HC Deb 07 March 1979 vol 963 cc1320-415

6.36 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom Pendry)

I beg to move, That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 19 February, be approved. This order will be made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974 and is the first of the 1979 cycle of orders which will make available the funds required for the services of Northern Ireland Departments.

The order serves to appropriate not only the published spring Supplementary Estimates for 1978–79 but also the sums required on account for 1979–80. These latter sums are intended to keep Northern Ireland Departments in funds until after the 1979–80 main Estimates have been published and Parliament has approved the appropriation of the balance of the funds required.

I should like to deal first with the spring Supplementary Estimates, in which a total additional provision of some £61 million is being sought. This sum, together with the main Estimates provision of £1,299 million, the summer Supplementary Estimates provision of £33 million and the autumn Supplementary Estimates provision of £129 million approved by the House during 1978, brings the total sought for 1978–79 to £1,522 million. The comparable figure for 1977–78 was £1,318 million. The cash limited element of the £1,522 million total is within the approved cash limit for voted expenditure by the Northern Ireland Departments. The sum being sought is also consistent with the approved public expenditure allocations.

The services for which the additional funds now being sought are required are set out in part I of the schedule to this order and more detailed information may be found in the spring Supplementary Estimates volume, copies of which are available to right hon. and hon. Members in the Library. I should, however, like to draw attention to some of the main items in the order.

In class I, vote 3, some £2 million is required for the meat industry employment scheme. The total provision now sought reflects known variations in green exchange rates, fluctuations in the rates of payments and a greater throughput of animals.

Class II, vote 1, which provides for industrial support and regeneration, also shows an additional requirement of £2 million, of which more than half relates to capital expenditure by the local enterprise development unit. This additional sum has become necessary because of an increase in the volume of applications received and in the level of assistance offered. A further £3 million is being sought in class II, vote 5, to assist the functioning of the labour market. Of this, £2 million is required to provide for benefits under the shipbuilding redundancy payments scheme, and £1 million to cater for increased uptake of temporary employment subsidy.

An additional £6 million is being sought for the roads service to cover pay and price increases and an extension of the resurfacing programme for the main road network in Northern Ireland. It is expected that this will help maintain employment in the quarrying section of the construction industry and at the same time help to prolong the life of the roads in question.

A further £3 million will be needed in class IV, vote 2, for expenditure on transport services, mainly for the railway system. Additional track laying by Northern Ireland railways is being carried out as part of an employment package and this, together with increases in the cost of rolling stock, accounts for £2 million of the increased provision being sought on this Vote.

In class VI, vote 1, water and sewerage services, an increase of £3 million is being asked for. This arises primarily from pay and price increases throughout the vote, in particular on new construction for the water services and on the operation and maintenance of both the water and sewerage services.

There is an additional requirement of £8 million in class VIII, vote 4, for grants to the education and library boards. This arises mainly because of pay and price increases and the creation of more employment opportunities in the education and allied services following the Secretary of State's announcement in March 1978 of additional job creation measures in the public sector.

In class IX, vote 1, an additional provision of £23 million is being sought for expenditure on health and personal social services. This increase is required mainly to meet the pay awards and price increases experienced by the health and social services boards. There has also been some increase in the cost of the hospital building programme, pharmaceutical services, remuneration of medical and dental practitioners, and an increased demand for some services.

The major decreases in the present provision are in class IV, vote 2, where there has been some delay in the development programme for aerodrome undertakings—in class V, vote 1, where payments to housing associations have been less than expected; in class VI, vote 1, where there have been some land acquisition problems and design delays on the provision of sewerage services; and in class VIII, vote 4, where the transfer from the education and library boards to the Department of Education of responsibility for paying grants to voluntary grammar schools has resulted in a reduced requirement.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

The Minister has given the House some interesting and important details of underspending. As he is aware, these do not appear in the presented documents. As they are important, I wonder if he might find some way on future occasions, perhaps a day or two beforehand, of circulating the figures he intends to give to hon. Members interested in these matters. One would obviously wish to be aware of them in advance, as is the case with the figures in the Estimates and the order.

Mr. Pendry

I will look into that matter very closely.

I turn now to the sums required on account for 1979–80. As in previous years, these have been calculated on the same basis as that used for United Kingdom Departments—that is, they represent 45 per cent. of the total Estimates provision for the current financial year, except where the expected needs in 1979–80 differ substantially from 1978–79. The total sum sought on account is £663 million and details are provided in part II of the schedule to the draft order.

Those are the principal features of the draft order to which I wish to draw the House's attention. I should, however, like to indicate to hon. Members where matters stand on the important question of energy. The internal review—involving Departments in London as well as Belfast—which the Government have been conducting has been completed. A document setting out the main considerations is now being prepared and will be ready before the Easter Recess. It will, of course, be made available to Members of Parliament as well as being distributed more generally and at that stage there will also be a Government statement in Parliament. The Government will be happy to co-operate in the making of appropriate arrangements for debate through the usual channels.

Although I have covered only the main points of the draft order, I shall, of course, try to answer any questions which right hon. and hon. Members may raise during the debate. 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 this draft order to the House.

6.43 p.m.

Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)

We do not oppose this order. But we are asked to approve very large sums. The Under-Secretary will expect me to ask a number of questions. I support the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in his call for more details beforehand, particularly in cases of underspending. These matters are important to hon. Members concerned with the interests of Northern Ireland.

In the context of this order, I should like to refer briefly to the prospects for the Northern Ireland economy and go on to more detailed matters contained in the various classes. I begin with the report by the central economic service of the Department of Finance to invite a short discussion on the prospects for the Northern Ireland economy. In his foreword to the report, the Secretary of State says: While these initiatives—that is attracting American investment and the new job promotions—will have a beneficial impact, there remain serious underlying economic and social problems to which there are no easy solutions. Since we are approving very large sums, which we do not dispute, we must discuss the matter. I think the Minister will agree that the report itself contains little comfort for the Northern Ireland people. It points to 10.9 per cent. unemployment, to £30.40 supplementary benefit per head of the population and to lower average weekly earnings and labour activity rates than the rest of the United Kingdom.

The third section of the report, entitled "Looking ahead", refers to the forecasts for employment until the 1981 projection. One sees that the change in the construction industry will be a decline of 6,000 jobs, in manufacturing and mining a decline of 9,000 jobs, but an increase in services of 11,000 jobs. Public sector employment is expected to rise by that figure, partly reflecting, according to the report the financial reallocation announced early in 1978. I view this with some anxiety. It seems to show further dependence on the public sector. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will comment on that point. It is of some relevance to what we are discussing.

More important, perhaps, is the fact that no economic strategy for Northern Ireland emerges from the report, nor has it done so during the last two or three years. We on this side and hon. Members in all parts of the House have continually asked what is the overall strategy for the Northern Ireland economy. The Government, in their introduction to this report, simply reaffirm their objectives of economic growth, higher employment, better employment and social progress. No one can dispute that those are worthy objectives. How will they be achieved by policies which have failed elsewhere in the United Kingdom? The Minister must say a little on this matter. The same weaknesses, although not as serious as in Northern Ireland, appear in the north-east of Great Britain. That is referred to in the report of the Central Economic Service.

The Northern Ireland Office is tied, I suppose, to an economic policy that has done little or nothing to increase economic growth in Great Britain, certainly not productivity. Unemployment in the last few years has not been improved by those policies. The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), in an important speech in our last debate on appropriation on 11 December, said: Northern Ireland will have no future if the effort is concentrated on creating enterprises to take in each other's washing."—[Official Report, 11 December 1978; Vol. 960, c. 126.] I was very much impressed by those remarks. The right hon. Gentleman said that the need was to concentrate on new technologies. I would like to hear the reaction of the Government to those comments. We need a more wide-ranging debate on these matters. They are relevant to this order.

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the De Lorean project. We in the Conservative Party have always made clear that special measures of support for industry are needed in Northern Ireland. However, we have always laid stress on the need to choose projects capable of a fair profit in return for United Kingdom taxpayers' contribution. Three weeks ago, I visited the site at Dunmurry of the De Lorean factory and spoke to the staff there. The potential importance to local employment in West Belfast of this scheme for producing high performance sports cars for the American market needs no emphasis from me, but I do not have sufficient knowledge on a number of points. For instance, why is the European market not being surveyed? It is a question I asked during my visit.

The fact that these questions are being asked does not mean that we are knocking the project. The site of the factory is being cleared—it is not reaching completion, as the Minister said in our last debate—and a building certainly has been erected where training is due to begin. Nevertheless, I felt that the executive who spoke to me was a little optimistic in stating that this sports car, designed and in production, would be launched with 1,000 units next year, 1980. That may be so, but the factory is not due to be completed until early 1980.

In our last debate, in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), the Under-Secretary gave the figure of £28.5 million as grants towards the cost of factory construction, plant, machinery and equipment ".—[Official Report, 11 December 1978; Vol. 960, c. 181.] The total capital expenditure, including the company's contribution to the factory construction, is as yet unknown to me. I have been trying to obtain that information from the company.

There is obviously a good deal of information that the House should know. The Conservative Party has therefore invited Mr. De Lorean and his colleagues to a meeting so that we can discuss these matters and brief ourselves. I am glad to say that they have accepted. I am conscious of the employment and social problems of West Belfast, but we need to ask legitimate questions at this stage of the project.

I did not take part in the debate on energy on 11 December, and that is the next subject to which I should like to refer. The Under-Secretary referred to a Government review. When will there be a statement about energy policy, and what is the position with regard to the proposed gas pipeline which was thoroughly discussed on 11 December?

My own feeling is that one of the results of delaying a wider review of energy policy is that the gas industry will be left in a precarious position. The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) made it clear in December what the position of the gas industry was. Is the Government's decision to support the Northern Ireland Electricity Service to the tune of £350 million part of their general energy policy? What exactly is that policy in Northern Ireland? We were told at the time that there was too much electricity capacity in the Province—2,025 megawatts—and that many more consumers are therefore required. How do the Government intend to deal with this problem of excess supply?

This could be complicated still further on completion of the remaining units of the Kilroot power station. I must declare an interest in Kilroot since a group of companies in Great Britain of which I am a director has a contract for part of its construction. Kilroot is due to come on stream some time in the early 1980s, I understand, but I should like to hear more about how the crucial question of electricity supply will be handled by the Government and what their total policy is.

The Northern Ireland Economic Council, as we were told in the last debate, wants to spread the load over United Kingdom consumers generally. Northern Ireland, as we all agree, is part of the United Kingdom. The council wants to do this by the integration of the NIES with the CEGB. It would also like links re-established with the Republic, so that supplies from the Province can be accepted there.

The hon. Member for Armagh reminded the House of this in an interesting speech on 11 December. It would be valuable to know the Government's view of this suggestion about reviving an inter-connector system for electricity supply.

I am conscious of the acute difficulties facing the Government because of the competition among these various fuel interests, but I am sure that many of their problems are caused by the delay in presenting a general energy policy for Northern Ireland. We have been waiting for this for a long time. Some action has to be taken to reconcile those interests in a region where costs, especially of gas and electricity, hit the consumer far harder than they hit consumers in Great Britain.

As usual in these debates, I should like to refer to expenditure by the Department of Education and Science, which comes under class VIII. On 11 December, I said that the Government did not appear to realise the strength of parental feeling in the Province against some of their reorganisation schemes. Since then, I have read a speech by Lord Melchett in Londonderry on 2 March at the INTO conference. That speech seems to show a somewhat less intransigent attitude.

Dealing with the Government's aim of abolishing selection, the noble Lord said, according to the press release: The Government set out all the options we could think of in our consultative paper, but we have no fixed views and we have come to no firm decisions. I was surprised at that after the long controversy on this matter. No doubt the noble Lord was trying indirectly to placate a union which wished to have comprehensive education introduced more rapidly than is being done at the moment, but he said nothing about the views of parents, what the children needed or even the views of teachers at the "chalkface." He referred only to the views of the union, as I understand it. Over the past few months, the Conservative Party has consulted many people connected with education in Northern Ireland. We find that there is no wish for total reorganisation. The great demand is to leave the good schools alone to prosper. That is our impression from talking to people at various levels in education, including parents and children.

The noble Lord also said that "the Government is committed" to secondary reorganisation. They may be, but the people of Northern Ireland are not; and there is no legislative basis on which it can be imposed on the Province. I repeat this, as I have repeated it several times from this Box. Therefore, the statements which are being made on behalf of the Government are simply bluff.

The Government want their working parties to come up with the right answer I do not know whether they will. The area boards referred to in class VIII have been instructed to produce plans for comprehensive reorganisation. I would therefore remind the House again, first that there is no legal obligation whatever upon the area boards to produce such proposals and, second, that if these proposals are produced they should be carefully costed and we should be fully informed of the results.

The South-Eastern area board has already said that it will not be producing plans for the total reorganisation of its area. Others may do the same. The return of a Conservative Government will put a stop to compulsory reorganisation by ministerial speeches and orations.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

As the hon. Gentleman is dealing with assurances about what the next Conservative Government would do, will he assure the House that that Government will end religious segregation in education in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Neave

I will not go as far as that at this stage. I can deal only with compulsory reorganisation, I think. Segregation is a very complicated matter and I should not like to deal with that by giving assurances off the cuff. What I can say is that we shall not have compulsory reorganisation by ministerial statement rather than by legislative action. I hope that we shall create conditions in which schools will evolve to meet the needs of the children and the wishes of parents. We hope also that a variety of schools will emerge, some of them technical.

Finally, I wish to deal with expenditure on housing services, which comes under class V. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) will also deal with housing services.

We welcome the plans of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to sell 54,000 houses to tenants. That seems to me to recognise the strong attachment of Northern Ireland people to home ownership. That is a point of view that we fully support. The housing council has called for an extension of the executive's present plans, and I hope that where there are no insuperable practical difficulties as many of the executive's tenants as possible will be given the opportunity to buy their own homes.

Many of the regional and district problems that we shall discuss tonight demonstrate the need to make better political progress. They demonstrate the need, too, for a political forum in. Northern Ireland. It is now very necessary for both communities to look afresh with their political representatives at their situations and to begin once again to search for new elected representative institutions. These should exercise powers over many of the areas which form the subject of our debate tonight.

7.3 p.m.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) has put forward some pertinent points about education. I wish to add only two questions to those that my hon. Friend posed to the Treasury Bench. They relate to the speech of Lord Melchett to the all-Ireland teachers union and to Lord Melchett's activities. Lord Melchett said that four reports from his working parties are with the printers and will be published certainly before the end of this month ". I should like to know whether we shall have access to copies of these reports and, more important, whether the people of Northern Ireland will be able to comment upon them, and whether those comments will be heeded. The Education Bill, which covers England and Wales, is now in Committee. It has already been substantially amended, and no doubt further amendments will be made. What recognition does the Northern Ireland Office give to the Bill? Does the Under-Secretary consider that England and Wales legislation has any relevance to Northern Ireland, and is Lord Melchett fully informed of what is going on in England and Wales?

I wish to devote my main remarks to tourism and transport services. This debate takes place on the morrow of the unearthing of a bomb factory of terrible potential. I hope it is not beyond the rules of order for me to say how warmly we wish to congratulate the security forces on their achievement. Terrorism will not be vanquished in Northern Ireland unless loyalists and separatists alike are convinced of the impregnability of the Union which is the democratic will, while it remains the democratic will.

Our fellow subjects in the Province who have suffered so much, so bravely and for so long are naturally prone to fears and to feelings of isolation from the mainland of the kingdom. These feelings and fears mount with every increase in air fares and with every sign of deterioration in transport services between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Economic Council, presided over by Sir Charles Carter, has produced a document containing a statement of views on air passenger services. In the statement the council describes air travel as The essential artery of business travel ". Of course, air travel is also fundamental to a reviving and hopeful tourist trade, which is covered by class 11(1) of the order.

I have raised at Question Time the subject of the high cost of travel between the mainland and Belfast and have had not very informative replies from the Department of Trade. Last month a petition was submitted by the Northern Ireland Council of the European Movement, in which the Rt. Hon. Roy Bradford, formerly the Northern Ireland Minister of Commerce, takes much interest, to the committees on regional policy, regional planning and transport of the European Parliament—I prefer to call it the European Assembly. The petition recalled that a delegation from the committee visited the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in May 1974. The committee's chairman, Mr. James Hill, reported his concern at the regional problems of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland was compared with Sardinia and Corsica, regions of Italy and France, respectively, where economic development is held back by geographical isolation.

The petition requests a specific subsidy on air fares in order to bring them down on the London-Belfast route. I would not agree with that, at least until I was satisfied that air services were being operated with the fullest efficiency. The Northern Ireland Economic Council, while finding no evidence that British Airways' fares discriminate against the Northern Ireland traveller, yet asserts that British Airways cost efficiency is lower, and therefore its fares are higher, than is desirable. It is no secret that British Airways is overmanned. Moreover, the cowardly decision that air crews should not risk spending the night in a province to which their airline doubtless wishes to attract tourists is costly as well as contemptible, and I have seen mentioned the figure of £750,000 a year.

It is perhaps on the credit side that the airline now gives a number of concessions to particular categories of passenger. The corporation has learned a costly lesson in this, because in 1975–76 it removed fare concessions and in consequence traffic and income declined. As a result, fares were raised to stem the loss, and that meant that, in 1977 some 250,000 passengers were lost to the airline. This experience surely has a bearing on the threatened further increase of fares. So has the fact that the Heathrow-Aldergrove shuttle is now making money, as are British Airways services between Aldergrove and Manchester and Birmingham respectively. Losses are still being made on the services between Belfast and Newcastle, Leeds-Bradford, Bristol and Cardiff. But it is on the London-Belfast service that the Northern Ireland Council of the European Movement wants to bestow a subsidy. The case for that does not seem to me to be made out. It would be interesting, instructive and probably forceful to have the comments of Mr. Freddie Laker on the request for higher fares and for subsidies.

