HC Deb 29 July 1974 vol 878 cc408-38

11.3 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. John Concannon)

I beg to move, That the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1947, a copy of which was laid before the House on 26th July, be approved. This order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974—that is, by urgent procedure.

Without taking up too much time of the House, I think it is important that the House should be aware of the context in which this order is brought before it. The Northern Ireland Assembly passed in March of this year, a Consolidated Fund measure which authorised the issue from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund of amounts of £32,410,600 in respect of the 1973–74 Spring Supplementary Estimates approved by the Assembly and £229,026,400 in respect of a Vote on Account of the Estimates for Northern Ireland services for the current financial year 1974–75.

These amounts were not, however, appropriated to particular services as it was the intention, in accordance with normal practice, to appropriate them at the same time as the balance of the 1974–75 Estimates. The Estimates for the Departments of the Northern Ireland Government were actually in the process of being put to the Assembly at the time when the Assembly was prorogued, and, indeed, those relating to the Departments of Health and Social Services, Education, Agriculture, Commerce and Community Relations had already been debated and approved by the Assembly. However, those relating to Government, and the Department of Finance, Housing, Local Government and Planning, Environment and Manpower Services had neither been debated nor approved. During the present interim period, as previously during direct rule, Estimates and Supplementary Estimates will continue to be prepared and published as they form the basis for Appropriation Accounts which are, of course, essential for purposes of audit and parliamentary control.

The purpose of this appropriation order is therefore twofold—first, to authorise the issue from the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland of the balance of the main Estimates provision for the current year—that is the total in the Estimates, of which copies have been made available in the Library for the use of hon. Members, less the Vote on Account, the issue of which has already been authorised by the Consolidated Fund Measure to which I have referred, and, secondly, to authorise the appropriation of this sum, the Vote on Account and the Spring Supplementary Estimates.

The order is being made subject to urgent procedure so as to ensure that the balance of the main Estimates will be available to fund Northern Ireland Departments before the funds voted on account are exhausted. The Vote on Account provision is expected to be exhausted by mid-August. If the order had been made by normal procedure there is a strong possibility that, because of procedural difficulties, the Vote on Account provision would have been exhausted before the order could have come into effect.

The total of the Northern Ireland Estimates for 1974–75 is £618 million. The total Estimates provision in 1973–74 was £625 million, but some £65 million of this was in respect of law and order services which were made the responsibility of Westminster by the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973. The real increase over 1973–74 is therefore £58 million. Some £35 million of the increase is accounted for by the full year effect of local government reorganisation which took place on 1st October 1973. As hon. Members may know, this saw the transfer of responsibility for several major services, including roads, education and water and sewerage, from local to central government. A substantial part of the increase in expenditure due to local government reorganisation is offset by an increase of £20 million in income from the regional rate, which is payable to the Department of Finance and not local authorities. This income is paid directly to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund and not shown as an item in the Estimates or the appropriation order.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

Is the £35 million a once-and-for-all sum? Does the hon. Gentleman regard the local government reorganisation as being finished, or will there be future sums for that purpose?

Mr. Concannon

Certainly it has not finished. There are some substantial loose ends to tie up, but I do not imagine that it will require a sum of this kind in future years. The requirement will diminish as reorganisation comes into effect.

Perhaps I should add, in conclusion, that a Financial Statement showing Northern Ireland's estimated public income and expenditure for 1974–75 has been published and copies of it are available in the Library.

I must apologise for some of the printing errors in the order. However, I should point out one arithmetical error. In page 8, hon. Members will see Class IV, item 5, relating to expenditure on university grants, teacher training and the Ulster College. The figure is shown there as £24,151,400. That should read £24,141,400. The totals are correct. That is just a slip in the printing.

With the leave of the House, Mr. Speaker, I shall do my best to answer the queries appropriate to the order.

11.3 a.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I thank the Under-Secretary for moving the order, and I am glad that he will seek an opportunity to answer our questions. It is possible that we shall need to give him notice of some of them. If he cannot answer them today, we shall be happy to receive his replies later.

One matter which is causing great concern in Northern Ireland at the moment is the proposed closure by British Rail of the sea link between Heysham and Belfast. I understand that the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis), in whose constituency Heysham is situated, is making representations to the appropriate Department here. However, I remind the Minister that the sea link is very important to tourism in Northern Ireland. It would be a tragedy if the sea link were discontinued because it is used by people to go across to Northern Ireland to enjoy the scenery and the hospitality of the Ulster people. I am sure that all hon. Members, no matter what their political views may be, are anxious for the day when peace will return to our troubled Province and tourism will again be one of our booming industries.

I ask the Minister to take into account that a private company is spending £9 million on shipping for the boosting of its sea link. I believe that British Rail and those connected with it should safeguard the sea link between England and Northern Ireland. I should like to know what representations the Secretary of State has received from the trade unions and others in the Belfast area who are interested in this matter.

I come to another important matter—agriculture in Northern Ireland. Through both Written and Oral Questions and in many debates on Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) and the other Members of the United Unionists coalition in this House have raised the matter of the world potato problem. The Minister is no doubt aware that an announcement was made about surplus potatoes in Northern Ireland stating that £17.80 per ton would be paid to the producers.

Potatoes were stockpiled by the producers. Some had markets for their produce, but, because of the export ban, they were not allowed to sell their potatoes. Eventually the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced this scheme for the payment of £17.80 per ton. That has now been reduced to £13 per ton.

There has been a certain administration difficulty in Northern Ireland, because many producers who applied for the £17.80 per ton have been told by the Northern Ireland Office that their applications were not received in time.

Two of my constituents, brothers, who farm separate farms, had 30 tons and 10 tons of potatoes respectively. They each filled in their forms and enclosed them in the same envelope. One was informed that his application was in on time and he got the £17.80 per ton, but the other man was told that he could have only £13 per ton.

