HL Deb 12 December 1979 vol 403 cc1212-63

6.10 p.m.

Lord UNDERHILL rose to call attention to the grave economic and social problems of Northern Ireland; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, a number of noble Lords have questioned with some puzzlement why I, a man of Essex and a Londoner, should be moving this particular Motion this afternoon. Perhaps I should explain briefly my interest. First, from 1960 I made a number of visits to Northern Ireland in connection with my position as a national officer of the Labour Party, and I accompanied a delegation to Northern Ireland in August 1969 which made that visit only a few days after that ghastly episode of the starting of the bombing and burning in the Province. Since then I have made a number of other visits, including one in 1978 as a member of the Labour Party working party on Northern Ireland problems. I do not set myself up to be an expert on the problems of Northern Ireland—far from it. I would be equally as concerned with any other region of the United Kingdom which had similar conditions, but of course in Northern Ireland there are also special problems. Also, it may be best if these problems, the economic and social problems of Northern Ireland, are put forward by someone who has no direct interest.

I trust your Lordships will share my hope that at some time, and preferably sooner rather than later, politics in Northern Ireland may be able to concentrate on economic and social issues. I also hope that during this debate it may be possible to keep clear of the constitutional issues, which will have to be dealt with elsewhere, and, that it may prove useful in setting out the economic and social problems and how they might be tackled. It may be for the convenience of the House if in considering my Motion noble Lords also discussed the Appropriation Order which is to be taken as the next item of business of the House. I understand the noble Lord, Lord Elton, would support this proposal.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will give way, I would like to say that this would be perfectly in order with me. It would enable me to speak with great brevity on the order when we reach it, but it would not preclude any noble Lord from returning to that subject should he wish.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for agreeing with that proposal. The major problem in Northern Ireland is that of unemployment. The latest available figures that I have, for November, are that unemployment in Northern Ireland stands at 11.1 per cent. of the insured population, some 63,000 persons out of work; 12.7 per cent. are males, 8.8 per cent. are females. Unemployment in Northern Ireland is double the level, namely 5.5 per cent., of that for the United Kingdom as a whole. There are, of course, parts of Great Britain which are just as bad, but unemployment in Northern Ireland as a complete region is by far the highest of any region of the United Kingdom. And I understand—I may be wrong—that it is the highest of any region of the EEC. Unemployment has for many years been well above that of Great Britain, and the figures in some individual areas are very alarming. Just look at a few: Strabane has 29 per cent. male unemployed in a population of some 36,000; Newry has over 23 per cent. of male unemployed; Cookstown, also over 23 per cent. male unemployment; and we have Dungannon and Londonderry with 20.8 per cent. and 18.1 per cent. respectively. These are figures for male unemployment.

I am certain that if those out of work in any area are mainly from one particular community this cannot in any way assist in developing good community relations. Every one of the 13 travel-to-work areas in Northern Ireland has at least 10 per cent. male unemployment. In Belfast, while overall unemployment is 9 per cent., I understand that in the West Belfast district we have 20 per cent. unemployment. It is a problem of major concern that some 9,500 of those out of work are under 19 years of age. I was looking the other day at a document issued by the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions issued only in October this year—and I quote: Unemployed young people have too often fallen into the hands of ruthless men of violence who have exploited them and persuaded or bullied them into committing the most atrocious acts of violence". That is one of the consequences of young people being out of work for a long period.

There has been a decline in the traditional industries of shipbuilding and textiles. It is now being suggested that the workforce of Harland and Wolff will need to be trimmed from 8,200 to 5,500. May I say that "trimmed" is a very nice contemporary word which is being used. What it really means is another 2,700 being put out of work and their families suffering accordingly.

Of course, the performance of the Northern Ireland economy is bound up with the level of economic activity in the United Kingdom as a whole. But, although the population of Northern Ireland is the smallest of any region of the United Kingdom, it has by far the most serious economic problems. There would seem to be common ground among employers and trade unions in Northern Ireland that the economic problems are the most intractable in the United Kingdom. There is general agreement also that the creation and maintenance of new employment depends so crucially upon Government investment and Government incentives. But the immediate outlook for employment seems to be very bleak, and a substantial effort will be required to absorb the increase in manpower that is certain to arise from demographic and other similar factors. There is an urgent need to generate new jobs.

The present level of unemployment is not only a waste of talents and skills but cannot possibly assist in developing good community relations. I referred to this document of the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. It is a constructive document put forward by the trade union committee of Northern Ireland, their way of dealing with the economic position and some proposals for new jobs. I find also that the gross domestic product per head is only 80 per cent. of that of the United Kingdom as a whole. Whereas the ratio of public expenditure to GDP in the United Kingdom as a whole is 50 per cent. in Northern Ireland it is 66 per cent. Again, while in Northern Ireland 37 per cent. of all employed people are in the public sector, that compares with 30 per cent. in the United Kingdom. I am making no party political issues in this debate but trying to give what I think are the facts. It seems a very important fact that cuts in public expenditure must have a greater effect in Northern Ireland than elsewhere, with that ratio of people employed in public sector jobs.

When we consider the level of wages in Northern Ireland, we find that, historically, wages have always lagged behind those of the United Kingdom. Household incomes are on average three-quarters of those for Great Britain. The number of children per family is much higher. There are a greater number of poorer families in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the United Kingdom. In 1974 it was reported that 37 per cent. of households in the Belfast area were living below needs level. It is always difficult to talk about average wages. I understand that in the Belfast area the average male wage is about the same as that in Great Britain, but elsewhere in Northern Ireland wages are well below the United Kingdom average. One indication of that is that in 1977 41 per cent. of the males were earning less than £60 a week, whereas in Great Britain the percentage earning £60 a week was only 27 per cent.

Not only is the level of unemployment twice as high as the rest of the United Kingdom, but supplementary benefits are taken up to a far greater extent. We find that there is the same problem with the supply of energy which does not help the economic situation in Northern Ireland. There is a lack of indigenous energy resources and it seems to me an excessive dependability on oil. I understand that only 37 per cent. of the 460,000 households in Northern Ireland are connected with a gas supply. It is also commented that the gas industry of Northern Ireland is in danger of complete and utter collapse. There has been pressure for the link-up. of a natural gas pipeline with the United Kingdom, but it appears that that has been rejected. It would seem, also, that the greater part of the electricity generation is by oil. Perhaps the noble Lord the Minister could say how many plants could be adapted for the use of coal as well as oil. There have also been suggestions that the electricity service in Northern Ireland could be linked as a region of the British electricity supply industry. I do not know whether that is feasible.

How practicable is the possibility of restoring the grid link with the Republic, which was blown up in 1975? I am certain that that would be of great benefit to both communities. In fact, should there not be the maximum possible development of functional co-operation between the North and the South? That surely would make not only a valuable contribution towards raising living standards but a valuable contribution towards bringing about a better atmosphere. At present the charges for electricity and gas are much higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom. I recognise that the Government have written off some £250 million of the electricity supply debt, but the charges still remain a serious problem both for the industrial and domestic users.

The same situation exists as regards housing. Indeed, the position is still disgraceful. The Housing Conditions Survey of 1974 reported that one in five of all dwellings were statutorily unfit compared with 7.3 per cent. in a similar survey carried out in Great Britain in 1971. Some 119,000 dwellings—one in four—lacked one essential basic amenity. The Household Survey in 1975 reported that the housing problem in Northern Ireland is bound up with income levels, poverty and unemployment and that some 17 per cent. of all houses are overcrowded. Last night as I was travelling home from your Lordships' House, I heard on the car radio Mr. Gerry Fitt's speech in another place in which he was describing the appalling conditions in his area of Belfast. Conditions are made more difficult in Belfast by the rundown in the housing stock due to demolitions, bricking-up and the moving out of population. I understand that it is estimated that no fewer than 3,400 houses in Belfast alone are bricked-up.

The level of unemployment and lower living standards undoubtedly contribute to the numbers who leave Northern Ireland Only in June this year the Northern Ireland Development Council stated that some 10,000 people leave Northern Ireland each year and that the typical emigrant was only 20 years of age. That is a tragic situation with a loss of skills, a loss of qualifications and a loss of abilities.

I hope that it will not be thought that I have painted too gloomy a picture. I have endeavoured to be factual with information taken from various reports and statistics; and I have tried to avoid embellishing them with any personal observations. If my figures are wrong, I know that the noble Lord will correct me about them. I know that the previous Government attempted a great deal in the way of industrial development, creation of new jobs and as regards housing and other social services. But the problem still remains extremely serious. There is large-scale unemployment and widespread deprivation for many people. Behind the facts and statistics there are human beings who need help, and only the British Government, with the help of the people of Northern Ireland, can give it. I look forward to the debate and to proposals that may be put forward for dealing with the serious economic and social problems which I have endeavoured to outline. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we all welcome this debate on Northern Ireland so ably opened by the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. I should like to say how good it is to have the noble Baroness, Lady Airey, with us tonight. Of course, it is right that we should consider the grave economic and social problems of the Province, but I believe at the same time that we should not forget those factors that give grounds for hope.

Let me be quite frank, following the modesty of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill. In August I paid my first visit to Northern Ireland in company with some of my party colleagues. I still have to visit the Republic. We only spent some 50 hours in the North and I hope that your Lordships will bear with me if I give your Lordships some of the impressions that I received as a first-time visitor. Apart from those 50 hours, I can only go by hearsay, what other people say or write. When I speak about matters that we must look forward to, matters which are favourable, I must point out that I am very conscious that I have in no way had to suffer the strains and stresses of what are sometimes just called "the troubles" of the last 10 years. I accept that fully.

As we drove through Belfast from the airport, I was depressed by the areas covered by poor housing, bricked-up shops and, quite simply, slums. I often bemoan the fact that, in a period of great building in England since the war, we have so largely wasted the opportunity to create an attractive as well as a functional environment. People have said that we are building the slums of the future; and there has been much criticism of high-rise flats. But here in Belfast was the real old-fashioned slum which made me realise that our efforts have rid us of at least the worst display of poverty in England. As a great contrast to the derelict rows of houses on our drive through Belfast came the first view of Stormont Parliament buildings standing proudly on the crest of a hill at the end of a magnificent avenue of trees.