More competition would be beneficial. Those in this House who travel to and fro share with thousands of our fellow citizens a debt to British Midland Airways, which started to supply an urgent need in 1974. British Midland Airways security checks have been less tiresome than those of British Airways and have not proved less effective, and many of us have found higher standards of comfort and courtesy.

The Northern Ireland Economic Council notes with some surprise that a Northern Ireland controlled airline of some dimensions has not emerged in recent years. Certainly the Province would benefit from the expansion of locally based aviation activities. The interests of Northern Ireland would probably be advanced by some guarded degree of freedom and more competition in British civil aviation. The statement of the Northern Ireland Economic Council and also the petition from the Northern Ireland Council of the European Movement declare that it is high time that there was a direct non-stop service to Europe. Air Anglia, a Norwich-based company, applied last December to the Civil Aviation Authority for an Amsterdam-Belfast service. Last week that application was rejected. However, there seems to be a good case for a day return service, operating morning and evening, which could be of particular benefit to business people. I am not making any comment on the merits of a particular application or a particular company—I am not competent to do that. That is the job of the Civil Aviation Authority.

I wonder how Ulster's voice is made audible to the Civil Aviation Authority? Who is entitled to be recognised as an objector? Who is entitled to appear, from the Northern Ireland standpoint, at public hearings of the Civil Aviation Authority? I am told that the only organisations entitled to attend as objectors are Northern Ireland Railways and the Northern Ireland Airports Authority. They are not exactly disinterested parties.

In this matter the Northern Ireland Economic Council says that it is prepared to offer its services as a proponent of the regional interest ". I wonder whether the Minister has any comment to make about that. The economic council also wants to enlarge the functions of the transport users' consultative committee for the ventilation of travellers' comments on air and related services. I know little or nothing about that committee and I should be glad to have particulars of it from the Under-Secretary of State. There is no mention of the transport users' consultative committee in the Ulster Yearbook.

Much of what I have put forward concerns the Department of Transport. Is there a close liaison between the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Transport? It is, however, for the Northern Ireland Office to answer to Parliament for aerodromes. I do not share in the general condemnation of Aldergrove. One gets a friendy welcome there, yet many who use Ulster's principal airport speak of overcrowding, insufficient amenities and the security searches. I would hesitate to complain about this last issue, but what exactly is intended for the development of Aldergrove?

I am glad to note that the Northern Ireland Economic Council wants improvements at Eglinton. Schemes are afoot for the development of St. Angelo, with consequences for the tourist trade, for Londonderry and for its hinterland in Donegal. There is surely scope for more fishing parties and others bound for Fermanagh to fly direct to Enniskillen. I hope that the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maguire) will forgive me for mentioning his constituency in his absence. I am sure that Ministers are considering all these ideas, and they will, I trust, be in the closest communication with their colleagues in the Department of Transport.

I make one last reference to tourism. Perhaps the largest single fillip the tourist industry could be given would be the selection of Belfast as the centre for the Commonwealth Games of 1986. According to a survey by the Northern Ireland Sports Council, it would cost £15 million to provide the necessary facilities. Has any estimate been made of the countervailing tourist revenue that the games would attract? Are the Government encouraging or discouraging an application from the Belfast city council? I understand that a decision must soon be made.

7.17 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I welcome the Minister's announcement of the early publication of the document on energy policy in Northern Ireland. We welcome even more his announcement that there will be a Government statement, presumably to coincide with the publication of that document. We hope that that Government statement will give a clear indication of the Government's view on the various aspects. I have no doubt that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends will return to this point.

I confine my remarks to vote 4D. I shall examine the references in reverse order. We may assume that most of the provision in sub-head D is earmarked for Belfast airport, although the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) has referred to two other airports in the west of the Province.

Obviously, an airport is an installation which would be of little use if it existed by itself. Its importance lies in its linkage with other airports. In order to ensure that the sum of approximately £3¼ million is put to the best possible use, we have to satisfy ourselves that the linkage is designed to exploit to the full the facilities proposed for Belfast airport.

We must look first at the influences which tend to restrict the growth of air traffic. It is a mistake to imagine that the volume cannot be increased. As the hon. Member for Epping Forest has said, undoubtedly the first inhibiting influence is the high cost of the fare from Belfast to London. It is a staggering burden for a passenger travelling at his own expense and not on a Government warrant or an expense account. It is no answer for British Airways to say that passengers can shop around and take advantage of standby and excursion fares. The reality is that the need usually coincides with the peak holiday periods. The advantage is consequently reduced because of long delays and hardship, which are increased by the security arrangements. One can be impounded for a whole day as a standby passenger. Once one has checked in, one cannot be released from bondage.

By common consent, the £70 fare was excessive, but now we have the threat—I hope that it is only a threat—of an increase of a further £4. All this is in a year when British Airways is expected to make a profit of £2 million on the Belfast to London route. I am very glad that it is showing a profit; long may it continue. But, in fairness, should not some of the benefit be given back the customer?

The passenger on the Belfast route is entitled to a lower fare than his counterpart on the London-Glasgow or London-Edinburgh service. It would be foreign to my nature, and contrary to the policies of my party, if I were to advocate a subsidy, but it will perhaps encourage the hon. Member for Epping Forest to know that there is already a real and legitimate subsidy in the element of air freight.

I may be mistaken, but I have never yet observed air freight being loaded on a Glasgow or Edinburgh shuttle aircraft, whereas we have all seen air freight—not passenger baggage—being loaded on the Belfast aircraft. I have no doubt that such an air freight service benefits the people of Northern Ireland. I am glad that the capacity is used to the full. However, no one imagines that British Airways provides such a freight service out of the goodness of its heart. The airline ensures that it is well rewarded for that service. Surely passengers are entitled to a reduction in fare because of the delays which are occasioned by the operation of a combined passenger and freight service. Delays have been running at an average of 30 minutes for the past few months.

On a recent flight to Belfast, a frank and truthful captain apologised for the 35 minutes' delay and, for the first time in my hearing, said that the cause was that there had been "a lot of bulky freight to load." I suggest that passengers who are prepared to tolerate with fortitude such delays should be rewarded with a reduction rather than an increase in air fares.

I understand that British Midland Airways has applied for a licence to operate between Belfast and Heathrow. I believe that that application has not yet been granted. For understandable reasons, British Airways is not keen on that proposal. Its reasons might be understandable, but we do not endorse them. British Airways claims that it has won back passengers to the Heathrow route. It can have won them back only from Gatwick, because Gatwick is less convenient for domestic passengers. Security attitudes at Gatwick might also have an effect.

It is true that British Midland Airways is more flexible in its attitude to security, but the same cannot be said of the police authorities, whoever they might be. It is always difficult to find out who controls them. One has the impression that they regard everyone who sets a foot on or off an aircraft bound for Belfast as a potential terrorist. They do not take much trouble to conceal that attitude, and it should be discouraged.

The Home Secretary gave me an undertaking that this situation would be examined and that improvements would be made. I must be fair to the Home Secretary and Lord Shackleton. Improvements did take place, but there is room for further improvement. I hope that we shall see further improvements soon.

I return to the question of the application by British Midland Airways. British Airways estimates that passenger volume will increase by about 30,000 in the next year. Will those passengers be taken from the Gatwick route? I believe that that is unlikely. Why, then, does British Airways object to a rival on the same route to provide for an increase in the volume of traffic? I believe that that figure of 30,000 is an underestimate. A rival service on the Belfast-Heathrow route would not harm British Airways. But it would certainly benefit Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland should not be expected to remain vulnerable to the huffs and puffs and tantrums of a greatly inflated airways staff at Heathrow. In that respect, Northern Ireland is at a disadvantage compared with Glasgow, for example, where there is an alternative airline, a good road service and an inter-city rail link. Northern Ireland has none of these.

I am convinced that British Airways staff would derive much benefit and satisfaction from the increased efficiency which would result from healthy competition. The experience of my hon. Friends and myself is that things have improved markedly this week. Perhaps events are casting their shadows. I have never before seen the hand baggage being delivered before the passengers are screened for security and enter the building. It is not uncommon for hand baggage to disappear to a completely different terminal.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Today at Aldergrove airport the passengers were put on to the standby aircraft and the pilot was rushed over from the plane which had just come in so that there would be no delay.

Mr. Molyneaux

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman implies any criticism of the British Airways staff at Aldergrove, because they are responsible for making up the time lost at Heathrow by the speed that they can turn the Tridents round and put them back in the air. The bungling in the operations at Heathrow causes the trouble.

It is infuriating to hear the captain say, as one is over Birmingham, that there is a strong tail wind and that if traffic control is right one can expect to arrive 10 minutes early. Then, having arrived 10 minutes early, one is told that there is a delay because it is not possible to get the steps out to the aircraft. One then sees in the distance a group of British Airways staff—different grades, not to mention different races—holding an animated committee meeting to decide who will bring out the steps.

That does not happen at Aldergrove. When one lands at Aldergrove, all the service vehicles surround the aircraft before the engines are switched off. It might be a good idea if a back-up aircraft were to be filled with Heathrow staff and taken to Aldergrove so that they can see how their chums work there. They would learn much. I hope that this increased alertness and punctuality at Heathrow will be maintained. I hope that the level of efficiency of British Airways staff at Aldergrove will be reached at Heathrow.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest touched upon a delicate subject. I have a reputation for rushing in where angels fear to tread. I hope that we shall soon consider the possibility of establishing another link from Belfast to a convenient railhead in Great Britain. There would be no sense in suggesting a tthird rival to the Belfast-London service. But there is scope for getting people quickly and cheaply to the mainland where they can be linked with the inter-city rail network.

That is a subject which is dear to the heart of my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). It would be a great advantage for people from Northern Ireland to be able to travel to cities on the mainland in the same day. That would not compete with the existing service and in a short time there would be a rapid expansion in that traffic. I hope that this matter will be considered and that assistance will be given when the time comes.

We have a responsibility to examine the security aspect.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Does the hon. Member recall the speech made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) at Banbridge about different forms of transport between Northern Ireland and Great Britain? Will the right hon. Member for Down, South explain how the discussions with British Rail are proceeding?

Mr. Molyneaux

No, I do not propose to cover that, but I shall use what influence I have with my right hon. Friend and perhaps incite him to deal with the subject if he catches the eye of the Chair later.

I turn now to what might be called aspects of flight security as distinct from ground security. First, I must ask the Minister whether he can give any indication of how long it is proposed to perpetuate the hand baggage farce. At one point in discussions with various Ministers my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South and I felt that we were approaching a solution to the problem of the present system which discriminates against men. We had suggested that the measures could be relaxed to permit business men and others to take on board a document case as distinct from a briefcase, and I think that the sheer logic of our argument on those occasions was beginning to take effect. Unfortunately, however, some faceles security adviser or advisers slammed that door.

We then asked why a slim document case should be considered far more deadly than the bulky handbags carried by women passengers. The answer was startling. It was said that those concerned were not happy about handbags, but the Government could not have resisted what was called the social outcry which would have resulted from a ban on women's handbags. So there it is. Handbags, it is said, are a menace and defeat the whole object of the exercise, but we have to show that we mean business so we shall take it out on mere men—the hope presumably being that mere men would not object. I have to warn the experts that if they insist on this nonsense, the mere men will not tolerate it much longer and they will not willingly put up with what they now know to be a sham.

Any reasonable person will accept that it is intolerable that the business man should be deprived of documents on which he would otherwise be able to work during a flight, then be deprived of those documents while waiting during what may be a lengthy period on a delayed flight, and then be deprived in the same way at the other end when he seeks, sometimes in vain, to retrieve his belongings on arrival.

It is not clear from the reference to the grant towards security expenses whether that sum includes any of the cost of providing a Trident to fly the British Airways crews to Glasgow. This has already been touched on by the hon. Member for Epping Forest. That operation, I understand, takes place every night. I cannot believe that the British taxpayer, in Great Britain or in Northern Ireland, would willingly foot the bill for about £800,000 a year to provide what can only be termed a "yellow taxi" to rescue crews from imaginary dangers and to take them to safe lodging elsewhere. It is really a monstrosity.

If British Airways is itself meeting the staggering expense, it has a duty and a responsibility to instil some degree of realism into the very few crews—it does not apply to all—who make such ridiculous demands. I feel that it is a reflection on British airmanship, whether military or civil, to insist that perhaps getting on for £1 million should be wasted on arrangements to ensure that aircrews are protected from the minor risks which are faced by all citizens of the United Kingdom, in all parts of the kingdom.

Under vote 4, sub-head D2, a sum is provided for security works. We have no means of telling what is the element of cost represented by Service men involved in precautions which, in our opinion, are far from sensible and which appear to be designed to inflict the maximum hardship and inconvenience on the public.

I can remember a former Minister repudiating an argument which I had put at a meeting in Belfast when he was surrounded by his advisers. He said "Tut, tut, you cannot have had that kind of delay. It is impossible. You could not have been delayed so long that you missed your flight. It is just not on." I managed to get over that evening and met the Minister in the corridor here the following day. He said "Jim, you were right yesterday. Three of my civil servants got stuck in the checkpoint and did not get here until this morning." I think that he was even more irritated because they had with them a brief with which he was to be equipped for a Committee meeting in the morning. I say at once that it was not the Home Secretary who inspired that comment. I hasten to point out that he was not the culprit.

I wish next to make clear that, quite apart from the inconvenience and hardship as well as all the delay and frustration which is caused, the cul-de-sac concept—for the uninitiated, I should explain that this is the idea of having one entry and exit point for the entire airport—has in my opinion been simply asking for trouble. Thank goodness, the terrorists have been very slow to spot the weakness, but spot it they did last week. They discovered that the entire airport could be sealed off for many hours with only a hoax bomb. No one needs TNT, dynamite or anything else; all that is needed is a cardboard box and a couple of bricks. That does the job.

On this occasion we were lucky, but I am afraid that only a super-optimist would imagine that the operation will not be repeated. In fact, there is another far more serious weakness in the system which, I am thankful to say, the terrorists have not yet spotted, and it is not my intention tonight to help them to identify that loophole.

I come now to what is in terms of air safety a serious aspect of last week's operation. Some time after the alarm was given, it was decided, apparently, to take the obvious step to relieve the traffic which had built up, with a queue some four or five miles long by then. We had three streams of traffic. There was that intending to enter the airport. There was quite a different stream going roughly from Craigavon to the north of the Province, and yet another stream going to the south of the Province, with containers to the port of Larne. They were all mixed up in a fearful state of chaos.

Someone decided that the situation could be relieved—I do not find fault with the decision—by opening up the blocked-off section of what is known as the Tully Road. This should have been a matter of turning a key in a lock and swinging a heavy barrier aside. But it did not work out that way. Some say that the key was lost. Others say that the key broke in the lock. Others claim that the lock itself was rusted. Whatever the cause, the fact is that a period of 65 minutes elapsed before the fire brigade men could be summoned to use their cutting apparatus to open a way through that security barrier.

Hon. Members ought to be made aware that that barrier and other similar barriers were placed around the airport on the insistence of the airline pilots themselves, apparently on the ground that if the roads were left open someone might be naughty enough to discharge a popgun in the path of an incoming aircraft. As I understand it, on the other hand, air safety regulations are such that aircraft are not permitted to use, and will not use, an airport where the safety coverage and emergency service are not considered to be fully adequate.

Through the Minister, I ask those crews who insisted that the airport should be boxed in whether they are aware that in the event of an accident they would have to take jolly good care to ensure that they crashed on the right side of the barrier—unless, of course, they were prepared to remain in their hot seats for up to 65 minutes until the rescue and fire services could reach them.

The Minister's colleague, the Minister of State who has had responsibility for these matters for some years, will remember that during a conference with the security advisers present I asked for, and received, an undertaking and assurance that in no circumstances would emergency services be delayed in the event of an accident at Aldergrove.

Very foolishly, I accepted that assurance. I ought to have known from experience that accidents become disasters, because everyone takes for granted the theory rather than the reality. In the face of what I now know, I cannot remain silent. I am duty bound to tell the authorities, the air crews, the airlines and, most of all, the passengers that lives are put at risk every day that we permit the existence of arrangements which were mistakenly thought to provide protection but which are in reality a far greater menace than the risk they were meant to remove.

7.40 p.m.

Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)

Initially I wish to address myself to class VIII, vote 3, of the order. You might be tempted to wonder, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about the relationship between the discovery of arms this morning in Short Strand, Belfast, class VIII and a magazine produced in the Republic of Ireland. Before too long, I hope to establish that those three items are seriously interrelated.

Some time ago an article was produced in a magazine called "The Crane Bag" which is published in Dublin. It took the form of an interview with Seamus Twomey, who is described in the magazine as Army Chief of Staff of the Provisional IRA. The interview proceeds on a ludicrous basis. There is no attempt to put this murderer on the spot. There is no attempt to induce some kind of shame or remorse. Instead, an opportunity is given for him to ventilate his jaundiced views and perverse objectives. That is bad enough. But the startling fact about this magazine which carried that interview with Seamus Twomey is that it is financed by the Northern Ireland Arts Council.

We have a position when a murderer—a terrorist, a wanted man in part of the United Kingdom—is interviewed and his views are propagated throughout Ireland, North and South, at the expense of the British taxpayer. It is not too difficult to see the relationship between this lunacy and the discovery of arms in Short Strand this morning. What is the point in the Army and the RUC exercising surveillance over the terrorist bases in Northern Ireland—with notable success as we have heard—when, indirectly, the British Government allow British taxpayers' money to be used to engender support for the IRA and to replenish the resources of the Provisional IRA?

Nothing less than a demand for a surcharge to be levied on all the members of the Northern Ireland Arts Council will eradicate this nonsense to which our Province is exposed, along with the whole of the British nation. Nothing less than a surcharge levied on the members of the Arts Council will show that the British Government will no longer allow such contradictions. I ask the Under-Secretary to raise this matter immediately with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to seek to make the Northern Ireland Arts Council in some way responsible for the financing of that article. I also ask that the Arts Council should be severely censured for its action and that steps should be taken to make sure that never again is United Kingdom money spent in such a ludicrous way.