I understand that the Potato Marketing Board in England has made up the leeway for English producers. I should like to know what the Minister is prepared to do for Northern Ireland producers. It seems unfair that, when producers in Northern Ireland had the opportunity to sell their produce and were not permitted to sell it—indeed, we asked that the export ban should be lifted from Northern Ireland, but that was refused—the rest of the United Kingdom producers should have this money made up to them. There seems to be some lack of liaison between the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food here and the Northern Ireland Office. I understand that my colleagues have had a meeting with Lord Donaldson about this matter. If the Minister can give an assurance on this matter it will be most helpful to the farming industry.

I need not reinforce the facts so ably put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. West) in the debate on the motion for the Adjournment for the Recess—that agriculture is in difficulty and any help which can be given to agriculture in Northern Ireland will be appreciated.

I come to one of the outstanding problems of the Northern Ireland Community—housing and the amenities available in housing. We have a strange anomaly in Northern Ireland. We have quite a numbe of houses in the public sector, which have now been passed to the Housing Executive, which have no amenities whatsoever. They have neither light nor water, yet the rents of these houses have been increased. Some of the tenants are paying a water rate for water which they never receive. I should like the Minister to look carefully into this problem and to see whether it is a fact that the money is available to the Housing Executive to carry out the modernisation of certain of these properties. If some of these cottages at present rented in the public sector were owned privately, they would be condemned and closed as being unfit for human habitation. This is one of the running sores in our community.

Will the Minister also pay attention to the fact that schemes have been put out in some areas—I am thinking particularly of my area of North Antrim and Stranocum—in which it was suggested to the people that if they would accept showers instead of a proper bathroom they would get a water supply, but that if they refused to accept showers and insisted on a bathroom they could have no promise of a water supply for many years. For young people, babes in arms and the old, a bathroom is essential. I ask the Minister to look into this matter carefully and not to have a policy in which people are offered a shower and told that if they do not accept it they cannot be promised a water supply for many years. If the Minister looks at the Stranocum district especially he will find that this has been happening.

The majority of people who have been without amenities for many years are sometimes, because their patience has worn out, prepared to settle for the lesser rather than to get that to which I believe they are entitled. I am sure that the Minister will come to this problem with sympathy and that he understands it.

There is also the matter of the increase in rents for houses which have had no repairs done to them. I am thinking particularly of Granville Drive in Ballymena, which is also in my constituency. I am sure that many of the hon. Members present this morning have similar problems in their constituencies. A promise was made by the former Secretary of State that there would be no raising of their rents until essential repairs to roofs and to the water supply had been carried out. But then the rents were automatically raised. None of these repairs was done. This led to a sense of frustration among tenants of these houses.

Another matter concerns grants to the harbours of Northern Ireland. This matter comes into the category we are discussing. What amounts of money are available to local councils in Northern Ireland for harbour facilities? In my North Antrim constituency we have many small harbours. Some of them have silting problems. The local councils concerned find that they have not enough money available to them to keep these harbours open to the small fishing boats which use them. I am thinking particularly of Ballintoy harbour. The local council of Moyle has told local fishermen that the money is not available because it has many small harbours within its jurisdiction and when it divides up the money perhaps only £1,000 is available. The House will understand that such a sum does not go very far in dealing with a silting problem in a harbour. As the inshore fishing industry in Northern Ireland is very important, I ask the Minister to consider this question.

As regards the taking over of the majority of the shares in Harland and Wolff, will it be the Government's policy that when the nationalisation Bill comes before Parliament the shipyard will go on to full nationalisation?

One of the last acts of the Assembly was to declare that it would abolish the Community Commission. Is that policy to be pursued by the present administration?

I understand that the contribution which former Members of Stormont paid to the pension fund has never been finally settled. One very able Member of the old Stormont Parliament—I refer to the Northern Ireland Labour Member, Mr. Vivian Simpson—did a lot of work on the pension fund, as the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will agree. When will the pension fund for the old Stormont Members be finally settled? What is to happen to the pension fund of the Assembly and those who were Members of Stormont and then became Members of the Assembly?

How many former Prime Ministers of Northern Ireland are on pension? What pensions are they drawing from the Exchequer? This would be an interesting detail for the people of Northern Ireland to learn.

I trust that today, as this money is being voted, Northern Ireland will not only have financial prosperity with the money being spent for the wellbeing of all members of the community but that the great problems facing us, not only of the constitution but of security, will be firmly grappled with so that in the coming days all members of the community enjoy peace, progress and prosperity.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. At least six hon. Members wish to speak. This is a limited debate. I ask the House to bear that in mind.

11.23 a.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Of course we understand the pleas the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) makes on behalf of his constituents and others in Northern Ireland for extra expenditure on housing, schools and other facilities which we all wish to see provided.

I do not think it is altogether out of place to say that a great many of my constituents and those of other hon. Members reflect, when asked to agree to this kind of expenditure, that they see nightly on television pictures of the destruction of many facilities; and there comes a point when people on this side of the water begin to ask, "Why should we pay all this money and furnish all these resources for facilities in Northern Ireland when this destruction is going on and when all of us are short of primary schools, houses and hospital facilities?" I remind some Opposition Members that this is a gut reaction of people just saying, "This far, and no further."

Captain Orr

This is a very important line of argument. Is the hon. Member suggesting that while the IRA continues its campaign of destruction less money should be spent by the taxpayer on reconstruction?

Mr. Dalyell

As the hon. and gallant Member well knows, I have for some months been arguing that the British Army should be withdrawn from Northern Ireland. During all this time, against the opinions of some of my colleagues, I have argued that no expenditure should be cut. I have been absolutely adamant in saying that we should not punish the people of Northern Ireland by withdrawing expenditure, and that puts me in a stronger position to make the remarks I did to the hon. Member for Antrim, North.

