§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
I beg to move,That this House views with grave concern the high and persistent rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to reaffirm its determination to support fully the Government of Northern Ireland in their efforts to press forward towards a balanced economy and to provide full employment.I wish to make the point very early in this debate that we are faced with a challenging problem and a job of work to do. I wish also to make the point early that I do not intend to waste time today making or arguing on strictly party points. I am quite sure that this lead will be followed by hon. Members opposite. Their constructive interest and suggestions will be most welcome in this debate. We shall listen to what they have to say with care and consider with care what they have to say. We hope that they will not bring in the old scavenger of the political garbage can on this occasion.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Certain proposals were put forward by the Northern Ireland Labour Party in December last year which obviously will be put forward from the benches opposite today. I have studied those proposals. I do not intend to attack them on this occasion, but I think that they are perhaps a little ill-thought out. I again emphasise that I am quite prepared to listen to arguments of this kind. I certainly keep an open mind on any proposals contained therein. With the challenging problems facing Northern Ireland today, 786 we cannot afford to waste a single good idea. That will be my approach this morning.
I intend in my speech to deal with the long-term problems affecting the development of Northern Ireland's economy. It is my intention to cut padding, to be not uncritical and to analyse the basis of our situation. Certain of my hon. Friends, if they catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, will deal with the several problems affecting Northern Ireland to which they bring specialised knowledge. Some, I hope, will speak on agriculture, others on the aircraft industry, others on shipbuilding and Admiralty matters. Some will deal with textiles and with the relationship between the Board of Trade and the Northern Ireland Ministry of Commerce. I regret that because I act as Parliamentary Private Secretary to my hon. and gallant Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport responsible for shipping matters I am unable to intervene on those matters.
However, I have the authority of my hon. and gallant Friend to say that this morning with the Minister of Transport he is meeting the Northern Ireland Minister of Commerce for detailed discussions on this aspect of the problem. My hon. and gallant Friend will be present later in the debate. It would be discourteous not to say how very glad we are to see the interest taken by the Ministers of Her Majesty's Government. I am particularly glad to see present the Minister of State, Home Department, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, the Civil Lord of the Admiralty and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation. We consider this a very welcome sign of the Government's interest in Northern Ireland.
I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade will be present later in the debate. My hon. Friend the Home Secretary has apologised that unfortunately he cannot be present because he has a long-standing engagement to open one of Her Majesty's benevolent prisons. But for that fact he would have been with us today.
I should be failing in my duty were I not briefly to refer to some of the background. The reasons are well known: the drift from the land in an 787 agricultural community, a higher birth-rate than that in the United Kingdom, added to which is the post-war bulge of school leavers who will now be looking for jobs. There is also the sea barrier between Northern Ireland and the mainland and the main markets, the lack of raw materials and the fact that, in the past, the industry of Northern Ireland has been far too narrowly based on the triangle of textiles, shipping and agriculture. These reasons are well known and must be considered as part of the economic facts of life of Northern Ireland.
On 10th April this year, the unemployment figure in Northern Ireland was 31,328–7.3 per cent. of the insured population. But this is only part of the story. What has been happening over the years? In December, 1950, the unemployment figure was 7.9 per cent.; in 1951, 7.9; in 1952, 10.7; in 1953, 9.3; in 1954, 8.1; in 1955, 7.8; in 1956, 8.9; in 1957, 9.1; in 1958, 9.0; in 1959, 8.3; and in 1960, 9.7. These are figures which one should not view with any shadow of complacency, particularly when one bears in mind that the average unemployment figure for the United Kingdom in that period was 1.5 or 1.6 per cent. These are the figures today.
It is worth while looking for a moment at the breakdown of these figures. There are three useful points that I want to make. If one breaks down the figures, one sees that out of the total of 31,328 over 50 per cent. are unskilled people—labourers and helpers—but generally 50 per cent. are unskilled. Another interesting and alarming point is that three-quarters of that figure comprises men. I think that the reason for this predominance of men and unskilled labour is that during the 1930s many people had no opportunity of getting a trade. This is still the continuing pattern today. Of school leavers today in England, 33 per cent. of the boys have an apprenticeship. In Northern Ireland, it is only 20 per cent., 13 per cent. lower than in England. This again emphasises very forcefully the great importance of technical education in Northern Ireland and gives added urgency to the big programme which is under way at the moment.
What has been the approach in Northern Ireland to developing the 788 economy in order to put Northern Ireland on a par with Britain? It has been a three-pronged approach. First it has been to advertise the advantages of Northern Ireland to prospective industrialists. One may pay tribute to the very great work of Lord Chandos and the Northern Ireland Development Council for this. Secondly, it has been to offer inducements to industrialists to come to Northern Ireland, and, thirdly, to give financial aid to the older industries that are in decline in Northern Ireland to help them over a difficult period, and to become more efficient. What has been the result? One cannot but pay tribute to the very had work and ingenuity of the Northern Ireland Government in tackling this problem. Since 1945, they have provided 162 new firms, and 106 expansion schemes, provided a total of over 40,000 new jobs. Help has been given to the older firms, and this has added to the figure of 40,000.
It is interesting to note that there are 70,000 more new jobs in Northern Ireland than there were in 1945. Again, I do not approach that with complacency. I would say that but for the approach of the Northern Ireland Government to economic development, the rate of unemployment would not have been 7.3, 10 or 20 per cent. but between 25 and 30 per cent. One cannot cast aside these facts as easily as might be suggested.
I must also say that all this would not have been possible but for the great backing and assistance of the British Government at Westminster. The fact that they have under-written the social insurance scheme has been a tremendous boon in an area of high unemployment. The fact that they have given generous financial aid has made possible capital development schemes to inject into Northern Ireland new industries. Above all, the assistance which the Ministers here have given has been very widely appreciated in Northern Ireland. The assistance that they have given in Government contracts has made a very great deal of difference to the standard of living in the Province.
One hears two sets of arguments today which, I think, do very great harm indeed to Northern Ireland. These are not put forward by people of any particular party. They are arguments which 789 one also hears inside one's own party and from the man in the street. I say that they do very great harm. First, there is the argument of those who say that Northern Ireland is on the verge of economic collapse. I think that people who argue in that way overlook many things. They overlook that since 1945 the broad basis of our economy has moved away from the narrow triangle and is now on a much broader basis. They overlook, also, that Belfast has the fastest growing port in the United Kingdom. They overlook that in the next two years there are some 10,000 jobs in the pipe line.
I shall consider in a few minutes whether that is adequate, but these facts cannot be cast aside. They overlook that an £8 million oil refinery is being put up by Shell in Belfast Harbour, that I.C.I. has planned its giant terylene factory for the whole of Britain on the outskirts of my constituency, and that trade in Northern Ireland is up to a figure of £680 million in 1960, an increase of £60 million, or 10 per cent., in one year. These are figures that one cannot cast aside. Would Shell and I.C.I. be investing in an area on the verge of economic collapse? Are these really the symptoms of an economy about to decline?
The second argument which is put forward by many people gives the impression that there is a single, simple solution to the problems of Northern Ireland. One must make quite clear that there is no easy solution. Only a period of very hard work and great ingenuity will solve these problems. The position is well summarised when I say that in 19th century England it used to be said that any Government which had the support of The Times and the Spectator could not fail in any project which they put to the country. We say the same in Northern Ireland about the editorial comment of the Belfast Telegraph. It is not a blind, Unionist paper. It is certainly critical at times but it is helpful in a critical way. It had a very interesting comment in its editorial of 1st May, concerning the Churches Industrial Council Report, when it said:In some quarters it is regrettable that there has been a disposition to regard this very real human problem, thrust upon us in shipbuilding and linen by world trade conditions, as a partisan affair, and to represent almost that it could have been prevented from happening. 790 Because there is no easy way out and any immediate improvement cannot be expected, there is a danger that this partisan view, which is unreasonable, may gain ground, and that a state of mind may grow up which could embitter those immediately affected.That well summarises the situation which we face today.
After that brief background analysis of our situation, I want to renew the request made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) that once a year, as of right, there should be a debate in this House on the affairs of Northern Ireland. The statistical section of the Library has greatly helped me in this matter and has given me data relating to Scotland. Since 5th April, 1960, the Scottish Standing Committee and the Scottish Grand Committee have met for 103 hours—an arrangement that I would not readily inflict upon anyone, but which gives Scottish Members a valuable opportunity to put their points to Her Majesty's Ministers.
Secondly, Scotland, as of right, has one Supply Day a year granted to it by hon. Members opposite. Thirdly, on an average, three or four days a year are devoted to special legislation affecting Scotland. This also gives Scottish Members a chance to put their points of view.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
Would the hon. Gentleman care to tell the House the number of Supply Days which Her Majesty's Opposition have allocated to Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I hope the hon. Member will give us that information in his speech. I do not know the answer, although I understand they gave Northern Ireland half a day some years ago—for which we are grateful.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House may well answer by saying. "You have the Stormont Government, who debate these matters." But that is not a good argument, because we must accept that Westminster is the power house and that it is at Westminster that we must put forward our case. A yearly debate on Northern Ireland is essential.
I welcome the appointment of a joint study group, whose terms of reference were given in a Parliamentary Answer on 4th May of this year by the Home Secretary. They are:To examine and report on the economic situation of Northern Ireland, the factors 791 causing the persistent problem of high unemployment, and what measures can be taken to bring about a lasting improvement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 126.]I also welcome the fact that as distinguished a civil servant as Sir Herbert Brittain will be taking the chair at its meetings. This body cannot do anything but good—it will turn a penetrating spotlight on the difficulties facing Northern Ireland's economic development—but I want to ask my right hon. Friend some questions about it. When will its first meeting be held? What will be its method of working? How often will it meet? Will it be in semi-permanent session? Can we have an assurance that its members will not be held up in their deliberations by having to do other Civil Service work? How long will it take the committee to report? Can we be given some rough idea about this—will it be in six months, nine months or one year?
It is essential that this body and my right hon. Friend should be impressed with the great sense of urgency which should be attached to its meetings. I would remind the House of the famous occasion, before the Great War, when the Skibbereen Eagle—a newspaper published in County Cork—warned its readers that it had its eye on the Czar. On this occasion I would adapt that remark by saying that the Press of Northern Ireland, the 12 Northern Ireland Members here, the 52 Members of the Stormont Parliament and the 26 senators there would all have their eyes on this committee, and if we see any lack of urgency we shall be quick to seize upon it. Civil servants are not revolutionary by nature. One accepts that fact. But I hope that the approach of the members of the committee will be a penetrating one, and perhaps a radical one. It must certainly not be a complacent one.
The Government of Northern Ireland have submitted certain proposals to Her Majesty's Government, and I want to make it clear that neither I nor any of my hon. Friends who represent Northern Ireland constituencies know what those proposals are. I say that not by way of complaint; it is merely for the record. But this problem emphasises the difficulty that we are in, because of the peculiar triangular relationship which 792 exists between the Government of the Stormont, the Government at Westminster and Northern Ireland back benchers at Westminster. It would be wrong if, on any occasion when the Stormont Government were in consultation with the Westminster Government, Northern Ireland back benchers raised a scene in the House.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
The proposals of the Northern Ireland Government must be very important to everyone in Northern Ireland, and I am not clear why they are so secret. I understand the normal diplomatic processes, but I should have thought that these proposals concerned economic matters, and were put forward in a friendly way. Why cannot we—including Northern Ireland Members opposite—be told about them?
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
The hon. Member is right in part. The ways of Government are very mysterious. But this is the normal pattern in this kind of inter-Governmental exchange.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Have not the Northern Ireland Members of Parliament any liaison with the Government of the Stormont, so that they can have consultations in confidence and know what is being done on behalf of the Northern Irish people?
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
That again emphasises the difficulty of the devolutionary set-up, in which we are alone. The difficulty is that if we are made aware of what these proposals are our hands will be tied to a large extent. They are confidential proposals. The hon. Member has made a valid point, but I hope that he will be able to say a little more about it when he speaks and explain how he suggests the matter should be dealt with.
In the debate on Northern Ireland on 30th March, 1960, in this House certain proposals were put forward for getting round this difficulty. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South said:I think that some new machinery is now needed, and that that machinery ought to take the form of some sort of joint Ministerial committee. It would meet, in the first instance, to make a reappraisal, a review, of the whole situation, and it would continue as a permanent organisation, meeting from time to time to review of what is being done."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th March, 1960; Vol. 620, c. 1414.]793 I know that my hon. and gallant Friend has the brow of a prophet, but it is unfortunate that this idea, put forward eighteen months ago, has taken so long to come home to roost. It is clear that we need some kind of permanent machinery to enable regular meetings to take place between the two Governments at a joint Ministerial level. This would be widely welcomed.
I now come to my main point, which is to ask what the Americans would call the 64,000-dollar question. Can the Northern Ireland Government, with their existing powers and facilities, provide full employment in Northern Ireland? In my opinion, the answer to that question is "No". One cannot overlook the good work which has been done by the Northern Ireland Government, but we must face the fact that they do not have the tools to do the job. Since the war they have provided an average of 3,000 new jobs a year, which is a not inconsiderable effort. The Rt. Hon. Ivan O'Neill, the Northern Ireland Minister of Labour, has rightly stated that 8,000 new jobs a year are needed to break the hard core of unemployment.
