HC Deb 13 March 1980 vol 980 cc1668-742

9.3 pm

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

I beg to move, That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 29th February, be approved. This draft order is being presented under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974.

The main purpose of the order is to authorise the issue out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund of an additional £93 million for 1979–80, and this is detailed in part I of the schedule. The Vote on account for 1980–81 set out in part II of the schedule enables us to have cash in hand at the commencement of the next financial year but has no relationship to proposed actual expenditure for 1980–81. The provision is a crude 45 per cent. of what is expected to be spent this year, 1979–80. Parliament is simply being asked to approve the release of money now, so that sufficient cash will be available to meet the expenditure of Northern Ireland Departments between 1 April 1980 and the date on which the total amounts provided for in the 1980–81 main Estimates become available. The House will have an opportunity to consider these Estimates in detail in a few months' time, so I shall concentrate my remarks this evening on the additional provision which is being sought for the current financial year.

The services for which extra money is required in 1979–80 are listed in part I of the schedule to the draft order, and further details are contained in the Northern Ireland spring Supplementary Estimates volume, copies of which are available in the Library. Northern Ireland Members and spokesmen for the Opposition parties have also received a copy of an explanatory memorandum which I have circulated to them, as I proposed during the last debate in this House on 11 December 1979. I trust that this practice has proved helpful.

As on the two previous occasions on which this Administration have presented appropriation orders, my ministerial colleagues are with me on the Government Front Bench so that full answers may be given to matters relative to their departmental responsibilities and in respect of which right hon. and hon. Members have been kind enough to give advance notice.

Hon. Members will have noted from the documents to which I have referred that the single most significant feature of these Estimates is the proportion which relates to public sector pay increases, some £51 million out of a total of just over £93 million. The £51 million is spread across several of the Votes in the spring Supplementary Estimates volume, but the main groups of staff are teachers, for whom a further £11 million is sought, Health Service staff, for whom an additional £29 million is included, and civil servants, for whom £4½ million is sought.

Pay in the public sector in Northern Ireland is determined in almost every instance by reference to corresponding pay groups in Great Britain, and the bulk of the additional provision now being sought arises out of agreements which apply on a national basis. Furthermore, all pay rises provided for in the spring Supplementary Estimates have, of course, been approved by the responsible authority. Nevertheless, I think it is worth while reflecting for a moment on the claim which public sector pay makes upon resources and, hence, the burden which it imposes on the general body of taxpayers, including, of course, employees in the public sector. Nor should those responsible for negotiating pay settlements, whether in the public or private sectors, lose sight of the inflationary implications of pay increases which are not matched by increases in productivity.

It will, perhaps, help to put the extra £51 million required for pay awards in perspective if it is compared with a cost of around £30 million for a new 600-bed hospital, the cost of 3,000 kidney machines, the cost of acute hospital services for 2,000 in-patients a year or an average £1.3 million per mile for a new dual carriageway.

I turn to the more detailed aspects of the draft order. I should like to draw the attention of the House to Class II, Vote 3, in which a net addition of just over £11 million is being sought to permit the Government's industrial development drive to be sustained. In particular, some £14 million is required to enable the Department of Commerce to meet loan commitments in respect of several major new projects which have come to fruition since the main Estimates for the current year were considered by the House last summer.

The local enterprise development unit needs an additional £2 million to match the increased level of investment by small firms in Northern Ireland and the development agency requires an extra £4 million of public dividend capital. The overall requirements for this Vote are, however, partly offset by a reduction in grants and loans issued by the Northern Ireland Development Agency under direction from the Department of Commerce and by a saving of about £9½ million which is attributable to the four-month deferment of the payment of capital investment grants.

Hon. Members will recall that in the course of the appropriation order debate in December I referred to the reviews which have been undertaken of the present institutional arrangements for carrying on industrial development work in Northern Ireland and on the competitiveness and cost-effectiveness of the incentives available for new and expanding industry. Members will be interested to learn that an announcement of the Government's decisions in relation to these reviews will be made before Easter.

In Class III, Vote 1, provision is included for an additional £5 million for assistance to the gas industry in Northern Ireland. This is mainly in respect of the revenue deficits incurred by the gas undertakings during their 1978–79 trading years, for which Government support was promised in the statement on energy policy in Northern Ireland made to the House on 23 July last year.

The main increase in the housing Vote, Class V, Vote 1, is in Sub-head A1, which provides for an increase of almost £16 million for the revenue grant payable by the Department of the Environment to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The increase is attributable to a variety of causes, the main ones being pay increases, higher loan charges resulting from the rise in interest rates, greater expenditure on the maintenance of the housing stock, and the writing off of the accumulated deficit on the district heating account.

The House will recall that in the latter part of 1979 the Housing Executive launched a programme of house sales to tenants. Some 160,000 tenants have been offered the opportunity to purchase their homes with the benefit of generous discounts off market values depending on the length of tenancies. More than 20,000 tenants have expressed an interest in the scheme, and the Housing Executive is now processing the applications.

Finally, I should like to direct the attention of right hon. and hon. Members to the subject of education, which is covered by the Votes within Class VIII of the spring Supplementary Estimates, and in particular higher education, for which provision is made in Class VIII, Vote 2.

Hon. Members will know that higher education in Northern Ireland is currently being considered by a review group under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Chilver. The group's task is to consider the needs of the Northern Ireland community for higher education in the 1980s and the 1990s. I am pleased to report also that work on the group's main remit is proceeding well and that the final report is expected to be available in the spring of next year. An interim report is expected in May on teacher training arrangements in the light of changes in the school population.

I have confined my remarks to what I regard as the major features of the draft order now before the House. My hon. Friends and I shall, of course, try to answer any questions within our separate departmental responsibilities that may be raised by right hon. and hon. Members during the debate. If for any reason we cannot do so, the point will be noted and the Minister concerned will write to the right hon. or hon. Member. I commend the draft order to the House.

9.13 pm
Mr. Brynmor John (Pontypridd)

It is always pleasant to welcome the Government's willingness to meet the wishes of the House, and I warmly welcome the explanatory document that has been submitted. It is a comprehensive document, and it has helped our thinking and preparation for this debate.

In the censure debate two weeks ago, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that Northern Ireland was prepared to take its fair share of public expenditure cuts. Tonight we are considering what is fair in the Northern Ireland context. Does that mean—as the Government seem to think it does—a per capita assessment? Northern Ireland has 2.75 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom and under such an assessment should bear 2.75 per cent. of the cuts. Or should the assessment take account of the economic and social deprivation, both historical and current, in Northern Ireland? In The Guardian, under six expenditure heads, it was stated that Northern Ireland required 31 per cent. more than the rest of the United Kingdom.

Does the assessment also need to take account of the impact that a decline in the social and economic fabric has on the hopes of peaceful progress in Northern Ireland? There is no direct link between poverty and terrorism, but most people agree that economic and social decline imperil the security and constitutional advance to which hon. Members have directed so much attention recently.

Northern Ireland is more dependent upon public expenditure than any other area in the United Kingdom. Without it, prosperity levels would not be as high as they are. Since people are lower paid, the social wage—that is the standard of living provided by public expenditure—is more important to the lower paid than it is to the higher paid.

I sometimes think that the inhabitants of Northern Ireland have good reason to be critical of the time that we devote in the House to Northern Ireland economic and social issues. Even a debate on the Appropriation Fund is incomplete and premature. In exchanges following the Business Statement today, we heard that the public expenditure White Paper will not be published until the Budget announcement. That is Hamlet without the prince. There is no doubt that the White Paper will call for further expenditure cuts. The only guess that we have to make is exactly how much will be involved. The range runs from the Prime Minister's typically hip-shooting £2,000 million estimate during a television broadcast to the more modest £750 million which is all the spending Ministers have offered to the long-suffering Financial Secretary.

If Northern Ireland takes its fair—or, as I suggest, unfair—share of the cuts, all the matters that we are considering today will be affected, to the detriment of the well-being of the Northern Ireland people.

The Class I Vote on agriculture is of importance in itself and also because it affects employment in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) hopes to speak about that in more detail later. We are completely opposed to the proposed ending of the agricultural trust. That decision was taken without firsthand investigation. It is likely to damage the marketing effort which the Government seek to promote in the Province.

Class II involves a substantial amount of the Estimate. It represents a real difficulty. To the general recession that faces the United Kingdom must be added the chronic structural weakness of Northern Ireland's economy. Unemployment is at a level of 11.6 per cent.—the highest for 40 years, in spite of what was said at Question Time last Thursday—and is likely to rise substantially in the next few months.

Over 4,000 redundancies have occurred or been announced in Northern Ireland in the last two months. Jobs in prospect have amounted to only half that number. In 1979 there were nearly 9,000 redunancies and about 4,500 jobs in prospect. Jobs in prospect are always announced as if they were facts. As the Belfast Telegraph said, only about 50 per cent. of the jobs promised materialise. That is the experience of the Republic as well as of Northern Ireland. Such jobs do not occur in the same time scale. Redundancies occur here and now. Closures occur within weeks or months, whereas some jobs in prospect, about which we speak with pride, will not materialize until 1984 or 1985.

I am not trying to be partisan, but I am trying to indicate the serious nature of the problem. We must do at least twice as well in new job attractions even to match the present redundancies—in other words, to stand still. With an unemployment rate of 11.6 per cent., we must do far better than simply stand still. Such a note indicates the need to protect existing jobs, to maintain a high level of public investment and to maintain and promote a high level of public encouragement of investment.

I had believed that the question of the inquiry into the job creation agencies was, like Brigadoon, one that appeared every 100 years and was then promptly forgotten. This is at least the third time that I have solemnly been assured that the report of the inquiry is imminent. The Minister has narrowed the time in which the report can be announced, and I am grateful to him for that.

Mr. Rossi

The hon. Gentleman appreciates the difficulties that we face in these matters. We are at fault by about six weeks only since we first mentioned the possibility of the report being announced. That is nothing like as bad as his own Administration, who, over the review of the Rent Acts, promised a report for five years but never produced it.

Mr. John

The hon. Gentleman is attempting to introduce an unwarrantably partisan note into the debate—not, however, to my discomfort. The difference between the delay to which he referred and the delay of the inquiry's report is that that affects the morale of people still working in the Northern Ireland Development Agency and the local development employment unit. That is why I am glad that the announcement will be made as quickly as possible.

Whatever pressure exists, it is advantageous if people outside the Civil Service serve on these bodies. They inject outside ideas and outside influences into the discussions. I hope that whatever mechanism is devised will not remove the independent element in the discussions.

Our sins return to us from time to time. The Minister mentioned the Labour Administration's five-year delay. He will now, no doubt, regret his statement last November, when he said that he was not aware of any job that was in jeopardy as a result of the Government's public expenditure cuts. The combination of cuts in public expenditure and the cash limits—which assumed an 8 per cent. level of inflation, whereas inflation is more than 17 per cent.—has hit public authorities very hard indeed.

The closure of the Urban and Rural Improvement Corporation meant the loss of 1,300 jobs. Before 1982, 820 Civil Service jobs will disappear. In Enterprise Ulster, 800 jobs have been lost to date and there is every indication that there are more to follow. Those figures do not take account of the rather hazy effect of the selective employment premium, the abolition of which is provided for in the Estimates. The effect may be gauged by the fact that the claims upon that fund are said, in the Estimates, to be rather larger than was expected.

Those facts, together with the flood of private redundancies about which we read almost daily in the newspapers, paint an extremely gloomy picture for the Northern Ireland economy. The Cooper and Lybrand report forecast a 17 per cent. rate of unemployment. That means that 100,000 people will be unemployed in Northern Ireland. Even if one assumes that some of the criticisms of that report are justified and that the probable figure will be 14 per cent., that will still bring a great deal more misery to the Province.

This is not merely a general recession that affects all parts of the United Kingdom equally. In the Irish Times this week, the Secretary of State is reported as saying, in reply to the SDLP, that when the recession ends Northern Ireland will be well placed to take advantage of the prosperity that flows back. I hope that that statement will not mislead anybody. I am sure that it was not intended to mislead. However, we must recognise that Northern Ireland goes into this recession in a chronically disadvantaged position economically compared with other regions. Therefore, unless serious attempts are made to put that right during the recession, Northern Ireland will be disadvantaged when the upturn comes.

I should like to refer to three areas in the appropriations. The first relates to Lear aircraft. We have had some details about the form of loan, such as whether it will be taken by loan or equity share capital. There have been some optimistic noises about the number of orders that have already been obtained. But how likely is it that the jobs—numbered at 1,250—will be translated into reality? More important, when will that be achieved?

The second question, unfortunately, impinges on a number of Government Departments. How was the deal constructed? My information is that the Industrial Development Advisory Council was not consulted about the deal or about any facet of it. That is a generalised complaint which I shall have to raise two or three times during my speech. Bodies in Northern Ireland are now complaining that there has been a lack of consultation by the Government. That is extremely demoralising to people who spend a great deal of time and effort in serving the Province in that way.

When I was in Belfast last week, a news item suggested that another light aircraft industry was negotiating the possibility of coming to Northern Ireland. What are the prospects of that materialising?

Lear aircraft are included in the section which deals with aircraft and shipbuilding. I therefore want to deal with the serious position of Harland and Wolff. I have written to the Secretary of State about this, and I believe that the situation is indeed serious. We all welcome the £10 million order for marine engines that was announced this week. I believe that they are the slow-speed engines, about which negotiations took place for some time. That will help to stabilise the marine engine division of the shipbuilding firm. However, there are a number of other areas of acute anxiety.

First, I understand that steel work at the yard will run out at week 38—that is, in September. Unless work can be secured before the end of March, continuity cannot be ensured and further redundancies in the group will be inevitable. They will add to the present redundancy plans that will mature in April. That threatens the viability of the yard, and it is therefore necessary for the Government to take action.

There are four points on which I should like to press the Government. First, can the firm have permission to order steel before the end of this month in order to ensure that in September it is able to continue work? Secondly, can the Government now give a decision upon the financial bridging, which was referred to in October, for the construction of a bulk carrier by Harland and Wolff? I understand that that was tentatively in the process of being ordered by British Steel. However, if there is no such order, will the Government give permission to the firm to build a bulk carrier on speculation, so that the work force, which cannot be reassembled quickly, is not broken up?

