§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. John Ellis.]
§ 4 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Merlyn Rees)
On 5th March I told the House that direct rule in Northern Ireland would continue, that it would be positive and not negative— [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the importance of this subject, will you please ask hon. Members to retire quietly?
§ Mr. Speaker
As usual, I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, who invariably draws attention to the fact that noise shows a lack of courtesy to the hon. Member who is addressing the House.
§ Mr. Rees
I was saying that on 5th March I told the House that direct rule in Northern Ireland would continue and that the Government would continue to discharge fully their responsibility for all aspects of affairs in Northern Ireland. It is, therefore, appropriate that the House should now be debating security and the economy, since these are two major problems to which the Government give overriding priority.
As regards security, the object of the Government's policy throughout has been to eradicate terrorism from Northern Ireland and from wherever it comes. The security forces are now bringing more and more people before the courts. That is much to be welcomed, but by itself this is insufficient. The terrorist will continue to exist as long as he has enough public support to provide him with a safe haven. But the terrorist can no longer be sure of this in Northern Ireland. The reason is clear. Increasingly, people know the terrorist for what he is in Northern Ireland. Experience has taught again and again that the rule of law is the rule of a stable society.
It is my strong view that the existence of detention not only estranged a part of the Northern Ireland community but also cast a shadow over the law itself. Now that no one is in detention, there is no doubt in my mind that in minority areas 642 there has been a change of attitude. This is reflected by the increased co-operation given to the security forces in dealing with terrorists. Progress is securely made only if it is in accordance with the rule of law. Some people affect to believe that if only the security forces could escape from political restraints they could soon, and expeditiously, deal with the terrorists. But there are no political restraints on the security forces in discharging their duty to catch terrorists and bring them before the courts.
Those who seek simplistic solutions to the security problem by what they call "war" on the terrorists display their own limited outlook—they seek to destroy society and the rule of law in order to save it. This is no solution to terrorism. It plays into the terrorists' hands, and we cannot ignore the lesson of Irish history. Although I consider it essential that we should operate through the law, it does not mean, however, that the law itself is immutable. Indeed, we are constantly considering whether we can make improvements. The House will recall that a number of offences were created by the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Act 1975 following the report of the Gardiner Committee. The important thing is that the law as changed should be fair and just and should be accepted as such.
There are many difficulties in changing the law and in making it more effective to deal with problems of terrorism. The Gardiner Committee recommended a new offence of terrorism, but, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said in winding up the debate on Second Reading of the Emergency Provisions Bill last June, we felt that it was better to make individual offences as clear and specific as possible, and new offences of recruiting to an illegal organisation and of training others in arms and explosives were introduced.
I have several times explained to the House the difficulties in prosecuting for membership of a proscribed organisation. If I were to believe the stories, the rumours perhaps, of people in Northern Ireland who are members of proscribed organisations and if I were to put them in a list, the list would be very long. But rumour and innuendo are not enough. At the time of the Ulster workers' strike, there were those who said that certain well-known people were 643 members of proscribed organisations or at least of para-military organisations. I do not know, and it is not enough to believe rumours. The fact has to be proved in the courts. Otherwise one is failing in arguing to people that the rule of law is what matters.
It has been urged upon the Government that they should adopt a provision similar to that operating in the Irish Republic under which prosecutions can rest on a declaration by a chief superintendent of the Garda that to the best of his belief a man is a member of the IRA. I understand why this provision can be used in the Republic, but to translate it to Northern Ireland, where there is a divided community, would not be acceptable and it would set back the acceptability of the police throughout the community which, above all, is important in pursuing terrorism.
I mention these as some of the difficulties, but we continue to seek ways in which, by changes in the law, the actions of the security forces in dealing with terrorism can be assisted. I shall not hesitate to bring fresh legislation before the House to this end as solutions are found. The House will know that the Report of the Law Commission on Conspiracy and Criminal Law Reform was published on Tuesday last. With my colleagues I am studying the Report and will pay particular regard to its application in Northern Ireland in our continuing studies.
The problem always facing the Government is the sometimes wilful ignorance of some people in Northern Ireland on what is being achieved in the security sector. We give this information to Northern Ireland on a weekly basis and quarterly statistics are placed in the House of Commons Library. A right hon. Gentleman raised last week the question of a better way of providing the figures, or at least of presenting them, and we are looking at that. In addition, we have mounted a campaign in the Northern Ireland Press to give factual information. I give now an example: "The Fight Against Crime" with figures, on a four-page basis, which we publish from time to time in Northern Ireland.
I spend a great deal of my time visiting 'the police and Army on the ground, as no doubt my predecessors and Ministers 644 who worked for them did. They get very tired of politically-motivated criticisms of their activities. It is the successes of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Army, aided by the significantly growing number of people who now voluntarily help and give information to the police, that provide hope for the future.
In 1974, 1,073 persons were convicted of scheduled offences. In 1975 the figure was 1,090. These were the totals of people convicted during those years. I must point out that the offences may well have been committed at an earlier period. At present, 900 people charged with serious offences are awaiting trial. I ask the House to translate these figures by multiplying them by 35 to get the figures as they would apply in Great Britain. So far this year 274 persons have been charged with terrorist-type offences, including 45 charged with murder or attempted murder. That is remarkably successful, and I want to pay tribute to all who played a part in arresting and charging these people.
So far this year, no fewer than 66 persons have been charged with firearms offences and 63 with explosives offences. Since the beginning of the year, the security forces have found or neutralised over 15,000 lb. of explosives. To achieve that, there was a great deal of spadework to be done in the weeks and months before, and 156 weapons have been recovered. How many lives have these successes of the security forces saved?
Do those remarkable figures indicate inactivity by the security forces? Do they support the shameful allegations that for some incomprehensible political reason the Government are restraining the security forces in Northern Ireland? They do not. The success rate in recovering explosives in the past few months is remarkable, but we hear only too little of these successes and, worse, we are sometimes told that the security forces are deliberately inactive.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Now that my right hon. Friend is talking about the success story of the security forces, will he confirm or rebut the serious allegations made in Northern Ireland by prominent members of the legal profession in the last two or three days? My right hon. Friend is correct to say that the figures are given in a weekly bulletin 645 from Stormont Castle, but people have now cast doubt on their veracity. They say that the police in Northern Ireland, probably through the Director of Public Prosecutions or some other agency, are originally charging people with murder but that after an incarceration of six or nine months or longer the charges are dropped, and that the figures which my right hon. Friend has given today are not accurate. This causes great concern in Northern Ireland, and I hope that he will take this opportunity to state the true position.
