HC Deb 09 December 1976 vol 922 cc762-806

10.0 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James A. Dunn)

I beg to move, That the Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 8th November 1976 in the last Session of Parliament, be approved. The order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 of the Northern Ireland Act, 1974.

The Main Estimates for 1976–77, totalling £1,038 million, were provided for by the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 and the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, which were approved by the House on 11th March and 23rd July 1976, respectively. The order now before the House seeks the appropriation out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund of a further £61 million, this being the sum covered by the Autumn Supplementary Estimates. This would make a total provision for 1976–77, to date, of £1,099 million, some £71 million more than the total Estimates for 1975–76.

The services for which extra provision is needed are specified in the schedule to the order and are set out in greater detail in the Autumn Supplementary Estimates, which have been available to hon. Members in the Library. I should like to summarise why this extra money is needed. £61 million is being sought; about £38 million, or 62.3 per cent., is for pay and price increases, all of which conform with the Government's present counter-inflation policy, and £23 million is accounted for by policy or timing changes.

Apart from pay awards, the most important elements of these Supplementary Estimates are: £11 million, which is required for assistance to the ship-building industry, and which represents a bringing forward to within this financial year of requirements previously envisaged for later years; higher supplementary benefit payments, which account for £9.5 million, and increased claims on the temporary employment subsidy, which total £5.3 million. Also £4.5 million is for additional road improvements and maintenance and £4 million for the purchase of shares in Short Brothers and Harland Limited in the capital reconstruction of that company. There is also a provision of £2 million for compensation for price restraint.

The original estimate of £26 million represents the deficit on electricity and gas undertakings for the financial year 1975–76, and the provision now sought represents interest thereon to cover the period until the date of payment. As well, £2 million is provided for further payments under the Special Land Improvement Scheme and it is anticipated that a further Supplementary Estimate will be required to complete payment of claims which have been submitted under the scheme.

Against these increases may be set reductions, which include £4 million in factory building provision and £5.8 million in industrial development grants.

The financial adjustments made necessary by the creation in Northern Ireland of the Department of the Civil Service are detailed in the Schedule to the order, and are reflected in the Supplementary Estimates.

These are the main features of the order to which I wish to draw attention. I commend the order to the House. I shall of course try to answer any questions that hon. Members may wish to raise in the debate, and if for any reason I am unable to do so I shall note the point and write to the hon. Member concerned, as is the general practice and custom of the House.

10.5 p.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

I should like to thank the Under-Secretary for his brief but coherent explanation of the order. I have quite a number of questions about it. We realise that this money has to be raised. The greater emphasis that is being placed by the Secretary of State on the economy of Northern Ireland at present makes the Under-Secretary's statement most important.

Let me begin with a matter of which I have given the hon. Gentleman notice, that of agriculture in Northern Ireland under Class I. In recent weeks we have been able to study the Quigley Report, which contains a great deal about agriculture. According to the report, employment in agriculture will fall by about 12,000 jobs between 1975 and 1982. In the circumstances that is a serious fall. I think it is something over 10 per cent. The report states that a programme of job stabilisation should be devised at a cost of £21 million per annum at current prices. The compilers of the report refer to: an appropriate packet of measures", but they do not say what that means. They in no way describe what those measures should be.

I hope that in his winding-up speech the Under-Secretary will say something of what he has in mind to deal with agriculture. The question arises—it was asked in the Quigley Report—whether Northern Ireland agriculture should have a regional dimension or whether it should be seen as a part of United Kingdom and Common Market agriculture. It is difficult to get guidance from the report about where policy should lie, and therefore we must ask the Government what long-term plans they have for Northern Ireland agriculture.

The most immediate concern is the problem of the Northern Ireland meat industry and the Green Pound. The Secretary of State made a statement on that, not in the House but in a Press release, on 19th October. He introduced then a scheme to meet the disparity between the level of the Green Pound in the United Kingdom and that in the Republic. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman has now extended this scheme to February 1977. This information was given in a Written Answer.

When it was first introduced, the cost of the scheme was said by the Secretary of State to be £1 million over the short period of about a month. What will be the total cost of the Meat Industry Employment Scheme, as it is called? Does the sum of £2 million recorded under Class I(3) in the order relate to the scheme? We should know what plans the Government have for dealing with the whole problem after February 1977.

I do not know whether the Under-Secretary is confident on this score and whether he has spoken to the Minister of Agriculture. How confident are the Government that they will get amendments to the common agricultural policy? What will they do about this scheme in terms of the circumstances surrounding the Northern Ireland meat industry? If they were unable to find a solution, would they agree to devalue the Green Pound or would the scheme have to be extended beyond the February 1977 limit announced by the Minister in the middle of November? No doubt hon. Members from Northern Ireland who are interested in agriculture will press similar points. May I also ask whether the smuggling about which we are concerned has decreased since the scheme was introduced?

I turn now to Class II, which relates to the Government's industrial strategy in Northern Ireland. I said earlier that I understood the Secretary of State to be concentrating more on the grave economic situation in the Province. I have studied the Quigley Report, but it does not appear to contain anything about a clear industrial policy for the future. I do not get much guidance from the report. What are the Government doing about it? What are their intentions? If the situation is as serious as the Quigley Report suggests, the Government should be preparing some firm proposals to deal with it.

I am sure that the Government are aware of the strategy suggested in the report, at page 68, that the State should be largely but not solely in a supporting role—enabling jobs to be maintained which would otherwise be lost; encouraging industry to bring forward its recruitment plans; developing the Province's asset of skill; and creating jobs through direct labour schemes or projects for employment in the manufacturing sector. That is a strategy of a kind chiefly for job stabilisation. That is all that the report suggests for a strategy. Do the Government agree with that? If so, what action do they propose to take within the very near future, because this matter is becoming extremely urgent?

In view of recent newspaper reports—I think that this appeared in the Irish Times at the beginning of November—the Government are having difficulty in securing the financial allocation thought necessary for the implementation of such measures as were suggested in the Report. The Opposition do not want to create any difficulties in regard to this matter. However, we want to know what remedial measures the Government have in mind for dealing with the current position.

I turn next to the energy situation. This is another crucial problem for Northern Ireland and it is dealt with at page 30 of the Quigley Report. Energy costs in Northern Ireland are astronomical. Increases in gas and electricity costs since 1973 have been higher and have risen faster than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. On 23rd July my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), who questioned the then Minister of State on this subject was told that the Shepherd Report on the electricity supply industry had been completed and would be published "within the next few weeks". When will it be published? If it is not to be published, may we be informed of the Government's policy for the electricity supply industry in Northern Ireland?

What has happened to the parallel study commissioned by the Government on the gas industry? Several of my hon. Friends and hon. Members from Northern Ireland have been asking about that subject in recent weeks. Should there not be early publication of and action on these reports since the problem was highlighted in the Quigley Report as one of the areas where positive action by the Government could be of most immediate help? I am speaking not of a long-term strategy, which is not clear from the Quigley Report, but of something which the report suggests is urgent.

I turn next to page 52 of the report which relates to Harland and Wolff. I gave notice that I proposed to raise this matter. I am sure that Northern Ireland Members will wish to know about it. The Quigley Report appears to reconcile itself to a substantial reduction in the ship-building work force within the next two years. Many of us have visited Harland and Wolff recently and seen the excellent machine shops there. I should like to know what plans there may be or what discussions there have been within the Government and the company regarding alternative engineering products, what diversification is taking place and whether it has shown any results. Would it not be helpful to the work force to have a frank assessment of the realities as soon as possible? The Government should be considering them now in view of what is contained in the Quigley Report.

I know that there have been unofficial discussions between those visiting the yards and those involved in the problems. Have the Government considered whether a defence contract might be due to the shipyard? Those who work there should be told as much as possible about efforts to help them.

A further issue which does not arise in the Quigley Report is that of Strathearn Audio. May we have a statement on the position of that company in the light of the Touche Ras Report. Is there any revised strategy for it, and is the firm expected to show a profit? Will the Minister ensure that social considerations do not totally override commercial considerations, particularly when considering the management board?

My final point on industrial strategy and policy does appear in the Quigley Report—the hint that, as tax incentives will be necessary, there should be a tax "holiday" on exports in Northern Ireland, as in the Republic. That is not a direct recommendation but, like most matters in the Quigley Report, it is vaguely referred to as a possibility. We should like to discuss that with the Government, and I hope that the Minister will refer to it when he replies.

My final point concerns Class VIII, education. I do not want to go into that at great length as we need to have further debate, as all hon. Members connected with Northern Ireland will agree. Big issues are involved in Part II of the consultative document on secondary education—the Cowan Report, which I have studied at length today.