We were searched, of course, as we entered our hotel—I think I am correct in saying that it was for only the second time in my life, the first being when earlier that day we had boarded our plane. Perhaps we were lucky, but the rest of our stay was happy and fairly relaxed. At all places we were welcomed and made to feel at home. One alone of the main political parties—and I shall not publicly brand it here—refused to see us. The Young Liberals were to move a resolution at our Assembly in September calling for the early withdrawal of British troops. This party took objection and, although we explained that official Liberal policy in no way supported the Young Liberals, still they would not see us. At a reception most kindly given for us by the Ulster Liberal Party we again met with great friendliness and what I can only refer to as a spirit of pride in and affection for the old Province. People seemed keen to impress on us that, despite all its troubles, here was the only place where they wanted to live. This warm-hearted good humour is something that I do not find comes across in the English Press.

None the less, I must be honest. Some of us one day went South to the Border where Carlingford Loch separates North from the South. We lunched happily and peacefully at Warren Point and I thought that the Army were keeping an excessively careful watch over us. It was only four days later that the outrage took place there in which 18 soldiers were killed, while South of the Border there was the tragic murder of Lord Mountbatten and members of his family. But at that time we had few cares. We passed close to what is I believe called "bandit country" and were told of a village where not only had some of the men never been employed, but nor, in some cases, had their fathers or grandfathers before them. I am cautioned that this must certainly be Irish hyperbole, but the accepted position is bad enough anyway.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, has given us full details and I do not want to repeat them all. We were told that official figures put the unemployment level at more than 10 per cent., or twice the level of the rest of the United Kingdom, and in the case of some black spots it was much higher. I know that the Government realise that this figure is far too high and have in operation schemes for training and retraining. We were told that one of the problems is that when a man or woman has been unemployed for a long time he or she may quietly slip over the edge into the unemployable. We were also told that the percentage of those on low earnings income supplement is four times as high as it is elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Unemployment generally is a grave problem today and if the noble Lord, Lord Elton, can give any details of plans to remedy the situation in Northern Ireland, I should be most interested.

I was disturbed to read in an article in the Sunday Times of 2nd December comments referring to a debate in the other place and "this boredom with Ulster". I believe that a happy relationship between Great Britain, Ulster and Eire is essential in the best interests of all. It seems hard in the extreme that we should be so reviled in some quarters when we are giving economic aid to the Province to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds each year. What, incidentally, would happen if we did withdraw, as urged, and ceased payment of that sum? Disastrous poverty, I suggest.

But, on the other hand, I recently heard it said that of the 10 field marshals whose achievements in the Second World War have been commemorated in St. Paul's Cathedral, six had a strong Irish, North or South, connection. To date I have been able to verify only four cases, but in the cause of freedom even that is no small contribution. I am also impressed by how in one field or another one finds an Irish influence. It was only the other day that I realised that our present Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, claims descent from an Ulster family. Let us not forget that it is a two-way process and our societies need all the support and inspiration that we can give each other.

Others can speak with far greater knowledge than I of the problems that poverty and unemployment, intensified by bitterness and bombings, can produce. I understand— and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned this—that 30,000 houses have been wilfully destroyed or damaged. Reference was made to the work of the Housing Executive earlier this afternoon. But what seems to me certain is that no real political or social breakthrough can be made without a dynamic will to win through to better times, and a willingness on all sides to make some compromise and genuinely to accept that all men are born free and equal in dignity. Here it is sad to read in an article in the Observer Colour Supplement of 2nd December, entitled "The Need to Face the Truth", that segregation of Catholic and Protestant schoolchildren is still almost complete. Referring to the teaching of Irish—that is, of the whole island—history in schools, the article says: There are still two separate and enduring myths. Neither has much to do with historical accuracy or objectivity. One is for Protestants and one is for Catholics. The myths are divisive—the Catholic saint being the Protestant sinner". I am not certain whether that is an exaggeration, but I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Elton, when he comes to reply, whether he can say that the Northern Ireland Education Act 1978—which the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, steered through our House so ably—is having any effect at all in remedying this divisive so-called education. At that time, to my amazement, we were told that a large percentage of parents wanted desegregated education.

I return to our departure from Northern Ireland. As we took off from Aldergrove Airfield on a fine summer afternoon and looked back on that beautiful land, I thought of the expression that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has I believe used on two occasions: "War in Paradise". I found myself thinking: Why, oh why? As we flew back to Northolt I sat opposite one of the Ministers of State, and as we skirted the southern end of the Isle of Man he asked me, rather unkindly I thought, "Well, have you sorted out all Northern Ireland's problems?" None the less, I remain certain that its problems will be solved given the will to do so.

By chance last week I found in the Library the book about the Province called A Place Apart by Dervla Murphy and published last year. In the final chapter, entitled "Not without hope", comes this passage: The outlook is depressing if one thinks exclusively within the timescale of individual lives; only the passing of generations can bring about the profound changes that are needed. Yet depression is curiously inappropiate to Northern Ireland today; although it should be a gloomy place it is not. (Often it can be heartbreaking but that is something different.) Amidst all the physical destruction and mental distress there is an enormous amount of creative energy at work. The essential changes are unmistakably under way and there are exciting vibrations of hope in the atmosphere. Increasingly I tend to view the Troubles as a painful purge that had to be endured by a diseased society as a prelude to a happier era than the North has ever known before". Those moving words express the thoughts that I had only in embryo. Others with more knowledge than I will point the way with practical measures, but I am sure that optimism and determination are vital. Let us also remember that although Lord Mountbatten was, at the end, brutally murdered, he had visited and found peace and contentment on the West Coast of Eire for, was it, 30 years? It seems generally accepted that it is only a small minority in Ulster or the Republic who seek to follow bitterness with bloodshed. Improved conditions should make for less bitterness; less bitterness will help towards better conditions. The wreckers must not be allowed to prevail!

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, first, I should like to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and his introduction to this debate which is most timely and was very ably presented. I greatly look forward to hearing him again on the affairs of Northern Ireland for, after years of experience, his knowledge is very deep. Looking at him as he turned to sit down, I am not at all sure that I do not see the track of the whip of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, upon his shoulders to make him come and speak here today. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Blease, will keep cracking that whip because it is a contribution that we certainly value. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, covered a very wide spectrum and I should like to underline one or two of the remarks he made.

Put in crude terms, the generation of prosperity in Northern Ireland and the generation of jobs unfortunately depend on Government. We are too remote; we have had terrorism for too long for private enterprise to play more than a minor role. We depend enormously on Government aid, whether it be direct aid to an industry or whether it be by public expenditure. That is an unfortunate and unpleasant fact. But I can say—and it is no break from the tradition of continuous Unionist Governments during the whole period—that never was a Unionist Government doctrinaire in its basis of industrial promotion. To that extent, I feel that we must reiterate the need for Government generated prosperity.

The noble Lord said that there was need for functional co-operation across the Border. There is a myth which has grown up that until 1972 no effort was made to have functional co-operation. Functional co-operation existed between Governments in Northern Ireland from its very inception. One has only to look at the co-operation on the railways; on the electrical inter-link, which has been broken as a result of terrorism and the failure on the Government's part to see that the line was protected, and not repaired; on the Erne hydro-electric scheme; on the Foyle Fisheries, and many other things. This could be increased. It is merely increasing a functional co-operation which has existed quietly for all time. In the political sphere in which we have grown up, it is right to have a functional co-operation and not shout from the housetops that it is meeting some political end. That is how functional co-operation can be achieved.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, in a most moving speech, discussed various problems of his visit to Northern Ireland. If he had come down to County Fermanagh he would have realised that there is nowhere else in the British Isles, or indeed in Northern Ireland, to live except County Fermanagh. I feel, however, that he might have been misled about that village, because, if I understood it, the village was on the Border, and those men are proud. They have smuggled for 50 years, and smuggle they will go on. I maintain there is a university on customs evasion, and any other nation in the world that wishes to go there will learn many a trick of the trade.

To become a little more serious, I welcome this debate. I also welcome the noble Lord's agreement to allow us to discuss the appropriation order. I should like to remind this House once more that in every decision taken by Government there is some rip-off to the terrorist campaign. The prime aim of the terrorist is to create economic chaos in the area in which he operates. Therefore, any decision by Government must be looked at to see how that in fact affects the terrorist situation. The most prosperous area will not have terrorism. That is almost an opposite. Idle hands are dangerous hands. We have seen that too often in the areas dominated by the terrorists. While Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and must suffer with the prosperity of the United Kingdom, that fact about terrorism must be borne in mind and the Government's generosity must be really very great.

I should like to turn to one or two what I would call "nitty-gritty" parts of the administration of Northern Ireland, and they are things mentioned in the appropriation order . The first concerns houses. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that I was not able to hear his Question and the Answer. My reason is not very adequate. I was entertaining some friends and I could not get in until the second sitting, because the rest of your Lordships had taken the first sitting. I think the noble Lord, Lord Blease, was in the same state. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, I should like the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to be more responsive. I was a member of the Government which spawned that organisation. I personally have great regrets about the way it was done. Having said all that, I know many of the people who are in it and I do not know one of them who is not trying to do his best.

They are circumscribed by an organisation which is difficult to make responsive. I understand that my noble friend said that the level of decision for repairs—and this is the area with which I am most concerned, because that is where the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is going to spend more money—is going to be at a lower level. The problem arises because of two things. I can only speak of the area I know. You have a housing manager who is reponsible for 1,000 or 2,000 houses, and he, or she, has a complaint brought to them. This is what happens at present. She then starts a complicated operation; a real bureaucratic mess. She files the complaint. She gets the rudery from the tenant, who says first of all, "This is the first complaint", and can she have it put right. Secondly, she gets the second complaint; and, thirdly, the third complaint; and then maybe the fifth complaint. Once he, or she, has put this into the organisation, they have no control whatsoever of the speed at which the repairs are being carried out, or any knowledge about when they are being carried out.

I cannot see that that is very difficult. I understand that the Northern Ireland Housing Executive has already carried out some pilot schemes in urban areas. I want to ask the Government whether they will go much faster into the rural areas, because in the long run what is going to cause satisfaction is houses quickly repaired. The housing managers have a great deal of ability, but we seem in Northern Ireland to have got stuck with technocrats, Nothing can be done without a supervisor, a repair specialist, or somebody like that, and we go through a whole series. There are 24 paper transactions before it finally goes into the computer in Belfast. I do not know whether it is exactly true as I do not suppose that anybody has accurately costed it out, but I do not think that anyone can deny that to put a ridge tile on a roof and finish the whole process and have the whole thing inspected—the ridge tile costing about £3.50—may have cost £70 or £80 to have carried out that particular repair. Surely we ought to be able to simplify the whole of that with a little commonsense, even if the people have not got letters after their names.

