HC Deb 18 July 1980 vol 988 cc1915-2032
Mr. Speaker

Before we begin the debate, it might be as well for me to say a word about its scope. It is not in order to discuss the police or general security matters because the order covers only Northern Ireland Departments, not the Northern Ireland Office. Anything within the schedule is, of course, a subject that could be discussed.

9.36 am
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Hugh Rossi)

I beg to move, That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 19 June, be approved. The main purpose of the draft order is to authorise the issue out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund of a sum of £1,229 million and to appropriate this sum for the time being for the purposes indicated in the schedule.

The sum represents the balance of the main Estimates for Northern Ireland Departments for 1980–81.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman so exceptionally early in his speech. He used the words "for the time being". Are those not unusual words in the context of an Appropriation order or a Consolidated Fund Bill? Is the House to take it that these are purely provisional and even sketchy figures?

Mr. Rossi

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right; it is an unusual phraseology. I shall explain the reason in a moment when I come to the relevant passage in my speech. The right hon. Gentleman is always astute and quick on these matters.

A sum on account of £770 million has already been appropriated for 1980–81 by the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1980 which was approved by this House on 13 March 1980.

I spoke of the Appropriation as being temporary, or for the time being. This is a consequence of my right hon. Friend's recent anouncement that it may be necessary to redistribute public expenditure resources in Northern Ireland to take account of new demands which have emerged since the 1980–81 Estimates were settled. What we are now doing is reviewing our public expenditure plans to ensure that we have the best possible match of needs and resources in the light of the most up to date information available to us.

This review is quite naturally a complex exercise and it has not yet been completed, but the indications are that we are likely to need to shift the balance of resources in the direction of economic programmes, including industrial development. Hon. Members will understand that the latter is a volatile class of expenditure. Indeed it has been historically one of the most difficult services on which to forecast demand, being a mélange of negotiations and of opportunity.

It is, of course, essential that services in Northern Ireland continue and the House is being asked to vote the money as allocated in the schedule to the order. Those proposals represent the Government's original plans for the year but for the reasons given are now undergoing re-examination. The outcome of the review will be made known to the House as soon as possible and any changes necessary in the provision now under consideration will be reflected in Supplementary Estimates which will, of course, come before the House for consideration in due course. Any changes which arise will affect only a small percentage of the total expenditure implied by the main Estimates now under consideration.

Mr. John Bruce-Gardyne (Knutsford)

What my hon. Friend has just said possibly has ominous implications for public expenditure. Can he make clear that the purport of what he says is that the £92 million in the schedule under Class II, Vote 2, is likely to be significantly increased? Is that the precise meaning he has in mind?

Mr. Rossi

Not significantly increased. I spoke in terms of a small percentage shift, but the whole programme has to be looked at now in the light of demands that are now coming upon the industrial development sector. There has been a substantial increase in interest this year, as against last year, which was not anticipated. It is extremely encouraging in terms of job opportunity in Northern Ireland. There is about 20 per cent. more in the volume of interest in investing in Northern Ireland than there was at this time last year. This has resulted in the need to look at the allocation in the programme for grants to encourage further investment and job opportunity in the Province. That is why at present the whole position is in a state of flux. But as against the £2,000 million with which we are concerned for the expenditure for a year in the Province, we are talking in terms of only a small percentage figure—I would say not in excess of 5 per cent. of the total—which has to be shifted between the various Departments in order to make provision for this demand that has arisen.

Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

I am interested, naturally, in the mechanics of how this will be done. The hon. Gentleman has mentioned that it will be reflected in Supplementary Estimates. As we shall be voting figures which, on his own admission, will be a fiction for each Department, shall we have an opportunity of debating those new figures and of approving them or otherwise, as necessary?

Mr. Rossi

Of course. The reallocation between Departments of the £2,000 million to which I have referred will come before the House in Supplementary Estimates. The House will then have a full opportunity of debating those new figures and of passing its oservations and of approving or disapproving them, as the House wills in the ordinary way.

Details of the provision being sought in the draft order are in the main Estimates volume, copies of which are available in the Library. I should like to draw attention to some of the main items in these Estimates, beginning with Class II, Vote 2.

First, there is the provision of almost £78 million for the industrial development programme, and within this the principal components are £13 million for loans and £40 million for grant to industrial undertakings, £7 million for the Local Enterprise Development Unit and £10 million for the Northern Ireland Development Agency. This is one area where it is likely that we shall wish to propose additional expenditure at Supplementary Estimates stage. I believe that hon. Members, in those circumstances, would be prepared to support additional efforts to maintain and create employment, particularly in the manufacturing sector.

The proposal for additional expenditure is prompted by the increasing interest being shown in Northern Ireland as a location for investment.

As I mentioned, this was appreciably higher during the period January to May 1980 than during the equivalent period last year and, in the first five months of 1980, there has been a 29 per cent.—I did say 20 per cent.—increase in first-time visits to Northern Ireland by potential investors. The Government attach the highest priority to the encouragement of industrial investment in Northern Ireland and wish, accordingly, to place themselves in a position to respond to demand as it arises.

I now draw hon. Members' attention to the provision of £7.3 million sought for the aircraft industry. This relates to the Government's continued financial support to Short Bros. Ltd. in accordance with arrangements established under the company's 1977–82 corporate plan, details of which were announced in the House on 7 December 1978. Hon. Members will be aware that this major company—which employs some 6,400 people in the Belfast area—is wholly owned by the Government. The company's recently announced net loss for 1979 of £8.3 million on a turnover of almost £67 million was somewhat lower than that incurred in 1978. The company is making progress, and is well placed to build on the present position with a range of high quality products, a record order book and solid Government backing. Discussions on roll-forward of the company's corporate plan are now well advanced and decisions on the future strategy, which will cover the period to 31 August 1984, can be expected soon.

There is also provision for assistance totalling £33 million for the shipbuilding industry. Hon. Members will know that this relates solely to financial support for Harland and Wolff Ltd., the Belfast shipbuilders. The figure in the Estimates differs from the figure of £42.5 million which my Hon. Friend the Under-Secretary announced to the House on 1 July 1980 for the continued support of the company during the 1980–81 financial year. This is, therefore, an area where it will be necessary to seek an adjustment at Supplementary Estimates stage.

The level of support proposed is, as I think hon. Members will agree, generous. It is a clear indication of the Government's commitment to preservation of employment in Northern Ireland at a time when public expenditure is already under severe pressure. It is, of course, vitally important that all concerned with the company grasp the opportunity which is being provided.

I turn now to energy matters. In Class II, Vote 3, provision is made for £18 million in respect of a subsidy to industrial and commercial electricity tariffs. This represents continuation of the arrangements which arose out of the reconstruction of the finances of the Northern Ireland electricity service in 1977. Hon. Members will be aware that the Government have initiated a review of the longer-term position of the electricity service. I would like to emphasise that, without the action taken by the Government over recent years, tariffs in Northern Ireland would have been very much higher. This again reflects the efforts of Government to respond to the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland in a positive way.

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

My hon. Friend speaks about a review of the long-term prospects of the Northern Ireland electricity industry. Will the review have regard to the possible future of the gas industry in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Rossi

That is a quite separate matter. As the House well knows, a decision has been taken on the gas industry. The Government have announced their position. We have made that perfectly clear time and again.

In Class III, Vote 1, provision is made for the sum of £759,000 to eliminate the balance of revenue deficits of gas undertakings in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, and I realise that Appropriation accounts are always very difficult to interpret. I have probably got the wrong one. The figures that the Minister is quoting seem to be about double those that are in the order which I have. The figure that I have is £393,000. The figure that was quoted for electricity was £18 million, I think, but it is £9 million in the order which I have. Do I have the wrong order? If so, I apologise, but it is the copy which I was given by the Vote Office.

Mr. Rossi

The hon. Gentleman does not have the wrong order. There are two columns, as he will appreciate. Perhaps he should look at it a little more closely. I think that he will find that the figures are there. The matter was covered—at least, I hope it was—in the explanatory memorandum which I sent to hon. Members. I hope that they received it. I thought that it might assist them in finding their way through these very difficult tables and schedules.

The figure that I mentioned will deal with the revenue deficits of gas undertakings in Northern Ireland that had accrued up to 31 March 1979. Hon. Members will recall that Government support for those deficits was promised in the statement on energy policy in Northern Ireland that was made to the House on 23 July last year. That statement also indicated the Government's willingness to assist with the orderly rundown of those gas undertakings which decide to close. Nine undertakings, including the major operation of Belfast, have taken decisions to run down their operations, and planning for the rundown is now in progress. Token provision of £100 has been made for that purpose at this stage.

Turning now to Class V, Vote 1, I should like to say something about housing in Belfast, Belfast still has some of the worst housing of any British city and we are continuing to accord a high priority to improving housing conditions, especially in the inner city areas where most of the unsatisfactory stock is located. I am happy to tell the House that the preliminary findings of a housing survey soon to be published show that we are now beginning to make real progress.

This year in the Belfast urban area the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and housing associations hope to complete about 850 new houses. In addition the first of the 2,000 homes at Poleglass, just outside the city boundary, will be completed during the year. The programme of rehabilitation and modernisation by the Housing Executive and housing associations is also gaining momentum, and should result in over 700 completed rehabilitations in the current financial year. Naturally, the Government are devoting most of the effort to those parts of Belfast where there is the poorest housing stock, and approximately three-quarters of all capital expenditure on Belfast housing is planned for the Belfast areas of need.

The Government are determined to allow private enterprise, both in the form of the individual owner-occupier and the private contractor, to play a full part in the Belfast housing drive. Recent measures include the identification of inner city sites which are being offered for private housing; homesteading, under which enterprising young couples are assisted in rehabilitating vacant property; and securing the co-operation of the building societies to provide additional funds for lending on down-market property and for financing house purchases under equity sharing schemes. This continued effort to improve the city's housing will be the subject of discussion in the months ahead within the Belfast housing working group, under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland.

Moving on to education, which is provided for in Class VIII, hon. Members will recall that in the course of the Appropriation order debate in March I referred to the interim report which had been requested from the higher education review group, chaired by Sir Henry Chilver, about the future arrangements for teacher training in Northern Ireland. The group's interim report, entitled "The Future Structure of Teacher Education in Northern Ireland", has now been presented to my noble Friend and has been published.

The report clearly argues very strongly the need for a consolidation of the present structure in order to ensure that teacher training remains financially and academically viable at the lower total enrolments now envisaged. It also makes specific recommendations about the future role and organisation of each of the individual institutions concerned. My noble Friend has invited views and comments on the report from the full range of interests concerned. Naturally, the Government will wish to consider very carefully the views of all the educational interests involved before reaching any decisions on the report's detailed recommendations. However, it is important that we avoid a protracted period of uncertainty, and my noble Friend has therefore asked that any comments be submitted to him by the end of September.

It is hoped that decisions on the future structure will be reached in time to allow those decisions to be taken into account in settling the intake to teacher training institutions in 1981. Major structural changes cannot of course be introduced in one step, and would have to be phased in over a period of years. It would appear that the present teacher training arrangements will become increasingly uneconomic as total enrolments continue to decline. Delays in reaching decisions on those matters will simply mean that resources will be tied to making an uneconomic provision, whereas they could be released for the purpose of worthwhile academic continuity elsewhere. The period of uncertainty about the future must in all events be kept to a minimum.

Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

Does my hon. Friend accept that the need to reorganise the teacher training system goes further than economic considerations? Does he accept that we must get rid of the religious apartheid that exists in teacher training institutions and that we should ensure that all student teachers go to educational centres in universities, where sectarianism does not exist?

Mr. Rossi

The hon. Gentleman's views are well known. The Government will base their conclusions on the factors raised by the report and upon the representations made by interested parties.

I have referred to a number of the main features of the order. I have been given notice by hon. Members predominantly of topics which fall within the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. He will therefore wind up this debate. Should other questions be raised during the course of the debate on matters of detail I shall arrange in the usual way for the appropriate Minister to write to the hon. Members concerned.

Before I conclude, I should like to refer to the explanatory memorandum on the draft order, a copy of which I sent to a number of hon. Members and which I hope they found useful. I should like to take this opportunity of pointing out one inaccuracy which has crept in to the document. The memorandum states that the youth opportunities programme will provide jobs for 3,000 young people. In fact, over 7,000 young people will be involved in YOP projects in the current financial year, an increase in the order of between 20 and 25 per cent.

I commend the draft order to the House.

9.58 am
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I thank the Minister once again for giving us a more detailed breakdown of the amounts of money in the order. I also thank him for his attempts to make it even more comprehensible. When I heard his opening remarks to the effect that the order was temporary, I wondered whether I should begin in the way that I had intended.

Although, we are debating a specific order, and although my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) and I have informed the Minister of the subjects that we intend to cover, the underlying theme of the debate must be the unparalleled economic and social deprivation in Northern Ireland. Given the Government's policies, there should be little surprise that the present unemployment figures, which are bound to increase next week, are the worst for 40 years.

The economic situation has deteriorated considerably since my hon. Friend outlined the Province's economic problems during the Appropriation debate in March. One of the hardest to be hit by Government policy is the agriculture industry. I therefore draw attention to the problems contained in Class I, and particularly Vote 2, where provision of £6,160,000 is being sought. As the House knows, in many ways agriculture is Northern Ireland's most important industry, contributing 6 per cent. to the gross domestic product. With its allied industries, it employs nearly 14 per cent. of the Province's work force.

The Northern Ireland farmer is at present disheartened by his position and by the gloomy outlook that he faces. Because of the Government's policies, which have resulted in an inflationary spiral of over 20 per cent., returns for most agricultural commodities, such as cattle, pigs, lamb, potatoes and cereals, are lower than they were this time last year. For example, beef prices are 12p a kilogram lower this week over last week, and this trend has been developing sharply over the past few months. It is partly attributable to the Government's policy on feedstuff prices.

I am sure that the Minister recognises that because of the handicap of the cost of feedstuffs there will be a sharp decline in pig and poultry production in Northern Ireland unless special Government assistance is provided. Through the life of the Labour Government, we recognised the need—and we gave special assistance—to maintain production and associated employment. Although the EEC has maintained the proposed grant to pig and poultry processing, it has not been possible to continue the feed price allowance. While the recent announcement of extra help for processing over the next four years is an indication of the understanding within the Community of Northern Ireland's problems, I am sure that the Minister will agree that the effect of this aid on producer returns will be limited and long delayed unless producers get more direct and substantial help quickly. That can come only from the Government. There will be a significant drop in production, and it is estimated that as many as 5,000 jobs will be at stake.

Is the Under-Secretary, who I am happy to see is to reply to the debate, in tune with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food who, at a meeting of the Tory Reform Group, implied that in his view the Government were badly underestimating the drain on the Exchequer caused by the unemployed, and therefore indicated that he favoured a more interventionist approach to industry? Does he accept that the cost of maintaining production will be far less than the cost of attracting new jobs for unemployed people, or the cost of maintaining them on social security? Will he reconsider his policy on support for feedstuffs?

I return to a topic that I have raised before in the debate on the Appropriation order—that of milk in Northern Ireland and the problems facing the dairy farmer. Basically, the main cause for concern is the amount of milk which goes to the liquid market in Northern Ireland. It is much less than in Great Britain—20 per cent. compared with 50 per cent. It means that the producers' rate of return per gallon is 5p compared with 16p. Their production costs are higher in Northern Ireland. Their rate of return therefore falls considerably short of that of their Great Britain counterparts. There is a desperate need for the renewal of milk aid, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will address himself to this problem when he replies to the debate.

Will the Minister also comment on the effect of the Government spending freeze on agricultural aid from the EEC? Does he agree that the changes in Government priorities may jeopardise the £750,000 of aid from the Common Market agriculture fund? I refer particularly to the adverse effect on the eight projects which receive EEC funds such as the £159,000 grant for the Northern Ireland Milk Marketing Board for the construction of a milk processing plant and the £149,000 grant for Richlea eggs in Lisburn for the construction of an egg packing and distribution centre.

Finally, will the Minister comment on the drop in EEC aid from £1,327,377 last year to the present £732,665, and say how he plans to compensate for such a decline which is bound to worsen the situation for Northern Ireland farmers? The situation will deteriorate even further as a result of the Government's high interest rates. The Northern Ireland farmer is dependent upon the banks for finance. The Financial Times of 9 June stated: November, 1979, figures show that the region's farmers had borrowed £152M, 37 per cent. more than a year earlier. The cost of this money was high—about £20 million is thought to have been paid in interest last year—and in 1980 interest payments are representing an even more worrying percentage of farm costs. I hope that the Minister will ensure that those points catch the ear of the Prime Minister as well as of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, whom I see on the Treasury Bench.

I turn now to the important Vote 2 because since the last Appropriation debate the inexorable rise in inflation has been 4.6 per cent., from 17 per cent. to 21.6 per cent., a devastating blow to the people of Northern Ireland. Last month's figures indicate that unemployment has reached 73,000, an increase from 11.6 per cent. to 12.7 per cent. since our last debate. The figure is nearly twice the national average. In many areas of the Province unemployment is greater than 20 per cent. Therefore, I ask the Under-Secretary to tell us what hope there is for those in Strabane with unemployment of 24.6 per cent., in Newry with 23.2 per cent. Dungannon with 22.5 per cent. and Cookstown with 22.4 per cent. What hope have they, particularly when all the indications point to further unemployment?

For example, the well known economic consultancy firm Coopers and Lybrand, often quoted in these debates, sees no end to these appalling statistics. It estimates that by 1982 some 85,000 will be out of work, placing a tremendous stress on the public purse. The impending closure of Grundig, involving the loss of 1,000 jobs, is the greatest single closure since BSR shut down in Londonderry, and characterises the present climate of industrial decline in the Province which threatens to propel unemployment to some 100,000 by the end of the year, according to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Whatever the final figure—and that is a matter of conjecture—the trend is bound to continue because industrial output is expected to fall by 4 per cent. and consumer spending by as much as 15 per cent. by the end of the year.

Before I return to the specific points under Vote 2, may I say that it is evident that, after having suffered more than a year of the Government application of the monetarist doctrines of Milton Friedman, the full horrors of the economic situation are apparent as a pattern which threatens to make Northern Ireland an industrial wasteland. It is a pattern which appears to be irreversible in the short term because of the inflexibility of the Government. The Prime Minister stated recently in the House: If our top priority is to squeeze inflation out of the economy, we must inevitably suffer some unemployment in the short term."—[Official Report, 24 June 1980; Vol. 987, c. 226.] But I ask in respect of Northern Ireland, how much is "some"?

Unemployment, already the worst since 1938, has increased by 5,229 over last month's figures, and by 10,268 over those for last June. Unemployed school leavers rose to 8,022, an increase of 4,370 on last month and of 1,362 over last year. Similarly, compared with last year, unemployment rose by 1,342 in the construction industry, 1,084 in textiles, 858 in clothing and footwear, and 830 in miscellaneous services.

In another gloomy forecast—they all seem to be gloomy in Northern Ireland—Professor William Black of Queen's University made the interesting comparison between the Government and the last Labour Administration. He said: With hindsight 1978–1979 were the buoyant and prosperous years for trade and commerce in the Province. With no regeneration planned, and a freeze on Government spending which threatens to reduce appropriations to chaos—and in view of what the Minister said in his introduction I believe that the whole of the order could be in chaos—Departments may not be able to rely on their budgets in the course of the year. That can only worsen the situation when clearly the Province has suffered enough already.

When he replies to the debate, will the Under-Secretary spell out the specific measures that he plans to take over the textile man-made fibre industry which is on the verge of virtual extinction in Northern Ireland? Will he accept that drastic action is needed because the textile industry accounts for 10.4 per cent. of the work force in Northern Ireland compared with 3.9 per cent. in Great Britain? Fifteen hundred jobs have been lost, and 2,400 workers have been placed on short time.

Since last September 1,200 jobs have been lost at Courtaulds, including the recent closure of one plant involving 560 jobs. At a plant that once employed 3,000 workers, only 330 jobs survive. Similarly, ICI and Carrera plan to trim their work forces by 400 each. I believe that the people of Northern Ireland expect their Secretary of State to stand up for them in the Cabinet and fight to reverse these policies.

I turn to the Vote which concerns in particular the chronic problems facing the school meals provision in Northern Ireland. The sum shown in the Estimates lumps school meals together with school maintenance, teachers' salaries and other costs. Therefore, the figure masks the true extent of the Government's policies on the school meals service. By reducing the discretionary scales without consultation with NUPE, 20,000 schoolchildren will have their meals cut in September. The net effect of the increase in the price of school meals earlier in the year has resulted in a sharp decrease in the number of schoolchildren taking meals at school. Between Easter and June, when the figure is normally expected to be 3 per cent. lower, it decreased by 30 per cent.

That must have a detrimental effect on the health of schoolchildren in Northern Ireland. An added effect will be the decrease of about 400 personnel in the school meals service.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Has the hon. Gentleman been to Northern Ireland and seen whether the children are being worse fed than before? It may be so, but does he really know?

Mr. Pendry

I have been in close touch with the National Union of Public Employees on the matter, and I have made a study, and I can say that that is the effect of this measure. There is a statutory requirement in Northern Ireland for a midday meal for schoolchildren, and I wish that we still had that provision in Dorset, Kent and Wiltshire.

What is the Minister's view on the question of convenience food? Is it now the intention of the Department of Education to provide such foods? If so, will the Minister confirm that the Department will not request tinned foods composed of food that is not produced in the United Kingdom? That would be an added blow to the farming community.

Another decision within the education budget that will hit farmers hard is the recent announcement by the Government to stop free milk for primary schoolchildren in the Province. According to the chief executive of the Milk Marketing Board, Mr. John Lynn, This will hit the dairy industry at a time when it can least afford to be hit by anything. Not only will the decision result in the loss of about £300,000 of revenue to the region, but it will adversly effect the health of schoolchildren. As Winston Spencer Churchill said on 21 March 1943: There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into children, as healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have. How right he was.

I turn now to one of the most ill-conceived proposals concerning Northern Ireland—in Class VIII, Vote 3—ever to have been announced, the Government's proposal to remove the executive functions of the Sports Council and to transfer them to civil servants in the Department of Education. That decision is based on the unsubstantiated claim that it would result in the saving of a paltry £200,000, or a redistribution of £200,000. This proposal has aroused almost universal and united opposition, and rightly so. It is wrong in principle, the way in which the decision was taken is totally unacceptable, and the reasons that have been given do not stand up to detailed analysis.

