States of America. I ask my right hon. Friend to convey to the Minister of Transport the feeling among our shipbuilders that any attitude which enables shipbuilders and shipowners to meet unfair competition from abroad, whether in the form of flags of reservation, flags of convenience, or subsidies in shipbuilding, will be firmly supported so that our shipyards and shipowners can continue to flourish and so that this maritime nation will benefit.
The decision to build the dry dock will enable Harland & Wolff to maintain its present position as the largest shipbuilding yard in the United Kingdom and perhaps in Europe. It will enable it to meet the foreign competition which it is now facing, particularly from the Japanese.
The hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) referred to Short Bros. & Harland. I welcome the visit of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation to Short Bros, a week ago, and I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary attending the debate today. We were reassured by the Minister's visit and by his statement about the trend of employment in the future. Although if one picks one's dates, as the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) did, one can arrive at any conclusion about employment, the Government have given great assistance by spending £55 million on Short Bros. & Harland.
That is a very large sum of money. It has been spent on developing the Belfast, 1132 the large freighter aircraft in which I was privileged to return to London with the Minister and his Parliamentary Private Secretary. It impressed us, and I am convinced that it will impress everyone in the Armed Forces when it comes into service in a year's time. We shall be glad to see this large transport aircraft, with a hold more than 12 ft. square and capable of taking heavy equipment and tanks.
We would like now to see a jet version developed. I ask my right hon. Friend to pay particular attention to this request, and to see whether it is possible to undertake at least a feasibility study on the development of a jet freighter transport, because, as far as one can see, the transport needs of this country and of our Armed Forces will increase in the future so that we can protect our wide interests all over the world.
The 10 Belfasts at present on order will meet our needs for the next, five, six, seven, or perhaps eight, years, but after that there will be a need for another faster, more powerful and larger transport aircraft with greater capacity and greater range. The obvious solution to the demand for such a strategic as opposed to tactical transport is perhaps an aircraft based on the Belfast but powered by jet engines. As it takes many years—up to about 10—from the initial planning and feasibility study to the coming into service of such an aircraft, I suggest that the time is ripe to carry out such a survey.
In the meantime, we welcome the announcement by the Minister of Aviation, reaffirmed last week by a statement in answer to a Question in the House, that a substantial part of the work on the HS681, the small tactical transport being developed by Hawker Siddeley, will be carried out in Belfast, just as present work is being carried on there on the VC 10. We also welcome the announcement by the Minister in Belfast last week that more Canberra repairs are to be carried there.
I was shocked by the statement by the Leader of the Opposition on Seacat, which has lost us valuable exports from Northern Ireland. I shudder to think of what would happen to Harland and Wolff and to Short Bros., who contribute so much to our defence requirements, if the Opposition happened to win the next 1133 election. The loss of potential orders for Seacats for Spain represents a severe loss to the workers in my constituency.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to look again at the problem of maintaining a balanced unit at Short Bros., because unless we have design work such as I suggested for the jet Belfast and the HS681 in Northern Ireland, we cannot maintain the type of balanced unit which is so essential to our economy. This is an essential industry with a high manpower content. The raw material requirement is minimal, and the transport cost of expanding our industry represents a very small element of the cost of the final aircraft, but the contribution to technical education and advanced electronics which a firm like Short Bros, makes is most important to industry and industrial development in Northern Ireland.
I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to use his best endeavours, as he has done in the past, to see that we have this balanced unit in Northern Ireland, supporting as it does its managerial staff, essential office staff, as well as the men on the factory floor who are engaged in production, repair, and other work.
I do not want to speak for more than a few minutes, as I know that several of my colleagues wish to take part in the debate. We all deplore the high unemployment figure of 6½ per cent. I think that the House agrees that this is far too high. The United Kingdom Government have taken steps, and I hope that they will continue their efforts, to share evenly the prosperity of the United Kingdom throughout the United Kingdom. I am assured that the increased estimate announced in Northern Ireland for expenditure on roads, on hospitals, and on schools, as well as by the announcement today about the dry dock—which represents about 44 per cent. of the gross national product at the moment—will be spread evenly, and will take account of the position in Northern Ireland just as it does of the position in Scotland and on the North-East Coast.
