HC Deb 09 December 1982 vol 33 cc1001-56
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

I remind the House that the Estimates before us are specific Supplementary Estimates and do not extend to the whole subject of Northern Ireland administration, nor to matters of security, which are the subject of motion No. 3.

Matters not covered by the Estimates cannot be debated. Of the matters covered, the scale of financial provision sought is sufficient to allow a wide debate on agriculture support, economic development and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Debate on the other matters in the order—agriculture, education, research and development, road services and non-contributory benefit—should be confined to the actual increases being sought beyond the original Estimates.

5.4 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. John Patten)

I beg to move, That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 17th November, be approved.

This order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 of the Northern Ireland Act 1974.

The purpose of the draft order is to appropriate the 1982–83 autumn Supplementary Estimates of Northern Ireland departments, amounting in total to some £47 million. The 1982–83 Main Estimates, which were approved by the House on 16 July, amounted to £2,472 million. Total public expenditure in the Province this year is, of course, some £3.6 billion, taking into account non-voted expenditure such as that of the national insurance fund, the capital programme of the Housing Executive and expenditure by district councils. The schedule to the draft order describes the purposes of the supplementary provision sought.

I wish to apologise to the House for an error at sub-head B1 of Class II Vote 6 in the volume where the figure of 345 staff should read 511 staff. I apologise for this error, which was not discovered until after the Estimates had been printed. At this very moment a cheerful witch hunt is going on at the Department of Finance and Personnel to discover the identity of the person responsible.

Before dealing with the main features of the Supplementary Estimates, I should mention that more detailed information can be found in the Estimates volume, copies of which have been placed in the Vote Office. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, who is present in the Chamber, will attempt to reply to as many points as possible before the end of the debate. If any go unanswered due to lack of time, they will, as usual, be answered in correspondence later. I hope that that is acceptable to right hon. and hon. Members.

I shall deal with the main features of the draft order one by one. On 1 April, my hon. Friend the Minister of State told the House that a further £16 million of special aid would be made available during 1982–83 to aid Northern Ireland agriculture. In the Appropriation debate in July, my hon. Friend asked the House to note that the necessary provision for the measures would be taken in Supplementary Estimates when the detailed provision had been finalised. It has now been finalised and I think that in its final form it represents a substantial boost for an important industry in Northern Ireland. I shall try to highlight the main ways in which the extra £16 million for agriculture will be spent.

Some £2.3 million of the £16 million assistance announced by my hon. Friend the Minister of State relates to the existing suckler cow subsidy and will fall, of course, on a United-Kingdom-borne Vote.

Of the remaining £13.7 million available in aid, some £12.3 million is likely to be taken up and the additional provision required is now sought in these Supplementary Estimates for Class I, Votes 1 and 2. This provision includes £1.9 million for continued measures to develop beef cattle production a very important aspect of the Province's agriculture—mainly through reductions in charges under the Department's artificial insemination service and beef recording and performance testing schemes, through aid for silage production and—not unimportantly, as grass is so important to the Province's agricultural economy—the liming of grassland.

The aid will also permit the continuation of the liquid milk subsidy, for which £7 million is being provided. This benefits milk producers in the Province by enabling the Northern Ireland milk marketing board to fix a higher wholesale price for milk going for liquid consumption without consumers in the Province having to pay a higher price themselves.

A total of £2.3 million is required for assistance to the intensive pig and poultry industries, taking the form of payments to operators of pig and poultrymeat processing plants in the Province, as well as egg packing stations. The main aim is to prevent any rundown in the pig, egg and poultry producing sectors of agriculture.

I listened with great interest last night to speeches of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and his right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) about the importance to agriculture in the Province of a healthy pig industry, and a well maintained pig herd, and of the great importance of the export of livestock. To help this, and to help cattle and sheep raising, we introduced a new measure in 1982–83, which is a grassland improvement scheme for which £1 million is required.

The grassland improvement scheme has been introduced to encourage the improvement of grassland productivity. Initially, £2.5 million was allocated for this year but, due to the late introduction of the scheme, it is unfortunately expected that expenditure will not go above £1 million in the current year. However, that does not prevent a substantial quantity of grassland being improved this year. We estimate that about 3,000 hectares will be improved this year, which in the context of Northern Ireland, with its characteristically small field size, is extremely important.

It is a pleasing thing to fly over the landscape of Northern Ireland, as my hon. Friend the Minister of State and I so often do, and look down on the agricultural landscape below. It is possible to pick out from the air where these agricultural improvements are taking place, and one can almost see the profusion of this new form of improved grassland agriculture spreading across Northern Ireland. One can experience it with the same sort of pleasure, as I know my hon. Friend does, as was experienced by improving agriculturists in the 18th century as they introduced the new agriculture, and the enclosed fields spread across the landscape.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Do the hon. Gentlemen have occasion to cross by air the Mourne area, and notice the new grazing that is being provided by the stoning of fields, a remarkable operation? Will the Minister or his colleagues be able to say whether that operation, which is as spectacular in its results, will come within the ambit of this new scheme?

Mr. Patten

If I may, I shall leave the details of the answer to my hon. Friend. Unfortunately the flight paths of the various and variegated aircraft do not often take us over the Mourne mountains, although I should like them to. However, as recently as last Monday when I was driving to and from Kilkeel, which is in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, I saw stoning in progress by the side of the road, and saw what an impressive form of activity it is.

New provision is also being made for a grant in aid to a new body, Seed Potato Promotions (Northern Ireland) Limited, which is replacing the seed potato marketing board. It has been set up to encourage increased efficiency in the seed potato industry.

I am glad to be able to report that there has been a substantial improvement in the incomes of most farmers in the province in 1981 and 1982. This has resulted from a combination of factors, including a reduction in the rate of cost inflation, lower interest rates, higher prices for most products and the special aid introduced under the scheme brought to the House by the Minister, which has helped to restore confidence a good deal in agriculture in the Province.

With regard to the administration vote of the new Department of Economic Development Class II, Vote 6, the £2.3 million provision sought by way of supplementary estimate is a consequence of the marriage of previously separate administrative votes that have been brought together on the formation of the new Department. It will not result in any increased public expenditure. The previous Department of Manpower Services Administration Vote, Class II, Vote 7, will be extinguished as the Department has been extinguished following the marriage of the Department of Manpower Services and the Department of Commerce.

The House will recall from an earlier debate on the Departments (Northern Ireland) No. 2 Order that the Department of Economic Development, which amalgamated the functions of the Departments of Commerce and of Manpower Services was created to improve the capacity of Government comprehensively to respond to the needs of industry in the Province, and to deploy the considerable resources available for industrial development purposes to the best advantage. After the brief experience of this new Department, the Government remain convinced of the need to have an efficient, effective and well co-ordinated machinery of government to deal with industrial questions. This small supplementary provision will facilitate the smooth transition to the new arrangements purely from a financial point of view. I stress that there will be no additional public expenditure.

The House will also be aware that the Department of Economic Development has as one of its constituent parts the new Industrial Development Board. The board oversees the industrial development functions in the province that were previously the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Development Agency—NIDA—and the Department of Commerce. During the passage of the Industrial Development (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, right hon. and hon. Members were given the opportunity to comment on the new draft guidelines for the new board both here on the Floor of the House and in the Northern Ireland Committee.

I am pleased to be able to inform hon. Members that a set of definitive guidelines will shortly be issued to the board, and these take into account the wide range of representations that have been received from many interested parties such as the CBI, the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Northern Ireland Economic Council and the board itself. As a result of these representations, the Government are convinced that within the framework of these guidelines the board will bring a positive approach across a broad range of industrial development activity. We recognise that that is greatly needed.

That is not to say, however, that the Government believe that the creation of the Industrial Development Board by itself is the be-all and-end all of moves towards solving the Province's employment problem, as it is clearly not the sole answer. The Government are also continuing their efforts, through their overall national economic policies and the allocation of total Northern Ireland public expenditure, to ensure the revival of the Northern Ireland economy and to promote a climate more favourable to industry and employment, and to industrial enterprise of all kinds. In particular, the substantial amounts devoted to the industrial development programme of the Industrial Development Board and the local enterprise development unit, will continue to reflect the Government's commitment to tackling Northern Ireland's severe and deep-rooted economic problems.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have already ruled that it would be out of order for anyone taking part in the debate, including a Minister, to range across the whole of the Northern Ireland security problem which will be debated during a later debate when I shall also speak. Without stepping outside the bounds of that order I want to say one thing about the relationship between the security problem and the economic future of the Province. This week the House has heard many views, properly and forcefully made, about security in the Province.

Those people who commit acts of terrorism in the Province do not just have on their hands the blood of those people whom they have destroyed; they bear also the stain of the guilt of the destruction of hundreds of thousands of potential new jobs which do not go to Northern Ireland as a result of investment from overseas or from this side of the water. They have the livelihoods of the people of the Province on their hands. There are young people on the streets of the Province who do not have jobs because of terrorist activities which have inhibited inward investment in Northern Ireland.

I shall deal with what this set of Supplementary Estimates does for the infrastructure of Northern Ireland. I believe that the proposals are as good as for any other part of the United Kingdom, particularly for roads. I have listened in earlier debates to the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), who is not present in the Chamber, and to the right hon. Member for Down, South, speaking about the importance of a good and well maintained infrastructure in Northern Ireland to provide the framework for economic revival and rejuvenation which sometimes subsidies alone cannot bring. I believe that the additional provisions made in Class IV, Vote 1, dealing with roads services, show the Government's determination to ensure that the Northern Ireland infrastructure, which is so important to its manufacturing and agricultural industries, is well maintained. There is an additional provision of £8.4 million sought for the construction and improvement of roads, bridges and car parks and for the repair of excessive damage to roads which resulted from last winter's severe weather conditions, the operation and maintenance of street lighting and public liability compensation for damage or injury.

The estimated provision for new construction of roads and bridges is being increased by £2.7 million to allow the completion of the extremely important link between the M1 and the M2 in Belfast and to finance essential roadworks in housing action areas in the Belfast areas of need scheme. It is a critically important area of Government expenditure in west Belfast.

The protracted periods of abnormally cold weather in the winter of 1981–82 caused severe damage to the structure and fabric of many of the Province's roads. It is considered essential, therefore, that additional funds are spent on making good the worst of the damage and preventing the deterioration of the road base. Accordingly, supplementary provision of £3.8 million is now sought to enable the Department of the Environment to carry out some of those urgent repairs.

Among other services for which additional provision is being sought in this vote, is the construction and improvement of car parks for which a further £1 million is required to meet existing contractual commitments.

Approval is being sought also for the application of a further £500,000 of receipts as appropriation-in-aid. The increased receipts which arise mostly from the sale of land will be appropriated in aid because some of the land is dependent on the completion of legal formalities and it is not easy to predict the amount of receipts from such sales at the start of the year. It is intended that that increase in receipts of £500,000 be applied against increases in expenditure on the construction and improvement of roads and bridges.

In Class X, Vote 2, we find a substantial sum of £22,331,000 for additional provision for social security non-contributory benefits. It is sought mainly for supplementary benefits. It is required because of the increase in the numbers of unemployed, with which all of us in the Chamber are familiar, and the increase in the number of beneficiaries in other categories. The increase in supplementary benefits is offset to some extent by the increase in the amount appropriated in aid of that expenditure and reductions in amounts that will be required for a number of other minor benefits. On information available in December 1982, it is estimated that payments of social security benefits in Northern Ireland during the present financial year, both from moneys provided directly by Parliament and from the national insurance fund, will again be approximately £945 million—just under £1 billion.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

Is it not a fact that the reason the Government are having so much trouble with their economic policy here and in Northern Ireland is that they cannot reduce public expenditure in the way that they wanted because they have to keep paying out more and more in unemployment benefit?

Mr. Patten

I should like to debate, under your benign eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the whole range of economic matters. The hon. Gentleman's question seems to imply that there is a Pandora's box, but I must not go down that road. Social security payments in the Province are made in strict parity with those on this side of the water. Clients who go to social security offices, of which there are 33 in the Province, will have the help of extra staff who have been taken on to ensure that social security payments are made properly. In the past two years 568 extra staff have been taken on in social security offices in the Province. It is not an overall increase in staff in the Northern Ireland Civil Service. We remain on target for the reduction of the civil service over the next 18 months. We hope to arrive at the desired figure of 25,400 civil servants on 1 April 1984. We have been able to make reductions elsewhere in the Civil Service because of increased efficiency. An excellent service is given although there is a large number of people on the register.

Mr. Soley

The Minister said that benefits in Northern Ireland are in line with those in the rest of the United Kingdom. Does the Department of Health and Social Services intend to bring in the same form that is being introduced here with so much disfavour?

Mr. Patten

Which form?

Mr. Soley

The application form for unemployment benefit and supplementary benefit, which are now linked, which requires answers to about 40 questions.

Mr. Patten

The Department of Health and Social Services in Northern Ireland is examining the multitudinous variety of forms in the Province and in many aspects the questions differ slightly from those asked on this side of the water although the net effect is the same. In the end everyone gets the same level of benefit.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Why do the questions differ in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Patten

They differ for historic reasons. We are trying to iron out many of those differences, but it is a large task because of the many thousands of forms that exist. We are working hard.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Minister referred to the sum of £945 million paid to Northern Ireland. Can he give us a similar breakdown for a comparable area in England, Scotland or Wales?

Mr. Patten

I must not put words into the hon. Gentleman's mouth, but I suspect that he knows the answer. Financial provision for Northern Ireland is made in a unique way and it is therefore possible to isolate the level of expenditure for Northern Ireland in a way that is not possible for other parts of the United Kingdom. I have never tried and nor has any other Northern Ireland Minister since we have been in office.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I appreciate the Minister's answer. Does he accept that it is unfair to single out Northern Ireland as if it were getting some special treatment, whereas we prefer to be treated equal to other parts of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Patten

It is precisely because the Government wish to ensure that Northern Ireland is treated like any other part of the United Kingdom that so much money, which I fully support, is spent in Northern Ireland. That is why public expenditure in Northern Ireland amounts to 35 per cent. more per head than on this side of the water. I have perhaps been too precise. It is perhaps about one-third higher than on this side of the water.

Rev. Smyth


Mr. Patten

I shall, of course, give way, but this is an argument that could run and run.

Rev. Smyth

We are not comparing like with like. We are taking an across-the-board figure for England which covers deprived areas of the North and the more opulent areas of the South. There is a tendency to sit back and say "Look how well we are treating Northern Ireland. We are giving it more than England". It is an unfair comparison.

Mr. Patten

I do not seek to bring any element of unfairness into the argument. The figures are available. I use them myself only to demonstrate the care that the Government rightly give to people of an integral part of the United Kingdom. When, in Oxford, constituents of mine ask why the Government are looking after Northern Ireland in this way, I explain that Northern Ireland has special problems and special needs, just like Scotland, Wales and other less-favoured regions of the United Kingdom. We need therefore to spend money there. I use these figures illustratively to show that because so many soldiers are properly in Northern Ireland, so much money is spent there. It is a useful set of figures with which to explain the realities of Northern Ireland and our relationship with Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

When my hon. Friend, in his conversations with constituents, makes the comparison between expenditure per head in Northern Ireland and in England, does he compare the less prosperous regions of England and Scotland and Wales? The tendency is to compare expenditure per capita in Northern Ireland with that in England as a whole.

Mr. Patten

The figures that I have given showing public expenditure per head a third higher are comparisons with Great Britain as a whole and not with England. The figures have substantial variety built into them. If figures were available for Scotland and for Wales, they would undoubtedly be found convenient by hon. Members representing Scotland and Wales.

The last item in the draft order concerns the additional provision required for the Northern Ireland Assembly. This is contained in Class XI, Vote 1. The original provision in this Vote was made to cover expenditure on the residual functions of the Northern Ireland Assembly which was in a dissolved state between 1974 and 1982. The Northern Ireland Act 1982 passed on 23 July 1982 provided for the setting up of the new Northern Ireland Assembly. Elections to the Assembly took place on 20 October 1982. The Supplementary Estimate of £1.3 million now required is to fund the initial costs of setting up the Assembly and subsequent running costs during the current financial year.

