§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 23 June, be approved.The order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The purpose of the draft order is to authorise the issue of £1,483 million out of the Consolidated Fund of Northern Ireland and to appropriate this sum for the purposes shown in the schedule. Hon. Members will recall that sums on account amounting to £1,139 million have already been appropriated for 1983–84 by virtue of the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was approved by the House on 10 March. The House is being asked to approve the further sum of £1,483 million, which represents the balance of the 1983–84 main Estimates for Northern Ireland Departments and which brings the total main Estimates provision for the year to £2,622 million.
I should explain further, especially for the benefit of any hon. Members who may be unfamiliar with the draft orders, that when I refer to particular Votes in the Estimates, I shall be referring to the total sum being provided as detailed in the Estimates volume and not merely to the balance as shown in the draft order itself.
The main Estimates represent the detailed spending plans of Northern Ireland Departments for this financial year. The plans were set out in broad outline in the Northern Ireland section of the Government's public expenditure White Paper published in February, and in the statements of 14 December 1982 and 1 February this year by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Detailed information can be found in the Estimates volumes copies of which have been placed in the Vote Office. Hon. Members will note that the information contained in this year's main Estimates has been expanded as promised to give more informative details of the services being provided.
On behalf of my ministerial colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office and myself, I welcome any hon. Members who may be taking part in their first appropriation order debate, but especially these representing Northern Ireland constituencies, as the Estimates cover all the services of Northern Ireland Departments, this appropriation debate affords an opportunity for local matters to be raised, as well as many matters of broader concern affecting the Province.
The House is well aware that the Government's overall priority in Northern Ireland has been, and remains, the maintenance of law and order. The expenditure on that programme, however, falls to the Northern Ireland Office, whose Estimates are not included in this draft order and cannot be debated now. Expenditure on economic, social and environmental programmes in Northern Ireland is mainly the subject of the draft order before us. National policies are designed to provide a sound basis on which to generate economic improvement and sustained growth, and Northern Ireland operates within, and benefits from, this national strategy. We are continuing to give priority within those programmes to measures designed to promote viable, long-term new jobs and to maintain existing ones. To complete the ordering of priorities, we have selected housing as the third area of priority, making it the top 441 designation in the social and environmental areas. I shall say more about our efforts in those areas as I go through the major items in the draft order.
Agriculture is the largest single industry in Northern Ireland. Expenditure on agriculture, and on fisheries and forestry, is covered in Class I of the Northern Ireland Estimates, and total provision for this year amounts to some £63 million, which I stress is an amount quite separate from, and slightly less than, moneys flowing to Northern Ireland agriculture from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Vote. In addition, the House will recall that I announced in January last, when I had responsibility for Northern Ireland agriculture, an additional £12 million special aid to the industry in the current financial year to help those sectors in special need. The package was not finalised in time for inclusion in these Estimates and will be provided for in Supplementary Estimates. Pending approval of those Estimates, expenditure on the measures will he met by advances from the Northern Ireland civil contingencies fund.
The House should note that, together with support from Community funds applicable only to Northern Ireland agriculture within the United Kingdom, special aid in the current year will total some £30 million—about half of the £30 million special aid in 1983–84 will come from EC funds — against the £23–5 million of 1982–83 — a substantial increase. I am glad to say that this high level of special support has helped to restore confidence and greater financial security to most sectors of Northern Ireland agriculture.
Trade, industry and employment sera ices are covered by Class II of the Estimates. Much of this debate is likely to be about unemployment, and it is right that that should be so. Unemployment is the most intractable problem of our time, and has particularly been so in Northern Ireland.
The Government have never disguised the fact that bringing unemployment down would he an extremely difficult task, and so it has proved, but we are not alone in this difficulty. The deepest recession since the 1930s, major oil price rises and profound changes in industrial technology have all led to rapid rises in, unemployment throughout western Europe—and, we should add to that list, in the case of British industry, overmanning.
We believe that the rise in unemployment can be checked, but not by spending billions of pounds of borrowed or printed money, which would create only far higher unemployment in the long term. If the rise is to be checked, both here and throughout Europe, it can be done only by providing the right climate in which firms large and small can compete successfully, and by winning extra business to provide more jobs. That is the kernel of the Government's economic strategy to which we have steadfastly applied ourselves over the past four years. As we come out of recession, the signs of success are apparent.
In establishing the foundations for recovery, we have been particularly attentive to the needs o f areas such as Northern Ireland. The Government commitment to the Province is total. There is no withdrawal — political, psychological or economic. In our manifesto we promised to continue to give the support essential for the Province to overcome its economic difficulties. That we shall do, and the provisions in these Estimates reflect that commitment.
In our efforts to encourage investment in the Province, we have established incentives and support for industry 442 which are unrivalled in the rest of the United Kingdom. Details of the various incentives available, and the amounts provided for each, are to be found under Votes 1, 2 and 3 of Class II in the Estimates.
In March of this year, we introduced a series of new measures which strengthened the package of incentives even further. We introduced a tax incentive; we abolished the rates on industrial property; and we introduced new schemes to encourage improved efficiency in local industry. That constitutes a carefully balanced package which represents an excellent basis for encouraging future investment. The introduction of corporation tax relief grant has already stimulated increased interest among potential investors, and the abolition of rates has not only helped the cash flow of indigenous industry but allowed us to promote Northern Ireland as a place where business pays no local taxes.
Inevitably, it will take some time before the new measures begin to bear fruit in the form of significant new investment and new jobs. In the meantime, the Industrial Development Board will continue its efforts to promote employment in the Province. Hon. Members will be aware of the IDB's strategy document, which was published earlier in the year and which sets out its immediate objectives and targets. The board is energetically pursuing those objectives and encouraging and supporting local industry to the full, while continuing to seek investment from overseas. Special emphasis is being given to encouraging local companies to improve the design and marketing of their products.
On the small firms front, I want to mention the work of the local enterprise development nit. Since its formation in 1971, LEDU has, against a difficult economic and political climate, promoted over 15,500 jobs in the Province. The unit last year formulated a strategy for the next three years which, backed by some aggressive marketing and the whole range of Government measures dedicated to helping small businesses, has already increased the number of jobs promoted in the past year to 2,550. That represents the highest number of job promotions achieved in any year since the unit came into existence, and I expect to see even more commendable figures this year and in the future.
Perhaps I should say a word about Shorts. Hon. Members will welcome, as I do, the new orders received in the last month by Shorts for its new commuter aircraft, the SD360—a further sign that the company is well on its way to a secure and profitable future. Shorts holds a key place in the regional economic structure. Not only does it provide nearly 6,000 jobs through direct employment, but it is a major exporter.
There is also the technological role that Shorts plays in Northern Ireland. By developing a wide range of engineering skills, the company helps to ensure that there is a pool of skilled labour in the Province. Financial assistance to the company is based on the approved corporate plans, and this year it will amount to some £7—4 million. That is provided for under Class II, Vote 3 of the Estimates.
While we must continue to give priority to the development of viable jobs in the private enterprise sector, the need remains—and is likely to remain for some while — for shorter-term measures to help counter unemployment. The extent of the Government's concern to meet this need and to intensify the whole training effort is reflected in the £100 million made available in Class II, 443 Vote 5, dealing with the functioning of the labour market. Within that range of services, I should like to refer first to the action for community employment scheme, or ACE as it is more commonly known.
I believe that ACE has been outstandingly successful. It is benefiting the community in two ways—by the opportunity for the longer-term unemployed to return to useful work, and by the tangible benefits and amenities created under the guidance and through the involvement of local people. The scheme is expanding. Currently, more than 1,000 projects have been approved which account for more than 2,500 people, and a further 900-plus jobs are in the pipeline. We are well on the way to meeting the scheme's target of 4,000 jobs by next year. The cost of the scheme in 1983–84 is estimated to be £10.4 million.
Particular mention should be made of the youth training programme, which aims to give training and vocational preparation to all 16 and 17-year-olds who want to take advantage of it. Last year, we launched the programme, a year ahead of its full introduction in Great Britain. More than 7,000 16-year-olds took up the Government's guarantee of a year's vocational training, education and work experience, and a further 5,400 17-year-olds availed themselves of opportunities designed for them. In 1983–84, there is financial provision in the Estimates for almost 14,000 places in total for the various schemes which form the programme. Some £45 million is included in Class II, Vote 5, and a further £8 million is provided in the Department of Education's Class VIII.
Hon. Members will remember that the Department of Economic Development is concerned with the running of the youth training programme, in conjunction with the Department of Education. For young people who leave school and are unable to find a job, further education colleges provide some 3,500 full-time places and, in addition, offer more than 7,000 places to cater for the further education input to other schemes, all within the youth training programme. Secondly, for those young people who remain in full-time education, it is hoped to establish a project designed to improve the preparation of young people for the responsibilities of adulthood and to ease their transition from education to adult working life. Finally, through the youth service, support is being given to young people who have not joined, or who have left, the programme.
It has been a substantial task to get the programme off the ground, but it has been a rewarding one. I congratulate all those who have been involved in Government Departments and — to a very large extent — in the community. We must now build on the success achieved so far. I hope that improved publicity and presentation of the programme, together with the testimony of those young people who have experienced it, will encourage a full response in the years ahead. It is a major initiative to ensure that we have a work force fit to play its part in an economy where motivation, adaptability and flexibility will be necessary complements to specific skills.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
While we all subscribe to the objective of making the various schemes more effective in the interests of youngsters, there is scope for the Minister to consider interpreting many of the 444 conditions and restrictions in a more flexible manner. I am thinking especially of certain cut-off dates that cause a great deal of confusion and frustration.
§ Mr. Butler
I should be happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about that matter. We do not pretend that the scheme is perfect. We have a bare year's experience of it. I am sure that improvements can be made, and I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would put his various points to me so that we can talk around them.
The Government's positive commitment to that area of youth training is shown by the cost of the programme, which is about £1 million a week. In Northern Ireland terms, that is a significant sum, although well justified.
Class III in the Estimates relates to energy matters. Discussions with the Republic of Ireland on the terms under which natural gas from the Kinsale field could be made available to Northern Ireland have continued. It is my intention to meet Mr. Bruton, Minister for Industry and Energy in the Republic of Ireland, in the near future to conclude the negotiations one way or the other. To date, it has not been possible to secure from the Republic a price for the gas that would provide the basis for a viable industry in Northern Ireland. Among matters on which agreement in principle has been reached is that the delivery cost of the gas should be met partly by means of a capital contribution of £5 million toward expenditure incurred by the Republic of Ireland in constructing a pipeline to carry the gas to the border. Provision for that amount has been included in Vote I. But payment of that sum, together with other estimated expenditure upon the project will, of course, depend entirely upon a successful outcome to the negotiations.
The House will realise from what I have said that, at this moment, we are rather pessimistic.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
Did I hear the Minister say that the Government will give £5 million to the Republic for the construction of a pipeline?
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Gentleman heard me right to the extent that we have provided for a sum of £5 million in the Estimates. That sum was agreed in principle as long ago as May 1982 as a reasonable contribution from the United Kingdom towards the cost of bringing gas from Dublin to the border. It will form part of any total agreement that we may reach. As I have stressed, however, that £5 million will not be spent unless an agreement is reached.
I hope to publish a major energy discussion paper next week. The paper will contain much information not previously made available and we hope that it will stimulate a wide-ranging debate on all the important energy issues affecting Northern Ireland.
I shall deal next with the programmes of the Department of the Environment, starting first with the roads programme. The total net provision being sought for the roads service in Class IV of the Estimates is some £99 million. The bulk of that provision, about £70 million, is required for the operation, maintenance and new construction of roads and bridges. The remainder of the Estimate is needed to finance street lighting, car parking, the Strangford lough ferry service and other expenditure such as research and administration.
The road network in Northern Ireland generally is of a high standard and is such an important asset in the economic life and environment of Northern Ireland that it is clearly essential that it should not be allowed to 445 deteriorate. Our policy is therefore to give a high priority to essential maintenance and minor works. In view of the pressures on overall resources and in line with the policy on maintenance of roads, the £19 million proposed for major new construction works is a reasonable provision. Expenditure of that order will finance the completion of schemes now under construction, including the Foyle bridge, together with funds to allow a number of new schemes to be started.
Housing is dealt with under Class V in the Estimates. The Government have made clear the top priority that they give, among their social and environmental programmes, to tackling the serious housing conditions in Northern Ireland. Indeed, expenditure on housing has increased substantially in recent years. The present provision of more than £180 million provides evidence of the Government's determination to help the housing executive make inroads into the Province's lousing problems through a twin attack on unfitness and over-long waiting lists.
The target of contracts to be let this year is 4,500. Expenditure on new building should rise from the 1982–83 outturn of approximately £93 million to something over £100 million. The drive to improve the housing executive's present stock will also continue, but expenditure is expected to settle back from the peak of £69 million achieved last year to about £58 million as part of the process of achieving stable programmes.
Expenditure on house renovation grants will increase from £34 million in 1982–83 to about £40 million in 1983–84, but in spite of that, the demand for grants is now outstripping the available resources. As a result, the executive has had recently to introduce a priority system of granting approvals.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
When the Minister states that the housing executive has introduced a priority scheme, the natural meaning is that among the applications in the pipeline it exercises additional selection. The information reaching hon. Members rather suggests that the executive is simply allowing the time required for the approval of applications to lengthen, so that the queue is tailored to the available money. I wonder in which sense of priority the Minister was speaking. Would not it be desirable, if genuine priorities are not being applied, that something should be done to do that, rather than simply permitting delay to cut the coat according to the cloth?
§ Mr. Butler
My hon. Friend who hopes to reply to the debate can give a fuller answer than I can, because of his particular responsibilities. It would be advisable to leave the matter to him. However, having said that, as I have responsibility for the Department of Finance, the question of resources falls directly to me. We must judge whether the matter is of sufficient priority to improve the present position. Of course, I can give no commitment, but I undertake to examine the matter.
The allocation to the voluntary housing movement reaffirms the Government's commitment to that sector. The provision of some £38 million will enable expenditure on schemes for inner-city rehabilitation and provision for special needs such as those of the elderly and handicapped to be increased from £21 million in 1982–83 to £25 million in the current year. In addition, the allocation will, together with anticipated receipts from sales of equity, 446 enable expenditure by the Northern Ireland co-ownership housing association on its equity-sharing scheme to rise from £8.5 million in 1982–83 to £15 million in the current year.
The Government are confident that the impact of the housing strategy, including the considerable effort being made by the private sector, with starts last year being the best since 1973, will result in substantial improvements in Northern Ireland's housing conditions.
I shall now deal with other social programmes, beginning with education, libraries and arts, for which provision of more than £530 million is to be found under Class VIII in the Estimates. The Government continue to attach a high priority to the maintenance of an adequately trained teaching force to protect standards in the classroom and it is expected that the provision proposed for 1983–84 will enable the existing pupil-teacher ratios to be maintained.
It is very important, however, that the teaching resources being provided for the schools should be used as efficiently as possible. Total primary and secondary school enrolments have fallen overall by some 20,000 since their peak in 1976 and are expected to decline by a further 20,000 by the end of the decade. The Government will therefore continue to press the education and library boards and the voluntary school authorities to get on with the job of rationalising existing school stock because we are convinced that such rationalisation in Northern Ireland is essential.
Government policy on rationalisation of schools was examined in detail by the education committee of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the committee's report was approved by the Assembly and presented to the Secretary of State in March 1983. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in a statement to the Assembly on 3 May accepted certain recommendations which the committee had made, particularly in relation to the retention of small primary schools in border areas and the possibility of setting up an inquiry into the secondary school provision in Belfast. A number of other recommendations made in the report are still receiving consideration.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
What is the Minister doing to bring the average class size in Northern Ireland down to the average in the rest of the United Kingdom?
§ Mr. Butler
I understand that the pupil-teacher ratio in Northern Ireland compares unfavourably with that in Great Britain. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is concerned about that, but he has to work within the resources available to him.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the achievement of pupils in Northern Ireland compares very favourably with that of pupils in Great Britain?
§ Mr. Butler
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that. A number of comparisons have been made over the years and it seems that Northern Ireland pupils have done very well in academic achievement, as shown by the pass rate in the standard examinations. Indeed, that is a feature to which we draw the attention of those who would invest in the Province.
§ Mr. Soley
Is the Minister aware that those findings have recently been challenged by more up-to-date work? The surveys should be checked, as it is debatable whether 447 the earlier studies were correct. I do not say that they were wrong. We do not know at this stage, so it is certainly risky to say that standards in Northern Ireland are better.
§ Mr. Butler
If such statements are made on behalf of Northern Ireland, it is certainly important that they should be correct. I shall draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to the query raised by the hon. Gentleman. Nevertheless, I have seen several comparisons and I should not imagine that all were erroneous.
On higher education, one of the points to emerge from the Chilver report was the need for better arrangements for planning and co-ordination. That was fully endorsed in the Government's policy statement on the future structure of higher education in Northern Ireland which was published with that report in the spring of last year.
The Government look for two main benefits from improved planning and co-ordination arrangements—first, better use of resources, and secondly, but no less important, clarification of the distinctive roles of the two major institutions which will largely comprise the higher education system in Northern Ireland. The new institution which will subsume the new university and the polytechnic is an exciting and promising development which we believe could be of great potential benefit to Northern Ireland. Hon. Members will be glad to know that, despite a constitutional difficulty regarding the revocation of its charter, the new university of Ulster has reaffirmed its support for the merger. It is still intended that the new institution will admit its first students in 1984.
Finally, in the inevitable catalogue of expenditure in the various Departments and programmes, Class IX provides for health and personal social services. Here we seek a net sum of £579.2 million to maintain and enhance the provision of health and personal social services in Northern Ireland.
Of the total provision sought, £510 million is for the hospital, community health and personal social services and some centrally funded services. Just over £472 million is being provided to meet the revenue expenditure of the health and social service boards. That, together with the efficiency savings to which boards are committed, will enable them to keep pace with the needs of the ever-increasing numbers of the very elderly and with the costs of advances in medicine. The provision for capital expenditure will sustain the ongoing programme for the construction of new hospital and community facilities.
We are also seeking under Vote 2 provision for gross expenditure of some £104 million, most of which is in respect of the family practioner services provided by family doctors, dentists, chemist, and opticians. That expenditure is partly offset by receipts of some £35 million, mostly from national insurance contributions towards the cost of the Health Service.
Social security comes under Class X. Provision is sought for £470 million to cover non-contributory and family benefits. That comprises almost 47 per cent. of total expenditure on social security benefits, which is expected to amount to just over £1,000 million in the financial year. The remainder is paid directly from the Northern Ireland national insurance fund.
