§ 6.4 pm
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. John Patten)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 16th February, be approved.The order, as always, is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. With all its technical references to Class this and Vote that, and the sums of money voted, it is almost inevitable that the contents of any speech introducing an order sound like someone reading at random from a yellow pages directory. However, to the people of Northern Ireland the financial provisions contained in the order—as the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) knows only too well—are vital.
If the order does nothing else, it demonstrates to the people of Northern Ireland—represented in the Chamber this evening by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)—the Government's clear commitment to the Province. I hope to demonstrate that clear commitment as I proceed with my speech.
The draft order provides for the appropriation of both the 1981–82 spring Supplementary Estimates and the sums required on account for 1982–83 by Northern Ireland Departments. These spring Supplementary Estimates represent the final adjustments to the spending plans of Northern Ireland Departments for the financial year now drawing to a close, as the plans were set out in 1981–82 Main Estimates and the autumn Supplementary Estimates. They were covered by the Appropriation (No. 2) and (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Orders 1981, which were debated and approved by the House in July and December 1981.
As always, detailed information on the draft order is to be found in the Estimates volume and the statement of sums which are required on account. Copies of these, following the previous practice of this Administration and earlier Administrations, have been placed in the Vote Office. Further details are available in the explanatory memorandum which I have circulated to all hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies, to the spokesman for the official Opposition, and to those hon. Members who took part in the last appropriation order debate.
I should like now to refer to the most important aspects of the draft order, dealing first with the 1981–82 spring Supplementary Estimates, which amount in all to £43.4 million. I shall return towards the end of my speech to the sums needed on account for the new financial year. These sums of money bring total Estimates provision for 1981–82 to £2, 388.2 million—a lot of money. Hon. Members will probably be aware that this does not constitute the total of public expenditure in Northern Ireland in 1981–82, since it leaves out of account non-voted public expenditure such as social security payments, capital provision for housing, and similar provisions. It means that the cash total for 1981–82 is in the region of £3.2 billion—not an insubstantial sum for the population of about 1.5 million people in the Province.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, concede that there is no other part of the United Kingdom for which the budgetary arrangements, and the arrangements of this House for voting money, result in a separate presentation of the total 57 sums which are being spent in that part of the Kingdom. If there were other such parts Northern Ireland, although special in many ways, would by no means appear as unique as it does at the moment.
§ Mr. Patten
I entirely accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is, indeed, unique that for Northern Ireland we can separate out expenditure on a regional basis. His intervention permits me to say that we are able, because of the separate way in which the accounts are drawn for the Province, to demonstrate to the people of the Province—some of whom sometimes unnecessarily fear that we do not wish the Province well—just how well we wish the Province. We wish the Province well to the tune of £3.2 billion during this year. We wish the Province well to the extent of spending—I agree that it is fortuitous that we can isolate the figure—35 per cent. more per head on the people in the Province that we spend on the people in Great Britain.
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) for bringing out those figures. Although hon. Members on both sides of the House and many people in the country support what the Government are doing in Northern Ireland, does my hon. Friend agree that, in view of the huge sums of money to which he has referred, all hon. Members would have cause for anxiety if they did not feel that hon. Members representing the Province were giving every possible support to the Secretary of State in his endeavours to improve the situation in the Province?
§ Mr. Patten
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. Needless to say, from time to time his views are echoed in other constitutencies. My hon. Friend's point about the importance of the devolution of some power and responsibility back to the Province would only be aided by a constructive attitude being shown by all 12 hon. Members who sit in the House for Northern Ireland constituencies, of whom, sad to say, only two are in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Patten
Not for the first time, I stand corrected by the right hon. Member for Down, South.
I return to the litany of money to be spent and on what it is to be spent. I apologise to the House if it sounds a little like the reading of Division lists late at night.
Under the heading of the functioning of the labour market—Class II Vote 3, hon. Members will see that a token Supplementary Estimate of £1, 000 is sought to give additional provision for demand-related grant schemes such as training on employers' premises, the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, the job release scheme and apprentice training grants.
Additional provision is required to fund a severance scheme at Belfast docks, on which agreement may be reached in this financial year—an important agreement if it is reached—and for the administrative costs of the industrial training boards until the end of 1981–82, pending the outcome of a review of their functions. That matter may be of interest to the official Opposition's spokesman.
Only a token Supplementary Estimate is required for that Vote, because sufficient savings to meet the additional 58 needs have occurred in other areas. They are fortuitous and include the budgets for Enterprise Ulster, for Government training centres, for the youth opportunities programme and for the shipbuilding redundancy payments scheme.
Those are shortfalls of expenditure on demand-related schemes. Such shortfalls can easily occur because of the difficulties of predicting. The savings have arisen mainly because of a slower than expected expenditure rather than because of any deliberate reductions in planned expenditure.
Hon. Members will be aware that expenditure under Class II, Vote 3 represents part of the Government's programme to do all that they can to strengthen the Northern Ireland economy and to alleviate unemployment. All hon. Members will realise that that alleviation of unemployment and that refurbishment of the economy are not things that Governments can do alone. They must be done in co-operation with the people of the Province. A permanent reduction in unemployment can be achieved only by an increase in the level of new and productive investment in Northern Ireland. The Government are determined to play their part in bringing that about.
I am pleased to be able to tell the House something of our plans in that respect. The House may recall that my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—now the Lord Privy Seal—announced on 13 August 1981 that the institutional arrangements in this area were to be radically re-organised. That reorganisation was to centre on the setting up of a new Industrial Development Board.
I am pleased to tell the House that our plans for that we well advanced, and I hope that we shall be able to publish a full account of our intentions, along with proposals for draft legislation, prior to a debate in the Northern Ireland Committee, which we hope will be held later this month. It is for hon. Members to decide whether they wish to debate that concept today, but I suggest that they may wish to leave the discussion until the Northern Ireland Committee considers the detailed plans. The Government hope to announce the names of the new members of the IDB during April and we shall make that information known as quickly as we can.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I am sure that there is no misunderstanding, but perhaps it would be as well to ensure that by emphasising that the debate in the Northern Ireland Committee would not necessarily render superfluous a debate on the order in its final form. I do not imagine that that was the implication of the Minister s remarks, but I thought it as well to make sure that there was no misunderstanding.
§ Mr. Patten
I am content to reassure the right hon. Gentleman that the circumstances that he sets out as a possibility will not occur. There will be a full debate on the draft order that sets up the IDB.
I have some sad news, of which hon. Members may already be aware. Earlier today my hon. Friend the Minister of State had to make a statement about the closure of the British Enkalon factory in Antrim at the end of the month. I can do no more than echo his disappointment at the loss of 850 jobs, especially considering the improvements in productivity and performance at the plant over the past six or seven months.
I hope that hon. Members will appreciate that Enka, the parent company of British Enkalon, took the closure 59 decision because it saw no prospect of viability for the Antrim factory in the longer term. The Government were prepared to consider further substantial—I stress "substantial"—short-term assistance, provided that Enka could see a genuine future for the factory, but we must reluctantly accept the commercial decision of the company. I know what distress it will cause throughout the Province and particularly in the immediate area where so many were employed in the factory.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)
Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that another company was interested in buying the plant and that Enka refused to sell because it wanted to kill off competition and reduce capacity in the industry? Can he assure us that Enka will not be able to strip the millions of pounds worth of equipment from that plant to furnish factories in other parts of Europe?
§ Mr. Patten
I have read the same press speculation as the hon. Gentleman has obviously read. Unfortunately, I am unable to confirm or deny whether it is correct. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will deal later with the machinery and plant in that relatively modern factory.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
The Minister said that he took the matter so seriously that he was prepared to give additional aid to the company if there were a commercial future for the factory. Is he now saying that he has not gone into the possibility that another company might have taken over the factory?
§ Mr. Patten
I cannot add to what I have already said. The Government made it known to the company that they would be prepared to consider further short-term, transitional financial aid to make it possible for the factory to remain open, provided the parent company thought that the plant had a viable future. Press reports about other companies that might have been interested are sheer speculation.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)
The hon. Gentleman said that the Government were willing to give generous assistance. I heard on the radio that many small firms tied up with the De Lorean company cannot get any money. Dozens may go into liquidation, with hundreds of job losses. They say that the Government have not done anything and will not do anything, except to refer them to Sir Kenneth Cork, and that he offered them money to stop them from going into liquidation.
§ Mr. Patten
These are matters for the joint receivers, because there are two. This morning my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met a number of managing directors and chairmen of companies in that position. The receiver has been put in, and all references must be made to him, and at this moment he is making valiant efforts to ensure an existence for the company, because upon its fortunes depend many other smaller companies.
I come now to those Votes in the draft order for which the Department of the Environment is responsible, and I shall refer to the most significant items within them. An additional £9.1 million is being sought on the roads programme, Class IV, Vote 1, largely to meet the cost of a variety of urgent small-scale works, including a number which are related to housing projects and to commercial activities. Approximately £1.1 million of the extra 60 provision is for repair of damage caused by rioting during the hunger strike last year, and for additional expenditure on street lighting because of increased electricity tariffs.
I want to say a further word on that subject. About £½ million of the £1.1 million is to be spent on undoing the damage that was caused in certain parts of the Province by riots during the hunger strikes last year. That £½ million could have been better spent on other more needed items. It is a tragedy that that money has gone down the drain. However, I suggest that we do not view the £½ million as a single sum related to last year's tragic events. It stands as a token, a surrogate, for the millions of pounds of inward investment that have been deflected away from the Province because of its image and its security problems. Apart from those millions of pounds, thousands of new jobs have failed to come to the Province because of the security situation. The £½ million is merely a token of the tragedy that has taken place in Northern Ireland during the past 10 or 12 years since the troubles began in their present form.
A recent editorial in the Belfast Telegraph, I think, said that the people in the Province should realise that they themselves bear some of the responsibility for its economic problems. The responsibility cannot all fall on Her Majesty's Government and Opposition. If our hopes to devolve some measure of power and responsibility back to the Province prove acceptable to the people of Northern Ireland, the people there will take more responsibility for undoing the economic havoc of the last 10 to 15 years.
In the housing programme, Class V, Vote 1, net additional provision of £11.8 million is being sought. Hon. Members will be aware, from the announcement made on 6 January by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that housing is regarded as the top priority within the social and environmental programmes for Northern Ireland, and I am pleased to say that the build-up towards the substantial increase in the housing programme announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already begun.
The Supplementary Estimate reflects an increase of some £17.3 million in the housing grant payable to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. This is partly offset by shortfall in other parts of the Vote, to give the net increase of £11.8 million overall. This addition of £17.3 million to the housing grant, combined with savings, on interest charges and related issues, in the Housing Executive's budget, will enable the executive to redeem in 1981–82 a £30 million bank loan, a substantial sum which would otherwise fall due for repayment in 1982–83. Were such a repayment to be postponed till next year, our efforts to secure the expansion of the housing programme could be jeopardised and the improvement in the conditions of the Northern Ireland housing stock which is not good, and reduction of urgent waiting lists would be delayed.
Hon. Members will realise that crucial to all this has been the Housing Executive's outstanding success in the sale of its houses to sitting tenants and the public expenditure resources which have been released as a result. Not only is the Housing Executive's record in this respect the best in the United Kingdom, but the vast bulk of sales are being financed by private funds, chiefly through building society mortgages. It would seem opportune for me to offer a word of appreciation to the building societies, which have responded magnificently to the encouragement which the Government and the 61 Housing Executive have given them to expand their activities in Northern Ireland, both in sales of executive houses and in the lower end of the private market—an area in which building societies previously found it rather difficult to operate.
I hope that, whatever we think about the selling of housing stock, all right hon. and hon. Members will welcome the role of the Housing Executive and the building societies in this context. The Government are pleased that the societies are continuing their support. I am sure that all Conservative Members will join me in congratulating my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on that splendid result.
The supplementary provision sought for the Department of Education in Class VIII, Votes 1 and 2, relates mainly to increased costs arising from the 1981 teachers' salaries awards, together with additional costs arising through the deliberate expansion of the education service input to the youth opportunities programme. Increases amounting to some £4.1 million on these Votes will be offset by decreases amounting to £1.3 million, largely resulting from revised estimates of provision required for a number of services.
The House cannot fail to be aware of the considerable recent interest in teacher numbers. This is a matter of proper concern to parents and people involved in education. I think it is well worth making the point that, despite the very considerable pressures on public expenditure generally, despite the many competing priorities within the Northern Ireland programme, and despite increased costs in education, pupil-teacher ratios in Northern Ireland have been maintained. The latest year for which actual figures are available is 1980–81, when the ratio in primary schools was 23.6 and that for the secondary sector 15.5. In 1978–79 the equivalent figures were 23.8 and 15.6. So there was in fact a slight improvement, albeit very slight. We expect that when final figures are available the resources being allocated to teachers in the current year will be sufficient to maintain pupil-teacher ratios at their present level, and the Government have already indicated that they will continue to attach the utmost priority within the education budget to provision for the teaching force during the next school year.
The next item concerns less expensive, but interesting, matters. The Supplementary Estimate for £0.8 million sought in Class VIII, Vote 3, relates largely to provision for district councils' capital expenditure on sport and recreation, where progress has been much faster than was expected at the beginning of the year. Provision is sought also to meet the cost of the reinstatement work at the Grand Opera House in Belfast following an unfortunate fire late in 1980 before the refurbishment was completed. I recommend hon. Members on both sides of the House who have never visited Belfast to go to the Grand Opera House, which is a magnificent building which has been magnificently restored and—
§ Mr. Patten
I shall mention the Crown Liquor Rooms shortly. I ask the hon. Gentleman to be patient. I recommend a visit to the Grand Opera House, which is a fine Victorian building, and to the entire area around the Opera House, which is much in the style of Victorian 62 centres of great cities on this side of the water, be they Manchester, Glasgow or similar cities which had a flowering in the nineteenth century.
There are many magnificent buildings and, as the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) said, there is perhaps no more magnificent public house in the British Isles than the Crown Liquor Rooms, which is owned by the National Trust. It is immediately opposite the Grand Opera House. It was recently described—never let it be said that Northern Ireland Ministers do not always consider and properly research aesthetic matters—by the Architectural Review as the best surviving Victorian pub. The money that was spent on its refurbishment was well spent.
Provision is taken under Class IX in the Estimates for health and personal social services. In Vote 1 the increase of £5.1 million consists of £5 million for additional expenditure by the four health and social services boards in the Province on backlog maintenance and the replacement of essential equipment. An additional £100, 000 is asked for grants made payable to voluntary bodies in the health and personal social services sector. This is part of a scheme to promote voluntary work by the unemployed who wish to undertake such work. It is a scheme that we have been pleased to introduce during the financial year.
Under Vote 2 about £8.3 million is sought for demand-determined expenditure, which is mainly attributable to general medical, pharmaceutical and welfare food services, and to a shortfall on receipts from Health Service contributions. This is partly offset by savings on general dental and other services.
One of the problems that faces the Health Service in the Province, as on this side of the water, is the spiralling cost of many of the medical services and equipment which the Health Service uses. Very often these costs increase ac a faster rate than the rate of inflation.
Social security comes under Class X in the Estimates. Additional provision is being sought in two Votes. The first is family benefits, Vote 3, where the estimate of children qualifying for child benefit has been increased because of the growing tendency to remain at school beyond the minimum school leaving age. That is something that we should expect. The increase is partly offset by a reduction in the family income supplement estimate. The caseload is increasing—there are now more people in the Province receiving FIS than at any time since 1974—but it has not risen as much as previously predicted. Net additional provision for this service is £2.3 million. The other items fall into the administrative Vote. which is Vote 4, and increase the existing provision for computers and associated equipment by £150, 000.
In conclusion, I come to the other element of the draft order, which involves the sums required on account for the financial year 1982–83. These amount in total to £1, 075.4 million. It is necessary to have these sums made available to Northern Ireland Departments by the beginning of the incoming financial year to enable services to continue until the balance of the 1982–83 Main Estimates are debated and approved along with the next appropriation order. which will probably be in early July next year.
The sums required on account for 1982–83 are calculated on a basis that I shall explain. It is that 45 per cent. of the total provision in the previous year is taken for the services which will be contained in each Vote in the 1982–83 Main Estimates, taking account of the changes in 63 departmental responsibilities which were announced by the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Atkins), who is now Lord Privy Seal, on 30 July and 13 August 1981. The changes have already been the subject of separate draft orders. The sums required on account for 1982–83 are not definitive of expenditure plans for that year. However, expenditure during the next financial year must be about £3.5 billion, which is a great deal of money.
I do not know what that means to the people of the Province. It means to me—I return to where I began—that there is clear evidence of the Government's commitment, just like the previous Government's commitment, to the people of the Province, the well-being of the Province and the welfare of the Province. It is on those grounds that I commend the draft order to the House.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
As the Minister said, the order needs to be taken in the context of the state of the Northern Ireland economy. As I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) have said, that economy is in a desperately serious condition. When we visited the Province recently with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition it was clear that the greatest fear of all the parties, the trade unions and the Northern Ireland CBI was the collapse of the industrial base to a point from which it would not recover even if there were a recovery in the British and World economies. That fear runs throughout the political and economic life of Northern Ireland. Everything that we say today is relevant to that aspect.
The Government's policies are not working, and they are not even relevant to Northern Ireland as they are being implemented. I shall say something about that in relation to British Enkalon.
There is a need for a significant shift in Government policy. That shift should begin with an increase in the money that is made available through the order. That is not because we believe that we can solve the problem by throwing money at it. We believe that more money is needed in certain key areas and that those areas need to be well considered, well planned and responded to positively.
We all know that insecurity in Northern Ireland is the enemy of peace and progress and that it has economic as well as political roots. However, the order provides no evidence that the Government intend to act decisively on the growing fear of unemployment in Northern Ireland. The problem must be seen in the context not just of the overall figure of one in five of the working population now unemployed, but of selected areas. For example, in Strabane almost 50 per cent. of the working population are unemployed, in Dungannon the figure is more than 40 per cent., and in Newry, Cookestown and Londonderry one in three workers is out of a job.
More money should be put into construction and new technology. The Minister should listen carefully to representatives of the CBI on the advantages of investing in bioengineering. Above all, Government money should be used for high risk investment. That was the policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield when he was a Minister in the Labour Government.
Some people are critical of De Lorean and one or two other ventures but there is no doubt in my mind or in the 64 minds of all political parties—with the possible exception of one—and of the CBI in Northern Ireland that the Government should be involved in high risk investment ventures if there is to be a recovery in the Province's economy. Redundancies in January alone were 1, 100 at De Lorean, 900 at Shorts—a successful company until it was hit by the Government's high interest rates—400 at Mackies and a threat of more than 2, 500 redundancies at Harland and Wolff. I intended to add to that list the threatened loss of 850 jobs at British Enkalon, but that threat is now a fact. Having heard the Minister's reply to the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker), I am profoundly worried that there is a lack of political will by the Government to intervene effectively in the economy of the Province.
If it were known that the Minister was prepared to do anything sympathetic to help British Enkalon, but the company still said that it was not commercially possible to continue, I could understand that. But the Minister said that he did not even know of the rumour that someone might be prepared to take the company over. In those circumstances, at the very least we are entitled to ask why he did not know. To whom did he talk? Did he discuss the matter with the trade unions? Did he ask them whether they thought that someone else could take over the company? Did he ask the management whether another company could take over? Did he ask other relevant industrialists or industrial groups whether a takeover was possible?