I also feel that existing Northern Ireland industries should be encouraged to develop and expand, and that the Government should exercise themselves, in consultation with the Government of 1134 Northern Ireland, in introducing measures to enable existing industries to develop as well as to attract to Northern Ireland new industries such as those announced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham).
Much remains to be done. Hon. Members opposite have deplored the high unemployment figure, but the trend seems to be in the right direction—downwards. I ask the Government not to spoil the ship for a ha'porth of tar, but to give that final shove to the wheel which will finally deal with unemployment in Northern Ireland.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
One enters Northern Ireland debates with less trepidation than one does in Scottish debates. I do not claim to know Northern Ireland very well, but I have visited it many times. I have never agreed with the division of Ireland. It is important that I should say that. I was not born in Ireland. I had the honour of serving this country, as did my father before me, in public life, in peace and war. In humorous vein, although my mother did not come from Ireland, I had four Irish grandparents.
I therefore have an interest in the whole of Ireland and not least Northern Ireland. I had no intention of entering this debate, but I heard two of my hon. Friends speaking about the importance of discrimination. I have no intention of following the arguments of my hon. Friends; they made the point very well. No hon. Member opposite—and I believe that at the moment they are nearly all Northern Ireland Members—has denied the allegations that have been made.
§ Mr. Mahon
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member, with his great knowledge of Northern Ireland, will be only too delighted to tell us in detail what the position is in Dungannon, Derry or Portadown. I shall be delighted to listen to him.
I have not had the honour of meeting the Nationalists. I did not have the pleasure when they came over here. But I have written to them and have received 1135 an ordinary reply. It deals with the campaign for social justice in Northern Ireland. No doubt every hon. Member has received a copy of their statement. It complains about gerrymandering—giving houses away for reasons which are not British reasons; not because a house is needed but because the person involved belongs to a certain class of people or to a certain religion. If one does get a house one is given it either in a Catholic or a non-Catholic section. Is this really going on in Great Britain today?
After two world wars—after we stood, Catholic, Irish, Buddhist, Mohammedan, Welsh, Scottish, any nationality and any religion—against Fascism and Nazism, are we to be told by responsible people, without any denial, that this is the position in the British Isles today? I hope that an hon. Member opposite or a spokesman for the Government will assure me—and I am a democrat—that it is impossible for this to happen in these islands.
Recently, I had the pleasure of buying a record of the speeches of someone for whom I have a tremendous admiration, the late President Kennedy. Like myself, he had a great deal in common with the Irish people. It is regrettable that he did not come to Northern Ireland when he paid his visit to the Republic of Ireland before his tragic death. When President Kennedy was making his election speeches the question arose about his religious opinions, and I believe that he said—I hope that I am not saying anything that this great man did not say—that anyone who voted for him or against him because of his religious affiliations was wasting his vote and losing his franchise.
President Kennedy said that it was not relevant, because any decision that he made, any public decision, would be that of an American, of a free man and of a democrat. Would not it be fine if an hon. Member opposite would stand up and say, with his hand on his heart, that there is no discrimination in Northern Ireland either by the Catholics or the Orangemen?
I do not believe in discrimination, and I never have. We suffered from it once in Liverpool, but now it is as dead as the dodo. There is no Irish question in Liverpool 1136 today. We live amicably together. Houses are distributed according to need and full employment, or near full employment is what matters. If the people of Northern Ireland want to get rid of any discrimination they should work for full employment, because people cannot discriminate so easily when labour is needed. But if there is discrimination, we ought to be told. The Catholics, or the Orangemen, or the people of the Church of Ireland, should be told by the Government spokesmen whether, after the mass of evidence which must come from Stormont, the Government believe that discrimination is going on.
I have made my point and I am being perfectly honest. I said that I did not agree with the division of Ireland. How could I? I was brought up listening to the speeches of Robert Emmett and other Irish patriots, and if hon. Members opposite would permit I could go through every word of Emmett's speeches, although I am sure that they know some of the speeches. I speak about Emmett and Michael Collins. Every Irish patriot did not come from the South of Ireland. Most were not Catholics. Tone was not a Catholic. Emmett was not a Catholic. The first President was not a Catholic, Dr. Hyde. They do not discriminate there. The family name of the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) figures in a great deal of patriotic history of Ireland going back to the United Irishmen.
