Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 22nd June, be approved.—[Mr. James A. Dunn.]
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I do not think that it would be proper to open what is, after all, for Northern Ireland the greater part of the annual Consolidated Fund Bill debate without recording a protest against the day and the time at which it is taking place. Of course, it is inevitable, especially with an overcrowded programme, that a considerable amount of Northern Ireland business in the form of Orders is dealt with in the later hours of the parliamentary day. Nevertheless, on this Order Paper we are dealing with no fewer than five items of what would be substantive legislation in the rest of the United Kingdom. At least two of the Orders are of major financial importance and provide major opportunities for hon. Members to ventilate criticism of the Executive.
I hope that the managers of Government business will take note of the fact that for this business to be dealt with late on a Friday will be seen in Northern Ireland as a sign of lack of interest in the affairs of the Province. I invite the Minister to give an undertaking, so far as he can give it, that there will be no repetition of this regrettable occasion for the handling of the annual Appropriation Order for Northern Ireland.
My second prefatory observation relates to the expression which I have already 2353 used in describing this as the Consolidated Fund Bill for Northern Ireland. That, for a peculiar reason, is not quite accurate, because the Consolidated Fund procedures, as we would call them in the rest of the United Kingdom, are in the case of Northern Ireland divided into two parts. For although the Secretary of State and Her Majesty's Government are totally responsible during this interim period for all aspects of government in Northern Ireland and all expenditure of public money, the provision for that public money, and consequently for the discharge of their responsibility and the lodging of criticism, is curiously divided into two parts. One part arises on the Consolidated Fund Bill, the Appropriation (No. 2) Act for the United Kingdom, whereas the remainder, which represents the subjects not reserved under the defunct constitution of 1973, is dealt with by the Order before the House.
It is for this reason that my hon. Friends and I were frustrated—and I think that that some of the Ministers shared our surprise—in our intention to raise tonight, amongst other subjects, the requirement for identity cards in the context of security in Northern Ireland. However, that is a subject to which we can and will return within the ambit of the United Kingdom Appropriation Act and on other occasions. I have just thrown out notice of that.
On previous Appropriation Orders it has been found mutually convenient for the debate to concentrate mainly—not exclusively, because this is the occasion on which every hon. Member can, if he wishes, ventilate a constituency matter—upon a few substantial topics of which the Government are given due notice. That is how we intend to proceed this evening.
The first of the topics which I wish to raise—and it is the major topic on which I shall concentrate—is that of rating in Northern Ireland. Rating is, I suppose, the supreme example of the well-known aphorism of Edmund Burke thatTo tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men.I suppose that, of all forms of taxation, rating is the most unpopular and the least understood. If it is little understood in Great Britain, one can hardly complain of the people of Northern Ireland being 2354 totally nonplussed and therefore I think avoidably as well as unavoidably irritated by the rating regime under which they live. Because the Province is denied normal local government by the truncation of the upper tier of local government, which should have corresponded to the lower tier of the district councils, it is impossible for there to be the proper democratic link between election and taxation, between the election of responsible councillors and the imposition of the local tax, which is well understood and prevails in the rest of the Kingdom. Instead of that, it has been necessary in Northern Ireland to resort to a most extraordinary arrangement, whereby the greater part of the rate which is levied is so calculated as to produce a charge which on average, it is believed, is the sort of sum that householders would be paying in similar parts of Great Britain. It will be seen that there are a number of very difficult links in that chain of assimilation.
It is not surprising that if I stop one of my constituents in the street, either in Newry or in Banbridge, he will be unlikely to provide a reasoned explanation of the difference between the district rate and the regional rate. The regional rate is the responsibility, as are the services for which in part it pays, of Her Majesty's Government. The Government recognise that even in the absence of an upper tier of local government—and it will be recalled that this is one of the major matters on which my hon. Friend and I have insisted and will continue to insist—there should, if possible, be some more rational system of assessing the rateable contribution to the major services which are represented by the regional rate.
When the other Minister of State wrote to me on 1st December last on this difficult subject, he ended his letter by saying:The inter-departmental committee is at present examining possible alternative methods of fixing the level of the regional rate.That was eight months ago. Inter-departmental committees do not have the solemn slowness of Royal Commissions. If it were a Royal Commission, I should not be wasting the time of the House by referring to this matter at all but it is fair to invite the Minister to lift the interdepartmental veil a little and to let us know how the matter is proceeding.
2355 We welcome the acceptance by the Government, by the fact that they have set up an interdepartmental committee, that it is not satisfactory to assess the major part of the rate in Northern Ireland in the way in which it is being dealt with at present. Although I am sure that the choice of the regions of Yorkshire and the North-East of England by comparison with the Province of Ulster is the closest choice that could be made, and although I know from figures given to me by the Minister of State that there is an attempt to correlate an average family income in those areas of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the fact remains—as with international comparisons—that the idea that one can take an average family in Yorkshire and, on the basis of that kind of statistics, say that it is the equivalent to an average family living in the Province, and then assume that one can arrange a rate poundage to ensure that an average family in Northern Ireland pays the same sum, does not take account of the realities of the levels of pay in Northern Ireland nor of the cost of living there, nor of the difference in the environment under which most people live in Northern Ireland in comparison with people living in Yorkshire.
Let us firmly place on the record the fact that the Government should be estopped from continuing this unsatisfactory method. We cannot and need not wait for a reform that will restore an upper tier of local government to Northern Ireland to bring about some measure of amelioration. The Government and the Departments have put on their thinking caps. We want to know that this work is going on apace.
We understand that the result of the imposition of the regional rate, calculated as I have described, over and above the average district rate struck by the respective district councils, is expected to produce an increase of 15 per cent. over the previous 12 months. If that is so, we must admit that the burden of rates will not be greater in the present financial year than in the last financial year. But into that sentence there is the insinuation of the wicked little word "average". There are few people or households that are average, but many fewer who are prepared to admit that they are average.
2356 Perhaps I may be permitted a reminiscence—and I shall attempt to restrain my natural propensity to prolixity at this hour. I remember being on a course in the war in which a fellow officer received what was perhaps the most devastating report that it is possible to devise. It consisted of the one word "average". That is not a term which any of us likes to have applied to us or even to have it thought that it can possibly be applied to us. It is certainly not felt to apply to domestic ratepayers in a great many parts of Northern Ireland or to ratepayers who pay rates on non-domestic premises.
This brings me to the second horn of the rating bull, namely valuation—a matter also within the province of the Department and the ambit of the Estimates which are being caught up in the Order now before the House.
It is a long time since the previous valuation came into force. Even with the fairest and most accurate system of valuation, carried out by an archangel, the changes that are bound to occur over a generation cannot but result in the most tremendous shifts of rateable value and therefore of relative burdens between one ratepayer and another as a result of long intermissions between previous and present valuations. The fault for this particular intermission does not primarily rest with this House or with the Government. It is only in the latter years of that long epoch that any responsibility rests here. That does not mean that there is no responsibility for recognising the consequences of the long intervening period.
My hon. Friends and I are asking the Government, first, to give, so far as is humanly possible, an undertaking that there is to be no repetition of that experience; that the householders, and, above all the businesses, of Northern Ireland will never again be confronted with the violent variations in relative valuations which have resulted from this long period of intermission. The year 1981 is the proper statutory year for the next valuation to come into effect. I hope that we shall hear from the Minister of State in his reply this evening the assurance that the work of valuation for the next period is already being envisaged and that the Government by their actions will show that they have no intention of allowing 2357 more than a quinquennial period to elapse in future.
Of course, this is a subject on which all Administrations have been delinquent. It is so easy for Governments—and they get plenty of support from those behind them—to duck the unpopularity of the apparent increase in rates which results from a revaluation, especially after a long period of inflation. But it is a temptation which Governments ought to resist because the result is not in any way to relieve the public of the rates. It is simply to maximise unfairness between ratepayers. The essence of a rating system ought to be fairness. After all, it is a method of distribution.
So the second thing we ask for is an assurance that it is the Government's intention, for which the administrative steps are being taken or are envisaged, that the next revaluation shall take place at the end of this quinquenium. But that will not help in the present.
I want to draw attention next to the severe variations which have taken place as between domestic and non-domestic rateable properties as a result of the new valuation list. In some parts of Northern Ireland this effect has been exaggerated. Certainly in some areas it is severe. Here I know that I shall carry with me particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), for he has the unenviable distinction of representing the area in which there was the largest of all shifts between domestic and non-domestic properties. There was a shift of no less than 10 per cent. in Londonderry, although in other parts of the Province, notably Banbridge and other places in my constituency, the shift was as high as 7 per cent.
The Government were at fault. They should have realised from the rating lists that there was this unintended transfer of burden on to businesses in Northern Ireland from ratepayers generally and that the transfer was not general throughout the Province. In the Province as a whole it averaged 3 per cent. and I would not say that that was an unreasonable alteration of the relationship. In certain places, however, it ran as high as 7 per cent. and 10 per cent.
The Government should have foreseen that event and taken appropriate steps to step-off, to graduate, the impact that 2358 it would have on commercial businesses. I do not believe that that would necessarily have been too complicated if, foreseeing this effect, they had decided, let us say over two or three years, to introduce the new shift which has taken place in those areas. What we are dealing with is a disturbance of the intended relationship, the relationship which the Legislature has intended, of the burden of rates between commercial and non-commercial properties.
That brings me to the violent fluctuations which have affected individual properties. All hon. Members will have had brought to them the most hair-raising examples of the increase—not in valuation, of course, although in such cases the increase in valuation was astronomical —in actual rates demanded from comparatively small businesses. There is only one reply which so far as I know a Member of Parliament can properly give in such circumstances. After having done his best, which will not make him very popular, to explain how rating works, he has to say "Maybe this is just in your case, having regard to the let-table value of your premises compared with what they were when the old list was made up". Then he has to say "My dear friend, what you must do is appeal. You must take professional advice and appeal."
I do not believe that the Government, knowing that the new valuation list would be attended with this tremendous upset —and it has rendered some business people almost suicidal—did sufficient to publicise, I even dare to say invite, resort to appeal by ratepayers who felt that they were unfairly dealt with under the new valuation list. This does not mean that hundreds of thousands of individual appeals would necessarily result. Rating appeals proceed by way of test cases. In this respect I believe that the chambers of trade and commerce could be and ought to be helpful. It is they who, from the side of the trader, are in a position to organise the bringing of appeals in what I might call typical cases, representing what appear to be unduly high valuations. This does not in any way prejudice the right of the individual ratepayer at any time to appeal against his personal valuation.
A great deal more could have been done to encourage and facilitate the 2359 bringing of typical appeals which would either produce a redressing of the disbalance or else would at any rate bring reassurance to commercial ratepayers that their anxieties have been understood and that there were genuine reasons for the tremendous variation in their personal rate burden.
In that context there is one aspect which I want to stress because it relates again to the long intermission of time between the old and the new valuation. I refer to the fact that where rateable valuation has in the past been unduly low, upon the whole rents may have been unduly high. Since, from the point of view of a tenant, rates and rent are parts of one thing, it follows that if rating is persistently low, the slack will be taken up by the commercial rent. It is probably true that these rents which in the past took account of, were based upon, an unduly low rate, have been carried forward as a standard of valuation into the new lists. This is exactly the sort of thing which the timely bringing of test cases ought to be able to determine and eliminate.
I ask the Minister whether he will do everything he can in the Province to make it understood by ratepayers that they have these rights of appeal and to encourage them to exercise those rights. I ask him to encourage the bringing of selected test cases which will highlight and, if possible, deal with, the classifiable special causes of discontent over the effects of the new valuation list.
I have one final point on rating. Under an Order which we made not long ago, sports halls in the Province qualified for a considerable rate relief as sports halls. That was made under the terms of the Recreational Hereditaments Order. The point I put to the Government is that in the circumstances of Northern Ireland the definition of sports halls is for this purpose unreasonably restrictive and that village halls and what are called "band" halls in different parts of the Province fulfil exactly the same social function which has been thought to justify the attraction of the large derating in the Recreational Hereditaments Order.
There is—and I am sure that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will confirm this—no sectarian flavour in this 2360 plea. Indeed, the strongest argument which has been put to me in favour of it, at any rate in my constituency, came from a district council on which his party has the majority. Anyone who knows Northern Ireland knows that there is no classification one side or the other of this type of characteristic institution and characteristic provision—very different from the sort of social provision in the typical village or small town on this side of the Irish Sea.
Therefore, I want to put a plea to the Government to envisage the extension of the recreational hereditaments derating so as to take account of the reality, which is that these other halls are performing just as valuable a social function. I am sure that my hon. Friends who will also will be reinforcing the points which I be speaking in the debate and others have made on the subject of rating.