Certain things in that report give rise for concern and need to be debated more fully than we have the opportunity to do on this order. As I understand the position the Minister of State, Lord Melchett, said in a Press release that the Government had extended the time for consultation until Easter 1977 and that they would not impose comprehensive schooling on Northern Ireland against the wishes of the people.

But the consultative document indicates that the Government are moving along predictable lines. This debate provides us with an opportunity of firing a warning shot or two about the matter. The proposals for reorganisation in the report are fairly extreme compared with those already proposed for England and Wales, in spite of Government assurances. According to the Cowan Report, comprehensive schooling will include—this is a formidable phrase—many schools that are "virtually independent", the Group B grammar schools. These are the voluntary grammar schools listed in Appendix C—Campbell College, Dominican College, Belfast, the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, and St. Dominic's High School. They are virtually independent and receive capital expenditure grants only on works related to school meal accommodation. The Government have not taken that action concerning independent schools in England and Wales.

One of the two basic premises of the document is that in Northern Ireland—I quote from paragraph 2 of Part II of the report— The role played by independent schools is insignificant". That is the key to the thinking behind the report. I find the language interesting but rather disturbing. Under this scheme there will be universal comprehensive schooling in Northern Ireland. The variety and choice which it is suggested should exist might be seriously diminished.

These are first impressions. No doubt the Minister will tell us what the Government have in mind. Will he tell us how much the reorganisation will cost? The document estimates that it would cost around £4 million additional capital expenditure at a conservative estimate and £1¾ million per annum in grants. Is this really the time to be proposing such additional expenditure? That is a reasonable question to ask and I hope that the Minister can give us an answer. Although there is time for consultation—until Easter of 1977—the fact that the document has been published in this form with these suggested arrangements and with this blueprint in such definitive form is an indication of the Government's thinking.

I am sure that the House will wish to thank the Minister for the way in which he has introduced the order. We shall look forward to his answers to our questions.

10.21 p.m.

Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)

I wish to refer to Class II, item 1 of the Order. It is singularly appropriate that we should be debating Northern Ireland shipbuilding in the wake of the marathon debate on the Government's nationalisation proposals for shipbuilding in Great Britain. It will be recalled that at the end of that debate Harland and Wolff was still excluded from the Bill. This undoubtedly causes some problems for those who have the interests of Harland and Wolff at heart. According to the Government it is clear that there is to be a national policy for ship-building in Great Britain—Great Britain, not the United Kingdom as a whole. If that were so Harland and Wolff would be included in the nationalisation proposals.

An amendment was accepted by the Government to consult Harland and Wolff and the board of that company but there are no statutory obligations to involve that board in questions of planning, strategy and marketing functions. We would be failing in our duty if we did not highlight the absurdity of a Government-controlled body, namely British Shipbuilders, competing against another Government-owned body, Harland and Wolff, for the gleanings of world ship-building and ship repairing.

It is important also to underscore the way in which Harland and Wolff is disadvantaged in terms of marketing alone. Here we have the marketing team of one facet of United Kingdom industry facing massive competition from the marketing techniques of the new giant shipbuilding board. Notwithstanding the massive aid given to Harland and Wolff to date it is still incumbent on the Government to assist the Northern Ireland shipyard in a way which will inspire confidence and boost morale rather than in a way that simply puts the yard in receipt of charity. The aid should be given in a way which will enable the yard to face the future with some degree of confidence and hope.

This can be done in at least three ways. First, the Government could consider the possibility of appointing a Harland and Wolff director to the board of British Shipbuilders. I understand that there is a vacancy on the board. What greater boost to the morale of the yard could there be than such an appointment, placing a Harland and Wolff director at the centre of national policy decision-making for the United Kingdom shipbuilding industry? The second way in which morale could be boosted would be by granting Ministry of Defence contracts. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) alluded to this earlier.

It is interesting to note that in 1974–75 about £94 million was spent on Ministry of Defence contracts and almost £13 million for ship repair contracts under the Ministry's control. Since 1970, Harland and Wolff has not received a shipbuilding contract from the Ministry. It might be calculated that over the five years about £600 million has been spent on such work, but Harland and Wolff has not received one order from it. It has received 15 ship repair contracts, having tendered for 55. Is there not here another possibility for boosting morale in the yard as well as making its profitability an attainable goal?

The third way in which assistance could be given to the yard is by a realistic scheme of diversification. Some years ago, it attempted to produce custom-built houses, which were exported to the mainland. The fault did not lie with the project but with the fact that it was before its time. The houses were exported from the Province but now we are beginning to use a similar type in Northern Ireland in order to help alleviate the housing problem. Diversification may be a possibility in that sort of way, but I am informed by those who work at Harland and Wolff that diversification must, if possible, be within the orbit of ship repair and shipbuilding.

In July, Questions were put to Northern Ireland Ministers by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson). He is not here tonight, but he has shown a marked interest in Northern Ireland, particularly its industry. The answers to his pertinent Questions were promised during the debates on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, but they never came. For example, he asked whether the £60 million we had heard about in August 1975 was the last financial aid to shipbuilding in Northern Ireland, whether it was enough to meet the problems which the yard had encountered since 1975, or whether extra money was to be made available, perhaps through the Industry Act. These are important questions, and if we got the answers tonight, again we might find the work force at the yard boosted in morale and gaining a renewed confidence in the future of the concern.

It would be wrong to leave the subject of Harland and Wolff without making a comment about the work force. In 1974, we were told that its output was 70 man-hours per ton. That has now been reduced to 46, a creditable performance. It is clear that the workers are prepared to play their part in renewing their industry, and we ask the Government to make some kind of statement or declaration, or, better still, a positive movement of intent which would encourage the work force at Harland and Wolff.

The former Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme), repeatedly referred to the need to widen the economic base in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland represents approximately one-fortieth of the population of the United Kingdom but, unfortunately, it does not enjoy a proportionate share of the Kingdom's industrial life. I ask the Government to pay attention to that comment made by the right hon. Member for Salford, West, and to show that they are concerned to widen the economic base in the Province.

I underwrite what has been said about the Quigley Report. The report was indefinite. Industrial relations in Northern Ireland are second to none. Our work rate is second to none in the Kingdom. We need opportunities to put those attributes into practice. I do not know whether those opportunities are to be found in the auto-engineering industry or in some light engineering product. It is for the Government to prove that they will widen the economic base and reduce dependence on the traditional industries, almost all of which are suffering recession.

Is the £50 million available to the Northern Ireland Development Agency enough to introduce the new industries which are urgently required? I am no great advocate of nationalisation or Government control, but economic confidence in Northern Ireland is at an all-time low. The Government cannot have it both ways. Over the past three or four years they have refused to keep in the Province defence establishments which are entirely under their control. They have refused to encourage Rolls-Royce to keep part of its operations in Northern Ireland. If the Government, because of lack of confidence in the economic future, cannot go to America or Europe and offer a skilled work force in Northern Ireland capable of doing whatever needs to be done, they will have to provide money through the Development Agency for the wide industrial base which the Province requires.

We would prefer the Government to do the former and to underwrite their confidence in the future by keeping in Northern Ireland the defence establishments and Rolls-Royce and inviting industrialists in Europe and America to come and join us. If they cannot do that, they must let us have more money to provide jobs in the Province through the Development Agency.

The unemployment statistics are appalling. About 56,000 people are unemployed in the Province. We heard today that Stephen Bros. of Omagh will have to part company with 250 employees in March next year unless there is a radical change in the textile industry. I am not an advocate of import controls. I do not ask for the profligate application of import controls, but I earnestly believe that unless some short-term measure, or selective control is exercised—particularly in the textile and shirt industries—many thousands of jobs will be lost to Northern Ireland in the near future.

The Government should not be tempted to offer aid to so-called co-operative groups in West Belfast to keep the Colin Glen bacon factory in existence. Such groups, willingly or unwillingly, become tools of the IRA and are used to mask the financing of the IRA through legitimate business. This money finds its way into the hands of those who purchase bombs and bullets to destroy Northern Ireland's industry.

The Colin Glen bacon factory could have a future, with a slightly reduced work force, if its functions reverted to those for which the factory was created —namely, the slaughtering and cleansing of carcases and their distribution to other establishments which carry out the small goods operation, the cutting of the car-cases into loin chops and so on.

I am concerned that the Unipork Group, part of which is a London-based firm, which always had an interest in the Cookstown operation, but never in the Enniskillen operation or in Colin Glen, seems to be tending towards centering all its activities in Cookstown. That would be very helpful for my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop), but it would mean the loss of a factory in West Belfast and, possible, the future loss of a factory in Enniskillen.

