HL Deb 17 July 1980 vol 411 cc1954-92

3.38 p.m.

The PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE, NORTHERN IRELAND OFFICE (Lord Elton) rose to move, That the draft Appropriation (No.2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 19th June, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the first order which stands in my name on the Order Paper. The main purpose of the order is to authorise the issue out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund of a sum of £1,229 million and to appropriate this sum for the purposes indicated in the schedule. The £1,229 million represents the balance of the Main Estimates of Northern Ireland Departments for 1980–81. A sum on account of £770 million has already been appropriated for 1980–81 by the Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which was approved by your Lordships on 13th March this year.

Details of the provision being sought in the draft order are in the Main Estimates Northern Ireland Departments, copies of which are available in the Library. An appropriation order encompasses virtually every aspect of Northern Ireland departments' activities. It would clearly be wrong for me to attempt to cover the whole of this field, and your Lordships will, in any case, wish to take this opportunity to raise matters to which you attach particular importance. In my opening remarks I shall, therefore, seek only to deal with a few of the main issues which may be of concern to all of us. In the course of the debate your Lordships will direct our attention to other matters, and I will endeavour to respond to these points when I reply to the debate.

Let me first put this order in its proper context. Your Lordships will be aware of the importance which Her Majesty's Government attach to economic regeneration, not only of the Province but of the nation as a whole. We cannot secure for our people either a level of employment or a standard of living that is in any way satisfactory unless that regeneration takes place. In order to achieve it, we have to secure conditions in which investment is profitable. That depends in part upon conditions of world trade that are beyond our control, and in part upon circumstances within our economy upon which Government can exert effective pressure. A necessary part of our strategy to regenerate the economy is a commitment to restrain the level of public expenditure, and a necessary result of that restraint is that the uses to which those resources are put must be put under ever more rigorous scrutiny. When money is plentiful we can spend it on most things that appear to be both popular and attractive. When it is short we have to decide upon priorities, and we have to reassure ourselves continually that those priorities remain the right ones in changing circumstances.

Your Lordships will be aware that on 30th June my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland announced that Northern Ireland Government departments and, through them, other public spending agencies, were not to enter into any new commitments on capital or current account pending the result of a review of public expenditure policy in the Province. This decision to review the use of public resources was a part of the essential process of keeping our scale of priorities in line with a changing situation in which it is not open to us to respond to new or changing needs simply by expanding the volume of money to be applied to them. The review is a complex as well as an important exercise and it is not yet complete, but present indications are that it will be necessary to shift the balance of resources in the direction of economic programmes, including industrial development.

Although the review is in hand, services in Northern Ireland of all sorts must continue and public money has to be spent to keep them going. That is why it is necessary for the Government to come to Parliament with this draft order for the release for expenditure of the balance of the Main Estimates for the Province for the current financial year. The purposes for which the expenditure is earmarked are set out in the schedule to the order but it will be clear to your Lordships from what I have said that there may be some changes in these intentions resulting from the review of public expenditure at present taking place. The results of this review will he made known as soon as possible after its completion.

In addition, of course, your Lordships will have the opportunity to consider supplementary estimates later in this financial year which will reflect the results of that review. I indicated earlier the importance which Her Majesty's Government attach to the condition of industry, particularly at a time of high unemployment. Your Lordships will see under Class II, Vote 2, the provision of almost £78 million for the industrial development programme. This is one area where it is likely we shall wish to propose additional expenditure at supplementary estimate stage. The Government will continue to attach high priority to the encouragement of industrial investment in Northern Ireland and they will, if necessary, re-order priorities to respond to developing needs. I am sure noble Lords will be prepared to support any such proposals aimed at maintaining and creating employment particularly in the manufacturing sector.

This vote also makes provision for assistance, totalling £33 million for the shipbuilding industry, which noble Lords will know relates solely to financial support for Harland and Wolff Limited. The figure in the Main Estimates differs from the figure of £42.5 million which my honourable friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary announced in another place on 1st July 1980. This is therefore an area where it will be necessary to seek an adjustment at supplementary estimates stage. The level of support proposed is generous, as I think noble Lords will agree. It is a clear indication of the Government's commitment to preservation of employment in Northern Ireland at a time when public expenditure is already under severe pressure. It is, of course, vitally important that all concerned with the company grasp the opportunity which is being provided. In these days of vigorous international competition, companies of this sort can survive only by strenuous and committed effort at every level of responsibility. That applies to everyone, right the way from the yard to the board room.

Class II, Vote 3, is concerned with electricity tariffs. Provision is made for £18 million in respect of a subsidy to industrial and commercial electricity tariffs. Northern Ireland has no indigenous fossil fuels and no other readily available source of energy. Energy and, specifically, electrical energy, is therefore more expensive to deliver in the Province than it is elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The provision of £18 million reflects the continued efforts of Government to respond to the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland in a positive way and to reduce the impact of this cost differential. As noble Lords will be aware, the Government have also initiated a review of the longer-tern position of the electricity service.

Your Lordships will doubtless wish to raise other matters in connection with industry and commerce, and I await your comments with interest. Noble Lords will also wish to bring before the House matters from a wider field. Rather than trying to anticipate these matters, I will turn now very briefly to the subject for which I am myself primarily responsible, which is education. The need to achieve cost-effectiveness is as pressing here as anywhere, and it results in some fairly difficult decisions having to be taken. But it is a salutary thing to have to spend one's money carefully, and it can provide creative opportunities as well as the need for retrenchment. I hope that that is how, in the end, we shall come to see the interim report of the Chilver Committee. I called for this interim report, in advance of the main report, because it was becoming very clear that the decline in the number of children in our schools must mean a decline in the number of teachers we can employ and that that, in turn, must mean a decline in the numbers whom we could responsibly train to be teachers. In a perfect world, where money was no object, things might be otherwise. We could, for instance, keep the number of teachers constant and have steadily-reducing class sizes; and I have been advised by many that that is what we should do; but we do not live in a perfect world and, with teachers' salaries being already such a large proportion of the education budget, that solution simply is not available to us. We therefore have to consider whether training plant designed for 2,795 students can be kept running in its entirety for 1,623 students. The answer is that it cannot.

The remaining question is: What should be done about it? And the question is relevant today because, for as long as it remains unanswered, for so long will your Lordships be asked to vote more money for the training of teachers than the number of teachers being trained would seem to justify. So much apprehension was generated, even before the publication of this report, and there has been so much misunderstanding of it since, that I must give a word of reassurance. What the Government are categorically not trying to do is to remove from parents in Northern Ireland the opportunity to send children to schools compatible with their own religious convictions. We have said from the moment we took office that we did not intend to force integration, as it is called, upon anyone who did not want it. It is not our purpose now to change that policy by the back door.

My Lords, the focus of the interim Chilver Report was upon the three teacher training colleges in Belfast. Two of these are Roman Catholic foundations. I received many letters even before the report was published, rejecting a recommendation that they should be closed. Such a recommendation was never made and I would not have entertained it. What it has commended is consideration of ways in which these colleges can be brought into closer and more economical association with the third teacher training college and with Queen's University Belfast. The report recommends that St. Mary's and St. Joseph's should be amalgamated to form a single voluntary college which would co-operate with Queen's University and Stranmillis College to form a Belfast Centre for Teacher Education. Each of the three partners in the Belfast Centre would maintain a separate legal and administrative existence but would operate from a single site.