I do not believe that there is any discrimination in Southern Ireland. I do not know about Northern Ireland. To be fair, when I ask this question I am told that the Northern Ireland Government are eminently fair about grants for education, for Catholic schools and church schools of all descriptions. If they are so eminently fair in that respect, they must be trying and they must be men of good will. Why are not these men of good will, in an important position, able to control these irresponsible people who are getting Northern Ireland a bad name in so many ways?
This gentleman, Senator Barnhill, said some outlandish things. I thought I was listening to Senator Goldwater, and I am perturbed about that gentleman, but between Boyne Water and Goldwater there does not seem to be 1137 much difference when we think about this statement. Barnhill said in 1964:If we are going to employ people we should give the preference to Unionists. I am not saying that we should sack Nationalist employees, but if we are going to employ new men we should give preference to Unionists.I remember my father telling me how hurt he was when he was a boy 12 years of age, struggling for a living on the Liverpool dockside as a ship's scaler— and there was no more patriotic a public man in this country in local government than my father; five of his sons were serving this country and some of them died for this country—to see notices on the docks saying "No Irish need apply". There were no notices saying that Catholics or Protestants need not apply.
I am very grateful, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for being able to make a speech for these few minutes in this House, because on many occasions since I have not been too well hon. Members opposite, not least among them the Members for Northern Ireland, have wished me well on many occasions. But I make this plea: surely after two world wars, when we fought for the things that we value, for anyone in these islands to discriminate on religious grounds is un-British and completely foreign to everything that we have stood for and worked for over the last century.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) complained that no one had made a reply to the allegations of discrimination which had been made and I hastened to assure him that I would. I had not otherwise intended to take part in this debate. It seems to me that we are in grave danger of getting away from the main point of the debate which is concerned with the twentieth century.
History was made in this 'debate. I do not know whether hon. Members noticed it, but today for the first time, I think, since the war, and certainly for the first time in the 14 years that I have been in the House of Commons, we have had an intervention in a Northern Ireland debate by a Liberal Member. This is something which ought to be recorded and noted. He did not stay very long and I am sorry that he is not 1138 here because I intended to reply to some of the things that the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) said. I think that what has been said by him, by the hon. Member for Bootle and by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Delargy) should not go without an answer.
It was delightful to hear the hon. Member for Thurrock intervening in an Ulster debate. My mind went back 10 years or more when we listened to his fiery, vehement eloquence, and today he showed himself extraordinarily modest and restrained. We appreciate the terms in which he spoke. His nostalgia for his native land leads him back to old times and leads him to rake over the embers of old controversies again. They are not relevant, as I shall proceed to show, and I hope to satisfy the hon. Member for Bootle on the same score.
All of us, wherever we are, would deplore—and the hon. Member for Thurrock did us on this side of the House the honour of saying that we would deplore—any suggestion of discrimination against any man on the grounds of his religion, certainly by the State and in almost every case by private individuals. It is possible, however, to conceive of a situation where discrimination by a private individual might possibly be justified. It may be possible, for example, where someone who has small children might want someone of his or her faith to be responsible for the upbringing of those children. It might not, therefore, be an improper form of discrimination to say, "I shall only employ someone of my faith to look after these children." There is nothing wrong in that kind of discrimination. That discrimination of itself is not necessarily an evil.
What is an evil is if discrimination can be shown to be practised by the State. The hon. Member for Orpington, who now unhappily has left us, quoted from some document he had been given by the Nationalist Party in Northern Ireland. Like many others, the hon. Member had to rely on words such as "I am told", and "I hear". Many hon. Members have had to rely on the same phrases. The hon. Member for Orpington listened to these people without understanding what everyone in Ireland understands perfectly clearly, that this is an age-old gimmick, the absolute stock-in-trade of the Nationalist Party in Northern Ireland. 1139 In this question of discrimination the Nationalist Party had got something with which to try to rouse or frighten its followers. The Nationalist Party is already disappearing. It has reached the stage of the dinosaur and will soon be at the stage of the diplodocus in the limbo of forgotten things. But the hon. Member, like so many Liberals, swallowed the lot hook, line and sinker.