Hon. Members should be aware that in Vote 2 provision for supplementary benefits includes assistance with housing costs only up to November 1983. Legislation is 448 being laid before the House today for a reformed housing scheme, which the Government intend to introduce from November. The costs of the housing element of supplementary benefit will thereafter be subsumed in the provision to be made for the new scheme.
In Vote 3, provision for one-parent benefit, which supplements child benefit for lone parents, is separated from child benefit for the first time. These new measures continue the long-standing policy of maintaining the cash social security benefits in Northern Ireland in parity with their counterparts in Great Britain, forming in effect a common system for the administration of social security throughout the United Kingdom.
The provision of about £47 million in Classes XI and XII covers mainly a number of other public and common services, including central management of and accommodation services for the Northern Ireland Civil Service which are administered respectively by the Departments of Finance and Personnel and of the Environment. Class XI also includes provision for the expenditure of the Northern Ireland Assembly this year, which is estimated at £2.8 million.
The Assembly was elected last October and is carrying out its consultative and deliberative functions effectively and conscientiously. The work that it has completed is impressive and includes considering and reporting on draft Orders in Council, statutory rules and Government discussion papers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has twice addressed plenary sessions of the Assembly and other Ministers have spoken on seven occasions. Ministers have met their relevant Committees on a greater number of occasions. The Committees have, in addition, received written and oral evidence from a wide range of interested groups and have made fact-finding visits to several locations in Northern Ireland and, on one occasion, to Great Britain.
In the most recent Committee work, the Government are most grateful for the work that the Assembly's scrutiny Committees have put into consideration of public expenditure priorities. The report of the Finance and Personnel Committee, which the Assembly has just endorsed, is a most constructive contribution to work in this area. Ministers will be studying the report in detail and will give due consideration to the recommendations as we move into the final stages of the 1983 public expenditure survey.
All this work is of value and the Government hope that, in time, the elected representatives of all the constitutional parties will come together to seek agreement on devolution to the Assembly.
§ Mr. Butler
My expression was that the Government hoped that, in time, all the elected representatives would come together. That is our very strong hope.
The economic problems of Northern Ireland are horrendous, but they are certainly not insurmountable. It is a matter for considerable satisfaction and due to the general good sense of the people of Northern Ireland and the basic stability of society there that those economic problems have not produced great social tensions, unrest and strains in community and family life.
Nevertheless, there is an inter-relationship among economic, social, political and security matters in the Province. Ministers remain persuaded that gains must be 449 achieved on all those fronts if lasting progress is to be made overall. The solution lies with the Northern Ireland people, but they cannot succeed without the support and encouragement of the Government or, indeed, the House and the British people as a whole. However, that support and encouragement on the Government's part is massive and sincere. The draft order demonstrates the extent of that support, both economically and socially. Therefore, I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)
I welcome the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Chris Patten) to the Government Front Bench. We shall miss his colleague the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Chris Patten), who has moved on. The Government Front Bench of Northern Ireland Ministers is beginning to look like a haven for liberal Conservatives, with the exception of the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler). There is an element of Custer's last stand about them as they gather together to protect themselves after the dismissal of the former Foreign Secretary. They must lock out, particularly after the statement on public expenditure by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because presumably it will have an effect on Northern Ireland.
I welcome also the new Unionist party Members, who are here in force today.
I note that public expenditure in Northern Ireland is up by about 2.1 per cent. in real terms over the previous year, compared with the United Kingdom's 0.8 per cent.
As I have told the Minister in interventions and so on, that says something very interesting about Government policy. If increased public expenditure it. Northern Ireland is in some way good, why is not a similar increase appropriate in this country? That signifies the difference in approach between the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his Cabinet colleagues. The Secretary of State knows that there is a need, if we are to get Northern Ireland back to work, to increase public expenditure in certain key areas over and above the present level. Northern Ireland Members know that as well.
The optimistic forecasts issued recently by the Northern Ireland CBI and general Government statements have shown that there is a recovery. I hope desperately that there is, but the evidence is not very convincing. The evidence is that we are still bouncing along on the bottom of a recession.
The Minister is taking it too far when he claims that Great Britain is suffering the same as the rest of the western world. There is truth in that statement, but we know that Great Britain entered the recession earlier, went in deeper and stayed in longer than any other western power—and we managed to achieve that remarkable record when were self-sufficient in oil. That is an appalling record, and everyone in this country and in western Europe knows it.
The trade unions in Ulster think that the survey conducted by the Northern Ireland CBI is appropriate, but they recognise that no fewer than two thirds of the companies polled said that there was no significant change. Industrial production in Northern Ireland is 20 per cent. lower than in 1979, and in the first half of 1982, after another supposed recovery, was at its lowest level since 1967. Hon. Members and the public generally may recall that in 1981 the Government were saying that we were on the way to a recovery, but it did not come then. What was 450 happening was another little upturn along the bottom of the recession. No major effort by Government policy was being made to take account of that recession.
The Northern Ireland Economic Council said that a reversal in the growth of unemployment was unlikely before 1984. It reported a fall of 4.1 per cent. in manufacturing output in the third quarter of 1982. It has to be said, and I have said it before, that when various paramilitary groups set out to undermine the Northern Ireland economy, they need do no more than vote for the Government's policies. The Government's policies have done more to devastate the manufacturing base, and above all, manufacturing investment in this country and Northern Ireland than any activity by any or all of the paramilitary groups. There is no excuse for the Government on that.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
As this is the first debate of this Parliament on Northern Ireland, I must reject that statement utterly.
§ Mr. Soley
I welcome the Minister rejecting it, but if he does he had better give some evidence. We know what is happening to the unemployment rate, to the rate of investment in manufacturing industry, and to industrial production. I defy the Minister to come to the House, either now or at any other time, with figures that disprove my statement. I shall give way willingly if he wishes to answer now or later.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the Government's policies, which combine the incentives available to Northern Ireland, are a greater obstacle to investment in the Province than the image created by terrorist activity?
§ Mr. Soley
I say that they are. The figures that support that are those on investment, which are abysmal. There is no way in which they were being hit as badly as this before 1979 when the Conservative Government took office on the basis of monetarist policies which were carried out in such an excessive, absurd, and extreme manner that they devastated the economic face of this country and Northern Ireland. The Minister knows that. The figures are there to be studied.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Chris Patten)
The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He started by commending the Government for the increase in public expenditure in Northern Ireland. He cannot now turn round and accuse us of having devastated the economy.
§ Mr. Soley
I was not commending the increase. I was commending the liberal wing of the Tory party in Northern Ireland — it has given some protection to public expenditure in Northern Ireland—but in commending it, I was pointing out that it was defending the idea that, sensibly used, public expenditure could reboost the economy. It is what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends in Northern Ireland know, but they are not getting their way in the Cabinet for the rest of the country. Indeed, they are not even getting their way for Northern Ireland, because I shall touch on those areas where public expenditure cuts have been devastating for the Province. The groups most badly hit are the unemployed, the unskilled, the young and the middle aged, particularly those who have been made redundant. Redundancy is a major source of unemployment.
451 Another figure which the Minister should have taken into account when he challenged me in the way that he did a few moments ago is that the measure of the horror of the economic position in Northern Ireland is to be seen in the ratio of unemployed to job vacancies, which is more than double the nearest equivalent on the mainland. It is about 113:1. The nearest equivalent on the mainland is 49:1 to one in the West Midlands. It is a pointer to economic activity and has been referred to in recent reports. I am sure that the Minister is as aware of that fact as I am. Long-term unemployment is increasing. There are 10 per cent. more long-term unemployed — those who have been unemployed for more than a year—than there were in 1979. It is another figure which could not have been created by any of the other problems faced by Northern Ireland, but is down to Government policy.
I want to deal with the way in which unemployment hits the two groups in Northern Ireland. I agree with the Minister's wish to give a full commitment to the people of Northern Ireland, and it must be given to both the minority and the majority communities. It is important to recognise I accept that many on the Government Benches do—that the minority community is being hit much harder by the economic slump than the majority community. That does not make it any easier for the majority community. A Protestant or Unionist finds it no better or worse than a nationalist or Catholic if he is unemployed or on a low income. However, the statistics have been staring us in the face for years and were available long before the present troubles broke out, and they need to be challenged.
According to the 1981 census figures, 11 of the wards with Catholic majorities in north and west Belfast have unemployment rates that are double those of the other wards in Belfast. In eight of the largest Catholic districts outside Belfast the male unemployment rate has been shown to be 30 per cent. compared with 20 per cent. for Northern Ireland as a whole. Although the Government are moving towards a sort of equality of misery by visiting on the majority community some of the sins that were previously visited mainly on the minority community, it is still clear that the Catholics suffer more severely than the Protestants. The Government must react to that if their claim to want to stand up for the political and economic welfare of the people of Northern Ireland is to be taken seriously by the minority community.
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the major employers who have recently departed from Northern Ireland were situated in predominantly Protestant areas, where there has been peace and stability and where the community has managed to preserve work for its children? In contrast, much of the unemployment in other areas has been created because of the terrorist activity that is inflicted on the terrorists' own supporters.
§ Mr. Soley
I go some way towards agreeing with the first part of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. It is clear, as I have said, that pressure has been put on the majority community as a result of the Government's policies. Most of the big companies that have left the Province—many of which had been attracted by the special grants and favours introduced by the previous Labour Government—were formerly situated mainly in majority areas. That 452 is true, but it should be understood that it is the result of Government policy. I do not accept that most of the firms that left minority areas did so primarily because of paramilitary activity.
There is plenty of evidence to show that some employers left Catholic or Protestant areas because of para-military activity. There is also plenty of evidence to show that investment has not been made in the Province because of such activity. However, all the figures support the view that the main cause of Northern Ireland's recent troubles is the Government's economic policy. It is significant that several economists and recent reports have suggested that in the next four or five years the position will not get significantly better in Britain and that, above all, the peripheral areas will be hit. We all know what that means to Northern Ireland, and for both communities.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that those large industries were brought to Northern Ireland, not by the Labour or Conservative Governments, but by the Stormont Government. That is particularly true of the Carrickfergus area, where Courtaulds and ICI were situated. Those large employers came to Northern Ireland as a result of the initiative taken by the old Stormont Government.
§ Mr. Soley
I am prepared to concede that Stormont brought some of the firms to Northern Ireland. However, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Labour Government were also responsible for encouraging many firms to go there. Indeed, he cannot reasonably deny that.
It is not just the efforts of the Fair Employment Agency that are important. The Government must take innovative economic steps to do something about the greater areas of poverty in Northern Ireland. I am not too fussed whether that is done through individual groups, local authorities or through the local enterprise development unit. All the evidence is that both LEDU, for which I have great respect, and the Industrial Development Board have been quite successful recently in creating a significant number of jobs. I welcome that, just as I particularly welcome the growth of small businesses, which has also created jobs. Perhaps the Government should be more innovative in making money available to them, while allowing for adequate safeguards. I recognise that there are problems with that, and that the accounting operation necessary to ensure that money is used appropriately is also important. That is important for both communities. The 1981 census figures show that it is desperately important for the areas that I have mentioned.
I say, in particular, to Unionist Members that the young unemployed are ready converts to paramilitary propaganda. That is true whether the paramilitary organisation is Unionist or nationalist. Young people can easily be drawn into such activities. The Minister is up against his Government's policy when it comes to unemployment. I should like to see an expansion of the construction industry, as that is one of the quickest ways of soaking up unskilled labour without sucking in imports. Indeed, it is the most important way of achieving that. I welcome the fact that housing is doing moderately well, although not as well as I should like. However, I recognise that there have been improvements. Other areas in the construction industry could be expanded sensibly with public money, and without sucking in imports or causing 453 any of the problems that arise if large tax handouts are given to the well-off. At the same time, that would give work to the unskilled.
The Northern Ireland Economic Council commented on the Government's public expenditure plans for 1983–84 and said that the increase wasinadequate to deal with the problems of a growing population of working age in times of declining employment opportunities…Some radical and substantial economic measures will be required if the Northern Ireland economy is to move to a more normal situation over the next few years.I wholeheartedly agree with that and would relate it to the comments that I have made about the need to be innovative, particularly by using the local authorities, small groups, LEDU and so on. I strongly commend that to the Minister.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I think that the hon. Gentleman has twice mentioned local authorities in this context. Do I understand that it is his view, and that of his party, that the powers and functions of local authorities in Northern Ireland should be increased to enable them to do such serious work? If so, the hon. Gentleman has made a very important point, which would be very much echoed by those on this Bench.
§ Mr. Soley
I do not want to give a categoric assurance that I would want to do that. However, the initiatives and above all the identification of the areas could come from local authorities and if the Labour party was in government it would be willing to consider them. I can go no further than that. Often those best equipped to spot growth areas are in the local community.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
The hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will realise that most local authorities have set up their own development organisations, which are generally doing an extremely useful job and are bringing that local talent to bear.
§ Mr. Soley
Of course, that plan will not work unless resources are made available. That means that the Government must put their money where their mouth is and must also provide the necessary safeguards.
When the Northern Ireland Economic Council refers to "returning to normal", it is really talking about returning to the time when the Labour party left office. That is what the council is saying, in effect. That is relative normality —[Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but their constituents, who are now suffering much higher levels of unemployment and are having to resort much more to social security, will not be laughing for one moment. The Government's policy has been hitting the poor particularly hard, while helping the better off. Poverty in Northern Ireland is desperately serious. It often seems to be thought that compulsory debt collection is needed because of an unwillingness to pay, but it is becoming overwhelmingly clear that the debts stem from an inability to pay. That is true of both communities.
The Government admit that they have a problem in reducing public expenditure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, by his statement today, is trying again to reduce public expenditure. It is worth asking why, when the Government have set out to cut public expenditure, they have been so abysmally unsuccessful. They have made local authorities cut public expenditure. It is a classic case of, "Do not do what we do. Do what we tell you." 454 They have made local authorities throughout the United Kingdom cut public expenditure, but they have not managed to cut their own. The reason is, and always has been, mass unemployment. Not only does the amount paid out in supplementary benefit, unemployment benefit and so on increase at times of mass unemployment, but tax revenues and the ability to create wealth are lost.
In 1982, 800,000 people in Northern Ireland were claiming social security benefits. That is a devastating figure. The purchasing power of those dependent on social security has fallen. In 1982 it was estimated that the net reduction varied from £13 per annum for the average family on supplementary benefit to about £288 per annum for a family dependent on sickness benefit. I thank the Northern Ireland poverty lobby for those figures, which need to be widely publicised.
The social security order which followed from the Social Security (No. 2) Act 1980 reduced discretionary payments. It was presented as a "rationalisation" measure—one of the nice words used to cover up what is in effect, a serious cut—which would make things more efficient. It restricted payments on clothing, food and other items. Yet we know that costs in Northern Ireland are on average higher than on the mainland. For fuel, light and power, the average expenditure per week over and above the norm for Britain is considered to be £4.40 per week. For food, the additional expenditure required in Northern Ireland for a family is thought to be around £2.59. For clothing and footwear, the figure is £2.27. That is why I draw attention to the issue of debt collection by force. We are asking people to live on impossibly low incomes when we know—the Government accept this point—that the cost of living in those key areas is very much higher in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
The hon. Gentleman referred to the recent change in the structure of the supplementary benefit regulations. He is right to say that there was considerable anxiety about whether they would have an impact on the practical handling of applicants by the social security office. I thought that the hon. Gentleman might be interested and pleased to know from someone who, like his colleagues, has a large case load of constituents who are wholly or partly dependent on supplementary benefit, including special payments, that there has been no evidence perceptible in that case load of any change—certainly any deterioration—since the change in those regulations. I say that because it is a point of which one is very much aware and therefore one has been looking out for it. That has been my experience and I have not heard to the contrary from colleagues.
§ Mr. Soley
As I am not a Member for Northern Ireland, it is difficult for me to measure that, but I am glad to hear it from the right hon. Gentleman.
I should like the Minister to discuss these problems with the Northern Ireland poverty lobby. It has put forward a strong and powerful case. The problem applies not only to the unemployed, but to those on low incomes. We know that the number of people in Northern Ireland on low incomes is extremely high—much higher comparatively than in the rest of the United Kingdom. This matter should be discussed with the Northern Ireland poverty group. Another problem is that more and more of those receiving family income supplement in Northern Ireland are now paying tax, despite the fact that they are low paid.
455 If the Minister could discuss those problems with the Northern Ireland poverty lobby, it might at least help to identify the difficulties, although I do not see much chance of the Government doing an about — turn on their disastrous economic policies simply on the recommendation of the Northern Ireland poverty lobby. However, discussions might at least help to identify the problems.
Education is linked to unemployment. Good pre-school and school experience helps one's general skills and therefore one's chance of obtaining work and coping in society. Education also helps post-school opportunities. The Minister's comments on education were worrying, because he is telling those responsible for education in Northern Ireland to rationalise their schools — I understand that when population changes take place the problem of rationalisation arises — but classes in Northern Ireland are larger than in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) mentioned comparable studies, but the report of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts shows that the comparison is not fair. If I remember correctly, the top 20 per cent. were compared, but the remaining 80 per cent. were performing less well than their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom. That report should be studied carefully, and that is why I ask the Minister to study it.
It is also true that under the present Government there has been an 8 per cent. fall in spending on education since 1979. The Minister began his speech by saying that mass unemployment is not the fault of Government, that it is the fault of the world slump and the changing technologies, but nothing could be more desperately stupid than to reduce expenditure on education when we face rapidly changing technology. The Government should be doing the opposite. Adult education and school and pre-school years matter so much. I hope that that 8 per cent. cut will be rectified.
I conclude with another request drawn from the Select Committee's report on further and higher education in Northern Ireland. The Committee made a special plea, and I am not disinterested in this matter. Many years ago I applied to go to Ruskin college and had the honourable distinction to be turned down, as with most of the other places to which I applied at that time. The Committee recommended Government funding for the Ulster People's college, which is similar to Ruskin college, and further action on cross-border collaboration. It said:We recommend that the Governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic give further proposals on such educational co-operation their fullest support, and we urge them to encourage the widest possible consultations between those concerned in order to build on what has been achieved.I wholeheartedly support that. I have said many times from the Dispatch Box that the economic and political problems of Northern Ireland will not be fully resolved until the border becomes irrelevant. That border will become increasingly irrelevant.
§ Mr. Soley
The way forward, which can benefit the community at the same time, is to make links between the North and the South which are helpful to the whole community. All hon. Members know that to be the case, 456 but few will say so. At the end of the day, when orders are coming in from the South—I was interested to hear about the Government's willingness in certain circumstances to pay £5 million to the Government of the Republic; that is a good idea — if that is the way forward, we should go down that road and encourage it in every way possible.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Surely after the catalogue of the need for money that the hon. Gentleman has given—I go along with many of the things he said—this is no time to suggest that an elaborate college should be built in Londonderry and that the majority of people attending it should come from the Republic. We do not have enough money for primary schools in north Antrim. How can we supply free education for the people of the Republic?