Hitherto, I have argued absolutely forcefully—not giving way at all, in spite of the many feelings of those who support us on this side of the water and of members of the West Lothian constituency Labour Party, some of whom would like to see expenditure withdrawn —that no money should be withdrawn. I remind the hon. and gallant Gentleman that there comes a point when it becomes very difficult for us to sustain expenditure, let alone vote extra expenditure for Northern Ireland.

I have one question which I raised during the passage of the Northern Ireland (Young Persons) Bill. None of us can be happy about the confinement of young people, whatever they may have done, in the Crumlin Road extension or in Long Kesh. As my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard) and I have argued for some time, a more imaginative approach should be adopted towards those who, whether one likes it or not will be the next generation in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I ask the Government whether they have considered, as the Minister of State promised, ideas for some kind of Outward Bound scheme on the north coast of Ulster for those who have committed the less serious offences. We should like to see a more imaginative approach to young people who might have committed offences than simply putting them up in the barbed wire of Long Kesh or giving them some kind of badge or accolade of heroism by putting them into the extension of the Crumlin Road gaol.

11.28 a.m.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

I, too, will be very brief. I may possibly have done the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) an injustice just now in my intervention because it may be that he might not quite have realised exactly what we are discussing here. This is not a grant by the United Kingdom Exchequer of some kind of extra subvention for Northern Ireland. This is what would in a sense be the equivalent of the Consolidated Fund Bill which we have just spent the night discussing.

May I congratulate the Minister on what I think was his first speech from the Dispatch Box. It would be wrong if someone did not congratulate him on the able way in which he presented it, but this is an unsatisfactory way of proceeding. We are in the position of a developed Assembly in going through the procedure of the estimates in the way that we normally examine them in this House. We are now, on behalf of Northern Ireland, asked to pass in effect what is a Consolidated Fund Bill without ever having had the opportunity in this House of going through the estimates. The Minister apologised to the House that it had been done under the emergency procedure in this way. We should like an assurance that this kind of procedure will not set a precedent for the future, and that whether or not the Convention, which will meet or be elected shortly, produces a new system we shall never again, whether we continue under direct rule or whatever happens, be faced with passing a Consolidated Fund Bill like this without proper scrutiny.

I simply want to raise one matter which is, I know, of interest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), who wants to talk about it later. In these Estimates, which take us to 31st March 1975, no account is taken in respect of the borrowing powers—although I may be wrong on that score—and certainly so far as ordinary expenditure is concerned, of the money to go to Harland and Wolff.

I understand that some kind of departmental review is taking place about how money can be found to assist Harland and Wolff before a decision is taken on what it is proposed should come from the central Exchequer and how much from Northern Ireland. All I ask is that the Minister be kind enough to say something about that matter, whether the Estimates will take account of that, or whether the increase in the borrowing powers is intended to meet that.

I come to my other question. Class I deals with the salaries of the office of the Executive and other expenses connected therewith, and the sum of £631,500 is put down for that. Does that figure take account of the fact that the Executive element for pensions and so on for the has now come to an end? Is there any Executive? I do not know whether any arrangements were made for pensions for those who served in the Executive. Perhaps the Minister will say something about that.

Wider questions were touched on by the hon. Member for West Lothian and other hon. Members, namely, the whole question of security, which is the major cause of expenditure in Northern Ireland now. It would be out of order for me to speak about that now. All I say on that matter is that the situation continues to be wholly unsatisfactory. I ask the Minister to convey that comment to his right hon. Friend.

I do not wish to take up time now on the Estimates. My main point, which I hope that the Minister has taken on board, is that we should never have to do this again. I hope that we shall soon proceed to the elections for the new Convention. As there is now considerable uncertainty about the date of the General Election in the United Kingdom, I hope that we shall not simply be left with the situation that the election for the Convention cannot take place before a United Kingdom General Election, as we do not know when on earth that may be.

The Minister may say that that is not the Government's position, that they hope soon to proceed to a Convention that will find some constitution for Northern Ireland that will save us from going through this wholly unsatisfactory procedure in future.

11.33 a.m.

Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) posed the question to the Minister that is very much in my mind. I have had no cause to regret the welcome that I gave to the Government's announcement to mount a rescue operation for Harland and Wolff. On that occasion we were given sparse information about the size of the operation and the cost to the Exchequer, and one feature of the matter concerns us today.

The Government rightly said that the cost of the operation would have to be shared among Northern Ireland funds and that certain Northern Ireland projects could be affected by this operation. I should like to know whether the Minister can give us any indication of the size of the operation and how it will affect development projects in Northern Ireland. All hon. Members from Northern Ireland would agree that Harland and Wolff is of special importance to the economy of Northern Ireland and would support the postponement of some other less important developments in order to save the shipyard, but we should like to be assured that the approach to this operation is on the basis of making Harland and Wolff a competitive shipbuilding yard and reaching as quickly as possible a state of profitability.

The Government announced that as part of this rescue operation it was proposed that there should be established a much-expanded apprenticeship training. As I understood the announcement, it was to be a training centre that catered for much more than the needs of Harland and Wolff. I know that since that announcement was made there has been some concern among those who work in the shipyard that the cost of this training exercise for the economy in general may be carried wholly by the shipyard, and it is thought that that would be unfair. I share that view, and I should like the Minister to give an assurance that if the training capacity of Harland and Wolff is expanded to meet needs other than of the shipyard the Government will meet the cost of that additional provision for training.

I am also concerned, since the matter will touch so closely on other developments, that the future management and control of Harland and Wolff should be spelt out very quickly. I do not think any of us would disagree with the Government's decision that, because of the massive injection of public funds, they should take a controlling interest. We welcome the fact that the controlling interest is to be taken in the form of the Northern Ireland interest in Harland and Wolff.

None of us would seriously dispute the approach to workers' participation in the management of the company, but we have not been given any real idea how that is to be achieved and how the second tier of company management may be arrived at. I know that among shipyard workers today there is considerable speculation as to how the workers' representatives will be selected.

