§ 6.58 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take to remedy unemployment in West and North Belfast.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, in my original Question I referred only to West Belfast but after a recent visit to the city I felt it was essential to add North Belfast where unemployment is equally serious. I shall be speaking mainly about Catholic areas where unemployment is more severe. However, I realise that unemployment, for example, in the staunchly Protestant area of Lower Shankill is also causing great alarm. I do not want anyone to feel that their remarks must be confined to Catholic areas.
§ There is no danger, I think, of the debate turning into a sectarian encounter. The Minister, of course, is a good Catholic and his chief, the Secretary of State, so far as I know, is an excellent Protestant. When I come to think of it, I have been both, but I shall not go into the question of which came first and which lasted longer. I shall approach the matter in a thoroughly non-sectarian spirit. I shall not comment on the religious affiliations of other speakers, save to say that the noble Lord, Lord Blease, always seems to me the ideal ecumenical man. If people like him were elected, there would be no problems. I am delighted that both he and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, are to take part in the debate. Noble Lords will be aware, like everyone outside, that unemployment in the North of Ireland has been distressingly high—I should say shockingly high—for many years. I say "shockingly" because Northern Ireland is officially part of the United Kingdom. There is the same responsibility on Her Majesty's Government for employment and unemployment as applies on the mainland.
§ Tonight I shall not concern myself with the main political issues. For 50 years at least I have believed and proclaimed that a united Ireland is the only true solution of all the problems. I shall not argue that tonight. I am accepting the present situation under which, as I said just now, Northern Ireland is as much part of the United Kingdom as Yorkshire or Sussex.
§ I wonder whether noble Lords are aware just how bad the unemployment situation in Northern Ireland is, more particularly in the areas I have selected for tonight's discussion. I do not intend to swamp the House with statistics. I learnt on the spot recently that in considerable parts of North and West Belfast the unemployment among young people is over 80 per cent.
As a general summary of the position, I quote from a homily given by Bishop Daly on Sunday 24th April this year. I am under the impression that the Minister has received a copy of it. Bishop Daly was pointing
out that West Belfast has some of the highest unemployment figures anywhere in Western Europe. He said:
Unofficial but reliable local surveys in a number of West Belfast parishes indicate unemployment rates of upwards of 60 per cent. and in one or two cases as high as 80 per cent. of the working population. These figures are to be compared with an unemployment rate of 16.9 per cent. in Greater Belfast, 17.1 per cent. in Northern Ireland as a whole, and 12.5 per cent. for the United Kingdom. Of the 13,000 to 15,000 unemployed in Catholic West Belfast, more than half have been unemployed for more than a year. West Belfast is fast becoming a great pool of deskilled labour. Unemployment is becoming self-perpetuating. The young unemployed are caught in an unemployment trap.
Lack of previous skilled work experience is itself becoming a disqualification for people when they apply for industrial jobs".
So spoke the bishop. I do not think that anyone would challenge what he said.
§ What would Members of the House say to a young man to whom I was talking when I was there recently? He had held down a good job in the De Lorean factory which came to grief some years ago but which was a very promising venture. Mr. De Lorean exhibited personal weaknesses which proved disastrous. We need not discuss his morals now. While the factory flourished, the employment was roughly 50/50 between Protestants and Catholics. The young man to whom I spoke looked back on it all as a golden age.
§ For the last six years this young man has been unemployed. To repeat my question: what would Members of the House tell him that he ought to do? I asked him whether there was any chance of a Catholic getting work in Short's. He gave a sardonic smile. Is it known that Short's has made some attempt to employ a few Catholics, but a typical young Catholic would expect to have a very bad time if he ventured there. It is suggested that this young man, his wife and three children, and thousands like them, should seek their fortunes outside Northern Ireland—that they should, to use the phrase, get on their bikes? That was the attitude of British governments 140 years ago during the Irish famine. As a result, one million emigrated and one million died of starvation directly or indirectly, but I do not suggest for one moment that the present Government would adopt that attitude today. We are bound to ask, therefore, what is the attitude of all people of goodwill towards the kind of problem that I raise.
§ We must acknowledge the failure of all governments in this country—I have served in two since the war—to provide the conditions in which such a young man could hope to obtain employment in West or North Belfast. There is a generation growing up who have never worked; many of their fathers have never worked; and some of their grandfathers have never worked. Do we, or do we not, in Britain accept responsibility for that situation? We cannot morally evade it. Do we look it in the face and accept that responsibility in the same way that we would accept responsibility for it on the mainland?
§ I must be careful here—very careful—not to seem to justify or excuse horrible things that have been done in West and North Belfast and in other parts of Northern Ireland. To be fair, however, we must pay some attention to the background. Even if there were full employment, these are areas—the same is true of 1185 all the Catholic areas of Northern Ireland—where British occupation is bitterly resented. The most high-minded people and the most low-minded, the most gentle and the most violent, share that attitude in the Catholic areas, just as wholeheartedly, shall I say, as the inhabitants of the West Bank.
§ The vast majority of the population in question would of course be opposed to violence, especially when it takes the form of killing or hurting civilians. But there is an underlying sympathy with protest. And there is an understanding of why these young men grow violent. That, in this country, is very difficult to understand. The responsible leaders of the Catholic community, understanding men like John Hume, the Catholic Church leaders and the parish priests, detest violence as much as anyone detests it here—rather more so, I should think, because they know of the corrupting effect on their community. However, if one thinks of the 80 per cent. of young unemployed men who, even if employed, would in any case be opposed to British rule, can one be surprised at what we in this country and their responsible leaders in their country rightly denounce as horrible attrocities?
§ I was much struck in my recent visit by an underlying confidence by responsible people—I would not say among the general public—in the Secretary of State, Mr. King. It is a long time since I have heard such kindly things said about a British Minister involved in Northern Ireland. There is a feeling—I repeat that I am talking of well-informed Catholics; the mood of the general public is certainly different—that Mr. King really means to do something effective to improve the employment situation.
Whether that is so or not—I certainly wish to believe that it is—he has set himself an ambitious target. I quote from a document signed by him and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State entitled Religious Equality of Opportunity in Employment. The document concludes in this way:
But these problems"—
the problems of providing equality of opportunity in employment between Protestants and Catholics—
cannot be solved in an economic vacuum. The lack of adequate job opportunities is a fundamental obstacle to achieving real equality of opportunity".