We are told by the Minister responsible, Lord Elton, that the decision stems rom the report on non-departmental public bodies, Cmnd. 7797. That clearly is not so. The report states: The case for having bodies of the executive type is more complex. It is that Parliament, or the Government with parliamentary approval for the money involved, have decided that a certain function should be carried out for reasons of public policy, but that it is best carried out at arm's length from central Government. There can be a number of reasons for this—because the work is of an executive character which does not require Ministers to take responsibility for its day-to-day management; because the work is more effectively carried out by a single-purpose organisation, rather than by a Government Department with a wide range of functions; in order to involve people from outside Government in the direction of the organisation; or, as a self-denying ordinance on the part of Government and Parliament, in order to place the performance of particular functions outside the party political area. Of all parts of the United Kingdom, surely Northern Ireland is the one to which those principles must be applied most rigorously. The report also notes that the Department of the Environment in London, the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office have accepted as satisfactory the mechanism of the Sports Council for dealing with sport. Why did not the Department of Education in Northern Ireland follow suit?

The proposal is wrong in principle, because it breaks faith and breaks the promises given and the obligations entered into by a previous Conservative Government which established the four executive Sports Councils in the United Kingdom to build upon the work of the successful, charitable and voluntary central Council of Physical Recreation, from which the Sports Council acquired its assets, staff and executive functions.

Although I have no desire to hold the Government to their election manifesto pledges, I am surprised that the noble Lord puts himself out of step with the Tory Party manifesto. Under the heading "The Arts", the manifesto states: Sport and recreation have also been hit by inflation and high taxation. We will continue to support the Sports Councils in the encouragement of recreation and international sporting achievements. As late as November, the Minister responsible for sport, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) expressed the Government's support for the continuation of and confidence in the four Sports Councils. He knows. He is an eminent sportsman, but no one consulted him. Indeed, the decision was unacceptable because the Minister concerned failed to consult anyone interested or any of the knowledgeable parties. He failed to consult the chairman of the Sports Council—a body that he appoints for that purpose—the governing bodies of sport whose future is seriously affected, or even the district councils to which he hopes to pass on some of the costs but no new functions. It is baffling in the extreme that a new Minister who has spent less than one hour with the Sports Council—and that at the Sports Council's request—can take such a major decision which will have irreversible and drastic consequences.

It is also unacceptable for the Government to seek new legislation to remove the executive functions of the Sports Council, and on the same day issue directives to sack 11 staff. I do not wish to dwell on that point, because I understand that it could be challenged in the courts on a question of ultra vires. But to claim that this proposal is justified on the basis of a staffing report written as early as 1979, which in fact recommended an increase in the council's staff complement from 42 to 47, is ludicrous. I should like the Minister to say how that figure was arrived at.

It is easy for any Government to save money by cutting public services, but why destroy a successful organisation on the pretext of saving money? To speak of duplication between the Sports Council and the district councils, as the noble Lord has done, indicates that he fails to understand their respective roles, which are complementary and compatible.

But what about the savings? In his reply, will the Minister spell out those savings? At Question Time last Thursday the Under-Secretary of State said that most of the presumed savings might go to district councils. How much will go to each of the 26 district councils? Meanwhile, the noble Lord suggests that some of these savings might go to governing body appointments. How many, and how much to each?

I cannot say how much cash the Government will save, but I can tell the House what will be lost. We shall lose the bulk of the £120,000 that it is estimated this year will be generated by the Sports Council through sports sponsorship and private income, but something much more precious than that will also be lost—dedicated people like George Glasgow, the director, and Mary Peters, who I saw win her gold medal in Munich, and who has worked for the entire community in Northern Ireland since then, especially among the young. What kind of civil servant could match their enthusiasm and drive, and indeed that of the entire team of the Northern Ireland Sports Council? The Sports Council will lose its house of sport. and will no doubt carry on its work in a fragmented fashion in attic offices and private houses. A great deal will be lost to the people of Northern Ireland in the meantime.

What about section 4 of the Council of Europe charter, where all four sports councils are supposed to co-ordinate the "Sport for all" campaign? Next year it is the turn of the disabled. As president of the Tameside multi-disabled sports club, I know how much sport means to the handicapped, and 1982 is the year of women in sport. Who in Northern Ireland will co-ordinate those events?

The Government's proposals are a retrograde step and without logic. If they are allowed to go through, they will be a disastrous and expensive blunder. I hope that the Government will take serious note of the universal rejection of those proposals.

I do not apologise for spending so much time on the subject. I know how important it is to the people of Northern Ireland. When my hon. Friend winds up, he will doubtless talk about some of the matters that I have left out, especially energy and health. I hope that the Minister will take on board the constructive points that have been put to him.

10.22 am
Mr. John Bruce-Gardyne (Knutsford)

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the great trouble that he has taken to provide the House with the information in the explanatory memorandum and the effort that he has made to try to ensure that today's proceedings are organised on a rational basis.

I do not intend to follow the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on the great issue of the future of the Northern Ireland Sports Council. I am sure that he attached to it all the importance that it deserves. I shall concentrate on matters that involve rather more considerable expenditure of taxpayers' funds. The hon. Gentleman accused the Government of inflexibility. That is not an appropriate adjective, at least in certain respects. I wish to deal with two aspects of the Votes before us, both under Class II, Vote 2, the Department of Commerce vote—the arrangements for taxpayer subvention for Harland and Wolff and for the De Lorean motor car corporation. I have substantial anxieties on both scores. The charge that is being loaded on to our constituents seems to be increasingly pre-occupying.

On 23 July 1979 my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), reported to the House the arrangements that he had made for the subsidisation of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in the year ahead. He stated: New orders cannot be won, even at a subsidised price, unless delivery dates can be met. I am concerned to learn that production targets at Harland and Wolff have recently been missed and that, for a variety of reasons, productivity generally has been slipping. This has been reflected in heavy trading losses…The overall limit for the current financial year will be £22 million. That is the limit of the taxpayers' subvention for this shipyard. He went on: The company must show early and marked improvements in performance if any new orders are to be won and if there is to be a chance of survival in the longer run."—[Official Report, 23 July 1979; Vol. 970, c. 31.] My hon. Friend, in words that brooked little misunderstanding, has stated that every Member in this House from Northern Ireland should be certain that the Government have reached a point where they must say, once and for all, that the future of Harland and Wolff rests with the management and work force of the company, and that in 12 months' time there will have to be a final and agonising reappraisal of the position. We have had the agonising reappraisal.

In answer to parliamentary questions from me, my hon. Friend has confirmed that over the past 12 months not only have the operating losses of this shipyard virtually doubled but, out of four ships delivered, two were delivered late. Although my hon. Friend claims that there has been some improvement in productivity, measured by the yardstick of steel production, nevertheless he reckons that it is still about 12 per cent. below the levels achieved in 1977.

However, on 1 July my hon. Friend produced a most interesting and substantial parliamentary answer to the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). It revealed that, notwithstanding what had occurred at Harland and Wolff over the past 12 months and what was said 12 months ago, it was proposed to give this shipyard another £42½ million of the long-suffering British taxpayers' money. I question whether a written parliamentary answer is quite the right way to reveal to this House public expenditure on such an enormous scale. I said the other day that it was probably the most expensive written answer in our history. I should be delighted to hear whether my hon. Friend has been able to dig out others that come anywhere near it in comparable cost. The House needs a rather more substantial degree of accountability than is displayed in a written answer.

The answer contained some rather interesting points. It said: Productivity overall has been below levels which Harland and Wolff has previously attained and below the standards necessary in order to compete in a very difficult world market". My hon. Friend went on to explain some causes, one of which was that the company has been forced in recent years to take orders for which its facilities and structures are not really suited. The present order book consists of three relatively small and complicated ferries requiring a high proportion of outfitting work, and of two liquid petroleum gas carriers whose novel and sophisticated technology involves extremely demanding design work and the development of new manufacturing processes. That is hardly the ideal form of order book for a yard with such an appalling record of performance over so many years, which is the case with Harland and Wolff, yet that is the order book that is to be sustained by the subvention of £42½ million from the taxpayer.

My hon. Friend concluded his written answer: The longer term will depend on urgent improvements in performance to enhance the company's credibility as a shipbuilding enterprise and on a determined effort to diversify its product potential so that its jobs and skills may rest on a broader and more viable basis."—[Official Report, 1 July 1980; Vol. 987, c. 534–35.] What is the point of making such statements? It is quite obvious that what we are talking about here is not a shipbuilding operation but a form of extremely expensive outdoor relief. Relating the statement that my hon. Friend made last year to his written answer on 1 July, it is clear that the continuation of taxpayers' subsidisation has nothing to do with performance. In those circumstances, I wonder whether it is wise to make statements which clearly are not meant.

What is more, if we are going into the business of outdoor relief, as clearly we are, is it really wise to do it on such a massive scale in one fell swoop? I cannot help feeling that it would be better to maintain this form of employment on a much more day-to-day basis. Apart from anything else, one wonders what is to happen to the whole of this £42½ million. One hopes that it will be expended in the shipyard itself, but one wonders on that score. I suggest that, since we are not really talking about a shipbuilding operation at all, it would be better, in the interests of public expenditure, if we doled out the money on a narrower basis and perhaps at more frequent intervals.

I turn now to that other miracle of the Province of Northern Ireland, the De Lorean car affair. I have never made any secret of my view that the launching of this project by the last Government was a scandal by any definition and a scandal which I believe everyone will live to regret. As we know, so far the taxpayer is committed to the extent of £53 million, while Mr. De Lorean keeps the equity, which is a remarkable deal. But we are waiting with bated breath for a revelation from my hon. Friend of what is to happen about Mr. De Lorean's new demand for topping-up funds. We have not been told very much about it.

Mr. John

It is not new.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

The lion. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) says that it is not new. He is right. It is about six months old. We have not been told much about the precise nature of the demand. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) quoted a figure of £5.6 million. Other sources have suggested a figure of £8 million. We have not been told. All that we have been told is that this is to compensate Mr. De Lorean under the terms of the agreement which the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) concluded during the lifetime of the previous Government. Under the terms of that agreement, apparently Mr. De Lorean is entitled to come back whenever the exchange rate or the level of inflation goes against him, which is an even more remarkable aspect of the agreement.

My hon. Friend has made it clear that the Government are not absolutely obligated under the terms of the agreement to hand over this money. That is why he is giving De Lorean's request such careful scrutiny. On the other hand, he seems to have indicated to the House on several occasions that there is at least a moral obligation to fall in with whatever Mr. De Lorean wants under the terms of the agreement. What is more, he made the point the other day in reply to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde that the taxpayer had already committed massive sums to this development and that therefore the Government had every duty to see that it was carried through to success. That is the argument that we heard for years and years about Concorde. There are those of us who believed at every stage that it would have been a great deal cheaper to cut our losses and run. I cannot help thinking that that is likely to be the case with De Lorean as well.

Mr. John

The hon. Gentleman talks of losses as an accountant, and clearly he is producing a mental profit and loss account. Will he deal with what I consider to be the much greater scandal of long-term unemployment in Northern Ireland? Will he tell us what he would do, in place of this accountant's review, to produce work for Northern Ireland's unemployed?

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

The appropriate response to levels of unemployment, not only in Northern Ireland but in the United Kingdom as a whole, is only to a very limited extent in the hands of the Government. I do not believe that Governments can eliminate unemployment and that, on the whole, over many years the more that they have professed to do so, the further they have got from achieving it. That includes the hon. Gentleman's own Government in the period between 1974 and 1979.

In my view, the real objection to the De Lorean operation is that it is hyper-expensive in terms of the taxpayers' commitment. Frankly, the likelihood of a commercial achievement from it seems to some of us remote beyond the possibility of compensation. This is a highly expensive sports car with a heavy petrol consumption. At a time of falling demand for motor cars in general and most of all for luxury sports cars with a high petrol consumption, it does not seem likely that it will achieve commercial success. We have been told that there is already a slippage on the programme. I do not find that in the least surprising.

We need to know the outcome of the latest application for funds, and I must tell my hon. Friend that there was one aspect of his responses last week which concerned me greatly. I asked him for an assurance that he would make a statement to the House about Mr. De Lorean's application before we rose for the Summer Recess. My hon. Friend said that he would do his level best to achieve that. But I also asked for an assurance that if, for any reason, it proved impossible to make a statement before we rose for the Summer Recess, we should not have a statement put out during the recess. I noticed that my hon. Friend did not give a precise answer to that.

I must put it to my hon. Friend that, in view of the massive sums which have already been committed to this adventure, it cannot be good enough to allocate further sums to it when this House is in recess. In the light of experience with several Departments of State, including his own, one is sometimes left with the conclusion that the Government believe that the best moment for announcing massive subventions from the taxpayers' purse is when this House has dispersed for its holidays.

We have been waiting and, as far as we know, Mr. De Lorean has been waiting, six months. It really would not hurt him to wait another two months. If my hon. Friend cannot produce a statement before the Summer Recess, for which there may be understandable reasons, I beg him to ensure that the matter is held over until we return. That is the least that we are entitled to request.

In last year's debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and I asked about reports that De Lorean was negotiating to take up an agency with Alfa Romeo. In October, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State told the House that his latest information was that arrangements that had been under discussion between De Lorean and Alfa Romeo had not been concluded. Did that mean that they had been broken off? The House needs reassurance on that point.

I also asked in last year's debate whether Ministers could ascertain whether the two representatives of the Northern Ireland Development Agency on the board of De Lorean were those who were primarily responsible for organising the arrival of the project in the first place. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary undertook to inform me about that, but I am still awaiting clear information.

The last matter that I wish to raise is of broader concern. Hon. Members on both sides have been worried for some time about what appear to be different rules governing the disclosure of information within the Department of Commerce in Northern Ireland, compared with the rules operated by the Department of Industry and the Scottish and Welsh Offices.

Earlier this year, I asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister a question on that point. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, who was standing in for the Prime Minister, told me: In considering future policy on this matter my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland must take into account any circumstances special to Northern Ireland as well as the practice adopted in other parts of the United Kingdom. I understand that he has this matter under active consideration and will be writing to my hon. Friend."—[Official Report, 25 March 1980; Vol. 980, c. 474.] I have to tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that someone, somewhere is waiting for a letter. We must have these arrangements made clear, and I hope that the Department of Commerce will align its practices with those of the Department of Industry and the Scottish and Welsh Offices.

I make no apology for having raised these matters. I have been concerned for some time about the way in which taxpayers' funds, for which we are answerable to our constituents, are expended in Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State reported a welcome increase in the level of inquiries about investment opportunities in Northern Ireland. I am sometimes surprised that there are not more people waiting to pluck the tenners and £100 notes that seem to grow with remarkable facility on every tree in the Province.

The House must pay close attention to the way in which money has been spent, and is being spent, in Northern Ireland. I hope that, in time, we shall improve the level of scrutiny that the House achieves over the sums spent in the Province.

10.44 am
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

The hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) need offer no apology to the House for having used the occasion of the debate to express his anxieties and criticism of the sums being expended in Northern Ireland on the support of certain industries—just as my hon. Friends and I from constituencies in Northern Ireland have participated on the Floor of the House, in debate and by vote, in the criticism of the immensely greater sums which, at least as infelicitously, have been poured into industrial establishments on the mainland of Great Britain.

I shall revert later to the point to which the hon. Gentleman came at the conclusion of his speech, but I wish first to draw the attention of the House to the fact that we are assisting at a remarkable constitutional event.

For about 400 years, the grant of money to the Crown—and the provision of Ways and Means for doing so—have been conditional upon that money being spent, to the extent set out in legislation, on the matters respectively specified in that legislation. It has been laid down by statute. The Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill has been the linchpin of the control by the House over the Administration, either in form or in reality, for most of the time that the House has effectively been sovereign in this country.

We have today been witnesses of a remarkable constitutional innovation. We have been told "You will, of course, pass this order." It is legislation and is as much the law of the land as is the Consolidated Fund Act. "However, we ought to warn you," continue the Government "that the contents of the order are historical or antiquarian"—or, as one hon. Member interjected, "fictional."

Although a Government may, from time to time during the financial year, come back to Parliament for the grant of further sums for specific purposes, it cannot be right that in asking Parliament to endorse the application of the funds that are being granted, the Government indicate in the same breath that they are to be spent in a different way, as yet unspecified, from that shown in the document before the House.

It is true that the innovation came to us on the wings of a certain amount of good news—rare enough anyhow in Northern Ireland—about an actual and anticipated increase in the interest in bringing genuine new industry to Northern Ireland; and of course, if the Government are in so narrow a space as the expenditure in a Province comprising only one-fortieth of the population of the whole kingdom, confined within a fixed total, the consequence must be that they need to allow themselves latitude in the other items of expenditure. They have with a disarming candour informed the House of that today.

It may be, therefore, that the remedy for this constitutional monstrosity, which ought to be marked and ought not to be repeated, lies in a different direction, to which I shall seek to point in the course of my remarks.

Before doing so, however, it would be right to express the thanks of hon. Members from Northern Ireland constituencies for the fact that we have at last succeeded in getting an arrangement under which the latest relevant report of the Public Accounts Committee, instead of appearing just after this annual debate, is available a fortnight before it. It is true that the House ordered it to be printed on 21 May; but the orders of the House in the matter of printing are not always carried out with alacrity, and the PAC report came into hon. Members' hands about a fortnight ago. Still, as this is a matter that has been the subject of complaint by hon. Members for year after year, recognition should be accorded to our colleagues on the PAC for enabling us to have the document in time this year.

It is also right that, although many of the strictures contained in the report follow the lines of the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, some of the most important should be underlined. It would be improper for the Public Accounts Committee to do its work in secret, and for the most stringent of the criticisms which it offers in the interests of the taxpayer and the public to go unrecorded on the Floor of the House.

I wish to draw attention to two points, one of which will be very much up the road to Knutsford, namely, a recommendation made in the light of the Simms and Courtaulds projects, that the Department, together with the Treasury, review current procedures in industrial cases, including the cost per job criteria, as a matter of urgency…the Department ought to take a firmer grip on projects such as these, and that when a project is developed or changed so that the cost greatly exceeds the original estimate it should be made clear to the proposer"— the Committee is here on the lines of the hon. Member for Knutsford— that the Department will regard itself free to re-negotiate the terms and conditions of financial assistance. The Government should indicate whether they have accepted, and are implementing, those recommendations, especially as the Committee added: we consider that the Department should have pursued its investigations much sooner than it did, so that the expected benefit of savings from reduced costs would have been brought forward. My second point relates to the meat industry employment scheme, which is of considerable parliamentary concern. It is accepted that the statutory powers under which the payments have been made over a series of years were inadequate. The Committee reported that it cannot however, accept either that Parliament was adequately informed of the nature and possible extent of these payments or that the legal advice sought by the Department was adequate in the circumstances. One of the advantages of having acts of Government properly authorised by statute is that the House is thereby bound to have the opportunity to consider the reasons why payments are recommended or required. It would have been beneficial and advantageous if the reasons why the difficulties imposed upon Northern Ireland, which the meat industry employment scheme was designed to meet, had arisen.

My hon. Friends and I who represent Northern Ireland constituencies suffer almost daily a paradoxical experience. On the one hand, we find ourselves writing to our constituents explaining that this or that service that they have been led to expect, whether it be the repair or improvement of a house, a grant or something else, a service that we in good faith have held out to them, will not be provided at any foreseeable date, because of the new constraints upon the total of public expenditure. Yet, by the same posts as we dispatch those letters, we are accustomed, almost daily, to receive evidences of waste of money by the bureaucratic duplication of services for the Province of Northern Ireland and for the United Kingdom as a whole.

I will give one example. Only yesterday I opened a bulky parcel which arrived with my mail from the Department of Manpower Services. It contained the reports of the Northern Ireland construction industry training board, the Northern Ireland catering industry training board, the Northern Ireland food and drink industry training board, the Northern Ireland engineering industry training board, the Northern Ireland man-made fibres producing industry training board and the Northern Ireland textiles industry training board.

I am not raising the question of the services that those boards perform in Northern Ireland or in the remainder of Britain—that is a matter for separate debate—nor am I doubting that those services require to be administered and applied in detail locally in Northern Ireland, just as in the other parts of the Kingdom. But I am asserting, with all the confidence of an old Treasury hand, that if, in a Province representing only one-fortieth of the Kingdom, one duplicates a complete set-up that exists for those services in the remainder of the Kingdom, there will be a considerable waste of administrative effort and money—a waste of money which one is not looking for simply for economy's sake. I am not at the moment actuated by concern for the public sector borrowing requirement but by knowing that in Northern Ireland, in the interests of economy, actual services are being cut. When we are having to break that news to our constituents, it is agonising to be confronted almost daily with evidence of bureaucratic and administrative overlap between the Province and the remainder of the Kingdom.

On behalf of my colleagues and myself, I wrote in December to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, offering humble advice and suggesting that a study might be carried out, which I described as follows: Take the functions which are performed for Ulster by the Government of Northern Ireland but not for Scotland by the Scottish Office or for Wales by the Welsh Office. From that list deduct those so performed which in Scotland or Wales are functions of local government. Among the residue there will be some, such as those of the N.I. Department of Commerce in connection with attracting firms to Ulster, which are due to circumstances or policies unique to Ulster. I believe that many will remain where the duplication proves to be wholly wasteful, bringing no additional convenience to the citizen. I suggested that a Government who were so economy-minded that they were looking for means of chiselling the old-age pensioners and other beneficiaries of social services, might at least take an interest in this, to see whether economies of any scale were obtainable.

I concluded my letter with a sentence that proved prophetic: I am sure that in considering whether or how to take this matter up you will bear in mind the resistance, additional to that which all economy encounters, which is to be expected from the political vested interests concerned to maintain and increase the separation between Ulster and the rest of the United Kingdom. I was not deterred when I received in January the not unentirely expected response from the Chief Secretary that it was not "opportune" to pursue the matter at that time, and that there were deep and weighty constitutional reasons for that.

This is not a debate in which to refer, except in passing, to the fact that, as the weeks go by, those constitutional reasons, such as they are, become weaker and weaker, while the economic reasons and the reasons of the interests of those whom we are here to serve become stronger. If it was urgent six or nine months ago, it is even more urgent today to investigate whether the administration of our one-fortieth of the United Kingdom could, for the benefit of the inhabitants, be conducted in a manner more economical by being run in conjunction with the administration of the remainder of the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friends and I do not accept that those whom we represent in Northern Ireland are in any way unduly pampered among the rest of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom. Set on one side expenditure that is incurred by the fact that the Province is under direct military attack—as one would no doubt have set on one side the expenditure incurred in defending London against direct military attack—then I simply do not believe it is true that there is a uniquely high expenditure of public money per head of population in Northern Ireland compared with other comparable parts of the Kingdom.