I may be posing unfair questions to the Minister. If I am, I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand that there is a great deal of anxiety in Northern Ireland and that we should like answers to these questions as soon as possible.

11.37 a.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

I follow on the remarks that have been made by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) in relation to the position of Harland and Wolff's shipyard.

I think it has been conceded by all political representatives throughout the history of Northern Ireland that Harland and Wolff is the linchpin around which the whole economy, particularly of East Belfast, will survive. I, too, am grateful for the Government's assistance, but we are not certain about the position in relation to the work force in Harland and Wolff. We have heard figures quoted and rumours to the effect that for Harland and Wolff to be an economic project it would have to employ at least another 2,000 men, but there is not the skilled labour in the city of Belfast from which to draw that number of men.

We have also heard that objections may be raised by certain elements to the people who would be employed in Harland and Wolff. I hope that any financial assistance given by the Government towards the maintenance of Harland and Wolff's shipyard will be on the basis that the work force for that industrial establishment is drawn from both sections of the community in Northern Ireland and that no bar or hindrance will be put on anyone obtaining employment in the Belfast shipyard because of the church in which he worships.

Throughout a number of sad and tragic years, the fact is that the people of Belfast—trade unionists, working-class representatives and others—have not at any time advocated that financial assistance should be withdrawn from the shipyard. We have always said that if a work force is to be built up and training facilities are to be given they should be available to people from both sections of the community.

It will be conceded by hon. Members who represent Belfast constituencies that, since the demise of the Belfast Corporation and the coming into being of the new local authority, there has been a dramatic increase in transport costs in the city of Belfast. I believe that the city now has the dearest transport system in operation anywhere in the United Kingdom. I know from my constituency—and this will be supported by other hon. Members from Belfast constituencies—that the fares in Belfast, particularly if one has a young family attending school, are causing great hardship to working-class families who find themselves unable on many occasions to send their children to school because they do not have the money to pay the fares. This is an urgent problem to be looked at by the Minister through the Department for the Environment in Northern Ireland.

There are questions being asked in Northern Ireland, but some people say they should be asked in secret because they take the view that nothing should be said to embarrass the Labour Government in view of certain things that happened during the strike in Northern Ireland. I do not think it would be honest to keep these facts swept under the carpet.

I know that the Conservatives will try to make political capital out of the events during the strike and will attempt to equate that strike with other industrial disputes in the United Kingdom. It is not my intention to equate what happened during that strike in Northern Ireland with events during industrial disputes throughout the United Kingdom, because that was a political stoppage. It was not about wages, conditions or hours of employment. It was a unique circumstance and I do not think that the Conservative Government should use it as a battering ram to beat down Socialist proposals and attitudes in relation to industrial stoppages.

I am asking the Under-Secretary a specific question. Will he say now, or will he be able to say later, how many people were officially on strike in Northern Ireland? How many people who were identified with the running of the UWC strike were paid social security benefit throughout the time that the strike lasted? How much was paid to people who created an industrial stoppage with the intention of bringing to an end the system of Government in Northern Ireland? I know that many Tories will listen to me with glee, because they will say that this happened as a result of the miners' strike in Great Britain. I do not believe that the same circumstances applied in Northern Ireland.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The hon. Gentleman may be unaware that there are not many Tories here.

Mr. Fitt

I hope that they will have an opportunity to read my remarks. I know that the Conservatives will say that the miners' strike was calculated to bring to an end the Conservative Government, but I do not believe that that was so. I believe—and events and circumstances have since proved—that the miners were justified in taking industrial action to better their wages, conditions and way of life.

Such was not the case in Northern Ireland. The people there deliberately and in a calculated way decided to engage in industrial action with the specific intention of bringing to an end the system of Government in Northern Ireland. They were paid for doing so, and we have heard various figures put forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Rose) recently tabled a Question to the Northern Ireland Office asking what was the cost of the payments and social benefits throughout that period of industrial action in Northern Ireland. The figure he was given was £5 million. I have heard different figures from the trade union movement in Northern Ireland. It has been said that £9 million was paid out by the social services.

What compensation was paid to the farming community in Northern Ireland for loss of produce, and so on? One can well remember that many farmers—

Captain Orr

It will be interesting to know whether the hon. Gentleman is advocating the view held in places outside the House that social service benefits should be withdrawn from strikers.

Mr. Fitt

That is the last thing I should ever suggest. That is why I am clarifying my remarks all along the line and saying that I shall not equate what happened in Northern Ireland with any strike that takes place in the rest of the United Kingdom. The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) knows very well that the strike in Northern Ireland was paid for by the British Government. The net result was that the British Government's solution for Northern Ireland—namely, the Sunning-dale Agreement, the Assembly and the Executive—was brought to an end, and it was paid for by British money.

Mr. Craig

Is it not a fact that Mr. Devlin was the Minister for Social Security at that time, and that he took the decision?

Mr. Fitt

I accept that in the early days of the strike it became clear that the staff, whether they were being intimidated or not, were not prepared to work for the Ministry of Health and Social Services to ensure that those who were innocently involved would get social security benefit. In those circumstances, my hon. Friend, who at that time was a member of the Northern Ireland Executive, took the action that he thought necessary to safeguard the interests of those who were prevented by intimidation from going to their place of employment. He put through an emergency order, but that order was taken advantage of by those who were actively engaged in promoting the strike.

If a strike takes place in other parts of the United Kingdom and a person becomes engaged in it, benefit may be withheld from him but it continues to be paid to his wife and children. But in Northern Ireland no one said he was on strike. Every person who was out of work at that time reported to the labour exchange and said, "I have been intimidated from going to my place of employment". Who was intimidating them at that time?

