§ 4.28 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Frank Soskice)
May I, Mr. Speaker, as the fourth Member who has been fortunate enough to catch your eye since you were elected to your new Office, say how very glad I am to see a very old friend in the Chair.
This debate was asked for in the summer by a number of hon. Members who sit for constituencies in Northern Ireland, and I have been giving thought, together with my hon. and right hon. Friends, to the question of how we might best assist the House in debating and discussing the affairs of Northern Ireland. I am bound to say that I start at some disadvantage in having to follow the making of a statement which I know has caused disappointment, although the conclusion was absolutely inevitable and was supported by arguments advanced by the Minister to which no possible answer could be found. It is one of those unhappy decisions which have to be made [Interruption.]—but if one is to make—
§ Sir F. Soskice
it is one of those unhappy decisions which have to be made, 23 but, unless one is to shut one's eyes to the needs of efficiency and economy, one really must face up to the disappointment which decisions of this sort quite naturally cause.
I thought that it would be most helpful to the House if I opened the debate by a brief review—I emphasise the word "brief"—of the situation today in Northern Ireland, touching some of the matters which are of current interest, but I must say at the outset that I have not any particularly new striking facts to put before the House and I shall, therefore, open the debate by covering the general situation. All who are interested in or attached to, and who have an affection for, Northern Ireland have long watched the progress of its economy. It has passed through its difficulties. It has lived under stress and strain in years past, and progress, as and when it manifests itself, must bring great satisfaction to all who are interested in the well-being of the citizens of Northern Ireland. The close trade relations which exist, and have always existed, between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and, in particular, the fact that Great Britain is the main market for Northern Ireland produce, must inevitably mean that the prosperity of Northern Ireland is very closely bound up with that of the rest of the United Kingdom.
The fact that Northern Ireland is rather more remote from United Kingdom markets and, accordingly, that an additional burden is put upon costs and employment, naturally requires close thought and attention in this country, as in Northern Ireland. But it is right to say that the picture which presents itself when one looks at the happenings in Northern Ireland is one of substantial progress. It is a developing community. As every visitor to Northern Ireland will have observed, there is a great deal of enthusiasm and of hope among its citizens and of satisfaction at seeing the way in which their industry is developing and their economic life is moving forward. If one wants indications or tokens of that progress, one has only to think, for example, of the new University of Northern Ireland which will be established at Coleraine, not very far from Londonderry, the new motorways, the new house building programme, the hospitals and the schools, 24 and, perhaps more important and more striking even than they as one goes about the country, the new industrial estates.
I mention, in particular, the capital investment in the new dry dock to be constructed at Belfast as a result of the financial arrangements recently approved by Her Majesty's Government and announced by my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State in this House on 3rd August last. On the final figures, the new dry dock will measure 1,100 ft. in length and 167 ft. in width, with a 165-ft. gate entrance. It will be the largest dry dock in the United Kingdom, capable of taking vessels of up to 160,000 and 170,000 tons. The only new fact with regard to the dock which I can put before the House is that the first pile was driven on 22nd October, just a few days ago. It is universally accepted that this dock should be of particular value to Harland and Wolff, and one thinks with gratification of the substantial orders which that company has obtained, an order from Norwegian owners for a 167,000 tons deadweight tanker and for five bulk carriers. There is no doubt that the construction of those vessels should give a substantial boost to shipbuilding in Northern Ireland and to the tone of industry generally in that country.
Unemployment still remains at a figure high by comparison with the rate in the United Kingdom as a whole, but there is—one has been very glad to note it—a gradual downward tendency and more people than ever before are now in employment in Northern Ireland. The current figures are probably known to hon. Members, particularly to those who sit for Northern Ireland constituencies, but as they are of interest to the House as a whole I shall just give them. The current figure for unemployment is 27,452. That is a high figure which, unfortunately, constitutes 5.5 per cent. of the insured population. But, on the other side of the balance sheet, if one may so put it, during the 12 years from June, 1953 to June, 1965, the number of persons in employment, both those self-employed and those employed by other persons, rose by the substantial figure of 21,000 to a total of 554,000, that is, a rise of about 4 per cent.
Northern Ireland benefits greatly, and must continue to benefit, by the continuing diversification of its industrial structure. This will strengthen its economy and 25 protect it from the onset of temporary fluctuations in trade. Everyone is glad to see the progress which is being made in this regard, actively encouraged and stimulated by the Northern Ireland Government and, as it were, endorsed by the recommendations of the Wilson Report which was published last year. It is an interesting fact that the rate of economic growth in Northern Ireland has actually been faster than in the United Kingdom as a whole. For example, the index of industrial production in 1964 was higher in Northern Ireland than in the United Kingdom. The value of retail sales has been rising faster than in the United Kingdom. Quite apart from the rate of rise, overall investment in new buildings and works continues to go up and is now similar in scale to that of the most favoured regions in Great Britain.
As I said earlier—I desire to repeat it out of my own personal experience, having visited the country—one cannot travel about Northern Ireland and meet people there without feeling that they ate buoyed up by a sense of hope and enthusiasm and pride in the performance of their country and its economy. Certainly, a lot remains to be done. Complacency is always the enemy of performance, and I hope not to encourage any sort of complacency, but the performance is, nevertheless, substantial and impressive. I wish to say on behalf of the United Kingdom Government that my right hon Friend the President of the Board of Trade and other colleagues will, of course, do everything they can to foster, encourage and assist that growth.
A feature of it to which I should like to call attention is the success which has been attained in bringing new industries to Northern Ireland. The four methods are, of course, well known, and are also in accordance with recommendations by the Wilson Report. Those methods are: (1) Government factory building, including factories built in advance of occupation—"advance" factories; (2) financial assistance towards the initial costs of new development; (3) grants towards annual capital expenditure on buildings and plants; (4) derating of industrial premises, a fuel subsidy and training arrangements.
The result of endeavours along those lines is, of course, published material already, but it may be helpful to dwell 26 upon it for a moment. The result of the endeavours which I have described is that about 200 new industrial projects have come into being. By March, 1965, they had provided 61,400 new jobs. A measure of the timing is given by the fact that 56,200 of those have been provided since the end of the war in 1945. That figure of 61,400 should rise to 79,000 through jobs to be provided by undertakings now under way which have not yet completed their development.
Over the past four years, 19 advance factories have been built. Of those, 15 are already tenanted and the remaining four await tenants. Nine more are in the course of construction and another 14 are planned. In the aggregate, I put that before the House as an impressive programme, which has contributed substantially towards the amelioration and, one hopes, in due course, liquidation of the problem of unemployment in Northern Ireland, which we all wish to see overcome. I think that there are very hopeful portents in the programme which I have described.
So much for industry and commerce. I should now like to say a little about Northern Ireland's agriculture, which is, after all, one of the three staple industries of Northern Ireland. Hon. Members who sit for Northern Irish constituencies probably know that agriculture there labours under one substantial disadvantage—the remoteness of the farmers from the main markets in Great Britain. Her Majesty's Government have decided to raise the level of the special assistance grant—known as the "remoteness grant"—which is designed to offset this disadvantage for Northern Irish farmers. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State announced that this was to be done when addressing the Ulster Farmers Union in Belfast in August this year, though he did not give the figure. I am now in a position to give it.
Following this year's Farm Price Review, the Government announced that they would be reconsidering the level of the Northern Ireland special assistance grant. The grant was last reviewed in 1962 and fixed at £1¼ million. Unless renewed, it was due to end in 1967. The Government have now completed their review of the grant and they have decided that it should be renewed for a further period until March, 1971. With 27 regard to the amount, the decision is that, as from April, 1966, the annual amount should be raised by £½ million to £1,750,000.
It will be necessary to bring that—
§ Sir F. Soskice
May I just complete my sentence and then face the disapproval which the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) is about to voice?
I was about to say that, in order to achieve that result—whether satisfactory or not in the view of the hon. Member—a Statutory Instrument has to be brought into effect under the 1957 Agriculture Act. I hope that that will be found an adequate and satisfactory increase—
§ Sir F. Soskice
I am disappointed to note that the hon. Member shakes his head. He is entitled to his own view, but that is the figure which we have thought appropriate.
I should point out that that figure is estimated on the principle that it is not meant to equal the full estimated effect of the Northern Irish farmers' remoteness from markets in Great Britain. It is estimated so as to offset the disadvantage that the Northern Irish producer is under by comparison with producers in other remote areas—I emphasise the word "remote"—in the United Kingdom.
A figure of a different dimension might have been appropriate if it had been intended as an amount to offset the full disadvantage of the remoteness of the Northern Irish producer. If it were calculated on that basis, a different result might ensue. However, I would put it to the House—and, in particular, to the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South who has indicated his disappointment—that if one considers the purpose for which it is designed, it is not only ample but on a by no means ungenerous scale.
Production and productivity of labour in agriculture in Northern Ireland have risen steadily since before the war. There has, at the same time—if one considers the whole agricultural scene—been a trend towards fewer and larger farms.
28 This trend is noticeable as part of the general United Kingdom pattern—towards farm sizes which are more suited to give full scope to modern, mechanised agriculture.
It is probably of interest to the House to know that the number of individual holdings in Northern Ireland has fallen from 105,000 in 1923 to 68,000 in 1964 and the number of farmers working on their own farms from 75,000 in 1923 to 43,000 in 1964. At the same time, total full-time employment recorded in the Agricultural Census at June, 1964 was 68,000. Farm incomes as a whole in recent years have, in general, kept pace with farm incomes in the United Kingdom as a whole.
The serious problem, as everybody knows—I am sorry if I repeat what is trite—is, of course, the small farmer. Many farms provide full-time employment for one or more men but the farm business is often too small to provide a fulltice occupation by itself. Faced with that situation, in this year's Review White Paper the United Kingdom Government announced a combination of measures to help farmers whose businesses are viable or potentially viable to achieve a more efficient and more satisfactory scale of production and marketing: the extension and change in character of the Small Farmer Scheme, steps to improve agricultural credit facilities, and grants to encourage the further development of agricultural co-operative marketing. These measures in the aggregate should help to go some of the way towards solving this perennial and anxious problem of the small farmer in Northern Ireland.
In addition, further measures were announced last August in the White Paper "The Development of Agriculture". The Government—speaking of the United Kingdom Government—hope that the proposals made in their White Paper for the encouragement of co-operation between farm businesses and for the encouragement of amalgamations will help the agricultural community in Northern Ireland. All these developments which are outlined in the White Papers to which I have referred have been preceded by close consultation with the Farmers' Unions and other interests involved.
I know that the House is anxious and concerned about Short Bros. and Harland. 29 I am not in a position to make any very precise or definite prognostication about the future of Short Bros., but the House will expect me to say what I can about them before I sit down. The House will remember that, following the review earlier this year of military aircraft requirements, the First Secretary of State appointed consultants to carry out a comprehensive review of the company's potential and to advise on making the best use of its labour force and its other assets. The consultants are primarily concerned with the scope for redeploying Short's resources. The consultants' report has not yet been received, and it is not yet possible to take decisions on the redeployment of the firm's resources. But the House may have noted with pleasure that the firm has received an order to supply parts for the Phantom.
All that I can say at the moment is that we are naturally very concerned about the problem of Short's. As was previously stated in the House, there can be no doubt that the long-term interests of Short's will best be served by diversification to reduce the heavy dependence of the firm on aircraft work. I am told that the consultants have made good progress with their assignment and that their report should be available shortly, but I can give no more precise indication than that. One warning I think I ought to utter: whatever measures are recommended, diversification cannot be expected to produce immediate results. Additional aircraft work, if available, would be the only means of mitigating the severe decline which might otherwise have to be anticipated in the number of workers employed there. But I give the assurance, which I hope the House will accept, that the Government are most anxious to find some additional aircraft work to help during the period until diversification can produce some noticeable and substantial results.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
Would further work include design work? It is vital that some design work should be included in any additional work given to Short's.
§ Sir F. Soskice
I am fully conscious of the hon. Member's anxiety about the design team, although I am not in a position to give him a categorical answer 30 to his question. The Government have fully in mind the presence and value of the design team and the value of the existence of that design team, which has worked together. But I can give no further indication beyond that. I hope that the hon. Member will accept that that is the only answer which I can give.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
I refrained from putting a question until my right hon. and learned Friend was interrupted. He spoke about increasing the assistance grants to trade, industry and commerce in Northern Ireland on the ground that Northern Ireland is remote from the markets of the rest of Britain. Does he realise that the same argument applies to the north-east of Scotland? In granting increased assistance grants to Northern Ireland—against which I do not say one word—will my right hon. and learned Friend take care that he does not tend to prejudice trade, industry and commerce in the north-east of Scotland?
§ Sir F. Soskice
I am naturally very conscious of the very proper and laudable interest which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) has in another part of the community. It is right and proper that he should espouse those interests. But this debate is on Northern Ireland, and the remoteness grants of which I have spoken were to be appropriated for the purpose of agriculture. Of course, the Government have very much in mind the interests of every sector of the United Kingdom for which they are responsible, including that for which my hon. and learned Friend spoke.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has given certain assurances about Short's. Would he give an assurance about the design team there—that the Government has no intention of treating them as they have been treating the team at Sea Eagle?
§ Sir F. Soskice
I do not think that I can go further on this point. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) will accept that the Government wish to adopt a sensible approach, bearing in mind the value of the cumulative experience of the members of the design team. But I do 31 not think that the hon. and learned Member would expect me to go further than that. I am not in a position to give him any positive assurance. If I were in such a position I should have pleasure in giving the assurance. Hon. Members on both sides of the House do not like assurances which are not subsequently fulfilled. I am sure that no one would expect me to give an assurance unless I were fully authorised to do so and could do so after mature consideration.
There are difficulties about the position of Short Bros. I hope that they will be overcome. They form a very valuable unit in the economy of Northern Ireland and of the United Kingdom.
These are the preliminary considerations which I thought that I could usefully put before the House in initiating the debate. Fortunately the debate may continue for some time. I have no doubt that hon. Members will have a number of points to make. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will do his best at the conclusion of the debate to deal with individual points which emerge in it.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
We have had a statement about the future of Sea Eagle from the Minister of Defence for the Navy, who gave some figures of the economies which would be effected by the removal of the Anti-Submarine School from the north of Ireland to the south-west of England. To anyone who has not been initiated into naval economy, those figures sounded incredible. As Sea Eagle is likely to be a subject of debate throughout the day, it would be of the greatest assistance if the Home Secretary could give us some idea before he concludes of how these economies of £500,000 will be achieved and where the half-submarine and half-frigate come in—because, frankly, these figures leave me guessing.
§ Sir F. Soskice
The question was addressed to me but perhaps it would have been more appropriately addressed to my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for the Navy. It may be that he will catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, later in the debate. I know that the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Henry Clark) would sooner have my hon. Friend's ex- 32 pertise in reply than he would have my reply, such as it would be. I hope that he will therefore excuse me if I say no more than that.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
The Home Secretary has, I am bound to say, said very little indeed, although what he did say he said very well. While most of his speech consisted of a commendation of the work of the Government of Northern Ireland, he found it more difficult to make any commendation of his own Government. Indeed, that would be even more difficult after what we have heard this afternoon.
The hon. Gentleman the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy has introduced a great chord of dismay throughout the province of Northern Ireland by his announcement this afternoon about Sea Eagle. I find it hard indeed to believe that the Government can go on with this decision and, though this may be the eleventh hour, I appeal to them to think again.
Last week, the Londonderry Committee sent the hon. Gentleman—and he knows all about this, as do his colleagues in the Government—a submission in which the Committee urged—as far as I know, with complete truth—that his figures had been wrong throughout the whole of this year. "Yes", the hon. Gentleman will say. "No doubt some were established while others were not established". But there is no getting away from the fact that in his letter to me—dated, I think, 30th September—he came out with a completely different figure to that which had been produced earlier. There will no doubt be many occasions on which we can argue this matter in Parliament. In the meantime, I say that my hon. Friends and I intend to return to this subject on many future occasions.
I find it hard to believe that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who claim to speak to the electorate as representatives of the party which cares about the people, can do a thing of this kind, a thing which makes a sham and nonsense of all their professions about regionalism, their care and concern for the unemployed. [interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite interrupt and I hear one saying "Nonsense" and another "Hear, hear." It is their usual party spirit.
33 What the decision of the Government will mean for hundreds of people in Londonderry—many of them, as I have said, unskilled; many of middle age who have not known any other work throughout their lives except that concerned with the Navy—is hard to visualise. Further, there is nothing genuine of which we know which will give them an opportunity to do other work. The Government's statement makes optimistic noises about alternative employment, and if they intend to go on with the closure I hope that they will be successful and will do something quickly.
I want to know, as do many other people, what the Government have in mind to provide equivalent employment in Londonderry—to provide the spending power which is such an enormously important matter in an economy of the type which exists there. The right hon. and learned Gentleman must realise that for himself, particularly since he has been told it time and again. The spending power is indeed enormous, with the personnel who are permanently there. He must be aware of this since it is a N.A.T.O. base. Ships' crews come there from many other countries and add additional spending power to the economy. That spending power is badly needed there now. From the defence point of view, what the Govearnment propose will probably be entirely illusory in terms of a saving.
I appeal to the Minister to consider the matter afresh. Would it not be better for him to return to his colleagues and say that he may have been wrong in his figures, that he wants time to think again, that he wants to consider the memorandum which has been sent to him and which, in all courtesy, he should have considered when it was sent by the Londonderry Committee? I hope that he will indeed look at the matter afresh and ask the Cabinet to think again and arrive at a decision which will remove the dismay which he has created this afternoon. It really is an incredible decision and one which will not be forgiven in Londonderry unless he agrees to go back, even at this last moment, on what he has said. As I say, we will most certainly return to this issue again.