I stress the word "comparable", for there is no true comparability in that no other population of 1½million within the United Kingdom is accounted for separately in such a manner as to make possible the invidious division sum, which is constantly and misleadingly thrown up at the people and indeed the administration of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point that no other group of 1½ million citizens of the United Kingdom is separated out for accountability in this respect, but he might be prepared to concede that when it comes to taxpayers' subvention of commercial activities and commercial propositions the information which this House has from other Departments of State is substantially greater than the information that is obtained from the Northern Ireland Office.

Mr. Powell

Nothing in the argument that I am putting forward is designed to result in, or would lead to, less information, or information differently expressed, being available regarding the operations of government in that Province as against any other part of the Kingdom.

In substantiation of my claim that the level of public expenditure in Northern Ireland is by no means unique in relation to the circumstances, there are one or two facts which might interest the House. In order if possible to overcome the fact that there is no such separate accounting for County Durham, Bournemouth or the West Midlands, as there is for Ulster, I was forced to apply a cruder yardstick. I asked for travel-to-work areas in Scotland and in England and Wales respectively, where at the latest convenient date, unemployment was higher than in Northern Ireland.

We are all accustomed to being told that Northern Ireland as such is a very sink of unemployment and of bad conditions of all kinds. The House may be interested in what the results were. In Scotland there were no fewer than 15 travel-to-work areas with a level of unemployment higher than the average quoted for Northern Ireland, and very high indeed absolutely. I mention in Scotland only Girvan, Greenock, both North and South Lanarkshire and Kilmarnock where the unemployment rate was at a level of about 15 per cent., while in Portree the rate was up to 18.6 per cent.

Nobody will tell me that in those areas the level of public expenditure per head of the population is not substantially higher—quite rightly so—than in the rest of the United Kingdom and comparable, if not more than comparable, with the levels which are quoted for Northern Ireland.

In England there were 24 such areas, among which I pick out Consett, Ebbw Vale, Hartlepool and—perhaps appropriately enough, Mr. Deputy Speaker—Liverpool. In Liverpool—if, since we are given no other criteria on which to judge, we may judge by the level of unemployment—the citizens are at least as heavy a burden, and a proper burden, per head upon the rest of their fellow citizens as are the people of Northern Ireland, generally, and probably of any individual parts of Northern Ireland.

Therefore, when I argue, as I do, that this Government must take a much deeper and wider look at the administration of Northern Ireland, I am not seeking to do so out of a mere prejudice against bureaucracy, out of a desire to add to the totals of civil servants dispensed with. Not at all. I do so because I am anxious to see that, within the national total available in accordance with the policies—which I support in principle—of the present Government, more of the expenditure which goes upon Northern Ireland can be usefully and not uselessly directed.

I have only one other topic with which I wish to trouble the House. It might appear to be a constituency topic, although there is every right for an hon. Member in this debate to consider the interests of his constituents, but I submit that it is not really a constituency topic, but engages the interests of the Province as a whole.

The Northern Ireland Economic Council drew attention a year and a half ago to a gap, a gap that it regarded as serious, in the surface communications between the mainland and Ulster. It was the gap on the south, a gap of which the terminal in Ulster might be a port into which a tremendous amount of public money has been poured, the port of Warrenpoint, a harbour artificially created by private enterprise in the eighteenth century but re-created, almost literally, by public enterprise in the twentieth century.

Here I am addressing particularly the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw). Those of us who approach him on matters of employment and industry in Northern Ireland are always conscious that our words are falling upon sympathetic and knowledgeable ears. I ask that the hon. Gentleman should direct the mind of the Northern Ireland Office as well as his own much more specifically to this channel of communication between the mainland and Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman, I am sure, will not dispute that the prospects for the people in the whole area of Newry and its surroundings, prospects for the survival and prosperity of industries which have painfully and with great risk and difficulty been planted and encouraged there, depend to a large extent upon the availability of convenient and sure communication for persons and freight between that area and the mainland. It would be a benefit which inures not only to the immediate hinterland of Newry and Warrenpoint; it would inure also to the benefit of the North-West of the Province, since the natural channel of communication, like the old Clogher valley railway, runs from that point of access north-westwards in the direction of Londonderry; and there is no reason at all why it should not be put on record that the benefit would inure equally to those parts of the Republic of Ireland which are adjacent to Ulster at that point.

Warrenpoint harbour was provided a number of years ago with admirable facilities for roll-on/roll-off services, facilities which, apart from the odd vessel, have from that day to this never been used. There is not only the physical equipment there, but there is a marshalling area which those who organise roll-on/ roll-off services in the ports of Great Britain might view with a great deal of envy. It is an almost ideal terminus for roll-on/roll-off services.

We have suffered a severe blow in that part of Ulster in recent weeks, and we are suffering it still, by the withdrawal of about a quarter of the traffic which used that gradually growing and strengthening port, when Coastal Containers removed its operations from Warrenpoint. I know that the Minister and the Government are anxious to limit and neutralise any damage this might create to employment or to industry; but the one point upon which one's thoughts concentrate again and again is the provision of regular roll-on/roll-off services to the Province by that means of access.

I shall not weary the House with details into which an enthusiast could too easily be drawn. However, there is one specific issue on which I shall be glad to have a response from the Minister. The advantage of roll-on/roll-off as a means of transportation, certainly between a detached province such as Ulster and the mainland, is the regularity and the reliability of that service. Otherwise it is of little use for passengers, for whom it should provide cheap and convenient access, and only of limited use for the consignors of freight.

It has been stated that tide-free regularity of service to Warrenpoint is called into question, if not rendered impracticable, by the condition of the channel and the entrance to Carlingford Lough. Figures that seem to be astronomically absurd have been quoted not merely for what would be necessary to expend upon the channel and entrance to accommodate the modest size of vessel that would make a roll-on/roll-off service a commercial operation but for investigating the conditions and assessing that capital cost.

I do not believe these estimates, and I ask that the Government satisfy themselves of the facts without delay. As far as I am aware, the Royal Navy has a detailed and up-to-date survey of Carling-ford Lough. So it cannot be impracticably expensive to establish the actual circumstances and—supposing that work needs to be done—what would be the minimum cost. I hope that the Minister can give me that undertaking. If we can clear away the doubt that has lain in the path of Warrenpoint's development, Ulster as a whole, and not merely the area itself and the port, could benefit through the addition of a new channel of communication between the mainland and the Province that would have advantages viewed from many parts of the mainland over any of the facilities that now exist.

I have concluded with that limited—but not so limited—issue, but I ask the Government to take seriously the larger matter of the administration of Northern Ireland and its financial consequences which I earlier used the opportunity of the debate to open up.

11.13 am
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North

I am sure that the House has listened with great interest to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). His references to the comparable parts of the United Kingdom where unemployment is rife were most interesting and will be worth the careful study of all hon. Members.

Far too often hon. Members express the criticism that Northern Ireland gets far too much of the public purse. That criticism is made because Northern Ireland can be put into a pigeon hole and its finances can be studied in isolation from the rest of the United Kingdom. When one considers the situation in Northern Ireland, one finds oneself in agreement with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), the Opposition spokesman. The grim facts of what is happening in Northern Ireland have been painted in all their dark and tragic colours.

We take part in the debate against the dark cloth of rising unemployment and rising inflation. As Northern Ireland Members, we are concerned about what is happening to the economic wellbeing of the Province. If the Government continue their policies in Northern Ireland and continue their cutbacks, we shall have no economy on which to build if there comes a rising tide of prosperity.

We can see factory after factory closing and industry after industry disappearing. We can see towns that once flourished because of those factories and industries becoming wastelands. We can see the queues at the unemployment exchanges increasing tragically. Week by week we hear nothing but announcements of more cutbacks and more unemployment. The situation is serious.

At one stage, 30 per cent. of the entire textile industry of the United Kingdom was located in Northern Ireland. The industry is now being cut back severely. No doubt the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) will seek to catch the eye of the Chair during the debate. In the hon. Gentleman's constituency a Courtaulds ancillary has made an announcement that is so common from the group in Northern Ireland—namely, one of further closures and further redundancies. Mayfair Manufacturing, based at Portadown, and its associated business, Daintifyt at Cookstown, are facing a serious shortage of work. It is said in the statement that Daintifyt will close down and that 150 employees will be declared redundant. Cookstown is plagued by one of the worst levels of unemployment throughout the Province. At Portadown there will be about 30 redundancies. The Gilford factory is to close altogether.

When I first became a Member of the House, Courtaulds of Carrickfergus employed about 3,000 workers. It now employs about 300. A question mark hangs over the 300. I ask the Minister to tell us what negotiations are taking place between Courtaulds and himself concerning the 300 jobs. The borough council and the Members for the area are being told that certain propositions will be put to the Minister by Courtaulds to try to save the remaining 300 jobs. Have those proposals been made? What response has the hon. Gentleman made to those proposals?

The hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) spoke about the De Lorean car factory. It is in the interests of everybody in Northern Ireland that the factory succeeds. It offers employment and holds out the hope of good employment for many in the Province. What worries me about the project is that the Under-Secretary of State, in answer to a question in the House last Thursday, said: The investment of the British taxpayer in this company is an investment in the development of an enterprise providing a substantial number of jobs in an area around West Belfast. In addition, it will provide a spin-off by way of jobs which are already becoming available in certain other companies being established there. I should have liked to see the spin-off from De Lorean going to Northern Ireland or to the rest of the United Kingdom. I find that according to a copy of The Engineer of 12 June "the Irish subsidiary of the German tool and die company L'Apple has won the £2 million to £3 million business for pressing all the brushed stainless steel exterior panels for the De Lorean sports car." This spin-off would have been most valuable to Northern Ireland or to the rest of the United Kingdom. We find, however, that it is going to be a company in the Irish Republic. I am told by those involved in the industry in Northern Ireland that De Lorean has a stake in this company. I should like the Minister to say whether that is so.

I had thought that the injection of public funds into Northern Ireland was to enable De Lorean to give its spin-off benefits to the rest of Northern Ireland, or at least to the rest of the United Kingdom. I am glad that the British Steel Corporation is to supply 80 to 90 per cent. of the stainless steel strip for De Lorean and that this order is not going out of the United Kingdom.

The Under-Secretary went on to say: It is in the interests both of the British taxpayer and the population of Belfast to see a successful development at Dunmurry."—[Official Report, 10 July 1980; Vol. 988, c. 734.] I welcome the fact that at least some thing is to come to the rest of the United Kingdom. However, I should like to press the Minister on this point. I should like him to make known to De Lorean that successive Ministers, in bringing this project to Northern Ireland, emphasised the value of the spin-off. They kept saying that the spin-off from this company would be helpful in bringing employment to Northern Ireland.

There are other projects of great interest to the people of Northern Ireland, especially the part that I represent. I should like to ask about the progress being made with the Equus project in the Larne area. Has it been before the Department and before the NIDA? Will the Under-Secretary say what decisions have been made? I understand that the proposal is to bring at least 1,000 jobs to the Larne area if the project goes ahead. Those jobs would be much less costly than the De Lorean project. Both Carrickfergus and Larne are suffering from rising unemployment. The Minister knows the situation in both areas.

I should like to refer to agriculture. Many of the points that I should like to highlight have already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde. I should like to know what negotiations are taking place regarding intensive farming in the poultry and pig industries. As the Minister knows, those responsible for employment in agriculture have warned that 5,000 jobs are at stake.

What progress is the Minister making, with his colleague the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, on that matter? I know that the Minister visited Northern Ireland recently and had talks with those responsible for this part of the agriculture industry. Is any progress being made? What efforts are to be made to save this part of the industry? This is a vitally important matter. What representations have been received from this part of agriculture? What representations has the hon. Gentleman made to the Minister regarding the two great problems that face this part of agriculture—the problem of animal feedstuffs, and the problem of energy?

It seems that within the EEC a fair deal is to be given to the farming community in Italy. Yet in the United Kingdom, and especially Northern Ireland, a benefit that would be most helpful will not be forthcoming. To what extent will the Minister of Agriculture fight this matter and ensure some consideration over the pricing of animal feedstuffs in the Province? It should be firmly put on the record that the Minister of Agriculture in the Irish Republic was the person who blocked this matter for Northern Ireland. Those in Dublin are always telling us that they want to help us. Instead of helping us, they are hindering us.

I trust that our Minister will take up the matter and fight it, because Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and deserves help. It amazes me how Northern Ireland keeps its head above water. We have a serious energy problem. We have to import the raw materials and export the finished goods. It amazes me how the people of Northern Ireland have been able to stay within a competitive market.

I should also like to bring to the Minister's attention the question of milk in schools. The hon. Gentleman has been reminded today of the statement made by Sir Winston Churchill. How can he refuse this reasonable request put by the Milk Marketing Board and others in Northern Ireland? Are the negotiations over? Is the answer a firm "No"? Is the Minister still prepared to consider this important matter?

On the issue of school meals, I should like to bring to the Minister's attention the fact that many schools that are to cease providing school meals have written to parents informing them that the schools can no longer supervise their children in the lunch hour and that those children will have to leave the classroom. This means that children taking packed lunches to school will not be allowed to remain in the school due to the closure at the lunch period. I should like the Minister to apply his mind to this matter because it is causing many fears and problems among parents. Many parents are not able to be at home to receive their children if they come home at lunch time.

I should like to say a few words about the reference in Class III to expenditure to facilitate the orderly run-down of the gas industry. I hope that the gas industry will not be run down at all. Those who operate the gas industry have taken time and money to supply the Minister with the results of a special study, which has been carried out very carefully. I understand that the report is on his desk.

If the Minister will consider that report in a constructive manner and with an open mind, I would ask him to put a freeze on all matters concerning running down the gas industry. I have drawn his attention to the fact that I thought that it was a contradiction for him to say that the Government were negotiating the rundown of the gas industry but were also willing to consider the report sympathetically and constructively. I should have thought it better for the Minister to call a halt now to any proposals for a rundown or any steps that he has taken to implement such proposals, and to consider the report. When will he be in a position to make an announcement about the consideration of the report?

The people in Northern Ireland who use gas are largely the working class community. They do not have the money in hand to be able to replace the gadgets which they use for gas heating and cooking. They will not be able to replace them without adequate Government help. If they will have to replace the fittings and the various instruments for heating and cooking, what figure has the Minister in mind for domestic users? The 50 per cent. that has been suggested is outrageous. It would put ordinary working class people in the Province in a very serious position. Many of them are on the poverty line. In addition to their remuneration from employment, many are subsidised by family income supplement. Many of them are in serious financial straits and are not in a position to pay any money for the replacement of equipment.

If the Government deny the people of Northern Ireland their birthright within the United Kingdom, to have the benefit of the gas that is, we are told, the common property of the whole of the United Kingdom, they will have to face up to their responsibilities. That is the message from the people of Northern Ireland.

I am sure that industry in Northern Ireland would want to make a similar case. However, industry would be in a better position in many cases—not in all—to deal with at least some financial payment towards replacement of equipment. Some industries would not be able to do so. However, I am speaking for the ordinary man in the street. I hope that the Minister will tell us what he has in mind. After all, he has given us a figure. Within that figure he surely must have taken into account what he will do for these people. How much money will be available for replacements? This is a very important matter. I hope that the Minister will take it on board and tell us what is really happening.

I should like to comment briefly on Class I, the agricultural account, in regard to fishery services. No doubt the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) will want to comment on this matter. I have already told the Minister in private that the fishermen are being harassed. A number of them have been arrested and taken to Campbeltown. They tell me that, although they were surrounded by Scottish boats, the Scottish boats were left to fish on while they were picked out and taken to Campbeltown. [Interruption.] Discrimination indeed. They were very angry about this. They asked "Why were we picked out?" I understand that, when a number of arrests were made, the Scots fishermen said "We are from Scotland." The reply was "You can go free, but if you are from Northern Ireland you come into Campbeltown."

This is a very serious matter. At present the fishing industry is in dire straits. It cannot afford this harassment. If there is to be this discrimination, which I am told goes on, the Under-Secretary should stand up and fight for the Northern Ireland fishermen. He should be able to put their case. He may be small of stature, but we know that he is a bit of a heavyweight when it comes to doing the job. He needs to fight for these fishermen. If he needs any help, I am sure that they will give him plenty to back him up.

Under Class IX, on health and social services, I draw the Minister's attention to the serious position in the Musgrave Park hospital. This was a military camp hospital. Most of its wards are still Nissen huts. Those who are not acquainted with the hospital cannot know the state of those Nissen huts after all their years of use. Many were put up in 1942, The state of the geriatric wards, which are still in Nissen huts, is causing serious concern. I have made a tour of those wards.

I pay a very warm tribute to the nurses, doctors and all those responsible for the administration. They are doing an excellent job of work in very difficult circumstances. Now that there is a refurbishing of certain of these wards, the increase in accommodation that was to take place, although there has been a cut-back, should be a top priority in the Government's programme. What does the Minister have in mind for this hospital? What is he prepared to do about the refurbishing that is taking place? How far will he advance the programme?

I think that everyone in Northern Ireland is concerned about the Sports Council. I should like an independent inquiry into the whole matter. My colleagues and I have put that to the Under-Secretary, Lord Elton. I am concerned about several matters. First, I do not think that Lord Elton really knew what he was doing or what the Sports Council was doing. Did he know what the Sports Council was doing and the contribution that it is making in Northern Ireland? The Sports Council in Northern Ireland was set up by legislation. It is a pity that it was not set up by Royal Charter, as were those for the rest of the United Kingdom, in which case we should have had a different situation.

Mr. Kilfedder

It was a decision by the Government to avoid embarrassment.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Yes, it was. We know the reasons. The point is that it would have been better had it been put in line with the rest of the United Kingdom. We have had an amazing statement that the Minister responsible for sport in the United Kingdom was not even told about this body, which is suddenly to be dissolved.

The good work that the Sports Council does in servicing many of the sports organisations is almost forgotten about. I was a member of the delegation which pressed the Minister about this matter, when he said that the Civil Service would take on this job. I wonder how the secretary of a sports organisation in Northern Ireland will go into some office in Belfast, presumably, throw down the minutes of a particular meeting and say "Will you type out those minutes, send copies to X number of people and send the agenda for the next meeting?" Is the Minister saying that civil servants will service such sports organisations? That part of the Sports Council's work is both helpful and important. However, I believe that it will be dropped. I do not believe that the Civil Service will carry on with that part of its work. The Sports Council was responsible for mountaineering and other important aspects.

Has the Minister thought what he will do? The Council of Europe demands that there should be an overall body to look after everything. Sport is a very important ingredient. Who will look after it? Given the manner in which the Minister has treated the Sports Council, does he believe that there will be masses of volunteers to serve on an advisory body? The Minister should consider such matters.

Some local authorities think that they will get more power. There is no truth in that. They will have the same amount of power as they have always had. They should be warned that they will not get any more. Many other issues will eventually come to the surface. There should be an independent inquiry to consider the issue. The question of overlapping should be considered. The Sports Council's activities often complement the work of local authorities.

I wonder why the governing bodies of the sports organisations were not asked to give their considered opinions before. Surely they should have been consulted first. They should have been asked what they thought of the proposal. To ask for their considered opinion now is a bit farfetched. I trust that the Minister will help us.

We face the same difficulty now that we faced during the previous Labour Administration. We do not have a Minister who is answerable to this House, and that makes it difficult. The Minister has to speak to his brief. I hope that the Northern Ireland Civil Service, which wishes to get its hands on us, will be told politely that that is not part of its work. Many civil servants in Northern Ireland work hard for the Province, and they have a great advantage. There is no Minister supervising them. Ministers are largely dependent on what civil servants say. The Civil Service loves that. It has far more power than it had before. If a Minister does not know about Northern Ireland, he will be fed information and will be swayed by what civil servants say. When we had a Minister who was answerable to the people of Northern Ireland, he had to hear what the ordinary people had to say.

Ministers should lend an ear to those hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies because they know what people are saying. Ministers may then come to a balanced judgment. There should be an independent inquiry as regards the Sports Council, and everybody should be satisfied that the inquiry will consider all the implications.

11.44 am
Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

I do not intend to detain the House for long, as those hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies may wish to speak, and it is their day. I always feel slightly embarrassed when I intervene in such debates. However, I wish to plead for the Northern Ireland Sports Council. Eloquent pleas have already been made by the Opposition spokesman and by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley).

When I visited the Province I was surprised to find that the average price of agricultural land is the highest in the United Kingdom. It costs between £3,000 and £4,000 an acre. In addition, house prices are highest in the London area, second highest in the South-East, and third highest in Northern Ireland. One ponders about such facts, and wonders why the prices are so high in a Province that suffers so grievously. Some answers have been given today. Although there is great poverty in parts of Northern Ireland, there is also considerable prosperity.

During the past 10 years, successive Governments have tried their darndest to improve matters. I accept that the Government are trying their hardest, just as the previous Labour Government did. When one is in Northern Ireland one realises the shock that is felt when a factory closes. I was in Northern Ireland when the announcement about Grundig was made. About 1,000 jobs were lost. Those jobs will be sorely missed, although the Minister has given an undertaking to do his best to find replacements.

The aircraft industry is a brighter spot. I am glad that Shorts is getting the considerable Government support that it deserves. I believe that there are hopes for expansion. I recently attended the Army exhibition at Aldershot. Some of that company's material was on show and I understand that it is picking up export orders. I am thankful that the previous Labour Government's wish to merge what was then Fairey Britten Norman into the Short empire did not come off. I fought hard against that. It is still on the Isle of Wight. It is run entirely by private enterprise and has recently invested considerable sums in putting down the first hard runway. If the firm had gone to Northern Ireland, it would have lost out. However, I wish Shorts well, and I believe that there is hope.

The hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) painted a depressing picture about Harland and Wolff. I am against an independent nuclear deterrent, but it is surprising that, when we wish to order new nuclear submarines, we are told that only one shipyard can build them, namely, Vickers. It would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds—if not millions of pounds—to bring Cammell Laird to the necessary standard. We have invested huge sums in Harland and Wolff. Could not that yard be used for building the new submarines or, at least, naval shipbuilding? We shall have to build quite a few more ships in the near future. I hope that those ships will be small, and not too expensive. Harland and Wolff is now building two ferries. It has not had great experience in building ferries and that is supposed to be the reason why it is behind time. Harland and Wolff could be used in a more comprehensive way. In addition, investment should be maintained. The need for such yards will return. Some of them have been run down to such an extent that they are no longer capable of doing the shipbuilding required.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for the fact that he allowed me to see the local enterprise development unit. It was very interesting, particularly as the Development Commission in Britain is still under observation by the Department of the Environment. I hope that that will lead to something on the lines of the local enterprise development unit in Northern Ireland, which is doing a good job. It is- in the right area, and we on this side of the Irish Channel can learn lessons from the work that it has done. I wish it well.