We believe that the work done by the Army and the RUC will be somewhat tarnished when the people of the Province discover that taxpayers' money is funding such action, with the indirect help of the Government. The Government have time to redeem themselves and they must do so if we are to take seriously their comments about eradicating terrorism and violence in the Province.

I turn now to class IX of the order. Almost everyone who is serious about employment and industry in the Province realises that there is going on there what is called "the double". In other words, people are claiming unemployment benefit although they are working. There is one industry in which this practice is more prevalent than any other. I refer to the construction industry. I ask the Under-Secretary to take seriously the complaints which have been channelled to him through Members of Parliament and interested bodies in the Province. I have conveyed to his noble Friend a number of names. This evening I shall give some further information, submitted by two construction companies in the Province. I shall not name them; that would be stupid. I ask the Minister to take seriously the comments which they make, and the detailed information contained in the documentation which I shall convey to him later this evening.

Will the Minister tell us what steps the Government intend to take in the near future to remedy this drain on resources? It is bad enough when law-abiding people have to pay debts, which they did not incur, by way of an addition to their electricity bills. It is scandalous that the Government should allow this practice whereby people who are working claim unemployment benefit. We do not believe that this is an isolated matter. We believe that it is far more prevalent than the Northern Ireland Office cares to admit. We ask the Minister to undertake a detailed examination of the problem with a view to eradicating it as quickly as possible.

I refer now to class II. The Minister who is responsible for industry in Northern Ireland is aware of the application by Aghadowey Clay Products for permission to undertake the production of a light aggregate block. Present legislation encourages the production of this type of block. Unfortunately, the people who want to produce this product are finding obstacles placed in their way. I shall not detain the House by rehearsing the details. The Under-Secretary of State will be able to obtain the details from the Department of Commerce.

The Minister assured me during an interview that the process and the project would not be lost to the Province. If that is to be so, one of two things must happen. We must proceed on the basis of the scheme submitted by Aghadowey Clay Products or the Northern Ireland Office must purchase the whole project, including the involved lands and raw materials, and develop the project. In spite of two years of consultation, nothing has happened to date. Again, I ask the Under-Secretary of State to get the Secretary of State to confirm that Aghadowey Clay Products will be allowed to proceed with the appropriate Government grants or that the Northern Ireland Office will purchase the project and develop it in its own way.

It is clear that somebody in the Department of Commerce wants to protect the ordinary brick industry. That is being done in the knowledge that the new building regulations are conducive to the production of the block and that the light aggregate block is conducive to the new regulations. I do not know why an attempt is being made to protect the brick industry if that is not for political reasons. It is certain that there could be more employment in the near future in an area where employment is not exactly at surfeit level. I know that people in the area, irrespective of their politics and creed, would benefit if the Government would finalise the administrative details of the application from Aghadowey Clay Products.

In Northern Ireland we have witnessed the emergence of an interesting phenomenon known as comprehensive redevelopment areas as distinct from normal or ordinary redevelopment areas. I am told by those who are familiar with the new entity that there are many unforeseen problems. I am concerned about the solution of unforeseen problems, but I am even more concerned about the problems that are obvious, clear and overt, namely, the dreadful conditions of old-age pensioners living in homes that are literally falling around their ears.

In discussion with the Department of the Environment and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, it was discovered that in comprehensive redevelopment area 31, which is the Woodstock Road and Albertbridge Road area, at least three streets repose on an area of land vested by the Department but not owned by the Housing Executive or detailed for redevelopment by the executive.

As the executive acts as an agent for the Department of the Environment, there is no provision for the allocation of money for the short-term rehabilitation of the homes in the area that I have mentioned. We are told that it will be another four years before the streets are involved in any official demolition, although they are falling down of their own accord.

What are we to do for the old-age pensioners who cannot have their homes rehabilitated? The Housing Executive has said that it cannot help. I suggest that the Department purchases or builds mobile homes and moves the old folk in immediately. These folk cannot face two more winters of the sort that we have had this year. The likelihood is that they will have to face four winters before they are rehabilitated. It would be beyond their endurance to bear even two. I ask the Under-Secretary of State to consider the anomaly that exists in a comprehensive redevelopment area. It could emerge in other such areas.

The Housing Executive has said clearly that it has no provision for the supply of money for short-term rehabilitation. However, the area is not designated for housing in a future programme. The people concerned are caught between two stools. The only solution, as I have said, is for the Department to purchase mobile homes, to place them on land that it owns and to sort out what it will do with the area from which the people come. Let is not make the old people suffer because of unforeseen problems not anticipated by the Department and the executive.

7.57 p.m.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

The order is a document of major significance to Northern Ireland. Within its folds are Estimates involving every aspect of life in Northern Ireland. Included withtin the Estimates are commerce, employment, unemployment, housing, finance. Every aspect of life in Northern Ireland is contained within the order. As we are not to be beaten by the clock, as Northern Ireland Members normally are by one and a half hour debates, surely more Northern Ireland Ministers should be in the Chamber to take part in the debate.

I recognise that it is asking too much for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to answer all the queries that will be raised by myself and other hon. Members. I know that he will tell us that he will give consideration to the matters that we raise and write to us. That is not a satisfactory way of managing debates on Northern Ireland or any other part of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State should be present for the debate. I believe that all hon. Members from Northern Ireland are present except the abstentionist hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maguire). We are all concerned about the mould of life in Northern Ireland and what is happening in our constituencies. The occupant of the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), cannot say too much about attendances because there are only three Conservative Members in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman cannot claim that the Opposition have a great deal of interest in what is happening in Northern Ireland. There are as many Labour Members present as Opposition Members if I am included in the Labour count. I do not know whether I should allow myself to be so included, in view of what has been happening over the past few weeks.

Included in the Estimates is the Ministry of Commerce. It is one of the major Ministries in Northern Ireland. It is responsible for attracting industry to Northern Ireland, the payment of grants and the payment of temporary employment subsidy. It is responsible for training, the regulating of trade practices, and the administration of miscellaneous services. It is responsible for the Department of Manpower Services. Each one of its functions is of paramount interest to all hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. The Ministry is charged with trying to attract industry to the Province and trying to provide the maximum employment that is possible in the circumstances.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland likes to be depicted by all and sundry as one who brought about the economic miracle in Northern Ireland. However, the fact is that since he took over as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland there has been an increase in the unemployment figures of about 12,000. There are 12,000 more unemployed people in Northern Ireland now that when the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland became the Secretary of State for the Home Department. There is nothing to crow about.

On Wednesday I put a series of questions to the Secretary of State. Many of my hon. Friends will not have been surprised by the answers. However, I am certain that many of tonight's absentees will be surprised when they read in Hansard that in North Belfast a man has been signing the unemployment register for 38 years. In my constituency of Belfast, West, a man has been signing the unemployment register for 28 years. In Londonderry a man has been signing it for 20 years. Another man in Strabane has been signing the unemployment register for 28 years. A man in Newry has been signing it for 21 years. Those figures, dramatic as they may be, do not tell the full extent of the story.

We may try to elicit information as to how many men have been unemployed for periods of between one and 38 years. Those figures will run into thousands. That is why I believe that the Minister of State should be present tonight and say how he intends to try to erase these appalling figures from the spectre of unemployment in Northern Ireland.

On Monday I was told in answer to a question that there were 2,713 people signing the unemployment register quarterly in Northern Ireland. They sign it four times a year. That is a sad commentary on the attitude of the Minister who is in charge of attracting employment or the Minister who is in charge of the Department of Health and Social Security which runs the unemployment offices.

How nerve-racking and soul-destroying it is if a man signs the unemployment register on 1 January and is told to return on 1 March and subsequently on 1 September as he is unemployed and unemployable. That does not happen because he does not want to work. It happens because there is no work available for him to do. That problem should not be cast aside. The disinterest shown tonight should not be tolerated.

To prove what I have just said, there are over 8,000 people in Northern Ireland who are in full-time employment but who are in receipt of family income supplement. They are working for less than they would receive if they were on the dole or in receipt of supplementary benefit. That gives the lie to the suggestion that people will not work because they can obtain more by way of benefits: 8,000 people are now working, and some of them are doing menial jobs for a wage which is less than they would receive if they were signing the unemployment register. I do not think that that is anything to be proud about.

I am disappointed that the Secretary of State is not here. I had discussions with him during the week about an industry in my constituency. Hon. Members from Northern Ireland will be aware of the financial difficulties in which the Peter Pan bakery finds itself. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) was called in for consultation with the Department of Commerce during the week in view of the threatened redundancies in North Belfast. This is a problem where the spectre of unemployment looms large in each of the 12 constituencies in Northern Ireland.

I referred to the discussions that I had with the Minister of State. I know that he must make a decision soon. I hope that the fact that 500 jobs are at stake in this bakery complex will enable him to realise the enormity of the problem that would be created by 500 more people being thrown on to the dole queues in Northern Ireland.

The Opposition have already referred to the De Lorean car project. From the publicity attaching to this undertaking, we might believe that the unemployment problem in Northern Ireland will be solved at a stroke. We are realistic. We all know that that is not true. If 2,000 people are employed in the De Lorean car project, the employers will not be able to take on the 500 people in the Peter Pan bakeries who are threatened with redundancy, as they will not possess the skills necessary to take up such employment. They will be faced with a future in which people will tot up the years when they will sign the unemployment register in Northern Ireland.

The Minister of State will later move an order in relation to the Government's commitment to Short Brothers and the Harland and Wolff shipyard. For many years we have all known that there were periods when, had it not been for Government assistance, Harland and Wolff and Short Brothers would have closed their doors. However, in view of the social consequences that would have resulted and the spin-off effect that closure of those firms would have on the economic situation and community relations throughout Northern Ireland, the Government found it necessary—I agree with the Government and will continue to support them—to give those industries financial assistance.

However, other industries are affected. I refer to Macrete in North Belfast and to the Peter Pan complex. Any industry faced with a volume of unemployment such as that which I mentioned is entitled to demand Government assistance, given the reality of unemployment and the social consequences which have emanated from high unemployment in Northern Ireland over these past years.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be better to keep these people employed than to pay them large sums of redundancy money and the continued benefits that they must receive when they are unemployed? Would it not be better for the Government to invest money in their employment than in their unemployment?

Mr. Fitt

I agree with every word spoken by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). There have been occasional closures in his own constituency.

I come to the redundancy money paid or promised. Some people will receive more than others. I refer to those who are reaching retirement age. They may think that the receipt of a few thousand pounds of redundancy pay is their only possible chance to have that amount of money in their hands. However, the trade unionists whom I consulted and the employers, who were in consultation with the Minister, myself, Paddy Devlin and the trade unionists, were enthusiastic. Rarely in my political life have I seen such enthusiasm and concern in their endeavours to try to keep this bakery going. If the Minister makes a wrong decision, if he finds that he cannot keep the bakery complex going, that will redound to his eternal discredit—especially as he is a Minister in a Labour Government.

I urge the Minister in charge of commerce in Northern Ireland to take account of the distress and despair that now exist as a result of unemployment. We heard the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) describe, from the Dispatch Box, the bleak employment prospects predicted for the years immediately ahead. It is election year, but I do not believe that the Labour Party will gain any votes in Northern Ireland on this issue. It is, however, a question of conscience and of morality, and I urge the Government not to allow any further increase in the tragic figures of unemployment in Northern Ireland.

I want now to refer to manpower services. This subject is also under the control of the Minister of State responsible for commerce, and there is a direct connection between his Department and the Fair Employment Agency. I may not on this issue get the support which has been forthcoming so far from Opposition Members, but I know that there are no Opposition Members from Northern Ireland who have any time at all for the Fair Employment Agency. I remember very well that every one of them on the Committee which considered the Fair Employment Bill voted against every line, every word and every sentiment contained in it.

I still believe that the Fair Employment Act was necessary in order to try to create an atmosphere in Northern Ireland in which people would be employed because of merit and not because of either religious or political influence, but I wonder whether that Act is as effective as it should be. Yesterday afternoon I received a report about a seminar which was attended this week by some very distinguished people—none more so than my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. The report mentions that 71 complaints have been made against local authorities in Northern Ireland but that the agency feels that it is not in the public interest to name the authorities against which allegations have been made. That makes no sense at all to me. If there are authorities against which allegations have been made, there is a duty on the agency to say whether those allegations are true or false. People would then be able to make up their own minds as to the effectiveness of the agency.

The report states that the agency has found that three local authorities in Northern Ireland were guilty of allowing discrimination on religious grounds to affect them in the making of appointments. In a rather strange way, Newry council and Mourne council have been found guilty of discrimination which arose because they wanted to prove how liberal they were and for that reason did not appoint the person most qualified for the job but appointed someone else instead.

Rev. Ian Paisley

What about Ballymena?

Mr. Fitt

What action has been taken by the Fair Employment Agency? What action can it take? What action will it threaten to take? I believe that the answer to these questions is "None". If such an agency is in being but is shown to have no teeth and exists only to carry out a public relations exercise, that should be made clear to everyone.

The report also states that allegations have been made against 46 private firms. I do not know the names of those firms or where they are in business. They may be in the Falls Road. They may be in the Shankill Road. They may be in Ballymena. In fact, I have no doubt that they are. They may be in some part of Down. The Minister, in an answer to me, said also that he did not think that it was in the public interest to name those firms. He could just as easily have told me that there were no allegations against any firms, or that there were allegations against only two firms, or against 23 firms. He could have made up any number he liked and I would have been none the wiser. The important point is that he will not tell me who the firms are or how serious are the allegations against them.

This agency, which is supported by the Minister of State, appears to be absolutely useless. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that if this legislation is as worthless as it appears to be, it is up to him now to amend it and to make it more effective He told me in a recent answer that seven district councils have signed the fair employment declaration and that 10 councils have refused to sign it. What action does my right hon. Friend propose to take against those 10 district councils in Northern reland which have said that they will not sign a declaration stating that they will not engage in discrimination on religious or political grounds?

Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that when the measure was debated in Committee, all those on the Government side, numbering about eight Members, plus four Tory Members, voted not only to pass the measure but to give it the necessary teeth? In other words, there is the power to bring these companies before the courts. Surely that power is still inherent in the measure, and it is up to the people concerned to use it.

Mr. Fitt

I accept that part of the discussion in Committee was related to that. But I want to pose another question. As I was saying earlier, three councils in Northern Ireland have been found guilty of making appointments on the ground of religious or political favour. The persons who were appointed are still in the jobs, and there is no provision in the Act for those who were unfairly appointed to be dismissed. The council can be brought before the courts and action taken against it, but the person appointed still remains in the job. That is ridiculous. What happens if a council decides to dispense with that person's services? There would be recourse to all sorts of action in the courts for unfair dismissal. The Secretary of State must look at this part of the Act again.

Twenty private firms in Northern Ireland have refused to sign the fair employment declaration. Most hon. Members know what this declaration is about. It says: We hereby give an undertaking that we will not employ our staff on the grounds of religion or politics, and by the same token we will not debar people from our employment on the grounds of religion or politics. I should have thought that that was the easiest thing in the world to sign. I cannot visualise anyone having a sleepless night over the "terrible" words in the declaration. Yet 20 firms have refused to sign it. That indicates that they are not in favour of the Fair Employment Agency or the Act and that they might want to continue to engage in discrimination—

Mr. Powell


Mr. Fitt

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) says "No", but I think that that is a possible interpretation.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is there not a suggestion in the undertaking that in signing the declaration firms could be reflecting on their past record? No discrimination by these companies in the past has been proved, and they think that by signing the declaration they will condemn their past.

Mr. Fitt

If these companies are so sure that they have not engaged in discrimination in the past—I am not saying that all or any of them have done so—why should they not go public and declare it? Why are they afraid? The Fair Employment Agency could say that these 20 firms have refused to sign but they have done so because they find the declaration unnecessary because they have never engaged in discrimination. Then we would all know whether to believe their protestations.

Mr. Bradford

Is it not possible that the majority of these firms are not prepared to sign the declaration, not because of any qualms about offering work to a person irrespective of his religion or politics but because the Government have manifestly failed to deal with the vital issue of quotas? Although the Government have failed to face up to that question, the Act imposes dreadful and onerous problems of achieving quotas, which are not in the interests of viability or productivity. That is why they are not prepared to accommodate this nonsense.

Mr. Fitt

I understand the reservations—and share them to a certain extent—about a quota system. That is a very bad thing for future prospects in Northern Ireland. To say that a firm must employ so many Catholics and so many Protestants is a recipe for total disaster in the industrial field. I would not support it.

I refer to a matter on which there is some degree of unanimity—the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Department of the Environment. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive is a unique housing authority in the United Kingdom—

Rev. Ian Paisley

It is a dinosaur.

Mr. Fitt

There is nowhere else in the United Kingdom where such a body exists. Councillors do not have any say in it or influence with it. Parliamentary representatives have very little influence with it. Time and time again I have tabled questions to the Secretary of State for the Environment asking him a number of questions about the Housing Executive, only to be told that this is a matter for the Housing Executive. I am not prepared to tolerate that kind of conduct. I am not prepared to accept that cavalier treatment from the Government.

Housing in Northern Ireland, and particularly in the city of Belfast, is a disaster. When the Housing Executive came into being it was a political decision. It did not result from the efficiency or inefficiency of the then existing local authorities in Northern Ireland which were in charge of housing; it resulted from discrimination in allocations. That is why the Housing Executive came into being and why I supported it. I now regret that decision.

The Housing Executive is a monster which has grown larger every day of every week. It treats political representatives acting in the interest of their electors with total and absolute contempt and provides us with no answers. The House has been asked to support the giving of many millions of pounds to the Housing Executive. But answers by Northern Ireland Ministers are to the effect that It is a matter for the Housing Executive. If it is a matter for the Housing Executive, the executive should provide us with answers.