The components of the Supplementary Estimate are salaries, allowances and expenses of members, the salaries of the Assembly staff, who number 96, and facilities for the recording of Assembly proceedings. I have read those proceedings with pleasure and find the reports of the proceedings pleasing to the eye. The production of the Official Report is a triumph for those who work in the Assembly.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

Is the hon. Gentleman expressing admiration for the typeface or the content? Has he read the dazzling accounts of Adjournment debates in which the Government and their agencies are criticised when there is no Minister present to defend them?

Mr. Patten

I was thinking purely of the typography, of the layout and of the quality of the paper. Now that the hon. Gentleman has lured me down this path, I wish also to say that I have read with great interest many of the proceedings of the Assembly. I have read with a certain amount of terror, as I may one day have to face the Assembly, the condemnations rained down on my head, as the Minister responsible for the Department of Health and Social Services, by an hon. Member who is not in his place today.

I know from the experience of my hon. Friend the Minister of State the value of the meetings that take place between Members of the Assembly and Ministers following his own appearance. Other matters that have to be taken into account are the refurbishing of the accommodation and the general running expenses of the Assembly.

I do not wish to re-embark upon the argument about comparisons between expenditure in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. I can only say that facts are facts. Those facts are before the House. They cannot be wished away. Provided that no attempt is made to use the figures in an unfair manner, it is legitimate to draw them to the attention of the House. They demonstrate yet again the concern of the Government for the Province and the level of commitment that this country shows to the people of Northern Ireland.

5.37 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

I associate my party and myself with the comments made by the Minister about the effects of terror on Northern Ireland. Enough has, I think, been said. Indeed, words are pathetically inadequate on such occasions. It is, however, right for the Minister to say that terror has an effect on the economy and destroys jobs. For some of the paramilitary groups, that is a real and well-thought-out intention. It has to be borne in mind, especially at times such as this, that unemployment provides a rich breeding ground for recruitment into paramilitary organisations. For that reason, hon. Members, when discussing these matters, must never forget the effect of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, in places such as Northern Ireland.

A significant sum in the appropriation order is to be expended on the Northern Ireland Assembly. I do not wish to dwell for any great length of time on this issue. The Opposition want the money to be used effectively and wish the Assembly to work. We think that it is unlikely to work well without an all-Ireland dimension. We should be happy to see the sum increased to allow the all-Ireland dimension to be present, perhaps through a parliamentary tier. That is one of many ways of winning consent for progress towards a united Ireland which would offer far more political, economic and social security to the people of Northern Ireland. This must be in the forefront of our minds. The news on the economy of Northern Ireland is universally grim. There has been a slight upturn in the forecast for 1983 but it is insufficient to reduce adult unemployment. According to the new figures, compiled recently by the Secretary of State for Employment, unemployment now stands at 20.1 per cent. We have already made our views clear about the way in which the figures are compiled, and we shall watch and compare them with the old method of compiling them to see what the differences are.

Recently, Mr. Saxone Tate, the chief executive of the Industrial Development Board, said that in Northern Ireland some 60,000 new jobs were needed over the next five years simply to bring Northern Ireland up to the equivalent position of the worst region in the rest of the United Kingdom. In other words, 60,000 jobs are needed in the next five years just to bring the level up to the lowest in Britain. That is the measure of the job.

So the first and most important question that I put to the Secretary of State is: what is the Government's economic strategy? We must look at each of these Classes of Vote in its own right, and ask what we should do to improve the economy. I do not see any new jobs coming from incoming companies, and with investment going overseas, the outlook is bleak.

Class II, Vote 6, deals with the Department of Economic Development. It is becoming increasingly clear that the problems of Northern Ireland's economy are linked, and always have been linked, with the problems of the Republic of Ireland. Perhaps I might spend a brief moment on the successes of the Industrial Development Authority in the Republic. If we are to have successful economic development, which I have no doubt the Minister wants, I am sure that we can learn something from the Republic. The structure and incentives offered by that organisation have played a central role in the post-war industrialisation of Ireland, and the strategy—here is the message for the Government, because they do not have an industrial strategy for Northern Ireland, or indeed for the United Kingdom—is to shift Irish industry into products with higher added value, based on good quality and design, and aimed at specialist markets.

The success has been such that Ireland is one of the top five producers of microelectronic components. Half of all Japanese investment of Europe has been in Ireland. In 1980, industrial production grew there by 1.5 per cent., and the 1981 OECD forecast is 4 per cent. That leads me to conclude that if we are serious about helping the Department of Economic Development to create an effective economy in Northern Ireland, we need to have a similar strategy. I can think of no better way of starting than by working in conjunction with the Republic of Ireland, towards an all-Ireland economic development council. Then we could talk about the items in Class II more realistically than we do now.

Mr. John Patten

I do not wish to disturb the hon. Gentleman's analysis of the economic welfare of the Republic of Ireland, but might I ask him whether he regards the present levels of inflation, international debt and unemployment in the Republic of Ireland as desirable in Ulster?

Mr. Soley

No, I do not. That is why I prefaced my remarks with the comment that the positions of Ireland and Northern Ireland were linked, and that it is nonsense to have two separate economic policies competing with each other in the island of Ireland. The way that the economies have been distorted by the existence of the border has been of no benefit to the people of the Republic or of Northern Ireland. It is time that we faced that fact.

Class I, Vote 2 deals with agriculture. Almost one third of the farms in Northern Ireland had negative incomes last year. The intensive farming sector is suffering as a result of our entry of the European Community. I might ask here, "Who has not?" We have joined an organisation that subsidies inefficient agriculture but not inefficient industry. That has been a problem for the whole of the United Kingdom, but in intensive farming it has produced special problems. The resultant rise in the cost of feedstuffs—the equivalent aid from the EC—was not sufficient to match that.

I am glad that the Minister confirmed that the £16 million aid per annum will continue. I welcome that, and I know that it will be welcomed in Northern Ireland by the Ulster Farmers Union and others. Can the Minister tell us whether there is anything in this Vote that will increase the amount available for items such as research into food production? That could be a growth area in the economic development of Northern Ireland. It is a classic case where research is needed, and we should like to know whether that is possible.

The farming community in Northern Ireland is worried about the lack of an integrated regional policy in Northern Ireland. A few moments ago the Minister spoke of the extra subsidy for milk. However, I am not sure whether it means that farmers will get the same subsidy per pint as the British farmer. Before, it was lower, and I am not sure whether, as a result of the Minister's announcement, it will be the same as for a farmer over here.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)

My hon. Friend made no new announcements today. He drew attention to the fact that when I made the announcement to the House I said that it would be dealt with financially in these Estimates. Despite this additional money, the returns to the Northern Ireland milk producer are not as good per pint as they are to producers in Great Britain.

Mr. Soley

I thank the Minister for that information. We shall consider over time the difference that still exists and what can be done about it.

I understand that there is also anger about the less-favoured areas. I am not sure whether a formal application has been put in. Many farmers assumed that the application had been made, but then discovered that it had not. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will tell us whether the application has been formally launched, and if not, why not and when it will be made. Also, on the less-favoured areas, there has been secrecy about the boundaries which were drawn up some three years ago. I know that a number of people in Northern Ireland hope that that secrecy will be removed. It is bizarre not to know the boundaries, and there would need to be a good reason for not making them known.

I shall say a word about Class X, Vote 2, the Department of Health and Social Services. Recently, the Northern Ireland branch of Gingerbread, the association for one-parent families, wrote to the Prime Minister on behalf of single parents. About 11 per cent. of all families in Northern Ireland are single-parent families, and of that 11 per cent. about 70 per cent. exist at or below the poverty line. So this is a matter of singular importance. In its letter to the Prime Minister, Gingerbread made several specific points. It asked that child benefits and one-parent benefits should not be deducted from supplementary benefits. It also asked for a radical revision of the benefit rate, and said that that revision should be upwards. It also asked that one-parent benefit should take account of the fact that the household costs of the single parent are similar to those of the two-parent family. I stress that problem. I realise that the Minister cannot change it overnight, but it is bizarre to assume that the costs of a one-parent household are less than those of a two-parent household. If anything, the reverse is true. I hope that the Minister will consider that problem.

I understand that there is also concern about regulations applying to school uniform grants outside the Belfast area. School meals regulations must be changed to allow all those on low incomes to benefit. I hope that the Minister will comment on that—later, if not now. I know that I have asked some specific questions, to which the Prime Minister's office may well be devising the answers, but I am sure that at some stage Gingerbread in Northern Ireland would like to know the Government's views.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

We all receive representations in general terms from these organisations about the level of benefits. Clearly, as the hon. Gentleman said, level of benefit is of crucial importance. However, does he agree with me that in many one-parent families what is often lacking is special attention to the actual circumstances of the particuar case and that these organisations could do more than they do to bring to the attention of those who can offer that special attention the individual cases upon which they build their general submission? It is often difficult to get out of those bodies instances in one own's constituency which one would be only too glad to investigate and follow up.

Mr. Soley

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's intervention. As a constituency Member of Parliament in Northern Ireland, he will have greater knowledge of that matter than I. There are specific areas. One, which I have not yet investigated fully but would like to, and of which he may have some knowledge, is the position of widows with young children, who have a special problem. I will undertake to bring the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to the attention of Gingerbread in Northern Ireland. I shall ask for a response to this point, which was fair.

Mr. John Patten

In his plans to drive an unwilling Province into a united Ireland, is the right hon. Gentleman keen to see the harmonisation of social security payments in the North with the much lower ones obtaining south of the border?

Mr. Soley

I do not accept for one moment that it would be an unwilling Province. The emphasis is on consent. We stick with that consent. I have no doubt that in my time we can win that consent. I am keen on the process of harmonisation. It must be begun as a sensible, coherent policy. The Government are not going down that road. That is clear to me, although it is not clear to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and some of his colleagues. While the Government of the United Kingdom are responsible for Northern Ireland, it is the duty of all Members of Parliament to see that the people there get no less a performance from the Government and the House than do other people in the United Kingdom. When I have the policies that I want, we shall do things in the way that I have outlined. It will be with consent.

Will the Minister tell us more about his energy strategy, especially in view of the lignite deposits, which were referred to recently? That is an important part of economic development. I do not expect the Minister to make an announcement on the recently announced finds, but I am struck by the fact that about 90 per cent. of Northern Ireland industry depends on fuel oil for heating, steam raising and process. I gather that a number of firms have made applications to convert their plants from oil to coal. I understand that the Government have an oil-coal conversion grant scheme. The question that is being asked at the moment is whether that scheme can be continued. I gather that it is not to continue at the moment. Is the Minister prepared to introduce a new scheme or, at the least, will he allow the outstanding £50 million, which has not yet been allocated, to be used?

We must have a clear guidance from the Government on the Lear Fan Company. I do not want to say anything that complicates the matter. There have been rumours in the press about the company. Nothing could be worse than if the rumours were allowed to continue. We need a clear commitment from the Government on their policy for Lear Fan, how much the grants are, how frequently they are given and the control over the use of that money. The Minister should make statements on those matters frequently. I gather that the finance is running at about £1 million a month. If there is undue secrecy about the finance or use of the finance, that will inevitably feed rumours. As we know from the experience of other companies that have been regarded as leaders in the economy, there could be real difficulties, which we would not want and which would not be necessary.

We are far from satisfied that the Government have a coherent economic strategy for the development of Northern Ireland. I am far from satisfied that they have one for the United Kingdom as a whole. The position in Northern Ireland is so desperate that the time is long overdue for the Government to come forward with an industrial strategy that will do something about unemployment. However much we have our own views about political solutions, at the end of the day the economic solutions are also of great importance to the political and social stability of that area.

5.53 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

I regret that I rise to take part in the debate in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross), who was at the service of the House until a late hour last night and who I know has a contribution to make to the debate on a subject which is of common interest in his constituency and mine and which was referred to by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley)—the delimitation of the less-favoured areas.

I think that I ought to tell the House that my hon. Friend left London early today to attend the funerals of his constituents who had been killed in the late outrage. It will be his endeavour to participate, if physically possible, in the debate, but the House should understand that his absence and the absence of one or two other of my colleagues from these Benches derives indirectly from political events and political causes that have engaged us in other contexts and other debates.

I want to avail myself of your indication, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the provision under Class XI for expenditure on the Northern Ireland Assembly enables us to refer at large—that was your expression—to that ill-fated constitutional experiment which has been imposed upon the Province. I do not intend to do so, however, at great length because the House will have an opportunity during the whole of tomorrow's sitting, if it needs so long, to consider that matter on the basis of a motion which I hope to move shortly after 9.30 tomorrow morning.

I will restrict myself to the effect of that constitutional enormity upon the House itself, for when the House passed the Northern Ireland Act 1982 it not only did a mischief to the Province but it did violence to the very principles by which the House itself is guided in its procedures and in the discharge of its responsibilities—that is to say, the link between the representative responsibility of Members of the House and the responsibility of Ministers to the House and through the House to the electorate.

I can avail myself as a starting point of the text of a letter which the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland wrote to the Presiding Officer of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It was published in the Official Report of that body for 30 November and a transcript was inserted at my request in yesterday's Official Report. As the Under-Secretary of State pointed out, I benefited from the clear typeface. That reminds me of the celebrated observation of the Emperor Napoleon on Mark Twain's map of Paris: It is nice large print".

The right hon. Gentleman said: Following devolution of powers to the Assembly, political heads of Northern Ireland Departments become answerable to the Assembly, as in 1974, but"— here follow the important words— until then accountability for all aspects of Northern Ireland affairs will lie to Parliament

That, of course, is indefeasible constitutional logic. The principle is indisputable. It was good that the Secretary of State stated it so candidly to the Assembly that he created. But of course the mere statement of that principle raises a number of grave questions, one of which is perhaps irremediable so long as that Assembly exists in its present irresponsible—I use the word in a literal and not amoral sense—and ineffective form. However, some other consequences may be, and I hope are, remediable by the action of the Government.

I come first to the most general. It is the one to which the Secretary of State addressed himself in his communication. He said: The closer the Assembly seeks to model itself on Westminster as regards Parliamentary questions, adjournment debates and so forth, the more difficult it will be for me and my Ministerial colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office to reconcile the constitutional obligation to Westminster with our wish to cooperate with the Assembly. He went on: I therefore hope that more flexible arrangements can be devised which, while recognising that the Assembly will seek to hear Ministers regularly, will also take account of our prior"— that was not, I think, a pun— and overriding responsibilities to Parliament.

I think that the Secretary of State is deceiving himself and, in the course of it, perhaps unintentionally deceiving the recipients of his communication. Of course it is an absurdity for an elected Assembly to have no responsibilities to its constituents and to find itself debating their affairs, and the matters which concern them, in a vacuum, but then they have been told that from time to time—there was a conspicuous example a few days ago—the Ministers will descend from their Olympus and actually be "heard" by the Members of the Assembly. They might even condescend to answer questions which might be put to them by Members of the Assembly.

What will be the status of those colloquies`" Are the Ministers addressing that body as they address a body to which they are responsible? Clearly not. Are they, as Ministers do and ought to do, in this House, going to shape and adjust their actions and administration to what is said to them by the Members of that body? If so, there is an immediate and direct breach of the constitutional relationship between Members of the Government and Members of this House, because that relationship requires that it shall be to us, and to us alone, as elected representatives that explanation and justification of the Government's policies are offered and account taken of our representations in the manner in which Government proceeds. Indeed, it is a contradiction of the whole nature of debate that elected persons should debate in the hearing of those who have declared specifically, and correctly, that they have no responsibility to them. It is a breach and an affront to responsible debate as we know it in this House.

The Secretary of State must not be surprised if he finds that the frustration which was predicted in the truncated course of proceedings upon the Northern Ireland Bill is already felt by Members of that Assembly. They have been put in an impossible position. They have been invited to stand and have stood for an election as representatives. When they arrive as representatives they find themselves confronted by those who rightly say to them "We are not responsible to you. We are not responsible through you to your constituents. We are prepared to give you occasional talks, but responsibility to your constituents you cannot carry because we have no responsibility through you to your constituents."

That is an illustration of the working out of inherent contradictions and absurdities of that ill-fated experiment. It is perhaps a good thing that it has come early on in the life of that body.