We have heard pleas about the gas industry. Many people in the Province see the current position as the first step in the withdrawal of British support. I do not believe that that is true, but that is how the situation is read. A change of heart by the Government on this issue with their agreement to examine whether a gas link can be made with the rest of the United Kingdom across the Irish Channel would be of enormous benefit to the confidence of the Province. Gas at present, even though the Government are putting a tax on it, will still be one of the cheapest forms of energy and is likely to be one of the most successful over the next 20 years. The Province should share in that prosperity and that availability of gas.

I have a question on Class IV relating to transport. I have asked the question a number of times and have never received an answer. Are the rail links across Belfast to be completed as planned? One sees the signs erected and the land set aside. We hope that the scheme will not be chopped, because it makes a great deal of sense.

I turn finally to the Sports Council which was debated in the other place yesterday. I see from the Hansard report that Lord Brookeborough, who seems to have some inside knowledge on the subject, spoke in the same vein as the hon. Member for Antrim, North. I think that there are difficulties in respect of the personalities of civil servants and members of the Sports Council. The noble Lord quite rightly called for an impartial inquiry, and I add my support to that. The reply he received from Lord Elton was not particularly convincing. After all, it was a Conservative Government who set up the council in 1974, two years after the councils were established in the rest of the kingdom. I know from my experience on the Isle of Wight how much we are indebted to the Sports Council for its work in the South. It has been extremely helpful. I was involved in the establishment of a cricket ground. We now have a football pitch, tennis courts and a pavilion. A lot of help for that came not only from the local authorities but from the Sports Council which put us on to the right track. One is prompted to ask, if the Sports Council in the Province is going this way, what the intention is for the Arts Council for Northern Ireland. We hope that that is not doomed too.

One sees in the council's last annual report a pride in its achievements. It has obviously done a good job. It is almost an insult to the Province that this attitude should be adopted to the council since it has succeeded so well in sport. Northern Ireland won the soccer championship outright this year for the first time in 40 years. Last year, it won the European junior championship. Sport has an enormous backing in Northern Ireland. There is a terrific interest in it. One sees it on the rugby field. Some of the finest rugger players of the past 10 years have come from the Province, and it is sad that this body should be picked out to be disbanded at a time when the Government, quite rightly, are examining priorities. They are wrong over the Sports Council, and I strongly support the letter we received from that marvellous woman Mary Peters, OBE. It will be a kick in the face for her if the request for an inquiry is not granted. I hope very much, therefore, that the Government will think again and will take these representations on board.

I have to apologise to the Under-Secretary, since I shall not be here to hear his reply to the debate. I am off to my constituency to sort out an industrial problem on which I wish I had the help of LEDU. A job creation official is coming with me.

11.56 am
Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

This debate amply proves that Northern Ireland is inadequately governed. We lack the dynamic leadership that one expects of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. We do not have the vigorous commitment that one would expect of the Northern Ireland Office to deal with the many problems which have scourged Northern Ireland for so long. In a statement on 30 June, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told us that there would be a standstill on public expenditure. In opening the debate, the Minister proved that this whole appropriation order is fiction. The House has been asked today to give earnest consideration to sums of money allocated to several services which the Government have announced they have no intention of spending in the manner proposed.

Northern Ireland orders, quite apart from that, follow an unusual parliamentary procedure. When the House debates an important money provision such as the appropriation order, any conventional view about control of public expenditure becomes a nonsense. The characteristic feature of the government of Northern Ireland is the almost total lack of meaningful parliamentary control over expenditure and the absence of customary methods of control over health, welfare, education, youth, sport and housing. Once again, Parliament has been asked to agree the appropriation of expenditure which will be allocated to the four health boards and the five education and library boards as well as to Government Departments.

Recent reports of the Public Accounts Committtee have shown that the permanent secretaries of the Departments of Health and Education have no means, apart from exhortation, of intervening in the details of expenditure by the health and education boards. The Department of the Environment has no say in controlling the details of expenditure on housing except in respect of the number of staff employed by the Housing Executive. It is scandalous that the Government and the Housing Executive should have refused to listen to pleas for a standstill of rents in order to enable the Ulster people to withstand the terrible ravages of inflation.

Even so, the permanent secretaries of the various Government Departments are responsible as accounting officers for every penny spent. The senior officials of the education and health boards are paid anything from £18,000 to £20,000 a year. The chairmen are paid about £2,000 a year. The members receive attendance allowances. They should be seen, since they are well paid for their duties, to be responsible for the effect of their executive decisions.

Let me mention one example to bear out my convictions on that score. Who but the chairman and chief officer of the south-eastern education and library board should be responsible for the scandalous state of affairs over grammar school places in the North Down area, with its increasing population who seem to have been ignored, either through indifference or through opposition to parental choice in education? I have asked numerous parliamentary questions about the transfer procedure and I have had correspondence with the Under-Secretary who is in the other place. It is unfortunate that he is there. Bad as the government of Northern Ireland is under the present system, it is made worse when one of the Ministers is in the other place.

It is clear that, under the 1972 education order, sole responsibility for secondary education rests with the education board. The South-Eastern board has failed to discharge that responsibility adequately. The result is that many pupils are not obtaining the grammar school education that the transfer procedure seeks to ensure they should have. This applies, of course, to areas other than North Down, but I know personally of the unfairness that exists in North Down where parents have been denied the choice that the Tory Party has made part of its political platform. The Tory Party is falling down in fulfilling its pledge. As the Government have bragged so much about parental choice over the past years, I demand that they should fulfil their pledges in respect of Northern Ireland, and of North Down in particular, so that those parents can send their children to the schools of their choice.

In this order, money is appropriated for the rundown of the gas industry. We have heard already about the Government's failure to provide a pipeline for Northern Ireland, and I shall not repeat the arguments. The policy for the rundown of the gas industry is as misplaced as the policy that led to the oil-fired electricity generating station at Kilroot. Work has now been suspended on the power station, and that about-turn should force a radical rethinking of the policy on gas production.

The people of Northern Ireland have a right to expect the same treatment as citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom. They are entitled to the provision of North Sea Gas at the same prices as those paid in the rest of the United Kingdom. If the Government fail to make that provision, they should make a solemn promise now that they will give 100 per cent. grants for all gas appliances for all householders in Northern Ireland, because the Government are at fault in failing to provide a gas pipeline for the people of Northern Ireland.

On the question of energy and energy costs, do not the Government feel that the people of Northern Ireland should have electricity and coal at the same prices as are available to consumers in the rest of the United Kingdom? It is wrong that the people in Northern Ireland will have lower wages, lower living standards, and will have to bear the burden of higher prices for coal and electricity. The quality of coal does not bear comparison with that available in most parts of England, Wales and Scotland. Poorer quality coal is often dumped on Northern Ireland.

In Northern Ireland cuts in public expenditure are having a more dramatic and lasting effect than in other parts of the United Kingdom which are economically more buoyant. That is why I criticised the Secretary of State for his decision on 30 June, and for his decisions on the public expenditure cuts in Northern Ireland since this Government took office. Because the industrial infrastructure has been severely damaged by public expenditure cuts over the years, the recovery in Northern Ireland will take far longer than in other parts of the United Kingdom.

It is no use the Government saying that the strong medicine of monetarism—even if it succeeds for the rest of the United Kingdom—will benefit Ulster. Clearly it will not benefit Northern Ireland, and we have given ample proof of that.

Terrorism and violence in Northern Ireland have pushed up emigration figures. The steady economic decline will add to the drain, particularly of young people, from Northern Ireland. That emigration may help to reduce the unemployment figures, but it will have a damaging effect on the future prospects of Northern Ireland. We have suffered so much over the past 10 or 11 years that we cannot afford to lose our bright young people who should be encouraged to stay in Northern Ireland and help to rebuild the community. No matter what is happening now, I am confident that there is a great future for Ulster, and for the people of Ulster. But those people of ability and promise need to be encouraged to stay if we are to rebuild the Province as a worthy place for the next generation.

The ever-increasing unemployment is evidence of the failure of Government policy. The unemployment figures are worse now than they have been since 1938. That is a sufficient indictment of any Government, and sadly, the situation will continue to deteriorate. Since the imposition of direct rule, the quality of life in Ulster has not improved. The cost of living has increased way beyond that of the rest of the United Kingdom. Wages are lower in the Provinces and economic and social deprivation persists. Where is the evidence that the Government will rid the Province of that social and economic deprivation? I fear that their minds are more on following the policy that they have laid down for the rest of the United Kingdom.

Prior to 1972, and after direct rule, the Civil Service was told plainly and positively that it must ensure greater expenditure in the Bogside and other areas of Londonderry, and in West Belfast. All Government Departments in Northern Ireland were involved, and monetary policy was thrown to the wind in a wild endeavour to indulge in what I would call positive discrimination. It was said that all areas in which the populace threw stones at the army and the police would be high priority candidates for Government help. But what about the other areas in Northern Ireland, where the people are law-abiding and try to provide a home for their families and a future for their children, where despite the terror campaign of the provisional IRA and unemployment, they are trying their best to make a life for themselves and their families? Those areas are largely ignored by the Government and their predecessors, who concentrated on areas such as West Belfast and parts of Londonderry. All parts of Northern Ireland are harassed by the evils of unemployment, and all areas should receive equal treatment. When I listen to the early morning news on the radio I fear for news, not only about a fresh atrocity but about a factory being closed or about more redundancies. That is a constant worry, and it applies to my constituency, as well as to the rest of Northern Ireland. But my concern is for the whole of the Province, not simply for North Down.

It is not only in the provision of jobs that the Government have failed. There are tens of thousands of people waiting for public sector homes in Northern Ireland. In the meantime, those who are on the lengthy waiting lists have to live in impossibly overcrowded, or wholly unacceptable substandard conditions throughout the Province. Yet in Belfast and other parts of Ulster, reasonable houses have been bricked up by the bureaucrats and planners—homes which would be adequate for those people on the waiting lists. They would serve as halfway houses while people waited for a proper home to be provided by the Housing Executive.

We have the example of the work that was done in London by squatter organisations. Those who did so much work in London to provide temporary accommodation for the homeless should turn their attention to Belfast and other areas of Northern Ireland to see how they can encourage the Government to make bricked-up homes available as temporary accommodation for people who are homeless or living in terrible overcrowded conditions and waiting for a tenancy from the Housing Executive.

Classes IV, V, VI and VIII all deal with the Department of the Environment. The Department's role in Northern Ireland is similar to that of a local authority in England. Apart from education and the provision of health and welfare facilities, it covers most English local authority functions, but a number of vital control factors are missing. First, there is no elected body in control and responsible for decisions on expenditure. Secondly, the money comes from the broad back of the taxpayer through the Consolidated Fund. There is no direct accountability to ratepayers or to the local government audit. There is a traditional Exchequer and Audit check on spending but no check on the validity of the policies that are being pursued by the Department of the Environment.

There is great waste and administrative confusion in the Department. The sooner that responsibility is handed back to the people of Ulster the better. The sooner that responsibility for most roads, lighting, sewerage, water and so on are returned to democratic control, the better the deal for the taxpayer and the better and less wasteful the services will be. The condition of the streets in towns and cities of Northern Ireland is a disgrace. They are often covered with litter and weeds and grass grows on the pavements. The beaches of Northern Ireland are polluted, when the Department of the Environment should be anxious to make them attractive to the tourists whom we desperately need. Untreated sewage is thrown up on the shore in different parts of the Province, such as Co. Antrim and North Down. The Government have now decided to go ahead with a scheme for putting untreated sewage into Strangford Lough. When so many people are aware of the need to avoid pollution, it is scandalous that the Government should make that decision.

The Portaferry scheme is extraordinary. The original contractor went bust. Money ran short, and he found it difficult to lay the pipes into the rocky subsoil of Strang-ford Lough. The same firm, many weeks ago, before a decision was made on placing the new contract, was seeking to hire boatmen in Portaferry for the scheme. How did the contractor know that he would be successful? Despite the statement that no decision had been made on the contract, did the Department of the Environment or one of its officials tell him that his tender for the new contract would be accepted? The matter deserves a full and searching investigation. The Government should be condemned for their handling of the Strangford Lough sewage scheme.

There has been a grim contraction in the textile industry, which has made many people unemployed in the Province. It is partly due to unfair competition from Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Far East countries, where labour is cheap, and from the United States, where textile manufacturers are encouraged by subsidies. We do not mind fair competition, but we resent the unfair element. The Government should take action to save those jobs. When factories close and industries disappear in Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the United Kingdom, they may never again be recreated. The Government may bear a great deal of responsibility in future for the rapid deindustrialisation of this nation. I hope that the Government will reconsider the position, at least over the textile industry in Northern Ireland.

12.16 pm
Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)

The Daintifyt company in Cookstown has been mentioned. A copy of the press statement announcing the redundancy of part of the work force was sent to me, and the shop stewards requested that I give a copy to the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux).

Mr. Kilfedder

What about me?

Mr. Dunlop

The shop stewards did not mention the hon. Gentleman.

I should like the Minister to assure me that he will meet a deputation of the shop stewards. They have a legitimate complaint, and have some constructive suggestions to make. We are prepared to go to Belfast to meet him if necessary, or the hon. Gentleman can come to see us in Cookstown.

About £58,170,000 for road construction and maintenance is mentioned in the Vote. The Minister is no doubt aware that, consequent upon the demise of the Great Northern Railway between Portadown and Londonderry, Government assurances were given that an adequate road system would be provided in its place. The Ml motorway to Dungannon has been built, and the Dungannon by-pass is under construction despite the delay caused by the failure of the contractor. However, the worst part of the road system is that which goes through the town of Strabane. Anyone who has attempted to drive from Omagh to Londonderry knows the frustration of trying to get through Strabane on the only road that runs to Londonderry from the area. One has to go down a narrow street, Bridge Street, over a humpback bridge and turn left into a narrow main street. If lorries are loading or unloading, there is chaos. I have spent half an hour travelling between Bridge Street and the Derry road on the other side of Abercorn Square on the way to Donemana. That is a very frustrating experience.

Promises have been made by successive Governments to provide that section of roadway, but nothing has yet been done. A public inquiry was held in Strabane in the early spring of 1979. I attended the full three days of that inquiry not only in my capacity as Member of Parliament for the area but also as a witness. I do not have a report of the inquiry yet, although it is well over a year since it was held. It is remarkable that the Member of Parliament has not had a report of the findings of an inquiry in which he took part. I have heard that the inquiry favoured a bypass for Strabane.

There were other proposals, one of which was to construct what was called a "through-pass", to cut a road clean through the centre of the town, on which heavy traffic would then travel, I suppose, for ever more. Part of the scheme was to build a bridge over the main street to carry that traffic. That seems farcical when the planning idea in most towns in the United Kingdom is to leave the centre as a free shopping precinct and to make a bypass for heavy traffic.

There is an admirable route bypassing Strabane—that of the old Great Northern Railway, with a good foundation and all the rest. I think that the inquiry favoured a bypass, but I have not had that confirmed. Perhaps the Minister knows more than I do and can tell me whether the inquiry reported on those lines.

I have recently heard that property has been vested in the main street and centre of the town to provide a much-needed car park in Strabane. However, it has been suggested that the Department of the Environment intends to use this area as a road through the town, despite the findings of the inquiry. I have no solid news about this, but if the Minister knows anything perhaps he can say something about it today.

I am simply asking for assurances that at least the initial part of the bypass, which would cut out the bottleneck of Bridge Street, the bridge, the main street, Castle Street and Abercorn Square to reach the main Derry road, will come out of the £58 million or £59 million so that something can be done to relieve this terrible problem.

The only option for huge articulated lorries and vans is to thread their way tortuously through to the Londonderry side of the town and thereafter to make way into the Republic or elsewhere. Will the Minister assure us that a start will soon be made on this work, both to implement the assurance which has been given and to ease this problem, which is nothing short of disastrous and at times causes chaos in Strabane?

Strabane has often been quoted as an area of high unemployment. This scheme would help to give much-needed work to the area and provide well-earned money for people whose economic condition is parlous. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance not only that he will meet the Cookstown shop stewards in connection with the Daintifyt company but also that this much-needed road will be started as early as possible.

12.23 pm
Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that we were present at a remarkable constitutional event, a constitutional innovation—indeed, a monstrosity—which he trusted would not be repeated. All I can say is that I wish more hon. Members were here to share in this stimulating experience. True, this is a Friday, but this order will provide the Crown, through the Department of Finance at Stormont, with a large sum of money.

That is why the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) had no reason to be apologetic about taking part in the debate. He speaks for the Liberal Party on Northern Ireland and he visits the Province. I hope that many more hon. Members from Great Britain will be able to tour Northern Ireland. It is not easy at the moment because of the exorbitant cost of travel across the Irish Sea. For 12 years, off and on, I have been visiting Northern Ireland and have had to dig deep into my pocket at times to do so. We should be right to be modest in increasing our salaries, but I hope that the House will be prompt to pass the necessary resolution to provide hon. Members with free travel within the United Kingdom—not so that they can have a good time, but so that they may acquaint themselves with problems on which they should be able to speak in the House.

I have occasionally shared the frustration of the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) in getting through Strabane. The hon. Member also mentioned car parks. I have corresponded on this matter with the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), who is on the Treasury Bench. It baffles me that, when we want to find useful work for district councils to do, so many car parks have to be run by the Department of the Environment. I should be glad to hear a little more about that when the Minister replies.

When I pitch my metaphorical tent in Northern Ireland, it is usually somewhere near the Strangford lough. I was shocked to hear from the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) about the Portaferry sewerage scheme. I hope that we may hear something reassuring about that from the Minister today and that he will take his sewage somewhere else.

The Minister of State referred today to the freeze on capital spending, pending reallocation of resources, which was announced by his right hon. Friend. Northern Ireland has as deep an interest as any other part of the United Kingdom in winning the war against inflation—a war in which Her Majesty's Government, in the face of much carping, have been winning some battles.

However, although there is progress, public expenditure must be kept within bounds, while full allowance is, of course, made for the special difficulties of Northern Ireland. However, in Northern Ireland today, public expenditure amounts to almost two thirds of the gross domestic product; the proportion in the rest of the United Kingdom is about two-fifths. In the five years to April 1979, the total of public expenditure in Northern Ireland rose by 27.4 per cent., compared with 9.2 per cent. in the United Kingdom as a whole.

Of course there are special factors in Northern Ireland with which hon. Members are familiar, but it is necessary to contain the sum of public expenditure, because of the need, as the Minister said, to provide more funds for the attraction of industrial investment. As in the rest of the country, present comfort must be forgone in some respects for the sake of future prosperity.

It is encouraging that outside interest in investment has exceeded expectations. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw), who travels fast and works furiously to bring investment to the Province, deserve the thanks of the House of Commons. Although I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Down, North said, I objected to his strictures on my right hon. Friend and on the Northern Ireland Civil Service, whose reputation stands high.

My hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) did the House a service, as he has done before, by drawing attention to public expenditure in respect of Harland and Wolff and the De Lorean project. I disagree with my hon. Friend about the Concorde. I think it is good for Britain and for British technology that the Concorde is flying. But my hon. Friend is right to keep the House constantly aware of what is happening in Harland and Wolff and in De Loreans.

My hon. Friend does not believe that the Government can do all that much to cure unemployment and produce jobs. However, I believe that the Conservative and Unionist Party manifesto acknowledges that Government assistance has an important part to play in a Province that is in a state of terrorist emergency. The right hon. Member for Down, South described Northern Ireland as a Province under direct military attack. It is a Province which has suffered grievously through a period longer than the duration of both world wars put together, and it is a Province where a factory or a bus station can be closed by bombardment as well as by economic recession.

The prospects for Northern Ireland might be a bit better if we could be spared some of the gloom that was exuded, for example, by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry).

We are indebted to the right hon. Member for Down, South for the very interesting perspective which he gave by quoting the unemployment prevailing in other less fortunate parts of the United Kingdom.

There would also be better prospects for Northern Ireland if there were not elements within the Labour Party who call for the withdrawal of British troops and therefore of British sovereignty from Northern Ireland. Such hon. Members are seldom present in debates such as this which concern the welfare of the people of Northern Ireland, although they are quite ready to attend debates which enable them to assail the constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom and the hard measures necessary to maintain that position in accordance with the people's will.

The search for economy has led Ministers to the proposal to confine the Sports Council for Northern Ireland to advisory functions, and concern has been expressed about this not only here today but in another place yesterday. I had the pleasure of talking to Mr. George Glasgow, the director, and to Councillor Jack Allen, the chairman of the Sports Council, the other day.

What concerns me and, I think, concerns most people is not so much what is to be the future administrative structure for bringing Government help and taxpayers' money to sport. What matters is that worthwhile sporting activities should be continued. Those which cannot be run by private persons and private bodies should get assistance from the taxpayer. That is right. But what matters is that they should be continued. What is less important is the formal structure. An enhancement of the role of district councils and their recreation officers, some of whom have considerable expertise nowadays, surely will be favoured at least on the Government Benches. However, there is concern. There seems to have been a lack of consultation beforehand. But I understand that we still await the considered views of the Northern Ireland Council of Physical Education and of the Association of Local Authorities.

In another place yesterday, the noble lord, the Duke of Abercorn described sport in Northern Ireland as one of the aspects of life that conduced to the stabilising of the whole community. In that spirit, I hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will look again at this problem.

I refer finally to another matter which has been raised in different quarters of the House, namely, the future—if it has a future—of the gas industry.

I intervened in the speech of the Minister of State when he announced the review of the Northern Ireland electricity service. I asked him whether that would be considered in relation to this other source of energy, gas. He said "No," and I was a little puzzled. He said that the decision about the gas industry had been made. I have not the experience and knowledge of the industry possessed, for example, by the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), but there is a new factor in all this, namely, the Coopers and Lybrand study of a natural gas pipeline for Northern Ireland. I believe that that is before Ministers at present.

