§ 11.31 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. James A. Dunn)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 19th May, be approved.The order is being made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974.
The main purpose of the order is to authorise the issue and appropriation out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund of the balance of the main estimates provision for 1978–79, details of which are set out in the main estimates volume. Right hon. and hon. Members will recall that a portion of the sums needed for 1978–79 have already been appropriated under the provisions of the No. 1 Order 1978, which was previously approved by the House on 6th March.
The public expenditure element of the estimates in the No. 2 Order are consistent with the forecasts for 1978–79 contained in the most recent public expenditure White Paper. The total of the main estimates provision for 1978–79, including the sum already voted on account, is £1,299 million, compared with a total estimates provision, including supplementaries, of £1,318 million in 1977–78.
I wish to forewarn the House of a difficult problem which has arisen concerning financial provision for agricultural assistance. In Class 1, Vote 3 of the main estimates, covering agricultural assistance schemes, there is a reduction of £30 million compared with the 1977–78 estimate total. The reduction is caused by the fact that the estimate for this financial year provides for the meat industry employment scheme only until the end of June.
The House will be aware that the Government announced on 9th May that the meat industry employment scheme would continue until March 1979, and announced in a statement on 19th May that, in addition, a scheme is to be introduced to aid milk producers. It has not been possible to make provision in this order for the scheme to aid milk producers, because the decision relative to financing such aid cannot be taken until after the order has 870 been laid before the House. As a result, the order does not appropriate sufficient funds to enable the financing of both the meat industry employment scheme and aid to milk producers beyond the end of September. It will therefore be necessary to seek approval for the appropriation of further funds.
I have considered carefully how this can be achieved with the minimum inconvenience to the House, and I have come to the conclusion that an additional short Appropriation Order ought to be laid before the House at the earliest possible date. The additional order will appropriate sufficient funds to meet the cost of the meat industry employment scheme, but as the details of the milk scheme are still under discussion I intend to provide for it on a token basis. Until the additional order is made, both schemes will be financed, to the extent necessary, from the Northern Ireland civil contingencies fund.
I hope, therefore, that right hon. and hon. Members will, as the circumstances may demand, consider sympathetically any request to give their approval to the additional order without full debate being absolutely necessary. I assure right hon. and hon. Members that I am doing all in my power to ensure that the additional order comes before the House before the recess, but I must warn the House that if timetable difficulties prove too great it will be necessary to resort to the urgent procedure.
I draw attention to the main increases and decreases in expenditure over 1977–78 appearing in the main estimates. Class II, Vote 1, industrial support and regeneration, shows a decrease in the 1978–79 provision—£69 million against £84 million in 1977–78—and is largely attributable to a reduced sum being allocated to industrial development grants. About £30 million was not required for such purposes in 1977–78 and the level of activity is not expected to vary greatly in the current year. There is, however, an increase of £3 million in the funds provided for advance factory building.
In Class II, Vote 4, support for the electricity and gas industries, the major part of the reduction of £27 million in 1978–79, in comparison with the 1977–78 provision, is accounted for by the fact that in 1977–78 a payment of £26 million was 871 made to the Northern Ireland electricity service. That payment was necessary to eliminate the deficit which had accrued in the service's revenue account for the two years to 31st March 1977. In 1977–78 no such provision is made.
The decrease of £10 million in Class II, Vote 5, functioning of the labour market, is partly due to an increase of £3½ million in receipts from the European social fund, and partly to a reduction of £6 million in the sum provided for the temporary employment subsidy, which was expected to end on 31st March 1978. However, the Chancellor's announcement in his Budget speech of additional funding for employment measures will extend the operation of the scheme to the end of March 1979. The order does not reflect the changed situation. Extra provision will be made in due course.
In Class V, Vote 1, housing services, there is a net increase of £8 million in the provision. Payments to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive of the housing grant, which is based on the difference between the executive's revenue income and expenditure, and of recoupment for its expenditure on grants for the renovation of private dwellings, for which higher rates are now payable, are increased by £20 million. An additional £4 million is being made available to housing associations in 1978–79, in expectation of higher activity. However, only token provision is made for the payment of balance of moneys due to the executive at 31st March 1977 representing a reduction of £16 million over 1977–78.
Class X, Vote 1, national insurance, which comprises the consolidated fund contribution to the Northern Ireland national insurance fund, shows an increase of some £6 million over the 1977–78 payment. The increase of £5 million in the provision in Class X, Vote 2, for non-contributory benefits is largely due to the effect of the full year's cost of the November 1977 uprating of supplementary benefit payments, and to approximately 2,300 more beneficiaries from supplementary allowances. There are also increases in the provisions for attendance allowances, non-contributory invalidity pensions and mobility allowance amounting to some £2 million, but these are offset by a similar reduction in the alloca 872 tion for lump sum payments to pensioners.
The amount sought in Class X, Vote 3, family benefits, is £24 million greater than in 1977–78. This results from the higher rates of child benefit payable from 3rd April 1978. It does not take account of the further increases announced by the Chancellor in the Budget speech on 11th April last, for which extra provision will be taken in due course.
The present order also provides for the issue and appropriation of sums arising out of excess votes for the financial year 1976–77. There were excesses amounting to £1 million on two votes of the Northern Ireland estimates for that year: Class IV, Vote 1, roads services and Class VIII, Vote 2, higher and further education. The reasons for the excesses are set out in the statement of excess, which was placed in the Library along with copies of the main estimates volume. The Public Accounts Committee has considered the excess votes and recommended that the necessary sums should be made available.
I have drawn attention to what I consider to be the most significant features of the order before us. I shall, of course, try to answer any questions which right hon. and hon. Members may raise in the debate, and if for any reason I am unable to do so I shall note the points and write to the right hon. or hon. Member concerned.
I commend the order to the House.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
The House will wish to thank the Under-Secretary for his introduction of this order, which my right hon. and hon. Friends and I certainly do not oppose. The hon. Gentleman has been good enough to explain to me in a letter dated 30th June the position with regard to the need for an extra appropriation order before the end of this Session, and how it arises with regard to the meat industry employment scheme and the aid to milk producers. Will he keep in touch with the Opposition and, no doubt, Northern Ireland Members about this matter? It would be best if that order could be introduced before the recess so that some consideration could be given to it by the House. We shall be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about this matter if need be.
873 The Minister outlined some of the essential features of the expenditure relating to this Appropriation Order. During last Friday's debate on the other Northern Ireland order the Secretary of State described the Government's industrial and employment policies in Northern Ireland. I should like to relate a few remarks to Class II expenditure here. The Secretary of State said that he attached great importance to the work of the Economic Council under Sir Charles Carter with whom I recently had the privilege of discussing the grave employment situation in Northern Ireland. I read the speech that Sir Charles made on 19th May at a meeting between the council and the Secretary of State.
The council's studies into various aspects of the economy, including agriculture, will be useful. Will the Government be publishing the council's report on agriculture, and shall we have the opportunity of considering it in this House? In his speech Sir Charles stated that the council wished to make a useful contribution to the Government's economic plan. In the transcript of the speech, those words were in capital letters. I am not clear what plan is referred to there. Is the comment based on the Quigley report, to which I have often drawn attention?
The Secretary of State referred to improved investment prospects, which we very much applaud. During the past few months efforts have been made to sell the Province as an investment location competitive with the Irish Republic. The Under-Secretary may have read a report in the Financial Times of 4th July which suggests that Northern Ireland has the best range of incentives because it has the broadest appeal to large and small projects alike. This same article drew attention to the favourable statistics for productivity and output in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 1976, although there was a downturn on both those items in 1977. The writer of the article sees welcome signs, however, of a possible turning point.
What must concern the House and all those who rejoice in positive factors in the Northern Ireland economy is the problem of unemployment. Any Government in the next few years must face the possibility that lengthening dole queues 874 will be an important element in the pattern of violence in the Province. In his speech last Friday the Secretary of State claimed that the industrial training and job creation programmes, the youth opportunities programme, the grant-aid training scheme, and the temporary employment subsidy, to which the Under-Secretary referred in his speech with regard to extra provision, have helped to provide or retain many thousands of jobs.
We acknowledge these achievements, but the anticipated job losses during the next two or three years are likely to push unemployment levels well beyond the present gravely high figure, and therefore we want to know a good deal more about the Government's plans for job creation.
In the debate on the first Appropriation Order of 6th March I referred to the recent calculation of the Quigley report figure of 60,000 new jobs by 1981, which has now been reduced to 54,400 new jobs required to reach an unemployment rate of 5 per cent. This figure appeared in a letter from the Under-Secretary to me dated 11th January. I notice that Sir Charles Carter's speech does not deal specifically with this target. Is it the intention to combine the efforts of various agencies concerned directly or indirectly with job creation under one umbrella? If not, what is the intention?
The hon. Gentleman told me by letter on 6th April that the Northern Ireland Development Agency would establish viable State industries in unemployment black spots, but—and I agree with him—that they are not exclusively concerned with job creation. Others such as Enterprise Ulster and Young Help are distinctively job creation schemes. Therefore, I ask the hon. Gentleman to tell us whether some greater degree of co-ordination of these agencies is required. As has been put to me several times in Northern Ireland, are there too many of them?
The attack on unemployment seems to need an overall strategic plan, and I am unclear whether that exists now. I should be grateful for the Under-Secretary's comments on this since this is much the most important social and economic problem in the Province at the moment.
875 I turn from that vitally important subject to another which, in its sphere, is equally important. During all recent appropriation debates Government expenditure on education under Class VIII has been called seriously into question by the Opposition. The reasons are now well known. They spring from the Government's apparent determination to impose a uniform system of comprehensive secondary education on the Province.
For two years the Government have faced criticism from many quarters, and that criticism has now increased. Certainly it has not dimished with the passage of time. But the Government refuse to reconsider the policy upon which they embarked in 1976. Supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) who spoke in Belfast last weekend on this subject, and by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), I have called on numerous occasions for a review of education policy in Northern Ireland.
Vigorous opposition has emerged and grows day by day as new members come forward to join the Ulster Parents' Union. They come from all political parties and from both sides of the community. In the appropriation debate on 8th December last year I asked the Under-Secretary the fundamental question which lies at the heart of this controversy—whether the people of Northern Ireland are in favour of comprehensive eduction in the form in which this is being suggested by Lord Melchett. That question still has to be answered by the Government, who have so far not been able to show that their policy enjoys widespread public support. On the contrary, evidence has been produced which suggests that the Government have seriously misjudged feelings in the Province.
The Ulster Parents' Union and other bodies concerned—the teachers and so forth—come from both sections of the community. A survey carried out by the Opinion Research Centre in January this year revealed thtt comprehensive education received little support. Only 24 per cent. thought that all children should go to comprehensive schools. The vast majority want parents to have the choice of sending their children to grammar schools provided the children are good 876 enough. Exactly the same view is taken by the district councils in the Province, to whom the Government should pay particular heed since they are the only elected bodies in the Province, and since the Secretary of State was talking about giving them further responsibility when he spoke in the debate last Friday.
In March this year the Association of Local Authorities, which consists of spokesmen drawn from all district councils, voted by 28 to six for a motion rejecting the imposition of a uniform system of comprehensive schooling and demanding the retention of freedom of choice for parents. Those parents, however have not simply left matters in the hands of their elected representatives. They have built themselves a parents' union with branches throughout the Province and a total membership in the region of 26,000. Last week, my hon. Friends the Members for Brent, North and Epping Forest conducted a first hand assessment of the situation by holding discussions with representatives of the parents' union in all five of the areas run by the education and libraries boards. This assessment confirmed that the Government, by their insensitivity, have driven parents to make a clear stand in defence of Northern Ireland's education system.
The Government have also driven the 57 voluntary grammar schools to take action. For years, they sought to influence policy by reasoned argument behind the scenes. But the Government have not paid much attention to them. At no time have the Government discussed either their proposals or their decision with the Association of Governing Bodies, representing the voluntary grammar schools, without whose co-operative no new system imposed from above can be successful. This state of affairs emerges from the very fine pamphlet "Witness for Worth" which the association published last month to signal its decision to treat the comprehensive issue henceforward as a political matter. It has avoided this in the past, but the Government have driven them into that position.
The absurd part of this controversy is that there is no legislative basis for Lord Melchett's demands for reorganisation. It would require an Order in Council. People fear that he might use that method. The Education Act 1976 does not apply to 877 Northern Ireland. At present Lord Melchett is leaning heavily on the area boards, some of which are resisting more than others.
It is said that in order to force the boards to reorganise he is proposing to withhold funds from some schools and promising money to those who capitulate. If that is correct, the Secretary of State should stop it immediately or there will be trouble in Northern Ireland. I hope that it is not true that he is using that form of blackmail. I hope that the Minister will convey to the Secretary of State what Lord Melchett is proposing to do. It is extremely serious.
It is right that we should restate our position on the issue. We believe that the excellent academic standards, upheld for so long by Northern Ireland grammar schools, must be safeguarded and, if possible, raised yet higher. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was much impressed by what she saw when she recently visited a Catholic grammar school on the outskirts of Belfast. She was impressed by the high academic quality there.
We believe that no change should be made without the clear and unambiguous support of all those who are directly concerned. In particular, we wish to see full consultation with the parents. The parents' views seem to have been brushed aside by the Government. Their representatives were not included in the three working parties established by Lord Melchett last summer to plan this fundamental reorganisation. I understand that at a meeting with the parents' union at the beginning of May Lord Melchett made it clear that he was not interested in parental opinion. The Government must adopt a completely new spirit in their attitude to parents and to all other aspects of the matter. They must consider the special interests of Northern Ireland.
A Conservative Government would not force the area boards to turn the controlled grammar schools into comprehensives against their will. We shall not resort to blackmail in order to browbeat the voluntary grammar schools. We shall not take a dogmatic stand on the selection issue. We shall preserve parental freedom of choice as long as that is the wish of the majority of Ulster people. Above all, we shall ensure that reforms follow 878 not from orders from on high but from decisions reached by the electorate.
I turn to an issue which we discussed a length on Friday. No clearer illustration could be given of the pressing need for education responsibilities to be returned to democratically-elected representatives. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North said in his excellent speech on 29th June, the people of Northern Ireland should not allow their best schools to be destroyed.
I hope that the Minister will give the House a full reply on this serious matter.
The appropriation accounts conceal one vital piece of information—the cost to the Exchequer of the array of civil servants who are now working in Northern Ireland. The need for democratic control of administration in Northern Ireland is in point.
Figures that have been released recently by the Northern Ireland Office in a Written Answer show that under direct rule the Northern Ireland Civil Service has expanded by no less than 76 per cent. since 1972. But the number of United Kingdom civil servants employed in the Province has risen by only 2.7 per cent. These figures do not reveal the full extent of the increase because the Government have been unable to make direct comparisons between 1972 and today. Northern Ireland has also been given its fair share of quangos.
Bureaucracy in Northern Ireland might well have doubled in size under direct rule. We do not wish to see it move much further. The Inland Revenue, for example, employs 40 per cent. more staff and the Customs and Excise Department 33 per cent. more—no doubt, to collect the extra taxes inflicted on Northern Ireland by this Government. It is hardly surprising that a conviction has grown up among large sections of opinion in Northern Ireland that it is becoming the most over-governed part of the United Kingdom. Feelings are compounded by the absence of democratically elected regional councils by which complaints about bureaucratic control can be democratically reviewed. We regard that as important.
§ 11.58 a.m.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
Although there is no direct parallel between the Consolidated Fund Bill for the United Kingdom and this appropriation order, much of the same ground is covered in the debates on both measures. Apart from the technical differences, today's debate provides for discussion on the need for a tighter control on public expenditure in a way that debates on the United Kingdom Consolidated Fund Bill do not. Those debates are devoted to the principles of what might be called "grievance before supply" and result in disjointed debates on all manner of topics at all hours of the night.
It is not uncommon on those occasions for attendance in the Chamber to drop to single figures, sometimes to only two or three. The reasons for the low attendance are well understood by the resident commentators in the House. I have noticed that even the English regional local newspapers do not fall into the trap which certain home-based Ulster commentators frequently fall into—that of judging the importance, effectiveness and significance of a debate by the number of bodies on these green Benches.
It is with that narrower and tighter aspect of control that I wish to deal. We are now moving at last towards much more effective control in that sphere. Hitherto, the timetables for connecting services, if I may use that term, have been designed to ensure not so much that we miss the train but that the train was not due until the following day—in other words, that the sequence was wrong.
True, the elements of control existed—first, the public expenditure White Paper; second, the Estimates for the current financial year; third, the Appropriation Accounts; fourth, the report on those accounts by the Comptroller and Auditor-General; fifth, the observations on that 880 report by the Public Accounts Committee; last and very important, the comments by the Northern Ireland Office on those observations.
Although we have had all those procedures, the trouble is that our appropriation debates fell not at the end of the process, as they should have done, but somewhere in the middle. Last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) made a plea for action to put this right. He received a letter from the Under-Secretary on 11 th January 1978, setting out the various difficulties, not in any obstructive way, but in a very helpful way, if I may say so. However, the hon. Gentleman then included the following paragraph:The only remaining variable which could be changed is the timing of the PAC's meetings and this is a matter which you would, of course, have to pursue with the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee if you so wished.That provided my right hon. Friend with the incitement—if incitement were needed—and his approach to the Chairman of the PAC, the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), met with a sympathetic response.
While it has not yet been possible to rearrange the timetable to meet the deadline this year, we are assured that this will be probably the last occasion on which we are in this unsatisfactory position. This is confirmed in a letter to my right hon. Friend by the right hon. Member for Taunton:I am afraid that it is now unlikely that the Report of the Committee of Public Accounts dealing with Northern Ireland matters will be published before the Northern Ireland Appropriation Order is debated by the House this session.You may be interested to know, however, that the Committee is going to consider, next week, how best to arrange the programme of work in future sessions, and one of the particular points we will be considering is whether we can arrange to hear evidence on matters relating to Northern Ireland earlier in the session in order to ensure that, all other things being equal, the report of PAC will be available in time for Members to read it before the Northern Ireland Appropriation Order is before the House in future years.On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I thank the Chairman and his colleagues on the PAC for their understanding and co-operation and for their determination to do all they can to put matters right.
881 Further confirmation of what I have said is given in a helpful letter from the Under-Secretary, in which he has pledged his continued support and co-operation in efforts to overcome this problem.
The Minister and the Opposition Front Bench fully appreciate our view that it is bad enough to have no democratic control over statutory bodies in Northern Ireland but that that defect becomes intolerable while Parliament lacks the effective financial control over statutory bodies which applies in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Minister informed us today, as he informed some of us by letter earlier, of the difficulty over the additional short Appropriation Order. He need not fear that there will be any great difficulty in processing that order. The business managers and ourselves are pretty well agreed on the procedure which should be followed. I do not think that we would necessarily subscribe to the Minister's hope that there will be no debate or that none will be necessary. I certainly hope that he will not feel that he has to resort to the emergency procedure, which would be quite unsuitable in this case anyway. In return for that, I can promise the Minister that, providing that I can restrain my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), whose responsibility it will be, on that occasion, there will be no undue delay.