Why has the Colin Glen factory apparently been run down? The Pig Marketing Board and the management of Colin Glen say that pigs were not available. If that were so, why were pigs exported to Japan? Why is a senior official of the Pig Marketing Board proposing to go to Poland to sell produce? Why were pigs not bought from the 10 per cent. that the PMB has for sale to any of its factories after quotas have been met? Why were pigs not bought from the Republic for Colin Glen, as they were for other factories? All this leads me to ask whether there was a deliberate rundown of Colin Glen.

Certainly this latest proposal—for the takeover of Colin Glen by a West Belfast co-operative group—poses an even greater threat to the people of Northern Ireland. The Government should not be party to financing any such proposal and they should ask the PMB to look again at the possibility of fitting Colin Glen into their total operation.

We do not ask for charity for Northern Ireland's industry. We have suffered in the past from the mismanagement of Harland and Wolff and mismanagement of the PMB. The people of Northern Ireland are waking up to the fact that they can secure their future if they are given a lead by the Government and by managements. That is what we are pleading for tonight.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)

Following what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) said about the closure of Stephen Bros, which has been announced tonight, I wish to point out that this will mean even more unemployment in my constituency.

I wish to concentrate on an area of underemployment rather than unemployment. The shortage of staff in small acute hospitals west of the Bann is a problem of immense magnitude. Indeed, the National Health Service is crumbling in West Ulster because of this problem. The Tyrone County Hospital has to close its casualty department at five o'clock every night because of the lack of qualified staff. This is an awful situation in an area where we have the usual accidents in the home and on the roads and, in addition, the bombs, bullets and fires of the terrorists.

Some of the money used on other projects—big recreation centres, for instance—could have been better employed in encouraging consultants to come to our remote part of the United Kingdom. We must offer them attractive rewards to work there. Radiologists have to be brought to the Tyrone County Hospital from the Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry. There is not even a radiologist at the Erne Hospital in Enniskillen. If a person is seriously injured in a fire, an accident or in some other calamity, he has to be taken to Londonderry for an X-ray or the radiologist has to be brought out from the city. Medical staff who come to work in our remote area sacrifice much in the way of cultural facilities and they should be given financial encouragement to move there. I have been told by medical staff in the area that during their month's leave, they work in Europe, Canada or the United States where they earn enough to keep themselves and to bring back about £1,000 towards, as they say, the purchase of next year's car. That illustrates the big difference in what they can earn here and overseas. If we made the rewards greater, it would attract more staff.

I wish to mention the threatened rundown of certain hospitals. I wish particularly to mention the Mid-Ulster Hospital at Magherafelt. A deputation representing the Magherafelt and Cookstown District Councils went to Stormont Castle to see the Minister to put the claim for retention of the hospital as an acute hospital. Unfortunately, the Minister would not see that deputation and they had to be content with an interview with a secretary. That is a bad state of affairs.

One of the men who led the deputation was an eminent and recently retired surgeon, Mr. Wilfred Brenner, former house surgeon at the Mid-Ulster Hospital. Mr. Brenner gave the hospital his services at great sacrifice to himself because he could have taken better posts elsewhere at a far higher salary. But he chose to stay in that small town and gave a lifetime of service in the hospital. He was one of the group that went to meet the Minister, but he, along with the other representatives, was not given a hearing at Stormont.

I believe that attention should be paid to the claims of the Mid-Ulster Hospital, which serves a wide area. The hospital serves a population of 70,000 to 80,000 people. It covers a wide geographical area and it is an indispensable unit in the health service of Mid-Ulster.

I hope that the Minister in replying to the debate will give favourable consideration to implementing my suggestions.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

If all the reports about local and central Government overspending are to be believed, the £60 million in the autumn Supplementary Estimates for Northern Ireland represents a lower proportionate increase than that expected for social services in the rest of the United Kingdom. It highlights the fact that Northern Ireland is not being fairly treated.

Since the Province is now being crucified by terrorists and hate mongers, the Government should extend a helping hand to the people of Northern Ireland—but they are not doing so. Earlier this year cuts were made in the public expenditure programme in Northern Ireland. These cuts were £25 million more than they should have been on the strictly equivalent basis compared with the rest of the United Kingdom.

We must also add a smaller addition to the main Estimates than the rate of inflation would seem to warrant. The rate of inflation—price and wage increases—would suggest a larger Supplementary Estimate for Northern Ireland than £60 million. A figure of £60 million is probably what one would expect to cover increased salaries and wages for people on the public payroll. But presumably it is also meant to cover increased prices. Has the effect of price increases been under-estimated, or has there been a ministerial edict to curtail the Supplementary Estimates?

I turn to Class II, No. 4 on the subject of energy, in which an extra amount of £2,040,000 is needed by way of compensation for price restraint. I welcome this move, as would any person representing a Northern Irish constituency. Electricity and gas charges in the Province are a very heavy burden on all families. In some cases it is too great a burden, particularly for old people, who cannot understand the price inflation of electricity and cannot properly control the consumption of electricity in their all-electric homes.

The cost of electricity and gas—certainly of electricity—is about 40 per cent. higher than in Great Britain. Again, Northern Ireland is suffering. Why should Northern Ireland suffer, since Governments at Westminster have always said that they would deal with all parts of the United Kingdom with an even hand? In particular, the Labour Party, when out of office, has always emphasised this principle. Yet here we have Northern Ireland suffering more than it should.

The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) referred to the Quigley Report, and rightly so. Certainly the Government must act immediately in helping industry by making electricity and gas available more cheaply, if we are to have more jobs created and more people taken off the unemployment register. Perhaps I might deal with the unemployment problem at a later stage. I noticed, incidentally, that £40,000 has been met from the Civil Contigency Fund. Perhaps the Minister will tell us for what purpose this money was used. Is it compensation for the recent fearful attack upon the Belfast gasworks, to tide it over until compensation is paid? That may or may not be the reason.

With regard to compensation, I should like to protest about the inordinate delay in payment of compensation for damage caused by terrorists. It does not matter whether it is an individual or a large firm, great suffering is caused. But the individual suffers most. Very often he has not the money with which to replace what has been damaged, whether it is a house or a motor car. If his car has been damaged he has to get it repaired by a garage. He cannot wait a long time until the compensation comes through. I do not see why an individual should bear this burden and be penalised because some terrorist has damaged his home, his property or his car. Perhaps the Minister will look into this and ensure that payment is made as quickly as possible.

I welcome the extra £2,250,000 for new road construction. Certainly the road programme provides much-needed employment, and it is also important for industrial development generally. But I find it extraordinary that there is no change in the £6,944,000 needed in Class IV No. 1, for the operation and maintenance of roads.

I do not know whether the Minister has had the opportunity and pleasure of travelling around my constituency on the roads of North Down. If he has, he will know why I am complaining about the state of those roads, but I will come to that complaint in a moment. There has been no extra provision in the Estimates, despite the fact that there was an increase in wages of 5 per cent. from 1st November. Does this mean that some men have been paid off to keep the cost within the original Estimate? I have heard that 400 or 500 men have been or will be dismissed as an economy measure. I hope that the rumours are not true, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister on this point.

The roads in North Down are in a highly unsatisfactory state and in places they are in a very dangerous condition from lack of repairs, lack of realignment of corners, or lack of other necessary work. The roads are not fit to take the extra traffic that uses them. They are in an area that has developed rapidly. The population has increased and there are many tourists. Something should be done to improve the roads. I hope that the Minister will take action.

I turn briefly to education. I shall not go into the matters that were canvassed by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). A mistake appeared in one of the questions in the second verbal reasoning test in the 11-plus examination held last week. I regret that a mistake was made. Happily, unlike other occasions, I understand that it has been decided by the Minister not to ask the children to resit the examination. I agree with that decision wholeheartedly. However, I question whether the Minister is right in making an adjustment to the marking of the paper to take account of the error in the question. It was a five-part question and a child would have spent some time in trying to understand the question and to provide an answer. That would leave him less time to deal with the remaining questions. In other words, a boy or girl taking the second verbal reasoning test would be penalised for spending time in attempting to comprehend a question that made no sense. It is not the first time that an official document has made no sense, but it is hard to penalise youngsters for incompetence in a Government Department.

The failure to understand the question and to provide an answer goes further than using valuable time as it is bound to have an effect on the confidence of the pupil sitting the examination. It is bound to have an effect on how he or she deals with the remaining questions. I do not see how a reasonable or sensible adjustment in the marking of the paper will surmount the difficulties that I have pointed out.