That is something we must look at. It is something upon which I am seeking opinions from the widest possible spectrum of those concerned. I have asked for those opinions by the end of September, but I understand that there may be real difficulties in meeting that deadline and I am at present trying to establish whether a very modest extension would make things easier. I do not want to have to set the time back too far because it will take me some time to analyse the very considerable volume of comment I am expecting, and I do not want the next stages of consultation and decision to be rushed. Equally, we must not find ourselves unable to reach a conclusion in principle in time to make any appropriate adjustment in entry levels in 1981 as a preliminary to any reorganisation we may agree upon. I use the word "agree" advisedly, because I shall do everything I can to reach agreement on this sensitive and important issue. I believe that solutions are available which will both preserve the traditional standards and ethos of training in the colleges as they are now organised and achieve a level to costs that will be acceptable to Parliament. I believe that if we go about it in the right way there may be other advantages to be had as well. I do beg all those concerned to consider the present position positively and constructively to see whether it does not present all concerned with very real opportunities to grasp advantages; not to destroy traditions but to enhance them.

My Lords, the schedule to this order contains 12 classes of expenditure and I have touched on only two. I think it is now time for noble Lords to speak to the matters that are at the forefront of their minds and I shall do my best to respond to them at the end of this debate.

Moved, that the draft order laid before the House on 19th July be approved—(Lord Elton.)

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for the comprehensive statement on this appropriation order. Certainly I agree with a number of points that he has raised, particularly in respect to education, but I do not intend to go down the lengthy road that he has pursued in connection with education. I think that is a matter for another day dealing with educational policy. I think that today we are concerned with the industrial development of the Province and the votes for monies to maintain that development.

So I look upon this in the context of Northern Ireland's future for environmental, social and industrial developments. This appropriation order is of crucial importance in that respect. In order to consider the order effectively, I understand that two other documents are essential. The Minister mentioned one, the estimates of services. I would draw attention to another which is equally important if not more important; that is, the Government's expenditure plans for 1980 to 1984. In the draft order various sums are proposed for appropriation by the Northern Ireland Departments which, taken over a full year, approximate to over £2,000 million. Because of the current social and economic problems in Northern Ireland, and because of the distinctive financial relationships that exist between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, I consider it vital to the future progress on all fronts that information and debate about these financial matters should be as open and as widespread as possible. Whatever methods may be used to arrive at the sums to be appropriated, it appears to many in Norther Ireland that progress in tackling the social and economic ills of the Province in any serious way is postponed until national or United Kingdom economic recovery occurs. This has already been stated.

If this is true and is considered to be a reasonable strategy, we are entitled to ask whether Northern Ireland is bearing a disproportionate share of the economic burden and hardship? Will it reduce the ability of the Province to respond to an upsurge in economic activity, should and when this economic upsurge occurs? It would help considerably to assess the position if we knew what criterion is applied in determining Northern Ireland's financial needs. I mean "needs" in the context which was mentioned in the recent constitutional consultative paper.

How is Northern Ireland's share of the public expenditure arrived at in the Government's estimated plans? What criterion is applied when apportioning the sums among Northern Ireland Departments? I consider that it is essential to get the debate on these matters into the open and away from the exclusive domain of meetings of Ministers and permanent secretaries, however necessary these meetings may be in Treasury terms.

It seems inconsistent for this Government to be talking about the need for more local democracy when in fact so many of the decisions are first made known by the press, radio and television, and before any due consultation and debate has taken place. It has the essence of Government by edict, and edict which is unlikely to inspire productive motivation and responsible, informed co-operation.

The order is obviously most important not only for this year but in setting the pattern for future years. We have no accompanying explanatory notes. May I ask whether more explicit details will be provided than those already enunciated by the Minister? I consider that the public are entitled to have more information about these issues, and while Parliament are expected to inquire, debate and approve the sums to be appropriated, I feel that much more is required concerning the strategy, the plans and the programme on which this expenditure has been based.

I have quite a list of matters which have been raised with me directly concerning the No.2 Appropriation Order. It is not my intention to deal with these at length; indeed, I apologise to the Minister that I mentioned only two of these to him because we both had difficulties in communicating owing to business imposed on us today. Therefore, I am not proposing to argue these points through today. I raise them briefly and I will be satisfied if on some occasion the noble Lord can write to me or go into more detail about them. The first one concerns the Class I and Class VI votes dealing with manpower staffs. As I understand the estimates for services, they are already budgeted for 1,006 redundancies. While unemployment in any sector would not make me happy and I would not wish in any way to condone it, I should like to ask whether it is a fact that nine-tenths of the persons listed in the central services staff are manual workers, and are most of these persons employed on the Urban and Rural Improvement Campaign, better known as URIC?

The second point I wish to deal with is cross-border projects. An element of it comes up in Class I. I recognise that it is only one small element. In cross-border projects we are concerned with three major Governmental organisations—that is, the EEC, with the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom; the sovereign Parliament of the Republic and of course the devolved Government of Northern Ireland under the direct rule arrangement. I understand that under the Class I vote there were monies voted for cross-border research and promotion of mutal development projects concerning fishing. These have benefits both to fishermen in the North of Ireland and the South. Certainly, I welcome that and wish to encourage it.

I am concerned with the announcements that were made three years ago for the North-West and Derry-Donegal project, for the Erne catchment area announced on 9th June and the Newry-Dundalk infrastructure report announced on 14th February. These were launched with tremendous gusto, with glossy brochures and Press coverage. It raises the expectations of people in these areas and peoples in both parts of Ireland. They are subsequently bitterly disappointed if there does not appear to be any progress. First, will the votes continue for any feasible projects that might benefit in connection with North-South co-operation? Secondly, could we have frequent or half-yearly progress reports of these cross-border projects?

I was surprised when the Minister mentioned about the Government support for industrial regeneration. It is not consistent with the general position as presented in these estimates for services. I would wholeheartedly agree and give every encouragement to money being expended for industrial development. In the Class II vote I understand there has been a reduction in staff of 30 people, 20 from the Department of Commerce and 10 from the Department of Manpower, who were dealing directly with the industrial support and regeneration departments. Certainly this is linked with a considerable reduction in finance. Is it really in line with what the noble Lord said; that there is this great thrust forward or desire of the Government to help in every possible way for industrial regeneration?

The noble Lord mentioned electricity, which is on the Class III vote. I would prefer to deal with it in terms of energy because we are dealing with much more than electricity, and to the £18 million also could be added some matters of subsidy for electricity tariffs, and the discounting and other aspects. In trying to be brief, I think I can best deal with this by reading a statement about energy which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, from these Opposition Benches on 18th March 1979 at column 342 of the Official Report. He spoke as follows in connection with the appropriations: The second question I should like to ask is whether planning has advanced at all so far as the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is concerned. Some months ago in your Lordships' House and also in another place the Government announced a substantial grant of financial aid which is to be given to the Northern Ireland electricity service. What concerns me is the position in which that rather piecemeal approach—welcome though it was so far as Northern Ireland electricity is concerned—leaves the Northern Ireland gas service; and what are the Government's intentions for the Northern Ireland gas service in general as far as the future is concerned? That statement made in March 1979 is good enough for me to present today to the Minister.

I should like to put two supplementary questions. Is Northern Ireland destined to remain a separate energy system or will electricity or gas connections with Great Britain be considered anew in the future? Will Northern Ireland consumers continue to bear the burden of the vast energy costs in the United Kingdom, if not in Europe, devoid of any opportunities for cross-subsidisation, while the British Gas Corporation, for example, makes enormous windfall profits?