§ Mr. Soley
Unlike the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. I. Paisley) I am looking for a two-way flow and expect to get it.
The position in Northern Ireland is desperate. The Government continue to say that and the Minister has said it time and again. I am still not convinced that the policy the Government are pursuing is meeting the needs of Northern Ireland, not because they do not wish to, but because their policy is irrelevant to the needs of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
When moving the order, the Minister of State said that the Government's commitment was total. Certainly that description could be applied to the ministerial team which, on occasions such as this, we greet on the Treasury Bench. It is perhaps not inappropriate to refer at the outset to some of the changes which have taken place in that team and in the allocation of its duties.
The total number of Northern Ireland Ministers has been reduced from five to four, and we cannot reasonably complain of that against the scale of ministerial commitment to the rest of the United Kingdom, with the proviso—to which I shall come in more detail later—that the Province does not enjoy the same system of local government as does the rest of the United Kingdom.
There has also been a certain reallocation of duties which is perhaps not entirely advantageous for hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. Formerly, law and order and the security services, so far as they are within the compass of the Northern Ireland Office at all, were dealt with by a noble Lord in another place. Those have come back to this House and, to that extent, we are in a better position. But we have made an exchange to secure that—at least, an exchange has been associated with that—in that we have lost the subject of agriculture from this Chamber.
As one who has caused considerable trouble, not begrudged, to the Minister of State on matters of drainage and the like, I shall have to accustom myself to looking higher and further for the assistance which I have been accustomed to receiving from him. It is indeed a deprivation for hon. Members representing Northern Ireland not to have in this House on the subject of agriculture, of all possible subjects, a ministerial representative. To that extent—I think that my hon. Friends would agree with me on this—the reallocation of duties has not been wholly advantageous compared with the situation before.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
There is always a difficulty in that regard, and I acknowledge it. If one accepts, as I think one must, that there should be in the ministerial team one member from the other place, there is then the question of fitting the abilities and experience of the person concerned to the job. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman—this is something for which agriculture can be grateful—that the industry now has, for the first time for a number of years, a Minister who can devote all his time to that industry.
§ Mr. Powell
I appreciate that point and we shall see what develops. I shall not be reluctant to engage the attention of the noble Lord after I have succeeded in initially making his acquaintance.
Meanwhile, this afternoon we welcome a new member of the team. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Chris Patten), certainly does not owe his presence on that Bench to the fact that he is the statutory Roman Catholic, it having been a custom that one of the Northern Ireland Office Ministers should be a Roman Catholic; a custom due to the typically English mistake of confusing the Cismontane Roman Catholics of Great Britain with the Transmontane Roman Catholics of the island of Ireland—I think I see the hon. Member for Bath assenting to that. His presence is no doubt owed to his own merits and talents and to his being a rising hope of the Conservative party and of this House.
We wish the hon. Gentleman well in the impossible task he has undertaken. I hope that he will regard it as no derogation from that expression of good will when I tell him that it is the ambition of my hon. Friends and myself to give him a nervous breakdown at the earliest possible time. [Interruption.] The mere fact that we failed with the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. John Patten) in circumstances which, I shall shortly show, were somewhate different does not discourage us from trying with the hon. Member of Bath.
In being given the portfolio of health and social security as well as that of the environment, the hon. Member for Bath has really been given an impossible task, however much it is true that any ministerial task accommodates itself to the time and energies available for performing it. It is impossible because it must be conducted in the absence of what is vital to completing it successfully; namely, the existence of an effective system of local government. In the rest of the kingdom, local government plays its part in the health and social services, but, even more, it has the lion's share of responsibility for the environmental services.
The hon. Member for Bath will find that he must deal with, and be responsible to Parliament for, an enormous range of matters which should not come within the purview of any Whitehall Minister and which should not engage the responsibility and attention of a Member of Parliament. He will discover, if the files are shown to him—this is not the first time I have given this example — that he will be responsible for the kerbstones, for the quality and material of the kerbstones, in the towns in my constituency, and that if a light standard anywhere is not shedding its illumination the responsibility will lie, through him, with this House.
That is an absurd and intolerable state of affairs, one which the Government have for too long been reluctant to remedy. Thus, the hon. Gentleman must take with our good wishes the warning that we shall place on him a literally intolerable burden and that we shall do so with no 458 compunction, as it is a burden which should be borne not by a Minister in this House but, as is the case in the rest of the United Kingdom, by elected local authorities which discharge the environmental and other services for those whom they represent, and through the financial system are responsible to their constituents as ratepayers.
The new Minister, like his colleagues, approaches the debate with a substantial brief, but there is one question to which he will not find the answer in it. Yet it is the most important question raised by the whole of this debate. That question is why we are having the debate at all—why, three times a year, this House spends the greater part of a day approving an appropriation order for Northern Ireland when it does that for no other part of the United Kingdom.
The brief, if it existed and if it were candid—I exclude both those hypotheses—would say that this was not something wished on the House by the managers of Government business or the Patronage Secretary. It would say that it was not the general desire of the House to dedicate the greater part of three days in a parliamentary year to considering for Northern Ireland matters which they consider for the whole of the rest of the United Kingdom by different procedures.
The brief would point out how this arises from the fact that there is a Consolidated Fund for Northern Ireland, so that those Consolidated Fund procedures, which form the structure of financial control—a great deal of the total control which this House exercises over the Administration — are aborted in the case of Northern Ireland, because the payments are made into and out of a completely separate Consolidated Fund.
I shall quote what I said about this during the debate on 10 March as evidence that this matter is not being raised for the first time—it is not being raised for the last time either, unless the point is taken. On 10 March I said—I cannot improve upon the formulation—It is part of the operation of maintaining, as far as possible, a separation between the rest of the kingdom and a province which, financially, politically and economically, is an integral part of the United Kingdom. That is why these triennial charades are conducted, however we Northern Ireland Members may try to make the best we can of them in the interests of our constituents and the good administration of the Province."—[Official Report, 10 March 1983; Vol. 38, c. 980.]
§ Mr. Soley
Does the right hon. Gentleman conclude from his oft-repeated approach that no British Government and no British political party since the 1920s has ever treated Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom in the normal way, that the present Government show no sign of doing so, and that it might be better to work towards a united Ireland so that he may use his skills in an all-Ireland Parliament?
§ Mr. Powell
My conclusion is different from that of the hon. Gentleman, although the substance of the rest of his remarks is correct. I was about to make the same point at somewhat greater length.
The underlying truth about Northern Ireland is that for decades—certainly for 60 years or more—it has been the perception of at any rate part of the British state that it has a supreme interest in the whole of the island of Ireland being available for the strategic interests of the United kingdom and its allies, and that whatever price it is necessary to pay for that should, if it can be so contrived, be paid.
459 The price to be paid—this there was no difficulty in ascertaining—was the transfer or surrender of Northern Ireland to some form of all-Ireland state, a form that has classically been conceived as a federal state in which in some way Northern Ireland would be embodied but within which it would have some autonomy.
To keep open the way to achieve that purpose has been the governing factor in all that the United Kingdom Government have done towards Northern Ireland since the 1920s. It was the governing thought which underlay the structure of the Government of Ireland Act 1920. It was the governing thought which explains the paradox of destroying the Government and Parliament of Northern Ireland in 1972 and promptly attempting to replace it with a new devolved structure, albeit an unworkable one. It is also the reason why we are having this debate.
The rule has been never to allow Northern Ireland to cease to be separate from the rest of the United Kingom. The thought has been that if Northern Ireland can be kept institutionally separate, if its institutional separation can be increased, the opportunity will arise and the time will come sooner or later when it can be shuffled off to where the majority of the inhabitants of Northern Ireland are determined it never shall be shuffled off, into some form of federal state that will unlock the strategic interests seen as being locked up in the island of Ireland.
That is the brief which, if it were comprehensive and sincere, would be provided to a new Northern Ireland Minister in case he were once again to be asked the key question, "Why is this debate taking place?" The answer would be that the fiction—it is a fiction—of a Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund is maintained precisely so that Northern Ireland will not participate in the constitutional financial procedures of the rest of the United Kingdom, so that it shall be perceived by all concerned to be distinct and to be maintained in a condition in which it can be totally separated with the minimum difficulty and inconvenience when the time for the consumation should come.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
Now that the right hon. Gentleman has been joined on the Benches which he and his party occupy by many more Northern Ireland Members following the general election—his party did very well in the election—may I ask whether he is expressing a personal view, which we have come to know very well, or the policy of his party, which is the purist policy of total integration?
§ Mr. Powell
I shall answer the Minister in the most effective manner possible. We said when we stood for election that we would get rid of direct rule and that everything that we did in this place would be directed to that end. We said that we would get rid of it because of its consequences for the people of the Province, because of the constant uncertainty that it maintains and because of the constant vision which it holds out that ultimately there will no longer be "total commitment" to Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. Direct rule in all its aspects is a denial of the total commitment of the United Kingdom to Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. We came here to put an end to direct rule, to proclaim that that is our intention, and as the farce continues of pretending that the finances of Northern Ireland are separate and should be dealt with separately from the finances and the economy of the rest of the United 460 Kingdom, we shall vote against the order. It is our expression of our rejection of the charade that maintains the artificial separation and of the consequences and the intentions that lie behind it. In that, the most effective way possible, I answer the Minister's question.
§ Mr. Butler
I do not want unnecessarily to prolong the debate. However, the right hon. Gentleman did not answer my question completely. I am fully aware of his party's wish for direct rule, but that is only part of the answer. Am I right in thinking that his integrationist policy is not one that sees any future for a Stormont in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Powell
We shall vote tonight to get rid of the Consolidated Fund for Northern Ireland. Is that plain enough? That is what we are voting against. We are voting against the isolation of Northern Ireland from the financial management and financial procedures of the rest of the United Kingdom. That is what the debate is about; that is what the vote will be about. As when we opposed the renewal of direct rule at the end of the last Parliament, so now we vote against the condition of uncertainty—the equivocal twilight position—in which an integral part of the United Kingdom, for so it is officially described, is maintained by an order such as this.
If anyone were to say that in voting against the order we are voting against the expenditures and the purposes outlined in the order—[Interruption.] I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bath, will not make so silly or captious a point in his reply—I would remind the House that since my remarks on 10 March there has been a report from the Select Committee on Procedure (Finance), which drew attention to what it called the "anomalous situation" that is represented by these appropriation orders. It observed that all the moneys are dealt with and controlled by the House in other ways. If the appropriation orders were not passed, the moneys which go through the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund would still be available. The Minister will find that set out in detail in paragraph 76 of the Select Committee's report.
We are voting not against the substance, for the substance is that which makes Northern Ireland an essential part of the economy and finances of the United Kingdom, but against the charade which encases Northern Ireland in a separate formula and which results in debates taking place on Northern Ireland which, if they took place in respect of any other similar part of the United Kingdom, would attract as little notice and attention in the Chamber and would be regarded, as these debates no doubt are regarded by the rest of the House, as a matter that does not concern the rest.
Things are moving forward. The Select Committee has now drawn attention to the fact that this is an anomalous result of the maintenance of the fiction of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. The Committee said:there may be reasons unconnected with the control of expenditure why the fictional Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund is still maintained in existence.Indeed there are reasons. They are the reasons which I have given to the House. They are the reasons for which, at bottom, we shall vote against the order. They are the reasons for which, in the Province, is prolonged the destruction and loss of life; for ultimately—have said this to the House again and again—it is in the House, in its determination not to treat Northern Ireland as what Northern Ireland in fact is and in the lesson drawn from that by the enemies of the Province, that the ultimate guilt 461 and responsibility lie for the destruction that is wreaked and the lives that are destroyed in Ulster by those who believe, like the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley)—although he is not a party to the methods—that by one way or another the same purpose will be achieved.
§ Mr. Soley
The right hon. Gentleman must accept the opposite, which is that the Unionist party, by its method of rule over the years, has been equally, if not more, guilty. We both agree that the real problem is that the House has not faced up to the problem of deciding whether Northern Ireland is or is not part of the United Kingdom. On that we agree. But the right hon. Gentleman should not fool himself into thinking that, even if suddenly the House decided to treat Northern Ireland as if it were part of the United Kingdom, the troubles would suddenly go away. My guess is that they would not. I regret that as bitterly and deeply as the right hon. Gentleman does.
§ Mr. Powell
At least it is an experiment which has never been tried. Almost everything else has been tried with Northern Ireland. Sincerity towards Northern Ireland, actions which accord with the words of Government and Parliament—that is something that has not been tried. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that one can jog back over the years and see how at each stage it was the ambiguity of Her Majesty's Government which lay at the root of so many difficulties attributed to those who were but inferior and minor actors on stage.
Nevertheless, as I said in March, we do the best we can with the time which, to the inconvenience of the House and with results which on a higher plane are not beneficial to the Province, is placed at our disposal. In that we are assisted by the fact—we are grateful for it—that the Comptroller and Auditor-General (NI)'s reports to the Public Accounts Committee are examined by the Public Accounts Committee and that the House receives reports accordingly from that Committee. It would be wrong for a major appropriation order debate to go by without a reference to the tremendous amount of work done by the Comptroller and Auditor-General and to the fact—this is a respect in which Northern Ireland is treated like any other part of the United Kingdom—that the Public Accounts Committee directs its attention to those findings as it would to findings elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Studying the report most recently to hand—the ninth report of the Public Accounts Committee, which was sent to be printed in April this year—I see two points, closely interconnected, which stand out and which ought to be put on the record; for I am sure that you will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that nothing that goes into a report is ultimately of value unless it can be utilised in debate in the House and put on record here, where the ultimate power lies.
I should like to isolate some remarks made by the Committee about Foyle bridge, which I do with the knowledge and agreement of my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross), though he no longer represents Foyle bridge. The Committee said:we consider that it is inequitable that fees for work done by consultants several years earlier should be based on current costs which have substantially increased because of inflation in the intervening period. We are concerned that the Department would enter new agreements for similar projects on the same terms as that for the Foyle bridge. We recommend that the existing practice should be reviewed with the intention of ensuring that where design work extends over a number of years the fees paid to consultants are more closely related to the costs they incur when doing the work.462 I hope that the Minister will tell us when the debate concludes that that recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee will be heeded by the Northern Ireland Office. This is not the first time that these reports have presented us with news of the most staggering figures paid to consultants for projects, many of which proved to be abortive or which had to be entirely redrawn before they were carried into effect. One remembers reading those figures with incredulity. I hope that that recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee will ensure that we see little more of that in future.
The second point, which in a way is not quite separate from the first, relates to the employment of training consultants by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I do not know if I am the only one whose hackles are raised by the word "consultant": I am always somewhat on my guard when I meet a consultant in this or a consultant in that. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive went in heavily for training consultants presumably on the assumption that, if one goes in for training, one goes in for training consultants. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive went in up to its neck, with the result that the Public Accounts Committee stated:We deplore the almost total absence, over several years, of adequate controls on the employment of training consultants, for which the Executive must bear the major responsibility, although we cannot escape the conclusion that the Department's monitoring of this aspect of the Executive's activities was less than adequate.There again, I hope that we shall have an assurance that all that has been taken well and truly on board by the Department and that we shall not find it repeated in any subsequent reports with which we may be concerned.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
Before my right hon. Friend gets too far away from the subject of the Foyle bridge, would it not be wise to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that when the Public Accounts Committee was investigating the matter it became clear that the bridge would not be needed until at least 1996 on the present projections of traffic growth? Will my right hon. Friend suggest to the Minister that we should evaluate such projects more carefully in future?
§ Mr. Powell
My hon. Friend has assisted my argument by drawing attention to the fact that this was indeed one of those cases where many highly paid, upgraded, scaled-up fees were paid to consultants for work that a policy decision at an earlier stage would have ensured should not have been done. I am grateful for my hon. Friend's reinforcement, and I hope that this matter will be dealt with positively in the winding-up speech.
I shall now deal with two matters that have been raised on more than one occasion in preceding appropriation order debates. One is the devastation of the motor trade in Northern Ireland by imports from the Irish Republic of motors assembled there, but of which there was too much reason to doubt that they met with the requirements that would have to be met if those vehicles had been manufactured in the United Kingdom. On several occasions we pressed upon the predecessor of the hon. Member for Bath the importance, first, of having the construction and use regulations properly enforced in Northern Ireland and, secondly, of having type approval regulations in Northern Ireland on all fours with those in Great Britain.
We are now informed by the motor trade in Northern Ireland that there has been, as a result in part of the 463 vigilance of the Department and the enforcement of the construction and use regulations, a considerable diminution of this threat to the motor trade in the Province. Unfortunately, a new threat has arisen in the form of new regulations made in Great Britain governing type approval which appear to make it virtually impossible for vehicles to be sold by the motor trade out of Northern Ireland on to the mainland. My hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) has tabled a question to the Secretary of State on this point. It is one that appears to be threatening to undo some of the gains that we have made by the enforcement of construction and use regulations. I hope that may be looked into even if the Minister cannot report the outcome at the end of the debate.
My second point has also been raised on a number of occasions, and performance upon it has been unsatisfactory. About 18 months ago we raised with the Department of Finance and Personnel the matter of the rating of young farmers' clubs, which we maintained were disadvantageously treated in comparison with the corresponding young farmers' clubs in Great Britain. I am sure that I do not need to stress the significance, particularly in a Province such as Northern Ireland, of these organisations.
We were at first met with a blank denial that there was any practical difference between rating treatment on one side of the Irish sea and the other. Eventually, after investigation, this was withdrawn and the predecessor of the hon. Member for Bath discovered that indeed there was a derating in Great Britain by which clubs in Northern Ireland did not benefit. Since then, there has been silence from the Northern Ireland Office as to the measures that would be taken to rectify the admitted anomaly. I am awaiting a reply from several months ago on the subject—from the noble Lord who is no longer at the Northern Ireland Office. [Interruption ] Perhaps the good tidings are to be announced this minute—one of the happiest things that can occur in the course of a debate.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
I signed a letter to the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, acknowledging also that his hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) had expressed his intention to raise this matter in this debate. The young farmers' clubs in Northern Ireland could be treated in the same way as their counterparts in Great Britain if their constitutions were the same, as I have explained. The principal point that would need changing is that membership should be open rather than restricted as it is at the moment, and there are one or two other matters that would need attention. However, if the Northern Ireland young farmers' clubs chose to alter their constitutions to bring them more or less in line with those of Great Britain, they would receive comparable treatment for rating.
§ Mr. Powell
I am sure that the Minister's reply will be carefully studied by those whom it immediately concerns, and I am glad to have succeeded in bringing the matter to a head. These coincidences do happen—that a letter is written on the vigil of a debate such as this.