Thirdly, while I accept that most naval work is highly specialised and is therefore inappropriate to Harland and Wolff, nevertheless the yards which undertake work for the Royal Navy are heavily loaded. There are Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels, which do not need such specialised equipment, which are in need of building or refurbishment. Can the Minister assure me that they will be considered for placement with Harland and Wolff, or will he accelerate the meeting which the unions have requested of the Ministry of Defence to discuss the well-being of those orders? Fourthly, is there a possibility of small orders being secured for the electrical department, so that the highly skilled work force is kept together?

What is the Government's view of the man-made fibre industry? The EEC's restrictions on imports have been described as too little and too late. Even employers have said that those restrictions are insufficient to prevent the redundancies that have already been announced. The shedding of labour in the man-made fibre industry was a constant feature last year. Apparently, that shedding of labour is without end. I hope that the Minister will give some reassurance to those who work in that sector.

As regards Class V, I remind the House that more than 20 per cent. of houses in Northern Ireland have only one of the basic amenities. Northern Ireland is the third most expensive area in the United Kingdom for new housing. The proportion of first-time home buyers is one of the lowest in the United Kingdom. The role of the Housing Executive is therefore crucial.

I record my disappointment that the Housing Executive will have to trim its budget by £16 million next year. In the Estimates we read that housing associations have fallen behind target. According to the explanatory legend, that appears to be the result of delays in land acquisition and the repayment of compensation. Perhaps the Minister will explain the reason for that in more detail. Are the Government satisfied that those delays will be minimised in future?

We cannot ignore the sudden rise in Housing Executive rents. They represent a rise of £1.60 a week. If someone is in receipt of a district heating scheme, that rise will constitute a rent rise of 50 per cent. How were those figures compiled? Were they the result of Government diktat? Obviously, that must be so. The Bel- fast Telegraph of 8 March 1980 contains a report to the effect that the Housing Executive had complained about a lack of consultation. It said that the first that it had heard of such rent rises was in a public announcement. If that is true, it represents a disgraceful state of affairs. The Government should clarify the position.

If the Housing Executive did not assist in compiling these figures, what is the Government's estimate of the effect of those rent increases on rent arrears? Will rent arrears increase from the present £10.6 million? if rent arrears are increased as a result of the Government's unilateral action, will the Housing Executive be penalised?

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

Of course, rent arrears will increase.

Mr. John

The hon. Gentleman is right. An increase in rent arrears is inevitable.

Turning to Class VIII, which covers education, I emphasise the need for consistency in order to remedy the deprivation and inequality of opportunity that has beset Northern Ireland for many years. It is with a sense of shock that we have realised that, by changing the base year, the apparent saving of £6 million demanded by the Government through school meals and transport will be a saving of £9.3 million. That represents an increase of 50 per cent. Again, that action was taken without consultation. The Irish National Teachers' Organisation complained that no one had approached it. That action was taken at the last moment and after the revised budget—needed to take account of the £6 million cut—had been prepared.

Even on the basis of £6 million—the lower basis—20,000 children will lose the school meals that they previously received. In rural areas a three-child family will pay an extra £8.40 a week on transport and meals. The Minister has given us a solemn lecture about how wage claims influence inflation. What about the Government-induced inflation which the scrapping of public expenditure and transfer to private expenditure will cause? On that basis, how can we expect parents to see education as anything other than an expense and for there to be pressure for children to leave school to earn money or receive State benefits as soon as possible?

The evidence is in the composition of the university population. In England and Wales, the children of manual workers form 23 per cent. of the university population. We are rightly critical of that. It is a gross under-representation of that class as a percentage of the population. In Northern Ireland it is only 10 per cent., which is a gross waste of talent, and the Government should immediately launch an inquiry and consider remedies.

The children of the poor tend to start in the education system at a disadvantage. They tend not to have the home advantage and, therefore, begin their education behind their contemporaries. Nursery schools are one answer, yet in Northern Ireland only 4 per cent. of children under five receive nursery education. A mother in England has four times the chance of day care for her child, including pre-nursery school groups, and 18 times the chance of getting her child into a nursery school. The situation in the Province is a disgrace, and we should try to remedy it.

The Government's response has been to announce this week proposals to change the duty on local education boards to a power to provide nursery education. Instead of providing more money to create more nursery places, they are saying to education boards that they can provide nursery education but that they do not have to if they do not want to do so.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is another part of the picture in Northern Ireland, where a substantial and comparatively high proportion of children below the age of five attend primary schools. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that, to some extent, a comparison of nursery schools alone is misleading.

Mr. John

I was about to deal with that. I reject the argument that that is a reason against nursery provision. The admission of children under age to primary schools results in grossly overcrowded classes.

To take again the figures issued by the Belfast Telegraph, 75,000 primary school children are in classes of 31 or more and 14,000 in classes of 36 or more. Individual attention is particularly important for the younger child, and especially so to remedy inherent deprivation and disadvantage.

Classes of that size are no substitute for nursery schooling. That is particularly so in the inner city. Belfast is probably the repository of many oversize classes and the worst conditions. However, in that area the board proposes to dismiss 80 primary school teachers in the next school year out of the 250 originally proposed. The December figures show that we have allowed 782 teachers to become unemployed. Faced with such an educational legacy, how can we allow that?

I appeal to the Government to use their Class VIII funds to increase nursery schools, particularly in the poorer areas. They should also launch an attack on the size of classes and take in unemployed teachers in so doing.

I believe firmly in the comprehensive system. Statistics show that the selective process overwhelmingly favours children from middle-class homes. If a child from a lower income family gets to a grammar school and into the fifth form, the pressure for him to leave to eke out the family income is tremendous. I agree wholeheartedly with the spokesman of the National Association of Schoolmasters in Northern Ireland about the need for a sixth form grant to be introduced in Northern Ireland. The Government should pioneer the grant. It would not remove all the disadvantages in the area, but it would remove a very significant cause of it. If young people of 16 and 17 believe that they can further their education without being a drain on their parents' budget, they are more likely to prolong their education, to the benefit of all.

I turn now to Class IX, dealing with health. I intend to deal only with the desperate problem of infant mortality. Northern Ireland is the worst area in the United Kingdom for infant mortality. It has one of the worst records in Western Europe. That is generally recognised to be an indication of poverty. Greater prosperity would help. I beg the Government not to fall into the trap of thinking that the key is better hospital facilities. The question of the inadequacy of care enters into the matter at a much earlier stage than that at which hospitals can be expected to cope. It depends on the level of community health care that is introduced. I should like to know the Government's thoughts.

Class XI relates, among other things, to the Commissioner for Complaints. We have seen the retirement of the original commissioner and the resignation of the new one. I believe that the resigner took the right and honourable course. It would have been better to have checked more thoroughly to avoid a highly embarrassing situation for all concerned. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration is acting for Northern Ireland. I should like to know whether the Government believe that he can physically manage this supervision. With the number of cases that seem to be proliferating in all parts of the United Kingdom, I think that the job should be split. If he can manage, is it intended to be a short-term or long-term appointment? If it is to be a short-term appointment, how long is that likely to be?

I hope that the tenor of my speech has not been to praise the record of the previous Labour Government and say how marvellous were matters before May and how wretched since that time. That would be an easy speech to make. What I want is that we should recognise the magnitude of the task ahead. Where our attitudes differ is over the realisation of the magnitude of those economic and social tasks.

The Government are complacent not in their individual care for Northern Ireland but in their public expenditure policies. That leads the Opposition to believe that it is not important to the Government whether Northern Ireland has a high state of public provision. Those policies will combine a reducing quality of service with burdens through extra charges on top of the higher cost of living that already prevails in Northern Ireland. The policies will impoverish the economic and social life of Northern Ireland at the very time that it needs to be enriched to aid the drive for peaceful progress in the Province. I appeal to the Secretary of State, with no great confidence, since I know that the die is probably already cast, to try to resist the public expenditure cuts that are threatened. Northern Ireland does not need them and cannot afford them.

9.43 pm
Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

I agree with much that the spokesman for the Opposition has said, but I disagree with one remark in relation to the Parliamentary Commissioner, who was appointed and then forced to resign. I say "forced to resign". He was placed in an untenable position. I believe that the Government were wrong in their handling of the situation. People have come to believe from the fact that he resigned that he had acted wrongly when he was chief officer of education. In fact, all that he had done was to give the principal of a school two weeks to put the school in order. Two weeks was not an unreasonable time, bearing in mind that the school had been inadequately run for years, and the school committee knew that.

The chief officer of education was rightly appointed to his post and he should have remained in it. He is not guilty of anything, but many people in Northern Ireland, because of the publicity, believe that he acted wrongly. The Government are at fault in forcing that gentleman's resignation. They should have told him to stand his ground.

I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) said. I pick out one matter only, and that is the question of the textile and clothing trades. Textile and clothing workers in Northern Ireland, like those in the rest of the United Kingdom, face a disastrous future. In 1968, 30,000 people were employed in the clothing trade in Northern Ireland. Since October last year 1,000 jobs have gone, and it seems that the present number employed will be further reduced by about 4,000 if the Department does not support the firms with the temporary short-time working compensation scheme.

These industries are competing not only against countries in the Far East such as China, the Philippines, and Hong Kong but also with Portugal and Eastern European countries. At a meeting held in the Palace of Westminster, I saw a suit that had come from Eastern Europe. That suit was being sold by the wholesaler to the retailer at £9.75 cannot be produced at that price in this country. The materials alone would cost that amount. The reason why such suits can be sold by the wholesaler at that price is that the exporting countries want the foreign currency.

Our manufacturers, whether in the clothing or the textile trades, are entitled to full support from the Government against such competition. I hope that the Government will help our manufacturers and completely suspend import licences for made-up clothing for a period of at least six months.

With regard to the fishing industry, the Government take the attitude that the money should be given for the construction of new vessels—especially the replacement of old vessels by new vessels. I urge the Government to bear in mind those skippers who wish to improve their boats and who so far have been refused Government grants. That is very short sighted and it is wrong.

I recently brought to the attention of the Minister responsible in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food a skipper who wished to install a new wheelhouse and other essential machinery in his boat to enable him to compete with others engaged in the fishing trade, and aid was refused. Yet hundreds of thousands of pounds can be granted to others, some of whom are not traditionally involved in the fishing industry, to enable them to construct new boats.

The appropriation order shows that expenditure on teacher education continues at much the same rate as previously, though allowing for inflation. However, the Government are looking for savings on school transport which will cause hardship for many families in Northern Ireland. What I do not understand is why the Government should swing the axe there when they could make cuts elsewhere in the education budget. For instance, I find it incomprehensible that the Government are still prepared to find money to continue sectarian divisions in teacher training. The number of students entering the three teacher training colleges is so small that there is no longer any justification for keeping three institutions in existence. A change in that situation would save £2 million a year, which would go a long way towards the total savings that the Government are seeking.

In opening this debate, the Minister referred to the Chilvers committee on higher education. It will deliver an interim report in May on teacher training in Northern Ireland. That will give the Government an opportunity to take decisions in the 1980–81 financial year which could save substantial sums of money. The sums saved could be used in preventing a charge for school transport or improving the teacher-pupil ratio in our schools. We must spend more money on education in Northern Ireland—not on administration but on the teaching side—in order to ensure that our children receive the very best instruction possible.

The Government could do a lot on the issue of sectarian education. It is lamentable that they have failed to grasp the nettle of sectarian education, just as their predecessors failed to do anything at all. In my opinion, Church and State should be kept separate and apart. Taxpayers' money should not be used to support, prolong or give sustenance to sectarian-based education in Northern Ireland.

Sadly, the reality is that taxpayers' money is used to maintain two separate systems of education. This is not only a waste of hard-earned money paid by people in taxes. It is even worse. Sectarian education divides the community. Children have a right to go to school together, to play, to learn and to grow up together. That fundamental right is being denied them and the result is the awful consequences, which the Government should not complacently accept, of educational apartheid which has existed far too long in Ulster.

This appropriation order gives the lie to the Government's claim that provision for health has not been cut in Northern Ireland. The Minister responsible for health repeated this claim in reply to a parliamentary question last week. The claim is a distortion of the facts. The £29 million extra for hospitals, community health and personal social services, outlined on page 59 of the spring Supplementary Estimates, is for pay awards only. There is no additional provision to meet the erosion in the purchasing power of money since the original estimate or the earlier appropriation order. Inflation has run at 17.8 per cent. over the last 12 months and compensation is to be paid at 14 per cent. That means that the health boards are nearly 4 per cent. worse off than they were last April. Next year it looks as if they will be a further 7 per cent. worse off. Against that background, how can the Minister claim that care of elderly patients is not adversely affected? Such a claim is beyond comprehension.

Last year we had a clear reduction in the capital programme, which includes care of the elderly. There is an accumulating effect with capital cuts. The major part of the staff of the four health boards over the next few years will need to be devoted to the care of the elderly in their homes, hospitals or other institutions. This means an internal reallocation of staff, resources and buildings.

The private homes for the elderly may need alterations or improvements, which the people cannot afford. The care of the elderly is a social priority which the Government must accept and which cannot be ignored. There is a desperate shortage—certainly in my constituency, and I think that it must apply to other parts of the Province—of places in old people's homes. There is equally a disgraceful shortage of hospital beds for the elderly. To the Government and the Civil Service, it amounts to statistics. But for those involved—the families who are no longer able to cope with elderly persons who quite clearly need hospital attention—it is unacceptable in this day and age that they are not provided with hospital beds or, if there is no one to look after them properly, that they are not accommodated in old people's homes.

Training schools for convicted persons or persons on remand need not be of as high a standard as homes for the aged or unfit. Millions of pounds were spent on the borstal in Millisle in my constituency whose function has changed. Much less would have been sufficient. The boys in the borstal there enjoy better conditions than many old people—even better than the conditions enjoyed by many people in the older schools. Why should young people who lead blameless lives and who are striving to improve themselves to be of benefit to the community be worse off than those in a borstal or similar institution? I do not suggest that the borstal boys should suffer. If the public realised the amount of money spent and the equipment provided, they would be surprised—because that money is not spent on their own children.