If there is to be political will, the Minister must fight his corner for the people of Northern Ireland. If a company or a factory is to close, he must be sure that no one could be found to take it over. That is vital. There is a growing feeling among Opposition Members and the public in Northern Ireland that the Government lack the political will to involve themselves in the economy to the extent of keeping companies going by finding other options, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield when he was a Minister.
The Government must show that they have the will if they are to be taken seriously by the people of Northern Ireland. In that respect, they should consider the Labour Government's record. The Labour Government were infinitely more successful in taking high-risk decisions to keep up employment than the present Administration.
The Government should also examine the Quigley report. Before finalising proposals for the industrial development board, I hope that the Government will do as I understand the trade unions have advised and make the board an entrepreneurial agency, free from Government and bureacratic restraints and able to become involved in high-risk investment.
The Government seem to be saying—the Minister implied this—that part of the fault lies with the people of the Province. They say that they will do what they can but that ultimately they will do only so much and then withdraw. That sounds as though the Government intend to leave Northern Ireland to free market forces. Even the CBI says that that will not work, that high-risk investment must come from somewhere, and the only source is the Government. We know that, for political and economic reasons, it will not come from the private sector.
I hope that the Government will consider encouraging links between the industrial development board and the industrial development authority in Southern Ireland. That would work towards a more balanced economy and be 65 beneficial to the whole of the island. Bearing in mind the way in which the Southern Irish Government have advanced in the production of chips, there is an argument for bioengineering in the North as the two are complementary rather than competitive. In the long run, complementary industries in both agriculture and manufacturing could do a great deal to revive the Irish economy.
The Government are proud of the £90 million boost that they say could produce another 5, 500 jobs. That hardly makes up for the cuts in services over the past two and a half years, and it may never repair the damage caused by the reallocation of resources since December 1980. The extra £90 million is both a vindication of the Opposition's arguments and a recognition of the Government's past mistakes. The Minister and his colleagues should go back to the Cabinet and make it clear that that sum is insufficient for Northern Ireland and that, if they are to prevent the problem worsening, they must provide more. If £90 million extra can be justified for Northern Ireland to do something about employment, as the Minister argued, the Government would be well advised to examine closely the economic theory that they are applying to the rest of the country. What is good enough for Northern Ireland is good enough for the rest of the United Kingdom.
The Minister could also intervene effectively in energy pricing. There is no real provision for that in the order. Energy prices should be on a par with the lowest rather than the highest in the United Kingdom, which is all that is guaranteed. Part of the problem for Northern Ireland is that energy prices are well above those in the mainland and are compared only with the highest. Will the Minister undertake to try to achieve that in the 1982–83 appropriation order?
Both industrial and domestic users face a problem. It is perhaps not well known that the electricity company in Northern Ireland installs load limiters to cut down the supplies to users who are in debt. If they use more than a fixed quantity of electricity—say, 10 amps—a switch-off mechanism is triggered to prevent the consumer from getting into further debt. As a result, if a family turns on the fire because it is cold and then wants to heat water or to cook, the chances are that it cannot do so. One or more of the electrical appliances must be switched off, or the supply will be cut off. The heating, the cooking or the hot water facility is cut off. That is a common problem, and it is caused not least by high energy pricing and rent policies.
People in Northern Ireland suffer from low incomes, high energy prices and high rents. I was there recently and met a delegation of tenants' representatives. They said that it was not that they objected to paying debts or returning to the conditions of the 1930s, but that ordinary decent people on low incomes were unable to pay their bills. That is reminiscent of the 1900s. That is a real and serious criticism of the Government.
One way to demonstrate social and political will would be to do more on the proposed gas pipeline from Kinsail in the South to the North. In the long run, that would help both the construction industry and domestic prices.
I note that none of the £90 million is going towards new capital investment in housing. At the same time, we recognise that one in six of the unemployed in Northern Ireland is a construction worker. In answer to parliamentary questions recently, the House was told that the rent rise was necessary to pay for the additional 66 housing to be brought forward. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell) said:The hon. Gentleman is mistaken in thinking that the increase in the rents will be spent on building more houses in the affluent areas of Northern Ireland. Half of the new building will be in Belfast."—[Official Report, 25 February 1982; Vol. 18, c. 979.That is fine, but not something which should be subsidised out of rents. In a letter to the Housing Executive the Minister said:I accept that the Board would prefer not to increase rents but the choice is starkly between an increase in the Board's rental income which can be used to finance bigger expenditure or a reduction in spending and in the programmes.That punishes people in public sector housing—the most vulnerable group—by making them pay a large part of the capital programme out of current expenditure. That is unacceptable, although one recognises that there must be some element of it.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. David Mitchell)
I think that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. He is assuming that the reference in my letter to the chairman of the Housing Executive was to the capital programme. I referred to "programmes", in the plural. If the hon. Gentleman considers it carefully, he will realise that the real problem was whether the Housing Executive could generate sufficient funds from rent increases and from its own resources to carry out its maintenance programme without raiding Government moneys provided for newbuild purposes.
§ Mr. Soley
I accept the Minister's point. I shall look at the matter again. Nevertheless, as I said recently, there was a 26 per cent. increase in rents the year before last and an 11 per cent. increase last year, and there is to be a 22 per cent. increase in April this year. That rate of increase is well ahead of inflation, so it must be placing an unfair burden on people in the public housing sector in Northern Ireland. People on low incomes already facing high energy prices and high rents cannot take on an additional burden of that magnitude without running into heavy debt problems.
One area in which the Government could get the Northern Ireland economy moving again is housing construction, which they were prepared to hold back when they first came to office. It will take some years for the public housing sector to recover from the effects of that policy.
§ Mr. John Patten
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh".] I apologise for that Freudian slip. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is not yet a Minister, although I hope that at some future time he may enjoy the fruits of office.
§ Mr. Patten
Yes, indeed. I wish to ask the hon. Gentleman about his attitude to public debt in the Province. He said that the policies of the fuel authorities, linked with the social security system, are adversely affecting people on low incomes. He now says that council house rents are too high. Does he realise that public debt in the Province is now more than £35 million? What are his proposals for dealing with that?
§ Mr. Soley
That cannot be regarded in isolation from the British economy as a whole. It is a matter of Government policy. The Opposition have made the point 67 time and again that in a recession there is a strong case for increased public borrowing. Other measures would be needed as well, but that is one. I should be prepared to give extra benefit to Northern Ireland. The Minister, in opening, said several times that Northern Ireland was receiving a great deal of money and that that demonstrated the Government's commitment and so on. What the House must recognise, however, is not the amount of money being given but that Northern Ireland's problems are so severe as to require a far greater effort than is now being made, because economic and political progress in the Province are linked.
§ Mr. Soley
No. I accept that we should have to carry a greater debt for Britain overall.
It will take some years for the public housing sector in Northern Ireland to recover from the capital spending freeze of the past 18 months. Rent increases are excessive and the most vulnerable groups are being asked to pay for a capital programme which is not acknowledged as a structural problem for Northern Ireland as a whole. Many people are falling into the poverty trap and they are unable to pay the rent.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
I did not intend to intervene again—and I apologise for doing so—but that is the third time that the hon. Gentleman has talked about rents being increased to pay for the new building. I should be grateful if, in the rest of his prepared speech, he would take on board the assurance that I have given that that is not so.
§ Mr. Soley
Yes, up to a point; but the Minister is surely not saying that none of the increase is involved in that. As I understand it, he is saying that a great deal of it is. He seems to be quibbling about the extent and wording of the letter to the chairman of the Housing Executive, but he does not seem to be denying that some of the rent increases will go to the capital programme. I shall be happy to give way if he wishes to place it on record that none of that money will go to the capital programme.
The Opposition are far from satisfied, particularly in the light of the news from British Enkalon, that the Government have the political will to put right the economy of Northern Ireland. Their attempts to justify their policy, especially on housing, energy, employment and the revitalisation of the basis of industry, are evidence of that. Unless we begin to get that right, I cannot see their proposals for political progress being successful. We must accept that the more the economy runs into trouble and the higher the level of unemployment, the greater will be the difficulty in achieving political progress in the Province.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
The Minister referred in opening to the sparse attendance in the Chamber at the commencement of the debate. He must have been gratified to realise that, before he had made a great deal of progress with his speech, I was joined by all the other hon. Members belonging to the Ulster Unionist Party, with one exception. It is an exception that I do not think has ever happened before in any debate on an appropriation order since appropriation orders began in 1972—namely, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux).
68 All parts of the House are aware that when a by-election is imminent there tends to be a certain division of the effort of hon. Members. If 25 per cent. of the available effort of the Ulster Unionist Party has today been diverted in the direction of the Province and the election to take place there later this week, that is not a high proportion compared with that experienced by the House on previous occasions when by-elections have taken place elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
It was, however, a particularly unhappy coincidence that on the first such occasion on which my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South was absent, the Minister made the announcement that he had to make about the British Enkalon factory in my hon. Friend's constituency. It is because of the determined efforts made in the past by my hon. Friend in collaboration with Ministers that that undertaking was and is still operating in Antrim today. But for steps taken over previous months at the urging and insistence of my hon. Friend, it would not be there. Even now, with a deadline of 15 March, I do not believe that my hon. Friend will accept that we must sit down under the situation in which we have been placed by the firm's decision.
Listening to the Minster, one might almost look with envy upon those employed by a firm which, as a separate undertaking, could be bankrupted and would therefore be available for purchase and revitalisation by somebody ready and willing to do the job. I say this here and now, and I know that I say it on behalf of my colleagues and of my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South: we shall not take it lying down if, through a dog-in-the-manger attitude, British Enkalon insists on closing and stripping its plant in Northern Ireland when there exists the commercial possibility—and we have heard that there exists the Government will—to keep it in operation. There is at least a fortnight to go. We will not take this lying down as it has been served up to us today.
An exchange of a financial character occurred between myself and the Minister early in his speech when he said, with a certain rhetorical flourish—perhaps that is, if not the pot calling the kettle black, at least the silver vase calling the cream jug bright—that total expenditure was £3.2 billion and would, for the coming year, be £3.5 billion for the Northern Ireland Departments, and other public expenditures in the Province. He said that that was an indication of the good will and determination of the rest of the Kingdom towards the Province. Well and good. However, we ought to realise that a similar statement could be made—if there was separate accounting and budgeting—for many other parts of the United Kingdom. One could say that £X billion was an expression of the good will of the rest of the Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, to County Durham, Glamorgan, or to any other area that one chose to select.
It may be, on a per capita basis, that the figures, although not comparable statistically with any we have for the rest of the Kingdom, would be high. So they should be, in view of Northern Ireland's difficulties which have already been highlighted. However, it is wrong and misleading—I know that I have the Minister's cooperation in correcting this misunderstanding—to isolate Northern Ireland as if there were a sort of net tribute of £3.2 billion being paid to it by the rest of the Kingdom. That would be a misrepresentation of the truth that the United Kingdom as a whole carries the burdens of all parts of the United Kingdom, wherever they may be situated.
§ Mr. John Patten
Of course I accept the logic of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. It is difficult for many hon. Members not always to accept the logic of his arguments, particularly because of the way he puts them. However, I did not make such play of the net sums given to the Province because I do not accept that one could make equal play with net sums disbursed in the direction of Scotland or Wales. I did that because there are those in the Province who mistakenly seem to suspect that the British Government may be involved in preparing to sell out the Union in some way. Surely no Government intent on that course would spend such large and, indeed, increasing net sums in the Province.
§ Mr. Powell
The logic of that statement might be subject to some examination and qualification. However, I intended to refer to the part of the Minister's speech when he said, because the United Kingdom is spending £3.2 billion in Northern Ireland, that the people of Northern Ireland were somehow under an obligation to support whatever might be Her Majesty's Government's current policies in the Province. No section of the House accepts that reasoning in any other part of the United Kingdom. Just because we recognise that certain sums are spent in County Durham, in the South-West, or in Scotland, we do not, thereby, feel bound to accept uncritically—as if it were a result and a price to be paid—whatever the policies of the current Government might be.
The Minister gave an extensive disquisition on the contents of the motion. If it did not appear to be entirely novel to all his hearers, that was because of the relatively full information on the financial facts behind the order, which had, as is customary, been supplied to interested hon. Gentlemen. Nevertheless, he succeeded in making an inherently rather dry subject interesting and, occasionally, even amusing. It might be said of his speech, as was said of an ancient orator, that "he touched nothing that he did not adorn". I intend to touch on only two of the main heads of expenditure in this order; for I feel that our debates on these orders are probably more fruitful if speeches concentrate on a relatively small number of major topics. I shall take housing and education with particular reference to teacher training.
It is true that one phase succeeds another in the operations of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Certainly, as the Minister said, the large success achieved in the sale of Housing Executive houses and the major effect that has had on its finance have had a marked impact on the Executive's operations
It is not surprising that the policy on the sale of Housing Executive houses in Northern Ireland—inaugurated by the previous Government, as will be confirmed by the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon)—has proved so popular in Northern Ireland. There is no part of the Kingdom where the desire for ownership of even the smallest quantum of real property is so passionate or so deeply knit into the social structure, as it is in Northern Ireland. The policy was purpose-built for Northern Ireland. It has given a great deal more financial latitude and strength to the Housing Executive.
One notes that year by year the Housing Executive's centre of gravity and operations tend to shift. In particular, as one who represents a rural constituency in Northern Ireland, I can now definitely discern the achievement of something which I have called for repeatedly in past years: a programme which, within a foreseeable time, would 70 ensure that all the Housing Executive's houses were brought up to the minimum acceptable level of amenity. A great deal of that task in the rural areas has been fulfilled, and we now have a sort of time scale, not extending too far into the future, at the end of which we can look forward in those areas to that particular task being accomplished.
However, those who learn about Northern Ireland learn that there are two places: one is Belfast, the other is the rest of Northern Ireland. I am afraid that my remarks about the rest of Northern Ireland, about the rural areas similar to my constituency, are certainly not true of Belfast. I place emphasis on the large areas in the city of Belfast where redevelopment and renovation lags behind the sort of timetable which the people living there ought to be able to see. There are far too many areas of streets in which one finds a few people still managing to live in unimproved houses with, on either side of those houses, dozens more bricked up. That is miserable for them and an indication of a task the accomplishment of which is at any rate not visible on the horizon of the people affected who are living in those areas.
I hope that the Government will ensure that the Housing Executive from now onwards gives that same sort of determination and priority to the renewal of those areas of the capital city which it has given to the renewal of its housing stock in the rural areas. In this task, it ought to be receiving more assistance from the work of housing associations. Once again, my hon. Friends and I emphasise the role that ought to be played by the housing associations in the renewal of the housing stock. It is therefore depressing to read in the explanatory memorandum to the order that, under class V vote 1, some of the increases were offset by reductions of £2.2 millionmostly as a result of fewer projects by Housing Associations reaching completion and a consequent reduction in the grants payable".
We would have much preferred the opposite to be case and to have read that this House was being asked For an increase under that class and vote because the housing associations were getting ahead faster than had be en anticipated. It is in the areas which I have described, such as the Donegall Pass in Belfast—all hon. Members, many better than I, can put names to them—that the Housing Executive and the Government have failed to use 'he potential energies of the housing associations, along with those of the Executive itself for this task.
We therefore ask that before we have to consider another appropriation order we should be able to see ahead a definite programme, capable of being completed within a comprehensible period of time, to carry out the renovation that so sadly lags in the streets of large areas of west and south Belfast.
The other aspect of housing on which I should like to dwell is maintenance. There has been a considerable reorganisation—not the first— in the last two or three years in the structure of the Housing Executive. In some respects, I believe, the reorganisation has produced good results. I was sceptical for instance at first of regional control, but I believe now that it has exercised a beneficial effect upon the whole administration of the Housing Executive's operations. One thing however that is still absolutely wrong and where the organisation is clearly defective is maintenance.
Yet there is no area where it is more important to get matters right. Of all the issues most sensitive and most 71 central to the landlord-tenant relationship—which, after all, is that of the Housing Executive to a substantial minority of people of Northern Ireland—maintenance and the availability of repairs, as and where necessary, are about the most crucial. There is a bureaucratic's expression, "response maintenance". That is what I am talking about.
There are phased maintenance plans, as there have to be for purposes of efficiency, whereby one estate after another is taken in a rota and all maintenance aspects there dealt with at the same time. What is missing is the ability to respond when necessary to the needs of individual tenants. Far too frequently, constituency Members for Northern Ireland—I am sure that this will be borne out by all hon. Members representing the Province—are confronted with totally indefensible and often inexplicable delay in remedying defects in houses, defects that have been repeatedly brought to the attention of the Housing Executive by the tenants.
There has to be some change in organisation that will put the responsibility where it ought to be—with management. Of all managerial functions, this is, in some ways, the most important. It is certainly the most sensitive. Yet all of us, who have to cope with these problems of our constituents, know that the district management and even the regional management is, in some way, at arm's length from maintenance. The word "response" might be an example of lucus a non lucendo. There is talk of "response" maintenance, but "response" there too often is not.
This is specially to be deplored when, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North, (Mr. Soley) reminded the House there have been three successive major increases in rent in two years. These have not been restricted, admittedly, to the rents of Housing Executive houses. They have been mirrored by similar increases in the permitted levels of private rents. Nevertheless, we are now talking about the Housing Executive, and it is indefensible for the Housing Executive to be piling one rent increase on another while unable to carry out the most basic response maintenance and repairs to the property of the tenants whose rents are being raised.
I suspect that the Housing Executive is failing in control over its contractors. All the work, in one way or another, is done by contract. I am sure that I am not the only hon. Member who has the impression that the Housing Executive fails to exercise the supervision that it should, either over the execution of the contracts or of the manner in which the property is left after contracts have been carried out. One is speaking here on behalf of the weak versus the strong. Too often, one finds the tenant of a house where the contractors have, at any rate partially, done the job for which they are being paid by the Housing Executive and have left the house, if not in an uninhabitable condition, at any rate, a condition that calls for considerable expenditure on the part of the tenant.
Over and over again, it proves difficult to the point of impossibility to get either from the Housing Executive or, through the Housing Executive, from the contractor, compensation for damage and dilapidation that should not have occurred in the first place. So not only does the maintenance organisation as a whole need to be tuned up and brought into closer relationship with management but the supervision of the performance of maintenance 72 contracts also leaves much to be desired. I hope that this matter can be dealt with before hon. Members come to the next of these orders.
The other major topic with which I wish to deal is that of teacher training. The interim report of the Chilver group has I suppose, excited more comment and controversy during the last eight or nine months in the Province than do most reports. It appeared at the tail-end of the summer. Since then there have been three interim statements by the Government on the subject of teacher training. But a decision by the Government is still to come, and it is therefore worth while bringing this topic into the debate.
My hon. Friends and I believe that the Chilver recommendations fail to recognise the realities and are, to a dangerous degree, impracticable.
There is no doubt that the present teacher training organisation is uneconomic. One reason for that is the fall in the demand for teachers, due to the fall in the actual and prospective school rolls. But this is not, as is sometimes suggested, the only reason why the present teacher training structure is uneconomic. There is another. In the past few years, the number of teacher training organs in the Province has multiplied and multiplied again. As a result, the pre-existing organs have been partially denuded of the demand that would have enabled them to utilise their capacity more effectively.
While we must recognise that teacher training in the Province calls for reorganisation, we must also understand that that must be carried out realistically and in a manner that corresponds with the facts in Northern Ireland.