Although I am ending upon what I hope will, in the event, prove to be a happy note, the fact remains that the form of these debates prevents, in effect, hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies from utilising the opportunities throughout the year that are 464 available in the ordinary financial processes of the House—Consolidated Fund Bills and the rest—on the same footing as their colleagues from the rest of the United Kingdom, to raise specific constituency matters.
The Minister will be aware that over the past 10 years there has been an endeavour to concentrate these debates upon a number of pre-selected topics, where we can have a genuinely structured debate. This has always failed—I fear that this debate may be no exception to the general rule—because, after all, every hon. Member has a right to raise anything within the scope of the appropriation order. I draw attention to the fact that under the present financial procedures of the House, and even more if the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure are adopted, it would be possible for Northern Ireland Members to ensure debate upon a specific point and ensure answers to that specific point. We should lose nothing by escaping from the artificial isolation that the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund and these appropriation order debates have imposed on Northern Ireland Members. The House itself would also find that is was not the loser if it hearkened to the plea of those who represent Northern Ireland. Therefore, I hope that this may be, if not the last debate, one of the last debates, in a series that sooner or later should be brought to an end.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I wish first to comment on the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I am sure that the people in Northern Ireland will be amazed to know that he looked upon the old Stormont as part of a ploy that would eventually bring about a united Ireland. It has always been the view of traditional Unionists that the old Stormont was a safeguard of the Union and of the right of the people of Northern Ireland to be in that Union and to have a full say in the running of those matters that this Parliament has given them to run. There is no doubt that that has always been traditional Unionist thinking. It is an amazing assertion that the settlement of 1920 was not a settlement for the good of the people of Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I have no need to read the Act. I read it long before the right hon. Gentleman did so.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I wish to make it clear that that is the traditional Unionist opinion, which hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches who represent Northern Ireland from time to time have expounded and no doubt will expound at great length in the coming week. Let me make it clear that that has always been the view of traditional Unionists. I would not put the destiny of Northern Ireland into the hands of this House. When this House prorogued Stormont, I moved the clause that the final sanction to put Northern Ireland outside the United Kingdom would rest with the people of Northern Ireland. Therefore, I am not prepared to put my destiny at stake at the whims and fancies of many of the united Irishmen who sit in this House—
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Why does the hon. Gentleman say that it has always been the Unionists' view that there should be a Parliament at Stormont? Has not the hon. Gentleman claimed the mantle of Carson, and did not Carson in the 1920s, when criticised for wishing to 465 dominate Catholics in Northern Ireland, say that he had no wish to rule any Catholics, and that he wanted the people of Ulster, Catholics and Protestants, to be ruled from this House? Was not that also once the view of the hon. Gentleman?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I wish that the hon. Gentleman would make it clear that Sir Edward Carson, as he was then, was an Irish Unionist and not an Ulster Unionist, and that his aim, as the hon. Gentleman knows, was to keep the whole of Ireland within the Union. When Sir Edward Carson could not succeed in keeping the whole of Ireland within the Union, he readily consented to retain the six counties of Northern Ireland. He agreed that his monument should be erected before the Stormont Parliament, where it still stands. For the hon. Gentleman to suggest to us that Sir Edward Carson's policy for Northern Ireland was not the Stormont Parliament—of which his close confidante and friend became the first Prime Minister — is absolutely and totally ridiculous.
I do not know what other arguments will be brought in this House, but let me make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that I believed that, when Stormont was abolished, this House should have given us the statue quo, and from that point we would have renegotiated for our own Parliament and for our own position in Northern Ireland. That has always been my policy. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentlemen who are shouting would read the report of the Convention — [Interruption.] We have not heard anything about the Convention report from the right hon. Member for Down, South. We were told during the election that the Convention report was what the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends believed in.
The Convention report stands for a full legislative devolution at Stormont, and it goes further. It says that there should be no interference in local government until we have that devolution, and that local government should be reconstructed as the Stormont Parliament decides it should be reconstructed and not as this House decides. Let us stick to that. If that is not the policy of those hon. Gentlemen, let us know what is their policy. We have heard from them tonight. Tomorrow, in another place, they are going to propose rolling devolution in the form of power sharing, so we shall have an interesting debate on that occasion. They will have ample opportunity to make known their views.
I want to lay it on the line and on the record in this House that the Stormont settlement in the minds of traditional Unionists, was not a settlement which suggested that it would lead them to a united Ireland. If hon. Gentlemen are honest with themselves, they know that they were brought up with their mother's milk on the knowledge that the Union was consolidated by the fact that Stormont stood upon the hill. That was always what they believed and preached.
I have always said, and will repeat. that it will be the people of Northern Ireland and not this Parliament who will decide. I remind the House that in the old settlement that the Labour Government under Clem Attlee gave to Northern Ireland, it was the Parliament of Northern Ireland that had the say. I also repeat that it was the clause that I moved in this House which said that the final sanction would rest with the people of Northern Ireland. I am very happy to leave responsibility for the destiny of Northern Ireland, within the United Kingdom, with the people of Northern Ireland and not with this House.
466 I have heard the views of many hon. Members, and if anyone from Northern Ireland thinks that everyone in this United Kingdom Parliament is dedicated to keeping Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom, he will be sadly disillusioned. I am glad that the statute book of Northern Ireland has been preserved. There are laws governing the rest of the United Kingdom that I would not want to be introduced into Northern Ireland, and neither would the people of Northern Ireland. There is nothing special about that, because there are laws governing Scotland that do not govern England or Wales. It is quite in order for one part of the United Kingdom to have different laws from other parts of the United Kingdom.
I am glad that there is a line of demarcation, so that in future Northern Ireland will be able to have a proper devolved form of government firmly within the United Kingdom. I do not see any future in the present legislation or in stage 2 of the Assembly. I made that clear when it was discussed. It will have to be altered so that we can have proper British democracy in Northern Ireland. I am glad that those matters have surfaced in the debate so that the people of Northern Ireland may know exactly what line some Unionist representatives are advocating in the debate. No doubt the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) will have an opportunity to tell us whether he goes along that line or not.
In returning to the appropriation order, may I first say that I should not like anyone in the House to think that because we are having a debate on bread and butter issues, there is not still a very dark shadow of terrorism across our Province. It would ill become the House to think that there is now some normality in Northern Ireland, and that we can discuss those matters and forget about what is happening. The bombs are still going off, the attacks are still being made on the security forces, and people still follow the last remains of their loved ones who have been done to death by the IRA terrorists. That is still going on.
The right hon. Member for Down, South said that everything else has been tried, but that cannot be said of security. There should be proper security in Northern Ireland. Many of the people in the security forces complain continually to their public representatives that their hands are tied in great measure and that they are not able to do the work that they need to do in dealing with terrorists. No doubt if I stray into that subject, your eagle eye will catch me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall suffer your rebuke.
Class I deals with agriculture. The end of paragraph 1 reads:including expenditure on dog control".What money will be made available to local councils to provide dog wardens and other facilities under the Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983? Is it a reference only to the money that the Department spends on its part of the administration of the order on dogs? I hope that the Minister will clarify that matter.
Anyone who knows anything about agriculture in Northern Ireland knows that intensive pig, poultry and potato farming has been badly hit. At the moment, egg producers are being pushed to the wall. They are the worst hit. I welcome the new Under-Secretary to the Front Bench and trust that he will be able, as he attends to his duties in Northern Ireland, to recognise some of the needs of the Province. If he lives up to his predecessor's reputation he will have achieved much. I wish him well. I and my two colleagues will push him on many issues. I trust that we 467 shall see him at the Assembly and have the opportunity to ask him many questions that concern the people of Northern Ireland.
Although I welcome the 50,000 tonnes of wheat intervention stocks from the EC, can the Minister tell us how many tonnes have arrived, when the last of it will arrive and when it will be distributed? Intensive agriculture in Northern Ireland has been seriously damaged because EC regulations forbid us to buy cheap grain on the world market. Ten years ago, there were some 9 million birds in the laying flock. Their number is now reduced to 4 million and it has been said by those who are competent to judge agricultural matters that that number might be reduced to 2 million. That is serious. Chick placements are expected to drop by at least 50 per cent. I should like to hear what the Minister has to say about that.
In the pig industry, the breeding herd has declined from 120,000 in 1971 to 70,100 in 1983. If the reduction in throughput of pigs for slaughter is reduced by 2,000 more pigs per week, the result could be the closure of a medium-sized processing plant and the loss of about 200 jobs.
I understand that there was an underspend of £9 million for agriculture in 1982–83, £3 million of which was intended for drainage. That was not called for by the Department. Another £6 million was intended for support grants. What happened to that £9 million and why were the support grants not made available to help intensive farming, which has suffered badly? I understand that there has been some success in the export of pigmeat to Japan. Will the Minister comment on that and give an idea of the likelihood of its continuing? It is essential that intensive agriculture in Northern Ireland be preserved. Perhaps he will also comment on the underspend in drainage dealt with under paragraph 4.
Forestry is mentioned in paragraph 5. I accept the amenity value of forestry and the employment that it provides, but does the Minister have any date in mind when Northern Ireland's forestry will become viable? When will the books balance?
Paragraph 6 refers to "certain accommodation services". Will the Minister tell us in some detail what those "accommodation services" are?
Paragraph 3 includes an item of expenditure by the Department of Agriculture on fishery services, including protection and a grant in aid. I pay tribute to the Northern Ireland Fisheries Conservancy Board's work on protection. It has done especially good work on salmon. Will that work continue under the board's auspices? My constituents have asked about foreign trawlers operating off the north Antrim coast, near Dunseverick, Ballintoy and Currysheskin, which are denuding the area of fish, to the great consternation of local fishermen.
Class II deals with industry. It is proposed to manufacture a new sports car in Ballymena. What progress is being made? Ballymena has been badly hit by unemployment although it used to have a good record. I should like to know what progress is being made on the "Charisma" car project. Perhaps the Minister will have some good news for us.
Some time ago, I talked with the Minister's colleague about the proposal to set up a school for training young people in aircraft servicing. I understand that the proposal has been advancing slowly. Perhaps the Minister can tell 468 us more about that. I also understand that aircraft that could be serviced in Northern Ireland are being flown out to Manchester. What possibility is there of the aeroplanes being serviced in Northern Ireland?
Class II also deals with tourism. I pay tribute to the Northern Ireland tourist board. Its "come home" scheme whereby people in Northern Ireland become ambassadors to their friends who have left and encourage them to pay a return visit to the Province is excellent.
I am glad that the Northern Ireland tourist industry has been able to retain the 9,000 jobs that it provides. I am also pleased that, in 1982, some 712,000 people visited Northern Ireland for more than one night. That represents an increase of 16 per cent. over 1981. They have brought in about £68 million, so the tourist industry should be congratulated. The Government should be as liberal as possible in dealing with such an important industry, which not only provides jobs, but brings money and potential investors into the Province.
I am concerned that when young people finish their training there are no jobs for them. Recently, I talked to some youngsters in a training centre in my constituency. Unfortunately, out of the total number being trained there, only two were assured of a job when they left. That highlights some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, (Mr. Soley) about the seriousness of unemployment in Northern Ireland.
I do not support the supply of Kinsale gas from the Irish Republic to Northern Ireland. As part of the United Kingdom, the Province should be on the grid for North sea gas, and we should not put our industry and our people at the mercy of the whim and fancy of the Republic's Government. I regret that the previous Government and this Government did not take immediate steps to save the gas industry by going ahead with the North sea gas proposal. There will be a terrible dark reaping because of what the Minister said today. The price that may be asked by the Republic may be so great that the Minister cannot finalise the agreement. The whole matter will be disastrous.
I am also worried about the steep increase in the cost of connections of electricity, especially in rural districts. It is becoming a perplexing problem. Those who build homes in rural districts have discovered that it will cost a great deal of money to make the necessary connections. We have too much electricity in Northern Ireland, and the electricity board should be glad of every new subscriber. We must try to set a realistic price for such connections.
As I have often said in such debates, one can wander from Dan to Beersheba, and I am going steadily along that road. Class IV deals with the environment, for which the Minister who will reply to the debate is now responsible. I have already paid tribute to his predecessor, and I remind him that the last thing that his predecessor did was to visit the A26 which runs from the Dunsillary roundabout to Ballee roundabout. No doubt the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) will also refer to this matter, because it affects a council in his area as well as one in my area—Antrim district council and Ballymena district council. Both councils, crossing the religious and political divide, are agreed on this matter. The people of the area were promised that the M2 motorway would be continued, and that promise was substantiated by the fact that planning permission was refused for the proposed route, but was permitted for the area round the A26. Those who live near that road have put up new homes and buildings. 469 What is more, when the new acute hospital was resited from Ballymena to Antrim, a firm promise was made that there would be no difficulty for those having to travel to Antrim from as far away as Portrush, Coleraine and Ballymena.
The plan was then changed, and the Department proposed the dualling of the A26, which was expected to take six years to complete. However, it is the height of folly to make the A26 a dual carriageway—it has 200 exit and entry roads—instead of building a road along the route of the proposed extension to the M2. The new houses and buildings that have been built beside the road will be lost, and farmers will experience difficulty because many large dairy farms adjoin the road. Will the Minister reconsider this matter?
The former Minister did not make a decision on the road, and I suggest that the proper plan, if the Government are not prepared to spend the money on the motorway extension, would be to build a dual carriageway along the proposed route of the extended M2. The Minister must tackle the problem effectively because of the amount of traffic on the road and the difficulties involved.
Class V deals with housing, and I am gravely concerned about the housing executive's package deal for rural houses. I am not satisfied with the deal. Many of those who accept it do so out of frustration They have waited for such a long time that, in order to have at least toilet facilities, they will forgo a bathroom. I have warned them, and will continue to warn them, that they should hold out for proper amenities and that they should continue to press for them, as I have been pressing for them as their public representative. Some of those who accepted the package deal got only a small shower in a space that was originally designed for a wardrobe, but some of those who held out have had bathrooms installed in their homes. It has caused serious confusion and frustration. Will the Minister take up this matter with the housing executive and reconsider the package deal?
The housing executive has decided to pull down good houses at Milltown in Ballymoney. Some of those houses have been reconstructed and refurbished with the help of Government grants, but the housing executive has decided to demolish them. It is a waste of public money to give grants to people so that they can put their homes in order, only for the housing executive to decide to demolish those houses and build new ones in their place. The people of Milltown want the homes that they already have, and they insist that those who have grants should be allowed to improve their homes. Others have gained approval for grants, but the housing executive has row rescinded that approval.
Class VIII deals with education, which, as the Minister will know, is a subject of debate in the Province. We are worried about the closing of schools and the methods used in doing so. The priority should be to bring the pupil-teacher ratio into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. I am sad to hear that that cannot be done. It is a sad comment on the future of education in Northern Ireland.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
That follows from what I have been saying on the subject. The hon. Gentleman is a member 470 of the education board in his area and in mine, where there is a superabundance of temporary classrooms. A new school had been built in my area, but we were told that two other schools would have to be closed, because there are not the necessary numbers of children. We argued against that, but the Department went ahead and closed the two schools and built the new school. Now that school ground is filled with temporary classrooms. They are all round the new school. It is clear that the figures of the Northern Ireland Department of Education were not correct. If there is to be an increase in the intake, we must have an increase in the number of teachers. There are plenty of teachers available in Northern Ireland who can be taken off the dole and given the job for which they have been trained.
I regret, too, the curtailment of youth services for children who are still at school, in after-school hours, and for the young unemployed. I am glad that the representations made by the Assembly about border schools remaining open have been agreed. I am glad, too, the good work that has been done by the Assembly's education scrutiny Committee on the vexed subject of education.
It will come as no surprise to the Minister that I totally reject the proposal made by a Select Committee of this House about the cross-border college in Londonderry. There is a proposal to merge the new university at Coleraine with the polytech because it is said that there is not enough money. Now it is proposed that we start educating people from across the border in this new Ulster college. If Northern Ireland had ample funds, if the children of Northern Ireland did not have to use temporary accommodation, if the teachers who are available were employed, and there was plenty of finance, there might be something in the proposal. Then I would not object to the opportunity of educating those people in Northern Ireland, because they might get some light to dispel their darkness.
However, the Republic is not proposing to finance a college or ask people from Northern Ireland to use its facilities. Oh no, it has to be the other way round. This proposal, as has been said by someone prominent in education circles in Northern Ireland, has been welcomed only by the Select Committee of this House and Sinn Fein. Those are its only two supporters. I trust that we shall hear nothing more of it until we have funds to do the job that we should be doing.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith feels that there is still discrimination in Northern Ireland. I heard it said when I came to this House that the Roman Catholic community lived in the worst houses. It was said that they occupied the slums, while the Protestant wards of Belfast contained the good houses. Nothing could be further from the truth. The worst houses in Belfast—and I say this without contradiction—were those in Sandy row. My wife represented that ward on the city council. It is in the centre of the city, and it had houses that have no water amenities. Sandy row is the heartland of Belfast Protestantism. So it is wrong to say that Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland have poor houses, or that Protestants always had the better houses.
§ Mr. Soley
I do not dispute for a moment that Sandy row was one of the worst, but the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that these matters are not decided on one or two examples. He also knows that I was talking about averages. Let us leave the housing problem for a moment, although I would be happy to debate it with him in detail. 471 Can the hon. Gentleman dispute the figures that I gave for employment, and if the explanation is not the one that I gave, what is his explanation?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The hon. Gentleman gave figures for north Belfast. He should look at the areas where businesses have closed. People in Belfast like to work in the area where they live. The work force reflects the religious and political persuasions of the people of the neighbourhood.
Let me give one example in Carrickfergus, which is predominantly Protestant and where ICI and Courtaulds closed down. As a result, there was, and still is, vast unemployment. One could not say that it was deliberate, because the workers were Protestants. It just happened to be where the people worked, and the environs in which they moved. The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but that happens to be a fact. He should come to Northern Ireland and see for himself. I repudiate any suggestion that there is a conspiracy abroad to push Roman Catholics on the dole and keep Protestants in their jobs. There is no such conspiracy. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that. He might be suspicious if Stormont were in control, but how can he suspect when the Government are here in Westminster?
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
The hon. Gentleman uses his own words and puts his own connotation on them, but I speak as a representative of Northern Ireland, and as one who represents both Protestants and Roman Catholics. I have areas in my constituency that are predominantly Roman Catholic, and others that are predominantly Protestant. When a factory closes near those areas it is always reflected in the work force that is drawn from the immediate locality. That is something that the hon. Gentleman should learn.
There is only one other thing that I want to say. I am glad that the Minister commended the Assembly for the good work that it is doing. I am glad that he realises that much hard work has been put into that Assembly, and that the scrutiny Committees and those who attend them—unfortunately, not every member attends—are seeking to do what this House asks them to do—to look into the actions and decisions of the various Departments working in Northern Ireland, to consult, question and meet the Ministers concerned, to consider future legislation and proposals for Northern Ireland, and to seek to do what is right and proper.