In the course of what might be called the intermediate Appropriation Order debate on 6th March, my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South as reported in columns 1115–16 of Hansard, commented on the working of the repairs grant scheme in 1976–77. He supported the view of the Comptroller and Auditor-General that the smallest were too small to be worth the administration, while the largest were unduly restricted by what were called the relevant limits. He posed the question about what consideration had been given to the problems of "too small" and "not large enough". He then gave notice, following this up later in a letter to the Minister who deals with housing, that the matter would be raised today. The Minister responsible for the environment has been in correspondence with us, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will feel that he can refer to this point today.
882 The only matter to which I would refer under the grievance heading is one on which I have much in common with what was said by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave)—that is, Class VIII, dealing with education. Hon. Members on both sides have recognised that the people of Northern Ireland have good cause to be proud of what has been achieved at every level of the educational structure in the Province. Certainly it has occasionally been borne in on those of us who represent Northern Ireland that we have a flexible and diversified secondary education which is the envy of educationists and industrialists in Great Britain and further afield.
It is not difficult, therefore, to understand the reluctance of parents and teachers in the Province to accept willy-nilly the Government's proposals for change, for the view commonly held in Northern Ireland is that those proposals represent a poverty of educational ideas and a famine of moral purpose and that, far from encouraging the pursuit of quality, those proposals actually encourage those who disparage effort and attainment in the schools.
We are not opposed to change, but we are resolutely opposed to change which will serve to destroy past achievements. In common with those whom we represent, we are of the view that educational change in Northern Ireland should be cautious and gradual and that what is demonstrably best in the present system should be preserved. Sadly, some appear to desire to sacrifice what is best in the existing system in pursuit of trendy political ideals and doctrines which seldom bear any relation to the facts of life generally or to educational needs and realities in particular.
In the final analysis, of course, it is on matters of basic approach and fundamental principle that we find the Government's proposals greatly at variance, as the hon. Member for Abingdon said, with majority opinion in Northern Ireland. The philosophical approach of the Government is writ large in the pages of the consultative document published in 1976, particularly in the emotive terms used, such as "bright children" and "academically elite", and particularly when they are linked to other terms such as "ambition" and "social status".
883 We have to recognise that that philosophical approach has been further betrayed by the declared desire to avoidany appearance of undue emphasis on potentail intellectual ability",as if that were some kind of crime and to be deplored. This document forms the basis of the Government's commitment, nationally as well as in Northern Ireland, to the principle of comprehensive education.
It should be understood that individual comprehensive schools have existed in different areas of Northern Ireland for many years, and that they have worked happily alongside other types of school. It should be stressed that opponents of the Government's proposals, and the grammar schools in particular, have placed on record their appreciation of the value of such schools and of the contribution which they make as an integral part of the overall educational structure.
What the grammar schools oppose, and what we oppose, is the attempt to enforce a universal system of comprehensive schools, with its consequent drift towards uniformity and its inevitable decline in standards. The encroachment of what has been called the "grey mediocrity" is strongly resented and resisted by the vast majority of those concerned in Northern Ireland, because they are convinced—and their conviction is not weakened by evidence of what has happened in Great Britain—that, if the present intentions are allowed to take shape, individuality will diminish, the character of the schools will suffer, the dedication of the teachers will decline, and the care of the individual pupil will be less.
No one suggests that this was the intended outcome, and the Government will deny that they have ever entertained any such idea. But I am convinced that that will be the outcome, and that any attempt to impose one uniform system of education can have no other result.
Hand in hand with the argument for comprehensive education runs the belief, sometimes deliberately and dishonestly fostered in certain quarters, that the qualities of excellence of achievement and individuality are in some peculiar way the property only of the grammar schools. But good education, good teaching, good training and good leadership are to be found in the intermediate schools, technical schools, and in the special schools 884 for the disabled. Indeed, it must be said that one of Northern Ireland's success stories has been the development of some 180 secondary intermediate schools and the rapid advance of most of them to very high standards of attainment.
It might in this respect be useful to look for a moment at the question of selection and the new transfer arrangements. I believe that selection in some form and at some stage is essential to good education. Like many others, I was not convinced that the old 11-plus selection procedure was entirely satisfactory. I am pleased to note that the new arrangements have been afforded a fairly warm welcome throughout Northern Ireland. I say "fairly warm" because some people have been dissatisfied. I think that much of that dissatisfaction arises from the rather loose use of the phrase "grammar school material", used very understandably, by headmasters of primary schools.
I wish that they could be weaned away from that rather misleading formula, because it unintentionally gives the parents the belief and the hope that because their child is reckoned by the headmaster to be of grammar school material a place in a grammar school is automatically guaranteed, and as we have discovered when it has come to filling places, that is by no means the case. It will obviously take some time before these arrangements can be fairly and adequately assessed, and we have a duty and a responsibility to contribute advice from the experiences gained in our own constituences.
But it is already clear from the prospectuses, for example, that secondary schools look on themselves as being in virtual competition with one another. Surely that is a most welcome and healthy state of affairs with parents now not only able to choose between grammar school and intermediate school, but between competing grammar schools and competing intermediate schools.
It would be wrong to assume that, in electing for schools and courses, parents will always necessarily favour the grammar school as opposed to the secondary intermediate school. It is known that many parents are attracted by the offer in the intermediate school of the wide range of courses in metal work, workshop practice, technical drawing, commerce, typing, home economics and other practical skills, because they know 885 that even with 60,000 unemployed in the Province employers still complain of a scarcity of skilled workers.
They see for themselves the efforts made by the Government, industry, the trade unions, and, perhaps we might modestly claim, the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to bring new industry to Northern Ireland, and they will be aware of the high level of pay now enjoyed by skilled craftsmen, tradesmen, technicians and practical workers in commerce and industry. Like many of the rest of us, parents will also have been made aware of the contrast between those incomes and the pay and conditions of various professional groups, such as university lecturers, with high academic qualifications attained after many years of academic study.
In the future world of rapidly changing values, it may be expected that grammar schools will attract only those with the ability, aptitude, perseverence and individual motivation in book learning and all that that implies, and so, far from enjoying some allegedly privileged position, the grammar school in future will have to strive very hard to do that at which it is best in practice, namely, bringing together those two very valuable but scarce elements in any society, pupils capable of hard and sustained academic work and teachers capable of guiding them.
The Government's proposals would undoubtedly dissipate both of these elements over three or four times as many schools as at present, with extremely wasteful and disastrous results for all concerned. In this regard, I support the view of the Association of Governing Bodies in Northern Ireland. Greater mobility of pupils between secondary grammar and secondary intermediate schools should be encouraged so that each boy and girl may have the conditions most favourable to his or her personal development.
The present system of points used in the grading of schools, and ultimately in the size of staffs, and again ultimately in the extent of the salaries of the staffs—a very significant factor—inhibits the willing release of pupils. In the view of the governing bodies, these arrangements should be quickly altered so as to encourage rather than discourage the transfer of pupils in their own interests, because ultimately it is the pupils' interests with which 886 we are and should be concerned. Their interests cannot be served, nor those of society as a whole, by policies which depreciate achievement and ambition and which, by implication, suggest a desire for mediocrity as opposed to excellence.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)
I am happy to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). He has spoken very adequately of an important subject for all of his colleagues from Northern Ireland. I draw attention to this only in case anyone should be under any illusion about the feelings of those who represent the majority in Northern Ireland. We are exceedingly disturbed at the Government's whole approach to the reorganisation of our education system. I am happy to endorse what my hon. Friend said. No doubt other hon. Members from Northern Ireland will elaborate upon that point.
I also endorse what my hon. Friend said about our anxiety over the shape and form of the administrative system in Northern Ireland. As we are dealing essentially with a money order, it is right and proper that we should emphasise that the means of scrutinising public expenditure in Northern Ireland, the measure of accountability for that expenditure, is far from satisfactory. There is in Northern Ireland a growing suspicion that a great deal of public money is being wasted. Our present system of administration denies us the opportunity of putting to the test whether we can prove that. But if suspicion exists we need to exert ourselves to reduce or eliminate it.
I do not have to remind hon. Members that there is at present at least one aspect of public expenditure that has all the smell of scandal. The present inquiry into that item of expenditure incurred by the Housing Executive, has only helped to trigger off the fear that there are other aspects of public expenditure that need to be examined.
The figure mentioned today is exceedingly large. We allow all these millions to trip off our tongues without adequately pondering whether we are getting value for money. I say that at a time when economic activity in Northern Ireland is declining and the fear of unemployment is worse than at any time in my life. What are we getting? I share the views of 887 many in this honourable House that part of the problem of the United Kingdom economy is that we have got into the rat trap of expecting the State to do too much for us. The level of public expenditure has become almost intolerable, helping as a consequence to destroy the incentive that our people need.
In Northern Ireland, where we have a very difficult situation compounded by our local problems, we must get our priorities right. Like most people, I believe that as we cope with the social and economic problems of Northern Ireland it is necessary to cushion the people who are suffering because of the situation. But what I am not sure about is that in the ordering of our public expenditure enough priority is being given to improving the opportunity for self-help and economic growth. I can go a long way with the argument that one props up a failing industry for social reasons until there is an alternative, but, in my opinion, too much money is being spent in Northern Ireland merely to prop up a position and not enough is being spent to make the Province more attractive for economic activity.
Although there is an urgent need for the cutting of public expenditure, it should not be cut at the expense of the country's essential infrastructure. I know that it is not only Northern Ireland that is suffering from a cutback on the infrastructure. I noted with considerable interest that motoring organisations in Great Britain have become alarmed about the state of the roads of Great Britain. We in Northern Ireland have been similarly bothered for quite a long time. Indeed, when I last spoke on the subject I highlighted the way in which valuable investments were being allowed to deteriorate because of a lack of adequate maintenance.
To be fair, I must say that since then I have noticed some increase of activity on the maintenance and repair of Northern Ireland's roads. However, I still hold the view that not enough is being done and that we shall have to incur a very heavy bill simply because of present neglect. The size of that bill staggers me.
It is not just a question of dealing with the main arteries of communication. The streets of most of our towns and cities are falling into a deplorable condition. That 888 cannot be tolerated. I am not complaining because the condition of the roads looks bad and gives an uncomfortable ride. We hear much in Northern Ireland at present, when the Government want to push other ideas, about the need for improved road safety. Road safety starts with a good system of roads and streets. If they are neglected, we are adding to the possibility of further casualties on our roads.
I highlight the matter for one particular reason. Our road system is perhaps the most important aspect of the infrastructure whn it comes to developing the economy, whether in terms of commercial activity, or, more precisely, manufacturing activity. Last Friday we talked about the need to preserve our rural environment and rural communities. If we are to do that, the people living in those areas must be able to move easily and conveniently to their places of work.
That is why the road system is so important to Northern Ireland. If we have only one really large urban concentration, we must be able to pull in our labour forces from the many smaller urban communities. The road system is important to Northern Ireland. It is not merely a question of maintaining what we have. We must continue to develop the road system that was envisaged in the in the 1960s.
There are not many in the House today who advanced the argument that we used to hear so much in the Parliament of Northern Ireland about needing to stop the drift from the west of the Province. If we are to stop it, having a modern road system is the key.
Belfast has suffered in recent times through the lack of decisiveness on how we should develop the urban motorway network. I shall not now go into the arguments on the merits of the final decision, but I would draw the Minister's attention to the fact that that decision has been bothering people for three years. I have never known anything so ineptly handled.
As a matter of interest, I should like to know how much public money has been wasted in calling in consultants and experts of one sort and then bringing in other consultants and experts to revise the original plan. For 10 to 15 years we have had people playing around with 889 what the road system in Belfast should be. What I know for sure is that now that we have decided to do something it will cost us a lot more for a lot less than if we had acted at the beginning of this operation. This happens far too much now in the decision-taking of Northern Ireland, particularly in developing the infrastructure.
We shall have an opportunity to talk in greater detail about public sector housing as we examine the proposed reorganisation of the Housing Executive. However, I think that the moneys that are being made available for public sector housing are not being used to the best advantage and are being used in a most insensible way as regards the needs and feelings of the people, whether it is in terms of new house building, green field building, redevelopment or conservation of the existing communities.
There is no subject that I find more bothersome as a Member of Parliament. There is hardly a day in the week which goes past when one does not meet a number of constituents with legitimate grievances about housing conditions.
I have been in communication with the Housing Executive, and I think that it is probably right and proper that before I develop the point too far I give it the opportunity to reply. But I should like the Minister to take on board the fact that we are not at all happy with the piecemeal development or redevelopment that is taking place in Belfast. Every wind of expediency that blows seems to lead to some revision of the plan, and the language that is being used is causing confusion, to put it mildly, among the citizens of Belfast.
Indeed, there is a great deal of distress in my constituency. When we are told about redevelopment, we do not know how to interpret that word. Most of my constituents in the lower part of my constituency, in areas 27 and 28, are convinced that this really means the complete demolition of the entire area and that it will be rebuilt along a uniform pattern, thereby destroying the local character of an area that has existed, with its own traditions and amenities, for a very long time.
In spite of frequent requests to officials of the Housing Executive, we still do not 890 know how much, if any, of that area will be refurbished and improved rather than demolished.
The last time I visited that area I heard people on the street specifically saying that the Housing Executive was letting things drift so that those who lived in the area would become so full of despair that they would voluntarily move out and thereby make the job of the Housing Executive easier in the destruction of the area. I feel that there must be some truth in this. I have met owner-occupiers who have plagued me, saying that they wanted to stay where they were and wanted assurances that they would be allowed to stay where they were. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, I learn that these people have accepted houses outside their own immediate area. When I inquire into the matter, I am told that they have become so demoralised and uncertain about the future that they have given up something that they prized very much and wanted to maintain.
That is not the way to treat people, nor do I think that, in monetary terms, it is the right way to treat them. We need speedy, effective decisions. We need clear-cut plans. People must know now what they can expect in their own areas in the foreseeable future.
The policy of drift in Belfast is probably much the same as the drift that exists in other areas. It has arisen out of the rather absurd administrative system that was created when we took housing away from the administrative organs that are concerned with towns and rural districts.
While the reorganisation of the Housing Executive may help in some respects, unless district councils or other elected bodies have a greater say in the shaping and development of their own areas, we shall not only dissatisfy people but waste enormous quantities of public money.
I do not expect the Minister to be able to give detailed assurances today. My reason for elaborating upon this is to let the Minister know of the acute anxiey and suspicion that exists amongst the people of Northern Ireland.
As for the economic problem, I have very considerable sympathy with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). I find it very difficult to approve this very considerable 891 expenditure when we are not given any clear-cut indication of the Government's economic policy. There is more bumf produced about Northern Ireland than about any other part of the United Kingdom. We would need to give up every other activity in life if we were to read every scrap of paper that emerged from the Northern Ireland Office. If we were allowed to have these matters discussed, we might be more ready and willing to devote our time to reading Government publications.
The Quigley report should have had the urgent attention of this House, either on the Floor or in Committee. It has not been examined by Parliament. Until it is examined, I do not think that we can accept, with confidence that the policies now being pursued are realistic. I think that there is a considerable cover-up job going on at the moment in terms of our economy, and that the prospects of unemployment are very much worse than anything that has been said officially.
I was rather amazed the other day when I saw reported in my newspaper a remark by Dr. Quigley that the recent much welcomed additions to our industrial structures in Belfast were of such a character that he could see us generating our own growth. I do not share that view, nor do I understand how such an important official in the Ministry of Commerce could say to the people of Northern Ireland that he saw some possibility, because of recent improvements, that Northern Ireland would generate its own development. That is giving false hope when we should be facing reality.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South that there is still a shortage of skilled labour in parts of Northern Ireland. This is one of the ironies of the situation. In the midst of massive unemployment, we have this problem of a shortage of skilled labour. I believe that problems such as this can be solved if there is a coherent, consistent, overall economic plan. I plead with the Minister that before all these vast sums of money are eventually committed there should be a reassessment of the situation. I suggest to the Minister that the Government should not rely too much on other bodies to suggest the way forward. Much as I regard and respect the Economic Council, it is only a small part of the 892 machinery that should be used for arriving at a Northern Ireland economic plan. The main responsibility must lie with the Government.
I in no way disparage or fail to understand the importance of what is being done. Let us consider our energy industry as an example. Is it right and proper to give large sums of money to the electricity undertaking, and is it right to give similar sums to the gas industry when these amounts are temporary props? What we want is a quick and final solution to our energy problems.
It was a Government decision which resulted in our latest power station becoming an oil-fired station—at a time when everyone knew that we were facing one of the greatest oil crises the world has ever known. Yet we go on in Northern Ireland and build an oil-fired station. There was no great need for it. It is decisions of this sort which make me despair.
As I understand it, we have considerable natural resources within the United Kingdom that can be more economically and sensibly used for power generation. Why has there not been a more urgent study of the possibility of integrating the grid in Northern Ireland with that in Great Britain? Why have we not integrated Northern Ireland's gas supplies with those of Great Britain? These are things about which a good Government could take a decision in a few months, thereby avoiding heavy capital expenditure on something which ultimately becomes a liability to us.
I believe that I have said enough to let the Minister know that we are not happy with some aspects of policy. However, I must add that there is considerable appreciation for the many exceptional measures taken by the Government to help us in the emergency situation which has arisen because of terrorism. It may not always make sound economic sense, but the willingness to spend public money and to help people with problems is much appreciated. I hope that nothing that I have said earlier in my speech suggests that there is any lack of appreciation for this willingness to help which has been shown by the Government.
I raise now what may appear to be a small constituency matter but which is not truly confined to my constituency. It applies to all areas. An advance was 893 made in the provision of concessionary fares to pensioners. However, the way in which it was done has left a feeling of grievance. The pensioners of Belfast are worse off as a result of the Government's new policy. It was apparently decided that this concession could not be extended to all pensioners in Northern Ireland unless the Belfast pensioners had their entitlement reduced.
We look at the figures in this Appropriation Order and see that millions of pounds are involved. This contrasts with the petty savings being made at the expense of the senior citizens of Belfast. That is a face of government that I do not like. A little bit of administrative saving would have meant that the whole of the retired community in Northern Ireland could have had the same benefit. The senior citizens of Belfast have enjoyed the concession for some considerable time. I hope that this matter can be further reviewed becauses it was an unnecessary step to take and has caused considerable hardship among a section of the community already having a tough time. There is a saying "Penny wise, pound foolish". The penny-pinching that has gone on here is highlighted by the foolishness we find in so many other aspects.
I refer the Minister to a good example of "pound-foolishness", namely, the rebuilding work on the Belfast city hospital. It is impressive work and I am sure that it was necessary. But someone ought to explain why the contractors are so far behind completion dates and why the contract sums have varied so often. Why does the project seem to go on and on? It was an old-age pensioner at my advice centre who made this comparison. That is why I use it.
We want to see greater scrutiny over public expenditure in Northern Ireland. We want to see priorities being directed to where the need is greatest. We want at all times to have a priority leading to self-help rather than one which leads to propping things up or covering them up. While it is not as bad as it sounds, the picture is not very bright. I hope that next year, if by some chance of fate the Minister still occupies his present position, he will be able to tell us that there will be a new system of administration in Northern Ireland, that there will be greater 894 accountability in respect of public spending and that elected representatives will have more say in what is being done in the name of our people.
§ 12.47 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I am sure that all hon. Members representing Northern Ireland seats will echo what the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) has said about the pensioners of that city. Although I represent a rural constituency, I endorse what he has said. I do not see why the senior citizens of Belfast should suffer. I am sure that they will have the sympathy of all hon. Members. Those who have made their contribution to society should be treated by this Government not only with fairness but with exceptional generosity.