I feel that the Minister came to too hasty a decision when he decided to make a marking adjustment, although no doubt he acted quickly so that no child would be afraid that he might have to sit the examination again. I believe that to be the reason for making such a speedy decision. There is just too wide a range of possibilities for a marking adjustment to meet the situation. I urge the Minister to take the view that the whole matter should be reconsidered. In my view the second verbal reasoning test should be eliminated, except where the marks for the second test are higher than in the first test. I add that important proviso because I have been told by my nephew and other children to whom I have spoken who sat the examination that the second test was easier than the first.

The failure of the Government to ensure that the roads in Northern Ireland are gritted, especially in North Down, is a disgrace. They have not been gritted at the right time and in the right place for the past few weeks. It is a foolish economy not to spend a few thousand pounds, or whatever the cost may be, paying overtime to the men who have to do this vital job if we wish roads to be safe and accidents to be avoided.

This morning there was ice on the roads in North Down. I can speak only for North Down, but my comments might apply elsewhere. No grit had been put on the roads. The men came out to put grit on the roads when people had already faced the frightening prospect of travelling on icy roads. I do not see why people's lives should be placed in jeopardy for the sake of a few thousand pounds.

I got in touch with the Minister a few weeks ago and took up this matter with him. I am sorry to say that as yet I have no satisfactory answer and that there has been no action. This brings out yet again what I have always said: until we have devolved government at Stormont, we shall never be able to get a quick answer and some quick action in a matter of this kind.

Last Monday, my own car swung round on the road approaching Newtownards. Other cars swung round, and two accidents occurred, and only then was grit placed on the road. To be effective, gritting should be done during the night or before nightfall.

All the items mentioned in the Supplementary Estimates emphasise the cost of recent pay and salary awards. But lowly-paid staff in the public service, many of whom work part-time, receive less than £2.50 a week by way of an increase. When income tax and the increased national insurance contributions are paid, in many cases employees receive less than a £1 increase. Surely that is an insult to a man or woman who is doing a decent job of work. It is an intolerable situation when it is extremely difficult to meet the high cost of food and clothing.

I deal finally with the unemployment situation. It is extraordinary how, when the Labour Party was out of office, it attacked everyone connected with Northern Ireland for the disgraceful state of unemployment then. Now that we have had three years of this Labour Government, we have the highest unemployment figures since the war. Surely this Government will act, and act now.

11.1 p.m.

Mr. McCusker (Armagh)

I want to comment on a number of items under a range of headings in the Appropriation Order and, to begin with, I turn to Class II.

I congratulate the Under-Secretary and, through him, his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr Carter) who is responsible for the Department of Commerce and who, with his officials, has succeeded in attracting for the first time for seven years an American industry to establish itself in Northern Ireland, and in my constituency. I was scathing in my criticism of officials of the Department earlier this year when, following an announcement that the authorities in the Republic had managed to attract a number of American industries, we appeared signally to have failed.

I hope that those officials will now realise that, having overcome what may have been a mental barrier, there is no reason why they cannot get more industry to come. I notice that the Under-Secretary is smiling at that comment. I might perhaps remind him that all the reasons in the world can be advanced for not attracting industry to Northern Ireland and that, once they are, the only certainty is that there will be no success. The Department has had some success now. Let its officials go out and follow it up. But it is good that they have attracted an industry which slots rather nicely into a growing carpet manufacturing sector of our economy. We wish it every success.

I add one or two words of caution. Many companies have come to Northern Ireland and suffered for years before getting on to a viable basis because they have not understood some of the problems. I worked in North Armagh with a very large American company—perhaps the last one to come before this—and I suggest that the hon. Member for Northfield be advised to tell the management of the new company to go and talk to the management of the other one, if that has not already happened. There are lessons to be learned from any organisation which has undergone the trauma of establishing a new factory in Northern Ireland, and I believe that many of the mistakes which were made by previous newcomers can be avoided. Certainly I shall do all that I can to help. I hope that the Minister will see to it that some action is taken on my suggestion.

It is notable that one of the reasons for concern was the availability of advance factories. While, no doubt, there is value in having an advance factory programme, there are also disadvantages, because it can be very soul destroying to pass rows of empty factories. One must decide where to draw the line. I hope that the Minister will look at the advance factory programme. It appears that there has been some reduction in the programme, and I hope that that means there is adequate provision and a likelihood of them all being filled. I believe that the money invested in advance factories might be better invested elsewhere during this period of economic restraint.

There is a need to consider local indigenous industries. Many of them feel that new industry coming into the Province gets preferential treatment over established industry. I am not saying that is true, but many industries do feel that. Many industries which turn to the Local Enterprise Development Unit for assistance say that they cannot establish a working relationship with that organisation. If this feeling exists in the Province it should be taken into account, and something should be done to improve that relationship.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) mentioned the drastic unemployment situation in Northern Ireland. I am interested in the projection for unemployment this winter. There is at least one hon. Member on these Benches who has suggested that unemployment could reach 80,000. God forbid that it does. But if that figure is being mooted by Northern Ireland Members, we want to have it confirmed or denied by the Minister. I hope that he will deny it tonight.

Part 4 of Class II expenditure of the Department of Commerce relates to compensation for price restraint. I believe that part of this will go to the various gas undertakings. Reference already has been made to our energy problem. While the gas undertakings will welcome compensation for pegging their prices, it should be remembered that they are pegging them at a rate which is 300 per cent. higher than the going rate in Britain. I hope that allowance has been made in the Estimates for an amount of money which will enable the gas concerns to sell their product at roughly the same price as that operating in Britain. If it is not the intention to offer some assistance to these concerns, some of them will not be in existence for very long.

I speak with some authority on this matter. I have three gas manufacturing concerns in my constituency, two of which are private companies. The third is owned and administered by the local district council, and is on the verge of bankruptcy at the moment. It has told me that unless something is done, it will go out of business, and the consequences of that are too horrible to contemplate. I hope that allowances will be made to help gas manufacturers reduce their prices so that they will be competitive with other fuels.

I turn to a rather parochial constituency matter which is covered by Class VI—the expenditure by the Department of the Environment. Has any allowance been made for the Armaghbrague water scheme in South Armagh, which was mooted some years ago, when Newry and Armagh agreed to introduce the scheme. It was shelved in the local government reorganisation and the Department of the Environment was left with the problem. However, when the Department applied its yardstick, it said that the scheme would be too expensive on a cost basis because the scheme would apply to only 70 consumers. But those 70 people are all hill farmers. They are highly efficient and they are making a major contribution to the economic life of Northern Ireland. They tell me that they have always paid their rents and their rates, and they have tried to make the country viable. They are not prepared to go without water, and they are at present forced to carry it several miles to water their cattle, cool their milk, and so on.

What does one need to do in Northern Ireland to get a fair share of the cake? There may be a yardstick to guide the Department of the Environment, but in extreme circumstances there must be some discretion. I hope that every opportunity has been taken to study the grants available from the EEC and elsewhere which might be used to supplement the money already available so that these people may have their scheme.

When I first mooted the idea two years ago the cost was about £120,000. When it was priced recently this figure had doubled. It is obvious that if a decision is not made soon the water will never be provided for these people. I hope that is understood by the officials responsible. It is easy to underestimate the value of having running water when one has four or five taps around the house. It is easy also to say that we cannot afford to provide it for these people. But they have never had running water, and they need it. I hope that their case will be given full consideration.

I turn now to Class VIII and education expenditure. I welcome the measures announced by the Minister who is responsible for Northern Ireland education. We have been concerned at the suggestion that there are 700 unemployed teachers in Northern Ireland when we need to reduce our pupil-teacher ratio and when our schools should be making a major contribution to overcoming some of our social problems. I am glad that the Minister has taken action to alleviate the situation. I hope that those teachers who claim that they are unemployed will rush in to take advantage of what is being offered. It is a sad commentary that the Province, which prided itself on its high standard in mathematics, should find itself with insufficient specialist mathematics teachers. I hope that sufficient volunteers will come forward for the courses being provided to change that situation.

There is another problem arising from the excess of teachers. It concerns those people who sough to carry out their training in Great Britain, as distinct from Northern Ireland. The problem takes two forms. First, thereis the person who has finished at grammar school and wants to train as a teacher in a college in Great Britain. When public expenditure must be cut, it is right that students in Northern Ireland should be told that only a certain number of grants is available and that when that number is exhausted no one else will get assistance.

There is also the category, however, of the person already in Great Britain from Northern Ireland to do a specialist course. It might be in music or some other subject which is not catered for in Northern Ireland. That person will want to get a teacher-training qualification before going home. I know of a case in which a young man has come to London to train in music. He has trained at one of the finest colleges here and has undertaken specialist coaching from a top-class organist. He is finishing his course and wants to complete teacher training in London before going home. That would hold many advantages. He could continue with his specialist music course while continuing with his teacher training.