§ Mr. Delargy
I do not know if the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) will be coming back to the Chamber, but not only the Nationalist Party but also the Belfast Telegraph, rather a Unionist organ, has more than once this year protested in editorials and leading articles against this discrimination. It does not take the trouble to prove it but takes it for granted and asks the Government to do something about it. Is that not true?
§ Captain Orr
I was talking about the hon. Member for Orpington and saying that this was a Nationalist gimmick.
§ Captain Orr
That may be so. I said that the hon. Member for Orpington had swallowed hook, line and sinker what the Nationalist Party had said. I am delighted to see that the hon. Member has now come back. I had said that he made history today. I congratulated him on the fact that a Member of the Liberal Party, I think for the first time since the war, had intervened to help us on a debate on Northern Ireland.
§ Captain Orr
I appreciate that, and his sojourn in the House is very short, because I doubt whether we shall see him again after the election.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
Order. We are not debating Orpington. What we are concerned with, surely, is Northern Ireland and the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government in Northern Ireland.
§ Captain Orr
I am very much obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was about to suggest that we might return to the subject of the debate.
§ Captain Orr
The hon. Members for Orpington, Thurrock and Bootle suggested that the Government ought to take action on the question of religious discrimination in Northern Ireland and that they had some responsibility so to do. When your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, interrupted the hon. Member for Orpington and suggested that he should not be making that point, he ultimately accepted the hon. Member's argument that, in fact, he was in order. I therefore trust that I am in order if I reply to him, because it is important that he should be answered.
§ Mr. Delargy
I am sure that the hon. Member does not want to do me an injustice. I said nothing to the Government. I know that that is a waste of time, to start with. I made my personal plea to the hon. Members who sit for seats in Northern Ireland and to no one else.
§ Captain Orr
I am obliged to the hon. Member and I am trying to answer him. If I were allowed to get on with what I have to say, it might be more helpful.
The hon. Member for Orpington mentioned the only Liberal Member in the Parliament of Northern Ireland, Miss Shelagh Murnaghan. He mentioned the Civil Rights Bill. I do not think he followed what Miss Murnaghan did in a debate on this very subject, which took place at Stormont, the Northern Ireland Parliament, on 26th May. On that date the Nationalist Party, whose propaganda the hon. Member has swallowed hook, line and sinker, put down a Motion about discrimination. I must point out to the hon. Members for Bootle and Thurrock that the Labour Party put down an Amendment.
§ Captain Orr
The Northern Ireland Labour Party, which is affiliated to the hon. Member's party. It put down an Amendment—a very sensible Amendment, if I may say so. It read,… welcomes the improvement in communal relationships in Northern Ireland, 1141 congratulates all those who by positive action have contributed to this improvement …The Unionist Members —
§ Captain Orr
I have it here if I can find it, and if the hon. Member wants it all, he can have it. It continues,… and is of the opinion that it is in the social and economic interests of all our people that this spirit of good will should continue to grow ".That was the Amendment moved by the Labour Party and supported in the Division by the Ulster Government, by the Unionist Members and by Miss Shelagh Murnaghan of the Liberal Party. As always, the Liberal Party speaks with many voices.
§ Mr. Lubbock
I find nothing to quarrel with in the Amendment which the hon. and gallant Member has read.
§ Captain Orr
Nor do I, but earlier in this debate the hon. Member was quoting almost approvingly everything that the Nationalist Members had told him, whereas this Amendment, against the Nationalist Motion, was supported by a member of his own party.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Surely one can welcome some improvements which have taken place without thinking that they have gone far enough?
§ Captain Orr
I suppose that we must pass that kind of sophistry.
I come to the allegations which have been made. The first is in regard to housing, local authority boundaries and questions of employment. It must be noted, first, that 35 per cent. of all houses built in Ulster are private building. Most of them are subsidised. This is since the war. The Government lay down standards, but these regulations as to standards do not normally affect the location. I am not sure whether it was the hon. Member for Bootle who suggested that perhaps houses were sited in one place rather than in another for some religious reason. That does not apply to this 35 per cent. of our housing.
