§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE rose to move, That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland)Order 1975, laid before the House on 26th November, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order, which appropriates the Autumn Supplementary Estimate, is the second Northern Ireland Appropriation Order to come before this House during the 1975–76 financial year. The sum to be appropriated by this order is some £147 million, and this brings the total Estimates provision to date for 1975–76 to approximately £974 million. The details of the sum required are set out in the Schedule to the order and further information relating to the Votes involved is contained in the volume of Supplementary Estimates which has been available in the Library for some time. The greater part of the additional provision sought is required to meet pay and price increases. Pay increases either conform with or pre-date the present counter-inflation policy. As regards other increases, the most significant are £8 million to repay outstanding loans from title Shipbuilding Industry Board to Harland and Wolff; the £3 million for compensation to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive for loss of rental income 1215 in 1975–76 as a result of the counter-inflation policy and the £2 million required for the Meat Industry Employment Schemes.
§ I hope this short summary has indicated to noble Lords the purpose of this financial order which has already been considered in another place. I know that some noble Lords wish to use this opportunity to discuss aspects of the general economic situation in the Province on which the order has a bearing, and I think it is quite appropriate to do so. I assure noble Lords that I shall endeavour to reply as fully as possible to their questions at the end of the debate, and shall be glad to reply in writing afterwards to points with which I have not been able to deal. I recommend the order to the House, and beg to move.
§ Moved, That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 26th November, be approved.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, as the noble Lord has explained, this order appropriates further sums for Northern Ireland for the rest of this financial year. The previous order added £102 million to the total provision for last year, this order adds another £147 million, and I suppose there will be Spring Supplementary Estimates. It is important to make it clear that we have taken on board what the noble Lord has said and to recognise that these increases accord with the appalling rate of inflation which the United Kingdom has been experiencing. On the subject of the escalation of these figures I have no questions to put to the noble Lord, although I am grateful to him for saying that in this debate we may stray a little more widely than usual.
I should like mainly to discuss how this order relates to employment policies in Northern Ireland, but other noble Lords may wish to touch on different aspects. If one takes gross domestic product, or productivity, or simply industrial production into account, it can be claimed that between 1955 and 1966 the Northern Ireland economy was expanding faster than that of Great Britain, but unemployment remained stubbornly higher than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. It was against that back 1216 ground and the outbreak of violence that the 1970–75 development programme was prepared. That plan gave as a target the promotion of 40,000 new jobs over a five-year period, but admitted that it would be a formidable task to achieve; yet if one takes the period from the beginning of 1970 to the end of 1974, which I admit is not exactly the period which was covered by the development plan, I understand that more than 40,000 jobs were promoted. If I am right, this is a tribute to all those who have been involved in that work in the Northern Ireland economy.
Job promotion through industrial training has been the work of the Northern Ireland Ministry of Health and Social Services and, from 1st January of last year, the Department of Manpower Services, and I think that they have good reason to be proud of their work. The counter-redundancy training scheme, the work of the Government training centres and the innovation of the integrated workforce units have been most valuable.
Under Class IX of this order I notice that there is an increase in the sums granted of some £230,000 for the Department of Manpower Services, and I have no doubt that it will be money which is well spent. If he is able to give them, it would be interesting to have up-to-date statistics from the noble Lord regarding industrial training—how it is getting on at the moment in Northern Ireland—and particularly to hear about the recruitment subsidy scheme for school leavers. But no enduring reduction in unemployment is possible unless industry expands and new enterprises take root. The Northern Ireland economy is indebted to the efforts which were made before 1972, not least during the Premiership of my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine and also during the Premiership of the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, to attract new investment into the Province, and these efforts, it is fair for us in Parliament to claim, have been continued. During 1973, six new plants were moved into Northern Ireland from the United States, Scandinavia and Western Europe. Whenever anything like that occurs it gives a valuable lead to those whom one is hoping will trade with and invest in Northern Ireland. Class VI of this order includes provision for the industrial development services of the Department of Commerce. I should like 1217 to hear from the Government how they foresee foreign investment in Northern Ireland holding up in these very difficult times.