§ Mr. Rees
The figures of convictions in the courts which I gave are one part of the story, and it is my responsibility to give such figures. The Attorney-General will be dealing with this point later. The bringing of charges is a matter for the police and not for me. I do not get involved at all. The bringing of prosecutions is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions and not for me. The finding of an accused guilty or not guilty is a matter for the courts and not for me. I steer clear in every way of all these processes. That is what is meant by the rule of law. But my right hon and learned Friend will seek to answer the precise point later.
Then there are the people who drive across parts of the Province and allege that they see no soldiers. The GOC deploys his soldiers for operational and not presentational reasons, and I fully support him. Other than asking a question, I would not ever determine where the soldiers should be deployed. In 1975 there were 4,903,878 searches of vehicles —nearly 5 million—at all hours of the day and night by the police and the Army. Many of the soldiers are from my own constituency. There were 30,092 house searches. A total of 377 travelling gunmen were charged in 1975. That is 377 guns on the move, and God knows who might have been injured or killed if they had reached their destination. Can anyone justifiably say that not enough is being done?
As I have said, it is for the GOC to decide how to deploy his troops, and it would not be in the public interest to disclose details. Discussion of troop movements is to the advantage only of those against whom the soldiers are working. In my view also, the movement of troops is discussed too openly in 646 Northern Ireland. Those whom we are trying to apprehend can read, watch the television and listen to the radio.
Despite the continued success of the security forces, terrible incidents continue to occur in Northern Ireland. To illustrate the effectiveness of the police and the Army, let me give a few examples. Two men have just been gaoled for life for the murder of 19-year-old William Hardy who was kidnapped and shot in the head last September. I understand—I use that phrase deliberately because I am not involved—that two men have been charged with the murder of an electricity worker by a booby-trap bomb in Belfast on 27th February, about which the unions concerned came to talk to us at Stormont Castle when we discussed their problems in this area. I also understand that three men have been charged with the murders of three women in a house on the outskirts of Belfast on 15th February.
The Government will do everything they can to assist the people of Northern Ireland to uphold the rule of law through the Army and the police. We continue to promote co-operation with the Government of the Republic, who have themselves had conspicuous success this year in dealing with terrorists.
§ Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North)
I support all that the right hon. Gentleman has said about detections, especially around Belfast. I have dissociated myself from those who would cast any slur on the security forces or the police. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any details about the 25 people who, he has said, are in South Armagh and terrorising the area? How many, if any, of these men have been arrested? What security work is being done to arrest these 25 vicious men?
§ Mr. Rees
What I did not say was that they were in South Armagh. I said that they were the people involved. It is difficult to give details when they have not yet been apprehended, because that is a matter for the police and the Army. Terrorists must be concerned at the recovery of explosives by the two Governments. We recovered five tons in 1975 and have already recovered more than five tons in 1976. I understand that about seven tons of explosives has recently been found in the South, a good deal of it in transit to the North.
647 But successes against the terrorists are only a means to an end—the restoration of law and order in Northern Ireland, to which we must look forward. That is why I and ministerial colleagues in other Departments—as I said some weeks ago in a letter to the Chairman of the Convention—are now examining the action and resources required for the next few years to maintain law and order, how best to achieve the primacy of the police, the size and the rôle of locally-recruited forces and the progressive reduction of the Armed Forces as soon as it is safely practicable. The establishment of the RUC is now 6,500, and with a strength of 5,000 there is no immediate restraint on recruiting.
It is only in the context of the effectiveness of the police that we can talk about a reduction of the Army, but I want to make it clear that it is the Government's determination to keep the Army in Northern Ireland as long as necessary. The defence review does not affect that determination: it is a priority. We are re-examining the establishment figure of the RUC with the Police Authority.
I am also examining the role of the Police Authority, without prejudice to its plan for new appointments when existing appointments expire in June. This is all part and parcel of the Government's desire to restore the primacy of the police in Northern Ireland. Since the publication in 1974 of the White Paper, which included a section on law and order, we have progressed steadily with this difficult task. Since my announcement of the extension of policing in September of that year, the RUC has increased by 500 and the RUC Reserve by over 2,000.
There are other factors which have contributed to the restoration of law and order—the release of all detainees, the ending of special-category status for those committing offences after 1st March, the realisation that there will be no amnesty and the knowledge that those who commit crimes will be taken through the courts. Those factors show the Government's resolve. They are all aspects of the Government's concern that normality should return to Northern Ireland.
The Chief Constable is subject to no one on operational matters. The courts are independent and, as I have said, the Northern Ireland Director of Public 648 Prosecutions has statutory responsibility for prosecutions in the Province. It does not rest with me. That is all as it should be.
The other major problem which must have overriding priority is the management of the economy.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
Before he leaves the question of security, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman had better realise that his words offer no comfort to the people of Northern Ireland, because they have had seven years of violence and they see seven more years of violence ahead of them. What would the Secretary of State say to a policeman who said to me that the youngsters who were throwing stones at him in 1969 were now breeding a new generation of delinquents? What hope is there for the people of Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Rees
Of course there is a problem for both communities, the Protestant as much as the Catholic, but, whether on the political or the security side, to believe that there is some simple solution, that, abracadabra, things can be put right is the great error that is made on the Irish question and has been made over a long period. I strongly believe that we are on the right road, but it would be nonsense to believe that there is a solution just around the corner, the week after next. It arises from the nature of the society, which the hon. Gentleman knows from his long experience in Northern Ireland and from his birth in the Republic. Those are things that have to work themselves out, and we are all in it together. There is, however, one thing that needs to be done: the security forces can make errors, as we all do, but in general they need praise for what they are doing.
The economy is the other major problem. The House is familiar with the nature of the economic problems. I shall mention only one figure, that for unemployment. The number of unemployed in Northern Ireland now stands above 50,000. About one in 10 of the work force is out of work. There are some parts of the Province where the figures are three times as bad, and even worse. The relative differences are not new, but the total figure is something that has developed recently. This is not a new situation in Northern Ireland. It has 649 been going on for decades. It arises out of something basic in the Province —the distance of the water gap between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Can the right hon. Gentleman help us in connection with the report on transport which has recently been published? Can he say a little about what he is going to do to implement it?
§ Mr. Rees
It was presented to the Economic Council and a copy is now in the Library. I arranged at the time for it to be sent to all hon. Members. I thought it was the right thing, as part and parcel of more open government, that documents should not simply come to me but should be discussed, and we are asking for comments. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State confirms that this has been done.