I should like to underline the next sentence in the document issued by the Minister and the Secretary of State:
These reforms must therefore be complemented by more investment and job creation. These are essential if unacceptable employment differentials between Catholics and Protestants are to be reduced as quickly as possible. The Government hopes that all who are genuinely interested in employment equality will support the drive to promote more investment and jobs in Northern Ireland".
Perhaps I may venture to repeat that:
The Government hopes that all who are genuinely interested in employment equality will support the drive to promote more investment and jobs in Northern Ireland",
I take it for granted that that is their own strong purpose.
§ There is much cynicism in Catholic Belfast about a document of this kind. It is pointed out that legislation promoting religious equality of opportunity was first passed in 1976. Yet I was told 1186 in Belfast by those to whom I spoke that the situation in respect of discrimination is worse in 1988 rather than better. The Minister may wish to correct that. I can only state what I was told on the spot. It is an accepted fact which I do not think the Minister will question that unemployment in Northern Ireland is two and a half times as bad among Catholics as among Protestants. I decline to be cynical. I side with those who are anxious to believe that a new and more strenuous effort is about to be made by the present Secretary of State and his colleagues than was made by any of his predecessors.
§ However, to return to the document issued by the Secretary of State and the Minister sitting opposite, what is the Secretary of State proposing to do that has not already been attempted with little result? Let us assume that religious discrimination is tackled with an altogether new vigour. What is to be done to implement the programme of more investment and job creation indicated in the last paragraph? The SDLP has produced an interesting programme. So have the people involved with the Belfast Centre for the Unemployed with whom I had very instructive talks.
§ There is no time tonight to do these proposals justice. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Blease, will deal with some of these matters more fully. I must indicate the essence of what seems to me the necessary approach. I have given due notice to the Secretary of State and the Minister seated opposite, both of whom labour strenuously, as we know, in the cause of Northern Ireland. Given the immobility of labour in Belfast, if any genuine religious equality of opportunity is to be achieved the Minister must use all his powers to secure investment where the need is greatest; that is to say, in the Catholic areas.
I shall quote again, I am afraid at some length, from Bishop Daly. He seems to be an authority who is accepted in this country and in Northern Ireland without challenge. He said:
Huge sums of public money are paid out annually to Shorts in government grants and subsidies. Government surely has a responsibility to ensure that the benefits of such public funds are spread as equitably as possible across the two communities".
The bishop continued;
Similar comment must be made about Harland and Wolff. I hope that the yard may succeed in winning the coveted new contract. But I hope that any new contract granted to the yard will be made conditional on the fair sharing of new employment across the community divide, and this should be subject to regular monitoring. The massive subsidies paid to industry nowadays create a compelling obligation on all employers, whether in the private sector or in the public, to achieve fair employment. They make still more urgent the need for new and effective fair employment legislation, with regular public monitoring and with effectual sanctions for non-compliance".
§ I must add one word here—we may hear more from others—about the international fund in which Britain, the United States and Canada participate. There is a widespread feeling that the international fund could be used more effectively than at present to encourage private sector investment in the most deprived areas to top up government funding in any West Belfast redevelopment plan. There seems to be general agreement that this new public investment in Catholic areas must be directed in the first instance to major improvements in the infrastructure without which it is impossible to build an economic future. The method of infrastructural development has 1187 already been attempted by the Flax Trust—about which I shall speak in a moment. It provides an encouraging model.
§ I should hope that by this time the Minister is aware and will agree that existing legislation on fair employment cannot deliver the fairness in employment which is required and which he himself desires. I beg the Secretary of State to embark forthwith on an alternative strategy of deliberate investment in Catholic areas. I am urging with all my strength that more state intervention is required. I cannot see that this conflicts with the policy of the present Government. When there were troubles in Toxteth, for instance, the Government bestirred themselves in no uncertain fashion. On the Labour Benches at least, we are not likely to agree that the government intervention in inner cities has been adequate. But at least the Government have shown themselves conscious of an obligation though they have not yet discharged it.
§ I should like to assure the House that the people of Belfast—I am here talking not only of the Catholics but also of the Protestants—are working strenously to help themselves. There are many possible examples. I take one from my own experience. I refer to the work being done by the Flax Trust in North Belfast on what is called a cross-community basis. The Minister has the details of this so perhaps I may read them rather quickly. He will be able to take them in all the better.
§ In the Brookfield Mill the trust has now developed a business centre, business incubation systems, workshops, a consulting service, a building company, a marketing service and a performing arts centre. The development centre now being built will incorporate a health centre, a shopping complex and workshops. In addition, a housing association has been established and a community aid project is in operation employing some 135 people. Some 10 years ago, 14 people were employed in the Brookfield Mill. Now approximately 500 people are gainfully employed. The philosophy of the trust is simple: reconciliation through economic and social development is of crucial significance.
§ In the end it all comes down to this. I believe wholeheartedly in the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I give Mrs. Thatcher the fullest credit for it, though it takes two to make an agreement. It was not her work alone. But the House must realise that Catholic opinion in Belfast is turning steadily against it. I need not spell out the implications and the possibilities involved. The question is asked and given a negative answer in a Catholic area: "What good has it done to us?" If we believe in the agreement, as I do, I would say that there is a remarkable if fleeting opportunity to give effect to it not only in words but in deeds.
§ I repeat what I said earlier. The Secretary of State is much trusted, and so is the Minister opposite, among the most discerning men and women in Catholic Belfast. I am anxious to believe that they will prove worthy of that trust.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on his excellent sense of timing for a debate on West and North Belfast. The 1188 communiqué from the most recent Anglo-Irish conference spoke of improving relations between the security forces and the community—nowhere is that more needed than in West Belfast. It touched on social and economic issues (both are acute in West Belfast) and it promised a White Paper on fair employment.