The balance has been further upset because the Local Employment Act, 1959, has destroyed the slight advantage which Northern Ireland had over other areas where unemployment was not as heavy. We must also accept that we have 7.3 per cent. unemployment when Britain is booming. What could this figure become if Britain ran into a temporary or major recession? It will become very much more difficult to break that figure in five or ten years' time when automation has spread across the face of British industry.
We must think about new methods of distributing industry throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. How can one explain to an unemployed man that because he lives in Northern Ireland there is a shortage of jobs but that if he lived in Coventry there would be a shortage of men? It just does not make sense. We must think of more basic and radical ways of distributing industry throughout Britain. The labour force is our most important national asset. We must not waste it.
I intend to advance certain proposals which might be considered by the Joint Study Group. I emphasise that they 794 are merely my own ideas. I recognise that there are considerable difficulties in giving Northern Ireland special treatment inside the United Kingdom, but there is another approach. The Local Employment Act, 1959, has been a tremendous success in areas on the very fringe of unemployment, by which I mean experiencing 3 or 4 per cent. unemployment. They are the areas at the lower end of the scale. It has not been so successful in areas experiencing 6 or 7 per cent. unemployment. If it is logical to divide Britain into areas which are development areas and areas which are not development areas, it must be possible to divide development areas into ordinary development areas and special high priority development areas.
That is what I advocate this morning. I accept that the machinery would be difficult, but the Government could include in special development areas places on the fringe of Britain. There are such places in Wales, in parts of the North-East of England, and in parts of Scotland. They are places on the fringe of Britain where there is high and persistent unemployment in the range of 5, 6 or 7 per cent.
What special treatment can be justified for development areas? The Board of Trade might well certify that for a basic minimum period they should be included in special areas. I do not know whether the period should be five or seven years. That question should be discussed. They should be in the special category. I attach very great importance to the fact that it must be a minimum period to give confidence to the area that for a minimum period the full force of the tools of Her Majesty's Treasury will be used to create full employment in the area.
What kind of special treatment is wanted for these areas? I shall make certain suggestions to the House, and I ask hon. Members to contribute their views. I am glad to see in the House some of my hon. Friends representing English and Scottish constituencies. I hope that they will join with hon. Members opposite in putting forward a kaleidoscope of ideas for special treatment. It will need revolutionary ideas. It will need ingenuity. It is essential that the problem be tackled. Some of my suggestions are good. Some of them may well be bad. Some of them are 795 open to the reproach that they are ill-thought out. I accept that reproach. These are the kind of problems which the Joint Study Group should be considering.
My first proposal is that there should be a special 5 per cent. preference for firms operating in the area for Government contracts. Secondly, it should be a matter of policy to site the ordnance factories under the control of the War Office in these areas, where possible. It is madness to have them in areas, such as the Midlands, where there is a shortage of men. My suggestion here is reinforced by Written Answers I received from the War Office yesterday. I asked the Secretary of State for War tostate the number of ordnance factories and the number of persons employed therein at the latest convenient date.The Answer was:There are, under the control of the War Office, thirteen active Royal Ordnance Factories and one under care and maintenance. They are at present employing 25,000 people.I asked the Secretary of State for War, secondly, tostate the number of ordnance factories in development areas and in Northern Ireland, and the number of persons employed therein at the latest convenient date.The Answer was:There are two factories, employing 3,736 staff on 1st May, 1961, in development areas in Renfrewshire and Carmarthenshire. There are no ordnance factories in Northern Ireland."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1961; Vol. 640, c. 84.]Less than one-sixth of the ordnance factories are in development areas. Another way of stating it is that 15 per cent. of the labour force employed in ordnance factories is in development areas. Could there be any stronger support for my suggestion than these figures?
My third proposal is that firms situated in the areas should be exempt from the employer's National Insurance contribution. This should be made up from general funds of the Treasury. This would be a further inducement to firms to go to the special areas.
My fourth suggestion is that some machinery should in the long term be found to exempt firms in the areas from the full force of the payroll tax. If a payroll tax was ever imposed, firms in the areas should have an advantage over firms in all other areas.
796 My fifth proposal is that all industry in the areas should be exempt from rates. Perhaps the central Exchequer should make up the difference to the local authority. My sixth proposal is that the Government should examine a scheme by which firms in the areas could be exempted from Profits Tax. I recognise that there are very great difficulties about this and that the broader suggestion of exemption from Income Tax is an obvious non-starter. However, this is the kind of incentive which should be considered.
My seventh proposal is rather more complex. It concerns the use of capital in the areas. I use the example of Northern Ireland because I have firsthand information about tht area, rather than using examples of other areas about which I have not the same information. The under-developed areas of the United Kingdom are starved of capital. It is often said that this is not true, but from my own observations I am convinced that it is the position. I estimate that every year about £7 to £8 million is paid out to unemployed people in unemployment pay and National Assistance. How can one calculate the loss to the wealth of Britain caused by these people not doing a job? A capital sum in the region of £120 million might well be serviced by this figure each year. This is not a new idea, but it is a fact that we might well consider today.
The amount of capital required to create one new job in Northern Ireland is £1,000, but if a man were being paid £200 to £250 a year unemployment benefit, with National Assistance, that would service a sum of about £4,000 and, therefore, there is considerable leeway between the amount already spent on creating a new job and the amount at which it is economically possible to create a new job, without even taking into consideration the social factors and the loss to the wealth of Britain. The capital investment programme for Northern Ireland in 1960 was about £80 million and practically half of that is in the public sector. Twenty-two per cent of the employed population are employed in the public sector against 19.5 per cent. in 1950.
It is interesting to compare the rate of expenditure in the public sector in Northern Ireland with that in other areas of the United Kingdom. The 797 figure of roughly £37 million a year spent in the public sector in Northern Ireland compares, on an adjusted basis of population, with £44 million a year for the whole of Great Britain and with £55 million a year in the public sector in Scotland. This makes the point forcibly that there is room for increased capital spending in the public sector in Northern Ireland.
The statistics that I have given are correct, but my interpretation is open to argument. The figures demonstrate the size of the terms in which we could be thinking about a problem like this. I suggest the flotation of the large loan guaranteed by the Government, perhaps up to £120 million, covered by the Unemployment Insurance Fund. It could be floated at 6½ per cent. but lent for certain schemes in Northern Ireland and other special development areas at 3½ per cent., the balance being made up by direct subsidy. It should be administered by a body like the Northern Ireland Development Council, which would consider schemes submitted to it.
I suggest that it could be used in two ways. Firstly, it could be used for a very large programme of public works, and secondly, and more important, certain loans might be made in Northern Ireland and certain development areas to private enterprise. They would be offered at 3½ per cent. and firms would be assured that they would have the loan for a period of five, seven or ten years and that they would not be subject to a credit squeeze in those areas at a specific time. This approach might well be better than the offer of further grants.
These figures merely demonstrate the ideas. I have put forward seven specific proposals for consideration. I hope that it will be recognised that to deal with unemployment in areas like Northern Ireland we shall need not just normal ideas but basically different ideas and a revolutionary approach. There is considerable despondency today in Northern Ireland. Possibly it is out of all proportion to the actual size of the problem. Men who are in jobs fear that those jobs will not be there in a few months' time. We must address our minds to this problem today and I suggest that we send from the House a message of hope to these people. In a month when scientific ingenuity has put 798 two men into outer space and snatched them back alive, I do not believe that the ingenuity of Government cannot provide full employment in areas like Northern Ireland.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)
I would like to congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) on his success in the Ballot and on the subject that he has chosen for today's debate. I would like to congratulate him, also, on the way in which he delivered his speech. Obviously, he has given a great deal of constructive thought to this problem. If, in the course of what I have to say, I differ from some of the things that the hon. Member said, I know that he will appreciate that it is not for want of good will in seeking to understand his argument.
I am delighted at the opportunity to enter into a debate on Northern Irish affairs. I have a fellow-feeling for Celts who are in trouble. The Irish accent is one that is very acceptable in the Principality of Wales and we have a very warm corner for all Irish people, North and South. We have a special concern in this House for Northern Ireland and from time to time Northern Ireland Members show interest in Welsh affairs, as they did when they voted for us to have local option in Wales on Sunday opening. Hon. Members who have not that privilege in Northern Ireland, and who protect their own Sunday, were not slow in casting their votes concerning Wales. They cast their bread upon the waters that day and Wales, ever since, has taken a keener interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland.
I have a great many friends in Northern Ireland, and that is a further reason for my wishing to share in the debate. It was my great privilege, a few years ago, to tour a great part of Northern Ireland with my friends over there. I came away with a lasting impression of people who were oppressed by anxiety concerning employment, but who were warm-hearted and friendly people and who certainly looked to this House in the expectation that we would do all in our power to help them out of their economic difficulties.
The chronic unemployment in Northern Ireland ought to be on the conscience of the British people. It is 799 not seasonal. Ever since the war, working-class families in Northern Ireland have been haunted by the presence of massive unemployment. I grew up in the Rhondda Valley in the days when unemployment was the curse of our people. I therefore have a fellow-feeling for these working-class families in Northern Ireland who know the soul destroying influence of long-term unemployment.
I believe that far too much is made of the geographical handicaps of Northern Ireland, of her lack of indigenous raw materials, and of the water that separates us from her and increases her transport costs. My friends in the trade union movement in Northern Ireland, who represent 200,000 workers in that part of the United Kingdom, and friends who are in the Northern Ireland Labour Party, have been good enough to tell me of their deep concern that Ulster should have a planned economy, with the Government, either at Stormont or here, accepting full responsibility for full employment.
The day is gone when it should be regarded as the business of private enterprise to ensure full employment for our people. It is a basic human right for every man to be able to earn his living honestly and to use his skill and craftsmanship in such a way that he both advances the public interest and protects his family well-being. Until Governments accept responsibility for ensuring full employment in Northern Ireland, as they do in this country, then Northern Ireland is bound to be at the end of the queue for work.
In considering the main industries of Northern Ireland, I am informed that from 1950 to 1959 there was a fall of 17,000 in the number employed in the textile industry. In the document issued by the Northern Ireland trade union movement, it is advised that, if linen is to compete in the world markets with other fabrics, it will be necessary for the Northern Ireland industry to have a centralised and specialised marketing agency sponsored by the Government. Members opposite who are privileged to represent Ulster in this House ought to be demanding Government initiative in setting up such an agency.
The reputation of Ulster in shipbuilding is world wide. The immense 800 shipbuilding and engineering works of Messrs. Harland & Wolff is the largest single unit of its kind in the world. The reputation of Ulster craftsmen is respected everywhere, but, as Northern Ireland cannot live on the reputation of her craftsmen, I am surprised that there was not a word in the hon. Gentleman's speech about the constructive proposal of the trade union movement in Northern Ireland and of the Labour Party there for the establishment of a new dry dock, with all the possibilities which that would open up. I hope that the Government will not be as coy about this suggestion as he was, because this is one of the major proposals which the organised workers in Northern Ireland have put forward.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
We all welcome the intervention in the debate of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), but in fairness to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) I should point out that he said that as he had just been appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, who is in charge of shipping, he was debarred from mentioning that subject.
§ Mr. Thomas
I would not willingly do an injustice to an hon. Member, and, of course, I accept what the hon. Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has said, but I hope that other hon. Members who are to speak from the benches opposite will realise that, since 1954, the organised workers of Northern Ireland have been asking for the establishment of a new dry dock, and that the possibilities for the country's skilled craftsmen would be immense if it were done. I hope that whoever replies for the Government today will have something constructive to say about it.
I know that my hon. Friends who wish to speak will have a great deal to say about the aircraft industry. I want to suggest what the House could do to restore confidence in the economy in Northern Ireland. First, I take the point that none of the Ulster Members knows what is happening between the Government of Ulster and the Front Bench opposite. I must say that I was surprised—that is an understatement—to hear the hon. Member for Belfast, North 801 admit that his friends at Stormont did not take Ulster Members of this House into their confidence about the proposals which they make for bread and butter issues, for employment questions in Northern Ireland.
It is not as though these are matters which would upset a foreign Power. Nor would these proposals for employment disturb international relations. Why the secrecy? Why not come forward and say whether Stormont has any views about the new dry dock, or any proposals for other items about which I shall make some constructive suggestions?
The hon. Member for Belfast, North quoted Scottish figures—'how many hours are spent by the Scots on Scottish affairs—but I must tell him that it is a dangerous way in which to measure efficiency if he is to measure the time that the Scots take.
§ Mr. Thomas
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Reid) has a dual interest in this matter. He is an Ulsterman, representing a Scottish constituency. That gives him special authority in this matter.
The time has come for the House to look again at liaison between Northern Ireland and this Parliament. It seems fantastic that the Home Office should be the main Department through which the two Governments deal with each other—rather as though the Northern Irish were a lot of juvenile delinquents. The Home Secretary gave a strange reason for not being present on this important occasion. He is opening a prison in England. It would have been better if that excuse had not been given. It seems absurd that the Home Secretary is the main liaison officer—I believe I am right in saying that—between Northern Ireland and this House.
The whole question should be reopened and we should look again at liaison. Why have we not an Irish Grand Committee? The Welsh Members have succeeded in getting a Welsh Grand Committee in the last two years. We have it because we fought for it, and that Committee has already justified itself in giving us the opportunity to air the problems of our people.
802 Here we are, then, with a Scottish Grand Committee and a Welsh Grand Committee. The English? Well, they do all right. Northern Irish Members should have a Grand Committee which could probe the problems and challenge Ministers. I invite them to follow the example of Welsh Members in this matter. I was a little put out that the hon. Member for Belfast, North kept quoting Scotland, when he might have looked for a much better example in the Principality.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I must make my position clear. I am against an Irish Grand Committee—my reason being that on one occasion I was drafted on to the Welsh Grand Committee.