It will not be remedied or altered if, by any chance, that body should get as far as setting up any Committees. I suppose that it might be possible for officials to respond to Committees set up by the Assembly; but we in this House should be very jealous of any such arrangement. When officials appear before Committees of this House, as indeed they must, they appear on behalf of their Ministers. They appear because those Ministers are responsible to the House and therefore owe an answer to those Committees. Officials who appear before Committees of the Assembly are in no such position. Therefore, those who are responsible as officials to Ministers—Ministers solely accountable "for all aspects of Northern Ireland affairs" to Parliament and to this House—will be placing themselves in communication on behalf of the Government with those in whom no such responsibility vests.

There is no precedent or justification or wisdom in any such arrangement. The only result will be to convey to the Province and to those who have taken part in the Assembly that they have been the subject of an experiment which is essentially in the nature of a trick, a hocus-pocus, giving the appearance of representation without the reality. During the passage of the Bill we told the Secretary of State that that was what would happen. Indeed, I remember telling him myself that if persons were elected and turned up at Stormont he could not restrict what they would talk about. They will talk about what they please; but they will talk about it irresponsibly, not because they want to do so, but because they have been placed in an inherently irresponsible position. That position could not have been more classically stated than it was by the Secretary of State in the letter to the Members of the Assembly from which I have just quoted.

The impasse is irresolvable unless the Members of the Assembly, who were elected on the basis that they would not conform with the conditions in the Bill for taking over administrative responsibility, break their election pledges to their constituents or unless the Assembly ceases to exist.

I move from that impasse, which is irremediable unless and until that happens, to two particular but very sensitive ways in which the House is at present being affronted by the arrangements for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Those hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies recently received a communication from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. I shall not trouble the House with the full letter which was appended, but perhaps I might read Mr. Kernohan's covering letter. It states: Under my Act as amended or affected by subsequent legislation the responsibility for submission to me of complaints against Northern Ireland Government Departments is now transferred to Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The second paragraph of the letter continues: My predecessor wrote to you shortly after your election as a Member of the House of Commons giving information about the work of the Parliamentary Commissioner. I have now written a letter to all Members of the Assembly giving them similar information and I enclose a copy of it for your information.

If I may say so, this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, concerns the Chair in more than the formal sense in which all matters in this House concern the Chair; for this is an affront to the House as well as to individual Members. I am told by the Secretary of State that on all aspects of Northern Ireland affairs the Government are accountable to me—to the House. Therefore I am responsible to my constituents on all aspects of Northern Ireland affairs that are within the scope of Government. With the exception of the exiguous matters that are within the powers of the district councils, for everything else within the purview of Government that affects my constituents, I am responsible to them. According to the Secretary of State, I alone in Down, South, as the elected representative am responsible.

Whether rightly or wrongly, I am now told by the Parliamentary Commissioner that his services are no longer at my disposal. He kindly said that he would finish a couple of cases that I had submitted to him before 20 October, and I was most obliged to him for that. However, I have received from him not merely that general letter, but an intimation directed to me personally that he would no longer accept—as the Parliamentary Commissioner in Great Britain must accept from hon. Members if their submissions are within his terms of reference—submissions that I make to him, when I judge that the best way to make Government accountable to mé and to secure redress for my constituents to whom I am responsible.

We should be given an explanation. I believe that the Parliamentary Commissioner is legally qualified. I assume he has investigated the effect of the Northern Ireland Act 1982, read in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Act 1973 and the Act under which the Parliamentary Commissioner operates. If so, by legislation the House has deprived those hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies of access to a Parliamentary Commissioner in discharge of responsibilities that are uniquely and exclusively those of Members of Parliament, in order that they can be transferred to persons to whom the Secretary of State says that he is not accountable.

We truncated our proceedings on the Bill. My point illustrates how unwise it is for the House to hurry or botch its business. If the Parliamentary Commissioner has interpreted the statutes rightly, we would not have dreamt of enacting a Bill with that effect, if we had known.

Mr. Molyneaux

I am in a different and even more ludicrous position than my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), because I have been working on two cases with the co-operation of the Minister responsible in Northern Ireland for the Department of the Environment. I was conducting the correspondence as a Member of Parliament. I was then requested to lay the complaints before the Parliamentary Commissioner. However, to do that I must don the hat of a Member of the Assembly and use notepaper headed, not House of Commons, London SW 1, but Northern Ireland Assembly, Parliament Buildings, Stormont. In that way I can lay the complaint before the Parliamentary Commissioner, who is, after all, responsible to this House.

Mr. Powell

I almost regret that I gave way to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). During the past 12 years there has rarely, if ever, been any cause for animosity between us; but I am jealous to find that when my hon. Friend—like a few more of my hon. Friends—is confronted by the same problems as myself, he can do what I am apparently prevented from doing by law. I am apparently not allowed to engage the services of the. Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. Therefore, either the Parliamentary Commissioner is mistaken about the law—in which case he must be sharply told on behalf of the Government that that is so—or if, as I suspect, we botched our work because we hurried it, we must have the situation rectified, even if that means introducing a Bill.

I hesitate to embark upon the dark waters of inquiring whether an Order in Council would be capable of remedying that defect in primary legislation. I suspect it would not be. However, the Secretary of State cannot possibly justify what he has done. He can only say that the Bill had to be guillotined because the debate on it showed up too many of its weaknesses, and that, because of the guillotine, the defect was not brought to his atttention, but remained unnoticed in the other place and received the Royal Assent.

The Government cannot refuse a remedy for this grievance. They cannot say that they are satisfied, when hon. Members are denied access to a Parliamentary Commissioner on matters on which Ministers are uniquely responsible to them, as Members of Parliament. I hope that that matter will be dealt with, and I am certain that the whole House is with me in my demand.

Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the Members of the Assembly to whom the power has been transferred do not have any means of getting the Minister responsible to form a judgment? He is not answerable to them. They cannot use the normal parliamentary procedures to make him accountable. That is another aspect of the matter.

Mr. Powell

As my hon. Friend has pointed out, when Members of the Assembly receive their reports from the Parliamentary Commissioner, they do not have the means that we have to bring pressure to bear on the Administration. Indeed, my hon. Friend has reminded me how the absurdities of this constitutional monstrosity pile upon one. They come like birds returning to roost. They are not the birds of those who opposed the legislation, but they are coming home to roost. There are other absurdities—

Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)

I am inferior to the right hon. Gentleman, in that I am not a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Mr. Powell

Neither am I.

Mr. Dunlop

We are assembled in what is known as the "High Court of Parliament" although it is thinly attended at present. What am I to do? Will I have to delegate the requests that have been made to me to the Reverend William McCrea, or, better still, to Mr. Danny Morrison, who was elected for my constituency? I am sure that the latter could deal most expeditiously with some of the complaints that apply to the Commissioner. I should like some help from the Government and from Parliament.

Mr. Powell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support, because, like me, he is now a second-class citizen here.

Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

This is news to me. However, I can see another danger. The Parliamentary Commissioner in Northern Ireland will certainly demand an increase, because he will have to cope with 78 men, instead of 12.

Mr. Powell

I was reminded of an additional, incremental absurdity by my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker). In each of the constituencies, corresponding to the parliamentary constituencies there are anything between four and 10 members of the Assembly. Any constituent of any hon. Member has therefore not only a choice of either/or, but a cumulative choice of between four and 10 people to approach if he wishes to engage the services of the Parliamentary Commissioner.

One of the beauties is that a Member of the Assembly will not know that another Member of the Assembly has been approached, and the Member of Parliament will not know—unless he is also the Member of the Assembly. Wherever one looks there is nonsense; for it is a characteristic of good clotted nonsense that the longer one examines it, the more nonsense appears. Nonsense generates nonsense and the absurdity that the House committed in passing the 1982 Act will continue to generate nonsense for as long as it exists.

Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Basildon)

Would the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) care to speculate on how long this ridiculous nonsense will continue?

Mr. Powell

That is a matter for prayer rather than speculation, but I hope that the price already being paid for it by people in the Province will not mount indefinitely. There is another matter which is remediable and should be remedied whereby the House, its Members and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as its representatives, are affronted by the proceedings instituted by the Government in relation to the Assembly. The Government have told Members of the Assembly that Ministers stand ready to receive from them representations on behalf of individual constituents. This matter just managed to be debated before the guillotine fell and some of its consequences were ventilated during the debate; but they were brushed aside by the Government.

Let us examine what can happen when a constituent of mine learns that the Secretary of State has enjoined on his Ministers to keep an ever-ready and attentive ear to the plaints of constituents forwarded to him by Members of the Assembly. Let us suppose that my constituent takes a problem that is within the sphere of the Government to an Assembly Member. What happens? Does the Minister address his mind to the case, as I would expect had I put it before him? Does the Minister reconsider his decision and arrive at the same conclusion, unsatisfactory though it was to my constituent?

If that happens, what will my constituent do? He will write to me. He is not likely to mention the fact that he has pursued the case through the Member of the Assembly, unless the Member happens to be one of my hon. Friends, who, obeying the convention of the House, would have passed the case to me, as they do invariably and I to them—[Interruption.]—particularly between my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh and myself, owing to certain geographical peculiarities in that area.

The constituent has a perfect right to turn to me. Having examined the Secretary of State's letter, he says, "Ministers are accountable to you for all aspects of Northern Ireland affairs. As your constituent, therefore, I ask you to take up my case and obtain for me what I consider to be fair treatment and justice."

If I then approach the Minister, as I do today, what is his position? Does he clear from his mind all that passed between him and the Assembly Member and begin to consider the problem de novo, as he would if the first submission had come from me? That is not human nature. It is impossible, with the best will in the world—I attribute that best will to all the Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office who sit in the House—for a Minister to deal with a case put to him by an hon. Member conscientiously, properly and with an open mind if he has already dealt with it when a Member of the Assembly has approached him, as they are instructed they may do on behalf of what are called their constituents.

My constituent has lost out. He has not had the benefit of my being able to put before the Minister the considerations that appear to me to be relevant to his case. The matter has been a res judicata for the Minister by the time that it comes to me. My constituent has thus been deceived. He has been told that he can obtain a remedy through the Assembly Member; but, when he rightly comes afterwards to me as his Member of Parliament and says, "I have not had justice and I want it from you", l cannot open the case and discuss it de novo with the Minister without the Minister's judgment upon the subject being pre-empted. It is intolerable that those to whom Ministers are not responsible should be permitted, let alone encouraged, to be a channel for grievances to be submitted to Ministers responsible to the House.

Of course, from time to time Ministers do correspond with members of the public. My constituent has the right to write directly to a Minister: he need not not seek my services. I am also aware that Northern Ireland Ministers correspond, sometimes on individual matters, with elected members of district councils. In that case there is no misapprehension about where the responsibility lies. If my constituent goes to a district councillor, who then writes to the Minister, there is no dubiety about the limits between the responsibilities of the district councillor and my responsibilities as a member of the House. I am sure that in such cases, however many members of the public have approached the Minister, I shall obtain the fair and unprejudiced hearing that I have come to expect.

There is no precedent for this intolerable position, which has been created deliberately by the Secretary of State in order, to use his expression, "to make the Assembly work"—in order to keep his charade going and to recruit good will and support for his charade.

Two days ago the Belfast Newsletter carried a letter, not from one of my constituents, but from a constituent of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), which is perhaps poetic justice. The gentleman had approached the Minister through an Assembly Member for Down, North. The Minister wrote to him saying that he had started an investigation and would discuss its outcome with that Assembly Member. What is the position of a Member of Parliament when such a transaction takes place between a Minister and a person without responsibility, to whom the Minister has no responsibility? It is an intolerable position for the House and a contradiction of the constitutional relationship between the Government and the House of Commons.

However, this matter can be put right, for there is no obligation upon Ministers to play this game with Members of the Assembly. They are not merely within their rights, but they have a constitutional duty, to say to an Assembly Member "This complaint should come to us through the Member of Parliament for the constituency", if there is a Member of Parliament and if he is functioning. Of course, if there is no such Member of Parliament, the constituent has no remedy.

I believe I shall have the support of the House when I ask the Government to ensure that this matter is dealt with and that the rights of constituents and, therefore, of Members of Parliament vis-a-vis the Government, as they exist in the rest of the United Kingdom, are preserved in Northern Ireland.

I now propose to adjourn further consideration of the Assembly, its causes, its iniquities and its consequences until 9.30 tomorrow morning.

6.30 pm
Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Ministers of the Crown who serve in the Northern Ireland Office always treat this House with great consideration except when, on brief occasions, they become over-excited. I should like at once to acknowledge the courtesy of Ministers who write to us in advance of such debates asking what matters we intend to raise, so that more useful replies can be prepared.

I informed the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Patten), that I proposed to refer, subject to the ruling of the Chair, first, to the administration of car parks in the Province and, secondly, to the Northern Ireland Assembly, the expenses of which loom large in this Appropriation.

Before proceeding to either topic, may I say something to show that not all is blood and gloom in Northern Ireland? First—I say "first" because agriculture comes first in Ulster—it was good to hear from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State who opened the debate that farmers' incomes have improved when compared with the previous year.

With regard to Class II, Vote 6, expenditure by the Department of Economic Development, the House may wish to convey to the Industrial Development Board, now in business, its good wishes for the important work ahead. I understand that the Industrial Development Board is working out a detailed scheme for encouraging investment from outside the Province, as well as reviving industry already there. In November my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister of State went to the United States. I hope that their efforts there will bear fruit in due season and that they will keep us informed.

The local enterprise development unit, which has survived the concentration of Government agencies in this area, has promoted more than a thousand jobs in the current financial year. That is not a negligible number. It looks forward to achieving 1,900 jobs in the next financial year.

Energy costs are a central factor in the economic progress of the Province. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), who opened the debate for the Opposition, referred to the lignite reserves near Lough Neagh. We saw some reference to it in the press, but then the whole matter disappeared. It is an important issue. I should be grateful if we could hear more about it because if more energy can be provided from the Province it will be possible to reduce industrial costs. Energy was discussed yesterday in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister of State was present. The issue of North Sea versus Kinsale was discussed.

I shall refer later in my speech to the relationship between the House and the Assembly, which was discussed by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). It is an important matter. My hon. Friend the Minister of State addressed the Assembly before he addressed the House. I mention this not to complain about the conduct of my hon. Friend, but to mention it as an example of the difficulties that have already arisen, and will arise, between Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)

A question about Kinsale gas was on the Order Paper at the most recent Northern Ireland Question Time. The question was not reached, but a full answer was given in response to a question from one of my hon. Friends.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

I am obliged to my hon. Friend, but he will appreciate that that may not always be the case. This difficulty will present itself again and again.

In Committee on the Northern Ireland Bill, on 8 June 1982, I referred to functions which I thought might well be discharged by local authorities in Northern Ireland. I mentioned the planning powers which are now exercised by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell). I referred in that speech to the management of Northern Ireland's excellent road system by the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment, for which my hon. Friend is responsible. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Patten) mentioned the MI and the M2. This may be considered a trivial point, but I have sometimes wondered why, as we are one United Kingdom, and as the numbering of motorways throughout Great Britain is consecutive, we have to start with MI and M2 when we cross that narrow strip of water into Northern Ireland. I should be grateful for an answer.

Under Class IV, Vote 1, there is a revised provision of £2,180,000 for new construction and improvement of parking facilities. I should like to ask about the policy governing that increase. During the Second Reading debate on the Northern Ireland Bill on 8 June I said: One might have thought that even in Northern Ireland local authorities would be allowed to deal with car parks."—[Official Report, 8 June 1982; Vol. 25, c. 43.] That is not a criticism of any one party because there is a long history of this matter. In that speech I criticised in a most friendly manner my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) who was a Minister at the Northern Ireland Office when I engaged in correspondence. I engaged in correspondence with Ministers before him about who should run car parks in Northern Ireland. Last June I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Basingstoke—now in charge of the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment—in which he discussed my suggestion that car parks might, if not privatised—that would be a terrible suggestion—be transferred to district councils. My hon. Friend wrote: My officials advise me that a couple of years ago, at the instigation of my predecessor"— I think that I had something to do with that— a study was carried out to determine the feasibility of asking district councils to operate car parks. It was concluded then that this would not be a viable proposition. I wonder why. Are there military considerations? Perhaps it might be necessary at some moment of even graver emergency than that which obtains at present for car parks to be taken over by the Armed Forces and therefore it might be better if they are in the hands of Government of Northern Ireland rather than under a Republican district council. I should accept that. If there are convincing considerations, I should be glad to hear them.