I have written on behalf of constituents who live in appalling housing conditions. Three months later, I get a reply saying that the Housing Executive is looking into the matter. I used to telephone, but that was even worse. I often waited half an hour to get through, only to be told that the person I wished to speak to was either on a day's leave, at a meeting or sick. Those were the three stock answers. The Housing Executive is always holding meetings. It holds meetings 25 hours out of every day. I do not know what decisions it arrives at, but they are not for the benefit of myself or my constituents.

I received a telephone call at home three or four weeks ago from a political correspondent. I shall not name him—I think that he is in the Press Gallery. He asked if I had heard that the Housing Executive had agreed to sell 54,000 houses. I replied that I had not heard that and asked for the source of his information. He said that he thought that I would have known about it. When I made telephone calls I discovered that no other hon. Members knew. However, a document was sent out by the Housing Executive, supported by the Minister, stating that 54,000 houses were being sold. I telephoned the Housing Executive and asked why I had not been informed and was told "Perhaps we have made a mistake. We will do better next time." That is not the way to treat elected representatives who are deeply concerned about the appalling housing conditions in Northern Ireland and particularly in Belfast.

I have reservations about the sale of those 54,000 houses. I am a Socialist and I do not believe that houses should be built at public expense and sold as quickly as possible. Before a decision is taken to sell public authority housing, safeguards should be built in to ensure that those who are unable to buy their houses will be entitled to local authority houses it necessary.

I speak with a particular knowledge of housing estates in West and North Belfast. I shall not mention those estates by name because it may spark off religious differences and confrontations, which is the last thing I want. I know people of a certain religion in some estates in North Belfast who, between 1971 and 1974, were intimidated and thus had to leave the estates. I know one woman who was intimidated at the point of a machine gun. She came to my home at two o'clock in the morning, having been intimidated in that way and evicted because of her religion. However, in Northern Ireland we are well aware that intimidation can operate on both sides.

On three or four of those estates the tenants will now have the opportunity to buy their houses. I queried why they have the opportunity and was told that a need was being met in North Belfast and other areas. I inquired how it was determined whether the need was being met. I found that the need of those of one particular religion was being met. A Socialist Government should not accept that.

The Government should be attempting to run their housing policy in Northern Ireland in the hope that this year, next year or some time in the future Catholics and Protestants will be able to live together once more anywhere in Northern Ireland, whether in the Falls, the Shankill, West or North Belfast. Once we start selling houses and saying that Catholics do not want to live in certain areas any more, it will be impossible to achieve that result. I am sure that the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) knows, as I know, of many Catholics who would be happy to go back to North Belfast if they had the opportunity. They had to leave at a time of very high tension. Once the Government decide that some areas are for Catholics and others are for Protestants, they are surrendering to the forces of despair and conceding that there will be Catholic and Protestant ghettos—a development which has led to the terrible position in which we find ourselves today.

Hon. Members from Northern Ireland agreed in Committee—albeit with reluctance on the part of some hon. Members—to last year's rent order because we believed that some landlords were not getting enough rent from their properties to enable them to keep the houses in a decent state of repair. However, we see every day that landlords have been very quick to jump in and double, treble and even quadruple the rents of tenants who cannot afford to pay increases that are sometimes as dramatic as rises from £1 per week to £5 or £6 a week.

I have had numerous complaints. Tenants are told that they can appeal to a rent ribunal or a rent assessment panel. But these are old houses and old people live in them. Those old people do not have the time or the money to go through the whole business of rent tribunals and assessment panels.

A case was raised with me yesterday of an old person in the Old Park Road in North Belfast who had lived in his house for 35 years and who found that his rent was suddenly increased to £6 a week. He paid the increased rent for five or six weeks but found that he could not continue to do so. He told the agent and added that, anyway, the agent was not carrying out any repairs. All of a sudden, the agent found under his desk an agreement, signed 32 years earlier, providing that the tenant was responsible for repairs. Of course, if the tenant had carried on paying the £6 a week, the agent would not have remembered that he had a copy of that agreement. The rent order was not meant to bring hardship for old people living in such accommodation.

The Department of the Environment has some responsibilities in Northern Ireland, particularly in regard to the standard of lighting. Members of the Belfast city council have unanimously called for a meeting with the Secretary of State for the Environment about the terrible lighting problems throughout Belfast.

I have passed scores of letters to the Department and made scores of telephone calls to officials. The first 15 replies that I received acknowledged my letters and said that they would be dealt with as soon as possible. But what is meant by "as soon as possible"? Am I expected to wait until 1986? Every public representative in Northern Ireland has been getting such replies time and again.

At the end, one of my constituents sent me back all the replies that I had sent him over the years. They acknowledged his complaint about bad lighting and said "We shall do what we can as soon as possible." I sent them all to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, saying "Those are the replies I have sent to my constituent. Do what you can with them now". He told me that he had a problem because the matter did not affect only my constituent. He said "I cannot look at such a general complaint. The bad lighting affects everyone else". That is the sort of stone wall that one finds everywhere in Northern Ireland.

Yesterday morning, before I left to come here, I went to a new estate in Roden Street, which is a year to a year and a half old. I met the tenants' association, which had an agenda stating that there was only one light in Roden Street and that there was none in Distillery Street. It also said that the sewerage was bad. One would have thought that with their experience of sewerage in Turf Lodge, where a few months ago there was hysteria about a possible outbreak of dysentery—two children were taken to hospital—the Government would have taken steps to ensure that that did not happen on another estate.

There were other complaints on the agenda. We all know that on every new housing estate there are teething problems. I told the association that I would try to raise the matter with the Minister. In view of his answers to me yesterday, I think that he will tell me today that it is a matter for the Housing Executive. I repeat that it is not. It is a matter for the Minister. If he wants to continue with his cavalier attitude, he will find himself in serious trouble, not only in the House but on the streets of Northern Ireland. He will not be so well received when he goes around on his community relations exercises.

Who is responsible for lighting? There is another rumour circulating around Belfast that the fault is not of the Department of Environment but of the Army and the police, who say that the lights cannot go on because there may be a shooting incident and the security forces may be at stake. I do not know whether that is true. If it is, it would be understandable, though regrettable, if certain lights were put out in certain highly dangerous districts. However, I do not believe that it is true. I believe that it is the gross inefficiency of the Department of the Environment that has led to the present situation.

Mr. A. W. Stallard (St. Pancras, North)

I have been listening intently to what my hon. Friend has been saying. What he has said so far about the Housing Executive and the Department of the Environment makes it seem to those of us on the Labour Benches who take an interest in Northern Ireland that the fault is the result of direct rule, of the move towards integration. Northern Ireland is being administered by people who, to judge from what my hon. Friend says—and there is no reason to doubt that he is telling the truth—do not understand the situation of the place. It would be far better if another form of governmental structure, such as devolution, were evolved for the Six Counties in place of the inefficient, ill-informed direct rule that exists now.

Mr. Fitt

I agree with what my hon. Friend has said. I did not agree with the old Stormont, but at least under Stormont we did not have to wait three or four weeks for an answer. There were Ministers there who would answer before that. I am not advocating a return of Stormont, which would suit Ulster Unionist Members. Far be it for me to advocate that. I am criticising the inefficiency of the Department of the Environment.

I turn to the question of the selling of the 54,000 houses. I hope that the Minister responsible enters the Chamber before I end this speech. When he met me in the corridors, he said "I believe that you do not like the selling of the 54,000 houses." I replied "That is quite right. I do not like it at all. I have many reservations." He replied" You do not know much about housing in Northern Ireland. "I can tell the House that I know a hell of a lot more about it than he does—in any part of Northern Ireland. Again, that type of arrogant attitude towards Northern Ireland Members will result in a response which he did not think he would get.

Hon. Members will be aware of the great scare that there was recently in Turf Lodge. They may know that a firm of consultant architects was called in to look at the flats in Turf Lodge. The architects have reported that those flats should be demolished. They say that in the interests of the health of everyone in those flats and in the surrounding areas. I say now to my hon. Friend that those flats should be demolished. I also say that the flats lying vacant at the foot of Peter's Hill and at Ballysillan should also be demolished. They are an eyesore, and some of them should never have been built in the first place.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I must apologise to my hon. Friend for not being here for the beginning of his speech. Do I understand that neither my hon. Friend nor right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite knew about the sale of these 54,000 houses? I assure him that, because there is direct rule, we over here ought to know as well, but not one of us knew either. Therefore, literally no one knew except the Housing Executive. Is that the position?

Mr. Fitt

I shall repeat what the position is for the benefit of my hon. Friend. I received a telephone call from a journalist who asked me whether I had any comment to make on the proposal to sell 54,000 houses. I said that I had not heard about it. He said "We have heard about it through a statement issued by the Housing Executive." It is not right that such a cavalier attitude should be taken by the Housing Executive.

What is more, if my hon. Friend cares to go to the Vote Office he will be able to obtain copies of answers to questions of mine. I put down a series of questions to the Secretary of State asking how many houses the Housing Executive had sold, how many it intended to sell, what was the justification for selling them, and what was the highest bid for them. To each question the answer was that I should ask the Housing Executive. I do not think that any hon. Member will tolerate that sort of treatment from the Minister for very long. I will not ask the Housing Executive. This House votes millions of pounds every year to keep the Housing Executive in being. If I want to ask questions, I shall ask them on the Floor of this House.

I ask my hon. Friend, therefore, whether he intends at the earliest possible opportunity to pull down the flats in Turf Lodge which have caused so much alarm, despondency, despair and ill health. I warn him that any attempt to hold them up will meet with the stiffest opposition from the people in that area.

Mr. Stallard

That is a matter for the Housing Executive.

Mr. Fitt

I have no doubt that that is what I shall be told.

I move on to class IX of the Estimates, which deals with health and social services. The House will remember that last year there was absolute unanimity, especially amongst Northern Ireland Members, when the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act went on to the statute book. However, I am not sure that that Act has been implemented fully as yet. We may be told that we have not the resources yet and that economic considerations will not allow us to implement what is contained in that Act. However, that Act spelt out clearly the absolute minimum that should be given to chronically sick and disabled persons in Northern Ireland, and no excuse will satisfy me or any other hon. Member from Northern Ireland that people in that category should be less well off than similar people in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Next I come to class XI, which concerns the Department of Finance. We have been told repeatedly from the Dispatch Box by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that there is a corpus of law building up in relation to Northern Ireland and that, to use the words of Jack Lynch in the Republic, there is not a scintilla of evidence that integration is coming about. I accept that. I therefore accept the fact that the Ministry of Finance is responsible for public relations documents issued from the Northern Ireland Office. I agree that publicity is needed from the Northern Ireland Office because I watched my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on "Panorama" a fortnight ago when he was asked a series of questions by two well-known journalists. He got through 55 minutes without mentioning Northern Ireland. It was as if Northern Ireland was away in the Moon, somewhere in the Sea of Tranquility. He did not even know where it was.

Mr. Flannery

He did not mention Socialism eilther.

Mr. Fitt

I agree with my hon. Friend.

I would like to refer to what has been said from the Opposition Front Bench about De Lorean. I received a telephone call from a journalist on the Belfast Telegraph who asked if I had seen a document called "Protecting Human Rights in Northern Ireland". I replied that I had not and asked what it was about. The journalist told me that I was quoted in it. If anyone wants to see how the English language can be abused, let him look at a paragraph in that document which speaks of special steps to protect the citizens and goes on to refer to the emergency powers legislation in Northern Ireland. If that legislation is designed to protect the citizen, I do not know what the English language means.

The document talks about the Fair Employment Agency. I have illustrated how ineffective that agency is. The document also states that the Incitement to Hatred Act 1970 imposed penalties for incitement to hatred and for the circulation of certain false statements and false reports. That is going out to British embassies all over the world to prove how good an operator my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is. What it does not say is that the Act was put on the Statute Book in 1970. One man was charged under it in 1971. It was found that the Act was absolutely useless.

The Act means nothing. The Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights represented that to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and asked him to repeal the Act. There was one prosecution and that person was acquitted because the Act was so loose. Nobody was prosecuted under it in the years from 1972 to 1979, but in 1979 my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland sends out this document to embassies all over the world to prove how effective is legislation in the matter of protecting human rights in Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State then goes on to talk about policing and how good and effective is the police authority in Northern Ireland. For different reasons, hon. Members on the other side of the House—

Rev. Ian Paisley

The Act to which the hon. Gentleman refers was a Stormont Act. Both the hon. Gentleman and myself took part in the debate on it.

Mr. Fitt

It was a Stormont Act of Parliament. I voted for it, but it did not work.

The Secretary of State also said that the police authority had been set up as if it was the greatest institution ever for maintaining law and order. Bat the police authority in Northern Ireland is absolutely useless. It has done nothing. Only two or three weeks ago, a well-known and respected local authority member, Councillor Jack Hassard, resigned from it because he had brought up a complaint two years before which the authority said that it would look into. Going to the police authority is like getting a reply from the Housing Executive.

Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State what he intends to do about the Bennett report, which has been on his desk for the past fortnight? That committee was set up to question the methods of RUC interrogation. The sooner that its report is published, the better. He is very good at publishing documents like the paper that I have been quoting.

The end of this document deals with unemployment and the bringing of De Lorean to West Belfast. Since that factory was announced, it has been talked of as though it was going to achieve everything. The document gives a good, big quote from what I said at a reception for the opening of De Lorean. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has rightly written to the Prime Minister to say "In no circumstances use quotes from some of the speeches that have been made." I agree that the kind of speeches that he makes on 12 July platforms and to masonic lodges could not be used to justify a document like that.

I carried this document around and showed it to people, including a member of the Standing Advisory Commission on Human Rights. I do not need to tell the Minister something that he knows already, but the commission has already told the Secretary of State that its remit is useless and should be widened. The sooner the statute under which the commission acts is widened, the better.

Thus, when I was objecting to that document, so was the commission. It was interested not in the back page, which referred to me, but in the little bit that referred to its activities. Some of its members rang up the Northern Ireland Office and said "You are making a big mistake. You say that we are entitled to do things that we cannot do." The answer was "We are awfully sorry. We shall issue another document." I have the two documents here. But in the meantime the first document was away out to the British Embassy in Washington.

Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that Members of Parliament have a human right, too? Should we not allow as many hon. Members as possible to take part in the debate? That is a crucial human right in the operation of democracy.

Mr. Fitt

This is an opportunity for a major debate on Northern Ireland, yet there is only one Minister here and I know that he will not find it offensive if I say that he is a very junior Minister. At the end of the debate, when he will not reply to me at all, he will say to everybody else "I will take note of that: I will send you a letter; I will look into that." That is not the way to conduct a debate such as this. The Ministers responsible for these agencies should be here. They should not treat Northern Ireland representatives with such contempt and disdain. I hope that the matters that I have raised will cause the Minister some concern when he studies the report of my speech.

8.55 p.m.

Mr. William Craig (Belfast, East)

I shall do my best to contain my remarks, but there are certain important matters that I should like to highlight, and I hope that I shall be forgiven for turning again to the question of employment in Northern Ireland. I was glad that the subject was so forcefully highlighted by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave).

It is no exaggeration to say that it all the temporary aids and props were removed from Northern Ireland, unemployment would approach 17 or 20 per cent. It is a difficult time for the promotion of economic development in any part of the United Kingdom, or, for that matter, the Western world, but it would be prudent to make the best use of the resources available. Those resources are not being deployed as one would like. Northern Ireland has many disadvantages and we have to ensure that we make it as attractive as we can. The infrastructure of the Province and communications to and from it are critical. I was glad that so many of my hon. Friends highlighted the deficiencies of the air services.

I am concerned about the infrastructure generally. There is a very good case to be made for cutting public expenditure, but public expenditure on improving the infrastructure is probably the most justifiable expenditure of all. I give credit to Northern Ireland Ministers for what they have tried to do to improve the appearance of the city of Belfast. However, that operation is only a facelift. There is no overall strategy to recreate Belfast as the magnet for industry in Northern Ireland. Yet it is an urban area with enormous potential.

I refer, for example, to the Belfast harbour estate. I can think of no other area in the United Kingdom with so much to offer industry for development as an industrial estate. There are deep water facilities, an airport and reasonable road communications, although there are deficiencies with the roads. I am not aware of any plans for the sensible development of that estate, however, and that is a sad omission, given that we must accept that the shipbuilding industry must play a reduced role in Belfast.

I hope that Ministers will coin a new slogan for Belfast, and I refer to the city in terms not just of the interests of the citizens of Belfast but of the citizens of the whole of Northern Ireland. The city should be told to do an about-turn and face the river, not put its back to it. The river has so much to offer, and the harbour estate is a good place to begin.

The airfield, which is of great importance to Short Brothers, is surely capable of playing a bigger role than merely servicing one industry. I should like that possibility to be examined urgently. There are few cities with an airport virtually in the middle.

I draw the Minister's attention to some needless deficiencies. There is dissatisfaction among the workers in the aircraft industry about road access and congestion. That may seem petty but I make my plea on a wider issue. It is ridiculous that with all the important facilities located at that end of the harbour estate there is only one major access road to it. I shall not dwell on the security aspect.

The representations that have been made have never brought any worthwhile response, and yet the Department of the Environment is building an outer ring road, which causes upset in a residential part of my constituency known as Hawthornden Road, which was once the Vanguard headquarters. That area is being disturbed by the building of this outer ring road. But there are no plans to link that road with the harbour estate which draws workers from all parts of Belfast and many parts of Northern Ireland. Yet there is a huge area of reclaimed land known as Kinnegar that would lend itself to a new road into that estate connecting it with the outer ring road.