We could not say from these Benches that the proposal to amalgamate the two Roman Catholic colleges is neither right nor necessary. After all, successive reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland, which have been cited in such debates as this for the past five years, have drawn attention to the increasingly uneconomic use of resources by those two colleges. Neither the Government nor the House can resist the requirement that the colleges should be amalgamated into one organisation.
Another factor is easily left out of view. Stranmillis—the non-denominational state teacher training centre—is a unique institution of higher education in its own right. Its reputation is probably higher than that of any comparable institution in the United Kingdom, and its importance in the Province and in its educational system can hardly be overestimated. Any reorganisation should therefore preserve what Stranmillis stands for—it is a name to conjure with—and ensure that while Stranmillis can work at full capacity, nothing is done to diminish its special characteristics or virtues.
A third factor is that there are too many teacher training centres. There are relatively at least twice as many teacher training centres in the Province as in the rest of the United Kingdom. That obviously means that resources are distracted and that there is under-use of the human and physical capacities available.
Those, then, are the three underlying facts: first, the two Roman Catholic colleges should be amalgamated so that they are placed on an economic basis; secondly, we must retain the function, status and level of Stranmillis; thirdly, owe should diminish the diversity of teacher training sources in the Province.
From those basic requirements the wrong deduction is drawn by the proposal—against which we caution the Government—that everything in Belfast should be rolled 73 into one, on one site, as the Belfast Centre for Teacher Training. It is a deduction both unrealistic and prejudicial to the interests of teacher training. My hon. Friends and I believe that in principle our Roman Catholic fellow citizens in the Province should have exactly the same rights and opportunities as they enjoy in the rest of the United Kingdom. They have as much right in the Province as on the mainland to have their children educated in Roman Catholic schools. From that it follows that, as far as economically practicable, a proportion—possibly a high proportion, although not all—of Roman Catholic student teachers should have a right to separate Roman Catholic training. That would undoubtedly be prejudiced by the creation of a brand new teacher training centre for Belfast that would embody Stranmillis, the department at Queen's university, Belfast, and perhaps other colleges.
In one of their interim statements, the Government say:Each of the partners in the Centre could maintain a separate legal and administrative existence.That does not happen in real life. A brand new centre that embraced and brought together all those elements would not allow them to retain a separate existence in any natural sense of the term. I stress that there is already a great deal of community and interchange between the Roman Catholic colleges and Stranmillis. It is easy to exaggerate the argument that when institutions are amalgamated, some new form of co-operation and rapport comes into existence between the different strands of training.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
The logical conclusion of the right hon. Gentleman's argument is that the increasing number of Roman Catholics who go to Queen's university for their teacher training are not as competent to teach in Roman Catholic schools as those who go to St. Mary's and St. Joseph's. That is obviously untrue.
§ Mr. Powell
It is strange to say that because Roman Catholics attend Stranmillis and the department at Queen's university, so the Roman Catholic church cannot justify maintaining specifically Roman Catholic teacher training establishments in Northern Ireland as it does in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is no logical deduction. However, the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention to an important point. It might well be thought that at present there is some sort of wall of separation; but the hon. Gentleman has demolished any such imaginary wall by pointing out that Roman Catholics are not absent from the teacher training given at Stranmillis and at Queen's university, Belfast.
The vice-chancellor of Queen's University put his view of the project of amalgamation in a manner that cannot be bettered. He said:It is nevertheless our firm view that the basic concept of the Belfast Centre is unacceptable: it is academically undesirable in itself; it provides small if any scope for further evolution or development; it will become irreversible; it is damaging to the interests of this University; and it represents an aberrant cul-de-sac—if vice-chancellors were capable of mixing metaphors, I should think that that might be one—from, and not an acceptable stage in, existing development.That effectively sums up the case against the false deduction that is being drawn from the fundamental features of the situation.
I would also like to quote a distinguished member of the staff at Stranmillis on the relations between the Roman Catholic colleges and Stranmillis. He writes: 74For many years our colleges have exchanged students, shared staff, taught common syllabuses, marked each other's papers, and enjoyed the warmest collaboration possible.It is a false lead to imagine that that situation will be improved without more than corresponding loss if there is to be amalgamation of the existing Belfast centres of teacher training into one new centre.
I leave this subject and the order with one further plea in the context of the reorganisation of teacher training. When teacher training was reorganised in recent years on the mainland, specific undertakings, specific arrangements, were made in advance to cope with any redundancies of staff that would occur in the process. Indeed, those undertakings greatly facilitated the reorganisation of teacher training facilities on the mainland. I believe the Government would be well advised to make similar arrangements and to announce them at an early stage, whatever decision they propose to come to on the Chilver interim report.
So we say to the Government: "Do not destroy what you have got, for you will not compensate for it by the proposal to create a brand-new centre in Belfast." That would be a typically false deduction from what undoubtedly has to happen—the reduction of the number of centres of teacher training, the preservation of Stranmillis and all that it stands for, and the maintenance of a provision for Roman Catholic teacher training. The result of wrapping them all up into a single new institution would be one that cannot be better described than in the words of the vice-chancellor of Queen's University.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
I hope that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will forgive me if I do not follow him, as he spoke about too many detailed subjects of which I have little knowledge.
I shall confine my remarks to the sums granted under part II, Class II, of the order, items 2 and 3. Article 3(2) authorises the issue of moneys out of the Consolidated Fund for 1982–83 to the tune of rather more than £1 billion. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, that is one third of the moneys that will be required.
A fortnight ago I was in Northern Ireland and saw something of the industrial scene. I met the chairman of the CBI and leaders of the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. They made me aware of their gloom about employment prospects in the Province and their doubts about future prosperity. This evening's news about British Enkalon will have deepened their gloom, as it has deepened mine.
I do not follow my hon. Friend the Minister's argument that a devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland would mean that the employment situation would be different or that industrial prospects would be brighter. The companies that have gone out of business—Grundig, Rolls-Royce at Dundonald and now British Enkalon—have done so because of market conditions and perhaps because they were peripheral to the main operation of the business.
British Enkalon is living in a world where the market for man-made fibre has suddenly gone. It is not reasonable to argue that if there were a devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland such things would not happen. That would be no more reasonable than to say that Short Brothers and Harland and Wolff have found themselves in difficulties that they would not have had if the Assembly had existed. Short's is suffering because the Tristar 75 programme has ended and because the North American market for small airliners has recently gone into recession, as much as anything because of the air traffic controllers' strike, which is still unresolved. Harland and Wolff cannot insulate itself from the slump in world shipping.
Therefore, we must see the Northern Ireland economy, not as something unique and special, but as an economy that must survive in world conditions; one that can be successful and able to cope with those world conditions, and to compete and price itself in a way that makes its goods as attractive as those produced in any other part of the United Kingdom.
I sometimes wonder whether anyone has given enough thought to the home market that Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland provide for certain goods and whether those goods are being given enough attention. The overall home market is about 4 million people, or 1½ million in the North. It is too easy to bring in products the market for which is outside Ireland or the United Kingdom, but if one does that one places one's money on long shots. If my criticism of De Lorean is anything, it is just that. That company's product had no home market, yet it was built in Northern Ireland.
I hope that in future when investment is made more thought will be given to building up indigenous industries that will have a market on the doorstep as well as elsewhere in the world, I am glad that the Irish linen industry has managed to survive and that it may have a brighter future than any of us can perceive.
I welcome the further financial assistance that is listed in the order for Harland and Wolff. Those who run the company are bringing a new realism to its affairs, which it has badly needed for too long and which offers it the best chance for its future that it has had for many a long day. The company has reduced its operating expenses by about £2 million per annum. It expects to be able to make further substantial savings in the future.
By the end of the year the company hopes to be able to quote prices comparable to those offered by Japanese shipbuilders. At present it is quoting prices that are among the lowest in Western Europe. That is a transformation in its affairs that few of us would have dared to prophesy as recently as a year ago.
I pay tribute to Dr. Wadsworth, the chairman of Harland and Wolff. He is doing a superb job for that company, which seems to have a brighter future than any of us would have dared to believe possible, but, as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is aware, it has a short-term problem of seeing itself through the next one or two years. That means having sufficient orders to give it a viable future.
I make no apology for special pleading. The 170, 000-tonne bulk carrier for British Steel is a vessel the importance of which for the future of Harland and Wolff can hardly be overestimated. Not only will the ship provide badly needed work until the end of 1984, but—let us not forget this—it will provide an order for British Steel of 6 million tonnes of steel. That order has a double benefit for the British economy.
Harland and Wolff is equipped and has the expertise to build the ship. I hope that my hon. Friend will not allow that order to go elsewhere because of the lack of adequate credit facilities for the company, particularly as he will be aware that such financial assistance is available to 76 shipbuilders throughout the world from their Governments. Therefore, it will be difficult to resist providing soft credit for Harland and Wolff, if that will make a difference to the company getting the order.
It would be wrong to claim that the yard depends on only one order, but equally wrong to suggest that it has a future if it cannot bridge the next one or two years. Not only are 5, 000 to 6, 000 jobs in the yard at stake, but many others throughout the Province hinge on the success of Queen's Island.
I am surprised to hear that British Shipbuilders buys none of its engines from Harland and Wolff. Harland and Wolff is now on a three-day week for engine making. British Shipbuilders chooses to buy engines from the Government works at a price much greater that it needs to pay. I wonder why pressure has not been put on the company to look to the other nationalised shipbuilding industry—Harland and Wolff—which is referred to in the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act, in which there is a passage that suggests that the two should act together in bidding for orders and living within the same economy.
The second issue that I wish to raise comes under item 2, Class II, of part II. Between now and 31 March 1983, as the Government have told us, at least £1 billion will be made available through the Department of Commerce to assist industry. None of us yet knows how the money will be spent. Is it so unreasonable to suggest that some of it might be needed to refinance the De Lorean motor car company after Sir Kenneth Cork has completed his work of salvaging the company from its financial difficulties? At some stage, presumably in the near future, he will report to the Secretary of State about his attempt to salvage the company. No doubt he will state what he believes are its chances. The Government may have to reconsider providing finance. If they do so, presumably they will use this item as the means.
Ahead of that moment, and as £80 million of public money is invested in the project, could the Minister of State clarify the exact role of Sir Kenneth Cork as receiver? He has been appointed by the Department of Commerce in its capacity as a debenture holder. The Department provided a loan of £6.718 million towards the cost of factory construction, as well as grants of £28.468 million. However, it is not a shareholder, as is the Northern Ireland Development Agency, nor has it any nominated directors on the board. Thus the Department's request for the receiver is marginally curious.
For whom is Sir Kenneth Cork acting? Is he acting for the Department of Commerce, the taxpayer overall and the taxpayer's investment, whether as a secured creditor or in terms of NIDA as a shareholder, or is he acting for the unsecured creditors—the suppliers?
As has been mentioned, on the tapes this evening it was stated:More than 50 companies supplying the troubled De Lorean car plant in Belfast could collapse within a week, Ulster Secretary James Prior heard today. Directors fearing for their firms' future told him De Lorean owed its 158 Northern Ireland suppliers between £20 million and £25 million.On whose behalf is Sir Kenneth acting?
Perhaps Sir Kenneth has a different remit—to save the De Lorean motor car company in Northern Ireland more—dare one say it?—as an act of social goodness than for financial reasons. If so, can the company be reconstructed free of its American parent, the John Z. De Lorean Corporation, and can it regain its rights over the 77 unsold cars in the United States? Is Sir Kenneth in a position to renegotiate the financing agreement between the De Lorean corporation and De Lorean Motor Cars to ensure a higher return on each car sold than the present £185 per car for the first 90, 000, which is a return of only 1.32 per cent.? It is not exactly clear who Sir Kenneth is acting for and what his objectives are.
I end by coming back to the concept of inward investment. De Lorean was held up as a shining example of what inward investment might be. No one would wish to take away from Mr. De Lorean or his managers credit for creating a car factory in about two years on a green field site, equipping it, training the staff and completing the car. But if at the end of the day all that we have are unsold cars in America, people in Northern Ireland deeply disillusioned and the taxpayer £80 million worse off, we must ask whether such a risk investment is the way to give Northern Ireland's economy a prosperous and long-lasting future.
§ Mr. James A. Dunn (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I, too, compliment the Minister on the way that he introduced the order. I have experienced the difficulties of introducing orders from the Front Bench. I appreciate the problems that beset one from all directions, which, even with the best briefing, may be unforeseen.
I have not seen the memorandum, although I appreciate the fact that it was sent to those who should have received it. I am speaking in place of a colleague who would normally speak on the subject for the SDP.
The Minister gave the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) advice on how he might change his political thoughts. It is surprising how many people are giving good advice these days. I hope that he will give advice in other places, not least in Scotland, in the near future.
The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) drew our attention to the problems of De Lorean. In an intervention the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) drew attention to the problems that small firms are suffering in the aftermath of the first financial collapse of De Lorean. If they do not get immediate support, they may not overcome their difficulties. Merely to say that the receiver and others should direct their attention to such problems does not meet the requirement for urgent attention.
I hope that a reconstituted De Lorean will be a success. I share the disappointment about its difficulties, and I hope that they will be overcome. If the difficulties are to be overcome, the suppliers will need to be able to provide the services and small parts that are required for the manufacture of this unit. If the suppliers are not rescued immediately, De Lorean, even reconstituted and with renegotiated financial conditions attached to its trading, will be purposeless.
These are urgent and immediate needs. Unless they are dealt with in a special way, the problems that will flow from them will not be easily overcome. As well as the provision of the equipment for De Lorean the employment prospects and the loss of the small pockets of skills required to produce small component parts will be devastating to the prospects for De Lorean and for the Province as a whole.
I compliment the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on the excellent way in which he dealt with 78 the question of teacher training that I had wished to bring to the notice of the Minister. His clarity could not be misunderstood and the purpose of it could not be misinterpreted. I may say that he put it far better than I, because he did not have the liability that I have as a practising Catholic, who might be accused of self-interest.
I shall reinforce what the right hon. Gentleman said in another way. Communications are not as good as they might be. Whoever is responsible for that should turn his attention to it immediately to overcome what I can foresee as a major barrier to other negotiations which are probably at a sensitive stage. The Catholic teacher training colleges have, over many years, provided the type of teacher wanted by Catholic schools. I can understand and accept the argument that an amalgamation of two Catholic colleges may be justified on economic grounds, and probably on a wider spectrum if it were to be dealt with in greater detail. But there is the problem that if one went to a centre of excellence—I use those words advisedly—for teacher training, there would be reluctance and reservation almost immediately and any prospects that the excellence would be justified would be put in jeopardy.
I appreciate that the Chilver review made certain recommendations and the Government have consulted as widely as they believed necessary, but they have not gone far enough. There is misunderstanding and an element of mistrust creeping in to these delicate problems. I plead with the Minister to call together the interests of St. Mary's and St. Joseph's colleges and perhaps other diocesan education authorities to see whether the misunderstanding can be cleared away and whether there is any prospect for continuing with an amalgamation of the two existing colleges. Perhaps that would be the time to deal with the suspicion and rumour that abound in the Province that, at the end of the day, either the Stranmillis site or the Queen's university will be called upon to absorb the work of St. Mary's and St. Joseph's teacher training colleges.
I offer this as a warning, not as a threat. If that ever happens, anything that may be forthcoming from the Secretary of State's discussions for a devolved Government are doomed from this moment. This may not be significant or apparent to many people, but once distrust has been created at that level, the future is bleak when one wants confidence for such a major matter as devolved Government. I say that in all good faith and with good intent. I hope that the Minister will ask his colleagues, under the leadership of the Secretary of State, to look again at the matter.
I turn quickly from that matter, in which I could be accused of having a personal interest, to the statement made by the Minister about the expansion of Enterprise Ulster. I welcome that small expansion. Does the Minister agree that there is probably much more room to deal with. the problems of unemployment by using the agency of Enterprise Ulster and its market capacity to establish more small-based craft industries and to exploit them? There is not only Irish linen but other indigenous craft groupings. Even in small pockets, they would probably generate sufficient interest to encourage other people to share in what could be a pleasing prospect for the Province.
I must chide the Minister on what has not been done in any tangible form for the enterprise zones. Great promises were made for them throughout the United Kingdom. It may be that there has been more work done for enterprise zones in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the United Kingdom. If that is so, it is not apparent to me, and 79 others share my view. A great deal more energy and activity could create the right base for industry at a subsidised level that would attract industries from the rest of the United Kingdom to share in some joint ventures.
De Lorean has been criticised as not being the right high-risk venture to relieve some of the Province's economic problems. However, I fail to see how, on the one hand, one can say that De Lorean was unsuccessful because the indigenous population were not using the product, and, on the other hand, welcome Harland and Wolff building ships for which there is no call. Harland and Wolff is not building the right kind of vessel for Northern Ireland any more. I shall go no further, as the point has already been made.
There is some future with enterprise zones. If the Northern Ireland Office were to take more land and change some of its use, I am sure that will be the best place for building advance factories and providing the incentive for industry. Even those who might be in jeopardy from De Lorean might seize the opportunity of making some other product and using the skilled manpower rather than seeing it disperse before their eyes.
I draw attention to the amounts included in the appropriation order for ferry services. I hope that the Liverpool-Belfast ferry will not fall into disuse. That would be disastrous. If most of the avenues of transport between the Province and the mainland were restricted to those provided by Cairncross and by air, many difficulties could ensue. There is an extremely valuable service between Belfast and Liverpool which serves the hinterlands of both Merseyside and Belfast. In the event of problems over financing a reconstituted company—and there may be some difficulties—I hope that the Minister will feel that he should intervene and possibly offer some financial incentive, even on a short-term basis, to enable that ferry service to continue.
On Class I, which deals with agriculture, I remind hon. Members of one important factor. It is that recent decisions of the Northern Ireland Office have not been very helpful to agricultural marketing. There are great prospects for Northern Ireland's agricultural produce, not only in Europe but in this country. Government-supported agencies helped to promote the produce and also helped the producers to realise the real potential of marketing. They also gave training on how best marketing could be achieved. That is no longer being done in the same way. I believe that the time has come when the Northern Ireland Office should intervene in agricultural marketing to protect the base for the processing of agricultural produce. Meat is very important, of course, but there are other products, too. I have in mind vegetables, such as carrots, onions and potatoes, cleaned and prepacked. All this takes a great deal of organisation, and a great many of the smaller farms have not got the necessary resources, even with the general development and co-operative agencies which have been established in recent years.
Again, I appeal to the Minister to review what has happened in the recent past. To sustain the marketing potential for agricultural produce, perhaps the time has come to recreate what was once a very successful venture.
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
There is not a shadow of doubt that the economy of Northern Ireland is 80 in a very serious and precarious position. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) expressed the fear that the industrial base could collapse unless the Government took action to save it. With unemployment so disgracefully high and with bankruptcies occurring at an alarming rate, greater action is required from the Government. In view of that, the Minister's speech was disappointing, because it did not hold out hope of any great change for the Province.
The shipyard needs an immediate order for a bulk carrier and orders for at least three engines if it is to be kept in being on its present limited scale. The De Lorean suppliers, especially the small companies in Northern Ireland, need to have what is owed to them paid by the Government by one means or another. Many of the small companies are in jeopardy of closing if the money owed them by De Lorean is not paid at once. Surely the Government could make an ex gratia payment to the Ulster suppliers or provide credit arrangements to enable them to survive. Help needs to be given soon, otherwise more people will be thrown on the unemployment heap. As we know, already the unemployment level in the Province is a disgrace to the Government of any country.