It was particularly to review the levels of investment in the Province that the 1971 Joint Review Body, under Sir Alec Cairncross, was set up which proposed the establishment of the Northern Ireland Finance Corporation. The objective was to offer financial assistance to businesses threatened with severe contraction or closure which had reasonably good prospects of viability and solvency. The effect on job promotion was instantaneous. The annual report of the NIFC for 1973–74 recorded that the Department of Commerce, together with the Corporation and the Local Enterprise Development Unit, had promoted an estimated 10,000 new jobs in 1973 alone. I personally have no further figures for the NIFC and the LEDU and if the noble Lord could give me any, either in reply or after the debate, I should be most grateful. However, the Government now intend, in the words of the gracious Speech, to give an enlarged role to the NIFC. I assume that means the role as it is to be found in the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies, and presumably this will be be done by order.
Therefore, I have only one point on this matter to put to the noble Lord. Paragraph 3 of the Cairncross Report said:We see little to be gained by inviting the Government to become directly involved on its own account in the funding and running of new industrial enterprises".If the NIFC is to follow the example of the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies, presumably it will be empowered to give grants and other financial assistance to companies in difficulties and, indeed, possibly to take control of companies. At the present time, the Government need no reminding of the perils of Government subsidies if they are given for other than commercial reasons. Hitherto the NIFC has worked to very great effect within its original terms of reference, and I ask the Government to think seriously before hanging all of the provisions of the Industry Act round the necks of the Corporation and Northern Ireland industry.
My Lords, one of the reasons for unemployment in Northern Ireland is 1218 the comparative immobility of people, owing to housing problems. Enterprise Ulster and the Urban and Rural Improvement Campaign have mopped up areas of particularly bad unemployment and, of course, Enterprise Ulster retrains people. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could say whether the success which undoubtedly those two organisations have achieved is continuing.
Undeniably one of the keys to the iron sectarian ties which affect some parts of Ulster would be a relaxation of the demarcation lines which almost literally disfigure so many housing estates. Class VII of this order provides for the granting of over £6 million for housing services. In 1974 the Northern Ireland Housing Executive completed a housing conditions survey which showed that, as compared with England and Wales, a greater proportion of all the houses in Northern Ireland were unfit. I understand that the Report suggested that new ways must be found to prevent homes from becoming unfit through extreme disrepair. Has any answer been found to that problem? Is the dereliction of property through inter-secretarian strife showing any signs or lessening? At what level is new house building running? What are the long-term targets for new houses, and is there any plan for the location of any large-scale new housing estates?
There are just two further parts of this Order which I should like briefly to touch on. Class V deals with agriculture and I think perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, will be dealing with that in greater depth. I simply make the point that in a country where 10 per cent of employment is directly attributed to agriculture, the recession in the pig and the beef trade until earlier this year I would assume must have caused some grievous hardship, and I believe the Northern Ireland processing plants have been in considerable difficulty. With those special problems in mind I would assume that Northern Ireland agriculture deserves a slice of the EEC Regional Development Fund which is allocated to the United Kingdom. Can the noble Lord give any indication about the RDF as it affects Northern Ireland, and can he tell the House anything about the largest item which is to be found in Class V, namely, under heading 6, which deals with grants of nearly £2½ million for agricultural assistance schemes?
1219 Then, Class IV deals with education; I have understood—the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong—that the education budget in the Province has been cut quite severely. Can the noble Lord confirm whether that is so, whether the cut has been in line with savings which have been required from other Government Departments, and to what those cuts amount? I believe I am right in saying that in 1973 the school building costs in the Province rose to over £10 million, providing 24,000 new places. Is there now any evidence of any fall in the total school population in Northern Ireland? Can the noble Lord give the school building programme figures for the current year?
I know there are in Northern Ireland many pressing economic problems to which other noble Lords may well refer, and perhaps the noble Lord the Minister will be able to clarify them; but probably the most obviously pressing problem is the current balance of trade, which is in the forefront of all our minds wherever we live in the United Kingdom. Whatever the rights and wrongs of import controls, there is no doubt that the Ulster textile industry must be suffering and that the import of foreign cars into the Province last year reached the really astronomic figure of 38.4 per cent. of new cars registered.