But this man has been told to return in a few months. The authorities will not let him know what the situation is. Is that justified? People in this position must be reassured that they will get the necessary grant to complete their training in Great Britain. I hope that the Minister will deal with this point tonight.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) referred to the crisis in the Health Service. The crisis is undoubtedly growing in rural areas outside Belfast. My hon. Friend highlighted the problem of dentistry in Mid-Ulster. The situation in County Armagh is comparable with that in hospitals in Mid-Ulster.

The Southern Area Health Board rates third in the United Kingdom in terms of the worst provision of dental service. Within that area there are places facing catastrophe. For example, in the city of Armagh there are four dentists serving a community of over 40,000 people—one dentist to 10,000 people. One of those dentists is getting on in years and may soon retire. That will leave the area with three dentists to cater for the dental requirements of 40,000 people.

In Craigavon there are 11 dentists for over 68,000 people. Recently some of my constituents have informed me that they have sought appointments with dentists and have been offered dates 12 months hence. That is all very well for a person whose teeth are in first-class condition, because he or she can afford to wait that length of time, but for somebody in agony such an appointment is of no help at all. If in the same breath the dentist says "If you are prepared to pay me, I will see you tomorrow", one begins to ask a few questions. I understand that a dentist is within his rights in doing that under his contract. Indeed, he can refuse to see a patient if he wishes.

I am concerned not only with the present situation but with the future and whether we are failing to attract sufficient people into dentistry. I hope that, within the moneys mentioned in the order, some thought has been given to this problem. It is extremely serious. The thought of four dentists trying to serve the needs of 40,000 people appals me. The city of Armagh faces catastrophe in this respect unless help is forthcoming..

Finally, I turn to Class XI. I want to touch on public service training and expenditure by the Department of the Civil Service on central management of the civil service. This document, published in 1975 by the Public Service Training Committee, outlines the problem and future of training in Northern Ireland. I have a particular interest because I was in training. I cannot help but think that the budget allowed for public service training of £50,000 is a paltry sum. My budget in one industrial concern was in excess of that amount.

There are vast administrative empires in the public sector in Northern Ireland. What is required in those empires is not professional expertise, but management expertise. If we are to make our public sector more efficient and to reduce the number of personnel employed therein, we must improve management skills and techniques. Despite the severe unemployment situation in Northern Ireland, every newspaper, whether national or local, contains lists of advertisements for all kinds of staff in the public sector. I hope that serious consideration will be given to spending more money than is currently envisaged on public service training.

According to my information, only four people are involved in coping with the training needs of over 130,000 people. In 1975 it was estimated that 132,700 people were employed in the public service. I know that there are people involved in training in some of the individual parts which comprise this figure, but the Public Service Training Committee has a manpower of only four. That is not sufficient. If we are to improve our management skills, we must make a proper investment. I hope that the Minister will comment on that matter in winding up the debate.

11.20 p.m.

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

One could say many things in connection with the order but I propose to restrict myself to the section in Class I that deals with expenditure by the Department of Agriculture on agricultural assistance schemes, food processing and marketing. The Minister will not be surprised to hear that I shall address myself to the problems of cattle and the meat industry. The problems of sheep and pigs must wait for another day.

I complain specifically about a problem which arises from the green pound and the difference in the value of the United Kingdom and Irish Republic currencies and the number of monetary units that they will purchase. It is strange that the currencies of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic have the same value in normal life but when we move into the queer, artificial, half world of the green pound they have different values. That leads to inequities and difficulties for that part of the United Kingdom which has a land border with the Irish Republic.

When the United Kingdom failed to alter the value of the pound sterling against the unit of account to try to retain the cheap food policy that has prevailed over the years, they created a severe problem for the agricultural industry in Northern Ireland. In an effort to avoid that, the United Kingdom took certain measures to support the meat industry in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland meat industry employment scheme was introduced for an initial period of one month. It has now been extended to three months and I assume that the extension will last indefinitely. Apparently the Government have not yet made up their minds about the long term and, therefore, that which was to be temporary has become permanent, at a cost of £12 million per year. Where will that £12 million come from? When I tabled a Question I was told: Finance for the present scheme to safeguard the meat industry in Northern Ireland will be accommodated within the total funds already allocated to Northern Ireland for the current financial year."—[Official Report, 16th November, 1976; Vol. 919, c. 545.] Later I was told that this money arose as a result of a shortfall of moneys already allocated. If that is so, it must mean that bad bookkeeping has caused so much surplus money to be floating around or that cutbacks in other specific areas have occurred. The Minister must tell the people of Northern Ireland where that money has come from and where the cuts have occurred.

We realise that the aim of the scheme is to safeguard employment in the meat plants of Northern Ireland. It was also a heaven-sent opportunity for the Government to avoid their duty to control the border between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic. Since we came to the House, hon. Members on these Benches have raised the issue time and again. But the Government have failed to grasp the nettle and to deal with it. The aim of the scheme was to stop smuggling across the border, but it also concealed the inequity in beef prices between the United Kingdom and the Republic.

Since the measure is as artificial as the green pound, it has caused further inequities. I wish to deal with two or three of the resulting conditions. The conditions governing the cattle which became eligible are a great bone of contention between Northern Ireland farmers and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, or, more specifically, the Minister who is responsible for agriculture.

We hear a certain amount about the variable premiums still remaining at 13 weeks. Since there has not been a variable payment made for several months and since there probably will not be any for most or all of next year, that does not cut much ice with anyone concerned with the meat industry employment scheme. Cattle have to be in Northern Ireland for a period of 20 weeks—five months. This would have been acceptable to Northern Ireland farmers if that 20 weeks had applied only to cattle imported from 22nd November onwards. What do we find? The restriction applies to all cattle which have been imported from the Irish Republic and which were in Northern Ireland at 22nd November. This provision affects all cattle imported into Northern Ireland on or after 28th June of this year.

The Minister will be well aware of the difficulties that have arisen for the farmers as a result. The Department is fond of telling farmers to be good business men, to be careful about how they do their accounts, to work out precisely what it will cost and what their profit will be before they buy stock. Farmers in Northern Ireland have learned to do that fairly well. But it does not help to sort out the accounts and the amount of feed that will be needed if the Government change the rules half-way through the game. That is what has happened.

Many of the graziers who are finishing cattle do not have much winter feed. There are people who specialise in feeding cattle for the first half of the winter. They now find that they are stuck with imported cattle for nearly two extra months. This leads to beasts being brought to a marketable condition but having to be kept longer than necessary. Some of the cattle were ready on 22nd November and have had to be held for a further seven weeks, which can do no good to anyone, least of all the farmers and the meat trade.

I am aware that the Government have many other problems and battles to fight. I presume that many of these battles are with the Dublin authorities, who have certain problems with regard to their cattle. No doubt the Government have more formidable battles to fight in Brussels. It is utterly wrong, it is a scandalous position, that the farmers have, once more, to be the whipping boys for a political decision which has nothing to do with the realities of fattening cattle.

There was nothing to gain by this decision relating to the 20 weeks. The figure could easily have been kept at 13 weeks or, at the least, cattle in Northern Ireland on 22nd November should have had a qualifying period of thirteen weeks. That, at least, would have put people in the position of knowing where they stood for the future.

Two further problems arise. When the meat industry employment scheme was introduced, payments made under it did not apply to livestock shipped from Northern Ireland to the rest of the United Kingdom. This led to two serious situations. One is that it has lowered the market price in Northern Ireland by removing an important part of the competition which existed in the markets. An examination of the prices of cattle in the markets of Northern Ireland over the past two months will reveal that the price has dropped sharply. It is also true to say that there are a number of vessels which ply in the live trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. There is a grave danger that at least one of these vessels will be withdrawn and possibly even sold, because of the small number of cattle now travelling across the North Channel. If one of these vessels disappears, what will happen when shipping facilities are needed in future? That is a problem that the Minister should keep in mind and do something to solve.

The plain truth is that the people of Northern Ireland who formerly bought their cattle in the South and shipped them across to the North are now in the Irish Republic, buying their cattle in the markets there, shipping them to Great Britain and picking up an MCA payment of 5p a pound, which makes it very worth while.

I shall be grateful if the Minister will give his attention to these problems and if he is not able to answer our questions tonight, will do so in writing as soon as possible.

11.31 p.m.

Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)

At this time in the history of our country, with a public expenditure crisis, we in Northern Ireland find it very difficult to keep our priorities on a basis that makes us feel confident, simply because at this point there seems to be no long-term overall strategy for the social and economic development of Northern Ireland. Such policy as exists is based on a strategy worked out 15 years ago. Severe cuts will have to be made in public expenditure. How shall we order our priorities if the Government are not more forthcoming in terms of an overall policy statement?