Replies to my recent parliamentary questions have shown that 74 per cent. to 78 per cent. of all recurrent expenditure goes on salaries and wages in the health services and 60 per cent. on educational services, hospitals, schools and welfare homes. It follows that all those will contract in the next financial year. The contraction will mean unemployment for teachers, nurses, medical staff and administrators.

I cite the overstaffing which exists in certain sectors. Take the case of the Royal Victoria hospital, for example. Far too much of its financial resources is dissipated on non-medical expenditure. Much of it is due to the extraordinary increase in the number of non-medical staff. Since the Mater hospital in Belfast came within the Health Service, the number of non-medical staff in the offices has increased six times. The taxpayer is entitled to ask why those jobs have been created. What are those people doing? Are they just shoving paper around from one office to the other? Why is not the money which goes on their salaries and wages spent on the patients in the hospital, on providing more beds or to provide in North Down a new hospital to replace the outdated hospital in New-townards, and, indeed, to make the Bangor hospital effective?

It would be a pity if cash limits, which are a crude instrument of expenditure control, were to lead to hasty decisions on savings. The need to show savings is more demanding than the careful working out of spending priorities. There is a difference between cuts which get rid of waste—there is evidence of a great deal of waste—and cuts which remove an essential service. There is a difference between cuts which force civil servants to think about priorities and cuts which are so severe that across-the-board savings have to be made with little attention to priorities and with great hardship to the people in Northern Ireland.

Four years of economic fasting may be good for the soul, but it is very bad for the unemployment figures, and unemployment in Northern Ireland is unacceptably high. I think that at the moment it is 11.6 per cent. A reliable forecast in Northern Ireland has put the figure of unemployment for 1981 at 90,000 or 100,000, and no Minister has been able to contradict the findings of that report. Can we have a statement from the Government that they intend to fight and fight to make sure that the unemployment figures will not go above the existing level and that they will not impose the same cuts on Northern Ireland as are imposed on the rest of the United Kingdom, bearing in mind, as the hon. Member for Pontypridd said, that there is a greater need in Northern Ireland, an area of economic and social deprivation, for more money to be spent, since that area depends largely on public expenditure?

There is nothing in these Estimates that holds out hope for an improvement in the employment situation. It is all very well for the Ministers to claim that the first national priority is to deal with the cancer of inflation. No one disputes that, but cure will not come from major surgery. That course, for Ulster, means further disasters and hardship in an area which is already well behind the rest of the United Kingdom in wages, with a lower standard of living and a higher cost of living.

May I close with a brief reference to the BBC Northern Ireland orchestra. It has been told by the BBC that it will be disbanded, and I believe that the total saving will not amount to very much. I think it is a disgrace that Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom which will be left with no BBC orchestra. Scotland will have one left, the BBC Wales orchestra is being maintained and England will continue to have its BBC orchestras. But Northern Ireland is to suffer once again.

I urge the Government to bear in mind that this means more than just 30 people becoming redundant because they are not going to be absorbed into the Ulster orchestra. It means those people will not be available for teaching music or for helping to improve culture in Northern Ireland—and, by God, we need more culture in the Province, not less. Therefore, I believe that these cuts announced by the Government and the Government's economic policy are wreaking havoc in the lives of the Ulster people.

10.4 pm

Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)

I want to discuss briefly this evening under Class III, Vote 1, the present state of the gas industry in Northern Ireland and the so-called orderly rundown of that industry—not for the first time, and, I am sure, not for the last time.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State ably assisted by the Under-Secretary, probably thought that he had driven another nail—perhaps, they would like to believe, the final nail—into the coffin of the Northern Ireland gas industry. In doing so they brought closer the prospect of another 1,000 people or so being added to the dole queue in Northern Ireland. That does not seem to concern them unduly.

They also brought closer a period of distress, expense and dislocation for many thousands of gas consumers, many of whom live in the underprivileged inner city areas of Belfast and who have never known any other source of heating or cooking energy, who are elderly and do not at all relish either the expense or the disturbance of having to find alternatives.

The Government, who pride themselves on providing choice to the people, are depriving Northern Ireland consumers of that choice. People in Northern Ireland who think that that is a light matter should visit the Ideal Home Exhibition at Earls Court. They will see there what North Sea gas has done for the gas industry in Great Britain, what it has done for gas consumers in Great Britain and what could be theirs if only the Government would make another choice.

The Under-Secretary of State cannot be unaware of the consequences of closure for many hard-pressed industries in Northern Ireland which require specialist gas processing in many of their operations. The problem there is only beginning to raise its head. Why should the Government wish to spend perhaps £100 million in closing down the industry when it could spend £100 million and obtain a 40 per cent. grant from the EEC, and thus have in the Province an industry that would inject economic well-being into the Province?

The Minister might wish to dispute my comments on closure. When I asked him what estimate had been made of the cost of closure he was reticent. He said that he could not provide a useful estimate until all the undertakings had decided to close. I am sure that he does not want to run away from the consequences or the cost of closure, but he could be more forthcoming.

The Housing Executive said that the cost of converting its homes would be £25 million, and that is probably a conservative estimate. If the Minister does not believe that that is the right figure, will he say what he thinks the figure is? Belfast city council estimates that it would cost £30 million to close the industry in the city alone. The cost of closure of the other 12 undertakings has to be added to that. If I say that this exercise in destruction will cost £100 million, there is a fair probability that that estimate would not be far wrong. People ask why we should spend that much to destroy something when by spending a similar amount we could give a tremendous boost to the Province.

Some things have become clear in the past six months. For the past few years there has been a feeling in Northern Ireland, shared by me, that there were political reasons for not wanting to provide natural gas to the Province.

In a recent interview in the Belfast Telegraph the Minister was reported as follows: Mr. Shaw was adament that the decision last summer not to build a natural gas pipeline across the Irish Sea was right and based on sound economic reasons. He said it was 'nonsense' to say the decision against the pipeline was a political one because it would mean building a physical link between the province and the mainland. 'This is borne out by my encouragement for studies into an electricity cable link with the mainland.' I am glad that the Minister was not considering any political implications, but he would be wrong to think that there were not political implications when certain other people were considering the matter. I have personal experience of knowing the minds of certain Ministers in the previous Government 12 months ago. They were concerned about the political implications. Political implications also concern the European Community. That might not surprise people when they know that the comments that I am about to read come from Mr. Richard Burke, whose origins lead one to suppose that he might be aware of political considerations. He provided the Northern Ireland Gas Employers Board with the comments made by the Energy Department of the European Commission on its report, which included the following paragraph: The Northern Ireland Gas Employers Board in its report Natural Gas for Northern Ireland proposed option 3 without giving any justification. It is suspected from the tone of the report that this preference may be at least partly based on a political desire to be integrated with the rest of the UK gas supply system. What motivated us was to get cheap gas for consumers in Northern Ireland. The political implications came a very poor second. I hope that when Mr. Burke reads last year's annual report of the Electricity Supply Board in the Republic he will not come to the same conclusion.

We are told that the ESB is pressing for an inter-connector between Anglesey and Dublin. That is a sound economic proposition from the Republic's point of view. I say to the Minister that there will be only one inter-connector across the Irish Sea, and I want that inter-connector to be across the North Channel. I hope that he will not put the option for that industry on the long finger. Some people do not worry too much about the political implications of integration when it serves their purpose.

The Under-Secretary of State told me on 21 February that natural gas could not be supplied on a viable basis. I presume that when he made the decision on viability he was doing so on the basis of the options set out in the British Gas Corporation's consultancy report. It showed that There would be a continuing deficit into the 1980s". If he had accepted that document on its face value he would have been entitled to reach the conclusion that it was not a viable proposition.

What are the views of certain other people on that report? I shall not give the views of the chairman of the Gas Employers Board or of a Unionist politician. I wish to put on record the views of the Northern Ireland Economic Council on the report, and of certain assertions made by the Minister in his energy statement last year. I apologise for reading long extracts, but it is important that those views are put on the record to counter the arguments put forward by the Minister. The report states that: The Government has decided against providing a natural gas pipeline to Northern Ireland: instead it is to assist in the orderly running down of the existing gas undertakings. Although it is possible to argue a case for this policy, the justifications advanced in the policy statement are totally inadequate. It goes on to question the basis of the report, stating that: There are a number of serious deficiencies. Chief among these is the assumption that Northern Ireland should be charged a much higher price for gas than any other region of the United Kingdom. I should like the Minister to tell us whether he thinks that it would be fair for the British Gas Corporation to charge Northern Ireland more for gas than it charges other regions. The report says: A second serious deficiency arises from the treatment of capital costs in the BGC study…It is possible to see how the British Gas Corporation, which only operates in Great Britain, could view Northern Ireland as a foreign country and discriminate against the Province in its gas pricing and capital cost allocation assumptions. Clearly the British Gas Corporation considered that, rightly or wrongly, it was in its commercial and other interests to keep Northern Ireland out of the gas grid. But it is more difficult to understand why Government Departments, which are aware that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom, would wish to discriminate against a single region in this way. No doubt the explanation lies in the fact that the study was highly technical and the discrimination was implicit rather than explicit. Nonetheless the gas pricing and capital cost assumptions largely determined the outcome of the BGC study and some justification for them is required. Those are the words of the Northern Ireland Economic Council. That is the condemnation of the study that I presume the Minister is using to establish viability. Those are comments on the assumptions that I assume the Minister is accepting in deciding that the Gas Corporation was right.

The Northern Ireland Economic Council made more serious criticisms of the report. It stated: The inclusion of the debts and overdrafts of the existing gas undertakings also makes a substantial contribution to the non-viability of the gas pipeline. It is not usual in project appraisal to include past debts when evaluating a scheme. Does the Minister think that the British Gas Corporation was right to include them in this assessment?

The council concludes: It was council's concern about the deficiencies of the British Gas Corporation's study which led it to recommend in paragraph 36 of its earlier paper that no decision should be taken until a more satisfactory independent investigation had been carried out. It is highly regrettable that the Department of Commerce appears to have accepted the British Gas Corporation's gas price assumption and capital cost estimates when they both discriminate against Northern Ireland compared with other regions of the United Kingdom. In short, the denial of access to cheaper North Sea gas discriminates against living standards and economic activity in Northern Ireland in a way that does not apply to any other region of the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether his judgment on viability is based on the report that is indicated in the document prepared by the Northern Ireland Economic Council.

There has been a degree of fatalism in Northern Ireland about the industry. A misunderstanding has been deliberately created. It is based on the suggestion that natural gas in Great Britain is not all that much cheaper than in Northern Ireland and that with escalating prices the difference will be substantially reduced until there will be none. It is also claimed that gas will run out faster than we all thought—that it will be exhausted in a few years. It is now suggested that gas supplies will be exhausted earlier than the year 2000. Some say that it will be exhausted in 1995 while others say that that state will be reached by 1990.

I have my latest gas bill for an establishment not too far from the House. The cost per therm is stated to be 24.6p. What gas consumers in Northern Ireland would do to have their gas charged at that price! If we add 30 per cent. to that tariff, the charge becomes about 35p per therm. It may be assumed that that will be the price for perhaps another 12 months. What people in Northern Ireland would give to be able to pay 35p per therm, when some are paying 70p, some 80p and some even 90p per therm!

Does anyone believe that the Government will increase the price of gas per therm from about 25p to a sum approaching 100p over the next few years? They would be foolish to believe that. The cost of other fuels will be moving ahead and the differential will be maintained. The people of Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland's industry are being deprived of a tremendous asset.

For how long would Northern Ireland benefit from the asset? There is hardly a better person to give an opinion on that than Sir Denis Rooke, the chairman of the British Gas Corporation. Last year's British Gas Review states: Dealing with future gas supplies, Sir Denis said that we did not know how much natural gas would eventually be discovered in the North Sea and elsewhere around our coasts". Sir Denis said: My own opinion is that it would be virtually inconceivable that further major gas discoveries were not to materialise in the next decade or so. Elsewhere in the world, many of the largest gas discoveries have occurred in the secondary phase of exploration and we are still very much in the primary phase in United Kingdom waters. Furthermore, the technology of exploration is developing rapidly…It is our intention to manage reserves in a way which will enable us to maintain the level of natural gas availability to our premium customers until the end of the century and beyond. Northern Ireland could have had at least 20 years of benefit from a tremendous asset. The cost of providing it is roughly the same as the cost of destroying it. We were to get some of our own money back from Europe to help us to provide it. The Government have turned down that opportunity. I presume that they think that that policy will somehow benefit the electricity industry.

The figures indicate that the take-up of electricity in Northern Ireland is roughly the same as on the mainland. The provision of gas, or the lack of gas, will not change that very much. If it were to change anything, it would perhaps divert users from other fuels such as oil. We shall not receive any benefit for Kilroot by closing our gas industry. The Minister quite properly said that we should be selling the Kilroot electricity to the Republic just as we sell many other commodities. So long as we sell it at a profit, I am only too glad to see it sold to the Republic.

In my constituency, where the problem exists, insufficient effort has been made to establish and maintain that link. The Minister knows that it is in the interests of the Republic to buy that electricity. He also knows that the answer lies with the Government of the Republic if they want to buy it. Though the pylons may be blown up in Northern Ireland, nobody can be in any doubt that the bombs are made and the bombers lurk in the Republic. If Mr. Haughey wanted to buy our electricity he could easily ensure the continuity of supply. It is in that direction that the advantage of Kilroot lies, if it lies anywhere.

I want the Minister to answer my questions about viability. Others in the Province will try to obtain an objective study on the arguments about viability in the future. I hope that it is not too late to save the gas industry in Northern Ireland.

10.20 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Before I take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), I think that the House should realise that we are in serious difficulty in Northern Ireland. This House should not forget that the matters raised in this debate and the present serious economic difficulties in Northern Ireland arise against the black backcloth of terrorism. This House should be reminded that the killings in Northern Ireland are gaining momentum and that valuable properties are being bombed and burned, such as the one in Coalisland, where many people were put out of employment.

The House should also realise that the first priority of the Government—a priority that they have so far failed to grasp—should be to deal with the mounting terrorism in the Province. I should not like this House to enter on this debate without having its attention drawn to the sobering backcloth of terrorism in Northern Ireland at this time. The Government have failed to take effective steps on security.

Having said that, I come to the issues raised by the hon. Member for Armagh. It is a disgrace that both the previous Administration and the present one came to the decisions that they did about the gas industry. Neither party can justify what has been done. I believe that a decision was made to let the gas industry in Northern Ireland go to the wall and that, that decision having been made, an attempt was then made to find a way of justifying it.