Usually we on these Benches are harassed by Labour Members over our attitude towards public expenditure. I can take their political points. Today I make a plea for the wiser spending of the money that is available to the Northern Ireland Office in the administration of our affairs. There could be pruning and wiser expenditure. There is much substance in what the right hon. Member for Belfast, East has said about the waste of public money in the administaration of Northern Ireland.
I thank the Minister for consulting my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) and myself with regard to the proposal for the supplementary order. We shall consider this sympathetically in respect of the meat and milk subsidies. I could not promise the Minister that we shall approve the order without debate, but I hope that we shall be able to approve it with the minimum of debate—if the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) is able to carry out his promise, or threat, concerning the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). I should not like the job of taking on the man with the muddy boots from Londonderry, as my hon. Friend himself reminded us in his maiden speech. Nevertheless, I am sure that we shall be able to facilitate the Minister, because by so doing we shall be facilitating the people of Northern Ireland who are interested in these two industries. I hope that the Minister will not use the emergency way of laying the order but will lay it in the normal way.
895 There are several general matters with which should like to deal before referring to the various classes contained in this No. 2 order. I want to make a comment on the Quigley report. I feel that all hon. Members from Northern Ireland are dismayed that we have never had the opportunity of having a full-scale public debate on that report. I remind the House that the Quigley report is a diagnosis, not a remedy, of our situation. Having considered the diagnosis, I believe that we should be searching further to find the remedy.
There is the curse and cancer of unemployment in our society. I re-echo what has been said, that while here and there there are bright lights, perhaps harbingers of a dawn, in our economy, those of us dealing with the unemployed in our constituencies feel that perhaps the situation is more serious than has been painted by Northern Ireland Ministers. I know that it is the duty of Ministers to retain hope and to spread a spirit of optimism among the people of Northern Ireland. I know that there has been a willingness to give public money to various ventures. But we would do well to consider just what is happening with regard to unemployment in the Province.
Is there not a possibility, even at this late date, of having a consideration of the Quigley report? Can the Minister announce what steps the Department concerned will take, not only to have a public debate on this matter but to seek another inquiry into how we can remedy the ills which have been exposed in our economy by the diagnosis of the Quigley report?
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that it was no accident that we did not have an opportunity to discuss the Quigley report? Is he aware that a few months after the publication of that report I specifically wrote to the Minister in charge of commerce? He sent me a letter, which I can produce, in which he said that the Quigley report would not be debated in this House. There was a clear, conscious decision not to debate that report in this House.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I can only accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. That makes it worse rather than better. If it is a decision of the Northern Ireland Office not to allow the public representa 896 tives of Northern Ireland to debate one of the most important reports which has ever been produced in the seriousness of the situation, that is a scandalous situation which, I trust, at this late hour can now be remedied.
It is all very well for outside bodies to have meetings on the Quigley report. It is certainly all right for bodies nominated by Government Departments to discuss it. But I believe that the elected representatives should have the right to discuss that report. I again stress my anxiety that we should not only probe the diagnosis which has been made but seek for ways and means whereby those ills which have been exposed by this report can be remedied.
Let me give the Minister an interesting example of what I am saying. I believe that the accessibility of Northern Ireland is very important. A few days ago I travelled over in the plane with an up-and-coming young man who has brought a lot of business to Northern Ireland. For safety reasons, I shall not mention his name. He told me, "I am appalled at what is now happening in the shuttle from London to Northern Ireland". He said "For a time one could not carry a hard-backed book on to the aeroplane". For a time that restriction was relaxed, I believe owing to the effective way in which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) one day, when told to hand over his book, tore off the back and said "You can keep the back and I shall take the reading material on to the plane". That shows the folly of the situation. The same thing happened to myself the other day. I tore off the back of a hard-backed book and handed it to the person concerned.
However, this young man was going on a flight to Germany in order to consult German business men. Yet he had two newspapers removed from him. He was carrying three, and he was told "You shall carry only one newspaper on to the aeroplane, and one newspaper only". He asked me "What can I say to prospective industrialists coming to Northern Ireland when they are told in London 'You can take only one newspaper and no hard-backed books on to the aeroplane'?"
What is more, from Belfast to London I can bring as many hard-backed books as I like. I can bring a library under my arm. Yet from London to Belfast I am 897 not permitted to do so. This is very important, because it puts people off. People will ask "What sort of a place is Belfast that I cannot travel from London to Belfast with a hard-backed book"? It is a minor but important point, because first impressions are very important. I trust the Minister will take that into account.
My second general point is that I am extremely disturbed about the housing situation in Northern Ireland. I do not think that any hon. Member from Northern Ireland is happy about what is happening in regard to housing. I refer to the Housing Executive. I must pass severe strictures on the setting up of the recent inquiry. An hon. Member of this House, the hon. Member of Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), made certain allegations in this House but now finds herself unable to attend this particular inquiry because she has been warned by those in charge that she could be open to prosecution if she revealed what she knows. I myself have information, but I made it clear that I am not prepared to attend that inquiry, nor is my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson). I understand that the deputy Leader of the SDLP, who has information concerning Londonderry, is also concerned about this matter.
We are asked to go to an inquiry on which a lot of public money has been spent—perhaps a gravy train, like the Scarman Tribunal for lawyers—yet we cannot get the facts out into the open because of the way that inquiry is constituted. That is something which the Minister should take on board. The sooner that inquiry as at present constituted is wrapped up, the better. It is an expenditure of public money which I believe will not get to the heart of the situation. I want the matter properly inquired into, not inquired into in the way as at present proposed.
I find myself in full agreement with the right hon. Member for Belfast, East with regard to the Housing Executive. I work in that particular area, and the people of that area are very concerned. The points have been put forcibly by the right hon. Gentleman. However, I refer the Minister to my own constituency and to the town of Ballymena, where there is a large housing estate known as the Doury Road 898 housing estate. That housing estate was built 20 years ago. I am sure that hon. Members will be interested to know that, as yet, the roads and the footpaths on that estate have not been brought up to standard so that the Department of the Environment can adopt them. Therefore, that estate has unadopted roads and footpaths even now. That means that policing of the area is in many respects impossible. For example, all vehicles parked on that estate, whether they be without tax or insurance, are on private property and the police cannot take action about them.
It is a scandal that the Housing Executive has not yet brought the roads and footpaths up to the proper standard to have them adopted by the Department of the Environment. There are many potholes in the roads. In many places the footpaths are unwalkable. The right hon. Member for Belfast East referred to pressures on people. There are the same pressures on the people living on this estate. There is a drift away from the Doury Road. Recently we counted almost 100 boarded-up houses on that estate. Whole streets of houses are blighted because the Housing Executive has not kept them up to standard. People who want houses are not prepared to go to the Doury Road. Indeed, there is an eager desire by residents to get out of the area.
I asked the community leader in that area—a young man who is doing a great job—"What happens when a house becomes vacant? Does the Housing Executive board it up immediately?" He said "No. The Housing Executive boards it up only when every window is broken, every toilet pan is smashed, every sink unit is pulled out, all the electric wires are stripped and the bannisters and doors are pulled off".
I went to one house which had just been vacated and saw that the vandalism had already started. Indeed, the community association and councillors in the area had notified the Housing Executive that the house would be vandalised. That is a waste of public money. It means that before that house can be re-occupied, it must be refurbished. If it had been boarded up immediately it was vacated, those facilities could have been saved.
I am disturbed about the reorganisation of the Housing Executive for the simple reason that it has now been done. We were told that we would have a debate 899 about it, but action has already been taken. The Housing Executive has decided to reorganise. I understand from some of the employees that they have been told that the places from which they operate and the boundaries of their operations will be changed. Therefore, we are asked to comment on something which has already been accomplished. The elected representatives of Northern Ireland represent the only body which has the opportunity to debate this matter with any power. We should have had our debate on the reoganisation of the Housing Executive before the decision to reorganise was taken. But that has already been done. It is all very well for the Minister to shake his head.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ray Carter)
On a point of factual information. The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. The Housing Executive has not been completely reorganised. Let us get the facts right.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Will the hon. Gentleman tell me why employees in Ballymena have been informed that they will be shifted from their posts under the reorganisation scheme? How in the name of goodness can the Minister say that the Housing Executive has not been reorganised when employees are informed that, because of reorganisation, they will be going to different areas and that their jobs will be different? These are the facts. I think that the Minister must answer that question.
§ Mr. Carter
Again, on a point of information. The hon. Gentleman at the outset said that the job had been started, concluded and completely wrapped up. That is not true. It is true that some aspects of reorganisation have been decided, but not completely. That is the wrong term to use.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The decision has been taken to break up the areas of control of the Housing Executive. The main thrust of the new reorganisation is to put it into certain districts of control. Those districts have been decided. These may be small matters which do not concern Members, because we are dealing with broad policy. However, the decision to break up the Housing Executive and to put it into certain districts with head- 900 quarters in those districts has already been taken.
Employees have been informed of the places to which they can expect to be moved. It is not fair for the Minister to say that he is giving factual information. I was not saying that every "i" was dotted and every "t" was crossed. I was saying that the Housing Executive was being reorganised in a certain way. The Minister knows very well that it is being reorganised into certain districts and he knows where the district headquarters will be located.
Having dealt at some length with the Housing Executive, I should like to turn to the various classes in the order. I turn first to Class I dealing with agriculture. What progress has been made on the Main River scheme? Has the final arrangement now been made for bridging of the river at Dunminning? Will this temporary bridge which is to be put over the river at Dunminning be open 24 hours a day? Originally, it was suggested that it would be open only during working hours. The roadway is used by people generally throughout the whole of the day. I know that at times the bridge will have to be closed because of work on the redirection of the river connected with the drainage scheme. That is a very important scheme, and I am glad that work has now been commenced. It is a pity that it was not commenced immediately after the inquiry. Will the Minister give me some information on that particular matter? He may not be able to give me that information today, but I should be happy to hear from him at a later date.
Research services are also mentioned in Class I. They include research services and experiments in salmon fishing. When will the Minister be able to make a statement on the success or otherwise of the experiments on the River Bush at Bush-mills? May we have a progress report on that matter?
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East referred to the fact that there is no Public Accounts Committee specifically to deal with expenditure for Northern Ireland. We have the Public Accounts Committee of this House. However, as no Northern Ireland Member serves on that Committee, it is not possible to find out how the money is spent in these areas.
901 On Class II, I should like to endorse what was said by the right hon. Member for Belfast, East about support for the electricity and gas industries. The Minister responsible for those industries has received deputation after deputation with regard to the pipeline for natural gas from the North Sea. When are we to have a statement on this matter? If we are not to have this link with the gas grid for the rest of the United Kingdom, what does the Minister propose to do about bringing down the price of coal at the docks in Belfast to the same price as in the rest of the United Kingdom? At the moment coal is costing £7 per ton more at the dockside in Belfast than the price at which it is available at Liverpool.
If we are to use the vast supply of coal that is available, and if that is to be the alternative energy in the Government's mind, perhaps we may hear more about their plans. The people of Northern Ireland would welcome a link with the gas industry in the rest of the United Kingdom. They would also welcome a link with the electricity grid. Since the Kilroot power station is in my area, what disturbs me is that if that station ever reaches full production, there will be unemployment in the Ballylumford power station. I am told that capacity in the electricity services in Northern Ireland will involve over-production. Therefore, there will be closures in some areas.
I wish to mention the subject of harbours. Fortunately for me, I notice that there is expenditure under the Department of Commerce and Harbour Services Vote, Class IV. I wish to mention the subject of Rathlin Island. Having consulted the elected committee on the Island, I am very disturbed, because the Moyle Council, for some reasons best known to itself, has adopted an attitude which seems to be against the prosperity of Rathlin. The council said to the Minister "These people are non-elected—they are only a gathering up of themselves". I suggested that there should be an election based on the electoral list, and there was an election of a committee to represent the Island. That committee put proposals to the Moyle Council—which I understand that council was not prepared to send to the Minister—about the question of accessibility at Rathlin harbour. 902 I have visited the Island with the Minister and he knows what I am talking about. I hope that he will make a statement on the matter.
There has been an oil slick off our Island. The islanders feel that if the slick had been off Portrush or North Down, Bangor Bay, drastic action would have been taken to break up the slick. Already destruction has been done to the bird life of the island. Already boats, nets and ropes have been seriously damaged. I have spoken to the responsible Minister here on this side of the water and yesterday I tabled a Question to him. Can the Northern Ireland Office, although not directly responsible, help by pointing to the severe damage that has been done to the only inhabited offshore island in Northern Ireland? I would press that matter on the Minister today and also the matter of the harbour. Surely these people are entitled to have their harbour renovated. In the rest of Northern Ireland people have transport services, bus and train services, but these people depend entirely on boats. Therefore, they need accessibility and a sanctuary for their boats in the rough weather which they frequently experience. I plead with the Minister to examine the matter and to make a statement.
I should like briefly to emphasise what I have said on the educational system. I stand by what I said in other debates when I have made my position known. I associate myself with what the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) said about the way in which changes in our educational arrangements are being made. The matter was mentioned by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). Is this operation being carried out legally? We have never had an opportunity in this House to deal with the matter. The Opposition spokesman said that an Order-in-Council should have been laid to ensure that these changes can be proceeded with because it is not covered by the same legislation as that which governs this country. There is an attempt to change the educational system without its being properly legalised.
What about the three committees which were set up by the Minister and which were to report? Have they reported? What about the pressures put on library and education boards to adopt what the 903 Minister is saying? What about the terrible chaos that has occurred as a result of what the Minister is doing?
I think that the two most important departments in the Northern Ireland administration are education and health, but there is nobody in this House who is answerable for those departments. If I want to know what is happening, I must read the speeches of the noble Lord in the other place to find out an authoritative answer. This is far from satisfactory, especially when the Minister is steering both departments towards drastic change. The Ministers concerned have to be briefed by their noble Friend before they can answer. We are unable to put direct parliamentary questions to the noble Lord. Therefore, we are left with the alternative of deputation.
I took a deputation with me to the noble Lord on the question of hospitals, and the mayors and deputy mayors of my constituency accompanied me. We asked about the acute services for children in the proposed new Coleraine hospital extension. It was made clear to us there would be no acute services for children in that hospital. That was made clear to the deputation, as every memebr of it can testify. We had considerable discussion. I said that it was hardly fair to ask a mother to travel from Portrush to the new hospital at Antrim to see a child who was undergoing surgery. The Minister said that acute services were to be in Antrim. However, I opened my newspaper the other day and found that a member of the board had said that those who said that there would be no acute services for children in Coleraine were telling falsehoods, that this was political propaganda, and that he could assure the mothers of North Antrim that there were to be acute services for children in that extension. Therefore, I was surprised that the Minister contradicts what he told the deputation. He now says that there will be acute services for the children in that extension. Who is right? These are matters of grave concern. No wonder there are problems in Northern Ireland. These problems are of the Minister's own making.
I could speak at some length on the educational system, but I do not propose to do so. It is across the board, and does not involve Protestant or Roman Catholic 904 agitation. Grammar schools on both sides of the religious divide and their leaders are united on this matter. Surely the Minister, having got consensus, should heed it and be prepared to listen to representations made by headmasters, governing bodies and parents.
It has been said that the parents union is just a lobby for grammar schools. That is untrue. The parents union wants to see all schools brought up to standard. There are parents who rightly decide that they want a certain type of education for their children and want to choose a grammar school or a secondary school.
I am not as happy as the hon. Member for Antrim, South about the present selection procedures.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I think that I expressed my clear reservations about the way in which it was working out and the use of the misleading phrase "grammar school material". That has caused a great deal of distress in my constituency and in others.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I was not referring to that part of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I was referring to the selection of many pupils who had not been given places in grammar schools. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I apologise if a misrepresented what he said.
I was referring to the problem that has arisen over the one-plus-one-plus-one and the one-plus-one-plus-two systems. In some areas, a child who was rated one-plus-one-plus-two immediately got a grammar school place. In other areas, children with that rating were not given the opportunity to go to grammar school. The education board in my area had to set up a special committee to consider such cases. It met on Monday this week and had a tremendous number of cases before it.
The selection procedure has caused enormous concern and I know that there are other hon. Members from Northern Ireland who have had to send representations to the Ombudsman because parents have felt that their children have not been treated fairly. I am grateful that there is an appeal to the Minister, but the selection procedure needs to be reexamined. A tremendous onus is put on the principal of a rural school serving a 905 small community. He has to make the final decision and it is hardly fair that he should have that onus placed on his shoulders.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Antrim, South has had representations on this issue which concerns us all. The Minister must consider the matter very carefully. I should like him to make a statement about the present situation in secondary schools. The Ulster Teachers' Union issued an alarming statement recently about schools that would have very few pupils. I understand that two schools in Antrim may become redundant. I do not know what is the strength of that rumour, but the Minister needs to clear the air because this is a disturbing possibility.
We have before us a survey of the operations of Northern Ireland. Much of what I have said has been critical of what is taking place. When we have the opportunity to cast our eye over what is happening, we are right to highlight matters that cause us concern, and I hope that the Minister will be able to help us in clearing the air in some of these areas. I particularly hope that, even at this late hour, the Government will stop pushing in the education field and will be prepared to listen to reason and the weight of opinion of people in Northern Ireland.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I agree, to a great extent, with some of the grievances expressed by the hon. Member for Antrim North (Rev. Ian Paisley), but after that our attitudes go their own way. In his litany to the Minister, the hon. Gentleman said that he wanted improvements in housing, roads and so on. But But all these improvements need public expenditure, and when the occasion has presented itself in the House the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have repeatedly voted against the Government on the important question of public expenditure.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman so early in his speech before he gets into full flight, but he will have noted that earlier this week we did not obstruct or oppose the Government when they sought to make good at least a major part of the losses in 906 curred by the income tax changes made to the Budget proposals.
§ Mr. Fitt
I concede that the attitude of Unionist Members is completely inconsistent. Time and again, I fail to understand what logic they apply to their speeches or their votes.
There have been times when I have allied myself with other Northern Ireland Members in complaining that we did not have as many opportunities as we wished to debate Northern Ireland matters. We canont make that complaint this week. On Monday, we discussed rural planning. On Wednesday, we served on the Committee on the Bill to extend the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act to Northern Ireland. Yesterday, perhaps somewhat unscheduled, we had the hon Members for Antrim, North and Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) engaging in a little Irish business in the Crypt of the House, and in the afternoon we had a form of Irish intervention which led to the cleaning of the carpet in the Chamber. I do not know whether the smell that permeates the Chamber at the moment is an improvement on the stuff that was thrown here yesterday. In addition to all that, we have a whole day of Northern Ireland business today.
The Appropriation Order has normally been regarded, even in the old Stormont Parliament, as an opportunity for constituency interests to be brought to the attention of the Minister. The two most important Departments in Northern Ireland, excluding the Department of Finance, which is by far the most important, are the Departments of Commerce and the Environment. The Department of Commerce covers everything that is necessary to create a civilised society, particularly the creation of jobs and the ending of unemployment in Northern Ireland.
It has been a cross-party view in the House that Northern Ireland has suffered much more and for much longer from unemployment than has any other part of the United Kingdom. It has become an accepted way of life. Governments have believed that an unemployment rate in Northern Ireland of 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. meant that they were doing well, even though that would be an intolerable 907 level in other parts of the United Kingdom. The unemployment rate in Northern Ireland now is over 11 per cent.