We are not like children playing with bangles or beads, as was suggested by the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), who does not even attend the Committees. I resent that on behalf of my Committee members who travel hundreds of miles across the Province to support the application for the extention of the less-favoured areas. They put themselves to considerable expense and work in doing so.
The House must realise that the representatives in the Assembly give their time, talents and energies to help the people of Northern Ireland with bread and butter issues. I am under no illusion about the Assembly. I have put on record what I think about stage 2. But I am dedicated to 472 stage 1 and to doing my bit to help the people of Northern Ireland in the only way that the Assembly can help them, which is by putting a bridle on direct rule, by calling the direct rulers to account and by seeking to feed into the Government the thoughts and wishes of the people of Northern Ireland about future legislation that will affect their everyday lives. That is useful and good work which must be done. I find it deplorable that we have been called children playing with bangles and beads. There is work to be done in the Assembly and I am glad that there are members of the party led by the hon. Member for Lagan Valley who are dedicated to doing it. I must lay that firmly on the line.
Northern Ireland will face difficulties in the coming months. It will see a new era of events simply because more than 100,000 people voted for and put their imprimatur on the bomb, the bullet and the campaign for violence. That cannot be ignored by any right-thinking person in Northern Ireland. Forty-three per cent. of the Nationalist vote went that way — along the road of violence. It is a challenge that every law-abiding citizen, and every citizen who wishes to keep Northern Ireland within the Union, must face. I know that the people of Northern Ireland will face that challenge and, like their fathers before them, ward it off because of their determination, courage and dedication.
§ 8.3 pm
§ Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East)
I rise to address the House and deliver my maiden speech conscious of being the recently-elected Member of Parliament for the new constituency of Antrim, East. It has been formed from parts of the former constituencies of Antrim, North and Antrim, South. The former Members for those constituencies have been returned to the House and will no doubt be paying particular attention to the service that I give to their former constituents.
It is my intention to serve the whole electorate of Antrim, East without fear or favour, and to demonstrate clearly that in my treatment of individuals I will uphold the rights of others to civil and religious liberty and to equal opportunity as British citizens without sacrificing any Unionist principles. I proudly, yet humbly, take my place in the full team of 11 Ulster Unionists—a team that needs no reserve.
I ask hon. Members only that they rid themselves of preconceived ideas about Northern Ireland that have been largely created by the media. I invite them to visit Northern Ireland, to be our guests, and then to form their own opinions. I regret that there are not many hon. Members with first-hand opinions and experience of Northern Ireland. I intend to reciprocate any interest shown by hon. Members in Northern Ireland, and especially in my constituency of Antrim, East, by developing a greater awareness of mainland constituency problems.
I welcome this opportunity to place on record some of the problems of my constituency, which stretches from the boundary of Belfast, North through the densely populated and delightful coastal area of Newtownabbey to the historic borough of Carrickfergus, with its magnificent castle where King William landed almost 300 years ago. The glorious victories over tyranny will be celebrated on 12 July not only in Ulster but internationally wherever Orangemen are to be found.
473 My constituency also incorporates the borough of Larne, in which can be found the site of the earliest Presbyterian settlement in Ireland and one of the most modern roll-on, roll-off ports in western Europe. The magnificent coast road leading to the glens of Antrim is well renowned for its beauty. It stretches from Larne along the north Antrim coast. My constituency is of outstanding natural beauty and well worthy of a visit. Its people are friendly—like its Member of Parliament—and delight in affording hospitality to visitors. We were privileged recently to host the ships' companies of HMS Aurora and HMS Antrim and look forward to many similar visits.
My plea to hon. Members present , and those absent, is that each discounts the present image held of Northern Ireland and replaces it with up-to-date pictures and impressions gained from a visit.
We are thankful for the success of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the RUC Reserve, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the Army in providing security and stability for that peaceful area and its peace-loving community. We ask only for other regions of Northern Ireland to be provided with the same level of security and stability that is usual and acceptable throughout the United Kingdom.
A major problem in my constituency is unemployment resulting from world recession, the failure of Government policy and the failure of the EC to provide the support necessary for the synthetic fibre industry, which has nigh collapsed in Northern Ireland. Thousands of jobs were lost when, in spite of excellent production levels and union-management relationships, the giant employers Klingers, Courtaulds and ICI closed their plants. Presumably they now exploit the opportunities of other areas without much social conscience or regard to the sorrow, tragedy and depression felt by those thrown on to the scrap heap of the unemployed.
The sequence has been losses of opportunity for apprentice training, diminished opportunity of employment for female labour and clerical staff, and many job losses in the service sector which supported those large employers. The position is critical. We have black spots of more than 20 per cent. unemployment and no immediate prospect of relief in sight with present Government policy on public spending. Nevertheless, we are cautiously optimistic that the new package of incentives to Northern Ireland industry will put us ahead of the competition from the Republic of Ireland in attractiveness to inward investors.
In addition, however, we need further relief from the high cost of energy to domestic and industrial consumers and some method of compensation for the additional transport costs so that we can compete on fair and equal terms with our fellows here on the mainland. Additional public spending on housing, hospitals, roads, the cross-Belfast city rail link and schools would immediately reduce the unacceptably high unemployment and give much-needed hope to our talented and industrious people.
Until we succeed in attracting new investment to Northern Ireland, I make no apology for asking for the support of the House. If unemployment can be reduced, those idle hands which now support the bomb and bullet philosophy of SF—Satan's followers—might turn from their evil ways and help us to reconstruct and rebuild the economy of Northern Ireland.
As vice-president of the Northern Ireland Young Farmers Club, I am much encouraged by the Minister's remarks on the representations made by my party. I shall 474 advise my members—I believe that there is now wide open membership — to make such changes in the constitution as will enable them to have parity with their colleagues on the mainland.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
I rise as one who is ineligible for the Orange Order, of which the hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) is so prominent a member, but I count myself fortunate to have been called to follow him. The hon. Gentleman said, as I have sometimes said, that it is a pity that more right hon. and hon. Members do not go to Northern Ireland to see what it is really like. I am always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the kind reception that I received in the borough of Larne. Indeed, I sometimes wear a tie bearing the coat of arms of that ancient and important borough.
The hon. Gentleman said that his constituents were kindly people, as I know from first-hand experience. They also have a kindly Member of Parliament. They are fortunate in their Member of Parliament and the hon. Gentleman is fortunate to be their Member. The hon. Gentleman's speech was modest, to the point, well constructed and much more related to the appropriation order than some of the speeches from hon. Members with more experience of the procedures of the House. I hope that we shall hear frequently from the hon. Gentleman. The House needs the enlightenment of those who have to bear the burden of the terror and the deprivation that terror has worsened in the Province.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and disagree with the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) about a separate statute book for Northern Ireland and the conduct of our Northern Ireland business.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North spoke of Scotland. He rightly said that some laws are different in Scotland. Indeed, the whole legal system in Scotland is different from that in other parts of the United Kingdom. There are laws that are, and should be, different in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the hon. Member for Antrim, North and I would be at one in resisting the application of the Abortion Act 1967 to Northern Ireland. The different parts of the kingdom have their own peculiarities, traditions and institutions, which should be respected.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of Scotland to justify full legislative devolution for Northern Ireland, but surely he knows that Scotland has no separate Parliament and that to preserve different laws, traditions and local institutions it is not necessary to have a separate statute book and separate assembly.
It will not have been lost on the Official Unionist party, which is here in such strength, how ill-attended this important debate has been. I am not saying that the Benches on this side are crowded with Conservative and Unionist Members, but they have been here from time to time. Apart from the Opposition spokesman, there has been no one here from the Labour party, which the Official Unionist party and all Unionists know is committed to achieving a united Ireland. Where is the compassionate alliance, which is so concerned with the sufferings of the Northern Ireland people? Its Members are not here.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
That is the leader of the Liberal party, who was responsible for the Abortion Act, 475 but surely he has deputies, assistants and vice-regents who could be here. It is a shame and a scandal. Ulster is Britan's threatened north-west frontier. The indifference shown in this place is frightening. It is not enough for the House to confine its concern to regular, ritual condemnation of terrorist atrocities and to periodical, albeit sincere, tributes to the security forces.
I do not mind where an hon. Member sits or in the interest of which party. If his constituency were subjected to one tenth of the horror that befalls the constituencies represented by Northern Ireland Members we would hear a great deal from him. If by chance, through a weakness of our will, it were to be shown that a handful of terrorists could deprive the sovereign of part of her kingdom, that example would not be lost on the constituencies of English, Welsh and Scottish Members. There are violent fringes to Scots and Welsh nationalism, and revolutionary organisations in other parts of the kingdom which would follow the example of Northern Ireland terrorists if it were shown that they could succeed.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. The order allows a wide-ranging debate, but I must point out to the hon. Member that it is not in order to debate police and security matters. They are outside the scope of the order.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I was certainly not going to mention security, the Royal Ulster Constabulary or such matters. I shall confine myself to what is in the appropriation order. By way of preface, I have been commenting on the poor attendance at this debate.
Class XI, paragraph 1, refers to the expenditure on the Northern Ireland Assembly. The decision to form the Northern Ireland Assembly and vote it heavy expenditure reflects the attitude and indifference of which I complain. There are those who would say—not only in their cups — that it would be nice to have a "Kilkenny cat" solution in Northern Ireland and for rival factions to dispose of each other. Instead we have the Northern Ireland Assembly, a colonialist approach—"Let them have a legco where the tribal chiefs, the Protestant ethnarchs and nationalist agitators can blow off steam."
Northern Ireland is not a colony destined for separation like other colonies. It is part of the main. For anyone with that sense of history necessary in a statesman, Northern Ireland—this was brought out, unchecked by the Chair, by the right hon. Member for Down, South—is part of the strategy of survival now as yesterday when Ulster bases and ports stood between this island and starvation and submission.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) talked about liberal and other wings of the Conservative party. I do not know to which wing he appoints me, but there are no wings in our devotion on this side of the House to the Union—nor, despite the criticisms that we have made of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's constitutional initiative, is there any difference among us in our admiration for his efforts to help the distressed Northern Ireland economy.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I have complained of the indifference of many people in this place and elsewhere. I have complained of the Secretary of State's constitutional initiative. I am now proceeding, if I may be allowed, to praise the Secretary of State's economic policy in relation to Class II, paragraph 3. I have the speech that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made to the Northern Ireland Assembly on 28 June. He spoke about the new spirit of partnership which the industrial development board is fostering. I used to think that the local enterprise development unit, which is referred to in the appropriation order, should perhaps be merged when the various institutions for promoting economic development were brought together under the industrial development board, but I now see that I was wrong, because, as my right hon. Friend said in his speech:LEDU have had their most successful year ever, promoting more than 2,500 jobs last year."—[Official Report, Northern Ireland Assembly, 28 June 1983; Vol. 6, p. 912.]That is not a few jobs in Northern Ireland.
Sometimes we could look on the brighter side of things when there is a brighter side. The hon. Member for Hammersmith might have drawn attention to some of the better things that are happening in this distressed Province.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Of course, I was referring only to the efforts of LEDU. There is also the more general effort of the industrial development board, which has a promotion target of 10,000 jobs per year. I do not know how successful it will be, but I hope that it will succeed. However, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and we must not be complacent. I do not see how anyone who has anything to do with Northern Ireland can be complacent.
I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Chris Patten), now Under-Secretary of State, to the Front Bench. Continuity in the Northern Ireland Office is important, and I am glad that the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Butler) opened the debate. However, in other respects there has been quite a changing of the guard at Stormont castle. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. John Patten) has gone to another castle. He has gone from Stormont castle to the Elephant and Castle. It may be confusing, but it is nice that the new Under-Secretary of State has the same name. I do not know how long it will take the people of Northern Ireland to realise that there has been a change. Nevertheless, we welcome the Under-Secretary of State and wish him every success.
I hope that we can get rid of the idea that Northern Ireland is some sort of Siberia for senior Ministers and an assault course for cadet Ministers. Northern Ireland is a place of some danger and much honour. No matter in what frame of mind Ministers arrive there, they soon acquire an affection for Ulster and its wonderful people. I very much miss my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Mr. Mitchell), because over the years we have had a long and interesting correspondence on the subject of car parks, which comes under Clause IV, paragraph 1. When he was still in charge of Northern Ireland's Department of 477 the Environment I received a letter from him dated 18 March. The correspondence had been going on for more than two years and he wrote:As to the administration of car parks, I confirm my comment in the House that the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland is examining the possibility of arranging with some District Councils for the Department's car parking function to be handled by them as agents for the Department. I hope to be in a position to announce the result soon and I will keep you informed.Hon. Members have called in this debate for the enlargement of the functions of local authorities. Car parking is one minor sphere in which those functions could be enlarged. I should not have thought that it would involve a tremendous revolution to allow district councils to be agents for the Department of the Environment in running car parks. Indeed, I should have thought that there might not be any fear of discrimination in running car parks. Perhaps they could even be "privatised"—dreadful word though that is. However, it is not really a function of central Government, or of one of its Departments, to run car parks. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West should have left the Northern Ireland Office before he could set his seal on that interesting matter.
I have raised the subject of the sports council and grants to sports bodies more than once in this House, as well as in correspondence. I refer in particular to the Gaelic Athletic Association. As my hon. Friend probably knows, the association was set up in 1884 asa strictly non-political and non-sectarian Association.That was rule 4. Rule 8 placed a ban on membership of the GAA ofBritish soldiers, navy men or police on active service in Ireland.There is no mention of the Royal Air Force, which did not then exist.
Ministers have deplored the fact that public funds go to organisations that discriminate against members of those services who are sacrificing themselves in Northern Ireland. In December 1977 Mr. Justice Murray remarked in open court that this was insufferable, and this led to the suspension of grants by a district council. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, while he was still at the Northern Ireland Office, referred to this discrimination in a written answer on 27 July 1981 in which he listed a whole range of GAA clubs receiving grants from public funds. When one recalls that the object of the association was to bestrictly non-political and non-sectarianone may be surprised to know that there is a Bellaghy (Wolfe Tone) Gaelic athletic club and a Patrick Sarsfield Gaelic athletic club. Patrick Sarsfield was a royalist, as was St. Oliver Plunkett indeed a Tory in the original sense of that Irish word. Nevertheless, he has been placed by the Gaelic Athletic Association in the same Republican pantheon as that anti-Catholic free thinker Wolfe Tone. So much for "non-political and non-sectarian."
I have tried my best to remove this scandal by courteous correspondence with the president of the Gaelic Athletic Association. It has been a slightly unfruitful correspondence, because it has been entirely one-sided. No reply has come. Shortly before the Dissolution of Parliament I invited a Minister from the Northern Ireland Office to see whether he could help me obtain a reply from the president of the Gaelic Athletic Association. I think that it is about time Ministers considered a suspension of grants if this 478 offending rule is not removed in respect of the United Kingdom. Let the GAA do what it likes in the Republic, but this affects the United Kingdom.
The Gaelic Athletic Association could, in accordance with the professed aim of 1884, do something to break down — instead of perpetuating — barriers between different sections of the community of different traditions. After all, formerly it had a ban on those who watched garrison games. That has gone. Rugby football was a garrison game, but now the British Lions are captained by Captain Fitzgerald of the Irish Army. That is an example of how barriers can be broken down. If the Gaelic Athletic Association has any sense of dignity, it will either end this ban or decline further grants from public funds.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Upper Bann)
A welcome has, very properly, been extended to the new Minister. The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) also referred to several absentees from the debate, though he omitted to mention a few.
It would be churlish if at this stage, this being the first appropriation debate of this Parliament, we did not pay tribute to the former Member for Belfast, West, Mr. Fitt, who, although I disagreed with him fundamentally on a whole range of political issues, played a major part in these debates, enlivened our proceedings with his contributions and showed great concern on a wide range of social and economic issues affecting the people of Northern Ireland.
We should not overlook the fact that the person who replaced Mr. Fitt, despite his protestations to the contrary — particularly when his associates are bombing and killing people in West Belfast—is not here to plead his constituents' case. It is also strange to find that the new leader of the SDLP is not with us. It is early yet. The hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) may join us after 10 o'clock. He may have got it wrong and thought that the debate started at 10. But could that darling of the political commentators in Northern Ireland— that politician par excellence—possibly have made a fundamental mistake like that? Nevertheless, we may see him at 10 o'clock and, if we do, we shall listen with interest to what he has to say.
The hon. Gentleman, too, has on occasions claimed to be the champion of the underprivileged, the downtrodden and the unemployed in Northern Ireland. It is all the more pity that he is not here. Perhaps he read the report to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred—about it being a waste of time coming here—is taking that at its face value and does not intend to participate in our proceedings.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Is it not the case that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) has not heard one speech in this House since he made his own?
§ Mr. McCusker
That may be so. As I say, he may arrive after 10 o'clock, when we shall have an opportunity of hearing him. As someone who is a champion of the unemployed, the discriminated against and the underprivileged, it is surprising that he is not here to take the sort of opportunity that was always taken by the former leader of his party.
I wish to deal with only two issues, both of which are covered by Classes II and III, expenditure by the Department of Economic Development. I draw the Under-Secretary's attention to a recent prediction by a new unit 479 set up by Queen's university called the economic forecasting unit. I hope that the Minister will comment on the work of that unit because I do not want to believe what it is forecasting. It has forecast that by 1987 unemployment in Northern Ireland will have risen to 143,000, representing 25 per cent. of the working population, and that by that time only 19 per cent. of those employed in Northern Ireland will be engaged in manufacturing industry.
Forecasts have been wrong in the past. Time and again, in Northern Ireland and in this House, I have heard the prediction that unemployment in the Province would soon reach 125,000. In the past four years we heard forecasts of that kind but, thank goodness, we have never reached that figure, and I hope we never shall. Nevertheless, a unit such as that should not be permitted to make such assertions without some response from the Government, and I hope that there will be a proper response from the Under-Secretary tonight.
The unit went on to point out that the growth in public sector employment—the phrase "engine of growth" was used — in the Province had prevented that level of unemployment being reached years ago. In saying that, the unit was echoing a comment made by the Northern Ireland Economic Council in its recent report, although it went further. While agreeing that most of the recent employment had been created in the public sector, it added:It is not likely in the near future that any large contribution to employment can come from further expansion of public services, without taking them well beyond the Great Britain level: and this underlines the need to explore every possibility of developing enterprises, public or private, which produce marketable goods and services.I hope that the Minister will give a firmer assurance than that given by the Minister of State that this package of measures, which has been costed in the Estimates, will produce what is desired by the Northern Ireland Economic Council and by us all.