I should like now to deal with the Class II vote; and I think it is Item 6 which deals with the youth opportunities programme. Any review of the public expenditure ought seriously to take into consideration what has happened to this programme. We have for 1979–80 £5,617,009, and for 1980–81 it has been reduced to £5,277,000. In real terms, one-fifth has been cut from the youth opportunities programme, and when we think of the terrible problems facing the youth of Northern Ireland—I do not want at this stage to go into the detail because there will be another occasion for that—I would say that the Government ought to give serious attention to the needs of this particular programme. I know that the record of some of these projects is tremendous in the sense of motivating people and helping them to see the responsibility of citizenship. In one youth opportunities project, 87 per cent. of the young persons participating have been placed in employment, and I think that is a record second to none.

I would also ask this question. Now that the programme has been going on for something like three years, is it not time that some research was done into the whole development and as to what can be done in positive terms for youth opportunities? The question of roads has been raised with me and also the question of concessionary fares, which have been considerably reduced on road passenger services. There is also the matter of capital expenditure for education and library boards for youth services—again there is a big question mark about the Government's intentions.


My Lords, I am sorry, but I did not catch what it was about the education and library boards that the noble Lord wished to raise.


My Lords, I want to be as brief as possible. It is the Class VIII vote, Item 4, and the page number in the estimates is VIII (16), capital expenditure entailed by educational and library boards for youth services. That has been considerably cut from £2,789 to £1,861. These are education and library boards dealing with local areas and with the needs in some small rural and development areas. I should have thought that certainly capital development in this area was most essential.

I feel that I should stop there, because other speakers will wish to take part in this debate. I would say that certainly I support the order. I know we shall have an opportunity to come back to it, and I would hope that when the review has been undertaken by the Government perhaps there will be a brighter future for the people of Northern Ireland.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, following the change of timetable for today at a fairly late date, I hope the House will excuse me if I cannot be present at the end of the Business for Northern Ireland. I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for explaining the situation and I have listened with interest to what both noble Lords have said. I shall speak only briefly.

So often is the expression "vicious circle" used that I hestitate now to employ it, but I do so because it best sums up the problem faced by any Government who seek to bring to an end the unrest and unhappiness still experienced in Northern Ireland today. If housing, unemployment and general conditions of life were better in the Province, the terrorist grip would weaken, and if the terrorist grip failed this would make better conditions of life more easily obtainable. There still seems quite a body of opinion which is pessimistic of a breakthrough, and this makes all the more admirable the attitude of those who refuse to despair.

Perhaps I might follow on what the Minister has said about education. Looking back over Hansard for last July, I find that I then quoted from a speech by Mrs. Linehan, who was at that time chairman of the All Children Together movement. I should like here to repeat just one thought that she put forward. She said: If ever we are to reach real peace … we shall have to begin with children. Two years ago Parliament passed the Education (Northern Ireland) Act to facilitate integrated education. It was repeatedly emphasised that this was only an enabling measure to make such arrangements easier. There was no question of compulsion. I here make some comments some two years later and then, if I may, I will put some questions to the Minister. I attempt not to criticise, but to discover the truth.

First, I quote disturbing comments from the magazine Scope, the review of voluntary community work in Northern Ireland. The first is from the June issue, page 11, from a letter from Mrs. Benton, the present chairman of All Children Together. She writes: The churchmen seem to think that passing resolutions favouring integrated education is sufficient to keep their respective flocks happy This is not the case: far from it. As an into denominational movement in close touch whit the grass roots opinion, it is our duty to speak out and make the churchmen aware of the disappointments and frustrations of the laity". She goes on to say: Ordinary people do not understand why their desire"— I emphasise "their desire"— to have shared schools is studiously ignored". Mr. Desmond Wilson claims: None of the churches wants integrated schools. They simply say they want it and make sure not to do it. … They will not help, they will wait". Those are strong words. On the other hand, a Presbyterian minister complains that the churches were never properly consulted over the drafting of the Education Bill and seem unenthusiastic about its aims anyway.

It is of course clear that any major changes in educational arrangements will take time to work through the system and where there are segregated living quarters, the bringing of children together for schooling is obviously difficult. It is the old problem. Which is to come first—living or schooling together?

Therefore, I should like to ask the noble Lord the Minister whether the Education Act 1978 has in fact had any real success. Does he feel that church leaders are holding back against the wishes of the laity to have their children educated together? Does he not think that a working party could with advantage be set up to reconsider the whole matter? Finally on this point, does he agree that the desire for integrated education stems from a desire of Christians to get together, rather than a turning away from any real faith?

Another point on which I should appreciate clarification is this. At a time when the Province still has much bad housing and is going through a critical time of high unemployment, are the Government having any success in encouraging voluntary employment, particularly for the young? It is good, for instance, to learn that ICI is giving £25,000-worth of paint to voluntary groups, charities et cetera. If used wisely, such a scheme could surely help both the individuals concerned and the community in general.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to address a few remarks on the subject of unemployment in Northern Ireland. I am told that, at the moment, unemployment is running at the highest rate since 1938 and to me, against the background of our already serious security problems, this is indeed a very serious matter. It seems inevitable that if there is no work and no money for people, some of them, at any rate, will get themselves involved in terrorism.

We have all talked about rent-a-crowd, and most people probably know that sums of money are paid to people in Northern Ireland by the godfathers of terrorism to shoot a soldier, a policeman or a prison officer. If we are going to have, or already have, almost mass unemployment, then, inevitably, some of the unemployed will get involved in this way. If we allow firms to go on laying people off, and in many cases continuing to close, then, inevitably, more soldiers' and policemen's lives will be put at risk. That is not taking regard of whatever costs there may be to the Exchequer in repairing the result of terrorist damage.

Those of us who live in Northern Ireland often come here to complain about security, and grouse about what is done or is not done by the security forces. In many cases, that is probably because we are dissatisfied owing to factors of which we are unaware, and of which, because of the interests of security, we cannot be told. But I do not believe there can be any dispute whatsoever about the dangers which I am outlining. If people do not have work to do, or do not have some form of occupation, some of them will become "hit" men and the targets will be soldiers and policemen. I know that wands cannot be waved and that employment cannot be provided overnight, but it seems to me that the moment has come for very urgent action to try to prevent unemployment from continuing to rise.

Our economy in Northern Ireland is traditionally dependent on three things. The first, is ships, which have already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and that industry has recently been promised very substantial aid, for which we are grateful, so I shall not dwell on that. The next is textiles and the third is farming. Perhaps here I should say that, while I myself have no direct interest, my wife has an interest, so I hear a lot about textiles and have an indirect interest in that way. Closures in the textile trade are becoming a regular event. Practically every night on television we now hear of either lay-offs or closures.

We are now in the period of what in Northern Ireland is regarded as the July holiday season. Traditionally, most of the firms close for a fortnight during this period, but there are very many of us who are wondering how many of them will be open at the end of this month. I am told that there are already something of the order of 12,000 to 15,000 jobs in the textile trade which have gone out of the window. So, if I am right, it is obvious that something needs to be done urgently to help that industry. We are always looking for new jobs and trying to get new industry to come▀×I have been doing it all my political life—but this is one of the times when what is most urgent is to try to help existing firms to stay in business.