§ Mr. Thomas
It is very fortunate that I am a man of good nature. The hon. Member forgets that it is a Welshman who is addressing the House. If I were—however, I will say no more.
Why is there not a demand from Northern Ireland for a watchdog for Irish affairs in the Cabinet? Why is there not a demand for a Minister of Irish Affairs as there is a Secretary of State for Scotland and as there is a Minister for Welsh Affairs? As Northern Ireland has far bigger economic problems than the rest of the United Kingdom, why is there not a clamant demand from Irish hon. Members opposite for a Minister with full responsibility in the Cabinet for bringing to the attention of Her Majesty's Government the needs of Northern Ireland and for making constructive proposals for tackling this gnawing and aching problem of unemployment?
I would have thought that hon. Members opposite would insist that Northern Ireland should be represented with a Minister in the Government especially responsible for Northern Irish affairs. [An HON. MEMBER: "We have a Whip."] I know that they have a Whip—I do not want to say anything about that—and I know that the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary is a very distinguished Ulsterman. That is a tribute to Northern Ireland which, I know, Irish Members appreciate; and no one has a greater respect for the hon. and learned Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Knox Cunningham) than I have, but he is not in the Cabinet.
803 Northern Irish M.P.s ought to recognise that they cannot expect the fair deal for Ulster to which that proud country is entitled unless she is adequately represented with a member of the Cabinet whose sole responsibility it is to watch Irish problems. What has happened with Wales? Not only do we have a Departmental Minister who has the part-time job of looking after Welsh affairs—and I must say that he shows a great interest in Welsh affairs—but we also have a Minister of State, Lord Brecon, in the other House. His sole, full-time reason for existence is to look after Welsh affairs. I know of nobody whose sole job it is in the Government to watch over Ulster affairs, and I am surprised that the hon. Member did not ask for a watchdog for Irish affairs.
The trade union movement in Northern Ireland has suggested the establishment of a scientific research unit which could encourage the use of talent of young Irishmen in the aircraft industry. The Minister of State ought to tell the Irish people today whether the Government are in favour of setting up a scientific research unit in that way, because such a unit would enable industry to experiment and, I hope, ultimately to expand.
The Development Council to which the hon. Member referred is an advisory body, presided over by Lord Chandos. He is a man of great standing and knowledge in the industrial world, but surely the trade union recommendation that Northern Ireland should have a development corporation, with executive, statutory and financial powers, is something which ought seriously to be considered. An advisory Development Council cannot do any more than the Ulster M.Ps. can do. They are an advisory council and they know the problem, as the hon. Member showed this morning.
They do not want another committee and yet, after ten years in power, the Government now produce a study group for Northern Irish affairs. If it were not so serious it would be laughable. I am astonished that there has not been an outburst by hon. Members opposite. There would have been if it had been Wales or Scotland.
One of the troubles is that the Government Front Bench feels too secure 804 about the loyalties of the hon. Members who come from Northern Ireland and who are far too loyal. There are times when everybody, especially the Irish, ought to be ready for a rebellion. I have been in the House for five Parliaments and there has never been a hint of anything like a rebellion from Ulster, but the problems have been there all the time. As long as the Government feel that there is no trouble coming, the problem will remain. The Government will not disturb themselves until they are prodded and pushed. Then, any Government will take action when they realise that there is trouble on their back benches, as we have seen in other important matters.
I hope that the Ulster Members will support the unions' demand in Ireland for a development corporation with real powers, the power to get on with the job under the guidance of the Stormont Government. The hon. Member said that 40,000 new jobs had been created in Ulster since the war, roughly 3,000 a year. Some of the new industries, the light engineering industries, which have gone over to Ireland have already folded up. That is one of the serious problems. The Birmingham Sound Reproducer Company has put off 1,000 workpeople and I have a list of other firms where men have been put off.
Westminster will have to offer Northern Ireland capital at risk rates to help industry. Hon. Members opposite must realise that private enterprise, for which the hon. Member pleaded so hard this morning for subsidies of public money, has failed Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland needs a planned economy with more publicly owned industry and it also needs a better planned capital investment programme. Ulster has earned from this House a better deal than she is receiving and I hope that the Government will tell us that they have plans for helping Irish industry to have a better investment programme.
There should be an attempt to establish a full-scale air freighter service between the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and the Continent. The awful question of transport costs haunts North Wales, where we have our pockets of heavy unemployment, which I am glad to say, are being reduced. Air freighter carriage could alter the picture for Ulster 805 overnight, particularly since Ulster manufactures light engineering products which could be transported quickly.
We have to think in terms not of sharing out the limited markets, but of reaching the Continent. We did not hear a word from the hon. Member—I do not blame him, because he could not cover everything—about the effect of the Common Market on Northern Ireland. But I think that the Minister cannot avoid that question and I hope that we will hear from Ulster Members some constructive proposals, other than this study group, for Northern Ireland so that the craftsmen and the workpeople there can look with greater confidence to their future.
I grew up to loathe and detest the evils of unemployment on a mass scale, because my best friends were unemployed all through my youth. That could have left me bitter, but, instead, it has left me with the resolve, wherever I see that challenge, gladly to lend my aid. I hope that the Government, who carry the responsibility and who control the purse strings, will give an answer to the hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland which will do more than express a pious hope for the future and which will produce plans and promise of material support.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel R. G. Grosvenor (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) on one of the best speeches that I have heard in the House for many years. I am sure that it was appreciated by all hon. Members. I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) will forgive me if I do not follow him too deeply into the propositions he put forward, although we on this side of the House, and particularly the hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies, are grateful to an hon. Member from the Principality for taking such an interest in our affairs.
I want briefly to discuss agriculture, which is the biggest industry in Northern Ireland. It employs about 10 per cent. of the population. We would like to hear from the Minister the possible dangers and repercussions of the Common Market on agriculture, not only in Northern Ireland but in Great Britain. I know that if some 806 of my hon. Friends who represent agricultural constituencies are able to catch your eye, Sir, they will discuss the more detailed aspects of agriculture. I will, therefore, deal with the problem of unemployment in the industry.
We have heard about unemployment in the heavy industries, in the linen industry, in shipbuilding, and so on. We have considerable unemployment in our agricultural industry. My hon. Friend referred to the problem of unskilled labour, which is really the most difficult form of unemployment that we have, and a great deal of it is in the agricultural industry.
There are two ways in which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food could alleviate that form of unemployment. We as an agricultural community are grateful for the help we receive from the Government here. We do not, except in one instance, have any great extra assistance, but there is no doubt that the subsidies which emanate from here make our agricultural industry possible, and to some extent profitable. The time has come when what has been of great help to us in the past is coming to an end. I am referring to the remoteness grant which was introduced under the Agriculture Act, 1957, which gives Northern Ireland £1 million a year. That money is given to the Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland to distribute as he thinks fit among the various lines of agriculture.
The 1957 Act provides for the re-examination of grant differentials every five years. That means that the grant will be re-examined this year, and it will be decided what we will get for the next five years. As I said, in the past we have had £1 million a year. That has been of great help to us and has enabled the Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland to help certain lines of agriculture at one time or another.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to consider giving us not less than £3 million a year for the next five years. Such a sum would enable the Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland to help all our lines of agriculture all the time instead of some of them some of the time, because in the past he has had to hand out a benefit in one direction for one year, take it away the next year, and pass it on to another line. That means that the help has not been 807 consistent, and the stage is now being reached where we need special treatment because of our unemployment situation, and by giving us that sum of money the agricultural industry would be greatly assisted.
I turn now to price differentials which exist between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I will quote only one figure to show how we suffer. At present, the differential on fat cattle is 20s. a cwt. That means that for every fat beast we export to England the producer in Northern Ireland is worse off by about £10 than the producer in England. A figure of 20s. a cwt. does not sound very much, but when a producer in Northern Ireland gets £10 per beast less than the producer in Britain receives, one gets some idea of how our farmers suffer.
I must declare an interest in this, because I produce beef. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that we were not producing enough beef to feed 20 million people, yet he has the unhappy task of feeding 50 million people. I am keen on increasing the export of beef. There are 30 million more mouths to feed than we can produce enough beef for, and I promise my right hon. Friend that if he helps us to produce more beef, we will do so. We have the facilities and the space to raise many more cattle which could be used to swell the English market.
It seems a lot to ask for £3 million, but I will quote one more figure which, I think, will illustrate that my proposition is a good one. During 1960–61, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food paid out £2,700,000 in compensation for beasts which were slaughtered because they were infected with foot-and-mouth disease. We are fortunate in Northern Ireland. Foot-and-mouth disease is not found there, and it would be money well spent if we were able to produce clean cattle to send here rather than having to rely on contaminated cattle which come principally from the Argentine. The more clean cattle we have here the better it will be for everybody, and it will be £3 million well spent, instead of having to spend £2,700,000 a year in compensation.
I turn now to the Small Farmer Scheme. This has been operating very 808 successfully in Northern Ireland, but, like most schemes, it does not entirely meet the needs. The average farm in Northern Ireland covers 40 acres—which is small in itself—and I appreciate that the Small Farmer Scheme applies, at its lowest limit, to farms of 20 acres. But, unfortunately, there are thousands of farms in Northern Ireland of less than 20 acres. If those who run those farms do not get assistance, they will face very difficult times. Not only is there the prospect of unemployment, but, as we all know, there is no alternative employment for them.
I therefore urge the Minister to consider, as a special measure, bringing the lower limit of the Small Farmer Scheme down from 20 acres to 15 acres. At one time there was a marginal scheme which benefited the small farmer—but that, alas, was done away with, and the Small Farmer Scheme does not go low enough in acreage to meet the present difficulties.
In Northern Ireland, we can produce farm materials and the best of everything. We produce excellent beef and mutton, and we export eggs, milk, chickens and pigs to Britain. All we are asking for is a little bit extra so that the larder in Britain gets more from us and receives full value for money.
§ 12.23 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Mellish (Bermondsey)
I must begin by telling the hon. and gallant Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor) that I do not know much about agriculture and I am, therefore, hardly competent to follow him in matters which are of such importance to him and whose interests he represents. I hope that the Minister who replies to this debate will give some assurances, because I recognise that agriculture is one of the main industries of Northern Ireland.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills), who set a very high standard when he opened this debate. He did one very great thing—and it is important to remember this when discussing Northern Irish affairs—in that he avoided going into all the tragedies of the past and of bringing in outside issues, many of which are not relevant to the economic problem we are discussing.
809 I am disappointed that it has taken over a year for hon. Members once again to be having a debate on Northern Ireland. It is shocking and deplorable that this important part of the United Kingdom should get a chance of a debate only once in something like fifteen months of Parliamentary time. Much responsibility for this state of affairs must rest on the shoulders of hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland. I say that quite frankly and without any personal animosity. Perhaps Northern Irish hon. Members can learn a lesson from their Welsh and Scots counterparts. Much of the trouble with the Northern Irish hon. Members—and I cannot understand their approach at all—is that they have an almost complete loyalty towards the Government.
The leader of their party, one of the most highly respected hon. Members of this House, the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Sir D. Campbell), is on record as saying, when he came to this House in 1959 after the election, that he and his colleagues would support the Government right along the line and that there would be no blackmail. He said that in that support there would be no strings attached as far as Northern Ireland was concerned. He declares on behalf of himself and his colleagues this deep, abiding love of the present Front Bench. But that has had repercussions.
The result has been that the Northern Ireland hon. Members have been taken for granted. They have, to a large extent, been ignored, and fifteen months ago was the last time that the House had an opportunity of discussing their affairs. If hon. Members read what was said in that debate fifteen months ago they will see that the contribution of the Front Bench was pretty poor. The Government spokesmen made only vague generalities; they said that they were sorry about the problem and they expressed love and affection towards Northern Ireland—but that was all they expressed.
§ Sir David Campbell (Belfast, South)
The hon. Gentleman has been quoting me as saying, in the past, that I do not believe in blackmail. Well, I can assure him that I do not believe in blackmail. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like us to threaten to do something, and then not carry out that threat. I do not be- 810 lieve in that either. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman thinks that Ulster, Northern Ireland, should sever from the Conservative Party which is in power and which is looking after the interests of Northern Ireland and helping as best they can. While I would trust certain hon. Gentlemen opposite in certain respects, there are other hon. Gentlemen I would not trust.
§ Mr. Mellish
That was a real Irish intervention, I must say. If the hon. Gentleman does not catch the Speaker's eye, he will have made a speech in any case.
I understand the point he has made, but it is that blind loyalty that has caused some of the trouble. The hon. Member for Belfast, North quoted a long list of unemployment figures affecting many past years. If this were a passing problem, I would not be complaining. But this has been chronic and has been going on for many years, and since 1951 the figures have worsened. While we have been told today that the unemployment figure is 7.3 per cent., that figure at one time was 9 per cent.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Belfast, South will feel as upset about those figures as anyone else. No one can be pleased about unemployment and all the hardships that go with it. I was merely making the obvious point that the responsibility for the gap of 15 months between debates must rest on the shoulders of the hon. Members representing Northern Ireland, for they are the elected representatives of the people living there.