Sixty-five per cent. of our housing is local authority housing. Here the local authorities have absolute authority. The Ministry very rarely interferes with where a local authority sites its houses. 1142 Consequently, there is no reason to believe—the Ulster Government have no reason to believe, I have none, and none of my hon. Friends has any reason to believe—that anywhere local authorities have acted other than completely responsibly in the siting of houses.
I gather that some of the complaints are about the allocation of houses. One of the difficulties in Northern Ireland is that, although our housing programme is running now at a pretty favourable rate, we are considerably behind the rest of the United Kingdom in the number of houses that are available. Consequently, in the post-war period we have been gradually trying to catch up. We have had to make new arrangements with the Government here. We had authority to introduce in 1952 a new subsidy scheme to provide more houses. The pace of house building is going ahead.
Still there is overall a chronic shortage of housing. For example, only one house in five in Ulster is publicly owned. Consequently, if people are unable to get a house and if they happen to live in an area controlled by a Unionist authority, they naturally suspect discrimination against them. If they happen to be in an area dominated by a Nationalist party, they naturally suspect discrimination against them the other way.
The root cause of all the complaints about discrimination is the shortage of houses. We are doing our very best. The Ulster Government are doing their best. The new subsidy scheme, based not only on the cost of building but on the cost of the money itself, is having its effect. None the less, there is no doubt, as the Government genuinely believe and as we here genuinely believe, that this is the root cause of all the talk about discrimination in housing. Very few precise examples can be obtained.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Can I give the hon. and gallant Gentleman one precise example concerning Dungannon, where 194 houses have been built for normal letting by the council since the war? All those are said to have gone to Unionists and none to Catholics, while there have been as many as 300 Catholics on the waiting list. That is a precise example. 1143 Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman care to answer it?
§ Captain Orr
I have not got the figures for Dungannon. I do not have the figures for every town in Ulster with me. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that there is discrimination on religious grounds in Dungannon, and he will let me have details, I will certainly see that the authorities look into it. Nobody wants to see discrimination on grounds of religion. I honestly do not believe that it exists and, as I said, I believe that it is a gimmick of the Nationalist Party.
The hon. Member for Orpington raised the question of local authority boundaries. The Chair allowed him to develop this point and I hope that I will be permitted a short reply. The local authority boundaries in Northern Ireland are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Government, under the respective Act. They were set up in 1922 and have not been altered since. When proportional representation came in the Government of the day set up an inquiry which was presided over by a county court judge. He took a great deal of evidence, although the Nationalist Party of the day boycotted the inquiry and refused to give evidence; and the boundaries were then laid down.
The local authority boundaries are based not simply on population but on rateable value, like the local government franchise, although it is not a universal one. It is precisely the same as the local government franchise which used to be adopted here, in that it is based on the principle that one must be a ratepayer to vote. Consequently, when defining the local authority boundaries, account was taken not only of population but of rateable value.
The hon. Member for Orpington also mentioned Londonderry, about which I happen to have some figures. When the three wards were constituted for Londonderry County Borough in 1936 a high population in the Waterside Ward was offset by an even higher population in the North Ward. The figures were, for the North Ward, two aldermen and six councillors with 5,469 electors and a rateable value of £105,824. In the South Ward, with two aldermen and six councillors, and 7,844 electors, there is a rateable value of only £63,000. In the Waterside Ward, with one alderman and three councillors, 1144 there is a rateable value of £35,079 with 3,632 electors.
Thus, according to the criterion of making ones boundaries in accordance not only with population but with rateable value, Londonderry is probably about right. There is no question here of discrimination on religious grounds. It is entirely a matter of a different basis for the calculation of dividing the boundaries of local government.
The hon. Member for Orpington also considered the question of local authority employment and made the case that the employment of persons was and could be decided on religious grounds. His comments deserve an answer and I can assure him that almost in all cases the appointment of officers is a matter for the local authority itself, but there are instances where the Ministry—I understand that this applies in a considerable number of cases—has laid down certain qualification regulations.