The Minister referred to our economic crisis as "horrendous but not insurmountable". I wish we could stop using such terminology. If it ever should reach the proportions envisaged by that economic forecasting unit, I do not know what adjectives could be used to describe the situation. The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) cannot get away with it as easily as that.
I pay tribute to the Labour Government for all their efforts to create employment in the Province and for all the risks that they took. Some of their decisions proved to be bad mistakes, but their heart was in the right place. However, unemployment in the Province doubled under the previous Labour Administration from about 40,000 to about 80,000. The growth in unemployment from 1979 until today has perhaps been less than the growth during the administration of the Labour Government. Against that background, the hon. Gentleman should not be too critical of the present Administration.
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Gentleman must compare like with like. Unemployment grew in a number of areas while the Labour Government were in office, and Northern Ireland was one of them. I am sure that they were disturbed about that. As the hon. Gentleman will know, I was not in this place at the time. However, he must remember that there was a growth in the work force and in the creation 480 of jobs. We now have an appalling ratio of jobs to unemployed. That ratio was being improved by the Labour Government.
§ Mr. McCusker
That may be, but we are now being told that the one engine for employment in Northern Ireland, the public sector, will soon stop running. We are told that we can expect no further growth in employment in that sector. It seems that if anything we shall see a fall in employment in that sector. The Queen's university forecast is that manufacturing industry will decline over the next five years to a level at which it employs only 19 per cent. of the Northern Ireland work force.
Only half an hour ago I was speaking to one of my constituents who is an industrialist. He is trying to protect 50 or 60 jobs in the constituency. He has put much effort and a great deal of his own money into his project over the past two years. I cannot identify him because he has asked me not to do so, but he told me that he could not raise any further money from his own resources or from the private sector. He presented a new plan to the industrial development board and was told, "You cannot take us for mugs all the time." It is perhaps understandable that that should be the reaction of officials and civil servants, who have burnt their fingers so often in the immediate past. However, my constituent resented that comment.
I do not believe that he was trying to take the IDB for mugs. He has a good product and he has developed his work force to such an extent that the product has become a success. I think that the IDB knows that he has made every effort to obtain funds from other sources. Even if the board cannot help him any further, I do not think that there is anything to be gained from making such comments.
The Minister will probably be aware of my interest in the gas industry. It appears when we talk about gas in Northern Ireland that the meaning of English has changed. We are always hearing the phrases "in the near future" or "in a few weeks' time". I have heard those expressions used at regular intervals since 1977. Six years have passed and all the options and possibilities have been exhausted, from north channel interconnectors to a north-south interconnector. We are still being told that a decision will be made in a few weeks' time, but the Minister has said this evening that he is rather pessimistic about achieving positive results. It is good to know that he is as honest as that. That honesty is better than some of the stories that we have heard in the past.
Those in the gas industry in Northern Ireland feel that they are being slowly strangled and that they have been the subject of a great con operation. They think that the Government have been saying to themselves "If we take long enough about it, the industry will die on its feet. If that happens, there will be no allegations that the Government threw another 1,000 on the dole queue." If the industry goes to the wall, it will be difficult to replace the 1,000 jobs that will be lost. My first option was not Kinsale gas but a Northern Ireland share of the national resources in the North sea.
We did everything to try to convince successive Governments that that was the way in which they should proceed, but we failed. Therefore, we had to settle for gas from another source as the only means of saving the industry and those 1,000 jobs. If that has proved not to be a viable proposition, nobody will be more annoyed about it than me because I have invested almost six years of my political life in trying to save that industry. Enough is 481 enough. I hope that when the Minister says "in the near future", he means "in the near future". I hope that before the summer is out I shall know, the industry shall know and 1,000 people employed in the industry shall know whether they have a future.
I say this to those who do not welcome the possibility of Kinsale gas. If gas is taken out of the energy basket in Northern Ireland and we are once again in the hands of the coal importers, all the offers over the past year when coal burning appliances were given away virtually for nothing, and all the competitive pricing for coal and smokeless fuel products, would disappear. Just as in the past, I have a feeling that when the coal importers of Northern Ireland have the people at their mercy there will be no offers. There will be no marketing tricks. The price will go up to the level that it used to be when virtually anything could be asked and the people were forced to pay virtually anything for coal. That would be the consequence if the gas industry were closed. It is for that reason that those people want to see the industry finished off.
It is interesting that at this late stage those people come along with proposals to save the gas industry by gasifying coal. That would not be by a new process. They offer the people the possibility of having gas once again if they start producing it in the way in which they produced it 10 or 20 years ago. They appear to have learned nothing from all the experiments, conducted principally by the British Gas Corporation. Those people are saying, "Forget about Kinsale gas. Start making our gas from coal again." I hope that there is such a possibility. I know that the Department was assessing the proposal. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to tell us what the conclusions are. I should not have thought that it would take that long to consider the proposal and see whether it was viable. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps we can go back to producing gas in the traditional way, from coal. Perhaps that is an economic proposition. If it is, let us know and let us get on with saving the industry by those means. However, I do not believe that the proposition has much prospect.
The lignite deposits outside Crumlin offer us better prospects. When the gas industry is dying, and the electricity industry requires a subsidy of almost £40 million a year, time must be of the essence. The lignite is there; it is a source of some significance. That is acknowledged by the Northern Ireland electricity service, which says:Lignite is the province's only significant indigenous proven fossil-fuel reserve.If that is so, why can we not move quickly? The delay involved in dragging our feet in the past, on decisions on electricity and forms of electricity generation and conversion from oil to coal and so on, cost us more than anything else. If it is possible to use lignite for the benefit of the Province, let us not take years to decide what we should do about it. I hope that the Minster can tell us what is intended.
There is no doubt that during the 1960s cheap energy in the Province attracted many of our 20th century technology-based industries to Northern Ireland. If we can get our fuel costs down to a realistic and competitive level once again, we have a prospect of attracting new industries. If we are relying on subsidies of £40 million a year to keep our electricity costs down to the level of the highest in the United Kingdom, we shall not do it. We shall not do it by leaving proven reserves of lignite in the ground or by killing off the gas industry.
482 I hope that we shall hear something tonight that will encourage us on those three points.
§ Mr. Clifford Forsythe (Antrim, South)
I am making my first speech in this illustrious House, and, as the new hon. Member for Antrim, South, I am conscious of the fact that I stand in line of succession from former hon. Members Sir Hugh O'Neill, Professor Savory Sir Knox Cunningham, and my immediate predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). I have the almost unique privilege, because of boundary changes, of sitting on the same Bench as my predecessor, who now represents another part of the old Antrim, South constituency. He is an hon. Member for whom I have the highest regard, and if I have one half of his common sense, integrity, ability and vision, I shall serve my constituents well.
The new constituency of Antrim, South has within its boundary farming, rural and urban areas, and is populated by all classes and creeds. It encloses half of Newtownabbey borough and all of the Antrim borough, and includes the market towns of Antrim and Ballyclare. My constituents are hardworking and industrious and have a way of living which they have endeavoured to maintain despite unemployment and terrorism. The constituency has, for almost a century, returned an Ulster Unionist to the House to look after its interests, and most of those interests would be covered by the appropriation order, with the notable exception of security — a subject on which I shall comment at the earliest possible opportunity. I shall speak of the other subjects because I feel that it is my duty as the new hon. Member for Antrim, South to bring them to the attention of the House, which is the mother of Parliaments, and to which I have been sent by my constituents.
My constituents work in the intensive sector of fanning, which is of tremendous importance to us, as has been said already, but they have been badly treated recently. My farming friends have told me that while they are willing to compete with anyone fairly and realistically , grains which cost £8 to £10 per tonne more in Northern Ireland than on the mainland cannot be regarded as assisting fair competition, whatever the reasons for the problem. If one adds to that the expense incurred in exporting the product, it can be seen that these extra burdens are hard to overcome. My friends also tell me that even the 50,000 tonnes of intervention grain brought into Northern Ireland would lower the egg price by only 1/4p per dozen. The same farmers are losing about 13p per dozen in the operation.
Before anyone accuses me of coming here with the begging bowl, I point out that in 1981–82 there was an underspend of £6 million in the agricultural Estimate, and the provisional figures for 1982–83 show an underspend of £9 million. Some attempt should have been made to redirect this money. I support the view that in the agricultural Estimate at least, a contingency fund should be set aside each year to support sectors that experience seasonal problems that can be dealt with only on a demand basis.
The present rundown of the Michelin tyre company in my constituency and the previous closures of the multinational companies concerned only with making a quick profit and running for cover at the first sign of 483 trouble, all the while paying lip service to the hard work and industry of its redundant workers have been body blows to my constituency.
I hope that industrial development promotions and grants will be applied to smaller indigenous firms which mainly look for just a little support, bearing in mind a shortfall of £8 million in the industry, energy, trade and employment Estimates for 1981–82 and the provisional figure of £31 million in the 1982–83 Estimates. The same point about reallocation can be made here, and that kind of money would have been useful to our local firms, which would not have cut and run.
In Class IV, Votes 1 and 2, dealing with the Department of the Environment, the reference to roads and road safety should take into account that extremely dangerous road —already mentioned by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley)—the A26, which runs from Antrim to Ballymena. As has been said, the Antrim and Ballymena borough councils are united in their view that that bottleneck should be sorted out by constructing a road of motorway standard on the original line envisaged by the planners or, failing that, a dual carriageway on the original line.
I was embarrassed for the former Minister for the environment when he attended a meeting of representatives from the two councils and had to justify a complete turnabout by his Department. In 1979, the Department had produced 11 reasons to support a motorway, and in 1983 the same Department produced an almost equal number of reasons against it.
The new proposal suggests making the A26 a dual carriageway which will continue to be used during construction. That is on a section of road 6.4 miles long, with 19 farmers having land on both sides of the road, 22 farmers having land on one side, 86 private entrances, seven crossroads, five single roads, 48 bus stops and 86 farm gates. The idea of farmers driving cattle or sheep across a fast dual carriageway could surely be believed only by those characters whom we see in the TV show, "Yes Minister".
I could make several speeches on Class VIII, the education programme, but I shall refer to only one school, Ballyclare high school. That grammar school has a high reputation in educational circles, but if it were not for the excellent teaching of its staff, the deplorable conditions which have remained virtually unchanged for 20 years would lead to a falling off of new pupils and eventual closure. I pay tribute to the headmaster and staff for their dedication and inventiveness which maintain the school's reputation.
I invite the new Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland to join me in a visit to the school, so that he may see for himself the conditions there.
Together with my colleagues who represent the other Northern Ireland constituencies, I make great use of Belfast airport to attend this House. Fortunately, that airport is within my constituency. I am well aware of the speed and dependability of the service. While some can make a case for using Sydenham as a short-haul airport, there can be no doubt that the new facilities at Belfast airport have established it as Northern Ireland's international airport.
In my maiden speech, I cannot help but notice the sparseness of attendance in the House. It is little wonder 484 that the House takes some remote decisions on Northern Ireland, and it is about time that hon. Members at least paid us the compliment of coming along to see those whom they think have two heads.
§ 9.1 pm
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)
As the Member for the new constituency of Londonderry, East, I compliment the two hon. Members from Northern Ireland who have made their maiden speeches. If he manages to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, I hope that another hon. Member from a new Northern Ireland constituency, also a member of my party, will be permitted to make his maiden speech.
These men are not new to the people of Northern Ireland. They are well known, highly respected and trusted. Their presence here reflects the trust that resides in Northern Ireland in the Unionist party. Throughout the years they will make a tremendous contribution to the affairs of the House, and they will serve their constituents well.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) —I am sorry that he has left—referred to the standards and attitudes of Carson. The recent election has proved yet again that the people of Northern Ireland set one basic policy above all others—the maintenance of the Union. Our presence in this House is proof positive that that is the basic policy and the dividing line in Ulster politics. It is not religion; it is nationalism. It is a question of which nation we belong to, of whether we are British or something else. Our presence here proclaims that the people of Ulster pride themselves on being British, and they intend to stay British.
We shall use any institution placed at our disposal to keep ourselves British. Carson, Craigavon and the others of their day used Stormont for that purpose. I have long believed that one of the reasons why it was filched away was that it was an effort to undermine and destroy our ability to maintain our British citizenship. That, like so many other attacks made on the Unionist population of Ulster, will fail because of one paramount political fact in our lives.
It is still difficult, Mr. Speaker, for those of us who remember your predecessor to remember that he has been replaced, but we welcome you to the Chair and compliment you on your accession to it.
I want to confine my remarks as far as possible to Class 'VIII, paragraph 2, dealing with higher and further education and teacher training.
The court of the New University of Ulster met on 27 June, when it was asked to accept, by a three quarters majority, a resolution asking Her Majesty to rescind the charter of the university and to proceed with the merger of the university with the Ulster polytechnic into a four-campus university-type institution. I do not believe that the Government or people in the universities expected resistance, but there was, because members of the court, of whom I am one, were not completely happy, to say the least, with the assurances that we had been given.
Several members of the court and council sent a letter to members of the court recommending opposition to the motion. The key sentences are as follows:No assurances have been given by the Government who are attempting to force this course of action upon us that the inevitable additional finances to run the merged institution will be available, nor at this point has the Government stated what 485 it sees as the academic, administrative or financial advantages, either for the New University, the Polytech or higher education in Northern Ireland. We therefore believe that as members of Court. it is our clear responsibility under the University's Charter to preserve the University's existence in its present form, at least until such times as academically and administratively sound proposals for merger or any other alternative are put forward and the Government give clear assurances on the provision of finance.Having listened to what was said, and having spoken myself, I should have thought that the Government would have replied reasonably, moderately and sensibly. Their reply was not long coming. It was not the type of reply that a university body has a right to expect from the Government.
The letter was sent out the next day, marked "restricted". I have a copy and it says:The petitioning for a Charter for a new university will proceed on the existing planning timetable without the involvement of NUU.There is a good deal more in the same vein. I do not wish to weary the House with it all, but it continues:The Universities Central Council on Admissions will be notified on 7 October 1983 that public funding will not be available for student intakes to NUU from 1984–85 and thereafter…. In the light of the decision that student intakes will not be publicly funded after 1984, the Department will wish to be assured that the teaching and other resources at NUU can be maintained at appropriate levels to allow students, including those intending to enter in 1983, to complete their courses of study.If that letter emerged in another context, I think that the police would regard it as blackmail. The NUU has been told bluntly to surrender its charter and do exactly as it is told by the executive. If it does not, the Government will stop giving it money and it will have to close its doors. If that is the attitude of this or any other Government to universities and university education, especially one that the Government set up—it is the only one set up that way in Northern Ireland—there is a grim future for universities throughout the United Kingdom.
The issue of costs and the content of courses has not been dealt with, and it must be answered. The letter to Professor Newbould was scandalous. It should not have been received by any education instituion that asks the Government to tell it the truth so that F: knows the whole story about what is going on, how much money is available and precisely what they intend to do with it.
The House will recall that I asked the Prime Minister about this on 28 June. She replied to me then, and afterwards wrote me a letter stating:The Government has from the outset given clear financial guidelines to the Steering Group under Sit Peter Swinnerton-Dyer which is planning the new university institution. On the basis of these figures the Steering Group gave assurances to staff which were announced in the House in reply to Mr. James Kilfedder"—the hon. Member for Down, North—on 12 July 1982. The figures on superannuation were given in evidence to the Select Committee on 2 February … those relating to the assimilation of salaries were given in the House in reply to Mr. Christopher Price on 10 March.That is all very well, until one examines the answers, which are not as detailed as one would hope. On 10 March the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for education told Mr. Price:An estimate prepared for the Steering Group on the basis of current salary scales suggested that some £270,000 might be involved if all the present academic staff of the Ulster polytechnic were to transfer to the university scales." —[Official Report, 10 March 1983; Vol. 38, c. 498.]486 When the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) asked for an assurance on job security, the Minister said:I am content that, in its planning of the new university institution, the Steering Group should proceed on the basis of its advice to me that, subject to certain conditions, it should be possible to offer employment, without a drop in salary to all those who, on the day of changeover, are employed by either institution."—[Official Report, 12 July 1982; Vol. 27, c. 275.]On 15 July 1982 the hon. Member for Down, North asked the Secretary of State whetherany assurances have been given to Queen's University, Belfast, that its real income will not be reduced in the event of the merger between the New University of Ulster and the Ulster Polytechnic costing more than is currently envisaged.The reply was:No, but I have told the vice-chancellor that if more cash than envisaged was needed for the new institution it would not be found at the expense of the Queen's University." —[Official Report, 15 July 1982; Vol. 27, c. 467.]I shall return to that general theme later in my remarks, but it should already be clear to anyone who can put two and two together that if Queen's university will not suffer, and the cost is greater than that envisaged, something else will suffer. It can only be the new institution or perhaps other institutions in Northern Ireland. I have not been happy with the proposed merger since it was mooted, because I have never been able to understand the underlying reasons for it. Far too much is going on behind the scenes for this matter to be ignored, and the court of the university was correct to take the decision that it did. The fact that the Government, instead of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, brought along a stone crusher is further proof that my suspicions are well-founded.
I have sought information about the costings, which does not quite tally with the replies that I have just quoted. The Treasury might also be interested in this information, because it might be asked to find the money but may not be able to supply it. My information is that if polytechnic staff were transferredto university salary scales on the normal basis of transfer to comparable points, the DENI method, recently disclosed, was that transfer would be to the next-up incremental point on the lecturer's or senior lecturer's scale. This, it could be argued, would not cost more than the £200,000 odd figure which has been published. But the university lecturer's scale is age-pointed, viz., a lecturer appointed at age 25 must be given the 2nd point: and so on to the top of the scale. A polytechnic staff member transferred to the next point up above his present salary could be as much as about ten increments below where he should have been had he commenced teaching in a university; and this entitlement would no doubt be pressed by the trade union and would have to be conceded after merger. Transfer to comparable points could cost between £1 million and £2 million in contrast with the Department's £200,000.It is basic to the Universities Superannuation Scheme that all academic and related staff in the University have to be in the Scheme. The USS is a self-financing scheme, maintained by employers' contributions currently at 18.5 per cent. and employee's contributions currently at 6.35 per cent. The Teachers' Superannuation Scheme, on which the comparable polytechnic staff are superannuated is financed by annual Parliamentary grants and by an employee's contribution only. To transfer the polytechnic staff to the Universities Scheme would cost a figure which has variously been estimated at between £8 million and £13 million—say' £10 million—and the annual employer's contribution required would approach £1 million.As well as these obvious extra costs there would be costs, as yet unestimated, in travelling between campuses (which would also involve a time loss for staff involved) and for installing sophisticated and costly communication equipment; in house removal costs… the cost of employing more administrators. 487 The two institutions at present have between them about 10 senior administrators: the merged institution proposes to have about 20.If there is a saving there, I should be greatly obliged if someone could explain it to me. If the figures that I have given are anywhere near correct, where is the case for a merger on the ground of a saving? There can be no saving in the circumstances that I have described.