My right hon. Friend, who has involved himself in this matter through the Department of Commerce and the Department of Manpower Services—two excellent Departments of Government in Northern Ireland—will have more to say on the economy at the end of the debate, if he is left time to do so. This, however, I will say. The strict operation of market forces would lead to very great economic problems in Northern Ireland, much greater than they are now. I had not realised that the involvement of Government in the economy was at the high level it is in Northern Ireland.
Naturally, Northern Ireland has to play its part in the Government's economic strategy. Within that broad requirement, the Government's public expenditure plans are by no means ungenerous to Northern Ireland. My colleagues in the Cabinet have been very helpful. Over the next five years, the broad picture for Northern Ireland is not that there will be severe retrenchment in public expenditure but rather that expenditure will level off. There is still provision for growth in the programmes of the greatest social and economic significance, deliberately made by the Government. Housing, health and personal social services, education and industrial development are the priorities which we felt were right for Northern Ireland.
What is important is that in all major programmes except roads—we felt that 650 the Province had done rather well for roads over a period of time and that it was genuinely time for a cut-back—and environmental services, as a reflection of the greater need, public expenditure per head in Northern Ireland will be significantly higher throughout the five years of the planning period than it will be in Great Britain as a whole. That was the case in different circumstances under the previous Administration. We have carried it on in different circumstances, and in my view this is the answer to people who claim to see evidence of the Government's intention to withdraw economically from Northern Ireland.
That is not the case. Every time there is a problem, the fact that it may not be dealt with is not an example of pulling out. In my view—and this is a philosophy which transcends Northern Ireland—it is not that problems end but rather that the nature of problems changes. This is the case in Northern Ireland, as it is anywhere else.
The House will shortly be considering a proposed Order in Council the main purpose of which will be to establish the Northern Ireland Development Agency. We shall also be examining the structure of the Economic Council to see whether it can be reorganised in a way which will enable it to play an even bigger role in the economic life of the country. There is general agreement that it does not do that at the moment.
Because of the severity of the economic problems now facing Northern Ireland, we have decided on a wide-ranging review of economic and industrial strategy. The House was told about this in an answer which I gave to a Question last week. We do not expect to find any panacea, but we must take the measure of the problems and see whether the existing ways of dealing with them are adequate. Was the strategy as laid down five, six, seven or eight years ago in the various reports the right one? Should there be more help to small firms, and especially concerning the movement into one sector as opposed to another? The asking of questions and wide discussion are what my right hon. Friend is seeking.
I have spoken so far about two of the key problems that we face in Northern 651 Ireland: security and the economy. In the last few minutes of my speech, however, I should like to put a slightly wider view. It is a view which I have put before this House consistently. The responsibility for Northern Ireland rests with the Government and with this House, and with nobody else. It is part of the United Kingdom. The problems which I have talked about are part of what is meant by direct rule. I could have talked about other aspects of it—for example, about the important work done by the Ministers and the civil servants working for the Department of Health and Social Services or the Department of Education. These, too, are a part of direct rule. There is no question of there being a vacuum.
My own belief is that the recent public opinion polls which indicate that a very large number of people in Northern Ireland accept with equanimity and even approval the idea of continued direct rule are not too far off the mark. [Interruption.] There is disagreement on the other side of the House. It may be for different reasons that both sides of the community want direct rule. I am not arguing that that is the end product of our policy; I am talking about the short run.
The same polls, if they are right, show a worrying increase in the number of people who are prepared to accept the use of violence to further political aims. To the extent that there is truth in this, we must continue and increase our efforts on the security front, and to this end I shall be renewing in the course of the summer the Emergency Provisions Act. The House should know that I have not hesitated to make full use of the powers available to me under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which is a United Kingdom Act, as opposed to the Emergency Provisions Act, which applies only to Northern Ireland. There has been increasing use of it in recent weeks. I shall also renew the direct rule legislation.
We shall also be putting our minds to the difficult problem of handling legislation for Northern Ireland, and there are problems there. But I want to make it clear that the responsibility of the House for Northern Ireland clearly rests with me and my Ministers. Above all, what we need to do is to concentrate upon 652 giving Northern Ireland good, fair and firm government.
§ Mr. Rees
We shall get it as long as the hon. Gentleman is not around. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman exemplifies the problems we have in Northern Ireland—all noise, and no putting forward of positive solutions. He exemplifies the real problem we face, and for that reason I shall not give way to him at the moment because I have heard it all before.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it right for the right hon. Gentleman to throw out an insult to another Member and then not have the decency to give way?
§ Mr. Rees
I could hand out a great deal more, because the hon. Gentleman does not play a constructive part in Northern Ireland, even though that is what we need. It comes from other hon. Members here, but not from the hon. Gentleman, who is all something and wind.
There are no easy solutions to the problem of Northern Ireland. The beginning of wisdom in Northern Ireland affairs is to accept that. Our task and responsibility must be to govern, and this we shall do. To share our ideas on security and the economic situation is an important part of that process—for those hon. Members who can understand it.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
Everyone concerned with Northern Ireland will be glad that we are having this debate, which I hope will be constructive, though it will be rather short.
As the Secretary of State said, there is no instant solution. Security and the economy are the main issues. We have been looking forward to hearing the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what he meant by "positive" direct rule, and he has given us food for thought and material to consider today. I hope that he will agree that such rule should be not only "positive" but "sensitive" to local feelings. Whatever the polls may say, the growth of the Civil Service and administrative action under direct rule in Northern Ireland raise the question of how local opinion will be consulted. Some people do not agree, but the question may well arise in the next few months.
653 The right hon. Gentleman has told me in answer to a Question that there are many advisory committees in Northern Ireland. We must wait and see whether that answer suffices and whether it is true that there is no political vacuum. It will be some months before we find out. In the meantime, the House remains the sole method of scrutiny of direct rule.
I do not intend to pursue the question of the political situation now, for direct rule demands that the Government turn all their attention to security and the worsening economic plight of Northern Ireland.
The security forces have achieved a great deal by their courage and efficiency. From time to time we have criticised political decisions affecting the security forces, especially before the recent measures in South Armagh were announced. But we have not cast doubts on their perseverance and skill. No one on this side of the House has charged them with inactivity, but they need further backing from the law to bring the criminals to justice, That is the Government's responsibility, and an Opposition are entitled to make these points.
In the Second Reading debate on the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) (Amendment) Bill last year I said:The first duty of a democratic Government is to protect the lives of their citizens and allow them to go about their legitimate business in peace."—[Official Report, 27th June 1975; Vol. 894, c. 915.]That has been said often before in the House, but it is particularly important now, and the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the rule of law is what matters. We shall continue to support all measures to that end.