I know that lots of people will say that some of these firms are lame ducks, that they cannot look after themselves and that we should not do anything about them. It is very easy to say that, but that does not take regard of the fact that very many of those so-called lame ducks have ploughed back an enormous amount of money into their industry, into new equipment and so on, often under Government pressure, and if they had not done that they might now have a nest egg which would carry them over the present very difficult period.

I can make only two or three suggestions which are probably very simple, because I am not involved in this kind of trade. But, obviously, the first one is about the old chestnut of the problem of imports. I am not one who wants to advocate import controls, but I am told—and I have no reason to believe that it is not true—that there are an enormous amount of cheap textiles coming into the EEC through the back door. I understand that they come in very large quantities from Poland and Czechoslovakia. It has always been my belief that once we were in the EEC we should be protected against that kind of thing, so I hope that something might be looked at in that regard.

Then—I hesitate even to mention it—something in the form of a subsidy, even if only of a temporary nature, is needed at the moment. I can only suggest that we go back to the temporary employment subsidy, of which I never really approved. But it is the case that needs must as the devil drives, and I do not believe that it would be necessary for it to last very long—probably six or nine months, which I hope would get us over the worst of the recession.

The third point which I should like to mention is that the textile trade has a form of assistance known as the short-time working scheme. It is a very well-intentioned scheme whereby, when a firm is on short-time, the Government make up the difference in workers' pay between the days actually worked and the days normally worked. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is of not the slightest help to any firm which is struggling to survive, except that it keeps its workers on the pay-roll until the time when conditions improve. But it is of no help to the firm itself, which still has all its commitments to meet, and I take the view that coupled with that there should be some help to keep firms in business. That is sufficient on the textile trade, except to say that the situation is extremely serious.

The situation in the farming world is also extremely serious. Here, again, I must declare my own interest as a farmer. The aspects of it with which I am concerned are pigs, poultry and eggs, all of which require imported feedingstuffs. Because in Northern Ireland we are a nation of small farms—in fact, one might almost say very small farms—and because we have a small population, and do not consume all that is produced, something of the order of two-thirds of our produce has to come over to Britain, to be sold here.

That is fair enough—or would be if it were not for the sea crossing between our two countries. As I said, because of small farms we go into intensive farming, which means a lot of imported feedingstuffs, much of which has to come over the Irish Sea or maybe other seas and the product has to go out over the Irish Sea; so inevitably at all times Northern Ireland producers are at a great disadvantage from the point of view of price. If they are going to be competitive they must sell at the same price as all the rest, and therefore they have to accept a lower income than farmers in the rest of Great Britain. The situation has been getting worse and worse over the past few months, and although I cannot give the figures I am told that the situation is now so bad that something of the order of half the numbers of people involved in pigs and poultry may well decide to go out of business. That means something like 5,000 extra jobs needed, and in the present climate they just are not there.

I do not want to labour this particular point but I cannot over-emphasise the seriousness of the employment situation in Northern Ireland. Unemployment is terrifyingly high, and apart from the social problems and the cost to the Exchequer in unemployment benefit, as I said at the beginning there is the overriding security problem, and if more people are out of work there will be an increased security problem for the police and the army.

The last point that I wish to make about the situation is that, while of course we want and welcome new industry, it is at this moment that efforts should be made to try to keep in being those industries that have been established and have been there for some years. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give me some help and hope on that point.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I seek to make two limited points, both of which arise within the field of the direct ministerial responsibility of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. The first is about university education, and here I declare an interest. I am privileged to be the very new chancellor of the New university of Ulster, in succession to the much loved and respected fourth Duke of Abercorn, the father of the noble Duke who is in his place in the House. I am informed that the vice chancellors of the New university of Ulster and of the Queens University of Belfast have received, as I think have the chief executives of other spending agencies, a notification from the Government that they should not commit themselves to new expenditure while consideration is given to the possible revision of priorities previously established for expenditure in 1980/81.

The plans of the universities for spending in the current year are of course related to the recommendations that have been made by the University Grants Committee, and I am told that that committee, in making their recommendations, took full account of the unhappy economic state of the country and the Government's desire to limit public expenditure. But I am told also that for, I think, 35 years it has been the practice of the Department of Education in Northern Ireland to give effect to the recommendations of the University Grants Committee and I content myself with expressing the hope, not just that the money will be provided but that the policy will be maintained and that effect will in fact be given to the recommendations of the University Grants Committee.

The second point I wish to make—and here again I have a very small interest to declare—relates to the provision for sport, or more correctly the manner in which that provision is to be used. My interest is merely that I am the patron of the Ulster Sport and Recreation Trust and I am told that patrons, like chancellors of universities, should exercise a benevolent influence and neither say nor do anything, but I trust that I shall be pardoned for this departure from the rule. The Ulster Sport and Recreation Trust has no direct responsibility for the Ulster Sports Council, but it has of course a very considerable concern and the answers given by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to a question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Blease, on, I think, the 9th July, have caused some disquiet.

It is not that it is proposed to limit the amount of money that the Government devote to supporting sport and recreation. Indeed, it is unthinkable that a Government which necessarily spends many millions of pounds and a great deal of ingenuity in devising schemes for making the people of Northern Ireland live more happily together, should diminish rather than increase their support for one of the best ways of getting people to live happily together, which is by the encouragement of sport. That is a considerable, effective and, I should think, cost-effective way of bringing people together. But if, as I gather, the Government's decision is that the executive authority of the Sports Council should be removed and 42 professional staff should be made redundant one is bound to ask whether that is the best way of going about it.

It is never very easy, as the Government may have found, to please all of the people of Northern Ireland all of the time, but one of the most certain ways of displeasing almost all of them is to give the impression that the Government—and particularly the civil servants—know best what is good for the people of Northern Ireland. However well intentioned this may be—and I think it is what the noble Lord, Lord Blease, refers to as "Government by diktat"—it does have a disastrous effect. It may well be that there is room for economy in the working of the Sports Council and its professional staff, but was this the best way to go about it and is there not good reason to suppose that it would be helpful to have the independent, impartial inquiry into the matter which last week the Minister thought was unnecessary?

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to welcome this appropriation order, explaining as it does the use of money in Northern Ireland. I should like to begin by paying a tribute to the Secretary of State's team in their managing to achieve such tremendous industrial promotion. It may be inadequate but in the economic climate today, managing to trap Lear Fan into coming into Aldegrove with 1,200 jobs is a magnificent achievement, but all of that does not in any way detract from the very serious unemployment situation which we face in Northern Ireland. I should like to support my noble friend Lord Moyola in his plea that the question of unemployment should be given what would appear to me to be a higher priority than at present.

The noble Lord, Lord Blease, raised the question of the dismissal of URIC— which is the Urban and Rural Improvement Campaign—and I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he can say what the complete saving is from having dismissed 1,200 people, because as I understand it, if we take the wages of those 1,200 people and then take the unemployment benefit which would accrue to them when they are put on the dole, plus the social benefits to which they are entitled, and then add over £1 million of redundancy money to be paid, the answer will be a lemon. Really nothing goes so close to contributing to the suggestion made by my right honourable friend Sir Geoffrey Howe that there should be social work, than the operation of URIC in Northern Ireland.

I should like to ask two questions, the first about the Sports Council and the second about agriculture. It is right that we should get the Sports Council question into perspective. We are discussing very small sums of money, but we are discussing what people feel to be an injustice. Irrespective of whether the sum of money is great or small, the injustice is there and I feel that there should be some remedy.