Belfast, if it is given the infrastructure of a modern city, will be able to boost the economy not only of the city but of Northern Ireland as a whole. I urge the Government to put aside this bit and piece approach. One of the weaknesses is the centralisation of functions within the Northern Ireland Office without any effective channel of communication between that Office and the public. It is crazy that the Housing Executive is virtually an authoritarian body which decides where and how houses should be built. If one is planning an urban area, there should be an overall pattern. It is not for the Housing Executive alone to decide whether there is a housing need in a particular spot. It must take into consideration the employment opportunities and how they can assist the growth of an urban area.

The same is true of planning organisations. Planning is not simply a matter of telling citizens that they cannot do something. Planning should be the business of telling people where they can best do something and where public resources are being deployed to the advantage of the citizens. Planning should be a positive, not a negative, process. The planning service in Northern Ireland is deplorable. One wonders whether it is worth advising one's constituents to go through the appeal process. I do not envy the task of those who have to administer the planning set-up when no one really knows what should be done and how it should be done.

There is, therefore, a good case for the Government to re-think. To help them with that re-think, I suggest that they call in outside consultants. I suggest that they call in independent people who will take an honest, fresh look at the problems. Without disrespect, I sometimes think that when a departmental committee examines a problem it averts its eyes from those areas where it may not be so sure that it has done all that well. I should like to see a searchlight applied to the policies which have existed in Northern Ireland, particularly in Belfast, in recent years.

My views about the road system are well known. Roads are a valuable investment. I am a little alarmed at what seems to be penny-pinching. The roads are not being properly maintained. A valuable investment has been put at risk because of slack maintenance. Can the Minister give the cost of putting right the ravages of the severe winter? These ravages were unnecessarily severe because the roads were not maintained properly.

In addition to prejudicing a valuable investment, we must consider the safety factor. We hear much from Government Ministers and their minions about the terrible tragedies on our roads. I agree that something must be done, but I am a great believer in setting an example. The Government could do much more to make our roads safer by improved lighting.

With a little more effort from the Department of the Environment's drainage division, I should not need to possess a hybrid between a boat and a motor car. The amount of water lying on Northern Ireland roads is outrageous. Somebody is falling down on the job. Bad drainage is one of the conditions which has made the ravages of the winter more expensive than they should be.

The Government reorganised and centralised local government in Northern Ireland and the care of roads was given to one Department. The effective system operated by county councils which acted as agents for the Government in the trunk road system was destroyed. It is time that we put right the mistakes that were made, often because of expediency.

I wish to give the House an example of the arrogance displayed by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt).

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The right hon. Member talks about the arrogance of the hon. Member for Belfast. West (Mr. Fitt). I have listened carefully to the argument and it is clear that the hon. Member is making a strong case for the mother State intervening and using taxpayers' money to build up the infrastructure. He has argued that this should be done in certain technical ways. But he refuses to accept the Opposition Front Bench argument that we can roll back the State and allow the private sector to intervene.

The right hon. Member has not given the impression that he thinks that the private sector has much of a role to play, or that the market forces can be left to resolve the problems of infrastructure in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Craig

If I had more time, I could put the hon. Member's mind at rest. The private sector has an enormous role to play, just as the public sector has. But this evening we are dealing with the public sector and the cost of financing the infrastructure. That is why I have concentrated my remarks on that matter.

We have heard from many hon. Members of the irritation and the seeming arrogance of Departments at Stormont. I declare an interest. I keep a boat in Lough Erne. I was a solicitor for the Erne Chartered Boat Association and I defended it when summonses were instituted by the Northern Ireland Department. All this arose because the Minister's Department, as navigation authority for the waterway of Lough Erne, decided to introduce new regulations, introducing them in such a way as to alienate the entire membership of the hire boat association to such an extent that they ignored the new regulations and had to be prosecuted.

The prosecution failed because of lack of proof, and the lack of proof really arose out of the impossibility of the regulations. If the Department were to try to enforce those regulations, it would destroy a valuable tourist trade centring on the waterways because wardens would have to harass tourists who hire boats for holidays and bring them back to tender evidence.

The problem is that the Department in its wisdom, as navigation authority, decided that for the safe use of the waterway there must be two standards of navigation regulation—one for the boats which are privately owned, by people such as myself, with quite minimum requirements, and the other for boats used by people paying a rent, a sort of hire car operation. These latter boats must be subject to a totally different and very onerous set of regulations.

The Department attempts to justify these regulations by saying that, since a profit is being made out of the boats, it is right that there should be a higher standard. But there is no other waterway in the United Kingdom, with the possible exception of Lake Windermere—though I think that the Department's information is not all that accurate here—to which such regulations apply. For no other waterway in the United Kingdom or, indeed, in the Irish Republic, with its major waterway, the Shannon, have two sets of regulations been adopted.

As a result of this high-handed way of doing things, a decent body of men who are making a major contribution to the tourist trade of Northern Ireland now find themselves in defiance, just refusing to register their boats, although in fact all their boats are already up to the standards on which the Department insists.

I appeal to the Minister to re-examine this case. It was raised with his predecessor and very little satisfaction was given. I do not expect that I shall be involved with it much longer—I hope not—but I can tell the Minister that one of the most valuable sections of our tourist trade is in revolt and intends to continue to defy the regulations. This need never have happened. It was an example of arrogance.

There is a lot of money represented in these matters, and that money is capable of doing a lot of good. If it is to do the maximum good, it must enlist the co-operation of all the people and bring the involvement of all the people. It is not for a few experts sitting in plush seats round expensive tables to tell us how best we should run our country.

9.14 p.m.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

As the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) rightly said, this debate is important for the people of Northern Ireland and the affairs of our Province, and it is to be regretted that only a junior Minister is present to reply.

Of course, we could not have the Minister responsible for two of the most important Departments, the Department of Education and the Department of Health, because he sits in another place. Never once has a Member from Northern Ireland or, indeed, any other Member of the House had the opportunity of really probing what is happening in those two Departments, for the simple reason that the person responsible is not answerable in the House of Commons and someone else is briefed to answer. I recall an earlier occasion when the Minister of State answered and his answer was not even in accordance with the facts of the situation in the hospital service in Northern Ireland.

Here we have two important Departments which are to undergo changes and yet never once have we had the opportunity of receiving from a responsible Minister responsible answers to the questions agitating the public. That is a serious situation and it is growing more serious daily. I agree with the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. Stallard), who intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West to ask whether it would be better if there were a form of devolved government in Northern Ireland. Of course it would be better. That is an aim to which I am dedicated. What we are discussing is the direct results of direct rule. They will continue, no matter how perfect we seek to make a system of direct rule.

The terrible spectre of unemployment concerns every Member representing a Northern Ireland seat. We have had our difficulties with terrorism. Here I join in the congratulations which have already been expressed by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) concerning the effective surveillance of the IRA by the security forces which has resulted in the discovery of a large number of bombs. I am informed by the police that they were intended for a blitz on the dock areas of Belfast this weekend. I am delighted that the security forces have been able to prevent that terrible event.

In our city we have, in addition to the shadow of terrorism, the creeping shadow of unemployment, which is entering the homes of those living in the Province. Unemployment has a dreadful effect upon a man and upon his household. It is particularly bad when it reaches the stage outlined by the hon. Member for Belfast, West when a person has to sign on at the labour exchange and is told not to come back for three months, when the process is repeated. The only future that person has is four visits to the dole each year. We are greatly concerned about that.

The Government must be prepared to give more help to existing industry in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the Government's policy appears to be to look further afield. New companies entering Northern Ireland are given liberal grants and loans. I am approached by employers who have been operating viable industry in Northern Ireland for years and who say "We have a cash flow difficulty. Why cannot we be treated in the same way as new companies coming here?" There is a terrible tendency to run down companies and eventually to close them so that when they are reopened fresh grants will be available.

This type of exercise is being carried out with the firm of Macrete. My information is that one part of that firm is viable and could be sold at a profit but everyone is holding off. People do not want to purchase until the business is no longer viable. Then it will be sold out cheaply and the new owners will get fresh Government grants for bringing in what will be a new industry.

I am informed by the Department that it is not able to say to the receiver "We are prepared to help you to keep the company viable until a purchaser arrives who will pay a proper price for the viability of the company." If the Department says that it is unable to help, is the company to be run down and sold for buttons? It could be that there are those in the company with an interest who would like to see that happen. It could be that at least one person in the company would like to see the company run down as that would be to his financial advantage. The Minister needs to consider the matter with all haste and seriousness.

Why should a viable company that has already received large Government grants be allowed to run down so that someone may buy it cheaply and obtain all the fresh grants that would be made available in restarting the company? I am sure that the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) will want to say something more about that.

I direct my remarks to unemployment and the gas industry. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) will want to enlarge on the subject. My hon. Friend has stated that he feels from his information that Northern Ireland will not get the pipeline for natural gas. If that is so, we have an industry that is going further and further over the edge. Why could not a decision have been taken months ago? Why could not we have been told months ago? Why should we have a permanent creeping shadow? If we are to save jobs, let us save them. If it is felt that jobs cannot be saved, let us try to get employed in other companies those who will be made unemployed. The Government need to reconsider the whole situation.

I have asked the Prime Minister to call elected representatives of all shades from Northern Ireland around the table to let the people of Northern Ireland know that he is concerned about unemployment in the Province. We are dealing with something that is eating the vitals out of our community.

The days ahead will be dark and grave for employment in Northern Ireland. We all know what happens to the unemployed. There is demoralisation in the home and family and throughout manhood and womanhood. I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West to say that it would be far better for the Government to invest in the employed than the unemployed. It would be better to keep certain places of business in operation than to pay large redundancy payments and large social benefits.

Mr. Ron Thomas (Bristol, North-West)

I think that you will agree that Northern Ireland Members have argued for vast sums of public expenditure to be directed to the Northern Ireland infrastructure. You yourself have argued for considerable sums to be invested in industry that is already in Northern Ireland. Do you not think that if we are to do that with taxpayers' money there must be some public accountability? Do you not agree that the taxpayers should have at least part ownership of the industries and firms that are the beneficiaries of public expenditure, if only to stop the asset stripping to which you referred?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) kept referring to me, and I am completely innocent in the matter.

Rev. Ian Paisley

I do not wish to enter into any argument with the hon. Gentleman. If we can save asset stripping by the Government having part ownership of companies in receipt of public moneys, all well and good. I should have no opposition to that. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman—it may be that it is in his mind—that some public expenditure in Northern Ireland has been a sheer waste. Large sums have been spent on elaborate recreation centres in cities when smaller centres would have met the needs of the people. A vast local complex was built costing millions of pounds. The money spent on that complex should have been spent on creating employment.

The Government should look carefully at where they put their money in Northern Ireland. I do not care whether the expenditure is borne by the Belfast council. It still comes out of the public purse. When the Belfast council asks for money for this purpose, the Government should refuse. Instead, people should be employed. Employment should come first, and other projects afterwards.

Having listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West, I believe more and more in conversion. He said that when he thought about the Housing Executive and his opposition to the local councils' control over housing, he had come to believe that it would be better if the local councils had held on to that control.

Mr. Fitt rose

Rev. Ian Paisley

I shall give way later. I do not want to misrepresent what the hon. Gentleman said. He said that, looking at the record of the Housing Executive, he had come to think again about his attitude to the previous method of housing management under the local councils.

Mr. Fitt

That is a most important subject in Northern Ireland. I said that the Housing Executive was brought into being for political reasons as previously there had been allegations about wrong methods being used by local authorities throughout Northern Ireland. I agreed with the setting up of the Housing Executive. I now regret having done so. That is the most grossly inefficient organisation in Northern Ireland.

Rev. Ian Paisley

That makes the case stronger. I welcome that remark. I do not agree that the wild allegations of discrimination were ever justified. I debated the legislation with the hon. Gentleman in Stormont until the small hours. The hon. Gentleman thought that the legislation would be wonderful. I disagreed. Now he tells us at this late hour of his conversion that it is not wonderful. In that case we should not have wasted our time. We do not remedy such situations by legislation. We must produce remedies by going forward and getting people employed. If people are employed and well housed, they will be happy. Some of the events in Northern Ireland result from the fact that people have time on their hands, and inadequate employment and housing.

The Housing Executive is a dinosaur. It is the strangest animal that was ever inflicted upon the people of Northern Ireland. I was told by the director-general of the Housing Executive that I wrote far too many letters to him. Recently he said that in the first few months of the year he had received 600 letters from me. I said that he would receive another 600 as soon as I could write them. The process is that we must write letters.

Neither I nor any other Member of Parliament has any standing in the office of the Housing Executive. The only person to whom we may write is the director-general. I write to him pointing out different situations. A woman may find that a tile has come off the roof of her house. She may have complained 10 times that rain was coming in. She may have asked for someone to come to put the tile on. Nothing is done. The people involved ask me whether I can do something. I write to the director-general. The director-general replies acknowledging the letter, saying that the matter will be looked into. In three or four weeks one receives a reply that the job has been done. Then, when that reply from the Housing Executive is sent to the person concerned, that person writes back to say that the people at the Housing Executive are liars and that no one has come to fix the new tile. That sort of thing has happened in my constituency over and over again, and it has happened many times in the experience of all hon. Members from Northern Ireland.

I will mention one other case showing the failure of the Housing Executive to do what it is supposed to do. In my constituency advice centre in Larne I met a mother who had recently given birth to a child. The hot water system in her house was not working. She complained to the Housing Executive about it. No one came to look at it. I wrote asking the Housing Executive to look at it. I was told that the matter would be attended to, and then later that everything necessary had been done. The person concerned then informed me that the work had not been done.

I shall not weary the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with any more of these items of practical experience, but what can one do when one is told by the executive that the work has been done when in fact this is not the case?

I now turn to the matter of house sales. When the Housing Executive is selling a house it puts a great value on it, but when it is demolishing a house it puts no value at all on it. There is a completely different scale applied. When the Housing Executive is selling one of its 54,000 houses, a very high valuation is put on it. The executive is asking £5,000 and £6,000 for houses in my constituency which were built for £100. That is indeed good business for the Housing Executive. But when the Housing Executive wishes to demolish a house it will offer the person concerned £50 for the site value.

That has happened in Harryville, a suburb of the etown of Ballymena, where there is to be a vast housing complex. The Housing Executive is seeking to demolish the houses there. In some cases it has not even negotiated with the people as to what they will get. But the people concerned, having had their houses vested in the executive, have then received a letter from the executive saying "You are now a tenant of the Housing Executive and will pay £3 a week." That is for the same house for which the executive offered £50 site value for demolition.

This is a public scandal in Northern Ireland, and the sooner the Minister wakes up and does something about it, the better. It is a matter that is very close to the heart of the people concerned.

Mr. Fitt

I feel compelled to rise again, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in support of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. I have a case now about which I am in contact with the Housing Executive. A woman called Traynor lived in a house in Leeson Street, off the Falls Road. In 1971 she was told that the area was to be vested. Her property was a house and a small shop combined. She left it, having found another house. As she was the owner, she then let the house and small shop to another person for about £2 a week. The Housing Executive then vested that little shop and increased the rent to £5 a week, which it has been taking from 1971 up to the present day. Recently Mrs. Traynor received a letter from the Housing Executive saying "You have an interest in this property. We now offer you £26 in full settlement." That is the sort of confiscation that is going on in Northern Ireland.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The hon. Member's remarks illustrate what I have been trying to say. I do not think it is the duty of the Member of Parliament to have to call a meeting of all the tenants and bring Housing Executive officials to that meeting to try to hammer out individual settlements. Members of Parliament have many duties to perform in Northern Ireland and it is not right that they should have to perform duties that are the responsibility of the Housing Executive and its officials.

I refer briefly to the Doury Road estate. It was a good estate, but it became a disgrace because of neglect by the Housing Executive. Good houses were wrecked and left vandalised. The people on the estate pleaded with the Housing Executive to take some action, but it allowed the estate to deteriorate. I have gone around that estate. I have called the officials and they have promised to do something, but they have never done anything. Fortunately, one of my councillors who belongs to the Democratic Unionist Party was elected to the Housing Executive through the Housing Council—the Rev. William McCrea, of Magherafelt. I got him to come down, and immediately I got action. The whole estate has been cleaned up. That was done because of one member of the Housing Executive right at the top. But it should not be up to the Member of Parliament to have to go to an individual on the Housing Executive and drag him from his work to look at an estate. That is what is happening.

The Housing Executive must be accountable in this House and the Minister must answer these questions. I often put down questions and I get the same answer as the hon. Member for Belfast, West. I am told time and again that this is a matter for the Housing Executive. I say that it is a matter for this House, which pays the Housing Executive. There must be some public accountability.

We are called Housing Executive bashers. I know that the executive has difficulties. It has a bad inheritance. In my area the houses that it inherited from the Moyle council, the Ballycastle council, the Ballymoney council, and the Ballymena rural district council were disgraceful. Some of these houses have been built for 50 years and have never had a coat of paint put on their doors. I know that, but I feel that in some way the Housing Executive should be able to give an account to the Members of Parliament. We have absolutely no standing. But if one belongs to the Housing Council one can walk into the executive's offices and demand certain things—and rightly so. When I proposed that all hon. Members representing Northern Ireland should be on the Housing Council, the executive just about pulled down the heavens. It said that it did not want Members interfering in its affairs.

Then, of course, we have arrogance in the local offices of the Housing Council where people go in and threaten to see their Member of Parliament if no action is taken by the executive. These local officers say that they do not care. I shall name one person in particular, a Miss Cousley, in Ballymoney. I have written to the Housing Executive about her and the way she treats people who threaten to go to their Member of Parliament. It is an absolute disgrace. In a court case this week we heard about the arrogant way in which people were treated by these local officers. The tenants of the Housing Executive are citizens of Northern Ireland and have a right to be respected. No arrogant official of the Housing Executive has any right to curse them, use bad language to them or take the name of their Member of Parliament in vain.

I hope that the Housing Executive will get the message loud and clear. We have had enough nonsense from it. It is time it did the job it is called upon to do. If it cannot, it should get out and let someone else do it.