Although I shall declare my interest in this matter, I understand that during the last fifteen months one piece of information has been made known—that a study group is to be set up. I understand that the group has only just appointed its chairman. I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) that it is an absolute insult, in dealing with the problem after all this time, for a study group to be set up to look into problems which, surely, must already be well known. We have been advised that the Stormont Parliament have made proposals. Surely hon. Members are entitled to be given some general idea of what is in the mind of the Stormont Parliament, without necessarily disclosing all the details of the proposals? I 811 cannot understand the situation in which the Stormont Parliament has not declared to its own hon. Members, in its own Parliament, any information about these proposals. Surely the Parliament's own hon. Members are entitled to a little information on what is proposed for the economic recovery of Northern Ireland. That is the only part of the world where such a thing could have happened—where Parliament does not tell its own hon. Members its proposals of an economic plan for its own country.
I understand, however, that these proposals have been submitted to this Government, and I therefore ask that hon. Members of this House be told about them, or, at least, be given an indication of what the proposals mean. Are they, for instance, on a short-term or a long-term basis? Do they ask for more money and, if so, in what form? In replying to this debate, the Minister must give some information on this score and say what is in mind.
We will not be fobbed off with the Minister writing the whole thing off by telling us that there is a joint study going on, and that the report of that study group must be received before information can be given. That is a very likely answer, but I realise that, once the study group has reported, if the Government does not like its report, hon. Members may be told that the Government propose to have another study made, and that no statement can be made until that further report is received.
I must now declare my interest in this matter. The trade union of which I am a member—the Transport Workers' Union—has a vast membership in Northern Ireland, with full-time officers there, and I can tell the Government that they are alarmed at the situation. They are horrified at the plight of so many of their members.
I admit freely that they have supplied the facts and figures that I am about to put before the House. I do not claim to be an expert on Northern Ireland, but I know that these facts and figures are correct because they have been given by people whose sole interest is to look after and protect their workers in Northern Ireland. That being so, I have no hesitation in quoting from some of the briefs with which they have supplied me.
812 The more one reads about it, the more one is alarmed by the situation. Northern Ireland's three main industries are agriculture, textiles and engineering. When one looks at agriculture, one realises that the hon. and gallant Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone is right to be alarmed. My figures show that the agricultural labour force has been reduced in the last nine years by about 28,000 workers. One of the criticisms made by the union itself and, I believe, also by the Northern Ireland Labour Party, is that not enough use is made of the by-products of this industry—which could take up a lot of the slack in unemployment—such as meat, fertilisers, tanneries, quick-frozen foods and the like. That can be said quite truthfully without deprecating in any way the fine work done over there in other directions.
I hope that the House will now listen to figures relating to the textile industry. We have already heard that 25,000 workers have left the industry since the war but in addition, in the last four months three of the great firms in Belfast have reduced their labour force considerably. The Forth River Mill at Belfast has sacked 1,200 workers. There are over 300 unemployed from Horrocks, in Newry. The York Street Flax Spinning Company in Belfast—whose building cost, I understand, £8 million three years ago—has rendered 1,700 workers redundant.
The tragedy is this. When people here at home find themselves redundant in our agricultural and textile industries they have other work to which they can turn, but in Northern Ireland these are two of the three main industries and those found redundant in it face a terrible future. I am advised that one of the biggest problems in the linen industry is that many of the firms are family businesses and have been very slow to adapt themselves to changing designs and marketing methods.
The Northern Ireland linen industry suffered an enormous set-back in 1952 and has not really recovered from it. It has been unable to expand on the home market, it has lost its South American markets because of import restrictions. I am told that many of its difficulties are due to the present United Kingdom Government's credit squeeze. That has put the industry into further 813 difficulties. There is now the added threat of the Common Market, a threat that many of the textile firms will not be able to withstand.
The people in my union have a very great interest in engineering, and they believe that about 10,000 men at present employed in shipbuilding will be paid off by the late summer or early autumn of this year. We have been told that there are 7.3 per cent. unemployment in Northern Ireland at present, but what will the percentage be at the end of this year? A distaster faces this tiny country and none of us can feel complacent about it. So, again, I advise the Minister of State not to give us platitudes and speak of study groups.
As I say, the labour force in the shipyards will fall from 20,000 to about 10,000 by the autumn at the latest, and I am advised that some of the redundancies could have been avoided had the dry dock—of which we have talked of, until we are really sick and tired—been built. It was first mooted in 1954. What has been done about it? Nothing—nothing at all; yet without the dry dock much of the shipbuilding industry becomes obsolete.
I am asked to say that a very sad future faces some of the new industries in Northern Ireland. Birmingham Sound Reproducers folded up months ago, resulting in nearly 1,000 workers being paid off. In Larne, Pye Radio has announced the pay-off of another 125 workers. So the story goes on—I will not bore the House with too much detail—of a little country whose industry is virtually crumbling, and whose unemployment must get worse if nothing is done.
Then there is the trade union aspect. I am told that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is quite shocked at the treatment handed out to trade unions in Northern Ireland. I speak with the authority of the general secretary of the Congress and I must put the position on record. I do not understand why there should be this attitude to trade unionism in Northern Ireland. Over here, we are all agreed that co-operation between employees and management is a "must". The most diehard Conservative is the first to admit that unless there is understanding between employers and employees there is very little future for 814 industry. On the other hand, in Northern Ireland—where the population is faced with this vast problem—I am told that whilst, of course, lip-service is paid to the trade union movement, the experience of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is that the unions are received only on sufference provided that, in the first instance, their methods of approach to a Government Minister or Department is in line and keeping with the dictates of that Minister or Ministry. In other words, the trade unions in Northern Ireland are deprived of the legitimate right enjoyed by trade unions in every other democratic country in the world of making their representations to the Government of the day. That is quite indefensible—
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is helping his own case by speaking in this way. I would remind him that, in fact, every Northern Ireland Cabinet Minister is open to approach by representatives of the trade unions. They can see him. Further, over the last two years they have been able to see the Prime Minister every second month. In speaking as he does, the hon. Member does great disservice to those for whom he speaks.
§ Mr. Mellish
With great respect to the hon. Member, he is not properly informed. He may have been told that that is the position, but I speak now officially on behalf of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. I say that the trade unions are treated by the Government as I have stated. Those for whom I speak also say that from experience and general practice it is quite obvious that the Government cannot effectively consult any trade union body other than at the official trade union centre, and that the reason given by the Northern Ireland Parliament for withholding recognition is that the headquarters of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions is in Dublin.
That is really monstrous. The people who want consultations and who are anxious to establish happy relationships in Northern Ireland are Northern Ireland men and women. It is not a question of Southern Ireland—and I certainly do not want to get involved now with Southern Ireland in this debate. We want to get away from all those stories of yesteryear.
815 There is a Production Council in Northern Ireland but, whilst representatives are sent regularly from Northern Ireland to the National Production Advisory Council on Industry, the Northern Ireland Council has not met for over five years. I do not know whether that Council has been abandoned completely or whether meetings just have not been held, yet it was originally set up to facilitate consultation between unions and employers—and, in case the argument about representation is advanced, I can tell the House that the Irish Congress of Trade Unions represents 200,000 people in Northern Ireland.
I am told that there is no local productivity committee in Northern Ireland, with the result that effective discussions to create industrial efficiency and productivity are negligible. So the story goes on. I have a list here—I am prepared to show it to the hon. Member any time he likes—of the union representatives concerned with Northern Ireland. They are men born and bred in Northern Ireland, a credit to their country and first-class trade unionists, yet, for some extraordinary reason, because the Irish Congress of Trade Unions has the impudence to have its head office in Dublin, these fine men are in many ways utterly ignored. This is not a responsibility of Her Majesty's Government here. The Government at Stormont must look to their relations with the trade union movement in Northern Ireland if they are ever to achieve the co-operation which is so necessary.
We have heard it argued that Northern Ireland should have representation through a Minister in this House. I know that the Minister cannot answer this now, but I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West—I hope that my hon. Friend who is to speak from our Front Bench will support us—in saying that Northern Ireland now, because of its economic problems, ought to have a Minister directly responsible for answering Questions in this House. This is only fair. We cannot expect the President of the Board of Trade to do it. The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade is an efficient but very busy man, and he really cannot be expected suddenly to start worrying 816 about all the problems of Northern Ireland; he has quite enough to do with some of the problems facing him in England, Wales and Scotland. There should be a separate Minister dealing with Northern Ireland affairs. It could be one of the hon. Members now on the back benches opposite. There might be a bit of promotion for some of the lads. They should be the first to fight for it. We might even have an hon. Lady in the job. Northern Ireland ought to be better represented on the Government Front Bench.
Reverting to the vexed question of the dry dock, we ask for more information. Have there been further discussions? What hope is there of providing it? It is the opinion not only of my union but of many others that this dry dock should be provided, and provided without cost to Harland & Wolff or the Harbour Commissioners. We believe that it ought to be a State-owned project financed jointly by the two Governments. We have asked before, and I ask again now, whether the Government have any intention of implementing a policy of "scrap and build." If there is such a policy, it would have to be long-term, and the dry dock is essential to it.
As regards immediate action needed in Northern Ireland, I am asked to say that the Northern Ireland Government should now be allowed to institute the payment of rural unemployment relief grants, and that these should be extended so that percentage grants could be made available for projects of a public character to be embarked upon by local authorities in areas where there is a vicious rate of unemployment. This is a perfectly reasonable request; the local authorities should be entitled at their level to undertake such projects in order to relieve the situation.
We urge also that an economic planning council should be established. I know that the word "planning" almost frightens right hon. and hon. Members opposite, but we need some plans for Northern Ireland, not only short-term plans, but long-term plans as well. Let us have a body set up which has executive powers, not just advisory powers, a body able to do the job and give the people of Northern Ireland confidence. We need all necessary facilities for research and information. A systematic programme of economic development should be prepared.
817 In the past, as we know when we look back on the debates about Ireland in the House, there have always been great religious issues involved. Considerations of that kind have complicated the issue, and they remain more or less in the hearts of the Irish today. I am reasonably well known in the South as well as in Northern Ireland, and I conclude with this plea. The economic problems of the island cannot be solved, in my view, by a divided nation. Somehow, one day, we must get together. That is the only way we can do it. I plead that we all concentrate our minds and hearts on the economic problems facing Ireland today and that we all, whatever our party, face our own responsibilities and press on Her Majesty's Government their responsibility to ensure that the special debt we owe to Northern Ireland, the greatest ally that Britain has ever had, is discharged. We want no more platitudes. Let us have an assurance from the Government today that something will be done.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) on his success in the Ballot, and on the way in which he opened the debate. His speech was of the standard we expect from an Irishman, and it makes me all the more diffident in intervening. I can, however, claim to have the same qualification as the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). I, too, am a London Member.
It is important that this debate should not be allowed to degenerate, as it so easily could, into an occasion when hon. Members representing Ulster constituencies take a subjective view of their country's problems, as they are bound to do—they would not have hearts if they did not, and who can say that an Irishman has no heart?—while, on the other hand, hon. Members opposite, who necessarily cannot represent Ulster constituencies because there is none who does, criticise, as is their duty, the Government of the day. A debate like that would be wholly lopsided and would give a wholly false picture of the problem and its solution.
My claim to intervene is that I was Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department with special responsibility 818 for Northern Ireland for several years, in particular for those years during which food rationing was brought to an end and there was a great change in the agricultural policy of the United Kingdom as a whole. I had the privilege then of visiting Northern Ireland several times. If I may say so, I found all the people there vigorous, thrifty, hardheaded folk whose capacity for producing leaders in war is some measure of their capacity to contribute to our peace-time economy.
Why should a people like that suffer from a rate of unemployment totally out of proportion to anything in Great Britain? It is worth giving a few moments' attention to the figures. In 1945, the year the war ended, when unemployment was unheard of in Great Britain, there was 5.6 per cent. unemployment in Ulster. In the following year, it had risen to 8.6 per cent. I make no party point here. I am not trying to say that this happened because the Labour Government were in power. What I say is that, during the sixteen years since the end of the war, we have seen in Northern Ireland a level of unemployment fluctuating between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent.
One feature of the unemployment level in Northern Ireland is that it tends to move to some extent in consonance with the figure in Great Britain. Taking yearly averages, it was almost exactly five times the Great Britain figure up to the early 1950s. Since 1953, however, there has been a tendency for the figure of unemployment in Northern Ireland taken as a proportion of the figure in Great Britain to fall. Thus, in 1952, when unemployment in Great Britain, taking the average for the year, was high by post-war standards, just about 2 per cent., in Northern Ireland it was over 10 per cent.
But by 1959, when unemployment here was again high—slightly over 2 per cent. on average for the year—in Northern Ireland the average had dropped to just under 8 per cent. In 1953, which was an average year for Great Britain, when unemployment averaged 1.6 per cent., in Northern Ireland it was just over 8 per cent. When, seven years later, it was again at the same figure in Great Britain, the Northern Ireland average had fallen to just under 7 per cent. Therefore, the unemployment position in Northern Ireland during the 1950s improved, not 819 to a startling extent, but to a substantial extent.
Of course, these are only figures. They do not represent the reality which lies beneath them. I am not trying to say anything in the nature of consolation to those who are affected. What I am trying to say is that the improvement which the figures show is an indication that the remedies being applied were the right remedies and were beginning to take effect. I think that it is true that recently the tendency has been the other way. I would not conceal that for one moment. That is due to one circumstance, namely, what has happened in the shipbuilding industry. Therefore, it does not vitiate the force of my argument that the policies which were being pursued during the 1950s were the right kind of policies.