I turn to the security situation in South Armagh, which seems to have improved since the announcement on 12th January, which we discussed, and the declaration of a special emergency area. The deployment of Special Air Service and other troops in the area seems to have had a deterrent effect on the people there who are regarded as responsible for some dreadful massacres. They seem to have been driven out of that area, and the security forces should receive the congratulations of the House on that excellent result. Predictably, those concerned have switched their operations to other parts of the Province, underlining yet 654 again the importance of never relaxing alertness in one area when the spotlights are on another.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
It comes as some surprise to Members on this bench that the hon. Gentleman feels that the position in South Armagh is something on which we can congratulate ourselves. We appreciate all that the army and police are doing, but has the hon. Gentleman any concrete evidence that the vicious gunmen and bomb-layers who have been operating in South Armagh are operating elsewhere? If he looks at the facts he will find that there have been some attempts on lives which fortunately did not take lives but which could have resulted in some of the most serious massacres of Army personnel.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
What worries me about the discussion which has quite properly developed is that sometimes people act to prove that what we say is wrong. There is a great improvement, but the situation is not solved. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was not saying that. I intervene only because it is sometimes dangerous to preen ourselves about such areas.
§ Mr. Neave
I was not seeking to say that the situation was solved. That is far from being the case. But I was congratulating the security forces on what I believe, from what I have heard, to be an improvement.
We have seen renewed bombing and destruction in Belfast and other towns and the continuation of sectarian murder. There were the explosions in January and February, and there have been 89 deaths in the first 12 weeks of the year. Those facts can be cause for little satisfaction. I am not suggesting that the matter has been solved, but I am saying that the measures announced on 12th January, which received the support of this side of the House, have at any rate brought about an improvement.
655 I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman more about the basis on which the Government operate their security programme. He should tell us more than he has told us at Question Time about the so-called cease-fire and talks with representatives of the political wings of paramilitary organisations. I asked him to do that last Thursday, when he repeated a previous formula that I find a little ambiguous. The right hon. Gentleman always says "It was not our cease-fire. It was an expression by the IRA." He seems to recognise that there is a cease-fire, and to some extent he has defended it.
Does the right hon. Gentleman still operate from the standpoint that a genuine cease-fire exists in Northern Ireland? How does it affect the security forces? Whatever it did, the cease-fire did not reduce violence. It only changed its nature. It would be much better if the position were made clear to the public, who do not understand what is meant by the definition of a cease-fire which apparently is only an "expression" by one side in the struggle and which has not reduced violence.
I speak for many of my hon. Friends when I say that we fail to see any advantage to be gained by talks with the Provisional Sinn Fein. The right hon. Gentleman told us on Thursday that he thought they would do no harm. He said that talking to political wings was not negotiation. I was glad to hear him say that, but he will agree that the IRA is clearly committed to a renewed campaign in Britain and Northern Ireland. It is the Government's responsibility to meet it and defeat it. What worries us is that so long as the so-called talks continue, the public here and in Northern Ireland will understandably doubt the determination to win. It may not be fair, but that is how people think.
The IRA has no negotiable objectives. Even if it had, it should not be allowed to gain them by murder and destruction. Therefore, we are entitled to continue to ask why political wings of any paramilitary organisation—I am not referring only to the IRA—should have available the time and talents of a number of senior civil servants to explain matters the explanations of which, the 656 Secretary of State said on 18th March, are already available in Hansard. Perhaps providing a regular supply of copies of Hansard to their headquarters would be one way to deal with the matter. It would be cheaper and less damaging to public morale and the Government's standing.
I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider his attitude to the question of talks. I am not accusing him of negotiation, but I do not believe that the talks are doing any good, for the reasons I have just given.
The security forces have a most unenviable task, not only to reduce and bring to an end terrorism and violence, but to pursue those who have committed serious crimes over a number of years and to bring them to justice. The Government must provide those forces with adequate powers under the law to bring the culprits to justice and to remove them from circulation.
The Secretary of State congratulated himself and his colleagues on ending detention despite a massive upsurge in violence last autumn. We criticised that decision. I will not pursue that now, but what did we get in the place of detention? The Secretary of State defended his decision on the ground that more convictions were being achieved in the courts and rightly stressed his determination to depend on court procedures. We must examine the present procedures and consider whether they can be amended and improved, as the Secretary of State has said he intends, to assist the security forces.
In an answer from the Secretary of State to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) on 12th January, we were given at least one reason why more convictions do not succeed. I congratulate all those concerned with the number of convictions, but, as the Secretary of State said in his Answer, there were 127 kneecappings or punishment shootings in 1973 and 187 in 1975. This shows that violent and ruthless men mean to maintain a rule of terror in which no one will dare to give evidence against them.
Intimidation of witnesses was one of the reasons for the introduction of detention as the Gardiner Report pointed out, and it does not seem to have decreased. If we are not using detention, we must examine ways of giving witnesses more 657 protection. Are the Government satisfied that all possible protection is given to witnesses? Is the study group at Stormont considering proposals made by some Northern Ireland parties on this matter?
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
There is no study group in Northern Ireland. In talking about the primacy of the police, I have mentioned a study group. Ministers are looking into this matter, but this is quite separate and not on all fours with the primacy of the police.
§ Mr. Neave
The Secretary of State says that these matters are being considered by Ministers, and I am glad to hear that. I hope they will bear the problem of intimidation very much in mind.
I hope they will also consider the adequacy of the law on incitement and the case of Mr. Kevin Agney, who made remarks amounting to threats. I understand that it has been decided—and I do not criticise those responsible for this decision—that no prosecution could be sustained. People are naturally asking why not and questioning whether the law should be changed.
The Secretary of State will remember an amendment moved from his side of the House to the emergency powers legislation last summer aimed at making incitement to terrorism a specific criminal offence. I hope that Ministers are examining that suggestion along with the other matters which I have raised.
The need for a new legal solution for dealing with membership of these organisations is also involved here. The ability of Martin MacGuinness to avoid prosecution in Northern Ireland at the present time makes it essential that this matter should be studied. We welcome the ministerial action in these matters and look forward to an early statement in the House.
The Secretary of State will remember that on the Second Reading of the Emergency Provisions (Amendment) Bill, a number of hon. Members pressed him on the matter of a general offence of terrorism as recommended in paragraphs 70 and 71 of the Gardiner Report. At that time he rejected the idea but I hope that he will reconsider it. If newspaper 658 reports are to be believed, he is already doing so. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir M. Havers) will have more to say on these important legal problems later.