If all discrimination in recruitment could be eliminated this might help some of the worst black spots in unemployment, of which West Belfast has many. The communiqué concluded:Work is well advanced on ways to address the serious economic and social problems of West Belfast".What does that sentence really mean? Will there be a comprehensive social and economic plan for West Belfast in addition to the Belfast urban area plan dealing, as it does, with land use and urban planning? Will there be an ecumenical and multi-disciplinary and possibly internationally-recruited planning group bringing together Northern Ireland government departments, Belfast City, private commerce and finance? Will the group be able to call on the resources of the universities together with the churches and voluntary bodies? I suggest that nothing less is needed. A few unco-ordinated Belfast action teams within the Department of the Environment are not enough. I urge that all the relevant lessons that can be learned from the successes of the Glasgow Eastern Areas Renewal, known I believe as GEAR, should be drawn out and applied to the greatest possible extent in Belfast. Here I should mention specifically the minutes of evidence of 15th February 1983 taken by the Environment Committee of another place, pages 284–289.
Following the recent Anglo-Irish Conference, Mr. Burke, the Minister for Energy and Communications in the Irish Republic, said of West Belfast,these deprived communities are in a state of demoralization and it makes it easy for the IRA to operate there".There is truth in this and one thinks, for example, of Ballymurphy or Divis flats with a side glance at the decayed and partly bull-dozed areas of inner Dublin where provisional Sinn Fein was recently campaigning against drug pushers.
The other important precursor of this debate was the address given by the Bishop of Down and Connor in Twinbrook on 24th April, as the noble Earl has already mentioned. The bishop correctly pointed out that many of the problems of West Belfast are to be found in North Belfast. He emphasised that they affect the Protestant communities just as much as the Catholic ones. Shankill, part of Ardoyne, Ballysillan, Ballygormartin, Highfields, Woodvale and Suffolk as well as Ainsworth and Glencairn are clearly Protestant and inescapably parts of West Belfast. In them, as in the Catholic areas, one may meet young unemployed people whose parents have suffered long, possibly life-long periods of unemployment—another point to which the noble Earl correctly drew our attention.
The bishop was right to emphasise that social and economic development is even more important than security policy. Very properly he underlined the necessity for courtesy and sensitivity, so much commended in the now published Royal Ulster Constabulary Code of Professional Ethics.
1189 These are the only methods likely to win the hearts and minds of the people. He was right to indicate the need for Ministers and civil servants to have understanding and empathy for West Belfast. This part of the city, cut off between the motorway and the mountain, is all too often avoided by travellers and potential visitors, who are deterred by its reputation for violence. However, I can bear witness to the kindness and friendliness of West Belfast people. Will the Government consider locating in West Belfast at least one major government office? To do so would be an act of social justice, given that the public sector is far and away the largest single employer and that much of its workforce is now located in such places as Bangor and Lisburn.
There is more that Her Majesty's Government can do administratively in both Catholic and Protestant areas. In the Housing Executive, for example, the process of decentralisation should be taken much further. If we look at the Shankill Road and Ballysillan, which would not consider themselves as a single community, we find that there is only one local office. What is needed are local offices with which the local community can fully identify. It is not enough to decentralise a few office functions. What is desirable is to delegate full responsibility and the accompanying budgets to local managers for those things that directly affect the quality of life of local residents. Mistakes may well then be made, but the correct lessons will be learned from them— something that does not always happen when all real power is kept within the central office.
While on the theme of housing, I come back to Divis and Unity flats, on which I have already spoken in your Lordships' House. They were the most disastrous blocks ever built in Belfast. Whatever could go wrong, did go wrong. Mercifully the decision has already been taken to demolish. The question now is over what time scale? The Housing Executive maintains that seven to 10 years is the best it can achieve. Will the Government please stand over the Housing Executive with a rod of iron to ensure that even the lower forecast is bettered? These flats are totally unfit now, so every conceivable way of decanting their tenants must be used. The alternative is to accept unnecessary deaths and disease and the anti-social behaviour and violence that these are only too likely to engender.
I have commented, probably at too great length, on the bishop's address. What I urge on Her Majesty's Government is that it would be fatal to act in West Belfast just because the Irish Government have raised the issue. They should not move just to satisfy the local Catholics. Their motives should not be the conciliation of the SDLP, important as that may be. Something far more important is involved. Unmet human needs exist in West and North Belfast affecting both types of local community. That alone must be the spur to the action.
The human needs of the people, and above all their need for meaningful work and the dignity that flows from that, are the essentials. Nevertheless, we must ask this question: supposing that new employment for 5,000 people were to materialise in West Belfast next year, could those vacancies actually be filled from within the area? The answer might easily be no, 1190 because of the de-skilling of the workforce and the loss of the habit of working, to which I and the noble Earl referred earlier.
What then must be done, my Lords? Institutions and organisations which will motivate people and give them hope need to be developed and initiated. The Flax Trust and Conway Mill, both in West Belfast, are examples of what is needed. ACE schemes may help in a minor way, but they are not the sole answer. It has long been recognised that a fourth adult education college is needed, located within West Belfast. When will the Government make a decision about that? It ought to be in existence now; so the matter is urgent. It needs to draw on the resources and the excellent pioneering work of Ulster People's College, of which both I and the noble Lord, Lord Blease are members. The recent offer of St. Thomas' School in Whiterock Road for adult use is generous and welcome. However, its main problem is the difficulty of access by Protestant users. Therefore the fourth college must be sited on neutral ground.
Already West Belfast contains centres of excellence, some of which are internationally well-known. They include the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Marter Hospital, Belfast City Farm, St. Louise's College, the Cornerstone Community and, smaller still, the Franciscan Community of the Church of Ireland. In their different ways those institutions could be generators of new real jobs. Will the Government please reassess them in that light? Such a reassessment would be only a small part of a much wider, integrated plan for redeveloping and regenerating West Belfast. Ten years, with continuity after that, is the absolute minimum to be considered. Will the Government ensure that the integrated plan and the social and economic planning team include a permanent listening process? It is in that kind of way that the energies and inspirations of those directly affected will be harnessed. The Government certainly have a part to play and so has the private sector. However, I suggest that neither can replace the hopes and ideals of the local people.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Lord Blease
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that for many reasons this is an extremely important and timely debate. Whatever may be the concern at Westminster, the Question has generated much interest in Northern Ireland. I wish to express thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for giving us the opportunity to focus attention on the tragic human issue of unemployment in West and North Belfast. I very much appreciate the thorough, understanding and caring way in which in his speech he dealt with the sad social problems and the highly sensitive and difficult religious and political factors arising in both those areas of Belfast.