Before we talk about the remedies, we must consider the cause of the trouble. Unemployment in Ulster has been obstinate, but I do not think that its cause is obscure. Today, hon. Members on both sides of the House have agreed that there are three sources of the trouble—the geographical difficulty—the remoteness of Northern Ireland and its separation from markets—the lack of mineral wealth, and the fact that much of the land of Northern Ireland is not of high quality. Indeed much of it is very poor.
There are the same difficulties in other parts of the United Kingdom, particularly Scotland, where there is exactly the same phenomenon. It is true that unemployment in Scotland has not been as high as it has in Ulster. This is only one cause which affects Scotland so intensely. Nevertheless, unemployment in Scotland has, on average, run at about twice the rate of the rest of Great Britain. Therefore, the reason is exactly the same and I venture to think that we should apply the same remedy.
The disability which this cause inflicts on the people of Ulster is permanent. The geographical problem cannot be remedied except to a very minor extent. It can be countered only by a deliberate policy involving something in the nature of what I might call compensation. I do not wish to use the word "subsidy," because it has a certain implication which would be wrong in this context. I should like to give an example of the sort of thing that I have in mind.
820 During and after the war there were, as we all know, shortages of many things, such as food and other products. A great many products were purchased at a fixed price at the gate of the farm, or factory. The result was that each producer, wherever he was, received literally the same price at his door. That gave strict equality of treatment as between producers in Ulster and producers in Great Britain. This was a system which suited producers in Ulster very well. Ulster's agriculture prospered greatly by it.
With the end of shortages, this system could no longer be maintained. We had to return to a free market under which the price which the Ulster producer could get was not the price which he could obtain on his own doorstep. It was the price that he could obtain in the market. Therefore, the Ulster producer is always and necessarily at a disadvantage compared with the producer in the rest of Great Britain.
We still subsidise agriculture throughout the United Kingdom. We do so in the interests of our economy as a whole. It seems to me that, if there is an argument for saying that we should maintain our agricultural efficiency by subsidies derived from the taxpayer, then there is equal ground for arguing that we should give special treatment to those in special difficulties. In other words, we can, under a system which, admittedly, has to be maintained by subsidies, discriminate between one section of the agricultural community and another. It is perfectly right to give special assistance to Northern Ireland in accordance with our broad policy.
The second source of trouble can best be defined as the historical difficulties, which have been referred to by a number of hon. Members. A large part of the labour force of Northern Ireland is engaged in a few very difficult industries. The hon. Member for Bermondsey referred to the drop which has taken place in the labour force in agriculture. He did so as if that were a criticism, but it is exactly the opposite. It shows that Northern Ireland's agriculture is becoming more efficient.
§ Mr. G. Thomas
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the anxiety on this side of the House is not that Ulster's agriculture is modernising itself and, therefore, employing fewer people, but that 821 there is no alternative employment for the people who leave the agricultural industry? That is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) made.
§ Sir H. Lucas-Tooth
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has made that point, because that was not the implication in the speech of the hon. Member for Bermondsey. I am trying to make that point now.
There are probably greater fluctuations in the shipbuilding industry than there are in any other large-scale industry in the world. It must be admitted that the linen industry must now compete permanently with man-made fibres. My own view is that this industry can never return to the size that it used to be. That being the situation, it is silly to compare Northern Ireland with other countries, because the situation and conditions there are totally different from those in any other country and the remedies will necessarily be different, too.
The third difficulty affecting Northern Ireland is that it has the highest birth-rate of any part of the United Kingdom. I believe that it is 30 per cent. above that of England and Wales. Those qualified to deal with these things have suggested to me that if we make a technical comparison the difference is greater than that again. Anyway, whatever the comparison may be on technical or other grounds, the working population of Northern Ireland increases by between 2,000 and 3,000 every year, and even if the birth-rate falls immediately that increase will continue for a number of years to come.
If the causes can be fairly easily diagnosed, so, I think, can the remedies be stated in general terms. It is quite true that we can suggest relatively minor remedies which will help here and there, but the broad remedies, which, I think, are the only ones which can help, are threefold: they can be described as diversification, attraction and decentralisation. The first two—the diversification of its industries and the attraction of new industries to Northern Ireland—are matters which are specially within the responsibility of the Government of Northern Ireland itself. The other one—decentralisation, or what might better be called push—the purpose of getting our industry in Great Britain either to move or to start new factories in Northern 822 Ireland—is primarily a responsibility for our Government here.
These remedies are, in practice, financially costly and politically extremely difficult. The measures that have already been taken have shown some considerable degree of success. The figures have not been given, but they are worth mentioning. They show that 162 new firms have opened in Northern Ireland since the war. One or two hon. Members opposite who have spoken have suggested that some of these firms have had to close down, but, as I suggested at the beginning of my speech, it is the function of hon. Members opposite to criticise the Government. I have no doubt that they looked very carefully into the matter to find out how many firms they could find which had closed down, and when we consider what they have been able to throw into the scales on that side I think that 162 new firms on the other side is a fairly considerable comment on the success of the joint efforts of the Governments, both here and in Stormont.
These firms have provided 40,000 new jobs, and I understand that about 10,000 new jobs are in the pipeline, in the sense that they will be coming forward in any event. These are significant figures in relation to the problem as a whole—50,000 new jobs. If that could be duplicated, it might do a great deal to solve the problem. So that this is a matter which can be dealt with.
Unfortunately, that beneficient process has shown some signs of slowing down recently. I think that is common ground on both sides of the House. I find it difficult to analyse the reasons. There is the question, which I ask in all seriousness, whether this has anything to do with the working of the Local Employment Act, 1960. The number of new factories that can be opened is limited, and there is no dispute between the two sides of the House that, if we move new factories to one place, we cannot have them in another. I do not know whether it will be possible for my right hon. Friend to deal with that point when he replies to the debate, but it is a matter which should be watched.
Another possible cause, and an interesting one to comment on at this juncture, has already been referred to, namely, the uncertainty about what is happening in Europe as a whole. Of the 823 162 new firms which have opened in Northern Ireland, no fewer than nine are American firms or branches of American firms, involving about 3,000 jobs. It appears to me that there may be uncertainty in America, not about what is happening in Northern Ireland, but about what is happening as between this country and the Continent of Europe. It occurs to me that an American, contemplating opening a new factory in Europe, may say to himself, "Until I know what the position is, I do not think that I will settle on Britain", and he may, therefore, settle on a continental country.
There may be something in this. It is not a matter which is directly connected with our debate today, but it is, incidentally, a reason for getting an early decision on our policy with regard to our relations with the Six in Europe.
I have already said that I represent a London constituency. In my constituency, I can say without fear of any political repercussions, we have no unemployment problem whatsoever. On the contrary, our problems are exactly the opposite. There are so many jobs that people are crowding into my constituency to take up those jobs. We have not got the houses or the transport to take them, and that will be the common experience of a great many Members representing Southern constituencies. London is a huge magnet, drawing people from all over the world, and, in particular, from Ireland, both South and North. We welcome them, but this creates immense difficulties.
It raises this question. Are we in this House, as a matter of broad policy, prepared to allow this process to continue? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North that the mobility of labour is not the solution to this problem. What we are concerned with is the mobility of industry itself, and if we are not to allow people to come crowding into London, it will place a great responsibility on the Government and on hon. Members in all parties, because we shall have to say to our constituents that they cannot do a great many of the things that they want to do. We have got to give a lead.
The people of Northern Ireland, in asking for facilities to help them, are 824 not asking for privileges; still less are they asking for alms. They are simply asking that their problem may be given full and fair consideration in the light of modern economic ideas, and in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole. As I understand it, that is the case which has been put to us today.
I think that it is a sound case. It is essential to stop the drift away from what have been called the remoter areas into what have been called the conurbations. I think that that drift is creating grave problems at the receiving end. The hon. Member for Bermondsey and I know something of this problem. We are both anxious that it should be tackled, because it is disrupting the ancient communities into which this country has been divided, and these communities are the foundation of our way of life and the real source of our strength. I hope that we shall be able to do something which will be helpful to the progress of that great community in Northern Ireland.
§ 1.10 p.m.
§ Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin (Belfast, West)
May I join with other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) not only on his good luck in the Ballot, but also on the excellent and forthright way in which he put the case for Northern Ireland today.
I am extremely sorry that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) is not at present in the Chamber. His most interesting and instructive speech reminded me of the number of occasions on which he has pleaded the case of Wales. We appreciate interventions of that kind which are helpful, intelligent and which express the interest of all hon. Members in our problems.
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) is present, because he put the modern approach to this problem. We are all trying to seek a solution from the long-term point of view and to look into all suggestions, from whichever side of the House they may come. We shall judge suggestions on their practicability.
We are speaking under the shadow caused by the present heavy percentage of unemployment in Northern Ireland. We have heard emphasised the difficulties in our traditional industries. We 825 have also heard emphasised the need to induce people who live in remote areas to remain there. For a long time we have been conscious of this problem. It is not a problem which originates from Northern Ireland. It arises in Scotland and in the rural areas of Wales.
It is worth mentioning that there is a Committee studying this problem in Northern Ireland to see whether such rural industries as are in existence may be further developed and whether it is possible to implant new ones in order to help to continue the maintenance of small numbers of people in their home areas. We may here be dealing with small numbers, but it is of importance, when planning, to keep the population spread and not allow it to be drawn into one or two large industrial areas.
We have been discussing the lack of apprenticeship training. The 20 per cent. of apprenticeship places in Northern Ireland is not sufficient, and that is the crux of something which we must examine. If we are to have modern industries in Northern Ireland, and to develop those industries which are already thriving, we must have more skilled people. It is very important, and in this respect we must watch what is happening in Britain. We need not necessarily copy the pattern set by Britain, but whatever experience is gained here might be used with advantage in Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North mentioned the traditional industries of shipbuilding and textiles and the important place which our agriculture occupies in the economy of the United Kingdom. Those who work in heavy industry, in the production of heavy machinery, are affected by the pattern of world markets and the change in them has affected us considerably. We have had these traditional industries for many years and my hon. Friend spoke of the need for widening the base, for having new industries, so as to prevent us from being completely vulnerable when there is a recession in one of our major industries. This is something which must be considered in future.
I should like to refer to the Northern Ireland Government's proposals which have been discussed today by hon. Members opposite who do not appear to realise that at present, unfortunately, 826 most of these things are still beyond our ken. But every hon. Member who represents an Ulster constituency would join with me in agreeing that we wish we had details of these proposals and in the hope that it will soon be possible to supply them in specific cases. We understand that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet in Stormont, in dealing with these matters, must deal with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet at Westminster; and that the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland cannot, for constitutional reasons, explain to us, as back bench Members of Parliament at Westminster, what are his proposals before he has made them clear and explained them at Stormont.
This is a constitutional problem which we must face. We know that these proposals are under discussion and we urge that they may be implemented as soon as possible. But we must have faith—as I know we have—that the Government in Northern Ireland have put forward proposals which are worth while and that the Government at Westminster are doing their utmost to see how these proposals may be implemented. This is a difficult problem and one which we could wish did not exist. But because there are two Governments concerned we must realise and accept that this is the best way to get things done for Northern Ireland, and not worry unnecessarily about the delay which we are experiencing at present.
I regret that hon. Members opposite who have taken part in this debate do not seem to have a great deal of faith in the study group which has been referred to. I believe that such a group will be a greater help to us because it will be a more flexible body and will be able to achieve more than an organised committee or small group of men with tidier terms of reference. This study group, under the chairmanship of Sir Herbert Brittain, is obviously something which will prove worth while. It has a chairman with drive and energy who will look into the problems with which we are faced.
It must study the factors causing unemployment and look for a lasting solution. Without doubt this will prove a long-term matter, although it will be necessary to adopt short-term measures as well. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that short-term measures are being 827 considered, but that we shall not allow the immediate urgency of the moment to prevent the study group from probing deeply into the long-term aspects of the problems of Northern Ireland. We must put our faith in this, because it will not be sufficient merely to produce some temporary alleviation, some means of curing the present situation.
It would be a great help if we could get something along those lines, some means of bridging the gap between those who are being paid off through lack of employment and new workers coming from school each year. We must increase the number of jobs which we have in the "pipeline" and which we expect will be available during the next couple of years. We must find some way to tackle this immediate problem.
I should like to make a suggestion which I believe to have some merit. This study group will be composed of members of both Governments and it will be responsible to both Governments. It will derive information from both Governments. It will occupy a unique position to probe all the needs and the problems in the light of the world situation as it affects Great Britain. The trends of the markets and of sales in that connection also affect Northern Ireland. Here there exists the possibility of an overall survey. I believe that we shall have to take a long time, perhaps a whole generation, to complete the survey of this problem.
I am not suggesting that Sir Herbert Brittain and his committee will have to sit for a generation, but I do suggest that the group be set up with a view to ascertaining what may be done now, and what it is envisaged may be achieved over the next five years; then over the next ten years and even, perhaps, beyond that for a period of twenty years. The traditional period of a generation is twenty-five years and Northern Ireland, from that point of view, is not yet two generations old.
As we have had only two generations to develop, it will take at least one generation to put our house completely in economic order. We cannot survey the whole area and reckon on what the problem will be in terms of children being born now and expected to be born in the next fifteen years. They 828 will be coming into the market looking for work in fifteen to twenty-five years' time. We have to study whether our development is most likely to succeed and what is needed in terms of capital investment, not only in industry, but in ways which will attract industry to come to Northern Ireland and then compete in world markets, even though we may have to send our goods to Great Britain before they go abroad, for we cannot always export direct from Northern Ireland.