We are all aware that there was intimidation, and those who were engaged in intimidating others from going to their normal places of employment were being paid social security benefits by the Government. Some attempt should be made to discover those who were engaged in the operation of the strike, and some attempt should be made to ensure that they do not receive the same treatment as those who were the victims of the conspiracy to bring about the downfall of the Northern Ireland Executive and Government.

Before the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South asks the next question, shall put it. What compensation will be paid to the farming community in Northern Ireland to cater for the effects of the strike? Many innocent farmers were caught up by the effects of the strike, but many more farmers were giving active support to those who were organising the strike. They were taking days off from their employment and engaging in parades with tractors and other farm implements right up to the very gates of Stormont and protesting about the existence of the Assembly and calling for its downfall, yet those farmers, too, were, or will be, paid compensation. That is why people in Northern Ireland will want to know exactly how much compensation has been paid to those who were actively engaged in bringing the Northern Ireland Executive to an end.

I listened to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), who in Northern Ireland is recognised as being a good constituency Member of Parliament. I am sure that those responsible for compiling the OFFICIAL REPORT will already have sent him notice asking how to spell Stranocum and the other towns he has mentioned, as he did repeatedly in the old Stormont Parliament. I am sure that those constituents will be duly impressed that their interests have been brought to the attention of this august assembly.

In Northern Ireland there is a serious housing shortage. The question of the situation and allocation of housing has always been a bone of contention in Northern Ireland. The only one way to take that item out of the fire of dissension is to build an adequate number of houses. The millions spent on strikes could have been spent on providing homes for the homeless.

I support the comments of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). However much I might be opposed to my political opponents in Northern Ireland, I certainly would not advocate that financial restrictions be used by this Government, because financial restrictions cannot be applied selectively in Northern Ireland. Such restrictions would have a running effect throughout the whole community.

My hope is that the Minister in charge of housing and planning in Northern Ireland will recognise that this is ore of the most important ministries in the whole Northern Ireland set-up. Indeed, my friend in Northern Ireland, Mr. Currie, who was the Minister of Housing and Planning in the Executive, had very good, forward-looking plans to tackle the whole housing problem in Northern Ireland. I only hope that the Minister will be able to carry out those plans, which were drawn up by the Executive in Northern Ireland.

11.52 a.m.

Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I believe that the consideration of Schedule B, Class I, allows me to raise the important matter of the status of the Chairman of the Constitutional Convention.

In raising that matter, I draw upon some remarks made this weekend by one of those politicians whom I most admire in this House—the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Jenkins). Bearing in mind that I am a most junior member of the Tory Party, I hope that in saying I admire him I shall not damage him any more than he has already been damaged by those on the left wing of his party.

The right hon. Gentleman was right when he said that today one of the most important things that all of us must be concerned about is the maintenance of the rule of law. One of the conditions for the maintenance of the rule of law is that the judges should have a rôle that is formal, objective and divorced from political battles. One of the mistakes that the Tory Party made between 1970 and 1974 was to make the judges of the National Industrial Relations Court persons who plainly fulfilled a comparatively informal rôle, who lacked the appearance of formality and objectivity that should be the very basis of a judge's function. As a result, we found the situation that occurred in this Parliament, when, in the House, the Secretary of State for Employment attacked one of Her Majesty's judges, thereby further undermining the rule of law.

I respectfully suggest that if the Government—whoever they may be after the autumn—decide to make a judge the head of the Constitutional Convention a further minor blow will be struck at the rule of law. The chairmanship of the Constitutional Convention will be a highly political rôle. No matter what happens as a result of that political Convention, it will give rise to a tremendous amount of acrimony and deep political passions, and the last thing that we want is to see a formal, judicial figure attacked in the way that Sir John Donaldson was attacked in this Parliament by the Secretary of State for Employment.

I urge the Minister to take note of the deep disquiet on this side of the House at the suggestion that the Constitutional Convention should be headed by a judge. In that I wholly agree with the views cogently put forward by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), and I hope that the Minister will take account of the fact that those views are widely held on both sides of the House.

11.56 a.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

It is lamentable that there is not a speaker on the Opposition Front Bench. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) moving over to that position. I know that he will add dignity to the Front Bench.

First, I should like to congratulate, on this day of all days, Willie John McBride—it is appropriate, under the appropriation order, to do so—and also the British Lions team which toured South Africa and never lost a match. I congratulate the Minister on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box and hope that he will arrange for a reception for the captain and the manager of the British Lions when they return to Northern Ireland, because that would do a great deal for Ulster's morale.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) rose

Mr. Kilfedder

No, I am not giving way. I appreciate that there are many Members on the Government benches who are against a lot of things, but I do not want to get bogged down in that. There is only a limited amount of time available for this debate, and I must protest about that. I accept what the Minister said, that time is limited. I could speak for at least two hours on the appropriation order, but I hope to speak for 20 minutes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. Once hon. Members are on their feet I cannot control their time. I can only indicate that the debate will finish at 12.30 p.m., and we hope to have two short speeches from the two Front Benches.

Rev. Ian Paisley

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely this debate will finish at 12.31 p.m., as it did not start until 11.01 a.m.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I should not like to disagree for the sake of a minute or two.

Mr. Kilfedder

That has wasted one of my minutes.

First, will the Minister make sure that the application to increase the air fare between Belfast and London and other places in Great Britain does not succeed? It is a profitable route, and it would be disgraceful if that lifeline were affected. I share the views that have been expressed, and I have myself expressed criticism in the past about the proposed closure of the Heysham ferry.

I have also been pressing for some time for a rent allowance scheme for Ulster, similar to that which exists in Great Britain. It is ironical that Northern Ireland workers, who generally earn less than workers in England, do not have the benefit of such a scheme. Their rents are fixed by the housing executive and private landlords who are subject to the same financial forces as their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom, and rents in Northern Ireland are not significantly different from rents in Great Britain.