The subject of transport has been well covered tonight. However, some of us are exasperated by the security checks at airports, especially at Heathrow. I was travelling recently from the House to a church service and carrying a copy of the scriptures. After going through the checkpoint at Heathrow, I went into the toilet and was followed by one of the top security men. He said "You have a Bible in your hand". I said "I have". He said "You will hand that over". I said "You will be a good fellow if you take that Bible from me". He said "You are not supposed to carry that on to the plane", but I said that I would be doing so. When I got outside, I saw scores of people carrying hard-back books. I approached the security man who had previously spoken to me and told him of this. He was not interested in carrying on the argument and told me to return to my seat. However, I said that I would carry the argument further and would mention it the next time that I spoke in the House.

In a previous debate I mentioned that one business man who brings much business to Northern Ireland was recently told that he could carry only one newspaper on to the aeroplane. He was told to hand over the other two newspapers that he had been carrying. They were put into a plastic bag and placed in the hold of the aeroplane. That is the kind of petty security check being operated.

Why should one not be allowed to carry on to the aeroplane a briefcase that has been searched over and again? If the searchers did their job properly, the security staff would not object to briefcases being carried on to aeroplanes. Yet ladies are allowed to carry their handbags on to aeroplanes. A visitor to Northern Ireland told me that he was travelling with a case that had a strap. At the airport he was told that he could not carry it on to the aeroplane. He said "I thought there was an Act against sex discrimination in this country. I claim my rights under that Act." He was told "If that is your attitude, then we shall have to let you on". If a case is searched, it should be allowed on to the aeroplane.

I am not as hopeful as the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) that the travel services are pulling up their socks. I think that there is a need for a second service, regardless of the shuttle service. I am informed that British Airways will make a large profit on the London to Belfast route this year—even though aircraft are flown back to Glasgow at night. The time has come for the fares to be lowered. A one-way journey to the United States with two good meals can be obtained for the price of a return between London and Belfast. The facilities are not good either in Belfast or Heathrow. The facilities for collecting hand luggage are particularly bad, especially when there is a large crowd fighting to get their luggage.

I do not know why plastic bags are sometimes put on the luggage. Sometimes only a small scrap of plastic is put around cases. Perhaps there is an employee in the plastic bag racket and it suits him to have that type of security.

There is a need for improvement of the air link between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I hope that British Midland will get the licence to fly into Heathrow. The Underground now runs into Heathrow and everyone wants to fly into the airport because it provides a quick link to the centre of London and the communicating railway lines. Gatwick airport is good, but mainly for those taking flights from Gatwick to other parts of the world.

A jetfoil service should be initiated between Belfast, Carrickfergus or Bangor and London. I claim a constituency interest, but I believe that a cheap jetfoil service from any one of those places across to the mainland of the United Kingdom should be introduced. The Government have been giving money to industries in Northern Ireland. Strathearn Audio is an example. I said in our last debate that we had been told that a Japanese firm might be taking over that company. Will the Minister put the record straight? Has the Japanese firm declared that it is no longer interested?

Perhaps the Minister will also tell us how much the managing director of Strathearn Audio, Mr. Gordon Smith, received. He kept telling us what he proposed to do with the firm. He was often on television telling people that he would save the firm and that it would be receiving more money. Some security chiefs have told me that parts of Strathearn Audio were found in some of the detonators used in IRA bombs. It is time that we had the facts out in the light. Is the Japanese company still interested? If so, how much money will it receive to restart operations?

When we put money into creating employment, we must make sure that we will get employment and that the assistance will be worth while. I would rather see assistance given to save Hughes Bakeries, because that firm has been providing employment for many years, than see money going into a fly-by-night company. We have had too many such companies in Northern Ireland.

I am concerned about what happens when there are emergencies in Northern Ireland. When I returned to my constituency from the House recently, I learnt that oil had got into the water supply of Island Magee and Whitehead. What was running out of the taps looked like liquid TVO. I got in touch with Stormont and was told that there was nothing to worry about because water tankers had been sent to the area. I do not believe what Stormont tells me—the Government should be ashamed that I have to say that—and I got in my car and drove straight to Whitehead. I discovered that the only assistance that had been provided was a lorry carrying six old zinc water tanks. I ran my hand up the side of the tanks and discovered that they were covered with mud. When people turned on the taps, the stuff that came out was like porridge. That was supposed to be their supply of drinking water. They could not drink it.

When I contacted the duty officer, I was told that the Minister was out at a function and that it was not possible to get the chief engineer. The right hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Craig), who was the Stormont Member for the area, will know about the situation at Island Magee. I waited with the people there and only after a very long time were we condescendingly treated to clean water. Yet I had been told much earlier that everything had been taken care of.

We have never heard how the oil got into the water. What steps have been taken to deal with it? Is the water now fit for human consumption? Were the main pipes contaminated? Have they been cleaned? That episode was an example of what happens under direct rule. A Stormont Member could have got in touch with the responsible Minister and have got action. Government was nearer to the people then.

I must bring two other matters to the attention of the House before I sit down to give my colleagues time to take part in the debate. The first concerns Rathlin Island. I am the only Northern Ireland Member with an inhabited island in his constituency. It is the only inhabited island in Northern Ireland.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)


Rev. Ian Paisley

Perhaps it is not the only one, but it is the largest. It used to have 1,000 inhabitants, but now there are only a little over 100. I am concerned about them, because from time to time they are cut off by high seas. A little over a week ago the supply boat was collecting its supplies at Ballycastle. The harbour there is in a deplorable state. The freak waves that come across it are notable for their destruction. At the weekend a man and his daughter were swept off the road, and they were saved only by Providence.

All the supplies for the island were swept into the tide and washed away. Boats were unable to make the island for a week. I telephoned the Department concerned and asked whether a helicopter could be sent to take the supplies to the island, and was told that certainly something would be done.

I was out of the country during the recess. When I returned the secretary of the island committee telephoned me and said that the islanders had no supplies. I got in touch with the Department, which told me that it could do nothing unless the Moyle district council made an official request.

Anyone who knows the politics of Northern Antrim knows that the Moyle council utterly detests the Rathlin islanders. Anything they have ever asked the council to do has been refused. Any representations they have made to the council have been thrown out. In fact, the day two councillors raised the matter of the supplies being swept overboard, the chairman of the council sat back in his chair and said "Isn't that a great laugh? They have lost their supplies". Yet those in the Moyle council are the people who say whether the island will have a helicopter.

I pointed that out to the Department, and after it had put pressure on the Moyle council the council consented—after the island had been cut off for a week—to request a helicopter to get supplies into the island. I ask the Minister to make it clear to the council that in the future he will not consult it when the island is cut off.

The island has an elected committee. I made a plea in the House that a councillor should be elected from Rathlin to represent the people on the Moyle council, but that plea was voted down because it was said that there were only a few islands. They have no representation on the council. They are not listened to when they make representations. But when they are cut off—

Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

Is it not a fact, if my memory serves me correctly, that the island of Rathlin is a ward of the Moyle council?

Rev. Ian Paisley

It is not a ward. It is part of a ward. But the people have no councillor of their own. I wanted them to have a councillor of their own to represent them, but that was not granted in the House.

I know that there are only 110 people on the island, but they are in a unique position. They are cut off many times. Hon. Members should go to Scotland and see how the islanders are treated there. They should even go to the Republic of Ireland and see how the islanders are treated.

Why should the Rathlin islanders have to wait until Fergus Wheeler, the chairman of the Moyle council, after he has his laugh, condescends to say "Yes, you can have supplies"? If the island is cut off, as the Member for the area I demand that the islanders have a helicopter for supplies to be flown in immediately.

I am not condemning the Department, because it had to work under that rule. I am glad that it put pressure on the Moyle council. I hope that the Minister will change the rule so that in future he can get supplies to the island immediately when it is cut off.

I am glad to end on a more happy note from the Minister's point of view. The Department has authorised boring in the famous village of Ahoghill, where the former Prime Minister, that tragic figure Terence O'Neill, used to live. I am glad that there has been some success with the boring. But perhaps the Minister will go a little further and tell us just how successful it is. I understand that hot springs have been encountered some 5,500 feet down. When I visited that drill hole, the water was bubbling up, and rumour has it that it could be a very valuable find.

I understand, too, that the Minister intends to authorise offshore drilling off North Antrim to search for natural gas and possibly oil. North Antrim may not be very well respected because of its Member of Parliament, but I am sure that we shall be courted well if gas, oil or coal is found in that area. I hope that the Minister will give us some sort of report about that very important exploration.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Before I call another hon. Member, may I remind the House that it is hoped that the winding-up speeches will begin in 40 minutes? I know that there are at least three hon. Members who are trying to catch my eye.

9.56 p.m.

Mr. Win. Ross (Londonderry)

A very large part of this debate has been concerned with employment prospects in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) referred to the problems being encountered by a firm in his constituency which is trying to develop an unusual and perhaps unique clay deposit in Aghadowey. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) spoke of the Peter Pan bakeries, in which I also have constituency interests. When the Minister replies to this debate, I shall be grateful if he can say whether the viability of the various components of the Peter Pan firm have been examined with a view to the possibility of selling off those parts of the firm which were viable before the present conglomerate came into existence.

Having said that, I should like to develop the theme of employment and unemployment in my constituency and put a few matters to the Minister in the hope that he will listen and try to meet the first desire of the people for employment and the second desire of the general populace for the decentralisation of Government bodies and functions throughout Northern Ireland and principally to the western and most sparsely populated parts of the Province.

The Government always express their pious faith in a policy of decentralisation. Although I am happy to hear their commitment to decentralisation, I should be much happier if I could see some action in that direction. Far too often I fear that they pay only lip service to decentralisation.

We have seen the movement towards the concept of removing the design team of the water service in Londonderry city. I deplore it and I have already protested about it to the Minister. However, I fear that it is going ahead despite my protests and those of many other people in the area. We have also seen changes in the structure of the Northern Ireland electricity service, which is building a headquarters in Campsie in my constituency. It has been the subject of many protests in this House already, and it is leading to a very much poorer service to consumers. Then we have the centralisation of road fund licensing in county hall, Coleraine. That, to say the least of it, has not been a success. It is most inconvenient for those who have to travel there.

In the light of all this, I should like to see some success brought about by the decentralisation of Government functions. An opportunity has now been presented by the proposed introduction of the 10-year driving licence which I believe has to be centralised. The Minister wrote to me some time ago indicating that this unit was to be situated in Belfast at the Department of Health and Social Services building in Corporation Street. Despite the decision which has apparently been made or is in the process of being made in favour of this building, many questions need to be answered. It is rumoured that the building was offered to a number of other Government Departments. One name mentioned to me is the Manpower Services Commission, which turned it down for one reason or another. It is also known that the union concerned, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, is against centralisation. The Minister's letter to me speaks of full consultation with the union.

Members of this House have experienced consultation. We know exactly what consultation means. People attend at a workplace, listen to what the union or local representatives say, then go away and do not change their minds at all. They do not even seem to take into account what was said to them. There was consultation over the centralisation of road fund licensing many years ago. I am told that the local officials who dealt with that aspect of life in Northern Ireland were much opposed to centralisation. However, the Stormont officials supported centralisation. Centralisation came about. It was a total failure.

The fact was that the early recommendation was for county hall, Coleraine, based on a number of reasons, among which was the great difficulty being experienced in getting senior DOE staff to move to the Belfast city area. Most of these people who own their own homes or who are in the process of buying them find great difficulty in moving and prefer to stay where they are. There is also the problem of the need of the provincial centres. This is recognised by the union as well as the councils concerned. All desire to see job opportunities in the Government service brought to the more remote parts of Northern Ireland. The security aspect of siting fairly complex machinery where it could easily be got at and damaged also had to be considered.

The Minister's letter indicates that the building which was available or apparently available in the town centre block in Craigavon was not what was needed. It also indicates that county hall, Coleraine was ruled out. I wonder why county hall was not considered suitable. Despite my earlier view that a considerable number of jobs were involved, I am now told that very few people are involved in handling driving licences in Northern Ireland. I am told by the Minister that the machinery cost £180,000. My experience of machines in this day and age is that £180,000 does not buy very much. Those Members of this House who attended a demonstration in which driving licences and suchlike documents were placed on film saw machines that were very small but did the job very effectively. I should like to know precisely what sort of machine is being bought, what it does and what space is needed to house it. The space cannot be very large. If County Hall is to be bypassed, there must be a far better argument than lack of space. What is the argument against county hall, Coleraine?

Also, the new road fund licence machines which have recently arrived at county hall will, after the necessary work is done in putting all the records on to the computer, mean a considerable reduction of staff. That, coupled with the proposal to abandon road tax, will make space available at county hall. Why cannot that space be used? County hall is the proper place for the central driving licence unit. It is secure and it has available staff and it is west of the Bann, in a high unemployment area. The only real objection is that it is said to be a security risk to have two lots of records in the same building. That is not good enough. It is much easier to protect one building properly than to give second-rate protection to two buildings.

Will the Minister take a long, hard look at the siting of this unit? Cannot something be moved out into the sticks for a change instead of taking everything possible into Belfast, away from the people, and thereby depriving the rural areas of jobs, opportunities and a payroll to which they are entitled?

I will not be quite as scathing about the Housing Executive as some hon. Members have been. I shall try to be constructive. The executive is not building enough homes for old-age pensioners. The system of providing housing for old people seems to be downgraded. As a result, many old people live in dwellings far too big for them, which could be made available for families if only more old people's homes were built. Why is the executive refusing to raise the percentage of such homes on new estates?

10.7 p.m.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

I wish to deal mainly with the information and press service of the Northern Ireland Office and to ask for some explanation of why it is falling down on the job of countering IRA propaganda in Great Britain and abroad. I am not asking that the Northern Ireland Office should pay for people to be employed on newspapers under bogus names. That is the sort of trick that one associates with the CIA and which we can well do without in the United Kingdom.

I can give an example along these lines. The Sunday News employs a columnist under a bogus name. He has a contract with the newspaper under which his name is not to be divulged to the readers. He happens to be a Unionist Party propagandist who uses his privileged position to attack opponents of his leaders, including myself. I refer to Mr. John Morrison, whose real name is Mr. Hugh Shearman.

I think that Mr. Hugh Shearman, who is widely blamed for the more mediocre of Mr. West's speeches, should not write under a bogus name. If he is writing as a party propagandist, and does not want to mislead his unsuspecting readers, he should be proud to state his party.

I wish to protest vehemently about the image of Belfast and of the Ulster people conveyed in last night's ITV play, "I'm All Right, Montreal". That was in the tradition of programmes such as the play broadcast a little while ago on BBC television, called "The Last Window Cleaner", which also purported to explain what was happening in Northern Ireland.

Anyone watching either play and similar programmes on all three channels which exploit the war in Northern Ireland—they seem to delight in dipping their hands into the blood of Ulster people which has been spilled by the terrorists over the years—would wrongly be led to believe that everyone in the Province is caught up in violence or hung up on hatred.

That is demonstrably not so, especially to anyone who has taken the trouble to visit the Province and meet the ordinary people there who are the best people in the world. That message, sadly, is not getting across. I blame the Government, just as I point the finger of accusation at their predecessors in office, for failing to make sure that people abroad realise the merits of the Ulster people.

An example of antagonism has already been given in tonight's debate of the policeman at Gatwick who looks upon all travellers to Northern Ireland as terrorists or suspected terrorists. That is the message that television programmes and press comments give to people in Britain. The message is that the people of Northern Ireland are second-class citizens who are not worth the moral support that we believe the United Kingdom should give them. I am not surprised that the people in Great Britain and in other countries who watch productions such as the two I have described, and others which give a brutal distortion of life in Northern Ireland and callously blacken the Ulster character, have less sympathy and understanding for the citizens of Northern Ireland than they should have.

The propaganda value of all this to the Provisional IRA must be enormous. It wishes to give the impression that violence is the only way of life in Northern Ireland. The Provisional IRA knows by now, after it has committed the most appalling and obscene atrocities, that it cannot bomb, shoot and mutilate the Ulster people into submission. It intends instead, therefore, to convince the people of Great Britain that they should abandon Northern Ireland and its people.

The time is long overdue when the Government, using particularly their information and press office in Northern Ireland, should counter this defamation of the Ulster people. For a start, the Government might remind the BBC and the ITV that the Ulster people, going through a hell not of their own creation, should be given every possible moral support and encouragement. Is it too much for the Ulster people to ask, since they have shown such remarkable restraint and forbearance over the last 10 years in the face of terrible acts of violence, that people throughout the rest of the United Kingdom should recognise their courage, tenacity and decency, and to ask that these qualities are broadcast in Great Britain and elsewhere in the world, particularly in the United States?

The picture of life in Northern Ireland as portrayed in the plays I have referred to—and there have been other programmes not unlike them—is false, bizarre and brutal. It is a cruel portrayal of people in a Province which has had to endure 10 years of terrorism. Might not the Northern Ireland information office be provided with more money so that the staff could show that all this violence can and does occur in other parts of the United Kingdom? It is worth recalling, when television wrongly and falsely castigates the Ulster people, the racialism which exists in London, the Midlands and elsewhere, where Fascist thugs are prepared to use the boot against Asians and other coloured immigrants.

It is worth recalling what happens in South London where it is unsafe for people to walk. Mugging takes place. It is a disgrace under what is supposed to be the British rule of law. Yet pompous people there can preach to the people in Northern Ireland, pretending that the Ulster folk are less than normal. I should prefer to be an Ulsterman any day than to be part and parcel of those who operate in certain other parts of the United Kingdom. There are people in Great Britain who preach hatred and violence and advocate a way of life which is reprehensible. That is why I am surprised that the Government, and their Conservative predecessors, have failed to show the Ulster people in their true light; they have failed to show that they are decent people who want a decent way of life for all Ulster citizens. They have failed to show that those people are industrious, God fearing and dedicated to improving the condition of all the people in the Province who wish to be good citizens of the United Kingdom.