Now I want to come more briefly to two other topics. One, which falls under the Vote of the Department of Commerce, is the question of the impediment to communications by air between the Province and the mainland. I really do not think that members of the Government sufficiently appreciate how vital and sensitive this matter of communications is nor the degree of frustration which is imposed upon those travelling for business or any other purpose between the mainland and the Province. I do not believe that they appreciate this because they are almost literally encapsulated. Unlike the rest of us, for reasons which may be good or bad, Ministers travel by space capsule between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Not for them the frustrations which their colleagues in this House experience; not for them to experience the sight of their constituents and other citizens of Northern Ireland being herded and delayed; not for them therefore to be able to appreciate, as we can from personal experience, the sheer damage which is being done economically, day in and day out, to Northern Ireland by these frustrations.
There must be many cases in which the manager of a business, considering the possibility of extending that business in Northern Ireland, or planning a branch of that business in Northern Ireland, or even of moving to Northern Ireland or setting up there, has his decision influenced against it by—and I regret to use 2361 the word—the obstruction which he encounters simply in the attempt to spend a few hours in the Province, travelling there and back by air.
The reason why this matter is being raised particularly in the debate today is the severe and sudden addition to the frustration which is going to be made, which is already being made, by the new arrangements introduced around Alder-grove airport. This will be discussed at greater length by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneux), in whose constituency the airport is situated, and by others. Let me briefly say that in that matter undertakings which were given to him and others have not been fulfilled, that intimations which were given have been defied, that the public have been left, despite the undertaking that they would be informed in advance, in the dark as to what was happening, and that altogether something bearing a reasonable approximation to a real military chaos has been created around Aldergrove airport.
The Government really must ensure that, whatever measures they consider necessary, and whatever was the cause for this sudden rearrangement in that area, they keep firmly in mind always how economically vital it is for the Province that those travelling to a time schedule between Northern Ireland and Great Britain are not subjected, if it can possibly be avoided, to large and unforeseeable delays and frustrations. It simply is not good enough that large queues of traffic, which may mean the loss not merely of flights but of connections abroad, are suddenly created, as they have been in the last few days around the one communications lifeline, for economic and managerial purposes, that Northern Ireland has with the outside world.
I add one further reflection on this topic. I must say that it seems to me that the Government suffer from a kind of hysteria on the subject of security in the context of air communications between the Province and Great Britain. I am only marginally enlarging the scope of this aspect of the debate when I refer —and some of this happened within the purview of Aldergrove Airport, which is covered by this appropriation Order— 2362 to the sort of search to which travellers on the Belfast-London link alone are subjected, which does not apply, for example, to the London-Dublin link, still less, for example, to the London-Glasgow link. I ask what is the sort of thinking behind these extraordinary searches and harassments which go, for example, to the extent of obliging a passenger who thought that he would be able to read a hardback book on the voyage either to abandon the hope of doing so or else to tear the cover off. We are told "But the hard cover of a book can contain a sheet of plastic explosive cunningly inserted." If it can contain a sheet of plastic explosive between London and Belfast, so can it between London and Dublin—I need not perhaps in this week underline that statement—so can it between London and Glasgow, and so can it between London and many continental destinations.
I am sure that travellers and business people coming to this country and used to the level of security precautions which prevail on the Continent are shocked and rather deterred by the kind of—I repeat the word—harassment to which they are subjected in embarking to and from Northern Ireland. What is the thinking behind it? Is it hijacking? Some of the rumours tell us that it is hijacking, that the reason one cannot have an umbrella is that it may be a hijack weapon. Do the Government really think that those who are going to hijack an aircraft are going to pick on the Belfast-London flight? Anyone who is going to hijack an aircraft will hijack one in which he can make a much longer journey than these aircraft are prepared and fuelled for. Is it the theory that terrorism will go to the extent—very rare but perhaps occasionally exemplified a few years ago, but which has passed out of the headlines currently—of destroying an aircraft, with crew and passengers, in the air? Is there any reason why a terrorist should strike only on an aircraft between London and Belfast? Why not elsewhere? Why not between London and Birmingham or London and Dublin?
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Member for Belfast, West attaches excessive importance 2363 to this little band gathered together to hold the evening service in the Chamber tonight. But I do not think he is seriously challenging my proposition.
I simply do not believe that there can be any rational justification for the extraordinary differentiation between the security precautions taken on embarkation from London to Belfast, or for London from Belfast, or for Great Britain from Belfast, and those which are rightly and properly taken on other journeys.
The Government must understand the degree of strangulation to which they are subjecting the Province. I am sure that they are genuine when they say there is no question of their pulling out of Northern Ireland, either militarily or economically. But without intending that it should do so, security is slowly but inexorably tightening and strangling the most essential links between Northern Ireland and the mainland.
In raising my final subject I assure the Minister of State that I am not dealing with this matter in an ungenerous or carping manner. I am on his side, but all Departments from time to time need smartening up. Like military units, Government Departments cannot carry on at the same level of efficiency without periodical smartening up, and smartening up is required in various Departments of the Government of Northern Ireland.
The first point I raise in this respect is the subject of Parliamentary Questions. I put down some Questions to the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and Scotland asking them how many Questions tabled as "W" in the first four months of this year had been deferred. The comparison is startling. Scotland had 149 Questions marked "W" and in no case was the substantive answer deferred. Northern Ireland had 129 Questions marked "W" and in 69 cases —more than half—the substantive answer was deferred.
I do not believe that my hon. Friends and I have been asking more unreasonable questions than Scottish Members. That would be entirely out of keeping with the respective characters of Ulstermen and Scots. Nor do I believe that it could be seriously argued that the separation between Stormont and Whitehall is administratively more difficult than 2364 the separation between St. Andrew's House and Whitehall. If there is a difficulty it should be remedied. This inability to obtain answers to Parliamentary Questions shows a deficiency which needs to be rectified. The contrast between Northern Ireland and Scotland is not justified.
Secondly, there is the question of handling hon. Members' correspondence. I preface my remarks with my own personal recognition of the care, courtesy and attention which the Minister and his colleagues have shown in dealing with matters I have put before them. I realise that the absence of proper local government in Northern Ireland means that we are putting through the government machine in Northern Ireland subjects which should not be put through it. Nevertheless taking account of that, the lapses of time which have occurred between the raising of matters and their being answered are excessive.
I raised a case with the other Minister of State on 14th April and it was acknowledged on 26th April. I sent a chaser on 15th July but still I have received no substantive reply, nor even an interim reply other than an acknowledgement. I raised another matter with the same Minister on 25th February which was acknowledged on 9th March. I sent a chaser on the 15th July but I have still heard nothing since the first acknowledgement on 9th March. The Minister of State and I discussed a subject on 12th April in some detail. I sent him a chaser for this on 5th July having heard nothing further. I received an acknowledgement on 14th July, but it is now 23rd July and I have heard no more.
I simply say through, rather than to, the Minister of State that this is not up to the standard of a United Kingdom Government Department, and Northern Ireland is a United Kingdom Government Department. There is no reason why we should be satisfied, or, indeed, the Government should be satisfied, with a lesser level of efficiency. I hope that the Minister of State will give an undertaking that there will be a thorough survey and tightening up of procedures in his Department so that matters put forward by hon. Members, who are the only elected representatives above district councillors of the people of Northern Ireland, are dealt with as efficiently as Scottish matters.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I find myself in substantial agreement with what has been said by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), in particular with his eloquent appeal on behalf of the ratepayers of Northern Ireland. They are suffering tremendously because of the recent high valuation imposed on them. We have had deputations from the people so affected and afflicted, and I fully support the right hon. Member's appeal to the Minister to try to find some way of helping these people in their present economic plight.
I am being realistic in admitting that I cannot see this Government, in view of recent developments, giving any support to the Northern Ireland ratepayers that would not be given to other ratepayers in the United Kingdom. However, I hope that the Minister does not assume from my remarks that we are not expecting help, because indeed we are.
There was great despair in Northern Ireland this morning, particularly among the unemployed, at the Chancellor's announcement yesterday. There are now nearly 70,000 people unemployed in Northern Ireland and with the exception of 1934 and 1935—the hungry thirties—that is the highest figure I can remember. I remember the great distress in those years when so many people were searching unsuccessfully for a job.
I suppose that Ministers will tell us that at that time there were not the social security benefits now available to the unemployed. We had to depend then on what was known as outdoor relief, but whatever the amount of benefit paid to the unemployed in Northern Ireland, it is no substitute for a job.
All the problems of the unemployed in Northern Ireland are related. The right hon. Member for Down, South said that the increase in rates had driven some people almost to suicide. That might be an exaggeration, but the increase has certainly caused some small businesses to close and to pay off employees. Only a month ago we were told in the House that there were 51,000 unemployed in the Province, so that within a space of four weeks more than 10,000 have been added to that completely unacceptable figure.
The atmosphere in which we are forced to debate these Orders is not conducive 2366 to instilling confidence into an already demoralised society. I know that other parts of the United Kingdom have their problems, but in some ways I believe that Members from constituencies there have the support of their colleagues when they ask for special assistance for their areas. I get the feeling—perhaps it is unwarranted—that when Northern Ireland Members make their appeals, Ministers think "Here are the whiners from Northern Ireland again. They are always looking for special help to provide jobs and for extra money for health and social services". If that is what they think, they must understand that it is the duty of elected Members to put before Ministers the problems we see every day in our constituencies.
The present constitution of the House of Commons relieves me to some extent of the burden of being in Belfast every day and of seeing the problems there. Circumstances demand that I am normally here trying to keep in office the Government whom I support and will continue to support. I hope, however, that the Government will realise that when I describe the problems in Northern Ireland, I expect them to do what they can to alleviate the distress there.
There is provision in the Ministry of Commerce estimates for land, buildings and selective assistance to industry and shipbuilding, including the repayment to the Consolidated Fund of certain issues. Over the past two months a considerable number of private small industries have been driven to the wall. In specific instances Northern Ireland Members have made representations to the Treasury in the hope of securing financial assistance to keep these industries in being. But firms that asked me to act as an intermediary now no longer exist.
That is not because of inaction by Northern Ireland Ministers. The Treasury bears a great responsibility for not acceding to requests of Northern Ireland Members on these matters. I should have thought that the Government would have plans in hand to stop this drift. We have gone too far down this road and the trend must be stopped.
The Chancellor's announcement yesterday, however, can only mean a continuing crisis in the Province. The Secretary of State is in Northern Ireland 2367 today and he will be well aware of the anxiety caused by that statement among the trade union movement and leaders of industry there. It is felt that Northern Ireland is being treated less humanely than other regions in the United Kingdom.
The Secretary of State said in Northern Ireland this morning that he had not yet decided where the cuts will be made. Wherever they fall, they will cause more unemployment. In view of the special circumstances of the Province, I should have expected it to be treated more humanely by the Government, but I do not see any signs of that. The Minister today had an opportunity to make a comprehensive statement about the Government's intentions for the next few months. Our constituents feel that they do not have any great future. In those circumstances, the Minister should take his time and explain what our constituents want to know.
If housing is to be cut, it will mean that building workers are not needed. That will inflate the unemployment figure. If the roads problem is not alleviated, factories will close down, with an obvious influence on unemployment. Since the Ministry of Commerce has failed to attract new industrial investment to Northern Ireland, the Government should consider establishing State industries there.
I was very hopeful when in that direction the former Minister of State, now the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, opened a State undertaking in Northern Ireland. From the reports that I have received it seems to have been a tremendous success and the labour force has been very adaptable. I did not realise that we had such an adaptable labour force, but it has fallen in with what is required. The order books are full, and long may that continue.
This is one small industry. There must be other parts of industry in Northern Ireland where State assistance or supervision would go a long way to stabilise an economy flagging sadly every day. I realise that the doctrinaire approach of the Opposition would not allow them to provide State industry, but I do not believe that hon. Members on those Benches who have experience of conditions in Northern Ireland would voice outright 2368 opposition if the Government attempted to take steps to cope with this problem.
Northern Ireland has not been in the forefront of the provision of homes for the homeless, but there are many houses in Belfast which have been blocked up because of the political troubles. I do not want to refer to particular areas in case doing so escalates tension there. The Government should do everything possible to have these homes re-opened if they are capable of being occupied. If yesterday's public expenditure cuts prevent the Government from building new houses in Northern Ireland, it is all the more necessary that every unit of accommodation which has been blocked up should be made available for the thousands who need homes.
