§ 2. Mr. Molyneaux
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he intends to make an interim statement on the recommendations of the Quigley Report.
§ The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Roy Mason)
I have already drawn attention, in my preface to the 677 report, to the fact that it is essentially a discussion document. Arrangements have been made for a wide range of interests in Northern Ireland, including the political parties and both sides of industry, to make their considered views on the report known to the Government between now and the end of the year. At this stage, therefore, I have nothing to add to what I said in the preface.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
May I be permitted, on behalf of my colleagues, to extend our congratulations and good wishes to the right hon. Gentleman and say that we look forward to working constructively with him and his ministerial team in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland? Mindful, as we are, of the fact that the conflicting options in the Quigley Report will have no immediate effect on the serious unemployment situation in Northern Ireland, may I ask whether the Secretary of State agrees that as far as the future is concerned, expenditure of public money will not render viable that which is manifestly non-viable and, as experience has shown, will merely make the second state worse than the first?
§ Mr. McNamara
What will be the nature of the new forum which will discuss the Quigley Report with my right hon. Friend in January?
§ Mr. Mason
I do not know yet, because we have established a small working party which has now been given its terms of reference to report by the end of the year on the size of the new forum. I do not know what title it will be given or what its composition will be. I hope that the trade unions, representatives of trade and commerce and members of the political parties will have perused the Quigley Report by then and will have sent in their written observations for the benefit of the forum from its outset.
§ Mr. Mates
One of the points discussed in the report is the future of the Economic Council. Has the right hon. Gentleman any plans to broaden the scope of that Council to include elected or previously elected representatives of Ulster upon it? If there is to be a prolonged period of direct rule it is important, particularly in economic matters, for there to be local representation on all these groups.
§ Mr. Mason
I do not know whether I would agree with the hon. Member's latter point. The Economic Council has been disbanded. I chaired the last meeting 10 or 14 days ago when the Quigley Report was put before the Council. A working party has now been set up to consider the establishment of a forum to discuss economic and industrial problems in Northern Ireland. I hope that the forum will be able to sketch out the framework and strategy for the future of industry in Northern Ireland and to extract the priorities from the Quigley Report.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the people of Northern Ireland, at this time of unprecedented unemployment, will think that he is stalling on this matter? As Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Gentleman slashed thousands of jobs in defence establishments in Northern Ireland in record time—
§ Mr. Mason
The hon. Gentleman ought to put his tongue in his cheek and be grateful for the consideration and priority that I have given from the outset to the economic and industrial problems of Northern Ireland. Anyone who has been watching the scene in the past two months will be fully acquainted with that fact. The hon. Gentleman must also be aware that, despite the fact that we had a defence review and a cut of £1,000 million in public expenditure, it was only on the third round of cuts that Northern Ireland was affected. Scotland, Wales and parts of England were affected first.
§ Mr. Watkinson
What are my hon. Friend's views on the central proposition in the Quigley Report that there must be a job stabilisation programme in the immediate future? Is he satisfied from his talks with industry that he is given sufficient notice of problems facing individual firms? Is there any prospect of regional aid from the EEC?
§ Mr. Mason
Regional aid is forthcoming from the EEC and goes into the national Exchequer to help sustain the regional programme. Job stabilisation is the most important aspect of the report. It is very difficult to maintain the present level of employment in Northern Ireland when many firms are subsidiaries of parent companies and, in present economic circumstances, the tentacles are likely to be cut off before the main body.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
May I warmly congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his appointment and express the hope that he will not transfer too many Questions to Ministers who are not primarily concerned with Northern Ireland? What are the right hon. Gentleman's plans for a debate on the Quigley Report? Could it be on the Floor of the House so that hon. Members from all parts of the United Kingdom may express their views?
Since the Quigley Report recommended an entrepreneurial role for the State, will the right hon. Gentleman be in a position soon to say something about Strathearn Audio, the pioneers in this field, about which there has been a great deal of concern, particularly since the Touche Ross Report?
§ Mr. Mason
I cannot go into the Strathearn Audio case at the moment. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said on 2nd July that he was prepared to allow unlimited debates in the Northern Ireland Committee, and I think that that would be an excellent forum for the first consideration of the Quigley Report.