I am afraid I have dealt with a series of points, but I end by expressing the hope that in his reply, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, may be able to give us some overall view of the Northern Ireland economy, and that he can offer economic and commercial reasons that there is indeed hope for the future.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, when my noble friend on previous occasions has submitted orders of this character, particularly where they have involved expenditure, they have gone through almost "on the nod", and certainly with limited comment. In my recollection this is the first occasion when an order of this character has been subjected to a detailed analysis, and I am bound to say that we ought to be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for having undertaken that task because, when all is said and 1220 done, vast sums of money have been expended in Northern Ireland and we ought to know the reason why.
The situation in that area is shrouded by the violence and terrorism and the deplorable events that have occurred in recent years. But seldom have we thought of investigating the use of the sums that have been expended. In particular, how much are we spending on unemployment? How much are we expending on social security and on the repair of buildings, residential and industrial, that have been destroyed? A variety of questions occurs to me, I am bound to say for the first time—and I apologise for it—and if it had not been for the even limited analysis which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has undertaken I should probably have remained in my seat. Somehow there is a feeling in my mind that many other Members of your Lordships' House may think it desirable that on some occasions, if not now (because probably my noble friend the Minister is unprepared for it) we ought to have further and more detailed information.
Another thought occurs to me. I am not quite sure that it is relevant but as it occurs to me I had better deliver myself of it. It is that we are talking a great deal about the possibility of devolution. If devolution is to cost such vast sums as have been expended on one limited area of the United Kingdom, heaven knows what is to be expended if devolution is ever implemented. I beg of my noble friend the Minister, if he cannot reply in detail to the quite appropriate questions that have been addressed to him by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead—and I can understand the reason if he cannot reply now—to give us an assurance that on some future occasion, not too far ahead, we shall obtain further information in much greater detail of how much is actually spent, how it has been expended and what advantages have been derived from the expenditure, apart from the sums that it has been found necessary to spend in order to deal with violence and terrorism.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Viscount BROOKEBOROUGH
My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on his analysis and his approach. May I also say how very interested I was to hear 1221 the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, making those remarks because I have always been slightly afraid of wearying the House with details about the financial arrangements in Northern Ireland. Everyone here who has heard me speak knows that I am passionately devoted to Northern Ireland and to its success in trying to arrive at some peaceful solution that will make the expenditure at least on law and order very much less than it is today. I am greatly encouraged by the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who is a man we all respect and love very much.
In the past I have tried to encourage the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, to try the commercial method of air travel. He tells me he has done so twice. I can only tell your Lordships that my noble friend Lord Moyola and I both regret that he was not with us today. We spent some hours this morning flying over Liverpool, waiting for the fog to clear. Eventually we got down at Gatwick. During that time, because of the security arrangements, we were not able to get at our brief cases, so that if my speech has not the usual flow your Lordships will know that it has been hurriedly prepared in the few minutes since I arrived at the House.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGSBRIDGE
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, before the flow gets bogged down, which it does not seem to have done yet, I think it is a little hard, on the worst day of fog we have had this winter, to blame either the Government or British Airways for the absolutely essential security arrangements they make. This is a wrong attack. If you say that on a fine day your luggage is not properly dealt with, or something of the sort, that I would accept. But on a day of this kind, the fact that the noble Viscount has got here at all is a very pleasant surprise to me.
§ Viscount BROOKEBOROUGH
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for his intervention. He need not fear that I have any complaint about the security. We were given some very interesting instructions when we arrived. The first thing that happened was that we were coming from Northern Ireland and our baggage was transferred into the international customs lounge for people going to foreign 1222 lands. We did not feel that was so good. Then followed the instruction that, "Passengers must claim their own baggage". I wondered whether at Gatwick it was normal for passengers to claim someone else's baggage!
My Lords, I should like first to thank the Government for allowing us to discuss matters concerning Northern Ireland on a rather broader basis than would be necessarily appropriate on the Appropriations Account. I should like to inquire of the Government the method by which they are financing, and are proposing to finance, the Budget of Northern Ireland. Do they intend to provide Northern Ireland with a block grant form of financing—which is a change from the previous method by which we were financed—to meet our social services on a parity basis? Apart from that, there was continuous negotiation with the Treasury to make sure that, in individual projects, finance was given to provide the incentives to make the investments for job promotion within Northern Ireland, the object being to raise the standard of living in Northern Ireland to that of the rest of the United Kingdom.