Having said that, it would be churlish of me to begin this debate for the Opposition without acknowledging the 34 considerable personal success which the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, enjoyed on his visit to Northern Ireland during the Recess. He will probably be the first to agree that some of that success was due to the constructive and co-operative way in which he—and this goes for all Members of the Administration who have visited Ulster—was received by the Government of Northern Ireland. It is right and proper that this close and harmonious relationship should exist whatever the political colour of the Governments in London or Belfast.
In particular, when the hon. Gentleman was there he travelled to address a large meeting of Ulster farmer. Their mood, since the last Price Review, has, to say the least, not been exactly serene. The hon. Gentleman, who is well versed in both biblical and literary analogies, must have reflected on the story of Daniel in the lion's den as he winged his way across the Irish Sea. The fact that he managed to emerge from the den comparatively unscathed was, I think, in some degree due to his own capacity to excite sympathy—of which we in the House are well aware—and partly to the dexterity with which he produced a bone and waved it at the farmers in the form of a promise to renew the remoteness grant.
He will also remember the familiar line, "The quality of mercy is not strained", and we must hope that the farmers will recall that now that the amount of the remoteness grant has been announced this afternoon, the hon. Gentleman will also recall the less familiar line "A Daniel come to judgment." I fear the latter will be in the minds of the farmers of Ulster when they hear the announcement because they will not believe that the amount is enough and they will say that the hon. Gentleman's bone does not have enough meat on it. That is bound to be the case.
Indeed, I doubt whether it will be anything like enough. Great play was made about it not being intended to make up the price differential, but the price differential is a high one. For example, in 1963, it was about £5 million, which is something to be considered. Further, if the amount announced was enough, then surely that amount could 'have been used for new outlets, such as the development 35 of packaged foods and so on, which would have been of considerable help.
When the hon. Gentleman faced the farmers he had another weapon in his armoury in the form of the White Paper which his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had produced. I do not know whether he found that a rather blunt weapon. If the Government expected the farming community of Northern Ireland to rhapsodise about the White Paper, they must have been disappointed—designed, as it is, to accelerate the process of small farmers leaving the land—sending them on their way with a "douceur", although in Ulster they might call it a "luck penny". I assure the Government that the White Paper has not thrilled the farming community of Northern Ireland very much. My hon. Friends and I are aware that whatever may be said about providing alternative employment for these people, such employment is not there for them at present. Until this problem is faced the White Paper will not mean as much as it might. Of course, there is economic sense in having a more capital intensive agriculture, operating at a higher level of productivity, and to this extent we appreciate the object of the White Paper, but until the problem of alternative employment is really faced the White Paper will not carry us far, and this is the view of the farmers there.
This is relevant, too, to the amount of the remoteness grant because some of these funds could be used to develop new outlets like packaged and processed foods, which would provide additional jobs at, so to speak, one remove from the land. It is most important that the Government think this issue out clearly.
Another point which is relevant to the whole question of agriculture in Northern Ireland is the proposition to bring about an Anglo-Eire free trade area in the British Isles. We in the House have been kept very largely in the dark about these negotiations and I rather resent the way we have been treated. Statements should have been made more frequently and I hope that in future such statements will be made at more frequent intervals because this matter is of particular importance at the moment for Northern Ireland as well as for agriculturists 36 throughout Britain. We know that talks have been going on and it is fair to say that such a free trade area arrangement was only one of the possibilities mentioned in last July's joint communiqué.
On the industrial side, we in Northern Ireland should, on the whole, if the negotiations are carried out properly, have very little to fear. The position for years past has been that the Republic has been enjoying the advantages of being in the Commonwealth, so to speak, without being in it; without having to face up fully to the responsibilities that are involved. They have been sending their industrial products into Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom virtually duty-free.
They have also maintained a high tariff wall to protect their own industries and thus deprived us of what in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole might be described as traditional markets. There have been some limited relaxations—10 per cent. on 1st January in two successive years—but let us not forget that the Her Majesty's Government's own action in putting on the surcharge last year, in all probability, prevented another relaxation of 10 per cent. That must be borne in mind in these negotiations. There have been these limited relaxations but, basically, we have not yet got very far.
It must be apparent to all that no one in Northern Ireland really confuses the economic border with the political one. The economic border was a wall erected unilaterally after the two Governments in the island of Ireland were set up, and had nothing to do with the political situation. Everyone at home realises full well that we in Northern Ireland are not tied to the United Kingdom by a few Customs posts but by the will of the great majority, by sentiment and by commonsense. There is no doubt or difficulty about this. If the tariff wall fell down tomorrow we are no more likely to run into the arms of Dublin than General de Gaulle is to waive the sovereignty of France.
Neither politically nor economically have we a great deal to fear from industrial free trade so long as it really is free trade and not a typically Irish compromise such as enjoying all the benefits of free trade while retaining the advantages of protection of some products of particular interest to us. I can think of 37 some that fall into this category, and I know that representations have been made to the Government. We have more efficient industries in our end of the Island, of that I have no doubt.
But a bargain, if there is to be a bargain, must be two-sided. If the tariff walls are to come tumbling down on the Eire side it will not be done without hope of some reward elsewhere, and it does not take great analytical skill to see that this can be only in the sphere of agriculture. I suppose that the Republic anticipates that it will get greater access for its agricultural products, and I would be surprised if hon. Members on both sides of this House who have agricultural constituencies will not want to look at this side of the bargain very carefully.
We should like to know whether the Government can today make an interim report on how these negotiations are going. We would be very disturbed in Northern Ireland at the thought that concessions of this kind, very damaging to our agriculture, might be made to secure industrial benefits which, although welcome, are bound to be problematical, and probably phased over a considerable time. We hope that we may be told something of this later in the debate.
On the question of agricultural concessions, I have had very worried representations from the Northern Ireland grain trade concerning component animal feeding stuffs. This trade may sound small in the context of this debate but it is of immense importance at home, and I therefore ask the Government to take it very seriously. We are also bound to remember, as I hope the negotiators will, that many Northern Ireland firms, being smaller than those on this side of the water will, of necessity, find it more difficult to compete initially with firms in the United Kingdom as a whole because they have not the same economies of scale that there are in this country, and therefore have not the same promotional experience of firms here. They may therefore find it rather more difficult to withstand losses in the intial stages that the larger firms in Britain find more easy to withstand. A great deal depends, of course, on the way in which the negotiations are carried out.
If there is to be free and open competition within these islands it must be fair and equal competition. By that I 38 mean that we in Northern Ireland face, next door, so to speak, a competition country. Both of us are anxious to get American investment, and other foreign investment from wherever we can, and at any time we can, but in this case we are facing the competition of a country which pays lower wages, which imposes lower social charges on the employers, and which can, and often does, exempt exports into the British market from taxation. This must be borne in mind by the negotiators.
In their zeal to appease the Republic for the wrath they roused by the imposition of their surcharge last year, the Government must be seen not to forget about their own people when conducting these negotiations.
When the present Government took office the one direction in which they were expected to be particularly active was regional development, and we in Ulster, being pragmatic people, had some sympathy with that aim and were prepared to wait and see whether it was to be fulfilled. We all know now what form it has taken, but it sometimes seems that the Local Employment Act has given way to Parkinson's Law. We have councils and boards, we have the D.E.A. and the N.E.D.C. and all the other intricate machinery of liaison between these bodies. I am sure that the First Secretary—and, I think, the Home Secretary—would agree that Northern Ireland has done its best to tie in with all this complicated machinery.
"Let's go with Labour and we'll get things done". What have they actually done? I wonder whether the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) would cheer if he had had to listen from this side this afternoon to the announcement that has been made? He is on the other side of the House, and was put up by his own Front Bench to ask a stooge question—
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
The implication is that I was put up to say what I said a little earlier. I think that statement should be withdrawn. I would ask the hon. Gentleman not to make such allegations.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
Of course, if the hon. Gentleman tells me that it is untrue, I will at once withdraw it, but I am sure that he will understand that from this side it did sound extraordinarily like that.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
No. I have already given way, and I want to get on.
What have the Government actually done for the regions in general and for Northern Ireland in particular?
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
The hon. and learned Gentleman wants to take credit for less unemployment in Northern Ireland. He thinks that because there is less unemployment—and, thank God, there is—it has something to do with his side of the House, but this afternoon's announcement means the creation of a little more unemployment. If he really thinks that he can take credit for something that is a matter of trends which have been improving all the time, he knows less than I thought he did.
What have the Government done for the regions in general and Northern Ireland in particular. There is their National Plan—and I am not as hard on the National Plan as are some hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) is much more unkind about it than I am. In Northern Ireland, some are less unkind than others. At best, it can be called a useful economic Bradshaw, but I would call it a sublime combination of optimism and guesswork. I see the Under-Secretary of State nods—
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Thomas)
I was not nodding.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
Then the hon. Gentleman was not nodding—it was a nervous tic, or something.
Even the First Secretary would not claim that there was anything new in the National Plan for the regions or for Northern Ireland. In effect, it tells us, with that special gift which the Government have for presenting platitude as newly-revealed truth, that the underdeveloped areas have a greater part to play in the economy because of their manpower resources. Something like that was heard as far back as 1963, so it does not really get us very far at all—[Interruption.] I have said it rather earlier than the National Plan has. I have said it in 40 earlier debates on Northern Ireland. I do not feel at least ashamed to have anticipated the National Plan.
The Government talk a great deal about tough decisions. "Tough" is one of those very "O.K." words in No. 10 and in Transport House. For "tough", top people now substitute "gritty". But, tough or gritty, this afternoon they have been vicious about Sea Eagle, unless they withdraw what they have said. They have been very tough over the aircraft industry. They have kicked the British aircraft industry in the teeth, and that was certainly tough for the aircraft industry.
We might remember their manifesto, "Signposts to the New Ulster," on which Labour candidates in Northern Ireland fought the last General Election.A Labour Government would look with especial sympathy on the problems which afflict the aircraft and shipbuilding industries.I take it that that means such problems as having planes to build and that sort of thing.
If the Government look with sympathy on the British aircraft industry, it is rather with the sympathy of the gladiator tearing the dagger from the entrails of his victim. Certainly it is not obvious to any of us in the House. It is another of those instances where, if a company invited support on the basis of a prospectus as misleading as that manifesto, it could expect a Board of Trade inquiry. But I know that the Government have had unhappy experiences with Board of Trade inquiries into industrial disputes, where they have found that non-existent political prejudice exists after all. So perhaps that is not a very good idea.
Let us come now to what is the specific problem of Short Brothers and Harland, of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke this afternoon. It is, after all, very much the Government's problem. They own a controlling interest in it, and certainly one would have thought that a Government which believed in public control of the "commanding heights of the economy" would have wished to make Short's an example of how well these things could be run and what they could achieve.
The Government came into power and acted very swiftly. First of all, they cancelled the contract upon which much of Short's employment was to depend up to 1970, which was the HS 681. That is 41 three years' work gone, some say; some say more. Then, as the right hon. Gentleman reoalls, they appointed consultants. I recall that the consultants were first mentioned in the House by the First Secretary on 2nd February, and that is quite a long time ago. I do not underestimate the difficulty of the job that they are trying to do because, as I said myself and as the Home Secretary said again this afternoon, you do not suddenly find diversification overnight, because Short's is not that kind of place. Short's is a modern plant for the building of planes, and one cannot turn it into a machine tool factory overnight. The Government should not try to build up optimism round that sort of possibility. It will take time, and it certainly has taken time. It has taken far too long, and, the longer it takes them, the greater are the chances of creating a lack of confidence. It has come to the point when the Government should say quite clearly, if they believe it, that the firm of Short's still has a place as a plane-maker, and the Government should say it quite firmly so that competitors and others realise that the Government mean what they say.
There are certain questions which we must ask them in more definite terms. One I have asked is this, is the firm to remain predominantly a manufacturer of aircraft? It not, why not? Have the Government come to the conclusion that the idea that only giant consortia can survive in the industry is a fallacy? No doubt that is an idea which is in the opposite sense encouraged by the giant consortia themselves. But, if Fokker's of Holland—Short's and Fokker's have worked together—can make a go of the business, why not Short's of Belfast? What have the Government to say on that one?
They have to ensure that the firms reputation as a plane-maker is not left in doubt very much longer, because that is the danger. I want them to make it clear that that danger does not exist, and I would like it said this afternoon, because time is slipping by.
Thirdly, there is the work-load gap between now and 1970. In view of what has happened, is it too late now to fill that gap? If it is too late, and there are bound to be severe redundancies, let the Government come clean and say so, 42 because we want to face realities, the people in Belfast want to face realities, and the Government ought to face realities. The future of Short's is really a key issue in Ulster. We do not want verbal tranquillisers about it. The Government's intentions, their goodwill and their competence will be largely judged by their performance in this matter, because not only is Short's a source of employment for thousands of men; it is of immense value as a vital nucleus of high technical competence whose loss would be severely felt in efforts to attract new and more sophisticated industries to Ulster. The National Plan took the aircraft industry to task for hogging scientists, technicians and technologists, but if we did not have an aircraft industry in Northern Ireland, we should have fewer scientists and technologists.
What are the Government going to do about filling the hole which they have created by the cancellation of the HS 681? That is an important question, as the right hon. Gentlemen knows.
I do not want to be negative, so let me go back to "Signposts", the manifesto that the Labour Party produced for Northern Ireland at the time of the last Election:From a Labour Government, Northern Ireland can be certain of receiving genuine co-operation and exceptional consideration for its exceptional unemployment figures.How can the Government live up to that promise? By tough measures, yes, but they must be tough positive measures and not tough negative ones. There is vague talk in the National Plan about putting more teeth into the location of industry policy. We discussed that in the last debate on the subject. Let them do the kind of tough talking which the last Government had to do to get the motor industry out into Scotland and Merseyside. That is the kind of tough talking we want to see. There is the old cliché about the carrot and the stick, but it is only the United Kingdom Government which can apply the stick, however many carrots the Northern Ireland Government hold out. It is a long, slow business to build up employment from firms which at their peak will employ a few hundreds. But we have had success in doing it, and we now want some really big development steered into the right places. That 43 must be done if the national policy for the regions is going to be effective.
As I said in the last debate, and I was to some extent echoed by the Under Secretary to the First Secretary, all that may mean using fiscal policies in new and adventurous ways. The last Government showed the way by the manner in which they administered the depreciation scheme. Are this Government considering some additional fiscal means of making the location of industry policy still more effective?
We heard a great deal about Government-sponsored industries before the last election. We were told that there would be all sorts of Government-sponsored industries based on Government scientific and technological research. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West would agree that that theme has been somewhat muted of late. I do not know whether that is because the Minister of Technology, that classic case of political schizophrenia, has more troubling matters than technology on his mind, such as wondering whether to stand up or sit down after listening to a speech by the First Secretary. That could be the case. If it is, we want to see action in that field, somehow or other. From time to time in scientific research in Government-based industry, or even in administration, new establishments are required to serve the needs of the United Kingdom as a whole. We have been pressing for ages now for something of that kind, and we hope that when such establishments are being set up in the future, some of them will be sent to Northern Ireland to try and alleviate our particular problem. Except in the defence field, where it is true that the Royal Naval Aircraft Yard at Sydenham plays a key rôle in maintenance of the Fleet Air Arm, there is no substantial Government activity yet set up in Northern Ireland. This would be a very welcome happening. What we want is something like the National Engineering Laboratory at East Kilbride, which serves not only Scotland but the nation as a whole. I should like to hear something on those lines.
I do not doubt that someone in this debate will wave the flag of discrimination. If I went into detail I should certainly get out of order, but I must say to those who want to wave that flag, 44 you don't do Ulster any service. "We have to deal with this thing ourselves." "No successful solution for the provinces' problems can possibly be imposed from outside." Is there anyone in this House who disagrees with that? [An HON. MEMBER: "There is."] This is very interesting because I quoting the exact words of the Government's party's representative on the National Council for Civil Liberties at a conference in London some time ago. This indicates that hon. Members opposite cannot even agree about that. We cannot impose solutions of this kind from outside.
§ Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)
Is the hon. Member admitting that there is a grave degree of discrimination in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
I know that the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon) is always sincere in these matters. I wish that one could feel that certain hon. Members opposite were not listening a little too carefully, not to wiser counsels in their own party but to minorities in their constituencies who speak with accents which are nothing to do with the United Kingdom nor any part of the Commonwealth. I fear that this too often happens and I am afraid that this is true.
On this question of discrimination employment is the test case. There is still far too much unemployment. There are still not enough houses. The Government at home have been acting vigorously and courageously—this has been admitted—to try to put that right and to try to bring more jobs and houses there. They have been doing this, but while there is a shortage—this must be faced by hon. Members—men will cry, "Discrimination". It is very easy for any man to become bitter because he has not got a job or has not got a house. He is encouraged to become bitter by too many people. This applies to both faiths and there are those only too anxious to cry that there is discrimination. I have often had occasion when people of my own party have said that they were being discriminated against in one way or another—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)
Order. I am afraid the hon. Member is doing what he said he would 45 be likely to do if he pursued this matter. Now he is getting out of order.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
I was afraid that that would be the case, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to go into detail about it, but there are reasons for discrimination cries which come from long-term social trends. I would not for a moment aver that there was no discrimination in Northern Ireland, but equally I say that I do not believe there is any more there than in any other country in the world. I think we have it everywhere. While these trends continue and until we can give jobs and houses for everybody—this is what we should be working for in this House—I am afraid there will be those who cry "Discrimination". We who want to set our faces against it—and that is the vast majority of us—know that it can be cured only by bringing more jobs and houses to Northern Ireland.