We need to get some definite guidance from the Government on whether this study group will be empowered to take time to go very deeply into the long-term needs, just as we hope that they will take urgent action as soon as possible to deal with the immediate problem. Then they should not sit back and say, "We have done a good job so far", but go on and finish the task so well begun, as we believe it will be. We should see this study of the whole of the needs of Northern Ireland and its potentialities and likely development in terms of the situation of Great Britain in relation to the Common Market, with Europe generally, and with all trading nations overseas. I think that this a very good moment to be undertaking this study and a very satisfactory time for us to know that it is being undertaken.
It will be obvious that if this study group is to propose anything special, special treatment must be forthcoming. In the past we have asked for special consideration, but this is a different type of special treatment for which we are asking. It is a special treatment in the short-term and long-term with a view to bringing the economy of Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. We must ask the Government for an assurance that there will be no holding back on whatever is suggested by this study group, be it costly, taking a long time to do, or different from that offered to other parts of the United Kingdom. Nothing should stand in the way of implementing the proposals, or in the way of Her Majesty's Government seeing that the special treatment needed will be forthcoming. That would do more than any other assurance to uplift the hearts of the workers of Ulster.
829 We have to remember that when the credit squeeze was operating in Britain it did not officially operate in Northern Ireland, but had repercussions there which were quite severe. When the study group is looking into long-term matters, that and other possibilities of different economic regulators being used must be remembered, because in Northern Ireland we are very vulnerable, whether a particular process such as this applies to us or not. When a credit squeeze in Britain prevents expansion, manufacturers are more inclined to close down a factory in an outlying area than one on the mainland. This could be altered by making it more attractive to them to remove headquarters of firms to Northern Ireland rather than having them in overcrowded areas in Great Britain.
I turn now to the problem of textiles, which is a very major problem in Northern Ireland at present. I have obtained some figures from a book which any hon. Members who do not know of it will find most interesting. It is entitled, "Who Makes What in Northern Ireland." It is an official publication and I shall quote from the 1959 edition which says:Throughout the textile industry in Northern Ireland there is a considerable degree of integration and many of the spinners, weavers and converters as well as some finishers are linked vertically.I think that the hon. Member for Cardiff, West suggested that we should have a centralised selling organisation. He may not be aware that we already have a centralised publicity organisation for the linen industry. It gets a Government grant and maintains, what is essential in competition, the right of individual manufacturers to seek their own markets, and meet their own customers' needs. That is very important in an industry such as the linen industry. The hon. Member will also be interested to know that we have central showrooms in London where buyers from all over the world can come to see our products. A great deal has been done, in co-ordinating and grouping this work, to strengthen it while still leaving individual competition by which each firm can carry on its own best means of marketing.
I shall mention some of the ways in which the Government have helped in dealing with the problems of exports and 830 also some of the problems on which we have not received help. The figures given in this book were published in 1959, and there may have been some alteration, but the edition states that about 150 million yards of cloth were woven in 1959. That has nothing to do with the amount of spinning and dyeing which goes on in the textile industry. Of this 150 million yards, about 90 million were in linen and union. Spun rayon accounted for 33 million yards, cotton and cotton mixtures for 15 million yards, and so on.
We have very up-to-date new industries attached to the textile trade. Imperial Chemical Industries is setting up a vast Terylene plant outside Carrickfergus, an Northern Ireland. That will be a great help to the linen industry in spite of the fact that some people might think that it would be in direct competition with it. Because of much experimental work which has been done it has been proved that blends of flax yarn and Terylene are very satisfactory. In fact, they are more satisfactory than a single yarn in many types of material in use and in demand both as fashion goods and pieces of material used for specialised purposes. I do not intend to get involved in discussion of the hundreds of types of man-made fibres which are being used. In many cases, they are spun in Northern Ireland and in most cases they are made up there in addition to what is being done in the linen trade using that term in its original sense.
We have had difficulties in the home market section of the textile trade. In the linen industry there was need for modernisation after the war. We Ulster Members felt great sympathy and support for hon. Members from Lancashire when the cotton industry was going through such difficult times. We understood how difficult and problematical it is to get satisfactory reorganisation of such an industry.
In the linen industry it has gone on peacefully and quietly, although, in some cases, under very trying circumstances. It has not been easy, because, unlike the Lancashire cotton trade, the Northern Ireland linen industry is a small industry in overall terms. It is also an industry where many family firms are involved, and where it has been difficult to change over because of the high cost of new machinery, despite Government assistance. Changing markets have 831 sometimes made it impossible to continue production.
Some of these problems still continue, but in the main they have been met and today the linen industry and textile trade is ready to go out to seek markets and apply its knowledge and ingenuity to finding other types of their manufactures designed to suit the demands of customers and world trade generally.
Make no mistake, this industry is not asleep. We have some difficulties which must be aired and ventilated today. It will be remembered that we had great difficulty when Hong Kong Indian linen, cotton and other imported materials were coming freely into this country. We recognise that we cannot prevent entirely this type of importation and that areas like Hong Kong must have some means of making money and providing employment. The Government did a good job in coming to an agreement with these countries on the voluntary importation quota. It gave everyone a breathing space and an opportunity to know the extent of the competition, and that we would not be completely flooded with materials far below the price of the quality that we are able to produce here.
On the other hand, we have now arising difficulties which the Minister of State, Board of Trade, has done his utmost to be helpful about. We hope that he will achieve success in this matter. It is the question of imports of linen goods, particularly tea towels and linen piece goods from Iron Curtain countries where they are manufactured and sold there at about twice the price, if not more, at which they are offered for retail sale in this country. We have noted these details and it would not be wise for me to delay the House by going into them. I know, however, that these matters are causing great concern to many of the textile people in Northern Ireland.
I reiterate the importance of something being done with regard to these matters if the Northern Ireland textile industry is to have the incentive to go on and keep ahead of the times in new ideas in the highly technical advances which are being made. In exports, there must be a clear future pattern of development, not just going on hoping 832 for as long as we can, because that is not the way to build a continuing, thriving industry.
In the Northern Ireland textile trade we have had considerable redundancy. It has been a real grievance and great sorrow to all of us. It has been necessary recently for one very large firm to close down and for another firm to be taken over. A large number of the workers, unfortunately, could not be employed anywhere else. This is a part of the general worry of lack of jobs.
We have certain overseas problems which cannot altogether be laid at the door of Her Majesty's Government. I think of the situation in Cuba, where over £½ million in linen orders were actually on the order books and which, owing to the change in Government and the political situation, were wiped out overnight. Let us think of that in terms of yardage and of men and women employed and the number of looms kept moving. It is very difficult, when there is such a constantly changing situation, to find outlets for these orders and types of goods.
Here again, we must remember that the problem of new markets is something which can be very expensive. People have to go out to keep abreast of the times. This is one case where we have had very great help from the Government and the Board of Trade has done a wonderful job in making it possible for small firms to get advance information as to the likelihood of a market being worth investigating before they send out their own salesmen to see for themselves. Most of the spade-work in investigating in a new market can now be done through the Board of Trade overseas services. We must pay a great tribute to the Board of Trade for what it has done in that matter. I hope that this service will become even more flexible and helpful in times to come.
I should like to quote one case in which the Board of Trade has been particularly helpful to us. I was visiting in the Midlands and went to a factory there which has connections with Northern Ireland. It was a very active, go-ahead factory. I met there an excellent local representative of the Board of Trade who was greatly interested in Northern Ireland. He told me that he was interested in seeing that 833 industries which required to expand and were looking for somewhere to expand knew what was going on in Northern Ireland, and he was making every effort to see that this information was made available to them.
I hope that we have similar enthusiastic exponents of Northern Ireland in all Board of Trade departments throughout the United Kingdom and that they are as alive to the situation as was this young man. I congratulate the Government on having someone like that in the centre of England where we know that there are firms willing to expand, and we hope that our claims and needs will be kept before them.
As to credit facilities, I do not want it to be thought that we are not appreciative of the work done for Northern Ireland by Her Majesty's Government over many years. We are here today to ask for the things which have not been done and which, we believe, have to be done. Once again, I come back to the fact that Her Majesty's Government, and the Stormont Government are in close liaison on all trade matters. The Ministry of Commerce in Northern Ireland has its own department for all these export services and works in close conjunction with the Board of Trade. I believe that a little more could be done in this matter. I believe that even in the home market it might be better if, instead of waiting for firms to make inquiries, more facilities for pushing information out to them were made available. I know that the Ministry of Commerce in Northern Ireland gets information from the Board of Trade and endeavours to get for us the right type of textile trade connections, but more needs to be done, and I should like to think that even in that small way this could help in solving the problem of getting more orders and new firms.
The question of capital investment in the textile industry is another important matter. Unless people have faith in an industry they do not want to invest in it. We get assistance from capital grants, and so on. It is not only that we are worried about, but the whole long-term problem of the future of the linen industry in particular and the allied textile trade with it. Any development in industry must be matched with new outlets. Our home market is being hit by imports from Iron Curtain countries and 834 Europe. Something must be done about this matter. We do not think that Eastern countries should trade with us only in terms of consumer goods which are urgently required as orders in our markets in Northern Ireland. That is the crux of this particular matter. We recognise that there must be trade with other countries, but we do not think that it should be in such high proportion.
To cut down the volume of importation of linen goods to this country from the Iron Curtain countries would be one of the best ways of helping us to maintain our present situation as well as helping healthy home market which is the foremost need. I know that the Board of Trade is well aware of the situation. I should like, however, to hear more about this and to have some assurance about what is to be investigated and the likely long-term results of studying this problem, and how to help the industry further, because of its value in terms of exports and its need to maintain high-quality goods for home and abroad.
The problem of home trade is also one in terms of economy as the Government see fit to administer it here. When a credit squeeze takes place here what does it mean in terms of Northern Ireland? It means that order books are very short. It does not mean that we are directly tied up with all the different types of hold-back of industry, but it does mean for the textile industry that it has very short order books indeed. Firms in Great Britain will not give long-term orders, because they do not know whether they have the finances to back them or will be able to get that much credit from their banks. When Britain has a credit squeeze it affects all the economy of Northern Ireland.
These are all points which hit us; we are very vulnerable in these matters. Nobody can say that any measures which are taken to protect Great Britain's economy can fail to have an impact on Northern Ireland's industry. The people of Northern Ireland are aware of what must be done to get ahead, and we are determined that there should be an equal drive at the other end of the scale.
The question of coal is a very vexed one in Northern Ireland, and it has caused us considerable problems. We propose to bring in a Bill to amend the 835 Coal Nationalisation Act, which would have the effect of making it possible for Northern Ireland to have representatives from the Northern Ireland Domestic Liaison Coal Committee on the Domestic Coal Council here, and also Northern Ireland representatives on the equivalent industrial committee. This will be a great help, because in the past we have not been able to have representation on those committees, and we have had to discuss questions of price negotiations and deliveries in the long-term and at arm's length.
I hope that the Bill will have the support of the Minister of Power, who, I know, is unable to be here today because of an earlier commitment. I hope that we shall have the good will of everyone in the House, so that we can get the Bill through during this Session. This will be a real help in making known our position with regard to coal, which is a very important industrial and domestic question in Northern Ireland.
There is also the problem of imports of coal from Eire. I have here a letter which my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) gave me, and which he received on 28th March from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power. By agreement this was published in a Northern Ireland newspaper. It says that there are proposals for dealing effectively with this problem. This will be greatly welcomed in Northern Ireland, and it could not come soon enough. It would take far too long to go into questions of costs and prices in the coal industry, but those questions are important, and our representatives on the committees and also members of the National Coal Board should be determined to see that we get coal at a price which will help us economically, so that we can compete in the markets of Great Britain and overseas. I recognise that this is a matter for negotiation with the Coal Board, and that it is not something for Her Majesty's Government, at the moment.
I now turn to education. This might appear to be solely a matter for the Stormont Government of Northern Ireland, but it affects the whole of Great Britain. The cost of higher education is one which we recognise as being worth while, because students who go to the university and technical schools, and 836 take higher training, are a valuable and necessary part of our community. We also need students who take apprentice training, or who do anything to bring themselves to a skilled level enabling them to play a proper part in their trade or the line of industry which they wish to follow.
The trouble is that, having educated them, we must lose a great number, because they have to come over here to get work. They have to come here because there are not enough skilled jobs at home, and this means that Northern Ireland has to carry the burden of having many unskilled people and very few skilled people. When there is a recession in the United Kingdom, and not so many skilled people are needed, they come back here, to swell the already swollen books of our employment exchanges.
If we could get a greater variety of industry in Northern Ireland and an expansion of our needs, from the development of the tourist trade, which has a great potential, right the way through our economy, we should be able to use more of these skilled young men, and would be able to supply the right people to do the highly skilled and technical work which would enable us to overcome our problems much more easily.
We have a future which is second to none, especially in view of what is being done to develop free competition and a free economy. We believe in that. We know that there are many snags in developing this type of economy, but it is the right type, in which competition can play a part, and in which we expect to have our share. In this kind of debate we cannot remain entirely happy, when we remember that people in Ulster sent us to this House to represent them and to put forward their case, and that in return, we expect Her Majesty's Government not only to recognise and sympathise with their problems, but to see that action is taken about them.