Mr. Molyneaux

Has this confusion arisen because certain local authorities both here and in our part of Ireland have declared themselves nuclear-free zones? Might that have some connection?

Sir John Biggs-Davison

There might be some sectarian considerations. That is always in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he considers the dangers of entrusting district councils with powers.

When we consider whether district councils or local authorities are fit to be entrusted with powers in the United Kingdom, one has only to look across the river to wonder whether powers should be entrusted to local authorities in Great Britain. I must not be diverted.

I shall proceed with the letter from my hon. Friend. Having told me that it would not be a viable proposition to transfer the car parks to district councils, he created a diversion. He wrote: However, with my encouragement the Department is at present considering bids from private developers for the construction and operation of a multi-storey car park (with ancillary commercial facilities) in the centre of Belfast and also seeking bids for a second site. My intention is that the Government should be relieved of the costs of provision and should secure worthwhile remuneration from a long lease but for the present retain a measure of control over charging, in view of its current traffic management responsibilities. My hon. Friend concluded; I have recently put in hand a review of the conclusion reached in Philip's time"— "Philip" is my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart), then an Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland— as to the feasibility of transferring car parking to District Councils and I am further instituting an examination of the pros and cons of transferring traffic management to District Councils. I hope that we shall be given a date for the publication of the results of that review.

Thursday night is "Yes Minister" night and that may explain the rather thin attendance in the Chamber. The series might remove to Northern Ireland to dramatise the tenacious defence of these outposts of the empire of the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment.

The estimated annual running cost of the Northern Ireland Assembly is currently £2,680,000, including £760,000 for the salaries and allowances of the Officers of the Assembly and £1,115,000 for the salaries and allowances of Assembly Members, these figures being calculated on the basis that all Members take their seats.

I think that I should be out of order if I gave notice of moving the enlargement of the emoluments of the occupants of the Chair in this House, but something might be needed to keep them slightly above the level of the emoluments of the occupants of the Chair in Northern Ireland. I have the greatest respect—I count him as a friend—for the Presiding Officer. I think that that is the correct term, although he has become the Speaker. The right hon. Member for Down, South called him the President. He is really the Presiding Officer but he calls himself the Speaker. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) is a bit of a poacher turned gamekeeper.

I shall quote what the self-styled Speaker of the Assembly said about the Assembly over which he presides with such dignity and enthusiasm. During the debate on the White Paper, which underlay the legislation which brought the Assembly into being, he said: The only argument advanced by any Ulster politician in favour of the White Paper is that it will give the Ulster people the opportunity to express their opinion in an election. We have had election after election in Northern Ireland. We even had a constitutional Assembly that sent its majority report to this House. What did the House do with it? It threw it out. What, therefore, is the point of another election and another Assembly if all it does is to add to the bitterness already in the Province, leading to greater division at a time when the Ulster people need some hope of coming together and of seeing an end to the violence that is gnawing at their vitals? The hon. Gentleman might have added "and at a time when the Ulster people should be concentrating on some of the economic and social problems", about which the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) spoke so eloquently.

The self-styled Mr. Speaker added: Despite the unsatisfactory situation of unbridled bureaucracy in the government of the Province, I believe that the White Paper proposals would only create a worse state of affairs … the proposed Assembly will not create the conditions of confidence essential to economic recovery. Most important of all, the Assembly will not make any contribution to the defeat of terrorism.

Mr. McCusker

Will the hon. Gentleman admit that even he might be tempted for an extra £25,000 a year to overcome some of the reservations that he was expressing in April?

Sir John Biggs-Davison

I never define my response to temptation until it arrives. Everyone knows that no one wishes to be a Speaker and that the person who becomes Speaker is dragged to the Chair. No cardinal wishes to be a Pope. I believe that there was a Pope—was it a Borgia?—who said "We have the papacy, let us enjoy it". I dare say that my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North, who is not in his place, takes the view "We have the Chair, let us enjoy it".

In the same speech the self-styled Mr. Speaker said: Even the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) found no virtue in the proposals except that he saw the Assembly as a place where, day in and day out, there would be opportunities to give expression to Ulster anger."—[Official Report, 28 April 1982; Vol. 22, c. 908–9.] It is deplorable that the representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party are absent from this debate. It is one of the most important Northern Ireland debates that we have. This brings home the difficulties that will arise from the Assembly. There are Members of the Assembly who are Members of this place. They are trying to serve two masters. I submit that the first duty of a Member of Parliament is to the House of Commons and that the representatives of the Democratic Unionist Party should be present, especially as the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) found no virtue in the proposals except that he saw the Assembly as a place where, day in and day out, there would be opportunities to give expression to Ulster anger.

The other Member of the Democratic Unionist Party, the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), said on 15 June: The Assembly would certainly have the initial functions … but it would never under the terms enunciated by the Secretary of State get full devolved powers and executive functions. I have disagreed many times with the hon. Members for Belfast, East and for Antrim, North. However, the hon. Member for Belfast, East went on to say something which I think is wise. He added: Some of us have always argued that district councils should have additional powers only provided it was consistent with having a devolved Government and Parliament in Northern Ireland. But if under the Bill, as intimated by the Secretary of State in his intervention, the Assembly can have only the initial functions of a scrutinising, consultative or deliberative role, some hon. Members might say that it would be better for local government immediately to have additional powers because on the present basis additional powers will not come to the Assembly."—[Official Report, 15 June 1982; Vol. 25, c. 775–77.] Those are wise words.

The right hon. Member for Down, South drew attention to the difficulties, the delicacy and the infelicities of the relations between this House and the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Committees of the House, notably the Northern Ireland Committee and the Assembly. I was shocked—I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends were too—to hear what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about the Parliamentary Commissioner. It came as a particular blow to us, because we have not been favoured by a sight of the communication. As I listened to the right hon. Gentleman I wondered whether the announcement by the Parliamentary Commissioner to Members of the Assembly was consonant with the legislation that set him up. I hope that we shall have a clear answer to that when the Minister replies to the debate.

Several of my right hon. and hon. Friends were deeply concerned when such important statements about the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the RUC Reserve and the financing were made first to the Northern Ireland Assembly and not to this House. We have resolved the difficulty about the other place. Statements are made simultaneously in both places, but no statement was made in the House of Commons on that subject.

It is clear that the relations between Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly have not been properly thought out and worked out. As the Northern Ireland Assembly stands at present, it is a constitutional monstrosity, with an increasing potential to oust the position of this House and its Ulster Members in relation to the Province.

6.51 pm
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

As a comparative newcomer to the House, I again appreciate the opportunity to speak. On other occasions when I have spoken, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have treated me with gentleness. Having now experienced a robust speaker, I deeply appreciate your kindness.

Some hon. Members have spoken about the irresponsibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but it has at least acted in a responsible manner in relation to Class XI, Vote 1 which allocates finance for the Assembly. This House has legislated that Assembly Members who do not attend can draw their back salaries as long as they sign on sooner or later.

With cross-community and all-party support in the Assembly, the view was expressed that, as in this Parliament, any back pay should be limited to six months. Therefore, when considering the appropriation of finance, the House should also consider amending the Act under which the Assembly works.

The Minister referred to the care that the nation has for Northern Ireland. As part of that nation, Northern Ireland likewise cares for the rest of the nation. We take exception to those who use figures to imply that Northern Ireland is being treated in a financially different way from the rest of the nation. I underscore that fact. We have shared in the nation's sorrow and poverty. We believe we should share in the nation's joy and riches. It is in that context that we are debating the order.

I was sorry that the Minister was unable to be present on Monday night during the debate on health inequalities, otherwise he would have heard me speak in similar terms to the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) about Gingerbread and the concern of that section of the Ulster community. I trust that the Minister, who is concerned with this aspect of policy in Northern Ireland, will read that debate, listen to what the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North said tonight and give us a helpful answer.

We are told that the increase in supplementary benefit in Class X, Vote 2 is because of the number of unemployed. The Minister is aware of the concern in Northern Ireland—I dare say in other parts of the United Kingdom, too—about the way the Act is being enforced. I know of a person aged 19 who for the last two years has been seeking to improve his job opportunities in a world where there are few of them by going into part-time education rather than hanging around corners, knocking in windows or joining mobs of vandals. Not only has he been unable to benefit during the past two years because of the strict interpretation of the Act, but he has been unable to benefit this year either. The anomaly is that, had he done nothing for three months, he would have fulfilled the terms of the Act and would have been entitled to draw supplementary benefit.

In debating this matter, we must look, not only at the amount of money allocated, but at the undoubted anomalies, especially those involving young people who are prepared to try to do something purposeful in their leisure time. It seems that the State continues to finance idleness rather than support those who are acting in a positive manner.

I am happy to hear that steps have been taken to reduce the number of civil servants by drafting them into other employment. During July, August and September, especially in my constituency, pressure is placed upon social security offices. In a nation where it is recognised that there are insufficient job opportunities, would it not be wiser to consider paying full-time students on a quarterly basis rather than their signing on, as many of them do, thereby cluttering up the social security offices? I suspect that considerable savings may be made by the implementation of such a system.

As to Class 2, Vote 6, I pay tribute to the work that has been done. I disagree with the simplistic position put forward by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North, who spoke of the need to link the two economies. He spoke of consent, but the consent of the people of Northern Ireland has been regularly ignored, because they have consented by democratic process to be within the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman and his friends across the river seek to shunt us out of the United Kingdom into the Republic of Northern Ireland. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman would do it by fair means whereas others would do it by foul means.

There is a strong case for tying the economy of Northern Ireland to that of Great Britain. In that context we pay tribute to those who seek to attract new investment, quite often under great handicaps. Perhaps we shall be able to debate that later this evening. Alternatively, perhaps the Minister will assure us that this point is already covered and does not need to be included in the Supplementary Estimates.

Greater attention should be paid to marketing. A new approach to world-wide marketing must be co-ordinated for smaller Northern Ireland firms so that they can sell their goods abroad rather than manufacture for the home market. I would have been happier had there been a reference in the order to marketing, to which more attention should be given.

Some Northern Ireland officials charged with the promotion of new industrial development would do well not to look over their shoulders at the spectre of De Lorean and think that everyone is out to extort money from the Government. Some people might be genuine and should not be grilled in any interrogations.

Industrialists who seek investment opportunities in Northern Ireland often arrive at Aldergrove airport and must depend on a taxi to take them to Stormont or elsewhere. Usually the civil servants are aware of their arrival, and they should put out the welcoming mat and seek to make strangers from abroad welcome. Perhaps the Minister will examine this matter and try to improve the situation.

Class IV, Vote 1 increases finance for the Department of the Environment, especially: on roads and certain associated services including lighting". I welcome the recent announcements of new road works and the completion of schemes that were put on a long finger as a result of the cutbacks in 1980. Housing is particularly affected by the delay in the commencement of these new road schemes, and I am happy that they will now be going ahead.

I have already paid tribute in the House to the industry and concern of the Minister responsible for environment matters in Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), who has cared for the people of Northern Ireland in exemplary fashion. However, I should like the Department to examine in greater depth the co-ordination of roads and lighting services with the housing programme.

The Minister today spoke about the housing and road needs of west Belfast. I am not entirely a city man, and I appreciate the needs of the rest of the Province, but it would be wrong to think that the need for roads, housing and lighting is confined to west Belfast. Areas of north Belfast, east Belfast and south Belfast are also in great need. One of the tragedies is that, although new housing development is taking place, no lighting is provided. As a result, old-age pensioners must find their way home in total darkness. There seems to be confusion among the Departments responsible for these services.

I have become increasingly convinced that the removal of that responsibility from the Northern Ireland electricity service to the Department of the Environment has hampered rather than improved the situation.

We must ensure that these finances are used purposefully and for the good of the community as a whole.

7.6 pm

Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion)

We had protracted if truncated discussions about the situation in Northern Ireland during the passage of the Northern Ireland Act 1982, but this is the first occasion since then on which the House has been able to debate the situation in Northern Ireland in any way.

I appreciate that other engagements may have kept the Secretary of State away from the Chamber—perhaps he will arrive later for the debate on security—but I intervene now in the hope that he will be present tomorrow. We have not yet heard from him about how he sees the situation, both since the elections and since we debated these matters in July.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to the constitutional difficulties that are already bristling around the Assembly about the shape that it is taking. Last Tuesday, the Secretary of State made a statement on security to the Assembly, but no parallel statement was made here.

Today, the Minister talked about the valuable contacts that Ministers were developing with the Assembly. I understand the desire of those who wish to see devolved government in the Province—I am not among them—to use the Assembly as a sounding board, but until powers are devolved it must be made absolutely clear that ministerial responsibility is to this House. It is the elected United Kingdom representatives who enjoy authority and responsibility to whom they are accountable. Therefore, while I would be the last to criticise the Government for taking the opportunity to sound opinion in the Assembly, that should never be done at the expense of taking the opinion of the House of Commons.

Any statements made in Northern Ireland should have a parallel statement in this House, just as we do in our relations with the other place. After all, the other place still enjoys a certain amount of responsibility and authority, whereas as yet the Northern Ireland Assembly has no responsibility of any kind. It is unacceptable that it should be in a more privileged position than Members of this House, because it is to this House and its Northern Ireland committees that Ministers are accountable and responsible. We shall need a clear statement on this subject tomorrow.

Mr. Molyneaux

The right hon. Gentleman may understand the extent of the difficulty if I tell him that that was the only positive point in the right hon. Gentleman's speech when he went to the Assembly in a vain attempt to defend the Government's security policy. Had it not been for that opportunity—which was forced upon him—he would in all probability have made that statement in the debate on the emergency provisions order.

Mr. Amery

That is an extremely valid point. We have had experience of consultative assemblies in the past. The consultative assembly of the Council of Europe was a sounding board, but its members were not elected. They were delegations from different parliaments.

I remember when I was Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies when we still had a Colonial Office, there was some purely consultative legislatures but they consulted only on matters over which the governor had full power. Therefore, what they discussed would not have been brought in the ordinary way before the House of Commons.

Here, we are in danger of arriving at a duplication of responsibility between this House which is still, in its totality, responsible for everything that happens in Northern Ireland, except for district councils, and the Assembly, which has no responsibility of any sort. We must get the matter cleared up as soon as possible. We must insist that the Assembly in Belfast is not treated as though it were already what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would like it to be at the expense of what is the reality today. It is this House, with the Northern Ireland Members in it, which has responsibility.

I do not wish to go back over the debate about the Assembly that we had in the summer, but it is no good saying that the past is past. Unless one understands the past, one is unlikely to understand the future. It remains a fact that my right hon. Friend embarked on the Assembly and pushed it through the House with the help of a guillotine motion although there was no substantial body of support for it in Belfast, or Dublin, or, in any positive sense, in the Conservative Party. I rather doubt that there was full support for it in the Cabinet. There was tolerance for it from the Opposition but only because they have been moving increasingly towards support for a united Ireland.

It is early days yet but it seems to me that the Assembly is a still-born child. It still appears to have no support but there is a risk that I am sure my right hon. Friend will have in mind. If one calls an assembly into being and it is fairly elected and represents the majority of opinion in the Province, it will not be all that easy to say no to it if it makes demands that are inconsistent with opinion in this House. That could be the prelude to the type of constitutional conflict that we experienced in the 17th century.

We shall also find that the Assembly will complicate our relations with the Republic. We all want the closest of relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic but we shall not get them in the context of devolution. If the door was firmly closed on devolution, the matter would be between Dublin and London. There could be a parliamentary tier in which this House, including its Northern Ireland Members, would be represented. But the moment one tries to extend that to a devolved assembly—if it ever became a responsible body or if the Government were ever foolish enough to try to draw it into an Irish dimensional debate before it had responsibility—one is opening the door to giving Dublin power sharing with Britain in Belfast. That would be unacceptable to the Province, unacceptable here and most certainly unacceptable to the Conservative Party.

The risk—I do not know whether the Government want to do this but it could well be the result of what they are doing—is that the Government will institutionalise power sharing in Belfast between Dublin and London. We cannot accept that.