The Northern Ireland Economic Council has sent me and, I believe, hon. Members generally a note about this study of a natural gas pipeline. According to Sir Charles Carter, the report shows, although I have not seen it, that the pipeline option would yield a return of almost 12 per cent. The Northern Ireland Economic Council is not one of those quangos with which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has seen fit to dispense, so I suppose that what the council has to say will be considered carefully.

The council's chairman, Sir Charles Carter, says that both the closure and the pipeline options would involve substantial public expenditure but that with a natural gas pipeline Northern Ireland would have an asset which would yield economic benefits for years to come, and that in the light of this new evidence he hoped that the Department of Commerce would explain how it justified the decision to close down the gas industry.

We have had some views already from the Department of Commerce, but I hope that, if this can be termed "new evidence", we shall hear a little more before this debate ends.

12.38 pm
Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)

I always listen with interest to the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), but I hope that he will forgive me if I do not take up his comments about the gas pipeline. That is a fundamental facet of the debate, but it will be covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker).

I wish to advance one or two points that I hope will fit into the argument ventilated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on the freeze on public expenditure. I wish to direct the attention of the House to the damaging effects of the freeze, by referring to its impact on housing contracts. The Northern Ireland Office argues that a number of contracts may have to be cancelled in order to keep public expenditure within set limits. Many of those contracts have not only reached the tendering stage but are almost ready to be signed. It would not save public expenditure to cut dead such projects.

If a contract has reached the tendering stage, we should continue it. A tremendous amount of money will have been spent on planning, administration and acquiring expertise. If the project is cut dead, that expenditure will not be duplicated when the work comes on to the slips later, but inflation will have an effect and the project is bound to be more costly.

It is a false economy to freeze projects that have reached the tendering stage. It is said that many projects will have to be modified in order to be kept within the next fiscal year's limit. Modifying a project that has already been fully researched, and which has reached the tendering stage, would entail re-planning, recosting and a nibbling at every facet by the construction, planning and architecture industries. That would cost a great deal.

I argue that any project that has reached the tendering stage, even if the contract has not been signed by the Housing Executive or the Northern Ireland Office, should be allowed to continue. If we let through projects that have been signed but freeze those which are at the tendering stage we shall run the risk of setting tenant against tenant and estate against estate, perhaps in a small area.

In the Knockeden-Flush Park area of my constituency, there are 214 houses and 28 flats. About two years ago, a scheme was initiated under which the houses would be renovated and the flats would be restructured. The contracts for the flats and for the houses were given to different consultants. The consultant who undertook the work on the 214 houses produced his plans quickly. They were accepted by the Department and put out to tender. The contract was signed and the work is under way. The consultant in charge of the flats project was less assiduous in attending to his responsibilities. Consequently, that facet of the Knockeden-Flush Park project is not signed. It may not be undertaken in this financial year.

The residents in those flats initiated the whole refurbishing concept. They first contacted me, and then I contacted the Department. The Minister has been exceedingly helpful and has gone out of his way to reassure us that no delay will be incurred. This freeze, out of the blue, puts at risk the refurbishing programme for the flats. Yet they were the very people who were instrumental in initiating the entire project. That will cause an immense amount of bitterness and resentment. I do not see how one can justify delaying yet further the project for the Knockeden flats.

There is another example on the Anna-dale estate, which is one of the older estates in my constituency. It is in a deplorable condition, yet the Department has scrapped the refurbishing plans. I do not know why it has done that. It may be argued that £28,000 is outstanding in rent arrears, but that argument cannot exhaust the Department's reasons. There is £340,000 outstanding in respect of the Divas complex, but that plan has not been scrapped. I am told that there will be no project in Anna-dale this year, and no guarantee for the next financial year.

I am pleased to see the Minister in the Chamber for this part of the debate. I plead with him that, if the Annadale project in its entirety cannot be undertaken, at least a psychological boost be given to that area by taking two short blocks in Candahar Street and immediately refurbishing them. The reroofing of the entire Annadale complex should be undertaken because it a flat roofed complex and the Minister knows of the dreadful problems that ensue from that sort of roofing.

If those two encouraging signs could suddenly evidence themselves in the Annadale area, people would be more ready to swallow the argument that we cannot have three-quarters of the loaf that we expected, but that at least the Department, the Minister and the Government care. I ask the Minister to consider those two separate projects. I do not expect an answer today. I should be grateful if he would reply in writing about both the Knockeden—Flush Park and the Annadale projects. If I receive a reply in writing within the next few days, I shall be content.

In the interests of brevity, I shall mention only one more point. There is a serious omission in Class VIII dealing with expenditure relevant to the Department of Education, namely, an allocation to cover the increase that has been agreed for university lecturers in the Province. I happen to be the Member for the area in which the university is located. I represent the constituency in which a considerable number of lecturers live. I have received a tremendous amount of mail on the issue.

I have tried to pursue the issue. I have not adopted the rather temptingly easy method of tabling parliamentary questions. Very often we know the sort of answer that we will receive. That is a rather futile method. I wrote directly and in detail to the Secretary of State for Education and Science. When I heard a whisper that Treasury fingers might be in the pie, I contacted the Treasury.

I asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ascertain from either or both of his right hon. Friends in the Treasury and the Department of Education and Science the date on which and from which the pay agreement will be honoured. The amount has been agreed. Apparently payment is being held up by a Treasury decision. Someone has to bang heads together. Someone has to get his thing going. A considerable number of young lecturers in Northern Ireland are earning paltry sums, in some instances about £3,000 a year.

We cannot expect people to live on that sort of money, an amount that we receive for living in London as Members of Parliament. As I have said, some of the younger lecturers are not receiving much more than £3,000. I ask the Secretary of State to consult his two colleagues and to try to get the agreement implemented. I ask him to get the Treasury and the Department of Education and Science to communicate their decision to those who are most involved, the university lecturers. If some progress can be made in that direction, today's debate will not have been a waste of time.

12.53 pm
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

The substance of my remarks will be closely in line with the comments made by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) on housing in Northern Ireland. Before taking up that subject, it would be inexcusable and inexplicable if I were not to refer, under Class II. Vote 2, to assistance for the aircraft and shipbuilding industries.

On 3 July the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) pressed the Leader of the House for a debate on Harland and Wolff. On that occasion and and again today he referred to the answer given to my question on 1 July as being the most expensive written answer in our history."—[Official Report, 3 July 1980; Vol. 987, c. 1768.] I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and that of many other hon. Members when they hear of a vast sum such as £42½ million being given in assistance to the shipbuilding industry in Northern Ireland.

Like the hon. Gentleman and the Minister responsible for industry in Northern Ireland, I felt that it would not be a matter of making the answer that appeared in Hansard fit the requirement. I discussed with the Under-Secretary of State the possibility of having a meeting of the Northern Ireland Committee to discuss the subject. I have written to the Leader of the House and the Secretary of State. I know that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary are happy to comply with that request. I can perceive no problem with the Leader of the House. That is why I wish only to put up a few markers in relation to the Department's review of the shipbuilding industry and to the Minister's statement on 1 July.

The last time the House considered the position of Harland and Wolff was on 16–17 April. There was then a mood of gloom, depression, despondency and cheerlessness in the House. Like many other hon. Members, I was greatly concerned about Harland and Wolff's future. Expressions such as lay-offs, pay-offs, closures and shutdown were on the lips of many hon. Members. Today the furrowed brow has been removed from my expression. Perhaps it is now on the face of the Minister responsible for industry.

There have been two important milestones since the debate of 16–17 April, milestones which have made the position a little more cheerful. The clouds that hung over the gantries and cranes at Harland and Wolff have, at least to some degree, dispersed; there is a gap in those clouds.

The first milestone was the matter that I was surprised none of the critics of the Minister's decision bothered to mention—the important order from the BP Tanker Company Ltd for two 109,000 tonnes deadweight oil tankers. It is right that the Member for the area should pay tribute not only to the management of Harland and Wolff for pursuing the negotiation to a successful conclusion but to the Minister for the part he played. Not only in Northern Ireland but in other areas we can all be critical of Government actions and inactivity. It hurts no one to say a word of appreciation when it is due, and certainly it is due on this occasion.

The other very important milestone was the most expensive written answer in our history, according to the hon. Member for Knutsford. Whilst a detailed debate and discussion on it can appropriately take place in the Northern Ireland Committee, there are a few points on it that I should like the Minister to clarify.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

Referring back to the statement made by the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), who unfortunately is not present now, may I ask whether the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) agrees that the hon. Gentleman was less than fair to Harland and Wolff when he said that in view of its "appalling record" he found it difficult to justify the expenditure of so much public money? I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the record of Harland and Wolff, both management and work force, compares favourably with that of any section of British Shipbuilders.

Mr. Robinson

I was coming to that point. I agree that the hon. Member for Knutsford was being far from fair to the work force and management at Harland and Wolff when he used the words "appalling record"". It is necessary to put on record some of Harland and Wolff's many problems. The hon. Gentleman mentioned one—the change of the type of work that the yard was required to do. It is much like asking British Leyland to try to build a Mini on an assembly line that it has been building lorries on. It takes a great deal of change, and there is a learning process to be gone through. There were also complicated design problems. Changes in design took place, and they, along with the problems of buckled steel and other problems, added to the delay.

The Minister said on 1 July: there have been encouraging signs of improvement in performance in ferry construction and in steelwork productivity. The hon. Gentleman went further in his written reply to the hon. Member for Knutsford when he said that there had been a significant improvement in these matters.

I am sure that the House would be prepared to listen to the Minister if he gave us some heartening and good news. Perhaps he could give some details of the improvements in performance at Harland and Wolff. I am sure that, if encouragement was given to the work force, it would rise to even greater heights. He also referred in the statement to 800 redundancies that have so far taken place". It may be my suspicious mind, but is there, behind those words, some indication that further redundancies are on the way? I invite the Minister to give his comments. He went on to say: The company is negotiating with the work force a pay settlement covering the period from September 1979 to April 1981 on the basis of management proposals which would relate pay increases to a range of improvements in working practices and other measures which would fully finance the deal and significantly improve productivity. Will the Minister say what progress has been made in those negotiations? Has a satisfactory conclusion been reached? He went on to say: the Government will themselves initiate an examination of the prospects for further diversification and will establish an independent review team to investigate with urgency alternative possibilities for utilising the facilities and skills within Queen's Island."—[Official Report, 1 July 1980; Vol. 987, c. 535] Can the Minister indicate when the review team will be set up? Can he indicate its composition? There is a slight doubt in my mind about how far a shipyard can be diversified. It might seem simplistic to say that shipyards are made for building ships. I wonder how far we can stray from that. Does not the Minister feel that the management of Harland and Wolff has tried a sufficient number of diversification projects? I should be pleased to hear his comments.

There has been comment about the present relatively low level of share capital. I should like the Minister to indicate how he feels that this situation can be rectified. In the funereal atmosphere in that evening and morning of 16 and 17 April, both the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) and myself pursued with the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi), the matter of tenders for Royal Fleet auxiliary and similar vessels. I had, prior to the debate, received a letter from the noble Lord Strathcona indicating that shipbuilders' tenders had now been evaluated and, in the light of that evaluation, it had been decided to review the Royal Navy support tanker requirements to determine whether they could be met more cost-effecitvely.

Has the Minister had consultations with the noble Lord or with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence concerning defence work? Does the recent statement on the vast amount of public money to be spent on Trident missiles which, according to the Secretary of State, will be kept within the confines of the present defence budget mean that a number of the support vessels will not be built? Does that harm the prospects for Harland and Wolff, or does it aid its prospects? If vessels are kept longer, they may have to undergo repairs. That seems to be the only work that Harland and Wolff have been receiving from the Ministry of Defence. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that situation.

It has not gone unnoticed in Northern Ireland, certainly not by the work force in Harland and Wolff, that the Minister stressed on almost every occasion that he referred to the shipyard the necessity for urgent improvements in performance. While he freely acknowledges that many of the causes of delays in the past have been outside the capacity of the work force to influence, it is worth saying that his warnings—or perhaps I should say his advice—have not gone unheeded. The BP orders provide a challenge to the workforce and the management of Harland and Wolff. Hon. Members will be aware that Ulstermen are not slow to rise to a challenge and to rise to the call. I have every confidence and trust that the work force and the management of Harland and Wolff can meet the challenge thrown down by the Minister and, in this order, can give the sort of expeditious workmanship that will please him.

The quality of workmanship in Harland and Wolff has never been in question. It is well known that the yard turns out the best ships in not only the United Kingdom but the world. That will go well to putting Harland and Wolff on the sort of competitive basis that will be required if the yard is to be in a position to compete when the upturn in shipbuilding takes place, which is presumed to be about 1983 to 1985. It is to be hoped that at that time there will be orders in the offing for supertankers, because the world fleet of supertankers is expected to be wearing out at about that time.

Moving a very short distance from Harland and Wolff in Belfast to the aircraft industry, I was pleased that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) had some gracious comments to make concerning the aircraft industry and Short Bros. My question to the Minister on this matter relates to the corporate plan submitted to him by the management of Short Bros. Ltd. Has the Minister yet been able to decide on the funding for Short Bros? I am sure that he is well aware that very important decisions must be taken as a result of any review that he has undertaken in regard to the corporate plan. It would be helpful if the Minister would tell us what stage of progress towards a decision has been reached.

Before leaving the section of the order dealing with industry, I should like to put a further question, principally because my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has taken a great interest in the matter of Kilroot, and the Minister has recently announced that the project was to be stopped, at least temporarily. Has the Minister taken any decision as to what he will do from now on, particularly in relation to the changeover to coal? Can he give any indication of when that decision will be announced?

As I have said, the substance of my remarks was to deal with housing matters. It is well known in Northern Ireland, if not in this House, that I am not a member of the fan club of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and that I have been critical of that organisation. Indeed, having become the Member for Belfast, East, I found that there had been great neglect in housing matters in East Belfast. I have deplored the appalling lack of housing in my constituency.

To outline some of the background, perhaps I may say that I am on record as having attacked the Housing Executive for its neglect in my constituency. At first, the Housing Executive's response was to put out statements giving glowing accounts of the kind of housing and the number of houses that we had in East Belfast. So colourful was its argument that I began to wonder whether I was the Member for Belfast, East, or the Member for Utopia. However, one walk around the streets of East Belfast will show that it is far from Utopia.

I asked the Housing Executive to review its plans for building houses in my constituency. The Housing Executive and the Department of the Environment have failed completely to act in a thorough manner in regard to the provision of housing right across the board in Northern Ireland. That failure is clearly to be seen when one examines the situation in East Belfast. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. McQuade) and the hon. Member for Belfast, South could also make claims about housing.

In reply to a parliamentary question, I received figures about the numbers of applicants for houses in Belfast. In the constituency of Belfast, South there were 2,000 first preference applicants. The constituency of Belfast, West had 2,800 applicants, the constituency of Belfast, North had 3,700 applicants, and my constituency of Belfast, East had almost 4,000 applicants. The problem is great, yet the slightest glance at the Housing Executive's plans will show that the need will not be met. There is an unevenness in the approach of the Housing Executive and of the Department. The hon. Member for Belfast, West and his constituents—who need and have a right to housing—will at least have the comfort of knowing that a project is going ahead at Poleglass.

It is hard to explain to my constituents that the hon. Member for Belfast, West has more than 2,800 people in need of houses, and that the Government plan to build a vast estate to house them, but they are not doing anything of a comparable nature in my constituency, where the need is even greater. Perhaps the Minister will consider that.

Allegations have been made about discrimination. Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom have never seen discrimination of such magnitude. Steps will have to be taken immediately to rectify that deplorable situation. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what steps the Government will take to redress the balance. As a result of expenditure cuts, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive will build about 10,000 houses in the next five years. That alarms me. Half of them will be needed in my constituency, quite apart from the rest of the Province. In five years the list in my constituency will have grown even longer. The Department should undertake a thorough examination.

The Housing Executive has never had an adequate plan to deal with the great need that exists in East Belfast. I do not, therefore, blame expenditure cuts alone. There has always been grievous and iniquitous discrimination against the people of East Belfast. The housing need in my area is a festering sore, and it is many times greater than the need in other parts of the Province.

Are the Government prepared to amend the stop line as regards the Castlereagh side of my constituency, just as they did in West Belfast in order to deal with Poleglass? I tabled a question to the Secretary of State which was answered by the Minister. He said that he had no proposals to do so. I have been informed that a study has been set up to review housing in East and South Belfast.

Those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies will know that I am a member of Castlereagh borough council. On 24 April, Mr. John Gorman, the chief executive of the Housing Executive, came to a meeting with his regional controller. They intended to tell us what they would do about the borough's housing programme. Mr. Gorman gave details of the study group, which will incorporate senior officers from the Housing Executive and the Department of the Environment. It has been set up to examine in detail the housing problems of East and South Belfast and adjoining areas. He said: I do not wish to pre-empt the conclusions of the study group but clearly the Housing Executive and the Department of the Environment have a duty to devote equal attention to all parts of Belfast according to housing need. The waiting list in East Belfast and Castlereagh is growing faster than lists in other parts of the Province. There is the implication at least that East Belfast and Castlereagh have not been treated equally in the past. I ask the Minister to make sure that in the future they are given treatment equal to that afforded to West Belfast and other areas.

The borough council in Castlereagh wrote to the Minister responsible for the Department pressing him to have the stop line reviewed. Perhaps it was no accident that at the meeting that considered the Minister's reply, which said that the study group would conduct this sort of inquiry before he took his decision, we also received a progress report from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive for public sector housing for the first three months of the year. That progress report covered the whole of the Castlereagh borough. It showed in table 1 Schemes Designs: Approved at design stage … Nil and in table 2 Tenders approved by … Housing Executive … Nil and in table 3 Dates of Possessions of Sites agreed with Contractor During 1.1.80–31.3.80 … Nil". Table 4 was Completions During Period … Nil. That is the Housing Executive's record in dealing with the great need in the Castlereagh borough. In that borough, which takes in about half my constituency, there are 2,000 people on the waiting list. The nil report shows the progress being made. Because of expenditure cuts the green field building sites have been cut by about a third.

To keep the number of new houses as high as possible, sweeping cuts have been made by the Housing Executive in programmes for rehabilitation and improvement. In that regard one would have thought that with a nil report on progress on house building the Castlereagh borough would have had some hope of improvements being carried out.

One of the oldest Housing Executive estates in the Province is the Cregagh housing estate, which almost adjoins the estate referred to by the hon. Member for Belfast, South in Knockeden and Flush Park. Some estates built 10 years ago in other areas are being replaced. What can the people of Cregagh expect?

The Housing Executive had written to the Castlereagh borough council saying that there is one major all-front maintenance scheme at Burntollet Way, Cregagh, for 210 houses which is perhaps less than one-fifth of the houses on the estate which it hopes to start next spring and are trying to get on site before the end of the financial year. This would cost about £2.27 million. However, we now learn that not only is the executive not to build houses, but it is not to proceed with that project. One would have thought that if it is not spending money on house building in the area something could have been done for it in this other regard.

I have said that the executive is not to go ahead with the project. At the meeting in April the chief executive said that he would give us an answer on that matter within three weeks. Twelve weeks have now passed and we still do not have the answer, although every Tom, Dick and Harry in the street has been told by the executive that it is not going ahead. Perhaps the Minister will have the courtesy to press his Department to inform the public representatives when decisions have been taken before telling everyone else in the Province.

Mr. Bradford

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is an additional difficulty when rehabilitation work is delayed or postponed? It is that because eventually the Housing Executive plans to spend a considerable amount on rehabilitation it will not undertake running repairs which are often crucial. The tenants therefore find themselves in a vicious circle whereby they get nothing done.

Mr. Robinson

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Of course the end result is that houses get in a worse state and the cost of improving them becomes greater. The Government then say that they have imposed financial cuts and they can do nothing about them. That is the dilemma that our constituents face.

This deplorable and intolerable course of action has been forced upon the executive by the Government's expenditure cuts. Has the Minister forgotten that in Northern Ireland there are 141 unfit dwellings in every 1,000, while in England and Wales the comparable figure is 46 in every 1,000.

Have the Government no compassion? Do they not realise that within the next few years many thousands of newlyweds will be seeking housing? Where will they live? They will probably have to live with their in-laws, and anyone who has done that, as I have, will know what happens in those circumstances. The divorce rates among the newlyweds show an alarming increase in Northern Ireland, and when a divorce takes place two units of accommodation are required instead of one, and that makes matters worse. The problem of housing in Northern Ireland has been compounded by the bureaucratic and insensitive approach of both the Department and the Housing Executive.

I turn now to matters dealing with squatting, which is a scandal of the first magnitude. On 7 November I tabled a question to the Minister concerning the number of squatters in Belfast. He replied that there were 2,763 squatters in Belfast alone. While I admit that they do not come from one area only that is basically the case. In East Belfast, 149 squatters are in possession of properties—

Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that that figure includes the most scandalous case of squatting by Sinn Fein in executive property in Divis Street?

Mr. Robinson

It does indeed, and I shall deal further with the paramilitary side of squatting in a moment.

It was apparent from that reply that the vast majority of squatters were in the West Belfast area. On further questioning, I found out that in the relatively small estate of Twinbrook, there were about 400 squatters. There had to be a reason for it.

In a further question, I asked the Minister how many of the squatters in Twin-brook had been taken to court and evicted as a result. The answer was "This is a matter for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive". The Minister probably thought that he would get away with that, and at that time I thought that I would not be able to delve further into the matter. However, a few days later I received in the post the background document that the Minister used when he was preparing his answer. It gave details of the true position. It stated that 218 possession orders had been granted by the courts and that none had been lodged for enforcement with the Enforcement Justice Office. That was a result of the consultation with the RUC about the prospects of enforcement.

I wanted to put that on the record, so I asked the Minister how many of the 218 possession orders that had been granted up to December 1979 had been lodged for enforcement with the EJO. The accuracy of the figure clearly made the Department aware that it had been no accident that I had obtained the figures. So it was put on record that none has been enforced to date.

For too long, the Housing Executive has allowed various organisations, particularly in Republican areas, to allocate the houses that should properly and legally be allocated by the Housing Executive. The housing authorities have failed completely to enforce the law in republican areas and, therefore, they have lost the moral right of enforcement in Loyalist areas also. How can I justify to my constituents the fact that they are thrown out of houses in which they squat when on the other side of the city people are allowed to stay in the houses in which they squat? Squatting is rife, and it is spreading, and the Housing Executive seem to be powerless to stop it. Before long, the Housing Executive will have completely lost control of its allocation of houses. The weakness of the Government and their reluctance to enforce law and order in republican areas has brought about this scandal.