Several of my hon. Friends have their own points to put on this matter. I end by saying that if we can have an assurance that there will be no holds barred in putting Ulster at the top of the economic ladder, where she ought to be, we in Ulster will be grateful and thankful—but until we have that assurance we shall not be happy.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) has made a detailed analysis of the problems of Northern Ireland, which she knows so well. I shall try to take up a few of her points as I go along. The gist of the debate has been that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and that the United Kingdom boasts of a very high level of employment. The Government have attuned their economic policies to that effect. The only acceptable reason for any civilised country condoning unemployment is its abundance of wealth. None of us would argue that Northern Ireland is suffering from that disease at the moment.
The hon. Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) told us of the problems of London and the south of Britain generally. He said that there were too many jobs and not enough people to do them, and that the area that he represents and other southern areas are suffering because people come to the south, where there is already a shortage of housing. This is a terrific indictment of the Government of which the hon. Member used to be a member, because many of the firms which are now crowding into London ought to be in Northern Ireland. Had the Government taken the measures necessary to persuade them to go into Northern Ireland the hon. Member would not now be experiencing these difficulties, and our friends in Northern Ireland would have a far better chance of obtaining employment. It is an indictment of those with power and responsibility, both here and in Stormont, that this situation exists.
A situation is developing in which both the capitalist world and the Communist world will indulge in a far more intense competition for exports than we have ever seen before. The United States has a huge unemployment problem, and her Government are rightly setting up agencies throughout the world to try vastly to increase their exports. We know that, following the conference of the Communist countries, the Soviet Union has said that military action is out and economic warfare is now to begin. These being the facts, I would have thought that it was almost a mockery that this House is only now discussing 838 the question of chronic unemployment—much of it among highly skilled people, who apparently have little hope of getting a job—in a part of the United Kingdom.
I join with other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) on introducing this subject. He has drawn attention to the very high rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland—a rate of 7.3 per cent.—and has given us figures for many years back. In other words, we are not now discussing a problem which fluctuates—a problem which may be brought about by a temporary recession. It is not that kind of problem. It is a problem of chronic, basic unemployment. Results so far tend to show that if anything at all has been done to help it has not been anything like sufficient to meet the enormity of the problem with which we are now faced.
The hon. Member for Belfast, North said that not only are there well over 31,000 unemployed. He told us that about 50 per cent. of them were unskilled. That presupposes that nearly 50 per cent. is skilled labour. This is almost unique in the United Kingdom as a whole. In Great Britain we are desperately short of skilled labour, but nearly 50 per cent. of Northern Ireland's massive unemployment is among skilled labour.
§ Mr. Lee
I can only take the hon. Member's figure. In Great Britain there is now a growing number of industries in the private sector which are compelled to live on doles of public money. There is apparently no prospect in the future of these industries again standing on their feet as competitive private enterprise. They include agriculture, shipbuilding, aircraft, and textiles. They are the very industries which employ a huge proportion of the people of Northern Ireland. They are the prime industries in Northern Ireland. Yet even in Great Britain each of them is now utterly unable to compete on the basis of competitive private enterprise and has to rely on public doles.
If this is the case here, what chance have they in Northern Ireland? In other words, we are reaching the point where we are trying to live by taking in our own washing. We tax ourselves in order to subsidise private enterprise, and that 839 private enterprise is quite unable to provide all the work necessary to abolish unemployment in Northern Ireland. In Northern Ireland there is great doubt whether such industries as aircraft and textiles have any future at all. We hope to hear from the Government what their programme is so as to give some assurance to the people in these industries that they have a future.
Before I discuss the industrial matters of Northern Ireland, I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can say something more about a payroll tax. I am surprised that hon. Members opposite have not laid more emphasis on this. We are now informed that the Northern Ireland Government will have a free hand in the use of any revenue from the payroll tax over there. We are told that Northern Ireland will be given special consideration in formulating any permanent proposals for its use. I notice that Captain O'Neill, the Minister of Finance for Northern Ireland, has said that he is quite determined that if a payroll tax is introduced Northern Ireland firms will not be out of pocket.
The leading article in the Belfast Telegraph of Friday, 5th May, says this:It will tax the ingenuity of the Government's financial experts to find a way of returning the yield to local firms.How can all this be summarised? Apparently we have reached a position in which money is to be spent on setting up the machinery to acquire the tax. We then tax the ingenuity of our financial experts and probably spend more money on devising ways of paying it back.
§ Mr. Lee
Progress takes some strange forms in Northern Ireland, actuated by the policy of this Government. The famous Duke of York who marched his men up to the top of the hill in order to march them down again was a financial wizard compared with this Government. He at any rate found employment for his men. Can one make the admittedly brilliant and daring suggestion that it would probably be easier not to apply the tax in Northern Ireland at all?
I turn now to the industrial position. The basic questions which have to be answered today by the Government are 840 questions such as these. Do the Governments accept as inevitable a permanent high level of unemployment in Northern Ireland? Do they believe that there are basic economic factors about Northern Ireland to overcome which will always defy the wit of man? The hon. Member for Belfast, North said that he would ask the 64,000 dollar question. I will ask one. Are they prepared to go well outside any of the obviously abortive and ineffective measures they have already taken, even if the measures necessary contravene and outrage their own political philosophies? This is the question that must be answered?
We know that their own remedial measures have introduced an economy within which there is an inordinately high level of unemployment. We have seen that unemployment become chronic. It has been a chronic feature over many years. Surely the Government must agree that a drastic, radical remedy is now called for if we are to make any real impression on the situation. It is no good the Government saying, "We will try and try and keep on trying". Power begets responsibility. Power is vested in the Government at Westminster and the Government in Stormont. I am not saying that the Northern Ireland Government have not been prepared to spend a considerable amount of money on attempts to attract more industry to Northern Ireland. I acknowledge that they have done that. We must judge from the results, which certainly show that their efforts have not gone anything like far enough.
Much has been said about the contents of a paper which the Northern Ireland Government have now prepared and submitted to the Cabinet in London. My hon. Friends the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas) and Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) commented on the fact that the contents have not yet been revealed. I think I know broadly what the content is. I have the OFFICIAL REPORT for the Parliament of Northern Ireland of 22nd March, 1961. On that day the Prime Minister, Lord Brookeborough, commented in an economic debate on the measures which the Government proposed to take. He said, and I commend these words to the House:In December we prepared a paper which contained every possible solution to the unemployment problem.841 We can all go home. We are just wasting our time. Viscount Brookeborough continued:It was first of all studied by officials. It was then sent to the Cabinet Employment Committee of which I am chairman, and I think it was sent back again for further additions. Then it was submitted to the Cabinet and finally to London.He goes on to talk about his visit to London. He goes on later to talk in terms of what their policies are. He does not say that these are the actual contents, but his description of the policies is obviously conditioned by the contents of the paper. He says:There were two phases—one what I might call the immediate problem which was the position in the shipbuilding industry and, secondly, the long-term policy, that is to say, how to reach and keep a lower rate of unemployment.He later says that this means that they want more diversification of industry.
In other words, it is the medicine as before. If it is not the medicine as before and this new approach was decided upon only last December, what has been going on in the last ten years? If they have just arrived at the position where they first want to get rid of the short-term problems of the shipbuilding and aircraft industries and then get more diversification, it would be nice if the right hon. Gentleman told us what happened in the years prior to last December. Those are the policies contained in the paper which has now been discussed. Over the years these policies have produced 3,000 jobs a year, but now there is 7.3 per cent. unemployment.
The hon. Lady the Member for Belfast, West mentioned the post-war "bulge" coming from the schools. We also know that the older industries, such as textiles and shipbuilding, are contracting and that the aircraft industry is in serious trouble. Indeed, some of the new industries there are beginning to unload their labour, a prospect which is anything but promising. The hon. Member for Belfast, North gave his estimate of the need in new jobs. Friends of mine over there estimate the need as 15,000 jobs a year for the next ten years to meet the increased number of school leavers, those now redundant, and those who, I am afraid, will become redundant in the not distant future.
As to the short-term problem outlined by the Prime Minister of Northern 842 Ireland, there is the question of the situation of Short Brothers who are now carrying out the contract to build tan "Belfast Freighters". I should like to have some intimation from the Government that there are follow-up orders which can now be placed with Short Bros. To produce the designs and drawings, a large staff of extremely skilled people is necessary. By the time that the first of these freighters flies, the work of that large staff will have finished.
Unless we can have orders placed immediately that huge staff will have to be dispensed with and then there will not be the opportunity in the aircraft industry of keeping a team of designers together at a time when perhaps we shall need the great factory there to produce other types of aircraft. I urge upon the Government that, as the tooling for the "Belfast Freighter" will be shortly completed, they must not delay much longer in placing other orders, otherwise the team of designers and draughtsmen will have to go.
The question of the dry dock has been mentioned. Many of my friends in the Labour Party over there have long pleaded for its provision. I understand from the visits that I paid to Northern Ireland recently that it is now the common policy of all parties that a new dry dock should be built. Has nothing happened about it? I understand that the harbour authorities have agreed. Is it just a question of finding the money?
I am informed that the new ship "Canberra" built at Belfast had to leave long before completion for Southampton because of the lack of dry dock facilities in Belfast. Many men in the finishing trades, such as joinering, had to leave Belfast for Southampton to complete the work on the "Canberra". If a dry dock had been available in Belfast the ship could have been completed there. These men would have been able to stay at home instead of having to come across to Southampton to compete for work here or alternatively remain unemployed in Belfast. I understand that 10,000 men employed by Harland & Wolff will have been displaced in a month or two's time.
Many of Northern Ireland's problems have been discussed today. Mention has been made in particular of the country's lack of indigenous materials. With the 843 exception of coal, this island also is short of indigenous raw materials but we do not write off the possibility of full employment for that reason. Indeed, now in a time of full employment here we are reducing the production of our only indigenous raw material.
The geographical handicaps suffered by Northern Ireland have also been mentioned. I agree that they increase industrial difficulties, because of such things as additional freight costs, but these difficulties are no reason for sitting back and saying that we are up against an insuperable obstacle. It is true that New Zealand is not absolutely comparable with Northern Ireland, but that is a small country on the opposite side of the world from Britain and heavily dependent upon the British market. There is no such unemployment problem there as that experienced in Northern Ireland. Distance itself therefore need not be an insuperable problem.
It remains true, however, that all these difficulties require a far higher degree of planning of new industrial development to ensure, for example, that imported raw materials, which are an important item in the balance of payments, are converted into the sort of exports which can command a place in world markets. I have already pointed out that Ulster is unique in the United Kingdom in that there is surplus skilled labour there which we do not possess over here. A surplus of skilled labour should be the greatest asset that a nation can possess. It gives people the chance to base their key industries on the type of product which combines a far higher degree of skilled labour and a far smaller degree of weight of raw material compared with the products of a country which does not possess that surplus.
The Swiss provide a model in this respect. They do not allow industry to develop just anything that it wishes. They keep in mind considerations of the balance of payments, the importation of raw materials, and the amount of currency received for the finished product. We on this side of the House have been saying this for many years, but I do not think that it has sunk in very well among hon. and right hon. Members opposite.
I would suggest that this is the only model on which a viable economy can 844 be produced for Northern Ireland. I hope that the committee which is being set up will look closely at this point. I do not suggest, of course, that permission must be refused to any industry that wishes to open up in Northern Ireland. The position over there is such that one could not afford to do that. I agree with those hon. Members who have said that we have now reached the position where the need is for an overall plan for the development of new industries and the kind of economic planning which will result in the viable economy of which I have spoken.
Both sides of the House have agreed that many of the older industries, such as agriculture, textiles and heavy engineering, can never again produce the number of jobs that once they did. But agriculture is not peculiar to Northern Ireland. Throughout the world we are seeing the attempts of agrarian communities to turn themselves into industrial communities, and in most agricultural nations the numbers employed in agriculture are decreasing and the numbers employed in industry increasing. But where there is an economy such as that of Northern Ireland, which has been heavily dependent upon agriculture, the need to secure new industries to find employment for the people who are moving out of agriculture is far greater than is the need in countries which have never been based on agriculture. This is a point which is worthy of consideration by the working party that is now to function.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey mentioned agricultural by-products. There has been a great deal of criticism in Northern Ireland that there is insufficient industry based on agricultural by-products. I have been talking in terms of how we try to convert our imports into the kind of commodity that can find a place in the world markets, but here is an industry from which one develops by-products which are not based upon imports.
My hon. Friend mentioned industries such as fertilisers, quick-frozen foods and tanneries. Why is not something being done to develop such industries? Are no private firms willing to set them up? If that is the case, then the Government should be prepared to go outside their political ideas. They should take the initiative to set up 845 industries which can provide decent employment for the people of Northern Ireland.
Admittedly, this would probably offend their political susceptibilities. If that is so, they should say so clearly. It is a fraud to say that they are concerned with high levels of unemployment if, at the same time, they say that they are not prepared to do the things that are necessary to produce employment because that would offend their political principles.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor
The hon. Gentleman must realise that the Northern Ireland Government give tremendous grants of buildings and machinery not only to one industry but to many. It is only fair to allow that when he says that they should start up industries. They are helping a number of industries already.
§ Mr. Lee
Earlier in my speech I said that I was not charging them with not spending money on development, but I said that the results so far showed that there had not been enough of this kind of thing. I was particularising on the by-products of agriculture because not enough is being done in that sector of industry. I was asking whether it was because private firms did not want to set up such an industry, and arguing that if that was so then the State should do it. As the Northern Ireland Government have not done so, one is compelled to assume that they are not prepared to do it. Do not let them be reticent about this.