I appreciate that the Government have considerable difficulties to contend with and that most of their energies are taken up with the day-to-day rescuing of a deteriorating situation. I also acknowledge and appreciate that some worthwhile discussion documents have been circulated, and that we have been asked to give our opinions on this or that. But I am convinced that this is not the way in which to form a long-term strategy.

It is very difficult to form such a strategy when we have a question mark hanging over the institutions of government in Northern Ireland. I appreciate that the present Government are walking very carefully a tightrope that will leave open as many options as possible in the future.

I, who believe very strongly in devolution, would like to thank the Government for the care and consideration that they have shown in so managing our affairs that they do not prejudice devolution.

The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) put his finger on the point that I am trying to make, in terms of the reorganisation of education. Whatever one's view may be as to the best form of education, it is certain that reorganisation will be very costly. Is this the time to embark on reorganisation?

In Northern Ireland our big challenge is to make the Province an attractive place for manufacturing activity. It has never been in a worse position. At the moment it has no particular advantage over any other part of the Kingdom, and there are some very serious disadvantages, arising out of terrorism and the high cost of energy. The challenge now is to produce a blueprint that will instil confidence into would-be investors.

We need to give priority to the essentials for industrial expansion. That is a much broader task than is generally assumed. It is not just a question of providing basic services and a pool of labour. One of the biggest hurdles we have to overcome is in improving the overall living environment. There is increasing difficulty in attracting senior executives to posts in Northern Ireland. Many of our skilled executives are leaving the Province. A balanced blueprint —an up-dating of what was born out of the Matthews Report and the Benson Report—would make it easier to order our priorities.

There is one big change. Belfast is no longer the powerful magnet it was in the days when I was Minister of Development. A great deal of thought will have to be put into how we re-establish Belfast as an important commercial centre. Its re-establishment will enable the rest of the Province to develop at a faster pace. There is confusion about the eventual transport system within Belfast. I have read the Government's consultative document with great interest, and no doubt we shall have an opportunity to study it at greater length on another day, but I find the document totally unsatisfactory. It seems to miss the real needs of Belfast and the Province at large.

The recent Government statement about the switch of emphasis on housing, however, is a plus for the Government. For too long the housing policy of Northern Ireland has not been directed towards urban renewal or urban conservation. I hope that that switch of emphasis will result in a speedy improvement in Belfast, which is where the problem is most acute. Anyone who knows my constituency can see with alarm the increasing rate of deterioration at the city end of the constituency.

It is all very well to declare a switch of emphasis. Do we have in the Housing Executive the capacity and the right sort of machinery for doing the job? I have come to the conclusion that the Housing Executive has been the biggest Government blunder for many years. Its present housing programme looks like being 25 per cent. short of its target this year. There seems to be a great deal of incompetence. I cannot understand some of the contract figures we hear of from time to time. The cost of housing in the Province is almost as high as is the cost of housing in the most expensive part of this Kingdom. We were told that centralisation into the Housing Executive would mean great economies and bulk buying, but some Housing Executive houses are more than double the cost of local authority houses. Public expenditure is such a burning issue that we need to look again at how things are done. I believe that there is a case for the decentralisation of the Housing Executive.

It is easy for me to say that, but it is not so easy to be constructive in suggesting how it should be done. The system of local government is bordering on the farcical. It was designed for a situation that no longer exists. We are all conscious of that. I am not sure that it would be wise or prudent to reorganise it until we have sorted out the devolution proposals. I ask the Government to look closely at the way in which the Housing Executive operates and to put right its big mistakes.

The people who should have the final say on the character of housing required in a particular area are obviously the members of the district council. They are best fitted to decide the environment of their town and its needs, and not some committee sitting in Belfast working on paper plans. I know that consultation with the district councils is increasing, but consultation can mean a lot or it can mean nothing. Without being offensive or denigrating to the present members of the Government, I can think of many occasions when I have taken constituents to meet Ministers for the purpose of consultation and I might as well have not bothered. To be fair, present company should be excepted.

Another factor is the importance of Harland and Wolff and Short Brothers to the economy of Northern Ireland. As both are located in my constituency, it is a problem that I am never allowed to forget. I would like to thank the Minister of State, in particular for the most helpful way in which he has handled the problem.

Six months ago, the workers in both concerns were greatly disturbed not just by the market problems but by the structuring of their industries. I am happy to be able to say that recent exchanges have brought about a much healthier feeling of confidence in the future. That is particularly true of Short Brothers. The financial reconstruction did not please everyone. There was some anxiety in some quarters that it was a further indication of a British pull-out. But I have talked to the shop stewards' committee in particular, and it is very satisfied with the results and with the assurances which have been given.

I, too, want to touch on the machinery for consultation with the industries in Great Britain. In the letter I had from the Minister of State on 22nd November, he said that as far as shipbuilding was concerned some progress had been made, and that the two chairmen and their respective managing directors had already met and had had a length exchange of views. Can we be told tonight whether this inaugural process of consultation proved satisfactory to both sides? I was unaware that it had started in shipbuilding until that letter. The Minister, or someone else, must be aware whether both sides felt that it would be practical to have meaningful consultation and coordination.

The same process is about to start with the aircraft end of the problem. I hope that the House will be kept informed because this is a vital point for the future of both Short Brothers and Harland and Wolff. There must be real co-ordination and consultation between Northern Ireland industries and industries in Great Britain. The statutory obligation in the Bill imposes a duty, but it does not indicate or suggest how that duty should be carried out and how its effectiveness may be tested. Workers daily put questions such as those to me. I hope that the Government will continue with their present efforts to give a greater feeling of confidence.

As to the skills of this industry, I would like the Northern Ireland Office to bear in mind the pending closure of RAF Sydenham. I have made representations on a number of occasions about the skills and facilities that exist at RAF Sydenham. I hope that no time will be lost in exploring that situation fully, so that workers there will know whether there will be an opportunity for them in Short Brothers and so that Short Brothers will know whether they will have the use of valuable facilities at RAF Sydenham. If I could hope for a miracle it would be for the Minister to reverse the defence decision, but I do not think that I should waste the time of the House by hoping for miracles at this late hour.

I can understand the Government's approach to the industry of Northern Ireland but it worries me. Emergency rescues often happen, and even the best merchant bankers in the world never feel happy about such operations. Because of the Government's desire to maintain employment in a very difficult situation they are justified, to some extent, in taking these risks. Difficult though it may be, I would like an assurance from the Government that they will not take too much of a gamble. I will not name the particular firms because that would be unfair, but I can think of one or two examples where, in the long run, Government aid could become a fiasco.

I will conclude on the subjects of transport, energy, and the road system. I do not enjoy the same transport facilities as Government Ministers in travelling to and from Belfast, and I have become increasingly dismayed at the poor quality of the service provided to Belfast, particularly by British Airways. There is virtually a monopoly. The Northern Ireland traveller does not have as many options open to him as the traveller to cities in, for example, Scotland.

If I were inviting someone to Northern Ireland in the hope that he might invest there, I should like to think that he would be impressed by the ease of getting to the Province. Unhappily, he is more likely to be frightened away than impressed. An approach must be made to British Airways or another airline to get a better service to Belfast. We should have a frequency of service which is more suitable to our needs.

I recognise the need to reduce to a reasonable level the number of aircraft flying from Heathrow, but I do not see why Belfast should suffer because of this problem. The TriStars would be far more useful operating to Belfast instead of to Glasgow. I hope that the Minister will use his good offices to provide us with a better air service.

We also need to examine our surface transport, not so much for passengers—though this is important for the tourist trade—as for goods. If a firm does not use containers, the transportation of goods to Northern Ireland is disgraceful. It is often the small firms—whose business does not justify the use of containers—who suffer. We must examine carefully the shipping services provided to Northern Ireland.

I was pleased to hear that the road programme is not being slashed too badly. I should like some indication of how the money will be spent. There seems to be a lack of coherent planning. Wonderful improvements are made to about 50 yards of a tiny rural road, but nothing more is done for generations. The standard of maintenance on our main roads is totally inadequate, and that is a false economy. Motorways are an expensive investment and should be maintained at the highest standard. I am disturbed by the way in which the M1 has been allowed to deteriorate. Part of the problem is increasing centralisation. The road executive cannot compare with the old system of sharing road functions between county councils.

The Under-Secretary will know of the controversy in my constituency which centres around the extension of the dual carriageway to link up with the Tillysburn junction. No one seems satisfied with the way in which the scheme is proceeding. Although the Government have made their position clear, there seems to have been a lack of communication.