Any Government who had the opportunity of receiving a contribution from Europe towards the suggested pipeline and did not investigate all the possibilities associated with such aid stand indicted in this House. After all, the United Kingdom has poured money into the EEC and it is about time that we got something out of it. Here we had an opportunity to get back something of our own, but, despite all the strong language used by spokesmen of the previous Administration about the EEC, no effort was made at that time to get back some of the money that was available.

The gas industry makes about £400 million profit a year. It does not want anything to do with Northern Ireland, yet by investing some of its profitable millions it could help to save employment and save our industry. I regret the Prime Minister's attitude. At a meeting of the Belfast corporation with the leader of the Official Unionist Party, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and myself, we were asked to request a meeting with the Prime Minister and members of the council in order to put our view to the Prime Minister. It seems that that view will not even be listened to. The decision is made, and that is that.

I feel strongly that Northern Ireland has received shabby treatment, to say the least, in relation to the gas industry. When one takes into account what has been said in the House tonight and the indictment of bodies which have examined this issue, there is real cause for concern.

The poorer people of Northern Ireland have used gas. How will the little woman in the back street fare if she has to change her cooker and other appliances? What will she get from the Government when the gas industry is run down? She will be conveniently forgotten. But those affected are on the poverty line or below What will they get from the Government? What plan is there for an ordered rundown of the industry? Has a study been made of what will happen? How soon will the industry be run down? What is the time limit?

I do not believe that the Department has done its homework. It would have been better if an effort had been made to save the industry. If natural gas is found off the North Antrim coast, where will it go? It will not cone to Northern Ireland. It will be added to the millions of pounds profit made by the gas industry on this side of the Channel. The time has come for the Government to face up to the problem.

The electricity industry in Northern Ireland depends on oil for its generation of supply. The cost of that electricity will rise higher and higher. That is a fact which the Government must face. The price of electricity will rise soon. An effort should be made to sell electricity to the Republic, as long as it is sold at a profit. If the Republic's Government really want it, they could take the necessary steps to safeguard the importation of electricity. The future of Northern Ireland's energy cannot be left to Kilroot.

There is talk of changing to coal-fired production of electricity. Can the Minister say anything about that? Will the Government follow the EEC? Will they ask for the millions of pounds available to convert from oil to coal-fired production? Has the Minister investigated that possibility? Those are the issues that really worry the Northern Ireland people.

I congratulate the people of Northern Ireland. They have fought for the gas industry because they do not want to see jobs go to the wall. It is a sad comment on both Conservative and Labour Administrations that they are guilty of presiding over the demise of the industry.

I wish to raise a matter under Class VIII, No. 4 with regard to school transport. Hon. Members who serve rural districts feel especially sore about the matter. Past Governments engaged in the closure of rural schools in a forceful manner. All sorts of pressures were put on communities, schools and school management committees to close the small schools in the hamlets and villages.

The Government said that the way to achieve a good educational system was to send children to the larger schools. When the small schools were closed, the Government gave a solemn promise to the parents concerned that free transport would be provided to take their children to the larger schools in other areas. The Government have reneged on that promise, which was part of the bribe that they offered to parents when seeking their co-operation in the closure of the small schools.

The Government have now taken a decision which means that the children, through no fault of their own, will have to travel some distance to school, and the parents will have to pay for transport. The Government have broken their promise. If the small schools had not been closed, the children would not need to travel to school.

The Government have a responsibility to be honest with the parents. It is their duty to keep the promises that they have made. There is no Minister in the House responsible for education in Northern Ireland. Neither this Administration nor the previous one felt that it was necessary for a Minister in the House of Commons to be answerable for education in Northern Ireland. They felt that another place—where they buried Caesar—was the appropriate place to discuss education in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Minister, when he replies, will give an echo from another place—I hope that it will not be an eerie echo—with regard to this matter.

Another matter of concern to Northern Ireland Members is the whole hospital system, how it is administered and what is happening within that system. I am speaking for the whole population of Northern Ireland when I say that there is great concern about the rundown of hospitals in certain areas, the destruction of hospitals and the programme to develop certain hospitals and to transport people to them.

I recently visited Omagh, where I found the people united against the Government's attempt to destroy the local hospital. In a recent newspaper article, the chairman of the council, Councillor Patrick Bogan, is quoted as saying: A fragmented hospital system which isolates the majority of patients from the general hospital and which separates the hospital work of the GP from the consultant is diametrically opposed to the principle of providing the best standard of medical care for the community. I approve of that statement.

The Government's policy divides the GP from the consultant. It takes people out of their locality and sends them to another. The roads between the hospitals are far short of the standards that one might expect. People needing immediate care will have to travel long distances. That is serious. It affects Ballymena in my constituency.

Local people raise vast amounts of money for their hospitals. They pay for the installation of certain instruments in order to make their hospital more efficient. The cardiac unit in the Waveney hospital was provided by the townspeople of Ballymena. The Government did not pay for it, They did not give a penny towards its cost. One doctor, who is now dead, gave his life to the raising of funds. The business community and ordinary shop-floor workers worked hard. They raised money so that Ballymena could have a cardiac unit at that hospital. However, now that it has been paid for by those people, it is to be removed by the diktat of the health board. That board is under the Minister's control. It will be taken to Antrim. I have nothing against the constituents of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). I represent them in another capacity. However, injustice has been done. I do not want to set one community against another, although the Government are working in that direction.

Something is going to be done in Enniskillen. The people of Omagh do not worry about what is happening in Enniskillen. They wish them to have a good hospital service. However, those people do not think that they should be left out. Antrim has its problems. The people need a proper hospital service. However, it is not right to run down the Waveney and Route hospitals in Ballymena and the Moyle hospital in Larne.

What right does the Minister have to lay his hands on something that does not belong to him? It has been paid for by certain people to fulfil a certain function. Why has the Minister launched himself on such a course? People are insensed at that action.

The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) mentioned textiles. That is a serious problem. Textiles cannot be divorced from the United Kingdom as a whole. The United Kingdom is suffering from a recession. However, I am almost in complete agreement with the Opposition tonight. Northern Ireland is not economically capable of withstanding an icy cold shower. Our economy is not healthy. We cannot survive the cuts. We will not survive. There have been staggering redundancies during the past few weeks. If the Minister worked as hard as a supernatural being, he would still not catch up with those redundancies. It is all very well to announce that 2,500 jobs may result in four or five years' time. I am glad to hear of every job, but what are the redundancies next month and the one after?

In my constituency, the Ballymoney Manufacturing Company was involved in an enlargement programme about 12 months ago. It suddenly sent for its Member of Parliament and informed the Minister that it was closing, with the loss of 240 or more jobs.

The textile industry in Northern Ireland formed 30 per cent. of the entire industry in the United Kingdom. It is now melting away like snow. Mr. Haferkamp, one of the Commissioners, was over in Carrickfergus, as the Minister knows. All that we could show was an almost empty factory. When that factory was within the bounds of the constituency of the hon. Member for Antrim. South, it employed 1,000 to 1,500 people and was a thriving concern. That is the story all over the Province. How does the Minister see the future of the textile industry? If we do not do something now, when the recession is over—and I hope that that will come about—we shall have no industry left. The textile industry in Northern Ireland should have been rationalised long ago. An attempt should have been made to make it viable. if a lot smaller. It now appears that it will shut down altogether.

The clothing industry also cannot compete. Shirts can be imported for practically nothing. I learnt the other day from a clothier that handkerchiefs are imported for 10p a dozen. The cost of making them in this country would exceed l0p, leaving aside the cost of the material. The clothing industry in Northern Ireland is having a bad time, and clothiers feel that action should be taken. What action are the Government proposing? We need rationalisation and plans for a viable clothing and textile industry.

Mr. John

Perhaps the Minister will also deal with the American subsidy in the price of oil. A highly developed country is putting itself in the same position as underdeveloped countries. It is cut-throat competition.

Rev. Ian Paisley

Those of us with textile interests in our constituencies are worried about COMECON and other competition, and a highly developed country is now casting a shadow over the industry. If that continues, our industry will not be able to compete and will go to the wall. The steps taken are too little and too late.

I wish to deal with a couple of other matters concerning my constituency. One offshore island in Northern Ireland has a fair population—Rathlin island. At the turn of the century its population was 1,000. It is now a little over 100. It is imperative that it be treated as a special case. One essential to the survival of the island is its accessibility. There is the problem of its harbour and also the harbour at Ballycastle.

Rathlin has been neglected for many years. I know that proposals have been made and are under consideration. I have accompanied Ministers of both Labour and Conservative Administrations on visits to the island. There was a report in the newspapers of terrifying circumstances in which 12 islanders returning from a wedding ceremony in Ballycastle were almost swept away by a wave. It was only by an act of God that they were not drowned. They lost all their possessions. Only a miracle saved them. A tragedy occurred there some years ago. These incidents are happening continually. Some action must be taken in Ballycastle and on the island itself. I should like the Minister to explain what has happened to the proposals.

I turn now to the beautiful little seaside resort of Portballintrae—

Mr. Michael McGuire (Ince)

I know a little about Rathlin, although not as much as the hon. Gentleman, who puts up a stout case. Would the hon. Gentleman confirm—it was a narrow judgment many years ago—that if Rathlin had been brought within the Scottish mainland, as it wished and, I believe, still so wishes, although everyone realises that it cannot happen, it would have received preferential treatment under the Scottish Office for many essential matters? I refer particularly to the harbour facilities at Bally-castle.

Rev. Ian Paisley

The only difficulty about the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is that Ballycastle would not have come under the Highlands and Islands scheme. Rathlin would have come within it. The problem is accessibility both to Rathlin and from Rathlin and Ballycastle. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman about the islanders. They do not want to be part of Scotland. They want to remain part of Northern Ireland.

Mr. McGuire

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to a recent radio programme which stated that the islanders would prefer to be administered by the best agency to help them. They felt that this would be the Highlands and Islands scheme.

Mr. Fitt

There are two people on the island who vote for the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley).

Rev. Ian Paisley

I should like to correct that figure. I believe that 10 people voted for me at the last election. The people of the island should be receiving the same kind of help as would be provided under the Highlands and Islands scheme. That was never taken into consideration by the old Stormont Government or Governments at Westminster. Those people need to be treated preferentially.

I should like the Minister to visit Portballintrae and to see the erosion of the coastline that has occurred. The last storm swept almost to the roadway. The whole face of the bank running down to the sea is slowly wearing away. Coleraine council points out that serious erosion has taken place particularly on the west side of the bay where the roadway was not threatened. Work carried out by the Department of Agriculture has been damaged by recent storms. It would appear that the lower armouring has been eroded. The work at the east side, which was done by the Department of the Environment, was intended to support the roadway at this point. It appears that this also has now been eroded and the road is a danger.

This is a serious matter. I was in Portballintrae the other day and I looked at the area. The Minister should go there and see how this problem affects the whole outlook of that seaside resort. I press the urgency of this matter upon him.

What progress is the Minister making to see that the rights of the Northern Ireland fishermen are protected under what I call obnoxious EEC legislation? I cannot understand why boats from EEC countries can come in and take advantage of our waters while our fishermen work at a grave disadvantage. I ask the Minister whether he has taken this point on board.

What about inshore fishing this year? Will it be banned completely again? Will the fishermen not be allowed to fish as they have done for generations? I ask the Minister to tell us what is happening about this. The Ministers in the Republic of Ireland act like modern-day Nelsons —more than that, they close both eyes. The fishermen of the Republic are supposed to operate under the same EEC laws as our fishermen, but it seems that our officials are more interested than the officials of the Republic in strictly operating the law. The Minister should also be like Nelson at times. We expect him to do his duty to Ulstermen and not to others. I leave that salutary exhortation with him.

10.52 pm
Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

At the outset I should like to express my gratitude and, I am sure, that of other hon. Members from Northern Ireland for the very helpful explanatory memorandum that has been given to us by the Northern Ireland Office. There have been many occasions in the past when we have not been so well informed on every facet of the appropriation order as we have been tonight.

I am sure that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland would like to find at the constitutional conference now taking place within the confines of Stormont such unanimity as he will probably find here tonight. I understand from rumours emanating from that conclave that the participants have not been as nearly unanimous as had been hoped.

I am sure that Ministers will accept that not only in this part of the United Kingdom but in Northern Ireland every facet of life has been affected by the new Tory Government's doctrinaire and monetaristic—if there is such a word—approach to economic problems in Northern Ireland. I have just invented that word.

There is no doubt that the effects of the doctrinaire approach of this Government have been an absolute disaster for Northern Ireland. Children's school meals, the transport of children to school, the cost of housing, the deterioration in the number of jobs and the diminution of the number of home helps —all the things that made life bearable for the people of Northern Ireland—have been disastrously affected by the approach of this Government.

I am certain that Northern Ireland Members from all political parties will be at one tonight in asking for special treatment for that part of the United Kingdom—

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

I heard the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) claim that the economic facts of life are an invention of the Tory Government. If he is about to produce demands for increased expenditure, perhaps he will tell us how it is to be funded.

Mr. Fitt

I did not say that the economic facts of life were an invention of the Tory Government, but I do say that their approach to solving the problem is completely different from that which would have been undertaken by a Labour Government. The economic facts of life are a reality. The way of solving the problem is the issue that divides the two sides of the House.

Page 4 of the explanatory memorandum refers to Class II, Vote 3—General Support for Industry. I raise this question once again, and I make no apology for doing so because of the important issue of employment in my constituency.

The previous Government and this Government are at one in believing in massive financial support for the De Lorean factory in West Belfast. One of the main reasons why the previous Government gave such massive financial backing to that industrial undertaking was the appalling unemployment in the area immediately surrounding it. This Government appeared to take the same view.

The previous Government had hoped that De Lorean would give industrial training to West Belfast people who had been unemployed, through no fault of their own, for five, six, seven, and even 10 years. They hoped that such people would be given the requisite skills through training and retraining so that they could take up employment in De Lorean.

Now it would appear that this Government are taking a doctrinaire approach to this issue—an employers' approach. They are not concerned with the length of unemployment. They refuse to act as social workers. They want the best qualified employees to take up employment in this industry.