May I begin by paying a tribute to the Northern Ireland Civil Service which I think is the best Civil Service in the United Kingdom. They have served the United Kingdom in the most difficult circumstances possible. I have found the Civil Service—and I pay tribute also to the noble Lord and his own Ministry—to be exceptionally available and to be exceptionally helpful to me. I certainly would not subscribe to statements which I think were implied, that they are anything but rapid in the attention that they give to anything which is put before them.

I should also like to pay tribute to the noble Lord and his staff in consultations. Nothing has demonstrated his care more than his description of how he wishes to go forward with the amalgamation of the teachers' training college. He takes infinite care. In Northern Ireland politics, we pay a compliment to a speaker before we tear him apart, so the noble Lord will realise what is about to come. He is about to be torn limb from limb! The noble Lord explained the care with which he and his Ministry have dealt with teacher training. He has been involved in open consultation, and the enormous amount of time he has spent on education leaves him open to the accusation of not proceeding in the proper way so far as the Sports Council is concerned. However, what I say now must not be taken as detracting from the tremendous qualities of the noble Lord and his staff in dealing with education.

May I tell your Lordships a little about the history of the Sports Council. It is about six years old, and from the very beginning there was a clash of personalities between people in the Sports Council and people in the Ministry of Education. Long before my noble friend the Minister was at the Ministry there was talk of abolition. At that time it had nothing to do with the economy or with the economics of running the Sports Council. It was a question of failure to operate in a co-operative manner. Since the formation of the Sports Council, the development of local councils has been immense. There ought to have been a review, but conditions between the two bodies were so bad that when the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, wished to change the chairman—he was a very eminent man, Donald Shearer, much loved by all sportsmen and a great rugby player—the changeover was carried out in a rather offensive manner. I discussed the matter with the noble Lord, Lord Melchett. So the difficulty which the Ministry of Education appear to have when dealing with the Sports Council is very deep-seated.

The Government have said—this is an executive decision, and I certainly do not question it—that there are 40 too many employees dealing with sport. It is open to them to sack 20 employees in the Ministry of Education and 20 in the Sports Council. It is a matter of balance. What is clearly unjust is that this was not done in an impartial manner. There is nothing secret about the running of sport. I must declare an interest here. I am a member of a governing body of sport. Therefore, I have been involved with one part of the Sports Council which is dealing with the governing body, but in no way have I been involved with a local authority.

The reason why I quarrel with the executive decision of the Government to economise is because what is at stake here is the employment of 40 employees of the Sports Council. The Civil Service Department which deals with efficiency carried out an inquiry and the result was that 40 members of the Sports Council should go. Nothing in the world can make me believe that the members of the Sports Council will consider that to be fair. I believe that the members of the Civil Service are so high class that they would not make any decision which they believed to be unfair. However, we are dealing with the general public. I thought we were in a period of open government. Therefore I feel that we should have an independent inquiry.

I should like to turn to agriculture. The noble Lord, Lord Moyola, spoke about morale in agriculture and said that our third largest industry is in a parlous plight. Although the milk industry in Great Britain knows the final price, in Northern Ireland we still do not know what the final price to be paid to the producer is. We are further on in the year. The Government must make up their mind about how much milk aid they are going to give. At the moment, the beef industry has to contend with an incredibly weak market. It is becoming weaker every day. There is no sign of that market strengthening.

May I turn in rather more detail to a subject which I have raised in debates in EEC Sub-Committee D; namely, the question of pigs, poultry and eggs. May I repeat in this House that this is an efficient industry. It is also an inventive industry. It has shown the way during the last 40 or 50 years. Its grain handling is efficient but is based on American grain, not upon the present EEC set-up, with grain coming from the eastern part of England and from France. As the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, has said, the problem is that two-thirds of its products are sold in Great Britain, with a transport barrier across the sea one way. Furthermore, the feedstuffs of its competitors in this country are between £12 and £15 a ton dearer. There is no doubt that without some form of assistance, 5,000 jobs will go. New jobs cannot be found. We know what it cost to bring in Lear Fan and DeLorean—£20,000 a job for DeLorean. The cost to this country of putting these men on social security would be far greater than it would cost to bring down the price of feed to approximately the level that obtained in the rest of the United Kingdom.

The common agricultural policy has within it what is called a social element. I believe that the Government must press very hard, and very early, for the social element to be used in order to preserve our industry. My noble friend Lord Elton will say that FEOGA will come forward with a proposal to raise the level of grant which they provide from 25 per cent. to 50 per cent. But there is not a single person in trade or industry in Northern Ireland who believes that that is any use at all, because at the moment that that money is paid, in about three years, no pigs and poultry will be coming forward to be processed in these beautiful new plants which may or may not be built. The extra feed cost is £15 per ton. This aid must be paid to the producers to reduce the price of the feed, and not to the processors, or in two years' time we shall have no industry. I welcome this order.

4.39 p.m.

The Duke of ABERCORN

My Lords, I feel reticent about following in the slipstream of a former Prime Minister and a former Governor, and I believe that a further former Prime Minister will also be partaking in the discussion on this order. May I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grey, for his kind remarks. I can assure him that his recent appointment as chancellor of the University of Ulster has brought widespread happiness and pleasure to every section of the community in Northern Ireland.

I welcome this order, and I know that the Government are fully aware of and conversant with the economic situation at the present time in Northern Ireland, with almost daily announcement of factory closures. The situation is indeed extremely serious if not critical, and forceful opinions have been expressed in recent weeks recommending ways and means for the Government to alleviate the pressures of the current recession on the Northern Ireland economy.

I am going to raise two proposals for consideration by the Government. In evaluating our economic situation I believe it is important to remember that Northern Ireland has a microscopic consumer market, since the population of the island of Ireland is only 4½ million people compared with some 55 million in Great Britain and 260 million in the United States of America. Therefore, the vast majority of our manufacturing output has to be exported, thus incurring very considerable freight rates since the Irish Sea is an extremely expensive crossing. We have no raw materials, and our energy costs are higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Therefore, it is only through our brain power, our efficiency and technology that we can survive economically.

Although there is very considerable management talent in Northern Ireland, industry and commerce are in need, sometimes in serious and dire need, to recruit management from outside. Due to violence it is only too obvious that it is extremely difficult and sometimes impossible to recruit this essential management from outside. In the majority of instances industry is in fact seeking management to control enterprises which have received very considerable Government grant aid. Surely the Government could in fact alleviate this problem and thereby positively assist in ensuring that public money has been wisely invested by introducing a differential rate of income tax for management who are prepared to come and live and work in Northern Ireland.

It is accepted in the industrial world that the tax-free concessions offered by the Irish Government are the most effective inducement in attracting inward investment. Therefore, at minimum cost to the Treasury but to the maximum benefit of Northern Ireland, could not the Government implement a tax-free holiday to encourage management to move to Northern Ireland, and indeed other development areas of the United Kingdom? One can, of course, anticipate the reaction of those with inflexible, if not cynical, minds; but I have great respect for the Minister in charge of commerce in Northern Ireland, Mr. Giles Shaw, and I trust that this suggestion will meet with an in-depth consideration.

Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Blease, has already said, we have extremely high energy costs; and since the Government accept that energy is a national resource in the United Kingdom as a whole, surely there must he a strong case for equalising energy costs throughout the United Kingdom, thus ensuring that those located furthest from the source should not be paying more. This would of course be of tremendous benefit to Northern Ireland industry and commerce.