Increasingly West Belfast has become the subject of much official social and economic research. There has also been wide coverage by the media and by private academic-type analysis. There are many reasons for the special public interest and attention there, some helpful and some negative; but whatever they are there is no doubt that in both West and North Belfast there are many marked signs of 1191 economic deprivation and increasing degrees of poverty. There are also inequalities of opportunity for individual and family well-being and also for community peace and prosperity.
While I concur with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that the object of the debate is to focus attention on the needs for West and North Belfast—and in no way do I wish to detract from that—it must be said that chronic unemployment is endemic throughout Northern Ireland. The religious, political and sectarian issues are prevalent in other regions of the Province and they have serious implications for industrial investment, employment and peaceful community development.
Together with my trade union colleagues and others in Northern Ireland, I must firmly declare that sectarianism in whatever form is unquestionably one of the main obstacles to progress in the Province. Sectarianism is a poison which destroys the essential relationship of citizen with fellow citizens and of workmate with fellow workmates. That is why the recent Irish Congress of Trade Unions' anti-sectarian campaign, with the motto "Hands off my mate", deserves every support by the Northern Ireland people. Equality of opportunity and the principles of social justice must prevail if a better life for all is to be obtained. The words "for all" mean just that, as already stated by the noble Earl, be they Catholic, Protestant, dissenter or others.
In that connection, and with relevance to the main purpose of our debate, surely we all must welcome the statements issued on Monday last by the Northern Ireland Office and the Fair Employment Agency about new active measures to deal with job discrimination. In the search for a remedy to cope with the multi-factor problems of unemployment throughout Northern Ireland there is every good reason to support and work for a new deal for West and North Belfast. Indeed, it may even be a way forward for the rest of the Province.
I have been closely acquainted and associated with North and West Belfast since the early 1940s. On two occasions I was an unsuccessful Labour candidate for the Stormont Parliamentary Division. In the 1960s part of my work as a trade union official placed me in direct contact with a series of closures of textile mills, linen factories and engineering works in West and North Belfast. That was a period when thousands of Catholic and Protestant workers joined hands in their common interest for work, and in protest marches on the Shankill and Falls Roads against the rising dole queues. During the 1970s I was aware of the number of government-sponsored and public-financed ventures in the area such as Strathern Audio and the De Lorean car factory. As the noble Earl has mentioned, when the public-funded projects failed, not because of any workplace problems, the bright hopes of many young workers were dimmed.
In the West and North Belfast areas various measures are undertaken by local voluntary groups and statutory bodies to promote and develop industrial and commercial enterprises. Those local initiatives have functioned mainly through the YTP and ACE schemes in job creation and training programmes and in job placement facilities. In 1192 addition, there is the West Belfast Economic Committee and the Shankill Community Council. There are also a number of enterprise agencies including the Action Resource Centre, the Brookfield Business Centre and the Glenard Youth and Community Workshop.
Many of those groups and organisations continue to provide productive operational activities on the ground under very difficult conditions. They give vital leadership and management skills and stimulate interest and hope. One of the most penetrating accounts of the current problems of North and West Belfast was the homily delivered by Bishop Capel Daly on Sunday, 24th April, already mentioned by the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. The Belfast Telegraph editorial of 25th April 1988 stated:Bishop Cahal Daly's lengthy homily on economic deprivation was commendable as a detailed definition of the problems facing West Belfast. The area has become identified as one of the principal theatres of IRA violence, and the deterioration of the quality of life there has been a deliberate part of the terrorists' revolutionary strategy. But the Bishop also correctly pointed out that there were no grounds for a perception that the people of West Belfast were collectively responsible for IRA violence. They are among the chief sufferers as a result of the prolonged and misguided guerilla war which has been inflicted on them as much as on the rest of the province.There can be no doubt that social conditions resulting from high levels of unemployment make a breeding ground for revolution. Intimidation, or worse, is typical of the IRA's approach to people trying to earn a living. The Bishop has correctly identified the desperate need to break out of this futile spiral.".The question we are considering is:To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take to remedy unemployment in West and North Belfast".In this connection, I consider it important to mention a debate in this House on 30th June 1986 when the Social Need (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 was approved. I raised matters in that debate and on 25th July the Minister wrote to me. I quote the relevant extract from his letter:You also enquired about the staffing and financial resources available to operate the provisions of the Order. Current resources only permit the operation of the Urban Development Grant and Environmental Improvement Schemes in Belfast and Londonderry. It is likely that resources will continue to be concentrated in these two areas in the immediate future. However, should additional resources, both staffing and financial, become available in the future, it would be the Department's intention to extend activity under the Order to certain other selected areas".Subsequently, I had a meeting with officials of the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland, and on 2nd June 1987 I was given a departmental factsheet headed: "Inner City Initiative: Belfast Action Teams".
That factsheet stated:The Environment Minister, Mr. Richard Needham, announced on 17th February 1987 new initiatives to improve the quality of life in the inner city area of Belfast.Included in the £28 million financial package was the setting up of Action Teams in two pilot areas to identify the major needs in each area and co-ordinate ways of tackling them, in co-operation with other public agencies and the local community.The two areas selected, Lower Falls/Lower Shankill and New Lodge/Duncairn will be followed by two further areas in each of the years 1988/89 and 1989/90. The initiative in each area is designed to last three years and the existing sums of Government money spent in the areas is to be supplemented by £1.5 million additional money allocated to each Action Team.Objectives of the Action Teams are: to bring about an improvement in the quality of life and an enhancement of the opportunities and prospects of people living in inner city areas suffering from particularly severe problems. More specifically the initiative will aim 1193 to improve the effectiveness with which Government expenditure in the targeted areas is used to benefit those living in these areas by: providing employment for local people; improving the employability of local people, including those about to enter the labour market; encouraging and facilitating enterprise by local people; better coordination and delivery of Government programmes in these areas; supporting initiatives which improve the environment and the provision of services and facilities; trying out new approaches to meet the needs of those areas".I must say that I was indeed impressed by this policy statement and by the declared objectives, but I was then and am still confused about the financial arrangements: a package of £28 million and £1.5 million additional money allocated to each action team. On the ground I have not seen any steps that this money is being expended in the manner presented to me. However, perhaps we may have an explanation from the Minister as to how the finance has been allocated and when, especially in the light of his earlier letter to me.