There is another matter worth raising. We have decided to sell houses to tenants. That is all right. That is one decision. Why should not we go back to the system we used to have in large areas in Northern Ireland, and certainly in the area which I know best, by which the tenant paid a pretty low rent but was responsible for his internal repairs? Those repairs would be done on time. I feel that we are due for a fairly massive rise in rents shortly, and a large proportion of this is due to the increased costs of these repairs. I am certain that if the tenant was responsible for seeing that a doorknob was put on, that the lavatory was repaired, or something like that was done, it would be done far cheaper, quicker, and further there would he no complaint against authority. We should examine that.

I think we have feather-bedded our tenants to an extent that we have totally failed to service them. It probably sounds wrong to say that we have featherbedded them, because probably in other areas they are entitled to that service. But if they are entitled to that service they should pay for it, and other tenants who are prepared to accept the responsibility of repairing the internal parts of their house should have a lower rent. If one of the philosophies about selling houses is that it removes that particular responsibility from authority, then it must he right to have a different level of tenancy.

The last matter I have to raise is rather peculiar. Noble Lords will know that there is a supplementary benefit attributable entirely for rents. I have discovered that the administration requires that that amount of money is paid into the hands of the man himself, irrespective of the fact that that particular tenant may be in debt to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive for hundreds of pounds. Once he is in debt or has not paid his rent, what do you think he will do with the money he is given? He will do with it what he does with everything else, probably drink it. I believe that if a man is in arrears with his rent to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and is in receipt of public money for rent, that rent should go to the authority and there should be no nonsense about it. I should like an answer from the Minister on that—I gave him notice that I would raise it—because it is an extraordinary anomaly which I do not believe has been of long standing.

I come to our great industry, agriculture. We have a really disastrous situation in the beef industry. Beef is not over-produced, yet from 1974 to 1979 the number of beef cows in Ulster went down by 30 per cent., and in the last four weeks of September and October this year there has been an increase in the slaughtering of cows, female stock, of 76 per cent., and a lot of that has occurred in what I call the marginal areas, which in EEC terms are called the less favoured areas.

The situation today is probably not so had as in Orkney and Shetland, but we have had continuous rain and bad weather for the whole of the last 15 months. There is no fodder and that is why they are going; and there will be a further increase in slaughterings in January when people realise once more that the fodder situation is so dangerous. They cannot afford now to pay for expensive concentrates to feed them. Last year they did, and they did not get recompensed at that time. This spells ill for our farmers, especially those in the marginal lands, but also for the future of our factories. Three years ago we imported hundreds of thousands of store animals from the South of Ireland for fattening and then going to our factories. That supply no longer exists because in the South they kill their own beasts. I should therefore like the Government urgently to make the maximum payments to less favoured areas to stop the slaughter at once in order for people to be able to buy fodder, just as has been done in the islands off Scotland. And there must be some long-term encouragement to people to keep cows for beef, to re-establish the cow herd, otherwise future employment in our factories will be in jeopardy.

One of the reasons why we have had such problems with our beef factories has been that the South has manipulated, with the willingness of the Commission, the intervention system by which, during the whole of this summer, they were able to put 50 per cent. of their marketable stock into intervention and take it off the market, while we were able to put in only a very small proportion. My honourable friend the Minister of Agriculture did a fine job in getting us an increased quota, but it is too late. I ask that at all times our factories in Northern Ireland should be on a par with those in the South. Every time we have a green pound change, every time something of that sort occurs, it throws our factories into chaos and cripples our farmers. Once more I welcome this debate and, if it is in order, I welcome the appropriation order.

6.54 p.m.


My Lords, if in Belfast today, or elsewhere in Northern Ireland for that matter, I were to follow an ambulance bearing the tragic victim of one of the frequent atrocities that contaminate the whole life of the Province, I would probably eventually arrive at the Royal Victoria Hospital, a teaching hospital of great repute but situated right up against a part of the city with a truly ghastly reputation for violence. Here the hospital staff and those dedicated people who help them try to practise modern medicine beset by problems which are unimaginable by those who have not been to see for themselves.

I have visited that hospital many times, I have many friends in it and I have operated in that hospital many times, so I speak from first-hand knowledge. For instance, a surgeon embarking on what starts as a routine operating list of two difficult cancer cases may quite easily have the second of those delayed while they wheel into his theatre three-quarters of some blameless citizen who has perhaps left an arm and a leg in a devastated shop; or perhaps a child blinded with broken glass; or what was once a human being burnt from head to foot. Perhaps hardest of all to accept without passion, later on the same day there may be wheeled in the perpetrator of the atrocity wounded while trying to escape, and the surgeon, in keeping with the ethics of his profession, has to do the best he can for him too, though at such a time the strict observance of the Hippocratic oath may impose nearly intolerable strains.

At the end of what started as a routine surgeon's list there may be a widow to interview or distraught parents to comfort and, when a moment can be spared for personal matters, a telephone call home to make sure that a wife has arrived back from shopping and children are home from school. As the surgeon changes and starts for home, instead of a peaceful hospital corridor he will pass armed soldiers, here in case desperate men with guns break in to rescue a wounded comrade. With this violence and the threat of violence as a constant background, doctors nevertheless try to provide a modern, expert service of health care for the community and, as this is a teaching hospital, to train the young.

I do not address your Lordships in this way to arouse sympathy for this beleaguered hospital; that I know is there already. I speak mainly to those noble Lords who might say, "Yes, but there is really nothing we can do". But there are things that can and should be done, and I hope I may receive some support in suggesting that among the social problems of Northern Ireland in the financial stringency in which our Health Service operates today, some special consideration might be given to this stricken Province, and to two quite practical aspects in particular.

To start with, there is totally inadequate provision at this essential hospital for the cars of the staff and of relatives and visitors of those who are ill or injured. If these cars are taken inside the grounds of the hospital there is much obstruction and this affects the work of the hospital, including the access of ambulances. On the other hand, if these cars are left in the street, by the time the owner returns the car will be gone and it will turn up somewhere else in the Province with a bomb inside it. The hospital's plans for a multi-storey car park were approved last year, but this year—unless there are second thoughts—the plans have been cancelled.

Then, again, the hospital experiences great difficulty in recruiting and keeping junior professional staff at the level of medical and surgical registrars, staff nurses and some key para-medical people, without whom the work of the hospital would collapse and stop. This difficulty is not only because the off-duty time is minimal, but also because accommodation is so difficult. These key people cannot with safety live outside the hospital but close to it. It is too dangerous; they cannot do this. Yet they must be close to their employment. The hospital itself sought to solve this problem early in the 1970s by building, with its own endowment funds, two blocks of flats which it felt should be subsidised in that those accommodated were of such importance.

At about the time of the reorganisation of the Health Service these flats were taken over by the department, which now acts as a landlord. This is seen by the hospital staff as a reasonable arrangement, but it is planned that on 1st January next the rents shall go up by 100 per cent. This will, the hospital is assured, be a realistic rent. But, my Lords, we are not considering what an estate agent or developer might tell you about realistic rents in Hampstead or Welwyn Garden City. What in all conscience is a realistic rent in the circumstances that I have described for a key member of staff who have will to leave and go elsewhere if asked to pay more than he or she can afford? And remember, these flats are nice enough, but the blocks are surrounded by a two-storey high wire fence which keeps out most of the stones when they are thrown at the buildings, but not the bullets which are occasionally fired.

The ability of the hospital to maintain its services is at stake here. Already at present the failure to attract sufficient supporting staff is preventing the commissioning of an additional neurosurgical operating theatre, and neurosurgery in this hospital today is largely trying to save the lives of citizens shot through the head.

I seek the support of this House in asking the Government to look again with a sympathetic eye and an understanding heart at the needs of a medical community trying to provide a good service under conditions of terrifying stress—in every sense possible, I believe, a special case and deserving not only sympathy, but the help of all of us.

7.3 p.m.

The Duke of ABERCORN

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for initiating the debate and for his evident, in fact obvious, concern for the problems of Northern Ireland, particularly at this time. I can assure your Lordships that the people of Northern Ireland appreciate the ever increasing interest of this House towards the economic, social and political problems of this remote part of the United Kingdom. The economic and social situation in Northern Ireland is indeed extremely serious, with no immediate sign of improvement, due to outside factors. Being involved in commerce and industry, I intend to concentrate on the economic problems which of course have a direct bearing on the social situation.

However, first I should like to counteract a most unfortunate misconception that Northern Ireland has a constant begging howl mentality and lacks the essential ingredients of self-help. Nothing could be further from the truth. Despite 10 years of violence and six years of slow economic growth, industry and commerce have shown a remarkable degree of resilience and determination not only to remain in business but also to expand whenever possible.

Rational co-operation and trust between the two sides of industry could well act as an example to Great Britain, for Northern Ireland has a remarkably low level of industrial unrest, absenteeism and strikes. Our industrial productivity during the past 15 years compares very favourably with Germany and outstrips both America and Great Britain. Yet our unemployment remains at a totally unacceptable level, despite a significant improvement in our infrastructure and an extremely attractive package of incentives to attract mobile industry.

Obviously, Northern Ireland suffers from an image problem in regard to attracting inward investment. Therefore, despite recent and significant successes in attracting new American investment to Northern Ireland, it is only too apparent that the competitiveness of industrial development grants and loans is failing to surmount this psychological barrier to new investment in Northern Ireland.

No industrialists will deny that although there are many factors which may influence an industrialist in choosing a location for his enterprise, the net return after tax is without doubt the most important factor. Therefore, I believe it is of the utmost importance that the recognised and most effective inducement in attracting outside manufacturing investment—a tax-free con- cession on all manufacturing exports generated by new investment for a period of, say, 10 years—is seriously considered for implementation by the Government. Let no one in Whitehall pretend that Brussels would block such a radical, but realistic, departure from the normal range of incentives, for Brussels would in fact recognise this proposal as the responsibility of the Government. Moreover, since the Regional Development Fund is so modest in size, it is likely that the Commission itself would be forced to examine means and methods, such as tax-free concessions, to accelerate the industrial development of the super peripheral areas of the Community.