If we are to go for a block grant system, perhaps the Government could issue a White Paper or a Green Paper to say how this is to be calculated. This has considerable relevance in the future in the discussions about devolution which will occur in Wales and Scotland. In raising this subject, it is clear that it is time we had our own devolved Government in Northern Ireland so that Ulstermen could have a say in their own affairs. I hope that when we come back to this House in January, we shall have a clear policy which should enable a Government in Northern Ireland to be set up. There is something on which all parties in that convention agreed; that was the need for devolution. Equally, all parties agreed that there is a great danger in the present situation of having a political vacuum.
My Lords, 50 years ago at the formation of the province of Northern Ireland, the difference in the standard of living between those of us who lived in Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom was enormous. Efforts have continuously been made to close that gap, but it was only after 1945, during the period 1223 of the Labour Government under the late Lord Attlee, that we began to get regional development bearing fruit within the region of Northern Ireland. At that time we had an agreement between the Government of Northern Ireland and Her Majesty's Government that we should have parity in all the services within the United Kingdom, and that we should make an attempt quite separately to provide extra incentives to industry to come to invest in Northern Ireland, with incentives also to encourage existing industries to expand, so as to take up the unemployment slack.
My noble friend, Lord Belstead, quite clearly has said that the unemployment situation in Northern Ireland remains very obstinate. There have been many promotion efforts by various Northern Ireland Governments, continuing with the present régime, as very long-term projects. Everyone knows that if you start to promote something today, it takes many years before it is brought to fruition. By the 1960s, the index of manufacturing production was rising at a rate of about 5.3 per cent., which was well ahead not only of Great Britain but of a great deal of Europe. This was the beginning of success which, by its own impetus, carried us over the first years of rioting and violence. With the present recession, the future seems to me to be very bleak. Unemployment in Ulster is twice the national average; indeed, in parts, unemployment is at a truly horrific level. For instance, in November this year, the figure for Strabane was 27 per cent., and if one takes males only, the figure was well over 30 per cent. I do not believe that, if there were such a figure for Great Britain, something really energetic would not be done to try to break through such a figure.
Of course, Northern Ireland must flourish and must suffer with the rest of the economy of the United Kingdom. But because if its geographical position and the fact that in the past its industrial base was so narrow, and because of its present security problems, Northern Ireland is suffering in an exaggerated way from the present economies of the Government. For instance, if a 4 per cent. cut in public expenditure produces a certain result in Great Britain, the same cut in Northern Ireland produces a very much 1224 greater effect. Of course, the Government have recognised that Northern Ireland has special problems. In 1973, the previous Conservative Government set out very clearly that these special problems do exist, and this has been accepted by the present Government. But the Government made clear their determination to try to establish, as rapidly as possible, a sound economy with sound employment opportunities to achieve the same standard of living in Northern Ireland, with the same opportunities for employment and the same social conditions as the rest of the United Kingdom
My Lords, the White Paper also recognised—this is very important at the present moment—the dangers of idle hands in the present situation. My noble friend Lord Belstead has drawn our attention to the exertions and the work of the Ministry of Commerce and Manpower Services in trying to encourage industry to come to Northern Ireland. My noble friend referred to our industrial training schemes, which I believe lead the world. Within the Government of Northern Ireland, there is no doubt that there is all the skill to cure the problem. What is wanted is more drive and more investment, not less. With the rising working population and, unfortunately, with some industries on the decline, new job opportunities have to be provided at a higher level within Northern Ireland than would normally apply for an equivalent area in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, in 1971—I should like to say how proud I am to have been in the Governments of Northern Ireland when the development programme from 1970 to 1975 was being formed—we saw some 7,000 new jobs being provided. Had that continued, we would really have made considerable inroads to the problem of unemployment. But all of that in the 1970s was really the result of efforts made well before, many years before that. Now that the impetus has gone I feel that I can see few signs of a vigorous promotional campaign going on at the present moment. It is worth while here stating that it is not as though our labour relations were bad; they have been quite excellent, and indeed the strike record has been the envy of many regions in this country. Of course, at the moment the problem is that so much money and 1225 effort is having to be spent in holding on to existing jobs, and it is a very frustrating business to be just trying to hold on and not to be developing.