Before I leave security, I should like to make one other suggestion. Should the Secretary of State not consider the possibility of raising a full-time company in each UDR Battalion? This has been suggested by various people, and my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) raised the matter at Question Time last week, when the Secretary of State said that it was being "looked at". Will he give us some information fairly soon on how seriously it is being looked at and when an announcement may be expected? The UDR does invaluable work in assisting the security forces and has the important asset of local knowledge and experience.
May I remind the Secretary of State that more than nine months ago he said:If the cease-fire were to end, and terrorism and intimidation were once again to reach the horrifying levels of the past, there must be provisions for removing evil killers from the streets".—[Official Report, 27th June 1975; Vol. 894, c. 886.]We agree with those sentiments. We feel that, by one means or another, these people must be dealt with and removed from the streets. We shall give the Government all possible support in any measures to strengthen the law which are likely to achieve that end.
The economic situation is pretty gloomy. I asked during the debate on the Appropriation Order whether the Government were studying the structure of investment centres in Northern Ireland and I understand that the Minister of State is writing to me on this subject. It is important that this structure should be to the benefit of new industries to prolong their operations rather than being able to maximise the incentives at the beginning of the operation. I understand that we shall shortly be hearing the Government's plans for the new Northern Ireland Development Corporation and how much capital it is planned to make available to it.
The unemployment situation worries everybody concerned with Northern Ireland and I understand that the total is now 47 per cent. higher than in March 659 last year. The loss of jobs in engineering has been increased by the announcement of defence cuts, which we debated on Monday, and has led to what the Secretary of State has described as the fear of "economic withdrawal."
We were glad to hear what he said on that subject today. He cannot repeat often enough that this is not the Government's policy. We believe that the fears are unjustified, but it would be a help if the Minister of State would repeat the assurances in his winding-up speech and also stress that any story of "economic sanctions" being imposed against Northern Ireland to achieve a political objective are incorrect. This type of rumour should be stopped as quickly as possible.
The real needs of the people of Northern Ireland, exacerbated as they are by terrorism, must be the basis of economic policy. We welcome the review announced by the Economic Council. It is important for people to feel that positive policies are being pushed forward. The Minister of State's statement that the Government desire to create a new confidence in the Province as an area of industrial opportunity is welcome and bears repetition.
On no account must this House ever fail to show confidence and hope to the people of Northern Ireland. We must never despair. In the long run, this confidence can come about only by restoring the law. That is the key to stability and constitutional advance.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John Watkinson (Gloucestershire, West)
It was with interest that I heard the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State because he pinpointed one of the terrible dilemmas constantly facing anyone who concerns himself with Northern Ireland politics— the right of the State to protect itself and its citizens. My right hon. Friend mentioned that he had ended detention, and he knows that he had the full backing of hon. Members on this side for that decision. If we are determined to reestablish the rule of law in Northern Ireland, the preservation of a system of detention, internment or imprisonment without fair trial could not but undermine the basis of the free and lawful 660 society that we are trying to recreate there.
From communications with relatives in Northern Ireland, I am well aware of the terror which the people there have to face. I am also aware of the intimidation of witnesses. But, in considering how to protect society and to what extent society should seek extraordinary measures outside the rule of law, we must take account of the impact of those measures. As my right hon. Friend said, detention was counter-productive. It fostered alienation in the minority communities in Northern Ireland, and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) could give the House many examples.
My right hon. Friend deserves congratulations on his singularly brave decision to end internment without trial. As he rightly said, and as we must concede, there may be circumstances in which a society has to seek extraordinary measures to protect itself. In my judgment those measures were not necessary in Northern Ireland because they were politically counter-productive. We may talk about security and the economy, but we are always driven back to politics.
My right hon. Friend said that the security troops in Northern Ireland were operating effectively, and he gave statistics. The security problem cannot be solved given the circumstances in which Parliament has to operate. There are limits upon the operational facilities we can extend to the Army. If we lived in a totalitarian society, the rule of terror in Northern Ireland might well be ended within a few weeks or a few months because we could use counter-terror against terror. I do not say that we could stamp out terror, but the use of counter-terror could well produce a significant reduction; but against that we should note that in some countries with totalitarian régimes—for example, Spain —the use of terror against terror has not operated effectively.
My right hon. Friend said that we should multiply the statistics which he gave by 35 to get a comparable figure for a similar performance in the United Kingdom. He said that 900 people were awaiting trial. If we multiply that figure by 35 we get the alarming result of approximately 31,500 awaiting trial in this country. That is a devastating indictment of the operation of legal services in 661 Northern Ireland, and that is a disturbing aspect.
When we debate Northern Ireland we are always driven back to politics. After the failure of the Convention, my right hon. Friend was logically driven to the imposition of direct rule, and that move may have surprisingly beneficial consequences for Northern Ireland. The minority community feel protected to the extent that they are not under Protestant rule in so far as rule comes from this place and the Northern Irish Protestants may welcome the present arrangement because it satisfies their loyalist tendencies, their desire to remain part of the United Kingdom.
One dilemma which concerns the House and the nation and which will not go away is the meaning of democracy in Northern Ireland. Whatever electoral procedure is adopted, elections in Northern Ireland always produce a majority for the Unionists. We believe in the principle of democracy, in the right of people to go to the polls and express their opinion, and that expression is carried through to the formation of a government. But the people of Northern Ire land who have voted under every conceivable system still come up with a solution which has proved unacceptable. That conflicts with another facet of the workings of this place and the society in which we live, namely, the tendency of the British people always to seek the com promise solution. That is one reason why we have consistently maintained that there must be power sharing in Northern Ireland. In Rhodesia we say that there must be majority rule, but we will not allow majority rule in Northern Ireland——
§ Mr. Fitt
At the time of the creation of the Northern Ireland State, which takes in the six counties in the North, a head count showed a 55 per cent. Protestant majority and a 35 per cent. Catholic minority. That cannot be compared with the democratic concept as it applies to this House. For 50 years there was one-party government. There never was a possibility that the alternative Opposition could become the Government at the next election. We cannot equate what happens at Westminster with what happens in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Watkinson
I accept what my hon. Friend says. It adds to the weight of my argument. I support my right hon. Friend's view that the only solution is a system of power sharing. I support that policy because there are divisions in the society. How can these divisions be brought together so that we can solve the problem of terrorists and the IRA?
When the British people confront a body such as the IRA or an extreme terrorist organisation their response is to draw together, to combine and to produce a coalition That is a sensible solution in the long term for Northern Ireland if the people wish to defeat the IRA. I believe it to be in the long-term interest of Northern Ireland that it should rule itself, and the only way that can be done is through a system of power sharing.