Last Monday, I led a deputation of the Ulster Popular Unionist Party to discuss with the Secretary of State his proposals for devolution. My deputation pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that, after 13 years of terrorism, Ulster was barren industrially and politically and that only an imaginative programme of economic and social regeneration would produce lasting results. The Minister is deceiving himself if he believes that the existence of a Northern Ireland Assembly on its own—without any administration—will help resolve the industrial and economic problems of the Province.
It is clear from the veto which will be given to the SDLP that a devolved administration may not be established. Indeed, I predict that if that veto is maintained, as the Secretary of State intends, a devolved administration in the Province will never be established. It is heartless to tell the Ulster people that they will have elections for an Assembly before long if it is not to lead to the devolved administration which they seek so eagerly to help resolve some of their problems. An Assembly on its own will not resolve the problems of the Province. A Stormont Assembly would be a mere talking shop without responsibility and without any expectation of the parties having to implement their own manifestos.
I was interested to hear the warning—the threat—issued by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn)—
§ Mr. Kilfedder
—when he spoke about the Roman Catholic teacher training colleges. He said that if the Government did not heed the demands of the Roman Catholic church for the continued existence of St. Mary's and St. Joseph's colleges on their present sites, the plans for devolution for Northern Ireland would be destroyed. That was the clear warning from the hon. Member for Kirkdale, who represents an English constituency albeit that he is the SDP Member of Parliament for it. None the less he echoes the voices which have been raised in the vicious campaign to which I referred a short time ago in questions to Northern Ireland Ministers.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has left the Chamber, because it was an 81 extraordinary sight to see him, the hon. Member for Kirkdale and the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) banded together in a small brotherhood trying to save the Roman Catholic teacher training colleges in West Belfast. It was an extraordinary sight, but it goes to show that if one waits long enough, anything can happen in politics. However, in my view they are wrong, and I hope in due course to show that they are wrong.
I refer briefly to the amount of money that we are discussing. This is the first time for many years that the Spring Supplementary Estimates are largely for services or their extension in the Province. Usually they are accounted for by salary increases. They come before the House close to the end of the financial year, after the full impact of the annual salary increases has worked through the system and the full cost is known.
The Department of Education is the main Department requiring additional funds to meet increased salaries for teachers. Some of the increase is for the additional teachers who are to be employed in the further education colleges on an expanded youth opportunities programme which is to become an element in the new comprehensive programme.
Among the 16 to 17 age group in Ulster, unemployment has increased 350 per cent. since 1974. Around 16, 000 young people are out of work. The Government's proposals to guarantee a year of education and training to school leavers aged 16 is welcome, but it is too little and almost too late.
It is heartbreaking to see our young people—the future of the Province—leaving school to join the dole queue. It is a tragedy to see their hopes dashed and their lives blighted just when they wish to prove their worth. It is a tragedy for which the Government must take some responsbility.
A total of £3.4 million is sought for this year to meet the increased cost of teachers' salaries in the planned schoolteacher complement. No one can be complacent about the manner in which existing teachers are being treated. The new primary school at Killinchy in my constituency, which will replace five rural primary schools—that is, if it goes ahead despite local opposition—will employ two or three teachers fewer than the existing schools.
That is a reduction in the teaching force and has nothing whatever to do with declining school rolls. It is the direct consequence of moving children from their local schools, where they are perfectly adequately catered for, to a large central school. I believe that is merely to satisfy the whims and dictates of those officials of the South-Eastern education and library board who occupy offices in Windsor Avenue. It is high time that the wishes and needs of local people were heeded. Officials should do the job that they are supposed to do—to serve the people. The people are not there to serve the board and its officials.
Saintfield grammar school, also in my constituency, has been put under pressure to reduce staff by one to two teachers at a time when its very existence as a grammar school has been questioned. The education board does not seem prepared to discuss these vital education and social issues in the context of the local community. The boards approach these human and important questions as though they were dealing with a computer programme. They should be reminded by the Minister that people are not automatons. The boards exist to serve the people. It would be scandalous if Saintfield grammar school were closed, 82 because, as I have pointed out in lengthy letters to the Minister, it is the centre of the community and, as the record shows, provides the best education for the children of the area.
If the school is closed, the children will have to make long journeys in a country area where transport to the next available school is difficult. I urge that the school should not be closed, and I ask the Minister to give such an assurance tonight. I repeat my demands regarding the local schools that are under threat of closure as a result of the establishment of the central primary school at Killinchy. It will be a disgrace if those schools are closed. The Minister should stop these plans and look at what is happening in the Killinchy area.
Brooding over Northern Ireland's education system is the dead hand of sectarianism. Northern Ireland has a dual system—part Protestant and part Roman Catholic. Until that divisive system is replaced by a single system that caters for children of all religions or no religion, there will be no chance of bringing the community together.
There was a slight hope in the early 1970s. I mention that in view of what has been said by the right hon. Member for Down, South and the hon. Member for Kirkdale. I know what the hon. Member for Belfast. West will say about the Roman Catholic teacher training college. In the early 1970s, there was a slight hope that Roman Catholic children would be allowed to mix with Protestant children and attend common nursery schools. That hope was dashed. The might of the Church prevented the coming together of little toddlers—not students waiting to train as teachers. What sort of crime is that? The might of the Church prevented the coming together of children of a tender age as if some terrible sin might be committed by fraternisation at a nursery school.
That must be remembered when we listen to arguments about the continued existence of St. Mary's or St. Joseph's or, indeed, Stranmillis itself. I would abolish all three, and locate teacher training at one or other of the two universities. There is a great need to provide something that will ensure the continued existence of the new university of Ulster. If the Government allow that university to close, they will be guilty of a terrible blunder that will not lightly be forgiven.
When that glimmer of hope of little toddlers coming together in a nursery school was sadly extinguished by those who possess the ghetto mentality, there was little hope for change in Northern Ireland unless the Government were prepared to act. This Government and their predecessor acted on other matters over which there was controversy in Northern Ireland. It behoves the Government to have courage and the strength of character to get rid of sectarian education in Northern Ireland.
This is where I praise Chilver. I know that the right hon. Member for Down, South criticised Chilver. I think that he was wrong. His argument rang false. Chilver has provided a further opportunity at the other end of the education process—in higher education.
Teacher training is the last remnant of sectarianism in higher education in Ulster. I hope that the Government will heed the demands from so many people, including Roman Catholics, to grasp this difficult problem and to show imagination and courage. I say courage, because already the outcry of discrimination has gone out by those who seek to maintain the ghetto mentality, which has ruined progress in Northern Ireland.
83 Not long ago, the leaders of the minority were falsely claiming that the Northern Ireland minority was forced to live in ghettos by the Stormont Government. The present campaign, including the Chapel collection of signatures, proves conclusively that today some people wish to see the minority remain in ghettos for a long time ahead. It is for the Government to take the shackles off the Ulster people, be they Protestant or Roman Catholic, and to set them free. If they get rid of this religious apartheid in education, the Government will receive the thanks of all decent, liberally-minded people in the Province and elsewhere.
Indeed, it is refreshing to note that more and more students attend university for teacher training, including more and more Roman Catholic students who wish to rid themselves of the trammels of St. Mary's and St. Joseph's. As I have said so often in the past, it is time to clear away Stranmillis, St. Joseph's and St. Mary's so that all student teachers get their instruction at one of the two universities. Let the Churches give them religious instruction in hours to be provided. There is plenty of opportunity for them to be—I do not know what the correct word might be, but some people might use the word "brainwashed". There is plenty of time for the Churches to educate the students in their own religions.
I am intrigued by the £9, 000 addition required for the Commissioner for Complaints. It seems that a reluctant civil servant was compulsorily transferred to the commissioner's office at a cost to the taxpayer—advance of salary and removal allowances—of £9, 000. I presume that because it is described as an advance of salary it will be recouped in due course. However, the removal allowances come to an incredible £4, 000. Where has he been removed from to enable that claim to be made for removal expenses? I am sorry to hear that service in the commissioner's office is unpopular and that staff are not prepared to volunteer for duty there.
I have always found—I wish to put it on record—that the commissioner's staff does an excellent job. I have referred many cases to the commissioner and to his associated office, the Parliamentary Commissioner, for investigation. In my experience, both the present commissioner, Mr. Kernohan and his predecessor, Mr. McGonagle, have conducted themselves admirably in what must be a difficult task. It is very easy to overstep the bounds of what is sensible and reasonable when dealing with complaints from aggrieved persons who have suffered—or think that they have suffered—from the consequences of maladministration. The Commissioner for Complaints handled their complaints about political and religious discrimination far better and inspired far more confidence in the impartiality of the judgment than the Fair Employment Agency which is now doing the work. Perhaps the reason is that the commissioner has no political axe to grind.
The draft order provides for a £5½ million addition to the four health and social services boards. The eastern health board, whose operations cover my constituency, is unable to bear the cost of bringing 80 additional beds into use in the Ulster hospital at Dundonald. The beds have become available for other uses because there is a new geriatric unit at the hospital and the elderly long-stay patients are to be moved to the new unit. There would be no real problem if the Department of Health had not stepped in with an unbelievably harsh expenditure policy.
84 The Department told the eastern board that it could spend its capital expenditure allocation on buildings, extensions, renovations and essential repairs to old Victorian hospital buildings, but could not have extra money to service the new facilities. It was told that it would have to find the extra finances out of existing funds.
I have not yet known a rule of administration that did not have built-in exceptions, and so it is with this rule. It seems that the Department of Health will make an exception wherethe revenue requirement is grossly disproportionate to the board's revenue resources".In other words, the more costly the revenue consequences of a particular capital programme, the more likely it is that the board will get the additional money that it needs to run it. On that basis, the board should have no problem in meeting the untold revenue consequences of that white elephant, the tower block at the Belfast city hospital. It has cost £46½ million so far and it is likely to cost £55 million before it is completed. The Minister might think it is worth while to make a statement tonight about how that cost accumulated, what justification there is, and whether the medical profession is totally dissatisfied with the tower block.
There has been a total waste of taxpayers' money. The eastern health board has not even attempted to work out how much it will cost to run the tower block. As it is being brought into commission, the revenue consequences will soar to astronomical heights, and because the tower block cannot be seen to be a white elephant—according to the Government's interpretation—the Department of Health will rush to provide the additional funds that will be needed.
As a result, funds that are vitally and urgently needed for the rest of the area covered by the eastern board will not be available for the hospitals. I am thinking of Newtownards, Bangor and Crawfordsburn in my constituency of North Down. What about the 80 extra beds at the Ulster hospital? To bring them into use will cost £1.4 million at 1980 prices—about £1¾ million at 1982 prices. As the board does not have the money to enable the beds which are needed to be brought into operation, what is to happen?
The board produced a paper which showed that it proposes to close Crawfordsburn hospital and to transfer the patients—all of them elderly—to Bangor hospital, which would then become a geriatric hospital instead of a small general hospital. It is also proposed to run down the Ards hospital. Three hospitals in the eastern board area—which has one-fifth of the population of Northern Ireland and the fastest growth rate—are to be devitalised. These hospitals are to suffer in order to pay for the heavy expenditure on the tower block at the city hospital, for the Mater hospital extensions, for all the extensions provided at the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast, and for the work carried out at the Musgrave Park hospital.
According to the eastern board, the closure of Crawfordsburn hospital would save £600, 000, and the rundown of the Ards hospital about £1 million. The board has not yet been able to estimate how much would be saved by changing the nature and character of the Bangor hospital. Presumably it would be about £200, 000.
The purpose of the proposals is to provide savings to help pay for the expensive work being carried out in 85 Belfast. The people of North Down have been made to suffer for work that was not totally necessary in the hospitals in the Belfast area.
In North and West Belfast, 35 miles away, we have the largest congestion of big hospitals in Northern Ireland—almost next door neighbours. There is the vast 1, 000-bed Royal Victoria hospital. There is the 200-bed Mater hospital, where a £10 million expansion scheme is taking place. Additional beds for gynaecology are to be provided there, yet there are empty gynaecology beds available almost next door, at the Royal Victoria hospital. Eight miles away there is the sprawling Musgrave Park hospital. Four miles away the new tower block of the city hospital rises above the black stone buildings of the old hospital.
In my area of North Down, the cost of a bed is £450. In West and North Belfast, it costs from 50 to 100 per cent. more to provide a bed. Perhaps the Minister will be able to explain the reason for that. Obviously, there is something wrong. There is a scandalous waste of money. If savings are to be made, they ought to be made in North and West Belfast. The medical and non-medical staffing ratios in North and West Belfast are appreciably higher than those in the North Down area.
The North Down and Ards districts of the Eastern board have always kept within their annual budgets, but North Belfast and West Belfast are notorious overspenders. A well-known Ulster civil servant, long retired, has had to be brought back in order to head an inquiry into the consistent overspending of North and West Belfast. It is time that the Minister responsible for the Department of Health stepped in and brought the whole sorry mess into some semblance of order and administrative propriety. It is manifestly unfair that an attempt should have been made to run down the North Down hospitals because the Government lack the courage to reduce the overspending in North and West Belfast.
To those who say that West Belfast is a deprived area and needs more money, I say that it does not have a monopoly of deprived families. With 300, 000 people in the North Down area, we have far too many living in circumstances of social deprivation. To attempt to remove their local hospital services, such as they are—I could not speak too highly of what is provided by the eastern health board—is a criminal act. I hope that the Government will intervene now that the board has made a decision on this matter a few days ago.
I know that it is a large and a difficult task to reallocate beds among a number of medical specialties. The board is struggling to achieve the impossible. Government spending plans for the West Belfast hospitals force the board to spend too much in that area, and leave insufficient funds for the expanding needs of North Down. The result is a disastrous choice of options with which the board cannot deal. The board needs an undertaking from the Government to provide additional funds to cope with whatever number of the 80 beds at the Ulster hospital are deemed essential for the hospital services in the area.
After months of pressure from public opinion, the eastern health board decided at a recent meeting to reconsider its proposals, but the commitment goes no further than a review of the whole area. My sister, Alderman Mrs. Gladys McIntyre who is a member of the board, has fought hard to get that decision reversed, but 86 as she has pointed out to me, £1¾ million is required to meet the running costs of the 80 additional beds in the Ulster hospital.
The only solution is for the Minister to intervene, as the eastern health and social services board has exhausted every permutation for saving money apart from the imposition of drastic cuts in the Belfast area where the hospitals have expanded at the expense of North Down.
Before leaving that topic, I would point out that the hospital services provided in North Down are not of the standard that ought to be provided for the people of that area. We need better hospitals in the area and I will continue to return to that subject until the board and the Government act to give a fair deal to the people of North Down. At the moment they are being discriminated against. That is something against which they protest, arid they protest volubly in the House through me.
As I have often pointed out, the Housing executive is a heavily centralised and bureaucratic body which is top-heavy. Following the organisation and method report of the Department of Finance a few years ago, which recommended that six regions should be established in Northern Ireland, that number of regional controllers were appointed by the Housing Executive. The regions are far too large for any single controller to look after effectively.
Despite the existence of six regions, there is a lack of competition between them. The Housing Executive needs competition. If we are not to have competition between the executive and builders providing homes for sale or to rent, the executive must provide its own competition. I urge the Government to provide greater independence for the regions to meet local needs within their allocation of funds and to judge each region against the others to see whether it is doing a worthwhile job, building the houses that are needed, renovating properties where required and maintaining them at a reasonable standard.
That is the only way to judge the executive. I fear that it is not doing the job that it could do. Much paperwork is passed around the headquarters in Belfast, which seems to get most of the money. The local staffs of the executive have to bear the brunt of the work and they are left in a position that makes it difficult for them to satisfy local needs.
Houses in Manse Road, Newtownards, were badly flooded not long ago. I was not surprised, and those who know the area were not surprised, because there has been flooding there for generations and it has got worse over the years.
That fact was not known to those who bought the expensive houses in Manse Road. Most of the purchasers put all their worldly means into the houses and took out hefty mortgages which they are still trying to pay off at increased interest rates. After the devastation of the flooding, which caused such great grief and loss to the residents, the owners will not be able to sell their houses at a reasonable price in the foreseeable future.
The case must provoke deep anxiety. I have referred to it before and I repeat my plea that it is imperative that an inquiry be initiated into how those houses came to be built in an area which was known to be prone to flooding. I repeat that plea to the Minister because an inquiry is the only way to get at the facts and to allay public suspicion about how the houses came to be built.
I understand that the builder has gone into liquidation. No doubt he made his profit and disappeared as fast as he 87 could. The poor householders are left to suffer. I do not believe that they should be left to suffer in silence. What they have had to endure is a disgrace.
I hope that the Government will agree to set up an inquiry. I believe that there should be a public inquiry, but, pending that, there should be at least a departmental inquiry, because the case exposes a vast number of defects in the planning procedures.
I urge that whenever a planning application is made in future a clear notice should be placed on the site so that the application is properly drawn to the attention of everyone who may be affected or who may wish to lodge an objection or a criticism with the local authority.
I have already taken a considerable time. There are many other matters that I should like to mention, but I conclude by repeating what I said earlier about the terrible level of unemployment in Northern Ireland. The people cry out for action from the Government. The unemployed, industrialists and everyone who has the future of Northern Ireland close to his heart cries out for the Government to take effective action. Pray God they do so soon.
§ Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)
I want again to talk about two hospitals in my constituency. The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) spoke at length about the threat to hospitals in his constituency. I shall mention two in my constituency, about which there is still some disquiet. One is the Tyrone county hospital in Omagh. Its geographical position is vital to the medical services that it provides in the area. There is a feeling that the acute medical services will be withdrawn and that the hospital will be run down to a mere casualty station. That view has been expressed to me, and I hope that I shall be given an assurance, perhaps this evening, that that will not happen.
As a town, Omagh has suffered grievously in recent days from bombing attacks on property and people. There have been many serious casualties, and many people would have died if they had had to be taken either to Enniskillen or Altnagelvin hospital in Londonderry, both of which are many miles away. Tyrone hospital has supplied services in Omagh over many generations. Incidentally, it was built by public subscription. Not a penny of Government money went into its construction. I hope, therefore, that I shall receive an assurance about this vital hospital.
The other hospital is the Mid-Ulster hospital in Magherafelt. Its position, too, is vital. It has been suggested that it will be progressively run down and that patients will have to be taken to a new hospital to be built at Antrim. The hospital in Magherafelt services a large part of South Deny and County Tyrone. About 70, 000 to 80, 000 people living around it need acute medical services. The hospital serve a wide area, stretching from Cookstown to the shore of Lough Neagh and up into the mountains of Draperstown. If the area lost its services, it would be nothing short of a calamity.
I have said before in the House, and I do not mind repeating it, that the first intensive care unit in Western Europe was provided by the Mid-Ulster hospital in Magherafelt. The unit has meant the difference between life and death for many people. It has played a vital role in saving lives, not only in local accidents, both on roads and in homes, but as a result of terrorist activities. There 88 are many people who, although seriously injured and handicapped, owe their lives to the fact that there was an intensive care unit at the Mid-Ulster hospital. I hope that I shall be given an assurance that the hospital will be maintained, together with its vital intensive care unit.
I recently experienced the skill, care and attention afforded to the general public in that hospital, when I suffered injuries in a road accident. Some of my parliamentary colleagues contended that I had had more to drink than I should have had and that, as a result, I saw more than one car and unfortunately I picked the wrong car to miss! I do not know whether that is true. I might add that the pubs do not make much money out of me. I repeat, however, that I hope that I shall be given an assurance that the Mid-Ulster hospital will be maintained with its acute medical services in the area of South Deny and East Tyrone.