I hope that in deciding where to apply the cuts the Secretary of State will not consider health and social services. Some time ago, I asked 29 Questions about health and social services in Northern Ireland and the problems facing the disabled and those unable to fend for themselves—the most defenceless section of the community. I received a reply saying that the Government were looking into these matters and would write to me later.
That means either, as the right hon. Member for Down, South suggested, inefficiency in the Department, or that before the imposition of direct rule the people in the Parliament of Northern Ireland were not aware of the extent of the problem and had taken no steps to find out. I am prepared to apportion the blame equally, but I think that the major part must rest with the former Stormont administration.
I am convinced that there are thousands severely handicapped, deaf, blind, or unable to fend for themselves who have had no voice raised on their behalf in the recent troubled years.
There are some Acts that I do not want to be applied to Northern Ireland because they have no relevance to our problems, but I regret that only one section of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act applies there. I should like every schedule, section, subsection and comma of it to apply to Northern Ireland. The chronically sick and handicapped in that part of the United Kingdom should be afforded the same protection and amenities as those in 2369 England, Scotland and Wales. It is no good the Government saying that extending this legislation to Northern Ireland would destroy the effects of the public expenditure cuts. That argument is unacceptable to any section of the community in Northern Ireland.
In our crisis, we sometimes think that security is our greatest problem. I agree that we have suffered in many ways because of it, but the security situation cannot be blamed for all our present troubles. There has been neglect over too many years and in tackling bad housing, severe unemployment and the neglect of the sick and disabled, we should be contributing to the improvement of the security situation.
My plea to the Government is for them not to think that Northern Ireland has always had high unemployment and bad housing so that the cuts will soon be forgotten. They will not be forgotten. Whatever differences I have with other hon. Members from Northern Ireland, we shall all repeatedly be bringing problems to the attention of the Government. I hope that the Minister will tell us what action he proposes in the immediate future.
The people of Northern Ireland do not have the opportunity to think about the 1980s. The resolution made by everyone in Northern Ireland on 1st January each year is to be there at the same time the next year. We want to hear from the Minister what steps he proposes to take to alleviate the immediate problems.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
The speeches we have heard in this debate show clearly that direct rule by this Government is a failure. I have long argued that the sooner we get a devolved Government restored to Northern Ireland the better. I think that this Government shows to the people of Northern Ireland that we had better get it before long otherwise the Province will be in a worse state than it is at present. I do not believe there has been any colony or Province which has been ruled as badly as Northern Ireland is ruled at the present time. Given the harsh effects of unemployment—61,000 at the present time including 9,000 school leavers—it is a sad state of affairs which, as the repre- 2370 sentatives of the Ulster people, we should not accept.
Of course, emigration, at 14,000 a year from Northern Ireland, obscures the true economic state of the Province. At the same time, it shows the great weakness of the economy and its inability to provide jobs for skilled men and women. It is indeed quite extraordinary that builders should be out of work at a time when there is a great need for houses to be erected for those people who are homeless or badly housed.
There has been an inability to provide jobs not only for skilled workers but also for people who are professionally qualified coming out of our universities and polytechnics. Were it not for the great number of people who emigrated last year the total of unemployed would be 70,000 instead of 61,000. Must we export our young people from Northern Ireland in order to survive? Survival on such a condition is totally unacceptable unless we want a dying community, and no one in Northern Ireland wants that except the terrorists.
It is sad that Northern Ireland business is taken on a Friday evening at this hour. I must enter my protest against the way in which the Government are dealing with Northern Ireland and its affairs. No opportunity should be missed of transferring financial resources to the manufacturing, commercial and agricultural enterprises in the Province—those industries which can best provide prosperity in Northern Ireland and provide more and more work for the unemployed.
The total estimate for the programme for trade, industry and commerce for 1976–77 is £190.1 million. For last year —1975–76 including the supplementary estimate—the amount was £215.2 million. In other words, the estimate for this year is £25.1 million less than last year. Yet this is the very programme which is most likely to stimulate economic recovery in the Province and it is one which should provide the essential platform of basic industrial infrastructure necessary to place Ulster in the position in which it can take maximum advantage of the expected upturn in the economy next year.
The total estimate of £1,038 million is £10 million more than the final total estimate for 1975–76. However, if one 2371 takes account of inflation, which has been running at 16 per cent. since April 1976, which, hopefully, will be 10 per cent. at the end of the financial year, the actual increase is less than 1½ per cent. That is a derisory amount when one considers the sad economic situation of the Province and the fact that so many people are unemployed.
The future big additions to the number of unemployed in Ulster will, of course, come along when the defence cuts have been fully implemented. Even a Government, owned factory such as Rolls-Royce and other Government factories prefer to close a branch factory in Northern Ireland, despite the background of terrorism and unemployment there, rather than a factory in a more affluent part of Great Britain. It is clear that if the Government do not keep those Government-owned factories open in Northern Ireland we must turn to the other industries in the Province.
In Northern Ireland we need a stable and effective counter to the influence and manipulations of the local economy by the multinational companies. One way might be to insist by statute that multinational companies must have worker participation, and Government representatives on managerial boards at local factory level. Harland and Wolff have shown how this might be done, and so has the work which has been put in by the right hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme). This should be extended to the local manufacturing units of the big companies which establish branches in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Development Agency is to get over £10 million in 1976–77. How can it possibly do the job that it is meant to do on that kind of budget? The record of its predecessor—the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation —in promoting new manufacturing work was not particularly good. We must remember that over 1,000 jobs were lost in spite of the money which the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation put into new business in Northern Ireland. If the Northern Ireland Development Agency is to help the economy, it must itself establish manufacturing units. Whether it does so as the sole proprietors or in participation with private commercial interests is less important than that it 2372 should act radically in a desperate situation which demands a fresh and venturesome approach.
There are parts of the United Kingdom —Northern Ireland is one of them—where the standards of London and the Midlands in respect of profitability of industry simply do not apply. The Northern Ireland Development Agency must have the same ability to invest resources, to transfer resources and to build and run factories as the big multinational companies. The agency was not created simply to feed such companies with additional money from the taxpayers' purse. As a vital service to the Province, the agency must be able to sustain a more modest level of profit because the high profit margins of the multinational companies are not necessarily the criteria which the agency should follow.
I would, therefore, urge the Government to make sure that everything is done to help industry in the Province by providing jobs for the unemployed. If this Government were not so far removed from the pain and agony of those who are without work they would be doing far more than they are doing at the present time or have done since they have taken over responsibility for Northern Ireland.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) referred to the cuts announced yesterday by the Chancellor. We on the Ulster Unionist Bench have always said that we would support such decisions in general because we believed that they were absolutely essential. We do not then make the mistake of demanding further expenditure in our own constituencies. I think the Minister of State will acknowledge that.
Perhaps I may help the Chancellor by suggesting one respect in which his right hon. and hon. Friends in Northern Ireland might effect a considerable saving. I tabled a Written Question some months ago about the estimated cost of the proposed motor road from Whitehouse to Rushpark in Newtownabbey. It is an extraordinary project involving the loop of a motorway out into the sea. It will be built on stilts about 20 feet high and loop back to the land. It can only be regarded as a most extravagant project.
2373 Only today did I receive the answer to that Question. This one-and-a-half mile motor road will cost almost £3 million. I understand that the project has not yet gone out to contract, so we can safely assume that by the time the bills are paid the cost will be in excess of £3 million. Although most of the road is in my constituency, I would happily sacrifice it in the national interest and in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland if the £3 million were spent on something more sensible.
I fully support what my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said about the hardship and the financial difficulties caused to traders and others by the sudden imposition of a burden which they are unable to bear. My right hon. Friend has devoted a great deal of time and energy to research into and study of this problem and has been in constant touch with the Northern Ireland Office. I trust that the Minister of State will pay heed to what my right hon. Friend said and act on the sensible and wise advice which, as always, he has given.
The security of Aldergrove Airport comes under Class IV of the Order. It cannot be considered in isolation from security in Northern Ireland as a whole. However, I shall confine myself to aspects of Northern Ireland security which have some bearing on security in and around the airport and the effect of the precautions which have been set in train.
The most obvious of these is the contrast between the degree of security within the general area of the airport and the degree of security not just on average—if my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South will forgive me for using that unmentionable word—over the Province, but in danger areas. I remember making this point to the authorities when there was great anxiety about South Armagh, after paying a visit to that area with my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker). I was told that it was easy to concentrate security in a small area like the airport but far more difficult to do so in South Armagh. But the problem is not so different. The area taken into the general perimeter of Aldergrove would amount 2374 to a fair slice of the troublesome part of South Armagh.
In the area in which I live near the airport there are ludicrous arrangements for thoroughly searching people who return to the area, and cars are examined fore and aft. We had the extraordinary experience of going down to South Armagh, where people had been murdered the night before, and during the whole tour seeing only two Army vehicles. I shall not go back over the South Armagh situation, except to say that I welcome the limited improvement. We hope that there will be no 1et-up in the measures taken there.
In recent days I have been asked whether I am in favour of security. Of course I am in favour of security. We on this Bench have consistently demanded greater security throughout the whole of Northern Ireland. If people in Northern Ireland are exposed to great risks as they go about their everyday lives, what luxury is it for them to be protected, and perhaps smothered, by security precautions for the brief period during which they are in the locality of the airport? It might be said that air travellers are nervous or might be deterred from making a journey if they felt that their security was not being looked after. I do not think that air travellers are nervous about the imaginary hazards they might encounter. I well remember the coolness and determination of my fellow passengers in an aircraft on which a bomb had been placed on a flight from Belfast to Heathrow three or four years ago. The aircraft made an emergency landing at Manchester Airport and the passengers disembarked in an unorthodox way, but they did not want to complete the journey by rail to London. They waited for another aircraft to take them to Heathrow. Nor on the journey back to Belfast did they want to go by steamer and rail. They immediately set about making arrangements allowing for the delay occasioned to their plans, and they were determined not to be put off even by that serious incident.
Travellers would happily accept, for example, the supposed risk of men being allowed to carry on board the aircraft a small briefcase or document case. Women 2375 are permitted to carry handbags, often of a fair capacity. We are living in the age of non-discrimination, women's lib and so on, and my right hon. and hon. Friends might consider lodging a complaint before the Equal Opportunities Commission.
Business men flying between London and Belfast on a journey of five or six hours find it most frustrating when their papers are taken away and put into a plastic bag and they are unable to use them during the journey. They do not see their papers until they get to their destination, and even then there is a delay.
From what source does the pressure come? It comes from a small band of persons who are on the soil of Northern Ireland for approximately 60 minutes on each trip, that is to say, the airline pilots and crew. They claim that they have responsibility for the safety of the passengers and the aircraft, but I have already shown that the passengers are not wildly enthusiastic about more security measures.
The passengers are not greatly worried. Why do certain airline crews—not all—refuse to stay overnight in Northern Ireland? They refuse to share the risks which all the people of Northern Ireland endure, not just on one evening out of 14, but day after day, night after night.
What about the safety of the aircraft? About three weeks ago I was booked to come over on that disastrous aircraft known as Tri-Star. The aircraft broke down at Heathrow—a not unusual occurrence—and could not come to Alder-grove. We were told that there would be an hour's delay and that a Trident would be put on in substitution. When that hour was up and there was no sign of the Trident we were told that there would be another hour's delay because somebody at Heathrow had backed a tractor into the Trident and made a hole in the fuselage. So pilots have no need to worry about the safety of the aircraft and we need not be hypnotised about the safety aspect. All these things need to be kept in proportion.
We are entitled to suggest that there should be a fitting sense of proportion. Limited risks exist here, as they do everywhere but, as has been said already, if 2376 a terrorist group is determined to hijack an aircraft—I do not want to put ideas into anyone's head—there are aircraft flying on other United Kingdom routes wide open to such attack and, not to put too fine a point on it, carrying passengers who, although they may not be quite as important as those referred to by the hon. Member for Belfast, West, might have some value as hostages.
I want to deal briefly with some specific matters concerning Aldergrove. The first is the delay caused by the diversion. I understand that recently the motoring organisations reprimanded me for saying that there had been considerable traffic chaos and delay. The motoring organisations, presumably having joined the Establishment, as all such organisations usually do, said that the delay would amount to only 10 minutes. I imagine that that estimate was made by a man sitting in a comfortable office in the organisation's city office. It would have been an easy matter for him to discover the facts if he had taken the trouble to drive out to the scene and go through the motions, as some of the rest of us have been forced to do, because his estimate of 10 minutes takes no account of two factors. The first of those factors is the Army check posts, which may or may not be there; the second, is the traffic congestion.