It is sad that people are given the impression that life in Northern Ireland is far worse than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Yet I know from having practised at the London Bar and talking to friends that life is one terrible hell in parts of London and some parts of Great Britain. The United States, which proclaims its belief in human rights, castigates Russia for failing to fulfil its obligations under the human rights treaty that it has adopted. United States Congressmen have attacked Northern Ireland. A Mr. Biaggi came to Ulster. He is an Italian ex-policeman, who is a member of some political caucus in New York.

Some members of Congress set up an ad hoc committee on human rights in Northern Ireland and one is entitled to ask whether they are so politically corrupt that they are blind to the harrowing examples of social deprivation, the poverty, the criminality and the racialism which exists in the United States of America. One reads of the terrible brutalities in their prisons. One hears of rape, of beatings up by warders, and attacks by fellow prisoners. Yet these people have the audacity to come to Northern Ireland and to say that there is brutality in the Maze prison and that the Maze prison is a disgrace even by the standards of some South American republic or Communist country.

Our prisons in Northern Ireland—one of them is pretty old—are far better than the prisons in the United States of America. I do not have all the facts about conditions in America on which I could form a value judgment about the lack of human rights. But to enable me to do this and to monitor the many violations which obviously occur there, together with breaches of the human rights agreement, I intend to follow the example of Mr. Biaggi and set up at Westminster a committee—I hope I shall have support from Members on both sides of the House—to take evidence from people who have been badly treated in the United States, for example from the American Indians, whose rights have been taken from them, and from people who have suffered at the hands of politicians and lawyers, or even at the hands of the law. In that way perhaps we can help the United States to be true to the declaration of Abraham Lincoln.

I understand that two civil servants went to the United States a short time ago to counter the Provisional IRA propaganda about H block in the Maze prison. I believe that they have not had much success because the Irish Republican Army has considerable power in the United States through Irish influence. Indeed, this ad hoc committee on human rights in Northern Ireland even treats with contempt the remarks of Mr. Lynch and other Ministers in the Irish Republic.

The Northern Ireland Office, as well as the people of Ulster, must turn not so much to the United States, from which we shall obviously not get much support, but to Europe and to the Commonwealth. I emphasise the need to rely upn the Commonwealth. The Government seem to ignore the need to brief the Commonwealth Governments about Ulster, about the menace presented by the Provisional IRA and about the lies that it disseminates throughout the world.

The Northern Ireland Ministers have a splendid opportunity to give Northern Ireland a tremendous boost. The turn for hosting the Commonwealth games in 1986 has come to the United Kingdom. I understand that some cities in England are interested in being host for the games. The Commonwealth games have been held in England, Scotland and Wales, but they have never been held in Northern Ireland. I shall accuse this Government of discrimination against Northern Ireland if they do not force their will and ensure that the games come to Northern Ireland. I have already asked the Secretary of State about this. I have urged that the games be held in the Province. He rejected my plea out of hand. I repeat that plea, albeit that it is only to the Under-Secretary of State. I do not mean to be disrespectful to him.

It is an indictment of direct rule that the Secretary of State and other Ministers have not been present for the debate. That bolsters the arguments of the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and of myself for an end to direct rule. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will convey my plea to the Secretary of State and to the Prime Minister. Let them proclaim that the Commonwealth games will be held in Northern Ireland in 1986. By making that decision the Government will show that they have faith in Northern Ireland. They will prove it to the world, to the Common Market and to the United States.

Such a decision would bring untold benefits to the Province, apart from the pleasure of acting as host to fellow members of the Commonwealth. Such a decision would induce more investment in Northern Ireland and help to begin the process of rejuvenation. That is what we want. I am told that the total cost of providing the sporting facilities is about £15 million at present day prices. More hotels are needed in the Province. The holding of the games would start that building process. There is good accommodation already for the athletes at Queen's university in hostel accommodation.

Northern Ireland needs a new stadium. A stadium which is built for the games would be of benefit to the Northern Ireland people for a long time. We need a stadium that will seat about 30,000 spectators. We also need a 40-metre swimming pool and a diving pool to meet international requirements. A cycle track could be upgraded. The existing sports halls could cater for many competitions.

I urge the Government to change their mind and to fight for the Commonwealth games to be held in Northern Ireland. If they fail to do that, I shall accuse them of betraying the Ulster people, who need this decision to restore their faith in Westminster. We have heard enough examples of the grievances caused by direct rule, which is distant, arrogant and pays no regard to the welfare of the people of Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately, I am unable to speak about all the other matters that I wished to raise. Because of direct rule, a representative cannot articulate the needs, the problems and the anger of his constituents. I therefore say that the sooner we end direct rule, the better it will be for Northern Ireland and for its people.

I hope that we in Northern Ireland will be given a referendum such as the Prime Minister said that the people of Scotland and Wales were in justice entitled to. The people of Scotland and Wales have given their answer. Now let the Government show that they are interested in justice, fair play and equity by saying that the Ulster people will be given their opportunity, despite what some hon. Members from Northern Ireland may wish.

Let the Ulster people be given the opportunity of deciding in a referendum whether they want a Stormont Parliament. I assure the House that the overwhelming majority will vote for a devolved Parliament at Stormont.

Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster) rose

Mr. John Carson(Belfast, North) rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I appeal to the hon. Members? If they will take five minutes each, I can give both of them the opportunity to speak.

10.26 p.m.

Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)

I wish to refer to class IX in the Appropriation order dealing with health and social services and certain other services. The sum of about £23 million has been allocated to these services, and there is a note about an increase of £504,000. I think that I am right in saying that none of this increase is being allocated to more money for those engaged in the health and personal social services. I wish therefore to say something about members of the Royal College of Nursing in Tyrone and Fermanagh hospital, and the facts which I shall give apply equally to other hospitals in my constituency, notably the Tyrone county hospital in Omagh and the Mid-Ulster hospital in Magherafelt.

I shall give a few examples of the heavy responsibility which rests upon these people and the totally inadequate remuneration which they receive. I talked to a few of them last Monday. My first example is of a male nursing officer with 34 patients and 11 staff in the psychiatric department, this department having no secure units. He has a demanding and responsible job, and he takes home about £60 a week on which to keep his wife and family. This is disgraceful.

I take next a principal nursing officer—a man with a wife and five children—who has overall responsibility for 930 beds and 548 staff. He takes home a basic average weekly pay of £68.50. As I contrast pay of this kind with what is received by a leading hand in British Leyland who has equal responsibility, I am inclined to think that the man in British Leyland would not be content with that money as a bonus, never mind as basic pay.

Next, I take the example of a senior nursing officer responsible for education, for teaching nurses. He is responsible for 150 student nurses and seven staff. He has to give special training. He has to prepare his students for examinations which will qualify them to carry on in their chosen vocation, and the results of his work show. He must work well, because if he does not the results will be revealed in the performance of his students. This nursing officer himself undergoes a heavy training programme in order to qualify to do that work, yet he takes home on average about £80 a week, which compares poorly with what is received by teachers in other forms of education.

I emphasise the nature and quality of these Royal College of Nursing people and other hospital workers, and I have in mind the pressures now being applied here on the mainland to the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Social Services.

I could mention many other matters, but time presses and I shall not weary the House with much more detail. I mention only a lady health visitor, a community worker with responsibility for about 700 families. She receives £67 a week, out of which she has to provide a car. She receives £169 per annum for the maintenance of the car. Anyone familiar with garage charges knows that that will not last long, allowing for a couple of breakdowns a year. These people are on call seven days a week, day and night and on public holidays. They are paid only 12 times a year—only on calendar months—with the result that they are diddled out of four weeks' salary a year.

Ministers ought to look at the recommendations made in the Halsbury committee report of 1974. It was said that nurses and health workers should not fall behind other workers. Because the nurses are responsible people they decided not to take strike action. They must be commended for this. To offer them £1 a week in return is an insult and nothing short of criminal. Living costs in Northern Ireland are higher than elsewhere while pay is lower. This is an important factor to be borne in mind.

To restore the incentive to young men and women to enter the nursing profession and to retain qualified staff already in the service it is necessary to do something drastic about their basic salary. Our country has a high unemployment rate. We must institute a campaign to retain those young nurses. They must be kept in this country, in our service. It does not make sense to let them leave, taking their skills elsewhere. It is worth looking at the salaries of nurses in the Republic of Ireland. I trust that the Minister will do so.

10.33 p.m.

Mr. John Carson (Belfast, North)

I refer briefly to class V of the order. I endorse what the hon. Members for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) have said about the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I do not doubt the real reason for the absence of the Minister. He knows that he would be facing a lot of awkward questions. These are important questions for the people of Northern Ireland.

Recently I tabled about 10 questions to the Department. I received an identical reply to each question. I was told that the point raised was a matter for the Housing Executive. On behalf of the people of Belfast, North I will not accept that from the Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Carter). He ought to give me an answer. I say that with great respect to every other Minister in the Department.

I do not criticise the Northern Ireland Office. I receive great help and am treated with the utmost courtesy by the Office. Frequently the Minister of State has arranged meetings and met deputations which I have led to see him at very short notice. The Minister responsible for the Department of the Environment is the most arrogant Minister who ever held office in Northern Ireland. He is responsible for the public money being spent by the Housing Executive.

District 4 office of the Housing Executive is in my constituency. The Minister answered a question about this last year but refused to answer the same question this year. This suggests that there is a cover-up for officials inside the executive. That district office was to be moved to new accommodation about 16 months ago. Recently I was told that £30,000 has been paid in rent for the accommodation of the district 4 office in Royal Avenue and for car parking spaces. Yet no one is ready to move into these offices. There is an office at Cookstown that was taken over by the executive two years ago. The key has not yet been turned in the door.

I have mentioned only two examples. There are many more, but time does not permit me to refer to them. The executive is squandering public money on office accommodation when the money would be much better spent on carrying out essential repairs on behalf of many elderly people in the Province.

There is an old lady of 78 years in my constituency who is a tenant of the Housing Executive. Four months ago her back door was removed in the course of repairs. A piece of hardboard was the replacement door. She had to face the winter without a back door. For four weeks she had to wait for a burst pipe to be repaired. That may bring a smirk to some hon. Members' faces but it is a serious matter. It seems that the executive may squander millions of pounds on luxury office accommodation—it is one of the largest employers in Northern Ireland—yet not be prepared to give a service to its tenants or to carry out maintenance work.

I was told last week that the maintenance officers were on strike. I said that it would not matter as they did not carry out any maintenance. We often hear about the thousands of maintenance reports. The Minister does not tell us that some of the repair reports have been recorded, 10, 12 and 30 times. That is what is happening.

Time does not permit me to enlarge on the tragedy that has happened to the people of Northern Ireland through the bad management of the Housing Executive. The Minister who is responsible is not prepared to take action. It seems that he is not prepared to accept responsibility and to give an account of his stewardship and of the public money that he is wasting.

10.38 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

The debates on the Northern Ireland Appropriation orders are always very much of a mosaic composed of pieces of differing sizes, shapes and colours; but rarely has the variety of the mosaic been as great as in this evening's debate.

Nevertheless, considering the debate as a whole, there are two pieces that seem to stand out of the pattern. One piece is that to which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Carson) added his contribution, all too briefly—namely, the dilemma, that will be insoluble as long as there is no elective local government, of the Housing Executive. Of course, it must have a certain internal responsibility for management, allocation and maintenance; but in the present framework it is entirely the creature of central Government, and Members in the House, being the only responsible representatives, are thus entitled to expect from central Government not merely general but precise replies, which they do not obtain.

The other piece that I have in mind in the pattern is that of transportation between Northern Ireland and the mainland. For Northern Ireland the transport link with Great Britain is literally life and death. It is a special disadvantage to Northern Ireland—in every respect, political, social and economic—to be so reliant upon the air link. There are two twin requirements that have not yet been fulfilled if we are to have the necessary communications with the mainland of Great Britain. Those requirements are competition and multiplicity.

Many of the criticisms made by hon. Members of the efficiency and cost of the service provided by British Airways would not exist if there were adequate competition. There should be not two but three systems competing to provide air transport between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This is something in which the Northern Ireland Development Agency ought to be able to help; for surely there is a field here for enterprise which it could encourage and support. We also believe that British Midland requires the recognition of the initiative which it has shown and the service which it has rendered in more difficult times to the people of the Province.

Competition merely in air transport is not sufficient, however. There must be an adequate alternative, or rather a series of adequate alternatives, of surface transport. Good surface transport has been recognised as essential to the parliamentary union ever since the parliamentary union existed. One is ashamed, in looking back 100 years, to discover how efficient and frequent was surface transit then between the island of Ireland and the island of Great Britain compared with the infrequency and slowness of the comparable transit today. There are two or three additional routes which, certainly for passenger cars and rail passengers, could and should be exploited.

When he spoke at the beginning of this debate, the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) invited me to indicate whether progress had been made in stimulating the interest of British Rail. I think that it would probably be better if the Government were brought to reply upon that subject and if we found the way of devoting a special debate to it, where it could be thoroughly examined. But at least I can say from personal knowledge that I have good reason for thinking that British Rail, Sealink and indeed the Northern Ireland railways are not at all insensitive to the new opportunities which are now expanding for the exploitation of surface transport routes between Great Britain and the Province routes. Although they would necessarily be longer in time than the air transit, whenever the air transit is efficient, they would be a guaranteed, reliable and cheaper mode of transport which would certainly create the traffic to sustain it.

Finally on the subject of transport, there has to be an end to the present nonsense of so-called security checks on air travel between the Province and Great Britain. What we have at the moment is a rag-bag of a system which was cobbled together in 1972, added to in 1973, added to again in 1974, with bits stuck on later still in 1976 and 1977. Someone—it is the Government who have this duty—must now look at the whole matter in the context of 1979 and try to make sense of it. The Government would be well advised to take warning from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux); for if the risks which he delineated were ever to be realised, the Government would be very sorry for themselves if they had to justify neglecting his warnings and allowing those conditions to continue for so long when so many hon. Members have drawn attention to the dangers being created.

This is, after all, both a general and a financial debate, and it would be wrong if we concluded it without a reference to the work done for this House, and for Northern Ireland in particular, by those who exercise detailed surveillance of the Northern Ireland finances under the Comptroller and Auditor-General, from whom we have a report on the past financial year which is not quite 12 months out of date. It is gratifying to be greeted in the first paragraph of the Comptroller and Auditor-General's report with the assertion that he believes that accounting and control is showing distinct improvement, and it is interesting to see that he adds that the operation of cash limits over a considerable field has in itself improved departmental control ". I believe that that is true in the United Kingdom as a whole as well as in Northern Ireland.

But it would not be fair to allow that report to lie on the table without inviting the Government to respond in the House to a number of the salient points which the Comptroller and Auditor-General has made, of each of which I have given notice to the Minister who is to reply. I come straight to one which is concerned with cash limits, that is, the overspending of the education boards. What, broadly speaking, is happening is that the education boards are, I would say, deliberately overspending in the knowledge that they will not suffer a corresponding reduction in the following year's allocation but that a special supplementary approval will be given to their excesses. Certainly, the Comptroller and Auditor-General is justified in saying that this is an indefensible practice. He states that he is in correspondence with the Department as to the apparent erosion of the principles of cash limits ". I ask the Minister, when he replies, to bring us up to date on that correspondence and to give an assurance to the House that we are well on the way to getting proper financial control applied through the Department of Education to the boards, as it is applied in the other Departments of Government through the Kingdom.

The Comptroller and Auditor-General devoted a considerable part of his report to the SD3-30 aircraft, manufactured by Short Brothers Limited, and it was not gratifying to be told that on the first six aircraft the sales showed a loss of 55 per cent. of their cost of manufacture ". However, those figures are somewhat out of date, and the Comptroller and Auditor-General refered to a statement due at the end of 1978 which would show the sales of the next 10 aircraft and might "give a clearer picture". How are we going on? In the past we have suffered too often by not being kept in constant touch with the progress of these projects aided with substantial sums of public money. In this case we ought to be told what has been the further experience in 1978.

On the water service—a service which has been in trouble in certain parts of the Province this year—there is bad reading again in the Comptroller and Auditor-General's report on the question of the depots. I will not read it to the House in full, but it is not a report upon the stewardship of public property which this House ought to be willing to accept. We are told by the Comptroller and Auditor-General that it is necessary, in order to correct these deficiencies, to have new and properly organised depots created. I ask the Minister to provide the House tonight with the latest statement to date on progress in creating a new depot system in the water service which will prevent these abuses from continuing.

Then there are two matters of rent. This is always a field in which vigilance is necessary if unfairness is not to be created, as well as public property misused. Here there are two Departments concerned. One is the Department of Education, which has been for a long time failing to find a proper system of assessing the rents paid by its employees who are resident on its premises. It promised the Comptroller and Auditor-General some time ago that as a matter of priority, it would be drawing up guidelines for new and re-let residences and would then review the pattern of rentals altogether ". By now that ought to be completed, and the Minister ought tonight to be able to give the answer to that question.

There is a parallel situation in the Department of Health, where rents are still being charged at 1973 levels in the hospitals simply because it has been found impossible as yet to agree upon the proper system on which rents ought to be assessed. That situation existed at January 1979. The Government should be able to say tonight whether the matter has been cleared up so that there can be fairness and a rational system, for the taxpayer and those who occupy the property alike.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) referred to Arts Council grants. Let me say that there was no collusion between us, but I should like to refer to that subject also. The administrative costs of operating the Council in 1974–75 were 20 per cent. of the current expenditure. In 1975–76 that figure had increased to 30 per cent. and in 1976–77 it had increased to 36 per cent. Presumably, that year covered the articles on the interview with Seamus Twomey. The figure for 1977–78 has not been provided, but I assume, by a progression, that the figure would be about 40 per cent. I am relieved to see that the Minister is indicating dissent. However, it should be placed on record that the percentages are not merely not increasing but being reduced to a level which the Charity Commissioner would be prepared to tolerate if this was a charity and not the expenditure of public money upon the arts.