Last week I was glad to hear from one of the Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office that a rent rebate scheme was being currently considered for the benefit of all housing executive tenants. At the moment, we have the unsatisfactory situation that the Housing Executive operates a rent rebate scheme only for houses that were formerly in the possession of the Belfast Corporation and the old Northern Ireland Housing Trust. We have no legal right, unless the law is changed—which I hope it will be—to a rent rebate scheme for other houses built by the Housing Executive or by any of the 63 other local authorities before the housing executive took over.

When the estimates to which the appropriation order relates were being debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly last March, I was disturbed by the apparent attempt by some Members of the Assembly—I hope that the Minister agrees on this—to interfere with the traditional autonomy of British universities by criticising what they regarded as the lack of dynamite in the New University at Coleraine. It was even suggested that the New University should be closed down. It we were to close down every educational institution that did not achieve its student target, a great number of universities and polytechnics in Great Britain would be closing their doors today.

Last year there were nearly 7,000 unfilled university places in Great Britain, and I think that the critics of the New University of Ulster ought to bear this in mind. Already in England and Wales the student target for 1980 has been reduced by 40,000 in the university sector alone, and we still await the latest projection for the non-university sector, and perhaps those figures will also be cut.

Northern Ireland's record in higher education, despite the troubles, has been excellent. Perhaps the early student targets were too high; perhaps that gives ground for the criticism that we hear expressed now. But five to 10 years ago we were all very optimistic about student numbers in higher education, and the New University of Ulster has grown from literally nothing but green fields by the banks of the River Bann to a massive pile of new buildings and more than 1,600 students in six academic years—a rate of growth unparalleled for a new university anywhere in the United Kingdom. All this has been achieved against a background of violence, with more than 1,000 dead and in excess of £100 million worth of damage to the Province. This is equivalent—and it is worth bearing in mind—in Great Britain to 45,000 dead and £4,500 million worth of damage.

Unlike Essex and Stirling Universities in Great Britain, there has been no student unrest in Northern Ireland apart from the rent strike last year as part of the campaign of the national university students for higher grants. I supported that campaign, although I ought to make it clear that I deplored the rent strike. I supported the NUS campaign both in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in this House, and I welcome the new rates of grant and the decision for the annual review. I hope that the Minister will look at the other anomalies in students' grants, for there are many. Attention must be paid to those anomalies, and they must be removed.

There is an unevenness in the extent to which the resources of technical colleges are used in Northern Ireland. In my own constituency I believe that all the places at Bangor technical college have been taken up, while the associated college at Newtownards a few miles away is under-used. The same picture holds true for the whole Province. There seems to be too much rivalry for potential pupils between intermediate schools and technical colleges at one end of the age group and between technical colleges and Government training centres at the other end. Here again is a problem which I hope the Minister will consider. Perhaps he can say something about it when he replies. Certainly it will present a problem to the next Northern Ireland administration. There seems to me to be a duplication of resources, and inevitably there is a suspicion that inefficient use has been made of the available funds, which we would all regret.

Class 10 deals with manpower services, and more than £11½ million is for unemployment, training and rehabilitation—we are not told how much of this is for Government training centres and perhaps the Minister can give the figures—but since Northern Ireland provides more places per head of the population at Government training centres than the rest of the United Kingdom, presumably the sums required are substantial.

I wonder whether greater use might not be made of the excellent facilities and training staff at the technical colleges. Certainly the Lisburn, Bangor and Newtownards technical colleges—all worthwhile institutions—could provide facilities for a great number of apprentices in training. The aim of most modern apprentice training courses is to combine the practical with the theoretical, and the technical colleges are, in my opinion, able to provide both.

Apart from the crowds of hooligans in Northern Ireland who get themselves photographed and appear on television throwing stones at the police and the Army, the great majority of young persons in Northern Ireland—Protestants and Roman Catholics—have come through the last six dreadful years a credit to the community. Many young people who have been exposed to far fewer temptations, problems and difficulties, and in a far less divided society, have shown a greater tendency to indiscipline and to vandalism. I believe that credit ought to be paid to the young people in the Province.

I have a particular interest in youth and community services. At the moment these are the responsibility of three Departments—the Department of Education, the Department of Manpower and the Department of Community Relations. I welcome the recommendations of the interdepartmental working party on youth employment and related services. Among these is a recommendation that schools should have careers guidance teachers. In North Down some schools are playing a vital part in providing evening youth club activities for young people in the area.

It would be invidious to mention any particular school, but the efforts of the principal of one—Mr. Beckett—and his staff at Glastry secondary school deserve special commendation. The school ser- vices a wide area in the south Ards peninsular, and I know from talking to young people in the area how much the club facilities are appreciated. Indeed, it has enhanced the status of the school in the eyes of the community. The facilities are open to all—irrespective of religion—and it is a pity that more money is not available to increase their extent. Other parts of Northern Ireland receive substantial sums of money for community activities, and I trust the Minister can assure me that because North Down is relatively quiet it will not suffer as a consequence.

The school's youth club is a good example of the use that can be made by willing and co-operative staff of the extensive facilities provided by modern schools. It seems wrong that schools should close at 4 p.m. when they could provide a continuing educational and recreational experience for children in the evenings and at weekends. Nevertheless, schools alone cannot provide for the full range of interests of young people during their leisure time. Youth clubs and outdoor sports facilities are needed.

I wish to mention three towns in my constituency—Comber, Donaghadee and Hillsborough. They are particularly sad examples of small towns where a youth centre is needed, and I am disappointed that my representations have so far not met with the success for which I had hoped. I ask the Minister to look into this matter.

Ideally, I believe that community services, including the Youth Employmnet Service, should be the responsibility of one Department. That way, we are likely to see the achievement—which I earnestly seek—of community services for all age groups. There is as great a need in modern urban life for community services for young married couples, and for the elderly as there is for the young. What could be better than for these groups to meet in the one community centre?