While I am disappointed with the narrow scope of the measures, I am pleased and encouraged with the enthusiastic approaches of the two action teams. From my general observations and inquiries, the personnel of those two action teams are working with a great sense of vision, earnestness and commitment in their daily contact with neighbourhood voluntary groups.
The two action team leaders have proved to be lively and effective in their work with the Belfast Centre for the Unemployed. A week ago, on Monday, 2nd May, at the Belfast Centre for the Unemployed, over 100 representatives of statutory and voluntary organisations, together with management and trade union personnel and Belfast Action Team members, met to launch a new voluntary organisation named the Community Economic Development Initiative—CEDI. I quote from the handout leaflet:The four local voluntary agencies who jointly make up CEDI have been active in this field since 1983".They consist of the Centre for Neighbourhood Development, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, the Belfast Centre for the Unemployed and the Northern Ireland Co-operative Development Agency. The purpose of the project is:To provide a framework to enable the development of community-based economic initiatives; to employ field workers to assist selected deprived communities in exploring local economic development strategies; to offer support to the field workers and the pilot communities in their attempt to realise local self-help job creation programmes; to institute bridges of communication between communities and the other agencies at work in the field".The CEDI and all associated with it will be anxious to have the full support of the Government, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond effectively in that connection.
Relevant to the question of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, perhaps I may ask the Minister to reply to the following questions. When will the report be available of the Northern Ireland Office Working Group which has the following terms of reference:On ways to address the serious economic and social problems of West Belfast and other disadvantaged areas"?Will the report be published? What arrangements are there likely to be for suitable consultations at local and representative levels? What is the present number of personnel employed directly on the Social Need 1194 (Northern Ireland) 1986 legislative provisions? How many Belfast action team offices have been opened and where are they sited? What is the total number of staff directly employed in the local Belfast action team offices? Have the Government considered the feasibility of opening suitable jobcentre offices in the Lower Falls, Shankill Road and Duncairn areas? If not, why not?
Have the Government any immediate plans for the opening or sponsoring of child services for the under-fives such as playgroup facilities, pre-school centres and child-minding arrangements in West and North Belfast? The final question in a list which I have already supplied to the Minister is: have the Government any immediate plans to initiate or sponsor in West and North Belfast suitable training courses for voluntary and for part-time community development and social worker personnel?
I conclude my remarks with two short extracts from Bishop Daly's statement:It is time for a new deal in West Belfast. From being a problem and an embarrassment, it must be seen now as a challenge and an opportunity. A concerted redevelopment plan for West Belfast will do far more for the ending of violence than any security policy, important though this be. Government must lead the way in demonstrating that there is a peaceful way to justice and that it works.Government can count on great public welcome and full community support for any comprehensive plans which they bring forward for the redevelopment of West Belfast".Perhaps I may add North Belfast to that. I continue the quotation:The community will play its part in working to make their area a source of pride to its residents and to visitors, and to create in it an environment worthy of its great people".Surely this vision of hope and this challenge of change for productive job creation is deserving of support and of the efforts, within the principles of parliamentary democracy, to translate this vision into a reality. I shall listen with interest to what the Minister has to say.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Prys-Davies
My Lords, the citizens of West and North Belfast will be immensely grateful to my noble friend Lord Longford for having shone a glaring spotlight on the conditions in that area. My noble friend's Question to the Government is necessary and appropriate. My noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs has authorised me to say how sorry she is that she is unable to stay for the debate and to join with my noble friend and others in pressing the Government for a satisfactory response.
My noble friend Lord Longford has spoken with conviction. He was clearly deeply moved during his recent visit to Belfast by the evidence of his own eyes and ears, and by the sardonic smile of the young Catholic whom he met and who had been unemployed for the past six years. Of course, all over Northern Ireland unemployment casts its long shadows. Northern Ireland as a whole is a disadvantaged part of the United Kingdom, and I believe this was touched upon by my noble friend Lord Blease.
I am advised by those who are well informed that the problems of West and North Belfast are on a par with major problems to be found in those cities of Western Europe where inner city problems are at 1195 their worst. International economic events, changing world trade patterns and technological changes, together with political instability and the catalogue of violence and atrocities in support of political ends, have produced severe effects for most people in the Province. It is significant that it is now being claimed that West Belfast and the adjacent areas of North Belfast are also suffering from another mischief; namely, public neglect of their problems. That is the charge that many Catholics are now levelling at the Northern Ireland Office.
I regret having to inform the House that notwithstanding the excellent co-operation of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell—I hasten to add that his help and that of his private office are always forthcoming—I was unable to obtain from the Northern Ireland Office a single fact about the inner city areas of West and North Belfast or any information to help me to prepare for this debate. In fairness to the Northern Ireland Office I hasten to add that this zero response on the part of the department is also exceptional in my experience. I am content to record that fact.
However, I received help from a certain source. I received a copy of the recently published social and economic profile of the households in the Lower Shankill prepared for one of the two Belfast action teams. I received that document from Mr. Mackin, the co-ordinator of the Belfast centre for the unemployed. My noble friend Lord Blease has referred to that. The profile sets out a depressing list of the features of the households of the area: very high unemployment, long-term unemployment, very high dependency on supplementary benefits, a low level of earnings, a decaying social environment and environmental conditions and the movement of young people away from the area.
The economic and social profile presents an objective and clinical picture. It has been left to others to spell out that distressingly high unemployment over a long period of time combined with depressing environmental and social conditions are deep and basic causes of grievance which can lead any community, let alone a minority one, to nourish the conviction that it is an aggrieved community, an inferior community—a ghetto. Many who are familiar with the facts of West Belfast will say that we can hardly be surprised if, in West Belfast, many citizens are voting for Sinn Fein candidates.
My noble friend Lord Longford, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and my noble friend Lord Blease, warmly endorsed the powerful words of Bishop Daly of Down and Connor, delivered in a church in West Belfast on Sunday 24th April—the Good Shepherd's Sunday in the Catholic calendar. Bishop Daly is one of the most able and articulate critics of the depressing conditions in his parishes in West and North Belfast. Bishop Daly is also a courageous critic of the activities of the IRA. Therefore, his evidence should be acceptable. I have also read and reread the bishop's well-researched homily. Unless the department can seriously flaw its main findings 1196 therein lies the case that the Government have neglected the problems of these inner city areas of Belfast.