The last point that I should like to make is partly about financial control and partly about policy. In a written answer of 30 November 1978 the Under-Secretary of State wrote about a grant-making charitable trust. He said that the Government thought it a pity that Northern Ireland did not have within its boundaries a source of charitable funds such as exist in the rest of the United Kingdom. No hon. Member would disagree with that. The hon. Gentleman said that local groups should not be totally dependent on Government ".—[Official Report, 30 November 1978; Vol. 959, c. 282.] I agree completely with that. He went on to say that the Government had decided that they should encourage the development of an independent and charitable trust—charitable in the full Christian sense of the word—and that they are prepared to give that trust £500,000 of public money before it gets off the ground, just to encourage it in case there is not sufficient initiative, charity or independence. They will also match pound for pound, to a maximum of £250,000, any funds that the trustees can raise from other sources.

There is no statute under which this could be done. It is dealt with by an entry at the bottom of page 70, at D 9. Class IX, Vote 1 "Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust," Provision for payment of grant £500,000. I am aware that under Treasury rules that entry constitutes Parliamentary approval. However, it is not good enough. If this happened elsewhere in the United Kingdom a Minister would make a statement at the Dispatch Box and would be questioned about such a new departure in policy that involved substantial expenditure of public money outside statutory provision. The matter would have to be ventilated in the House and perhaps fully debated before it could be proceeded with.

This has been settled by the ipse dixit of a Minister, a written answer and an entry in the Estimates. However, my hon. Friends and I will see that the matter is debated. We desire to see voluntary effort and charitable funds independent of Government; but there cannot be independence of Government which starts with dependence upon public funds.

I estimate that the Minister will have had approximately 350 per cent. more questions addressed to him than he is able to answer in the 25 minutes which I hope that the Opposition spokesman will leave for him. All the questions that I have put to the Minister, and some others, were notified to him in writing and I am sure that he will answer those tonight. If our experience—brief as it is—is a good guide, he will answer all the others, as fully as he is able, for the hon. Members concerned.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

The Under-Secretary addressed the House for just six minutes in his opening speech. The size of the expenditure involved in the order merited a much longer speech. Even if one is looking at expenditure for the year ending 31 March 1980, which totals £663 million, the Minister was dealing with it at a rate of more than £100 million per minute.

Last year, we had four Northern Ireland Appropriation orders—one in March, two in July and one in December. This is the first such order this year, and I wish to make one suggestion about the future presentation of the orders. It would be for the convenience of the House and of the Minister if we had a greater breakdown on some of the items of expenditure in very large blocks. We have examples of more than £100 million in one block. We welcome, as did the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux), the Under-Secretary's statement that the internal energy review for Northern Ireland is to be published before the Easter Recess and that there will be a Government statement on it. I do not wish to appear churlish, but the review is long overdue. In a debate on the gas industry in the Northern Ireland Committee on 6th July 1977, the Minister of State said: I recognise the need for urgency and I appreciate the parlous condition of a number of the gas undertakings…I intend that 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, 6 July 1977; c. 2.] Just over a year later, the Secretary of State for Scotland said: The Minister of State for Northern Ireland is about to put to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland recommendations for gas which arise from discussions with the British Gas Corporation and others."—[Official Report, 24 July 1978; Vol. 954, c. 1276.] The Government have certainly been a long time in producing the report and we look forward with impatience to seeing it.

Reference has been made to Lord Melchett's recent speech in Londonderry. I hope that the Under-Secretary can tell us to what extent, if any, the items in class VIII, sub-heads 1 and 4, relate to the reorganisation of secondary education in Northern Ireland. I imagine that the answer will be that no part of that expenditure relates to reorganisation, despite what the Minister of State said at the end of that speech: I believe the abolition of selection at 11-plus in Northern Ireland is now a certainty— I certainly disagree with that—— but all of us who believe in ending the indefensible, divisive system of section must constantly reaffirm our determination to do just that. I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us that no part of the sums granted on account under class VIII relate to reorganisation and will also be able to give us the Government's estimate of the cost of bringing about the changes to which Lord Melchett referred.

I turn to part II, class V, concerning expenditure on housing. The first part of my remarks about housing relates to the more agreeable part. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was highly critical of the Housing Executive's decision to sell 54,000 houses. We on the Opposition Benches warmly welcome that decision, although I had considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman when he complained about the way in which it was announced. After all, it was a major departure in Government policy, in marked contrast with the policy of the Government in Great Britain.

In answer to a question today, the Secretary of State for the Environment said that in the nine months April to December 1978 there was a sale of 23,400 council houses and 400 flats in Great Britain. In the same period in 1976 and 1977 the totals were 3,734 and 9,440 respectively. That marks the extent to which there has been a fundamental change in Government policy. It would have been much better if it had been announced from the Dispatch Box and not through a Housing Executive press release.

I also had considerable sympathy with the hon. Gentleman when he pointed out how difficult it was to get any response from the Government about the Housing Executive's policy. If ever a case was made for an increasing democratisation of local government in Northern Ireland, it was made in regard to the Housing Executive. It seems that there is no democratic body responsible, and nobody who can be questioned about the Housing Executive's activities.

From the more agreeable aspect, I tutrn to the much less agreeable aspect of the Housing Executive. On 16 February a question about the Housing Executive was asked by the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State. It was not until 16 February that the executive's accounts for the year ended 31 March 1977 were laid before the House. Nearly two years had elapsed from the end of the financial year to the date on which the accounts were laid before Parliament.

The accounts are deeply disturbing. They follow the announcement on 9 March last year of the setting up of an inquiry into the executive's affairs. As we are being invited to approve under class V the expenditure of more than £41 million—and this is only the first Appropriation order for this year—I hope that the Minister will address himself to some of the most disturbing aspects. I put only a few to him.

The report of the Local Government Auditor and the Comptroller and Auditor-General said that rent arrears in respect of houses and garages increased from £5½ million to £6½ million at 31 March 1977. It added: I must state…that in some of the less efficient District Offices arrears follow-up is not as positive as it should be and this has also contributed to the heavy arrears situation. In the next paragraph, on page 22, we read: there has been a failure in several cases to deduct from these payments arrears of rent owing to the Executive for the occupation of such properties following acquisition. The home loans section on page 23 states: The audit of this section by my staff and internal audit has disclosed many weaknesses in financial and administrative control. The next paragraph states: Until the executive complies with the Department's directive it will not be possible to settle outstanding audit queries for this and previous financial years. On district heating it is stated: At the 31 March 1977 the deficit…stood at £697,517 compared with an adjusted deficit balance of £341,182 at the commencement of the year under audit. The report also states: Several outside bodies are receiving supplies from district heating centres but accounts for payment in respect of such supplies have not been rendered. If the House is to be invited to approve payments of this kind, there is a duty on the Government to comment on this deeply disturbing report from which I make only one more quotation. On page 24, it says: I feel that the standard of efficiency in this Division "— that is, the housing maintenance division— would have been improved if, in response to previous audit criticisms, immediate action had been taken by the staff responsible ". The Minister has had many questions put to him. Although there are many more that I should like to put, it would be for the convenience of the House if we gave him the opportunity to make as long a reply as possible.

11.7 p.m.

Mr. Pendry

Perhaps for the first time I understand the meaning of the phrase "the man in the hot seat". To answer any criticism to the effect that my right hon. Friends and hon. Friends are not sitting with me on this Bench, I should like to point out that they are working hard in their own Departments. That should be stated at this stage.

The debate has ranged far and wide. I shall attempt to cover the many points put to me. I should also like to say, though probably not so well as the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), that I shall endeavour to answer in correspondence those matters that I cannot cover in this speech. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) raised a number of points on the details of underspending. Decreases in the present provisions which it is proposed to apply as offsets to the additional expenditure are outlined in the spring Supplementary Estimates volume. We wish to ensure that funds appropriated by this House are spent as efficiently as possible.

On the question of the economic planning document, the Government are aware of the economic, social and environmental problems in Northern Ireland. As the hon. Member for Abingdon indicated, the Government have recently published a document entitled "Economic and Social Progress in Northern Ireland: Review and Prospects." The document reviews and assesses recent developments in the economic, social and environmental fields in Northern Ireland and outlines the Government's views on possible ways to enhance economic and soical development in Northern Ireland over the next few years.

The document is intended to stimulate active public discussion of the economic and social problems facing Northern Ireland and possible ways of tackling these problems. The Government look forward particularly to receiving the views of the Economic Council, the political parties and other interested organisations and individuals. When these views have been examined, it is intended that the Northern Ireland general economic strategy will be fully debated, possibly in the Northern Ireland Committee.

I was happy to hear that the Opposition are to meet the De Lorean company and to put a number of questions to it. I believe that the Opposition will be impressed by the level of management at De Lorean and the progress being made. I am sure that the employment support De Lorean is giving in West Belfast will be welcomed.

The hon. Member also mentioned energy. As I said, we are at present preparing a document on energy, laying out the main considerations. This has been completed and will be published before the Easter Recess. There will be pressure from us for a full debate as soon as possible after the recess.

On educational reorganisation, the hon. Member referred to the speech of my noble Friend Lord Melchett to the Irish National Teachers Organisation in Londonderry, when he referred to the discussion document which has been distributed and said that no decision had been taken. That discussion document was about the transfer procedure for 1980 and not about secondary reorganisation. I should clear up that one before the hon. Gentleman starts believing that we have done an about-turn. The Government's decision that selection by perceived ability at 11-plus should be eliminated was announced in June 1977 and the Government remain firmly committed to that decision.

I believe that those remarks should also satisfy the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), but if not I shall come back to him. In the interests of time, I shall pass on to his other points.

Air services are strictly a matter for the Secretary of State for Trade. However, the adequacy of air services is obviously important to the economy of Northern Ireland, including the tourist industry. We are therefore concerned that full consideration should be given to Northern Ireland's special position and that the service should be provided as efficiently as possible. The Northern Ireland Economic Council has recently published its views on the air passenger services. Those views are currently under consideration by my right hon. Friend, in consultation with the Secretary of State for Trade.

Urgently required work on the aircraft pavement at Aldergrove has recently been completed, as has already been said in the House. A new taxiway link to the main runway has been involved. A major contract has been let and the works involve the reconstruction and realignment of taxiways, a new electrical ring main, aviation ground lighting and navigational aids, new car parks and engineering facilities. The works will take about 14 months to complete, at a cost of about £6 million. It is hoped to start the second stage of the works early in 1980. That will be the first major step in improving passenger handling facilities at the airport. The estimated cost of that stage is £7.4 million.

Speaking personally, it is a matter of regret, but the Government's decision on the question of the Commonwealth games is firm. The proposal that Northern Ireland should host the 1986 games has been fully considered by the Government and rejected. Estimates of cost vary between £14 million and over £25 million. The priorities—housing, inner city decay, rehabilitation, restoration and general environmental improvement—are higher than a one-off event such as the games. Resources would be prevented from being used to meet the Province's other recreational and community projects if that proposal were to go through. Hotel accommodation and so on in the Belfast area is severely limited and would need to be augmented.

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) also spoke about Alder-grove airport and gave many illustrations of the problems and frustrations that are being experienced there. We shall return to the detailed points in correspondence. He referred to the transfer links generally between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I shall ensure that his remarks on that score are brought to the Secretary of State's attention.

Mr. Molyneaux

Will the Minister give us all the assurance that he will do as my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) asked and ensure that the Government initiate a concentrated detailed study of the nonsensical security arrangements, or what passes for security arrangements, at Alder-grove and on the Heathrow—Belfast link generally?

Mr. Pendry

I have said that I shall bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to the Secretary of State's attention, and I shall include that aspect.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) spoke about the Arts Council grant to finance the interview with Seam us Twomey. The publication referred to is regarded generally by the Arts Council and others as a magazine of high literary quality and serious content—[Laughter.] Although that causes some laughter, there are a number of reputable contributors to the magazine. I shall send a list to those hon. Members whom I detected laughing.

The Arts Council does not attempt to exercise detailed editorial control or take responsibility for the inclusion of particular items when it decides to assist publications of this kind. It would, however, discontinue its assistance if there was a serious deterioration in the general level of quality, and it would be concerned if a persistent line of subversive propaganda became apparent.

Mr. Bradford

Is the Minister aware that in the course of the articles to which I referred Seamus Twomey was given the opportunity to boast that Ireland had the most effective guerrilla force in the world, and that it had nothing to learn from other terrorist forces? What great literary value lies in that kind of comment? Does he accept that the kind of questions asked poured honey on this murderous reprobate—points like "I did not expect you to be such a human, warm person "and" I really find you quite a vulnerable man"? What literary value is there in that sort of nonsense?

Mr. Pendry

In the interests of time, I must push on. I am sure that other hon. Members want answers to their questions. I can say only that this is a relatively independent body. The interview took place many years ago, and I am surprised that the issue has raised its head at this stage.

I shall pass on to another serious point which was raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, South. He complained about people claiming unemployment benefit when working in another job—what is known as "the double". This matter is causing a good deal of concern. Only last week I chaired a meeting of the Northern Ireland Construction Industry Advisory Council when it was raised. The Department has a specialist branch with 24 specialist investigating officers whose duty is to carry out spot checks, unexpected interviews and a selective follow-up of certain types of claim where the risk of fraud is higher than usual. Considerable emphasis is placed on prevention, and the system is continually reviewed to prevent possible abuse. It is a matter of great concern, and hon. Members may rest assured that the Government are deeply concerned about this activity.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West made a moving speech in parts. He was in good form and I certainly did not take anything he said about me personally. He raised many points about the level of unemployment in Northern Ireland. Unemployment is not expected to increase or decrease substantially in the coming year. The rise expected in production—some 2 per cent—is not likely to be sufficient to enable employers to recruit more labour. Wages, which have been high, have tended to reduce employment.

There are some minor crumbs of comfort. School leaver unemployment is running at a considerably lower level than last year. In February 1979 it was 2,684 and in February 1978 it was 3,067. This improvement started in September last year. Seasonally adjusted unemployment, excluding school leavers, is currently still almost 1,000 below the summer peak of 1978. Much of the recent increase in unemployment is due to the exceptionally bad weather. I hope that when the weather improves the employment level will rise.

Much more interest has been shown in Northern Ireland as a place for investment, but it will take some time for unemployment to be affected.

Mr. Neave

I quoted from the departmental report which states that employment in the construction and manufacturing industries would experience heavy falls by 1981. What action are the Government taking?

Mr. Pendry

The construction industry levels are in line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is a matter for regret, but it is not peculiar to Northern Ireland. It is absolutely in line with the general trend in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) asked about Peter Pan bakeries. The Minister of State is examining the matter and he will do his best to reach a final view by the end of this week.

I do not think that there is anything that I can add.

Members spoke against the sale of council houses by the Housing Executive. The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and other hon. Members did not express that view, but the hon. Member for Belfast, West felt that this was in some way an action which was out of step with the rest of the United Kingdom. I stress that the policy on the sale of council houses in Northern Ireland is in line with policy in Great Britain. Such houses will be sold only in areas where need has been met. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State feels strongly about this and he has resisted the sale of more council houses under this general policy. So, though it may be a matter for regret to some hon. Members, the fact is that it is within the established criteria laid down in the rest of the United Kingdom.

I shall bring to the attention of my hon. Friend the question of the Turf Lodge flats street lighting.

The Bennett report is expected to be available soon. I shall bring those issues which I have not covered in depth to the attention of the appropriate Minister.

The right hon. Member for Belfast, East, (Mr. Craig) made a thoughtful and constructive speech and I regret that I cannot spend more time on it. It was a valuable contribution. Though I have not read the appropriate Hansard, I hope that he did not go into the Lobby in favour of public expenditure cuts.

Mr. Gow

The Minister said that the policies of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and of the Government were the same. In the press release of 29 January the Housing Executive stated: A number of vacant houses will be up for sale too ". But the Secretary of State said this week: I shall stop the sales of empty houses and flats that become available for reletting."—[Official Report, 5 March 1979; Vol. 963 c. 934.] Is there not a difference between what the Government are doing in Great Britain and what they are doing in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Pendry

I stand by what I have said, but I shall look into the questions that have been raised.

The Minister of State will consider the remarks made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). He will do what he can to help the company which the hon. Member mentioned if he thinks that the situation falls within the right criteria and that a viable industry can be created. I shall be pleased to supply the hon. Member with details; I shall correspond with him.

The hon. Member spoke about the problems of the Housing Executive and gave some interesting illustrations of what happens in his constituency. I shall pass those on. He also stressed the problems of Strathearn Audio. The Japanese firm is still interested in Strathearn Audio. I understand that there has been some progress and that the Japanese firm is considering the possibilities carefully. I shall keep the hon. Member up to date.

The hon. Member for Londonderry referred to the Peter Pan Bakeries. He made a specific point about component parts. I shall inform the Minister of State and he will reply to the hon. Member.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) wanted to know the outcome of correspondence with the Comptroller and Auditor-General. I understand that there has been no outcome. This is a complex issue, but we are alive to the need to keep financial control procedures under review to ensure that weaknesses are identified in an attempt to minimise the possibility of any future excesses.

The right hon. Member also referred to the Department of Education. He asked whether the guidelines on the rents of the new and relet residencies had been given. The Department will be issuing shortly guidelines for the rents for new or relet residencies.

The right hon. Member asked about paragraph 85 of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General dealing with the Arts Council. He will be amazed to learn that the level of administrative costs is exactly the same as last year—36 per cent.

Mr. Powell

Is that acceptable?

Mr. Pendry

I have told the right hon. Member the figure. I find it acceptable and I should have thought that he would agree, in view of what he said. I am sure that the right hon. Member is expressing mock indignation. I have not time to develop the argument.

I have come to the end of my time. A number of matters are outstanding, but I was not left much time to reply. I shall reply to other points as soon as possible. I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1979, which was laid before this House on 19 February, be approved.