I said that in the short term direct rule may have beneficial effects, but the whole history of the Province has been that the people have sought independence and wished to control and govern themselves. That urge will re-establish itself. The people of Northern Ireland wish to govern themselves. As they see devolution created in other parts of the United Kingdom, they will demand it for themselves, and they are entitled to do that. I agree that it is necesary in the longer term to think about a devolved system of government.
The consequences of direct rule are such that we in this country are in the front line. We now have to accept that the attacks could occur in the middle of London. Which of us can travel on the London Underground without realising the devastating consequences of a bomb explosion? I ask Ulster Unionists—what will be the consequences upon the Government of a series of bomb explosions here? We are looking to Ulster Unionists for new initiatives to produce the devolved system of Government which I would like to see. I look forward to hearing from them about movements in their political thought since the imposition of direct rule. What is their response to that? Have they any proposals to bring forward a system of devolved government which we wish to see? They have a direct responsibility unless they wish to continue under direct rule. It is their responsibility to come forward now 663 with proposals for some system of devolved government.
All the studies of the economic situation in Northern Ireland have shown that, historically, the economy has stood up well, given the awful circumstances which have prevailed. But there is evidence now that the continuation of terrorism is having an effect on the level of investment in Northern Ireland and on the willingness of firms to go there. Virtually no funds have come recently from the United States to provide jobs. New investment funds are vital.
The problems of the Northern Ireland economy date back to a period before the troubles. Northern Ireland has had to rely upon the basic, stable industries which are in decline in all parts of the United Kingdom. One has only to consider the position of the shipbuilding industry in this country and in Northern Ireland to realise the grave employment situation.
It is self-evident that if there is to be reinvestment and a regeneration of industry in Northern Ireland, a cessation of violence is vital. Some form of political solution must be found which can produce the climate to encourage investment and to persuade foreign firms to provide jobs for the people of Northern Ireland and Britain. There is a reluctance to do that. There must be a political solution to provide us with the platform whereby the economic solutions to the problems of Northern Ireland can be found.
§ 5.5 p.m.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
In a debate on employment an hon. Member, referring to the statistics which had just been published, said:The mid-July figure is 514,000…. If the figure for Northern Ireland of 36,000 is added, the total is 550,000, which is the highest figure since the July, 1940 … The percentage for the country is 2.2. For Northern Ireland it is 7.1 per cent., a scandalously high level which should not be tolerated by any Government. The situation is very distressing."—[Official Report, 24th July 1968, Vol. 769, c. 787–8.]Who said that? Who said that 7.1 per cent. unemployment was a scandalously high level? It was the Minister of State who is now responsible for employment in Northern Ireland and under whose régime unemployment has risen to 664 50,000. What does he say now? He should be chastened. He said:I say with some humility that it is a difficult time for Ministers who have a responsibility for Northern Ireland.and later:Of course an unemployment rate of 11.1 per cent. is unacceptable."—[Official Report, 22nd March 1976; Vol. 908, c. 152–4.]I am sure that when the right hon. Gentleman said that the figures should not be tolerated by the Government he was referring not only to the Unionist Government of Northern Ireland but to a Labour Government. The present figures should not be washed away as simply "unacceptable". I prefer the words which he used eight years ago. Today's figures are 60 per cent. higher than in 1968. They are not just very distressing but potentially disastrous. The people of Northern Ireland are today watching 25 years of industrial achievement crumbling before their eyes.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Stanley Orme)
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) quoted me correctly. I do not retract either of those statements. While the hon. Member can rightly press the Government in the House on its policies and ask what is to be done, he should also address himself to his own people in Northern Ireland. He is aware of the violence which has helped to create the present situation and which has hindered the Government. He will be aware of the Ulster workers' strike and the damage which that did to investment. The hon. Gentleman should look at the picture in the round.
§ Mr. McCusker
The people of Northern Ireland are watching 25 years of industrial achievement crumbling before their eyes. Graigavon and Antrim, new town developments based on industrial expansion, have become bad dreams. We cannot run away from it.
I was born in a traditional textile town, like many hon. Members opposite, where when one got up in the morning one could tell the time by the tone of different horns as they sounded. By the early 1950s those horns were all but silenced and the linen industry almost dead. At that time there were not many employment opportunities in Northern Ireland but by the late 1950s to the early 665 1960s the Northern Ireland Government were beginning to achieve things. Our engineering base was widened, traditional textiles were being replaced by synthetic textiles, international companies were being attracted, new jobs were being created at the rate of 7,000 to 8,000 a year, Government training centres were springing up—Northern Ireland has ten times more training places than Great Britain—and apprenticeship opportunities were raised from 16 per cent to 40 per cent.
This was not all in 1970, 1971, 1972 or 1973, as the Minister appears to imply. As late as June 1974, there were only 25,000 unemployed in Northern Ireland. In the same year, an article in the Financial Times said:There is an amazing paradox in Northern Ireland. On the one hand, urban war flares up from time to time on the streets of the Province. But on the other, Ulster's industry is humming, with the highest productivity and lowest absenteeism in the whole of the United Kingdom.Northern Ireland was one of the success stories of United Kingdom regional policy. Since the war, more than 75,000 jobs have been created and 300 new industries had been attracted to the Province. It was not easy. It had to be done in the face of almost insurmountable obstacles, but it was achieved.
Therefore, although I accept that it would be foolish to underestimate the effects of the present troubles on job creation and attracting new industries, it is equally dangerous to over-estimate their effects and to make them, as they appear to have become, a convenient hook on which to hang excuses for lack of success.
Less than two years later, in the face of world recession and the economic policies of this Government, we in Northern Ireland feel isolated. We have seen the closures of the Heysham and Ardrossan ferries. We have seen the loss of our computer industry. We have seen great holes torn in our electronics industry. The number of textile factories which have closed are too numerous to mention. In my own constituency, six have closed in the past year.
Today, I received a letter from a leading textile manufacturer saying that Tillie & Henderson had closed down in Derry in the third quarter of 1975 throwing 300 666 people out of work and that he had just heard that the firm was closing completely with the loss of a further 600 jobs.
In addition, we have witnessed the exclusion of Harland and Wolff and Shorts from the nationalisation programme. I shall not argue these matters again, but they have added to the sense of isolation in Northern Ireland.
Our engineering industry is teetering on the brink of ruin. The publicly-owned company, Rolls-Royce, is throwing 800 men out of work. It is no good the Government saying that they could not have intervened if they had wanted to. We know that a wink and a nod in the right place could have influenced Rolls-Royce and could have held 800 vital jobs in Northern Ireland. If the Secretary of State for Employment had wanted to, he could have used his influence in support of the working people of Northern Ireland.