I am sorry that the Minister from the Department of the Environment has just left the Chamber, because I was in touch with him about what I am about to say.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that, in general, the people of Northern Ireland want to own their own homes.
In the Omagh area a local developer, Mr. Duddy, is prepared to take over an estate to build houses for private ownership at a cost of £20, 000—£25, 000. They will be good, modern, well-fitted houses. Unfortunately, the Housing Executive has stepped in. It wants to take over the estate to build houses for renting. We all know that the executive's programmes usually fall behind schedule. Mr. Duddy is willing to build more houses on the same ground at a reasonable figure and complete them more rapidly. He undertakes to have some houses ready for occupation within one year. I know from experience of the executive that it could not even attempt to do that in the Omagh area.
I ask the Minister again to consider the building project to which I have referred. It is much needed in the Omagh area. There is great demand for housing, which the executive cannot meet, especially housing of the calibre that Mr. Duddy would build for sale and private ownership. The project would provide much-needed employment in the area. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) said that one in six of the unemployed in Northern Ireland are former building and construction workers. That sort of unemployment applies to a marked degree in the Omagh district, where there is much unemployment. The project would provide much-needed employment locally.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)
We are talking about the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds that will provide vital services in Northern Ireland, but the Minister's announcement that 850 jobs will be lost in Antrim with the proposed closure of British Enkalon is what sticks in my mind. At one stroke the proposed closure eliminates the euphoria that was felt in the Province over the weekend following the Secretary of State's announcement on Friday that an engineering concern was being attracted to the Province and that, if it were to come, it would provide employment for about 1, 000 over the next few years.
The proposed closure of British Enkalon is a body blow. Antrim, in common with other towns in the Province, attracted large industries in the 1960s. By and large, they were one-industry towns. Antrim has had a few 89 months to get over the initial shock of the closure announcement, but it and the surrounding towns and villages will be unable to absorb the 850 who will become unemployed. It is a severe body blow.
In Northern Ireland we are producing industrial archaeological sites at a rate which is almost unbelievable. The "cathedral" in Antrim will join two others at Carrickfergus and Kilroot. In some respects they stand as monuments to our folly. The dream of industrial revitalisation of the 1960s was based on the attraction of large capital intensive industries. In the textile sector that dream has not been realised. Is that type of capital intensive industry the way forward? Since 1965, hundreds of millions of pounds have been dissipated. We have little to show for that expenditure. It is all very well for the Minister to decry the comments in the Financial Times this morning as pure speculation. It does not sound like speculation to me. It said:British Enkalon has turned down an offer for its Antrim plant made earlier this year. It was rejected because the potential buyer would have wanted to continue production of carpet yarns.It states that the companyis known to want to eliminate not only some of its surplus fibre capacity in Europe but also some of the general surplus.The article continues:Therefore, it is sticking to its March 15 deadline for a decision on the future of the plant in spite of admitting that the Antrim works were among its most efficient units.The group will concentrate future output in the Netherlands and West Germany.
I referred earlier to the tens of millions of pounds of public money given to such companies. I do not doubt that the ICI plant at Kilroot is empty today. I hope that the Minister can tell me that it is not, and that all the money invested in plant and equipment is still there. I hope that the same can be said about Courtaulds. The workers can never mount an effective blockade to stop the asset stripping in such circumstances. I hope that the Minister will ensure that the plant and equipment at Antrim will be scrutinised carefully and will not be taken away to modernise factories in the Netherlands or West Germany.
Twenty years is not enough to show an adequate return for the effort that has been put into such plants not merely in terms of public investment but in the efforts of the work force which has just been cast aside. They have all been exotic plants. They have budded, blossomed and decayed in a matter of a few years, producing little return. This should not be allowed to happen. While taking account of unemployment in the Province, I hope that the Minister will seek out a potential buyer. If that potential buyer can continue to produce goods that he can sell, make a return on and keep employment in Antrim, the Government should do their best to give him that opportunity.
I turn now to education. I say in all charity to spokesmen in the House for the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Ireland that it is not possible to have it both ways. I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said about the right of the Catholic community to have its own teacher training facilities. However, how much does it cost St. Mary's and St. Joseph's to provide one teacher and how much does it cost Stranmillis and all the others? I should like to think that they are all comparable. If one insists that, either in their present form or in a united college form, the Roman Catholic colleges must provide 40 per cent. of potential Roman Catholic teacher training positions, one must also accept that all the other providers must examine carefully 90 their recruitment policies and ensure that only approximately 10 per cent. of all other opportunities—at Queen's, the new university, the polytechnic and all the other minor ones—go to Roman Catholics. Otherwise, the Roman Catholic sector will be over-provided for.
I agree with the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). Ten years ago I thought that integrated education was the answer but there is no point in dreaming. The Roman Catholic Church can stop it, and it has decided to do so. It has decided to maintain an independent education system which, whether we like it or not, we must accept. If the Roman Catholic community in Northern Ireland wants its children educated in a Roman Catholic environment and ethos, I and many of my constituents are entitled to insist on our children being educated in a Protestant ethos. We are entitled to say that we want Protestant teachers and that we want the education system administered by Protestants.
I resent the fact that my children's education is administered by a chief administrative officer who will not have his own children educated in the system that he administers, and that resentment is increasing throughout the Protestant community. The 1, 100 unemployed teachers in Northern Ireland may well be in a 50:50 proportion, but Roman Catholic teachers are entitled to apply for any vacancy that they see advertised and will probably be seriously considered for it whereas Protestant teachers are not. By and large, vacancies in Roman Catholic schools are not even advertised, or they are advertised in journals that unemployed Protestant teachers are unlikely to see.
I am prepared to say that the Roman Catholics are entitled to have their own education system and that 97 per cent. of it should be paid for out of public funds, but they are not entitled to achieve that at the expense of my children and the children of the people that I represent. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind in any decision that he makes.
The western education and library board will probably eventually have a majority of Roman Catholics. Indeed, I am told that there is already a majority. Roman Catholic members of the board will be administering schools and appointing teachers to what are, in effect, Protestant schools, although not one of them is prepared to have his own children educated there. There is also a problem in the southern area board which the Minister will eventually have to face.
If common services, such as school meals, janitorial services and so on are provided for both the voluntary and the controlled sectors, perhaps we may have a body to administer those services, but in the provision of education and deciding which schools will remain open and which will close, I do not want Seamus Mallon arguing the case for my children's education. If he wants a Roman Catholic education system in which to educate his children, he had better interest himself in that and let me interest myself in the system in which my children are educated. I say that in all charity. The Roman Catholic hierarchy cannot have it both ways. If we are to have parity, let us have parity and equal value for money.
We are often told that we must have parity in Northern Ireland. We are told that there must be homosexual law reform in Northern Ireland to give parity with the rest of the United Kingdom, but in other matters we cannot have parity. The children of Northern Ireland do not have parity of opportunity in higher education. There is movement of 91 children throughout Great Britain, and children about to enter higher education can apply generally to any college, university or polytechnic on the mainland. Northern Ireland children are restricted to the extent that they may receive a grant to attend a mainland university only if no equivalent course is available in the Province.
I was speaking to a university lecturer at the weekend. He was extremely concerned that, while students on the mainland will suffer once from the present squeeze, those in Northern Ireland will suffer a double squeeze. As a result of the squeeze on the mainland, we shall not have the existing limited opportunity to send some children to colleges and universities on the mainland, and because of the constraints in the Province there will be extra pressure there and thus a double squeeze. He did not give me all the details, but he was certainly convinced that this would operate to the disadvantage of children in Northern Ireland. I hope that the Minister can assure me that that lecturer was wrong and that I am therefore wrong.
On the Class V vote on housing, I add my voice to those who have spoken of the 22 per cent. rent increase. I listened carefully to the Minister at Northern Ireland Question Time last Thursday. He reassured me and I was glad of what he said. If all the assistance to which he referred is available, we shall try to ensure that as many people as possible realise what is available in rent rebates and so on. However, even when that is considered, the Northern Ireland people face a 22 per cent. increase which they cannot relate to the other 4 and 5 per cent. increases referred to when they seek wage rises.
The real tragedy and reason why they are unable to identify with that 22 per cent. is that it is imposed by someone from outside—a person above and beyond their reach. We will achieve the sort of identification necessary in public sector housing only when we obtain control again by elected representatives. I know about people's fears and reservations on the problems. However, when one considers the segregation that has occurred over the past few years in Northern Ireland housing, opportunities for abuse are not rife. There is, basically, a Protestant housing stock to which one allocates Protestants and a Catholic housing stock to which one allocates Catholics.
The main housing provision problem outside Belfast has been met. County Armagh needs no more houses. In many instances children have grown up and left home and their parents, aged between 55 and 65 years of age are left. We should arrange for them to move to other houses, certainly in County Armagh, where we have plenty of available accomodation. I do not know whether that applies to other areas, but I want to save as much money on the provision of housing as possible and to modernise and revitalise some of the older housing stock, which various housing associations are now doing. That property should then be made available at much lower rents than people are currently being charged by the Housing Executive.
The last housing estate to be built in Craigavon is called Parkmore. People are, however, virtually queueing at my door to get their names on a waiting list for one of the very few properties we are presently refurbishing in an old terrace of houses in the centre of Portadown. They are being charged so much for rent and heating that they would be happy to settle for a terraced house with a modern bathroom and kitchen. It is important that we do not 92 destroy any more of the terraces. We must maintain them. There is a demand in Northern Ireland for a lower class of accommodation at a cheaper rent. People are happy to settle for that option and they should have that choice.
We should do everything possible to obtain what people owe us—whether through rent, electricity or gas debts. However, the 22 per cent. increase in rent will only encourage more people to get into debt. We must somehow recover a sense of identity. When a person is asked to pay that figure, he should be able to go to his elected representative and ask how he is to pay and feel that his elected representative made the decision rather than an outsider.
The blanket application of the increase is also important. Why should people in Omagh, Portadown or County Down have to pay 22 per cent. when their circumstances may be completely different? Areas are probably paying the 22 per cent. to make up for inadequacies elsewhere.
Regret was expressed that the Government obtained less than they had originally estimated for rent, disposal of land and so on with regard to Class VI, Vote 2. The Minister knows where he can obtain much more money for land and its disposal. The Craigavon area has 5, 000 acres of land which is being improperly held. It was vested in 1966 for a specific purpose, which no longer exists and there is no way that it can be dressed up to show that it does. The opportunity to re-purchase that land should be given to its original owners. There are 5, 000 acres of virtually derelict land from which the Government could realise a substantial sum of money if they disposed of it. They could also dispense with the services of the civil servants who are currently employed as estate agents. I hope that some movement will be made by the Minister and that next time regret will not be expressed that the amount received is less than had been originally estimated.
I am sorry that my speech has been a little fragmented. I join the hon. Member for Down, North in saying that the loss of 850 more jobs in Northern Ireland is disastrous. I urge the Minister to take any opportunity, possibly through the potential purchaser available in Antrim, to save those jobs.
§ 9.6 pm
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
I apologise to the Minister for the fact that I was not present for his opening remarks. I was meeting three deputations in Belfast protesting about the Government's running of the Province. I hope to be able to describe those meetings later in my remarks. I was, however, present to hear the Minister say that the Government were spending £3.5 billion in Northern Ireland—a point that was rightly pursued by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley). The Minister seemed to think that the people of Northern Ireland should go down on their knees to express their gratitude for the fact that this great sum was forthcoming.
The sum of £3.5 billion is a telephone number to most people in Belfast. Most do not understand the figure. What they know is that since the Government came to office in May 1979, 60, 000 more people have been thrown on to the dole. A considerable portion of the £3.5 billion is being paid in unemployment benefit and supplementary benefit to people who have become unemployed as a direct result of the activities of the Government.
93 The figure of 60, 000 more unemployed has not arisen entirely from factories going bankrupt, overnight closures and the activities of bad business managers. A significant proportion of those who have been made unemployed since the Government came to power are nurses, schoolteachers, home helps and ambulance drivers—people who are desperately needed to cope with the social deprivation that is so rampant and prevalent throughout Northern Ireland. It was a particular Budget in 1980 that led to the increase in the numbers of unemployed.
The Government cannot repeatedly point to the amount that is being put in to the Northern Ireland economy. Whatever the amount going in, the Government are paying out a considerable proportion in State benefits and social security payments as a direct result of the policies that they have carried out. I support every sentence uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North about the terrible air of gloom, despair and despondency in Northern Ireland due to the totally unacceptable and intolerable level of unemployment.
The unemployment figure of 120, 000 represents 20 per cent. of the work force. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North and I know, having met trade unionists, 120, 000 is not a true figure. There are thousands more, particularly women, who feel that it is useless to take the trouble to register as unemployed because they do not qualify for State benefits. They also regard it as a waste of time because there is no work available. The figure can therefore be inflated.
The Minister will recall that predictions were made by economists in Northern Ireland at a meeting in Stormont just before Christmas. It was estimated that within the next five years the figure would increase to 130, 000 or 150, 000 and that anyway the number of unemployed was unlikely to fall below 70, 000. Those figures were given by economists who advise the Government on unemployment trends. They take into account the fact that about 10, 000 people per annum emigrate. What will happen when countries call a halt to immigration and when those countries that have their own unemployment problems refuse to take any more off Northern Ireland's unemployment register?
People from Northern Ireland no longer go to Birmingham, Coventry, London or Leeds. The idea of getting on a hike and looking for work is just not on, whatever Government spokesmen may say. I urge the Minister responsible for commerce to do what he can to build up Northern Ireland's indigenous industries and to fund the local enterprise development unit more generously. It is a small organisation, which received a good deal of support from the Labour Government. Given the finances at its disposal, it has acquitted itself well. I know some of those employed in LEDU. They are dedicated to doing all that they can to relieve distress, particularly in North and West Belfast, where there is great deprivation. I hope that the Minister will confirm that there will not be an appalling closure of British Enkalon in Antrim.
In the early 1950s and mid-1960s, Antrim, Carrick Fergus and Larne were regarded as the E1 Dorados of Northern Ireland, because incoming industrialists sited factories there. I well remember suspecting that those factories were being directed there to the exclusion of areas such as Derry, Strabane, Newry and West Belfast, where there is high unemployment. I now know that the 94 people of Carrick Fergus are beginning to experience the poverty that my constituents have suffered for at least a quarter of a century. Perhaps that experience has come later to Carrick Fergus than to other constituencies. Unfortunately, the threat hangs over Antrim that its people will suffer similar unemployment. Even at this late stage I hope that the Minister will use all his influence to ensure that that factory continues.
I associate myself with the demands that have been made to do something about De Lorean's subsidiaries and the small factories that are liable to go out of business if nothing is done. The Government have a responsibility, and I deny any Minister to say that the Labour Government were wrong to invite De Lorean to Northern Ireland. They invited De Lorean because of the distress and despair that had arisen from unemployment and because of the social deprivation and poverty. They knew that they were taking a risk. Since coming to office, the Government have realised that they could not depart from the decisions taken by the Labour Government. Therefore, they are under an obligation to do what they can for the numerous small traders. At the end of this week or next week another 400 to 700 people could be in the dole queues if the Government do not take decisive action.
One could speak for hours on unemployment in Northern Ireland. We do that every time there is an appropriation order. It is not necessary to continue in any , detail, but I say to the Minister that no one wants to threaten that there will be a breakdown of the social structure if the present rate of unemployment continues. However, the social structure has broken down. The longer the unemployment figures remain high, the more difficult it will be to build up a semblance of sanity in our society.
The largest deputation that I received today was from West and North Belfast, and was representative of the two communities. The eight members of that deputation appealed to me to get the Government to do something about lighting in North and West Belfast. There are no lights there. Many people have had accidents, particularly the elderly. We must take into account what has been said by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder).
That area has been lying derelict for a long time. The pavements are broken. The Army vehicles do not drive in the middle of the road, but on the footpaths. Some of my hon. Friends have been to Northern Ireland and have seen them. There are no footpaths left in parts of the Falls Road or the estates. Perhaps that is for security reasons. People may say that there is a justification for no lights and that Army vehicles are allowed to drive outwith traffic regulations. However, accidents are being caused and the people who live there are concerned.
The second deputation that I received, which I regard as most important, was of many old people protesting as vehemently as they could against the reduction in hours of home helps. Many of those old people have had to depend on their home helps for a considerable time. A relationship has been built up between the aged person or invalid and the home help. It is not a highly paid profession. Many home helps are members of the National Union of Public Employees, which is one of the most poorly paid trade unions not only in Northern Ireland but in Great Britain. There has been a drastic cut in the number of home helps.
Only today I received a letter from the Minister telling me that he was sorry, but that he had made inquiries and found that nothing more could be done within the 95 Government's policy of cuts. This afternoon I was able to show that deputation a letter that I received from the Minister about someone who comes from North Belfast. There is a great deal of concern that old people will be left alone. They are not capable of looking after themselves. Because of the Government's cuts, their lives could be endangered.
Allied to that complaint is the ever-growing voice of dissent about the proposed 22 per cent. increase in rents. One may say that that is an overall increase being made in other parts of the United Kingdom and that house rents in Northern Ireland must be brought up to the standard of those in Leeds, Birmingham or anywhere else, but the conditions in Northern Ireland are different.
Belfast has never had full employment. In my lifetime there has never been the almost full employment enjoyed by people in Leeds, Birmingham and Coventry. Belfast has always had poverty and social deprivation. People there will not be able to pay the 22 per cent. increase in rent.
The Government may be saying under their breath—I hope that they are not—that if those people cannot pay their rents, they have the payment of debts legislation that does not apply to other parts of the United Kingdom. Thus they will be able to take the rent and the money for the increase out of people's social security benefit. If the Government continue to use the payment of debts legislation, they will increase the sum of poverty and distress in Northern Ireland. It does not apply to any other part of the United Kingdom.
The Beechmount estate is tenanted by many old people. The wardens have been withdrawn and the old people are not capable of looking after themselves. I also learnt from a deputation this morning that wardens looking after old people in North and West Belfast received notice from the eastern health and social services board on Saturday morning that from 1 March they would have to pay charges for rent, rates and lighting. They do not know whether the decision was taken by the Housing Executive or by the eastern health and social services board. Formerly their accommodation was given to them because of their job of looking after the old people. I shall give the Minister details.
There will always be a great deal of agreement on the issue of the Housing Executive. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) spoke with knowledge of the situation in Belfast. We are split into Belfast and the rest in Northern Ireland when it comes to housing. North Belfast has its problems, but they are nothing compared with those of West Belfast, the area which I represent. It has the worst problems.
Great distress is caused by the Housing Executive's inability to maintain and repair its houses. I do not know what is wrong with it. I supported its inception in 1970. It was a political decision, but I have since regretted the inefficiency with which it conducts its business. I do not suggest that there is deliberate malice or that people do not wish to carry out the repairs, but if one rings the executive the call is referred to someone else and someone else again. It goes round in circles. When one speaks to the same person a fortnight later he is surprised to learn that nothing happened. I could name people to whom I have spoken today, last week and the week before. They are in senior positions.
96 I have been ringing the executive about one maintenance and repair case since July. My last call was this morning. I ring every fortnight or so. Each time that I ring I am promised that the matter will be attended to, but nothing happens. There are too many people in too many offices on the end of too many telephones who do not know what the others are doing. People are paying exorbitant rents, which are further to increase, for accommodation in bad repair.