It is all too easy to criticise the Government, and I want to take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude to them for their efforts in trying to attract industry to Northern Ireland. I believe that we have turned the corner in recent months and that we are perhaps beginning to see the situation improve. I hope that we shall soon see the numbers of unemployed reduced.
The two most important requirements in a civilised society are houses and jobs. Where we have unemployment, we naturally have bad housing. People do not want to know about keeping their homes in good condition if they are in despair and distress because the breadwinner has to rely on social security.
I congratulate the Minister in charge of commerce for the work he has done in trying to attract industry to Northern Ireland. He must be aware, because of recent developments, that in that endeavour he has the full-hearted support of the whole community in Northern Ireland, no matter what political label people may bear. Only last week, my colleague John Hume made a bitter, but quite justified, attack on the so-called Ancient Order of Hibernians in America which had been sending literature to American industrialists trying to deter them from setting up business in Northern Ireland. There was a time when that sort of attitude could not have been expected from a minority representative in Northern Ireland. The remarks of John Hume are art indication of a changed attitude. Members of the minority party are throwing their full weight behind the Minister to try to influence industries and to persuade them to come to Northern Ireland.
I heard only this morning that the Provisional Sinn Fein organisation in Belfast has attacked me because I criticised the attempts of the AOH to keep industry away from the Province. It said that it was delighted that the AOH had attacked violence. How can such an organisation justify its condemnation of violence and support for the AOH when in my back entry last night yet another two young lads were kneecapped by those who gave support to the Provisional IRA? If the Provisional Sinn Fein movement wants 908 to congratulate the AOH on its denunciation of violence, let it stop the violence for which it is responsible. A great deal of kneecapping is taking place in Belfast, and it is pure and blatant hypocrisy for such an organisation to say that it does not support violence.
In trying to attract industry to Northern Ireland, there will always be the suspicion that industrialists are given incentives to locate their industry in certain areas of the Province. I remember in the old Stormont Parliament repeatedly asking why we were not setting up industry in Fermanagh, Newry, Strabane and the city of Derry. Those were areas largely inhabited by members of the minority community. There was suspicion—it may have been justified or it may not—that led some to the conclusion that the Government were trying to install industry into the relatively affluent areas of North Antrim and North Down to the total exclusion of other more needy areas.
I am certain that that is not the present Government's policy, but I urge the Minister who is in charge of commerce to recognise that, although a level of unemployment in Northern Ireland of 12 per cent. is bad enough—indeed, it is intolerable—that percentage does not tell the full story. The areas that I have in mind have rates of unemployment of 25 per cent., 30 per cent. and 35 per cent. Many of them are in my constituency. Every effort should be made to attract private investment. If that proves to be impossible, State industry should be set up with the intention of trying to allay the terrible fear that nothing will ever get better.
I shall now be more controversial. I know that Unionist Members never had much time for the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976. I believe that it was a necessary measure, if only to prove that justice was being done, as previously people did not believe that there was fair play in employment. The Fair Employment Agency is an integral part of the Act. Without the agency the Act is worthless. The agency has found that, even with the existence of the Act, discrimination is still taking place in certain areas in Northern Ireland. The Parliamentary Commissioner, who heads another institution set up by the British Government, has found that there is still religious discrimination in employment. 909 Appeals have been taken by the Civil Service Commission to the Belfast recorder. He has given decisions that the agency has been over-zealous in its findings and that he could not concur with its findings.
Do we believe the recorder of Belfast, or do we believe those who are giving of their time and energy—they are not being very well paid for their efforts, and some of them are not being paid anything—
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want deliberately to mislead the House. Does he accept that regardless of whether there is a Fair Employment Agency in Northern Ireland, or in any other part of the Kingdom, where selection for a job takes place the X factor must come into play? That excludes all other considerations, whether they be religious or political. We levelled that very warning when the Fair Employment Agency was being discussed. The various factors that we mentioned are now manifesting themselves in the Province. That is not because there is a desire to discriminate but because employers will always insist upon getting the best material to do a particular job.
Finally, does the hon. Gentleman accept that Professor Richard Rose has categorically stated that there is no evidence to suggest that in Northern Ireland in the past there was any systematic discrimination in employment, and that his analysis still holds good?
§ Mr. Fitt
As the whole history of Northern Ireland proves, people will accept any opinion that justifies their own opinion or seems to reinforce what they think. If Professor Richard Rose writes a book entitled "Politics without Consensus" and states that he does not think that there is any evidence of discrimination, those who say that there was never any discrimination will accept that statement. However, other inquiries have been carried out, notably by Cameron, who said that whether or not it was true there was a deep underlying suspicion that in many instances in local government such discrimination took place. That is why we had to have local government reform. That was the main reason for the change.
910 The debate on discrimination is highlighted by a recent example in Cooks-town. The girl who applied for the job happened to be related to a person who took a prominent part in the civil rights agitation of 1969 and 1970. She was told that she was too highly qualified for the job. She was told that she was too brainy, that she knew too much and that her qualifications were too good. She did not get the job. That may be an Irish way of filling vacancies, but it opened up the suspicion that she was refused the job because her brother had been connected with the civil rights movement. That is what was found by the Fair Employment Agency.
It was not only members of the minority faith or the minority political point of view who inquired into the background of the case. Inquiries were carried out by people from different walks of life and with different religions. They found that there was a case of discrimination. The Civil Service Commission appealed to the recorder. If one wants to cast doubts, I can say that the recorder was a former Minister of Home Affairs in the Stormont Government and a former Chief Whip of the Unionist Party. Would I be justified in saying that he was giving a biased decision?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order in this House to cast suspicion on a judge of the High Court?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Is it in order to suggest that he was formerly in a certain political party and formerly occupied a certain political position? I was called to question by the Chair on this issue when I strictured a magistrate. I should like the Chair to give a ruling.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not casting aspersions upon a judicial personage to make certain allegations that clearly are aspersions while disclaiming at the same time that one intends to cast aspersions?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
The matter would be much better resolved if the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) withdrew any suggestion that he may have had in his 911 mind, or words that he may have said, that cast aspersions on a judge of a superior court.
§ Mr. Fitt
I do not know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how I can wthdraw a suggestion that I may have had in my mind. Even I would find that difficult. I have said that the members of the Fair Employment Agency were from different walks of life and that they came to one conclusion while the recorder of Belfast arrived at another conclusion.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It may be that I can help the hon. Gentleman. I commented about what might have been in his mind or words that he might have used. I want to reinforce what is stated in "Erskine May" on reflections on certain distinguished personages, some of whom are judges of the superior courts of the United Kingdom. If there was any inference in anything that the hon. Gentleman said that cast aspersions on one of Her Majesty's judges, I hope that he will withdraw it.
§ Mr. Fitt
I was not casting reflections on any judge. I was trying to illustrate to the House that in Northern Ireland one accepts the opinion which justifies an attitude. I believe that I am justified in supporting the Fair Employment Act because I believed that the Fair Employment Agency and the Act were necessary in Northern Ireland. I do not feel able to accept the opinion of the recorder of Belfast, and that comment has nothing to do with casting aspersions upon him. I may be totally wrong, but I do not feel justified—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is in order on this occasion because it is possible to criticise a particular judgment so long as the integrity of the judge is not drawn into account.
§ Mr. Powell
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great respect, it is the right of any hon. Member, indeed, of any citizen, to disagree with a judgment that is given in the courts. What is at question is whether it is allowable for an hon. Member to refer to the background, past and other connections of a judge in such a way as to give those as the reasons, or allow those to be taken to be the reasons, why he disagrees with a particular judgment given by that judge.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That was the very point that I raised in the first instance. I am glad that the right of any person to call into question the findings of a court is being underlined. I wanted a ruling on the calling into question of the person who made that finding.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The point is covered by the word "conduct" which goes fairly wide, and that would, of course, include the bona fides of a distinguished personage. In that respect I agree that it would not be in order.
§ Mr. Fitt
I had intended to make only a brief reference to that aspect of my argument, but I am most garteful to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Antrim, North because with their interventions and points of order it will now be clearly seen in Hansard what they meant and what I meant—
§ Mr. Powell
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You directed the hon. Member to withdraw anything which might be in contravention of the rules of this House. He is now attempting to avoid withdrawal by saying that Hansard will show what is his view and what is the view of other hon. Members. I submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that does not constitute a compliance with your direction.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must resolve this matter. Anything in the way of imputation against one of Her Majesty's judges in the terms in which I have ruled would not be in order, and I would ask the hon. Member to withdraw.
§ Mr. Fitt
No imputation was made. I say that the pages of Hansard will record very clearly the respective attitudes on this matter. So the matter is finished. I have drawn the attention of the House to what I believe to be a matter which should concern the Minister in particular in relation to the operation—
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) to refer to the political party to which this judge previously belonged. If we are to pass this matter 913 over, does it mean that in future other hon. Members will be able to refer to the past political activities of judges? Does it mean that an hon. Member may tell the Chair that a matter is finished? Surely it is for the Chair to finish a matter.
§ Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It seems to me that it is not in the gift and bailiwick of Ulster Members on the Opposition side to judge whether a remark made by my hon. Friend is or is not imputational. That is your function, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It might help the House if you will be clear and say what your judgment is of the remark that my hon. Friend did or, apparently, did not make.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
If the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) can assure the Chair that he was making no imputation against the honour or integrity of the judge to whom he was referring the matter is resolved. I hope that I may have that assurance.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am afraid that that is not good enough. One can be a good Unionist MP or member of any other party. However, judges, like certain other distinguished persons do not have any politics. I think that the hon. Member for Belfast, West should withdraw. He should say that there is no imputation of any sort, political or otherwise, of bias.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. These proceedings will be reported in Hansard. I hope that my ruling and the hon. Member's withdrawal of any imputation will 914 be there, too. That, I hope, will resolve the matter.
§ Mr. Fitt
I am certain that it is not an offence to say that I shall be delighted to read tomorrow's Hansard. However, since I have highlighted this matter for Ministers in a most effective way, I hope that they will now look at the criteria under which the Fair Employment Act operates in Northern Ireland.
I turn now to the question of Class V, on housing. I have made many criticisms of the Housing Executive, because I have felt that it has not been as effective as it should have been in the building of houses and in the operation of its estates. All Northern Ireland Members can level criticisms at the executive, but for different reasons. I do not believe that it has proved to be any better than the local authorities that were formerly in charge of housing. Ulster Members on the Opposition side would criticise the executive for political reasons because they believe that its housing powers should have been retained under the control of Unionist-dominated local authorities in Northern Ireland. Without going into another history lesson, that was one of the reasons for the beginning of the civil rights movement. People believed that there was quite blatant discrimination in the allocation and building of houses.
I limit my criticisms, but I hope that the Housing Executive will be able to improve. It has had to overcome many obstacles. Belfast, of which I speak with no little authority and knowledge, has certainly not been an easy proving ground for a newly created authority such as the executive.
I wish to raise with my hon. Friend the Minister a specific and important subject. I believe that the time has come to stop squatting in Housing Executive houses. There was a time when Housing Executive tenancies were taken over illegally by squatters, particularly in 1969, 1970 and 1971. There was then a mass movement of the population. Catholics moved from Protestant estates and Protestans from Catholic estates. At that time there was much movement of population, particularly in Belfast. There is now no reason to squat.
The cases concerning squatters should be examined by the Housing Executive. 915 If it is found that a family is involved, it should be given a permanent tenancy. But if it is found—and there will be many such cases— that there is no justification for squatting, the Housing Executive should without hesitation initiate court proceedings and have those people evicted.
The Housing Executive has begun to evict some squatters. But it is being done in a fringe area on the outskirts of a ghetto where it is easy to have people evicted. No action is being taken against squatters who live in the middle of a ghetto on the ground that it would be impossible to put any court orders into operation. That is an unfair policy. It is wrong that a person can be evicted from a Housing Executive house because less trouble is likely to be caused, but that if a person lives in the middle of a ghetto he is not evicted. I am thinking in particular of a tenancy which was given to a person on the New Lodge Road a fortnight ago. When that person went to the house with the tenancy in her hand, the house was illegally occupied and she was forcibly prevented by the squatter from occupying that tenancy which was hers by right.
The Minister should have no hesitation in initiating court proceedings to have such persons evicted, no matter what is costs. It is not fair that squatters who can be removed easily are removed while those who are more difficult to remove get away with it.
§ Mr. Bradford
There is total unanimity on this matter. Will the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) accept our gratitude for having the courage to make that point about the area for which he is a city councillor? Does he accept that the same problem obtains in the Twin-brook area where £250,000 in rents is owing and where probably only one-fifth of the community have legal tenancies? The Housing Executive has put on paper that it is not prepared to proceed with evictions because the area is dominated by a para-military group.
§ Mr. Fitt
I want to make my stand totally clear. There is no justification for squatting in Housing Executive property at present. That has not always been so. In 1969–70 there was a mass movement of population which mainly affected the minority population. I am thinking par 916 ticularly of an estate known as Rathcool where the Housing Executive has given tenancies. There is no justification for squatting now. Any squatting that is taking place is because squatters believe that they have the support of one or other of the parliamentary groups in Belfast. That should not be tolerated by the Housing Executive.
§ Mr. Powell
With what force and with what protection would the evictions for which the hon. Member is calling be carried out? Are we to understand that he is now giving his unqualified public support to that force in carrying out those actions?
§ Mr. Fitt
I know exactly what I am saying. If people squat illegally, the case should be taken to the court. If it is found that they have no justification for squatting, it is up to the Housing Executive to use whatever means may be at its disposal to implement the court's order. I cannot put it any clearer than that.
§ Mr. Powell
Does the hon. Member consider that this could be carried out wholly by the servants of the Housing Executive, or does he consider that in the circumstances which he had described they would require protection?
§ Mr. Powell
This is an important matter. I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) said about the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Fitt). Not for the first time he is showing great courage in the public interest. He said that evictions should take place by whatever means the Housing Executive requires. Surely he understands that this means that the Housing Executive would, or might, require the support of the security forces. The hon. Member mentioned military tactics, so I suppose that he includes the Army. I wanted the hon. Member to have the opportunity of making it clear that he would publicly support the Army 917 and the RUC in giving whatever protection was necessary to servants of the Housing Executive or officers of the court.
§ Mr. Fitt
I shall wait until the cases have been taken to court, a decision has been taken and it has been proved that those concerned are illegally in occupation of a house. We are often told that we should not give hypothetical answers to hypothetical questions. I shall not fall into the trap of doing that. The Minister is well aware of my attitude.
I should like to congratulate the Government. I am sure that I shall have the support of all Northern Ireland Members in so doing. The matter concerns health and social services. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Down, South will be as pleased as I am about what happened in Committee on Wednesday when my private Member's Bill, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Bill, which is supported by all hon. Members, completed its Committee stage. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Down, South will be as hopeful as I that the Bill goes through the House expeditiously so that people in Northern Ireland may have the benefit of it.
§ 1.58 p.m.
§ Mr. George Thompson (Galloway)
Not without a certain amount of trepidation do I venture to take part in this debate. But I take courage because my constituency is the second closest to Northern Ireland. The honour of representing the closest belongs to my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick). I am heartened by contact with Northern Ireland Members about the topic which I shall raise. I am especially heartened by a recent speech by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) who sent me a copy of that speech. I have also been heartened by listening to today's debate. Several problems have been mentioned which might be helped to some extent if the Northern Ireland Office were able to use a little of its money across the North Channel.
I refer to the Class IV expenditure on roads and associated services, transport and harbour services. I do not wish to deal with the services inside Northern Ireland but I wish to discuss the pos 918 sibility of using a tiny portion of that money to see whether savings can be made on the journey time between London and Belfast. I hope that it is in order to make such a suggestion, even though I am proposing a little expenditure in my own constituency. That would primarily be not for the benefit of my constituents but for the good of the Northern Ireland people and of Ireland in general.
I draw the attention of the House to an advertisement in last Friday's The Guardian. It carried a picture of a splendid modern train on the inter-City 125 service. There was the huge headline:The new Journey Shrinker will help business grow.The journeys being shrunk are those from Edinburgh and from Cardiff to London—from the capitals of Scotland and Wales to the capital of the United Kingdom. But what of shrinking the journey between Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, and London?
I would draw attention to a map which accompanied an article on the opposite page in The Guardian, headed "BR Quickens the Pace". The map compares high-speed train and advanced passenger train timings with conventional train timings from London to, for example, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester and Leeds among others, but not, significantly, to Belfast. Belfast is not even on the map, I am sorry to say, and if it were, no amount of cartographical ingenuity would have been able to make the line of route from London appear to zoom straight as an arrow to Belfast, because the route goes north to Kilmarnock before turning the long way south to Stranraer.
Someone from Mars looking at this map would be inclined to say, "Why is there no connection between Dumfries and Stranraer to facilitate communications with Northern Ireland?" The reason is the so-called Beeching cuts. It is remarkable that we have all managed to blame Lord Beeching for the cuts, although they were promoted by a Conservative Government and, in the case of the Dumfries-Stranraer railway line, the track was actually lifted by a Labour Government.
Since then, the traffic through Stranraer to Larne and from Larne to Stranraer has 919 multiplied exceedingly. Since then, Townsend Thorensen has set up a new port at Car Cairnryan near Stranraer and now British Rail is building a second ramp at Stranraer harbour to facilitate communications. It seems odd that one can drive into Lame on a motorway but that once he gets to Stranraer the poor Irish driver has to get on an ordinary trunk road—and not even a very good one.
I must therefore ask the Minister what is the point of this House voting money under Class II to provide incentives for industry in Northern Ireland if at the same time communications between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and hence also between Northern Ireland and the European Continent, cannot be brought up to a proper modern standard because of the bad stretch between Dumfries and Stranraer? It must be as essential to development in Northern Ireland as it is to Western Galloway that that bad stretch is improved to such an international standard, both in road and in rail.
Also, what is the point of this House voting money under Class II to promote tourism if potential tourists have to fight their way along the A75, jostling with juggernauts—I almost said, jousting with juggernauts—trying to pass tractors loaded with bales of hay or herds of cattle or streams of caravans on tow, or if they have to travel to Kilmarnock to get to Stranraer by rail so as to make the crossing to Ireland to enjoy the benefits which they will have there on their holidays?
§ Mr. Powell
If the hon. Gentleman wished to add to his very effective rhetorical questions, he might anticipate a little and say, what is the point of this House authorising large sums by way of loans for harbour works in Northern Ireland in the conditions which he describes?
§ Mr. Thompson
I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. That intervention highlights exactly what I have been saying.
Let us remember that the amount of timber coming out of our forests in Galloway will be increasing enormously over the next few decades and it will be coming on to the A75, because the Stranraer-Dumfries railway line which would have taken much of it because it ran through the forests of Galloway, is 920 not there. The Irish traffic will have to fight its way through that as well.
I took part recently in a film made by BBC Ulster who are obviously as concerned as I am about the communications between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I stood in the rain in Glenluce for about an hour being interviewed so that we could get ample proof of the background of Irish traffic flowing backwards and forwards. I thought that it was worth it, not because I was paid for standing in the rain—I was not—but simply because I thought that it would make a most effective piece for the film. I understand from those who saw it—I hope that the Minister did—that it was a jolly good film.