The Irish Republic has achieved its high rate of new industrial development as a direct result of this concession. I believe that Northern Ireland industry could benefit by this build-up of industrial investment by exploiting the very significant sub-contract potential by these multinational companies, particularly in view of our recognised skills in engineering. Therefore the proposal for a Government-sponsored sub-contract office in Dublin should be seriously considered.

My Lords, I am fully aware that cross-border development, even in relation to infrastructure improvements, generates unease and criticism among politicians, but I believe that this development is of the utmost economic and social importance as it is in these border areas that unemployment is so chronically high: Strabane 23 per cent., Newry 20 per cent. Again, infrastructure improvements would provide short-term employment while creating an improved environment to attract industrial and commercial development when the economy improves.

Therefore the Northern Ireland Office should not be reticent in pursuing further projects, and from experience of chairing a study group of the Community's Economic and Social Committee on the 1977 Cross-Border Study for the Londonderry and Donegal area, I can assure the Government that there is tremendous enthusiasm from within the study area for this type of project. Again, my Lords, further Community aid should be forthcoming for similar projects, with additional assistance from the non-quota section of the Regional Development Fund.

Again, I believe that the Government should publicise far more effectively to Northern Ireland industry the available facilities of the European Investment Bank. To date, this bank has provided only long-term loans for the improvement of Northern Ireland industry and infrastructure to the sum of £73 million. Since June 1978, private sector borrowers have been able to obtain exchange risk cover from the Department of Commerce on European Investment Bank loans for plant and machinery investment. Since the Department of Commerce now acts as the bank's agent to appraise applications, small and medium-sized firms can now benefit and obtain long-term loans at most advantageous rates. I understand that, to date, no application has been received for agency loans from Northern Ireland, while there have been many applications from England, Scotland and Wales.

I also understand that the Government are undertaking a review of the different job-creating agencies in Northern Ireland which are responsible for promoting new employment opportunities. Since there is a proliferation of different institutions, and hearing in mind the small population involved, this review is timely and should be welcomed, since there is a real danger of diffusion of talent and effort. However, I must emphasise that the area of real growth achieved over the past decade has been in the small firm sector.

My Lords, I was a director for some five years of a local enterprise development unit, commonly known as LEDU, which is a Government-sponsored job-promotion agency with emphasis on the encouragement of small manufacturing industry in remote rural areas and, again, in towns of chronic, high unemployment. Since its establishment in 1971, this agency has created almost 10,000 jobs and assisted 500 projects throughout Northern Ireland. LEDU is recognised as a non-bureaucratic, innovatory organisation staffed by a totally dedicated team of professionals and integrated with the local community, with panel offices in Londonderry, Newry and Enniskillen. I trust that LEDU will retain its identity; and I do not speak from sentiment, but in the firm belief that further encouragement to small businesses will provide the best opportunity for job-creation in the 1980s for Northern Ireland.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, it is clear that I made a grievous error in allowing the noble Duke, the Duke of Abercorn, to see the notes that I had written for my speech, because he has just made my speech for me. However, I shall edit what I have noted down. I, too, salute the Government, and the previous Administration as well, for the strenuous efforts they have made to attract industrial investment into Northern Ireland. I sincerely hope that the industries they have attracted, when they get into full production, will prove to be successful, and that the efforts will prove to he fruitful. At the same time, I think one has to bear in mind that these jobs, though desperately needed, are bought at a very high price; and I hope it will transpire that the very large sums of public money which have been invested will turn out to have been justified. One has to hear in mind that, when the economic climate becomes unfavourable, the multi-national firm which has a subsidiary overseas is likely to axe that subsidiary before it closes down its main production plant at home, and this is where there is a certain area of vulnerability. None the less, I wish these projects every success.

What I want to go on to say is this—and I echo what the noble Duke has just said. Small, home-based industries were traditionally the source of our prosperity in Northern Ireland. In the early 19th century, when we got in on the Industrial Revolution act and the Northern Ireland economy started to boom, there was not any money from America then, and there were no Government subsidies then. The entrepreneur had to rely on his own skills and initiative; but, then, there were no hindrances, either. The field was wide open at that time. So I should like to think that Her Majesty's Government will pay every bit as much attention to trying to help local industry, which is faced with foreign competition in the same way as it is in Great Britain, and will try to maintain jobs as well as to create new ones.

The local enterprise development unit, of which the noble Duke was a very able and very effective director, I may say, for five years, has done an excellent job, as he has said, But I should still like to see Her Majesty's Government and the Department of Commerce doing more for the small industrialist. The reason I mention this is that I have in mind two of my constituents who are brothers. They are called Doherty, and they have a small textile production unit in Kirkcubbin, County Down, near where I live. Because they have no other premises they have to work from a corrugated iron, ex-Gospel hall, and they are ashamed to bring there the buyers of their products, such as buyers from Marks and Spencer or Primark, because they feel the whole place looks so "grotty".

Furthermore, they are faced with the dilemma of whether to accept new orders, with the risk of not being able to deliver on time, or whether to turn away work, which obviously they do not want to do. This is in an area where there has been a great demand for job opportunities. These brothers are providing job opportunities on a small scale-25 to 30 jobs but if they had a proper site and premises, not only would they be able to provide more jobs but they would make a very much better impression on the clients with whom they deal. This is the sort of place upon which I think any money spent would be very cost-effective, because these people are already in production; and, in many ways, there is more to be said for helping them than for building an Advance factory which is perhaps going to lie vacant for two or three years.

Self-help was the name of the game in the 19th century. I would stress to your Lordships that we are still not without self-help. As the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, said, we are not all spongers, we are not all beggars. I was honoured and privileged to have the pleasure of opening the Lecale Training Workshops in Downpatrick, County Down, a few weeks ago. This is sponsored by the department and we are grateful for it: but the initiative came from local people, predominantly trade unionists, led by Mr. Malachi Curran. They have a local board or committee which runs the unit. They provide jobs for eight members of staff and they can accommodate 30 young unemployed school-leavers and train them for jobs. Although it was only officially opened a few weeks ago, it had been running and gradually building up for some time. It is most gratifying to sec that a very high proportion of those who received training in that workshop have now secured permanent employment. This is because the management and the management committee of the workshop is able to keep closely in touch with local employers and to identify their needs so that they can train young people in joinery, mechanics, laundry work, needlework, office management and so on—all the things that the local employers may require. This is a shining example of what can be done with a bit of initiative and imagination.

I mention the trade unionists as having been prominent in taking that initiative, and I would say in passing that whereas in this country, I am sorry to say, it is mostly had news that is heard from Northern Ireland, I can say without hesitation that the Northern Ireland trade unionists are a most public-spirited breed of persons, as exemplified by the noble Lord, Lord Blease, who is the best trade union leader we have ever had. It gives me greater pleasure than anything else to see that he is now able to serve Northern Ireland from the Front Bench in this House.

My Lords, having referred to two encouraging matters, there is one less favourable thing I should say before I sit down. I have never earned for myself a reputation for saying things that I estimate are going to be popular, and what I am going to say now is not going to be popular and may cause offence among the public. That is, that honest employers and honest employees are getting a raw deal at the moment in Northern Ireland. I am a modest employer myself but, I hope, an honest one. I have a payroll of about 30. I am glad to say that my labour turnover is extremely small. But in the last six or eight months I have had occasion to advertise to fill three vacancies. In a Province with unprecedentedly high unemployment, it was astonishing how poor was the response to those advertisements. Those who did respond asked, "How much money do I get in my hands on a Friday?" They were told that the gross wage was, say, £90 a week. They asked, "How much will I get in my hands?" We said that that depended on their tax liability and they replied, "If that is the case, we are not interested".

The worst instance of this sort of thing is with those who draw unemployment benefit but yet get paid in cash for doing casual labour. But the more normal thing is that they would accept the basic agricultural wage (which, I think, is £48 a week or something like it) and let that go down in the books but they would want to get the balance paid in cash.

This makes it very difficult for the honest employer who keeps books, has them audited and conceals nothing from the Inspector of Taxes. It makes it very difficult for him to recruit labour. Worse still, my honest employees resent this deeply because they are paying their full tax liability; they know that these practices take place and they feel, with justification, that they are subsidising those who are not paying their full tax liability. I drew this to the attention of the honourable Member in another place who is responsible for these affairs and I think he took the message on board; but I felt that I should mention it in this House today, knowing, that it is not going to win me any votes at all if ever I happen to stand for election again.

7.24 p.m.


My Lords, an acute observer of modern industrial society has written about "apoplexy at the centre and the anaemia at the periphery". This kind of thing very much affects Northern Ireland, situated as it is, on the very outside rim of Europe. Northern Ireland shares with some of the remoter regions of Great Britain geographic problems which are inescapable. When one turns to the economic situation, it suffers also from the hangover and consequences, of very great prosperity in the 19th century particularly, in shipbuilding and textiles, as has already been said. If that were not bad enough, the very successful post-war textile industry is now in serious trouble with a worldwide surplus of man-made fibres, the consequences of the energy crisis and very stiff competition from various fibres produced in the Third World.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, and I have recently entertained a group of community workers and councillors from Belfast, nearly all either working in, or with considerable experience of, the inner city. They spent a week in London looking at London's problem. It came as a surprise to them that Belfast shares with London and other English cities many inner-city problems. These are, of course, made worse by violence and by intimidation; but they probably would have happened anyway.

May I move rapidly on to housing. It is notorious that the Northern Irish housing situation is probably the worst in the whole of Northern Europe. I was grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for his prompt reply to my Written Question about housing action areas in Northern Ireland. It is good to know that so far 19 have been declared. Nevertheless, the actual progress in improving houses is not quite so encouraging. I understand that 238 houses have been improved in these areas, another 209 are in the pipeline, while only 314 improvement and intermediate grants have been approved for owner-occupiers. I hope very much that this rate of progress will be greatly speeded up. I know that, so far as concerns housing associations, there were at the start very great difficulties regarding valuation of properties to be acquired; but I think that these have now been largely overcome. It is encouraging that housing associations seem to be accelerating in the action areas.

My noble friend the Duke of Abercorn spoke about the Local Enterprise Development Unit, of which he has great experience. I should like to support and welcome everything that he said about that body. I, myself, was its guest for a day or so in September and was left in admiration at some of the very successful small businesses which it has helped to launch and develop. It is a shining example of self-help—and self-help in the private sector has a great importance; even though I accept so much of what the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, was saying about the public sector.