We have had a grave blow from the Government this afternoon about the Sea Eagle, one which I feel personally very deeply about and I know that my hon. Friends also do. I am afraid that doubt has been thrown on the Government's regional good intentions. I hope that we shall hear this afternoon something more than we have heard so far, which will do something to restore the shattered confidence of people in Northern Ireland in the will of this Government and their determination to bring to an end unemployment and to bring greater prosperity to the people there.
§ Mr. Heffer
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to ask why it was out of order for the question of discrimination to be discussed. I ask because I understand that under Section 75 we have ultimate responsibility for Northern Ireland. Therefore, it seems that in any discussion of Northern Ireland any relevant matters connected with Northern Ireland are in order. I should like you to explain this point.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
What is in order in this debate is what the United Kingdom Government are responsible for. For instance, discrimination in housing in Northern Ireland is not a matter for the United Kingdom Government; it is a matter for the Northern Ireland Government. If there is any discrimination it 46 would be contrary to the Act and would be actionable in the courts. There is no responsibility on Ministers in this House.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Further to that point of order. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) several times enunciated prejudices against the Republic of Ireland. Does he realise that that is contrary to the policy enunciated jointly by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister of Southern Ireland? How can it be out of order to refer to that?
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
Further to that point of order. I think the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) must have misheard something I said because I did not enunciate any prejudice against Southern Ireland, but I merely showed the anxiety that these negotiations should be fairly conducted and that our own people should not be forgotten before the negotiations are concluded. There are certain anxieties. There is no prejudice. We are all basically in favour of free trade if it can be brought about.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ The Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy (Mr. Christopher Mayhew)
I do not know whether it would be appropriate for me now to reply to the specific requests for information about my statement which have been made by a number of Opposition hon. Members. If it would help I am willing to give more fully the reasons for this statement. There are operational advantages in Londonderry over Plymouth. It is nearer to deep water and there is less shipping there than at Plymouth. Those are points in favour from the point of view of submarine training, but there are overwhelming disadvantages.
Basically the trouble is that our main bases for submarines and frigates are in the South-West and our main antisubmarine training is in the South-West. In Londonderry there is only one form of anti-submarine defence and there are other forms of basic training, helicopter training and anti-submarine training in the South-West. The trouble about Londonderry is two-fold. First, if we can spare a precious submarine to go to Londonderry for these exercises, while it is being used there it is used only by one 47 part of our anti-submarine training activities. It is under-used and badly under-used, whereas if it is exercising at Plymouth, in the South-West, all our antisubmarine training effort can make use of that precious submarine's exercise time. This is basic.
The second major disadvantage of Londonderry is its distance from main bases. It is a long way from the South-West to Londonderry for a slow-moving craft such as a submarine and time wasted in going there and back would be enormous. It works out, as I have explained, if we can concentrate anti-submarine training in Plymouth, that the time saved by frigates and submarines going there and back makes available to the Navy one-and-a-half extra submarines and one-and-a-half extra frigates. These are facts which I think cannot be disputed. I have explained them at great length to all concerned, and I doubt whether the adjective "vicious" is correct for use in relation to the Government's decision. The speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) was perhaps proper in emotional content for the hon. Member for Londonderry, but not for the official spokesman of a great party which demands efficiency and economy in defence expenditure. I am surprised indeed that the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft), who, after all, knows some of the facts, can declare that the Conservative Party would continue refusing these economies, refusing these availabilities of ships and men, in order to stay in Londonderry.
May I finish by clearing up the point about the figures of civilians stated by the hon. Member for Londonderry. The figure given in the memorandum to which the hon. Gentleman referred and which have read was 659 civilians affected. This is the wrong figure. The hon. Gentleman has no excuse for getting it wrong, because it includes two establishments which we have no proposals to close. There is a fuel establishment at Lisahally and there is an armament depot at—I forget the local name.
§ Mr. Mayhew
The hon. Gentleman's figure included both those establishments 48 and also the Admiralty constabulary to go in them. We have no proposal to close those establishments. The right figure is 481, not 659. Finally, on the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that I mentioned an earlier figure of 232. These figures, as the minutes of our meeting will show, referred to established only. The right figure for established, plus un-established, is 481. There is no lack of clarity on our side.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
We heard from the Home Secretary a cheerful statement of the position in Northern Ireland. It is true that the position in Northern Ireland has been improving steadily over the last ten years, but I would direct the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention particularly in this context to the Labour Party's document, "Signposts for the Sixties". The very first part of the document is headed, "The Dangers of Complacency". I detected a great deal of complacency in what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said.
We in Northern Ireland are still too dependent on a few basic industries—agriculture, textiles, shipbuilding, and our aircraft industry. We still have far too many unemployed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned a figure of just over 27,000. Though this represents an improvement, our unemployment figure has remained stubbornly at over 5 per cent. ever since the war. At the moment, there is still over 6 per cent. of men unemployed, including many skilled men who cannot find work.
We have training schemes for these men. They have been mentioned in the National Plan and in the Wilson Plan, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred. These training schemes need to be enlarged and much still needs to be done to direct new industry to Northern Ireland. I was very disappointed when I read the National Plan. I went through it in some detail. The section of the National Plan which deals with development areas and regional planning—I refer to Chapter 8, page 84—shows what a difference there is between 49 the standard of living and the rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland and that for the rest of the country. For instance, the average income per person is £61 in Northern Ireland, while that for the rest of the country is between £90 and £100. These are facts which cannot be concealed, even though the employment position has been improving.
Special help is still required. The credit squeeze which the Government have initiated, and particularly the very severe deflationary Budget introduced earlier this year by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, have done great damage to Northern Ireland's hopes of finally conquering this last, stiff, 5 per cent. of unemployed. More attention should be given to finding ways of protecting areas such as Northern Ireland and other development areas from the rigours of such a credit squeeze, particularly the very high interest rates. Some way should be evolved of making money available at a lower rate of interest to help areas such as Northern Ireland to bring about industrial expansion.
Such a lower interest rate would not only help to attract new industry to Northern Ireland. It would also help our existing industries to expand. While the prevailing high interest rates continue in the United Kingdom we shall not see the kind of expansion which we became accustomed to during the period of the last Government in helping to fight unemployment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I forecast, because I hear voices opposite questioning this, that if the present high interest rate and the credit squeeze continue a major crisis will develop in the United Kingdom and one of the first areas to be affected by such an economic crisis will be development areas—marginal areas — such as Northern Ireland.
I was sorry that the Home Secretary referred to transport costs only in passing. Further inquiries should be made with a view to standardising transport costs in the United Kingdom. The word "postal-ise" is sometimes used. The analogy is obvious. What is wanted is a standard transport rate for goods sent from any part of the United Kingdom. Such a scheme would be a great help to development areas and would help to achieve one of the ends set out in the National Plan, which is to make use of 50 the slack resources and unemployed to be found in such areas.
There have been inquiries into our shipping rates across the Irish Channel. Some anxiety has been expressed at the fact that British Railways, which runs some of these shipping services, makes a profit on these services which helps to subsidise losses on the railways elsewhere in the United Kingdom. This matter should be studied again in an effort to ensure that industrialists in Northern Ireland who are seeking to expand their industries are not being penalised to subsidise uneconomic railways in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The House will know my constituency interest in the Belfast dry dock. I was very disappointed in the decision taken in this matter. Fifty years ago when the existing dry dock was laid down it was the largest in the world. When it was laid down those who established it were thinking 50 years ahead. Are we thinking 50 years ahead now? This is a dock which would take boats up to 160,000 tons dead weight.
§ Mr. McMaster
The Home Secretary said 160,000 to 170,000. Which did he mean? Did he mean 160,000 or 170,000? It depends on the breadth of the beam whether the boat is 160,000 or 170,000 tons. Today boats of 200,000 tons are being built. In Japan a dry dock is being built to take boats up to a width of 185 feet. We have only one site in Belfast for such a dry dock. Why not build the dry dock to take boats of a width of 185 ft? Why not think ahead? Why not keep our shipyards in the forefront of the world? Why should we allow the Japanese to take the lead? Cannot we think further ahead than next year or the year after that? Once a dock has been built of a certain width, it cannot be widened. The difference in cost may be £1 million or £2 million. I call for the type of imaginative decision which the Labour Party always claims that it stands for and the type of foresight which was displayed 50 years ago when the existing dry dock was laid down. It is a matter of only another 20 ft. A dock can be lengthened later, but it cannot be widened. I ask that this point be considered before it is too late.
51 A great deal of money has been invested by Harland and Wolff over the past five years in improving their facilities. One can see a new attitude between management and men. An inquiry is being conducted at the moment by the Geddes Committee into the efficiency of our shipyards. The corollary is that the facilities there should be as good as those to be found anywhere else in the world.
Under this heading I should also like the Government to consider again their policy towards British shipowners, a point which I have mentioned often before in the House. The right hon. Gentleman referred to it and we were all delighted to see Harland and Wolff winning an order for a Norwegian bulk carrier of 167,000 tons. We were delighted to see other orders for tankers and carriers which have been won abroad by Harland and Wolff and other British shipyards, but is not it ridiculous that the Government, who before the election kept on saying that they were going to build at home instead of buying overseas, should allow British shipowners to go to Japan and Germany for their ships? Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been directed to the four tankers ordered by Shell, three in Japan and one in Germany, and the vessels ordered by P. & O. in Japan and Germany, who often in the past were customers of Harland and Wolff?
Foreign owners are fickle. They come to us one year and then go to a cheaper market the next, and we are not prepared to extend credit to British shipowners to buy ships here. I ask the Government to look again at this question and to consider the fallacy and stupidity of winning foreign orders and the resultant foreign exchange while at the same time wasting that advantage in buying ships abroad for British owners.
The aircraft company already mentioned in the debate, Short Brothers and Harland, is also in my constituency. The case for the aircraft industry is similar to that for the shipbuilding industry. The Government did great damage to the aircraft industry in this country when they cancelled the TSR2, the P1154 and the HS 681. They did more damage than they realised. In recent years 70 per cent. of productive effort in the British aircraft 52 industry has been devoted to meeting military needs. I know that the party opposite and many of its members have criticised this high proportion being spent on military needs. But in America 80 per cent. of the productive effort goes on military requirements. France devotes about 60 per cent. to military needs. We have sold many of these military planes abroad, including the Canberras and the Hunters. In the past ten years we have earned £1,370 million. We are earning over £100 million per annum by the export of military and civil aircraft like the Viscount, the Hunter and Canberra and by selling aircraft equipment such as radios, seats, and engines.
One can see why the Americans were so eager to sell us the Hercules in place of the HS 681, a modern short take-off freighter. It was because the American aircraft industry would like to see the British aircraft industry being put out of business. The British industry has been one of the largest exporters of aircraft, second only to the American. Four or five years ago our exports were equal to half of the American orders. The Americans have great salesmen like Henry John Cuss who go round the world criticising the British aircraft industry and suggesting that Australia and New Zealand should not buy such aircraft as the B.A.C. 111 or the Trident from Britain because the British aircraft industry is not supported by the Government and might go under altogether. This is the result of cancellations like these.
A substantial part of the HS 681 was to be built in Northern Ireland. This was mentioned by the Prime Minister on 2nd February, 1965. In a debate on that day I interrupted the Prime Minister when he was making a statement. He said, with reference to that statement and to me:I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to ask about the Belfast."—that is, the freighter aircraft built in Northern Ireland—The Belfast is in production. We are very concerned, as the hon. Member is, about the effect of what I have just announced on the sub-contracting programme for Short and Harlands. We are very much concerned. One of the things which we want to look at—I do not want to raise hopes too much—is the possibility of getting some other subcontracting either as a result of the manufacture in this country of Phantoms or in the 53 matter of some of the new planes which we have announced, whether the Comet, the Kestrel or one of the others."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd February, 1965; Vol. 705 c. 933.]What new work have the Government directed to Short and Harlands? There is the promise by the Prime Minister that he would try to send work to Northern Ireland, but not one bit has been sent since February.
The management of Short and Harlands have gone out for one contract in collaboration with Fokker to produce the Fellowship or the Friendship aircraft. They have won work on the Phantom by competitive tender, but none of this has been directed by the Government. I ask the Government to consider honouring this pledge of theirs and I ask whether work, for example, on the side panels of the Hercules aircraft or the tail of the Phantom which has not yet been allocated, should not be sent to Northern Ireland in order that this vital industry for Northern Ireland should be retained and kept viable in Belfast.
This industry in the past has been a vital income-earner, but there are other considerations besides the earning of foreign exchange by exports. Firstly, the aircraft industry is a technological leader. The party opposite has made great play of its fondness for technology and how it would support technology when it came to office, but the Government have whipped the feet from under the technological industry which leads in metallurgy, computers, electronics and other advanced technologies. The industry is vital to Northern Ireland for this reason, and the apprenticeship school of Short and Harlands has led the way in Northern Ireland. Now the future of the whole industry has been placed under a dark cloud by the present Government.
The Government should have considered the Belfast as an alternative to the Lockheed Hercules. The Prime Minister, on the day to which I have referred, seemed to be badly briefed. He did not even know that a new version of the Belfast had been put forward to replace the Hercules and to meet the requirements of the Labour Government. He did not know that the requirement for the Belfast had been changed, without any tender being put to the British aircraft industry, and that once the decision was taken to cancel the HS 681 no fur- 54 ther tenders were invited from the British aircraft industry to develop another transport aircraft.
I suggest that the Government should review seriously their policy towards the aircraft industry. The defence element is absolutely vital. It helps to provide money for research and development which keeps this industry in the lead. If it is suggested by the party opposite that the civil elements of the industry can remain viable if one takes away the military part, this is patent nonsense. It is only by the military contracts which America, France and Germany and all other countries give to support them that their civil industries are kept going. This serves three purposes: one, it helps to maintain the independence of this country in a vital arm of our defence; two, it provides a valuable export earner—I have already mentioned some of the aircraft in this connection—and, three, it helps to lead technology not only in Northern Ireland but in the rest of the United Kingdom.
I cannot leave this subject without mentioning the missile side. Short Brothers and Harland has been in the forefront with its Sea Cat missile, which, in the last year, earned over £1 million in export orders. But very little assistance has been given to Short Brothers and Harland to develop other missiles, and other missiles will be needed not only for naval use but for land use. I ask the Government to consider, in particular, this missile factory of Short Brothers and Harland, remembering the importance of that company to the economy of Belfast and to the economy of Northern Ireland. Unless more work goes there quickly, there may well be a dip in employment in Short Brothers. This was forecast some years ago. The work on the HS 681 was meant to fill the gap, but that has been taken away and not sufficient other work has been put in its place.
To sum up, the party opposite can do very much more not only to meet unemployment in Northern Ireland but to help to bring up the standard of living there, to bring up the average wage to the level which rules throughout the United Kingdom generally, so that the prosperity in the United Kingdom which we see here in London can be shared equally with those who live in Northern Ireland.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Floud (Acton)
I hope I may be forgiven if I do not follow the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) into all the intricacies of the aircraft industry, as I was under the impression that this debate today was to be on Northern Ireland generally.
§ Mr. Floud
I have not really said anything yet, so I can hardly be asked to give way. At a later stage, perhaps.
I was about to say—I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member will appreciate this—that I hope that we all here realise that when there are changes in defence policy or when there are contractions in certain industries because of technological changes, there is bound to be produced a considerable measure of disturbance for the people who work in the industries involved. We all have sympathy with those people, and we would all want to do everything possible to ensure that the disturbance is reduced to a minimum and that alternative employment is found. I do not confine my sympathy, as some hon. Members opposite seem to do, to people in the aircraft industry or in the defence establishments. I feel equally strongly about finding new jobs for redundant railwaymen or for redundant miners, and I wish that hon. Members opposite would sometimes express as much concern for redundant workers in industries of that kind as they do for workers in the aircraft industry.
Let us not imagine, as one might after listening to the speeches of the hon. Members for Belfast, East and Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), that contractions and closures in the aircraft industry are events which happen only under this Labour Government. I need not remind the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) that two or three years ago, when he was Minister of Defence, one of the oldest-established aircraft engine firms in this country, Napier's, the employer of more than 2,500 workers and probably the biggest single employer in my constituency of Acton, was closed down, its design teams broken up and scattered to the winds and 2,500 people made redundant. That was not a pleasant situation. No redundancy ever is. But 56 let not hon. Members opposite pretend that problems of change of this kind occur only when a Labour Government are in power.
Towards the end of his speech, the hon. Member for Londonderry devoted a good deal of time to the subject of discrimination or no discrimination. I hope that I shall be allowed to keep as much in order as he did on this subject. This week, the eyes of the world and our thoughts are very much concentrated on an area in Central Africa where racial problems and racial discrimination are a very important feature of the situation. This afternoon, we are discussing a part of the United Kingdom itself where, in the view of very many people, religious differences, claims and charges of religious discrimination have been a feature of everyday life for decades. This is a part of the United Kingdom, an area very much closer to us than Rhodesia and for which we have at least as much responsibility.
Thirty years ago, the philosophy of the ruling group in Northern Ireland was expressed very succinctly by the then Premier of Northern Ireland, Lord Craigavon, when he said, "All I boast is that we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State".