It would be a good idea if, at least once a year, Northern Ireland Ministers travelled from London to Belfast by road and once a year by rail so as to taste the joys of the A.75 and of the Dumfries-Stranraer rail link via Kilmarnock. That will have them hammering on the doors of Dover House to get at the Secretary of State for Scotland.
I look forward to the results of the trip along the A.75 due to be taken by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter). He promised it in reply to a Question from me in the House on 9th February. He said:I am aware of some of the criticisms that have been made about the road routes to which the hon. Member refers, although they have not been substantial.In the course of your duties, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you sometimes have to collect the voices. If the Minister were able to collect the voices of some of the travellers on the A.75, he would find that the criticism was more substantial than he thinks. However, he added:I hope some time later this year to go across to Scotland and have a look at the route to which he refers."—[Official Report, 9th February 1978; Vol. 943, c. 1650.]I hope that the Minister will. If he has liaison with the Scottish Office, he will find that his noble Friend the Minister of State there has made the same promise and intends to carry it out during this recess. I hope that the two Ministers will compare notes when they have made their journey; then perhaps 921 the Scottish Office and the Northern Ireland Office will act in conjunction.
How much money is spent on interdepartmental discussion of the transport links between Northern Ireland and Great Britain? How often do Ministers from the Northern Ireland Office and the Scottish Office meets to discuss these matters? How often do these joint discussions also bring in the top management of British Rail—not to discuss the sea link between Lame and Stranraer but to discuss the railway link between Stranraer and Dumfries or Carlisle.
What contact, if any, has there been between the Northern Ireland Office and the Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council, especially now that that council is busily engaged in preparing the structure plan for the region? That will soon be put out for comment and I trust that the Northern Ireland Office will be taking a look at it in order to offer as much helpful comment as possible.
I suggest that the Northern Ireland Office, the regional council and possibly the Scottish Office should get together to examine the possibility of financing a feasibility study on the reinstatement of a railway between Stranraer and Dumfries, sharing the cost of such a study between them on a reasonably agreed basis.
If only the Government had taken the advice of the Scottish National Party and set up a development fund financed by a percentage of the Government revenue from North Sea Oil, we should have the necessary finance for such a study. I suppose that we must try from the revenue of this resource which becomes depleted to build up the infrastructure for the future of these islands.
More than that, I believe that such a fund might in the end have provided the finance to reinstate the railway and electrify it. There is still time for that to be done if the Government have the will. They asked us in a White Paper to face the challenge of North Sea oil, but they have so far signally failed to face it themselves.
I agree that we could not expect the Northern Ireland Office to commit its funds to reinstating the Dumfries-Stranraer line. I am not asking for that. But the Secretary of State for Northern Ire 922 land should be actively pushing in the Cabinet for the allocation of United Kingdom funds to it if the feasibility studies showed that it was feasible. The House will readily appreciate that any improvement in the road or rail network in Galloway would benefit my constituents as well as the people of Northern Ireland. It would benefit in particular the central and western parts of Galloway where we have so much difficulty in getting industrial development because we are not, although the regional council and I have tried hard to persuade the Government otherwise, a special development area. But if improvements in communications can benefit two communities, I suggest to the Government that that fact doubles the strength of the argument for those improvements.
It is up to the Northern Ireland Office, using some of the funds we are approving today, to the Scottish Office and to the Dumfries and Galloway regional council to get to work in serious joint consultation about Northern Ireland's transport links with the rest of these islands. I hope that I have succeeded in stimulating thought and action on the matter by my words today. I apologise if I have perhaps caught the habit of Northern Ireland Members of speaking at rather greater length than intended, but I think the matter I have raised is of importance to Northern Ireland, possibly even more than it is to Galloway.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Litterick (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
I will not follow at least two, if not three, of the Ulster Unionists in so far as they developed all argument about education, if only because that would be to rehearse an argument that has been worked through exhaustively in this country and carried out in terms of Government policy.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) professed to be concerned that more money should be spent on the road system in Northern Ireland. Quite sensibly, he commented that perhaps the basis of road safety was good, high-quality road surfaces. But he did not mention seat belts. The issue of seat belts is very much a live issue in Ulster, so I thought that the right hon. Gentleman might at least have mentioned it to indicate how he felt, since we know that 923 seat belts as well as good road surfaces save lives and preserve people's bodies. It was a curious omission, and perhaps he will want to explain it at a later date.
The order tells us that a total of £819 million of public money will be spent in different ways in Northern Ireland during the present financial year. On 16th February, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, in answer to a Question—reported in column 364 of Hansard—said that the cost during 1977–78 of the various public expenditure programmes in Northern Ireland was £748 million. Allowing for the approximations that that sort of figure inevitably involves—I suppose that one would not want to go to the barricades to point out that there is a considerable difference between £819 million and £748 million—I think that there is a much more important matter that should concern the House about the amount of public money that is spent on Northern Ireland and what that might mean for the rest of us—that is, those of us who live in mainland Britain.
As it happens, the Library staff have done a research document which tells us something about it. It itemises the programmes and provides illuminating information on the pattern of public expenditure throughout the United Kingdom on a regional basis. It is to this document that I shall refer during the next few minutes because I think that hon. Members will find the information of interest.
On page 6 of the document there is a breakdown of numerous programmes—agriculture, trade, Government lending, roads, housing, and so on—and it illustrates them as per capita spending, that is, the amount spent under each heading per head of population, in each of the major regions of the United Kingdom. The major regions in this context are England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I say that in order that the statistics will be made explicit to hon. Members.
It is interesting to note that under seven of these headings the heaviest expenditure is made in Northern Ireland. Indeed, the total per capita expenditure by the State under all these headings is very much higher in the case of Northern Ireland than for Wales or England or Scot 924 land, or for the United Kingdom as a whole.
We should also note that, as with the figures in this order, the document's figures do not take account of military expenditure. We all appreciate that it would be difficult for the State to separate out the actual avoidable cost of running the military campaign in Northern Ireland. It certainly has never been made known to the House in any form that we could use or understand. But I suggest that, however difficult it may be, if the people of mainland Britain are to understand what our involvement in Ireland is costing, we should know what is the avoidable military expenditure.
I suspect, too, that, notwithstanding the apparent comprehension of all the tables to which I am referring, not all the expenditure is made known to us. Beyond that, at the moment we have no way of knowing what the contribution to the revenues of the United Kingdom is by the people who live in Northern Ireland.
In short, what we have here is a very one-sided version of the finances of Northern Ireland. It would be easy for me to say, for example—because I have done the arithmetic—that, as there is public expenditure of £1,122 per head per year in Northern Ireland, that amounts to a total public expenditure in Northern Ireland of £1,700 million, plus, of course, military expenditure. In other words, in gross terms the total public expenditure in Northern Ireland, far from being the £819 million mentioned in the order, is more like £2,000 million gross. But we can know what that means in net terms only if we know what is the revenue contributed by Northern Ireland to the finances of the United Kingdom, and we do not know that. In that sense, therefore, none of us can know what we are talking about if we are trying to get at the financial reality of Northern Ireland.
The House should also notice that, under certain expenditure heads, Northern Ireland attracts a noticeably heavier amount of British finance, British expenditure, British taxpayers' money, than all the other regions of the country. For example, in terms of agriculture, the expenditure per head of population in Northern Ireland is £71. The United Kingdom average is £19. For trade, industry and employment, expenditure per 925 head in Northern Ireland is £116 and for the United Kingdom the average is £39. For housing, in Northern Ireland it is £114 per head and in mainland Britain it is £89. For education, interestingly, expenditure in Northern Ireland is £168 per head compared with the United Kingdom average of £152. For health, personal and social services it is £156 per head in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom average is £132.
Those are considerable differences. So far the British people have not had a proper opportunity to judge the effectiveness, the value, of the expenditures of public money on Northern Ireland and the benefit that may or may not be accruing to the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the United Kingdom as a whole. We are not in a position to make that judgment.
Therefore, the House today can say to the British people only "We cannot tell you whether you are getting good money's worth for your taxes that are being spent in Northern Ireland." For there can be no doubt that Northern Ireland is hugely in deficit vis-à-vis the rest of the United Kingdom. Although I confessed earlier that I did not know the tax revenue contribution of the people of Northern Ireland, nobody here would doubt that it comes nowhere near £2,000 million. I suggest that it does not come very close to £1,000 million. My judgment is that the net cost of Northern Ireland to the British people is significantly in excess of £1,000 million per year.
It will be said, I think rightly, that it is for the British people to judge whether it is worthwhile spending that money in that way for results that we can all see. Beyond the money, there is what one might call a blood tax being paid by the British people. We can only surmise that at some time they will make a judgment about the value of that vast expenditure of money in Northern Ireland by them, through their taxes, and about that hideous expenditure of the blood of our young people in Northern Ireland for a very dubious purpose.
§ 2.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
Time is passing, so I do not want to take too long in trying to answer some 926 of the rather mischievous comments made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick). However, I take the opportunity of saying that if we accepted, which we do not, that there was validity in his argument, that would be all the more reason why the House should reject the attempt to introduce comprehensivisation into Northern Ireland, because it can be done only at a considerable cost, which would give the hon. Gentleman another whip with which to beat the people of Northern Ireland.
Incidentally, the Government do not have clean hands on the question of the cost of imposing comprehensivisation. They produced a paper, I think back in 1976, which manifestly revealed a gross under-estimate of the cost. They later had to withdraw the paper and amend it. Therefore, even if we accepted some of the statistics offered to us today, that would be one reason why the hon. Gentleman should be rejecting comprehensivisation for Northern Ireland.
Let us leave that aside for the moment. Let us turn briefly to the question of the cost of troops. Of course, it costs money for troops to remain in Northern Ireland; but does the hon. Gentleman think that it would not cost money to keep them in Germany or any other part of the world? We should have to keep them somewhere, and whether the hon. Gentleman likes it or not the troops in Northern Ireland are gaining experience in dealing with guerrilla warfare which I fear and suspect will be required not only in Northern Ireland but in many other parts of the western world before too many years have passed.
The hon. Gentleman also fails to take into account the fact that many companies in Northern Ireland make central tax returns. That kind of profit and gain is not accorded to the Province but is reflected in the central returns of those large operations which have branches in the Province. He also omits to tell us that Northern Ireland has incurred a great deal of expenditure recently, because heretofore we were dependent on traditional industries, and many of them have been badly hit by lack of business and lack of trade. The hon. Gentleman also omitted to say that up to the mid-1960s shipbuilding in Scotland was far more costly than shipbuilding in Northern Ireland. The statistics are in the Library, 927 and the hon. Gentleman could have looked at them if he had stayed there a little longer.
I do not want to waste time by trying to aswer the arguments which, I repeat, have been mischievously introduced into the debate for reasons best known to the hon. Gentleman. I want to confine myself to Class VIII of the order, which deals with education. I am tempted to make a sortie or two into the other classes which we are competent to deal with under the order, particularly industry, but I referred to the subject when we debated the direct rule renewal order last week. Therefore, I shall confine myself to the imposition of comprehensivisation.
It is true that Northern Ireland does not have many natural resources. We do not have Scottish oil. We do not have a residual wealth of coal. Apart perhaps from the scenic beauty of the place, we have no natural resources but our young people. They are the most important natural resource in the Province.
Before becoming a Member of the House I was involved in youth work and in religious education in schools. For 10 years I was in the pastoral ministry. With that sort of experience, I can say that the all too frequent television scenes involving a minute number of young people in Northern Ireland are but the negative side of the picture. We know that to produce a complete and perceptible photograph we need not only a negative but a positive. The positive fact of life in Northern Ireland is that we have young people with as much potential as, if not more than, young people in any other area of the United Kingdom. We are not lacking in youth potential in the Province. Therefore, it is all the more important that we should treat this sacred commodity, this one natural resource, with control and care.
In looking at the general picture of comprehensivisation, I want first to consider what is best for the child before considering what is best for the education system. A key issue in the whole question of education is that of how to motivate the child and what motivates the young person. One of the truths about comprehensivisation is that, whether we like it or not, there is a reduction in ability, or at least in results. 928 There is a drop in the system to a common denominator, not a bringing up to a higher common denominator.
This is very often the case, because in an imposed comprehensive system, there are, naturally, the problems created by lazy friends, the problem of disinterest at home, the problem of the feeling, in some homes and in some families, that the world owes them a living. None of these three influences creates the correct kind of motivation. In an imposed comprehensive system those three characteristics are all too frequently found—no inducement to work, no real concern in the home, and the fact that, whatever one does or does not do by way of study and by way of education, one will get through because the world and the State owe one a living.
§ Mr. Litterick
The hon. Member may well have made a verbal slip earlier. I twitted him with it from a sedentary position, but I should like to do it explicitly because I want to know whether he has thought about the words that he used. I enjoin him not to refer to people whether young or old, as commodities, and then to go on to talk about commodities being motivated. That is singularly paradoxical—to put it at its most charitable. I suggest that the hon. Member should not call people commodities. They may get treated in that way once they have left school, but they are not commodities.
§ Mr. Bradford
I was rather foolish to give way to the hon. Member, because if he had placed my statement in its context he would have realised that when I was talking about natural resources, which are largely inanimate things, I was really trying to use language that even he would understand. I am sorry that I gave way to him, because I have delayed the House quite unnecessarily.
I return to the point of trying to motivate children. I believe that an imposed comprehensive system of education would produce those three dangers to which I have already referred.
In passing, I want to touch on the attitude of the teachers in an imposed comprehensive system. Whether or not we like it, some teachers will feel that, because they are confined to posts outside grammar schools, they are to be 929 regarded as second class teachers and to receive rather less remuneration.
I do not believe that the comprehensivisation of the education system will truly and fully deal with that, and that might be part of the motivation for some teachers demanding that we have the comprehensive system in Northern Ireland. I am quite sure that it does not occur to many, but some may feel that this great disparity in opportunity, in remuneration and in prestige will be removed overnight if comprehensivisation is imposed in the Province. Manifestly, that will not be the case.
Secondly, in making a few general observations, I turn to considering what is best for the education system. I shall not take up the time of the House by dealing with the points so ably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). But it is true that in Northern Ireland we have a very tried and tested system. Our system has grown up with the Province. The Education Acts of 1922 and 1947 have produced a system in which there are comprehensive schools but in which there are also voluntary grammar schools. It is a system which, as I shall later prove from statistics, is second to none in the United Kingdom. What is the sense of dismantling that system, particularly when we shall be imposing a system which is not by any means tried or proven?
I said that I would touch on some statistics. Let us look at the results of O level and A level examinations in the various regions of the United Kingdom for 1976. In the category of at least five O level passes and at least one A level pass, the Northern Region had a pass rate of 19.4 per cent. Northern Ireland had a pass rate of 26.5 per cent. The only region to come anywhere near that rate was the South-East Region, with 24.6 per cent. In the category of one or more A level passes, the Northern Region rate was 12.9 per cent., and the Northern Ireland rate was 18.6 per cent. Again, the only region to come close—in fact, slightly better than the Northern Ireland rate—was the South-East, with 18.7 per cent.
In the category of two or more A level passes—we are now talking about university streams, tertiary possibilities—the Northern Region rate was 10.3 per cent., 930 and the Northern Ireland rate was 15.#3 per cent. Again, the only region to come close to us was the South-East, with 14.9 per cent.
These are very important statistics in view of the remarks made by the Official Opposition's spokesman on education, when he drew the attention of the House to the fact that in, I think, the Greater Manchester area, the level of passes in anatomy and foreign languages was abysmally low for the present year. That is simply because the imposition of the comprehensive system has begun to vite even more deeply, and it will produce even more horrific figures than those I have used today.
If our system were allowed to remain intact and the system now imposed on England and Wales—not so in Scotland in precisely the same form—were allowed to take its course, I venture to suggest that in five years we could produce a pass rate at least double that of any other part of the country.
We must take very seriously the education system that is available to our children. We must consider what is best for the education system in Northern Ireland. I put it to the Under-Secretary that we should encourage our schools not to fit into some drab, grey, inept form of uniformity, but rather that we should encourage them to develop their individuality, to establish a tradition, to establish a system which commends itself, and to reveal that within the voluntary schools system as well as alongside the existing comprehensive system we are affording the people of Northern Ireland not uniformity but a degree of choice, which can only provide the Province with the kind of success rate that we have had in the past, and even increase that success rate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South has drawn attention to the co-operation which should exist between different kinds of school and the way in which we should pay due attention to the fact that secondary intermediate schools, as distinct from secondary grammar schools, should emphasise those skills and trades to which many of our young people will go. They will not all go to university. God help us if they did. The answer for Northern Ireland is not to create this dreadful monstrosity of uniformity but to encourage the diversity 931 and specialisation, which already exists, and to enable us to maintain this record of which we are justly proud.
I turn, in particular, to the alternative transfer system I express gratitude to those who have had to work this system in its infancy. It has not been an easy task. There are people who will come to mind, with whom we have worked and from whom we have had great co-operation. I have worked closely alongside the Belfast Board in Academy Street. Mr. Blair and Mr. Patterson have done sterling work in trying to apply this scheme fairly. In the South Eastern Board area we have had sterling efforts by Mr. Sherrard and his colleague, the chief officer, Mr. Gledhill.
These men have had the difficult task of making the new system work. They have not pleased everyone. They have not pleased me. But no one can doubt their concern for the children and their desire that the new system should operate as smoothly as possible. Two points ought to be made on their behalf. First, it has to be decided whether the administration of this new procedure was operated upon too short a time scale. If that is the case, either the procedure will have to be shortened or more time will have to be found for its operation. I know that those members of staff and others to whom I have referred have had a difficult time. They would want us to make that point on their behalf. It is possible, too, that more staff will be required if the unreasonable demands made upon the present staff are not to make the application of the procedure as difficult next year as it has been this year.
I come now to the issue of the alternative transfer procedure and take as an example the South Eastern Education Library Board area. There are 5,230 children who have found places in that area, and although some parents were unhappy about the application of the scheme, it has to be said that about 98 per cent. of all those children were placed in the schools of their choice. Sometimes this has involved Members of Parliament or councillors arguing, pushing and pursuing. About 90.7 per cent. of children were placed at stage one. Another 7.3 per cent. were placed at stage two. Only about 44 children had difficulty in finding a place. I say "only about 44", but the 44 families were faced with one of 932 the most vital decisions a family has to make.
I do not under-estimate the fact that the system for these 44 children did not work. A number of suggestions spring to mind. I should like the grading of pupils to be reviewed. As the Minister knows, the comparability test applied in Northern Ireland was based on the system operating in the inner London area. There are grave doubts whether that system can be neatly applied to the Province without amendment. One of the problems which arises for the area boards, and no doubt for the headmasters of the primary schools, is that, although there is grading following the comparability tests, the results do not in themselves mean that the children will find their way, on a meritorious basis, into the school of their choice. Some of the best children were among the last to be placed. Some of the children with the best results find it difficult to get into the school of their choice.
In the opinion of some, the question of regrading requires a list reflecting an order or degree of attainment. I know that this will place extra work upon the staff of primary schools, but because we have scrapped the 1l-plus—and many of us were in favour of that—it does not mean that we should not look for the most foolproof system, even if it still means reflecting a degree of attainment within a general grading of the pupils.