What is happening at present? Other industries in West Belfast are closing down. I deeply regret these closures and the resulting redundancies. They mean that skilled personnel in these industries will receive their redundancy payments and then take up employment in De Lorean, which will negate the whole purpose of the Government's massive financial backing for that industry. It means that those in West Belfast who have been out of work for six, seven and eight years will be unemployed for nine, 10, or 11 years. Perhaps they will never get another job in their working lives.

I am not making the point that Catholics or people from West Belfast should be specifically employed in this industry, but I appeal to the Minister to do all that he can for them. I recognise the appalling hardship under which people have to live in that area. I naturally ask for preference to be given to those who have suffered from unemployment for so long.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

As the De Lorean factory is situated not in West Belfast but in South Antrim, and as the two nearest concentrations of population—namely Seymour Hill and Twinbrook, the one Unionist and the other staunchly Republican—are also in South Antrim, can the hon. Gentleman give any valid reason why his constituents from West Belfast should be given priority over my constituents in South Antrim?

Mr. Fitt

That is a valid question. The answer is that the factory was sited on the fringes of West Belfast. I hesitate to designate an area Loyalist or Republican. I only wish that we could get away from those designations.

Two significant developments are taking place on the outskirts of West Belfast. One is industrial and one is residential. Poleglass is the residential development. The other is industrial. I remember the extreme Unionist to which, I am sorry to say, the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) has allied himself. He has taken part in public demonstrations objecting to the building of houses. He said that the estate would provide for the housing of Catholics from West Belfast. The extreme Loyalists have been marching again. Deputation after deputation went to this and previous Governments demanding and threatening that the De Lorean factory should not be placed geographically where it is now and that the entrance should be in the Loyalist rather than the Republican area. We can see that in the building of the Poleglass housing estate and in the siting of the factory there are political influences at work.

I had hoped that the Poleglass estate would house all people, regardless of their political persuasion. However, I should not go so far as to say that that should be the criterion laid down for the De Lorean factory. It is well accepted and understood that the majority of the unemployed in West Belfast—which is just a few hundred yards down the road—are mainly of the Roman Catholic persuasion. Those people should be given an opportunity to take employment there, not because they are Catholics but because they have been so long unemployed. I make that appeal to the Minister.

At the bottom of page 4 of the memorandum reference is made to the local enterprise development unit. There are disquieting rumours going around now in Northern Ireland to the effect that political opposition is now building up to LEDU. Political opinions have been expressed—the Minister will not be unaware of them—that LEDU should be phased out. I take a contrary view. The local enterprise development unit has performed a worthwhile function. Indeed in an area such as West Belfast, in Townsend Street, it has been helpful in attracting industry. I hope that it will be given every encouragement and opportunity to remain in existence, as those employed by LEDU have performed a worthwhile task.

I now proceed to Sub-head B1 —assistance to the aircraft industry. I am absolutely delighted to see that further Government assistance is forthcoming to Short Bros. and Harland to reach an agreement with the Learavia Corporation to engage in further small aircraft production. I am quite certain that everyone in Northern Ireland, irrespective of the religious or political affiliation of those people who are employed in Short Bros. and. Harland, will benefit from this further injection of public money, which will ensure that Short Bros. and Harland will be given a further lease of life.

I think there will be complete and absolute unanimity—we have seen it expressed here tonight by two inveterate political opponents, the hon. Members for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) and for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), in relation to the gas industry. I can only concur in everything that they have said, and I ask the Minister, even at this very late hour —I ask it without any great degree of hope—to look again at what the cost may be of closing down the gas industry in Northern Ireland as opposed to keeping it open.

The Minister said to an audience in Northern Ireland quite recently that because Northern Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom it was not the birthright of the people of Northern Ireland to have the same energy costs for heating. This created a good deal of criticism at the time and the Minister very generously, I think, apologised and said that his remarks had been taken out of context. But I think we on the Floor of the House are realistic enough to accept that the Minister meant what he said. He meant that because Northern Ireland was on the island of Ireland and was separated by a sea barrier, the cost of providing gas to that part of the United Kingdom would be prohibitive, and just because Northern Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom in a constitutional sense it could not demand the same cost for electricity, gas or other forms of energy. That is what he said.

Yesterday morning, in a Committee upstairs, I said to the Minister's colleague the Under-Secretary of State "That is all right". But his colleague said, in relation to a statement last week in Northern Ireland, that they had to increase rents in Northern Ireland to ensure that they were brought up to the level of rents in other parts of the United Kingdom. They cannot have it both ways. There is no question but that the Minister said that it was the endeavour of this Government to bring the level of rents in Northern Ireland up to that which we have in other parts of the United Kingdom, and I think he mentioned that rents in Northern Ireland were £1 less than in other parts of the United Kingdom.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Philip Goodhart)

I did not say yesterday morning, and I do not say now, that it is our intention swiftly to close the gap between rents in Northern Ireland and rents in Great Britain. In fact, the rent increase that has been announced in Northern Ireland is substantially smaller than the rent guidelines that have been announced for Great Britain; and, as the hon. Member acknowledged, the differential is £1; rents in Northern Ireland are £1 less than those in Great Britain.

Mr. Fitt

If hon. Members listened intently to the interjection of the Minister they will have noticed the word "swiftly"—it is not the Government's intention swiftly to increase rents. But the intention is to increase rents, and I am trying to draw to the attention of the House tonight that on the one hand the Minister in charge of commerce in Northern Ireland told the people of Northern Ireland that it was not their birthright to pay the same for energy for heating and another Minister said that it was the intention to bring the rents up.

As the ex-leader of the SDLP, I say to the hon. Member for Antrim, North that many people in Northern Ireland are being filled with false hope that the EEC is the answer to Northern Ireland's problems. That is totally untrue. The EEC is not the answer to Northern Ireland's problems. Irrespective of promises that may be made to Northern Ireland elected representatives to the European Parliament that Northern Ireland is to be treated as a special region, it is this House that determines the level of grants that come from the EEC. The EEC cannot give preferential treatment to Northern Ireland without the sanction of this House on agricultural, regional or social matters. It is wrong for anyone to say that the EEC may be able to take precedence over the House of Commons and to give preferential treatment to Northern Ireland.

The EEC be prepared to bear 40 per cent. of the cost of the gas pipeline, but only if the Minister and the House say "Yes". From what I understand the Minister has already said "No". I ask the Minister not to say "No" lightly. When he has taken into account all the factors and all the costs involved in the premature closure of the gas industry, he might want to think again and ask for the 40 per cent. from Europe.

Let no one, for the sake of his own political aggrandisement, of whatever political party he may be, say that the people in Strasbourg or Brussels tell the Government what to do, because that is not true. The Government will find almost total unanimity amongst all the elected representatives from Northern Ireland that they should reconsider the cost of closing down the gas industry to see whether it is more expensive than keeping it going.

I come to page 7, Vote V on housing subsidies. It will come as no surprise to the Minister, after the debate yesterday in Committee, to hear that I am once again voicing opposition to the manner in which the announcement was made last week—without any consultation —that Housing Executive rents would be increased. Yesterday morning a bombshell was dropped in Committee by the Minister, when he told us that the rents of private sector dwellings were to be increased by 27 per cent. I used the word "arrogant", and I make no apology for doing so.

I was disappointed that not all the Northern Ireland Members were in attendance yesterday. Had they been present, there might have been a majority in favour of rejection of the rent increases and all the other facts of the order. I understand that the hon. Member for Antrim, North was attending a funeral, and I apologise sincerely if he felt that we were casting a reflection on him for not attending.

I do not exonerate the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maguire), who should be here tomorrow for the debate on the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. I make the confident prediction that he will be here tomorrow for the Frank Maguire Bill. I should like to introduce a manuscript amendment to that Bill. The hon. Gentleman will be here tomorrow, but he is not unduly concerned about a 27 per cent. increase in rents. He is not unduly concerned about increases in school meals charges and transport, but he will be here tomorrow. If he is not, I shall hesitate to make any further predictions.

I would have hoped that other hon. Members would be present yesterday. I am not certain of the procedures tonight, as I was not certain of them yesterday morning. If I vote against the order, I shall do so on the rent issue.

Under the heading of "Rent Allowances", the explanatory memorandum to the order states that A reduction of £0.7 million in the provision required arises from a lower take-up rate than anticipated. What does that mean, in language that we can all understand in Northern Ireland? It means that more people were entitled to claim rent allowance than had claimed it. People do not forget to claim rent allowance if they know that they are entitled to it, and know how to claim it. There must have been a foul-up somewhere. People cannot have been advised to take up rent allowance and they have, therefore, failed to do so.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

There may have been some misunderstanding, or I may have misheard the hon. Gentleman. I thought that he indicated that he was contemplating voting against the order—that is to say, voting against £863 million for Northern Ireland. Perhaps that is not so.

Mr. Fitt

Northern Ireland is lull of eccentrics, and the right hon. Gentleman is not least amongst them. If I vote against the order tonight I shall do so on the issue of rent increases.

As I said yesterday morning in Committee, Northern Ireland does not have local authorities that are concerned with the raising or the lowering of rents. It has a Northern Ireland Housing Executive and a Minister for the Environment, who decide whether or not to increase rents in the private sector. We do not have local authorities—whether Conservative-, Unionist-, Labour- or SDLP- controlled—that can say "Yes" or "No" to an increase in rents. We have to rely on the good will of the Minister.

I have not seen very much good will from any Minister since the Conservative Government took office last May. The Minister made a speech in Northern Ireland last week announcing that rents would be increased by £1.60. He did not consult the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Yesterday afternoon we all almost had heart attacks when he said that there would be a 27 per cent. increase. He did not give the reasons. When he announced the increase of rents to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive he said that the Government fund the Executive. We keep it going by financial subvention. The Minister seems to think that he is entitled to wake up one morning—perhaps with a hangover —and increase rents. He cannot do that in the private rented sector. Private landlords are not funded by taxpayers' money. The Minister takes it upon himself to declare "I am going to increase rents by 27 per cent."

Mr. Goodhart

Under the announcement yesterday, no landlord is forced to increase the rent. 'The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) has accused me of discourtesy by making the announcement in Committee. When does he think that I should have made the announcement? If I had made it before attending the Committee, he would have accused me of pre-empting discussion. If I had made it after the Committee had sat, he would have accused me of cowardice.

Mr. Fitt

The Minister wants to have it every way.

There are now 12 Northern Ireland representatives in this place. The electors send us here in the belief that we shall in some way be able to influence events. That is why they vote. That is why all electors vote and that is why all hon. Members are here. The electors believe that their Members will be able to voice their opinions and speak on their behalf. There are many people in my constituency who live in the private rented sector. There are many in that position in the constituencies of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. However, it seems that we cannot influence anything. The Minister makes his announcement and it is a fait accompli. There is nothing that we can do. It is only right if our constituents ask "What is the use of voting to send a candidate to Westminster if he is useless when he gets there?"

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Or if he is not there.

Mr. Fitt

Indeed. At least, we were present in Committee yesterday morning.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North has spoken about transport costs and school meals. Transport costs bear particularly heavily on those in rural areas, while the increased price of school meals affects parents in all areas. The increased price of school meals and the reduction of transport, or the increased cost of transport, will have a great effect on many families. I know that it will be said that the State will pay if a person is receiving supplementary benefit or is in receipt of family income supplement. However, there will be others who are marginally above the poverty line. Their income may exceed it by £1 or 75p. They will not be entitled to any State benefits. They are the people who will suffer.

There is no need for me to tell the Minister at length what a disastrous effect the Government's policy on public expenditure cuts has had on health and personal services. In the past few months, scores of people have come to my home or telephoned to tell me that the home-help service has been cut.

The home help that used to be provided for two or three hours a day has now been abolished. The Government have been particularly ruthless in the way they have withdrawn home help from old people, invalids and the disabled. One does not need home help if one is in possession of one's faculties.

The reduction in that service has been drastic. I am sure that other hon. Members from the Province have experienced the sort of complaints about that reduction that I have had. No matter how many thousands of pounds the reduction in the home-help service may save in a year, the absence of that service is causing great hardship among those who formerly relied upon it.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North spoke about the great emotional allegiance of the local people to the Waveney hospital in Ballymena and how that hospital is either to go out of existence or have its facilities shifted elsewhere. Much more important—though I understand the emotional allegiance to Waveney—is the heart unit at the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast. That unit is renowned all over the world.

Professor Frank Partridge, who is in charge of that unit, has given loyal service to his country in peace and war and is one of the most eminent heart specialists in the world. He has told me that because of Government cutbacks there is no more money for pacemakers in his unit. There are people who cannot live without a pacemaking machine inserted into their heart's and if such machines are not available people will die. The only conclusion we can come to is that the public expenditure cuts will mean that people will die. Pacemaking machines mean that people can live.

I believe that it is an awful slur on this Government that such a renowned institution, staffed by people of eminence, has to appeal for subscriptions to the people of Northern Ireland in order to keep going. I have no doubt that subscriptions will be forthcomings because this situation transcends political and religious boundaries. The people of the Province will rally to the aid of the Royal Victoria hospital. They will ensure that the heart unit carries on.

Only yesterday morning, the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford) was taken ill with a heart complaint. I sincerely trust that he is recovering, and I am sure that I carry the good wishes of the House to him when I express those sentiments. None of us can be sure, least of all the Ministers for Northern Ireland, that we will not find ourselves in ward 4 or ward 5 of the Royal Victoria hospital. I hope that Ministers never need to go there on other than on a visit. Many people in Northern Ireland are affronted because the Goverment's doctrinaire approach to monetary problems and to public expenditure could mean that a revered institution such as that heart unit may have to go out of existence.

Today I received several answers to questions which I tabled. I am happy to believe that the right hon. Member for Down, South will support me. I asked whether the Secretary of State was satisfied with the criteria which must be met to qualify for mobility and attendance allowances. I was given the monosyllabic answer "Yes". I am not satisfied with that. More people are refused attendance allowance than receive it. I have yet to be made aware of the circumstances which qualify a person for receipt of that benefit.