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is going out of order. He must deal only with what is the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government. These are matters for the Northern Ireland Government.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. What the hon. Gentleman is now saying is a reflection on my conduct in the Chair. He must not pursue that.
§ Mr. Floud
Naturally, I withdraw any suggestion of that kind, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but when I heard the hon. Member for Londonderry talking about charges of discrimination in relation to the allocation of houses and replying to those charges, I thought that I should be in order also in referring to them.
§ Mr. Floud
With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I say this most sincerely—I accept that you ruled him out of order when he was talking about discrimination in particular circumstances with reference to housing, but I think I am right in saying that he had already said a considerable amount on the general question of discrimination. If he was in order in talking about discrimination generally, should I be equally in order if I talked about discrimination generally?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
No. The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to what is the responsibility of the United Kingdom Government.
§ Mr. Floud
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I certainly was not intending, because it would have been fruitless anyway, to take up the time of the House this evening by discussing details of the situation in Northern Ireland which are widely believed to exist. I say frankly that I do not believe that anything which I or other hon. Members here today could say, whether in order or out of order, would have very much effect on the Northern Ireland Government. What I wish to do is to address some questions to Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, the Government who, as I understand, have ultimate responsibility for this part of the United Kingdom which we are discussing.
When the Labour Government was returned to power a year ago, the religious minority, if I may describe them in those terms, in Northern Ireland had high hopes. They knew that in this House, year after year, for about seven years, Lord Brockway, when a Member of this House, had introduced a Private Member's Bill which would have outlawed discrimination and incitement. The Bill which he introduced year after year would have made it an offence to discriminate to the detriment of any person on grounds of colour, race or religion or to incite publicly contempt or hatred of any person or persons because of their colour, race or religion. That Bill, if enacted, would have applied to Northern Ireland, and it was known by people in that territory that that Bill, introduced in this House—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman cannot refer to a Bill which has been introduced on those terms. He must confine himself to the matter which we are debating today, which is the United Kingdom Government's responsibility for Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Any question of religious discrimination in Northern Ireland is not a matter for the United Kingdom Government.
§ Mr. Floud
Naturally, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I bow to your Ruling, but in my innocence I should have thought that if racial discrimination in Rhodesia was a matter of very much concern to us in this House, religious discrimination, if it exists, in Northern Ireland would also have been a matter of concern to this House, as I thought the hon. Member for Londonderry made very clear.
I should like to address myself primarily to the question of Her Majesty's Government's responsibilities for certain matters in Northern Ireland. Since under the rules of order I am not allowed to develop this point quite as I should have liked to do, I should like to refer to the text of a letter which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wrote in September, 1964, shortly before the 59 General Election. He wrote to the secretary of an organisation in Northern Ireland.I agree with you as to the importance of the issues with which your campaign is concerned and can assure you that a Labour Government would do everything in its power to see that the infringements of justice to which you are so rightly drawing attention are effectively dealt with.It is perfectly true that the Prime Minister went on:We recognise, however, that in existing circumstances this is no easy task.I recognise that it is no easy task. I also recognise that many of the tasks with which the Labour Government have been faced have not been easy tasks, but that has not prevented the Government from facing up to them.
I do not believe that the Prime Minister would have pledged a Labour Government to do everything in their power in these matters if we here had no power to take effective action. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate details of what action in accordance with the Prime Minister's pledge has already been taken and what further action is contemplated to end the scandal of systematic religious discrimination in Northern Ireland.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. John Maginnis (Armagh)
I shall not try to follow the line of thought of the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Floud), but at this stage I should like very much to congratulate the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary on his very interesting speech. I had the privilege of meeting him on one of his visits to my constituency, and I know that he appreciated all that was going on there in the scientific and agricultural fields. I was interested to hear his remarks about the general economic position of Northern Ireland and how at last things were looking up. I can tell him that the people of Northern Ireland are determined that once and for all prosperity shall be theirs not only for the present but for the future.
I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department on the Government Front Bench. I know that he will take particular note of what is said. I also congratulate my hon. 60 Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) on his speech.
I listened very attentively to the statement about H.M.S. "Sea Eagle". I hope that the hon. Gentleman who is to wind up the debate will be quick to deny that the closing of H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" has anything to do with the current free trade negotiations. It strikes me that in the new negotiations once again the Southern Irish ports will be offered to the Royal Navy, to the detriment of the interests of Northern Ireland.
I now want to say a word or two about farming. I was interested to hear from the Home Secretary that at the moment 68,000 people in Northern Ireland are employed in agriculture. That is no mean figure. I am sure that everyone in the House realises that farming is the only industry in this country which works under a curse. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may not agree about that. However, we have great difficulties to overcome, and I am sure that everyone will agree that this year has been one of the most difficult years in human memory for agriculture.
I want to say a word particularly about the hill farms referred to in paragraph 17 of the Government's White Paper, "The Development of Agriculture". Among the many suggestions made are the improvement of the rural economy, the establishment of rural development boards, the development of forestry, the development of tourism, and the provision of reserve powers for purchases by rural development boards. These are all United Kingdom proposals, but if they should meet with the approval of this House they would I am sure, be welcomed by the Northern Ireland Government and the Northern Ireland Minister of Agriculture.
One thing about the proposals in the White Paper which worries me is where the money is coming from to buy the additional land for the small farmer. During the Recess I travelled around Northern Ireland and spoke to many small farmers about this thorny subject. Although the Government propose to give substantial grants and aids to any small farmer who buys additional land, it is also stated that no money has been made available to the small farmer from Government sources to purchase land for the 61 sole reason that if the Government did this the price of land would jump. The Home Secretary will understand that land in small farming areas can be bought to advantage only by the people who live in those areas. I live in an area where there are small farmers and thousands of acres of hill land, and I cannot visualise anyone from outside the area coming in and buying up any land which may be made available on the market. That land can be bought and put into production economically only by people who live within a reasonable distance of the area. I am trying to make this point because I believe that all the proposals in this White Paper will fall down if first-class arrangements are not made to enable the small farmers to buy additional land, and land which is near to their own holdings.
All these suggestions to help the small farmers are very commendable, but they depend upon an economic price for agricultural produce, and again, I am afraid, the farmer is like the Psalmist, and like him one would say,I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.I should like to make three short suggestions. This is a major debate we are having in the House this evening, and I looked forward to taking part in it, but having spent some four hours in an aircraft during the day I am left with a severe headache and cannot continue to make the speech which I had at the outset intended to make, so I shall conclude it by making three short suggestions.
We all know that farmers in the United Kingdom are entitled to various Government grants. I refer to one, the cereal deficiency grant. People on the hill land, the marginal land, plough up an acre or an acre and a half or two acres and sow cereals, particularly barley and oats. I can tell the House that it is entirely uneconomic. Quite often those small farmers spend a good deal of money on fertiliser and seed and tilling the land, and then when they come to harvest the crop they get very little more out of it than they put into it. I would suggest the abolition of deficiency cereal payments to hill farmers and farmers on marginal land.
The second point I should like to make would be for increased grant for drainage on hill and marginal land. This leads 62 me to my third point, which is to increase the grant for liming and fertilising and direct reseeding hill and marginal land. This would be far more important than trying to amalgamate or to do many of the things which hill farmers are trying to do. This would give them some basic help, and would be more economic for marginal land which is more economically used for stock rearing than arable farming.
One thing I want to make clear is that, in all these proposals which we have in the White Paper, and the many problems which the small farmers have, I hope that the Minister of Agriculture will not be likened to Christopher Columbus: when he set out he did not know where he was going; when he got there he did not know where he was; when he got back he did not know where he had been.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
First, I want to congratulate the Government and the Home Secretary on the constructive statement and speech to us. They contrast very vividly with the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), whose speech was of a destructive character and quite inconsistent with the policies adumbrated by the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and the Prime Minister of Southern Ireland, both of whom have indicated a policy designed to bring both those countries together economically.
The House may be surprised, perhaps, at my intervening in this debate, because I sit for a Scottish constituency, but I remind the House that Northern Ireland and Scotland stick their noses towards each other geographically and have much in common, and I hope to argue, briefly, in favour of closer economic relations between Northern Ireland and Scotland. Too long has north-east Scotland been misrepresented in this House. I shall not go back over the history of the last thirteen years of the previous Government, but they regarded the expression "the north-east" as meaning part of the north-east—
Adjournment debates may go very wide, but we are debating Northern Ireland, not Scotland.
§ Mr. Hughes
I am not going to pursue that line, Mr. Speaker. I merely 63 mention it for the purpose of indicating the propinquity of Northern Ireland to Scotland and the common relations which exist between them and which should be cultivated and extended.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
I take the point which the hon. and learned Member has made about the propinquity of Northern Ireland and Scotland and that, in the hon. and learned Gentleman's elegant phrase, they are sticking their noses out at each other, but I want to make one thing perfectly clear to the hon. and learned Gentleman, that I think he misheard what I said, because is no way did I suggest that closer trading relations between Northern Ireland and Scotland were undesirable and in no way did I deviate from the policy of the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland or of anybody else. I think I made quite constructive remarks on that subject. The hon. and learned Member really did, I assure him, mishear what I said.
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Member has said that, but I do not agree with his construction of his speech. His speech will be in HANSARD and it will be open to everybody to read his speech and his argument, and the argument he propounded was inconsistent with the policy of the two Prime Ministers, the one of Northern Ireland and the other of the Republic of Ireland, whose policy is to bring economically the two parts of Ireland closer—economically: I am not saying politically; that is another matter—together.
There is much in common between Scotland, and, in particular, between the noble city of Aberdeen, and Belfast. They both have shipbuilding. Hon. Members opposite may laugh Belfast shipbuilding out of court, but it is a great and considerable industry, and it is right that notice should be taken of it; and in that Belfast has an interest in common with the noble and industrious city of Aberdeen. Both cities have shipbuilding and shipping, and both have fishing interests; and I am anxious, as I have said, to develop the trade and industry and commerce and employment between these two geographical units. The speech of the Home Secretary indicated how that can be done and will be done, and, therefore, 64 I congratulate the Home Secretary, and I congratulate the Government, on recognising the geographical propinquity and the common interests, and they are doing their best to develop those common interests in order to increase the trade, industry and commerce of both of those areas.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)
I know the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) will not mind if I do not follow him along the lines of his speech, because I wish to draw to the attention of the Government one or two points which are of considerable importance to certain groups in Northern Ireland. The first is that of Service men on leave, and the point to which I refer is the granting of leave warrants to members of the Armed Forces for air travel between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. If a Service man in the United Kingdom has to travel from, say, certain of the Scottish islands to the mainland, or from the Isle of Man to the mainland, he may be given an air warrant for his journey, but he will not be given one if he has to travel to Northern Ireland. A Service man gets four travel-free warrants a year for sea and rail travel. It takes about fourteen hours to get from London to Belfast by sea and rail, whereas by air the journey takes only one hour. In consequence, what often happens is that the individual goes by air and pays the air fare out of his own pocket and forgoes his free warrant.
As I understand it, trooping by air to and from the United Kingdom is now a matter of course, and that Service men travelling on duty within the United Kingdom are given air travel warrants. For example, on Friday I travelled over from Northern Ireland with a Service man. The plane in which we were due to travel could not take off because of fog, so this young man handed in his air warrant and was given a certificate to travel by ship and rail to London, and no doubt the difference will be refunded as an ordinary accounting matter.
In certain cases and on certain planes the fare by air is less than the fare by sea and rail. I am, of course, talking about the fare paid by an ordinary member of the public. I have no doubt that the 65 Government have a profitable arrangement with British Railways. I understand that things are a little easier with regard to air travel for the Royal Air Force and for the Navy than for the Army. I see no reason why the Government should not make a similar profitable arrangement with BEA, which is a nationalised corporation, so that Service men can be given warrants to travel by air.
All I am asking is that the money saved by the non-use of a railway warrant should be given to the individual who pays the cost of air travel out of his own pocket. This would not be difficult to arrange. The person concerned could be credited with the difference between the rail fare and the air fare. I ask whoever is to reply to the debate to consider this point which is of considerable importance to the many Service people who travel home to Northern Ireland on leave.
My next point concerns the Territorial Army in Northern Ireland. I ask the Government to consider very carefully the question of the reduction of the T.A. there, and I make a special plea for the retention in Northern Ireland of a Gunner unit in any reorganisation that may take place. In the 1947 reorganisation of the T.A. there were seven R.A.T.A. regiments in Northern Ireland. In 1955 these were amalgamated to form the new 245 Regiment, and since then this Regiment has been the strongest recruiting Gunner T.A. Regiment in the United Kingdom, and this year it won the Sunday Times Cup.
If the Territorial Army in Northern Ireland is reduced, this will, in the long run, adversely affect recruiting for the Regular Army. It must also be remembered, that at the moment about 400 civilians are employed by the T.A. Many of these people will lose their jobs if the T.A. is reduced, and will swell the unemployment figures for that area.
I ask that those matters be given careful consideration, and I ask particularly that a Gunner unit be maintained in Ulster. It may be necessary to have part of a unit in Scotland, and part of it in Northern Ireland, but I should like the right hon. and learned Gentleman to give us some assurance about its retention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) referred 66 to the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement which is now under negotiation. He referred also to the difficulties with regard to component animal feeding stuffs and asked whoever is to reply to the debate to deal with this.
I have two other points to make, and I hope that they, too, will be dealt with by whoever winds up the debate. My first concerns the flour millers who are based in the Republic of Ireland and who re-export flour to Northern Ireland. This started early in 1960, and since then there has been a sevenfold increase in the export of wheat flour to Northern Ireland. I understand that this is due to the special tax remission which is granted by the Eire Government to flour exporters, and due also to the reduction in the overhead expenses of the millers in the Republic gained by increased running time and the lower wage structure prevailing there. Wage costs in Northern Ireland for an equivalent sized mill range up to 37 per cent. higher than in the Republic.
Exports of flour from Ulster to the Republic of Ireland are restricted to licences granted by the Government of Eire, and these licences are granted only where the resultant products are used for re-export from the Republic. This state of affairs is unsatisfactory and unfair, and I hope that this situation will be taken fully into consideration during the discussions which are now in progress.
I hope that consideration will also be given to the question of retail quotas or protective duties which the Republic of Eire wish to retain in respect of pigs, pig meat and products made therefrom. The present state of affairs is unsatisfactory because there is no restriction on Eire products, whereas Northern Ireland products are precluded from the Republic of Ireland market because of these duties and restrictions. The result is inequitable and onerous to the pig industry in that part of the United Kingdom, and I hope that this matter will be considered by the appropriate negotiating authorities.
In his fair, courteous and delightful speech, the right hon. and learned Gentleman announced that the remoteness grant is to be increased and is now to be £1¾ million a year. I agree that the time has come to increase this grant, but I and many other people had hoped that the increase would be between £2½ million 67 and £3 million rather than the very small increase which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned in his speech.
The only other matter that I wish to refer to is the statement about the closure of "Sea Eagle", in Londonderry. We have had fair words and some promises. We have had an indication that work will be found for the 500 or more people who will lose their jobs because of this closure. What work? How will it be provided by the United Kingdom Government? What do they intend to do? These fair words are not enough. The action of closing this establishment will be bitterly resented. It is a severe shock to the whole of Northern Ireland. This Government will be judged by their deeds and not by their words.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Paul B. Rose (Manchester, Blackley)
On Sunday last I was privileged to visit both Londonderry and Dungannon. In Londonderry over 3,000 people are unemployed, and in Dungannon 1,100 out of a total of 6,500. I am sorry that the hon. Memember for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) is not here at the moment, because I wanted to point out to him that this is not something new which has arisen since the Labour Government came to power. It was going on for a long time when hon. Members opposite were in power. At least this year we have seen some fall in the unemployment figures.
The situation in Northern Ireland is a matter of grave concern not only for those hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies but for all those who are concerned with the success of our Economic Plan and who have understanding and compassion for those people who are faced with the problem of unemployment. I remember only too well how, only a few years ago, Lancashire was faced with a similar problem because of the decline in the cotton industry. I have seen the demoralisation that sets in in such areas. Yet this is in the context of a situation in which we want 200,000 more people in our labour force. What a loss it would be to the economy if we were not able to use the labour force which exists in Northern Ireland, and if this labour force were not geared to the 4 per cent. economic growth rate and our drive to increase exports.
68 It is for this reason that we at Westminster, who are concerned with our own regions, also have a duty to seek new inducements and new ways of assisting industry to develop in Northern Ireland—in this neglected area. I agreed with the hon. Member for Londonderry when, on 22nd February last, in our previous debate on Northern Ireland, he said:This debate should not be regarded as a regional matter of limited application."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1965; Vol. 707, c. 52.]I would add only the fact that those who accused me of interference in the affairs of Northern Ireland—because I happened to raise the question of social problems and the allocation of jobs—were very wrong. I believe that these matters are directly relevant to creating the kind of climate in Northern Ireland in which industry would want to go there and in which industrialists would consider it to be a suitable area for development, whether they be new industries, or whether they be concerned with the tourist trade, or agricultural processing industries.
A lot has been said about the question of the anti-submarine base. When decisions on defence have to be taken the overall economy of the whole country has to be borne in mind. Nobody who asks for cuts in defence expenditure should complain when cuts are made. I have said this even when defence cuts have affected my own constituency. An aircraft factory on the border of my constituency was affected in this way. It is sheer hypocrisy to look at this question from a parochial point of view. But what everybody has a right to do is to ask that new industries should be developed in the area, in order to provide employment. There is no point in maintaining obsolescent military establishments simply to provide employment. What we need is real industrial growth in the area. It is because I am a friend and not an enemy of Ulster—as the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) tried to characterise me in Belfast Telegraph—that I am concerned about the social and economic problems of this part of the United Kingdom.