Bishop Daly went on to call for the urgent implementation of a development plan and for the commitment of large public funds in support. That does not detract one bit from the need for voluntary bodies and enlightened companies also to make their contributions. It will be recalled that the SDLP put a figure on the amount of funds required. It called for an investment of £50 million.
Against this sombre background, I wish to raise a few specific concerns of which I have given notice to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell. First, is it correct, as reported in Belfast to my noble friend Lord Longford, that discrimination against Catholics in terms of jobs in West Belfast is worse now than it was 12 years ago? Is that true? Do the Government or any other body in Northern Ireland keep up-to-date and reliable statistics on the extent of discrimination on religious grounds in jobs?
Even if the Minister is able to provide a reassuring reply, it is worrying that my noble friend should have been told by a responsible source in West Belfast that the gap is getting wider rather than closing. That suggests it is not apparent to those near to the urgency of the problems that the position is improving, notwithstanding all the calls and the sermons of the past 12 years.
Secondly, is the department able to produce firm evidence clearly to rebut the claim that the industrial development board has "written off West Belfast"? Will the department look carefully into this allegation? Thirdly, do the two Belfast action teams referred to in some detail by my noble friend Lord Blease have the necessary resources to enable them to produce proposals within the next two years to remedy the economic, social and environmental ills of West and North Belfast?
Is the work of the two action teams being effectively co-ordinated? Does one know what the other is doing? Is there a case for a third action team to help with the work? While we wait for the action teams to produce their reports, does the department intend to take any major initiative to make West and North Belfast a better and safer place to live in?
Fourthly, will the Minister confirm that at the inter-governmental conference the Irish Government raised with Her Majesty's Government the need to tackle the special problems of West Belfast? Can the Minister say what proposals, if any, have been on the agenda touching the conditions in North and West Belfast? Is there any truth in what we read in one newspaper that Her Majesty's Government are reluctant to submit an application to the European Community for special assistance for the rehabilitation of West Belfast? If that is true, what are the reasons for their reluctance to approach the EC? Or are these matters still confidential?
It remains for me once again to thank my noble friend Lord Longford for focusing attention on the conditions in West and North Belfast. As has been said, those conditions present grave difficulties, but they also present an opportunity and a challenge for the Government.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Lyell)
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for asking this Unstarred Question this evening and for telling us what he learnt in his tour. It started as a tour of West Belfast and, as he so eloquently put it, ended up in North Belfast. It is clear that he met a large cross-section of the inhabitants of the city of Belfast.
At the outset the noble Earl described my right honourable friend as being a religious man. He also said that I am a good Catholic. I hope that he has the number of his eminence the cardinal. I am grateful for his kindness but I remind him, as I remind every noble Lord and indeed my right honourable friend, that in matters of religion humility is all. The noble Earl referred to the homily—as we are enjoined to call it now; one can call it a sermon—by Bishop Cahal Daly. The bishop was good enough to send me a copy of his homily. I hope that the noble Earl's good wishes will assist me in my usual close scrutiny of and attention to the homilies at Mass each Sunday as I shall have to resolve firmly to pay particularly close attention if the homilies are as good as that of Bishop Daly.
The Government are keen to see an improvement in economic activity in North and West Belfast as well as an increased number of employment opportunities. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is currently considering what additional steps he might take to encourage and promote enterprising business in these areas of multiple deprivation. The noble Earl concentrated his attention on the needs of Catholic areas and urged us to consider a strategy of deliberate investment in them. He rightly pointed out that there are also Protestant areas of unemployment. I wish to state categorically that the Government are concerned about the acute social and economic problems of all areas of special need in Northern Ireland.
I wish to assure the noble Earl and all noble Lords who have spoken that the Government are concerned about the level of unemployment in Northern Ireland. As evidence of this concern, the noble Earl will be aware that the levels of industrial assistance available in Northern Ireland are higher than those in any region of Great Britain. I come from Scotland. Very often I have to defend these provisions in Scotland where there are many of the factors of multiple deprivation mentioned by the noble Earl and seen by him in his tour of North and West Belfast.
The level of industrial assistance available in Northern Ireland is a firm measure of the Government's commitment to the extreme problems of the Province. The Government do not forget that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The noble Earl mentioned what had been said to him about British occupation of Northern Ireland. I accept that this would have been said to him in West Belfast, but in the climate of what the Government seek to do for everybody in North and West Belfast and in Northern Ireland as a whole this was an unfortunate word to use in the debate tonight. I am 1198 sure that the noble Earl and all those who mentioned this to him meant no ill.
The Government have already invested heavily, particularly in areas such as West Belfast, and will continue to do so, but success will not be achieved by the efforts of government alone, The private and the voluntary sectors have a major role to play. In the past year the public agencies—the Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterprise Development Unit—have between them promoted more than 9,300 new jobs in Northern Ireland. Given all the factors raised by noble Lords tonight, this is a major achievement of which all of us can be proud. However, more private investment is essential. Northern Ireland has continued to lag behind Great Britain in the development of the services sector and jobs in that area as well as in the general economic recovery. There are hopeful signs.
I noted that Bishop Cahal Daly mentioned the term "seasonally adjusted unemployment". It is not one that I hear in homilies when I go to Mass. Clearly this was a special homily on Good Shepherd Sunday. Seasonally adjusted unemployment has fallen consistently since last summer and now stands at 17.1 per cent. overall. There has also been a small rise in the numbers in the Province in work. As the noble Earl was generous enough to recognise, considerable government support has been made available for the major and long-established shipbuilding and aircraft industries in Northern Ireland. Such support has not been unique to Northern Ireland. Many shipyards have closed or have suffered substantial contraction. This has happened even after massive sums had been spent to support the industry during the recession. Employment at Harland and Wolff has fallen dramatically over the past 20 years. As I speak tonight there are fewer than 4,000 jobs in that yard.