I also asked how many people in Northern Ireland with only one leg were in receipt of mobility allowance. Northern Ireland is a small place. One would imagine that a large Department could tell me how many people who have lost a leg, by whatever means, are in receipt of mobility allowance. I asked how many people with only one leg had been refused mobility allowance in the years 1977, 1978 and 1979. I thought that that would be relatively easy to answer. However, I was told today: This information is not readily available and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. All I can say is that Ministers in Stormont could have answered that question in five minutes. The cost of answering is not disproportionate. The answer to such questions is relevant to the attitudes that I and other hon. Members have on the questions of mobility and attendance allowances. It would not cost much to find out how many people have lost a leg or what criteria applies to attendance allowance. Such answers as I have received build up opposition to direct rule. They make Northern Ireland Members stand back and ask "Who do these people think they are to give us such answers?"

We have received a welcome explanatory memorandum, but several issues have been raised and I hope that the Minister will reply to them by letter if he cannot reply this evening. My remarks are not made in a spirit of abject criticism. They are intended to illustrate the feelings of my constituents who sent me to this House to put those feelings before the Government.

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

For the convenience of the House, I shall intervene to reply to those matters which fall within my responsibility. My colleagues will deal with other matters.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), who opened the debate, mentioned a number of issues which are my responsibility. He asked about the closure of the agricultural trust. I assure him that the decision was not taken lightly or wantonly. It was taken in relation to the £400,000 a year of public funds involved and because most activities of the trust could and should be continued by other bodies available to farming interests in Northern Ireland.

I refer to the following main activities. The first is the development of research into agricultural techniques and so on. This can be handled within the Department of Agriculture's own research facility. The second is the help which the trust has given to agricultural producers and food producers in exhibitions. This is largely the work of the Food Export Council, under which the trust has frequently operated, and this will continue to be the main source of support for exhibitions within and outside the United Kingdom.

The third matter is in relation to the activities that the trust has undertaken within Northern Ireland itself. For marketing purposes, increased terms of reference are now being applied to the Central Council for Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operation. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has recently changed the terms of reference of that body to give it a more forceful remit in the area of marketing. The council's application within Northern Ireland will reflect that new remit and, therefore, the marketing activity undertaken by the trust will be carried on by that body. So it was my judgment that for these reasons, as well as for the need to reduce public expenditure, the closure of the trust would not seriously undermine the services which have bean provided and that recipients of the services in Northern Ireland could continue to enjoy the services from other sources.

The hon. Gentleman went on to discuss the question of jobs and job creation. This has been a matter of great concern to other hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman rightly said that we had talked continually about jobs in prospect and had talked, perhaps rather glibly, about job creation but had not recognised that there was a continual drain of job losses going on week by week. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no pie-in-the-sky view in the Department of Commerce or, indeed, within the development agencies concerned with job creation. We recognise that many do not come easily to net and to produce jobs in the specific numbers which we set out to achieve initially.

I do not accept that there could be a shortfall as high as 50 per cent. In our experience, it is nearer 25 per cent. of the jobs which it has set out to achieve in the past few years and actually achieved. I take the point that we are talking about jobs which will come to their full fruition in several years' time. I make no apology for this, because in the particular situation in which Northern Ireland finds itself, with the need to regenerate its industrial base at the same time as it seeks to reduce the appallingly high level of unemployment, we have to keep growing seed corn for the future and building new industries. This takes time.

The hon. Gentleman raised the specific question of how the position was to date. In just over two months of 1980, we have created some 3,000 jobs against the total figure for the 12 months last year of 4,600 and for the year before of some 5,800. I cannot pretend that this is a rate of job creation which will be maintained, though every effort will be made to do so. But I think it indicates that, despite the very real economic, political and security difficulties in which the Province finds itself, and, indeed, has found itself for far too long, we can still achieve a commendable record in job creation.

The hon. Gentleman then asked about the question of outside interests playing their part in any future development of investment institutions. Other hon. Members have asked when the report will be produced. My hon. Friend the Minister of State assured the House in opening the debate that the Government's decisions on the report would be published before Easter. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have accepted in the various substantial discussions we have held with our officials and others that there must be an important role for outside interests to influence the strategy for industrial development.

In our meeting yesterday with NIC/ ICTU, in which the Secretary of State, the Minister of State and myself participated, it was clear to me that its anxiety was to ensure that the momentum and teamwork required to achieve a high rate of industrial development should be maintained. That was at the heart of its anxiety about any changes that we may seek to make. I assure the House that the matter of teamwork, which involves the bringing together of outside influences, is an important part of the considerations which we have taken and will play a constructive part in our proposals.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Learavia development and its relationship with the Industrial Development Advisory Committee. The actual Votes that we are discussing under the appropriation order deal fundamentally with the money spent by the Department of Commerce in maintaining the option in the examination of the Learavia case rather than in the industrial development case itself. The option expenditure is not really within the same competence as the industrial development case in relation to the work of the Industrial Development Advisory Committee.

Although in the matter of the negotiations the Department was the lead agency, in the question of the development project itself—the grant-aided assistance and the development of the second phase of production which will involve the building of the extended hangars and facilities at Aldergrove—the IDAC will be fully consulted on the matter. It has been informed and involved in the decisions that have been taken, and it has approved them when required. Its main role is still to come in the detailed application of the industrial development case for the second phase of the development.

The hon. Gentleman referred to shipbuilding. I do not think that there can be any matter that comes before the House and for which I have to stand at this Box which is of greater anguish to me and, I suspect, to most hon. Members than the future of Harland and Wolff. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are still in the course of preparing the thorough review that we undertook to complete by the end of this month. Regrettably, one of my senior officials was taken severely ill recently, and that has caused a slight problem. I assure the House that the review will be thoroughly and fully prepared. Based upon that review will be the Government's decision as to the future of the yard and the future investment, if any, that it should be given.

The hon. Gentleman went further than that, and he pressed me on three quite separate matters. The first was in connection with the steelworks, and he said, quite rightly, that under the present building programme the steel fabrication section will be the first to suffer. In relation to that, he asked whether some speculative building work could be undertaken. I have been made very strongly aware by the board—I attended a board meeting 10 days ago—of its feelings on the matter. It is for us to consider. I would be unfair to the House if I did not say that, in my judgment, it is of much greater importance that we should seek to develop the future for Harland and Wolff in the correct manner—namely, in the winning competitively of orders for ships.

There are orders available in the market to be won. There are significant tenders from the yard in pursuit of those orders. It is to that end that I look for an indication that the yard could have, and should have, a future. I think that the hon. Gentleman and, I suspect, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) will recognise that it is the acquisition of orders for ships that is fundamental—whatever palliative might be suggested—to the short-term usage of a part of the major enterprise at Harland and Wolff.

Mr. John

Does the Minister accept that when a skilled work force has suffered the bitter experience of being dispersed it is difficult to attract it back? Will he, therefore, consider that such "palliatives" are necessary in order to maintain a skilled work force? If the work force is not kept together, the yard will become less viable; workers cannot be attracted to it. If orders arrive after a gap of six or nine months, the necessary men will not be there to carry them out.

Mr. Shaw

I accept the hon. Gentleman's argument. The skills involved in steel fabrication may be lost for ever if the yard is closed as the result of a shortage. I am not without hope that the pressure and highly competitive chase for tenders and orders will be realised before any decision is taken about the development of ships or portions of ships.

We are in a desperate situation if an enterprise of that scale finds itself having to produce ideas to build ships or portions of ships speculatively. Other shipbuilders acquire orders in the open market place. We must ensure that the conditions and terms of tendering used by Harland are as competitive as those used in Europe and the United Kingdom. That can now be done. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not press me too far on that point.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd referred also to the possibility of gaining Royal Fleet Auxiliary orders. I confirm that Harland is on the tendering list for such naval vessels. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not on the tendering list for warships. Reference has been made also to man-made fibres, the textile industry and its relation to the EEC. That issue requires a fair and full explanation. It is a matter of deep regret that such a new industry, which has been developed over a period of 20 years by six major international companies and has a work force of about 7,000, should be undermined so quickly. Indeed, at least 1,000 jobs have been lost.

When one considers names such as Courtaulds. Dupont, Monsanto. Enkalon, ICI and Hoechst, one realises that we are not dealing with small companies that are fighting difficult trading conditions. They are major companies. Such companies are well capable of sustaining enterprises in difficult trading conditions. The problem cannot be solved in a short period of time. The Government were forced to consider this issue very seriously.

Of the United Kingdom's fibre industry, 30 per cent. is located in the Province. We took the lead. We believed that the penetration of cheap feedstocks from the United States was the fundamental cause of the decline in the man-made fibre market. That was not the only reason. Man-made fibre producers would agree that the ability to generate more new plant and the contraction of the market were constituent reasons. Nevertheless, penetration by the United States acted as the trigger. It caused a sudden and major downturn in their fortunes.

Two possibilities were open to the Government—first, to act unilaterally under article 16 of GATT and impose our own import restrictions. Those restrictions would be temporary. A member State could act in that way for only six weeks without review by the Commission. The second possibility was that the United Kingdom Government, as a member, could seek to get the Community to act collectively against imports of United States fibre. In the end, as the House well knows, the United Kingdom Government persuaded the EEC to act, against considerable resistance. Was that the better way of proceeding?

Had we proceeded unilaterally, not only would we have had only temporary cover for import penetration; we could not have prevented the import from other European countries of American manmade fibre. It could have come in by the back door, however skilfully we sought to bolt the front door. It was only by Community action at a Community level that we could sustain long-term protection against that import penetration. However, the levels are far from satisfactory. They are based only on 1978–79 figures and not a longer period.

Producers, hon. Members and Members of the European Parliament from Northern Ireland collectively brought pressure to bear on the Community to act. It was a remarkably united effort. Having got the Community to act, I believe that the United Kingdom Government are in the best possible position. In addition to the quotas set we have the right to review them after a time, and to make a further application to the Community if the level of protection is shown to be unsatisfactory.

The longer-term future of textiles remains extremely difficult. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) raised the question of the other elements in the textile industry when he referred to what he called the disastrous future for the textile and clothing industry.

I have some modest personal experience of textiles, as I represent a Yorkshire textile constituency, The textiles industry is extremely flexible and resilient. Early tomorrow morning I shall be journeying to Londonderry, to the opening of a shirt factory. The Carrington Viyella group has brought expansion to the Province. A further £5 million will be invested in a factory in Lisnaskea, in the expansion recently announced by Tootal. Several other shirt companies, including Peter England and Burlington, have announced improvements and capital expansions recently.

When I attended the clothing industry exhibition at Olympia, firm orders, worth £1.7 million, were taken from the 18 Northern Ireland companies exhibiting there and further orders were in negotiation to the value of £3.5 million. Eighteen Northern Ireland firms in the clothing industry can be seen to be fighting the buffeting referred to by the hon. Member for Down, North. They are succeeding, against severe competition, in increasing their market share and penetration. If the product is right and the will is there, I believe that the Northern Ireland textile industry can look forward to a better future, even in these difficult conditions.

Mr. Kilfedder

In view of the hon. Gentleman's experience in representing a Yorkshire constituency, does he agree that the example that I gave of a suit from Eastern Europe being sold by wholesalers to retailers at £9.75 means the total destruction of the clothing industry, unless the Government do something to save those jobs? In Northern Ireland it costs an extraordinary amount of money to create just one new job. The Government should save the industry. If it goes, it cannot be brought back to life, when these suits and other textiles are no longer imported at that price.

Mr. Shaw

The hon. Gentleman is quite right, but he and textile manufacturers' organisations will also be aware that the anti-dumping legislation is clear and is available to be used. If information can be laid to the Department of Trade that provides the correct cost of manufacture and landed cost in the United Kingdom, action can be taken under the dumping regulations. I find myself wearing the textile protection industry tie this evening as an earnest of my interest in these matters.

The hon. Member for Down, North also raised the question of support for fishing, and particularly for fishing boat improvements. I remind him that there are schemes available for the improvement of fishing boats and for engine development. In this year we have concentrated on boat replacement rather than other ancillary works on fishing boats to which he referred. Those grants are available. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue to press the case that he has in mind. Although the sums available for the current year have been used, it is possible That the development that he seeks for his constituents could be made available shortly if he cared to write to me. We have been concentrating on boat replacement rather than other structural replacements for boats this year.

The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) and others raised the question of the gas industry and the decision in relation to the gas pipeline. I wish to distinguish between the decision on the gas pipeline and the decision on closure of individual gas companies. I know that the hon. Member for Armagh recognises this point. Although the Government have taken a firm decision not to implement the construction of a gas pipeline, we have not said to the individual undertakings in the Province that on no account should they continue to provide the gas service to which their consumers have been accustomed for many years. As the hon. Gentleman knows, two concerns are continuing to operate. One concern is changing from a town gas supply to a bottle gas supply.

The hon. Gentleman's major and, rightly, most important objection is that the Government have reached a wrong decision based on wrong information and that this view is shared on both sides of the House. In relation to the European Community grant we are, and have been, well aware that grants up to the level of 40 per cent. could be available for the capital cost of a viable project. As the hon. Gentleman will understand, any member State seeking to apply for such grant must be satisfied that the project is viable. The test that we applied was whether or not the project for the gas pipeline construction—I refer only to that —was viable.

We did not only rely on the British Gas Corporation study that was published. The hon. Gentleman has received a copy. We also undertook, within Departments of the Civil Service, a joint study group initiated by the previous Administration and involving the Department of Industry, the Department of Energy, the Central Policy Review Staff, the Treasury and the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection under the chairmanship of the Northern Ireland Office. It was the widest-ranging internal study that could have been brought about by any Government on a matter of this kind. The study report that was available to the previous Administration and, indeed, to ourselves was equally conclusive on the matter of viability. It could not have been shown to be a sensible use of financing to provide a gas pipeline to the Province with gas at a price per therm that would have resulted in a viable operation.

In addition, we have updated as best we can the calculations used at that time in relation to United Kingdom gas prices as charged by the British Gas Coropration and referred them also to the problem of landed gas price within the Province. It is still our clear conviction that the proposition for the gas pipeline would not be viable at this date.

It is not just a matter of the capital cost; it is, as I think hon. Members understand, a question of the maintenance of the institutions while the gas pipeline and its attendant new grid are established within the Province. There is no way in which European funds can be made available for what might be called a subsidy, and certainly not a subsidy for a considerable number of years. We then come to the next problem in this saga. Supposing gas should be found in commercial quantities, should not the existing institutions—especially in the city of Belfast, which has still not taken a decision—be held intact?