Secondly, there is the question of the availability of places within schools. In grammar schools the number of places does not, in some areas, closely correspond with the child population and, accordingly, with the demand. For instance, in the area of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) last year there was great difficulty in placing children in schools. This year I find that the same is true in the Lisburn area, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South. There has to be an examination of the availability of places.
I am not suggesting that we should build more grammar schools, but if we are to apply a system we should not "con" the parents into thinking that we have sufficient places in the schools to cope with all of the children. In the other secondary schools there is the question of 933 fixing intakes. There are problems if we are too rigid about fixing intakes. On the one hand, there is the difficulty for the school if not enough children attend it. It is likely that such a school will find that it is having to divest itself of teachers and courses, with the result that it will become a poor school. On the other hand, the system has been sold to the people of Northern Ireland on the basis that there is tremendous parental choice. If we are rigid and inflexible over this question of intake parental choice will, to some extent, be reduced.
I come now to the question of the board allocation of places. This is a feature of the system which needs revising. Great emphasis was laid by the Department of Education upon three criteria. They were the suitability of the pupils for the courses provided by a school, parental choice, and the presence of brothers and sisters at a given school. Where schools are over-subscribed these criteria are irrelevant. One could resort to the other two criteria of placing a child in another school—those of the desirability of links with the nearby primary school or the position of the home in relation to that school—but then the use of the resource to which I referred at the beginning of my speech becomes less and less important. Therefore, we must give detailed consideration to alternative guidelines for placing children in schools.
I believe in the education system of Northern Ireland. I believe in the transfer system, although one hopes that it will be amended on the lines indicated in these few remarks or, perhaps, along the lines of more tutored and more enlightened remarks of educationists in consultation with the Department.
I plead with the Under-Secretary of State not to encourage his noble Friend to proceed with the imposition of comprehensivisation. If he does, there will be such a reaction in the Province as to make previous reactions look very shallow and pale indeed. We must remember that we are dealing not just with political philosophies, which are transitory and which can be replaced, but with the most valuable thing in the world, a child. Parents in Northern Ireland will not sit by and watch this Government, or any 934 other Government, rob them of the opportunity and the possibility of remaining top of the United Kingdom education league.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
I do not intend today to pursue the question of school transfers or, indeed, that of comprehensive education. I have already spelled out my views to the Minister. He knows them well, and it would only be a waste of time if I went through them again this afternoon. We are debating an Appropriation Order, and I do not suppose that any hon. Member present will divide the House, although that is always a possibility which is open to some of us from Northern Ireland.
It does not matter which schools young people in Northern Ireland go to. I am sure that they will provide a far greater Ulster than we have ever had in its 50-odd years of existence.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
It has a longer history prior to its creation as separate from the Irish Republic, but I do not wish to go further back than 50-odd years. I think that the young people will prove worthy of us. But one thing which they desperately need is leadership. They need a degree of optimism and hope to help them along life's path. They also need goals which can inspire them, and goals which are worthy of their idealism. It is up to all of us to provide that leadership, something which they can emulate and, indeed, surpass.
Most of the histories of Ireland have a chapter headed "The Economic Effects of the Union of 1801". Each such chapter tells of the disaster which flowed from that date. The next generation of history books will, I am sure, have a chapter headed "The Economic Consequences of Direct Rule". I see every prospect of the new chapter being as dismal as the earlier ones.
To the great majority of the Ulster people, the supposed advantages of direct rule are unreal and remote. The people of Northern Ireland, the people whom I see daily and weekly in my constituency and elsewhere in the Province, are absorbed in a struggle with high food costs, the high cost of mortgages, increased ground rents and a Government 935 determined to push up Housing Executive rents despite the outcry and the hardship to many of the tenants. All this makes life increasingly difficult for the Ulster people at the present time. It affects almost everyone in the Province, but for some it presents a difficult and agonising situation, particularly young married couples and the elderly. Neither the inhuman indignity of unemployment nor the disgracefully high cost of living will be removed by a continuation of direct rule or by total integration. Those who support such a policy should bear this in mind.
The grim reality behind Ulster's unemployed is that the figure is equivalent to 2½ million unemployed in Great Britain. That is something which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) ought to bear in mind. Northern Ireland is a depressed area. It needs a proper share of the national cake. If that figure of 2½ million unemployed existed in Great Britain, this Labour Government could not survive. But our colonial masters in the Northern Ireland Office at Stormont do not have to worry about such niceties as responding to democratic feelings. They can go out to be photographed, but they do not have to do anything to meet this desperate need.
The great evil of direct rule is that while Northern Ireland is different from the Home Counties or the Midlands of England, the bureaucrats and Northern Ireland Ministers are incapable of recognising the political reality. We have had the final absurdity, which I mentioned in the debate last Friday, of taking a school transfer system from the Inner London Education Authority and applying it to rural and semi-rural Ulster. But the Government do not seem to care. The bureaucrats seem to have a free rein.
Something which we must always bear in mind is that Government reports show that we in Northern Ireland have a higher proportion of the population living at the edge of subsistence than anywhere else in North-West Europe, except for the Irish Republic. Yet we have the spectacle of a Labour Government, who pride themselves on conquering poverty—indeed, in many cases they have done a good job of conquering poverty in some areas—but who seem unable to do any 936 thing effective about it in Northern Ireland.
I could understand it if the Government were fully absorbed in the all-out battle to destroy the Provincial IRA, but the Government tell us that the battle is virtually won and that they respond to violence whenever it emerges. I could understand it if the Government were short of money for Northern Ireland, but they boast that Ulster has been saved from the worst of the cuts in public expenditure. I could understand it if Northern Ireland Office Ministers were facing obstinate locally-elected authority, but the 26 district councils have no powers to speak of, and the education and health boards are the tame creatures of the Department.
The plain, simple answer is that, under direct rule, this Labour Government—and, I suspect, any possible Tory successor—are utterly incapable of doing as much permanent good for the Ulster community as a Stormont Parliament. Until we get rid of the colonial system and restore full democracy to Northern Ireland and its institutions, there will be no lasting solutions to our problems in the Province.
I should like to give one example of many which come to mind of how the Government and their predecessors ride roughshod over local people and local opinion and in defiance, in this instance, of a district council. I refer to the Lesnevin training school for young offenders with a secure unit which was established in 1973 at Kiltonga House, Newtownards. It was set up despite local opposition and against the wishes of the local council. The then Ministry of Home Affairs promised in 1973—and the assurances were backed by an undertaking by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Whitelaw)—that this training school was to occupy those premises for a short time only. It was to be a temporary measure, planning would proceed as rapidly as possible on the replacement school at Rathgaely, Bangor, and the Lesnevin site would be vacated after the period of temporary use, certainly not beyond the year 1976.
In 1977, the principal of Lesnevin training school wrote to local residents informing them of the board's intention to seek 937 approval from the Northern Ireland Office for the training school to remain where it was. That was after the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the present incumbent of that office, decided to go back on his predecessor's undertaking. If the Government refute the undertaking which the Secretary of State solemnly gave, and gave through his officials to the public inquiry, the people are right no longer to put any faith in direct government from Westminster.
I should like briefly to refer to the history of this matter. It is interesting because it shows the incompetence of the Government. A working party made up of representatives of the four training schools in Northern Ireland had been established by the Ministry of Home Affairs some years ago. That working party proposed that an additional training school should be built in Northern Ireland. That school was intended to provide facilities which at that time were not available in the Province. They included an assessment unit and a special secure unit for the treatment of persistent absconders and others requiring special treatment. That recommendation was approved in principle by the Ministry of Home Affairs in 1971. In 1972, the location of the new school at Rathgael, Bangor, had been agreed.
On 20th December 1972—the time when the Diplock Commission reported—the project had reached the sketch design stage and the building was expected to be completed by mid-1976. One would have expected that this very relevant information would have been placed before the Diplock Commission. Indeed, if not invited to give evidence, one would assume that the Minister responsible would see that officials gave evidence before the Commission. But that was not so. Apart from the Commission not being aware of the proposed new training school with a secure unit, it was not informed by the Minister that the authorities were satisfied with the position with regard to accommodation for young offenders.
The Diplock Commission reported:We frankly are appalled at the apparent lack of any sense of urgency. The need is immediate for a secure unit capable of accommodating up to 100 people aged from 14 to 16 years on remand and after sentence.938 I wonder from time to time whether there is much point in speaking in this House; here we have the Minister, the Labour Whip and the Tory spokesman in a huddle together on the Government Front Bench, not paying attention to what is being said. I might as well sit down, or leave the Chamber and go and tell the people of Northern Ireland what a charade and mockery this place can be. It is high time that the Minister listened to what a representative of the people is saying. If those gentlemen wish to conduct their business, let them go elsewhere. But let us have a Minister who will pay heed to what a Member of Parliament says.
Sadly, the people of Northern Ireland cannot be here in their numbers. They canot see the empty House. They cannot hear the way in which their pleas are largely ignored, sometimes laughed at and often mocked. I do not accept that, and I warn the Government, as I warn their possible Tory successors, that while I remain in this House I shall make sure that they are criticised, and rightly criticised, and that they are pushed to a Division as often as I possibly can.
The way in which the Lesnevin School has been dealt with shows precisely what the Government can do and their incompetence. The Diplock Commission said that there was a need for a secure unit. The Government obviously were not aware, according to the Ombudsman, that the Ministry of Home Affairs had already decided on the matter and for some years had been actively preparing the ground for another training school. But nobody from the Ministry of Home Affairs or Minister from the Northern Ireland Office bothered to tell the Diplock Commission when it came forward with this recommendation that a secure unit must be established in a matter of weeks rather than months.
Instead of saying that it was a waste of money to buy a building and adapt it for young offenders, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland decided to waste public money in buying Kiltonga House, to go ahead with its adaptation, and to use it according to the evidence which their officials gave to the public inquiry which was subsequently set up—namely, to use it for a matter of only a few years, and not beyond 1976.
939 That public inquiry was established because of local opposition to the school and because of opposition from the district council. It was set up by the Government after emerging from the mess of not informing the Diplock Commission about the true situation in Northern Ireland in respect of young offenders and their custody. That public inquiry took evidence from local people.
I am glad that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland agreed to the public inquiry. Because the local people made their views known, we have on record what the officials said. I have the Inspector's summary of that evidence, which I shall briefly read. Mr Rowland, QC, said in his final remarks dealing with the safeguards, on page 47 of the report:In the event that the Secretary of State decides that public policy compels the siting of the new unit at Kiltonga I make the following recommendations: (1) The time limit for using Kiltonga as a secure unit should not extend beyond the time at which Ruthgael is ready for occupation and certainly not beyond 1976.I quote from the cross-examination of counsel for the objectorsPerhaps if people thought that it were to last only three or four years they would be prepared in the interests of the emergency to withdraw their objections. The Government should keep faith with this statement and dispel any motion that what is conceived as a temporary unit will become permanent.We know that last year they sought planning permission to make the training school permanent—despite the assurances given by officials at the public inquiry and despite the undertaking given by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that it would be only temporary. While that sort of situation can arise, how can the people of Northern Ireland place any faith in the Government who have betrayed their pledges?
The Common Market is of vital importance to Northern Ireland. The processing of food for sale to some of the 300 million people in the Common Market should be high on the Government's list of priorities. Agriculture is Ulster's staple industry and by far its most efficient, profitable and wealth-creating. We could learn a great deal from the Danes. For example, the brand name "Plumrose" is well known throughout Europe. An all out effort by the Government to make Ulster food products equally well known and respected is essen 940 tial. If one-half the effort that goes into distributing publicity material on behalf of Northern Ireland Ministers and projecting them on the television screens were devoted to publicising Ulster's agricultural products in Europe, it would do more good for the Ulster people in the long run.
I want to see a European opportunities programme, with actual and potential employment prospects, to replace the gimmick of the youth opportunities programme. The former Stormont Government created in Northern Ireland the finest and most advanced further education and industrial training system in Western Europe. If we are to go into Europe successfully and wholeheartedly—and, at present, Northern Ireland is lagging behind—we must shape those important educational and training assets to the Common Market mould.
There is not enough concentration on training in the techniques of salesmanship. We must sell our products to Europe and our young people must he trained to do that job. The young people with whom our hopes for a better Ulster rest should be imbued with this new European spirit. When I look through the programmes of study at universities and the Ulster College, I am disturbed to see how little they are concerned with exploitation of the great new opportunities presented by the Common Market.
There has been a cut-back in the number of students at teacher-training colleges. I should like to see those colleges developing European courses and attracting students from Ulster and from Europe. Why cannot Stranmillis College fill its empty places with students who can be trained to help Ulster to play a maximum role in the new Europe?
The new University of Ulster started with a link with the German university at Erlangen. Why should our new university not be given money by the Government to become a centre of excellence in European studies? Given the financial support and the inspiration, I am confident that Ulster's institutions of higher education will respond. Our universities are basically within the financing framework of the University Grants Committee, but they receive very little of the extra financing that the universities in Britain obtain from 941 research councils and various private and statutory bodies. The various Departments of the Northern Ireland Office—agriculture, commerce, education and environment—will have to fill that gap. The University of Ulster already has a good reputation in biological and environmental studies. It could reap the benefit of Common Market membership for these studies, but it needs money to do so.
I have a vision of the quiet campus beside the River Bann becoming the centre for Europe in environmental studies. If the Government now became generous in their treatment of the new university, it could provide a springboard for it to become the foremost higher education institution in the Common Market for both undergraduate and postgraduate work on the environment. Similarly, Queen's University should be helped financially to project a new image for Northern Ireland within the EEC.
These steps are necessary to help young people in Northern Ireland. These steps are required to open the windows on to Europe, and that is what we need in the Province. We must turn our backs on parochialism. However, the Government do not seem to be much interested in helping to provide the springboard. Europe provides the future for Northern Ireland, and that is the road ahead that we must take.
I hope that I have not worried the Whips about a possible Division, and I hope that when the Minister replies he will deal adequately with the matters that I have put before the House.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)
The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) said that Ulster Members seem to have a propensity for speaking longer than they intend. As usual, I hope to keep my remarks short.
However, I must say something about the speech made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick). The hon. Gentleman has a nice manner in the House. His soft and almost benign approach gives the impression that he is paying us a compliment, yet he made some dangerous and mischievous comments.
942 The hon. Gentleman talked at length about the cost to the British taxpayer of Northern Ireland. He omitted to say that millions of people in Northern Ireland are paying tax. They, too, are British people. They are contributing to many things that hang around the necks of the British people. When the hon. Gentleman spoke of heavy expenditure and cost to the taxpayer, he might have mentioned the British Steel Corporation and its £400 million deficit, which will run for the current year and is expected to occur in the following year. That is only one such item. He did not mention any of the other major industries that are costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds, but he singled out Northern Ireland as an albatross around the neck of the British taxpayers.
The hon. Gentleman needs to be taken to task for taking that approach. He needs to be rather more charitable in his remarks about the Ulster people.
I hope that what I have to say comes within the compass of the subject that we are discussing, namely, expenditure. The Mid-Ulster hospital at Magherafelt is in my area and I have been familiar with its operations over the past 40 years The hospital is situated in a strategic position. It serves a large area and a population of about 80,000 to 85,000. It still is one of the smaller acute hospitals.
Great disappointment and fear has been caused by the words of the Minister responsible for health and social security in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord is responsible for hospital policy. In a Written Answer to me, the noble Lord states that in the short term there will be no change in the hospital's operations but in the long term it will be run down and will merely become a casualty centre. That means that patients will have to go to a large area hospital that is to be built in the town of Antrim.
My hon. Friends the Members for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) have mentioned that. The effect will be nothing short of calamitous. For people to have to travel from the wide area presently served to as far away as Antrim even to visit medical and surgical patients is to impose an impossible burden upon them. It is generally recognised by the medical profession that there is 943 a psychological and therapeutic value for the sick if they can be visited by their friends. A large proportion of the people who live in my area will find it impossible to make even one visit a week to Antrim for this purpose.
Surely that is the wrong policy. This hospital was the first in western Europe to provide an intensive care unit. That unit has meant the difference between life and death both for the citizens of the area and for the victims of the murderous attacks by booby-trap, fire and gun of the IRA in South Down. It is unthinkable that such victims should have to be transported all the way to Antrim. The usefulness of the hospital for this purpose should be borne in mind.
I therefore strongly resist the attempt to run down the hospital and to remove from it its status as an acute hospital. Its medical and surgical staff are second to none. Informed medical opinion in the area believes that the hospital should be retained and expanded.
I turn now to the question of expenditure and to the possibility of reducing it. A couple of weeks ago I received 10 out of 10 for cheek for advocating, after we had voted against the Government the right before, increased expenditure to help to build a bacon factory in Cookstown. The Government Front Bench knows, however, what is behind our voting pattern. We do not always have economic reasons for voting as we do. Our reasons are sometimes strongly political. We want to highlight the state of Northern Ireland and the need for a return to a meaningful and democratic form of government in the Province.
This huge hospital at Antrim will entail the expenditure of millions of pounds. In the current financial climate it will be difficult to find that money. I am greatly concerned to hear that the contract to build the hospital is likely to be placed outside the Province. That is disquieting news. Ministers often talk about unemployment in Northern Ireland. There are some 60,000 out of work. For them to contemplate giving this contract to a firm outside Northern Ireland is criminal. Surely the building trade in the Province should have the chance to help itself and should be helped in that direction by this contract.
944 I pay tribute to the Government for their efforts to create jobs and for their attempts to bring business and economic prosperity to Northern Ireland. But surely an action such as this, allied to the closure of defence establishments, will not help to solve the problem of unemployment. It is hypocrisy to talk about helping to solve the unemployment problem and then to give a contract such as this to a firm outside the Province.
Some doubt has been cast on the usefulness of large hospital complexes. Only recently the Secretary of State for Health and Social Security opened a new hospital in Liverpool. That hospital tells a sorry story. There were inordinate delays in building, and an escalation of expenditure. When the Secretary of State opened it, he said that large hospitals were a mistake and that we should concentrate on small community hospitals. That lesson should be learnt.
Lord Melchett is persisting with a policy of abolishing small acute hospitals and substituting four large area hospitals in Northern Ireland which will be remote from many of the rural areas and will present insurmountable problems for those who wish to visit sick relatives. But the Secretary of State has said that the small community hospital is the answer rather than the large hospital complexes.
I urge the Minister to contact his noble Friend Lord Melchett and ask him to listen to the voice of the people and their elected representatives on the various councils who have made approaches to him. They have received no encouragement from him. He has made it plain that he will adopt such a policy. We are labouring under the inhibition of not having his presence in the Commons to answer for his policies himself. His colleagues on the Front Bench have to acquaint themselves with the facts and be briefed about policies which are additional to their own responsibilities, This is a mistake. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North said that the Minister responsible for two important portfolios such as health and social security and education should he here to hear what elected Members have to say and to answer their questions on the spot.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)
I do not propose to discuss the problems of 945 hospitals in Northern Ireland. This debate provides the opportunity for us to speak on everything under the sun. I shall try to restrict myself to a few subjects.
I turn first to the problems experienced by the farming community in Northern Ireland in cases of brucellosis breakdown. I compliment the Minister because recently the compensation figures have been increased. I draw the Minister's attention to the farmers who are unfortunate enough to lose their entire herd, rather than to those farmers whose losses are covered by compensation and insurance when they lose one or two reactors.