The Assembly is still-born. How long is the dead foetus to lie about on the table? I quite understand that it would be extremely awkward for the Government to admit to failure at this stage. It is conceivable that they have not yet completely failed in their purpose although it is clear to most of us that they have. Some of us who are their friends and support them on the broad measures upon which they are embarked want to help them to get off the hook. We want to get them out of the embarrassing, awkward and painful situation into which they have got themselves. I am sure that they went into it with good intentions, but we must face the fact that, even if we cannot admit it today, we have got close to the state when we can say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's Irish policy is in ruins.

The Government do not have much choice. They could convert the Assembly into a top tier of local government. I understand that my right hon. Friend is not prepared to consider that. In my judgment, it is the wisest and most constructive way in which the matter can be approached. They could revert to direct rule—not today or tomorrow, but they could lay down a time when they will do so. That would give the other potential members of the Assembly a deadline by which they must either draw in and take part, or by which time the whole thing must be wound up. I do not know when that time will be but if we go on for more than three months with this dead corpse on the table, it will go rotten and create far worse circumstances in the Province than have existed hitherto.

My views will not be altogether surprising to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I have spoken this evening in the hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make it his business tomorrow to come to the House and make a full statement on an extremely serious situation, not only in this debate but in our next debate this evening on security.

7.17 pm
Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)

The most important part of this little appropriation order should be Class II, Vote 6, which relates to expenditure by the Department of Economic Development. I am sure that every hon. Member who represents a Northern Ireland constituency would be able to delay the House for many hours by recounting what is happening in his constituency with regard to the appalling number of unemployed.

I listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon). He feels as despairing as I do. However one juggles them, the statistics show that about 130,000 people are now unemployed in Northern Ireland. The true number is much higher than that. The level of poverty in Northern Ireland far exceeds that of any other part of the United Kingdom. My constituency is more poverty-stricken and socially underprivileged than any other in Western Europe. I think that the Minister would agree.

As representatives, we come here—I do—not simply to tell the Minister how bad the unemployment figures are. He is only too well aware of them. He has seen them for himself. We come here to ask him whether there is any light at the end of the tunnel. Does he see any prospects for attacking the intolerable level of unemployment?

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. M. Smyth) was inclined to exonerate Ministers and to suggest that, as there is unemployment in other parts of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, as a loyal part of the kingdom, should accept that, too. There may be some truth in that from the hon. Gentleman's point of view, but whatever the unemployment figures in any other part of the United Kingdom, they do not remotely approach those with which we have to live in Northern Ireland. Unemployment there is the highest that it has been since the creation of Northern Ireland, and I cannot see the Minister bringing forward any proposals that will alleviate it.

We have read and heard from the Dispatch Box reports of a succession of Ministers in both Labour and Conservative Governments visiting the United States in the hope of attracting American investment. I cannot see any investment coming from the United States to Northern Ireland.

Earlier this week I had a long discussion with officials of the American consulate in Belfast. In answer to specific questions, they stated clearly that they could not undertake to attract investment to Northern Ireland in the foreseeable future. I know that Ministers are well intentioned and that they have tried hard during their visits to the United States, but in view of the world-wide recession and especially of the troubles in Northern Ireland it is understandable that no outside investor is anxious to set up any industrial project in Northern Ireland.

In the absence of outside investment, the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) was right to say that it must be the responsibility of the Government to try to create employment, and to create State employment if there is no possibility of private employment.

One could spend a great deal of time describing the enormity of the problem, but that is unnecessary, as the Minister is well aware of it. I hope that before the end of the debate he will be able to produce a little ray of hope in the all-pervading darkness of the Northern Ireland economy.

I reinforce the comments of the hon. Member for Belfast, South about housing, roads and lighting developments in west Belfast, but he was wrong in suggesting that my constituency should not be thought of as worse than any other. It is indeed worse than any other constituency in Northern Ireland. Certainly, in north, east and south Belfast the problem is not of the same magnitude as it is in west Belfast. The Minister has recently received deputations about the appalling housing conditions on some estates that were built in the past 20 years but are now almost literally falling apart. As a representative of that area, I must appeal to the Minister almost to disregard the other constituencies, such is the state of housing in my area.

The war that began during the proceedings on the Northern Ireland Bill seems to be continuing. In refusing to accept the existence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Right-wing Tory Members find themselves with very strange allies. The Provisional Sinn Fein, about which the same hon. Members were arguing yesterday, finds itself in the same bed as the Right wing of the Conservative Party in attempting to bring the Assembly to an end.

I am less pessimistic. I believe that the Assembly should be given a chance. I do not think that its success can be guaranteed, but nor do I believe that it can be brought to an end in three months. I am sure that 59 elected Members, all in receipt of salaries, will not readily acquiesce to the ending of the Assembly. I am fully convinced that the Assembly will last until the end of this Parliament. Indeed, I hope that it will continue after the election of a new Parliament here, because I believe that only within the confines of Northern Ireland political structures can the two communities try to get to know each other, and that is the only way towards peace in Northern Ireland.

I have experience of the old Stormont Parliament, the Assembly and the power-sharing Executive. I am utterly convinced that the first five months of 1974, when there was a power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland comprising the Unionist Party, the Alliance Party and the SDLP, saw the most helpful political development since the creation of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, it ended after only five months. Nevertheless, from the contacts that I made then, when I was Deputy Chief Executive, I believe that the majority of the population in Northern Ireland would have accepted—albeit reluctantly and with great suspicion—the concept and principles of power sharing, but they were frightened by the Council of Ireland proposals.

I believe that the suspicion that the Council of Ireland proposals attracted was the beginning of the end of the power-sharing Executive. If, by whatever means—whether through Committee chairmanships or through an Executive—a power-sharing Assembly with cross-community support can be created and allowed to continue for whatever period of months or years may be appropriate, the people involved will begin to work together.

Northern Ireland is a small place with only 1½ million people. All the representatives will face the same problems of bad housing and unemployment in their constituencies. Once they begin to work together to alleviate some of those evils, they will build up confidence in themselves. One may then begin to consider Council of Ireland proposals. First, however, trust must be built up within the Northern Ireland community so that we may attack the real, everyday problems that so urgently need to be dealt with on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland.

The House will recall that I was the only hon. Member from a Northern Ireland constituency who voted for the legislation setting up the Assembly. I did so for the reasons that I have given. I believe that there must be a Northern Ireland political forum. Until I heard the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) today, however, I was entirely unaware that Members of the House of Commons would be denied powers that they previously had, such as the power to approach the parliamentary commissioner or Ombudsman, because those powers would go to the Assembly Members. I do not know whether consideration of that part of the measure was truncated by the guillotine, but I certainly did not know that. Had I been aware of it, I should have opposed vehemently any diminution of the powers of Members of this House.

In Northern Ireland, and especially in west Belfast, it would be possible to have a constituency with four representatives, none of whom attended the Assembly. In west Belfast now, two of the four representatives—one from Sinn Fein and one from the SDLP—have said that they will not go to the Assembly. Whether we like it or not, there are people in Northern Ireland who do not like to meet political opponents from a party against which they have voted all their lives. To put it crudely, and I hesitate to be sectarian in this respect, it is part and parcel of the history of Northern Ireland.

I am certain that in west Belfast there are Catholics who would go to the Sinn Fein or SDLP Assemblyman if they were attending the Assembly. However, in the absence of such a representative, the Catholics will not go to the Unionist or Alliance man. That is not an attack on the Alliance Party, for which I have respect, but it is part of Northern Ireland's history that one does not go for help to a political opponent or someone for whom one has not voted.

There is a theoretical possibility that there may be a constituency where all the representatives are not attending the Assembly. To whom then does the aggrieved constituent go? I wonder what the legislation would be? For example, we have been told that the powers taken away from the elected representative of the House are given to the Assemblyman. If the Assemblyman is not attending is he at liberty to take the case given to him by an aggrieved constituent, and would the parliamentary commissioner accept it from that man? Does his attendance or non-attendance of the Assembly enter into this, or does he have to be signed on as an Assembly Member before the parliamentary commissioner can receive his complaints?

I know that the Ministers in the Northern Ireland Department are talking to Assemblymen who have not yet signed the register or the roll, and are not attending the Assembly, but this should be clarified. This is not a question of a Member of Parliament trying to feel superior to an Assembly Member. I should feel badly done by if, at this late stage in my parliamentary career, after seventeen years as a Member—there may be other hon. Members who have been here longer—I were to receive a complaint from one of my constituents and forward it to the Minister to be told that it had to be referred back to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Government and the Minister should find a means around this problem.

There are those, and I am one of them, who wish every success to the Assembly. I do not want it to end, but it is not right that after so many years we should be denied the right to put our case before the parliamentary commissioner.

Mr. John Patten

Notwithstanding everything that the hon. Gentleman has said about relations with the Assembly and the constitutional issues that have been discussed today, does the hon. Member not recognise that already for a long time under direct rule, the proprieties of the exact constitutional relationship between an individual constituency Member of Parliament and a Ministry have been broken? All around the Province, for sectarian reasons, people do not choose to approach their own Member of Parliament, but write to another. I regularly receive letters which even I, with my imperfect knowledge of the geography of Northern Ireland, recognise as not being in the relevant Member's constituency—for example that of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) or Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). However, in order that a democratically elected Government is seen to work in the Province, we have to breach the conventions that govern the rest of the country on this side of the water.

Mr. Fitt

The Minister reinforces my argument. He will be aware of some cases that I have forwarded to him over many years of people who live miles from my constituency, in Fermanagh, Tyrone and even North Antrim. To put it crudely again, there are Catholics who would not under any circumstances go to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). That is not a reflection on the hon. Gentleman because I understand that if an approach were made to him, he would represent his constituent. However, it is a fact of life in Northern Ireland.

However, although we have had to breach all parliamentary conventions, this is a most serious breach. It is unique when powers of representation that we had as Members of Parliament for Northern Ireland are suddenly taken away. I think that the Minister, on reflection, will realise that that is not right and proper.

I wish to ask the Minister a question in the absence of some other hon. Members whom I should have thought would be here to ask it for themselves. We have read about this matter in the Sunday newspapers, such as The Sunday Times, and again in our local newspapers during the week. Can the Minister give me any information regarding the state of play of the inquiry into the Kincora affair? There are many disquiting rumours in Belfast, which have been reported in the press, that the police inquiries have ended, the DPP has the papers and the Government are sitting back.

I remember that in the early part of this year, when the controversy in the Kincora affair arose, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gave an undertaking that as soon as the police had completed their inquiries there would be a major inquiry into the whole affair. During the course of that debate I asked which people would be allowed or forced to attend to give evidence. It is some months now since the whole affair was brought before the House, but it remains in Northern Ireland and it will not go away.

It appears—some people are referring to it in this way—that there is some conflict between the security forces, the Army and the police, and some competition between them, with names mentioned as having been involved. There is still a great deal of uncertainty about the inquiry, and I should like it to be held as quickly as possible.

Mr. John Patten

I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that speed is of the essence because there is so much uncertainty and loose talk in the Province. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State stated on 29 November this year that the investigations into the Kincora affair "are nearing completion." The results have not been received, but when they are, the decision of the DPP for Northern Ireland as to whether any further charges are to be made must be awaited before we can come to the House with any proposals for an independent judicial inquiry."—[Official Report, 29 November 1982; Vol. 19, c. 65.] In other words the report has to be received and forwarded to the DPP, who has to decide whether charges are to be made. Those must be disposed of before my right hon. Friend can come to the House with propositions for a judicial inquiry.

Mr. Fitt

The Minister has said, and I think that he understands, that there is still some urgency about the affair. It would appear from press reports that the investigations that have been carried out by the police have been completed and await the verdict of the DPP. I hope that the Minister will draw the remarks made in the debate to the attention of the DPP in the hope that he will come to a quick conclusion.

Mr. John Patten

While the report being prepared by Sir George Terry, the chief constable of the Sussex constabulary, is awaited, the RUC is, quite properly and in parallel to the preparation of the report, conducting its own investigation into certain allegations against certain persons. These allegations may be sent to the DPP for Northern Ireland.

Secondly, parallel to these criminal investigations, a thorough and searching investigation was conducted by officials seconded to Northern Ireland by the DHSS in London. This was conducted into the affairs of children's homes in the Province, and that report has been made public and has received a broad and wide welcome. The general public and the parents and relatives of children in care, all other things being equal, should have nothing to fear following the publication of the report.

Mr. Fitt

I have read the report into the welfare and the conditions in the homes, and that has been an impartial and well conducted report that can only bring good to the welfare homes.

An inquest was held this week into the death of Mr. McKeague during which someone speaking on behalf of the relatives drew the coroner's attention to the fact that a report had appeared in The Sunday Times last week in which Mr. McKeague's name had been mentioned. The coroner adjourned the inquest until further inquiries had been made into the Kincora affair. Those two matters overlap, and there is a great deal of misquiet about them in Northern Ireland. It would be in the interests of the House and the Northern Ireland community if the matter were brought to an end.

7.40 pm
Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

I hope that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks about the Kincora home, but concentrate on unemployment, which he mentioned earlier in his speech.

I shall keep my comments within Class 2 and Class 10 of the Appropriations. During the passage of the Northern Ireland Bill 1982 through the House last summer a great deal of emphasis was placed on the belief that if there were a new political initiative in the Province it would bring stability, which would enhance possibilities for the economy and investment.

I was never convinced that that argument was as valid as it sounded. I am still not sure that terrorism is the reason why investment is slow in coming to the Province or that the new Assembly will create the political stability that will persuade investors to think differently about Northern Ireland.

That view was reinforced in a speech during the summer by Mr. John Simpson, a lecturer at Queen's university, whom the Belfast Telegraph described as a leading economist. He told the CBI conference in Belfast that he could find no evidence that the troubles had been a major factor in the closure of existing businesses in Northern Ireland. He said: The troubles may have been a factor at particular times, and they may have been the reason why new industries did not come. The newspaper report added: He said the troubles were only one of three reasons—equally balanced—why the Province had lost 65,000 jobs in the past 10 years. The others were the general United Kingdom economic decline and our inability to be competitive.

Mr. Simpson went on to say: Competitiveness was hit by rising fuel and transport costs, and the cost of raw materials. We must look at our cost structures and those costs within our control such as labour costs per unit of output. We cannot attempt to change the unchangeable such as our distance from markets, fuel costs and lack of raw materials, but we must look at our efficiency.

Mr. Simpson may have been rather closer to the mark in those comments than the simple view that Northern Ireland's limping economy owes its lameness to the terrorist dimension.

Mr. John Patten

Does my hon. Friend recognise that Mr. John Simpson, who is an extremely distinguished economist of Queen's university of Belfast, and whose views I respect, was talking about the loss of existing jobs and the effect that terrorism, together with all the other factors that my hon. Friend has mentioned, might have had on the loss of those jobs? He was not talking about terrorism inhibiting inward investment from countries as far apart as Japan, the United States of America and the mainland of Great Britain. Does my hon. Friend recognise that opinion surveys in the United States of America have demonstrated, all too clearly, that business men perceive Northern Ireland as a place in which it is not safe to invest?

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I believe that my hon. Friend will find that he has intervened too early in my speech. I recognise the force of some of his comments, but Mr. Simpson was saying that "we must look at our efficiency", and I propose to develop that theme. The cost of investment in industry in Northern Ireland has been brought forcefully home to me as the result of the experience of a company in my constituency which is currently having one of its products manufactured in Northern Ireland, but which is now questioning the cost of having work done in the Province in a way that I have not heard questioned before. I have not heard the point referred to adequately by the Front Bench of this or any other Government while I have been a Member of Parliament.

The tax concessions and financial benefits available to companies setting up in Northern Ireland are on a par with, or possibly better than, any inducements available anywhere in the United Kingdom, and are certainly on a par with anything available in Southern Ireland. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) shakes his head, but I have been assured of that on a number of occasions. If he wishes to make the point that that is not so, I shall listen to his intervention.

Mr. Soley

The committee that looked into this matter recommended in a recent report that benefits should be increased to the level existing in the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

Will the hon. Gentleman look at the answer that I received on the Floor of the House during Northern Ireland Question Time, when I was assured that the tax benefits available in Northern Ireland are on a par with or are better than those available in the South? If what the hon. Gentleman said is correct, the Minister who answered my question should return to his Department and ask it to give him something akin to an apology, because I think that he is in danger of having misled the House. We believe the inducements to be great and we have all accepted that they would be looked at against the background of the times.