When the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North was speaking, the Minister interjected to say that the rent increases do not pay for capital costs. If they do not pay for capital costs, they pay for something that is nearly that, because maintenance is protecting the original capital investment and a proportion of the rents is being put aside for maintenance. People resent paying an increase in rent for maintenance when their house is in a state of disrepair. The Minister should not think that it is all flights of imagination about maintenance and repairs, because every representative from Northern Ireland is faced with this problem.
I remember when I was a member of Belfast corporation 25 years ago. It began to talk about building tower blocks, which it referred to as units of accommodation. Everybody was going to be fitted into little boxes. I remember telling one of the architects propagating the new concept that it would be a failure and that it would never take off or work. Every other public representative from other parts of the United Kingdom might have been saying the same thing. We are now proved right—tower blocks just do not work.
I can make another prediction. Another thing that will not work is the district heating system. An estate is built with a boiler house and all the houses get all their heating from one central point. As soon as there is a night of bad weather, one of the pipes bursts and nobody on the estate gets any heat. That happens repeatedly—almost every time there is a sharp frost, of which there were many in January of this year. The boilers do not work, the pipes burst, and people are frozen.
It would be different if the heating were at a reasonable cost, but it is not. It is one of the most exorbitant costs for those living in Housing Executive homes. They have to pay that, otherwise they do not get heating. I said in a Committee when we discussed Housing Executive rent increases that I was suspicious that the powers that be in Northern Ireland were increasing rents to such an extent that people living in those houses, poverty stricken as they may be, will say to themselves "We are paying this rent increase. Would it not be better to buy our homes, because at least we should know that the rents will not go up every time the Minister wakes up with a hangover?"
One of the deputations that I met over the weekend said to me that four women who live in the lower part of the Falls area would like to buy the houses that they occupy. They went to the Housing Executive and said that they had heard that the Government wanted to push the selling of houses. I do not agree with the idea, but the Government cannot have it both ways. The Housing Executive agreed to the sale but said that if they did buy their houses they would still have to remain connected to the district heating system. The four women said "No, that is one of the reasons we want to buy the houses. We want to get away from the heating system. We want to have coal or gas." 97 The Housing Executive refused and said that even if they bought the houses, they had to remain with the district heating system.
The Government cannot have it both ways. If people want to buy their houses, they should be allowed to disconnect from the heating system. It might be said that those sales would mean four fewer people on the estate and that that would increase the heating account for the others. I advise the Minister not to use the district heating system in any future building for Northern Ireland, because it will not work and it is causing all sorts of problems for the people who are forced to use it.
I have deliberately left the Chilver report to the last. Quite a lot of this debate has concentrated on the recommendations of that report.
I should like to think that we could have a society in Northern Ireland in which Protestant and Catholic children went to the same schools and grew up in amity and accord. That would be an ideal solution in an ideal world, but an ideal world is not for Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland was partitioned by a British Government in 1920 on a Catholic and Protestant head count. One has only to look through the debates of those days to appreciate that. It was a deliberate head count of Catholics and Protestants which created the State of Northern Ireland. That head count was made in 1920. It is still being made in 1982. It will not go away. There is a Protestant community in Northern Ireland that wishes to maintain its own culture and ethos. There is a Catholic community that wishes to do the same. We cannot force those two communities together against their will.
I was discussing the problem over the weekend with some of my Socialist friends—people of my own religion and others not of my religion. They think, naively and innocently, that if education in Northern Ireland were integrated totally it would help a great deal to do away with the present cause of dissent. That is not true. People in Northern Ireland are not fighting about religion. They are fighting about a national identity—about whether they are British or Irish.
The convenience of a political label can be put on to them readily. It can be said that the vast majority of Catholics would like some day to see a united Ireland brought about, in total conformity with Labour Party policy—by consent and certainly not by coercion. The Protestant community in Northern Ireland wish to maintain their relationship with this island. That is what the violence, the division, and the destruction is about. It is not because people disagree with one another or because they go to different places of worship on Sunday.
The hon. Member for Down, North epitomises an attitude which causes fear and distrust in Northern Ireland. When the Chilver recommendations were first leaked to the press and it was said that the two Catholic colleges, St. Joseph's and St. Mary's, were to be abolished and moved lock, stock and barrel to Stranmillis, it was reported in such a way that it seemed that Protestant extremists were highly delighted because they felt that it was a victory over the Catholics, which meant in turn that the Catholics felt that they had been defeated thanks to the sinister machinations of those advising the Government.
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) talked about the spokesmen of the Catholic Church in the House. I was born and raised a Catholic, but I am not a spokesman for the Catholic Church. There have been occasions in the 98 not too recent past when I have disagreed strongly, at some cost politically, with certain pronouncements made by eminent spokesmen of the Catholic Church.
I am not here to say anything which the Roman Catholic is Church tells me to say, but I say as a Catholic born in Northern Ireland that I agree with the right of Catholic parents to have their children educated in schools under the aegis of the Roman Catholic Church if that is what they want. Any attempt to make any incursion into the rights of parents would be disastrous for community relations in Northern Ireland.
A few days ago Dr. John Armstrong, the Church of Ireland Primate, said that the rights of Protestants who want to retain the teacher training college at Stranmillis should be respected. I totally agree. We cannot force integration—either in the teaching of children or teacher training—against the will of the people affected.
The hon. Member for Down, North said that in the early 1970s an attempt was made to achieve integration at primary school level or even kindergarten level and that it was stopped by the Catholic Church. I do not recall that. He said that that proposed experiment was brought to an end by the opposition of the Catholic Church. I was deputy chief executive in the short-lived Sunningdale Executive Government of Northern Ireland from January to May 1974. That executive, composed of people of different religious and political backgrounds, engaged in this totally new experiment. We reached agreement and decided that experiments should be introduced by consent to allow Protestant and Catholic children to attend a pilot scheme.
That experiment was ended, not by the opposition of the Catholic Church but by the Ulster workers' strike, led by the Loyalist forces, against the continued existence of that executive. The SDLP, of which I was then leader, was prepared to co-operate in a pilot scheme to see whether it would be possible.
It is probably true that economies must be made. I can say that more forcefully than most, because I lived in Northern Ireland at the time. In the 1950s and 1960s the Northern Ireland Government, who had control of education, allowed their ambitions to run away with them. They established too many teacher training bodies. There were the three colleges, Queen's, the new university of Ulster and the polytechnics. So many separate institutions were engaged in teacher training that, given a fall in the birth rate or a change in the number of children attending schools, many of those teachers would find themselves unemployed. At that time many people in the old Stormont Parliament predicted that that would happen, and it is certainly happening today.
When one talks of education in Northern Ireland, one has to realise that not far beneath the surface there arc always sectarian considerations. The people living there today cannot be blamed, because the sectarian State of Northern Ireland was created in 1920 by a Government of this House on a Catholic and Protestant religious head count.
I well remember the controversy about the siting of the new university in Coleraine. Londonderry and Armagh put in their claims. Indeed, many Catholics and some Protestants believed that the siting of the university in Coleraine was a political decision. Many people thought that it should have been located in Derry. At the time there was terrible poverty and unemployment in Derry.
If one goes back to the beginning of the social unrest and discontent that has existed between Catholics and 99 Protestants for the past 20 years, one can look back to 1964 to the debate that took place in Stormont. Derry felt sorely aggrieved and discriminated against because the university was politically directed to Coleraine, where it would be more advantageous to the Unionists. They are considerations that have to be borne in mind at all times by the Minister in charge of education in Northern Ireland.
I am not speaking as a spokesman for the Catholic Church. I am speaking here as a Catholic who lives in Northern Ireland and who knows the feelings that run through the Catholic community. Sometimes the Catholic community may not agree with everything that I say. For example, they may not agree with what I said last year about political developments. However, I felt totally justified in saying that then, and I feel totally justified in saying what I am saying now.
The Catholic community recognises that economies have to be made. After the amalgamation—if there is an amalgamation—of the two Roman Catholic colleges, there will still be the question of how many teachers will be trained. That could be another tremendous obstacle. It is not just a matter of the sites and the colleges. The sites and the colleges mean nothing if there is not a continuous flow of young people going to those colleges to be trained.
The figures for Catholic training establishments in England, Wales and Scotland prove the point of view now being put forward by the Catholic education authorities in Northern Ireland. The number of pupils at teacher training colleges that they are asking the Government to allow can be justified.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) spoke as a Catholic, but he also spoke as a former junior Minister in Northern Ireland. We are fortunate to have spokesmen from both Front Benches who have experience of Northern Ireland. They know that education in Northern Ireland is a flashpoint. The Catholic Church, the Catholic community and the Catholic educationists are right to demand that they should be allowed to continue their teacher training under their own culture and their own ethos. I believe that that is right, and no one has told me to say that. Any attempt to break down that structure would be wrong. Any attempt to break down the structure that prevails at Stranmillis would be bitterly resented by the Protestant community, because they are entitled to maintain their religion in their teaching establishments.
I urge the Minister to think very closely before he makes a decision. Since I came into the House today, I have thought that it might be better for a decision to be taken. If it is not, there will be rumour and counter-rumour, and allegation heaped upon allegation. I do not have to tell the Minister what that could mean in Northern Ireland.
The Catholic Church is right in its demands. The whole history of the Northern Ireland community—the setting up of the State, which is a responsibility of the British Government—has led to this. In those circumstances, the Minister should accede to the demands being made by the Catholic education authorities in Northern Ireland.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. David Mitchell)
It may be helpful if I respond to some of the points raised concerning the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland.
100 In opening the debate, the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Hammersmith North (Mr. Soley) spoke of rents which he felt should not be subsidising the new building programme of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Since there has been from several quarters a misunderstanding on this score, I will mention some of the facts.
We anticipate that the net increase in income to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive arising from the increase in rents will be about £12 million. One cannot be exact or precise, but that is our general expectation. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive plans to spend £26, 400, 000 more on action on existing dwellings and estates under its capital programme than it is now spending, that is to say, an increase from £34 million to £60, 400, 000. That is not on the newbuild programme of 4, 250 that we have announced for the coming year. In addition to that, the Housing Executive expects to increase its expenditure on housing and grounds maintenance from £34, 322, 000 to £42, 566, 000—an increase of £8, 244, 000. All that is against an increase of only £12 million in rental income.
Therefore, I am sure that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North who would wish to be fair, would recognise that it is not true to say that the increase in rents will pay for the newbuild programme. It is not doing so.
§ Mr. Soley
I am grateful to the Minister for providing more details. Is the £12 million from the earlier rent increases, including the one proposed for April this year? Earlier, I gave figures of 26 per cent. , 11 per cent., and the proposed 22 per cent. I should have said 26 per cent., 38 per cent., and 22 per cent. Is the Minister saying that that will yield the £12 million, or is the 22 per cent. yielding it?
Can the Minister really ask us to accept, in view of the past cuts in the housing programme, that no effort is being made to raise the rents to pay for the capital programme? Is he giving that guarantee to the House? If so, although it would be very good news, we should want to look at the figures very closely over a period of time.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I have given the hon. Gentleman the figures and, as he rightly said, he would want to look at them in greater depth. If he wants any further information, I shall be happy to write to him about it. He will see from my figures that the increase in rents this year, which gives rise to the £12 million, is more than swamped by the additional expenditure on the existing housing stock.
The second major point that was made by the hon. Gentleman—and by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), in his usual eloquent and pungent style—referred to the burden on poor tenants of a 22 per cent. increase in rent. About 60, 000 of the tenants of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive are already on supplementary benefit and will not have to pay anything in the way of an increase. Those are the poorest of the constituents of the hon. Member for Belfast, West. In addition, about 35, 000 tenants are on rent rebate.
I should like to ask for the assistance of hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies, because we believe that there are about another 10, 000 tenants who are eligible for rent rebates and have not applied for them. Therefore, when the hon. Member refers to hardship, I beg him to make more widely known the extent to which there is a very generous system of rent rebates and rate rebates 101 available to his constituents. Indeed, it is so generous that a man and a wife with two children, paying a rent of £15 a week, are eligible, up to an income of £6, 000 a year, for a rent rebate. The sheer generosity of the rebate scheme is not fully appreciated.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) praised the Housing Executive for its success in improving rural housing. I shall be delighted to pass on those comments to the chairman of the executive because plenty of kicks get passed, and when there are congratulations to go as well, it is right that he should be told about them.
The right hon. Member referred to Belfast and, in particular, to the problem of bricked—up streets. Having driven round Belfast, I am equally concerned about that problem. There are about 4, 000 bricked-up houses in Belfast. That is a substantial reduction on the 6, 000 of a short time ago. That reduction has taken place because most of the bricked-up houses are in the redevelopment areas and as they are redeveloped, the problem disappears. There are many such houses in Donegall Pass, Sandy Row and the Markets and there are some in Lower Ormeau which is a housing action area.
Tomorrow evening my officials are meeting the city planning committee to discuss proposals for RDA 17 and 20—Sandy Row and Great Victoria Street—and that should lead to further progress in dealing with the redevelopment programme for that area.
The right hon. Member for Down, South called for a renewal of the housing stock in Belfast. Much of the stock in Belfast was put up in the Victorian era when the mills were sucking in labour from all over Ireland. The worst housing is in Belfast, and that is why so large a proportion of the effort of the Housing Executive is being made in the city. This year, we anticipate that 2, 000 new houses will be started in Belfast, that next year approximately the same number will be started in the city, and that 1, 000 of the major rehabilitations will also take place. By the end of the year, the right hon. Gentleman will be able to drive in and out of Belfast and notice the change that we are beginning to bring about.
The right hon. Gentleman was right to put his finger on maintenance as an area which causes concern. The chairman of the Housing Executive has assured me that much has been done to speed up maintenance. There is, of course, the changeover from response maintenance to planned maintenance. Instead of workmen going out to do individual items, which takes an enormous amount of journeying time, the executive rectifies dangerous or structural faults within four days. Necessary repairs are done within six weeks, and the rest is left to be swept up with the planned maintenance. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will let me know of any examples where that sort of timing is not being adhered to, because I shall want to bring them to the attention of the chairman.
The Housing Executive has just announced—I have been anxious to encourage it to do so—an increase from £50 to £125 in the self-repair scheme which means that the extremely large number of repairs to which the right hon. Member for Down, South has referred and with which the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) is familiar, can now be done by the tenant himself. He can go along to the Housing Executive, ask for its approval to do the job, and then place the work with a jobbing builder in the area. He can inspect the work himself and ensure that it is done properly. That is much more efficient than waiting for a vast machine such as the Housing Executive to do the 102 detailed work. I shall bring the point about contractors doing poor work to the attention of the chairman of the Housing Executive.
The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) spoke about the Manse Road flooding, and asked for a public inquiry. Outline planning permission was given by the former Newtownards borough council. The Department of the Environment gave only the subsequent reserve matters approval. It was not open to us to refuse that, because the outline planning permission had already been given. However, we gave a warning at the time that there was a possibility of flooding in the area. I should add, perhaps sotto voce, that the borough council, which gave the consent in 1973, was the urban drainage authority. I am in a position to give these facts to the House, so I do not believe that a public inquiry will take us much further.
The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) raised the question of land for private development in Omagh. I shall look into the matter and write to him.
The hon. Member for Armagh spoke about rent increases, which he said were too high. He raised two issues. First, he said that the increases were imposed by an outsider. I think that he was referring to me, although I do not feel an outsider in the part of the United Kingdom with which I am involved as a Minister. I think that he is wrong to regard me as an outsider, and he is wrong when he says that I imposed the increase. I invited the Housing Executive to make an appropriate offer. It made the offer and imposed the increase, not I. Secondly, the hon Gentleman talked about the 22 per cent. increase as though it were a vast amount of money. It averages out at £1.88. That is less than the £2.20 in Scotland, and less than the £2.50 in England and Wales. One should bear in mind that those who pay the higher rents in England will have to subsidise any lower rents in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) spoke about the enterprise zone. He suggested that we should take more land. We have taken 512 acres, and it will take us a long time to get that amount of land under way. The matter is being promoted vigorously at the moment. We held a reception at which we brought together all the business men who are involved in the zone. A number of them were surprised to find that they were buying materials from outside that they could buy just down the road. We have received 250 sensible inquiries at the enterprise zone office for potential businesses in the area. The first new business has been opened and is already operating in the enterprise zone. We have a long way to go, but we have made a good start.
The other matter that was raised by the hon. Member for Kirkdale relating to the Department of the Environment was the Liverpool to Belfast ferry. The hon. Gentleman called for public money to be used. At the time when the P and 0 service was brought to an end, we were asked for £¾ million to £1 million of public money a year to keep it going. We said "No". We said that it was a potentially viable proposition as it stood, without public money. I hope that we shall be able to say before the end of the month that a new service is to come into operation. I can only ask the hon. Gentleman to watch this space for further announcements.
The hon. Member for Armagh referred to Craigavon land. We shall be having a major drive to dispose of surplus land through the Department of the Environment 103 during the coming year. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman on the specific matter that he raised about Craigavon.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West talked about the deputation that he had met that was concerned about street lighting. I shall be happy to receive the deputation if he cares to bring it to me. He said that rents have been increased to the levels of those in Leeds and Birmingham. That is not so. On average, they are £2 a week less than in Leeds and Birmingham. The hon. Gentleman referred to a repair item that has been outstanding since July. If he sends me the full details, I shall be happy to look into the issue.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West spoke about tower blocks. The lesson has been learnt. Great mistakes were made in many areas, and perhaps Belfast is fortunate that its redevelopment is taking place later than in other areas. Serious mistakes, such as the construction of tower blocks, are not being repeated.
A serious problem is developing in some parts of Belfast through the district heating system. We intend to cut one small area out of the system. We shall install solid fuel heating in the area that is worst affected. We are reviewing the other areas. I hope that the hon. Member for Belfast, West will feel that I have taken on board the comments that he made.
I have dealt with the problems that concern the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland. If there are any further issues that hon. Members want to take up with me, I shall be happy to correspond with them.
§ 10.2 pm
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)
One of the problems when we discuss Northern Ireland appropriation orders is that normally time is restricted. On this occasion we have had a fair amount of time and a good deal of time still remains.
In the rather long debate that has already taken place it is rather surprising that agricultural problems have not been mentioned. There are a number of problems that need to be brought to the Minister's attention. I shall start by taking up some of the minor problems.
The Minister is aware that recently I tabled a number of questions on the definition of river mouths in Northern Ireland. He and his officials caught on quickly to precisely what I was getting at. I shall take the opportunity to expand upon my questions. It is an issue that has serious implications for the production of the salmon fisheries in Northern Ireland.
River mouths were defined for the first time, I believe, in the last century. Since then there has been a build-up of sand banks, and in the Foyle area there has been reclamation from the sea. As the areas that are salmon sanctuaries off river mouths are defined by reference to the original definition, and as during the 100 years that have passed since the first definition, the river outlets to lakes, loughs and seas have changed somewhat, a redefinition of the sanctuaries has become necessary, but that has not yet taken place. I am anxious that it should take place before the coming netting season. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me an assurance that any necessary work will be put in train in response to requests in the Lough Foyle area and throughout Northern Ireland.
104 The second minor matter that I wish to raise concerns the sum which has been made available to the United Kingdom from the EEC to cover the loss of farm livestock and the other losses occasioned by the dumping of farm produce that arose because of the severe weather. The sum for the whole of the United Kingdom is only £750, 000. I am curious to know whether any of this money will come to Northern Ireland, or whether it will all be spent in Great Britain. If the Minister cannot tell me today, I hope that he will let me know in the next few days.