Noble Lords may remember that last week, on a Starred Question by my noble friend Lord Bruce-Gardyne, the Government stated that they have not yet received any costings for the proposed liner, whatever its name is—the ultimate dream—proposed by Mr. Ravi Tikkoo. It is still far too early to speculate whether that liner will be built at Harland and Wolff. However, I wish to make one point, especially in regard to this evening's debate. Harland and Wolff, that esteemed firm of shipbuilders in Belfast, is subject to the same fair employment legislation as any other company in Northern Ireland. I shall have something more to say on that subject later on.
Historically the workforce at Harland's has been predominantly Protestant, and while the company has an affirmative action programme it is difficult for the company to create a more balanced workforce as the numbers of jobs decline and there is virtually no recruitment. However, progress can be made, particularly when a company is recruiting and especially for a new factory. Short's has now built up a small workforce at its Dunmurry facility in West Belfast which produces furnishings for its aircraft and takes on some sub-contract work. Of the people so far employed there, 57 per cent. are Catholics. That figure spells out the definite commitment of Short's in that area in West Belfast. It clearly 1199 demonstrates a determination to achieve progress. After all, progress is what we are looking for as regards fair employment and recruitment practices.
Last year the Government launched a Pathfinder programme aimed at identifying the strengths and weaknesses in the economy of Northern Ireland. That programme has already achieved some practical results, not least of which is the increased level of debate about the need for a greater degree of enterprise at local level.
If any one of us imagines what we feel when we mention West Belfast, we must also see the image of West Belfast as presented to the wide world and to potential investors. No amount of government support will improve the quality of life in an area which suffers from vandalism, attacks on business, lawlessness and the scourge of terrorism, be it in Belfast, anywhere else in Northern Ireland, or in Great Britain.
It is the feeling of noble Lords that the biggest single boost to the regeneration of economic activity in North and West Belfast would come from a renunciation and a reduction of violence. The image of West Belfast is tarnished by violence, which we see—and I am sure potential investors see—as a major obstacle which inhibits business confidence and blights the future of young men, such as those who spoke to the noble Earl with feeling and passion. Indeed, many people from different industries all over Northern Ireland have spoken to me in like manner. Business confidence is a fragile plant but it is blooming, thankfully, bit by bit in Northern Ireland.
The noble Earl made some kind remarks about myself, for which I am most grateful, as well as about my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. However, he referred to a feeling that had been mentioned to him in West Belfast. The suggestion was that my right honourable friend is being restrained in some small, polite and perhaps not entirely obvious way in his efforts to improve employment prospects in West Belfast by sundry officials in the Northern Ireland Office.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I am sorry. Perhaps I was not paying my customary close attention to the noble Earl's speech. However, I think he expressed that point. He mentioned something of that nature.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, I am sure the noble Earl will accept from me that the Government are taking, and have taken, significant measures to tackle 1200 unemployment. I have already mentioned the Pathfinder process. Out of that thinking an exports company has been established to help smaller Northern Ireland engineering companies to export to South-East Asia. In addition, the Government have launched a major initiative to improve the quality of goods produced by local companies.
The noble Earl also mentioned the international fund for Ireland. He referred to the comments he had received to the effect that it could be used more effectively to encourage private sector investment in the most deprived areas. I am sure he is aware that the fund is under the direction of an independent board which is fully conscious of the needs of the areas of greatest deprivation and has already supported a number of projects in North and West Belfast. For example, the recently published progress report on the fund lists support totalling £750,000 for four enterprise centres in North and West Belfast.
Worth while as all those initiatives are—we are most grateful for that expenditure—it would be unrealistic to think that the fund alone could have a major influence on the problems of West Belfast. Therefore, we return to the remarks of the noble Earl, who suggested that more state intervention is required. However, I am sure he is aware of the substantial sums of public money which are already spent to support industry and, above all, to reduce unemployment in the Province. For instance, in the last financial year we allocated over £200 million for that purpose. The figure included substantial sums for Harland and Wolff as well as supporting the promotion of jobs by the Industrial Development Board and the Local Enterprise Development Unit. In addition, further significant sums were spent on the community programme as well as on training measures.
I have detailed the sums of money that have been spent and many of the initiatives that we have undertaken. However, the Government must look to the future. We are fully committed to the elimination of discrimination on religious or political grounds in Northern Ireland and to ensuring equality of opportunity in employment for all. To that end the Government announced new proposals for fair employment legislation on 2nd March this year which will strengthen fair employment law, adminstration and practice. Within a new institutional framework employers will be required to adopt good employment practice, including monitoring of the religious composition of their workforces and affirmative action measures where necessary. This will be backed up by stronger criminal and civil enforcement powers and the use of government economic muscle.
The Government plan to publish a White Paper setting out those proposals later this month, with a view to the introduction of legislation at the earliest opportunity.
The noble Earl also referred to the Anglo-Irish Agreement, upon which he recieved many comments in West Belfast. I assure him and your Lordships that we remain wholeheartedly committed to the agreement. We believe it is a meaningful and novel attempt to tackle some of the central difficulties that afflict us in Northern Ireland, not least in West 1201 Belfast. Since the signing of the agreement many steps have been taken by the Government—often with the advantage of the views of the Irish Government, received under the agreement—which I believe have been most welcome to nationalist opinion generally in Northern Ireland and, I hope, in West Belfast.
The noble Earl and your Lordships will no doubt be aware that the agreement is certainly no panacea. It cannot bring economic and social advance overnight. However, I believe that our deliberations on the problems of North and West Belfast have benefited from thinking contributed by the Government of the Republic of Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, in one of his traditionally thoughtful speeches, asked me many questions. I hope that I shall be able to answer at least some of them to his satisfaction. However, I assure him and all noble Lords that anything I have missed will be picked up and I shall reply in writing, I hope in a concise manner.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked whether there was a comprehensive social and economic plan for West Belfast in addition to the Belfast plan. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is currently considering what additional steps he might take to encourage enterprise in all areas of multiple deprivation such as West and North Belfast. I cannot give the noble Lord any detailed proposals this evening. He also referred to the attractive acronym GEAR, the Glasgow Eastern Areas Renewal plan. In all our considerations of possible further action in Belfast we will take careful note of all relevant and worthwhile experience in Great Britain, especially in Glasgow, and anywhere else from which we can learn lessons.