The Minister is convinced that, at least in North America, the troubles dominate the thinking of business men who might be encouraged to invest in the Province. It has been argued that if we are to have investment we may have to take high-risk investment such as De Lorean, because if the high-risk investment is not picked up there will be no investment. There is the outside chance that high-risk projects will work, and if they do there is new industry, employment and prosperity. It is an attractive argument.

I wonder whether we should look at the high-risk investment and see whether the benefits currently being offered are going in the right direction. The company is my constituency, Gowrings Mobility International, has invented an extremely clever device whereby a disabled person using a wheelchair can get into any car on the market if the device is fitted into the car. That person, who otherwise would not be able to travel as a passenger, can even be the driver. I have seen the device and I know that it works. It was developed with a Government grant, initially on this side of the Irish Sea, but when Gowrings was looking at production it looked round our country's manufacturing industries and discovered that in its opinion C.P. Trim—a subsidiary of De Lorean—could probably manufacture the device better and more efficiently than any other company.

In consequence, it has signed a contract with C.P. Trim to make the device, which is called Freelancer. having accepted that C.P. Trim could make this device more efficiently than anyone else, and having assumed that by going to Northern Ireland it would get a very good deal, the company now finds itself forced to examine the continuing cost of manufacturing in Northern Ireland. In a letter to me, the managing director of Gowrings Mobility International said: The cost areas involved are raw materials transportation to Northern Ireland, finished goods transportation from Northern Ireland to their destination, and excess costs of people in crossing the Irish Sea including both lost hours and travelling costs. All these are in excess of equivalent manufacturing for companies established in England. Based on our target market, one year's costs alone would be as follows: transportation costs of raw materials to Northern Ireland, £61,425; finished goods transportation from Northern Ireland to their destination, £65,120; excess cost of people in crossing the Irish Sea, £6,600; a total of £132,965 or 9.07 per cent.

Everyone knows that an extra 9 per cent. on costs in the present competitive economic climate makes a product uncompetitive. My suggestion to the Government is that, instead of giving so much assistance to those who set up factories in Northern Ireland, we should be asking whether the grant is being given in the right direction. We should be asking whether the subsidising of transport costs across the Irish Sea might not make Northern Ireland a more attractive manufacturing area than it is.

That brings me back to Mr. Simpson's remarks about efficiency and the need to keep down costs. We should not consider his comments in terms of the past, but should view them in terms of today and the future. I remind the Minister of some words of Sir Matthew Slattery, the chairman of Short Brothers and Harland in the 1950s, when I worked in that company. Sir Matthew told me that Northern Ireland should concentrate on building ships and aircraft because both had their transport costs built in. The point was good. Sadly, however, Northern Ireland cannot concentrate exclusively on those two products. Transport costs therefore seem to become a much more important factor. It is an issue that deserves a great deal of consideration by the Government and all those involved in trying to encourage industry to come to Northern Ireland.

Sir Matthew Slattery referred to aircraft as one of the products on which Northern Ireland should concentrate. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North referred to Lear Fan. Only yesterday I received a very full parliamentary answer—for which I am grateful—from my hon. Friend the Minister of State to some questions that I had put about the financing of Lear Fan and the amount of public money being committed to the project. In his reply to my questions about the company's financial structure my hon. Friend said that the original grants and loans made to the company would not be recovered. His reply was: The new agreement concluded on 14 September 1982 has various elements. It provides that no recovery of the original grants will be sought, while the original loan is in effect converted into a per capita employment grant".

My hon. Friend is saying, if I understand his answer correctly, that £16.25 million is being written off. I must not get the Minister muddled. In the first part of his answer he refers to a grant of £7.02 million. He describes a loan of £9.23 million and then refers to a subsequent loan of £9.07 million. Is he, in effect, saying that the write-off at this stage is £25.32 million, or is he referring only to the first grant and the first loan?

My hon. Friend then explains to me that although this money may have been written off, under the new structure of the company and assuming that it produces production aircraft, the Government stand to receive $35·75 million on sales of aircraft. It is not unreasonable, I suppose, to translate the figure into pounds and to say that we are talking of £15 million to £16 million. My hon. Friend seems to be saying that although we have written off £25 million, we might get £15 million back. I should like him to clarify that. He does not say how many aircraft have to be sold before we get the £15 million, nor does he tell me whether there are any further royalties on aircraft made over and above the figure that produces that sum. If it is not possible for my hon. Friend to give an answer tonight, I should appreciate a letter in the near future.

I am asking these questions because I have already referred to high-risk investments in Northern Ireland. As the first hon. Member to raise a question about the De Lorean project on the Floor of the House, I suppose that I have a certain uneasy feeling that another high-risk project is not being described to the House in quite the detail that it should be. Without those facts, all sorts of other doubts are bound to be created.

I wish to press my hon. Friend a little further. He says that the Government have agreed to extend the bank guarantee to 31 December 1986. What is he talking about? Is he talking about the $15 million bank guarantee on which the business started, or is he referring to a much larger figure? My hon. Friend went on to say that the Government had agreed to provide further public funds up to a maximum of $30m in a pre-determined ratio with private sector money which will ensure that by far the greater part of the new funding is met from the private sector. Her Majesty's Government's share of this funding will be contributed as a secured loan".—[Official Report, 8 December 1982; Vol. 33, c. 537.] I should like to know by whom it will be secured and on what?

Lastly, will my hon. Friend tell us more about the Saudi Arabian consortium, of which the Government now appear to be a minority partner. I am sure that my hon. Friend has seen the exposé—or whatever one likes to call it—in the article in the Belfast Telegraph of 30 November. The writer is not sure who the Saudia Arabian prince is who heads the consortium. If so much public money is flying on the back of this aircraft, and if there are financial problems of the kind that my hon. Friend described in his answer, now that the business has been refinanced and restructured, could he tell me and the House of Commons who is in the consortium, how much finance the Government have put up, and whether the 5 per cent. stake in the company which the Government apparently have will produce any worthwhile return? In particular, how soon does he expect the Government to show a profit on their initial investment?

I am well aware that to aeronautical engineers the Lear Fan is an exciting project, but so was De Lorean to some motor engineers. I should like to think that Lear Fart will have a bright future, but as we have already had to write off £25 million of public money, I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me for having the doubts that I am expressing this evening.

8.2 pm

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

This debate has ranged between the economic sphere and the political sphere. I shall say a few words about both and ask one or two questions.

The general economic tone of the debate has been fairly pessimistic. There is no doubt that Northern Ireland has suffered, like the rest of the United Kingdom, from the general world economic slump and from what some of us strongly believe are the wrong and false economic policies of this Government. There is no doubt that there is equality of treatment—perhaps some of us would say equality of mistreatment. We are in a vicious circle, as was said earlier. There is no doubt that terrorism and acts of terrorism prevent investment—or some investment—coming into the Province, thus increasing unemployment. On the other hand, unemployment, particularly among young people, provides a fertile breeding ground for the various terrorist organisations. Somehow we have to break out of the circle.

I am convinced that one—not the only, not even the major, but an important—solution to the problems in Northern Ireland would be to overcome unemployment. It would not solve everything, but it would help substantially.

I should like to ask some questions about the Industrial Development Board. Under Class II, Vote 6 there is £420,000 for the salaries and fees of five representatives and 13 locally employed staff in overseas countries. Can the Minister give us more details about that? In which countries are these people? Is it the board's intention to increase the number of staff working overseas? Is it the board's intention actively to have staff in the various countries seeking new orders? Is there any part of the world which the board thinks is particularly fruitful?

In that context, I should like to say a word about aid to industry in Northern Ireland that could come from the European Community's regional fund. One reason why the United Kingdom does not do as well out of the EC regional fund is the insistence by successive Governments on the principle of additionality. The European Community is keen on giving regional aid, not as a substitute for money spent by national Governments, but as an addition to it. This issue is one of the few matters on which there is agreement among the three elected Members of the European Parliament from Northern Ireland. I understand that the three Members—one from the DUP, one Unionist, and one SDLP—have worked together closely out there in this connection.

I hope that the Minster will answer today the question raised by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) about the relative tax benefits in the Republic and Northern Ireland. I understand—this is what the Select Committee report said—that there are better tax benefits in the Republic. That is one reason why the Republic has been more successful than Northern Ireland in attracting overseas investment. Will the Minister clarify that? If, as the hon. Member for Newbury said, there is no difference in the tax benefits, we should look at the matter again, but I understand that there are substantial tax benefits.

I shall say a brief word about the political side. Until the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) spoke, I was becoming increasingly depressed. It seems to me that there are people in this Chamber now who legitimately opposed the setting up of the Assembly and who are now quite determined to make sure that it does not work.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

We do not have to.

Mr. Mitchell

That is the politics of pessimism. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, "For God's sake, give it a chance." It has only been in operation for two months, yet it has been condemned by people, just to prove that They were right in opposing it in the first place. May I say, iń parenthesis, that every time the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) stresses the all-Irish dimension, he makes it far less likely. As the hon. Member for Belfast, West said, in 1974 power-sharing might have succeeded—it did succeed for a short time—but it was destroyed because of the insistence on the all-Irish dimension.

I want to ask one or two detailed questions about the expenses and salaries of the Northern Ireland Assembly. I think I am right in saying that Members of the Assembly will be paid and receive secretarial expenses and travelling expenses, even if they do not attend. Will Sinn Fein Members or SDLP Members who say that they will not participate be entitled to those benefits?

Mr. McCusker

When those Members sign on, they will be paid. They will be paid from the commencement of the Assembly, so that if they choose to arrive there on the last day and sign the chit, they can obtain their £5,000 or £6,000.

Mr. Mitchell

I ask the Minister to clarify that. The hon. Gentleman was talking about salaries. I am not sure whether the same applies to secretarial and other expenses.

I understand that someone who is a Member of this House and also a Member of the Assembly receives two salaries. That is a little odd. Why do we not have the same rules as for hon. Members who serve in both the European Parliament and the House?

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Because that would interfere with the process of bribery, which was to be the motive force behind getting the Assembly set up.

Mr. Mitchell

I do not know how to answer that. That is the right hon. Gentleman's point of view. There seems to be no reason why the same arrangement that applies to Members of the European Parliament and Members of the House should not apply to hon. Members and Members of the Assembly.

Mr. Molyneaux

I think that I can help the hon. Gentleman. The former Secretary of State from the hon. Gentleman's party said to me on one occasion that my idea of a regional council was sound and perfectly workable, but that it had one defect: one could not find an excuse for paying the blighters.

Mr. Mitchell

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has my party right. That is his point of view.

After the statement on Tuesday, I asked the Under-Secretary how he saw his relationship with elected members of the Assembly who have declared that they will not attend. I asked whether he would be prepared to meet them. As I said that, I heard the right hon. Member for Down, South mutter that he must do so because they are elected Members.

How does the Minister see the constitutional position? If a Member wanted to see the Minister about a constituency case, that is one thing, but if a member of Sinn Fein wanted to discuss policy with the Minister, that is another. One can divide the local constituency interests from policy matters.

I do not blame the Under-Secretary for not answering me on Tuesday. He was thrown into the deep end, when the Secretary of State could not make the statement. He had not been briefed on that point. Perhaps the Minister of State could give an answer now. I hope that the Assembly will work.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

The hon. Gentleman hopes that his party will get a majority at the next election.

Mr. Mitchell

I hope that my party gets a majority at the next election. I have no idea whether my hopes will be realised. All that I will say to those who seem determined to break the Assembly, as they have been determined to break other institutions and initiatives taken by other Governments is: "Give it a chance." Many of us would rather hope, even if our hopes are not fully realised. As a member of the Social Democratic Party, I would rather hope than take the pessimistic line of those who always want to say: "I told you so."

8.14 pm
Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)

I tell the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) that against all my better judgment, for six months I hoped. I listened to substantial arguments by Opposition Members and Conservative Members, which were sound enough to convince me that the Assembly was unworkable. I refused to believe it. During the debate, I participated only once to say that I had some hope, but otherwise I sat back and stayed silent.

I have had four or five weeks experience of the Assembly. Unless the legislation is changed substantially and the parameters governing it are changed, and unless the structure can be radically altered, there is not the slightest possibility of it being of any value. I started from the premise that the hon. Gentleman suggested, hoping against hope that the Assembly was a means of helping the people of Northern Ireland. If I go on hoping, all I am doing is offering the people hopelessness. Ultimately, the Assembly will come down around our ears in disaster and disaffection and the people will lose more faith in the democratic process.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Would the hon. Gentleman have more hope or less hope if the SDLP could be persuaded to take part in the Assembly?

Mr. McCusker

If the real opposition in Northern Ireland, the SDLP, was in the Assembly, that would give the Assembly the appearance of a more democratic structure. However, if one has to pay a price to get it there, which has been shown time and again to be unacceptable to the people of Northern Ireland and their elected representatives, we shall not get further.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Will the hon. Gentleman outline the changes that he would like?

Mr. McCusker

I should not be drawn down that path, but 12 months ago at Hillsborough Castle the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland told me in the presence of two others that he believed that power sharing was dead and that it was incompatible with the democratic process. I remembered that during all the debates and arguments and during all the attempts to camouflage and confuse. At the back of my mind was the belief that if the Secretary of State worked on that premise, we could construct something at Stormont that would build a substantial role for a minority without converting them into a majority—a more substantial role than has been envisaged for any minority in the House, an important role that gave them the exercise of power and control over the exercise of power by others, which would never be envisaged here.

However, at the end of the day, as has been proved at Northern Ireland Question Time, the Secretary of State is as firmly on the hook of compulsory power sharing with the SDLP, if not with Sinn Fein, if one extends the argument, as any of his predecessors were. Smaller technicalities could be eased if one had the opportunity, but one cannot overcome that major hurdle.

I shall raise under Class II, Vote 6 a matter that I have raised time and again over the past six years, which is the future of the Northern Ireland gas industry. During the past two weeks my commitment to the Northern Ireland Assembly and here have conflicted with meetings that I might have had with the Minister. A fortnight ago, the Northern Ireland Gas Employers Board arranged a meeting with the Minister. I declare an interest as chairman of the board. I receive no remuneration for that. My interest is purely for the betterment of gas consumers and the industry in the Province. I could not see the Minister with my colleagues, as we were preparing to confront the Secretary of State at the Assembly. Yesterday the Minister made some interesting comments about gas in the Northern Ireland Assembly, but my responsibilities ensured that I was here. Therefore, I am taking this opportunity to try to obtain some information on this' subject from the Minister.

The Minister understands my deep commitment to the matter for six years. For four years, month on month, along with others from Northern Ireland and those interested in its affairs, I have raised the matter on the Floor of the House and in Committee. We have discussed it inside out. The Northern Ireland Economic Council became involved and commissioned reports. The Northern Ireland Gas Employers Board raised a great deal of money and commissioned high-powered reports. We considered and analysed those. We ripped them apart. We considered all the alternatives. We did everything but take the matter on to the streets of Northern Ireland. [Interruption.] The trade unions took the matter on to the streets. There are 1,200 jobs at stake and we were grateful for their support. It would take a great deal of money to generate 1,200 secure jobs in Northern Ireland.

I am anxious to ensure that Northern Ireland consumers have the same breadth of choice in energy as their fellow citizens on the mainland. I am also anxious that we should attempt to reduce the burden of energy costs, not only on the domestic consumer but on the industrial and commercial consumers as well.

After all that, a little less than three years ago the Government announced that they had come to the conclusion that the Northern Ireland gas industry could not survive and said that they would introduce legislation to bring the industry to a speedy end. Compensation would be offered to domestic, industrial and commercial consumers to assist them to convert to other fuels, and so on.

Only then, after years of asking for our share of the nation's North Sea natural gas resources, was I left with no alternative. If I could not get an east-west interconnector to bring natural gas from the North Sea, there was a possibility that the Northern Ireland gas industry might survive if we could establish a north-south interconnector. I use those terms deliberately because I do not want to consider any political implications. We originally wanted an east-west interconnector but if we could not have that we would have settled for a north-south interconnector.

At considerable political risk to myself I spoke to the Minister for Energy in the Dublin Government. I asked him two simple questions—"Have you enough gas to sell to us and are you prepared to sell it?" The answer to both those questions was yes. As a result of that, and with pressure from a variety of sources, the Government said that they would reconsider their decision.