I have made inquiries on the other side, as I thought that this point might arise. The Northern Ireland Ministry, after the experience of quite a number of years, is perfectly satisfied that local authorities, by and large, have conscientiously tried to elect the most suitable candidates. Of course, if the choice is made by a Nationalist Council and a Nationalist candidate happens to be preferred, the defeated candidate and all his supporters are bound to say, "Religious discrimination"—and the same thing is bound to happen the other way round. I am perfectly certain that that is the case.
The only two cases I have ever heard cited date back to 1952. They are old cases, and they are usually cases where no appointment has been made since 1952. For example, I am surprised that the hon. Member did not ask about the Crown Solicitors, because this is one matter that his Nationalist friends put up from time to time. I am surprised that he did not ask about the medical officers of health—or would he like something said about them? Or about the police? Having heard so much of the old record, I am surprised that he did not produce the rest of it.
I hope that I have said enough at this stage, but if I have missed any particular 1145 point or failed to deal with any individual example I am perfectly happy to see that investigations are made, and so are the Government of Northern Ireland. The point is that in Ulster today the religious discrimination that undoubtedly existed in the past—and it was based on interference by the churches in politics—and the old bitternesses are dying. It is appalling that in a debate like this, concerned with the twentieth century, concerned with problems of finding employment for our people, concerned with trying to lay good economic foundations, this ancient prejudice should be raked over again.
It really is a terrible disservice to our country, but it is characteristic, anyway, of the Liberal Party, which has nothing to live on but the past and can never look to the future. At the next General Election—
§ Mr. Lubbockrose—
§ Captain Orr
It is all right. I have a Liberal candidate against me at the next election and he will get the proper answer from the sensible people of Northern Ireland. And I will not give way—the hon. Member has made his speech. If he is will to dish it out he must also be ready to take it. I now hope that we can return to the main purpose of this debate, which is to try to provide employment and a reasonable standard of prosperity for our people.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)
In the few minutes that are left to me, I should like to express my bitter disappointment that this debate, which started with such high promise, should have developed as it has done. I cannot blame the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) because he was careful to confine his observations to those having a bearing on the present industrial situation in Northern Ireland, and the lines that might be taken for the advancement of the Northern Ireland economy. He was good enough to say that both sides of the House virtually had a common interest in trying to do whatever was possible to develop that economy. The only bone of contention I would seek to pick with him is that, perhaps, he did not give sufficient reward by way of praise to the Government of Northern Ireland and 1146 to the Government of the United Kingdom for what has been achieved.
This problem of unemployment in Northern Ireland is not a new one. The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) was good enough to remind the House of some of the basic factors which affect our economy over there. There are the complete absence of raw materials and the freightage costs which are added to production costs, first for the importation of the raw materials so that they might be processed, and then for their re-exporting to the markets of the United Kingdom and the rest of the world once they have been manufactured.
These are the basic factors which apply to all manner of goods produced in Northern Ireland, with two exceptions to which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) referred. For the most part, the factories dealing with these exceptions lie in my hon. Friend's constituency. The exceptions are ships which can sail out once they are manufactured and aircraft which can fly out. These factors must be borne in mind when we consider the problems of Northern Ireland.
The achievements over the past two years have not been too bad, I agree that the present figure of unemployment, which shows some improvement, is still devastating. The latest figure for June, 1964, is 32,291, It has been referred to tonight as 6½ per cent. of the employable population. In March of this year the figure was 36,505 and in March, 1963, it was 45,184. There has been an impressive decrease in the number of unemployed. I hope that the decrease will continue.
Another figure which should be considered is the number of vacancies unfilled in industry. In March, 1963, that figure was 1,348. Today, the number is 1,420.
§ Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)
We always have the difficulty in the bad areas in Scotland that the unemployment figure does not reflect the true position because it does not include women who are not paying the full unemployment insurance contribution and are, therefore, not counted. I suggest to the hon. Member that likewise, in Northern Ireland, a fair proportion of unemployed women should be included.
§ Mr. Currie
I am grateful to the hon. Member, but owing to the lack of time 1 must try to condense what I have to say.