This brings me to the particular problem of Harland and Wolff. Although I wish to criticise the methods the Government have employed in saving the great firm of Harland and Wolff, I would make it quite clear that I support absolutely their decision to try to re-create a viable shipyard in Belfast. Shipbuilding is a strategic industry. It operates in a special climate of its own, nation by nation protecting its own strategic industry. Since it is in fact a strategic industry, in my view the whole burden of that industry should be carried by the nation as a whole because it is up to the nation to decide what size and what shape that industry should be. In fact, it is not a provincial responsibility. I know the problems of the shipbuilding industry. I am told that at the present moment if you want to buy a ship—and who would want to buy one?—in Japan and Korea the cost is some 40 per cent. lower than the cost in the United Kingdom, and in fact it represents only the material which has gone into the ship. Under those conditions it is incredibly difficult to see what the right future of this industry should be.
Harland and Wolff have two years' work ahead of them, but the question what happens after that is a most serious affair, and should this industry still be carried by the Province as opposed to the nation we could have some very grave problems. So far as the relative efficiency of Harland and Wolff is concerned, although the output is still far too low they can compete with reasonable success in Europe if they are pricing ships. But unlike other industries that Her Majesty's Government have been rescuing, labour relations within Harland and Wolff have been very good indeed. In 1975 up to date the total amount of time lost due to strikes has been only one half hour per employee. I believe there must be many industries which would be proud to have a record like that.
The Northern Ireland Office and the board of Harland and Wolff decided that it was necessary over the next two years to have £60 million pumped into Harland and Wolff. As I understand it—and this is what I would very much like cleared 1226 up by the noble Lord— £30 million of this money came from the Treasury and £30 million came out of the Budget of Northern Ireland. All Departments in Northern Ireland were asked to make economies to provide this extra £30 million. Education, as I understand it, had to provide about £5 million. It seems to me that this is an attack, however obliquely done, on the agreement that we should have parity in social services within Northern Ireland. That is a very long-standing agreement. If I am right, for the next two years Northern Ireland will in fact have parity less £30 million.
I should like the noble Lord to explain, if he can, the workings of this arrangement. For the very first time since 1945, when large incentives were provided to increase job opportunity in Northern Ireland, we are having job promotion balanced against the social services. I am entirely in agreement with the Government that people in an area should realise that they have only a certain amount of money, and if they spend it on one thing they do not spend it on another; but when you are dealing with a subject such as shipbuilding, which is a national strategic industry, I feel a different set of circumstances arises. We know that there is to be a delay in the school building programme; I do not know by how much. I know the noble Lord cannot answer this, but tomorrow we may be hearing of many millions of pounds going into Chryslers. I should like to know whether the comprehensive schools around those particular works are going to be delayed in order that people there should realise the difficulty of supporting a problem industry.
The announcement in which the Minister, Mr. Orme, said to the workers of Harland and Wolff, "Raise your productivity or you will get no more money", was clarity itself, and I believe that this has been taken to heart by the men of the Queen's island. I believe that they are determined now to deliver the goods. But it does not alter the fact that in two years there may be no goods to deliver because the world's shipping trade is in such a state. I wonder whether, when it comes to the question of Chryslers, we shall have as clear an indication as the Minister of State has given to the workers of Harland and Wolff. I would hope so, because if it was not so then one could suggest that it was politics 1227 and political support which was playing a part in Great Britain.
Lastly, in dealing with Harland and Wolff the Government have decided to leave them out of the general nationalisation plan for shipbuilding in the United Kingdom. They have also decided to leave out Short Brothers and Harland from the aircraft nationalisation plans. I am not going to debate here the wisdom of that decision, or indeed the political unease that it has caused, because that is, to my mind, water under the bridge at the moment. It is symptomatic of our problems in Northern Ireland that that particular decision has worried a lot of people; many people feel that this was the setting up of an industry ready for a pull-out from this country. I must ask the Government what arrangements they have made to ensure that both these great firms arc in continuous contact with the nationalised industries on this side, because there is a great danger, unless those communications are absolutely clear, of both industries being left out on a limb and then disaster will surely follow.
I wanted to draw the Government's attention to the problem of communications between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. So far as we can see, services have been closed at an alarming rate, and the cost of travel between Northern Ireland and Great Britain is now absolutely astronomical. I wonder whether the Government could have a really good look at that to see whether something could be done about it. May T ask the Government to have a really good look at the expense of travel, and at whether it would not be made easier for tourists and other people if Aldergrove were made into an international airport so that people coming from the Continent would not have to stop over in London on the way through?