On 15 April, I put down a written question to ask what progress had been made in preparing new measures against squatters. The Minister had been considering the matter since December, when we received this anonymous document in the post. By 15 April, one might have expected some solution to the squatting problem and some statement from the Minister. Instead, of a statement saying what measures would be taken, the Minister replied: I have been discussing with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive how more effective action might be taken in appropriate cases".[Official Report, 15 April 1980; Vol. 982, c. 620.] The Housing Executive has dragged its feet on this matter and now the Department is joining it in that foot-dragging exercise.

Will the Minister tell us today what measures will be taken to prevent and eradicate squatting? Also, why has there been such a delay in taking action against squatting? Does he not realise that the Housing Executive, the Northern Ireland Office and the Government as a whole are losing credibility daily on this issue?

This bureaucratic approach to housing in Northern Ireland was adopted as a result of allegations by republican elements against Loyalist politicians. Democracy was buried and the opinion of public representatives was treated with total contempt. The housing shambles and the bureaucracy that produced it shows that a speedy return to democracy is essential if peace and stability are to return to Northern Ireland even in housing.

The present bureaucratic approach to housing is a sure recipe for turmoil and trouble in future. The time has come to give public representatives a greater say in housing. It is imperative that the Housing Executive be scrapped forthwith and replaced by a board in which public representatives have a majority at least. Those who represent the people are better qualified than bureaucrats to take decisions about the housing needs of Northern Ireland.

As the House knows, the Secretary of State has imposed the freeze on all public spending. That applies to the Housing Executive as well. What effect will that freeze have on the total number of houses to be built in 1980–81? In April, the Housing Executive announced that the overall cut would be from 4,615 new houses to 3,078. Will the Housing Executive be able to meet even that inadequate target?

The Housing Executive record on maintenance and conversions for the handicapped has been a disaster in the past. I now understand that a further cut in both maintenance and conversion will be announced shortly. What will the extent of that cut be—if my information is correct?

I ask the Government to lift the Secretary of State's freeze on housing expenditure. The suffering and plight of those in need of housing is such that the Government must slacken this restriction at once.

1.27 pm
Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)

When one is confronted with an Appropriation debate and is also carrying in one's mind the problems that we find in our constituencies, there is a temptation to roam over the whole field. However, I prefer today to confine myself to a few remarks about one area—the problems of the pig and poultry sectors in Northern Ireland agriculture. These are the two most intensive and concentrated sectors, which were built up on feed grains bought mainly from North America at world prices.

Since we lost those cheap feed grains, we have continued to run into severe problems. The basic problem today is the sheer cost of transport of the grains into Northern Ireland and of the product from Northern Ireland to our markets. Those problems are compounded, as are so many things in the United Kingdom, by our membership of the EEC, which inhibits our national freedom to take the selective measures which might be necessary in such a case.

The problem is well known. The means of combating it in the past are equally well known: it always came down to subsidised transport in one form of another. Some say that the present Administration do not understand the problem, but I think that they do. Certainly the civil servants in the Northern Ireland Office understand it and I am sure that they have informed Ministers of the background of the problem and of the only means by which it has been found possible to resolve it up to now.

So far as I can see, the Government now have a simple choice—either to let the poultry and pig products sectors decline to the level of consumption in Northern Ireland, combined with what little we can export to the Irish Republic, or to try to maintain it somewhere between that low level and the present level. It is difficult to see how we can increase it.

If we allow some of the production in Northern Ireland to decline, we are also allowing the total production of those products in the United Kingdom to decline. There is no evidence that the slack created by the loss of the Northern Ireland production in the United Kingdom market will be taken up by other sectors in that market. It is more likely to be taken up by imports from EEC countries.

We have seen the difficulties created in recent weeks by the efficient co-operative marketing of eggs by the French and other European producers. They release on to their home market the number of eggs that it can bear at a profitable price. The additional eggs are sent to Britain and, we are told, repacked, although that is difficult to prove, and sold at what amounts to a dumping price on the London market. That has a domino effect right the way back to the producer in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It is having the most severe consequences.

Since entry to the EEC we have faced those changed conditions, but the need to safeguard the nation's food supplies remains. A stable food supply must rank high in any British Government's thinking, when we have to import so much food from overseas. The balance has to be maintained between home and foreign production. It may be a matter of argument what the balance should be, but we shall need an awful lot of that which we can produce to be produced from our own resources. The sectors in Northern Ireland that I have mentioned are efficient producers. They need aid to achieve more stable market conditions.

The Government have a limited number of choices to maintain the present level of production. At the end of the day it comes down to money to offset the price of grain in Northern Ireland, either through subsidising the feed or the transport. The best and most straightforward solution is to withdraw from the EEC. We could then take national measures to favour the United Kingdom's food necessities. For the moment that option is regrettably not open to us and we have to seek a solution elsewhere.

The Government are reassessing their spending priorities in Northern Ireland. Have they fully explored all the avenues open for aid to agricultural sectors? Have they looked again at the ploy of selling into intervention, distasteful though that is? Under those circumstances I understand that the transport costs of products that go into intervention can be met. Have the Government finally written off the Italian system, whereby we should have had an abatement on seaborne imports? That option would be for only two or three years, but a lot can happen in that time. The picture may then be very different. It would have been wise to explore that option further.

Have the Government exhausted their investigations into the sums which could be available from the social funds of the EEC because of the social implications in the rundown of the pig and poultry sectors in Northern Ireland?

The Minister will note that up till now I have not mentioned the proposals from the EEC and the United Kingdom Government about the less favoured areas and the additional funds which are supposed to be coming to Northern Ireland from that source. The reason why I have not mentioned them is that there is no help for the pig and poultry sectors from that source. I begin to wonder what those EEC proposals will help. We read that there are to be moneys for improvements to local and agricultural roads. Generally speaking, local roads are fairly good. If "improvements" really means taking a few more private roads under public care, there is simply not enough money available.

At the same time, if we are to restrict ourselves to the present less favoured areas of Northern Ireland, there is too much money, because the projects on which it can be spent could not be spent in the period specified unless the less favoured areas were increased in size. Everyone seems to be dragging his feet on that aspect of the matter. In terms of land drainage, reclamation and pasture improvement, the aid will help grazing land, and the same can be said of the development of farm production. But I cannot see anything in the whole concept of it that helps the pig and poultry producer.

In the proposals to improve marketing, it seems that only the merchant ancillaries—that is, the egg packers, the millers, the meat plants and the bacon factories—are likely to benefit from the sums which are coming. But what is the point of modernising and upgrading these ancillary industries if the production is not there to keep them going? There is no doubt that if we do not have an export market, the industry will not be there to keep going. So there is no need for the money or, if the money is spent, it will be thrown down the drain. We might as well burn it. It will not do any good.

On 21 or 22 July, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is due to meet his EEC partners. That may be the last opportunity to explore what can be done to help the pig and poultry sectors in Northern Ireland. I must ask what are the Government's intentions for these two sectors of agriculture in Northern Ireland. Will they try to keep them going at their present levels? If so, that will mean money. Will they, instead, allow them to close down to the level of production which we can sell in the island of Ireland? If we are talking about closing them down to that level, I believe that the Government should come clean and tell us. Even if that is the intention, they should take steps to avoid the great misery which will result if they allow them to collapse suddenly rather than let them slide down the hill over two or three years.

This is the basic question which every agriculturist in Northern Ireland has avoided asking until now. No one has put it to the Minister in charge of agriculture in Northern Ireland or to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. What are the Government's intentions, and what do they intend doing to arrive at the end result of their efforts?

It is no use their saying "Carry on. You can cut costs. You can improve efficiency." That cannot be done any more. We are discussing one of the most efficient agricultural sectors in Europe. It is an agricultural sector which is highly specialised, which very often is concentrated on small farms where they farm not on green acres but on concrete, and where they have fined and refined production techniques until they have reached the very limit. That limit is still not good enough unless something is done to put them on an even footing with their colleagues and competitors in Great Britain and on the continent.

What do the Government intend to do to attain their objectives? In my view, less woolliness and a little more clear-cut honesty would be very helpful, so that at least farmers knew exactly what the Government were aiming at and where they were going, because then the industries could take steps to meet them.

New technical standards have recently been laid down for certain types of farm buildings in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland farmers have been erecting Dutch barn type structures, with a round roof, for many years. Many of those buildings are up to 45 ft wide and are used successfully as hay sheds and stores.

However, the Northern Ireland Office's technical staff have recently been made aware that engineers cannot guarantee that buildings over 30 ft wide will withstand wind pressures and heavy snowfalls. Therefore, they are chary about granting building permission or making grants for that sort of structure. The result is that farmers are being directed to portal type buildings with a wider span. The problem is that they cost about twice as much. As that serious difficulty has arisen, the Northern Ireland Office's technical staff should put on their thinking caps and see what they can come up with.

It is unacceptable that what was reasonable at the beginning of the year is no longer acceptable. Of course, the buildings, not having read the technical documents, do not know that they are supposed to fall down when the wind blows and none has yet done so. Farm buildings do not have to be built to the highest technical standards. They last for a relatively long time even if they are cheap. Farmers are being asked to provide buildings of a standard far in excess of what is needed. That cannot be wise or reasonable.

Time is short and my hon. Friends wish to deal with some other important matters. I shall therefore have to leave some other problems that concern me to another day.

1.43 pm
Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

There is usually a unanimity in the approach of Northern Ireland Members to Appropriation orders. However, I was interested to hear the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) castigating the Government. They are entitled to do that, in view of the Government's lack of economic policies in Northern Ireland, but I remember that when the Labour Government were in power both hon. Members were repeatedly to be found in the Lobbies with the Conservatives.

I do not think that the hon. Member for Down, North would apologise for that. He is more entitled than any other Northern Ireland Member to sit with the Conservatives, because he voted for the previous Conservative Government through thick and thin. There were occasions when other Unionists abstained. because of the seats issue, but the hon. Member for Down, North still voted with the Tories.

Everyone knew what the approach of a Conservative Government would be. They stated clearly before last year's election that they would engage in public expenditure cuts and that there would be a cutback in Northern Ireland as well as in other parts of the United Kingdom.

I made clear before the election why I could not support the Labour Government in the vote of confidence. There was a split in the Unionist Party, with the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) and the former hon. Member for Belfast, North, who is now the lord mayor of Belfast, voting to keep a Socialist Government in power.

In debates on the Appropriation Order there is always a good deal of unanimity to be found among representatives from Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) sought to chastise my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) because of his approach to the order. I fully support the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend. He, unlike the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), did not approach the problem of Northern Ireland with an accountant's book and a profit and loss index in his hand. Northern Ireland is much more than a profit and loss account in any approach that may be taken. My hon. Friend understated the case to some extent, quite contrary to the remarks of the hon. Member for Epping Forest, who chastised him for spreading gloom in Northern Ireland.

If anyone wants to know what is happening in Northern Ireland—and I accept that people should go there to find out—they should look at a document issued only last month by the Low Pay Unit in Northern Ireland, which goes into detail about the devastating effects of the present policies in Northern Ireland on the majority of the population. Page 3 of the Report reaches the conclusion that Low wages are … the most important single cause of family poverty in Northern Ireland. It goes on to illustrate the figures in Northern Ireland. There are 118,000 women and 47,000 men receiving low pay—a total of 165,000 who are living just above the poverty line. While 37 per cent. of the employed industrial population are in receipt of less than the minimum wage, we cannot hope for any prosperity in Northern Ireland.

We hear sentiments expressed by Conservative Members, especially those from Aberdeen to the effect that some people want to rely on social security, want to make themselves a burden on the social security system, do not want to work, but want to be in receipt of unemployment and supplementary benefits. In Northern Ireland there are 8,500 men in full-time employment working 40, 44 or 48 hours a week for a wage which, by the Government's standards and those of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, is below the poverty line. They are claiming family income supplement. That indicates that they would receive more if they were not working than they earn in full-time employment.

The average amount of family income supplement paid is £7.11 per week. There are men working in Northern Ireland for a wage that is £7.11 below that which would be paid by any fair employer in any other part of the United Kingdom. That is an indication of the poverty that exists in Northern Ireland.

I ask the Minister to consider increasing the number of inspectors employed by the Department of Commerce to visit employers to ascertain the low wages and the minimum wages. The report of the Low Pay Unit says that there are only two inspectors. If the Government had their way, there would not be any inspectors at all. Two inspectors cannot possibly go out and obtain all the detailed information necessary to enable them to arrive at a conclusion.

The Ministry of Commerce is the most important ministry in Northern Ireland. It is charged with the responsibility of providing jobs. The Conservative Government, whatever their predecessors may have done as a Socialist Administration, have failed signally to provide any jobs in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

That is not fair.

Mr. Fitt

There were 61,000 unemployed in Northern Ireland in May 1979. I said on the Floor of the House that that was an intolerable figure. It meant that over 10½ per cent. of the working population were unemployed. In July 1980, there are 73,000 unemployed. If my comment was not fair, I do not know the meaning of the English language. I should have said that there were 73,000 unemployed last month. Next week the figure will have increased to 75,000 or 76,000. A month after that, it will be 80,000. Prominent Unionists in Northern Ireland—they are those who have their fingers on the pulse—have predicted that within two years 100,000 will be unemployed. That is an awful prospect for the people of Northern Ireland.

The Government have said that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom and that they have to continue to make public expenditure cuts there. Those who live in Northern Ireland are aware of the disastrous consequences of such a policy.

I was speaking to the ICTU yesterday afternoon. Its representatives told me that they are aware of closures that will be announced during the next two or three months that will lead to another 4,000 being unemployed.

By far the most dramatic of the closures will be that of the Grundig plant. I do not blame the Government for that closure. Market forces throughout the world led to the Grundig product being so expensive that only a few could buy it. There was competition from Japan. I do not believe that the Government were or are entirely responsible. However, if the Government had been in a position to give further financial assistance to Grundig and had the company been willing to accept it, I believe that the factory may have been kept open.

The Government are not responsible for the Grundig closure, but they are responsible for the fact that many people in Northern Ireland have had to resort to social security benefits during the past 14 months. Allied to that, we have an Act in Northern Ireland that does not apply to any other part of the United Kingdom, namely, the Payments for Debt (Emergency Provision) Act 1971. It is an unfair measure.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest said that Northern Ireland must play its part in the battle against inflation. Northern Ireland has been playing its part in that battle for a hell of a lot longer than any other part of the United Kingdom. Over the past few years we have had inflated gas prices, electricity prices, food prices—8 per cent. higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom—coal prices and unemployment figures. If any part of the United Kingdom has had reason to fight the battle of inflation, it has been Northern Ireland.

We have a benefit allocation branch in Stormont. It was established by an Act of Parliament that was put on the statute book by the Unionist Government. I supported the previous Labour Government, but I believe that they should have wiped that Act off the statute book. It operates in Northern Ireland and in no other part of the United Kingdom. It contains many contradictions.

Let us take a man in full-time employment working for a wage which is £7.11 below the basic minimum that could be paid in any other part of the United Kingdom. He will be in receipt of supplementary benefit and family income supplement. Both benefits amount to the same thing. The man owes money to the electricity authority, not because he was a political non-payer, not because he supported those who were protesting against internment, but purely because he has a low wage. Having to rely on supplementation from family income supplement, he found himself unable to pay our inflated electricity charges, and consequently ran up a bill.

The Department gave the man £7.11, and then the benefit allocation branch took it back, bringing him below the poverty level again. That is a result of deliberate Government policy. They say "Get the electricity bills paid. Get the accounts cleared—no matter how much despair and distress is brought into the home."

The problems in Northern Ireland are unique to that part of the United Kingdom. The Government should show a more humane face and a more compassionate attitude towards those who have to rely on social security and State benefits. If the benefit allocation branch cannot be abolished, those in charge of it should be made aware of the terrible poverty among those who are having reductions made by the branch.

The gas industry is a matter for the Department of Commerce. In support of what every other hon. Member has said, I repeat that no one believes the figures given to us by the Government. The hon. Member for Armagh is much more expert on the matter than any other Northern Ireland Member. I am sure that he will take an opportunity today to say that the trade unions and experts in Europe, the United Kingdom and everywhere else—all those who know anything about the gas industry—say that the gas figures are wrong. The figure of £393,000 in the Estimates is irrelevant. It means nothing.

I repeat what I have said before, which was supported today by the hon. Member for Antrim, North. It was a cold calculated decision of the Government to do away with the gas industry in Northern Ireland. It was the decision of this Government, not the local authorities throughout Northern Ireland, particularly the Belfast local authority. They were told by the Government "Wind up the industry".

Having taken the decision, the Government must accept full responsibility for the actions that they then took. They cannot tell humble householders living on social security benefits, on the retirement pension, on family income supplement, people living in the Falls Road, the Shankill Road, Sandy Row or Andersonstown. "We shall phase out the gas industry, and you will be charged only 50 per cent. to change from gas to electricity." It is the Government's responsibility to meet the full charge. Every cent must be borne by the Government.

The people living in those humble homes, the low-paid, the 73,000 unemployed, the people who will be among the 80,000 unemployed, are in no position to pay anything towards the conversion from gas to electricity. It was the Government's decision to close the industry, and it is their responsibility to find the money to pay for the changeover.

Only last week I led a deputation to the Minister of State in charge of manpower about the serious problem of the Belfast dockers of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. One hundred people are to be paid off from the deep-sea docks in the city of Belfast. Northern Ireland being Northern Ireland, if Warrenpoint is to prosper, this must be to the disadvantage of either Larne or Belfast.

The Belfast dockers, even though they are members of the same trade union, feel that the building up of Warrenpoint—I am not advocating its rundown—will mean that some commerce that would have gone through Belfast will now go to Warrenpoint. Those 100 dockers who have given all their lives to Belfast docks will now find difficulty getting another job. The serious question of severance pay and redundancy pay arises. I understand that the Minister has not yet made up his mind. Trade union members in Belfast telephoned me at 7 o'clock this morning which shows how fearful they are about the situation.

Reference has already been made to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have many time criticised aspects of the Housing Executive, especially its maintenance and repair section. I have criticised it in the past. There has been some slight improvement—but only very slight. I say that as an introduction to bringing the Minister's attention to a situation that I regard as ridiculous.

I do not believe that the rent orders of 1976 and 1978 have brought the great bonus that was expected. The implementation of those orders and the way they have been used by landlords, who have increased rents without carrying out repairs, has led to a great deal of hardships. Further representations will be made by all Northern Ireland Members to the Minister to alleviate the hardship. The Belfast city council is still charged with the responsibility for assessing degrees of fitness or unfitness and whether a property is fit or unfit. That is still the responsibility of the council health department. When the 1976 and 1978 rent orders were debated in the Health Committee, some people felt that the Government might be attempting to take the functions away from the Belfast city council. Fortunately, those functions were left with the council.

I remember, after the orders came into force, that I asked whether we would have the right to inspect Housing Executive houses to see whether they were fit or unfit. If we had the right to do so in the private field, we also had the responsibility to do the same in regard to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. We were told at the time that it would not be right and that it would not look good on the books for one Government Department to have a go at another Government Department, and that normally memos were sent between City Hall, Belfast and College Square East. Following investigations, I discovered that many people were living in sub-standard Housing Executive accommodation that would have been declared unfit by the then prevailing standards. Belfast city council has accepted responsibility for assessing whether Housing Executive accommodation is fit or unfit.

The health department of the Belfast city council has gone to Housing Executive property, assessed it and found it unfit. The council has sent notification to the Housing Executive telling it to get the repairs carried out within, I think, 28 days. The Housing Executive refused to do so for one reason or another. It probably forgot. It did not do it. The Belfast city council then initiated a summons in the courts. It brought the Housing Executive to court in Belfast. After listening to the case put by the city council, the magistrate agreed with the council and ordered the Housing Executive to have the necessary repairs carried out.

The Housing Executive did not carry out the repairs. The city council went back to the court and told the magistrate. The magistrate then imposed a fine on the Housing Executive. It was fined either 50p or £1 for every day that passed until the repairs were carried out.

Presumably, the Housing Executive goes into one of its offices and says "You make out the payment for the fine to be paid to the courts of Northern Ireland." But who pays the fine? The Housing Executive can sit for years and fill out cheques for fines to be paid to the courts. The money does not come out of the Housing Executive's pocket. It is coming out of the pockets of taxpayers in Northern Ireland. Something should be done about an undertaking such as the Housing Executive which refuses to comply with health standards required by Belfast city council.

I recognise that there is a limit on the time we have available, and I am doing my best to restrict my remarks. However, I should like to refer, perhaps penultimately, to Class VIII in respect of the Ministry of Education. I regard Lord Elton's responsibilities in Northern Ireland as being of major importance. By any standards, anywhere in the world, education cannot be regarded as a minor ministry. In Northern Ireland it takes in the sporting and recreational activities. If one were to ask in Northern Ireland which Ministry or Department attracts most public odium and anger, rightly one would hear the answer "The Ministry of Education"—above all other Departments.

It is unfortunate that we do not have at the Dispatch Box the Minister responsible, so that we could say certain things to his face. I am not sure whether lie is sitting up there—no, he is not. I should like to take the opportunity of saying certain things to his face.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. I should say that there is no one up there.

Mr. Fitt

I have to come to regard the Ministry of Education as the leaky Department in Northern Ireland. Before it arrives at any decision, it has leaked it three or four weeks previously. All the journalists are speculating on what it is to be. Everyone knew what was in the Chilvers report three weeks before anyone received it because the Northern Ireland Office was leaking it left, right and centre to see what the objections would be and what the response would be from Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland. The response was as everyone could have predicted.

In the absence of the hon. Member for Down, North, who has a completely different point of view from my own, I say to the Minister that any attempt to impinge on Roman Catholic education in Northern Ireland as at present constituted would be fiercely resisted by Catholics in Northern Ireland. By that I do not mean the Catholic Church; I mean Catholic parents. I have spoken to hundreds of them, if not to thousands in speaking to the representatives of thousands of Catholics, ordinary Catholic people in Northern Ireland who feel that in some way an attempt is being made by the Government to take away or to restrict the functions of St. Mary's and St. Joseph's training colleges. I am saying this in no sense of being sectarian. I say it with absolutely no animosity or hostility towards any other religion or towards people of no religion.

I was born a Catholic and reared as one. Catholic parents attach tremendous importance to having their children educated under the same system and by the same type of teacher. I do not believe that there has been any attempt to interfere with Catholic education in any other part of the United Kingdom. If the Department of Education and Science attempts to change the structure of Catholic education and teacher training facilities in Northern Ireland, its plans will be doomed to failure.