While in this economic area, I should like to go on to mention a body in the Republic of Ireland which, I believe, is very much worthy of our attention and that is the one called Co-operation North. It was founded at the beginning of this year. It is non-political and nonsectarian. Its purpose is to increase trade and commerce between the North and the South, to improve social and cultural links, and to create greater knowledge and mutual understanding between all parts of the Irish Island. Perhaps I could give one or two practical examples of the work on which it has been engaged. It has pub- lished a North/South trade directory. It is promoting a more balanced flow of tourism as between the North and the South. It has sponsored joint trade stands—for instance, in September at the major trade exhibition in Hamburg, Germany, where nine firms took part from the South and eight from the North. Co-operation North is at the moment undertaking a study of North/South co-operation in conjunction with the British/Irish Association. The results of this study will I understand be published within the next six months. I hope that the Government will examine those results with the very greatest care.

I think that energy questions are likely to feature quite large in this report and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, examined them in some depth. May I say how much I agree with what he was saying. I should like to add two further points: I believe that what is needed when it comes to natural gas is an adequate supply for the whole of Ireland, regardless of North and South. This is particularly necessary and urgent at a time when wellhead gas is being flared off, burnt, wasted, at the oil fields in the North Sea.

A friend of mine in Belfast gave me this rather all-embracing definition of politics. He said: Politics includes everything that requires organisation of people and things on a scale larger than that of the extended family". I suggest that the economic and social problems we are discussing tonight will only find their solution in the context of politics, and the politics that I should like to see coming to the front now are the politics of forgiveness. This may be a slightly obscure phrase, and perhaps I could give it a little more clarity by quoting from a prayer that was found on a scrap of paper left beside the body of a dead child in Ravensbruck concentration camp during the Second World War. It went something as follows: Oh Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will; but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have bought, thanks to this suffering—our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown out of this; and when they come to judgment let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness". Our Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, when entering office, moving into Downing Street, quoted some remarks attributed to St. Francis. I should like to mention one phrase from that: It is in forgiving that we are pardoned". There is, I suggest, so very much that needs to be forgiven both in Ireland and in England. England has to forgive, for instance, Casement, the Easter Rising and the many brutal murders of our statesmen and soldiers. Ireland, on the other hand, needs to forgive the plantations and evictions, Cromwell and William III and the long period of the penal laws. The Orange tradition needs to forgive Catholic attitudes to such matters as divorce, abortion, birth control, mixed marriages and civil liberties. The Green tradition needs to forgive years and years of discrimination and derision. It needs to forgive injustice and institutional violence. All of us, whether we are English or Irish, and whatever our political stance may be, need to forgive those very many wounds that have been suffered, wounds both ancient and modern. That, I suggest, is the kind of spirit which must underlie the politics required to put right these very great economic and social problems.

7.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for initiating this important debate. He spoke with real understanding, and we know of his long concern and work in Northern Ireland. We are very grateful to him for it. I am chairman of the British/Irish Association, to which my noble friend has just referred. We exist to promote friendship between the peoples of England, Scotland and Wales on the one hand and the people of Northern and Southern Ireland on the other. In this connection, we have had a great many meetings over many years and initiated important studies on the economic and social developments of Northern Ireland and we work together with Co-operation North, to which my noble friend also referred. Furthermore, and perhaps less respectably—wearing my academic hat—I have been an external examiner for many years in Irish universities. I must have examined more theses on Irish economic and social questions than any other person still extant. Perhaps that gives one the background to some of the questions which have been raised tonight.

I want to make a couple of simple points. It is astonishing (is it not?) how amazingly well our compatriots in Northern Ireland have maintained their ordinary daily lives throughout this disgusting and degraded campaign of terror. Despite everything, most people still go to work, most children still go to school, students take their examinations—as I know—elderly people go to their pubs and their clubs, and surely there can be no greater tribute to the spirit of man than the way in which the people of Northern Ireland have carried on living. Most humbly and respectfully, I take off my hat to them.

This very strength of social life is the best hope that we have that the violence will not be victorious. In the long run, and it may be a very long run, the power of ordinary people to insist that they will live their ordinary lives as they wish to lead them, and not according to the high-flown theories of the terrorists, is very great. If only the British people insist on holding on in Northern Ireland, then the ordinary people of Northern Ireland will be successful, and the United Kingdom will remain united, which is what practically everybody wants to happen, even if they are "nationalists" in theory.

Having said that, my Lords, I want to turn at once to the immediate subject of the debate, the problems of the economy and of society in Northern Ireland. The position is in some respects, as has been said throughout the debate, very grave. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to the unemployment figures: Over 20 per cent. in Cookstown and certain other parts of the Province, and over 10 per cent. throughout the Province. These figures are a scandal. But if we leave unemployment on one side for the moment—and in what I hope will be a short speech I want to return to it at the end of my remarks—I want to concentrate on some other aspects of the social and economic questions there.

We have to be careful not to talk down Northern Ireland, not to present the position as though the problems are so great that nobody in their right mind will ever go and live and work there. I read the other day that the housing conditions in West Belfast were "the worst in Europe", and I think that my noble friend Lord Hylton rather emphasi- sed this in part of his speech. Are they really worse than Naples? Are they really worse than the bidonvilles in Lisbon? I am not at all sure that these sorts of exaggeration are not part of the myths of English history.

A century ago every single Royal Commission on housing said that the slums of Dublin, of Belfast and of Glasgow were all called "the worst in Europe". Of course, there were no comparative studies whatsoever to back up this hyperbole. I do not think conditions in the Province require this exaggeration. In parts they are indeed bad, very bad; and all that it is necessary to say without exaggeration is that they are not good enough, judged by the standards of the rest of the United Kingdom, and that they should be improved. I think that is the key point we should make.

Furthermore, many of these standards in the social services in Northern Ireland are in fact uniform throughout the United Kingdom. This is a point which is often forgotten in senatorial elections in New York and other parts of the Western world. Since the war, expenditure per head on social security in Northern Ireland has been identical to that of the rest of the Kingdom, for the simple reason that the social security system is nationwide. Expenditure per head on health, to which the noble Lord, Lord Smith, referred so movingly, and on education is higher in Northern Ireland than in the rest of Britain.


My Lords, can the noble Lord indicate how long those figures have been higher? At what stage did they become higher?


My Lords, if the noble Lord will do me the favour of referring to a book I wrote some years ago called The Costs of Education, he will see that this position has been maintained fairly consistently since the late 1940s, as a result of a variety of complex questions: that is something I shall be coming back to in a moment.

It is also true that, bad though the conditions of housing may be, the subsidies on housing are actually higher in Northern Ireland in some respects than in the rest of the country. These points should be made and they should be made known, because it is popularly supposed that Northern Ireland is the part of the country that gets the least public expenditure. Personally I do not believe that is true, and the reason it is not true is that the poorer an area is in the United Kingdom, generally speaking, the higher the level of public subsidy it receives. If we add to the higher level of social services—the higher expenditure per head—the higher public subsidies which exist for job maintenance, I think we reach a conclusion which is worth dwelling on. Northern Ireland is to a great degree one of the most socialised societies in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, made this very fair point, and I think we should dwell on it. A higher proportion of its national income depends upon the State than anywhere else that I know of in Western Europe.

At this stage I would tend to wonder whether we may not be asking the wrong questions. I respectfully ask this of the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and also of my noble friend Lord Brookeborough. Should we not be a bit cautious about believing that requests for further public expenditure in Northern Ireland, continually increasing public expenditure, will actually yield very much in terms of solving the problems which we all wish to see solved? A good deal is already being spent in the North and yet the problems remain. I would doubt whether substantial public expenditure would solve many more problems. Of course, it is true that the Republic of Ireland gets £3 a head per week from the Common Market while the Northern Irish are paying 10s. a week each for the privilege of belonging to the Common Market. Just stopping that would, I assume, make a pretty big difference to Northern Ireland. After all, if we stopped paying Brussels the thousands of millions a year we are paying now we could put up child benefit allowance throughout the Kingdom by £2 a week, which seems to be a not inconsiderable contribution to alleviating many of these social problems. However, that is a side issue.

In my view, the problem now in Northern Ireland is not really in the field of public expenditure. It is not a question of increasing public expenditure but of the difficulty of stimulating private expenditure in the economy. I would venture to suggest that it is there ultimately that the problem of unemployment must be solved. I strongly support the noble Duke, the Duke of Abercorn, in his plea for further studies on this matter.

In recent years the Republic has been relatively successful in generating economic growth, largely by stimulating the private sector. It really has had an astonishingly successful story in the last few years. I have no time tonight in this short debate to develop this theme, but I really do think it is the central question to which we should direct our thinking over the next few years.

Northern Ireland has until quite recently, as the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, said, been by far the most successful part of the island of Ireland and it has often been the one of the most successful parts of the United Kingdom as a whole, largely through the activities of private business people. If that atmosphere could be regenerated, as it has been in the South, I would have thought that in a very few years we should see a radical solution to this general problem of unemployment, which lies at the basis of everything that has been said in the debate.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should wish to join in thanking my noble friend Lord Underhill for initiating this important debate. From a Northern Ireland viewpoint, I should also like to compliment him on the objective and constructive way in which he dealt with the issues. As he indicated in his opening remarks, the noble Lord is no stranger to Northern Ireland. I have been pleased to be associated with him for over 25 years in dealing with Northern Ireland affairs on industrial and political matters. I know especially of his strong commitment and concern to improve the wellbeing, the social development and the job prospects of our young people. He rightly drew attention to the unhealthy situation which only at our peril can be dismissed as a situation of such a peculiar and local nature, not relevant to the rest of the body politic. Some people would try to put it in that category.

The problems, difficulties and issues of Northern Ireland are far-reaching. They cannot be contained within the Province and treated mainly as security matters. However much some would wish to sweep the problems of Northern Ireland under the carpet, to use the vernacular, they remain with us and have to be dealt with by appropriate social, political and economic action.

The noble Lord, Lord Hampton, indicated that it was necessary to maintain hope and I should like to say that when this debate was known throughout Northern Ireland, it raised a certain interest, and interest generated the hope that at least someone and some persons in Westminster were beginning to look at some of the economic problems. I think that is a very important part of the attitude to adopt in both Houses here.