Today, less than 25 per cent. of the population of Northern Ireland lives west of the Bann, and over 3,500 people are leaving every year. Notwithstanding this 69 mass emigration and the efforts, albeit inadequate, of past Governments both at Westminster and Stormont, unemployment remains at about 12 per cent. Yet the Wilson Report dismissed Londonderry in a line, merely saying thata development plan is needed and should be put in hand.Of course a development plan is needed, and of course it should be put in hand, but it has to be based on adequate research and adequate information. This is what we need.
It would be easier to produce a development plan for this area and to get people there to work together if we did not have the existing electoral set-up, which creates a divided and despondent community, especially in Londonderry. The possibility of setting up new schemes has been considered. One suggestion is that we should create a sort of pilot Calder Hall atomic energy plant. That might be placed in or near Londonderry, and it could be used in co-operation with the South to provide power for the grids both north and south of the Border.
Having visited Northern Ireland this weekend, I have come to believe that tourism could be extended. I have seen some beautiful beaches in Northern Ireland, from the train. Londonderry could become the gateway to Donegal, and increased tourist trade would benefit both North and South. We have certain advantages. We have a port, we have water, and we have a large number of workers on the spot. There is also a site for an airport. We must build on very limited assets, and special inducements are required in respect of industry, not only by the Governments at Westminster and in Stormont but also the Government of Eire, in order to develop the whole of the North-West. This could demonstrate in practical terms what co-operation could do between the two Governments, North and South, together with the Government at Westminster.
The issue of north-western Ireland must not be dodged merely by easy talk about development of Northern Ireland as a whole, because there are existing communities to be considered, and there are human and social implications. We do not want to see any laissez faire policies such as we have seen in England, which have caused the drift to the South- 70 East on this side of the Irish Sea. This is an inevitable result of laissez faire development.
I understand that the statistics show an estimated increase of 196,000 in the population of Northern Ireland between 1961 and 1981. But during the same period the population east of the Bann is expected to increase by 198,000. In other words, there will be no real development of the area to the west. It is alleged by some that the political implication of the plans is to consolidate the existing political power structure in the west. I hasten to say that I doubt this. From conversations I have had with many people in the area it seems to me that they feel that that is the motive uppermost in the minds of those responsible for the development of Northern Ireland. I do not believe that one can blame them for attributing such a motive, in view of the history of the area, but I rather doubt whether this is the motive. I believe that it is merely another example of the principle expressed by the Scandinavian economist, Professor Myrdal, in relation to laissez faire development, when he saidTo him that hath shall be given and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.This is not to deny the validity of the idea that we have to develop the region as a whole. We know that earnings in Northern Ireland are only 80 per cent. of the United Kingdom average, and that emigration is about 10,000 a year. One of the troubles with this is that the emigration takes place from one part of the community rather than the other. This, again, is a source of bad feeling, because the motive imputed is that it is done to force out certain people to perpetuate the existing power structure. This may not be the motive—it may well be the working of blind economic forces—but it is causing a great deal of bitterness.
I should like to see a planning board established for the whole region. I should like to see far greater efforts made in industrial training and apprenticeship and greater effort also by the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Henry Clark
What is the difference between the planning board that the hon. Member envisages and the Northern Ireland Economic Development 71 Council which has been set up?
§ Mr. Rose
I am not giving way. When I spoke on the last occasion, I was interrupted so many times that I decided on this occasion not to give way, because formerly I was treated, I would say, with a great deal of rudeness by hon. Members opposite.
I believe that a great deal can be done in co-operation with the Government at Westminster, and a great deal can be done by the Board of Trade, particularly in trying to harness Northern Ireland industry towards helping our export drive.
Yesterday, while I was in Belfast, Short's announced that they had won an order which would ensure continuity of employment for the men who are working on components for the Belfast and the VC10. I have been concerned about the future of a factory in the Hawker-Siddeley group on the fringe of my own constituency and I know the anxiety that is caused by changes in the aircraft industry. Chances in that industry are inevitable. The buffeting about of that industry by Governments in past years did not start with the advent of a Labour Government. Harsh words have been used by people in the industry about certain former Ministers on the benches opposite. I know that there must be a great deal of concern about this matter.
Where changes occur due to alterations in the defence programme, alternative employment is needed. We are all grateful to the Government of this country for their Redundancy Payments Act, which, I understand, is being introduced also by Stormont. This Measure was introduced by the Government here and in that regard Stormont is only following suit. What is needed, however, are new prospects.
In that context, I want to know exactly what is planned at Short's. I understand that the idea of a machine-tool factory has been mooted. Machine tools are a branch of industry which has been neglected by private enterprise in this country and we have been forced to import when we should be exporting more. I wonder whether, in spite of the objections raised by hon. Members opposite, the site in question might not be ideal for a publicly- owned or Publicly- 72 controlled machine-tool factory. Apart from its contribution to the economy, it would be a great boon to the people of Belfast.
In spite, however, of the Government's obvious concern—and the Government here have shown how much concerned they are with the problems of Northern Ireland in the way that Ministers have gone over there and in taking a great deal of trouble to consider the problems of Northern Ireland—Mr. Craig, the Minister of Development at Stormont, smashed all the china in the shop by breaking all the constitutional conventions between Westminster and Stormont when he called upon Unionist Members of Parliament in this country to work together with the British Tories to bring about an immediate General Election. This demonstrates the one-sidedness of a convention which allows Unionist Members in this House to vote against the Manchester Corporation Bill but will not allow my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Floud) to raise the question of discrimination in Northern Ireland. There is nothing to prevent my raising the question of boundaries, because boundaries affect Westminster and we have control over the question of electoral boundaries for elections to Westminster.
In many cases, boundaries for Westminster elections are altered or formed by reason of boundaries in local government or boundaries for Stormont elections. I believe that there is an immediate case for boundary revision in Northern Ireland because of the population movement and the changes in recent years, and because of the injustice which is seen particularly in a town like Derry. It is also time to consider the convention that allows Northern Ireland Members of Parliament to vote on matters which in no way affect Northern Ireland. Obviously, on matters of internal security and matters which affect the nation as a whole, it must be open to them to vote, but when they vote on matters of no concern to them and yet resent our so-called interference in what is, after all, a region of this country, one wonders what this one-way traffic is all about.
When the Government's Race Relations Bill was introduced, one felt that it could have been extended to Northern Ireland and that it could have included religious discrimination. If I remember 73 rightly, the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said at that time that it was a golden opportunity to break this 40-year convention. Here was an opportunity when the Government could have broken that convention in the interest of justice.
The difficulty of extricating Westminster problems from Stormont problems is illustrated by the question of the boundaries and of the electoral franchise, the multiple vote and the fact that so many people—a quarter of a million of them—do not have a vote in local government elections.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham
Would the hon. Member agree that my constituency, which has 109,000 electors, should really have two constituencies and that the Northern Ireland Members at Westminster, twelve in number, have much bigger constituencies than any on this side of the Irish Sea and that there should be an increase in their number?
Order. I have been watching the hon. Member's attempt to avoid breaking the thin ice on which he is skating. He has broken it now. Boundaries for local government and Parliament in Ireland are matters for Stormont.
§ Mr. Rose
I respectfully agree, Mr. Speaker. I have tried to avoid any incursion into matters which are within the province of Stormont. The difficulty is that many of these matters like boundaries, for example, depend very much on the boundaries for other elections, just as in many cases local government boundaries dictate Parliamentary boundaries on this side of the Irish Sea. My point is that this often distorts Parliamentary boundaries.
74 In an editorial on 25th March, the Unionist Belfast News-Letter stated that:reform of the franchise is long overdue.A lot of people have been talking about "one-man, one-vote," in Rhodesia—
Order. If the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) does not give way, the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) must not persist. The hon. Member for Blackley cannot in this debate reform the franchise of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Rose
Yesterday, because of the great courtesy and kindness extended to me by the Hon. Brian McConnell, Minister for Home Affairs in the Northern Ireland Government, I was able to spend about an hour discussing some of these problems with him. Some of the problems are entirely outside the scope of this debate, but I think it fair to say that the question of the application of an ombudsman to Northern Ireland is not outside the scope of this debate, because the White Paper refers to the extension of this principle to servants of the Crown and to the Imperial Civil Service in Northern Ireland. One wonders why the White Paper concerning the appointment of an ombudsman does not say that he should also deal with cases raised in Northern Ireland.
As a result of my interest in Northern Ireland, I have become a sort of unofficial ombudsman and I have received letters every day with questions about Northern Ireland. Hon. Members on that side of the House need not be concerned. I am not putting in for the job, but only arguing that the White Paper dealing with the ombudsman might well have considered the application of this principle to Northern Ireland. Because it is—
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
My hon. Friend should not call him an "ombudsman". He is now that curious and limited entity, the Parliamentary Commissioner.
§ Captain Orr
On a point of order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member. The discussion of whether or not future legislation about an ombudsman should apply to Northern Ireland is very interesting, but will we be able to continue the discussion and be in order?
I hope that the hon. Member will not follow it too far, because we have, apart from the White Paper, no knowledge of what the ombudsman will be. As far as I know, the ombudsman will not be able to interfere with legislation.
§ Mr. Rose
I am not sure about that ruling. There is a certain amount of ambiguity, but, to be on the safe side, I will not pursue the question of the ombudsman. I will return to the question of this convention.
I am saddled with this convention, which prevents my raising a number of topics which are relevant to the Northern Ireland situation, but hon. Members opposite representing Northern Irish constituencies are not prevented from dealing with matters of relevance only to Manchester—for instance, the Manchester Corporation Bill. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Kilfedder) knows to what I am referring.
§ Mr. James A. Kilfedder (Belfast, West)
The hon. Member says that he is often referred to as an ombudsman by some people in Northern Ireland. Would he consider standing as Socialist candidate in my constituency at the next election? I shall be glad to welcome him. If he is then elected—which I doubt, in view of the good sense of the people of West Belfast—he could speak on these matters.
§ Mr. Rose
It is kind of the hon. Member for Belfast, West to extend that invitation. I enjoyed my last visit to Belfast, and I believe that I will find the next one just as pleasant, but I think that my constituents would be very loath to let me go.
The point which I am making is that in this debate we see this convention at work 76 —this so-called parity, the idea that Stormont should legislate along the lines of legislation in this country. I should like to quote what the leader of the Northern Ireland Labour Party said in a statement to the Press on 20th October:Parity only means parity when the Tories govern Britain.Hon. Members opposite cannot have their cake and eat it. If they want parity, they should adopt legislation in Stormont following that which is adopted by the Labour Government in this country. This means that they should either forgo their right to interfere in affairs on this side of the Irish Sea, or accept legislation like that which would provide for a Parliamentary Commissioner. If ever any place needed this officer, it is Northern Ireland.
I believe that the economic problems, the political problems, the problems of the two communities in Northern Ireland are immense. I know that they are very delicate. I believe that no good will will result from wild slogans or from raising the temperature through hostilities, as some—probably on both sides—have tried to do. But one cannot ignore injustice or the economic neglect of the area. One cannot ignore the curious two faces of the Unionist organisation which we see here and on the other side of the Irish Sea, or its negative concern merely to perpetuate its own power in Northern Ireland.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will never again give succour and support to the Unionists as he did when he was the guest of the Unionist Government at Stormont. I know that one must accept the hospitality of one's hosts and that any harsh words then would be out of order, but many of his words were interpreted—or misinterpreted—by people in Northern Ireland as giving political support to the existing set-up in Northern Ireland.
I hope that the Government will pay real attention to the economic needs of the area and that, tactfully and if necessary in private, pressure will be brought to bear to try to get a bettering of relations between the two communities in the interests of all Irishmen, so that there will not be "segregation park" as I saw a housing estate in Dungannon is called. The charm of Ireland and its people is bewitching, its politics are bewildering, but it is time that we bothered to do 77 something about Northern Ireland, particularly economically. I believe that, in the long run, only the people of Northern Ireland themselves can decide their political future.
Meanwhile, there are the immediate problems of getting industry to the area, and of lessening social tensions. I believe that these are very much our concern. Therefore, it is a source of great pleasure to me fiat the Government have taken time on the first day after the Recess to discuss this very important matter. I believe that that in itself is an indication of the good faith of this Government in wanting to deal with the problems of Northern Ireland.
§ Sir Knox Cunningham
Before he sits down, would the hon. Member agree with me that both he and I are elected to this honourable House on exactly the same franchise, that of "one man, one vote"?
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
Mr. Speaker, since you have resumed the Chair in your proper capacity as Speaker of the House of Commons, may I, on behalf of all my friends from Northern Ireland, say how pleased we are that the first debate over which you should preside should be one on Northern Ireland? We wish you every possible good fortune and a long spell of office in the high position to which you have been called.
I have attended debates on Northern Ireland's economic affairs in the House for nearly 16 years and I do not recollect one which was so disappointing and distressing to the people whom we have the honour to represent. This is so not because of the quality of the speeches made so far—they have been of high quality—nor because of any lack of courtesy on the part of the Home Secretary or the Joint Under-Secretary of State but because of the content of what they have to tell us.
Before I turn to these matters, I want to deal with two things which are, to some extent, extraneous to the debate. The first is to sympathise with the hon.
78 Member for Acton (Mr. Floud) and to admire his ingenuity in seeking to raise the whole question of religious discrimination under local government in Northern Ireland. In your absence, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Deputy Speaker quite rightly ruled that, on an Adjournment debate in this House, one must stick to matters which are within Ministerial responsibility—and this most certainly is not.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) was even more ingenious in seeking to introduce the same subject under another heading, and one could not but admire him. Both hon. Gentlemen were, however, completely outshone by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) who, in a Northern Ireland debate, sought to raise matters concerning the shipbuilding industry in his constituency.
It reminded me of a famous Irishman called Tim Healy, who managed to make a speech in this House in a debate on East Africa and deal with the evils of landlordism in Ireland at the same time. He managed to go right through the debate keeping perfectly in order and referring to a particular colony in East Africa. Just before he sat down he said, "In order that my speech may be clearly understood, may I for 'East Africa' substitute 'Ireland' throughout?"
Before I come to the serious matters of the debate, I will deal with two other extraneous matters which have been raised. The first is the statement by the hon. Member for Blackley that the Minister of Development in Northern Ireland had "smashed all the china in the shop" by a speech which he made attacking the National Plan. The relationship between the two Governments is a difficult constitutional relationship. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where we have a subordinate Government and Parliament. There is no precedent for this anywhere else, except perhaps the precedent of local authorities. A duty falls, therefore, upon the Government of Northern Ireland to co-operate and work within the framework of national policy as initiated by the Government at Westminster and approved by this House of Commons.
A duty also falls upon Her Majesty's Government to treat Northern Ireland and its Ministers, Government and Parliament as fairly as they would treat any 79 other part of the United Kingdom. This is the convention. In order not to upset that convention and in order to make it work reasonably harmoniously, when it occurs that the Ministers in each case are of a different political outlook, on the whole they should speak reasonably politely to each other. This does not mean surely, does it, either that right hon. Gentlemen here should suddenly abandon their political views or that Ministers in Northern Ireland should suddenly change their whole political outlook? One cannot expect that.
The only relevance of all this to this debate woud be if it were suggested, or if it were in the hon. Member's mind, that this speech in Northern Ireland could possibly be interpreted to mean that the Northern Ireland Government were refusing to co-operate within the framework of national policy. That was never suggested by anyone. It was not even suggested in the debate at Stormont.
But what has perhaps been suggested here, at any rate by innuendo, is that because of an expression of political opinion upon national policies by a member of the Government or the Parliament of Northern Ireland, Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, if they happened to be of a different political complexion, would begin to treat the people of Northern Ireland and its economy differently. That would be a monstrous political innovation. I hope that when he replies to the debate the Joint Under-Secretary of State, whom we in Northern Ireland all admire, will make it plain that Her Majesty's Government intend to treat all parts of the United Kingdom, all regions, equally, whatever may be the political outlook and the expressed views of the people who there reside.
May I come to the second extraneous matter, which has, quite rightly, been ruled out of order—religious discrimination. I do not intend to reply to what was said. I would simply repeat what I have said twice before this Session to the hon. Member for Blackley and other hon. Members involved—that if they know of any case of religious discrimination in Northern Ireland, they should let me know. The hon. Member promised to let me have a file on the subject, but I 80 have not had a single line from him. Since he accused me of rudeness—
Order. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has rightly said that the Chair was correct in ruling this question out of order. He must turn away from it now.
§ Captain Orr
I happily bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker.
There is one other matter in the hon. Member's speech to which I shall refer which is in a way extraneous to the debate but is not out of order. He queried whether it was right for Members of this House who come from Northern Ireland to take part in debating everything which comes before this House. In other words, he seemed to be suggesting that perhaps it was wrong for hon. Members from Northern Ireland to interfere in matters which were, let us say, purely English matters. But exactly the same argument would apply to hon. Members from Scotland or from Wales.
§ Captain Orr
I will not give way to the hon. Member. He has accused me of being rude to him on the last occasion. I have always given way to him in the past, but I do not intend to do so now.
§ Captain Orr
If the hon. Member is saying that he did not accuse me of rudeness, that is a different matter. He said that he had been treated with great rudeness in the last debate, and as I was his principal interrupter in the last debate I naturally concluded that he thought that I had been rude. If he says that he does not think that I was rude, I shall be delighted to give way to him.