In the past two weeks, we have heard that another 2,000 men employed in defence and maintenance units are being thrown out of work as a result of a deliberate and premeditated act by this Government. It seems as though the Government's policy is that, when Northern Ireland is down, the best thing to do is to put in the boot. That is how it looks to the people of Northern Ireland.
We wonder why we have so many apprentices in training. In December 1975, the boast was that 3,000 people were undergoing training in Government training centres. How are they to be trained for unemployment? Would it not have been better not to raise the expectations of people by improving their qualifications, rather than casting them upon the rocks of the dole queue?
§ Mr. Orme
I understand the hon. Gentleman's strength of feeling, but, when he makes these accusations against the present Government and catalogues the disasters which have occurred, he should also put on the other side of the balance sheet the fact that this year £400 million of British taxpayers' money will be going to Northern Ireland in excess of the money raised in the Province itself. That is the largest subvention ever. Without that money, where would the Province be today?
§ Mr. McCusker
I appreciate that, but I wish that the Minister would not make it sound as though he was handing it out to a coconut colony and, with it, hoping to buy the loyalty of the people in Northern Ireland and to persuade them to accept the political consequences that he wishes to inflict upon them.
Thirty years after the war, Northern Ireland's engineering industry must now rely again on the shipyard, the aircraft factory and Mackies. That is a very precarious base. We have lost everything and, even in those three concerns, we no longer have the thousands who were employed in 1945.
I accept that there are no magic words and that there are no primrose paths to attain full employment. I know that, as a peripheral region, Northern Ireland will always have difficulty. I hope that that is why the Government are putting in additional money. I hope that it is to try to help this peripheral region overcome its problems.
It is a difficulty with which we must continue to grapple. But there are still opportunities. Last week, Mr. Cosgrave went to the United States, where we hope he dealt another body blow to the financial affairs of the IRA. But he did something more for his own people in the Republic. He brought back the promise of 3,000 jobs and six firms representing an investment of $105 million. Where were Northern Ireland's salesmen when these jobs were in the offing? Are the people who used to fight for jobs in Northern Ireland infected with the same lack of confidence as the present Ministers?
I welcomed the comments of the Secretary of State indicating, perhaps for the first time, the positive assurance that there was some stability in Northern Ireland and that he was working towards stability. The Government should stop making the task more difficult. In threatening Northern Irish Members and the people of Northern Ireland that their own instability is creating the problems, Ministers make the job more difficult. How can they go anywhere else to invite people to the Province?
The situation is not all bleak. We are told that Goodyear is prospering and expanding. That is an international American company. We have no reason 668 to believe that ICI, Courtaulds, Dupont and Grundig are not weathering the storm. These are success stories worth telling. Northern Ireland has something to offer. We have a pool of skilled and willing labour. As I have said, we have first-class training facilities. We have a record of high productivity and low absenteeism. We have an industrial relations record which is streets ahead of the position in this Kingdom and in the Republic. We hope that we still have Government initiatives and assistance which should be second to none. If, as I gather, the Minister is indicating his disagreement with any of the things that I have said, he is making my point for me. How can we go out and proclaim that Northern Ireland is a place where industry can come and prosper if he sits there indicating that that cannot be the case?
§ Mr. McCusker
We believe that the Department of Commerce must again go after jobs and must again sell Northern Ireland, no matter how unattractive that may be to some Ministers on the Treasury Bench.
§ Mr. Orme
The hon. Gentleman is giving us a dialogue of facts which are in essence half facts. He talks about the Taoseach going to the United States after investment. Recently, I went there seeking investment. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to criticise us, but if my visit turns out to produce several hundred jobs, it will be a different story. But the difficulty I faced in the United States was that it was much more secure to invest in the Republic than in Northern Ireland. That is the difficulty that I have to overcome.
§ Mr. McCusker
I do not deny that. It will not be easy. But we cannot proclaim our instability, for which we are responsible frequently, and then try to tell people that the situation is quite the reverse. It would be better for the Minister, with the Department of Commerce, to mount a positive, imaginative campaign to bring more jobs to Northern Ireland than to preside over the last relics of the industrial and commercial life of Northern Ireland. This Government appear to be doing what the IRA 669 could not do in five years of bombs and bullets.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
If Northern Ireland is to survive as an economic manufacturing region of the United Kingdom, changes must be made in the strategy deployed in the Province. Among those changes there are three of paramount importance.
First, there must be a reversal of the trend which is narrowing an already narrow economic base. We have heard the Government's verbal commitment to this objective of widening the economic base as if it were an entirely new concept and as if it were a new burst of inspiration. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) has stated, since the end of the War we have witnessed sterling efforts by the Stormont Government to broaden the economic base.
With a dramatic reduction in the number of people employed in what we call the traditional industries—the textile and shipbuilding industries—alternative employment had to be provided. This was being achieved by introducing industries which were technologically based. As stated already, some 70 industries were introduced between 1950 and 1968, including Rolls-Royce, ICL and STC, providing some 72,000 jobs. Forty-two per cent. of the manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland was created in this period, demonstrating very forcibly that the economic base was being widened during what has been referred to euphemistically as a time of misguided rule.
An impressive rate of productivity, and an equally impressive record of industrial relationships, obtained right up to 1974. Even throughout the period from 1974 to the present time, we can claim pride of place in the United Kingdom concerning these two facets of industry, productivity and industrial relations. As late as 1974, the Financial Times and other commentators were referring toUlster's industrial enigma—strength in adversity".What do we find now? We find a narrowing of the economic base and, as already stated, an unhealthy dependence once again upon the traditional industries —firms such as Mackie, Short and 670 Harland, Harland and Wolff, and the textile industry.
The Government's words about widening the economic base, and the need for a broad economic structure, have been valuable as an expression of sympathy and as an expression of an accurate analysis of the Northern Ireland plight at this moment. But action is needed to keep manufacturing jobs in being and to create more manufacturing jobs.
As for the Northern Ireland development agency or corporation—whichever title is chosen—I was encouraged when we heard from the Secretary of State that this body will be brought into being officially in the very near future, but industrialists in Northern Ireland are anxious that three or four matters of concern to them should be very much borne in mind. They are anxious that men of practical and successful industrial and commercial experience in Northern Ireland should be on the board of the agency or corporation. All too frequently the men appointed to such Government agencies and boards have not had practical or successful experience. Therefore, in this respect the views of the Northern Ireland CBI should be regarded as being of importance.