The proposal to transfer the Youth Employment Service to the Department of Manpower Services should be examined in the wider context of community services as a whole. The Department of Community Relations had to be artificially increased in size by giving it responsibility for sport and leisure centres in order to create a job for the holder of that office in the former Northern Ireland Executive. Creating political jobs for the boys is not a good basis for the management of financial resources.

What I have been advocating for many years is the amalgamation of the Department of Education and the Department of Community Relations. Good community relations begin in the school and in the home. We talk a great deal about integrated education, but we all know it will not be achieved overnight. I am sorry about that, but it is a fact of life. But at least we can go some way by getting the management framework right at the highest level. By combining the two Departments under single control we would have all the essential ingredients united for a frontal attack upon the divisive influences in the community.

The high hopes of a few years ago, when the Northern Ireland Housing Executive took over responsibility for public housing, have been seriously damaged. A vast bureaucracy seems to have been created. The staff do their best—particularly those in local offices throughout the Province—but I know from experience that the structure of the organisation and shortage of staff have hindered its work.

The standard of the construction of new houses and relatively new houses is deplorable. There is dampness in walls and floors, and there are leaking windows and ill-fitting windows and doors. I have personally inspected many such houses. It is pathetic to see the efforts of tenants to paper and paint the interior of their homes and generally to lavish attention and money on them being destroyed by these defects.

Better control of building standards is needed. The work of the maintenance staff is made well-nigh impossible, because there are so few of them. I hope that the Minister will give the assurance that he will recruit more people for maintenance work in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.

I also wish to refer briefly to the water situation in the Province, because this needs to be examined. There is hardly any part of Ulster which does not suffer from a shortage of water during the summer. This is extraordinary in a land which reputedly has a heavier rainfall than most other parts of the United Kingdom. In some areas the pressure is so weak that water does not reach houses and farms which are on elevated, or relatively elevated, sites. In Donaghadee, to make matters worse, at times the water has such a bad taste, smell and colour that it is unfit to be used. This has been the position for a number of years, and it is disgraceful that householders in that urban area in 1974 should have to draw water from a tap on the outskirts of the town that is fed from a different reservoir.

Also, parsimony in the use of public funds led to the new fishing harbour at Portavogie being too small even before work started on it. I realise that all these questions that I have raised are a matter of priority, and that views as to what should receive a high priority and what should receive a low priority differ, but the fishing industry is important. It provides employment directly to several hundred people in my constituency alone, and I should like to see a sense of urgency about extending the harbour at Portavogie. There should also, in my opinion, be a sense of urgency about providing a second ferry between Portaferry and Strangford.

The Government's decision to make a further substantial investment in Harland and Wolff—the shipyard has already been referred to—is widely welcomed in the Province. I understand that it will be £11 million out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund in the current year. I presume that this is not covered in the present appropriate order, since I cannot find any increase in Clause VI for that amount. Perhaps the Minister could help me on that matter. No doubt the industry will require further substantial funds from the Consolidated Fund in future years if it is to maintain its place as the premier shipbuilding yard in the United Kingdom.

If the principle of assistance is agreed for big industrial enterprises when they run into difficulties, I do not understand why similar assistance cannot be directed to the beef, egg, pig and ware potato producers. The approach to agriculture seems to be nit-picking and unfair, since it is the biggest employer of labour in the Province and contributes substantially to the wealth and well-being of the United Kingdom.

I realise that time must be given for the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest to speak, but I should like to conclude by asking the Minister to look at the position of the Bangor hospital. It is disgraceful that an area that has a substantial residential population should not have a hospital that can deal properly with emergency cases. A man who had a heart attack could not be dealt with in that hospital. I ask the Minister to ensure that a proper hospital is provided in Bangor, and also to look at the question of the pay of nurses, radiographers, dieticians and others who make a valuable contribution to the health of the people of the Province.

12.14 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

The honour has been somewhat suddenly thrust upon me of expressing the support of the Conservative and Unionist Party for the order before the House.

Neither the sum of money involved in the appropriation nor the borrowing powers is chicken-feed. Therefore I agree, and I believe that the whole House will heartily agree, with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) who complained of the manner in which such large sums were being handled by the House of Commons.

I need not say more about that, because much was said about this matter in this House during the last spasm of colonial rule in Northern Ireland. Even if Northern Ireland does not soon find a way back to self-government, as some of us hope, at least when the House returns I trust that we shall have a more satisfactory way of dealing with these matters, whether through an Ulster Grand Committee, or in some other way.

I will not presume to refer to the admirable and, in some cases, admirably short speeches made during the debate, as time does not allow. I had hoped to contribute some comments of my own to the debate with regard to tourism, referred to by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), with regard to the Parliamentary Commissioner, and with regard to the Commissioner for Complaints. I believe that we in Great Britain can learn something from the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints in setting up our own local commissioners. In some ways, I believe the scheme in Northern Ireland to be superior.

This brings me to the last point that I am able to make before allowing the Under-Secretary of State to reply to the debate and take up all our points, which have been offered in a constructive and non-partisan way. We in the House and on this side of the water can learn not only about dealing with local government complaints but in many other ways from Northern Ireland institutions and from the brave Ulster people.

12.17 p.m.

Mr. Concannon

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall try to answer as many as I can of the matters we have raised. There were quite a lot of them, and, although they had little to do with the appropriation order, they will give us the chance to talk about some of the other problems that affect Ulster.

The one matter which has been mentioned by almost every speaker is that of Harland and Wolff. As has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), after a short time as a Minister in Northern Ireland one suddenly realises that here is the crux of the employment situation; and the confidence of Northern Ireland revolves around what happens to the huge cranes that one can see from any part of Belfast and the surrounding countryside. It is, therefore, only fair to say that anything to do with Harland and Wolff and the shipyard is a very worrying factor for the people of Northern Ireland.