I have told the House on a previous occasion, when we discussed mineral exploration, that the chances of hydrocarbon development within the Province appeared to us and to our geologist advisers to be extremely slight. There are certain explorations in hand at present. A major American oil company explored boreholes in Fermanagh. That company has now completed its work and has left, satisfied that no commercial quantity of oil exists there. But there are one or two prospectors, and, as the order at the time made clear, we encourage prospecting within the Province, whether it be for minerals or for any other purpose, such as hydrocarbons.

However, at present there is no European system of subsidy or subvention available for exploration. Although a proposal has been made about such mineral exploration in one of the committees of the Commission, it is very unlikely that a system will be available that will include exploration for hydrocarbons. That is not unreasonable, because the private sector the world over has been tumbling over itself to invest in hydrocarbon exploration.

So the position today is that there is no viable case for the construction of a gas pipeline. Such a viability would be a determinant in any EEC grant, and 40 per cent. is the likely rate. There is also no genuine likelihood that a significant commercial quantity of gas could be found within a short time.

The Belfast city corporation passed a resolution seeking a moratorium for two years. That was discussed with the Secretary of State and myself at a meeting this week. Two years is in no way the lifespan of this kind of development. Seven or 10 years might be nearer the mark. Therefore, such a development could not make a significant contribution. Nor, indeed, could the grid through which the gas currently flows be considered as an acceptable conduit for North Sea gas, as I am sure hon. Members understand.

There is no other decision that this Government can come to but that it is not possible to recommend to the House or to the EEC that moneys should be spent on a gas pipeline in the Province. Nor can I accept the resolution of the Belfast city corporation that a delay of two years whilst exploration takes place would be a viable undertaking.

Mr. McCusker

In view of the significance of the viability argument and the Minister's assertions that the interdepartmental report proves non-viability, quite apart from what the British Gas Corporation says, and the concern expressed by the Northern Ireland Economic Council, would the Minister be prepared to put before that council the calculations and the figures that prove non-viability?

Mr. Shaw

I have had discussions with the chairman of the council on these matters and I think that he feels that the Government's present position is one that he would probably support, but I am prepared to meet him again to discuss the matter, in the light of the comments made by the hon. Member for Armagh.

I am aware that I am detaining the House unduly on these matters but I recognise their importance. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) also raised the question of electricity. I recognise that, having taken a decision against a gas pipeline, what he and other hon. Members seek from this Government is a decision of a more progressive kind about the energy future of the Province, in particular about electricity tariffs and supply. I undertake to produce as soon as possible a full statement on the energy future of the Province, together with firm proposals on how we seek to relate electricity prices there to those in the rest of the United Kingdom. The severe increase in fuel costs is a matter of concern to every consumer in Northern Ireland.

I turn to the question of Rathlin and Ballycastle. The Department of Commerce has decided that it cannot proceed with the £3 million improvement scheme for Ballycastle harbour. It has decided that with funds being so restricted at this time it cannot spend that amount of money.

On the question of fisheries. I remind the House that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made a statement today indicating that a sum of money would be provided for aid to the fishing industry. A total of £3 million will be provided—£1 million of which will go towards exploratory voyages in search of further distant-water fishing grounds. That will not be of direct benefit to Northern Ireland, but the £2 million allocated for other purposes will. It will provide Northern Ireland fishermen with financial aids that will help with the cost of intervention, maintain withdrawal prices, provide temporary laying-up premiums, dock, harbour and landing dues, and finance approved programmes to improve the grading, handling and sales promotion of fish.

These sums will be discussed with the Department of Agriculture, and the appropriate allocation of this sum will be available within Northern Ireland to be handled by the fish producers' organisations, after discussion and agreement with the Department.

Finally, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) raised the question of De Lorean and employment policy. I recognise the deep conviction with which he speaks about the long-term unemployed. We have corresponded on this matter. In all honesty we cannot take this matter as far as the hon. Member would wish tonight, but I undertake to raise it again direct with Dc Lorean and see whether we can find a way in which the longer-term unemployed can be given a weighting in the assessments for job opportunities in the industry. I urge the hon. Member to recognise that the major employment phasing of that company will begin in May, and I hope that he will encourage everyone to apply for jobs in this major venture which will benefit his constituents for a considerable period.

I apologise for the time that I have taken, and if I have not answered any hon. Member's questions I urge him to write to me and I shall do so.

12.8 am

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

This debate follows yesterday's debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. Throughout, the attendance at this debate has been greater than that at the debate on the corresponding examinaion of Supply for Great Britain. It is also greater than the attendance at the immediately preceding debate on hospital provision for a part of the population of London amounting to half the size of the population of the whole of Northern Ireland.

I mention this because some Ulster newspapers from time to time refer to attendances at these debates as if lack of attendance was evidence of lack of interest or seriousness in this House Those newspapers would be better about the problems of Northern Ireland. occupied in reporting these debates and the important statements that are made in the course of them than in misleading their readers about the significance of the procedures of this House.

That brings me to the place of this debate in the annual cycle of financial survey. We have once again got the cycle slightly out of gear. There are three such debates in the course of the year. It would be helpful if those debates could coincide, instead of exactly failing to coincide, with the publication of important documents which bear upon the appropriation. The most important of these are the Appropriation Accounts themselves—admittedly for the previous year—together with the invaluable comments of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Yet we had the previous appropriation debate, in December of last year, just a few days before the publication of the Northern Ireland Appropriation Accounts with the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, and it has commonly been our experience that we have our summer appropriation debate just before the publication of the report of the Public Accounts Committee instead of after.

I hope that we shall be able to improve upon that record. I recognise that the interposition of a general election last year threw out of gear the arrangements which the Public Accounts Committee had, with great care, been making to assist us. I have mentioned this to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, and hope that he will be able to process this material and produce the report of that Committee before we come to the next of the debates in this cycle.

Pressed though we are for time, it would be wrong not to take up some of the major criticisms or at any rate to mention some of the major criticisms of financial control which were made by the Comptroller and Auditor General. I intend to mention only three, all of which received considerable emphasis. One is the excessive size of balances retained by Departments at banks, with consequent unnecessary interest charges.The second is the legislative basis of the meat marketing employment scheme. It may be that, with the collapse of the green pound differential, that scheme will have less importance in future than it has had in recent years. Nevertheless, the comments of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the legal basis of that scheme are extremely grave and ought not to be passed over by this House. I hope that in the written comments which are commonly provided by Ministers following these debates, that matter, amongst the others, will receive attention.

The third point is the control of costs in the three teacher training colleges. As the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) pointed out, there has been a dramatic fall in the numbers of students at all three colleges—a fall over the past 10 years in the case of Stranmillis of 27 per cent., in St. Mary's of 16 per cent. and in St. Joseph's of 23 per cent. Maybe that is one of the reasons for the severe criticism of the catering costs at those colleges and, in particular, the comment of the Comptroller and Auditor General, which this House should note, that he had great difficulty in getting his inquiries taken seriously by those to whom he addressed them at those colleges. Certainly the disparities and the implicit inefficiencies are serious matters. For a Government in search of sources of economy, they merit very careful attention.

It has been our attempt to try to use these debates as a means of considering specific topics and following them through from one debate to the next. I intend to conform to that practice by carrying forward the debate initiated last July on the relationship between the Department of the Environment and the Housing Executive in the extremely important matter of the improvement of the housing stock of the Housing Executive.

Before I come to that, however—and it is the only topic of my speech—I want to throw out one suggestion. I mentioned just now the debate yesterday on the Consolidated Fund. The House has found that it cannot use the time, however luxuriant, which is available for debating the Consolidated Fund Bill without the assistance of the Chair in compartmentalising the subjects.

I think that many hon. Members who have taken part in this debate today, where we are under pressure of time—although we had secured four hours for it—may have been wondering whether we ought not to consider in future seeking the help of the Chair in somewhat the same way so that there can be a balance between the contributions of Northern Ireland Members and the replies of Ministers, and a closer relationship between criticism and the response to criticism.

Having thrown out that suggestion, I revert to the topic of the Department of the Environment, the Housing Executive and housing improvement. What we were facing last July was a virtual breakdown of the programme of the improvement of Housing Executive houses. It was a breakdown which occurred partly as the result of the general election and the change of Government; but what it certainly did was to destroy the existing programmes and to frustrate undertakings which hon. Members had in good faith given to their constituents throughout the Province.

I recognise that considerable progress has been made in the last six or eight months in this context, partly because the matter has been followed up in a series of meetings between my hon. Friends and myself on the one hand and the Minister and the Housing Executive on the other. I should like to record the progress and then to indicate the directions in which more is still urgently needed.

First of all we have secured the basis of all planning whatsoever: that is, an allocation of the global sum. In a letter dated 22 January, the Minister notified my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) of the sums which have now been allocated for the major programmes of new building in 1980–81 and for the programmes of maintenance and improvement. That was at any rate a start: it was the first certainty in the matter which the Housing Executive had had.

The Minister continued: The position is therefore that the Executive is now proceeding to implement firm programmes within these allocations. Those are the programmes which we and our constituents so urgently need in order to see where we stand and where we are going to stand a year hence.

But there was another matter of principle which had to be settled. With rising costs, and with the houses to be tackled being more and more the difficult houses, whether because of the houses themselves or because of their location, another decision had to be taken—that is to say, whether an inflexible standard of improvement was to be applied or whether there was to be a range of different standards of improvement which could be applied in appropriate cases.

On that matter, too, progress has been made, for what the Minister called in a letter of 20 December a wider range of appropriate methods of improving the living conditions of the tenants has now been agreed between the Department and the Housing Executive, so that we now have three classes of improvement—wind and water-proof; minimal improvements; and full improvement—which, unless I am mistaken, and I hope I am not, are agreed in principle between the Department and the Housing Executive as appropriate for the respective circumstances.

Having got that matter clear, we had hoped that progress would be made in setting up the new programmes and getting them started in the financial year 1980–81. A press release of the Housing Executive at the end of last month stated: The Executive is at present in the process of agreeing new standards for these cottages with the Department of the Environment. It is that process and its apparent stickiness to which I want to draw attention.

What seems to happen is that the Housing Executive draws up programmes and proposals, but these are then picked over in detail by the Department of the Environment, despite the fact that an overall total has been agreed for the Housing Executive and that the Housing Executive has the approval in principle of appropriate respective standards for the different types of dwelling.

I will give a specific example that illustrates what my colleagues and I fear is happening. I shall take a group of three schemes in Banbridge, one of the districts in my constituency, and I shall quote the words of the regional controller. In October it was agreed to reappraise the whole programme. In a letter of 17 December, he said: This has been done and a complete submission has been prepared and was forwarded to Stormont on 6 December 1979. We have been assured a speedy response on the whole package. As soon as we obtain the general approval we will set firm programme dates and I will then advise you on the position as it affects the dwellings listed in your letter. Yet evidence to date is that there has been no progress in obtaining the approval of the Department of the Environment for that or similar programmes which have been put forward by the Housing Executive.

I learnt that last month from an inquiry which I made about a particular scheme, to which I received the answer in a letter from the regional controller dated 11 February: The full proposal is still with the DOE and therefore I am unable to advise you if, in fact, this proposal has been approved. As soon as information is available on this matter I will write to you. My hon. Friends and I find it simply impossible to understand why having such an organisation as the Housing Executive, having given that organisation a financial limit, and having discussed and agreed standards it is necessary for the Department of the Environment to go over the details case by case and house by house before these programmes can be set up and started and before we can give our constituents assurance of what will happen.

I think that the Minister was as shocked as I was by a recent instance on which I had to deal directly with him where the improvement of a single Housing Executive house to fit it for a disabled tenant—an improvement which was thoroughly considered by the Housing Executive and thoroughly vouched for by those expert in assistance for the disabled—was held up because the Department of the Environment still had to consider the detailed plans for that house before approval could be given.

This suggests that, although we have achieved something in the past six months towards getting a programme of improvement on to its feet again, there is a major stumbling block still in the way. That is the apparent complete duplication of effort which goes on between the Department and the Housing Executive. Of course, I accept that the Government are responsible: they are responsible to the House financially and in every other respect for the Housing Executive; the Housing Executive is in the last resort a creature of the Government and their agent in the matter of housing. What I cannot accept is that the Government are unable to devolve to the Housing Executive executive responsibility within the terms of reference of the financial limits which very properly they set.

I know that the Minister's sense of frustration is not far short of ours. I hope he will be able to say that we can now take the final step and have programmes which the Housing Executive can set up and carry out without this constant and frustrating reference backwards and forwards between Department and Executive.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawsbaw)

Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that six hon. Gentlemen have indicated that they wish to speak in the debate. We have 38 minutes left, and I hope that we shall have shorter speeches.

12.25 am
Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)

I shall take your advice Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall be as brief as possible. In order to cover the number of points that I wish to make I shall simply put up markers. If the Minister cannot answer them in his reply perhaps he will write to me at a later date.

I join with other hon. Members in thanking the Minister for the memorandum, which we have found helpful. While I am in the process of throwing bouquets, I should say that a valuable contribution to the debate was made by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John). My hon. Friends and I would have made many of the points that he made.

He took up the matter of the Belfast shipyard, Harland and Wolff. He slightly over-estimated the significance of the order that it had been given. I think that he said it was worth £10 million, but I believe that it is worth around £4 million. None the less, it is very much needed. The Minister will know that there were no more orders on the order book and that the work had almost been completed. The order gives a breathing space, but has no degree of permanence or security for the men employed in that section. The sobering and chilling remarks of the Minister when he replied to the hon. Member for Pontypridd will concern many people, particularly in my constituency.

I received a letter from the Minister in the latter part of last year in which he expressed concern at the position of the engine works, but he said that he found the position of the foundry grave. He indicated that closure was almost inevitable.

I wish to take up the aspect of the building of warships. In answer to the hon. Member for Pontypridd the Minister indicated that Harland and Wolff was not on the tender list for the building of warships. It received its last order for the building of a warship in 1966.