§ Mr. Rose
Surely the difference between the position of the Scottish and of the Northern Ireland Member is that when a matter of Scottish interest comes 81 before the House I have a right to comment on it, but when a matter of Northern Ireland interest comes before the House, in many cases I do not comment on it. On the other hand, the hon. and gallant Member always has the right to comment on matters within, say, the province of Manchester.
§ Captain Orr
I accept that argument up to a point. It was clearly understood in the debates on the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. This is the reason why the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) is twice the size of the hon. Member's constituency at Blackley. This is why the Act of 1920 limited the number of Members from Northern Ireland, because they could not start limiting their powers and functions.
The people of Northern Ireland are taxpayers. The Budget produced at the Dispatch Box in this House applies to all my constituents. Until recently, for example, it might have been thought wrong for a Member from Northern Ireland to express any view about, let us say, the affairs of London Transport. But London Transport is now to be subsidised in order to keep down the fares of London commuters. My constituents in County Down will have to pay a portion, it may be only a small portion, of that subsidy. Why on earth should they have no say in it? The hon. Member is on a bad constitutional argument and I do not think that it is worth spending too much time on it.
Let me turn to the main subject of the debate, which is the economic welfare of Northern Ireland and the actions of Her Majesty's Government towards Northern Ireland. That is what we are debating—not internal affairs in Northern Ireland which hon. Members have raised. The hon. Member for Blackley spent some part of his speech suggesting that the North-West of Ulster needed more attention. I sympathise with that. It is true. For a great variety of reasons, the northwest and the extreme south of Ulster need more attention. It is a very difficult problem. But the hon. Member's words sounded very hollow indeed when the only action which his Government have taken with respect to the north-west of Ulster is the announcement which they made today that they will close the antisubmarine base.
82 I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) was extraordinarily moderate in his reaction, presumably because of his hope that at this, the eleventhand-a-half-hour, he can persuade Her Majesty's Government to change their decision in the interests of his constituency. I do not share his hopes. I do not believe that Her Majesty's Government will change their view about this. Indeed, they never change their mind when they are wrong. Therefore, I do not believe that they will change it now.
The decision to close this base is scandalous, inhuman and cynical. I make no complaint about the three Ministers who are at this moment sitting on the Front Bench opposite because we know that they have been our friends throughout. I complain about the way in which they have been treated by Her Majesty's Government. This decision has been made despite representations which they have made on grounds of regional development and it is perfectly clear that the Cabinet, having paid lip-service to the idea of regional development for so long, have now proved, by their action, what my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry described as a hollow sham.
It makes complete nonsense of everything the Government have said about regional development and I appeal to them to realise that we are dealing not with a sort of game of chess when we consider the future of the anti-submarine base. We are not dealing with a question of whether a knight should be placed here or there on a board but with the lives of men and women and with the economic health of a whole area. We are not dealing with the 480, or whatever the number is, people directly involved but with their families as well, including the people who trade with them and with the life of the area. It is not at all the same thing as the hon. Member for Acton mentioned, for we are not considering an area where, if people are put out of work, they are easily found other employment. The hon. Member for Acton referred to having sympathy for the "disturbance", but even he must realise that to put men out of work permanently is not a disturbance but a calamity and a catastrophe.
When the Joint Under-Secretary replies to the debate I hope he will say that there is even now a possibility of having 83 this decision reviewed. I hold out little hope of him saying that, and I do not expect to hear very mach from him. Despite the fact that we in Northern Ireland like him personally, the decision of the Government in this matter would, if it were carried through, be met with deep anger, dismay and resentment there. The people of Northern Ireland will be behind us in this House of Commons when we say that the sooner we are rid of this Government the better, before they can do us more injury.
The speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary was, as always, courteous, understanding and informative. With the deepest respect to him, however, there was no grain of comfort whatever for Northern Ireland as a whole in his remarks. Consider Short Brothers. The right hon. and learned Gentleman really only said that the consultants were still consulting and that he could not say more in advance of their report. He was asked whether or not Short's would remain basically plane-makers. We have not had an answer to that question and I do not know whether the Joint Under-Secretary will deal with the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster), who takes so much care and trouble and expends so much energy over the future of this industry, has expressed deep disquiet about it. Has the Joint Under-Secretary any inkling of what is in the minds of the consultants? Why has it not been possible, in view of today's debate—and the fact that we would be having this debate has been known for a long time—for the Government to have produced at least some sort of interim report from the consultants? It leaves us with the deepest suspicion that what the consultants may have said to the Government is, "We cannot find anything yet. For goodness sake, do not make any statement. We will come to you if and when we find something". I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will deal with this issue because if what I have suggested is generally thought to be the position, Short's will suffer catastrophically because of it.
It is important for the Government to say something positive about the future of this great industry—and they must 84 say it tonight. We are dealing with the lives of thousands of people, people who cannot easily secure other employment. I have no evidence to suggest that the news about the future of Short's will be good, but I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will say something to dispel that fear. After what has happened in connection with "Sea Eagle," I have no confidence in the Government's ability to solve anything.
As the Home Secretary rightly acknowledged, agriculture is one of our basic industries. Indeed, in my view it is the most important industry in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) made some useful and valuable suggestions. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Sir Knox Cunningham) suggested that the rise in the remoteness grant was inadequate. "Inadequate" is too weak an adjective. After the able speech made in the last debate by my noble Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (The Marquess of Hamilton), we had expected a substantial rise in the remoteness grant, certainly to a more realistic figure.
It is true, as the Home Secretary argued, that we cannot expect to be put in the most favourable place on the mainland. We cannot expect the full amount of the deficiency because of transport difficulties and so on. We have not at any stage asked for £5 million or £6 million—but we did not expect to be put off with a rise of only £500,000.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Antrim, South suggested that the figure should be nearer £2½ million to £3 million, and I agree. This is what the industry in Northern Ireland had a right to expect. I have no knowledge of the view which the Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture has put on this matter, but I am certain that they will not be satisfied with the figure that has been given.
The basic trouble with Northern Ireland's agriculture is that we suffer from our remoteness from the market. It is all very well for Ministers to produce White Papers giving base metal, copper, ha'penny handshakes to small farmers who go out of the business, but those Ministers do not realise that something must be done to offset the difficulties 85 caused by our remoteness from the market.
I do not want to go over what my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry said on the subject of Anglo-Eire trade, but I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will reply to the points he raised. I, too, assure We Joint Under-Secretary that this matter is causing great anxiety to the agricultural community in Northern Ireland and I urge him to remember that that community is more vulnerable in this context than any other part of the United Kingdom. I cannot see Northern Ireland as a whole willingly allowing its industry to benefit from a reduction of tariffs if it means a substantial disability being placed on its agriculture.
After this debate, after the lack of anything positive from the Government, after the desperate anxiety which we still feel—and feel even more than we did before—about the future of our aircraft industry, after the savage blow, and my hon. Friend was right in describing it in such terms, over "Sea Eagle", Northern Ireland will tomorrow feel wounded and badly hurt by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom.
Anyone who reads fairly the last debate we had on Northern Ireland will agree that Northern Ireland Members have tried to approach their problems in a non-partisan sense and without too much party spirit. We have done our best but, honestly, in the light of what has been said today, we have been ill-requited by Her Majesty's Government, and we feel bitter and distressed about it. I myself have no confidence in Her Majesty's Government's ability to solve our problems in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that everyone there will support me when I say that the sooner the Government go the better.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)
There is some risk in any English Member intervening—and I use that word advisedly—in the affairs of Ulster, Wales or Scotland, but unless our horizons are to be unduly restricted it is a risk we must take. Earlier in the debate I asked a question of my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy about Northern Ireland. It was such a reasonable and useful question that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester- 86 Clark) thought that it was "planted." He has, I am grateful to say, since accepted that it was merely the Merchant Navy coming to the help of the Royal Navy.
I refer again to that statement because it should be said not once but twice, even in one day. It was that the Secretary of State for Defence for the Navy was well aware of the seriousness of the decision he had to make; that he was well aware of the ammunition he was providing for his critics in this place at this time; well aware of the use that would be made of it in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, not only tomorrow but in the weeks and months to come. My hon. Friend could have kept silent. There was no need for him to have made that statement this afternoon, and while we accept that it was a painful and difficult decision we can all agree that he did his duty—
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
While the hon. Member says that, will he also say that the whole issue on H.M.S. "Sea Eagle" has been played throughout—and I am sure that the Under-Secretary will agree that it has been played throughout—totally non-politically? There has been only one concern on this side, and that concern has been to see that nothing was done to disrupt the economic structure in Londonderry and that people were not put out of employment. The whole case has been fought in that manner, and there has been no politics in it.
§ Mr. Ogden
I would ask the hon. Member to accept that the statement was put forward in that way—having in mind the economic structure of Londonderry and the strength and security of the Realm in and through the Royal Navy. I have not had the pleasure of visiting Londonderry, but I know that at one time Derry ships and Derry men used to come out to see me—to the ships of the Merchant Navy: Liverpool, Scots, Welsh and English men and ships. They came to us, and stayed with us, and escorted us safely through the trials and troubles of the North Atlantic at that time.
I would ask the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy two points. When he discusses the economies to be made, the savings in skilled labour, and the operational efficiency in peacetime, and when he looks at the base as it is in Derry—and I understand that it extends to 10 or 15 acres—will he say whether the 87 whole area is to be made available for redevelopment for another purpose? Is it not possible that part of the installation should be kept as a nucleus and a reserve for future operational use, if we ever have to use it, and particularly such types of installation as the quays, the piers and so on, not only at this point, but halfway up the river? If he can also let us have information and decisions as soon as possible, just as he has done in this other case this afternoon, it will be appreciated, whatever we may think of the actual decisions he makes.
My second point relates to the political siutation in Ulster. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary never referred to this aspect at all, and I take it that this was because of the convention that we do not intervene or interfere in Northern Ireland affairs. If that is so, may I respectfully suggest that we have a new convention, and leave it at that? We have political responsibilities, so we are told, and I think that it is time that this was decided one way or the other. Whether or not we are politically responsible in the long run, we certainly have a moral right.
The hon. Member for Londonderry referred, before being ruled out of order, to the political situation in Northern Ireland. He managed to assert that discrimination in education, housing and employment was due to shortage. I do not know whether he meant that, but I certainly think that if there is this shortage in such basic services it provides the best case of all for making sure that there is absolutely no discrimination. It should be regarded as a good reason for fair shares.
My hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Floud) was earlier ruled out of order. I shall respect the Ruling of the Chair, although I do not see how he could be ruled out of order on a Motion, That this House do now adjourn.
Order. The hon. Member must not now question that Ruling of the Chair. I would ask him to accept not only the Ruling but the spirit of the Ruling.
§ Mr. Ogden
I did say that I would do so. It seemed a little strange at the time, but no doubt Sir Samuel will, as he has done before on many occasions, 88 privately explain the workings of this place to one more newly come to it than he.
I refer my right hon. and learned Friend to the OFFICIAL REPORT of 12th May, 1965, when my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Maxwell), referring to the Speaker's Conference on Electoral Law, asked:Is Northern Ireland excluded from these discussions, Mr. Speaker? If so, why?The late Mr. Speaker replied:They are not discussions. This is a conference which will consider the matter within its terms of reference. I imagine that this comprises the whole area to which the existing electoral laws of the country apply."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th May, 1965; Vol. 712, c. 522.]Perhaps the Home Secretary or the Under-Secretary will give us some idea of the proposals they may have in mind to ensure that the electoral law in Northern Ireland is as fair as it is in the rest of country.
Finally, I make a basic point. There are as many friends of Ulster on this side of the House as there are on that. I ask you to accept this in good faith[Interruption.]—you may say that—
Order. The hon. Member does understand this point of order, which is that he must not address hon. Members but the Chair.
§ Mr. Ogden
The one fundamental thing in this debate is that we should not be accused of always making party political points, but because we are Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland our concern for one part must be as great as that for any other part. If we receive information, whether it be the Ulster Commentary or information from other parts, that gives us cause for concern, we should try to express that concern in this place. That is all that we have tried to do. I do not want to see 12 Ulster Members of Parliament sent back there, though I would certainly seek to replace them by Members of my own political party. I would ask those hon. Members opposite to accept our remarks in all good faith, and when we speak on this position to take our words at their face value until it is proved otherwise, because Ulster needs us just as much as we and the whole of the United Kingdom need Ulster.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. George Forrest (Mid-Ulster)
The constituency I have the honour to represent for the last nine years is made up mainly of small farmers.
Our small farms are mostly holdings of between 20 and 50 acres. The problem of the small farmer has been discussed at great length today, and I was very disappointed when the right hon. Gentleman said that he had decided to give an increase of only £500,000 to the farmers of Northern Ireland.
I know the situation on the small farms of Northern Ireland, because I am the son of a small farmer who has now a holding of almost 100 acres, which in Northern Ireland is a small farm. They have made great progress during the past 10 or 12 years, but this year has been the worst the small farmer has had. He has bought in his store cattle, some of them from the south of Ireland, at £9 or £10 per cwt., and now he is cashing them off at £7 or £7 5s. at the maximum. Surely something more could be done and must be done if the small farmer is going to survive. I appeal with a tear in my eye for an increase in the grant. Do not let us talk of £500,000 added to £1,250,000. Let us talk of three times what we have been getting and so put Northern Ireland on its feet where it is entitled to be.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Rafton Pounder (Belfast, South)
I will detain the House only for a second or two, and my speech is really in the form of a couple of questions. Our debate has been overshadowed by the deplorable and cynical announcement about the future of H.M.S. "Sea Eagle". It is deplorable from a defence viewpoint because it adds further concentration of our defences on the southern coast of England, and cynical because it means the complete back-tracking of the assurances which have been repeatedly given of the Government's interest in the development of Northern Ireland. We have heard that there will be a saving of £500,000, in this closure, which is one-fortieth of 1 per cent. of the defence budget. As has been said by my hon. Friend for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), to achieve that, 500 men are to be thrown out of work. For every person engaged in manufacturing or semi-manufacturing industry, it is said that there are five 90 more people dependent in some measure upon him, and the spending power involved thereby is very considerable. I am quite convinced that, before the Session is very much older, we will hear a great deal more on the subject of H.M.S. "Sea Eagle".
The Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy made reference this afternoon to finding alternative employment, but what is the alternative employment? It would appear to have been shelved. We are told by the Home Secretary that unemployment remains high compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. It is bound to remain high if the Government is going to close down essential workshops and industries of this nature.
In col. 338 of HANSARD of 4th August, in answer to a Question of mine on "Sea Eagle", it was stated that there were 254 civilians employed. It is no good arguing whether they are established or unestablished. The word used was "civilians", and the total figure was 254. That figure has been shown to be palpably incorrect. It is "Sea Eagle" today. Is it to be Short Bros. and Harland tomorrow? Is the Home Secretary prepared to give a categorical assurance that employment at Short Bros. and Harland will be secure at its existing level until 1970? Not a single government contract has been received by Short Bros. and Harland, for that matter, or by Harland and Wolff since 15th October of last year, and my hon. and gallant Friend for Down, South (Captain Orr) was more than charitable when he talked about the need for the consultants to be given time to make up their minds. Perhaps they are holding back, hoping that something will turn up. It may, however, be that, as we are on the threshold of the Stormont General Election, the Government are reluctant to say anything to prejudice the chances of their party in Northern Ireland.
If I may again take a sentence from the remarks of the Home Secretary, he said that additional aircraft, if available, will be sent to Short Bros. and Harland to mitigate the effects of the rundown which will otherwise take place. Those words are particularly depressing, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will give us some encouragement when he replies to the debate.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. G. B. H. Currie (Down, North)
I want to intervene very briefly in the debate, and I must give my personal apology to the House for not being here at the opening of it. Like another of my colleagues, I was fogbound on my way to London.
I have only a very few matters I wish to mention specifically, and I do not want to repeat those topics already discussed in the course of the debate which I have had the good fortune to hear. If I do not repeat them, it does not mean that I do not give full support to everything that has been said about the proposed closing down of "Sea Eagle" and about the failure to find some new form of employment for the very many people who work in Short Bros. and Harland, some of whom live in my constituency. It does not mean that I do not give full support to those hon. Members who have asked the Government to take another look at the question of deficiency payments.
I have always understood that the remoteness payment was introduced partly to offset the cost of Ulster producers and farmers getting their goods to British markets. At the present time there is a very serious threat hanging over the producers of Northern Ireland. In London, we have what is known as the Euston Conference which fixes freight rates, both passenger and goods, across the Irish Sea. The result is that when a new competitor on the sea journey sets up as a carrier of freight or passengers he is successful for a time in competition with British Railways, but after he has demonstrated how successful he can be he is offered a handsome price to get out and his undertaking is taken over. In consequence, across the Irish Sea at the present time there is a virtual monopoly in shipping.
A proposal has been announced in the Press which is causing alarm and despondency to many of my industrial constituents. It is that all these freight rates and passenger fares should be increased in the very near future. That would appear to me to be a matter which the First Secretary might think appropriate to refer to the Prices and Incomes body which has been set up, because it is something which will have a profound effect on costs in Northern Ireland and something which could make us much less competitive in the world. It must not 92 be forgotten that we have to import raw materials from across the Irish Sea, process them and then ship them out as finished products to the markets. I ask the Minister who is to reply to this debate to say something about this matter.