No subject is giving me greater bother at present than the task of explaining Government policy on that dual carriageway. I wish to see a specific, firm, clear announcement and some timetable given to those involved. Perhaps I shall then be able to address my mind to other matters.

Since a number of hon. Members wish to take part in this discussion, I shall leave other matters to be dealt with on another occasion. I hope that the Northern Ireland Committee will meet soon, so that we may air the need for an overall strategy for the social and economic development of our Province. I hope that we shall have some assurance that we shall be able to debate the Quigley Report rather than simply send in our views to the Northern Ireland Office.

11.56 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

It is regrettable that immediately this order is passed, other orders are due to come before the House that will probably go through in a few minutes. We are limited in our comments in these debates, and many hon. Members from Northern Ireland will not have the opportunity to deal with important matters.

I am tempted tonight, in view of the situation, to filibuster on the other orders for the permitted 1frac;12 hours in order to make my protest felt. I deeply regret that we have not sufficient time to deal with these matters. I am sure that, with a little ingenuity, we could talk for a considerable time on noxious weeds.

I hope that my protest has been noted by the Minister. I know that he would like half-an-hour or so to reply to the debate, and I shall not stand between him and the House. But I wish to give notice that if this situation recurs—especially when we are dealing with important items of expenditure in Northern Ireland—we shall make our position felt as forcibly as we can.

Mr. Dunn

I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) on this occasion; but I am sure he is aware that tonight's debate is taking place at the request of his colleagues, and that the decision was no doubt shared by him.

It has been the custom and practice that when orders are taken together and careful representations are made to the Chair, there is always flexibility in the matter of time. If the point is made to the Chair, its occupant can be flexible in making time elastic.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

I see that, for some reason or another, I am being involved in an Irish dispute. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) should realise that a better time at which to make a protest was earlier in the afternoon when the House discussed next week's business. The Order Paper clearly sets out the proposals for discussion today. If the hon. Gentleman objects to them, this afternoon was the time to make his view known.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I do not wish to enter into controversy, and I think that I have made my point. I give warning that my colleagues and I will not allow Northern Irish business to go by default. This House is the only forum we have to discuss these matters. When we come to bread-and-butter issues, let it be seen that those who believe in the Union should take part in the debate and not those who wish to sec a break-up of the Union. That needs to be put firmly on the record.

I agree with much of what has been said so far in this debate. I am not as thrilled as are some hon. Members over the situation at Harland and Wolff and Short Brothers. I should like to see those concerns firmly in the British family and not left in isolation. I should like to put that on the record. Furthermore, something needs to be done about the air services.

With regard to Waveney Hospital, a very serious position is arising. At a public meeting in Ballymena a few nights ago, the chief medical officer of the North-Eastern Board and the chief administration officer of the North-Eastern Board were faced by the chairman of the Medical Staff concerning the deterioration in after-care facilities in the Waveney Hospital and about promises, made to the medical staff, which have been broken. The two gentlemen both had to admit that there was a serious crisis in the Waveney Hospital. I have been waiting for six weeks to hear from the noble Lord the Minister of State, who is in charge of health and social services, about receiving a deputation so that this matter might be gone into and some appropriate action taken.

Six years ago it was decided that the Waveney Hospital should be an acute hospital for the whole North-Eastern Board. I have no idea why Mid-Ulster is in the North-Eastern area or why it was put there. It staggers me. There needs to be a hard look taken at the hospitals. I do not want to see any hospital run down in the North-Eastern Board. I want all the little hospitals still to continue to give the community the services it needs. But there must be one hospital which can provide intensive care and the other acute facilities which are needed.

That promise was made to Ballymena. It was reinforced and confirmed by the Minister's predecessor, who has gone elsewhere in the Government. Now we have all the past plans suddenly scrapped, and there is a proposal to put a hospital somewhere near to Antrim. I am opposed to this. I think that there is no possibility of a hospital being built for at least 15 years. But in the meantime the small hospitals are being run down, and the one hospital which can supply the service, the Waveney Hospital, is tonight in jeopardy.

I have facts in my possession which I do not want to make public because I do not want there to be any lack of confidence on the part of the people who attend that hospital. But things are in a state of crisis, and I implore the Minister to see his hon. Friend the noble Lord and to ensure that the medical staff who have requested a meeting with the noble Lord are given the opportunity to put their case to him.

12.4 a.m.

Mr. Dunn

In the short time allowed to me it would be impossible to answer, in the detail which right hon. and hon. Members would expect, all the very involved and complex issues which have been raised this evening. I ought perhaps to concentrate on a number of major issues in order to be able to give some detail in the answers which are being sought.

One of the major principles introduced into the discussion was raised by the hon. Members for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) and Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the basic principle of the Quigley Report. As most people will be aware, a team of civil servants was commissioned early in 1976 to carry out a survey of industrial and economic strategy in the Province. The review team was given a free hand to consult a wide range of interests and to consider all aspects of economic and industrial policy. The resulting report, which was published in October, discussed a number of strategic options. It generally concluded that more Government assistance to industry and involvement in the economy was necessary if Northern Ireland were to close the gap between its economic performance and that of Great Britain's.

The Government are anxious to involve the people of Northern Ireland in their own economic future. That is why such extensive consultations are being carried out on the proposals in the Quigley Report. Ministers are in close contact with such bodies as the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Northern Ireland Confederation of British Industry and the Chamber of Trade. In early 1977 it is hoped to set up a new forum to replace the old Economic Council and to bring together the Government and both sides of industry in a meaningful and profitable discussion on the future of the economy.

The hon. Member for Abingdon referred to long-term measures. All the long-term measures and recommendations in the Quigley Report especially on agriculture, are widely recognised by members of the Government. We all accept the contribution that agriculture makes to the economy. The Quigley proposals will be considered in the context of the regional problem and United Kingdom agriculture as a whole. We do not wish to divorce the two, but there is a regional identity that must be maintained.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to a tax holiday. This afternoon in another place my noble Friend the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, gave an Answer on the tax holiday proposal which forms part of the Quigley Report. This suggestion will be carefully considered in all the consultations that take place because it may have some impact on the decisions that relate to exports.

Our policy in relation to the Quigley Report must be approached in joint consultation with all the interests involved. It would probably be wrong for the Government to indicate a strategy before the consultations are meaningfully completed. I am sure that the hon. Member for Abingdon and others who have brought this matter to the notice of the House will agree that consultations should be concluded before decisions and announcements are made about strategy.

A great deal has been said about Harland and Wolff and its future prospects. There are many problems at Harland and Wolff of which we are already aware. I shall deal with one or two matters that have been brought to my notice. I have been asked about future prospects and manning at the company. As this is primarily a financial debate I shall start by referring to the £60 million that was committed to the company in August 1975 when the company was taken into public ownership. I am glad to be able to report to the House that drawings from that sum are more or less, allowing for weekly and monthly swings, on the course predicted.

The House will recollect that the money was intended to enable the company to complete its order book in late 1978 or early 1979. Manning levels and future prospects clearly depend upon the size and scope of new orders, while new orders depend upon the ability of the company. Management and unions both have a part to play in convincing potential buyers that the company is competitive in terms of price and delivery.

I need not remind the House of the serious state of the world's shipbuilding industry in the face of excess capacity chasing too few orders. Indeed, we have heard quite a lot about these subjects in recent days. However, I shall not be breaching commercial confidence if I say that Harland and Wolff is vigorously following up a number of leads, any one of which would have a major impact on its order book if current inquiries led to firm orders. I would rather not say any more about that at the moment.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I understand the hon. Gentleman to say just now that financial experience was proceeding much as was anticipated a year or 18 months ago. How is that reconciled with his statement in introducing the order that one of the major items was due to the bringing forward in time of £11 million of the total expenditure anticipated? I am sure that there is a reconciliation. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman can clear my mind about it.

Mr. Dunn

I cannot give exact details about why this has been brought forward from next year's Estimates to this year's other than to make the general observation that in order to continue with the intense consultations which are taking place between the interested parties, the Government and other industries which serve Harland and Wolff, it was felt necessary to provide sufficient funds to implement any decisions which might be made to further the productivity which would lead to firm orders being achieved. It is in that regard that money has been brought forward, and it is brought forward in the sense that there has been a shift in the expenditure to date and we are trying to redivert resources into Harland and Wolff which may well lie fallow if we do not take the opportunity presented to us. But I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman giving him exact details on this matter.

In all the discussions which are taking place, I am glad to report that there has been an encouraging movement over the past two years towards improved productivity. There is a commonly used unit of measurement for productivity in the shipbuilding industry, namely, the overall number of man-hours expended on steelwork activities. This has shown remarkable results in Harland and Wolff.