My Lords, the Government by now must be fully aware of the fundamental reason why the future proposed role of the Sports Council has met with such widespread resentment and criticism. As my noble friend Lord Elton said in the House last week, the reaction was not only general but also immediate. However, I should like to emphasise that this was not just a reflex reaction but much deeper, for the Sports Council is widely accepted throughout Northern Ireland, since the public genuinely believe that the Sports Council has done an excellent job in a comparatively short period of time. Again the public are only too aware that sport is one of the few aspects of life in Northern Ireland to stabilise our community. Although only in existence for some six years, the Sports Council has operated effectively and efficiently in very difficult circumstances, and at all times has succeeded in keeping sport outside the political arena. However, by involving local councils, sport will inevitably now re-enter the political arena, which I feel is a most unfortunate prospect.

Outside Government no one can accept the assertion that the expertise of the council will be preserved when this service will be provided by the Civil Service. Like my noble friend Lord Brookeborough, I have the greatest respect for the Northern Ireland Civil Service. I do not doubt the ability and indeed the enthusiasm of the Civil Service, particularly in the noble Lord's department. However, by training and nature they are responsive to circumstances, while an innovatory role in planning 10 years ahead is, I believe, vital.

Considerable emphasis has been made in regard to the possible saving of £200,000 per annum if these proposals are implemented. In isolation £200,000 appears to be a considerable saving, but in the context of the Northern Ireland Department of Education annual expenditure of £364 million, and since every man and woman in Northern Ireland is fully conscious of continuous bureaucratic waste, no one can be convinced that this saving will in fact be justified. Since no organisation is totally efficient or cost-effective, I believe the time is now opportune for the Government to reconsider these proposals and at the same time urgently consider how the existing framework can be improved upon.

4.49 p.m.

Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE

My Lords, I should like to make just a very few remarks, as I think we are probably coming to the end of this debate. The most heartening thing I heard from the noble Lord the Minister was that he hoped to be coming back to your Lordships' House to agree additional expenditure for industrial development. At a time when everything is being cut down everywhere I was heartened by those remarks.

I often feel, looking into the past, that the people of Northern Ireland have not sufficiently appreciated the marvellous work that the Department of Commerce, as it is now called—it used to be the Ministry of Commerce in my day—have done for the people of Northern Ireland, not least the Northern Ireland Development Office in New York. It may astonish some Members of your Lordships' House to hear that Duponts, one of the most famous American firms, made their first European investment in Northern Ireland, and this was directly due to the people that we kept in New York, naturally in close association with the British Consulate General but nevertheless civil servants from Northern Ireland. Once Duponts had decided to make Northern Ireland their place of work in Europe, then many other American, and in particular multinational, companies settled in Northern Ireland.

It would be hard for someone who did not come from Northern Ireland to understand the immense changes that the arrival of multinational companies created in Northern Ireland, because they did not in any way discriminate as regards employment. They did not care whether a man was a Catholic or a Protestant; if he was a good worker they were willing to employ him. It was no use a deputation going to the management and saying, "We shall go on strike if you employ any more Catholics", because the management could say, "Very well, we shall go back to Chicago" or from wherever it was that they had come. This has been one of the biggest revolutions in Northern Ireland employment history. I always visit the Northern Ireland Development Office whenever I am in New York, and I think that it is marvellous that it has been able to continue to attract industry at this time when the situation has been so difficult.

I should like to ask the Minister about a matter which seems to me to be so sad. One of the few things that emerged from my meeting with Mr. Lemass, the Prime Minister of Southern Ireland in the 1960s, was that there would be a connection between the Northern Ireland Electricity and the Southern Irish Electricity. That was a most important decision because in the summer time the South of Ireland lacked electricity and in the winter time—at that time—Northern Ireland lacked electricity. Therefore, the connection between the two electricity systems was vital. Needless to say, it has been blown up by the IRA, I think, five times. I should like to know whether there is any chance of reintroducing a connection with the necessary safeguards. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Dunleath, asked the other day about the possibility of a gas pipeline from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. That, I think, would be a marvellous thing; but it must be remembered that if it ever were to come about it would, of course, have to be protected.

I do not wish to weary the noble Lord the Minister and so I shall not repeat the remarks which I made when the noble Lord, Lord Blease, put down a Question about the Sports Council. However, I shall read out just one sentence which apparently, according to Hansard, I said: It seems quite wrong to me that a body which has worked extremely well on a non-sectarian non-political basis should be treated in this manner ".—[Official Report, 9/7/80; col. 1171.] I should like to repeat that and to support all the other noble Lords from Northern Ireland who have raised this matter. I plead with the Minister that perhaps during the coming months he might look into the matter further to see whether in any way he can meet some of the objections which we have raised.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, as the second Englishman to take part in this brief debate I should like to raise a number of issues. First, I should like to reiterate what my noble friend Lord Brooke-borough said about the quality of the Northern Ireland Civil Service. In so far as the Province has continued to function normally during this abominable campaign, it is fundamentally due to the extraordinarily efficient Civil Service in Northern Ireland. When we are thinking about the constitutional future of the Province it is very important that that matter should be borne in mind.

I was very impressed by something which the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, said: unless the social and economic conditions of the Province improve, the violence will probably become worse. With great respect, having since it began followed this matter with great interest and great personal involvement, I do not believe that that is true. I believe that the people who are involved in violence, psychopathic as many of them are, have become involved in violence because that is what they wish to be involved in—they want to bring the present structure totally to the ground. I believe that their involvement with violence is quite irrespective of the social and economic conditions which prevail in the Province.

It is a fundamental error to believe that the cause of the violence was the relative poverty of the Province as compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. I believe that the causes lie very much deeper in the history of Ireland and they lie much deeper in the human mind and the human soul. I wish that I could believe that by restoring prosperity or by achieving high prosperity in Northern Ireland violence would disappear. However, I honestly do not believe that the evidence supports that proposition for one moment.

I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blease, that the United Kingdom should try to tackle the social and economic ills in the Province because they are social and economic ills, and not because that is an indirect way of getting rid of the violence. The only way to get rid of the violence is to eradicate it by using the police and the army, and I must say that they are doing a wonderful job.

I wish to raise two dilemmas because I do not know the answers to them and I do not, with respect, think that any of the best-informed people who have spoken this afternoon know the answers. They are interesting questions which I have been pondering for a long time and I cannot see my way through them. First, how are we to improve the economic condition of the Province? Compared with the rest of the United Kingdom and, indeed, compared with the rest of Europe, money has been poured into the Province to sustain industry and agriculture. Is the only way to achieve prosperity there to pour in more and more public funds? I raised that question a couple of debates ago in your Lordships' House. I remain to be convinced of that proposition. I do not think that we have yet succeeded.

I should have thought that if we look at the South, at the Republic, then what the noble Duke, the Duke of Abercorn, said is extraordinarily relevant. The Republic has been transformed in the past 15 or 20 years from an economic point of view, largely by the development of a completely new generation of business people. There has been an absolute transformation in the South. To some degree that is taking place in the North. It just is not true that the North is a complete sea of despondency. There are many very successful businesses there. The critical question is: how do we get more and better management into the -North, and get it in quickly? I do not think that we know the answer to that, but it certainly seems to me that that is where we should be looking for the answer. It is not just a question of public money. We have been told already that new jobs cost £20,000 a year each. I cannot help feeling that that is not necessarily the right road to go along.