In addition to what the House has now been told by me, we had today a statement on Government funding from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That statement gives the impression that £1 billion is being saved—chopped off —until we realise that £100 million of that saving will actually be next year, because when they push that £100 million past the end of the year into the next year I cannot see the Government adding it on, knowing the Government as I do. I feel certain that they will take it off next year's provision.
Secondly, £500 million of the £1 billion is to be raised through the sale of assets. That brings it down to a saving of £400 million. That is a fairly small sum of money in the context of total Government expenditure in the United Kingdom, but some of that saving of £400 million is bound to fall on Northern Ireland. Before the Minister concludes his reply to the debate this evening I hope he will tell us how much of that £400 million is to be saved in Northern Ireland. Or has a saving already been created there of which we have not yet been told? If it is to be applied to Northern Ireland — it would have to be a saving of several million pounds if it were to be pro rata with the rest of the United Kingdom—we would need to know how much of that would come from the university and the education budget in general, because that is bound to have a further effect on the provision of education in Northern Ireland.
I come to the funding guarantees that have been given. The Government have already told the New University of Ulster and the polytechnic that there is to be level funding. In other words, the present expenditure will be maintained. However, I have never been clear whether that is in real or in cash terms. The difference between the two, as a result of inflation, is not as big as it was a few years ago, but there is still a considerable shortfall.
If there is only level funding, if, as the hon. Member for Down, North has been told, Queen's university will not suffer, and if the costings that I have given to the House are anything like correct — they are far above the estimates given by the Government, who do not appear to have any firm figures—from where will the money be found? The Government will not provide it and the universities, whether or not the polytechnic and the new university merge, do not have it. Will there be a massive cut in student numbers? Will there be a further rationalisation of closures? Where will the cash come from? Those are not light questions, but questions which the university asked from the first hour that the merger was proposed. They have not been answered.
It is astonishing that a great many of the academic staff at the university have asked me to oppose the merger because they do not like it, do not believe in it or trust it. They know that something is wrong. They are fearful for their jobs and positions. They are academics, unused to political in-fighting. They expressed to me the deep concern felt by them and a large part of the general public 488 around Coleraine. The university staffs throughout the United Kingdom should be fearful when they see what is happening in Coleraine. No money is being provided for the cost of the merger or for the running costs. Nothing is being provided for the additional expense that is bound to occur in the proposed institution.
We must consider the original intentions behind the two separate institutions. The polytechnic was not intended to be a university. It was intended to underpin the university structure in Northern Ireland. At every level of education when new schools were created, such as intermediate schools, the first step was to begin O and A-level examinations. Polytechnics are not financed in the same way as universities. The New University had direct Government funding and was given directions on how much could be spent on its capital programme and so on. The polytechnic was deficit funded to such an extent that it appeared to get whatever it wanted without questions being asked. Perhaps the Minister should consider that and determine why there was such an imbalance. Why was the polytechnic allowed to give degrees and rapidly turn itself into a third university?
The academic thrust is always to carry the academic standards of an institution upwards — whether it is a secondary school, grammar school, polytechnic or university. Academics think that that is where the glory is. It is an unfortunate facet of human nature that the superior type of education is aspired to by most academics.
I was proud to represent Londonderry city in this House for more than nine years. Interesting things are happening there. There has always been a certain amount of jealousy and bitterness because the university was built in Coleraine rather than in Londonderry. The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, based at the North West College of Technology, said:The provision of further and higher education in this area is now the subject of a government inquiry. The Cowan Committee has been set up to consider the present and future demand for both part-time and full-time courses of advanced education in Londonderry.Provided facilities are brought up to modern standards, a modest increase in the number of higher level courses would mean:
- jobs for lecturers, gardeners, librarians, typists, cleaners, administrators, builders etc.;
- more money being spent in local shops;
- more and better sporting and cultural activity;
- better educational opportunities for everyone;
- a better image for the area as a place for investment.Existing educational facilities in this area are under-resourced. In particular we believe tha new facilities should be provided and that they should:There is much more, but perhaps I have said enough to show the direction in which some minds in that city are moving. They envisage considerable expenditure in the future on the college of technology and Magee college in Londonderry, but the money is not there. I wonder whether some of the folk making those happy forecasts about the possibilities for the city are seriously misleading themselves. I fear that if the NUU is merged with the polytechnic the NUU may go down the bunghole and take Magee with it because the two are tied together. I believe that the high hopes for Londonderry expressed by some folk have no solid foundation on which to build.
- be properly resourced with adequate staff and teaching accommodation, student accommodation, laboratories, library, student union/recreational and social facilities,
- be permanent, able to grow and be responsive to local needs."
489 Astonishingly little work has been done on the merger of the NUU and the polytechnic. I understand that most of the activity in the past 12 months which was supposed to relate to the practicality of the merger has concentrated on the preparation of a draft charter and statutes. Instead of discussing where subjects should be taught, at what level they should be taught and how students might best be attracted, all that the steering committee has produced has been a draft charter and statutes on organisation and committee structures, none of which has any relevance to the students. There is no evidence of any academic or financial examination of the practicality of the merger. There is no academic plan—a feature characteristic of the development of every new post-war university. Are those allegations correct? If they are, my suspicions must be even deeper than before.
The Association of University Teachers has been happy about the merger because it has been given assurances about future employment, but my information leads me to believe that those assurances stop stone dead on the day that the merger is completed. They do not run beyond that. There is another problem. Apparently, there is a fairly generous premature retirement compensation scheme, which ends in October 1985. I wonder how many of the people now employed by the university will be able to opt for that. We should have the figure as it is relevant to my questions about NUU.
The Government have done their best to push the university into hanging itself and I fear that they have succeeded. I do not believe, much though I would like to believe, that the university can hold out against the blackmail to which it is being subjected. What are the Government afraid of? If they really believe in the merger, the place to put the argument is here in this Chamber. Let them bring in a Bill. Let them destroy the present charter of the NUU openly so that the whole House can see what they are doing. Let us have this out in the open. Let us have a Bill that we can probe, discuss and amend. Then we may obtain answers to the questions that I have put today, rather than just sliding around them.
A spotlight will then be cast on the Government's intentions for the university structure in the United Kingdom as a whole. This should not be seen in isolation. It is the beginning of something big. I want to know what the Government intend. The people of Ulster and those interested in higher education in the United Kingdom generally should be very interested in the small, weak institution that is being butchered in Coleraine.
§ Mr. James Nicholson (Newry and Armagh)
As I make my maiden speech in the House tonight, I cannot help feeling very humble. I come to help the new constituency of Newry and Armagh. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker), who represented the greater part of the new constituency. I pay tribute also to my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who represented the smaller part of the constituency. Both those hon. Members have an excellent record in the House and in their constituencies. I put on record my and my constituents' appreciation of their very hard work over the past 10 years. If I do half as well I will be successful.
The new constituency has the town of Newry at one end, the city of Armagh at the other, and a vast area of rural and mainly agricultural land in between. Both areas 490 have many problems, but the one that affects both towns dramatically is the amount of unemployment. The recently released figures, which show that Newry has over 31 per cent. unemployment and Armagh has over 21 per cent., are deplorable and cannot be tolerated for one moment longer than is necessary; and even that is too long.
Northern Ireland has witnessed the decline of the multinational, especially in the textile industry. We can solve our problems only by local endeavour, enthusiasm and enterprise being encouraged and developed. We will not achieve that if, through taxes and rates, we make it impossible to start even a small business. Tax and rate relief are required. We do not require executives in palatial offices to tell us that they know best how to solve all our problems. We require good, sound common sense and, certainly, no more fiascos like De Lorean.
Agriculture is extremely important in Northern Ireland. It is the backbone of our economy. As someone who has depended upon farming for his livelihood, I am only too well aware of all the problems that those involved in agriculture—especially the small farmers—face. Over the past year there have been two major problems—the plight of the potato producer and the intensive sector. The potato producer has certainly had a very difficult period. Farmers have been forced to sell their farms due to the Department's lack of initiative in not introducing a stock feed scheme at an early date. That indecision must be deplored and must not occur again.
The intensive sector has been ailing for a considerable period—since the United Kingdom became a member of the European Community and the common agricultural policy took over. We experienced what we have now come to know as the high grain prices. Since then, we have witnessed a halving in the pig and poultry sectors, which have played an important part in the agricultural life of our Province. There has been a loss of jobs within agriculture and all the ancillary industries that depend on a thriving pig, poultry and broiler industry to continue their existence. I hope that there will be an end to the trend of thought that appears to exist in the minds of some departmental officials that future contraction is necessary. Instead, they should turn their minds to planning how this once-great industry can prosper again. The Department should not continue with the defeatist policy that it appears to be following at present.
I readily accept that agriculture requires better marketing. More time and thought should be given to that side of agriculture. Marketing, research and development are important for the future of agriculture.
Immediate implementation of the proposed extension of the less-favoured area would be of help to farmers in my constituency. I look forward to the implementation of those recommendations. Never have we waited so long for anything in agriculture to be implemented. It has been talked about by high and low in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, but talk does not improve the plight of those in less favoured areas.
The direct rule system of governing Northern Ireland is, to put it mildly, unsuitable and unsympathetic. The problem is not improved by unrepresentative area boards which are accountable to no one other than the Minister who appoints them. Such a system stands democracy on its head and cannot be tolerated. The system has been thrust on the Northern Ireland people and no matter how often they speak through the ballot box, their wishes are overlooked. Enough is enough. These unresponsive and 491 undemocratic bodies have disregarded people's views for long enough. They have outlived their welcome and should be disbanded forthwith.
As someone who makes his first speech in this hallowed House and mother of Parliaments, I am amazed to see how few hon. Members are present. It does not augur well for the interest to be shown by hon. Members representing this part of the United Kingdom in the affairs of Northern Ireland. I am glad to see those hon. Members who are present. I hope that they will spread the word throughout their parties and that in future more interest will be shown in Northern Ireland debates.
We had an education system which was recognised widely as being second to none. The Department of Education and the area boards have drawn up a hit list to try to close our small rural schools to the detriment of everyone. I assure the House that such moves will be opposed vigorously in the communities involved. They will have my utmost support in doing so. Apparently, the Select Committee thinks that there is so much money to spare that we can afford to educate foreigners. We in Northern Ireland can make better use of that money and make suggestions about how that money should be used within the United Kingdom.
The people of Northern Ireland are not beggars. They are proud and independent. They have been highly insulted by the Secretary of State's recent remarks. No matter how many retractions he now makes, the stigma will last just as it lasted when the previous man made a similar remark against the Northern Ireland people. We are not looking continuously for more public expenditure, but for a different emphasis. Rather than build a second bridge, which I believe is not required, over the river Foyle in the city of Londonderry, the Government's scarce resources could be better deployed. How many roads in Northern Ireland could have been improved had the Government decided to distribute their road finances more positively? I represent a constituency in which the road system has gradually deterioriated during the past 10 years, since the reorganisation of local authorities. The Department of the Environment took responsibility for that function, which I believe should be returned immediately to local councils.
I am glad to see that the Under-Secretary of State is in the Chamber, because I want to question him on one simple subject, which I have fought for during my past eight years of public life. I refer to Tower Hill hospital in Armagh. I should like to extend a hearty invitation to the hon. Gentleman to come to see the hospital. During the six weeks in which I was involved in fighting the election campaign and was unable to attend the local area board, lo and behold it took a decision to build the new hospital on the already over-intensive site at St. Luke's, because it thought that it could save a few thousand pounds. I invite the Minister to come to Armagh, so that I can prove to him that the hospital should be rebuilt on the present site of Tower hill.
The Housing Executive is responsible for providing public authority housing in Northern Ireland. Its abject failure to come to terms with the problems that should have been solved years ago and its record on maintenance and rehabilitation are disgraceful. In the 20th century there are cottages and small developments that do not even have the 492 basic facilities that one would expect. The sums of money that have been spent foolishly over the years would have gone a long way towards solving many tenants' problems.
However, success in all the aspects of government covered in the order depends on stability and settled conditions. In referring to the order's impact on my new constituency, I must mention the lawlessness that has existed for 15 years: 15 years of death, destruction and anarchy. That has been the trademark of the evil men. They have murdered and maimed at apparent will, and then sought refuge in the safe haven of the Irish Republic. Is it not time that the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland were given more thought than the murderers, and that one basic right—the right of everyone to live their lives in peace?
I look forward to the time when peace will prevail and prosperity will return to the constituency of Newry and Armagh.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley)
I add my compliments and congratulations to those already extended to those of my hon. Friends who have addressed the House today for the first time. They will have commended themselves to you, Mr. Speaker, because they have been brief in their comments. Indeed, they have perhaps been briefer than some of the old hands and, who knows, that may lead to their being more fortunate in catching your eye than those of us who have grossly offended in the past. However, I do not wish to prejudge the issue.
Whatever the outcome, I trust that my hon. Friends will contribute to our debates and that they will bring to them an additional sense of realism. You and I can understand, Mr. Speaker, why they should feel that the Chamber is somewhat deserted when holding what amounts to a Northern Ireland benefit day. However, I doubt whether attendance is as good during debates on Welsh affairs—a subject dear to the heart of the previous Speaker. Therefore, my hon. Friends should not be too depressed. After all, our friends may be few, but those present are faithful friends.
The Minister mentioned that there were subjects that we wanted to raise. Some of them were to have been the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. M. Smyth). In his absence, which is due to unavoidable circumstances, I shall do no more than put on record three of the items that he would have dealt with and of which we have given notice: concessionary fares for the elderly, orthopaedic development and clinical psychology. I have a file in my possession that goes back three years and contains records and notes of interviews with successive Ministers, and letters from them.
Despite our combined efforts, it has become clear that variations exist in the treatment of the elderly in Northern Ireland compared with their counterparts in Great Britain. One example is that women in Northern Ireland must wait until they are 65 years old before they qualify for certain concessions that are available to their counterparts in Great Britain. There would also appear to be variations which affect the disabled and handicapped. We have undertaken to enter into discussions with the Northern Ireland Council for the Handicapped. I hope that the new Minister will be as sympathetic as his predecessor—I have no reason to believe that he will not be—and that when we have completed our deliberations he will be prepared to discuss 493 our conclusions. The Minister could then reconsider the problem so that this time we can make some advance. I shall not go into details because the hon. Gentleman will have in his possession a file similar to the one before me.
Instead, I will move on to orthopaedic developments. Shortcomings in this area have been set out in a letter from the Northern Ireland Council for Orthopaedic Development. I shall mention three areas. First, I am not satisfied and the council is not satisfied that everything possible is being done to facilitate the care of people in the community. Those members who have spent a great deal of time studying these matters will know that it is far less costly to care for people in the community than to care for them in institutions.
Secondly, the council refers to anti-discrimination measures. In referring to this issue I hope I shall not raise the hackles of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) because this is discrimination of a different type —discrimination against disabled people. As the council points out, such discrimination is due more to thoughtlessness than to any deliberate act.
Those Members who assisted the former Member for Belfast, West, Mr. Fitt, in the promotion of his private Member's Bill will remember that, even with the help of expert draftsmen, we could not find a way around the problem of removing the option that was built in—and has been built in—to all such legislation—I refer to the fatal wordsFacilities and access for the disabled will be provided where possible.If an organisation or a private developer finds that it is not possible or not convenient, use is made of that clause. I am sure that that will be very much in the mind of a new Minister.
I come now to the vexed matter of support for charities and the problems of VAT and other forms of taxation on charitable contributions. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has devoted a great deal of study to this matter. I know that he has bombarded successive Ministers and, on his behalf, I can give an assurance that that bombardment will continue and perhaps be intensified. I hope that the Minister will give consideration to the viable and defensible case that has been put forward by the various charitable organisations.
It is reckoned that within Northern Ireland there is one clinical psychologist for every 50,000 of the population whereas in Great Britain the ratio is one for every 22,000. There is clearly something wrong there. I will not rush to blame the Northern Ireland Office because it is conceded by certain authorities at Queen's university, Belfast that,Despite encouragement from the Department, the Health Boards have decided that in the light of current economics they are unable to support the development of the clinical psychological services.The Department is obviously encouraging the boards, but perhaps it could encourage them still further by saying that the financial resources will be made available. I hope that the Minister will look at that disparity in the ratio which I illustrated—one to 50,000 in Northern Ireland and one to 22,000 in Great Britain.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South stressed that all 11 of us were elected to this House on a pledge to seek to get rid of direct rule, and there are various aspects to that in addition to those which he mentioned. Perhaps the most dangerous of all is the renewal of what I call the 12-month lease, when in June each year the Secretary of State comes to Parliament and asks, "May I 494 have authority to govern Northern Ireland for another 12 months?" That is an open invitation to terrorists to believe that the Government and Parliament cannot make up their mind on the future status of Northern Ireland. It encourages them to believe that if they continue, even step up, their pressure they may win.
As my right hon. Friend pointed out, we are tonight involved in perpetuating the saga, adding a further chapter to what is a farcical operation. Tonight is part of one of the objectionable features of the hideous apparatus of direct rule. There is no validity in the suggestion that if we were to abandon this kind of procedure—which, in any event, keeps hon. Members away from other defies they have to perform; they can be thankful that they will not be kept much longer—great violence would be done to the Stormont statute book, that somehow it would prevent the restoration of devolved power, legislative and administrative, to Stormont.
It would do no such thing. The Stormont statute book is itself an amalgamation of literally hundreds of statutes accumulated from various other Parliaments, fore and aft of that period when Stormont existed for 50 years from the 1920s to the 1970s. Thus, a change of the kind suggested by my right hon. Friend would not prevent any reversion to the former situation.
Only a week ago the Secretary of State made a statement in which he intimated that there would be no devolved government in Northern Ireland for the remainder of the elected period of the Northern Ireland Assembly. That being the case, there is every justification for our demanding that we put an end to this farce, which is inconvenient for the House and which fails to do proper justice to Northern Ireland and those who represent it. Because we feel that it is such an objectionable element of the way in which Northern Ireland is being governed, I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South in advising the House to vote against the order.
§ Mr. Chris Patten
I welcome this opportunity to make my first flight from this Bench. It does not seem far from the back to the front of this Chamber, but, then, I suppose that the reverse is equally true.
I wish at the outset to say how pleased I am to be at the Northern Ireland Office; to borrow a phrase from my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), it is neither Siberia nor an assault course. I wish also to pay tribute to my predecessors, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West (Mr. Mitchell) and my homonymous hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten). I know how hard they worked in and on behalf of Northern Ireland. I hope that in time they will not be missed too much.