The Minister said that he would like to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. I agree. Since the first leaks came from Bangor, or some other part of the Northern Ireland Office, there has been great disquiet. Only yesterday, Lord Elton wrote to the Bishop of Derry saying that he had got it all wrong and that he had made an awful mistake. He told him that the Conservative Party had never had any intention of interferring. The lick of letters that contradict what was said only leads to mass confusion. The sooner the matter is resolved, the better for all concerned.

I fully support the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde about the denuding of the Northern Ireland Sports Council's functions. The person who put that idea into the Minister's mind knew nothing about the situation. Perhaps he thought he knew too much. I am informed that certain civil servants—perhaps two or three—do not like the Sports Council. They have gone out of their way to influence the Minister. The Minister adopted a cavalier attitude when he reached a decision after less than an hour's discussion. He brushed aside eminent figures in the sporting world, such as Mary Peters. Everyone admires Mary Peters for the great honour and distinction that she has brought to Northern Ireland. Many others gave up their time, energy and expertise to ensure that the Sports Council was one of the few organisations in Northern Ireland that gained respect across the religious, political and sectarian divides.

The Minister should not take lightly the criticisms that are made by hon. Members. This is a serious matter. How did the Minister arrive at the figure of 11? Did he pull it out of the sky? Why did he not choose 10 or 12? Was he acting on the advice of the civil servant who did not like the 11 people who were employed there? There are many reasons for being suspicious about the Minister's decision. The Minister should note that severe criticisms have been made.

I agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Antrim, North. There is a story going round that the Minister has told local authorities that they should not object too much, because more powers will be handed back to them. That was said in my presence in a Belfast city council meeting. It was said that we should not object, or send nasty notes to the Minister, or ask for deputations to be received, because powers would be given back later. That is untrue. There would be no money. Even if it were true, could one imagine a Belfast Democratic Unionist Party councillor sitting in a committee and advocating an increase in the grant for the Gaelic Athletic Association. Could hon. Members imagine that happening at a Ballymena council meeting? Any attempt to give such power back to city councils would meet with great opposition.

I feel restricted, as I know that the Minister wishes to reply. However, I cannot sit down without referring to certain criticisms that I have made before in the House. They refer to the criteria that enable one to receive attendance allowance and mobility allowance. Those criteria are far too restrictive in that there are many people in Northern Ireland who should qualify for those allowances but who, because of the restrictive criteria, do not get them and are suffering undue hardship.

Will the Minister also look at the number of home helps who are being dismissed because of Government cutbacks? Many aged and infirm people have for a number of years depended on the home helps. Now, because of Government cuts and the additional criteria that are being applied, they are being deprived of their services.

2.16 pm
Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)

I do not need to add to what has been said by other Northern Ireland Members to convince the House that the Province faces a serious economic and industrial plight. I seek not necessarily to criticise the Minister but rather to suggest a means whereby he can help the industrial life of Northern Ireland. I intend to do that by keeping a little flame alight and trying to direct it at the Minister's posterior so that he will be well aware of the importance of making the right decisions over the next few months.

Under Class II, Vote 3 and Class III, Vote 1, I want to raise the subject of energy in the Province, particularly the gas industry. The Minister now has before him a report that he acknowledges to be an honest and important attempt to assess the alternatives that face the gas industry in the Province. The issue is whether the industry shall close or remain in existence. The real problem the Minister faces is whether the benefits of one outweigh the cost of the other.

Coopers and Lybrand has said categorically that it believes that the continuation of the gas industry in Northern Ireland is a viable, economic proposition. It does that by costing out the closure of the industry as against keeping it alive. To some extent the figures may vary slightly from those produced by the Minister and other interested parties that have made assessments. The issue boils down, however, to whether, if the Government are to spend £100 million, they should spend it on killing off the Northern Ireland gas industry or keeping it alive.

The Minister may want to argue that the cost will not be £100 million. On 3 July he told me in a parliamentary answer that the Department's estimate of the cost of closure was £78 million. However, a closer examination of the figures shows that public sector conversion costs amount to £27 million but that that figure does not include the cost of betterment. In overall terms, therefore, the figure of £27 million is too low.

Will it be 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. higher as a result of betterment? Irrespective of the figure, it will be no consolation to old-age pensioners, or anyone else on fixed incomes, to anyone on family income supplement or to any other underprivileged people, to be told when they have to change their cooker or heating appliance that they will get a better one. It may cost them £150 or £200 to change. They will not be consoled by the fact that the old and perfectly adequate appliance has been replaced by something better. This cost of betterment must therefore be added to the £78 million estimated by the Department.

The cost of conversion and replacement of domestic appliances is estimated at £30 million. One assumes that the sum includes an element of 50 per cent. assistance for conversion. I may well have been the first person in Northern Ireland to disagree with the proposal for a 50 per cent. grant. I believe that it should be 100 per cent., and there are good grounds for saying that. As I told the Minister a few weeks ago, when the British Gas Corporation closed down two gas undertakings in Scotland, it offered 100 per cent. compensation. Therefore, the precedent is already established on the mainland.

If 100 per cent. compensation is estimated as just for the people of Scotland, the same amount must be given to the people of Northern Ireland. On that assumption, the figure of £30 million is doubled to £60 million, and we are then over the £100 million cost estimate. However, the fact that 100 per cent. compensation was given in Scotland is no guarantee that it will be given in Northern Ireland, because natural gas is available in Great Britain but not in Northern Ireland.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) was told m Committee when we were discussing enterprise zones that Belfast council could not be given responsibility for an enterprise zone because that was a national policy and, anyway, Belfast council would not have the necessary expertise and resources. A few days earlier, the Minister told me that he was abolishing the Sports Council in Northern Ireland, even though it had the expertise, because Northern Ireland was different.

So there is no consistency in Government policy or attitude to Northern Ireland. However, it will be difficult for local authorities in Northern Ireland to tell their consumers that they will be given only half the cost of conversion when the British Gas Corporation has already given the full cost of conversion in other parts of the United Kingdom. So one can raise the Minister's estimate well above £100 million. That money should be spent on bringing natural gas to the Province and giving some benefit to those who are suffering in the Province.

The Coopers and Lybrand report did not take any easy options in arriving at the conclusion that the pipeline was a viable proposition. It took the most difficult route for the pipeline and the most costly estimates. Wherever there was a choice, it took the blackest possible, so its conclusion was based on the worst estimates. Even by doing that it still concluded that a pipeline was viable.

It is damaging and misleading that in the order the Department should refer to the assistance in Class III, Vote I as expenditure by the Department of Commerce to facilitate the orderly run-down of the gas industry … £393,000. That £393,000 has nothing to do with the orderly rundown of the gas industry and the wording in the order is misleading. The wording is correct in the explanatory document, which states: Class III, Vote I—Support to the Gas Industry. This vote provides for payments to certain Northern Ireland gas undertakings to eliminate deficits which have occurred up to 31 March 1979. That has nothing to do with an orderly rundown, any more than the assistance that has been offered for the same purpose over other years. I do not understand why different terminology should be used in the Appropriation order.

The Coopers and Lybrand report suggests that if the Northern Ireland gas industry has a pipeline, it will buy its gas at 23p a therm from the British Gas Corporation. That is four times as much as the regions in Great Britain pay for their gas. Consumers in Northern Ireland are paying in excess of the top premium rate for the first 52 therms of their gas. Even taking that transfer cost into account, it is still said that the industry can be viable, provided that a gas pipeline is built.

The Government have accepted parity to a limited extent. They accept that if industry and commerce are to compete on a rational basis for their electricity with other parts of the United Kingdom, those sections should have parity. Other parts of the order provide for money to give that parity of price.

But why should that be limited to industry and commerce? Every index of life in Northern Ireland shows under-privilege and deprivation. Surely one way of giving help is by reducing electricity costs by the 20 or 25 per cent. differential and providing those people with an alternative fuel which is likely to be a little cheaper than any other.

The industry is not even demanding that we have gas at the price at which it is being provided on the mainland. It would be happy to settle for gas, not quite at any price, but even at double the price that is currently being charged here. Those concerned know that energy policy and world pressures will push up the price of gas on the mainland to more realistic levels anyway and there is no reason for our price to come down only to rise astronomically later on anyway. We would settle for a price structure more appropriate to modern needs.

It used to be said in Northern Ireland not so long ago that this was a pipe-dream, that the building of a pipeline was beyond present technical capability. But a pipeline across the North Channel is a piece of thread compared with the new gas gathering structure to be built in the North Sea at a cost of £1,100 million. There are no technical difficulties.

Experts also used to tell us that the gas would run out in a few years, anyway. We now know that even on the existing reserves it will last well into the next century and that, when the new gas gathering system is operating, it may last half way through that century. In other words, natural gas will probably supply United Kingdom needs as long as the old gasification system did. Almost a century of gas will be available and we in Northern Ireland will be denied it unless the right decision is taken.

I do not say that without evidence. In a recent publication, Phillips Petroleum says: advancing technology to drill and develop fields in deeper water … suggest that the North Sea and the area to the north will be under active exploration beyond the end of the century". Twenty years of exploration will result in many more finds of gas and oil in the North Sea and those reserves will add to the existing reserves. There will be gas available in this country for another 50 or 70 years and Northern Ireland is entitled to its share.

I am told that the Minister is a hardheaded Yorkshireman. I am still waiting for some evidence of that and I hope that it will not be too long delayed. I believe that £100 million should be spent on giving the Province something and not taking something away from it.

2.27 pm
Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

It would be a pity if the debate were to end without a reiteration of the important point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about the wasteful overlap and duplication in the processes of government. I shall not repeat his words, but I trust that they will be studied not only in Stormont castle but in other citadels not far from this place.

When we were told on 30 June of the Secretary of State's decision to impose a freeze on plans for capital and current expenditure, we were startled and puzzled because the Government appeared to have got their sums wrong. However, we received a subsequent explanation and we have had a great deal of further enlightenment from the Minister of State today.

However, the Minister of State's revealing phrase "for the time being" suggests that, once his blank cheque is signed by the House today, certain Northern Ireland departments will then be encouraged, persuaded or—to use the language of the original statement—"directed" by the Secretary of State to under-spend so that the Northern Ireland slice of the national cake can be rationed in a way very different from that propounded in the Estimates and in the order.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) is, as usual, in his place on these occasions. We pay tribute to him in no condescending fashion for his attention to Ulster affairs and for the enormous assistance that he has given the Province over many long years. He referred to the temporary freeze on expenditure and said that Northern Ireland could not be entirely excluded from measures to reduce public expenditure and the public sector borrowing requirement, which in turn would lead to a reduction in inflation.

We have never opposed that view. That is not a factor that makes us critical of this temporary freeze. The freeze applies only to Northern Ireland, and it does so while a review is being carried out. It is not a cut in expenditure, although it could lead to cuts. Even if the review results in no cuts being recommended, the cost of the delay could be expensive for the reasons stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford).

I cannot emphasise too strongly the need for that review to be completed with all possible speed. Uncertainty and delay are wasteful. I shall apply that principle to myself and delay the House no further, except to suggest, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that may lead you to speculate over the weekend on what might have been the effect on the duration of the debate had I made the opening speech.

2.31 pm
Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

It is with a considerable sense of pleasure that I follow the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). I take the hon. Gentleman's point, which was well made and apposite, compared with certain other contributions.

The unanimity on the Sports Council in Northern Ireland terms has been startling. Although the Secretary of State appeared to have a temporary attack of amnesia at our last Question Time, when we met him he undertook to review his decision in the light of our representations. Others who have made similar representations confirm that undertaking. I hope that in coming to a conclusion he will take into account everything that has been said today.

A common theme in the debate has been unemployment, which is closely bound up with the problem of public expenditure. I was the first to suggest that the debate under the public expenditure headings was a fiction. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) took up that point.

There is a shortcoming in the system of control of public expenditure at the Northern Ireland Office. The hon. Member for Antrim, South asked how long "the time being" was. The Estimates and the public expenditure freeze are expressed in the same terms—for the time being. Unless the period is defined, the situation could drift for a long time.

However, I part company with the Official Unionist Party over the shortcomings of a system of public expenditure that relies not on the criteria of need alone but on Procrustean limitations. It has been the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proudest boast that he has pruned public expenditure so that the Government are undertaking only that which is absolutely necessary. The effect of the Secretary of State's announcement must therefore be that items that were accounted to be necessary, because they were included in the Estimates of the Northern Ireland Office, after scrutiny and after the usual PESC review, are being elbowed out of the Estimates because even more urgent matters are coming forward.

It is quite ludicrous that that should be so. If new needs have arisen, in my view fresh public expenditure should be incurred to tackle those which are sufficiently urgent. If the matters already in the Estimates which are to be put out to make way for this shift to industry are to be deferred, real hardship will be caused. We do not know whether they will affect education, health, roads or any other item of expenditure. We are unaware of what is to happen.

But if the Minister of State was right when he said that the shift towards industry would be of the magnitude of 5 per cent., that is not justified by the urgency of the need to create employment in Northern Ireland. It has nothing to do with the need which is now generated. We have talked about the level of employment, and I do not want to reiterate that. But the Government are perhaps fortunate that they are debating the Emergency Provisions Act (Continuation) Order on Tuesday night and the Appropriation Order today rather than vice versa, because we know that when, on Tuesday, the unemployment figures are declared, they will show that unemployment in Northern Ireland has exceeded 13 per cent. and is going well on to 14 per cent.

I ask the Minister, who is in charge of commerce and who has worked very hard in the last year in that department, to what depths of unemployment the Government are prepared to allow Northern Ireland to go before they pump in additional money, try to reverse their measures and try to match the magnitude of the task with the magnitude of their efforts to overcome it.

I disagreed with the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) and the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) on a number of matters. The hon. Member for Knutsford said that employment could not be cured by public expenditure, and he went on to say that public expenditure created unemployment. As one who had experience of the 1930s in South Wales, where there was a complete absence of public expenditure, I can only tell him that that is not a doctrine to which I shall ever subscribe. It is a doctrine which can be subscribed to only by people with the most indirect knowledge of the hardships caused by unemployment and of the real contribution to overcoming them that public expenditure can make.

The hon. Member for Epping Forest spoke about fair shares in public expenditure. However, we are not talking about fair shares. We have to recognise that there is a difficulty of terminology. "Fairness" implies a notion of equity. It is a matter of judgment whether Northern Ireland ought to bear any share of the public expenditure cuts in its present economic and social condition. The last Labour Government excluded it from the public expenditure cuts that they imposed.

We are talking about a proportional cut, and the Minister ought to acknowledge that what the hon. Member for Epping Forest was talking about was proportion and not fairness. But even about that there is some difficulty.

I think that we ought to clarify to which of our Coopers and Lybrand reports we are referring. The six-monthly updating of its economic report suggests that, measured as a proportion of GNP for the area, with all the limitations acknowledged as being inherent in that concept, Northern Ireland is bearing more than its proportionate share of public expenditure cuts.

There have been a number of anguished cries from hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies about the state of the Northern Ireland economy, and I understand them. However, their voices must be followed by their votes. The necessary corollary of what they say is that when this House debates a motion on the decline of manufacturing industry or on the high levels of unemployment, they should recognise and mark the gravity of the situation in Northern Ireland by their votes as well as by their voices.

The right hon. Member for Down, South and the hon. Member for Antrim, South have always said that they believe in what the Government are doing in this regard. That is fair. The electors of Northern Ireland know that that is their view and, if I am right in saying that public expenditure cuts will prevent unemployment from being diminished, the electors will know that that is the result of actions by a Government whom the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman support.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Will the hon. Gentleman not recall, however, that we supported the same policy when it was being applied by the Labour Government?

Mr. John

The whole point of the Labour Government's policy was that it exempted Northern Ireland from the exercise and recognised that there were parts of the country that could not be treated on a proportionality basis. That was acting in the best interests of Northern Ireland.

I am a little worried about the number of reports, consultations on reports and studies of consultations on reports that are being undertaken. Far more is going into the machine than is coming out in the form of power at the other end.

The Government will have to decide on matters such as the Chilvers report and others. The hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) mentioned the debate on Harland and Wolff, but he did not mention the most remarkable feature of that debate. I shall not dwell on it at length, because there is soon to be a meeting of the Northern Ireland Committee, but there was an amazing instance of the report that did not emerge—our equivalent of Conan Doyle's dog that did not bark.

We were told that there had been a long-standing study of Harland and Wolff that was held up because a civil servant was ill. The immediate subvention to the company could not be given because we had to see the overall report. However, the subvention has now been given and the orders have been placed, but the report has still not come out. Indeed, the Government have announced a further study for the autumn on the cost efficiency of Harland and Wolff and the possible reorganisation of the board.

Mr. Peter Robinson

I think that the hon. Gentleman has had it. All that the House is likely to get from the report is the part contained in the Minister's statement. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the Minister said that he would not publish the report. All that we got were the conclusions that die Minister drew from the report.

Mr. John

I appreciate that the conclusions of Ministries are boiled down from the raw material, but that must be the greatest process of reduction ever known in governmental circles.

The Minister of State said that Shorts' corporate plan would soon be issued. I remind him that in our previous debate on the economy I mentioned, as did the hon. Member for Belfast, East, that the corporate plan was then already overdue. We have had another three months without the plan being introduced. In the meantime, the company has worked without regard to its cash limits because it did not know them.

I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us that the Short Bros. 336 airliner will be backed. An announcement this week seemed to imply that Government funds would be committed, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) mentioned school meals, and the hon. Member for Epping Forest asked whether my hon. Friend had any evidence that the absence of a school meal or school milk had any effect on the nutrition of children. Without wishing to be too offensive, I must say that the hon. Member did not betray a great awareness of the value of school meals in an essentially poor economy. We all agree that it is a low-wage, poor economy. Therefore, the inability of parents—many of whom are unemployed for long periods—to replace with an adequate dietary balance the midday meal in school is probably greater than it is even in Dorset or other areas where we are so critical of the removal of school meals.

If we look at the figures of the take-up of school meals, we see that they have been 20 per cent. down in the north-eastern board and 30 per cent. down in the south-eastern board within the last few months. That shows how much it is a change for the worse. I see the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) shaking his head. He has only recently joined us. I hope that he will do me the honour of following some of the arguments in the debate before he intervenes.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)


Mr. John

I said that I hoped the hon. Gentleman would follow the argument. That implied that he should listen before he intervenes. I hope that he will do so.

Twenty thousand schoolchildren have lost free school meals. In a period of heightening unemployment and worsening public provision, it is highly dubious that they could receive any comparable nutrition.

The reason given for the increased charges for school meals was that this would maintain the classroom provision. Lord Elton, who has been quoted more than any other Minister in various areas of the debate today, said in the Belfast Telegraph on 21 March that the only alternative to raising school meal charges by 67 per cent. and cutting the provision of school milk was to make severe inroads into the classroom. That is happening despite this measure.

There is a recent report from Mr. McCloughlin, the chairman of the committee of the western education board. He complains that the budget for books and materials. which is usually issued in March or April of every year, has not yet been announced. When will it be announced? The board is working on last year's figures and cannot order books and materials in anything like the same quantity because inflation has eroded the position since last year. He estimated that the board would need a 20 per cent. increase in the primary school budget and a 21 per cent. increase in the secondary school budget merely to stand still in real terms in the provision of books and materials. He said—I hope that the Minister will comment on it—that his information was that the board would be allowed only 10 per cent. compensation for inflation.

The reason that Lord Elton gave for raising the cost of school meals—namely, the preservation of the quality of education in the classroom—will be threatened. It will not be maintained despite the Government circular which promised to maintain, or even improve, the quality of education in Northern Ireland.

I turn to Class IX, Vote 1, which deals with health. In that area, 90 per cent. of the population who seek medical care need only general practitioner care. That is not surprising in an area of low pay and bad social conditions. Although 90 per cent. of the customers go to the GP service, 70 per cent. of the National Health Service budget goes towards hospitals and hospital services. There is a new 540-bed wing in Belfast city hospital, and there is a new 300-bed hospital in Antrim. Although the costs of those are taken into account, the running costs will pre-empt another slice of the NHS budget. Is it not time to consider a bigger drive not only towards smaller hospitals but to see whether we could get better value for money from the GP services and community care? Our priorities deserve renewed consideration.

The poverty-based illnesses, which are all too common in Northern Ireland, would respond better to general practitioner and community care than to hospitalisation. The nearer that we get to the people with medical care, the better. One of the great indicators of poverty is the level of perinatal mortality. Unhappily, Northern Ireland has an outstanding record for being one of the worst countries in Western Europe.

The topicality of the subject arises from the publication this week of the report of the Select Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) which deals with perinatal mortality.

I understand that the Baird Committee is due to report in August or September on that very issue. I hope that the Minister will consider, first, that the Short committee was rightly critical of what it described as cattle market conditions for those who attend hospitals for antenatal care. Secondly, of more concern are those at higher risk who come especially from poorer socioeconomic groups and who do not seek antenatal care. I refer to those who do not go to clinics. These are young women who, according to surveys, read nothing or read little but trivial material and to whom all the advertisements in the world about the advantages of antenatal care do not get across.

In paragraph 276 of the Short report, reference is made to setting up commando groups to try to ascertain how many women are not attending their GPs in an attempt to persuade them to do so. I hope that the Minister will consider the application of that proposal in Northern Ireland and will ascertain how the message can be put across in an area that has a tragic record of either infant mortality or of infants being born malformed who ought never to be so born.

I turn finally to one of the most emotive issues raised during the debate. It has been taken up by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast. West (Mr. Fitt) and the hon. Members for Epping Forest, for the Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) and for Armagh (Mr. McCusker)—namely, energy.

Classes II and III are a result of the 1977 British Gas Corporation report. It is important to note that the corporation had as its terms of reference only the costs and revenues of the gas industry. It did not have as part of its terms of reference the wider implications.

The previous Labour Government paid serious regard to the report although they reached no final conclusion. They gave serious attention to the issue of denying Northern Ireland a gas pipeline. I think that the matter should be rethought in the light of new factors that have emerged in the past 15 months.

As the hon. Member for Armagh says, the argument about cost is by no means as clear as it appeared to be at first. I have seen figures in various publications this week. The cost of the closure of the pipeline is put at from about £78 million, which is the Government's estimate, to £200 million. Much depends on the criteria that are being used. There is a great deal of uncertainty. However, it is certain that it will be anything but a cheap operation.