The most serious aspect of this congestion is caused by the diversion through what the newspapers have in the past week come to call the Killead village route. In a Written Question about two months ago I asked the Secretary of State to restrict the size and weight of vehicles using this route, partly because of its very restricted width and very poor visibility and partly because of the danger then already being caused to pupils attending the primary school at Killead. Incidentally, it is a good Presbyterian school.
I think that my request got caught up in the sausage machine referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South. The answer has not yet appeared. The opposite to what I suggested has now been achieved because everythting has been diverted on to that unsafe road. There is the local traffic, which has no alternative. There is the north-bound traffic flowing from Newry, Banbridge Craigavon, Lisburn through to 2377 Londonderry. There is also the huge volume of airport traffic.
The problem of that road link must be considered seriously. In the meantime I hope that the Minister will use his influence to see whether it is not possible to impose a speed limit, because it is in everyone's interests to ensure that, although traffic is kept moving, further danger is not caused to people using the road including the unfortunate local people.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South also mentioned certain undertakings which had not been honoured. Earlier in the week, when I raised the question of sand supplies from the sand quay at Loch Neagh, I was told that no difficulty would arise as only a small proportion of the lorries used that road. That road, which has now been closed, was reconstructed at enormous cost to provide access for the sand lorries conveying the loads of sand to built-up urban areas.
I have here a letter from the largest sand undertaking in Northern Ireland stating that the re-routing, and the extra mileage thereby involved, will cost it £60,000 in one year. That does not square with what I was told earlier in the year, namely, that it would be an insignificant element. It is no small item nowadays, especially as it will sooner or later be passed on to the customer.
Another category is the unfortunate farmers and those who work at the airport. If the delay is, as I have illustrated, of significance for air travellers approaching the airport, it is of far greater importance to the locals who live and work in the area. They have an additional problem to contend with. The mobile patrols make spot checks on the roads surrounding the airport. What happens, as I have experienced many times myself, is that one can be delayed for 20 minutes in such a spot check and then, as soon as one's turn comes up for checking, the road block is withdrawn and one can drive on. If one had unlawful intent, one would thus be enabled to proceed with one's intention
Another problem with which the locals have to contend is the increase from three to 11 miles caused by the detour. This is no small matter when such a journey is made by workers seven days a week. 2378 In these days of high fuel costs, it should not be ignored.
It has been mentioned already that there was a lack of consultation. I cannot understand why this should have been so. One could have accepted it if there had been some sudden emergency and it had been necessary to take emergency action. However, some of us have known about these projected plans for exactly seven weeks.
Many Members of the general public living in the area of the airport have known about them for that length of time. Why could not they have been consulted at an earlier stage? It is wide of the fact to say that they were consulted. They were informed of what was to happen the day before and during that night—in the small hours of the morning —the engineers' lorries arrived with the material and proceeded to block the roads. As far as I know, up to this point nothing had been done to meet the wishes of those most affected.
Earlier in the week, when I pointed out that any attempt to interfere with the flow of traffic to and from the airport would have disastrous consequences and would result in a long queue of waiting traffic, I was assured that this would not be so. However, this undertaking has not been adhered to. On the first afternoon of the closures the traffic was completely jammed. Even north-bound traffic was being impeded. In fairness to the Government I must say that when I pointed this out another Minister went to the telephone and had the situation remedied. Clearly an undertaking had been given and something was understood at a certain level, but it had not been transmittted to those on the ground. We are very foolish and naive if we believe that this sort of thing will not happen again, and we shall need very firm assurances before our fears are removed.
Assurances were given that the internal search of cars and freight lorries going into the inner compound of the airport would not be allowed to impede traffic which had already passed through the outer checkpoint and would not block the entrance. Yesterday morning I went down to that point—of course, I did not go beyond the barrier; if I had, I might not have been allowed to come out—and observed that traffic was being 2379 impeded by other traffic going into the inner section. Surely some means could be devised to make sure that traffic being searched does not hold up other traffic which has already been screened and which is carrying people who wish to join flights from the airport. This morning I had an urgent message from the Ulster Farmers Union asking for a meeting about this problem, and the local civic association made a similar request to me to arrange a meeting with the Minister responsible.
I support the pleas made by my right hon. Friend that a fresh look should be taken at this whole approach to security. There is the problem of security in villages and towns. The pattern varies very much from one area to another, and not only in danger areas. We get this problem in comparable towns where the situation is roughly the same, and yet one town centre is boxed off completely while another is open to traffic. We must make sure that there is a common pattern in the whole Province.
We have a duty to consider whether we have been so long on the defensive in Northern Ireland that perhaps the iron from the barbed wire has entered into our souls and to a certain extent destroyed our morale.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
This debate takes place in the dark shadows of gruesome happenings in both parts of Ireland during the past week. There has been the atrocity in Dublin where the British Ambassador and a civil servant from the Northern Ireland Office who was known to some of us, a young lady, were brutally murdered. Then we had the Ebrington barracks incident, when a bomb was exploded under the bed of a member of Her Majesty's Forces. The civilian population in Northern Ireland are wondering, if bombs can be placed in Army barracks, what security they can have in their own homes.
With that dark shadow hanging over us, we are discussing at this late hour on a Friday some very important matters in connection with our Province. I feel that it is almost in vain for the elected representatives from Northern Ireland in this House to be effective in their protests. Some wonder whether they should not 2380 borrow a leaf out of the book of certain Irish Members who, some years ago, in this House were able to put forward their point and their protest was heard because they did not abide by the rules of this House.
We have been protesting for a long time about the way in which Northern Ireland business has been handled in this House, and I reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has said, that we hope that never again will an Appropriation Order be dealt with at a late hour on a Friday, coupled with many other Orders which are of importance and have been commented on by a Select Committee of this House. I feel that it is hardly fair that a matter which really concerns the budget of Northern Ireland relating to Departments under the old Assembly should be handled as it is being handled.
We appreciate that the Lord President of the Council has given us extra time, even on a Friday evening, to deal with these issues, and we shall listen with interest to what the Minister of State has to say. Northern Ireland Members cannot get home tonight anyway, so we shall be quite happy to have a prolonged debate. Our colleagues in this part of the United Kingdom can get home, but we in Northern Ireland are now so isolated and cut off that after 8 o'clock there are no passenger aircraft services to our constituencies. The Under-Secretary of State can smile because he can have transport at any time, and rightly so. If he can get the best possible space ship to carry him, all the better for the agricultural interests of Northern Ireland. I have no objection to that. But one sometimes wonders why the travel link between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom is being undermined in such a way that we are being isolated.
When I attended this House some years ago it was possible for me to be here until a late hour and still get a passenger service from Heathrow to Aldergrove. But now shortly after 8 o'clock there are no passenger aircraft. This is hardly fair to the people of Northern Ireland and the business community there. After all, the business community of Northern Ireland and their relationship with their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom are of vital importance to the prosperity of Northern Ireland, and every 2381 effort should be made to ensure that the link, instead of being eroded, is strengthened. However, we are in the happy position that we cannot get home tonight, and we can make use of the time that has been graciously given to us by the Lord President.
I am sure that I have the sympathy of the Minister of State in this matter. I am sure he would prefer to have had this debate at another time, when other Members of the House would have had an opportunity of listening to it. I remember the euphoria in this House when the former Prime Minister announced to a packed Chamber—it was also on a Friday, if my memory serves me—that Stormont was no more. I remember a Member meeting me downstairs and saying "The problems have all been solved". I said "Your problems are just commencing. You have had a Sunday school picnic so far. Now you will see real trouble".
Many hon. Members who had a great interest in Northern Ireland, who were concerned with denouncing the B-specials or tearing the character out of the Royal Ulster Constabulary or attacking the Establishment of Northern Ireland, no longer take time to listen to Northern Ireland debates. Their interest in Northern Ireland was never real or genuine. They were just repeating a particular party shibboleth. Now, when we come to bread-and-butter issues, when we are concerned with the housing and employment of people in Northern Ireland, when we come to the real difficulties that the Government have to face, those people are no longer here to listen to us. Unfortunately for this House, our debates take place at times when hon. Members are not available to listen, or else they do not desire to do so.
But the representatives of Northern Ireland, so long as they are sent here by the people of Northern Ireland, will continue to represent them. That is why we are here this evening, to seek through this forum, to put the case for the people of Northern Ireland.
I wish to comment on a matter which was very ably put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South, namely rating in Northern Ireland. I can confirm that there are small businesses which have closed down simply because they were unable to meet their rate bill. Representations have been made 2382 to me by a small business man whose rates were £1,000 a year and whose rate bill is now £3,000 a year.
One has only to think for a moment of the circumstances in which small businesses operate today, against tremendous odds, not only because of the present state of the economy, not only because of unemployment—when people are unemployed, they do not have the money to spend in these small establishments—but all the time having to face the security situation as well. The very lifeline of many small businesses has almost been severed.
I regret that a strong statement was issued from the Northern Ireland Office today to the effect that there will be no let-up in regard to commercial rating. I understand—I wish to put this plainly —that the representation made by the various commerce associations and the chamber of trade was not that businesses should be relieved from rates but that the rates should be phased in to give them the opportunity to pay. That is only fair, and the Government ought to take it into account.
Commercial and other ratepayers are not saying that they will not pay their rates, but they point out that their rates have been doubled or trebled, and they ask for a phasing in. If they are phased in, they say, every penny will be paid. I ask the Government to look again at this issue, whatever decision they have made. Can they not help these business men and in that way help to keep Northern Ireland going?
Those of us who have seen the destruction in our Province are proud of businesses which, an hour or so after an explosion, board up their premises, open the door, and put out a sign "We are still in business". We are glad that that spirit prevails. Those people have a right to be heard in the House, and their plea should be accepted by the Government. I make that plea on their behalf tonight.
I do not believe that the Minister of State is a hard man who wants to be harsh. I am sure that he realises that what we say is true, and I trust that he will be able to give some comfort to these people. As I say, there is no claim that they should not pay their rates. The plea is that the rates should be phased 2383 in such a way as to help keep them in business. What benefit will it be if small businesses, or even larger establishments, are closed?
I come now to the appeal system, about which I am not so optimistic as my right hon. Friend seems to be. I wonder how many commercial and non-commercial ratepayers have appealed, and how many have been successful. I did not give the Minister notice of this question, so, if he cannot give the answer now, perhaps I shall have to send a chaser later on and receive the answer then. But it will be helpful to the House and to the people of Northern Ireland to know how the appeal system is working and how many appeals have been successful.
I come now to the situation at Alder-grove, and I underline all that has been said from these Benches emphasising the importance of security there. But what I cannot understand is that the only airport which serves the civilian population of Northern Ireland is Aldergrove and that that airport now has only one road to it for both incoming and outgoing traffic. With just one incident on that road, the airport will be closed.
Of course, if I were a suspicious individual, I might think that the Whips had decided that that would be a good way of keeping certain Members from coming over to the House in an emergency. But I make no such suggestion, knowing how well they help to bring other Members to the House, even assisting them with motor cars, to ensure that they are here on important occasions. I make no such suggestion, therefore, but I emphasise again that if there is one incident on that road, Aldergrove airport is closed. It could be closed tonight by one person making a telephone call and saying that there is a bomb in a certain place. This is the sad fact of the situation, and we had better face it.
If there were two entrances, if there were another road, things would be different. I cannot understand why the security forces took the measures they took without consulting those in the area who know. I have been informed—I have consulted my hon. Friend who is the Member for the area—that local people could have shown the authorities a far 2384 better system which would have given better security to the airport while at the same time affording a better way of entrance and exit to and from Aldergrove airport. Unfortunately, those people were not consulted.
What emergency plans do the Government have for seeing that Sydenham airport is open if Aldergrove is closed in a state of emergency? What will the people of Northern Ireland, including the business community and Members of Parliament, do if Aldergrove is closed? Shall we be held back and have no way of getting quickly to London or other places on the mainland? Is Sydenham to be put into such a state that, in an emergency, it could be used for both passenger and other flights? The link is vital. Are there plans in the offing to deal with that emergency?
I join my hon. Friends in condemning those pilots who make their money by ferrying passengers from Belfast to Heathrow but are not prepared to stay in Belfast—this applies not to all of them but certainly to some—and demand that they be flown to Glasgow. When weather conditions are not good in Glasgow in the morning, flights from Belfast are delayed. I have many times gone to Aldergrove for the early morning flight at five minutes to eight and been told at the desk that I shall have to wait for an hour or an hour and a half because the flight from Glasgow bringing in the pilot has not arrived. What will happen if terrorism increases on this side of the water? Where would the pilots go then? Is it suggested that they fly from Heathrow to Glasgow? This matter needs to be ventilated in public, for I do not believe that the public know what is happening.