From this side of the House, I warmly welcome the interest and thoughtful concern expressed by all the speakers who have taken part in this debate. I would not want to single out any one because all of them have contributed very valuably to aspects of the problems we are confronted with. The noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, mentioned something about his notes. I think someone has been looking over them because all the noble Lords seem to have gleaned matters from my notes.

I should particularly like to mention the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and I should like wholeheartedly, as I am sure other noble Lords would wish to do, to join in paying tribute to all the staff of the Royal Victoria Hospital. They do tremendous work, and indeed at this time last year I had the experience of having a detached retina and had to spend a few days over Christmas in that particular place. I can speak not only of their skill but of their care and of the anxious way they have to go about their work. I hope, of course, that the Minister will not the matters mentioned by the noble Lord.

Before I attempt briefly to underline matters which may be amenable to some positive form of action and decision, I feel I should try to ensure that my remarks are considered in their proper perspective: from my point of view this is important. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, said he would confine his remarks to social and economic matters. I, too, shall make every attempt to do that, but I am afraid I cannot speak of social and economic matters without in some way attempting to bring in the whole aspect in which the economic and social decisions are made.

My first point concerns the talks initiated on 20th November by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the right honourable Humphrey Atkins, about the proposed conference and political initiative. On the day that the Working Paper for a Conference on the future system of Government for Northern Ireland was published, I publicly indicated support for the consultations by stating—and here I quote from the remarks that I made at the time: The document is constructive and should be welcomed by all, including the Parliament at Westminster, as a first step in the consultative process. However, I believe that the issues for the future peace and prosperity of the Northern Ireland people are far too important to be left to politicians alone to decide. All persons of goodwill, and interested in promoting a brighter and more hopeful future, especially for our children, should seek to use their influence to bring about successful and effective political structures of government for the Province. It is vital that the proposed consultations should be earnestly and sincerely tackled, particularly by elected representatives, so that the Northern Ireland people may be enabled to work together for their own general well-being, and to afford us a position that could allow us to regain respect in the world at large. I support the efforts to secure a transfer of responsibility and of powers which will best serve the interests of the Northern Ireland people". That was my view on 22nd November. It is still my position concerning the proposed consultations.

At the same time, I would add that, while the Government and public representatives cannot ignore controversial issues about constitutional matters and the politics of law and order, I believe that we add to the problems by relegating employment and social difficulties to far too low a priority for public comment and attention. Much more should and could be done to promote informed public debate, and to provide positive leadership concerning the need for economic progress and development.

It seems to me that any political proposals for the future of Northern Ireland should not be taken—and indeed, they cannot be taken—as realistic, humane or honest, unless they take into account and pay explicit attention to the position of the Northern Ireland economy and the future economic and social wellbeing of its people. International competition and trading today demonstrates that political idealism about national independence does not necessarily lead to economic autonomy. Whatever doubts may exist concerning the definition of the "Irish dimension", I believe that the real heart and soul of the "Irish dimension" transcends political borders and constitutional issues. The genuine "Irish dimension" is concerned with the boundaries to human happiness, the freedom from fear, and the right to life in all its fullness, in terms of civilised living and opportunities for jobs, homes and the general well being of all the Irish people. I am glad to say that there are many in the North and in the South who share in and work according to these principles. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, the noble Duke, the Duke of Abercorn, and others have mentioned efforts that are made to promote functional co-operation. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Underhill also dealt with this point. I believe that this is an area which ought to be developed by noble Lords in this House, and by others directly concerned with Northern Ireland affairs. At this stage, it may be too much to ask the Government to take an active interest in the promotion of North-South co-operation. But certainly the Government ought to be aware of the measures that are available through the EEC, and should make sure that those are well-known and promoted through the proper channels in Northern Ireland. In this, I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Duke.

The second point I wish to make is that the history of chronic unemployment in Northern Ireland is a long and sad one. With the possible exception of a few years during the Second World War, chronic unemployment has been with us since the foundations of the State in 1920, during 60 years of successive United Kingdom Governments, together with the Stormont Government and the more recent Administrations in the Province. They have all sought in varying degrees to analyse, to diagnose, to alleviate and to remedy the employment problems and the relevant social deprivation.

When I look at the economic direction taken by successive United Kingdom Governments in the past decade, I often wonder what might have happened to Northern Ireland had there been no political upheaval, for in the past 10 years full employment has been more or less abandoned as a prime target of economic policy. If we in Northern Ireland had been subjected to the full impact of that strategy, I have no doubt that unemployment would now be over 30 per cent.—more than twice the present level. Here I am possibly agreeing with some of the analyses made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. Up till now, we have been spared such a doctrinaire approach, because successive Governments, Conservative and Labour, saw a connection between political and economic instability and political and social insecurity.

While no one has ever claimed that political differences could be eradicated by the treatment of economic ills alone, it is a fact that in other more prosperous parts of the Western world, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Newfoundland, with pronounced religious and national differences, the communities have not flared up in civil disorder, destruction, terrorism and murder. Their relative prosperity has provided a social unity and a national economic purpose.

Northern Ireland has attracted a growing proportion of public investment during the past 10 years, which has not only protected the Province from massive unemployment but may have done quite a bit to reduce the level of violence. There can be no doubt that Government intervention in the provincial economy can and is preventing the political and social instability from getting worse. I believe it is implicit in this approach to the real and current problems of one region of the United Kingdom, that the philosophy of State intervention and public expenditure has held together the basic fabric of our Northern Ireland communities. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, will probably differ from me in his approach to this. As my noble friend Lord Underhill has warned, these may be some of the reasons for a closer study of the Northern Ireland situation by Members of this House and by others who do not wish to see high unemployment and other forms of alienation disturb and disrupt the social fabric of other parts of the United Kingdom.

I hope that the Minister and others may bring some influence to bear on the Select Committee on Unemployment, which has recently been appointed by this House. I hope that the members of that Select Committee will include Northern Ireland in their visits and studies. It has been held by many that we in Northern Ireland have had good cause since 1945 to be grateful to successive Governments for pursuing socialist policies in the Province. I have heard this more than once admitted freely by Northern Ireland Unionist politicians, who understand the background in much detail. The causes and the effects of civil unrest must be tackled for their own sake, for there is no denying that suitable remedial measures in the social and environmental fields help to create a more favourable climate not only for public and private developments, but for political initiatives and community reconciliation.

Therefore, while all these problems are now at the door of the present Government waiting for decisions and action, one cannot attempt—nor would I attempt it—to pin blame on this Government for past years of neglect, nor can one take away from the creditable performance of the previous Labour Government in their promotion of policies and in the provision of funds to carry out economic expansion, industrial training schemes, programmes of housing development and environmental amenities and in the provision of greatly needed community and recreational facilities. All these projects continue to play an important part in promoting general well being, in repairing the social fabric, in building community morale and in maintaining the hope that has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

I should be the first to admit that in the early months of a new Government one can hardly expect immediate and dramatic improvements in the economy and in employment. But by the same reckoning one can understand and note the expressions of alarm and despondency when all the signs indicate a serious worsening of the situation. Among other matters, there is rising unemployment, the closure of major works, cuts in public development programmes, rising costs of fuel, clothing, rates, and other matters.

I do not want to undersell Northern Ireland. This is not a trumpet of alarm which has been sounded by me. Many respectable bodies and persons have sounded this note within the last few weeks. The Minister will know about the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions' publication of October entitled Jobs: an Action Programme. This has been referred to al- ready by my noble friend Lord Underhill. This programme was discussed at a conference of full-time trade union officials in Northern Ireland. Contained in that document are the following remarks: At the time of preparing the document a change of attitude in Government thinking on industrial aid has placed an immediate question mark over at least 2,000 jobs in manufacturing industries. By the time of going to print there is considerable evidence to justify our fears, and one need only to mention the recent redundancy in Harland and Wolff and in the man-made fibre industries as a clear-cut illustration of the effects of the wind of change in Government policy". At the same time, they say that Government departments are assessing the possibility of cuts of the order of 10, 15 or 20 per cent. which could put up to 6,000 jobs at risk in the Civil Service. There are other remarks on how alarmed they are about the situation.

Trade unionists were so concerned about the position that, because of the relationships which exist between the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the British Trades Union Council, a meeting was arranged on 12th November. The General Council of the TUC visited Northern Ireland to discuss the grave and urgent problems confronting Northern Ireland, and a statement issued after the meeting contained the following statement: The General Council representatives paid tribute to the efforts of trade unionists in Northern Ireland to maintain employment and economic development in the face of severe structural and economic disadvantages and of international recession, now being reinforced by the misguided and pernicious economic policies of the British Government". The TUC representatives noted that employment in Northern Ireland is more heavily reliant upon the public sector than employment in Great Britain, and shared the fear of the Northern Ireland Committee that recently announced reductions in public expenditure, coming on top of cuts already being effected, would lead to a savage increase in the rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland—which is already among the highest in Europe. The outcome could only undermine the efforts of the trade union movement and other people of goodwill to promote peace and reconciliation.

Another body that has gone on record within recent weeks is the Northern Ireland Economic Council, whose chairman is a noted international economist, Sir Charles Carter. I had the good fortune to serve for 11 years on the Economic Council, and know that it is a very responsible, able and, indeed, concerned body. Sir Charles Carter ends the report by saying: Clearly the next year"— that is, 1980— is going to be more difficult. All the indications are that real incomes will fall and that unemployment will rise, while some sectors like man-made fibres and part of the agricultural industry have entered into an unusually difficult period. Nevertheless, there are some more hopeful signs on the horizon. There is no reason to believe that the present successes in job promotion will not continue, although the recession in economic activity will make inward investment even more difficult to obtain than in recent years. Thus, there are some optimistic features to relieve a generally gloomy short-term economic outlook". I should like to make some positive contribution to the debate by putting forward proposals for the Government to consider. I should like to refer to the statement of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of State, Mr. Hugh Rossi, when speaking on the Public Expenditure White Paper for 1980–81, in which they indicated that it will be the Government's aim to ensure that resources made available for public expenditure are used to the best advantage. The Minister continued: We are intent on reducing waste and inefficiency so that all our resources can be effectively devoted to tackling the serious social, economic and environmental problems in Northern Ireland". Mr. Rossi said something of a similar nature. I know that trade unions and employers wholly agree that more effective use should be made of the financial and other resources which are being made available in Northern Ireland. There is no disagreement regarding the use of finance, so far as Northern Ireland employers and trade unions are concerned. One Minister indicated that he is considering future investment and incentives, and in the Investors Chronicle of 5th October he said: I am hopeful that we may be able to use Northern Ireland as an experimental area for different social incentives and do not rule out the possibility that, if the Treasury is able and willing, we might try some form of taxation concession as an experiment". I should like to ask the Minister whether any progress has been made regarding the experiment. If I may turn to the report of the Northern Ireland Economic Council, they say that data and statistics are an important aspect of trying to get decisions right in the employment field.