Agreement was also reached in June on a proposed scheme of worker participation and, since then, the management and trade unions have been engaged individually and jointly in finalising arrangements for the scheme's introduction. Attention has been focused particularly on the arrangements for establishing the proposed trade union resource centre on the development of participatory structures at the various sub-board levels and on a procedure for the election of worker directors. Substantial progress has been made on the first two of these. However, there is some evidence of difficulty amongst the trade unions in reaching agreement on the election procedures, and the Department of Manpower Services is proposing to meet the unions shortly to establish precisely where matters stand. I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will be pleased that this progress has been achieved.

The next matter of substance to be raised concerned education policy. Here again, there is a wide range of views, and they were expressed in the debate by the hon. Members for Abingdon and Down, North and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East. In July 1976, the Department of Education published its consultative document on the reorganisation of secondary education in Northern Ireland. The document included a feasibility study which was carried out by the Chief Inspector of the Department of Education into the practicability of introducing a comprehensive system of secondary education using existing school buildings with only the minimum of alteration of new buildings.

The Government have invited comments on the consultative document, but I must make it clear that no decisions will be taken on the question of comprehensive education until these comments are received and considered. The original deadline for receipt of comments was January, but following further representations this has been extended to Easter, 1977. I emphasise that no decisions have been taken.

The consultative document pointed out that the Government were committed nationally to comprehensive reorganisation and were fundamentally convinced of the merits of the comprehensive principle. But it was also pointed out that in governing Northern Ireland the Government would wish to take full account of a number of special characteristics. That is why decisions are being deferred until we have the benefit of comments and advice from a wide spectrum of opinion.

Mr. McCusker

While accepting that the Government do want to receive all sorts of representations and suggestions, I urge the Minister to accept that Christmas has intervened and that the people of Northern Ireland are rather pre-occupied with staying alive and in employment. The time for discussions has been weeks rather than months. As this matter is fundamental to the future of educational policy in the Province, would the Minister ask the Secretary of State to consider pushing the deadline back? We are trying to stimulate discussion but we are running past the deadline.

Mr. Dunn

I shall convey the hon. Member's suggestions to the Minister of State, who is responsible for education, but in all honesty the criteria he has put forward for further delay could be applied to almost every subject at the end of the day. The hon. Member would not wish to delay every subject because of these criteria. I do appreciate and sympathise with the problem, but the Government must try to get results as soon as possible. A lot of detailed analysis and further consultations with the education authorities and teachers' organisations will be necessary. This should not be delayed unnecessarily.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

But are not the Government in favour of a devolved system of government in Northern Ireland? Would not education be a devolved matter?

Mr. Dunn

As I have clearly indicated in the statements I have made, we shall bear in mind the very special needs of the Province. These needs include references to a devolved government, and the particular characteristics which would have to be taken into account before any decisions were made. I cannot go any further in answering questions. We are committed to reorganisation nationally. We have not said that we are absolutely committed to do exactly the same in Northern Ireland. That is the purpose of the consultative paper. If, after considering the comments received, the Government take the decision that these secondary schools should go comprehensive, it is expected that that decision in principle would be set out in a White Paper. This would mean further consultation and would provide another opportunity for public discussion before legislation was introduced.

The implementation of such a policy obviously would be spread over a period of years. Therefore it is inevitable that, irrespective of whatever decision is taken on the principle of comprehensive education, we shall continue to deal with the problems of selection at 11, at least for some years to come. The Minister of State will establish a working party which will consider the method of selection at 11. The Government are aware of the dissatisfaction caused by the operation of the present system.

Reference has been made to the mistake in the second paper issued to children, and the hon. Member for Down, North made some comments about it. This has exercised the minds of all concerned, and it was thought to be in the interests of the children that the question should be withdrawn and that the marking of the paper should take account of the ability range shown in the answers to the other questions on the paper. I am not an expert educationist, and I would not wish to cross swords with the hon. Member on the matter. It has exercised the minds of those concerned. Decisions have been taken in the interests of the children. I believe that education is primarily for children.

Mr. Kilfedder

The children were not responsible for the fault in the test. Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider my remarks? Will he convey those remarks to his right hon. Friend, bearing in mind that a child trying to understand a question which is incomprehensible will have wasted a lot of time on that question and will have been demoralised by having failed to understand it? Surely that will affect the child's performance in the rest of the paper. An adjustment in the marking of the paper is not the answer.

Mr. Dunn

I will convey the hon. Gentleman's submissions to my colleagues. I shall bear in mind the hon. Gentleman's comment about the demoralising effect of failing to understand. If what he said was completely true many hon. Members—including myself—would be demoralised over some of the subjects which are brought before us here.

I come next to the question of energy costs and the delay in publishing the Shepherd Report. The Secretary of State is very much aware of the many problems created by high energy costs, and I understand that the report will be published as soon as possible in 1977. I cannot at present account for the delay. However, I shall bear the point in mind and if it will serve a useful purpose to do so I shall write to the hon. Member for Abingdon with an explanation.

The hon. Member also brought to my attention the question of Strathearn Audio. The Treasury has agreed to the proposals which have been made, and a public announcement may be made next week. That announcement will deal with continuation of employment of the existing workforce. The discussions about the future of the company are complex and involved, and I am not yet in a position to make a full statement. It will be made by my right hon. Friend as soon as possible.

Mr. Neave

Will that statement be made in the House?

Mr. Dunn

If the opportunity were to present itself, my right hon. Friend would prefer to make the statement in the House. However, the distance between Belfast and this House, combined with the necessity of being in the Province, presents difficulties. I shall, nevertheless, convey to my right hon. Friend what the hon. Gentleman said.

The green pound is a subject of great complexity. Many people have misunderstood the original purpose of the scheme. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) for bringing that so starkly back into notice. The hon. Member for Abingdon and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East have also contributed to that.

The meat industry scheme was introduced on 25th October after the first devaluation of the Irish green pound on 11th October. It was initially for a period of four weeks. This was extended on 22nd November for a further 13 weeks to 19th February. Continuation of the scheme will depend upon the review nearer the end of the present scheme. The purpose of the scheme is understood by all those who are engaged in agriculture in Northern Ireland and by the meat processors. It would be wrong of me to go into the background detail of the scheme or to explain any of the criteria, other than to reaffirm that approximately 3,000 jobs are at risk in the meat processing industry and many more, which we cannot quantify at the moment, in ancillary industries.

The cost from the inception of the scheme—from 25th October 1976 to 19th February 1977—is estimated to be about £4 million for cattle and about £600,000 for pigs. It is expected that funds to finance the scheme in the current financial year will be found from the shortfall in Northern Ireland programmes. I assure the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) that there has been no cutback in the estimates for Northern Ireland. We have attempted to use up the shortfall in advance in order to achieve greater flexibility and better use of the resources available to us.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Surely it is a fact that the Common Market is subsidising us by £1.5 million a day. Why is not part of that money being used for something which stems from a Common Market decision? I assure the Minister that we are not against taking subsidies from the Common Market. I would take all that I could get out of the Common Market. I should like to bankrupt it and put it out of business altogether.

Mr. Dunn

We do take the money. Like the hon. Gentleman, I am pleased that we have the opportunity of taking it. This money, which is deposited in the contingency funds, is redistributed throughout the United Kingdom in many ways, and Northern Ireland gets its fair share. I appreciate the matters to which the hon. Gentleman is alluding. I assure him that those matters are being pursued with vigour. If I were to repeat chapter and verse what is being done, the cause for which he has indicated some concern —I hope that he appreciates that it is my concern, too—might be jeopardised.

I should like now to deal with the question of shortfall which was brought to my attention by the hon. Member for Londonderry. I assure him that there has been no cutback in expenditure in Northern Ireland. We have used the shortfall as best we can. The hon. Gentleman criticised us for doing that. On the one hand, we are criticised about shortfall. On the other hand, if we try to avert shortfall in one sector by utilising resources in another, criticism is also directed towards us. With respect, the hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Perhaps at some time he will make up his mind which way he wants it and will advocate how it should be used.

It has been suggested that smuggling can be stopped by one resource or another. One suggestion was that the border could be closed. Indeed, I have heard that in the past the border has been effectively closed. However, I doubt whether it is possible to close the border to stop all forms of smuggling. I venture to suggest that, if we closed the land border, the initiative of man being what it is, small sea vessels would be procured and we should then have to cover a long coastline. This practice, which has been going on for many years—

It being half-past Twelve o'clock MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to Order this day.

Question agreed to.

Resolved. That the appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 8th November 1976 in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.