There are also major problems in agriculture. First, legislation on dogs has been hanging around for years and it seems, on present showing, to be destined to hang about for several years yet. When will any of it come through? Secondly, the problem of the less favoured areas has also been under review for years and seems to be getting nowhere. Why is there no movement and when can we expect action?
Thirdly, there is the extremely difficult problem of support for sheepmeat. The system of support in Northern Ireland is to be changed from the United Kingdom system to the system used in the Irish Republic. What effect will that have on public expenditure in the United Kingdom in the current year? Why is the change being made? Is it being made solely at the behest of the Commission because of the smuggling on the border? If so, does not that show a signal failure by the Government to control the border and protect public money on the border? There must be a tremendous loss of revenue to the public purse. Surely the proper way to deal with the problem is to deal with the criminals rather than to get round it by the method proposed.
I turn to housing. I listened with interest to the Minister's remarks. He said that £60 million was being spent on maintaining and improving estates this year, but the figures were questioned by the Labour Front Bench. How much of the money being spent on the estates will be raised from the sale of dwellings? Is the money to be used for maintenance and improvement work or is it being tailored into the system in some other way?
I echo what my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said about housing repairs, although in a rather different context. I have been concerned for some time about the standard of workmanship in minor repairs. A letter that I received recently from the Housing Executive states:The maintenance officer for the area in question called on this tenant on 1 February this year. He states that he is satisfied with the standard of workmanship in the kitchen and will not be issuing any further instructions to the contractor regarding the work.That is a tiny matter and it may seem strange to raise it on the Floor of the House. If it were the only complaint, one might reasonably consider that it was a minor detail, but time and again constituents who come to my surgeries complain about the standard of workmanship in normal workaday housing repairs. I accept that I see only the tip of the iceberg. None of us can see any more than that, but when we receive a large number of complaints about one aspect of work we know that there are hundreds or thousands that we do not see or hear about. I have witnessed some of the workmanship. The excuse may be that we cannot expect the top standard of work. However, we are paying for proper workmanship for repairs and for the standards in houses erected. We do not seem to obtain sufficient quality. The workmanship I have seen would not 105 be allowed in my home. There is no reason why the Housing Executive should accept sloppy workmanship from anyone; it is paying proper jobs and should obtain a proper standard of workmanship from a contractor or from its own maintenance officers.
The rent account problem concerns every Member who represents a Northern Ireland constituency and relates to Housing Executive tenants. We all accept that there are those who will deliberately not pay their rents and that debt legislation must be implemented to put the matter on a square footing.
I find it exceedingly difficult to accept the present situation. People tell me that they have lived in houses for 30 years, have paid their rents regularly and are then told by the Housing Executive that they owe between £5 and £30 in rent arrears. They cannot understand that. Therefore, they visit the Housing Executive and sometimes manage to discover, after great difficulty, where the arrears came from. Some arrears are small and have accrued over some years and, inadvertently, a week's payments are sometimes missed. However, far too often, the fault lies not with the tenant but with the Housing Executive.
In these days of computers and endless lines of officials controlling these matters, it is hard to believe that rent accounts cannot be kept accurately and that people cannot be told exactly where they stand on rents at any given time. If something is wrong, a reasonable and clear explanation should be given to a tenant, especially to an aged tenant. Such tenants are very disturbed by these matters and often visit me in a great fluster—horrified that they have been accused of owing a sum of money when they have paid their rents continually. They are unable to understand how the problem has arisen and find it difficult to obtain a proper, reasonable and simple explanation from the executive. It is perhaps not a simple question to answer, but certainly some effort must be made to resolve it.
Another aspect concerns the grants payable for the improvement of dwellings by the Housing Executive. I first became aware of the problem because of a house in Enagh Crescent in Londonderry where a constituent purchased his dwelling last year. He was told that the executive's policy was, from 5 January 1981, that improvement grants would no longer be available for post-war dwellings, with the exception of applications for the disabled or for houses with no amenities. A repair grant might be made available in certain circumstances.
From correspondence, it appears that the Housing Executive's post-war properties and those which are dry houses, built with the aid of a dry subsidy, are debarred from certain grants. Yet the Housing Executive itself would be prepared to spend public money to bring these houses up to standard. I do not believe that many houses fall into this narrow category. An effort should be made to make available improvement grants to the owners of such dwellings, similar to those available to other householders, to bring the properties up to proper standard. I should be grateful to the Minister if he would examine the matter.
This problem also exists in relation to houses such as that at Maydown where the individual wished to increase the size of the kitchen. The Housing Executive will be spending a large amount of money on dwellings that it owns of this type. The Minister will be aware that many houses throughout Northern Ireland have extremely small 106 kitchens. Those who buy them will find that they are not eligible for an improvement grant for that purpose. I wonder if anything can be done to help them.
The Minister has mentioned the do-it-yourself scheme. It is curious that the scheme has not taken off. I wonder what investigation has been made by the Housing Executive into the failure of the scheme. It seems a straightforward procedure that would have benefited tenants of Housing Executive dwellings. The only answer by the Housing Executive has been to raise the sum of money that is available. There must be something else wrong. It cannot simply be a lack of cash. The Minister should ask the executive to go back to the grass roots to find out why the scheme has not taken off in the way that had been hoped.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I do not want to prolong the debate. I should like, however, to deal with the points that the hon. Gentleman raises and that concern housing. The newbuild programme for Northern Ireland will cost £95 million in the coming year. The whole of the receipts from the sale of executive houses are expected to be spent by the Housing Executive on its own programme. So far as the inadequate inspection of repair work is concerned, I have already agreed—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not making another speech.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I was seeking, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not to make another speech but to deal with the points raised directly with me by the hon. Gentleman. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will write to me about rent arrears and mistakes by the executive. He also raised the matter of the narrow category of dry houses for which improvement grants are required. Again, if he will write to me, I shall be happy to deal with the matter. I should like to make a small point about the do-it-yourself repair scheme The hon. Gentleman referred to it as a failure. It is not a failure. It took a long time to take off, but it is now proving to be a success. That is why the Housing Executive has extended the sums available under it. I hope that more people will make use of it.
§ Mr. Ross
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. The hon. Gentleman says that I am not satisfied about the inspection of repairs. That is not the point. My complaint is about the acceptance of the standard of workmanship by the Housing Executive. It accepts a low standard instead of insisting that the contractor comes back and does the job properly.
I turn now to education. I wish to register a complaint about a continuing problem in many parts of Northern Ireland over the use of large numbers of sectional buildings in schools. Sectional buildings are clearly intended to be temporary. During the recent cold weather, however, they proved very difficult to heat. This was resented by many parents. I accept that schools in Northern Ireland have too much accommodation and that in some parts of my constituency, children, particularly in the voluntary section, are being bussed from one part of Londonderry to another while new schools are not being built. However, I cannot accept that sectional buildings should be allowed to continue for ever. Before next year's cold weather arrives, I hope that many of the buildings will be replaced.
107 Part of the draft order refers to harbour facilities. I turn to that aspect of life in Northern Ireland, because the provision of pilots is vital. Hon. Members will remember that I raised several matters last week about the sinking of the "St. Bedan" and the bombing and sinking in the previous year of the "Nellie M" in Lough Foyle.
Londonderry's harbour authority spends a considerable sum of British public money every year to maintain a pier at Moville in county Donegal. It is responsible for the provision of pilotage to and from Londonderry harbour. Public money is involved. Last week, I raised the possibility of basing the pilots in county Londonderry, on the Magilligan shore of the Lough. During the weekend another possibility was drawn to my attention, which I understand from this morning's radio, has already been considered by others. I refer to the suggestion that pilotage for the Bann and the Foyle could be amalgamated and based where the present navigation for the Bann is based, in Portstewart harbour or in that of Portrush.
Several factors about the sinking of the "St. Bedan" should be considered, because an enormous amount of public money will be involved in compensation alone. The terrorists must have known the estimated time of arrival for the boat to pick up the pilots. I gather that the raiders knew when to arrive and to take over the pilot station and the pilot boat and to go out to the vessel. That shows that somewhere along the line there was a serious leak of information to that terrorist gang. Given that, and the fact that the pilot station is in county Donegal and cannot be protected by the United Kingdom's security forces, it is imperative for the safety not only of pilots but of British and other vessels using the waters, that the pilot station and the pilots should be based in Northern Ireland. They could then be given proper protection.
I hope that the suggestion of basing pilots completely in Northern Ireland—where they can be properly protected and where there is proper security—will be put into operation with the minimum of delay. The longer the situation exists, the more opportunities will be open to 108 terrorists to strike again. The present system of pilotage for Londonderry port was set up a long time ago in county Donegal and rowing boats were used to reach the incoming vessels. Human muscle power is no longer required, and for many years motor boats have been used. There is no difficulty in reaching vessels bound for the Bann and the Foyle from Portstewart or Portrush. The pilots should be based at one of those points.
The last subject that I wish to speak about relates to the problem raised by other hon. Members, which is the mess surrounding the De Lorean car firm. The Minister will recall that I led a deputation to see him on 12 February. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) and I also saw him in London the week after that. We drew his attention to our understanding of the situation, which has been covered to some extent this evening. There are about 158 creditors of the firm in Northern Ireland. Up to one third of them are about to go broke if they do not get their money. It is doubtful whether the firm could find further suppliers quickly enough to keep it as a going concern if these creditors disappear.
Those creditors have expressed concern to me and to my hon. Friend about why De Lorean seems to be getting better treatment than them. They raised concern especially because the Government are involved through the Government agency NIDA, which has directors on the De Lorean board. People have asked why the company was allowed to go on trading when debts were mounting up to such an extent that the bills were not being paid. The creditors see that the Government are seeking their pound of flesh for the taxes that they are due to pay. I suggest to the Government that they are seeking not only a pound of flesh but the blood.
I hope that when the Government put up risk capital, they will accept their responsibility. I hope that they will also remember that the other major engineering firm still operating in Belfast—Harland and Wolff—has a guarantee to its creditors. It is not asking too much in the light of present unemployment in Northern Ireland and in the light of the difficulties caused by De Lorean that the same criteria be applied to the creditors of that company.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
I apologise for not being present at the beginning of the debate. I am conscious that there might be a danger of over-egging the Front Bench pudding, but it might he useful if I intervened to say a word not about all the education matters covered tonight, on the details of which I shall write to hon. Members, but about teacher training, which has been raised by a number of hon. Members.
The common thread that has run through the speeches is an acknowledgement that something must be done about that problem. In Northern Ireland we have room for about twice as many teachers as we need to train each year. We have six institutions. I shall not go into the history of why they were set up, but we are now confronted with a problem that needs to be resolved.
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) talked of comparative costs of training teachers in different institutions. It is difficult to make a comparison between teacher training colleges and universities and polytechnics, because teacher training colleges only train teachers, while the other institutions do all sorts of other jobs.
The cost of training teachers in the three training colleges is broadly the same. Perhaps the best measure that I can give the hon. Gentleman is that the staff-student ratio in St. Mary's, St. Joseph's and Stranmillis is about 5.7 or 5.8:1. The urgency of doing something about the problem must be brought home. In Great Britain the ratio is about 10:1, which is nearly twice that in Northern Ireland. Something must be done about the problem.
The burden of the argument put by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) was that the proposals of the Chilver interim report about movement to the Stranmillis site simply will not do. That may turn out to be the case, but one can well understand why Sir Henry Chilver and his review group made the suggestion. The plant at all three teacher training colleges is greatly under-used. They could see the advantage in maximising the use of the plant at the Stranmillis site. It is an attractive campus area.
We must accept the central proposition that it is not for the Government to make the final decision. We must proceed by consent. I have been urged to proceed by consent. I have been told of the widespread misapprehensions about the Government's intentions. I do not have the power to close the training colleges. They are under the control of trustees at St. Mary's and St. Joseph's, who have the final power to make decisions about the colleges' future and the teacher training carried out at them. I have a responsibility to the education system as a whole in Northern Ireland and to the taxpayer to see that we get not only the most cost-effective system but the highest standards of teacher training.
It is not purely an argument about money—about shifting the colleges onto one site purely for economy. It is important that they should provide teacher training of the highest possible standard. If the staffing ratios of all three colleges are to be brought into line with those in Great Britain, it will be difficult for each to continue to provide the present range of courses for the young people who attend them. The decision about bringing their staffing into line has been postponed for a long time 110 because we were awaiting the review group's proposals. Now that they have been accepted, something must be done.
I wish to proceed in so far as it is humanly possible by agreement among the providers of teacher training. I am in discussion, both in correspondence and by meetings, with all the providers of teacher training in Northern Ireland. I shall do my best to see that the end result is brought about by consensus among them. In politics one should not get too upset about having motives that are not there attributed to one, but I sometimes wonder why, with a proposal like this from a review group that included Catholics and Protestants, there should be accusations of a deep-laid plot to attack Catholic education.
The first proposal that the group considered was that all the teacher training in Belfast should go the department of education of Queen's University. That was turned down, precisely because the review group foresaw—I shall not take the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) with me—the need for a continuing, strong, voluntary element in teacher training. That is why it came up with the idea of the three colleges going to the common site at Stranmillis, but preserving their legal identity, automony and distinctive contribution to teacher training. At the end of the day we may not be able to achieve that, but we must rationalise teacher training. I wish to do it as far as possible by agreement.
No final decisions have been made. Nothing could be further from my mind—again I shall probably upset the hon. Member for Down, North—than to attack the choice of parents to educate their children in the schools that they wish. Implicit in that is the right that those schools should be staffed by teachers whom they regard as having been trained properly.
I have to tell the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) that that does not mean that the 40 per cent. claim of the partition in Northern Ireland can be accepted. To do so would be to give the colleges of St. Mary's and St. Joseph's a virtual monopoly of training teachers for the Catholic schools in Northern Ireland. Historically, that has never been so. It would mean that the rest of the institutions would have a virtual monopoly of training teachers for the rest of the system. Whether that is practical or desirable is open to question. It may not be practical, because the universities would be prohibited by their charters from drawing a distinction between Catholic and Protestant students who offered themselves for teacher training courses. It would not be desirable, because to move towards a greater degree of segregation in training teachers in Northern Ireland would not be a path that we wish to tread.
An analogy has been drawn between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in terms of percentages. In Great Britain, the number of Catholics in the population represents about 10 per cent., and 10 per cent. of the places are therefore reserved for students to go to the Catholic training colleges. In Northern Ireland, with about 46 per cent. of the population being Catholic, it does not follow that something like that percentage should be reserved for the Catholic colleges. Apart from anything else, in the Catholic training colleges in Great Britain, up to one-half and on average nearly one-third of the students attending them are non-Catholics. One does not get the same sort of division in Northern Ireland.
In practice the percentages of students attending the different institutions in both Great Britain and Northern 111 Ireland have been preserved roughly at the point at which the decline in the demand for teachers to be trained existed. In 1975–76, about 26 or 27 per cent. of student teachers went to St. Mary's and St. Joseph's. Today, it is 25 per cent. Broadly, we have preserved that balance. Stranmillis alone has really suffered in the intervening years by a substantial reduction in the numbers going to that institution.
I do not want to delay the House. As I say, no final decisions have been made. I shall continue to seek agreement on this matter. I thought that it might be worth while to outline the position simply and to answer some of the matters raised in the debate.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I listened with great interest to what the Minister said about the controversy raging in Northern Ireland on teacher training. I regret that the hon. Gentleman was not more forthcoming about when the decision will be made. With the present question mark over teacher training, there is a great deal of concern in Northern Ireland and a special concern amongst teachers about their future.
The Minister has a duty to spell out to the House the timing that he has in mind for bringing this matter to finality. It must not be allowed to rumble on and on. The hon. Gentleman hopes to get agreement. But those of us who know the history of education in Northern Ireland are aware of the stand of the Roman Catholic Church for its own separate school system, largely subsidised by the State. The Roman Catholic Church very wisely kept its hands on its schools. The Protestant churches, wrongly in my view, handed their schools over, putting the Government in the position of being able to dictate education policies. However, that is history, which perhaps many hon. Members know nothing about and do not want to know anything about.
Having read the petition and having heard the statements made—not least the statement of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) in the House the other day about a fight which the Minister could not win—I believe that the Minister has a duty to the people of Northern Ireland and to all people who are connected with education in Northern Ireland—to parents, teachers and student teachers alike—to give us some sort of time scale as to when he will come to a decision on this important matter. I trust that the Minister will be good enough—if he does not intervene again in the debate—to write and let us know what he thinks the time scale will be.
I put it on record that any body is entitled to run its own schools if it wants to. However, if it wants to do that it should pay for its own schools. As the Minister knows, his Department has made it clear to church schools in which I have been interested that not one penny will be received from his Government towards them and quite rightly so. The principle has to be arrived at some time in Northern Ireland that there should be one State system of education. At the end of the day, those that want a different system will have to come to an arrangement with the Government. However, I do not want to go into that matter tonight. I urge the Minister to come to a decision about it.
I understand that the Minister who is responsible for commerce will take part in this debate. I want to press him about a distressing constituency problem that has arisen 112 from the tragic announcement today of the closing down of British Enkalon. It will throw many hundreds of my constituents—and many hundreds of the constituents of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) —out of employment. It will not only do that but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, it will tear the industrial heart out of the town of Antrim. Anybody who knows the position in Antrim will be well aware that the modern town of Antrim was built around British Enkalon. The council of that town, those involved in commerce and trade, and the housing authorities, did everything in their power to facilitate British Enkalon. Antrim would not be the town it is today had it not been for the fact that British Enkalon opened its operations in the town.
I pay tribute to the managers of British Enkalon. When they were operating in Antrim they made a great contribution to the prosperity of the town. They were always helpful in problems that arose in the Antrim area. They had the benefit of many able employees who did a good job in producing the end product. Through British Enkalon, the town of Antrim was enlarged far beyond the bounds to which it would otherwise have grown.
We now have a very dark shadow hanging over the town of Antrim. We have the announcement today that in a few weeks' time the whole operation will be wound up. This has caused great sorrow, great frustration and great anger in the Antrim area. I am sure that the Minister is well aware of the matter. It has been under consideration for a considerable time.
Tonight it was announced that the directors of British Enkalon were prepared to hand over the factory free to the Government, but the Government refused that offer. I should like the Minister tonight to tell us something about it. [Interruption.] If he has already done so, I shall be able to read it in the Official Report. I was told that the debate would start at 10 pm, and I came to the House for that time. It is not my fault if I was not here earlier. I would have been here earlier if I had been told otherwise.
I shall read with interest what the Minister has said, but I must put on the record in the debate the amount of feeling that there is in Antrim. I do not know whether the Minister has made any proposals to the House as to what he intends to do about the matter of British Enkalon, or whether he sees any future for the factory. I know that the people of Antrim, as well as the people of Northern Ireland, are feeling very sore about the matter tonight.
It is well known that man-made fibres have been a vital part of the Northern Ireland economy, yet we have seen factory after factory close until Northern Ireland is becoming an economic wasteland. Britain used to boast about the Welfare State, but Northern Ireland now seems to be a Farewell State—farewell to security—
§ Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) for giving way. He has already explained why he was not here at the outset of the debate. Perhaps I can tell him that the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Patten), told the House that the expenditure which the central Government now undertake in Northern Ireland is 35 per cent. per capita higher than it is in the rest of the United Kingdom. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind during his remarks.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
If the hon. Gentleman goes back into the history of Northern Ireland and the documents that 113 were published by the Government before the election of our first Assembly, he will notice that through the years Northern Ireland suffered very considerably and did not get its slice of the cake. That has been put on record by the official documents of the Government.