The report draws attention to figures relating to the gross domestic product in Northern Ireland. While discussing the relevant data, the report says on page 4: We should like to take this opportunity of commenting on the data and nature of the available national income and expenditure statistics for Northern Ireland. The more recent data of GDP is for the sector relating to 1973, while statistics for GDP by factor income and for personal incomes are only available on a provisional basis for 1976. Such information is fundamental to a clear understanding of the overall development of the regional economy, and we hope the Government will give priority to providing more up-to-date statistics in this area". Without entering into a discussion on that, I should like the Minister to take it on board and say whether something can he done about it. It has been known in the Province for some time that the need for relevant statistical data is a very important factor in economic planning and decision making.

Turning to the unemployment statistics, page 7 of the report deals with the lack of proper employment information. Because of time, I shall cut short my remarks and say that although there has been a substantial improvement in official manpower statistics in recent years we urge the Department to continue its efforts to improve the accuracy of employment statistics. So even in the case of data relating to employment we are dealing with it in a very vague and indeterminate way.

I see that 23 minutes have gone by, so I shall be as brief as I can. I have almost a mandate in respect of this particular aspect of Northern Ireland affairs, so I hope that the noble Lord will bear with me—as other noble Lords should also do.


My Lords, I have no objection to the noble Lord continuing, but this is a short debate and its time is limited. I shall be unable to reply to a great many of the points which the noble Lord has raised, because that would put me beyond the time that I am allowed to speak. As other noble Lords have restricted themselves, I hope that he will understand my feelings on this.


My Lords, according to my calculations we still have about half an hour and five minutes. The Government have initiated and pursued very pronounced fiscal and monetary economic policies. Surely the policies were decided only after full investigation and research and calculation of results in both the short term and the long term. Can the Minister indicate what is likely to be the unemployment figures for Northern Ireland in July 1980 and henceforth? Can he deny the figures which have already been produced by Professor Gibson, speaking at a conference on 6th December, when he said that unemployment in the United Kingdom would be 1.3 million in 1980, 1.5 million in 1981 and 1–7 million in 1982? In relation to Ireland he said that there was a direct correlation and unfortunately unemployment should remain around 60,000 to 65,000 in 1980, be at perhaps 70,000 in 1981 and close to 85,000 in 1982.

I do not (to repeat myself) want to undersell Northern Ireland. All I will say is that other persons are drawing attention to these problems and I should like the Minister and the Government to indicate their concern and either to refute this or to say what action has been taken to counter it. Energy has already been dealt with.

I should like to say again in connection with waste and efficiency that in Great Britain there is a scheme promoted by industry, local authorities and some Government agencies to have reclamation schemes for waste materials brought under some sort of control. These schemes are particularly successful with the recycling of glass, with paper, with textile and metal waste products. The Glass Manufacturing Federation has produced some very useful explanatory leaflets about the bottle bank glass recycling scheme which I understand saves 4 million gallons of oil annually in Great Britain. Apart from the direct benefits which should accrue to the Province from such a scheme, I believe that a programme of this kind should have a general psychological effect and make the community aware of the benefits of saving waste materials.


My Lords, on a point of order, if the noble Lord will give way. The noble Lord has spoken for 27 minutes; there are 26 minutes left before the end of the debate. The House expects that I shall reply to as many as possible of the noble Lords who have restricted themselves to 10 minutes. I think that, now that he has had the longest innings of anybody, the noble Lord must be very nearly content.


My Lords, I will just finish with two matters. First, a plea for the Linen Hall Library, which this morning I indicated to the Minister through his private secretary that I would raise, together with a number of other matters.

The final point I should like to make is a vital one so far as Northern Ireland is concerned. It concerns industrial relations. Because of the background of industrial relations in Northern Ireland, may I ask the Minister to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State that those responsible for industrial relations in Northern Ireland—that is the Government, employers, trade unions and the Labour Relations agency—shall be given every encouragement to work out solutions suitable to the needs of Northern Ireland? As there is no devolved Government machinery by which these matters can be discussed, steps should be taken to bring the main parties together at an early date to see how far consensus can be reached between the parties. The necessary resources should be available to ensure that the harmful economic effects of avoidable industrial unrest shall be reduced to a minimum.

My Lords, I apologise for speaking for some time. I think your Lordships will understand that Northern Ireland has been going through very sad experiences both in employment and in other matters, and finally I should like to pay tribute to all those workers—which includes managers—who have helped considerably to maintain the Province by production and other methods.

8.15 p.m.


My Lords, I hope I did not show undue haste to hear the end of the excellent and very important contribution to this debate made by the noble Lord, Lord Blease. I am sure that noble Lords will wish to join me in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, for tabling this Motion which has led to such a fascinating debate. He claimed not to be an expert but subsequently he proved himself to be so. We have covered many of the topics which might be discussed in the debate on the draft Appropriation Order and I intend to follow the pattern of the noble Lord, so far as the clock allows, in order to take the next debate rather more swiftly.

The seriousness of the United Kingdom's economic situation does not need underlining. Northern Ireland has to contribute to the measures needed to revive the economy because the benefits of success will accrue to the Province as well as to Great Britain. If the economy overall is stagnant it is difficult, if not impossible, to have an effective regional policy. A better climate for investment means more industrial expansion and higher employment and a more prosperous economy can, of course, support more expenditure on services such as health, housing and education. In these circumstances it must be a prime concern for all in Government to see that we get the best possible value for every pound we spend. The noble Lord who has just sat down made that one of his themes, and I welcome it. This means establishing our order of priorities with the utmost care and keeping a close eye not merely on the amount of public expenditure but on its effectiveness.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, led very rightly on unemployment and indeed other noble Lords have quite rightly and predictably made this their main subject. The Government are very much aware of high unemployment. What is more we are aware of pockets of unemployment higher even than any which have been quoted this evening. Noble Lords will understand that the whole of the Government's economic and industrial policy is directed at this very problem throughout the United Kingdom, and, since it is more acute in the Province, that is where the chief effort is directed.

My noble friend Lord Hylton referred to the difficulties of the young unemployed. As the Minister responsible for education and youth, I am particularly aware of the fact that the young unemployed are under a different threat to those in the rest of the United Kingdom; that is the threat of recruitment into an organisation which alone in some areas can offer them any status, any employment or any monetary reward. That is a terrible situation and I welcome every effort to cure it, including such imaginative programmes as were brought in by the Government of our predecessors—the Youthways Scheme for turning people who were thought to be unemployable actually into desirable employees, and they do it with great success.

On the matter of assistance to industry we are making efforts to provide financial assistance to local industry. The package currently on offer in Northern Ireland is highly attractive and carefully designed to lead to the creation of as many new jobs as possible. We have had a number of successes in attracting new companies to Northern Ireland. To quote only quite recent examples, American Monitor International Limited invested with 250 jobs and the National Supply Company (United Kingdom) with 150 jobs. Two local companies have also demonstrated their confidence in the future of the Province by expanding their plant. The Burlington (Savile Row) Shirts Limited—noble Lords may in fact be clothed in their products at this moment—and the Cooneen Knitwear Company Limited—and I might be able to say the same about that—have both announced 200 extra jobs. Ministers, by official and unofficial tours in the United States, are also assisting in promoting inward investments.

In our election manifesto we recognised that Northern Ireland's industry would continue to require Government support. This commitment was ratified in July when, following the Statement that the geographical extent of the assisted areas and levels of assistance available in Great Britain were being reduced, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that he had no plans to change either the level or the form of industrial assistance available in Northern Ireland. In other words, my Lords, that is a ratification of our belief that this is an area of the greatest importance.

Financial assistance to industry forms a major part of public expenditure in Northern Ireland and its successful application is vital to the uphill struggle for reducing unemployment. We are, therefore, anxious to ensure that the industrial incentives are cost-effective and competitive with those being offered elsewhere. Nevertheless, we are not complacent about our performance in this sphere and have therefore initiated reviews of both the industrial development incentives and the institutional framework within which they are administered. These reviews will provide a sound basis for decisions about the future handling of industrial development in a cost-effective way, and they include an inquiry into the proper deployment of taxation to encourage industrial development and exports.

All the political parties in the Province have declared their commitment to the success of the local economy. Few things could do nearly as much to improve the prospects for the economy and boost the confidence of investers both outside and inside Northern Ireland as agreement by the parties on how Northern Ireland is to be governed for the future. Local political leaders, working through local institutions, would have the opportunity to mobilise the ambitions and energies of the whole community in the vigorous development of the economy. These would be only a part, but an important part, of the benefits that will be gained by the people of Northern Ireland if and when they can bring themselves to agree a form of self-government.

It would be foolish to expect miracles. Not all the factors for success would be within Northern Ireland's control. Progress would depend not only on local enterprise and performance but also on the state of the United Kingdom and wider world economy. Northern Ireland's ability to determine its aims and priorities and to help itself would however be significantly enhanced. I only hope that the ordinary people of Northern Ireland will exert the extraordinary talent they have, to which my noble friend Lord Vaizey referred, of living normal lives in abnormal circumstances. I hope that their increasingly anxious and impatient voices will reach the ears of those who stand to represent them and compel them to recognise their real desire to establish an agreed devolved constitution in the Province. Within such an agreed framework, his very proper concern to accelerate private rather than public investment could do a great deal to cure the economic ills that so severely accentuate the political problems of the Province.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, spoke very helpfully on this matter and gave his perceptive and continued support to the White Paper initiative. He suggested there should be wider discussion of these and other matters in the Province, and indicated the feeling of a vacuum of leadership. We are in a vicious circle, because there is no point in going into local politics if local politicians have no power and authority, but if local polititians have no power and authority, then they do not produce leaders, and that is why it is so difficult now, I believe, to get the community moving towards the settlement which the community in fact wants. I do not underestimate, and I have already said that I recognise the excellence of, some of the schemes promoted by the predecessor of the noble Lord, Lord Blease.