My Lords, I have not touched on agriculture because my noble friend Lord Moyola will be doing that. I know the noble Lord and his Government are frustrated at having to spend so much money on prison building in that sort of area. However, prison building is no substitute for job promotion, and I should like to ask the Government whether that is being carried on the Northern Ireland Budget or how it is being carried, because it is 1228 part of law and order which should not be taken away from our social services budget.
I would end by asking the Government to tell us how they will increase their efforts, referred to in the White Paper. Do they intend to continue greater incentives to industry to come to Northern Ireland than exist in other areas than Northern Ireland, as has happened in the past? Have they calculated the vast scale and the form of investment that will be necessary in order to improve the standard of living, the standard of employment, and social conditions in Northern Ireland within the foreseeable future? And what do they consider to be the foreseeable future? Is it ten years, or what? I await the noble Lord's reply.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Lord MOYOLA
My Lords, I must apologise to the noble Lord. Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, for the fact that I have not been able to give him any inkling at all of what I intend to say. As he will have heard, I spent a good part of the morning circling Liverpool in an aeroplane. Although I had good intentions, I am afraid that it was not possible to fulfil them.
I should like to support what the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, has just said about the unemployment problems of Northern Ireland. I have not studied the matter in depth in the way that he has, but I have noticed the rather steady stream of factory closures which we have seen over recent months. It comes home to one particularly when one sees it happening on one's own doorstep. In my own small village of probably less than 1,500 people, we have seen two out of four factories close in the past four months. Unfortunately, it was the two largest which closed, and the two that remain, being very small, can have no hope of absorbing the people who have lost their jobs. It comes home to one particularly when one knows of two people in the same family suddenly finding themselves on the dole. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give us some joy on the unemployment picture.
The main thing I want to talk about is agriculture, against the background of unemployment. As a farmer, I should declare that I have, of course, an interest. In Northern Ireland agriculture is still 1229 our largest industry; something of the order of 14 per cent. of the working population are involved in it and its ancillary industries. It follows, therefore, that if our economy is to keep its head above water, it is important that agriculture should be on a sound footing. I am fully aware that over here, too, farmers have been through a bad time in the past year, but when there is a recession the remoter areas feel the draught first and feel it hardest. Over the past year, 1974–75, farm incomes in Northern Ireland have been 40 per cent. below what they were in the preceding year, and if one takes it back further, 20 per cent. below the average of the four years before that.
A good deal has already been said about our geographical problems. The hard facts of geography add enormously to our difficulties. In saying that, I want to say how much we in Northern Ireland have over the years appreciated what we know as the "remoteness grant" which has been given to us by successive British Governments. This grant compensates in part, not by any means in full, for our transport disadvantage. I would at this stage, without labouring the point, like to ask the noble Lord whether he will give us an assurance that that grant is going to continue—I understand that it is shortly due for review—and that it will continue at a higher rate than heretofore, in order that it may compensate for the enormous increases in freight charges by road, sea and rail. When this calculation to decide on the amount of the grant is made, I hope it will not be forgotten that many of the things which farmers require have to come into the country, such as agricultural machinery, foodstuffs and so on, and of course the finished product has to go out again. There is a charge on many agricultural items both ways, and consequently this remoteness grant is of the greatest importance.
I should like to turn briefly to beef, which of course climatically we can produce best and easiest. Because of that, two-thirds of our cows are devoted to producing beef calves. As we all know, losses among beef farmers in the past year were pretty heavy. Farmers incurred enormous debts last winter, and although calf prices were much better this year, in many cases they were not sufficient to pay off the debts which had been 1230 incurred. As a result, because the price of cows is reasonably good at the moment, an enormous number are being slaughtered to pay the bills. Again, because at the moment there is a good trade in calves to the Continent, an enormous number are being sent there. It all means that if something cannot be done there will be an acute shortage of store cattle in the near future, because there will be comparatively few cows to breed, and there will be a great deal less beef for the market, and we are all going to pay more.