I am sure that part of the pressure on them was political. They had just launched the London-Dublin talks. Some practical achievement had to come from them and this appeared one way of showing that there was some value in London-Dublin co-operation. I did not object to that if it was to have a lasting benefit for my constituents and the gas consumers in Northern Ireland, so long as no political overtones or consideration was applied. I was prepared to justify that.

If other people wanted to say that it had political overtones, that was a matter for them. We can discard such suggestions—just as there are no political overtones to a bottle of Guinness, or to the fact that the territory of Northern Ireland is invaded four times a day by CIE trains running on the line from the border to Belfast. There are no political overtones to the ebb and flow of commerce across the international frontier on the island of Ireland.

I was happy to see progress being made in that way because I was told that the charge to the public purse would be substantially less. It could be justified and could become an economic proposition. Then the Minister sent my board a paper for consideration which says: The proposal to bring to Northern Ireland a supply of natural gas from the Kinsale field rests upon a series of assumptions— (a) That a capital investment of some £150 million may be carried out successfully and that the facility created may be managed efficiently.

One hundred and fifty million pounds is substantially above any figure that was ever mentioned for the east-west interconnector. If the Minister wishes, I can produce the figures and I hope that we shall be able to discuss them in detail at some time. One hundred and fifty million pounds strikes me as about twice the original price of the east-west interconnector.

Mr. Adam Butler

If one were to deliver gas to Northern Ireland, one would first have to assess the cost of getting it there. Therefore, if it is assumed that the internal costs must be the same for each option, one is talking about getting gas to the border from the South—whether a contribution to that is necessary—contrasted with the immense cost of bringing a pipeline under the sea. That is the difference.

Mr. McCusker

I hope that the Minister is not entering into an agreement whereby we pay for a pipeline on the territory of a foreign country. When he and I have discussed this on other occasions it has been obvious that the Republic would get a return for its pipeline investment by building in an increment to the price per therm of gas that would eventually be sold to us. It would be an extremely dangerous precedent for us to invest our money in a pipeline over the territory of the Republic, particularly when that pipeline would be used by them, naturally, to supply the substantial development north of Dublin, Drogheda and Dundalk and probably several other places as well. I am assuming that £150 million is the cost of a land pipeline from the border to Belfast for the cost of a much smaller diameter distribution network throughout Northern Ireland—whatever parts of the Province would be served by natural gas—and the continuing capital costs which would be associated with establishing a natural gas industry.

I must compare that cost with the cost of bringing the pipeline across parts of Scotland, where we could have expected a contribution towards its cost from the mainland expenditure, and the cost of the pipeline under the sea. The distribution and capital costs then remain the same. One hundred and fifty million pounds does not come within a hound's gowl of the price that we were talking about at that time.

Experts thought that if one were seeking a contract to lay a gas pipeline now, as compared with four or five years ago, there is a chance that whereas the pipe would naturally cost more, the cost of laying it might be proportionately less, because there is no longer the boom in pipeline laying. There is now competition within companies for such contracts, which places one in a much more advantageous position.

The Minister will have to convince me—it is a point that he tried to make when he addressed the Assembly—that if we save these jobs and the industry and give gas to the consumers in Northern Ireland at a reasonable cost that is not a political decision to spend this money because it happens to be coming from the Republic instead of from an east-west interconnector. I say that because, while the Minister referred in his statement to the Assembly to United Kingdom reserves, there seems to be a good gas field off Kinsale head. All the evidence shows that.

However there is only one tap from that field. That one well will supply the Republic's industry, will service the whole of Dublin and, if the project is carried through, will eventually service the gas industry of the island of Ireland.

Apparently, a derogation was obtained some years ago from the EC by the Government of the Irish Republic to the effect that the gas could be used to generate electricity. If my information is correct, a substantial amount of electricity is now being generated from that gas. One platform disaster, one undersea disaster or one accident along the pipeline would put the whole island of Ireland at risk. That is why professionals in the Republic, and even some politicians in the Republic—although they dare not say so publicly—are as keen about an east-west interconnector as a north-south interconnector. They are very conscious of the vulnerability of their industry and electricity generation. In the same way, we shall be vulnerable at the end of the pipeline if there is no east-west interconnector.

Will the £150 million be the investment that I want it to be? Might it not be in the interests of the island of Ireland, of future co-operation and good neighbourliness— which, after all, is what we want—to invest the money in bringing reserves of natural gas to Northern Ireland from the North Sea? The Minister must accept that the citizens of Northern Ireland are entitled to their share of natural gas from the North Sea. Although reserves may not be high at present, negotiations are going on about the gas-gathering scheme in the North Sea and United Kingdom reserves should be increased.

Negotiations are taking place with Norway to contract for more gas to take us, perhaps, into the next century. There is also a possibility that gas from Siberia will eventually find its way to these shores. Just as I am sure that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) does not think that there are any political overtones in bringing red gas to our shores, there are no political overtones in bringing green gas to Northern Ireland.

The people of Northern Ireland want to ensure that if £150 million is available for the project, it is used on the right interconnector. They want to ensure that the north-south interconnector is more cost-effective than the east-west interconnector. Yesterday, the Minister had no doubt about it. He said that it was simply a matter of cost.

Will the Minister give us the breakdown? Will he convince me that it takes £150 million to run a pipeline from the border of Belfast, to distribute gas in a limited area of Northern Ireland and to build the right infrastructure? If not, I shall start campaigning on the east-west axis once again. The only justification for the other direction is that of cost, but the cost that was mentioned to us was much smaller than £150 million.

8.31 pm
Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)

Under the heading of Class IV, Vote 1 on expenditure on roads by the Department of the Environment, I wish to return once more to the hoary problem of the Strabane bypass. I am sure that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Patten), and the Minister responsible for the environment in Northern Ireland will have noticed that the Secretary of State for the Environment recently urged local councils to go ahead with building bypasses in the many parts of the mainland where they were needed to ease urban traffic problems.

In March 1983, it will be four years since a public inquiry came down in favour of a bypass for Strabane. That bypass is much needed. I attended the inquiry and was a witness to it on three consecutive days. What progress has been made in implementing the inquiry's findings? Some may ask whether I am weary of bringing up this issue at every opportunity. I am weary not of bringing it up, but of trying to get from the south of Strabane to the north, which I do about once a month. It takes about half an hour to do one-quarter of a mile because of the horrendous traffic conditions.

I have exhausted my vocabulary in describing the situation. Has anything been done? Is the Strabane bypass included in the £8.5 million subvention for roads? Will something practical and urgent be done to implement that much needed project? As well as raising this subject at every opportunity, I have stressed the need to find work for those living in the worst unemployment area in the United Kingdom. I have said time and again that factories to the south of the town have been vacated by multinational companies that have left Northern Ireland after the tax and rates honeymoon. There is a great need for something practical to be done for the area.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) highlighted the problem of poverty in his constituency. I know the conditions in Strabane because I see them regularly. Something must be done very quickly for the town and for the whole area.

Several hon. Members have pointed out the absence from the Northern Ireland Assembly of the SDLP, which is about the third largest party elected to it. We have heard their fatuous and sulking excuses as to why they will not take part in the Assembly's deliberations.

Last Monday morning, I was invited to the Ulster polytechnic for a seminar on unemployment and the economy of Northern Ireland. Much to my surprise, two members of the SDLP were among those who attended the debate. They made effectual contributions. I expressed surprise in my speech at the monumental anomaly that they were prepared to attend, just on invitation, a seminar on the major and composite problem of unemployment and the economy. They contributed to that debate and yet they refuse to attend the forum where they could most purposively and practicably contribute.

One of those Members sat opposite to me in the former Assembly and made effective and useful contributions. Why could not he and his colleagues attend the Assembly? They should be there. They were elected by the people to go there and they are failing to represent them. I am surprised that they should go to one seminar and yet refuse to attend the Assembly, to which they were elected by many Northern Irish people.

8.38 pm
Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

My hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) dealt convincingly with the urgent need for a re-think by the Government of their attitude towards the supply of natural gas. In addition to the valid arguments that he put forward, I have doubts about the advisability of embarking on the Kinsale gas scheme. Forecasts from authoritative circles in Dublin suggest that the life of the gas field may be reduced from 30 to 15 years because of the excessive extraction rate. I am sure that the Minister will take that consideration into account when he contemplates the cross-capital expenditure that is likely to be incurred on the soil of a sovereign independent Republic.

In clause 10, we are asked to authorise the expenditure by the Northern Ireland Health and Social Services Department of a large sum. I wish to see part of that sum, at least, devoted to re-starting work on building the much-needed new area hospital in Antrim, but as that expenditure comes under the heading of expenditure on non-contributory benefits, I shall leave that thought with the Minister of State, and no doubt he will convey it to the Under-Secretary. I leave with the Minister my promise—he may interpret it as a threat —to return to the subject in the near future, because Antrim cannot continue to be pushed back year after year. The site has already been purchased, the site works are almost finished and all that remains is for a courageous Minister to give the go-ahead for the building.

The Under-Secretary complained earlier that his Department was neglected when it came to tabling Northern Ireland questions. Whatever substance his allegations have, he can scarcely claim that the same applies to his postbag of problems and complaints about benefits distributed by his Department. I pay tribute to the Minister for his increasingly determined efforts to disentangle the many regulations that govern entitlement to benefit under various headings. Confusion arises, especially with the benefits and allowances designed to assist the young. The Minister is only too well aware of my representations on behalf of my constituents, and I assume that right hon. and hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies have been similarly engaged. I assume that they have become aware of the frustration of those youngsters, who were led to expect that they had some entitlement, only to be given contradictory answers.

I suspect that much of the confusion arises from the introduction of a series of schemes with accompanying regulations that are not understood clearly by those charged with the task of administering the schemes. I do not criticise the hard-pressed staff in the social security offices, who are doing their level best, but they are not always given the guidance that they need. I know about the burdens imposed upon comparatively junior staff. Will the Under-Secretary of State consider the provision of much clearer guidance to his staff, especially junior staff, who man the offices?

Although we welcome the merger—it was referred to earlier as the marriage—of the manpower services and commerce Departments, we wish to be assured that the confusion and overlap that we see all too often in Whitehall when such an operation is attempted, will not be repeated in Northern Ireland when the new structure takes final shape. The new structure will comprise the Department of Economic Development and its offshoot, the Industrial Development Board.

I know that the Minister of State is as anxious as hon. Members to ensure that the new board does not become another layer to be penetrated by enterprising business men and industrialists. I hope that those who have accepted the task and the responsibility of manning the new board will see their function as one of removing obstacles and slashing red tape. I hope that they will not sit around and wait until they are approached by enterprising business men and industrialists, but that they will go out and seek those who have proved in the past that they are willing to have a go and who feel that they have something to contribute to the economy of Northern Ireland.

8.43 pm
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)

As is the custom in such debates, we have ranged far and wide and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have allowed us extra latitude on some subjects. That latitude has been fairly taken. The debate has split into two parts—the economy, and the aspects of the Assembly's proceedings that relate to the appropriation order.

I start by refuting, as I so frequently have to do, the charge by the spokesman for the official Opposition, the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), that we have no industrial strategy. Either he has failed to read what has been said or prepared on this subject, or he has failed to listen to what I have said to him in the House on a number of occasions or, if he has done so, he will not accept that there is that strong and positive policy. Et is based on a worked out and a worked through approach to industrial promotion. It is backed by machinery which has been specially and recently reorganised to give us the best back-up on promotion and administration. It is also supported by a most generous package of financial incentives.

I must also reject the Labour Party's policy on Northern Ireland, which can be summed up as one of voluntary compulsion towards unity with the South. The hon. Gentleman says, and accents, that it will be by consent, but he then goes on to say, "We will achieve this." I say to the hon. Gentleman and to his party that they have no right to tell the people of Northern Ireland what their future shall be. That decision should be taken by them and with the consent of this House. The Labour Party's policy in that respect is wrong.

I reject another point that the hon. Gentleman made in his speech. I rejected it recently at Question Time. I do not believe that his idea of an all-Ireland economic development council would have any hope of success.

Some useful suggestions have been made about industrial development. Some of the questions and points have been raised before. I thank my hon. Friend for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) for his remarks about the Industrial Development Board. He was correct when he said that it had got off to a good start. It is only a few months since it came into being, and so far we like what we see. We have the benefit of those recruited from industry as employees of the board. We also have the benefit of a professionally and commercially experienced board. The not easy relationships between the board, the Civil Service and the Minister are starting to settle down. Those relationships are vital to the success of the Industrial Development Board.

In the context of industrial development, hon. Members found it possible to talk about energy. I am sure that they had industrial costs very much in mind; otherwise a discussion on energy might not have been appropriate to our debate today. It is right that we should consider energy costs in the Province. At the moment, if electricity were not subsidised it would cost much more—£60 million is provided to keep tariffs down to the highest obtaining in particular board areas in Great Britain.

How can we reduce those costs still further? It is conceivable that we could do so through the development of lignite. The lignite deposits look extremely promising. The quantities being discussed amount to 100 million tonnes, and possible more. I am told that it could easily be mined, because it would be open-cast, and if one put a power station on site, cheaper power, relatively speaking, would result. This is a possible source of energy of the greatest significance to the Province, but we are in the early days. It is being questioned whether it should be used for electricity generation or for gasification. I believe that it has an important bearing on industrial costs.

The greater part of natural gas would go to domestic usage. Industry would benefit from a supply of natural gas if it were cheaper than that obtainable through other sources. It appears from the costings that have been carried out that Kinsale gas should be available at prices that will be about 25 per cent. below the present level. The present price of town gas is subsidised by 50 per cent. If we are seeking to provide energy at the cheapest price to Northern Ireland industry, it cannot make sense to add to costs.

I did not seem to get myself across to the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) in my intervention. The possibility of a supply from the mainland—probably from Scotland —was turned down because of the cost of the undersea pipeline. For the costing of the internal distribution network it does not matter where the gas reaches Northern Ireland, generally speaking. Therefore, one has to compare the costs of getting the gas to the border and to the coast.

The hon. Member for Armagh said that there should be some recognition in the price of gas of the cost of getting it to the border from the South. That can be paid as so much per therm, as a lump sum, or as a mixture of both. However, the hon. Gentleman recognises the need for that additionality. It is my firm claim that it must cost substantially more to bring gas through a pipeline under the sea to Northern Ireland than to take it some relatively few miles to the border from, for example, Dublin or some point of that source.

Mr. McCusker

In the British Gas Corporation's report of 1976 or 1977, and in the updated report produced by Coopers and Lybrand in 1978 or 1979, the global figure was £75 million to £80 million. I want to know how a supply which I am now supposed to accept as being cheaper has reached a global sum of £150 million.

Mr. Butler

The global figure would include the wholesaling network and the distribution. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the costs have been calculated with some care and that the global sum is in the right area. He must accept my argument—I shall repeat it only once more—that if the gas were to originate from the mainland there would be an additional cost in getting it to the coast before it would be possible to start comparing costs. I think that the hon. Gentleman and I will have to enter this argument separately, or the House will wonder whether I intend to refer to any other subjects.

I am sorry that I did not hear the whole of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson). He drew on the example of a particular company when he referred to difficulties over transport costs. He was wondering whether it would help the industrial development effort if there were a subsidy to help meet transport costs. This is an incentive which the Government have considered from time to time. The package of incentives that we offer—I think of the automatic assistance, for instance, on capital expenditure of 30 per cent. as the standard capital grant and other measures—is probably the best way of providing help. For certain products where raw materials have to be brought in, and where the finished product may be expensive to transport, transport costs are an important element.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell)—I hope that I am right in welcoming him as the SDP spokesman for this debate—wondered whether we were doing all that we should in terms of overseas development work. I am able to let him have details of the numbers in post.

The hon. Gentleman asked in which countries we particularly concentrated. Historically, America has been our main source of investment, apart from Great Britain. We have people operating in most of the European countries, and we have also made a particular effort in Japan. We need investment from Japan, but we have not yet achieved this.

Our industrial development effort is as well directed as it can be at present. It is as well supported as it can be by the financial package to which I have referred. At the moment I do not believe that money is a constraint. Others have tried to seek investment from America and elsewhere, but those countries are just as affected by the recession as the United Kingdom. On my most recent visit to America I detected little immediate change in the situation there, but I came away somewhat more encouraged by the attitude of American companies towards investment in Northern Ireland. The recession will disappear and recovery will return to both the United Kingdom and the world economy. I see no reason why we should be unable to return to the levels of investment that existed in the late 1970s. Indeed, I hope we can do better than that.