We from Northern Ireland must go out into the world to sell our goods. It is very important that there should be good market research. It is very important that we should find what are the articles which will sell to maintain existing employment and to build up fresh capacity for employment. Programming of that sort is essential. It is, therefore, curious that we are the only part of the United Kingdom without its own Passport Office, without an office able to issue passports. Belfast has no capacity to issue a passport. A person wishing to have a passport has to make application in Belfast and then send the form to Liverpool. This in many cases involves delay in the acquiring of a passport for the purposes of travel abroad. Business contracts can be lost in this way. Necessity for going to see a foreign buyer might arise quickly. I ask that we should have an officer in Belfast capable of issuing these important documents.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. James A. Kilfedder (Belfast, West)
I shall detain the House for only a few moments. I wish to refer to a matter which affects my constituency and the firm of Short Bros. and Harland, in which a large number of people in my constituency work.
We have heard a great deal from my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) about the aircraft industry in Belfast. I wish to speak about the human aspect of this matter. Looking through reports of previous debates on Ulster, I see that when the present Minister of Power was a member of the Shadow Cabinet he constantly criticised the Conservative Government for not giving enough orders to Short Bros. He also criticised any attempt which might have been made to make use of the establishment for any other purpose. I remember reading a remark in which he said that it would be a shame if that tremendous aircraft factory with its great hangars should be turned to another purpose and therefore wasted. He ridiculed the Conservative Government for not going 93 further than to assure that there would be work for a number which would not fall below 6,000 in the 1960s.
Now we have a Labour Administration and unfortunately for people who work in Short Bros, and Harland, they are under the threat of redundancy. We have heard nothing from the consultants who were appointed last February. I fear the very worst. In a very short time, although this may be delayed as long as possible, I fear that we shall find That Short Bros. will cease to be the great firm it is now and that it will be reduced to a skeleton. Then these people with their great skill will seek other work, if they can get it, in Northern Ireland, but more likely by emigrating to England, or further afield. I feel deeply for these people under threat of unemployment, particularly for those employed in the anti-submarine base in Londonderry, people who are middle-aged and who find extreme difficulty in getting other employment. This is what the Labour Government have done for the people of Northern Ireland.
Then there is the proposal in regard to the Territorial Army. As a former private in the Territorial Army rising to the dizzy rank of corporal, I have a great feeling for the Territorial Army. We have a marvellous place in Northern Ireland for the recruitment for the Army and many people from Ulster are serving in the British Armed Forces. It would be disastrous not only to the British Services but also to Northern Ireland if there were drastic reductions in the Territorial Army in Northern Ireland.
I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary, when he replies to the debate, will deal with these matters. They deeply affect Northern Ireland and the families of people employed on the "Sea Eagle" project, in Short Bros. and other concerns. I should like him to give an assurance that he will try to persuade the Cabinet to look again at the question of the closure of the "Sea Eagle" base. I should like him to give an assurance that those employed in Short Bros. and Harland, the design staff and all the others—very skilled people whom we cannot afford to lose—will have their jobs secured at the figures which the Conservative Government up to last year assured us would be maintained at not less than 7,000 up to 1970.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
The question of the closure of the "Sea Eagle" project affects me only second in severity to Londonderry for I am a Derry man. I see clearly that if this closes there will be a rundown at the R.A.F. station at Ballykelly and not long afterwards, I fear, in the Sea-Air Rescue Service in my constituency. This is typical of the pattern which we may expect.
The Minister spoke about the strong emotional attachment between Derry and the Navy. That emotion is strong and worthwhile, but it is also the question of hard cash that will hurt in the homes of Londonderry in which men are faced with the prospect of being put out of work. Why the three-year rundown period? If the economy is so devastating we had better start at once, or is the Labour Party softening the blow?
We have heard of increased technical difficulties about training submarines from Plymouth. I suggest that when one starts doing sums in half-submarines and half-millions one often makes the answer just what one wants. I suggest that there are far more naval officers with cottages within 50 miles of Plymouth than there are with homes 50 miles from Derry. They are not so very different from people in industry who want to move their businesses into pleasant, balmy Southern England. Although Derry is a long way from Plymouth, it is a good deal nearer the well-known and long-established naval harbours on the Clyde and further North. We have been reminded by the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) that it is quite near to Aberdeen.
Surely the real economy would be to take the primary training in anti-submarine defence away from the Channel where there are technical difficulties and move it over to Derry and thus increase the naval establishment to the considerable benefit of Northern Ireland or the Clyde. I believe the men behind this plan, who presumably have acted in good faith in advising the Admiralty, have been doing a certain amount of wishful thinking and making the sums in half 95 submarines and half millions come out to answers that they want. Whether it is a coincidence or not, it has been stated that the increase in the remoteness grant is half a million pounds. I am not suggesting that that half a million was announced only to save the neck of the Joint Under-Secretary for the Home Department when he went into the lions' den at Balmoral. He has a new name in Northern Ireland—"the Welsh wizard". This was something which we never achieved. But none of us had £½ million to give away. We are thankful for £½ million. We will make excellent use of it. However, the Government should not pretend that by raising the remoteness grant by £½ million they are beginning to solve the problems of Northern Ireland agriculture. We do not look a gift horse in the mouth in Northern Ireland. We have far too much common sense for that. However we want somebody really to look at the roots of the problem.
The nub of the problem of Northern Ireland agriculture is that the terms of trade have turned against us. We import about two-thirds of our feedingstuffs, whereas the rest of the United Kingdom is nearly self-sufficient. For a long time, by importing direct, we got our feedingstuffs at the same price as that paid by the majority of other areas of the United Kingdom if not even cheaper. Although our prices were lower for products sold from our farms, there was still a reasonable margin between the cost of the feedingstuffs and the price at which a pig was sold. That position has changed. We are now paying as much for our feedingstuffs as the rest of the United Kingdom, if not more, but we are getting a lower price for our product because of transport costs.
The movements in terms of the actual price of feedingstuffs are small, but the effect of small increases in the price of feedingstuffs on the farmer's margin can almost halve his income. It is this change in the terms of trade which is bringing Northern Ireland farmers up against hard, cold economic facts and the prospect of bankruptcy. If there has been any benefit from the credit squeeze and the high Bank Rate, it is that it has made Northern Ireland farmers see more clearly than ever before that they are 96 simply not getting a decent return for their labour and their invested capital.
Unless the problem of the cost of feedingstuffs in Northern Ireland, which we should import just as cheaply into Northern Ireland ports, if not cheaper, is looked into very carefully indeed by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, we cannot accept that the Ministry is doing its best for Northern Ireland agriculture. This is a question of the margin of feedingstuffs prices catching up with the price at which we can sell our goods. Until this basic fact of agriculture is clearly understood and something is done about it, £½ million here or there will not solve the problems of the small farmer, nor indeed those of the large farmer, in Northern Ireland.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
This debate has been powerfully argued and discussed, at any rate from this side of the House and, on occasions, from the other. So much so that I do not think it is necessary for me to speak at great length in summarising all the arguments which have been so well put already. Hon. Members from Belfast have dealt in particular with the problems of Short Brothers. I shall have something additional to say upon that topic. We listened with considerable sympathy to the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Floud), because the hon. Gentleman experienced that difficulty which we all sometimes experience of keeping within order. In this debate we have all been disciplined without discrimination, whatever happens in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest), whom we are so glad to see back with us and fully restored in health, and my hon. Friends the Members for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) and Antrim, North (Mr. Henry Clark) have dealt with the topic of agriculture. I do not know whether my hon. Friends possess the charm of the Joint Under-Secretary, but I warn the hon. Gentleman that I believe that he will come under considerable pressure on the remoteness grant before he is finished. I very much doubt whether the farmers of Northern Ireland will regard £½ million as a ceiling.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) argued that hon. Members representing Northern Ireland seats should not have the right to talk 97 about very much in the House of Commons except Northern Ireland. We have heard some rather loose talk of that kind from other quarters on the Government side from time to time. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will make it absolutely clear that that kind of nonsense does not form any part of the Government's thinking, that every Member of the House of Commons is equal with every other Member of the House of Commons, and that all of us will speak on all subjects, subject always to keeping within the bounds of order.
The debate started on a somewhat sombre note with the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy announcing the closure of the Joint Submarine School. This is a serious decision to which we should direct our attention. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will have something to say about it. When the Home Secretary said that he had no new striking decision to announce, a sigh of relief went round these benches. One striking decision was enough for today. We did not want to have any further ones after that.
The Home Secretary, as is always the case, addressed himself to the problems of Northern Ireland with good sense and moderation, without making too much of a parry issue of these matters. What he was really saying was that over the years a considerable amount had been done to ameliorate Northern Ireland's problems. All of us on these benches are agreed that a considerable amount has been done. The Home Secretary mentioned the advance factories which have been built—I think 19 of them, 15 of them being occupied—and the steady downward trend in the figure of unemployment.
All of us, wherever we sit in the House, ought to lay stress on these matters, because it does not serve the cause which I hope we all have at heart—the prosperity of Northern Ireland—to exaggerate its difficulties and its problems. People do not go to a country which everybody is running down and of which everybody is saying, "It has such difficulties that it will never recover". This is not the right approach. Whatever Northern Ireland's difficulties, we ought to count the blessings which are there to count and count the assets which it possesses, which I think the Joint 98 Under-Secretary will agree are very considerable assets—great skills, rich agriculture, and a determination of character in its people which has produced incidentally, among other things, some of the finest soldiers who have ever served the British people.
At any rate, the trend in the unemployment figures has been downward, falling from about 7.5 per cent. to 6.6 per cent. in 1964 and it is now down to about 5.5 per cent. This is high by United Kingdom standards, admittedly, but it is an encouraging trend. What we want to ensure is that this trend continues. We do not want actions to be taken which will interrupt this trend. We think that the policies which have been pursued—heaven knows, no policies are perfect—have at any rate got Northern Ireland's economy moving in the right direction. The last thing we would wish to see would be something which would suddenly halt or interrupt this or put it into reverse.
How is that to be achieved? In part, it will be achieved by what happens to the individual industries. The most important is agriculture, because, whatever we do with the other industries, agriculture will always remain an important part of the whole economy of Northern Ireland. I do not think it is necessary for me to tell the Joint Under-Secretary that the farmers of Northern Ireland, although they greeted him with the kindliness which is characteristic of that part of the world, were not altogether happy about the Price Review in February. I put it in that moderate way because I think that these things couched in moderate terms are always much more effective. The farmers of Northern Ireland expect much better things from the Government. So do we. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will bring these sentiments home to his colleagues in the Cabinet and explain to him that he cannot conceivably produce a Price Review like that twice and still be greeted with such kindliness in Northern Ireland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will weigh these words carefully. Agriculture is certainly important and is, indeed, basic to the economy of Northern Ireland.
There are, of course, other aspects of the Northern Irish industrial scene. The dry dock, for example, is a great venture. It is something of a gamble, as all great 99 ventures are. Do not let us imagine that just by sinking huge sums of capital the results necessarily come out exactly as we would wish. All of us in all parts of the House have had experiences of this character. The venture was entered into only after a great deal of heart-searching by Harland and Wolff. Careful thought was given to this, and for many years industrial opinion as a whole was against the establishment of a dock. Nevertheless, with the changing circumstances and the prospects of shipbuilding and the rest it was thought that this was the right thing to do. I am sure that it is the wish and hope of all of us in the House that this should go forward and should be successful.
The most anxious thought must be given to the future of Short Brothers and Harland itself. I think that it was the hon. Member for Acton who said that I was not the one to talk about cancellations and that I had cancelled various projects in my time. Indeed I have, but I cannot hold a candle to Her Majesty's Government in this respect. I am a poor beginner in all this. They took all three of the major projects of the aircraft industry and cancelled the lot, and they did their very best to cancel the fourth, the Concord, as well. They were beaten on that only because we had signed the contract with the French. It was the only thing that stopped them. They managed to scrap the three major aircraft projects. They were very big projects, and the repercussions went right through the whole aircraft industry from top to bottom.
In their pamphlets before the election hon. and right hon. Members opposite emphasised the sympathy with which they would look at the aircraft projects. No doubt they do sympathise, as the Walrus and the Carpenter did with the oysters, but they ate them up—those of the largest size. They swallowed them and I am afraid that nothing that they do now is likely to resuscitate them in any large degree or ameliorate the damage which the Government have caused.
The HS681 has gone. All these orders have been placed in the United States. The management of Short's have been over to America and have won contracts on the Phantom wing and the rest. This is very good. This shows that they are, 100 as the Joint Under-Secretary of State and the Home Secretary know, a firm of great energy and drive and considerable skill and capacity, but they have not been given anything yet by the Government. They have been given a committee. I am horrified at the facility with which Ministers leap up to say, "You may have a committee", They say, "'Sea Eagle' is cancelled but it is quite all right. You can have a committee, like Short's." This is pretty cold comfort for anybody in Londonderry. This Committee has been sitting for a long time and I would say that if the Committee had any flicker of hope something would have cropped up in a debate on Northern Ireland—unless the Home Secretary, a man of great kindliness, has left it to the Joint Under-Secretary to announce the good news. This would be novel and I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman will hold out much hope about the prospects.
What are the Government going to do? What work is to go to Short's The Joint Under-Secretary must have thought about this a great deal. If the firm is not to make aircraft, we must look at diversification, but this is no great brilliant idea suddenly produced by Her Majesty's Government in 1965. Short's have been looking at diversification for years. They have been seeking other ways, and indeed have found a few ways of diversifying their activities. Now a Committee has been looking at the matter. The Under-Secretary must have been discussing these matters inside the Home Office and it is time that someone said what sort of work is to replace the enormous contracts which have been cancelled. Short's are struggling on with great courage and drive, getting orders here and there, mostly on the aircraft side, but if the Under-Secretary has some other ideas it is time that he produced them to the House of Commons or some indication was given of the prospects that lie in front of this firm.
To move from the firm itself and the industry itself to Government activity—and Short's is somewhere between the two—we come to the placing in Northern Ireland of activities which are directly within the Government's control. A typical example of this was the Joint Anti-Submarine School at Londonderry. We know of the pressure to close it. I knew of it and I would not approve of it. When I was in office I would not have it, 101 because I found that the operational case was utterly unconvincing. I think that the Home Office has been awfully weak with the Ministry of Defence. The Admiralty can make a jolly good case for keeping all the admirals within a half-mile of Nelson's Column. Indeed most of them are at present, but that does not mean that operationally it is a proper thing to do.
When they said, "We must move everything to the south of England", I would take an awful lot of convincing before I swallowed that story. There is always this pressure. All the time industry wants to be in the south of England because there is a big market there. Men like to go there. The wives like to go there. As has been said, everybody seems to have a cottage somewhere in Sussex. It is much easier to get everyone to go there. Consequently they put up a wonderful case for moving the Joint Anti-Submarine School to Plymouth at little or no cost. The Treasury has not woken up to what it will cost. The move will be approved and those concerned will come along with the bill for the extra expense later. That is the way these things happen. I have had experience of this.
This is a most unfortunate move. I believe it to be operationally quite wrong. A bigger picture is involved here, with its effects both on Northern Ireland and Scotland. When I was at the Ministry of Defence I was increasingly impressed with the folly of concentrating all training in the south of England. It is a mad thing to do. When one looks at the problems with which Ministers are faced at present, it is mad to concentrate everybody's training, not only in the Navy but in the Army and Air Force as well, in the south of England. The moment this is mentioned there is a howl from the generals, the air marshals and the admirals, but it is time that the Government got them out. It is time that we had a look at this. It is time we considered whether we can afford this concentration of military activity in one narrow third of the country along the South Coast. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North is quite right. When the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy said that these people must join the other training establishments in the south of England, the answer is the opposite to the one which the hon. Gentleman drew. The answer is, "Get the other training 102 establishments out. Get them out to Scotland or Northern Ireland."
There are other things which one looks at besides expense. One looks at the operational case. I was very glad that the Minister of Defence for the Royal Navy came to the Box and at least admitted that the operational case was 100 per cent. for keeping the school in Londonderry. It is the only place where one can find the deep water and the absence of shipping without which one cannot have an anti-submarine school. No one can have an anti-submarine school at Cowes. That sort of thing is not what war is about. I am very sorry at the way this decision has gone. If only I could have briefed the Home Secretary a little more powerfully beforehand, we could, I think, have got a better result even out of this Cabinet.
The case has not been put, and my advice, together with that of my hon. Friends, is that the Home Secretary should have the matter reopened. This particular case is one of the oldest rackets in the Ministry of Defence. People have been trying to do it for years, and now, because there is no one in charge much in the Ministry of Defence and all these Ministers can go off, each doing his little bit, the thing has been done. It is a pity that the Home Secretary has allowed things to drift. With real drive, even now he could get the decision reversed. The case is absolutely 100 per cent. for reversing it, both the case in regional polïtics, which the First Secretary of State is concerned about, and the military case. They are united in one direction. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will do his best. We shall be very disappointed if he fails.
We have talked of the prospects of various industries, from aircraft to agriculture. We have talked of the "Sea Eagle" and various other matters in this debate. As so often happens, one can sometimes talk a lot about detail and forget the broad picture. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry made a most important observation when he drew attention to the discussions about the relation between Northern Ireland and Eire, the Irish Republic. I am not saying that we ought today to be told in detail what the outcome is to be of what is sought for in these matters. I share my hon. Friend's view that everybody welcomed the talks 103 between the Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Years ago, perhaps, one would not have been able even to welcome such talks, but one can welcome these things now, recognising that the ties between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom go much deeper and are much more matters of the heart than of the details of tariff arrangements between two localities of that kind. But, nevertheless, tariff arrangements matter. They are important and very complicated, and they are rather special, as all things are rather special in the Irish scene.