I certainly lay blame upon British Airways for many other matters which we have brought to the Minister's attention, but I shall not deal with them tonight save to point out that the lives of many passengers could be made easier in their journey by British Airways. Time and again passengers are put into one bus and there is a refusal to put on another. Women and children are crammed into one bus—they are almost prised in—so that another bus need not be used. Sometimes there are no stairs. On one occasion, a TriStar had to be flown to 2385 another airport because there was not the necessary equiment to take the passengers off the flight.
At this point, I take up what my right hon. Friend said about harassment under the security system. I do not see why a person carrying a hard-backed book can come in one way and then, when he goes through the security the other way to return, have the same book taken off him and be told that he must not carry a hard-backed book. What does one do? I understand that one passenger tore off the covers of his book and handed it to the security personnel. He was then allowed to take his book aboard the plane. On one occasion I was taking home some parliamentary papers, carrying them in a plain paper file. I was told that I could not carry them in the file so I removed the papers and put them inside a newspaper. Apparently that was acceptable although an ordinary paper file was not.
Those are the problems facing the business community. When some business men come over here they do not want to bring a brief case or suitcase. They merely want to carry their papers. They want to come off the flight, go straight to their appointment, do their work and get on the return flight without delay. However, they are not permitted to do so. I sometimes wonder whether some people have a vested interest in plastic bags. They seem to think that by proliferating their use they will help the situation.
I have referred to practical matters that should be dealt with urgently. Speedy action should be taken as they are connected with the good name of Northern Ireland and with facilities for getting the people to and from the Province. The people of Northern Ireland believe in the Union. They believe that they are part of the United Kingdom and that they should remain part of it. If that Union means anything, it should mean parity of social services. The social services that are available in this country should be available to the citizens of Northern Ireland. It is not right to say in these days of austerity, as they must be in all parts of the United Kingdom, that Northern Ireland social services should not be raised to the level of social services that are available elsewhere. The point has been 2386 raised before, but the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act still does not apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. These are matters in which we are interested as we believe that the citizens of Northern Ireland should have parity with the rest of the Union.
We also believe in equality of opportunity. The people of Northern Ireland should have the same opportunity as those in the rest of the United Kingdom. However, we cannot have equality of opportunity if we do not have proper security. In this instance I disagree wholeheartedly and radically with the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). Surely security is the first priority. If people are not permitted to go out of their homes or live in them in peace, we cannot have any prosperity in the Province.
We believe that we should have a fair slice of the national purse. The figures that have been published by the Northern Ireland Office show that in past years we have dragged behind. As a result, we find ourselves in our present position.
The Government have a difficult task. I appreciate that it is not easy, but it is one that they have to undertake. They have taken on the duty and they must fulfil the obligations that lie with them as the present Government of Northern Ireland.
I now turn to the Order. I shall deal with various matters in special reference to it, some of them relating to my constituency. In an appropriation measure Members of Parliament have an opportunity to raise constituency matters. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South has rightly said, apart from the district councillors we are the only elected representatives of Northern Ireland. Only the district councillors and ourselves have the opportunity of bringing forward these matters and ventilating them.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has referred to Questions. In some instances there has been reticence on the part of the Northern Ireland Office to answer certain Questions. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and myself have been asking Questions about certain grants of money and their allocation to associations throughout the Province. I am glad to know that the information will 2387 be made available to Members of Parliament. However, I find that unless I put "W" after a Question I have little chance of getting an Answer quickly. I know that some of my hon. Friends put priority on all their Questions in that way. That seems the only way in which we can be facilitated with a ready Answer.
I have had many differences with the Northern Ireland Ministers, including the Secretary of State, as is well known, but I must say that in departmental matters I have found them courteous and helpful to me, and I shall continue to make my representations. I hope that they will continue to be courteous and helpful. I must put that on the record, because they have helped us with the difficulties of our constituents.
Can the Minister obtain information for me about the progress of the River Main scheme, a scheme that affects the whole of my constituency? It is under way and I should like to have a progress report.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) spoke about money being spent extravagantly on roads and other matters. I do not know whether it involves extravagant expenditure, but I should like to have some details of a plan to put back part of the railway that used to run from the town of Portrush in my constituency to the Giant's Causeway. I understand that it was the first electric railway in the world. Unfortunately, it was done away with before people had a vision of its value for tourism. I understand that it is to be restored not from Portrush but from Bushmills to the Giant's Causeway, and I should like to know the exact position.
People in the area have told me that they would like to have the railway, but that its real benefit would come if it ran from Portrush. They do not believe that people will bus out to Bushmills and go the rest of the distance to the Giant's Causeway by rail. How much will the railway cost? I should like to see every tourist facility and attraction in the area, but I should like to have more facts about that matter. I understand that the railway runs through a golf course and that there are difficulties about that. I have made representations to the Department about those difficulties. Have they been resolved?
2388 I turn to assistance to industry, under Class II. Is the Minister yet in a position to give us any information about the negotiations over the Ballymena textile firm?
Can the Minister tell us whether the problem about the membership of the Consumer Council has been resolved? I understand that his predecessor refused to appoint to the council the person nominated by the Association of Local Councils.
An announcement has been made in Northern Ireland that a new prefabricated house has been perfected. Here I come to Class V, which concerns housing services. Will the Housing Executive give a break to this project, produced in Northern Ireland? How will it bs exploited to the assistance of the people of Northern Ireland?
I come next to planning, under Class VI. I begin with a word of appreciation to the Planning Commission, which has done very good work. The system of appeals to the commission is very good, and I pay tribute to the way in which it is now expediting planning. But in rural districts the planning officer seems to take it into his head that it is his responsibility to reject applications simply because there is no sewerage. I cannot understand that. I appear at many planning appeals. When I ask the planning office "Will there be a sewage works in this area in the foreseeable future?" he says "No". Yet that is given as the reason for turning down a planning application.
Another reason advanced is that there are not sufficient facilities. I believe that people should be encouraged to build their own houses. If people are prepared to invest in a country, they will work hard for that country. I hope that the matter will be examined realistically. If a person wants to build a house in a particular area, why should the question of lack of sewerage facilities be given as a reason for not granting planning permission?
We must also consider the relevance of water supplies, which is extremely important for rural constituencies. Many of our constituents feel very deeply about these problems, and I hope that the Minister will take them on board. I hope that he will look at some of the sewerage schemes which are in hand to see what 2389 is delaying them. There is a particularly difficult situation at Craiga Hulliar. Perhaps the Minister can give some information on that matter.
I turn to Class VIII relating to educational questions. It seems surprising that even though class sizes are fairly large, the teacher training intake is being reduced. If such training dries up, surely it will be difficult to reduce class sizes in the coming days. I appreciate that the subject of secondary education is being reviewed, but can the Minister assist me in regard to Broughshane Primary School? I recently took a deputation to see the Minister about that school and it would be helpful if he could give me some information.
I turn to Class IX, hospital services, on which we could spend a great deal of time. The hon. Gentleman knows that there has been a great furore in County Antrim in regard to the announcement about the new hospital that is to be built between Ballymena and Antrim. This is related to cut-backs in funds for the Waveney Hospital. It is understood that contracts given to consultants in the hospital have not been honoured. As a result there will be a run-down in that hospital and a lack of facilities in the area. I hope that the Minister will look into that matter. If he wishes me to do so, I can supply him with some further information. I do not expect him to answer these matters off the cuff, but I hope to receive a reply at some time soon.
There is one other matter which I would like to mention, and it relates to consultation. There is an important scheme involving a new town centre in Ballymena. I was to lead a deputation to meet the Minister on Friday. The fact is that the scheme was announced without the mayor of the town and his officials having been told about it. I was certainly not told about the matter, but apparently it was announced to the Press. It would be helpful if information about important decisions in constituencies were given to those who have an interest locally. It is hardly fair to arrange a deputation to see a Minister only to discover that the very matters on which they propose to see him have already been contained in a Press announcement. There is a tendency in some Government Departments to overlook the elected representative. The local representatives should be told when a 2390 vast scheme of reorganisation is to take place—and certainly in a case when a whole town centre is involved. Those are some of the matters that disturb us.
This will probably be the last debate in which Northern Ireland Members will be taking part before the recess. [Interruption.] I am talking about a long debate of this nature, dealing with Northern Ireland business. I hope that we shall not have another string of Orders next Friday. We shall be going back to our constituencies and returning here in October. There could be many sad and frightening happenings before then. We are not like ordinary Members of Parliament going back to their constituencies to do the normal job of a Member of Parliament. I trust that the Minister will realise, as we do, the seriousness of the security situation. I trust that firm measures will be taken in Northern Ireland to deal with those guilty of atrocities. I hope that the people of Northern Ireland will be able to feel confident that effective security measures are being taken.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
I take part in this debate because, looking through the appropriations, I notice that in Class II, No. 1, there is an appropriation for expenditure by the Department of Commerce:on provision of land and buildings, selective assistance to industry and shipbuilding".It was the word "shipbuilding" that made me feel that I should look back through the debates of last year to discover whether I, who had spoken in the debate on the nationalisation of Harland and Wolff, was not correct in thinking that the then Minister of State had said in the debate that no more money after the £60 million that was then voted to the company would be forthcoming.
Looking back to the report of that debate I found the passage that had stuck in my memory, and I shall quote it. In the course of his speech the Minister said:I have spoken today and on previous occasions about the last chance, about there being no bottomless pit of public money and about the need for the company"—that is Harland and Wolff—to demonstrate long before 1979 its ability to take on new work without loss—and I have said that if the company cannot do this 2391 it will be time for the Government to call a halt and to permit the rundown and even closure of the business."—[Official Report, 1st August 1975; Vol. 896, c. 2480.]When I heard those words last year I assumed that the Minister was saying that the £60 million would be adequate for the company to meet its responsibilities and continue in business. As we know, or think we know from various Press reports that have been circulating, particularly last month, there is now a question hanging over the company whether that £60 million is adequate and whether those words, which might be described as a death knell, are the policy of the Government or whether they have had other thoughts.
When I saw the appropriation, I thought "Good heavens, the Government are prepared to put more financial assistance into this company". I hope that the Minister of State will tell me whether my supposition is right. I know from answers to various questions that I have put to Ministers that we await the study on the new economic strategy for the Province. The Minister of State promised that we should have that before the House went into recess—I hope that I am not putting words into his mouth. I am quoting from an answer of 27th May this year. I have some cuttings here, one of which is dated 2nd June 1976, which says:Rees discussion on HarlandIt goes on to say that the Secretary of State was to meet the chairman, Sir Brian Morton, and that they were presumably to discuss the future of the company. Another cutting dated 8th July 1976 says:£3 million Korea order for HarlandWe are told in that cutting that the company now has orders for 18 engines from Korea.
I am told, too, that the company still possesses on its order book an order for a tanker for the Maritime Fruit Company, and if the hon. Gentleman asks the chairman, he will tell him that no fewer than 10 ships are on the order book which, it is hoped, will carry the company forward to 1978. But—and this is the "but" that troubles me and made me feel that I should say something—if the situation is graver than the orders I have referred to would suggest, the Minister of 2392 State has a bounden duty to tell us what that situation is.
The Minister is reputed to have said that the £60 million which should have carried the company through to the third quarter of 1978will not last as long as we thought it would.That quotation is from a Press report. I lay stress on the word "we", because presumably it does not refer to the management but to the Government and the management. I suggest that if the company is to have its present situation laid at its door, the word "we" is inappropriate, but if the Government have with the company negotiated the situation, the responsibility lies on the Government as well as on the management to explain why the money is not going to last as long and what they plan to do about it.
For instance, the chairman has said that the £60 million is being used in accordance with the plan agreed with the Government. The chairman has already put forward suggestions as to how he thinks the company could be carried through the difficult period after 1978 and before that terrible year of 1979, the autumn of which is perhaps the last moment after which the Government are not prepared to give further financial assistance.
Perhaps, therefore, the best way I can make my comments and bring them into focus is to pose a number of questions. First, how much of the £60 million has been spent, and are the Government prepared to extend the amount of money to the company so as to enable it to continue in existence? If not, what contingency plans have the Government for the yard, bearing in mind the appallingly high unemployment and the catastrophic effect closure of the yard would have on the economic situation in Northern Ireland?
Secondly, what consideration has the Minister given to the company's proposal for State-sponsored contracts to bridge the two-year gap between 1978 and 1980, when the world shipping market is expecting a cyclical upswing? That seems to be a sensible and intelligent approach to tremendously difficult problems, and I should like to think that the Government are giving it most careful consideration so as to enable the company to continue in existence.