The noble Lord asked about the possibility of locating at least one major government office in West Belfast. We note his imaginative and progressive suggestion. Such enterprise will be in the minds of my right honourable friend and my honourable friends. I cannot indicate any progress to the noble Lord this evening. He returned to the problem of the Divis flats. That is a matter for the Housing Executive. We are aware of the problems of the Divis flats. One of the major problems is finding suitable sites to rehouse all the present residents of the flats. I can assure the noble Lord that his efforts and the efforts and thoughts of all noble Lords are taken to heart and that the Government are in continual contact with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Blease, did not blanch when the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to the rod of iron. I hope that the Government will not find it necessary to use that. The noble Lord, Lord Blease, might have cause to worry a little if we adopted such methods.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to the problem of trying to satisfy all the different requests from the Government of the Republic of Ireland, the Catholics and the SDLP. The Government will listen to and take advice from everywhere. However, the Government must make their own decisions on any action they may wish to take in any deprived area.
The noble Lord asked two further questions about a fourth adult education college. I shall write to him with any news that I can elicit on that subject. I am 1202 afraid that I have no news tonight. He also asked me to consider the budget for the Royal Victoria Hospital and what it might do for job creation in West Belfast. Any project carried out by the Royal Victoria Hospital will be valuable. We shall be looking for assistance from the public and the private sector, including the voluntary sector. That was the philosophy I mentioned at the outset. We will examine all opportunities to raise employment in areas such as that around the Royal Victoria Hospital.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, made a thoughtful speech. We are grateful for his expert advice and his sharp questions. I hope that I shall be able to give him some answers. If I cannot provide all the details, he knows that he will receive a concise letter from me. I shall do my best to satisfy him. He asked a double-barrelled question about ways of addressing the serious economic and social problems of West Belfast and other disadvantaged areas and whether there would be a report that would be published.
I have told your Lordships that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is already urgently considering what further measures might be taken to promote economic activity in addition to the many existing schemes. My right honourable friend's consideration follows the detailed analysis of the problems made by officials. As the noble Lord will know, the Government do not make a practice of publishing internal working documents. That has been the practice of all governments. However, if I can let him have any details I shall do so.
The noble Lord asked about serious consultation in this area with local representatives. All the agencies working in all the disadvantaged areas of Belfast are continually involved in detailed consultations with local community leaders in seeking to improve economic, social and physical conditions. They include officials from the LEDU and the Belfast action teams, about whom I shall have a little more to say to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and naturally from the Eastern Health and Social Services Board, the Housing Executive and the Belfast Education and Library Board. The noble Lord asked a simple question about the number of people directly employed in implementing the 1986 social needs of capital legislation. I understand that 46 people are directly employed on that at the moment.
The noble Lords, Lord Blease and Lord Prys-Davies, asked about the Belfast action team offices. Your Lordships will be interested to know that there are four. There are two in Ormeau Avenue; one in Great Victoria Street; and one in York Street. They cover disadvantaged areas of the city.
The noble Lord, Lord Blease, mentioned child services including play group facilities for the under-fives. The Department of Education has approved in principle several development proposals for additional nursery places in West and North Belfast. The provision of such places is under review. If I have any news I will write to the noble Lord. He asked a further question about jobcentre offices in the Lower Falls, Shankill and the Duncairn areas. We continually review the need for further jobcentres. He will understand that we also have to consider the 1203 resources available. His comments have been noted and I shall draw them to the attention of my honourable friend with responsibility for that area.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, mentioned a number of points, one of which was about discrimination. It was a forthright start to his comments. The annual report of the Fair Employment Agency demonstrates that discrimination in employment continues to be experienced by both sectors of the community in Northern Ireland. Noble Lords will agree that discrimination is not easily amenable to quantification. The FEA's report provides a useful basis from which to start. In recognition of that continuing problem, the Government intend to introduce legislation designed to eliminate discrimination as far as possible and to promote greater equality of employment opportunity.
Following Bishop Daly's homily, the noble Lord wondered whether the IDB had adopted a little less than its usual generosity towards West Belfast. He went so far as to say that the area had been written off. We do not agree with that. West Belfast attracts the highest financial incentives in Northern Ireland. In my opening remarks I said that in Northern Ireland we give the highest rates of investment incentives and assistance. West Belfast has the highest rates in Northern Ireland. The IDB maintains close contact with its 20 client companies in West and North Belfast; 18 out of those 20 have had IDB-backed major investment in the past seven years.
We are making a major effort to ensure that the companies in the area make maximum use of the marketing schemes of the IDB as well as the research and development schemes. The IDB remains committed to ensuring that its client companies in West Belfast continue to secure the maximum support necessary to obtain long-term viable employment opportunities in the area.
As regards the thoughts of the noble Lord on West Belfast and the IDB, a programme for the future is currently under way to persuade those companies which have not yet undertaken marketing or research and development programmes in conjunction with the IDB to consider doing so.
1204 I hope those points will assure the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and all noble Lords who have spoken, that in no way is the IDB negligent in its duty towards West Belfast. The noble Lord also asked about what I have down at BATs. I think this is the Belfast action teams and their resources. There are four teams with £½ million each for three years. The work of these teams is constantly under review. The department, in its present initiative, sees the teams very much as combating all the problems of the area, not just in industry and deprivation.
The latest communiqué, the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Conference joint statement of 5th May this year, made it quite clear that the Government of the Republic had raised the need to tackle the social and economic problems of West Belfast with the Government. That was taken into account and I hope the noble Lord will be able to see that in the joint statement.
The noble Lord had one more query about the possible reluctance of the Government to submit an application to the European Community for special help for West Belfast. Following the agreement at the European Council meeting in February this year about the future financing of the Community, there have been detailed discussions between all the member states and the Commission about the revised structural funds. This has led to Northern Ireland being given the highest priority status. Consideration is now being given to securing the most appropriate help from the Community for Belfast as well as for Northern Ireland. All these deliberations include recent discussions with Commission officials within the past week.
I think that possibly I have detained your Lordships for too long. I hope I have not repeated too many of the points, but this has been a very rewarding debate. If I have missed any of the major matters which have been raised by noble Lords, then I shall be writing to them. We are all particularly grateful that tonight we have obtained time for a very helpful debate on the problems of North and West Belfast. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate.
§ House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes before nine o'clock.