I hope very much that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will say something of the ideas which the Government have in mind. The Government's own action in putting on a 15 per cent. surcharge did a good deal of damage to trading relations generally with a great number of countries, among them Southern Ireland, of course. Now they are talking of having some kind of free trade arrangement in which, no doubt, a number of industrial manufactured goods would flow free of tariff into Southern Ireland, but, equally, something would have to come out beneficial to Southern Ireland. What is it to be? Presumably, it must be something to do with agriculture, but what?
When we were discussing similar matters in connection with the Common Market negotiations, periodical reports were made to the House of Commons. The Minister concerned would come down and give a progress report on how matters were going and a general discussion could occasionally take place. I do not put this question in the same order of importance, but, at the same time, I think that it is something we ought to hear a little about before we get too far down the road. On balance, I think that it is something which the whole House would probably approve. But let us hear a little. Lift a corner of the curtain. Let us know something of how things are going. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State is very well informed about them.
I sum up in this way. The trend in Northern Ireland, with all its problems, has been a good one. It has been moving in the right direction. Even its unemployment is a hidden asset in the sense 104 that it is a reserve of strength which can be used with skill and good will on all sides in the bringing of new industry there for new production. Our earnest wish—I do not say this out of bitter party criticism—is that the Government should stop doing things, such as "Sea Eagle" decision, which damage the Irish economy. Let the Home Secretary and his colleagues fight for Northern Ireland's interests a little more strongly in the Cabinet. The Home Office here is in the right and the Ministry of Defence is in the wrong. I speak with some knowledge of this matter. So let Ministers fight for Northern Ireland in these questions and, above all, do everything they can, as we all would want to do, to bring new industry and new prosperity to a very worth-while part of the United Kingdom.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Thomas)
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that you will forgive me if my first word is to express delight at seeing you occupying the Chair. You have been a distinguished colleague of mine in the Principality of Wales for a long time. You have come from a part of the Principality where people know how to save a penny or two. You have been Recorder of the capital city of Wales, and I recall that the last time I appeared before you was to give evidence when you were the presiding judge.
§ Mr. Thomas
I was a witness. I was on the side of the angels. At least, in the decision of the learned Recorder I was, because the evidence which I gave, though it might not have been decisive, was, apparently, accepted. I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a long and happy period in the distinguished office to which you have been called.
I join with the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) in extending my felicitous greeting to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest). We were all deeply grieved at his serious illness, and I am very glad to see that not only has he made great strides but that he is able to come back and take his normal part in debates in the House.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), who opened the 105 debate, has, in the mysterious happenings within the party opposite, been translated to higher places in recent days. I congratulate him on this—I thought that I would get all the nice things said at the beginning—
§ Mr. Thomas
Yes, I know, but there are some nice things for the end, too.
Ever since he came to the House, the hon. Member for Londonderry has played a leading part in all debates on Irish affairs. He was kind enough to refer to a visit which I was privileged to make to Northern Ireland during the Recess. Both my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and I have now visited Northern Ireland, and I should like the Irish people to know how deeply I appreciated their courtesy and their kindness, and how relieved I was when the farmers' meeting came to an end. It is true that they subjected me for one long hour to questions on agriculture. It is also true that, like farmers everywhere, they were worried about the pay of Members of Parliament. It is marvellous how many people that worries. It worried the farmers over there, but I was pleased to tell them that we do not have an annual price review.
I felt that my visit to Northern Ireland was for me a considerable education. Of course, there are difficulties when there is a subordinate Parliament. It is of the utmost importance that we should establish right relationships between the subordinate Parliament and what I might describe as the Imperial Parliament. When we have Governments of different political colours in the subordinate Parliament and the Imperial Parliament it is all the more necessary for all to tread carefully to ensure that conventions established over long years are not trampled upon.
My right hon. and learned Friend and Her Majesty's Government as a whole have established good relationships with the Government of Northern Ireland. I hope that I am not hurting them over there when I say it, but, naturally, we have had to be in close touch with them over decisions that affect the very life of the colony. [Interruption.] I beg pardon. Dear, dear. I wish that had not been heard.
§ Mr. Thomas
I will withdraw and apologise. Strange things happen to me at this Box.
The question has been raised tonight of the voting rights of hon. Gentlemen who come from Northern Ireland. We have always been proud in this House that we have no first or second class Members, that we are all here with equal rights. We have always maintained, and none more than myself, "No taxation without representation". I therefore leave that matter there.
The great issue with which we have been concerned today is the economic future of Northern Ireland. I say at once that I understand the deep feelings of hon. Members who are disturbed by the thought of unemployment. I grew up in the Rhondda Valley. I am the son of a miner, and I know what long-term unemployment can do to the best of people. I have seen its evil influence at work. So I never mind how strongly a man speaks when he is fighting for those whom he represents and feels that their economic future is in question. Nobody has fought harder than the hon. Member for Londonderry, though I know that others have taken their part. I want to deal with the issues that have been raised.
Inevitably, I suppose, the debate has taken a party pattern. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have been complaining about the Labour Government. I happen to be a daily reader of the Belfast Telegraph. I get a copy free. The Belfast Telegraph has conveyed to me something said by, for instance, the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr)—or is it South Down?
§ Mr. Thomas
That is Irish! The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that he usually speaks in a non-political vein in debates here. But he does not speak in a nonpolitical vein when he is in the country. I have been reading his speeches. I wonder whether it is the same fellow who speaks over here.
Let us look at the true picture of what is being done by Her Majesty's Government today to help Northern Ireland. One would think from the tone of some of the speeches that we sat in a corner asking ourselves what we could do next 107 to hurt them. It was the tone of his speech. It was not the tone of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I much enjoyed the right hon. Gentleman's speech. He has a great gift as a debater, if I may say so. Of course, compliments are never resented. The right hon. Gentleman took, I thought, a most reasonable line in his approach.
I think that the House ought to remember, and the Northern Irish people ought to remember, that in the Finance Bill of this year, introduced at a time of very great difficulty for all of the United Kingdom, the Government took the step of increasing from £40 million to £70 million the limit of advances from the Consolidated Fund of our Exchequer to the Northern Irish Exchequer, nearly doubling the advances which Northern Ireland can draw from the Exchequer here. Why was it done? It was done in order to strengthen their efforts to rebuild the economy.
I could not agree more with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth said about the danger of creating the wrong atmosphere. After all, it is a great thing—I know that it is an awful thing to have 5.5 per cent. unemployed—but it is a great thing for Ulster that it has 94.5 per cent. fully employed. There is another side of the picture worth remembering.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned an increase of from £40 million to £70 million under the Consolidated Fund. Is he implying that it is in fact proportionately more than is received by other development type areas throughout Britain?
§ Mr. Thomas
We are talking about Northern Ireland. We have had a sustained picture tonight as though no help at all is being given by the Government to Northern Ireland, and I am making the point, and I believe I am entitled to do it, that we ought to have credit from Northern Ireland—and I hope my words will reach the Irish people there—that the Labour Government have nearly doubled the advances which the Northern Ireland Government can draw from the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Thomas
Well, the hon. Gentleman has not learned the first rule, that once he asks a question it ceases to be his: it belongs to the speaker, and it is up to the speaker how he answers it. It is the first rule one learns on entering politics.
§ Mr. Thomas
A point of order? It is not a point of order, and I am still speaking. But I have listened with great interest to what has been said. I know the hon. Gentleman did not make a speech. So, all right, I will give way to him.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I am merely underlining the point. Is the hon. Gentleman not aware—I know he does not mean these things, he never does—that he has read out of his brief a completely bad point? The point he was making was that the level of public expenditure is being raised in Northern Ireland proportionately with the level of public expenditure in the development areas in the rest of Britain, but he is producing it as though it is a special inducement, a special assistance, given by the Labour Government to Northern Ireland. That it is not.
§ Mr. Thomas
I know the hon. Gentleman is a lawyer—or I think he is. That was a lawyer's point, and I do not go for it in a big way, because the plain truth is that he can split hairs as much as he likes—[An HON. MEMBER: "There is the Home Secretary."]—there are lawyers and lawyers—and lawyers. I have a great advantage now: there is a schoolmaster in the Chair, though not at the moment. But the hon. Gentleman is splitting hairs, and it is no good. I want to leave his point and get on to others. That is only the beginning. It is a very good point. It is hard cash for Northern Ireland. The complaint apparently is that we are also helping the North-East, that we are helping Scotland, and that we are helping other areas in Wales. Is the complaint that Northern Ireland is not alone in the help that has been provided? Is there any reason why Northern Ireland should not appreciate what has been done at a time of stringency, simply because the Labour Government have increased the opportunities for development areas in other parts of the country? The hon. Gentleman is not as good as he usually is.
109 But that is not the end of the story. Under this Government the estimated expenditure on providing premises for industrial development in Northern Ireland in 1965–66 is £13.5 million. In 1964–65, on the estimates that were left to us, it was £8.2 million, which means a 60 per cent. increase this year in providing premises for industrial purposes in Northern Ireland. Surely hon. Gentlemen opposite realise that the Labour Government are keeping faith over the whole broad field of the economy in Northern Ireland?
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have given me the opportunity to refer to other aspects of the matter. The right hon. Member for Monmouth referred to advance factories. Already there are 19 such factories—which is very good—nine more are in the course of construction, and a further 12 are being planned. Is not it idle, therefore, for hon. Gentlemen opposite to stand up in the House and ask, "What are you doing to help Northern Ireland?". The hon. Gentleman asked the question, and I am answering it. I am lucky in that I have the last word, though one can never be certain about that in an Irish debate.
I turn now to the question of Londonderry. No one wishes more than Her Majesty's Government do that the sheer reality of the situation had not forced this unpleasant decision on them. I can only say to the hon. Member who has the responsibility for speaking for Londonderry in this House, and who has never failed to speak out for his constituency, that he is pushing at an open door when he asks us to use all our efforts and our energies to see that some alternative employment is provided.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman and the people of Londonderry that we have been searching, through Government establishments, to find ways in which we can help the people in that part of the land. We are mindful of the fact that it has special problems because it is more remote than Belfast. It has a proud and long record of service to the Royal Navy, and we will not easily give up our endeavours to provide alternative employment. I cannot tell the House now what alternative employment can be found within the next three years, but, 110 happily, we have three years before "Sea Eagle" is completely transferred to Plymouth.
I now turn to the question of Short Brothers. We have heard many party points tonight. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster)—wise men come from the East, but the hon. Member did not sound like that tonight—seemed to me to be saying that whatever offer we made he, with a sort of bingo mentality, wanted us to double.
§ Mr. Thomas
The hon. Member knows more about bingo than I do, and I accept his correction. The hon. Member for Belfast, East should remember that the history of Short's did not begin on 15th October last year. The anxieties about Short's did not begin last autumn. The right hon. Member for Monmouth carried responsibility in the last Government, and he knows the awful anxieties that there have been all along in this matter. We have had talk about the design staff. The right hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. J. Amery), when Minister of Aviation, made a statement on 5th March, 1963, in which he had to say:I realise this is a very, very serious blow above all to the design staff of Short Brothers and Harland, and it may well have serious consequences for them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 5th March, 1963; Vol. 673, c. 212.]With the responsibility of Government, they had to take, and did take, difficult decisions concerning this great firm.
It is well to remind the House that Harland and Wolff, to whom reference has been made tonight, employed 20,000 people before 1961. Between 1961 and 1963 that figure fell by nearly 10,000. To be sure, it has risen by 1,000 since, and I know that the whole House will join with the hon. Member—it might have been the hon. Member for Belfast, East—who paid tribute to the way in which Harland and Wolff were able to obtain further good contracts. Since generosity is a characteristic of a good politician, the hon. Member ought to have gone on to say, "and we know that Harland and Wolff could not have done this without the help of the Board of Trade here." Close co-operation has been going on between us—
§ Mr. Thomas
I know, but we are supposed to speak the truth in generosity. The hon. Member knows, or ought to know, that Her Majesty's Government here in London have been working in the closest harmony with the Government at Stormont, to help them in the question of these contracts.
§ Mr. McMaster
The Minister prefaced his remarks by saying that we wanted to double any offer he made. I would be quite happy if he would guarantee that the work force at Short's would be maintained at 7,000, its existing number. I do not ask for it to be doubled; I just want it maintained.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am a junior Minister. It is not for me to give guarantees of any sort. But to the hon. Member, who knows, as everybody here does, what are the difficulties and the dangers, I say that I hope that orders will be available. I do not want to say any more, for the reasons to which the hon. Member referred. I can only add to what my right hon. Friend said about the consultants' report. Clearly, they have gone a long way in their consideration of this problem. It will soon be possible for Her Majesty's Government to see their recommendations about diversification of the activities within Short's.
The Irish people are like the Welsh people in this, and they have proved it. They are very adaptable in their gifts. We discovered it in South Wales, where we had been a one-industry source of employment for generations. We have discovered that the miners are amongst the most adaptable people in the world. I know that this gift is shared in Northern Ireland—no doubt, in Southern Ireland, too, and wherever the Celts are. These gifts of adaptability are shared by many people and they are certainly found in Northern Ireland.
I hope and pray that when the consultants' report is in the hands of the Government, we shall be able to find ways of maintaining the employment of the people.
§ Captain Orr
Can the hon. Gentleman give any indication of when we may expect this consultants' report?
§ Mr. Thomas
No. My advice is that they are well advanced with their report. It was May of this year, I think, when my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State announced that they would start.
§ Mr. Thomas
Very well. They are well advanced and I earnestly hope that it will not be long before we have the report, because if I lived over there I would be waiting anxiously for it. There are few greater curses that any community can know than the curse of unemployment. Obviously, this side of the House has a thing about unemployment. We have grown up with the horror of it. I know that some hon. Members opposite, too, know at first hand the misery of it, but I assure the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) that we will treat the report with urgency when it is received.
I have been asked questions about the discussions that are under way with the Eire Government on the question of free trade. It was suggested by one hon. Member that we should have reported as we went along. Public statements have been made in the form of communiqués. Quite clearly, I am not in a position to announce the stage of negotiations, but I can say that we work in the closest harmony with the Northern Ireland Government. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will take it from me that there is consultation and that there is no purpose in my going further in this statement tonight other than to say that the Northern Ireland Government are aware of the stage of the negotiations, because we realise that they have a direct concern and interest in whatever decision is reached.
§ Mr. Chichester-Clark
I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman is saying about consultation with the Northern Ireland Government, and I am sure that that is right. Will he reconsider this and think about it a bit more? There may be many others in Britain besides those in Ulster itself who might be vitally affected, especially in agriculture, by this agreement. Would he not undertake to see 113 whether a communiqué of some sort might be issued later?
§ Mr. Thomas
I will undertake to see that my right hon. and learned Friend, who is listening to the debate, and the Government at least consider what the hon. Member has said. I have said before that I am in no position to commit Her Majesty's Government on this, but I can tell him that his friends at Stormont are in close touch with Her Majesty's Government.
I realise that many hon. Members got into trouble with your predecessors in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, over the question of discrimination and, clearly, the last thing which I want to do is to clash with the Chair, especially on your first time there. I should hate to be the first hon. Member you have to call up. I will, therefore, confine myself to saying that we have followed faithfully the conventions which were observed by the Labour Government of 1945 to 1951 as by the other Governments which have come in between.
We have today had a major debate on Northern Ireland and, on both sides of the House, we wish her well. One of my hon. Friends said that there are as many friends of Ulster on this side of the House as on that. One of the things which struck me forcibly when I was in Ulster this year was the change of mood of the people. I believe that there is a greater spirit of toleration and understanding abroad and that everyone who loves Northern Ireland will rejoice to see this. I realise that they are a proud people. I realised that when I spoke with the farmers.
I have not dealt in great detail with the agricultural point tonight, but perhaps I ought to say a word on the subject of remoteness. I am surprised that a 40 per cent. increase over what the other side of the House gave for a remoteness grant just a year ago is treated as chicken-feed, as if it were nothing. When I was reading the newspaper from Northern Ireland, I saw that the bigger figure which they expected is the figure which will be given. Of course, that is intelligent anticipation. I read it in their Press and 114 immediately someone said that that would not be enough.
I knew what the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Kilfedder) would say—
§ Mr. Thomas
The wise men come to the West; they leave the East.
That remoteness grant is a measure of help, but it is not the only measure of help to agriculture in Northern Ireland. There are the small farmer scheme, by which 74,000 people will seek to be helped, and the farm improvement schemes. Hon. Gentlemen should remember that, in the past ten years—I will not refer to thirteen years—10,000 farmers left agriculture in Northern Ireland. That is 1,000 a year. They left without any help at all in looking for alternative employment. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has held out new hopes for some of these farmers on non-viable farms who are in great numbers in Northern Ireland. A brave and bold degree of help is being given to agriculture there. Of course, there are always cries for more, but it does not lie in the mouths of hon. Members opposite, with their record on agriculture in Northern Ireland, to complain of the help which the present Government are endeavouring to give.
§ Mr. Maginnis
Does not the hon. Member realise that at least part of the £500,000 which has been given in additional remoteness grant has been lost through the loss of our premium on bacon?
§ Mr. Thomas
The House would not be pleased if I went into the whole farm price review tonight. I know that the hon. Member would not expect me to go into that detail. I content myself, therefore, with saying that we are resolved to do all that we can to strengthen the economy of Northern Ireland. It has played a great part in the history of our people and I believe that an even greater future awaits it.
§ Mr. George Rogers (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.