Secondly—and this is the last point that I shall make in this brief intervention—I should like to raise a matter as regards education, something which I have studied a great deal and with which I have been very much involved in Ireland. Is it true that the opposition to the Chilver Report is opposition to the minimal integration of the religious communities? One could not do it in a more tangential, delicate fashion than is proposed in the report, but oh my dear! the uproar that that report has created. In view of the uproar that has arisen, one would have thought they had proposed that they should all be merged and be compulsorily baptised in some new faith. It is neces- sarily true to say that the right path to peace in Northern Ireland is by some degree of common education of children from different religious communities? I used to think that that was probably the answer. However, the depth of conservatism, the depth of prejudice or perhaps, to put it more politely, the strength of feeling which is revealed every single time one tries to take a tiny step along this line, convinces me that it does not offer any solution, at least for this generation and probably not for the next.

It seems to me that change must come about within each religious community and that we shall not get anywhere by changing the structures of education in order to find some degree of common education going across the communities. I cannot help feeling that the Chilver Report is in some sense going along the wrong lines, taking the view, very minimally, that the right solution is some degree of integration of education across the religious communities. I cannot believe that within the realities of Northern Ireland that that is a practical solution. I think that we must look elsewhere for a broadening of attitudes within each religious community. It is a rather difficult and complex matter, but is I think the more realistic one. I cannot help feeling that in some sense we have to recognise, first, the reality of violence in Northern Ireland—that the only way to get rid of violence is to tackle violence itself. Secondly, we have to recognise the realities of the division and the strength of the feelings, and work within the communities and not try to merge them.


My Lords, I did not intend to intervene in this debate, but as I was chairman of the Human Rights Commission in Northern Ireland until the end of last month, I thought that I ought to do so on this occasion. I am particularly glad that the Government have accepted one part of the advice that the Standing Advisory Committee has given; that is, not to renew Section 12, dealing with detention without trial.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I believe that he is speaking to the next order, which is the extension order. We are still, I regret to tell the noble Lord, dealing with the first order on the Order Paper.


My Lords, I apologise, but now that I have said it, I cannot withdraw it.


My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me again, if he feels so inclined there will be an opportunity for him to say it again in the proper debate, which is the next order on the Order Paper. Otherwise I think that it will extend the debate and take our minds off financial matters when what I believe he wishes to talk about is security matters, which come next.


My Lords, in that case, I shall leave it.

5.2 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to appear before your Lordships as a censor; I shall, of course, he most interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Plant, has to say; indeed, I had in any case intended to refer to him during the coming debate, even had he not intervened.

Perhaps I could begin by responding to the first intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Blease. He asked for a greater clarity of understanding and a greater involvement of the population of the Province of Northern Ireland in its own financial affairs. If the noble Lord and his colleagues are not in receipt of copies of the Explanatory Memorandum on Appropriation Orders, I shall be happy to see that that is remedied. They are available, and I shall ensure that in future they are sent to the noble Lord as soon as they are published.

As regards the general public of Northern Ireland, who will no more than the general public of this country get themselves involved in the technicalities of finance to that extent, we are talking about public discussion about public money and about the effects of public opinion upon the expenditure of public money. The noble Lord and I are absolutely 100 per cent. together on this matter, as is the whole of Her Majesty's Government. Are we not bending all our efforts in this direction? Did I not say this last week? Does the House not accept that a principle and overriding aim which Her Majesty's Government are pursuing is to achieve greater participation of the people of Northern Ireland in the conduct of their affairs?

The shortcomings of which the noble Lord, Lord Blease, quite understandably complains are the shortcomings, not of the system that we should like to run, but of the system which circumstances mean we have to run. Therefore, I welcome his expression of a wish to produce institutions where it will be possible for a budget, which is the proper concern of a Northern Ireland body, to be dealt with. We want to see that body constructed. I hope that the noble Lord will use his considerable influence, wherever it can be brought to bear, to encourage those concerned—even if they do not share his political views in the Province; and I hope that other noble Lords will do likewise—who bear political responsibilities and leadership in the Province to partake in this process of true leadership, which is bringing the Province to a position where it can have its own governing institutions.

The next focus of the noble Lord's remarks was quite understandably and properly on the levels of unemployment in the Province. Indeed, his concern was echoed fortissimo by my noble friend Lord Moyola. Indeed, as the debate has progressed I have been feeling increasingly humble in coming at the end of such a distinguished list of ex-governors, ex-Prime Ministers and, indeed, Chancellors. I am very much on my best behaviour, which is by no means the way of exacting one's best performance.

My noble friend Lord Moyola directed our attention to specific matters in the field of industry. By way of introduction, I told your Lordships that we are—and I shall now re-emphasise this—in the process of reviewing the apportionment of Government funds between projects in the programmes before your Lordships. That has been the subject of polite but genuine complaint from, for one, the noble Lord, Lord Grey of Naunton. If I may, I shall come to his point a little later. But I say to all your Lordships as the preface to what I have to say on specific issues, that we are concerned to see that all the money we have is used to the best effect to generate employment.

On the specific question of textiles and clothing which my noble friend Lord Moyola raised, the Government are conscious of the very important place which these industries occupy in the economic structure of the Province and of the difficult trading environment in which they are at present operating. Recognition of the significance of employment in the manmade fibre sector in Northern Ireland was an important influence in the Government's decision to press for restraints on the entry into the United Kingdom of disruptive imports of polyester filament yarns and of nylon carpet yarn. Government support is available for the re-equipment and modernisation of textile and clothing companies to help them to improve their competitive position. If I may be specific, the Department of Commerce can provide 30 per cent. capital grants towards re-equipment and modernisation projects designed to make production facilities more efficient, and a number of companies have made use of this aid. However, I believe that there continues to be considerable scope for increasing productivity levels in many of our clothing companies.

The noble Lord specifically said that we should spend money to keep existing businesses in operation. That is exactly what that aspect of Her Majesty's Government's policy is directed to do. Northern Ireland cannot be insulated from developments in the world trading situation, but the Government's policy is directed towards assisting firms to meet the challenge. I do not wish to go on too long in view of the fact that there are a good many more orders on the Order Paper. I think that perhaps the House would wish me to write to the noble Lord about the regulation of imports and quota restrictions on imports to the European Economic Community.

I am still in the realm of what people do when there is an insufficiency of employment—and we all know the adage, and how well it is borne out, that the devil will find mischief yet for idle hands to do; and if the devil has the shape of a godfather, that is not in any way surprising. The noble Lord was talking about the Youth Opportunities Programme, which I believe is very relevant in this context. I can give him a little more information on what is going on. In March this year my honourable friend the Minister for Manpower Services announced a 25 per cent. increase in the number of places available to young people on the Youth Opportunities Programme for the current financial year. The number of places made available was increased from 6,000 in 1979–80 to 7,500 in 1980–81; that is many pairs of hands. Expenditure on training has to take account of the present constraints on public expenditure, to which I have already referred, but strict economy on the operational and capital costs of the training will, it is hoped, minimise any reduction in the overall training programme. I think that this is perhaps an answer to the charge of an overweaning and expensive bureaucracy, which was made earlier. I shall return to the subject.