Secondly, the Coopers and Lybrand report challenges the cost benefit analysis which makes the oil pipeline a much dearer proposition than the closure of the gas industry, especially if there is the possibility of a 40 per cent. EEC grant on a cost of £120 million. The balance, even on the Government's figures, is not too far apart. The Government need to take account of that.

The same report weakens the argument currently being advanced that increase of gas supplies must necessarily be at the expense of electricity. That is not the experience of the rest of the United Kingdom, where gas replaced solid fuel, a replacement of which I do not approve. It also replaced domestic heating by oil. The significance of that is that even in Northern Ireland 50 per cent. of the domestic heating is by oil. When we take into account the fact that 90 per cent. of the electricity units are generated by oil, we see that there is a frightening dependence on oil in the Province.

The Minister has also announced the suspension of the second phase of the Kilroot power station, ostensibly to await the decision of yet another study of energy provision in Northern Ireland. The argument appears to be about whether it should continue as it is—dual-fired—whether it should go over to being purely coal-fired or whether the decision should be suspended indefinitely until the demand rises to necessitate the second phase being built.

If we take either the suspension or the dual-firing, with oil as the primary source of electricity generation, we again return to the point that Northern Ireland is more dependent on oil for its fuel than any other part of the United Kingdom. The Great Britain figure for the generation of electricity is 16 per cent. oil compared with 19 per cent. in Northern Ireland.

There is no fuel whose future is more uncertain than, or whose price is likely to rise as swiftly as, that of oil. The hon. Member for Armagh talked about further finds. Unfortunately, further finds in the North Sea do not guarantee that oil can be supplied more cheaply in the British market, as we have seen from the tying of the price to the OPEC price. It may make us a richer nation in world terms, but it does not help the domestic consumer in Northern Ireland. He nevertheless has to pay inflated prices.

I ask the Minister to take into account in his review the following points. First, should be not reconsider a gas pipeline for natural gas, from whichever source it comes? Secondly, what difficulties and dangers does he foresee for Northern Ireland as a result of giving oil an amazing stranglehold on its economy? Thirdly, does he still believe, as he seemed to indicate at one time, that the industrial electricity subsidy is a waste of resources and needs to be phased out?

My view was and remains that the electricity subsidy to enable Northern Ireland to compete on the same terms, to maintain its competitive nature, by having comparable costs of heat and fuel in its enterprises, is one of the best ways in which industrial incentive money can be spent. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reverse the indications that he has given and say that the Government now see a long-term industrial subsidy as one of the platforms of their programme.

One of the arguments against having a diversity of fuels in Northern Ireland is the spectacle, which we have on this side of the water as well, of gas competing with electricity and with solid fuel and all of them cutting each other's throats, thus creating wasteful duplication. if the Minister believes that we should have a diversity in choice of fuel to preserve Northern Ireland from the possible consequences of possible monopoly by any one fuel, should be not consider the creation of an overall public body—perhaps a holding board or similar board—charged with the supply and distribution of all types of fuel in Northern Ireland, so that fuel use may be optimised in a way which is not possible when there are different, competing interests?

It could be optimised both as to price and as to type of fuel.

I put it to the Minister seriously that the world's energy sources are being depleted so rapidly that he cannot possibly be happy at trying to foresee what will happen to oil, what will happen to coal or what will happen to natural gas. That is why I think that Northern Ireland will be protected by diversity whereas it will be harmed by monopoly. That is a way in which Ministers could properly reassure people who are anxious at one and the same time about the admitted over-capacity to generate, which exists in Northern Ireland at the moment, and yet feel that they might be a hostage to fortune if only one fuel is used. I hope that the Minister can respond positively to that suggestion.

3 pm

The Under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Giles Shaw)

It is traditional that in an Appropriation debate of this kind Members range over a wide selection of topics and, whilst I shall do my best to answer something from each contribution in the relatively short time to which I want to confine my remarks, I hope that hon. Members will accept the traditional method that where matters have been raised and not answered, they will be taken up in correspondence with them directly.

It is fair to say that there have been three or four themes that have recurred amongst Members' contributions during the debate, and I should prefer to start with those. The first has been the general anxiety about the economy and the trends within the economy. My hon. Friend the Minister of State dealt with the present position in relation to the current standstill and review and I do not propose to develop that further. Hon. Members were right to express their grave anxiety about the prodigious commercial and industrial difficulties that we face in Northern Ireland. Certainly in sectors that have shown themselves to be most at risk—and one thinks particularly of the textile sector, which was mentioned by several hon. Members—there are severe conditions ahead. Equally in man-made fibres, which is a generator of textile production, we have seen the major effect of factories largely outside the Province's influence. I refer to the international price of energy in that regard.

It is certainly the Government's intention that in seeking to design policies to deal with the short-term difficulties, the Department of Commerce shall provide assistance where that can be shown to be necessary to sustain an enterprise in a short period of difficulty, provided that viability after that period is to all intents and purposes assured. Certainly I can say to hon. Members that naturally the Department has had a significant number of increases in the seeking of assistance of this kind.

But I must equally say to hon. Members that in many instances the trends and pressures upon industrial sectors are of a kind that neither short-term assistance nor Government action in itself can solve and that where there has been, for example, substantial over-capacity developed within a sector, where a sector has designed and developed a business based upon costs that can no longer be realistically applied, forces of economic consequence will most assuredly cause adjustments to be made, and it is not part of this Government's policy to fly in the face of the facts of economic life.

Hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and others, also related these pressures to agriculture, and I am made clearly aware of the pressures on the intensive sector where costs of energy and transportation have been high. We have had a number of serious discussions with, in particular, the Pig Marketing Board and other representative bodies, and with the Ulster Farmers Union, and I know full well the deep anxiety felt within the intensive production sectors for eggs, poultry and pigs.

The Government's position is best summarised by the fact that the feed price allowance which was the basis of this system is no longer applicable within the Community—no longer acceptable to the Community—and that therefore a renegotiation of a scheme to take its place is one of the tasks that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is undertaking. We believe that a scheme can be produced to provide a further injection of capital into the pig and poultry sector and into the feed grain using sectors, but they will be capital schemes based upon investment and will affect the processing and marketing side of those industries and not directly the production side. However, there will be assistance in that form.

Secondly, we must make sure that all those who are engaged in the intensive livestock sector can be given as much assistance as possible to overcome present short-term difficulties. One thinks here particularly of assistance of a marketing kind, of a selling kind, of an expansionist kind, because in many instances the products are by no means going to markets where there is no room for further expansion. Discussions of this kind are certainly going on, but I fully accept the anxiety of hon. Members about substantial difficulties over maintaining the existing size of herds and the existing size of the industry itself in the intensive livestock sector.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) laid stress, among many other matters, on school meals and school milk. This concern was reflected by others.

I have to remind the House of the steps taken by my noble Friend Lord Elton in relation to education expenditure, but there is still a significant sum being spent on the school meals service. Some £20 million will be spent even though some £6 million has been saved within that sector. It is certainly important that everybody recognises that this is by no means a total reduction of the service, although it is a contraction.

The provision of school milk is a source of anxiety. There is the possibility that the revised proposals from the European Community about school milk and the offer of some FEOGA assistance will allow the subject of school milk supply to be reviewed. I know that my noble Friend is considering the matter and will no doubt give it early consideration, because it has some effect upon the problems of the dairy industry and the supply of milk generally.

Many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, mentioned the Government's decision on the Sports Council. Although I would not wish to prevent my noble Friend from writing individually to hon. Members, I think it would be right to lay some stress upon the present position. As has already been announced, the Government have made clear that they propose to introduce amending legislation to deprive the Sports Council of its executive functions. This will make it unnecessary for the Council to have its own paid staff and premises, but will leave it in existence as a purely advisory body.

It is proposed that the functions already exercised by the Sports Council in providing financial support for the governing bodies of sport in Northern Ireland should be transferred to the Northern Ireland Department of Education, while the task of providing grants to voluntary bodies for sports equipment and for local schemes will cease to be undertaken by the Council and, instead, district councils will be encouraged to use their existing powers for this purpose. Informal consultations with all those concerned are in progress.

I ask hon. Members to remember that we are not proposing the abolition of the Sports Council. What we propose is a change in the way in which it is serviced. Contrary to what some hon. Members seem to expect, that will not result in the ending of any major support service at present received either by the public or by the governing bodies of sport. The planned savings will be made out of the administrative and staffing head of the Council's budget.

I must mention in that regard that the fact the total budget is about £720,000, of which nearly £300,000, or 41 per cent., is spent on staffing and administration can hardly be regarded as a demonstration of great efficiency. I cannot at present say when the draft order will be laid, but prior to that and after publication of the proposed draft there will be a period during which representations may be made to the Government, and those representations will be given careful consideration.

Pending the making of the order and having regard to the considerable level of over-staffing and duplication of effort revealed by a recent review of the Council's work, the Government have told the Council to reduce its staff to 31 from 42. In taking their decision to reduce the Council's functions the Government took account of a number of unsatisfactory features of the Council's performance, including the over-staffing already mentioned and the large proportion of its budget which appears to have been devoted to administration.

In carrying this matter forward the Government will of course have full regard to points made by hon. Members in today's debate. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will also take into account representations made to him personally by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will take that as being the present position.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Is it the Minister's intention to give the Civil Service the task of running the mountaineering scheme?

Mr. Shaw

I cannot answer the hon. Member's question, but no doubt it will be taken up and answered in correspondence.

Mr. Pendry

The Minister referred to over-staffing. I referred to the 1979 study, which came to the conclusion that five extra staff were needed. That has not been answered by the Minister.

Mr. Shaw

I accept that I have not replied to that. I must ask my noble Friend to write to the hon. Member about it, because it is a detailed point, although I accept that it arises fairly from a previous report. But let the hon. Member be under no illusion: in relation to bodies of this kind it is vital that we carry out a periodic review. As Pliatsky said on page 21 of his report: fringe bodies should not be allowed to continue indefinitely in set ways without a fresh look being taken from time to time both at the need for their continued existence and at the success or otherwise of their form of organisation and method of operations. That is just as fairly applied to the Sports Council as to those bodies to which the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) drew attention in terms of training boards and other such bodies where some attempt should be made to improve efficiency and avoid duplication of effort.

I return to another main theme of the debate. I refer to the problems of Harland and Wolff, which were mentioned in many speeches, especially by my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) and the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). I fully understand the anxiety of my hon. Friend in suggesting that the recent announcement of the £42½ million assistance for Harland and Wolff was to be widely criticised because, he considered, the company did not justify such a level of support. The contrary view was taken by the hon. Member for Belfast, East. Let me state clearly what we are proposing. We propose to allow expenditure up to this amount to be undertaken by the company in the ensuing year. We are giving the company this support because we believe that during this period it is essential to keep the company maintaining its operation.

My hon. Friend drew attention to productivity problems. He is perfectly right to say that the productivity record, even within the last year, when I promised that it would be carefully reviewed, cannot of itself have satisfied me that the additional funding would be justified. But we also have to take into account the fact that the company has now succeeded in obtaining an order for two vessels, which would be at risk if we were not able to maintain the company as an effective and productive force within shipbuilding.

Furthermore, the completion of existing orders—and my hon. Friend has often queried the timings and dates of completions—would also be at risk unless we were able to maintain an adequate input into the company. What we have not said in that statement—and I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise this—is that for ever and a day shipbuilding will continue at Harland and Wolff come hell or high water. We have made it clear that this is still strictly on the understanding that a market for shipbuilding will justify the enterprise and that it can compete within that market.

Furthermore, we have stated that by introducing an independent review team it is our intention to put some urgency into finding other activities where the skills and the estate available can be used for other, more viable, long-term proposals. In that way we shall seek to reduce the extent to which the company is solely dependent upon its shipbuilding operation.

But within that shipbuilding operation productivity is crucial. In relation to the comments of my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Belfast, East, it is a fact that the productivity negotiations that the management and the unions have undertaken have now resulted, as I understand it, in a wage claim being settled which has been financed totally by improvements in productivity. If, as I hope, this agreement is ratified within a few days by the unions and management concerned, about 26 major points of productivity improvement will have been achieved by negotiation. This, I suspect, is an important demonstration of what I believe can and should be achieved in that yard—namely, a wholehearted attitude to improve productivity and performance.

Another major matter running through the debate has been the question of De Lorean, though it was most importantly raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford. I can say to him precisely that the negotiations with the Alfa Romeo company have been terminated and there is no ongoing involvement. I can also say to him that the NIDA directors who are currently on the board were not those involved in the bringing of the project into the Province. I can also say to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that the arrangements for the supply of steelwork from the company located in the South of Ireland does not in any way involve the De Lorean company, either in a shareholding or in anything else. I understand that the company concerned in the South of Ireland is a subsidiary of a German company. But spin-off from the De Lorean investment is one of the claims that we make for it, and my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford is quite rightly critical of the substantial investment that has so far been made and the prospect that the company has still not found it sufficient to launch its motor car. The fact remains that it is an enormous enterprise which could, if successful, provide a substantial number of jobs.

On the specific point of the company's further application for funding, I indicated in answer to questions last week that the company's programme for the development of this motor car had recently slipped by something like three months. Hon. Members will realise—certainly the hon. Member for Knutsford will realise—that this involves increased costs of about £1½ million per month and that, therefore, the decision on the company's application is one which is now more complicated than it was. I cannot say to my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford that I shall be in a position to make the anonuncement before the House rises for the Summer Recess, although, as far as I am aware, the date of the recess is not yet clear. However, if I am not in a position to be able to make the decision on that application, I do not believe it is right to give the undertaking for which my hon. Friend asked—namely, that no financing of the company shall be undertaken during the period between the start of the recess and the return of the House in the autumn. If it is agreed that there should be funding, it will be agreed because it is seen to be necessary, desirable and urgent. If it is not agreed that there should be funding, a decision of that kind, whilst not involving the problem posed by my hon. Friend, must also flow forward. We cannot hold up decisions of this kind in relation to a major commercial enterprise merely because the House is not sitting at a particular time. What I can undertake, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford is aware, is that if a decision for additional funding is taken it will require a Supplementary Estimate, which will generate an opportunity for a debate in the House.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

I have listened very carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, but I must put it to him that, so far as we know, the application has been on the carpet for six months. It is a little hard to understand that, if the matter can wait for six months, it cannot wait for an additional six weeks so that the House can have a proper opportunity to scrutinise the matter. We have already committed enormous sums to this project, and to commit more during the period of the recess seems to me to raise anxieties about proper parliamentary scrutiny of public expenditure.

Mr. Shaw

I take my hon. Friend's point, although I am somewhat surprised that his recess appears to be only six weeks in length. I put it to him that what he and the House would wish me to do would be to make certain that we processed the application with the greatest possible care in relation to the husbanding of taxpayers' money. That is the principle to be applied. If it takes a substantially longer time than was originally thought, I apologise personally to my hon. Friend that this has happened, but I do not apologise for the principle of taking very great care over a complicated application of this kind.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North raised a number of points, but he was the first in the debate at that stage to touch upon the gas industry, a subject which has been widely taken up by other hon. Members. I consider it vital that I should spend a few minutes dealing with the point.

The presentation to me from the Gas Employers' Council of its report conducted by Coopers and Lybrand does not itself constitute a reason why the decision announced last July should not proceed. That report provides an independent study by another source of information which suggests that viability for this project can be proved. What I undertook to do for the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) was to study that report with the care which the cost and complexity of the matter so fully deserve. That was the undertaking that I gave. At the same time, I made it clear to the hon. Member, as I am sure he recognised, that the Government's decision must stand in respect of the position we are now in, namely, that consultations are proceeding, plans are being laid for the closure rundown and the discussions must proceed.

In respect of the Coopers and Lybrand report, it is certainly the case that they claim that viability can be achieved, given certain parameters. However, what is immediately clear from the projections contained in the report is that, together with the deficits already incurred in 1970–80, about £130 million of accumulated deficits would accrue over the next 13 years. The report itself concedes that in 20 full years of operation of the natural gas network the net profits in later years are insufficient to clear the accumulated deficits from the earlier years. This is despite an assumption of EEC aid at a level of 30 or 40 per cent.

This is the kind of problem which leads us to question whether it is the right sort of expenditure when such clear assumptions are made that extremely large cumulative deficits are involved. I note, incidentally, that the Northern Ireland Economic Development Council, in welcoming the report, did not in its statement deal with the important considerations of deficit financing. I have made it clear to hon. Members, too, that in addition to the capital involved in the closure there will be deficit financing during the period of closure, though a singularly smaller order than that involved in the Coopers and Lybrand report.

I suggest, therefore, to hon. Members who have raised that issue and who have suggested, as did the hon. Member for Pontypridd, that we should, as it were, have a moratorium while we re-examine the problem that, from what I have so far seen of the report, I do not consider that such a moratorium would be justified. I have agreed to ensure that the report is given the fullest possible consideration as a document because, rightly, the hon. Member for Armagh and other hon. Members say that we can now demonstrate, at least on the parameters involved in the Coopers and Lybrand report, that there is viability at the end of this tunnel. I have to give careful consideration to the points which have been made. In the meantime, the Government's decision of last July must proceed.

Pressure from hon. Members, most of whom raised the issue in respect of gas, turns upon the matter of compensation and conversion grants. I am aware how important this is to everybody who has been concerned in the Province to minimise the effects of the decision that has been announced. I remind hon. Members that, had financial support not been provided to undertakings during the period when the gas industry was operating, many consumers would already have left the industry, probably in greater numbers than those who have changed through the natural process of price and satisfaction.

There is undoubtedly a case that in respect of the decision taken we must have special care for those who are unable to meet the costs of conversion. In particular, we must have special care for low income families and those on supplementary benefit and on family income supplement. This commitment still pertains. While the details of the compensation scheme have yet to be announced, I give the House, and in particular hon. Members who raised the issue the undertaking that we propose to assist the families on supplementary benefit and those in receipt of family income supplement to the extent of 100 per cent. of the reasonable cost of replacement of gas appliances in areas where undertakings have decided to close.

Mr. McCusker

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the British Gas Corporation will look to people on low incomes and on family income supplement in Scotland and assist only them 100 per cent. on that basis? If the Gas Corporation gives 100 per cent. conversion grant to consumers in Scotland, are not consumers in Northern Ireland entitled to 100 per cent. irrespective of their circumstances?

Mr. Shaw

I must ask the hon. Member to await publication of the details of the compensation he has proposed, but in view of the pressure which has been voiced by hon. Members today about the low income families, in particular the point made by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in this regard, I felt it right to indicate that we shall be offering 100 per cent. compensation to those on family income supplement and on supplementary benefit.

Another theme that ran through the debate relating to gas but slightly different from it was energy in total. I had a number of requests asking whether the question of gas could be referred to the committee which is examining electricity problems. The hon. Member for Pontypridd also asked for information on the Kilroot project and raised a question about the future policy for electricity pricing. Let me say right away that it has been our view—in part, this was why we were so concerned about the energy problem in the Province—that we should look most closely at the electricity position, because that is an energy source of far greater use, both industrially and domestically, than many others. It certainly offers a much greater percentage of the Province's thermal energy requirement than gas, which offers only some 3 per cent.

The House should be made aware that we have set up an urgent review committee to look at the question of electricity pricing and the electricity service, because, clearly, the problems that have been raised by hon. Members in the debate indicate their great anxiety that the levels of electricity tariffs are now at a point where the Government should examine the position with care.

This has its effect on the question of Kilroot. It is for that reason that we announced last week that there would be a closure of work on the development of the subsequent stages in the Kilroot project. This will enable the committee to review the prospects for the switching to coal that has been put forward by the electricity service and for which hon. Members have long since argued in relation to the dependence of that project on oil-firing to date. Until the review has been completed, I cannot comment upon the prospects for the conversion of Kilroot to coal, nor, indeed, on the structure of a subsidy scheme such as the hon. Member for Pontypridd raised, but I assure the House that it is our intention that the committee should proceed as fast as possible to review these problems, because I recognise their urgency and their very great importance to the Province.

I should like to refer to one or two other points that were raised by individual Members, which are not perhaps of the same scale of problem as that concerning gas and energy. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) wanted me to give him an undertaking in relation to the closures that have been announced in Daintifyt and other companies within the Courtaulds group. I give him the undertaking that I will agree to meet representatives of that company with himself at a date to be arranged.

The right hon. Member for Down, South asked that we should look again at the costs involved in the surveys for the Carlingford Lough problem and improving access to Warrenpoint. I agree with him that on the figures that have so far been talked about the costs involved in both the survey work and the projected improvements to the channel are of such a high order as to make it virtually impossible to accept them, at least as a practical proposition, but I shall do my best in answer to the right hon. Gentleman to see whether we can find a way to survey the problem at low cost and find a more acceptable estimate for the work which may be done. I think that he will know from his deep experience of these matters that it is not all that easy to calculate what will be involved in deepening the channel, but I accept the point that, until the port at Warrenpoint has free and regular access, its development must be restricted.

I also accept, a point made by others as well as the right hon. Gentleman, that the port of Warrenpoint is a vital development within the Province and I am worried that the fall-off in traffic which resulted from the Coastal Containers decision means that there is a 20 per cent. reduction in volume through that port, but I am assured that the harbour authority is taking every step it can to try to replace that by other business and is certainly still actively pursuing a number of possibilities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison), in a very eloquent speech, said that the Province would benefit from the Government's attempts to reduce inflation and from the success of the Government's economic policies. It is a fact that Northern Ireland, which is an economy that has always been sustained when the British economy moves well, will in due course certainly obtain the full benefits from our efforts. Although the Government have sought in recent times to contain spending, the Province certainly has the benefit that such spending is confined to areas where a proper and adequate return can be made so that the industries within the Province can be developed and can survive.

Many other issues were raised and to answer them all now would take another half hour. If that were to be the case some Northern Ireland Members would miss the 4.30 pm. shuttle. If that were to happen—

Rev. Ian Paisley

We have missed it.

Mr. Shaw

I was about to say that, such would be the ill will of the Northern Ireland Members here, that that of itself would be a reason why I should draw my remarks to a close.

I conclude by saying that we shall consider all the observations of hon. Members, some in relation to their constituencies and some in relation to other aspects that I have not covered in this summing up. My right hon. Friend and my hon. Friends will write to hon. Members concerned about matters which have not been dealt with in this winding up.

The Appropriation orders for which we are seeking approval today are important if constitutionally still interesting, but it is essential that we proceed to ensure that the Province has funding that will enable its economic and agricultural life to continue, and I trust that the Appropriation order will meet with the wishes of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 19 June, be approved.

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