2393 Thirdly, there is the question of any proposal to run down the work force. I want to combine that with another appropriation—finance for industrial retraining. I think I am right in saying that comparatively recently, perhaps in the last two or three weeks, the managing director of Short Brothers and Harland was reported in the Belfast Telegraph as saying that he would like another 1,000 skilled workers but could not find them.
That is a remarkable statement, because the appropriation is for many millions of pounds, and one wonders whether industrial retraining is achieving what we all want—improving the skills of the work force. How is it possible for a company that wants 1,000 extra workers, not to be able to get them simply because they are not in existence? This suggests that industrial retraining is either not being directed at the right skills, or is simply not achieving the objective that most of us persuaded ourselves that it was achieving.
I understand that there is a proposal by the European Commission that member States should cut back on their tanker building in such a way as to keep the shipbuilding industry of Europe in existence. That would suggest that the Government are looking at the proposal, and they must be thinking of Harland and Wolff since that company has a tanker yard. Would the Minister confirm that any thoughts he has about this matter are in the context of the British shipbuilding industry, irrespective of whether a company is within the nationalised corporation?
Next week we shall debate the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, and I was one of those hon. Members who attended most of the 58 sittings of the Standing Committee. We shall discuss whether Harland and Wolff can be associated with the British Shipbuilding Corporation. The Government were prepared to listen to the Scottish nationalists and make concessions to them and their shipyards. I understand they are now listening to the representations of Welsh nationalists and considering taking Bristol Channel Ship Repairers out of the Bill because that is what the Welsh Nationalists want. I do not mind Bristol Channel Ship Repairers being taken out of the Bill—in fact, I hope that the Bill 2394 is scrapped altogether—but if this is being done for both Scotland and Wales, why should Northern Ireland be ignored? Harland and Wolff's problems are not the problems of a company, but the problems of an industry, and it is not just the British industry, but the industry of Europe and the world.
I come now to the question of the relationship between Short Bros. and Harland and Rolls-Royce. Short Bros. was interested in the Rolls-Royce company at Dundonald. I read the minutes of evidence which the company gave to the Expenditure Committee's Defence and External Affairs Sub-committee about its guided weapons side. I discovered on page 73 of the report of that committee that Mr. Paul Foreman, managing director of Shorts, said:We have told the Minister of State in Northern Ireland that we will be prepared to look again at the Rolls-Royce situation if we are invited to do so.… The acquisition of the Rolls-Royce plant at Dundonald certainly could be of advantage to us. We certainly would not undertake anything… unless we thought it was good for us commercially.The Rolls-Royce plant at Dundonald will be closed down, as I understand it. Could the Minister tell us whether Short Bros. and Harland was given the opportunity to take over the plant, and if not, why not? It seems that there was an opportunity to save jobs in Northern Ireland and any opportunity to do so should not be overlooked in any circumstances.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)
I think I speak for all hon. Members from Northern Ireland when I say a word of thanks to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) for the speech he made on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. In past years, many hon. Members have attacked Northern Ireland, and it is good to hear one man from this side of the Irish Sea who is prepared to speak for it.
By and large, Northern Ireland Members have concentrated today upon local government and especially upon the subject of rates. It is upon that that I should like to make a few remarks. It would be foolish to try to ignore the difficulties and ill-feeling caused in Northern Ireland by the shift in the rates burden 2395 from the domestic to the commercial sector. Certainly the number of representations I have received has been considerable.
The representations I have received from the business men in Londonderry have been detailed and were passed by me to the Ombudsman. He was unable to deal with the case because the group of business men concerned were not considered to be "a person" and the legislation is so narrowly drawn that the Parliamentary Commissioner was unable to take up the case.
I have advised my constituents to institute a few test cases for themselves. I believe that that is the only way in which their voices will be heard. Perhaps there is a case for reviewing the law governing the Parliamentary Commissioner, with possibly a change to enable him to take up cases involving groups and organisations. No doubt the Minister will tell me, however, that there are serious difficulties in that approach.
In all the representations my constituents have made to me one factor has emerged repeatedly. It involves the problems created by the security cages in Londonderry and the security railings and barrels in the villages and towns in my constituency. No doubt the story is the same elsewhere. It can make a great deal of difference to a business man whether his business is situated inside the security area—which is a distinct advantage—or outside. Yet the valuation officers rate the premises practically the same.
This matter should be looked at seriously, because the two cannot be the same for the purposes of valuation. The Minister should take that problem in hand rather than leave it to the individual concerned, because it is causing a great deal of anger among those who are on the wrong side of the wire.
One case was brought to me recently and I have written to one of the Ministers about it. It involves a constituent who lives in one of a row of council houses in Londonderry. He lives in the centre of the row, and all the houses are identical. He was told that his rates would go up by 12p a week. Every other householder in the row has been told that his rates will increase by 6p. No doubt I 2396 shall be told that there has been a clerical error, but my constituent has checked up on this matter. I hope that the Minister will take as much care about it as my constituent did, because it is quite wrong that something of that nature can occur.
One of the reasons people enter public life is to do something for those they represent, and the present frustrations among local councils have to be experienced to be believed. They clear the streets and bury the dead—if they have local cemeteries—but they can only talk about the problems over which they have no control.
There is considerable resentment that a large part of the rate levied by each authority is taken by the regional rate, which is different for domestic and non-domestic purposes. It is strange that when the burden has been shifted from householders to commercial premises, the non-domestic rate should also be one-third higher than the domestic rate—thus increasing the burden to a degree that cannot be defended.
Constituents come to me and my colleagues on the local authority complaining about rates, water, sewerage, housing and, above all, planning. I support what has already been said about planning and the difficulties that it causes for many people. Although the attitude of planners has improved, it still leaves much to be desired.
Time and again permission to build is refused in country areas even on sites where there has been a house whose walls still remain. These developments are being turned down because no public sewerage system is available. Yet we have heard in the House before that there is no sewerage system in the whole town of Ballycastle, and that is not a unique instance. Only now we are proposing to instal a public sewerage system—if we can get permission from local farmers—in a hamlet of 20 or 30 houses in my constituency.
Why has sewerage become the key to whether a person is allowed to build a house in the country? These people have usually lived in the country all their lives. Their parents and friends often own land in the country and they have no wish to live in a town.
As a countryman myself, I sympathise with them, and a better attitude in future 2397 will help to arrest the decline in our rural population, with all its consequent problems for our country communities. Heaven knows, our rural population is small enough anyway.
The domestic regional rate in Northern Ireland is about 36p in the pound and the non-domestic rate is about 48p in the pound. Local rates vary from about 14p or 15p in the pound to about 21p or 22p. The local rate is designed to meet local demands. One of the problems that has arisen out of the lack of power of councillors is that they tend to spend more and more time on subjects that used to be of small importance and relegated to second or third place. Councillors have lost the real power to control the way in which people live and to order their lives and determine the sort of conditions that will be created for them. The councillors who represents the people at local level has to do something to fill his time.
One item that is now becoming of major importance and that looms larger and larger at every council meeting is recreation. All sorts of things have been done about recreation and all sorts of tourist schemes are being brought forward. All of them cost a great deal of money. If the councillors had more important things with which to concern themselves, a great deal less time and money would be spent on schemes that will be a drain on the rates for ever.
My local council bought a field on one small council estate and put up two sets of goal posts, and the young people there have had had more fun out of that than out of some of the vast sports complexes being built throughout the country at vast cost. One such sports complex has been built on the west side of Londonderry and the only people I can see who will benefit from it will be the citizens of the Irish Republic. Certainly they will benefit a lot more than my constituents who live on the east bank of the Foyle. Indeed, my constituents cannot go there because if they did they would come back with a hole in their heads—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) would not like his constituents returning with a hole in their heads any more than I should like mine returning in that way.
A further problem which arises with ferocity in the hot weather is the prob- 2398 lem of burning dumps. It would be a very good thing if the people put in charge of running the refuge dumps in Northern Ireland were put through a course teaching them how to keep a dump and how to cover it up so that this problem, which is a continuing source of irritation to so many of our constituents, could be done away with once and for all.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) mentioned that the average rise in the rates payable in Northern Ireland in the current year is 15 per cent. It is strange that every hon. Member from Northern Ireland and every councillor in Northern Ireland has received literally armfuls of complaints about the rates being increased. However, I know of one business premises in Coleraine where the rateable value is now 17 times what it was, and there is a rumour about a business premises somewhere in Londonderry where the rateable value is 22 times the old figure.
When I look at this enormous increase in the rateable value in those properties and hear complaints about the enormous increases in the rates, it occurs to me that there must be a lot of people some place who are paying less. I have not heard very many complaints from them. I know of only one person who is paying lower rates. But there must be many people who are paying less, for it cannot be otherwise.
Even at this late hour on a Friday it would be wrong for me to sit down before saying a brief word about the police and security in my constituency. I call to the Minister's attention the fact that members of the IRA and South and East Londonderry—a group which was broken up to some extent a short time ago—in the last week have bombed the village of Castledawson in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop). Members of the IRA bombed and levelled seven houses in one road in Kilrea, which, per head of the population, has received more bombs than any other town in Ulster. The IRA also bombed two excellent shops in Coleraine last weekend. It is evident that that group of the IRA is back in business. I hope that the security forces will note that and deal with it.
Even more serious incidents have occurred in Londonderry in the past few months, resulting in the death of two 2399 soldiers. One soldier was a young man from Scotland who had been in Northern Ireland for four days when he was shot.
What horrifies me is that this young man was killed in precisely the same way as a police constable was killed on the Walls of Londonderry last year. He was shot from a window of a house which overlooked the Walls. The row of houses is not very long. The window from which the police constable was shot in May 1975 was immediately bricked up. Why were all the windows which overlooked the Walls not bricked up? Why was the window out of which the fatal shot was fired at the soldier left covered with hardboard?
I know that from the line of fire there was a very narrow field in which the shot could be directed, but it was enough. The people who committed that murder must have studied the terrain.
I was appalled when a REME sergeant was killed in Ebrington Barracks in Londonderry last week by a bomb planted under his bed. Is it not time that the security forces in Londonderry took a long and careful look at the methods used in the base and in other parts of the city where the security forces live and work? If that were done, security in these premises would improve.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
We have heard some powerful and effective speeches on behalf of Northern Ireland from hon. Members on both sides of the House, starting with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) who protested strongly that the debate was taking place at this time on a Friday. I associate myself with that protest. It is extremely inconvenient for the House and for all concerned that we should be continuing at this hour.
The debate has been extremely import and significant for Northern Ireland, and many aspects have been raised to which the Minister of State will wish to reply. He will note what the right hon. Member for Down, South said, which we support. High standards of administration are required under direct rule, at a time when the only elected representatives, apart from those serving on district 2400 councils, are hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland.
This is the second Appropriation Order for the current financial year which we have discussed, and it is much the most important. It adds £600 million to the amount we voted in March. As the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said in a telling speech, we are discussing it against the background of the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday on public expenditure, when he announced a reduction of £35 million in the expenditure on Northern Ireland for the financial year 1977–78. I realise that the announcement does not directly affect the Order, but it is the background against which we should be talking. The hon. Member for Belfast, West was wrong in thinking that we on this side would oppose any reasonable action to support Northern Ireland's economy. He was right to state that the Government must give some indications of policy and as soon as possible reveal their economic strategy for the Province.
The Minister of State will agree with me that the Chancellor's argument yesterday was that the economy would recover quickly in the United Kingdom and that the gross domestic product would increase at an annual rate of 5 per cent. and manufacturing production at an annual rate of 9 per cent., leading to a fall in unemployment before the end of the year.
Will the Minister of State tell us how confident he is that these assumptions will apply to Northern Ireland and that the economy will recover as quickly? Professor Black, the economist who has been advising the Government's review body on economic strategy for Northern Ireland, said in an article in the Irish Banking Review in June thatwhile some reduction in unemployment in Northern Ireland might be expected as the United Kingdom swings out of recession there are disquieting signs that in the medium term the recovery will at best be partial.He added thatit is unlikely that, on the basis of present policies, the local economy can regain the trend of growth of output that it enjoyed for most of the past decade.That is the grim background. The Minister of State must restore confidence that the Government really have an, economic strategy.
2401 We are entitled to question the Chancellor's assumptions about growth, especially in Northern Ireland, and the resulting public expenditure policies. Professor Black's analysis was made at a time when available figures showed that in the six months leading up to March this year there had been successive increases in industrial production. We on this side have checked the latest figures with the Department of Commerce which show that in the two months following March there was a fall in the index of industrial production, mainly in textiles—the major industry in Northern Ireland Therefore, the prospect may be worse than the Professor feared.