It is also important to encourage indigenous industries. We in Northern Ireland are sharing in the economic recession, which is affecting not only the United Kingdom but the rest of the world. We understand that, and we are not at all averse to accepting our responsibility in this difficult situation. But we believe that the Northern Ireland agency or corporation ought to encourage indigenous industries in order to help alleviate the economic recession. We do not want to find that the cycle has turned in a full circle, so that we have to face another recession just as we are finding our way out of this one.
Next, there should be assistance from the agency, if not complete control exercised by it, in regard to advisory marketing services. Reference was made to the all-important matter of creating jobs. If ever we needed to encourage this exercise, it is now. Only once in the last three years, if not longer, have we had any kind of industrial mission abroad. This should be a paramount function of the agency when it is established.
§ Mr. Orme
These facts obviously are not widely known, although they are publicly known and should be known widely, but the Department of Commerce has offices in the United States, in Brussels and in Japan, and maintains a network of contacts throughout the world in endeavouring to bring industry and investment to Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Bradford
I take the Minister's point, but somehow it is much more effective to have representatives going out to seek investment on the basis of a firsthand knowledge of certain geographical areas which would commend themselves to certain industries, and to sell these areas with enthusiasm and in an informed way. Could we be told precisely when the agency will come into being and how much money will be at its disposal?
I refer next to the new era of confidence which, I believe, would ensue if the two major industries in Northern Ireland were kept under direct Westminster control. I refer to the aerospace industry and the shipbuilding industry. We have heard disturbing indications that both these industries may sooner or later be placed in the hands of and under the control of a Northern Ireland development agency. This is right out of keeping with the opinions and wishes of the people of Northern Ireland. I am very pleased to see the Minister dissenting from that suggestion which has caused fear.
In drawing attention to the need to instil new confidence into industry, I direct the attention of the House to the situation at Short and Harland. This is a company employing 6,000 people, and there are considerable doubts and anxieties about the viability of the company at the present time. Yet we are told that this company may well be used by the Government to form the basis for introducing new jobs involving highly technical skills. It is not a very firm basis on which to build, if the financial difficulties of the firm are a reality. Could we have a categorical assurance from the Secretary of State that Short and Harland will be assisted over what we believe will be a very short interim period of difficulty?
Part of the financial problem has been created by a delay in productivity relating to the SD 330 aircraft and the Blowpipe 672 missile. I am informed that the difficulties which caused these delays have now been resolved, and that by the end of 1977 the present production rate should be exceeded. But could we have a categorical assurance that money will be available to Shorts in the interim period —particularly relating to my hon. Friend's point that at Rolls-Royce 780 people have been told they may well be absorbed into this complex, or that their jobs may well be retained within it? Will the Minister therefore clear the doubt, anxiety and ambiguity concerning the financial future of Shorts?
Further, may I ask why the Government are presently not inclined to allow Shorts to manufacture a fuse for the missile which they designed. There has been great difficulty in getting a fuse for the missile which is currently manufactured on the mainland. I believe that one out of every 10 supplied does not function properly. The company has designed a fuse and has proved it an effective component, but neither Government have given it encouragement, even though it would have meant more jobs and higher productivity. Will the Minister of State therefore turn his mind to this possibility?
There is also the question of the military version of the SD330 aircraft. There is a great desire to adapt this aircraft for military purposes, and it can be done. It would provide employment very quickly. There is also the NATO-American project—some people call it AWAC, but it was reported in the Official Report recently as ARAWAC—and I hope that the Minister will give some thought to placing this contract, or at least as much of it as possible, with Shorts.
There is a final point about Shorts. I am told that the runway at Sydenham is absolutely vital to the future of the company if it is to be a complete aerospace industry. Shorts could become a kind of garaging base, having components manufactured here and there and carrying out a little bit of fitting. However, if the runway at Sydenham goes it will mean that Shorts will cease to be a complete aerospace industry. Therefore a commitment to retaining the runway at Sydenham is vitally important.
I turn now to Harland and Wolff. To the detriment of that great yard the company committed itself to the construction 673 of super-tankers. Here again I am informed, with a degree of intimacy and confidence, that the best way to diversify within the shipbuilding industry is not to branch out into oil rigs but to stick to either ship repair work or some other facet of shipbuilding. I am informed that Harland and Wolff has the capacity almost to create a conveyor belt ship repair process. Over the last five years not one admiralty or defence order has been placed with the company. It has tendered for 55 such defence contracts, but has been successful in only 14—not one in the last five years. Will the Minister of State consider diversification by channelling admiralty repair work to Harland and Wolff?
§ Mr. Orme
I cannot comment on the defence side of this issue because that is being considered at the moment. On the civil side, unfortunately we cannot attract ship repair work to Harland and Wolff because the crews will not bring the ships into Belfast and stay there. That is the sort of difficulty we are up against. Consultations are taking place between management and unions on the future of the yard. As soon as there are worker-directors on the board—I have given the scheme the green light—these matters can be resolved in discussions between the workers and the Government. That is what I want to happen.
§ Mr. Bradford
We are concerned with ushering in a new era of confidence, and I warn the Minister that the way in which the Rolls-Royce problem was resolved has the opposite effect to engendering confidence in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members were not given the opportunity to go straight to the person who took the decision—and let us not be ambiguous about this, the decision was taken by the Secretary of State for Industry, albeit with some consultation with Sir Kenneth Keith—and we were unable to put the facts directly to him. We were told by the Minister of State for Industry that even if Rolls-Royce proved that it was economic within the total combine, the decision would still not be reversed. That sort of approach makes our task immeasurably more difficult when we try to convince people in Northern Ireland that they will get a fair deal and a fair hearing. That factory still has a combined work force which is still intact. 674 Even at this last minute of the eleventh hour these people are anxious to remain part of the combine. I ask the Minister to bear in mind what the Minister of State for Industry said. Confidence must be engendered in the future of Shorts if the employees in Rolls-Royce are to be convinced that they have a future.
I turn now to the need for the temporary application of selective import controls. I know that it is counterproductive to apply import controls indiscriminately across the board. The country which does not seek to expert and thereby create reciprocal arrangements will flounder, but weekly we are receiving letters from desperate men in Northern Ireland in the made-up industries, men who are in dire straits. It is the duty of both the Minister and hon. Members to help these men. If 8,000 people are to be in work in the textile industry at the end of 1977 action must be taken now.
We welcome the Governments measures taken through LEDU, and we welcome the measures taken in the last three or four years. However, there is not the cohesion between Government and LEDU that we should like to see. In some situations LEDU has been counterproductive by setting up in a locality the sort of industry which already exists there. While we accept that LEDU has an important function in Northern Ireland, we believe that it must have closer liaison with the Government. I hope that the Minister of State will bear these points in mind.