I am trying to point to the great need in Northern Ireland of technical training in industry and the creation of skill in those people who are unemployed so that they can be fitted into new jobs in new industry. In the United Kingdom industry is all the time becoming more and more complex. The skills which are now required are not possessed by the vast majority of our unemployed. It is clear that what is required is a widespread and costly training scheme so that our people can be fitted for new industry. I know of two industries which would have come to Northern Ireland from abroad had we been able to supply the necessary skilled operators for them.
In the limited time remaining I want to refer to the computer industry. This lies within my constituency and I must confess that I am worried about this industry. I make many visits to the factory. The trouble with the computer industry of the United Kingdom today, as I see it, is that we have had to modernise our equipment. We have had to convert from the valve to the transistor equipment, and we have not so far had the machines which are capable of doing this. Therefore, the basic units have been imported from the United States of America.
It would be wrong to stop this import because, after all, in Scotland there are factories engaged in the assembly of these units which are imported from the United States of America, so that the prohibition of the import is not the answer. What is required is technical education so that our operators can undertake the same job and, in fact, do a better job than our American competitors.
I apologise for dealing with these matters so abruptly.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Brooke
If I may have the leave of the House to reply briefly to the points which have been raised, I should like to start by saying that the responsibilities of the Home Secretary towards Northern Ireland are some of the most interesting as well as the most important of his duties, and that it has been the greatest pleasure to me for two full 1148 years to be the spokesman for Northern Ireland interests in the United Kingdom Cabinet.
I cannot help adding that I am glad that at the end of two years, in June, 1964, unemployment in Northern Ireland was lower than it has been in any June in the last 10 years, except 1956 and 1960, which, I would like the Opposition to note, were the years after, and not just before, a General Election.
The problem that we have had to face in Northern Ireland is broadly the very heavy fall in agricultural employment, which is not confined to Northern Ireland. It is intimately connected with the modernisation of agriculture. Perhaps 20,000 jobs have disappeared there. Shipbuilding has lost 10,000 jobs, which again, is in line with the decline in shipbuilding employment in many other countries, and there has been a fall in employment also in the textile industry. As against that, the number of actual jobs provided by firms which have been assisted by the Northern Ireland Government to establish themselves there or to expand, which was noted in the Hall Report as about 48,000 in December, 1961, was up to 55,800 in March, 1964, and the future total, including developments now in prospect, is 74,600.
It is significant that the general engineering industry in Northern Ireland has expanded in terms of manpower over the past few years at the remarkably high rate of 10 per cent. per annum. The estimated expenditure by the Northern Ireland Government in its industrial development programme last year, 1963–64, was £17¼ million. This year, 1964–65, it is estimated at nearly £21 million. This seems to cut across the Opposition's suggestion that there has been no governmental activity in helping the unemployment situation there. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) alleged that the United Kingdom Government gave very little help to Northern Ireland.
It is common knowledge that, although the United Kingdom Government cannot help directly towards the very substantial expenditure which Northern Ireland's industrial development programme involves, it is doubtful whether Northern Ireland could stand the strain of this if the United Kingdom Government did not support Northern 1149 Ireland to the tune of about £50 million a year by paying the agricultural subsidies and by contributing to the cost of its social services.
At present, Harland and Wolff's order book includes 10 merchant ships of over 10,000 tons totalling over 310,000 tons. Those include orders for three ships totalling 94,000 tons which have been placed with Harland and Wolff as the result of the Minister of Transport's credit scheme. These facts should be known.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) always, and rightly, draws the attention of the House to Short Brothers & Harland, in his constituency. In passing, I say how sorry we are that my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) cannot be present at our debate, as she always is. We greatly hope she will be well enough to return to the House soon.
I paid a visit, by no means my first, to Short Brothers the other day, when I was invited to speak at the prize-giving of the company's apprentice training school. That school is one of the most impressive industrial developments in Northern Ireland.