In a written answer that I received from the Ministry of Defence when I inquired why Harland and Wolff had not been considered suitable to tender for such orders, I was informed that its facilities, technical services and personnel structure had been optimised since modernisation for the production of large merchant vessels. The yard is no longer suitable for warship building, which has become an increasing complex specialist task. However, Harland and Wolff's capacity for building commercial type vessels is well recognised, and the yard will continue to be invited to tender for the construction of Royal fleet auxiliaries, and other Ministry of Defence vessels for which it has the capability. However, while the Minister in reply to my written question said that the yard is therefore no longer suitable for warship building. the word "yard" is open to interpretation. The facilities are obviously suitable for the building of any type of ship, but it has been many years since a warship was built. A specialist system and organisation is needed for the building of a warship. In that respect, the yard may not be suitable at present, but given a reasonable amount of work and a reasonable promise of continuity it could be restructured. If the position is as bad as the Minister indicates, has he not considered the restructuring of the yard in such a way that it could take this type of order?

In view of the seriousness of Harland and Wolff's position, I ask the Minister to keep that in mind. The shipyard is central to the economy of East Belfast, Belfast as a whole, and the whole of Northern Ireland. I urge the hon. Gentleman to reconsider his answers on the building of warships at Harland and Wolff.

In common with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), I have taken as the substance of my remarks Class V, on housing. I begin with the sale of public housing in Northern Ireland. Is the Minister able to give us an explanation of the delay that is taking place? I understand that in the area that I represent no house has been offered to a tenant since the proposition was made. Very few tenants, if any, have been given the price of their house. How many tenants have applied to buy their houses? When does the hon. Gentleman expect the first offers to be made? What procedure will be available to tenants who feel aggrieved about the price at which their house has been offered to them? Al- ready, two persons in one street will be offered the same house at a different price because of the discount arrangements. Has any procedure been established whereby an appeal may be made to an independent tribunal so that an aggrieved party may have his case reassessed and the valuation officer's price scrutinised?

One of the greatest housing problems in Northern Ireland is allocations. Social reasons and not housing needs seem to be the main criteria. People can live in squalor yet find themselves continually put to the back of the queue by those who come within various priority groupings—for example, by those who have been separated or divorced. Is the Minister prepared to give a greater degree of priority to those who have genuine housing problems and who live in houses that are, in the wording of the city council and the district council's closing orders, houses that are unfit for human habitation and not capable of being made fit at reasonable expense"? If a house is not fit for human habitation I suggest that those who are living in it are as entitled to another house as those who are rehoused first because they come within other priority groupings.

Further, it seems that the Housing Executive's policy is completely to ignore transfer applications. The executive takes the view that applications will be left completely to the housing manager's discretion. There is no priority rating within the transfer application system. Will the Minister consider pressing the executive and his Department to undertake a reappraisal of the transfer system? I have an executive document that sets out the transfer selection scheme. On every aspect of the current guidelines there appear the words although this again is a matter for discretion. Surely no real consideration is being given to applicants who for real reasons are requiring alternative accommodation in a different area.

I shall demonstrate that by referring to an individual case. Like other hon. Members, I have a constituency surgery. I find it necessary to make 15 minute appointments through the day. On one occasion I got behind and left a large crowd of people in the waiting room. Under other circumstances those people would not normally be together, but on this occasion they got together. One woman who came to see me lived in the Cregagh area and was seeking a transfer to Ardcarn, both in East Belfast.

She had been seeking that transfer for three years and her application had been in that long. She spoke to a woman living in Ardcarn who had been seeking a transfer to Cregagh during a similar period. They got talking and eventually told me that their problems had been solved. The Housing Executive and its famous computer must have been aware of the position of those women but they had never been matched up in the application system.

Could we not have a system where applications such as the two I have mentioned could be matched up? It should not be beyond the skills of the Housing Executive or its computer to deal with that. I ask the Minister to make available in Housing Executive offices a printout of transfer applications so that people could consult it and find out if they could transfer with others. If the issue is left to the Housing Executive, people and their applications will be forgotten.

Like other hon. Members, I make no apology for raising a particular constituency problem. Members from English, Scottish and Welsh constituencies may well throw up their hands in horror at the parochial nature of this problem, but this is the only forum in which I can raise it.

The case concerns the Newtownards Road redevelopment area and, in particular, the failure of the Housing Executive to live up to its promises to build a shopping complex there. In that area there was a famous institution known as "The Corner Shop". It provided far more than groceries and newspapers: it provided a community base—because it was open until all hours—where people could use the telephone and pass on messages. That shop had a distinct community function and formed a traditional part of the life of inner Belfast.

The residents there asked for this shop, in Fraser Street, to be kept and integrated into the new scheme. The Housing Executive of course turned down that request. The standard practice of planners is to clear a whole area and start anew. They do not like the inconvenience of having to build round an existing establishment.

The Housing Executive gave a promise to the people of that area to build a shopping complex and it has gone back on its word. A replacement for the corner shop is being built but it is a lock-up shop, which is obviously not as adequate for local needs as the old shop. The Housing Executive, moreover, is not prepared to grant the lease of the lock-up shop to the person who owned and operated the old corner shop. Is the Minister prepared to say that he will allow this man to be granted the lease of the lock-up shop? He has served the community there for 20 years and has an established business in the area. Notice has gone out to him that he must quit his premises.

That has caused consternation in the area and has resulted in a loss of faith in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive by the people in the area. Will the Minister look into that matter? It may seem trifling to many hon. Members but it is important to the people in that area who found the corner shop a useful establishment.

Will the Minister investigate the problem of vesting orders? The Housing Executive appears to decide what to do with an area after it has applied for a vesting order. On some occasions, after applying for the vesting order the executive tells the people whose houses it has taken that it does not need the houses for the purpose for which the vesting order was obtained. However, the executive fails to sell such properties back to the people who originally owned them. That is indefensible on any grounds. How can the Minister justify that?

If one purchases a house as an investment one does not receive an adequate return. In one case the Housing Executive offered £200 for a house which only a few years before was bought for £5,000. The executive seems to pay compensation on the basis of a multiplier of the weekly rent when a sitting tenant occupies the house. That is wrong. How can the Minister justify buying a house for £200 from a person who purchased it for £5,000 a short time before?

Under Class IX I turn to the question of an establishment in East Belfast. I approach the matter with reluctance and with as much delicacy as possible. I understand that the matter is being investigated by the police. My information is that three people in that East Belfast home have been suspended. I should like clarification from the Minister.

Allegations have been made about child prostitution in a Department of Health and Social Services boys' home. The allegations are causing great anxiety in the area. We have only press speculation and allegations from other individuals to go on. It is important that the Minister should give us some facts. I was informed by the Minister that, pending the outcome of inquiries, the Government have not conducted a separate investigation into the matter. I was told that no staff had been dismissed or suspended from duty, since no concrete evidence had been advanced to justify such action.

If three people have now been suspended, does it not follow that concrete evidence has been advanced? If that is so, may we be assured that there will be a full and public inquiry so that people can be satisfied that there is no cover-up? We have been informed by the press that the Department and the police have been aware of homosexuality in this home for about two years. I was told today, in a written answer, that that is not so. Can the Minister establish whether a report was made by the police at the end of December about such allegations? If that is so, the answer that I received is not correct.

Can the Minister clarify the position, so that public anxiety is alleviated? I ask the Minister to remember that boys in the care of the State are, according to the allegations, in great danger. For the sake of the public, the boys and, indeed, the staff, the fullest investigations should be conducted.

12.45 am
The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Philip Goodhart)

As a number of right hon. and hon. Members have referred to housing issues, it may be convenient to the House if I intervene—I hope briefly—at this point. On the final point made by the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), I will see that the Minister concerned writes to the hon. Gentleman as quickly as possible. However, I can assure him that we have no interest at all in a cover-up.

The hon. Member raised two specific housing points. On the question of house sales, I know that it is alleged that the programme is going slowly. The hon. Gentleman suggested that none had been offered for sale. In fact, provisional offers have been made to 1,250 tenants and some 769 tenants have accepted the provisional offer. Formal offers have been made to 377 tenants and 255 have accepted, which is a rather higher proportion than had originally been thought.

The hon. Gentleman made some criticisms of the transfer system operated by the Housing Executive. Again, I appreciate the importance of the point, but in the course of the last year some 5,000 transfers were organised by the Housing Executive and, as far as I can make out, this is a much higher proportion of transfer in relation to housing stock than is normal in other parts of the United Kingdom, though I appreciate that it is important to keep the system under review and to improve it where possible.

The hon. Members for Pontypridd (Mr. John) and for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and most hon. Members who have touched on the question of housing this evening argued that housing in Northern Ireland is a special case. The Government recognise this and have done so in the moneys that they have made available to the Housing Executive. At a time of extreme stringency in public expenditure, when housing programmes are being cut back in other parts of the United Kingdom, the capital programme of the Housing Executive is rising from £86 million to £112 million in the coming financial year. Total expenditure by the Housing Executive will increase from £255 million to £303 million. So it is right to talk of extra money being made available to continue, and, indeed, to intensify, the task of improving Northern Ireland's housing stock.

At the same time, it is fair to say that the rent increase that was announced for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive stock was lower than the guideline announced in England and Wales, where the guideline will be increased from the end of September by some £2.10. It has been alleged by the hon. Members for Pontypridd and for Belfast, West that I was discourteous to the Housing Executive and others by not consulting them in advance. I can assure the House that there has not been consultation in the past four years. The Housing Executive was merely told at the time that the announcement was made of the size of the increase. There was no argument about that.

There were special problems this year in that the increase was related to the guidelines for England and Wales. No announcement of that was made until Thursday 21 February, while it was necessary to meet the administrative deadlines laid down by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, and to announce a figure publicly by the morning of Friday 22 February. That gave us less than 24 hours to inform members of the Executive. I assure the House that it was not our intention to be discourteous to the Executive in any way. The problem will remain with us, as it remained with the previous Administration.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd referred, quite rightly, to the difficulty of young married couples trying to break into the housing market. That is precisely why the amount of money made available to the Executive for home loans in 1980–81 will be increased by 50 per cent.

in recent years Northern Ireland has taken the lead in developing the whole principle of co-ownership, which is of special value to young married couples. I am happy to say that in the coming financial year we shall make available an additional £4 million to develop co-ownership schemes.

There is an absolute identity of interest between hon. Members for Northern Ireland who take an interest in housing matters, the Housing Executive and the Department of the Environment, in that it is important to concentrate on improving the existing housing stock. That is why the amount of money that will be made available in the coming financial year will amount to more than £64 million. For the first time, the amount made available for planned and response maintenance will exceed the amount available to the expanded new building programme.

I concede that problems still exist. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to the problem of dealing with rural cottages. He referred to some frustration on the part of his local Housing Executive manager in relation to certain schemes in his constituency.

Frustration can, of course, count both ways. Last July, the right hon. Gentleman referred to some cottages at Donacloney. A few days ago I looked at what had happened to that project. Last September, the Department asked the Executive to review the total cost of the scheme and to consider whether there would be a long-term demand for the cottages which would justify full improvement. The Executive has yet to tell us of its proposals. Frustration therefore exists on both sides. I fully concede that it is in no one's interest to have highly trained professionals in the Department of the Environment checking on the work of similarly highly trained professionals in the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. However, we must be consistent.

I came to the Department of the Environment when the Rowland report had been submitted. In the subsequent debates on that report, there was pressure to increase control by the Department on the Executive. The Department is legally responsible for very large sums. It cannot lightly hand over control.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to school transport. He asked me to echo another place. He has spoken loudly on this issue. Another place has also spoken loudly on this subject this evening. I am sure that the Cabinet will take account of that vote.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd referred to education in Belfast. He suggested that we were cutting back the numbers of teachers and that the teacher-pupil ratios in Belfast were particularly bad. At the primary level, those ratios are generally better than they are in Great Britain. They are better in Belfast than they are in the rest of Northern Ireland. They are better in Belfast areas of need than in other areas of Belfast. At the beginning of the next school year, the pupil-teacher ratio in Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland at primary level should be better than it was at any time during the tenure of the previous Labour Government.

12.58 am
Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I am in an impossible situation. I have thrown away a brilliant speech. We all complimented the Minister on the way that he gave us background information to the debate. However, he asked us whether we had other suggestions.

I should like to make one. This debate will finish at 1.3 am. By then we shall have heard four ministerial speeches. I suggest that Ministers should rationalise their effort so that the rest of us are given a crack of the whip. That does not mean that they were the only culprits. Other hon. Members have spoken at length. However, in a four-hour debate it is impossible for us all to make meaningful contributions if some hon. Members make such long speeches.

I should have liked to take up several points. I wished to challenge the Under-Secretary's statement about the agricultural trust. He was not convincing. However, there is not time as the Minister wishes to reply and he must be given at least three minutes. I therefore conclude by saying that I hope that my remarks will be considered. I do so with a heavy heart as I had a number of very important comments to make.

12.59 am
Mr. Rossi

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and I appreciate his difficulty, which is no less than mine. In two to three minutes I was hoping to answer the points raised relating to the Department of Health and Social Security. Right hon. and hon. Members will have to await letters from my hon. Friend the Minister of State in that Department dealing with the important points raised.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) made an interesting proposal with regard to procedure. He suggested that perhaps this debate might be treated similarly to the Consolidated Fund Bill debate by dividing it up sub- ject by subject. That is not for us but for the Chair. If representations are made, perhaps a beter procedure can be devised to divide the debate into compartments, with a short answer from the appropriate Minister at the end of each.

I shall have to content myself with dealing with the major aspects of the Government's attitude to expenditure in Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John) appeared to suggest that we were being parsimonious in our attitude. The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) said that we did not have sufficient regard to the needs of Northern Ireland.

We are spending £2,300 million on 1½ million people. That figure does not include the Ministry of Defence costs for keeping the Army in Northern Ireland. It is merely the cost of maintaining the social structure. Of that sum, £1,000 million is raised by taxation in Northern Ireland. The remaining £1,300 million has to be found from the taxpayers of England, Scotland and Wales. There is a limit to the extent that they can be expected to provide money of that order. Nevertheless, we have regard to the needs of people of Northern Ireland—the economic deprivation that they have suffered and the problems there that do not exist elsewhere in the United Kingdom. For that reason, these vast sums of money are being spent.

I can give a further comparison. Per capita expenditure in Northern Ireland this year is £1,460. An average family of husband, wife and three children—

It being four hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).

Question agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 29 February, be approved.