HC Deb 01 February 1979 vol 961 cc1651-4
3. Mr. Cohen

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what further consideration has been given to the Birley report on "Opportunities at 16".

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Ray Carter)

One of the main aims of the study group which presented this report was to stimulate further discussion on the problems of young people as they move from school to adult life and work. My noble Friend the Minister of State has decided to convene a major conference in the Ulster polytechnic on 8 February 1979 at which the main issues considered in the report will be discussed. Invitations to attend the conference have been sent to over 500 representatives in education and industry in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Cohen

Will my hon. Friend assure the House that in the course of this conference, and in any future discussions that take place, industry, the Government and the trade union movement in Northern Ireland will be involved to ensure the implementation of the recommendations of the Birley report?

Mr. Carter

I give my hon. Friend that assurance. Both trade unions and industry were represented on the study group which drew up the report and they will be a party, on a much wider basis, to the discussions that will take place on 8 February. We hope that recommendations of a real and proven kind will come from that conference to assist young people in the transition from education to employment in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Kilfedder

As, sadly, there is a deplorable shortage of well qualified young people entering industry and commerce in Northern Ireland, does the Minister agree that immediate positive action should be taken to bring together the principals of the grammar and high schools and lecturers in institutions of further education in Northern Ireland so that they can exploit the resources available for technical and business education in the Province? This is absolutely necessary for the benefit of the Ulster students.

Mr. Carter

The groups mentioned by the hon. Member will be represented at the conference, as will representatives from commerce and industry. The hon. Gentleman has raised a serious question. In Northern Ireland we are short of people in various skills and professions. We must do all that we can in education, commerce and industry to make sure that we get the right supply. I hope that this conference will help towards that end.

4. Mr. Molyneaux

asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what has been the cost of the insulation programme undertaken by the Housing Executive in the current year; and what is the estimate of the programme for the coming year.

Mr. Carter

The estimated cost of the current financial year's programme is £666,000. It is estimated that £700,000 will be spent in 1979–80.

Mr. Molyneaux

Is the Minister aware that many of the contractors fail to comply with the specifications laid down by the Housing Executive? Have those contractors who have failed in that way been paid in full? If so, will steps be taken to recoup the sums that will be required to meet the remedial costs?

Mr. Carter

I am not in a position to confirm or deny what the hon. Gentleman has alleged. If he has specific cases, he should refer them to me. If work of substandard quality has been done, we shall ensure that public money has not been squandered.

Mr. Stallard

Will these insulated houses be for sale before or after insulation? Is the Minister aware that, given the peculiarities of the waiting lists in the Six Counties, the decision to sell off 53,000 houses could result in a further polarisation of the two communities in that part of Ireland?

Mr. Carter

My hon. Friend's question has nothing to do with insulation, but I shall send him a detailed reply.

The article which no doubt inspired the question was misinformed and did not give an accurate assessment or picture of what is intended in Northern Ireland. The figure of 53,000 is a pipedream. We shall not sell 53,000 houses in Northern Ireland. To ease the minds of my hon. Friends, I should add that not one house in the public sector will be sold while there is a continuing demand for rented accommodation.

Mr. Bowden

Is the Minister satisfied that retired people and pensioners are getting their fair share of this programme? If not, will he make sure that they do?

Mr. Carter

They are the first priority in the whole programme. Dwellings for old and retried people are at the top of the list. As far as I know—I shall let the hon. Gentleman know if this is not the case—they are receiving priority treatment.