As to the present intentions of Harland and Wolff—and this affects the Appropriation Fund—there is nothing in the Appropriation Fund or the estimates which has anything to do with Harland and Wolff and the present situation; these estimates were drawn up in December and were ordered by the Assembly to be printed on 20th March.

I do not think I can add to the statement made a week ago in the House by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State on Harland and Wolff, mainly because there have been so many confidential talks with the trade unions and management, and, in view of the delicate situation, it would not be wise to say anything further on that statement.

The statement covered the specific question whether we have made up our minds to take the yard into full public ownership, when my right hon. Friend said that we were intending, as a rescue operation, to take a substantial proportion of the equity of the company, without ruling out full nationalisation and the take-over of the shipyard at some future date. I do not want to go any further than that now, as the situation is rather delicate, as I have said, with confidential talks taking place with the trade unions, management and others concerned with the shipyard.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) talked about the Heysham-Belfast ferry and asked me whether I would comment on this. As I think he understands, this is basically a matter for the United Kingdom Government and the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland. I shall ensure, of course, that all the points upon which I do not comment now—and I do not think I shall be able to answer them all in so short a time—are picked up, and I shall write to the hon. Member on everything that I do not cover today. This is a matter which concerns the Heysham-Belfast ferry and the Department of the Environment, and I shall ensure that the Minister in charge of that Department is informed of the hon. Gentleman's request.

The hon. Gentleman also touched upon the agricultural side of this question, in relation to the trouble within the potato market. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Lord Donaldson has been talking potatoes for some considerable time; I think one could say that he is up to his neck in potatoes. I can assure the hon. Gentleman, therefore, that the matter is being considered.

The one point upon which I would agree with everyone who has spoken in the debate is the housing problem. I think it is fair to assume that anybody taking over the Housing Ministry in Ulster would soon find that the housing situation throughout the Province is somewhat behind the situation in this country. The Housing Executive—a body which we do not have in this country, and which works under terrific strains and restraints —does a wonderful job. I sometimes wonder at that, in view of all the criticism which it gets in the midst of all the troubles and problems of that Province. I agree, however, that the housing problems in Ulster are endemic, and it really needs some crash programmes if it is to put this problem right. There are problems in Ulster that one would not find in England, and it is time that they were tackled in a big way.

The rent policy, which was discussed, is also under review. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a case, which he raised with me this week—and on which I have written to him—relating to the rent rebate scheme. In Ulster there is an anomaly in that the rent rebate scheme applies to the old trust houses and the Belfast Urban District council houses, which in effect means that somebody drawing the rent rebate can be living next door to another person who, although residing in the same conditions, does not draw the rent rebate. This anomaly has been brought to our attention; we are working on the problem, and we shall see what can come out of it.

In reply to the hon. Member for Antrim, North, I understand that in Class VI Vote 3 there is a sum amounting to £1,532,000 in the financial statement for this year. How this amount is divided I am not quite sure at the moment, but we shall write to him.

The hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) criticised the way in which we are bringing in the order. Basically, I agree with him but I think he will understand the urgency of the order after he has heard my speech. If we do not get the order through, I can say no more than that the Province of Ulster will be bust by mid-August and that there will be nothing with which to pay the wages, salaries or other expenditure there. Therefore, we have had to use the urgency procedure. At the time when we put down the order we were not sure when the House would rise, or whether we could get the time to discuss it on the Floor of the House. As things have turned out, of course, we need not have resorted to the urgency procedure, but one was not to know that at the time, and the Department could not risk failing to invoke the urgency procedure.

On the question of resorting to that procedure again, we have to prove our case before doing so. It is not merely a matter of the Department saying that it wishes to adopt the urgency procedure; it must prove its case. I should not like to invoke this procedure, any more than I think any of the other Departments would like to do so, unless it is absolutely necessary in view of the situation in Ulster.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West asked some questions about the UWC stoppage and about the people who were on strike, who were intimidated to strike and who could not get to work because of the strike. We found it virtually impossible to differentiate among the three. The latest figure, which has been confirmed to me, is of a cost of £5 million.

As I said in answer to the hon. Gentleman the other day, there were 200,000 claims during the period—normally during such a period there would have been 2,000 to 3,000 a week. But it is quite impossible to categorise those who were, to put it this way, officially on stoppage, those who were intimidated to stop and the many who tried to get to work but failed. But there is nothing in these estimates or elsewhere to cover that £5 million.

I stress that this order was passed by the Assembly, no doubt with the best intentions in the world. Hon. Gentlemen may not like the way it has turned out, but that is how it is—unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way one looked at it.

No evidence has yet been received for payment of compensation, and, as far as I am aware, there will not be any, unless some special cases are put forward.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen) commented on the Convention. His views are valuable and will no doubt be considered when voting on the convention machinery takes place.

The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) chided me a little about Willie John McBride and the Lions. I may have the physique of a prop forward, but I have never played rugby—I go for some of the gentler sports. From what I have read and heard of the Lions, I do not think that my share of the Vote for entertainment and social occasions would last them two minutes.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about Government training centres and the amount put aside for that purpose. The sum of £7,820,300, which the hon. Gentleman will find in Class X, Vote No. 2, is provided for training by technical colleges, employers and certain other bodies, such as area boards.

I have read and heard much about water shortages and Bangor hospitals. All these and other issues raised by hon. Gentlemen will be considered and I shall endeavour to put them to the appropriate Departments and ensure that an answer is forthcoming.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), who was elevated as quickly as I was today, asked about tourism. Northern Ireland is an absolutely beautiful country, with its lakes and fishing. It is a wonderful place for tourists, and one finds plenty to do there, irrespective of what happens elsewhere in the Province. While the job that I had prior to coming to the Northern Ireland Department kept me relatively busy, I can assure hon. Gentlemen that I am enjoying my job. It is a tremendous challenge, and I assure hon. Members that I am not bored.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 26th July, be approved.

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