One further point I should like to make on beef relates to the variable premium, which we in the North of Ireland have appreciated enormously. Because of the stretch of water, I suppose we in the North of Ireland almost always receive less for our beef cattle than do farmers here. I think that buyers allow for transport costs—and generally a hit more. There are, of course, times when the price is still low with us, and because prices are good here we receive no variable premium. Put another way round, if the price in Great Britain was as low as the Northern Ireland price, then there would be a premium. I would suggest to the noble Lord that if he would let us have our own target price in Northern Ireland it would put Northern Ireland farmers on a much more equitable basis, and a much more fair basis, compared with their colleagues in Britain.
I should like to turn to grain. Until we joined the EEC, our grain importers in Northern Ireland were able to buy their grain on the world markets at, roughly speaking, prices that were comparable with those paid by the rest of the United Kingdom. Now we have to buy from the EEC and, because we are on the periphery, we have to pay a good deal more by way of transport charges than is the case in the rest of Britain. I am told that at the moment the disadvantage for us, compared with our counterparts in, say, Liverpool, is about £4 a ton, but if one takes the figures over the whole country, I am told that the average is about £7 a ton. To put it another way, in Northern Ireland it costs us £l more to finish a pig than in the rest of Britain. This is a serious disadvantage, and of course one has to add the fact that many of the pigs are exported to this country, so 1231 that there is a transport charge on that as well.
This is a particularly serious matter in a country of small farms because to make up for the shortage of agricultural land, people go in for intensive farming: in other words, pigs and poultry. The seriousness can be no better emphasised than by some figures which I have been given which show that the pig breeding herd in Northern Ireland fell by about 37 per cent. last year as opposed to only 17 per cent. in this country, and that was at the time of the recession. If people go out of intensive farming, they do not come back to it.
They do not have the capital to get back and, in the present climate of serious unemployment, it will not be easy to find jobs for people who leave this occupation; there are in Northern Ireland now about 14,000 people unemployed in the pig, poultry and related industries. This problem needs urgent attention; it needs either a direct subsidy on the transport costs or, on an EEC basis, a subsidy which, I have no doubt, would have to be, and should be, applied to the whole island of Ireland. It does not matter which way it is done as long as it is done quickly, and it must be done before confidence is eroded again and further unemployment occurs.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brooke-borough, referred to the question of transport betwen Northern Ireland and Britain, a matter which affects the economy, industry, business and, to some extent, the whole fabric of the Northern Ireland society. In the past year, we have been deprived of the Belfast-to-Heysham passenger service which British Rail ran both ways daily across the Irish Sea. It was taken off at the beginning of April when one would have thought the tourist trade was increasing. If there was ever a chance of the service paying, it was then; one's mind boggles at the reason. We are also told that we are to lose the daily service between Belfast and Ardrossan, and we have been told that we may lose—I emphasise "may" because I hope otherwise—the Townsend Thorenson service between Larne and Stranraer. The problem for industry and business are obvious, and when one 1232 realises that, in addition, the return air fare has just been increased to £44 for what is in fact a 50-minute journey, the situation is even more serious.
I have no doubt that some noble Lords will say that one pays that much for travelling from Glasgow or Edinburgh to London, but they are not comparable situations. There is no strip of water between and therefore there is no problem of having to transfer from train to boat and boat to train. In any case, the train takes only five hours from Glasgow to London, whereas one cannot get from Belfast to London in even double that time, except of course by air. Thus, the two things are not comparable, although many will argue that they are. I recognise that there are enormous problems for the undertakings which provide transport across the Irish Sea, but I believe that if it were made a little cheaper and perhaps a little easier for people to make this journey, it could be of help to business and industry, and, perhaps, also the community side of our problems. The rundown in transport services does not encourage industry to come to this area or help the bank balances of industries which want to send a director to London to do business.
On the community or social side, we all benefit by having our outlook broadened by travel, and particularly this is so where there has been a period of strife, when hatreds have been built up and there have been difficulties of this sort. As these hatreds die down, it would be of enormous help if people could be encouraged to get out of their environment and see how similar communities live in other parts of the world; if nothing else, going away provides a cooling-off period. I ask the noble Lord to examine this matter urgently, because it is totally wrong to allow one part of the United Kingdom to become, or feel it is becoming, isolated, as we are beginning to do. This is a real danger to employment, and if travel were made easier it might be a contributory factor to bringing peace. These are all matters which concern us in Northern Ireland. They are all problems which are magnified by the fact that we are a long way from the centre of things and I hope that when the noble Lord replies, he will be able to give me some joy on some of them.