Will the Minister of State therefore answer the hon. Member for Belfast, West and say what plans he has in mind? This should be known as quickly as possible. Public expenditure is very important for Northern Ireland, and the public expenditure survey 1979–80 which we examined the other day showed that it was planned to fall by 5 per cent. between 1975 and 1980.
Employment in manufacturing industry concerns us greatly. It has declined in Northern Ireland in the past 10 years, and Professor Black quotes figures to show that if that figure were to be added to the present unemployment figure of over 11 per cent.—I think one hon. Member mentioned 61,000—we would have a dangerous situation.
Hon. Members on this side have made it quite clear that they are not making the point that public expenditure in Northern Ireland should necessarily be increased in respect of their constituencies. We are saying that Northern Ireland has a unique background of social, economic and security problems. It is a special case in the United Kingdom and deserves sympathetic consideration. The right hon. Member for Down, South pointed out that different standards apply. We also think that the Government must be fully aware of the unemployment implications of their public expenditure policies for Northern Ireland and must urgently produce proposals to stimulate industrial growth and to slow down the contraction of the manufacturing base. Will the Minister of State indicate the progress he is making with his review in that respect, particularly of manufacturing? 2402 On these final points with regard to Government policy in the United Kingdom as a whole, industrial confidence has been seriously undermined in Northern Ireland where investment is the lifeblood of the economy.
In this general context it is worth drawing attention to the facts revealed in a Written Answer of 1st December 1975 published in col. 477 of the Official Report. It was shown that public expenditure per head in Northern Ireland has only since the financial year 1974–75 exceeded that in Scotland and was in previous years lower than that for Wales. This tends to refute the commonly-held view that Northern Ireland has traditionally received an extraordinarily high share of public funds. Certainly that was not so prior to that date. Only since 1974–75 has it tended to be higher than in Scotland. Only after several years of terrorism and destruction has this situation arisen. We do not begrudge fair and reasonable assistance to our hard-pressed fellow citizens in Northern Ireland.
After these general comments on public expenditure I should like to mention two more points before the Minister replies. The right hon. Member for Down, South and other hon. Members referred to rates and revaluation. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the interdepartmental committee. I hope he is correct in thinking that the committee will take account of the realities of the cost of living and of the environment in Northern Ireland. I expect that point will be borne in mind by the Minister.
Recently we in the Conservative Party have received a deputation from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Trade, as indeed have other hon. Members. It is quite clear that the recent revaluation has caused particular difficulty for small businesses in Northern Ireland. The deputation gave examples of cases in which because of this 20-year gap between valuations, some firms face rates bills which have increased from less than £1,000 to around £10,000, an increase of over 1,000 per cent. In the absence of due warning it is difficult for a small firm to absorb figures such as that. We accept that valuations may have been lower in Northern Ireland at one time, but the changes have been enormous.
2403 While increases were inevitable under the system of rate financing, what proposals are there in respect of the next valuation? Are plans being made so that these matters can be dealt with in a way which does not cause such confusion and distress? We are not at all happy about the Government's handling of rates. More sympathy should have been shown to the constructive way in which the traders and members of the Chamber of Trade made their case when they visited us here. I believe that they visited the Minister of State and proposed that these rates should be phased. Will he say what answer he gave them on that occasion and why he could not meet their points?
There are 100,000 people employed in the distributive trades in Northern Ireland, and it is estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 could lose their jobs if some form of phased implementation of the revaluation is not adopted. A large proportion of the people in these trades are self-employed, and we on this side of the House take a special interest in the small trader. We want him to survive and to receive assistance from the Government in Northern Ireland. The Government must not ride roughshod over the self-employed merely because they are not highly organised. They are very important people in Northern Ireland.
When the right hon. Gentleman studies the statement by the Chancellor yesterday, he will note the reference to the rephasing of defence works programmes. How far will that affect the back-up services in Northern Ireland where accommodation for the security forces has been slowly improved? It is a question which should be raised in this debate because the point occurs in the Chancellor's statement.
As all hon. Members have agreed, we have heard a very good speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson). He pointed out some of the problems of Harland and Wolff which have given risen to anxiety on both sides of the House for a long time. Will the Minister reply to the question which was put to him and say whether the remarks attributed to him and widely reported in national newspapers at the beginning of June are correct? Was there at that time a new cash crisis in the firm, and was it true 2404 that it could not meet its productivity targets? We on this side reaffirm our position with regard to Harland and Wolff, that we do not want to see any obstacle put in the way of efforts by the new management to re-establish the firm as a viable concern.
It has been rightly said—notably by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross)—that unless we can see our way to secure a peaceful existence for Northern Ireland, a constitutional progress in the Province will be extremely difficult. It is my view—I have always held it, and I repeat it now—that unless the Government set out with real determination to destroy terrorism, it will be a long time before we can achieve that aim.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Roland Moyle)
As the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) said, we have had, albeit at a late hour, an extensive and well-informed debate on many aspects of life in Northern Ireland, and I have a good many questions to answer. The hon. Gentleman urged upon us the highest possible standards in the administration of Northern Ireland in a period of direct rule, and I was glad to hear him say that because, as far as I can see, the biggest obstacle to high standards of administration in the Province are the rather silly little games which his party has been playing over pairing in past weeks, which have certainly restricted the ability of Ministers to administer the Province in a way which, I am sure, most hon. Members wish to see.
§ Mr. Moyle
The hon. Gentleman made his observation, and I am just giving my comment.
I have a broad range of subjects on which to reply. I thank those hon. Members who gave me notice of the questions which they intended to raise since that has made it far easier for me to reply. I did not receive notice of certain subjects. In some cases I can answer the questions directly from my knowledge as Minister. In others, I am afraid, I shall have to promise to write in reply to the hon. Members concerned, and I 2405 hope that they will be satisfied with that.
I want to say a word about notice because we are attempting to make debates on the Appropriation Order for Northern Ireland equivalent to the Consolidated Fund debates for the United Kingdom. The Appropriation Order covers almost every conceivable aspect of Government policy and administration in Northern Ireland in so far as it is affected by the functions of Departments of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. Subjects related to the Northern Ireland Office are not covered. However, the result is that a huge range of matters may be discussed, and hon. Members are quite right, from their point of view, to raise such matters in this debate. Nevertheless, there is the problem of having the appropriate people in the Official Box to provide detailed answers, since many of the matters are extremely detailed, as hon Members will understand.
The same considerations apply to the Consolidated Fund Bill, but United Kingdom Ministers have precise notice of the subjects on which they are expected to reply. Therefore, the nearer we can come to a system of that sort in respect of our Appropriation Order, the nearer we shall be to having satisfactory debates. That is the reason why I say that I shall do my best to answer all the points put to me, but I may have to disappoint one or two hon. Members and do my best hereafter to repair the omissions.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke about holding a debate at this time of day. We have had an open-ended debate, although debates on Orders normally last for an hour and a half. However, we have had the time limit removed. It was thought by the Government's business managers when the business was arranged, albeit on a Thursday, that we should have a large part of the normal working day to discuss these matters. Unfortunately, things have not gone particularly well in that respect, for reasons beyond my control and beyond the control of the Northern Ireland Office. I merely take note of the fact thatThe best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley.I believe that Friday is not the best time for discussing Northern Ireland business, 2406 but if we do not discuss it on a Friday, the chances are that we must return to discussing it at a late hour of night. Whether that is an improvement on these arrangements is another matter.
Rating has received a wide airing from the hon. Member for Abingdon, the right hon. Member for Down, South, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). They concentrated on the problems of commercial rating.
The hon. Member for Abingdon was right to say that I received a deputation from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Trade to discuss its problems. He asked me what answer I gave when it asked me what I could do to help it with the phasing in of the increased sums to be paid as a result of the increased rateable values following revaluation. The straight and simple answer is that I had to remind it that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had already told it that he was not prepared to meet it on this matter when it met him a few weeks ago.
Obviously the situation is worth a few more words than that. I have had the greatest admiration for the shopkeepers and tradesmen of Northern Ireland, particularly since I have been at the Department of Commerce. I appreciate that most of them work from town centres and city centres and that many have been subjected to a severe battering for many years. The courage with which they face this situation is a source of admiration.
However, we are faced with a considerable problem in trying to meet them. If we are to allow them a phasing in, it means, in effect, that we shall in some way be subsidising the commercial ratepayer. As far as I am aware, there are only two sources of subsidy—namely, other ratepaying sections of the community and the Government. In the current situation I cannot see that the Government will be able to find more money to provide a further subsidy for commercial ratepayers.
I am not entirely sure that an increase in the rates for other sections of the community in Northern Ireland for the purpose of meeting the problems that face commercial ratepayers would be a 2407 popular measure. That is the difficulty in which we find ourselves. I have done my best within the powers given to me as head of the Department of Commerce in Northern Ireland to provide them with extra assistance. I have improved the security grants that are available to firms to enable them to employ security men to protect their premises from bomb attacks. That has helped them a little.
When I received the deputation I was surprised to find that not one employer in retailing had at that date availed himself of the temporary employment subsidy that is available to help to meet the cost of such employment by retailers and other employers in this time of high unemployment. I hope that a number of firms will begin to take care of that.
When it comes to problems of individual hardship, I am convinced that the correct procedure is for the individual ratepayer to launch an appeal. Despite what the hon. Member for Londonderry said, the rateable value of a shop within the protected area of a city as opposed to the rateable value of one just outside such an area is an ideal matter for individual consideration rather than for settlement by means of broad Government policy. I urge shopkeepers and tradesmen who find themselves in such situations to consider that method of redress.
The right hon. Member for Down, South accurately described the principles on which the regional rate is cast and drew attention to the interdepartmental committee that has been considering whether it might be good to have a new approach to the problem. I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman a date for the announcement of its results, but I can say that the committee's work is far advanced. However, there are other people who must be consulted about these matters besides those involved in our own machinery. That accounts for some of the delay which is still occurring—perhaps "delay" is the wrong word, because it seems to imply that the committee has been tardy. It has not: it is working as briskly as it can within the administrative machinery within which it finds itself.
There is no doubt that the gap of 20 years was the greatest cause of the hardship to members of the trading and commercial community. I suppose that to 2408 some extent they gained advantages in that they had low rateable values for 20 years, values which became lower and lower. Although that can be exaggerated, correcting the situation at the end of the 20 years meant that some people had quite a shock.
The Government intend that the next revaluation shall take place in 1981. That is the date towards which we are working. I hope that the people in Northern Ireland can then settle down to revaluations on the same basis as those in the rest of the United Kingdom. I was going to say "on the same basis as we enjoy", but "enjoy" is perhaps not the most appropriate word.
The next major topic which the right hon. Gentleman raised was that of delays in answering parliamentary Questions and correspondence. I take his criticism in good part. The machinery of government as between Westminster and Belfast and Stormont was reviewed earlier this year. No new procedures to deal with the problem to which the right hon. Gentleman and others drew attention were brought up at that stage, perhaps because there was not the same sense of urgency then being expressed in the House as there was in this debate. I shall consider whether matters can be improved. I give that undertaking without qualification, but a few words of defence and explanation on behalf of the very hard-working staff are required.
Comparisons were made between the Scottish Office and the Northern Ireland Office. The Northern Ireland Office has about 1,200 civil servants and the Scottish Office has about 10,000. Therefore, the Scottish Office per se is a vastly larger information-collecting and processing organisation. That is not the whole story, because the Northern Ireland Office has the Northern Ireland civil servants as well. Nevertheless, that gives an indication of part of the problem.
Whatever happens, all the information gathered by the Northern Ireland Civil Service must go through the Northern Ireland Office before it becomes a parliamentary answer. I do not want to make too much of that point, but it is one of the considerations to be borne in mind. The Scottish Office has many years of tradition of providing answers straight to the House from St. Andrew's House. We 2409 have the problem of co-ordinating the Departments in Northern Ireland with the Northern Ireland Office.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
The Minister has put his finger on a sensitive spot because some of us suspected that this was the problem. I do not say that it is a problem deliberately created, but I remember that on one occasion a letter came to me by mistake from a Department for which he was responsible. I do not blame the Minister for that. It was a draft submitted by the Northern Ireland Department to the Northern Ireland Office at Stormont. I received the wrong one—not the one the Minister should have signed but the original draft that came from the Department. I wonder whether we are suffering the effects of having two layers of administration in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Moyle
That is part of the problem, but I do not want to exaggerate it. It is not the nub of the problem, to which I shall be coming in a moment. There are other peripheral matters that must be borne in mind.
It must not be forgotten that Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office spend a great deal of time in the air travelling between London and Belfast. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to get hold of a Minister to ask him to sign a Written Answer at the appropriate time.