Some hon. Members believe that our financial procedures should be so arranged as to obviate the necessity for this sort of debate. I have listened to and learned from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in the Procedure Committee on these and other matters of consequence, and I have read his speeches. I recall the right hon. Gentleman's speech on 16 July 1982 and his speech, from which he quoted, on 10 March. I think that he will concede that he made many of the same points today, but perhaps with more of a historical flourish. I am not sure that all his hon. Friends will be quite as enthusiastic as he about the consequences of his constitutional arguments when the full force of them is 495 borne in on them. On the other hand, there are those of us who believe that these matters could be dealt with most effectively by Northern Ireland's own elected representatives in a Northern Ireland Assembly. Many of us look forward to the conditions to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred when he addressed the Assembly recently. We hope that those conditions will lead to the Assembly dealing with these matters, but for the time being we must take the world as we find it.
The Appropriation orders give us three opportunities a year for wide-ranging debates on Northern Ireland's problems. It is possible—this is something to which the right hon. Member for Down, South has referred previously—that left to their own devices, the business managers, wise though they certainly are, would not be quite so generous in allocating time for the affairs of Northern Ireland to be discussed. We would be well advised not to look gift horses in the mouth.
The debate has been especially valuable because it has given three hon. Members the chance to make their maiden speeches. The other day the right hon. Member for Down, South said that he felt like a raddled old harridan in this Chamber of maidens. Those of us who still aspire only to harridan status, who are perhaps just slightly blowsy at the edges, can share some of his feelings. It is a special occasion when one makes a maiden speech in the House, and those who did so today carried off the awesome task with great courage and felicity.
The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs)—I hope very much to visit Larne soon and to travel there, if I can, on the railway — spoke about unemployment, energy and other matters affecting his constituency. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe)—I was extremely pleased to have the opportunity of meeting him recently—spoke principally about agriculture, transport and education. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson)—I am sorry that I missed the early part of his speech—spoke about the main problems in his constituency. I feel that I already know the hon. Gentleman reasonably well, having read a profile of him in the Belfast Telegraph. I hope that the newspapers are always as kind to me as the Belfast Telegraph was to the hon. Gentleman. We congratulate these three hon. Members on having lost their parliamentary maidenhood. We look forward to hearing from them on many occasions in future, and not, I hope, always on matters touching directly on the affairs of Northern Ireland.
I warn these hon. Members that speaking in the Chamber remains, and so it should, an especially daunting business and that future speeches, unlike their maidens, may well go not only unwept, unhonoured and unsung but, much more seriously, unreported. While I am moved by this spirit of generosity, I welcome back the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley). Any Labour Member who escaped last month's slaughter of the not-so-innocent deserves a special word of congratulation.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith began by commending the Government on the present levels of expenditure in Northern Ireland, which was decent of him. He went on to claim shortly afterwards that the Government's policies had done more to damage the Northern Ireland economy than the activities of the 496 paramilitaries. That is the malarkey that one has to endure during election campaigns. We could have done without it for a few weeks or months in this Parliament.
The Government have introduced measures to help to deal with unemployment, which show clearly our commitment to strengthening Northern Ireland's economy. My hon. Friend the Minister of State said that in March this year the Secretary of State announced a new series of measures that strengthened the package of incentives to encourage new investment and reduce the cost burdens on Northern Ireland industry. We introduced a tax incentive that will enable Northern Ireland to compete more effectively with other countries for new mobile investment. We abolished the rates on industrial property and introduced a new energy conservation scheme. I do not think that there is any counterpart to those incentives anywhere else in the rest of the United Kingdom.
We are continuing to develop the youth training programme which was introduced successfully last year, ahead of the rest of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest referred to the success of the Local Enterprise Development Unit. I think that I am right in saying that it has already created more than 15,000 jobs since it was established, with a record of over 2,550 last year. Those policies and the other support that we are giving to manufacturing companies in the Province demonstrate to any reasonably fair-minded observer the depth of the concern of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Government to deal with the appalling unemployment in the Province, which is the legacy of years of decline of our older industries and, alas, of much else besides.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) referred to the forecast of Queen's University Belfast, which appeared in time for yesterday evening's edition of the papers. I have not had the opportunity to do more than read those newspaper reports. What Queen's University is telling us underscores the difficult task that lies ahead of the Government in tackling the severe problems of the economy in the Province. I have not had the opportunity to study the details of the report, so I can only repeat that we are under no illusions about the task that we face, but equally I hope that from what my hon. Friend the Minister of State said earlier and from what I say hon. Members will be in no doubt about our resolve and commitment in taking on that task.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith invited me towards the end of his remarks to meet the poverty lobby in Northern Ireland to discuss the problems faced by the hard-pressed and disadvantaged in the Province. I would be happy to do so. I spoke at the last annual general meeting of the Child Poverty Action Group in Bristol. We had a constructive session, although I think that the group agreed with little that I said. Nevertheless, it was a satisfactory session, not least because it went entirely unreported. I would be delighted to meet the poverty lobby in Belfast, when it is convenient, to discuss matters of common interest, not least the housing benefits that we shall introduce shortly in Northern Ireland.
The right hon. Member for Down, South made an important point when he intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, asking him about improvement grants. I shall not go into detail on improvement grants, but we are spending more on them 497 now than ever before. I am aware that there has been some argument about the priorities set out in a press release issued by the Housing Executive on 19 May. I make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that my Department, the Department of the Environment, is already in touch with the executive about the priority system to ensure that the priorities defined by the executive reflect those of the Government's strategy. If the length of queue is being used to ration the grants rather than a more sensible ordering of priorities, I hope that we shall be able to sort that out in our discussions with the executive.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
I thank the Minister for going as far as he has. May I fortify him by telling him that, in my experience, the facts of the priority system have become known, to applicants only because they did not have any response to their applications. If the priority system in the natural sense of the term were being applied, one would have thought that one of its characteristics would be that every applicant would know that there was such a system and would have the opportunity therefore of bringing himself, if he could, within the scope of the priority applications. It is only because one has inherited a sudden rash of queries from constituents who have found, unaccountably, no response to their applications for grants that one has become aware of the fact that there was a new system. The Minister may take it for granted that there cannot be a very effective priority system working as it clearly does not embrace the majority of those who have applications before the executive.
§ Mr. Patten
The right hon. Gentleman has put the point with his customary clarity, and I shall attempt to put it equally clearly to the Housing Executive.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the allocation of duties among fewer Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office. He welcomed me to my new duties but said that he thought that it would be impossible to take on responsibility both for environment and health and social services, and that in the attempt to educate me in the realities of the problems I have inherited he and his hon. Friends would attempt to give me a nervous breakdown. I have done one or two jobs both extraordinary and demanding in the past and I have even—to take up an earlier point of his — been a consultant. In all those occupations I have managed to avoid thus far a nervous breakdown, although I have flirted with ulcers. I shall try to avoid a nervous breakdown on this occasion. More seriously, I shall try, in environment matters, to do what I can to follow in the large footprints left by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West across the sand.
The right hon. Member for Down, South gave notice of a matter that he has raised on previous Appropriation order debates and raised again — his concern about import penetration from the Republic of new cars that are cheaper to buy there. I am aware of concern that the stringent safety standards expected in the United Kingdom cannot in all cases be established for these, vehicles. The Government propose to take action later this year by introducing an Order in Council designed to require new vehicles imported into Northern Ireland to prove that they meet the safety standards that apply by law in Great Britain. The proposed Northern Ireland provisions will be the same in their broad effect but will differ in detail to take account of the slightly different riles that have applied before now in Northern Ireland.
498 The right hon. Gentleman made an additional point about the effect of changes being made in the British regulations on Northern Ireland. Those changes will be taken into account when the proposed Northern Ireland order is being prepared. As to the possible disadvantage of Northern Ireland cars being imported into Britain, I shall have the point examined and will write to the right hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux). I hope that, in the exchange between my hon. Friend the Minister of State and the right hon. Member for Down, South, we managed to deal with the vexed question of the rating of the property' of the young farmers' clubs. If there is any doubt on that, I should be happy to give way, but it seems to have been reasonably satisfactorily resolved. When the happy accident of a letter dated 6 July leads to the right hon. Gentleman being even better informed, I hope that that will finally dispose of the question.
The right hon. Member for Down, South spoke also of the PAC report and of the consultants on the Foyle bridge. A memorandum of reply to the report will be issued in due course from the Department of Finance and Personnel, and I shall make sure that a copy is sent to the right hon. Gentleman. I shall take up in slightly more detail the point of Housing Executive training consultants, which will also be dealt with in the memorandum. The right hon. Gentleman will know from the minutes of evidence to the PAC that as soon as the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland became aware of the inadequacies of the Housing Executive's arrangements for appointing and training consultants it took steps to ensure that the executive improved its procedures. I am happy to report to the House that such improvements have taken place and to assure the right hon. Gentleman that my Department will continue to monitor those improved procedures to prevent a recurrence of earlier difficulties. But that, too, will be covered, as I said, in the memorandum of response to the PAC.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
May I make one point which arises out of the Minister's last remarks? It would be a convenience, if it were practicable, where there is a PAC report clearly relevant to one of these debates—as long as we continue to have them—if it could be arranged for the departmental observations to be available in time for the corresponding debate. I wonder whether that might be taken into account, if it is practicable.
§ Mr. Patten
It seems an extremely sensible idea. I am afraid that I am not briefed as to any difficulties which may arise from it, but I shall take it back to the Department and hope that we shall be able to accede to the right hon. Gentleman's request.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) asked a large number of extremely detailed questions. I hope that he will excuse me if I do not reply to every one of them. They were a formidable battery. In the interests of time and in the interests of other hon. Members, I shall deal later by correspondence with those questions that I cannot deal with this evening.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the dog control order. The Estimates provide for £200,000 to be paid by the Department of Agriculture to district councils for initial capital expenditure with regard to their responsibilities under the legislation.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Has the higher dog licence charge come into effect yet in Northern Ireland? It will be very unfair if a public that is poorer, on the whole, than the public of Great Britain has to pay more for a dog licence than people on this side of the water have to pay.
§ Mr. Patten
I am advised that the matter will not arise until next year, but I shall take my hon. Friend's point back to my colleagues and ensure that he receives a full reply on it.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North also referred to the problems of the pig and poultry industries. We recognise the difficulties that the industry is facing. They are, of course, well known to my noble Friend who is responsible for agricultural matters in the Northern Ireland Office. I am afraid that I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that we see little scope at present for aid to the pig and poultry industries beyond the substantial provisions which are already available. I am told that in total over £4 million is made available to the industries.
The hon. Gentleman referred to intervention wheat. As he is aware, we negotiated the transfer of about 50,000 tonnes from intervention, with the cost of transport being covered by European Community funds. Shipments have already begun and I understand that tenders for the first 10,000 tonnes were requested for 5 July. I cannot bring the hon. Member more recent information than that, other than the fact that the remaining 40,000 tonnes are expected to be available in Northern Ireland before the end of this month.
The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) raised what I already know to be one of the more vexed questions in the transport area—the A26 between Antrim and Ballymena. I am not sure that it was entirely right to suggest that my hon. Friend had not made up his mind about providing a dual carriageway to link the motorway roundabouts at Dunsilly and Ballykeel. I think that he had made up his mind, and made that perfectly clear. I am told that, subject to completion of the statutory processes, it is hoped that the proposal will be commenced during the present five-year programme.
I look forward to seeing things for myself. I am starting to visit district councils this month. I hope that I shall have been to two or three before the end of the month and that I shall resume a full programme of visits in September. I hope to be able to visit Antrim fairly early in September and Ballymena shortly thereafter. I am sure that I shall be able to discuss this question with people on the ground who may wish to offer me a slightly different interpretation of what my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, North-West has already made clear.
The hon. Gentleman raised a number of other points, for example, the Charisma sports car and aircraft services as well as agriculture. I assure him that they will all be covered in correspondence as soon as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest talked about the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am not sure whether his description of the work of the Assembly would accord entirely with the experience of many hon. Members who are also members of that body. In my short time in the Province, I have developed a high regard for the Assembly and the work that it has been doing, particularly for the officers of the committees to whom I have been able to talk.
An important matter that my hon. Friend raised, which is of considerable concern in Northern Ireland, is the 500 administration of car parks. The possibility of a transfer of administration to district councils under some sort of agency arrangement has, as my hon. Friend pointed out, been under consideration for a considerable time. There are a number of practical difficulties in such a transfer, and these must be resolved before any decision can be made. I want to see the problem resolved as quickly as possible. It should not be too difficult to deal with it quickly, and it is my intention to do so.
§ Mr. Patten
I cannot promise next week any more than the Leader of the House can always promise next week, but with that advice and encouragement I shall do my very best.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann, in addition to his remarks on the Queen's University report, also referred to a number of energy issues. He asked about the prospects of early exploitation of the lignite deposits at Crumlin. The Government have yet to receive applications from the mining company for planning permission and a mining licence. However, applications are expected in the near future—and that means the near future.
From discussion with the company, the Government understand that these applications will be in respect of a pilot pit. The results of the study by specialist energy consultants show that electricity generation offers the best prospects, as is the case internationally. Other uses may, however, be possible to the extent that they do not impinge on the use for electricity generation and are economic. Such applications include the use of lignite in the industrial and domestic sectors.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the Government conclusion on the coal gasification proposal. As he said, a paper recently circulated by the National Coal Board claimed that a coal gasification plant to provide a supply of gas for Belfast only would be viable. My right hon. Friend is having that claim urgently assessed by independent experts—not consultants. Until he receives the report, he will not be in a position to comment on whether the NCB's proposals are a properly worked out and realistic basis for a viable gas industry for the Belfast area.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
With regard to the lignite controversy, the Minister says that the mining company has not yet applied to the Government. Does he mean that it has not applied to his Department or that no application has been made to the divisional planning authority? I understood that the latter had occurred.
§ Mr. Patten
I shall check that and let the hon. Gentleman know as soon as may be.
The hon. Member for Londonderry, East (Mr. Ross) spoke of the concept of a merged institution based on the New Ulster University and the polytechnic. I am told that he made a vigorous speech. Alas, I missed it as I was attempting to compose these bare notes for myself. In those circumstances, it would perhaps be better if, rather than take up the points that I did not hear, I got my hon. Friend who has responsibility for education matters to write to him about the numerous matters that he raised, not least the financial implications of the proposed merger.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh made an interesting maiden speech. I was pleased to be able to hear some of it. I assure him that I shall be happy to visit the 501 hospital in Armagh with him. I have already visited his board area and met the chairman and the vice chairman. I was in Craigavon last Friday and I have had other opportunities to meet them. I shall be delighted to meet them again and the hon. Gentleman at the hospital that he mentioned.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I appreciate the Minister's concern, but I remind him that the chairman and the vice chairman represent no one but themselves. I am the elected representative of Newry and Armagh and my colleague, the hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker), represents that area that contains the hospital, not the chairman or vice chairman of the area health board. They have never stood at an election in their life and would never be elected if they did.
§ Mr. Patten
The hon. Gentleman has brought his warmth to the end of this debate. I note his psephological judgment of chairmen and vice chairmen of the board. After what he has said, I shall ensure that I visit the hospital as soon as possible and discuss its future with him as well as with the chairman and vice chairman of the board who, irrespective of whether they are elected, have done a great deal of service for the National Health Service in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Lagan Valley raised several points which he said would have been raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South who is the chairman of the relevant Assembly committee and whom I had the pleasure of meeting recently—if he had been able to be present. I shall discuss the matters that he raised with him, his hon. Friends and anyone else who wants to raise them. Some of the issues that he raised, such as the orthopaedic services, will, I hope, be touched on, in the regional strategic plan for the Health Service that will see the light of day or, at least, visit the Assembly in a week or two. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be reasonably satisfied with what we have said about the priority that we accord to orthopaedic services in the plan.
As it is getting late, I shall not go into a long and elaborate discussion of clinical psychology. I am sure that I shall do so later when I approach my nervous breakdown. For the time being, it might be better if I wrote to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend about clinical psychology. It is a complex argument that I shall be happy to enter. It might he in everyone's best interests for me to do that.
I have tried to deal with most of the points raised during the debate. I realise that I have not been able to cover some of them, but I shall ensure that hon. Members receive replies in writing to their questions. I am sorry that, at the end of the debate—a hotter end thanks to the splendid intervention of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh —some hon. Members have decided to vote against the order. I hope that they know what they are doing. I hope also that many more hon. Members will vote for the order in the best interests of Northern Ireland—interests which the Government are determined to pursue and to defend.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 137, Noes 8.502
|Division No. 12]||[10.25 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)|
|Amess, David||Baldry, Anthony|
|Ashby, David||Bellingham, Henry|
|Atkins Robert (South Ribble)||Biggs-Davison, Sir John|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Boscawen, Hon Robert|
|Bottomley, Peter||Knowles, Michael|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Brinton, Tim||Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Lilley, Peter|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Lord, Michael|
|Bruinvels, Peter||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Major, John|
|Burt, Alistair||Malins, Humfrey|
|Butler, Hon Adam||Malone, Gerald|
|Butterfill, John||Maples, John|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Mather, Carol|
|Carttiss, Michael||Maude, Francis|
|Chope, Christopher||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Murphy, Christopher|
|Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Newton, Tony|
|Conway, Derek||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Coombs, Simon||Paisley, Rev Ian|
|Cope, John||Patten, Christopher (Bath)|
|Couchman, James||Powley, John|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Dicks, T.||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Dover, Denshore||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.|
|Dunn, Robert||Speller, Tony|
|Evennett, David||Spencer, D.|
|Eyre, Reginald||Steen, Anthony|
|Fallon, Michael||Stern, Michael|
|Favell, Anthony||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Fraser, Peter (Angus East)||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Freeman, Roger||Sumberg, David|
|Gale, Roger||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Galley, Roy||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Terlezki, Stefan|
|Greenway, Harry||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Gregory, Conal||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Ground, Reginald||Thurnham, Peter|
|Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)||Tracey, Richard|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Trippier, David|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Hanley, Jeremy||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Viggers, Peter|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Waddington, David|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Heathcoat-Amery, David||Walden, George|
|Heddle, John||Waller, Gary|
|Hirst, Michael||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Holt, Richard||Watson, John|
|Howard, Michael||Watts, John|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Hubbard-Miles, Peter||Wheeler, John|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Hunter, Andrew||Wolfson, Mark|
|Jackson, Robert||Wood, Timothy|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Woodcock, Michael|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Yeo, Tim|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Key, Robert||Mr. Ian Lang and|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Mr. Michael Neubert.|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Beggs, Roy||Taylor, John (Strangford)|
|Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)||Walker, Cecil (Belfast N)|
|Molyneaux, James||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Nicholson, J.||Mr. William Ross and|
|Powell, Rt Hon J, E. (S Down)||Mr. Harold McCusker.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 23 June, be approved.