The problem that particularly concerns me is the loss of income when farmers have to go out of milk or beef production for six months in order to clear the residual traces of brucellosis from their land. Is it not time now to take a fresh look at this problem when the loss of income for the individual, as opposed to the farming community, is so serious?
The rise in compensation values, combined with the payments from the insurance company, has covered the reactor cattle, and the rise in value has largely taken care of the price of the contact cattle which go when the herd is cleared out, but the problem remains of the farmer being without income for six months.
It is no use the Department saying that the farmer can go into some other production for six months. Anyone in farming knows that that is not feasible. To all intents and purposes, the farmer is largely unemployed for that period and because of his work has no recourse to unemployment benefit.
Also, one cannot insure against the consequential loss, and at a time of increasing price for cattle, the price six months hence is vastly higher than the price the farmer receives now, reasonable though that may be. Is some reassessment possible to take care of this problem?
I know that this is not just a Northern Ireland problem, and that the Minister will say that prices can also fall. But if there is a fall in the price of cattle, there is no reason why that should not also he taken care of
946 There is a vast difference now between the cost of cereals imported into Northern Ireland and that of cereals in Great Britain. The Minister knows that there has been a feed supplement of, I think, £1 million this year to try to offset that difference. That does not, of course, cover all the problem, and I wonder whether the Minister will look at it once more.
Difficulties are caused for Northern Ireland by the changes in the value of the green pound between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, and it is enormously expensive to correct it. I am sure that the Minister knows that despite his efforts there is still a difference of about 1p a pound in the price of beef and that the use of the MCAs helps the southern meat plant to have a considerable advantage over the northern meat plant today. That is mainly because the Republic of Ireland now allows a fairly open-ended commitment to intervention, with the result that about 50 per cent. of its eligible steers are going into intervention.
The Republic uses this as a bank of beef and as a method of undercutting the market price whenever it sells its beef, using the procedure of the open-ended allowance, which it can use in conjunction with intervention. Is there anything the Minister can do to smooth out the operation of the cattle trade across the border and between Ireland as a whole and Great Britain? I do not think that it is the intention of the Minister in charge of agriculture in Northern Ireland or the Minister of Agriculture for the United Kingdom as a whole that a foreign State should have this kind of advantage.
Arising out of that, I want to ask the Minister about a point that has recently been brought to my attention—the fact that butchers in Northern Ireland now seem to be paying, despite the cost of the meat industry employment scheme, a wholesale price that is more in keeping with the wholesale price south of the border than with the wholesale price in the United Kingdom. Many butchers and housewives would like an explanation how that can be so.
I want to turn to that part of the order dealing with fishery services. In recent days, there have been a couple of serious incidents affecting the inland fisheries in my constituency and in Mid-Ulster. First, 947 there was the very serious fire at Drumahoe, which killed an enormous number of fish in the River Faughan. I have addressed a number of questions to the Minister on this matter, but I repeat the theme inherent in those questions—that speedy and effective action, by whatever means may be necessary, should be taken by the owners or lessees of the fishery and by the Department to try to correct the damage that has been done to this valuable fishery, which provides sport and recreation for thousands of people.
Secondly, will the Minister let me know, if not today then in the near future, what representations he has made to the Dublin authorities over the recent very serious attack leading to the burning of a fishery protection boat in the Foyle by poachers from the Donegal side of the river. This has caused enormous concern among anglers and others locally, and l hope that the Minister has taken the necessary action and spoken the necessary words to his opposite number in Dublin to try to avoid a repetition of this very serious incident, which led to injuries among the Foyle fisheries staff.
I turn now to the question of education. Like my hon. Friends, I have had representations about various aspects of the present education scene in Northern Ireland. We are all aware that the three committees sitting under Messrs Dickson, Benn and Ashton, inquiring into teachers and staffing, finance and management respectively, are carrying out their work thoroughly. I urge that no pressure be put on these bodies to have a speedy and therefore shallow inquiry. I believe that the work is being carried out in depth and that it is very necessary for the future of education standards in Northern Ireland that it should be done thoroughly. I hope that these committees will be given an opportunity to do the work in the manner that the subjects deserve.
A matter not mentioned so far in the debate is the proposal that is drifting about in the background that voluntary schools of various types should be given the right to make compulsory purchase of land. The Minister is aware that four of the five education boards favoured that power while the fifth, perhaps, wisely disagreed. Can he tell us, if not today at least in the near future, which voluntary grammar schools do not have enough land at present? Can he also 948 tell us how far short they are of current standards? One realises that the standards for recreation in schools tend to keep rising, but hon. Members are entitled to ask how much land is needed and what schools actually require it. We also need to be told how many voluntary schools of every level the Minister expects to be built in the next few years in Northern Ireland.
It is evident from representations to me that many parents are not happy about the selection procedure. Many have said that they think that far too much was left to the primary principals. The parents would like to see more objectivity in the interpretation of the test results in the future.
What are the possibilities of the tests being marked by the Department? Will any attempt be made when the children start school in September to check the assessments and placings that have already been made this year? It appears to me that before we can decide whether the new procedure has been relatively accurate we need to compare it with the standards of the past. What are the possibilities of the children being given a test rather like the old 11-plus in their new schools as a starter in September, so that we may see how the one compares with the other? We may find that the comparison is not as happy as it appears to be on the surface.
Certainly, the strict limit that has been imposed on the number of children allowed into grammar schools has been a cause of great concern. It is crazy that in Coleraine the High School has found that it does not have enough room for all the one-plus-one-plus-one children who would like to go to it. It is a matter that the Minister must clear up. The position is not good enough.
We have been told down the years of the vast benefit Northern Ireland has derived from our membership of the Common Market. The Financial Statement contains a sum, which I have circled, showing that in 1978–79 the Northern Ireland share of the United Kingdom payment to the European Economic Community is £33 million. That is a fairly considerable sum.
We should be clear in our minds before I go any further that the United Kingdom is a net contributor to EEC funds. 949 Therefore, the idea that any part of the United Kingdom or the whole of it can derive any net benefit from the EEC payments is plain nonsense. It is not possible. If we are a net contributor, we must have less money to spend than we would if we were outside the EEC. Secondly, we have to spend it on things which we do not necessarily approve but which the EEC selects for us. Thirdly, quite a proportion of it returns to us in the form of a loan of our own money, so we are paying interest twice on our own money.
§ Mr. Ross
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is the first time I have agreed with him, but it is a start.
Can the Minister tell us what the benefit of EEC membership has been to Northern Ireland, what the net payment to Northern Ireland of EEC grants and loans has been over the past year, and what it is expected to be over the coming year?
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and most hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have raised the subject of the Government's policy for secondary education. I shall be no exception. That so much attention has been paid to that policy indicates the feeling that it has aroused in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Gentleman always speaks with wisdom and experience of the sort of problems I was privileged to discuss last week with the president and other officers of the Ulster Farmers' Union. The question of the green pound in relation to the Irish Republic was uppermost in the discussions. We appreciate the announcement that the meat industry employment scheme is to be continued until March 1979, and that milk producers in the Province are to be helped.
The draft order encompasses a vast expenditure. For a number of reasons known to the House, it is an expenditure proportionately heavier than that devoted to some other regions of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Bir 950 mingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) pointed this out.
§ Mr. Powell
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman at an early stage. It may be that he will make this point, but, in fact, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Litterick) did no such thing. He did not compare Northern Ireland with a region of the United Kingdom. He took the average of the United Kingdom as a whole, mainly England, and then compared that with Northern Ireland and tried to draw deductions from that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman proposed to draw attention to that fallacy, but it was so blatant and so painful to my hon. Friends and myself that I hope he will pardon my interruption.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I am very much obliged to the right hon. Member. The statistics which the hon. Gentleman produced were, to say the least, incomplete and misleading. Indeed, he described England as one region, as if England was to be compared with Northern Ireland. This was part of the misleading case which he advanced to the House.
The hon. Member for Selly Oak prided himself on the research which he had done, or, rather, the research that had been done in the Library, but he might have completed his assessment—this is but one of the omissions from his presentationߞby referring to the tax contribution of Northern Ireland and the companies operating there.
We found the statistics incomplete, to say the least, and we found the hon. Gentleman's conclusion from his statistics repulsive. He twitted the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) for appearing to use the term "commodities" as applying to human beings. The hon. Gentleman seemed to me to want British people to think of our fellow subjects in Northern Ireland and the financial aid that their sufferings merit in termms of financial calculation. That was the impression that he gave me. But no doubt he spone with the political purpose of casting doubt on a union which is the democratic desire and democratic right of the people of Northern Ireland, to whose quality the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) gave praise, although I thought that 951 parts of his speech were somewhat bilious.
We are considering vast expenditure. It was proper, therefore, that the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig) should have concerned himself with waste, whether that waste is on the part of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive or of other public bodies. The Housing Executive came in for some criticism from the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and he was ferocious against squatters. But, as I think the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) indicated, the hon. Gentleman willed the end of eviction yet did not will the means, namely, the RUC, about which force his party is still equivocal.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East and the hon. Member for Antrim, North, (Rev. Ian Paisley) were both concerned about waste. The hon. Member for Antrim, North called for wiser spending. We would join the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) in his recognition of the concern of my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) that when an appropriation debate such as this is held right hon. and hon. Members should have in their hands a copy of the report of the Public Accounts Committee, of which my right hon. Friend is the outstanding Chairman. My right hon. Friend is not unknown in Northern Ireland, at least to Unionist audiences. This consideration of the method and timing off evidence on Northern Ireland matters—evidence before the Public Accounts Committee—is another service to Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East regretted the absence of any clear indication of the Government's general economic thinking. As we were reminded by the hon. Members for Antrim, North and Belfast, West, we have never debated the Quigley report. The hon. Member for Belfast, West said that the Government had laid it down that we never should do so. I wonder whether that is the case. I believe that it is, but it would be nice to have the advice of the Minister. In view of the importance of this report, it is not proper that the Executive should simply decide that the Legislature should not discuss it. Is it because Ministers disagree 952 with the appraisal in the report, or is it because they do not see the way ahead?
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon would like an answer to his repeated requests for a statement of the Government's general policy concerning the future of job creation.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) spoke of the hospital in his constituency. I am glad that he did so because my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon and I were invited by him to receive a deputation from supporters of the hospital. I hope that earnest consideration will be given to their plea. We recognise that there is a case for the good smaller hospital.
The right hon. Member for Belfast, East asked for more attention to be paid to the road system and its maintenance. Here I would have thought that the Province was more fortunate than the rest of the kingdom. The hon. Member for Antrim, North spoke of the deterrent effect upon tourists and investors arising out of the way passengers are treated by British Airways when they go to or come from Northern Ireland. I remember the experience of the right hon. Member for Down, South. Having heard this, and because I wanted to work on the aircraft in preparation for a meeting in Belfast, I thought I would be clever and put my papers on a thin clipboard. This was taken from me. I was not allowed to carry this dangerous weapon on board the aircraft. Perhaps it could have concealed a small dagger or something of that kind. These things are ordered much more agreeably on British Midland—and I am not trying to make an ideological point about nationalisation. Whichever way we go, the fares are exorbitantly out of scale with fares to more distant parts of the world. Have these matters ever been discussed by Northern Ireland Ministers with the Department of Trade and the airlines?
We welcomed the arrival of the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson), who advocated modest Northern Ireland expenditure in Scotland on the rail-sea link between Stranraer and Lame and the harbours that serve it. We shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to the hon. Member's ingenious plea for closer co-ordination of the Departments of State and the agencies of different parts 953 of the United Kingdom for the improvement of United Kingdom communications. We might have taken the hon. Member's speech as part of the argument against the separatism for which his party stands. With my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) who speaks on education from this Bench, I have had a number of recent contacts with people deeply perturbed about Government policy.
Before I turn to that, I want to refer briefly to the burning question of gas, and also to the report of the local ombudsman in Northern Ireland. The Quigley report laid emphasis on the handicap of high and increasing energy costs. Item 4 of Class II of the Appropriation Order contains grants in aid for both electricity and gas. May we be informed what proportion of these grants in aid go to subsidising charges to consumers and what to other purposes?
Last Friday in Belfast I met Mr. Vance and other shop stewards of the gas industry. They told me of their fears for the industry and its jobs. They spoke not only for the workers but for many outside the industry of different opinions including, paradoxically enough, Republicans as well as Unionists who urged, as did the right hon. Member for Belfast, East the piping of natural gas from Scotland and for integration of the industry into the United Kingdom system. They argued that Northern Ireland should be treated like other parts of the United Kingdom in which the British Gas Corporation operates.
We last discussed the gas problem in the Northern Ireland Committee just a year ago, on 6th July 1977. The Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), spoke of the various alternatives which were being considered. He explained that no quick decision would be possible. Nevertheless, he expressed the intentionthat the decision-making process should be as swift as it possibly can be, so that the industry—and its customers—may be left in doubt no longer than is necessary about the Government's intentions."—[Official Report, Northern Ireland Committee, 6th July 1977; c. 2.]More recently, on 3rd May last, when addressing the Irish Gas Association, the right hon. Gentleman showed himself 954well aware of the need to make an early decision".The right decision, rather than a precipitate decision, is called for.
Trade union and public opinion is restive and there are fears—I do not like to give credence to them—that an understandable and tender concern for the coal mining industry in Great Britain may influence unduly the decision to be made. Anyhow, the Minister of State told us last July that his mind was not closed to any of the possible options, including the ominous eighth option—the closing down of the industry. Perhaps today we may hear from the Under-Secretary of State when a decision will be made and when it will be announced.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West spoke somewhat controversially of alleged job discrimination. Item 9 of Class XI refers to the recently issued report of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints for the year 1977. The very existence of this commissioner is an example of where Stormont has led Westminster, because there was a commissioner for complaints in Northern Ireland well before there were local commissioners on this side of the water. The report shows a 20 per cent. increase in complaints over the previous year. Does the Minister think that this rise is in measure due not to there being more grounds for complaint but to the fact that the existence of the commissioner is more widely known? I do not know whether that is so, but I have a suspicion that it might be.
Despite the increase in the number of complaints, the commissioner in his report criticised only one district council—that of Cookstown—for discrimination. I shall not rehearse the case, because hon. Members can read it in paragraph 37 on page 9 of the report. In fact, in two instances only the commissioner found that sectarian considerations had influenced selection for jobs.
In such matters as rents and pollution, the Government have enlarged the very limited responsibilities of district councils. There has been little or no opposition to that. Nevertheless, misgivings are expressed in some quarters—they were expressed by the hon. Member for Belfast, West this afternoon—misgivings which are often exaggerated, that locally elected bodies cannot be trusted to act and administer fairly and impartially. 955 Nothing in this report of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints sustains any such allegations that local democracy and even justice are incompatible in Northern Ireland.
So finally, I turn to Class VIII, on education. Ever since the appearance of the Cowan Report in 1976 the Official Opposition have made their attitude clear. Unlike Labour Members and a noble Lord in another place, we do not presume to insist on a single system of secondary education. We welcome the growth of the Ulster Parents' Union to about 26,000 people of varying denominations and opinions banding together in resistance to the forcing of a uniform structure to the ruin of excellent grammar and other schools. The union is fortunate in its chairman, Mrs. Jean Gourlay. It truly bridges, to use the jargon, the sectarian divide.
There is widespread resentment throughout the Province at the way that the Government are carrying on. They are acting arbitrarily, craftily, without full consultation and without statutory authority. There is no democracy about it—only what I should call Melchettocracy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon cited the opinions of 26 district councils. But even the nominated education and library boards are not responding as Ministers hoped. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will tell us in reply to the debate which of the boards have come out in favour of the Government's proposals and which have not.
I am informed that the Government have twice rejected the suggestion put to them by grammar school governors that they should try to seek a bipartisan political approach to the future of secondary education in Northern Ireland. There is not in Northern Ireland a regional council or councils to fill the McCrory gap. There is no other representative regional body of the Northern Ireland people to consider these matters —matters which, when there was a Northern Ireland Parliament and, indeed, a Northern Ireland Assembly, were for them, not for this Parliament, where, as the Government have belatedly recognised, Northern Ireland is underrepresented.
956 It would be a scandal for this Government, or for any Government, to force a scheme of schools upon Northern Ireland by the whipped votes of mainland Members whose interest in Ulster is so painfully lacking in this important debate. Ministers have been acting as Ministers acted on this side of the water before the passing of the Education Act 1976. They have no legal sanction, but they are resorting to what my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon called blackmail. They are making use of the power of the public purse.
I ask, as the hon. Member for Belfast, South asked, what is likely to be the cost of the Government's scheme? How much has already been spent on the preparations and consultations? Is it true—I hope that it is not that education and library boards have been warned that funds will be withheld from some schools and bestowed upon others in the interests of this scheme?
Furthermore, is it true that the Campaign for the Advancement of State Education it was at public expense that Mr. Jagger, a senior inspector of ILEA, was brought over to convert the Ulster heathen. Whatever possessed the Minister of State in another place to hold up ILEA as a recommendation for a universal comprehensive system for an urban, let alone a largely rural region? Let the Minister study the report of the Institute of Mathematics.
The imperfection of selection at 11-plus have been used to discredit selection at any age—so now are objections to the alternative transfer system.
My impression is that the run of parents and teachers wants the new system to work. It can be refined and improved, but what matters is that there should be flexibility and that transfer should be determined by ability rather than by age.
Sometimes I think that the noble Lord in another place and other Ministers have closed their minds. I hope that I am wrong. Not all Northern Ireland Ministers have closed minds. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was in the Chamber until a few moments ago, has gracefully shown that Ministers can change their minds. Only the other day in Standing Committee 957 we were discussing the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Bill, a Private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Belfast, West. The Minister was helpfulness itself in expediting the Committee stage of that Bill, whereas on 30th November 1977 he had said that no additional legislation on that subject in that respect was required. That was a sign of grace, because he changed his mind. I hope that Ministers will change their minds about education.
We shall inform or help to inform the parents and people of the Province that this Government have no legal right or statutory authority to enforce a reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines, and they have no right or authority to compel Northern Ireland to repeat the mistakes and unproved experiments born of narrow egalitarian prejudice in England and Wales.
Will the Government seek to legislate by Order-in-Council? I rather doubt it. But, if they do so, we can promise them the fiercest resistance. Conserve what is best and improve the rest—that was the advice given by the Association of Governing Bodies in its document "Witness for Worth". The indictment in that document is that the Government have been attempting to demolish what the association calls agood, flexible and developed secondary school system".This system, as the hon. Member for Antrim, South said, is admired by educationists and industrialists in this country and abroad. It would be a crime to plunge good Northern Ireland schools, with their high A level and other achievements, into what the Association of Governing Bodies calls a "morass of mediocrity". It is so much easier to uproot than to plant and nurture.
Local people should be free to determine the form of school best suited to their needs. No scheme should be thrust down Ulster throats by Her Majesty's present advisers. Their Conservative successors at least will be guided by constitutional propriety and regard and respect for the democracy and traditions of Ulster people.
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Dunn
The debate has ranged far and wide, and it will be impossible for me to deal with all the subjects which have been brought to my notice. Many of those matters require precise answers, and I am sure hon. Members will value a carefully-thought-out reply in writing from me rather than that the points should be dealt with in exchanges across the Floor.
However, I wish to take up immediately two points made by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison). He referred to the interest of his colleagues. Like him, I wear glasses and I counted more hon. Members on my side of the House than on his, but this is a question of semantics and such exchanges make no impact on or do anything to benefit the Province.