The Government are concerned to maintain at an increased level the opportunities for training young people, particularly school-leavers, so far as is possible. Two-thirds of the places at the 13 Government training centres in Northern Ireland are taken up by young people, and these will not be reduced. I hope that the noble Lord will find some reassurance in those words.

We then turn to the matter of the Sports Council of Northern Ireland, a matter which, even if it was not close to my heart, would have been implanted there as a pacemaker many months ago. Indeed, I have been in Northern Ireland long enough to become anxious and indeed deeply worried when anybody of the political finesse of my noble friend Lord Brookeborough starts being as excessively complimentary about me as he was at the opening of his remarks. I was in no way surprised by the polite but firm wish to assassinate me which he later expressed. Of course he used the term figuratively. At least, I hope he did.

As has already been announced, the Government have made clear that they propose to introduce amending legislation by order to deprive the Sports Council of its executive functions. This will make it unnecessary for the Council to have its own paid staff and premises but will leave it in existence as a purely advisory body. It is proposed that the functions already exercised by the Council in providing financial support for the governing bodies of sport in Northern Ireland should be transferred to the Northern Ireland Department of Education, while the task of providing grants to voluntary bodies for sports equipment and for local schemes will cease to be done by the Council and instead district councils will be encouraged to use their existing powers for this purpose.

Informal consultations with those concerned are already in progress. We shall of course listen with particular attention to the considered opinions. Noble Lords have already referred to the fact that the opinions I have so far received have been immediate and reflex, and I think in one case I was told they were instinctive. I would wish that the brain as well as the instincts of many concerned could be given longer to operate on this problem. I shall listen with particular attention to the considered opinions of the Northern Ireland Council for Physical Recreation and of the Association of Local Authorities, both of which are bodies closely concerned and who have yet to give me their considered views.

I ask noble Lords to remember that we are not proposing the abolition of the Sports Council. I add that we do not presume to know best, as one noble Lord suggested we thought we might, and that is why the Sports Council for Northern Ireland will continue as an effective advisory body. What we propose is a change in the way in which it is serviced. Contrary to what some noble Lords seem to expect, this will not result in the ending of any major support service at present received either by the public or by the governing bodies of sport.

The planned savings will be made out of the administrative and staffing head of the Council's budget. The grants which enable governing bodies of sport to employ full-time development officers, for instance, will therefore continue. That may reassure some noble Lords who are familiar with this contentious and complex problem as to the fact that the large body of expertise available in the Province is not going to be dissipated to the four winds as people are suggesting.

I cannot at present say when the draft order will be laid. This is a slow process and it will not be this year, and prior to that, and after the publication of the proposed draft there will be a period during which representations can be made to the Government. These will be given careful consideration, and not least the remarks which your Lordships have made.


My Lords, would the noble Lord give way? This is the assassination about to take place. Would the noble Lord accept that the real feeling—and I think throughout this House—was that you have these two bodies, the Civil Service and the Sports Council staff, and the Sports Council staff and the general public feel that this has been done in a very unfair and undercover way? Personally, I accept the administrative decision. I find it difficult to accept that it was done fairly for the 40 people who are about to be axed. That is the major issue. I do not think I raised the question about the administration of sport not continuing. It is a question of fairness.


My Lords, it is perhaps agreeable to be shot with a honey-covered bullet, but I had not reached the point on the road at which the noble Viscount was aiming. I am seized of the point which the noble Viscount has made. I am aware of the criticisms. I am very gratified by the way in which noble Lords have removed the imputations which appear to have been made earlier against the Civil Service. I think on their behalf I should acknowledge that the things that have been said are generous, though they are not unmerited. But what I must say, and was in the process of saying, was that the order will not be published this year. If it is this year it will not be until December, but I would not expect it until January. I have not yet received the considered opinions of two of the most important bodies concerned. I have reviewed the way in which the decision was reached in regard to the advice I have received, and I am satisfied that it was properly given. Due weight will be given to everything which is said when the document is published. I do not think that any Government could go further than what I have now said.

May I move on from that subject. The noble Lord, Lord Moyola, raised a point, and he was joined by others, on matters of agriculture. I realise the importance of what was termed this afternoon, "The Province's third industry". The principle concern of the noble Lord, and indeed of the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, was over the question of animal feeding-stuffs and the effect that this might have on the animal population of the Province.

I cannot speak at length on this subject, but I would say that the European Community Commission have proposed a new scheme to come into operation in 1980 which will replace the feed price allowances scheme. Under this scheme, an extra £4 million will be made available over a four year period by means of an additional 25 per cent. FEOGA aid to assist capital investment in processing and marketing in the poultry, pigs, and feedingstuff industries. Your Lordships will be aware of the niceties of the consideration of additionality. That being so, I cannot at this stage give a clear commitment to the forward programme, but your Lordships may find this a grain of comfort.

The Government accept that some form of aid is essential to avoid a dramatic contraction in the poultry industry in which the noble Lord, Lord Moyola, has an indirect interest and the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, may have an interest. He apparently does not have an interest. We recognise that aid of some sort is essential to avoid a dramatic contraction and a subsequent reduction in jobs. Current employment is about 5,500 and the prospects of alternative employment for anyone displaced are not good.

Relating to the whole question of the economy—and I am going to take only two more points—the whole question of the economy is of course the question of the cost of energy. I alluded to this (and the Government are aware of this) in my opening remarks. There was a plea for an interconnector. The intention is to restore the interconnector as soon as possible. The damage caused by terrorists to the interconnector with the Republic is imposing additional costs on the electricity undertakings in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. It is damaging to both economies, and both Governments have stated their determination to restore and maintain the link as soon as possible. Reference was also made to the possibliity of a gas pipeline under the sea. I spoke at some length about this last week. I would only therefore remind your Lordships of the conclusion of the very heavy expense and continuing loss that this proposal appears to us to be certain to engender.

Finally, on the matter of education, it was interesting that the debate almost started on one foot with the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, advocating integrated education on the assumption that if children could be brought together in the same schools they would get to know each other, and if they were taught history by the same history teachers they would get to recognise each other, It concluded on the other with the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, wondering whether this was any way to conduct a progress towards peace, and whether it should not be done with a direct assualt upon terrorism.

I have been at pains to say from the outset of this Administration's assumption of power that I do not think—I now reiterate it—enforced integration will work. I do not want to go into the technicalities, but those of your Lordships who have, for instance, seen the bussing experiments in the United States will recognise that where you have communities of different persuasions living in nuclei round their schools, the only way to get children of one persuasion into schools of a different sort is to bus them, then noble Lords will realise that this is a dangerous road to pursue.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, suggested that Chilver was an oblique approach to integration. Perhaps he did not take on board my references at the outset of the debate to the fact that we are not trying to use Chilver—and I do not think Chilver intended the report to be used—as a road to integration by the back door. It may be that it results in students who are being trained to teach in the two different kinds of school being on the same campus, but there is no threat that I detect that their training institutions shall have merged legal identities and that their students shall be forced together. That is a matter which no doubt will be raised in discussion which I shall look at, but people should not regard the report as a threat: nor should they think that I or Her Majesty's Government wish to use it as a threat.

The road towards peace is a great deal longer than people seem to think in some places. Some people think there is no road at all. I believe there is a road there. I think it can be pursued very slowly by getting the confidence of the people who have to walk it together. But we are now talking about money and we cannot walk anywhere unless we can pay for our shoes. I am grateful for the way noble Lords have received the order and I trust it w ill receive the agreement of the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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