The right hon. Member for Down, South said words to the effect that he was sure that Northern Irish Members did not ask more convoluted, difficult or involved Questions than, say, their Scottish colleagues. In fact they do, and I shall explain why. I suppose that the closest relationship to the Secretary of State in relation to the Royal Ulster Constabulary is the relationship of the Home Secretary to the Metropolitan Police. But the Metropolitan Police are not in the same situation as the RUC. The RUC has a real man-sized job on its hands. Sometimes it is difficult for them to take people away from direct operational staff work to answer Questions which are tabled by Northern Irish Members. I do not criticise those hon. Members, because they have a duty to reveal the facts for the purpose of informing their constituents.
The type of Question asked about security in Northern Ireland is considerably more involved than any Question asked, for example, about the police in 2410 Great Britain, or even about the Metropolitan Police. Normally Questions asked about the Metropolitan Police or the police generally in Great Britain relate to broad matters of equipment or to specific incidents. But in the case of the RUC often the questions are different. Despite the allegations sometimes made in this House that there is not a sufficiently close working involving the RUC, the Army and other defence forces, it must be said that the operations of the Army, which come directly under the Ministry of Defence rather than under the Northern Ireland Office, are inextricably bound up with the operations of the RUC. The Army, which has an operational rôle of fairly high intensity in Northern Ireland has to be brought in on a specific question—for example, in regard to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.
§ Mr. Powell
I have not had an opportunity to consult my colleagues, but I imagine that I am speaking for them when I say that if from time to time Ministers find a Question designated with a "W" causes a particular problem, my colleagues and I would be quick to respond, unless there were a special reason for urgency which they could explain, to any suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.
§ Mr. Moyle
That is a handsome gesture on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. We shall see what we can do to work on those lines.
I do not make any particular point about the burdens being laid on the Northern Ireland Office by hon. Members of the House in general, or Northern Irish Members in particular.
I fully appreciate that Northern Ireland Members have to ask these questions. I am trying to explain some of the difficulties. This month we have been asked 123 Written Questions, of which 82 were priority. Of these 33 were complex Questions relating to security statistics. These involved calling on the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army to make a substantial contribution to answering them.
The only other observation I wish to make before leaving this subject—this is a piece of well-meant advice which I hope the hon. Member for Antrim, North will take—concerns his frustration about receiving a quick answer. He said that 2411 the only way he could ensure a speedy reply was to ask for a priority answer. I hope that he will not follow his frustrations through logically. If he does, it means that the whole system becomes overloaded and fails to work. This point was emphasised when the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) introduced the priority Written Question system into the procedures of the House some years ago.
I move now to the subject of Alder-grove, which was raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), who represents the constituency in which the airport is situated. The trials of civilian travel are not entirely unknown to Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office. For obvious reasons, I cannot dilate any further on that. We experience these trials from time to time and appreciate the difficulties, though perhaps not so acutely as Northern Ireland Members and other hon. Members.
I agree that Aldergrove is a vital link in communications between Belfast and London. It is a crucial link these days. Whatever appearances to the contrary, it is the intention of the Government to protect that link. Unfortunately, practically all security measures that I can think of involve a balance between achieving security and subjecting people to personal inconvenience and sacrifice. The occasions on which we can achieve greater security at no cost to an individual's convenience are unhappily rare. The best way to be secure is for everyone of us to lock ourselves up in a room bristling with machine guns and piled with tinned foods and remain there until our natural lives come to an end. It is a rather exaggerated way of solving the problem.
I appreciate that the hon. Member for Antrim, South and his constituents have had a new dose of this inconvenience in the past few days when certain roads round the airport have been closed. The hon. Member drew attention to the lack of consultation. I was sad to hear that people in the locality have known about these plans for about seven weeks, because the object of avoiding prior consultation was a fear on the part of those concerned that if there was prior consultation there might be others in the 2412 Province who would seize the opportunity between the commencement of consultation and the imposition of measures to act while the going was good.
Obviously, those in the locality who knew about this were sensible people and did not spread the word around. That was for the benefit of all. That is why, if there is to be consultation, it has to be after the implementation of measures rather than before. The hon. Member drew attention to Killead Road. I can assure him that the road services officers are considering the problems that have arisen there as a result of the road closures. Certainly the new traffic flows resulting from road closures have been monitored and will continue to be monitored on the basis of seeing whether remedial action will have to be taken at some time in the future.
There is no doubt, however—and I would not try to deny it—that it means inconvenience for the hon. Gentleman's constituents. The roads have been closed because of the danger, among other things, of a stand-off mortar attack. Such an attack took place there some months ago. I can disclose that I was in an aircraft which was taking off when the attack took place. I hope that I showed the calm to which the hon. Gentleman referred as being shown by his fellow passengers. In fact, I assure him that I did do so, because I did not know that I had been under mortar attack until I had arrived at London, so I was able to take a proper Nelsonian attitude to the situation.
We are aware of some of the dangers. But it is not just a question of passengers. Reference has been made to the British Airline Pilots Association. A certain amount of hard comment has been made about aircrews. I am not sure that we in this House are in a position to make such comments because, although hon. Members have been a little critical of the way in which airline pilots would not spend time in Northern Ireland, to the members of the association no doubt it seems a lot more dangerous than it does to people who live there—just as people who live there perhaps tend to underrate the dangers which airline pilots see from hijacking and travelling to Belfast, and just as people in Londonderry tend to think that Belfast is a terribly dangerous place while people in Belfast think the 2413 same of Londonderry. I do not think that we can necessarily be unduly critical in these matters.
I thought that the attitude of the hon. Member for Antrim, South towards public expenditure was very refreshing. To come forward with a proposal for saving sums of money is rather unique in our discussions. I found an instinctive sympathy with him when he made his contribution, because I think I can see that the Belfast ring motorway has never recovered from the period when I was head of the Department of the Environment for a few months. I think I am on his side. Exactly what will happen, I do not know. But my initial information leads me to feel that there is a better argument for it, and I will let him know.
The hon. Gentleman also hoped that the security forces would move from the defensive to the offensive. I would not necessarily agree that they have been on the defensive up to now, but it is the intention of the Chief Constable of the RUC to adopt offensive measures for his force. But I would not want to go into greater detail on that.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North asked how many people had used the appeals system in respect of revaluation. I am afraid that that, too, is something I shall have to find out for him, and I shall let him know the answer. He wants a breakdown between domestic and non-domestic ratepayers.
There are no specific plans for using Sydenham as an alternative to Aldergrove in an emergency because—I will not go into detail—it is not regarded as suitable, but there are plans at Aldergrove for use in an emergency. They do not involve the Sydenham airfield. The hon. Member said also that the inhabitants of the Aldergrove area had knowledge of a better security system around the airport than the one which the Government have applied. If they would let us know about it we shall evaluate it and see whether we can make use of it.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North also raised the question of the railway extension between Portrush and Bush-mills. I shall have to write to him about that. Unfortunately I am not yet in a position to talk about Ballymena Textiles, which I know is a matter of grave concern to him.
2414 On the question of teacher supply, I would point out that Northern Ireland classes have been traditionally larger in terms of the pupil-teacher ratio than those on this side of the water. We intend to move to a situation in which the pupil-teacher ratio is the same on both sides of the Irish Sea. We hope that this will be achieved by 1981, and we are on target at the moment, in spite of information in the Press about the situation on this side of the water. My Department was able to create 800 new teacher posts in Northern Ireland for the coming academic year. That will help the situation considerably. About 150 of these had not been taken up by area education and library boards a few weeks ago so we have been engaged in a chasing up exercise.
The hon. Member for Belfast West (Mr. Fitt), the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and the hon. Member for Abingdon all raised the question of the general economic situation. When hon. Members draw attention to the serious unemployment figures prevailing in Northern Ireland I do not regard that as whining. It is a proper contribution to the debate about this appallingly serious problem. Our general assessment is that the Northern Ireland economy is, by and large, a function of the United Kingdom economy as a whole. The level of activity in the rest of the United Kingdom has an important effect on the level of activity in Northern Ireland. For this reason, as the economy of the United Kingdom picks up it should have a substantial impact on the Northern Ireland economy.
The United Kingdom economy, as all the indicators show, is now beginning to revive from the trough of recession. I would accept that recovery in Northern Ireland probably will be a little slower than in the rest of the United Kingdom. I would expect unemployment to stop at higher levels in Northern Ireland htan in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The reason for this is that 10 to 15 years ago Northern Ireland became the first area in the United Kingdom, and probably in Europe, to give considerable support for industry from public funds. That put Northern Ireland in a favourable position to compete for mobile international investment. That competitive 2415 edge was eroded when the same support was given in other areas of the United Kingdom and Europe. There was not the same advantage to Northern Ireland and the general assessment is that there is less international mobile investment than there was before.
Areas such as South Korea, for example, which are new markets and have much lower labour costs than Northern Ireland, will probably attract the internationally mobile investment more easily than Northern Ireland will. A further factor is that as a result of the 1973 Middle East War and the increase in oil prices the cost of energy in Northern Ireland, where energy-supply is essentially oil-based, has gone up quite considerably. Mr. Shepherd of the South of Scotland Electricity Board has produced a report on the Northern Ireland electricity supply industry which I am hoping to publish in the course of the next few weeks.
The hon. Member for Newbury asked about the industrial strategy review. On the basis of documents available to us we shall have to propound a plan for the future economy of Northern Ireland, and that will necessitate calling in the Economic Council to consider these matters during the rest of the summer. I hope that we shall be in a position to announce policy decisions later in the year and the action we propose.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West asked about housing and the reopening of blocked-up houses. A housing order is coming forward that will give my hon. Friend the Minister of State power to deal with this problem.
My hon. Friend also asked about the extension of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act to Northern Ireland. I must be careful about what I say here. I went into the matter last winter before appearing on a television programme. It would be very tempting to say that practically all the powers in the Act are already in existence in Northern Ireland legislation. However, to say that without qualification is a dangerous thing to do and therefore I will say only that the larger part of the powers conferred by the Act are already on the Northern Ireland statute book and can be used. It is a question of timing, 2416 resources and money to make them avaliable.
My hon. Friend urged the use of publicly owned industry to solve Northern Ireland's problems. I yield to no one in support of publicly owned industry. I spent my working life in it before I came to this House, and it is one of the tools that will help to solve the Northern Ireland problem. But it is not as simple as that. I think that my hon. Friend was referring at one stage to Strathearn Audio. It had an advanced technology product and there is a lot that publicly owned industry can do to help a struggling firm in its early stages in that situation until the product gets off the ground. It is a function that often private industry cannot perform. However, the ideas must be good and the propositions reasonably viable. One cannot expect publicly owned activity to succeed just because it is publicly owned.
The hon. Member for Newbury asked about Short Bros. and Harland and the Rolls-Royce factory. The answer to his question is that the company was given the opportunity to take over the factory at Dundonald. I am to meet the trade unions next week to discuss the situation with them, and I can say no more about that now.
He asked about Harland and Wolff but, unfortunately, I had no notice that the subject was to be raised. There will be an opportunity to discuss the future of the firm on amendments to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill next week. That would be a good time to debate this subject which is a much more complex matter than the simple question that the hon. Member asked about Short Brothers and Harland. I hope the hon. Member, who asked some pertinent questions on this topic, will contain himself until next week.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson
Will the Minister of State be taking part in that debate next week, or will the subject be dealt with by the Secretary of State or Minister of State for Industry?
§ Mr. Moyle
Either the Secretary of State or I will reply to the debate on the Harland and Wolff amendments if present business arrangements are maintained. It is not entirely a matter for me.
2417 The hon. Member for Londonderry made an excellent point about the vast sums of money being spent on leisure centres in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member pointed out the advantages of simple pitches with goal posts where lads and lasses could turn out and knock a ball about in the evening and enjoy themselves in simple fun.
The leisure centres that were started before I got to Northern Ireland have got away, but the others have been stopped. They are very fine for people living nearby. For instance, the Antrim leisure centre is a superb facility, but the further one moves away from it, the less one uses it, and for the money spent on these centres we could provide hundreds or even thousands of all-weather football pitches across the Province—perhaps even one on every housing estate—for the greater good of all the people.
2418 I hope that the House will consider that I have answered all the major problems raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Abingdon asked about Harland and Wolff and I replied to his point in my answer to the hon. Member for Newbury. I was asked about accommodation for security forces. We have certain priorities for security expenditure in Northern Ireland, especially for the police. Army expenditure comes from the Ministery of Defence budget and I shall inform my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about the interest shown in this debate and get an answer in that way to some observations and questions.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, a draft of which was laid before this House on 22nd June, be approved.