I reiterate the point that the millstone still around our necks is the image of Northern Ireland in the minds of would-be investors. The damage done to jobs in the Province by tragic occurrances such as those at Ballykelly cannot be overstated.

The Lear Fan issue was raised particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury. If I were to answer all the questions that he posed I should keep the House up all night. If he agrees, I shall write to him and, as far as I can, answer all the specific points that he raised.

My hon. Friend raised a doubt in the mind of the House about whether we had another De Lorean on our hands. Since De Lorean got into difficulties I have been doing my best to remove that doubt, because we are in a different ball game. I do not doubt that this is a high-risk project. It is in a different area of technology, but it is not a completely novel concept. The major difference—I emphasise this—is that the majority of funding is of a private nature as a result of the new financial arrangement. This is not straightforward issue. The ratio of private to public funding is about 2:1. People who are motivated by commercial instincts are prepared to provide the vast bulk of the funding to enable this project to succeed. They have confidence in the project, as we do. It must achieve certification. Doubtless it will not always be plain sailing, but as the test of private participation and private commercial judgment has been passed, we should have faith in it and not be worried that it is another De Lorean.

Mr. Soley

I am still anxious. Everyone wants this project to succeed, but certain things have been said in the press and they cannot be ignored. It is all very well to stress the private involvement, but at the end of the day we must know whether the company is properly and effectively run. We must be told that the rumours are untrue. The Minister will not help if he simply writes to his hon. Friend. A clear answer must be given to the House, or the rumours will continue and no one will regret it more than the Opposition if those rumours damage the company.

Mr. Butler

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that monitoring must be carried out. Financial monitoring is being carried out on a regular basis. The Civil Aviation Authority is also monitoring the project at a technical level. That should reassure the hon. Gentleman.

I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman's worry about the management derives. When there is financial restructuring of the sort that has taken place, there is frequently a change of management. The consortium required that a new man with a reputation for tough management be put in at the top. That is the sort of management the project needs. It needs someone who is highly realistic in his approach to business. I therefore hope that there will be no anxieties on that score.

Mr. Molyneaux

Apart from the sounder financial structure, does the Minister agree that there are grounds for confidence, especially in view of the sound management that has done so much to establish this comparatively new technology in Northern Ireland? Does he also agree that the skills and standard of workmanship are extremely high and, most importantly, than there is proven demand for the product?

Mr. Butler

I confirm that orders for the plane have been remarkable and at present stand at 270. The first prototype and the first pre-production model have flown and have met their specifications. The technology is not novel. The carbon fibre composite material has been used in various aircraft parts, but this is the first time that it has been used for an entire aircraft.

Agriculture features strongly in the Estimates. I confirm what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said about the welcome improvement in this industry. In the event, 1980 was a disastrous year, but income figures improved sharply last year and there is every sign that they will be significantly higher this year. That is a welcome state of affairs.

This is Northern Ireland's largest industry. A great deal depends on it, and Ministers intend that there should be continuity in the industry and support as necessary, taking into account the condition of the market, the prices that are obtaining and the overall availability of funds. Although my hon. Friend did not say that special aid would continue, I should like to think that we can at least find some moneys, as we have done in the past. However, this is still under consideration as part of the public expenditure survey for Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman is right to point to the need for food processing. One part of our industrial development strategy is to target on that sector. It must make sense to add value to one of our raw materials.

I was asked about the circumstances of less-favoured areas. Discussions with the Commission were opened on 8 September this year. Those discussions are continuing with a view to proposals going before the Council of Ministers. I repeat, as I have done before, that if those proposals are accepted there is no commitment at this stage from the Government that the same type of benefits should apply. Indeed, there is no commitment to make extra money available to the extended areas.

Several points about health and social security have been made. Perhaps it will be best if I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Patten) to what was said by the hon. Members for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). I am sure that my hon. Friend will give an appropriate response.

Perhaps I might say the same with regard to Department of Environment issues—those involving expenditure on roads and related matters. The point must be a good one. It is important that there should be co-ordination between road planning, lighting and house building. I am sure that my hon. Friend will reply as appropriate.

These debates would be incomplete if the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) did not take part and give of his wisdom. That would be especially so if he did not refer to the Strabane bypass.

I hope that there will be a plaque which commemorates his name when that bypass is finally built. I mean that almost seriously. He has persevered and fought hard on behalf of his constituents. We all know that Strabane needs help. After similar debates I have often discussed the project with my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell). He is in touch with the council. It knows—at least I hope that it does—that the bypass will be built. The planning and the agreed route must be approved. Nevertheless, the bypass will be built when finance is available.

Mr. Soley

I recognise that I cannot expect a full reply at such short notice, but I am anxious that the Minister should undertake to consider the conditions of single-parent families and the coal-oil conversion grant scheme that I mentioned.

Mr. Butler

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the first matter is not my immediate responsibility. I shall ask my hon. Friend to reply to that point. With regard to the second, there is a scheme in operation.

I shall now deal with what may be called the second part of the debate—matters arising out of that part of the draft order which deals with the Assembly.

Mr. Amery

Before my hon. Friend deals with weighty constitutional points, will he comment on what my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) said about car parks? Although my hon. Friend seems to have treated the subject lightheartedly, it goes to the core of the argument that some of us have had with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Are we not being a little unduly restrictive in the powers that local government can be allowed to exercise?

Mr. Butler

My right hon. Friend is right. I hope that some powers will be transferred to local councils. My right hon. Friend will not lead me into the trap into which he would like me to fall, which is to support the overall line with regard to local councils which I believe him to espouse. If there are particular points about car parks—I am no expert on the subject—I am sure that the Minister will deal with them as appropriate. I was simply amused at the manner in which the difficulty was presented.

Much of what was said about the Assembly-related area of the appropriate order was a re-run of the debates on the Bill, in which I did not take part. In considering how far to go in my reply I am reminded that there is a motion on tomorrow's Order Paper in the name of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). As the right hon. Gentleman said, some of his remarks were part of that debate and, to use his own term, he was adjourning his remarks against tomorrow's debate. Nevertheless, I shall come to some of the points that he raised today.

I should tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be taking part in the debate on the next order—indeed, he is already in the Chamber—and in the debate on the right hon. Gentleman's motion tomorrow.

The points that were raised are not easy. I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman that mischief is being done to Northern Ireland and to our basic constitutional practice. Nevertheless, the points that he raised are immensely serious. A balance must be achieved —there is, as it were, a divide—between accountability and what has been described as hearing things from the Assembly or using it as a sounding box.

The right hon. Member for Down, South surely gave the answer when he quoted the letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the Presiding Officer of the Assembly referring to the prior and overriding commitment to Parliament. That must surely be so. I firmly believe that it is right and proper for Ministers and the Executive in Northern Ireland to consult those who have been democratically elected, but that the dominance of Parliament and the accountability of Ministers to Parliament must be observed. My right hon. Friend's letter confirmed what he has said many times.

We are dealing with what I hope will be a transitional stage. I hope very much that Members of the Assembly will take the opportunities that the Act provides and will find ways to take back power, whether partial or total. In that circumstance, as my right hon. Friend's letter made clear, the situation would change. I cannot agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South that the Assembly Members have put themselves in an impossible position and are frustrated by that position. When they stood for election, they knew the kind of Assembly into which they would go, at least on day 1. They knew that they would not have legislative powers or an Executive accountable to them. They knew all those things, so there should be no question of their being in an impossible position. They have to find the way forward.

The right hon. Gentleman asked two specific questions. The first related to the constitutional role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Northern Ireland. The other, which was not exactly a constitutional point, related to the position of citizens in Northern Ireland who are the constituents of both an Assembly Member and a Member of this House.

To take the second point first, I do not believe that if a case were put to an Assemblyman and then came to a Member of Parliament it would be prejudiced, as the right hon. Member made out it would. The point that matters is whether the rights of the constituents have been changed. It was the right hon. Gentleman who said that the rights of constituents throughout the United Kingdom should be the same. The answer is that they are the same in today's circumstances of Northern Ireland, because those constituents can go through the Westminster Parliament in the approved and traditional way. That is not altered in any circumstances.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

If the case has been considered by the Minister at the request of behest of a Member of the Assembly, how can it be said that the consideration of the application by the Minister has not been prejudiced?

Mr. Butler

I hope that if a case came to the Minister for a second time—the instance of which the right hon. Gentleman speaks—it would be reviewed, because that would be proper, and dealt with on its merits. I do not see that it would be prejudiced as the right hon. Gentleman suggests.

The parliamentary commissioner issue is complex.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Who would sign the decision letter to the Assembly Member? The Minister will realise that if a decision letter on a representation on behalf of a constituent is signed by a Minister, it will be extremely difficult, in all human practicability, for a different conclusion to be reached.

Mr. Butler

This hypothetical case, which has gone through the Assembly Member to the Minister, has been dealt with and the Minister has signed the letter. If it were brought back to him by the Westminster Member of Parliament, it would land on the Minister's desk and, because it had come back, he would look at all the circumstances and judge the case on its merits. He might give exactly the same answer as has been given in the first place, but new circumstances and emphasis might be brought to his attention. I see no difficulty, because there are instances where cases are brought back to the attention of Ministers for a second look because an hon. Member does not accept what has been said in respect of his constituent. For a Minister to take a second bite at a constituent's case is not difficult.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

I am obliged to the Minister for his patience, but can he not see the difference between a Minister coming to a conclusion on a submission made to him in other ways and a submission made to him by an elected representative to whom, as a Member of the House, he is responsible? Surely our whole manner of dealing on behalf of our constituents depends upon the fact that the Minister approaches a case de novo and with an open mind when it comes to him from a Member of Parliament. We cannot do that if the Minister has already done that drill for a Member of the Assembly. If the Minister will not do that for a Member of the Assembly, he is insincere towards the Member of the Assembly.

Mr. Butler

Technically, the Minister cannot look at it de novo, if I understand the expression correctly. He might be able to look at it in secondo, but with an open mind. The very fact that an hon. Member had returned a case to him—certainly if it were the right hon. Member for Down, South—would mean that the Minister concerned would look closely for the second time to see whether there was any particular piece of evidence that he had failed to observe. Hypothetically, it could be that the case made by the hon. Member was a better one, or that he presented it in a different way. The Minister will have to look as freshly as he can at the case for the second time. I may not have reassured the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Down, South on that matter, but I do not think that we shall get any further.

The other matter about which I can perhaps be fairly positive is complex, and I should be happy to write more fully to the right hon. Member for Down, South. The important point is that under the Parliamentary Commissioner Act (Northern Ireland) 1969, which established the office of Parliamentary Commissioner for Northern Ireland, the power to transmit complaints to him rested first on Members of the Northern Ireland Parliament and then with Members of the Assembly elected in 1973. That power was transferred to Members of this House only when the Assembly was dissolved. Otherwise there would have been no channel for complaints to the Parliamentary Commissioner.

Now that the new Assembly has been elected, the power has reverted to Assembly Members. The resumption of that arrangement is consistent with the long tradition of separate administrative arrangements for Northern Ireland. It is valid to make the point that in this case there is no ministerial accountability, because the Minister is not involved. The parliamentary commissioner is independent, and individual constituents can use the Assemblyman, the Member of Parliament, or, at local level, his councillor as a channel, or make a direct approach to the Commissioner for Complaints. It is a reversion to the position that obtained before. It is not the case, as the right hon. Member for Down, South was trying to make out, that a long-sacred right of Westminster Members is being taken away.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Is my hon. Friend saying that the present Assembly inherits all the powers of the previous Assembly? Did we legislate for that in one of the guillotined clauses and, if so, can my hon. Friend refer me to the appropriate section of the Northern Ire Land Act 1982?

Mr. Butler

I shall be delighted to refer my hon. Friend to all the relevant sections. As regards the powers of the Assembly, we debated the Bill for a long time, and he is aware of what power the Act bestowed on the Assembly and its Members.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

The Minister must appreciate that the previous bodies, which had the sole right of reference to the parliamentary commissioner, were the bodies which were responsible for the administration of those subjects on which they made the reference to the parliamentary commissioner. It is confirmed now that the House, and therefore hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies, remain responsible for all aspects of Northern Ireland government. What is happening is that we are being deprived of a right to secure the services of the parliamentary commissioner, who exists for the purpose, to investigate cases which we believe ought to be investigated in that way.

There is no comparison in this respect between previous Assemblies which had responsibilities and ours. If the Minister likes to compare it with the Convention and tell us that the Convention could send cases to the parliamentary commissioner, let him do so.

Mr. Butler

I cannot add to what I said. It is a return to the position that obtained previously. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest asked what provision there was in law, and the answer is that the Act was passed with a substantial majority.

Mr. Molyneaux

It may be of some help to the Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if I recount my experience when I became a Member of the House. Stormont was still in existence and I could not table a question on any transferred matter in Northern Ireland. For the brief period of the power-sharing Executive, of which the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was a Deputy Chief Executive, I was prevented again from tabling questions on housing, roads, or any other transferred matter in Northern Ireland. A practical way out of the difficulty would be for the parliamentary commissioner to be tied to rulings similar to those of the Table Office.

Mr. Butler

The hon. Gentleman refers to matters for which the Minister was accountable to this House. In this instance ministerial accountability does not arise, It is a question of which elected representative should be responsible for this small but important matter of judging whether a case should go to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Northern Ireland. The Act states that it should be the man or woman who is elected to the Assembly rather than the person elected to this House.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

Of course Ministers are not responsible for making a reference to the parliamentary commissioner, against themselves. The point is that they are responsible for that administration, the rightness or otherwise of which is referred by hon. Members to the parliamentary commissioner. We are therefore in an area of ministerial responsibility, and we are depriving hon. Members of the power to serve their constituents by using that channel to bring home the ministerial responsibility for administration to the Minister where it lies.

Mr. Butler

I can understand the right hon. Gentleman's feelings. It is one role which he and his predecessors have practised since 1969, apart from the period of the previous Assembly. Before 1969 there was no parliamentary commissioner. It is as short-lived as that and, as I say, a reversion to previous practice. It is a transfer of one role. That is what the House decided and that is where it stands.

Mr. Amery

I feel that there is a difficulty here. I apologise for pressing my hon. Friend too hard. By what provision in the 1982 Act did the responsibility return to the Assembly as distinct from hon. Members of this House?

Mr. Butler

I do not want to mislead the House by giving a wrong answer. I gather that it was one of the schedules. I shall have to write to those hon. Members who have raised this point. It matters where it appears in the legislation. What matters more, however, is that the legislation has been passed by the House. The practice is now as originally referred to and described by myself.

Mr. Molyneaux

When the Minister studies the papers, before writing to right hon. and hon. Members will he examine the position of the parliamentary commissioner during the period in 1973 after the Assembly had been elected but before the power-sharing Executive was formed? That is the appropriate period.

Mr. Butler

I have said that it is a complex matter. We shall look at the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised and seek to clarify some of the issues that have been mentioned. I have to fall back on the case that the legislation was passed by the House.

The order allows for moneys to be provided in respect of various Assembly matters. The House has rightly found it appropriate to examine the Assembly's future. I echo what was stated by the hon. Members for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) and for Itchen in saying "Give it a chance." This House set up the Assembly. Although certain of my right hon. and hon. Friends and others were opposed to it, the legislation was passed by a substantial majority.

Even my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), with his strong feelings on the subject, but with his usual fairness, suggested that it was conceivable that the Assembly had not totally failed. I can tell him, from the limited amount that I have seen of its activities, that I believe that there is a chance of success. I do not believe that it is great, but the chance is there. The steps are open to be taken by the Assembly and its Members, given some compromise, a great deal of patience and a little encouragement from the House.

There is no question but that politics, security and industrial development in Northern Ireland are all interrelated. Unless we can overcome the violence, we will not get industrial development. Unless we can overcome the poverty of unemployment, we will not remove the temptation and the breeding ground for criminal activity. Unless we can get political stability in the Province, we shall not have a chance either of finally overcoming terrorism or of getting the inward investment and the satisfactory industrial climate that we need. Therefore, there is a great deal to be done by all those involved in these matters. I believe that there is an opportunity to move forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 17 November, be approved.