Secondly, I should like to tell the hon. Gentleman that in Northern Ireland the level of wages is lower than that in the rest of the United Kingdom. The cost of living in Northern Ireland is higher than that in the rest of the United Kingdom. The people of Northern Ireland, before the drastic cuts of this Government started to take effect, had already been cut to the bone. They were already carrying a cross. If the hon. Gentleman wants to put Northern Ireland on the same footing as the rest of the United Kingdom before we start off, and then seeks to ask us to bear the same share of the burdens, we shall be happy so to do, but it ill-becomes the hon. Gentleman, when we have the highest unemployment in the whole of the Common Market, to try to tell the people of Northern Ireland that they should be good boys and all sit down and nod approval to the disastrous policies pursued by this Government.
§ Mr. Garel-Jones
That is not what I am saying. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind that my constituents and those of other hon. Members are carrying a considerable financial burden. We do not complain about that, but we have the right to ask in return that hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies should be seen to be doing their utmost to, for example, co-operate with the proposals put forward by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
It is a pity that we do not have proposals from the Secretary of State on the table. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the politicians of Northern Ireland should approve certain suggestions put to them at private meetings? We have not had one document produced by the Government to outline what they intend.
Even if there were an agreed Government for Northern Ireland, the dole queues would not suddenly disappear. There is an agreed Government for the rest of the United Kingdom, and the dole queues are increasing. Let no hon. Member think that because politicians sit round a table and agree the dole queues will disappear.
I also remind the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) that the people of Northern Ireland pay the same taxes and carry the same individual burdens as people in any other part of the United Kingdom. Let him not imply that the people of Northern Ireland do not carry the same burden. Those people do not want charity; they want justice; and justice should be done and seen to be done in Northern Ireland, just as it is in other less-favoured areas in the United Kingdom.
I make no apology for raising the question of British Enkalon. It is a serious matter which will have a grave effect on the people of Northern Ireland. There is no doubt about that. Perhaps the hon. Member for Watford does not understand that the situation in Northern Ireland is one of near tragedy. I do not know how long it can go on before there is a terrible reaping.
Many problems face us in Northern Ireland and it is only right that I, as an elected representative of Northern Ireland people, should put on record in the House the serious situation at British Enkalon. I have spoken to the 114 Minister responsible for commerce and I know that he is aware of the issue. I want to know whether an offer was made to hand over the factory to the Government.
Northern Ireland's unemployment problem will not be solved merely by saying to private investors "Come in and invest". Without a commitment by the Government through public ownership and realistic and imaginative action we shall never be able to solve that problem.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) referred to the De Lorean Motor Company. I understand from a statement made tonight that six important businesses in Northern Ireland will have to close immediately unless something is done for them. They were creditors of the De Lorean company. This is a serious matter. I understand that six companies are almost on the rocks. I want to know why the two Government watchdog directors on the board of De Lorean, who were to carry out a policing operation to safeguard the interests of the Government's investment, permitted the company to boost its labour force to such a large extent, when it was known that the American market for De Lorean cars was sluggish? The sales of De Lorean cars in America were not going as had been prophesied by Mr. De Lorean. I cannot understand why the two Government-appointed directors allowed the labour force to be boosted, giving the false impression that employment was there.
Can the Minister say whether the creditors will be pressed to pay Inland Revenue charges and national insurance, in view of their serious cash flow problems? Can he enlarge on the statement in the Belfast Telegraph that the Secretary of State promised that VAT back payments would not be pressed at the moment? I am sure that he is aware of the crisis that has resulted from what has happened at De Lorean. I and the people of Northern Ireland wish Sir Kenneth Cork every success in v. hat he is trying very hard to do. I trust that he will be successful and that this company which is greatly needed in Northern Ireland will continue to operate, albeit to a lesser extent than was at first envisaged.
Can the Minister tell us what is happening about the bulk carrier for Harland and Wolff and what is the present position in that shipyard? These are matters of grave concern to all the people of Northern Ireland.
The Minister who is responsible for housing is not in the Chamber at present, but I must refer to the grave concern that exists tonight in the Province about the excessive rent rise that is to occur. I hear certain Unionist politicians weeping about the matter, although, when the vote to raise rents was taken by the Housing Executive, the representatives of the official Unionist Party on that executive voted for the rise. There is real concern, especially among old-age pensioners, about how people will meet these excessive rent rises. The Housing Executive should consider the sorry state of many of the houses before it goes ahead with the rent rise. There is a strange procedure in Northern Ireland whereby, when a person takes over the tenancy of a house with many defects which has been allocated to him by the Housing Executive, those defects that should have been put right are not taken into consideration and the rent rises. It is terrible that many who want to be housed are not able to take over the houses that are allocated to them until the necessary repairs are done. If they take them over before the work is done, they are put in an invidious position. That is something that the Government should consider.
115 I support wholeheartedly the remarks of the hon. Member for Londonderry about pilotage and the measures that should be taken for security reasons for the boats that use Londonderry harbour. As the Government have a financial stake and as the Irish Republican Army has been responsible for two outrages already, the Government should act along the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
§ 11 pm
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)
Even in the absence at this stage of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), I wish to say that we appreciate the fact that no appropriation debate goes by without the presence of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux). We recognise that there are special circumstances on this occasion that prevent him from being in his place.
I welcome the hon. Member for Liverpool, Kirkdale (Mr. Dunn) to our debates. He has an advantage over the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Sandelson) in having experience of Northern Ireland matters, although I think that he would admit that even after a comparatively short time he is slightly out of touch with our affairs in detail. Nevertheless, we welcome his contribution.
I tell the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) that I shall deal, appropriately I hope, with British Enkalon and other issues that have been raised in detail. I hope that I shall be able to cover most of the matters to which hon. Members have referred in the time that is available. We should be grateful that for once we have been allowed a long debate. The duration of the debate has been comparable to a full length debate that provides a full afternoon and ends at 10 o'clock. We started at 6 o'clock and we shall have had about five and a half hours of debate when I resume my seat.
Issues of specific concern have been raised by hon. Members on behalf of their constituents that are of personal concern to them. I have had my belief reinforced that it would be very much better if such matters could be dealt with by Northern Ireland elected representatives in a Northern Ireland setting. We are continuing to work towards that goal.
Separate from that strain is the feature that in appropriation debates we have a general critique—it is not always criticism—of the Government's economic policy and its effect on Northern Ireland. Ministers are under an obligation to respond to that and to the more particular questions.
In placing the order and the spring Supplementary Estimates in a wider context, I stress that the well-being of the Northern Ireland economy is inextricably linked with that of the United Kingdom as a whole. Consequently, the broad thrust of the Government's economic policy must apply in Northern Ireland as elsewhere. For example, as the Government's policy works through and interest rates come down, that must help the cash position of companies and farmers and all those who, regrettably, have been so much involved with the banks in recent times.
Secondly, I stress that, notwithstanding the importance that the Government attach to public expenditure restraint as a component of our overall economic policy, the allocation of resources to Northern Ireland reflects its 116 special needs. It ill-becomes the hon. Member for Antrim, North to speak in terms of cuts when a Government who, for very good reason, are following a policy of public expenditure restraint still find it possible to spend as significantly as we are spending in Northern Ireland.
Per capita public expenditure in Northern Ireland is currently 35 to 40 per cent. higher than on comparable programmes in Great Britain. Moreover, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced on 6 January, an additional £90 million has been earmarked for 1982–83 compared with the figure in the last public expenditure White Paper. This brings the planned figure for that year to more than £3, 500 million. Although that is not a net figure, as there is a flow in the other direction, it still represents a very substantial subvention indeed flowing from the Exchequer, from Great Britain, into Northern Ireland.
The basic message contained in those facts is not new, nor is it my intention to suggest that this represents more than Northern Ireland's fair share of resources, because Northern Ireland is not the only region that benefits from higher than average per capita expenditure. But the facts demonstrate that the Government have responded to the needs of the Province as positively as economic circumstances permit, and are continuing to do so.
About £550 million has been spent in support of the Province's industry since the Government came to office. Indeed, the per capita expenditure on industrial development in Northern Ireland is proportionately far higher than that on overall expenditure, to which I have referred. This year more than 360 companies will benefit under the selective industrial development scheme, as will more than 1, 300 companies under the non-selective capital grant scheme.
Our industrial promotion drive therefore continues unabated. There is no question of lack of political will, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) for the Labour Party tried to suggest, although we certainly exhibit an absence of recklessness in the spending of the public's money.
One must ask what the Labour Party wants. One can agree with the hon. Gentleman that more should be done for the construction industry. That industry will benefit substantially from the £50 million worth of capital expenditure on housing to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State referred. We can agree to some extent on the need for support for new technology, which is very much a part of our industrial development strategy, but we cannot agree that all the money going into high technology development should come from the Government. That is not necessary and I believe that it would tend to lead to disaster because of the ultimate lack of commercial pressure on the Government. It would also be an inefficient use of resources.
The hon. Gentleman referred to what he described as the high-risk area. However painful the reference may be, I must ask whether he wants a string of De Lorean's, with all the heartache, despair and waste involved. I do not believe that he is prepared to stand up and say that.
§ Mr. Soley
It is not a question whether it is De Lorean. As the Minister well knows from the approaches with the development agency, and as the CBI has said, the Government must put money into high-risk areas. Now that we are on the subject, will the Minister deal with the matter of political will? Is he saying that he knows that 117 there is no possibility of keeping the British Enkalon plant going because he has explored the subject with the trade unions and the relevant industrialists? Can he tell us that and prove that he has the political will?
§ Mr. Butler
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall deal with that aspect later. He should not equate political will with the scattering of public money, without any regard to the commercial consequences and the damage which it does to others through the borrowing or taxing of that money.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North also said that we should subsidise energy costs to the lowest equivalent in Great Britain. I suggest that it would be wrong to ask the industry and consumers in Great Britain—I use that term to distinguish between the two areas—to subsidise energy costs to below what the consumer and industry in Northern Ireland are paying. I must ask the hon. Gentleman what his party did. When we came to power we found that the domestic consumer was paying 22 per cent. above the Great Britain average. Had the Labour Party done anything about that? The answer is "No". To hold energy and electricity costs down to the highest level in Great Britain we are now spending about £80 million in the current year.
That massive subsidy is justified, but we cannot go further. Therefore, our industrial promotion drive continues unabated, supported by a wealth of political will.
Hon. Members will be particularly conscious of the drive which we have put behind the overseas promotional effort, with a view to achieving further success in attracting new manufacturing projects to Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State and I will certainly be continuing our utmost personal efforts on that aspect. However, I must again draw hon. Members' attention to the problems which we face in attracting investment from outside Northern Ireland. There are two or perhaps three major obstacles in attracting such investment. First, the current recessionary conditions which are affecting every developed country. In spite of these, we have had some notable successes in recent years by way of new investment—firms such as Hyster—and the expansion of by now well-established companies such as Hughes Tool and General Motors with its subsidiary—Fisher Body. As the recession passes and Americans and other industrious overseas countries become more investment inclined, we can expect—for that reason alone—further investment in Northern Ireland.
My second point—which I have not raised before—is on the uncertainty created in the minds of potential investors by those who advocate Britain's withdrawal from the Common Market. That will not happen, but, when it is stated and discussed in Britain, it is also discussed in North America. I know that fact from personal experience. A good reason why American investment—Japanese investment to a much lesser extent—is located in the United Kingdom is because Britain is a jumping-board for sales into the Common Market as a whole, and into Continental Europe.
When doubt is cast on that aspect by the right hon. Member for Down, South, he does harm to the cause which I am sure that he subscribes to—trying to overcome the unemployment situation in Northern Ireland.
We have discussed my third point many times—the obstacle that Northern Ireland's image projects overseas.
118 I do not expect the damage that is caused to weigh heavily on the minds of those who wilfully or mindlessly attempt to perpetuate this image as they inflict damage on life and property. Their politics are, at best, Marxist and, at worst, anarchist and other countries share some of the same problems. The accepted perception of Northern Ireland as an unsafe and politically unstable place continues to be the major impediment to our attracting overseas investment.
There are some encouraging signs of a renewed downward trend in the level of violence. What is needed and what the people of Northern Ireland and of the rest of the United Kingdom have the right to expect of its elected representatives is some outward expression of concern for the common good of the people of Northern Ireland. This is not served by adherence to selfish sectional interests and emphasis on the issues which divide the community. There must be a manifestation of a willingness to work together. We do not expect that from the extremists. If, however, we can be seen to work constructively together, 1 have little doubt that the abundance of good will which exists for an end to the Northern Ireland problem could be translated into effective investment and job opportunities for people who have amply demonstrated their willingness and ability to work.
I turn now to the question of British Enkalon and the closure announcement that has overshadowed our debate. It is a matter of bitter disappointment to all those who have worked so hard to try to avoid this day. I do not think that the closure of British Enkalon is typical of the Northern Ireland industrial scene as a whole. It is a fact that the Courtaulds and the ICI man-made fibres plants shut down. I believe, however, that they are the casualties of an industry that over-expanded and is now having to contract in the light of over-capacity throughout the world.
Man-made fibre production in Northern Ireland has existed for over 20 years. Some still exists and it will, hope, be able to survive. We have at least had the benefit of 20 years' investment from these companies. It would have been difficult for me and the Department of Commerce to be more involved in the matter. This involvement extends from the summer when we fought off the initial closure decision to telephone calls over the weekend and again early this morning.
I refute any suggestion that we have not worked with the unions. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North—I hope that I am not doing him a disservice—criticised the Government for lack of involvement. I prefer to take the view of Mr. John Freeman, the senior representative of the Transport and General Workers Union in Northern Ireland. I did not hear his interview this morning, but I have been given what I believe is an accurate report The drift of his remarks about the Enkalon closure was that, while he did not in general agree with Government policies, he thought that the Minister—it is good of him to say so—and his officials had done everything in their power to avert closure.
As the House will recall, the Government provided a substantial sum of money last August to keep the plant operating in the hope that it could have a viable future. I talked to the directors of the parent company on Thursday. They made it clear that the decision in August had been to postpone closure. They also made it clear that they saw no reasonable prospect of viability. They added that despite the efforts of local management and unions—they 119 were rightly complimentary about the progress and cooperation that had been shown—further losses were forecast.
I made it clear that the Government would consider again making available substantial sums of money if there was potential viability. But the directors were not prepared to consider any short-term measures. It was their strategic and commercial judgment looking at the longer term, that the plant should close. They took into account tens of millions of pounds of losses, current unprofitability and likely future unprofitability as they saw it and as the work force plan saw it, at least in the short term. They also took into account over-capacity in the industry.
It has been asked whether a buyer approached the company some time ago. I have no knowledge of that and I am not sure that hon. Members should expect me to know about that commercial matter. However, although the Government are prepared to examine any viable future for the plant, it would be wrong for hon. Members to go away with the impression that there was any probability other than closure. We cannot lightly reject the view of Enkalon, which knows its market and understands the production of man-made fibres.
The good sense and excellence of the work force has been demonstrated and that should be attractive to anyone who might take over the company, or to companies that wish to move to Antrim. In addition, with hindsight I can be even more glad than I was at the time about the decision—shown to be wise—to increase the discretionary capital grant available in Antrim to 50 per cent. I hope that that will prove a strong magnet to new investment.
I have about 10 minutes left in which to speak, and therefore I shall turn to the second main industrial worry, De Lorean. The two receiver managers appointed by the Government are considering the company's position constructively and are doing all that they can—probably through the restructuring of the company—to give it a future. Hon. Members will have read Sir Kenneth Cork's optimistic statements. He is in contact with all the parties that have shown an interest. In his position as joint manager, he is trying to sell the stock of finished cars and the company still produces, although at a very low rate.
We must hope that Sir Kenneth Cork's optimism is justified. He will certainly receive all proper Government support in his efforts. Hon. Members asked about the suppliers, about whom I am equally concerned. The Secretary of State and I have—quite exceptionally in such circumstances—seen suppliers from Northern Ireland and Great Britain. This morning, the Secretary of State saw a group of suppliers. He expressed the greatest possible sympathy but had to say firmly that De Lorean was responsible for its debts and that the Government would not and could not take on that responsibility. That message has, of course, received publicity. However, I hope that equal publicity will be given to the fact that the Secretary of State also said that if a company was in serious trouble because of the De Lorean crisis, but was otherwise viable, any application for assistance towards the maintenance of employment would be considered on its merits, in the same way as any other such application.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) asked about the role of the receivers. As I must be brief, it might be better if I were to study my hon. Friend's precise questions and to reply to him later.
120 Basically, the Department of Commerce as debenture holder appointed receivers at the invitation of the company directors. They passed a resolution asking the Department of Commerce to appoint receivers. That followed their failure to find further funding from the public sector, the Secretary of State having made it clear that there would be no more public money. When they found that they could not continue trading, they asked the Department of Commerce to appoint receivers.
The immediate role of the receiver is to protect the interests of the debenture holders and to have a proper regard to the interests of all the creditors. In addition, the receivers issued a statement saying that, if the company could be restructured and sold as a going concern, that would be a way in which they would approach the receivership.
The third main subject raised in the debate was Harland and Wolff, a matter that concerns us all. Many hon. Members mentioned it. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury stressed absolutely correctly the vital importance of securing the British Steel order. I do not believe that there is a prospect of it going elsewhere, but still negotiations continue and the deal has yet to be clinched.
The relationship with British Shipbuilders was raised at Question Time in the House last Thursday. I shall be able to deal with it at slightly greater length than on that occasion. First, in reply to the point made by my hon. Friend, it is not correct to say that no engine orders have been placed by British Shipbuilders with Harland and Wolff. Since vesting day the number has added up to 14, some of those being the slow speed engines that are of considerable work content and worth.
Generally in regard to the relationship between British Shipbuilders and Harland and Wolff, there is co-operation and liaison in a number of areas on the building of large ships and there are inquiries for a number of ships that require the joint resources of the two companies in order to meet customers' delivery requirements. There is free exchange of information in research and development and statistics.
With regard to engine building, it is worth pointing out that while Harland and Wolff has benefited from British Shipbuilders' orders, there has been no reciprocal arrangement. Those who would ask for more work to be transferred, although there is no power of direction on Government in any case, must bear in mind first that British Shipbuilders is also a commercial organisation and, secondly, that in engine building its work force has been cut substantially.
The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) referred to the youth training programme. There is no question of its being too little too late. We will put in £42 million in the coming financial year, which is a substantial sum of money by any reckoning. As for its being too late, we shall be one year ahead of what is happening in Great Britain. We can be proud of that as a Province, not just as a Government. It is a comprehensive scheme dealing with all 16-year-olds and by the second year all 17-yearolds who do not have employment. That will have an important impact on the quality, adaptability and suitability of our young people for work.
I for one do not subscribe to the view that the Northern Ireland economy is on the point of collapse. There is no doubt that there is a serious situation. No one can be 121 unmoved by our unemployment rate of nearly one in five and what that means for countless families throughout the Province.
The Government are putting substantial resources into industrial development. They are taking exceptional steps to look after the Province's young people. We welcome all suggestions on how to maximise our efforts within the resources available. I look forward to our debates in Committee and on the Floor of the House on the industrial development board and how that can contribute. We look for the support of all men of good will in the Province in our undoubted uphill task.
I commend the draft order to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1982, which was laid before this House on 16 February, be approved.