Opposition spokesmen seem to forget the amount of assistance which the United Kingdom Government have given already. There is the £10 million advanced, with the help of the Northern Ireland Government for the Belfast and the Skyvan. There is the sub-contract work which is being done by Short's at Belfast at a cost estimated to be nearly £2¾ million more than if it had been done in Britain, as it could have been. All this is of direct assistance to Short Brothers & Harland.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation, who himself was there just the other day, has no reason to waver from his hope that enough work will be available to Short Brothers to provide employment for a production labour force of close on 6,000 until the end of the present decade. As he has said, the difficult period is likely to be between the end of 1965, when the Belfast programme may be coming to an end, and the middle of 1967, when the HS 681 will be getting under way. Nevertheless, there are good reasons for 1150 believing that this trough, so to call it, can be filled up. One programme which will help in this connection is the conversion work on Canberra aircraft which will provide employment for a good number of extra people during this period.
The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) intimated that the Labour Party could run British and Northern Ireland industries much better than the businessmen now in charge could do. I find that an improbable claim. The hon. Gentleman said that the Labour Party would have a plan, a plan to send industries compulsorily where they do not want to go and regardless of whether they could sell their products when they got there. That form of Government direction of industry is not a plan. It is an economic nonsense. The Northern Ireland Government are proceeding much more wisely by having set on foot the Wilson inquiry into the useful scope of economic planning and co-ordination in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Government hope that this work will be completed in the autumn. I hope that it will be of great value. I am sure that it is a wiser approach than that adumbrated by the Opposition.
I am grateful for the speeches that have been made by my hon. Friends and their references to the Stranraer line and to the new and very big dry dock. I am delighted about that development. These are the elements which will be important to the economic future of Northern Ireland, not vague talk about economic planning which has never worked in the past and certainly will not work in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) raised a number of farming points from his constituency, which he looks after so well. I will bring these to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North and my other hon. Friends will accept that this year's Price Review was favourable to the Northern Ireland farmers.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) spoke, among other things, of the situation at Aldergrove. Air traffic there has increased and is continuing to 1151 increase faster than was predicted when the terminal building was planned and more passengers are passing through than was expected at this stage of development. That is a good rather than a bad thing for the future. But a scheme is now being drawn up to extend the terminal buildings and some of the facilities there.
I also have much sympathy with what my hon. and learned Friend said about elderly or infirm people. I would like to assure him that all concerned with management at Aldergrove are very willing for passengers to pass to their aircraft wholly at ground level without going to the first storey when, because of age or disability, they would prefer not to go upstairs to the passenger concourse. Car parking arrangements are also being examined by an expert of the Northern Ireland Ministry of Home Affairs and new parking plans will be prepared for the airport.
Much of the debate has been taken up, not very helpfully, by allegations of religious discrimination in Northern Ireland. Frankly, I think that there are more urgent matters to discuss than these allegations. It goes without saying that every hon. Member, of whatever party, deplores any discrimination of that kind. But the constitutional facts are that Section 5 of the Government of Ireland Act provides that, in the exercise of its power to make laws, the Parliament of Northern Ireland shall not make a law of a discriminatory kind on account of religion and the executive power of the Northern Ireland Government is similarly limited under Section 8(6).
If, therefore, any Act of the Northern Ireland Parliament or any executive act of the Northern Ireland Government is made contrary to this statutory prohibition, its validity can be tested in the courts. But it has been held by successive Governments in the United Kingdom, regardless of party, that the reserve powers in the Government of Ireland Act do not enable the United Kingdom Government to intervene in matters which, under Section 4, are the sole responsibility of the Northern Ireland Parliament and Government.
We all welcome to our debates on Northern Ireland my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Pounder).
1152 He Spoke, rightly, of the sense of prosperity and general well-being in Northern Ireland. It is sad indeed that we still have 6½ per cent. unemployment there, but whenever I go to Northern Ireland I am conscious of the forward looking, hopeful attitude of everybody and I contrast it most vividly with what I can remember of Durham and South Wales in the days of depression.
The clouds of depression in Northern Ireland are being rolled away by the initiative of the people of Northern Ireland and their Government and with the steady and vigorous help of the Government of the United Kingdom. The sun is out now in Northern Ireland. I remember that when I was Minister for Welsh Affairs I was once asked what happened at the end of the rainbow, and I said that it ended, like other rainbows, in a crock of gold. That came true for Wales and, provided that a Conservative and Unionist Government remain in power here, it will come true for Northern Ireland, also.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.