The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, referred to the gas industry. I can tell your Lordships this. The Government are aware of the dangers of being dependent on only one source of energy. There is no indigenous energy worth financing in the Province. The study for the proposal of a natural gas pipeline led us to conclude that the level of subsidy required to introduce natural gas could not be justified either in terms of the number of consumers who would benefit or the price at which the gas could be sold. In the light of this decision, a policy of continuing to subsidise existing undertakings which presently incur heavy losses could not be sustained. The various undertakings are now in consultation with the Department of Commerce formulating proposals for their own futures. It may be to this that the noble Lord referred rather dramatically as imminent collapse.

In considering assistance towards an orderly rundown of those undertakings which decide to close, the Government will take account of the interests of consumers who will require to convert or replace their appliances, and of the employees who will be affected. The cost of gas and domestic electricity in the Province is higher than on the mainland. The Government are aware of the importance of ensuring that the situation does not result in undue hardship for domestic consumers or for industry. The movement of energy prices will be monitored to see whether changes in the gap between those in Great Britain and Northern Ireland call for further action.

In the medium to long term, Northern Ireland's access to adequate and reliable supplies of electricity will depend on achieving a significant diversification away from the present excessive dependence on oil as an energy source. The Northern Ireland Electricity Service is therefore urgently preparing a report on the costs and benefits of converting the second phase of Kilroot to coal firing. The Service's preliminary findings are currently being finalised. Interconnection with Scotland on the electricity grid is another option and study on this is pressing ahead. The NIES is currently evaluating the technical data on the seabed conditions along the proposed or possible route of the inter-connector. An urgent review of the means of restoring effective inter-connection with the Republic is also under way. So this area is not neglected.

On housing, I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, who raised the point that he was worried about the state of and the lack of size of the existing stock. This year, expenditure will be almost £50 million on this head. In 1980–81 expenditure is expected to be between £55 million and £60 million. It is, however, important to increase the effort to upgrade the existing housing stock, particularly in inner Belfast, and generally in the maintenance of public sector housing. In 1980–81 the Housing Executive is planning to spend around £70 million, as against £50 million this year. So that is a considerable increase, and the first time, I believe, that maintenance has exceeded building of new stock in provision. In additon, the Government are anxious to see that the private housing sector increases its contribution.

I should like to refer to the moving speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, who put a brief visit to very good purpose and followed it up with some very apposite reading, if I might say so. He asked one specific question about the 1978 Education Act. There is one example of a school which is seeking to become an integrated school under the Act. In the initial stages various flaws in the drafting of the Act have made this a slower process than anybody hoped. But the noble Lord can retain an interest and if he likes to get in touch with me I will keep him in touch with it. He also asked about the teaching of history, knowing, no doubt, that I am an historian. I shall not be drawn at length, but I draw his attention to a history competition being promoted by the Church's Central Council for Community Welfare; following its inauguration last year as a pilot project in the Western Board, it is now being promoted thoughout Northern Ireland by the Belfast Telegraph. It is receiving financial support from my department. It is open to young people in schools, colleges and youth groups, who may choose to work jointly. The general aim is to remove mythology from Irish history. This year's theme is settlements in Ireland.

My noble friend Lord Brookeborough produced an interesting proposal on the internal repair of houses which I shall pass on to my friend who has responsibility in these matters. On the question of the payment of rents particularly in arrears or out of supplementary benefits, I would say that some of what he wants is already to hand, because at present there are approximately 50,000 tenants of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive receiving supplementary benefit. In some 3,100 cases the rent is being paid directly to the NIHE, either by the Commission, in 400 cases, or under the benefit allocation arrangement, 2,700 cases. There has been criticism of the Supplementary Benefits Commission's refusal to pay rent direct in all cases where the claimant is a tenant of the NIHE. At present the power to pay rent direct is used only in cases where a claimant is persistently defaulting because of an inability to budget properly—for example, due to alcoholism or mental instability. However, consultations are currently taking place to see whether further improvements in these arrangements are possible. So the matter my noble friend raises is in fact in hand.

He then moved to agriculture and advised us to stop the slaughter and provide the fodder. Although I have farmed for many years, I am out of date. Rather than give the noble Lord an answer off the cuff, I shall refer his question to my honourable friend in another place, who will reply to him. He is doubtless aware of the Meat Industry Employment Scheme and, in fact, referred to its expense. The current movement of the relative values of the pounds of the two countries means that this expense is now reducing from the 1978–79 level and the expenditure is expected to be roughly £11.6 million for beef and £4 million for the pig sector in the ensuing year. I am going through this matter as fast as I can but some noble Lords will be left out and will receive letters.

The noble Lord, Lord Smith, reminded us of the results of the wicked and horrible deeds that are perpetrated in the streets and indeed the by-ways of the Province. The service of the medical, surgical and nursing staffs of the hospitals is beyond praise. He referred to the soldiers in the corridors. I would remind him that they are not there simply to prevent the—and I must put the word in quotation marks—"rescue" of assassins who have been wounded in an attempt to escape. They are also there to prevent the assassination of people under treatment after a previous attempt. We saw that happen very recently. Those soldiers are necessary and without them the conditions would he worse. He referred to two specific problems, the first of which related to a multistorey car park. I must apologise to the noble Lord for the fact that, although he gave me advance notice of the question, I misunderstood that part of it and I must ask one of my friends in another place to reply to him.

He also referred to the rents charged to the nursing staff. For a variety of reasons, including a freeze on rent increases, rents were last reviewed in 1976 and were then set at 1973 levels. The present increases are aimed at bringing rates up to date by 1st July 1980. But, acknowledging the size of the increase, the department decided that it should be introduced in two stages, the first as soon as practicable and the second from 1st July next year. As in England, the new rents are related to public sector housing rents. This is more favourable to tenants than the previous system where rents were related to the private sector and were determined by the district valuer. However, following the appeal against the new rents by tenants of Broadway and Victoria Towers, to which he referred, the district valuer has recently completed the review of the notional annual value of the flats in these blocks, as requested.

In the majority of cases the revised values reflect a reduction of between 26 per cent. and 36 per cent. compared with the former values. That will result in a corresponding reduction in the rent and rates element of the charge already notified to the tenants. The fixing of the charges, for heating, maintenance and other services provided by the Board is rather complex, and the department, in conjunction with the Board, has also been carrying out a review of these charges to ensure that only items properly payable by the tenants have been included. That review should also be completed shortly. I hope that this will help the noble Lord to see that the problem he has raised, which is a real one, is being dealt with.

My noble friend the Duke of Abercorn raised a number of questions on taxation and other matters to which I shall not reply in great detail. On the question of the tax concession on exports, I should point out that officials from interested departments are currently examining the possibility of having some kind of concession on exports. However, any such arrangement must, contrary, I think, to his own supposition, conform with EEC rules on state aids to industry and they must also be consistent with United Kingdom fiscal policy. Because of difficulties in satisfying the EEC rules, the Irish Republic has, I understand, decided to phase out its tax concession on exports and to replace it by a lower rate of profits tax. It may not be as easy as my noble friend thinks.

As regards the European Investment Bank, the Department of Commerce has publicised the facilities available to small firms from the European Investment Bank. Unfortunately the response has been disappointing, as has been noted, but the Department is not aware that any project has been held back due to lack of investment funds in Northern Ireland. If the noble Lord is aware of exceptions I should be glad to hear of them and pass them on.

The noble Lord referred to LEDU and I think that one or two noble Lords pointed out that home grown is best grown. It is also best rooted and least likely to be blown away. I could not agree more with what has been said about LEDU and therefore I could not say less, because time presses. That also was a theme touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath. In fact, he then proceeded to illustrate the effects of excessive taxation which leads to dishonesty. This is an hereditary disease, but I believe that it is curable.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to Co-operation North, the aims of which are admirable. I am sure that my honourable friend will study the report very closely and I shall draw it to his attention. He also quoted a very moving prayer. Although I would endorse what he said, I do so with great embarrassment and humility. Forgiveness is difficult enough to practise, but far more difficult to preach. Who am I—and, with great respect, who is he—to preach forgiveness to people who have had friends mutilated, who have lost their children, whose homes have been blown up, whose places of work have been burnt out and who have had to leave for another country? Who are we who have not suffered these dreadful strokes not of fortune, but of villainy, to preach forgiveness? None the less it must be said.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, then produced some agreeably conservative economic policies. I congratulate him on those. My noble friend does not seem to have considered Northern Ireland's receipts from the European Community. In fact, it was allocated £46.8 million from EEC funds between January and September, and it is likely to receive a net benefit from the Community this year. However, Northern Ireland suffers, like the rest of the United Kingdom, from the fact that our contribution ought to be reduced.

I should now like to leap, regardless, into my peroration over the heads, I fear, of one or two noble Lords who deserve better. I should like to say that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, in his introduction, referred eloquently to a number of pressing problems which beset the Province. I should, in conclusion, like to place them in their proper context. That context is the economic position of the United Kingdom as a whole, which must itself be seen in the context of a difficult and unforgiving world economic climate. No man is an island and in Ireland, North or South, one has to retool one's quotations: no Ireland is an island either.

When this Government came to power they were to discover vast commitments to spend public money and there was no way in which that money could be obtained without either a crippling increase in taxes or a level of borrowing that would have discredited us in the eyes of the economic world. This was coupled with high unemployment, low productivity, a level of investment that did not suggest that it was about to be cured and a chronic condition of inflation. In order to turn round so many unsatisfactory and even dangerous trends, we decided to stop the growth in public expenditure, to reduce the burden of direct taxation and to encourage a climate where both earnings and investment should be worthwhile occupations. That meant a cut in planned, but not immediately in existing expenditure. The Province of Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom is subject to all the disabilities of the country as a whole, and as a part of the whole it will also benefit from every improvement we can contrive. In fact, a number of the disabilities are felt in the Province to an exaggerated degree and noble Lords have referred to them. For example, the unemployment rate. The Province, therefore, stands to gain a great deal more job for job and pound for pound than does the rest of the United Kingdom when our present economic policy eventually bears fruit. The medicine we have to take may taste nasty, but it is strong. It will not cure us overnight, but cure us it will!

8.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank all those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for their helpful and constructive contributions. In view of the time factor, may I briefly say that everything will be on the record and will no doubt be commented upon widely in Northern Ireland. I can only hope—and I am sure that your Lordships will hope—that what has been said here may be of help to the people of Northern Ireland in their determination to get over their problems. With those few words, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.