The hon. Gentleman also questioned the legal authority vested in the Secretary of State to deal with matters either by Order-in-Council or by other means under the 1974 Act. The hon. Gentleman has made a serious statement and I hope that he will follow it through by indicating his source of information. We do not want to act unlawfully, and I take it that the hon. Gentleman would not bring this matter to the Floor of the House without being almost certain that the legal advice he had received was correct.
I am grateful for the sympathy and understanding that was shown in connection with my indication concerning the no. 3 order. I assure the House that I shall do all in my power to see that the order is introduced at the earliest opportunity and that, if possible, there is some opportunity for it to be debated on the Floor of the House. However, everyone will understand that if that is not possible, it will be necessary for me to act to protect the interests of the Province.
I shall try to deal with a number of other points, though, in order to save time, I shall not always refer to the hon. Member who raised them. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) referred to the number of civil servants. I indicated during an intervention in his speech that estimates for the Inland Revenue, Customs and Excise, Property Services Agency and other United Kingdom Departments are not included in 959 the order. The hon. Gentleman made a mistake, though I may have contributed to that in the way I introduced the order.
§ Mr. Dunn
The hon. Gentleman suggested that the numbers had been concealed. I do not conceal anything in the order. My actions are put before the House. The order spells out the expenditure incurred by various Departments. It does not refer to any other United Kingdom Departments that produce any service to Northern Ireland. Those Departments produce their own figures. I may inadvertently have misled the hon. Gentleman and I want to correct that for the record.
As to claims that bureaucracy has been increased, I am sure that the hon. Member for Abingdon has overlooked that the figures include those who would normally be employed by a local authority—and it was the last Conservative Government who transferred responsibility for local authority manual workers and others to central Government. If there has been an expansion of bureaucracy, his Government had a fair share of it and I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will not wish to pursue that matter too far.
§ Mr. Dunn
I am not denying it. I am saying that the hon. Gentleman's Government made a contribution to it. A very high proportion of that 76 per cent. are local authority manual workers who were transferred into the protection of the Civil Service. The hon. Gentleman has conveniently forgotten that.
The hon. Member for Abingdon has several times raised the question of industrial development and the special drive in Northern Ireland that has been spearheaded efficiently and effectively by the Department of Commerce, assisted by the local enterprise development unit and the Northern Ireland Development Agency. 960 To maintain the competitiveness of Northern Ireland's incentives, compared with those of its competitors abroad, the Department of Commerce introduced significant improvements into a package of selective financial assistance on 1st August last year. These included an increase in the maximum rate of capital grants on building, machinery and equipment. The grant was raised from 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. The period of rent-free occupation in Government factories was increased from three years to five years. The interest relief grant was increased from two years to three years. They were all significant developments towards job creation.
Other Government initiatives to stimulate industrial development include measures taken to enable the Northern Ireland electricity service to reduce its industrial and commercial tariffs to bring them more into line with the tariffs that apply in the rest of Great Britain. There was introduced a new scheme of grants towards the cost of research and development projects, and the possibility of special packages for financial assistance being used to attract selected blue chip companies—major international names—to locate in Northern Ireland's blackspots, including West Belfast.
These measures have all been part of the ongoing drive. It has recently been announced that two major American companies—the AVX Corporation and General Motors—propose to establish new plants in Northern Ireland, each to provide employment for about 1,600 workers. The Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Company (Great Britain) Ltd. is establishing a new technical centre in Northern Ireland to carry out research and development for general industrial products on a worldwide basis. These developments are seen as positive evidence of the progress being made in the Department's battle to secure new inward investment.
The total number of jobs provided by LEDU since its formation has been over 7,500. The peak year was 1973–74, during which about 600 jobs were promoted. The figures for the following three years were somewhat lower, but in 197778 about 1,200 jobs have been provided. That is one of LEDU's most valuable 961 contributions since it was established in 1971.
LEDU has shown itself to be attuned to the needs of small industry in Northern Ireland. It has quite a good track record. After its initial emphasis on the promotion of employment in non-urban areas, it has widened its operation to include scope for employment provision in Belfast. A new staff have recently been appointed, and that should add considerably to the operational capacity in the inner city. I am sure that everybody will wish the staff well and will welcome their employment.
The Northern Ireland Development Agency has been in existence for two years. In its first year of operation a substantial part of the agency's time was occupied in dealing with the problems of firms inherited from the former Northern Ireland Finance Corporation. These firms have now been vested in the Department of Commerce, thereby leaving the agency free to consolidate its functions of strengthening and improving Northern Ireland industry.
Over the past year the agency has developed a wide range of activities, including the creation of a management bank to provide management expertise in Northern Ireland and the establishment of a marketing service to assist Northern Ireland companies to improve their marketing techniques. If Northern Ireland industry and commerce are able to improve their marketing techniques and are able to sell aggressively they will be able to bring back much more achievement to the benefit of the Province. Special attention needs to be given to that sector. Not sufficient attention has been given to it in the past.
The agency is also developing its role of identifying products that could be suitable for manufacture in Northern Ireland, either through the promotion of joint venture arrangements between external companies, local-based companies or by the agency itself, and through the establishment of State industries by the agency in areas of high unemployment. All these measures are ongoing.
In addition, the Department of Commerce is similiarly undertaking a range of developments in Belfast aimed at encouraging inner city employment. That 962 includes the development of new Government factory accommodation and the provision of sites. The Department is reviewing its powers to assist in the retention of employment opportunities in inner urban areas in Northern Ireland, especially in Belfast and Londonderry.
The implications of Great Britain's Inner Urban Areas Bill are being carefully taken into account and details of the Government's proposals are expected to be released in the near future.
The potential for attracting industry is dependent upon the people of the Province. Northern Ireland's unemployment figures remain the highest for any region in the United Kingdom, but they are only as high as those in the area which I represent—namely, part of Merseyside. The Government are making determined efforts to stimulate new industrial development. In recent months there have been many encouraging signs that this is bearing fruit. There has been a sharp increase in the first six months of this year in the number of companies from outside Northern Ireland making first-time visits to the Province. We all share the responsibility of encouraging and welcoming them and of providing them with the stimulus they may require to invest in the Province.
The provisional figures for jobs promoted in the first half of 1978 in companies new to Northern Ireland has reached 1,200, and that includes the employment to be provided by General Motors and the AVX Corporation. We hope that the volume of jobs promoted will continue to increase. For their part the Government have strengthened the representation of the Department of Commerce in the United States, and active work is being pursued by the Department's other industrial promotion offices.
§ Mr. Bradford
Will the Minister assure us that if new companies display an interest in Northern Ireland the Government will not compel them to go to areas west of the Bann or even to West Belfast? I am thinking particularly of the American company Digital Computers which has withdrawn from the South of Ireland but wishes to establish a 600-man complex somewhere in the western world. It is interested in Northern Ireland. If that company shows an interest in a site elsewhere than west of 963 the Bann or in West Belfast will the Government assist it in every way?
§ Mr. Dunn
No compulsion will be used in the siting of new industry in Northern Ireland. I must make it clear that if we invite companies to invest in the Province, and if we then introduce any suggestion of compulsion about where they should go, we shall lose that investment. That is the name of the game. I hope, therefore, that each time the hon. Member hears this philosophy expounded he will deal with it as I have just done. We intend to encourage. We require help and assistance from all concerned wherever we go. I should be telling a lie if I did not say that we would like investment and new industry to go to certain parts of the Province in particular. We shall make that request, but it will be a request. We shall try to persuade. If the investor indicates a preference to go elsewhere that will be the end of our request. We shall then show encouragement and initiative and we shall try to stimulate the location of the industry wherever we can.
§ Mr. Dunlop
Will the Minister tell me what is wrong with an industrial location west of the Bann? Why should this complex, if it decided to go west of the Bann, be shunted elsewhere?
§ Mr. Dunn
I would prefer the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) to argue that matter out with his hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford). I recognise no difference in the geography of these areas. The Government want only to provide employment for those who are unemployed. We are not concerned with where people live, what religion or faith they follow, or what school they went to. We want only to provide them with employment, and we are doing our damnedest to secure that.
I am pleased to draw to the attention of hon. Members the job creation scheme that has been initiated by other departments. The home help service of the Department of Health and Social Security currently employs more than 11,000 people, mainly as part-time home helps for 19,000 beneficiaries. In 1977–78 the total expenditure on this service was £7.6 million. This year an additional £500,000 has been allocated to allow a welcome extension of the scheme.
964 An additional £6.3 million has been made available to the Department of the Environment to create more jobs in the construction industry for the development of roads, rail, airports, harbours and water and sewerage projects and other environmental services. This allocation is expected to generate about 650 additional jobs. In addition, the life of Enterprise Ulster, under the aegis of the Department of Manpower Services, has been extended until 1983. It will continue to undertake labour-intensive works of an environmental, amenity, cultural, agricultural and social nature.
Although the total sum sought under Vote 1, which covers most of the Government's industrial development provisions, is down by about £15 million on last year, there was a considerable under-spending on that Vote in 1977–78 because of the lack of new investment. We hope that that difficulty will not be present this year. By encouragement in the ways that I have indicated perhaps in a subsequent Appropriation Order if the Province is successful, I shall be asking for a re-establishment of those estimates to support employment.
This year's provision reflects some increase in investment. It is possible that supplementary provisions would be approved by the House without delay.
It has been suggested that too many agencies are dealing with the unemployment problems. There is a sensitive balance to be struck. Some people say that too many cooks spoil the broth. Others say that the more one has the greater the potential. Each of the agencies which deals with employment is involved in different sectors and each provides a different service. We could not combine certain other schemes with manpower schemes because of the nature of the work involved. We need each of the agencies to provide employment. I hope that the House will not take too strong a view on one side or the other about the multiplicity of the agencies. I hope that they will not think that that multiplicity stands in the way of further development.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Where are all the agencies co-ordinated? Where is the overall plan worked out Does the Secretary of State assume charge or does the head of the Department of Commerce? How does it work?
§ Mr. Dunn
Each of the agencies is related to a Department. Some are attached to the Department of Commerce, some to the Department of Agriculture and some special agencies are directly related to the Secretary of State. The responsibility for creating further opportunities in the health service would lie with the Department of Health and Social Security. The schemes involving youth employment and young blood would be the responsibility of the Department of Education. Each of the Departments is making every effort to make job creation a realistic prospect. It is easy to say that we should co-ordinate them in one bureaucracy. But that might not be successful. The consultations between Departments might create delay rather than stimulation.
I turn to the important question of the Housing Executive investigation. Just before Christmas the chairman of the Housing Executive asked for an inquiry into the various allegations made about the conduct of the Housing Executive. The Secretary of State decided, in consultation with his colleagues who have responsibilities in this area, to establish a thorough and detailed investigation into the way in which the Executive had placed contracts, controlled the work and payments made under it, and also into the way in which payments were made to individuals, particularly for improvement grants.
The terms of reference of the investigatory commission and the appointment of Judge Rowlands as chairman were announced on 9th March. The Commission held its first public sitting on 11th April. It invited those who had evidence to give to supply it to the secretary of the Commission. The Commission is neither a court of law nor a statutory tribunal of inquiry. But it has the independence of a judge. The way in which the Commission proceeds is a matter for it to decide.
Since no appropriate statutory powers exist under which an investigation might be held into the affairs of the Housing Executive, it has not been possible to confer on the Commission the power to compel the attendance of witnesses or the production of documents. It is rare for such powers to be invoked in investigations of a public authority anyway. Indeed, the Commission's own view is 966 that such powers as it may lack are in any event no substitute for the willingness and co-operation of witnesses and that their absence should not detract from the thoroughness or efficiency of its investigation.
I am informed that the Commission has told those who would come to give evidence before it that they would be given all protection in the ways requested by the witnesses themselves. I wish to make no further comment on that point.
There were questions about repairs grants. The non-statutory repairs grants, which were superseded by the statutory grants under the Housing (Northern Ireland) Order 1976, have been reasonably successful. The non-statutory grant was introduced in December 1975. It was designed essentially as an emergency measure in the light of facts about housing disrepair revealed in the Northern Ireland housing conditions survey.
My hon. Friend who is responsible in this sector has been turning his mind to what can be transferred to the local district councils under the Health Acts to see whether their assistance and immediate supervision to ensure that housing is brought up to modern standards can help to increase the housing stock.
The average grant in Belfast was £25, as against £285 elsewhere. That would lead many to believe that there was some disparity which should be investigated. In fact, the smallness of the grant in Belfast was due largely to landlords receiving a number of grants in respect of each house as they responded piecemeal to public health notices. That took a considerable sum. The repairs were mainly leaking roofs and pipes and broken toilets.
Thus, this comparison is a little misleading. I would say to the right hon. Member for Down. South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) that we shall be considering the housing grant system. We hope that as time goes by more people will apply for grants and that properties will thereby be improved.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the organisation of the Housing Executive. There is an order before the Northern Ireland Committee, consideration of which is still adjourned. My hon. Friend tells me that when that Committee 967 reassembles, this matter will be placed before it and proposals made about the reorganisation. The Housing Executive itself has received the report of the Manpower Unit of the Civil Service Department and has shown some interest in the recommendations proposed. The Housing Executive now has the benefit of a senior civil servant seconded to it to help to guide and advise in the reorganisation which might be necessary.
I should prefer to deal in writing with the questions of road expenditure raised by the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Thompson) and the right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig). However, I should like to welcome the hon. Member for Galloway to our debates. We hope that he will join us in future also; his advice will be very valuable.
I turn now to the question of the Public Accounts Committee and the work undertaken by many people to persuade it that the publication of its reports would be helpful to debate and discussion on appropriations. It has taken two years to co-ordinate the matter. It started with humble beginnings and has enjoyed a lot of good will. No one part of the House can claim responsibility for how it has developed. There has been an urgent and continuing desire by all of us that these discussions could be more explicit if we had the PAC's reports before hand. I welcome this move. The indications are that the co-ordination will have been achieved by next year, so we can look to having better appropriation debates—and God help the Minister who has to stand at this Box when the Appropriation Order is read and all hon. Members are fully armed with all the frailties indicated in the PAC's report.
Reference has been made in the debate to the new procedures for transfer from primary to secondary education. Many people have suggested an alternative system. I assure hon. Members that these matters are continually under review. If there is any improvement that can be made, it will be made. My noble Friend, Lord Melchett, is in continual discussion with many people on ways and means of improving the transfer system. I do not think that it is possible to go too far too fast because, in my view, the children concerned might find it exceptionally difficult to accept such radical change that would be imposed 968 upon them by any dramatic solutions that we might project in this House.
The Government remain firmly committed to the decision, announced by my noble Friend on 15th June last year, that selection at 11-plus should be eliminiated thorough a restructuring of the education system. That decision was taken after the fullest consultation over a lengthy period, during which all the people of Northern Ireland had the opportunity to make their views known. The various steps which were to be taken to implement the decision were all explained in the statement of 15th June 1977, and the Government have always made it clear that they place more emphasis on getting reorganisation right than on achieving it quickly.
Careful planning is essential, and that is what is happening. I emphasise that the Government attach particular importance to local planning by area boards in consultation with local people and the individual schools, and do not intend to impose a uniform system of nonselective schools from the centre.
I take the strongest objection to the suggestion that my noble Friend has blackmailed and pressurised the area boards into adopting his philosophy, his projection, his policies on education. My noble Friend has fully consulted at each and every opportunity. Indeed, if he can be criticised at all—and one would have to stretch very hard to do it—it is because he has taken more time to consult than to discuss what flows as action. Whenever any move is made in education, and whenever any request comes forward, my noble Friend is always willing and prepared to meet those concerned. Anyone who says differently does not know the circumstances in the Province.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Has the hon. Gentleman's noble Friend yet received the representatives of the Governing Bodies Association? They informed me that he declined to see them. Is that so?
§ Mr. Dunn
I cannot answer that question or other questions about individual cases. There may be reasons why meetings have not been arranged to the convenience of both parties. My noble Friend never refuses to meet anyone on the subject of education. There may be individuals who claim to represent organisations and who have not been met. 969 Further inquiries may be made. The Government and my noble Friend have always recognised that there are many feelings about education in the Province. We have tried to persuade the people of the Province that reorganisation and comprehensive education would suit the needs of the general population far better than the existing system did.
A number of organisations representing parents have been formed recently. One, Parents for Comprehensive Education, is supporting the Government's decision. The Parents' Union is opposed to the elimination of selection at 11-plus. But I am particularly pleased to learn that the third organisation, the long-established Northern Ireland Parents' Association, also supports the Government's decision. Each side in the issue can call in aid a number of organisations which feel very strongly and sincerely on the matter.
It is not helpful to suggest that my noble Friend is in default in the matter of meeting, discussing with and consulting those concerned. I am sure that the information which has been brought to the notice of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster is not as correct as he might have thought. My noble Friend would meet the hon. Gentleman and anyone from his constituency at any time when he wished to discuss such matters with my noble Friend.
§ Mr. Dunlop
I am at present in negotiation with the Minister's noble Friend. He has agreed to meet the chairman and secretaries of two councils which are concerned about the Mid-Ulster Hospital, and we are grateful for that.
§ Mr. Dunn
The hon. Gentleman establishes what I have told the House. My noble Friend is willing to meet him at any time, anywhere.
The problems of agriculture which once beset the Province have quickly been dissipated into the fog and mist. The distortion of the cattle trade between the north and the south, which has been brought to my attention, has always existed. It is very difficult to control. I do not believe that there is an answer to the problem while from one side of the border or the other opportunities are taken to create a market at the price that is highest at a certain moment. All that 970 I have been able to do is to give help to meat processing, to the value of £30 million—£40 million a year, through the meat industry employment subsidy, which indirectly has helped the producer tremendously.
We cannot be expected to make any further investment in this sector. I believe that the trade is reasonable. I know that there are individual circumstances on certain days when the generality of my statement does not apply. But I am sure that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) will realise that there is never a moment when by agricultural grants one can cater for every inadequacy that may emerge in the pricing structure of agriculture, and I would not attempt to do it.
The hon. Gentleman also brought to my attention the question of compensation for brucellosis. The hon. Gentleman made the point that where whole herds were involved in reaction to a disease the farmer concerned lost income for six months or more, and asked what compensation could be given to help the farmer over that difficulty. The cost would be prohibitive. There is no possibility of that ever being agreed. The idea was a non-starter when it was brought to my attention, and it stays a non-starter, as can be seen from my answer. I hope that my honesty on this will satisfy the hon. Gentleman, and that he will take the answer back to those who asked him to raise the question.
One other matter remains for me to answer this afternoon and that is the question of the Mid-Ulster hospital. There is not one sector in the health and hospital field in which there is any change or reorganisation where Members do not make representation to keep and hold what we have. This is a fact of life. All that I can say is that any reorganisation that is being undertaken in the health and hospital services in the Province has been at the suggestion and recommendation of the area health boards. My noble Friend has undertaken considerable discussions on these matters. We are aware of local feelings on the matter and we have taken full cognisance of them, but, at the end of the day, the efficiency of the service must be sacrosant in the decisions that we take, and I hope the House will accept those.
971 I shall write to hon. Members about points they have raised but to which I have not given an oral reply this afternoon.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, which was laid before this House on 19th May, be approved.