The amount of publicly controlled industry throughout the Western world is increasing. I am not saying that we are all Socialists yet, but we are living in increasing hopes. The fact that so many private industries are now incapable of functioning on a profit basis means that publicly owned industry is spreading rapidly in many of the great capitalist countries of the world. But we have no right to say that this sort of thing means that they are all Socialist.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
The Northern Ireland Government nationalised transport ten years before the Labour Government nationalised transport in this country, and we have quite a number of State-sponsored Industries. We are not afraid of Socialism—we know that it does not work.
§ Mr. Lee
The hon. Gentleman should not provide the questions and the answers himself, but should leave the answers to me. Of course I know that there has been a Tory Government in Northern Ireland for forty years, and that they have nationalised certain undertakings, but I am now asking them to go into manufacturing.
§ Mr. Lee
There is no alternative. If they cannot get private enterprise to do the things that are necessary, then they must either say that these things will not be done at all or that the State will have to do them. It is no good Members opposite running away from that issue.
I shall not go into the figures, which have been mentioned, showing the decline in the number of people employed in textiles. My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey mentioned mills which have closed down, including the York Street Flax Spinning Company, where 1,700 people were employed. This was a new factory only three years ago, costing about £8 million. Why should not there be an inquiry into why such a firm needed to close down?
When large blocks of public money are invested in an industry, I would like to bring both Governments to the principle of taking part of the equity in return. In other words, they should make an honest woman of industry, instead of allowing it to live as a kept creature. Government and industry should become partners in such an enterprise. In that way the Government could insist on solving many of the problems to which the hon. Member for Belfast, West referred. She mentioned family firms which could not afford to modernise, but with Government help they could have a high measure of modernisation, which would enable them to carry on. I speak particularly, in this connection, of the textile industry.
§ Mrs. McLaughlin
I tried to put the point that it was not always the case that these firms could not afford to modernise, but that it was not always a feasible thing for them to do in the light of modern market trends. In many cases, Northern Ireland is not the only country affected. Would a nationalised industry solve that problem?
§ Mr. Lee
I come from Lancashire, where about £40 million has been spent in order to make the textile industry there worth having. It was near bankrupt. The same kind of bankruptcy is coming to the industry in Northern Ireland. The only way in which it can flourish is to give it public money, but, the State should have part of the Equity shareholding in return. I do not believe that the textile industry can ever again employ the number of people which it once did, but modernisation could ensure a good market for certain lines of quality goods.
Many of these problems which we have been discussing can be solved if the Government here and the Government of Northern Ireland are prepared to say that, private enterprise having failed, they will do what is possible to maintain these industries. The most quoted lines in Shakespeare are, perhaps, these:The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.I commend those words to both Governments.
Experience has shown, however, that the granting of favourable conditions to British or other firms cannot, of itself, provide the whole answer to the problem. My hon. Friends have mentioned the trade unions in Northern Ireland, which have produced many constructive ideas, such as an expansive public works programme, including slum clearance, new hospitals, new schools and new roads.
While we are not satisfied that the terms of reference or the type of committee over which Sir Herbert Brittain will preside, nevertheless, if it is an intimation that a thorough study of the economy and the economic problems of Northern Ireland is to be launched, we wish it well. But why confine its membership to leading officials from Westminster and Stormont? Why not include representatives of both sides of industry, or have an economic development council, consisting of both sides of industry and Government representatives, 848 in order to follow up the diagnosis which we hope the Brittain committee will make?
I have said that I have seen many eminently constructive publications on these matters by the Northern Ireland trade unions. I find it incredible that in the year 1961 those trade unions are excluded from making effective representations by virtue of their membership of responsible bodies. When my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey said something to that effect, hon. Members opposite were outraged, but I have been in Northern Ireland and discussed these things with the trade unions there, and I know that what my hon. Friend said was perfectly true.
I do not want to read the whole of the publication which I have received from Northern Ireland, but I will quote this part:We have anxiously sought to play a responsible and positive rôle in the economic development of the Province, but, this opportunity has been denied to us, because of the attitude of the Northern Ireland Government in not recognising the Northern Ireland Committee as the Trade Union centre for Northern Ireland.It is continually being asserted by Ministers of the Government and members of the Northern Ireland Parliament, that relationships between the Trade Unions and the Government are extremely good, and spokesmen for the Government party take special pains to emphasise this point in their public utterances, especially when speaking in an industrial area.I have discussed this matter with leaders of the trade unions in Northern Ireland, men who are friends of mine and for whom I have the greatest respect. I believe that they are right when they say that they are stultified in not being permitted membership of vitally important committees which could make a great contribution to a solution of the problems of Northern Ireland.
At home, what would we think about any Government which decided to exclude from productivity councils, production committees and so on members of the T.U.C. General Council, or executive members of our great trade unions? Every great employer knows perfectly well that the contribution which the unions have made to increased production in Britain is enormously important. I do not understand, merely on the pretext of a divided North and South, why these men, who speak for 200,000 trade unionists in Northern Ireland and whose 849 contributions have been most constructive, cannot be brought around the conference table and allowed to make a contribution there.
I know that they are to have a conference in the next few days when the trade unions will discuss this kind of thing. They want the setting up of an economic development council representing both sides of industry. They are to discuss a resolution suggesting a programme of economic development, including the provision of direct State investment in new industries and the establishment of a development corporation, a research unit and kindred matters. Surely nobody will say in this day and age that these are not suggestions of a type which ought to be considered both at Stormont and by the Brittain Working Party.
With my hon. Friends, I have tried to suggest ways, based on ideas which have been sent to us, in which the economy of Northern Ireland could be made into a viable economy. I have not minimised the nature of the problem. I accept that it is far more difficult than that which we have over here, for instance. I have argued—and no hon. Member opposite has contradicted me—that the efforts which have so far been made have not been anything like sufficient to meet the enormity of the problem.
For instance, we have the problems connected with exports and with air freighters and so on. It so happens that I have a constituency interest in this matter. The Northern Ireland trade unions are suggesting an air freighter service connected with Great Britain. In my constituency there is the great American base of Burtonwood, which is now lying dormant and rotting in the very centre of the greatest industrial conurbation in Britain and which could be the point to which the freighters from Northern Ireland could bring Irish products. That is the kind of constructive suggestion which the Government ought to consider.
This is a great human as well as an economic problem. When all is said and done, industries are not made merely for the sake of making industries, but in order that people can produce wealth and enjoy it and live a decent life. Once we get to the stage where economic planning has no 850 relationship to human happiness we become morons divorced from this world.
I do not accept that there is the slightest reason why, given the facilities which the Government can give and the economic planning necessary from Stormont, there is any need for chronic basic unemployment in Northern Ireland. We have heard the complaints of hon. Members opposite, but half of their time has been taken up with apologies for the lack of success of the Government here and at Stormont. We will never solve the problem in that way. When these matters are here to be argued, let them be argued out not merely on the basis of party lines, but to get the kind of answer which alone will yield results in Northern Ireland. When we get to that point, we can hope to see an end of unemployment there.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)
I want first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) on his success in the Ballot and on the magnificent way in which he has introduced the debate today.
It was with great interest that I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee). I have never heard such a long speech in the House which was so barren of new ideas. All that the hon. Member suggested as a solution to our problems was the old out-worn shibboleths and clichés of nationalisation and control. I know that we have a difficult position and that we on this side of the House do not pretend to hide the terrible state of unemployment in Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North spoke of an average of about 8 per cent. unemployment over the last 10 years. As he said, that is due to the economy's concentration on textiles, shipbuilding and agriculture.
I am particularly concerned in my constituency with textiles—that is, linen—and with shipbuilding. I appreciate as much as anyone the vulnerability of the position of our heavy industries. Between the wars, particularly during the great recession which followed the First World War, unemployment in Belfast averaged between 20 and 30 per cent. for many years, and was even higher 851 than that at one time. We must view the picture in perspective.
A great deal has been said about the shipbuilding industry, especially by hon. Members opposite who seem to believe that the shipbuilding and textile industries in Northern Ireland are finished and dead. I deny that at once. I was speaking to representatives of Harland and Wolff, in my constituency, yesterday, and in spite of a difficult period, that firm is modernising its yards and will become the best-equipped and most technically advanced shipbuilding yard in the British Isles, as it has always been, and not only in the United Kingdom but in the world.
It has built many famous passenger liners, and in the last week the "Canberra" has been in the news as the largest passenger liner built in this country since before the war. We built many ships during the war, including aircraft carriers and other naval vessels. We recently reconditioned the "Hercules" to become the flagship of the Indian Navy. All that work has been done with magnificent expedition and thoroughness in the Belfast shipbuilding yards.
I agree with what has been said about the need for a large new dry dock to supplement our existing Thompson dock. With such a large dry dock, we would be able to dry dock many of our own boats and others and be able to fill up with refitting and repair work which would help to keep our men employed. The problem has been under consideration by the harbour commissioners and Harland and Wolff, and the Northern Ireland Government have indicated that they are prepared to advance as much money for a new dry dock in Northern Ireland as would be provided on this side of the Channel for any dry dock built in Great Britain.
In connection with the dry dock. I suggest that a more imaginative view is necessary and that the urgency of this proposition should lead to a new assessment of the need for such a dry dock so that we will have two large docks working together to cope with any traffic which comes our way.
I also ask my hon. Friend to consider the report of the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee. In relation to the "Scrap 852 and Build" recommendation, some indication from the Government that they are prepared to accept such a suggestion would help not only Ireland but would help shipbuilding and shipping in this country. It would help us because many of our older boats which were built before the war could be replaced with modern fast vessels, which in turn would help us not only to retain work in the shipbuilding yards but to regain our position in the world today as a major maritime nation and to maintain the invisible earnings which in the past played such an important part in our balance of trade.
I do not want to take up too much time of the House on this topic of shipping and the shipbuilding industry, because in my constituency I have other industries, including the aircraft industry and York Street linen factory which has been mentioned, the rope works, and many heavy, medium, and light engineering works.
But before I leave the shipbuilding industry, I should like to say a word of praise to the trade unions. There has been some criticism of the trade unions and their work. From my knowledge of them and from my experience of meeting representatives of the Northern Ireland trade unions in Belfast, I can say that there is ample liaison and consultation not only between the Northern Ireland Government and the trade unions, but between the Ulster Unionist Members and the trade unions.
I praise the trade unions for their co-operation, not only with politicians, but with their employers, particularly in Messrs. Harland and Wolff, over the difficult problem of demarcation and other problems which exist in the shipbuilding industry. The record of co-operation in Belfast between the two sides of industry is good and there are less strikes in the shipbuilding industry in Belfast than in any other part of the United Kingdom. Quite recently, we have been able to repair, refit, and install air-conditioning plant in liners faster than the up-to-date German and Swedish yards can do it.
As my right hon. Friend the Civil Lord is present, I should like to refer to two Questions which have been asked recently. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North asked the Civil Lord of the Admiralty what percentage of the 853 total cost of Admiralty contracts and repair work was placed with shipyards and Admiralty yards situated in development areas and Northern Ireland in the years 1959–60 and 1960–61. The reply was:Nearly half of the Admiralty's ship work is undertaken by Her Majesty's dockyards, none of which are in development areas. Of the remainder, about 78 per cent. of the total cost of Admiralty ship construction and repair work, including work done on behalf of other Governments, was carried out by shipyards in development areas and Northern Ireland in 1958–59, and 77 per cent. in 1959–60."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd May, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 107.]That is 78 per cent. of 50 per cent. In other words, only 40 per cent. has been placed with yards in the development areas and Northern Ireland.
In reply to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Sir D. Campbell) on 10th May, the Civil Lord broke down those figures. He said:The total sum spent on Admiralty shipbuilding and ship repairing, including work done on behalf of Commonwealth and other Governments was £73 million in 1958–59 and £76 million in 1959–60; of this £28 million in 1958–59 and £29 million in 1959–60 was for work undertaken in Her Majesty's Dockyards. In 1958–59 approximately 5 per cent. of the overall total was spent in Northern Ireland and 48 per cent. in development areas (including Northern Ireland); the corresponding figures for 1959–60 are about 7 per cent. and 48 per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1961; Vol. 640, c. 40–1.]I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North said, that the Government should give much more consideration to placing work of this nature in development areas where the work is needed. More than 5 per cent. or 7 per cent. could certainly be placed in the large shipyards in Northern Ireland.
I turn now to the aircraft industry. We have in Belfast the factory of Messrs. Short Brothers and Harland. This is an extremely important factory, and I welcome the assurance given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation that he is determined to maintain a balanced production unit in Northern Ireland.
I should like to lay particular emphasis on the balanced production unit, because the aircraft factory of Messrs. Short Brothers and Harland has contributed a great deal to technical development. The firm has a design and research team which is one of the lead- 854 ing research teams in the country. It has in the past produced the variable geometry aircraft experimental jet aircraft, with which it has studied the efficiency of various degrees of sweep back in the wings. It has developed the vertical take-off and landing aircraft, the SC1, an aircraft with multiple jets developed for direct take off and landing.
This aircraft has a great future in the military field, where it can be used as a small support aircraft close to the front line. It can be dispersed easily without the need of large landing fields. It can be used to support troops because it needs only a small quantity of fuel, and it can accomplish a mission and return to a base near the front line without the need for an aerodrome such as would be needed for larger aircraft which require more fuel. This vertical take-off aircraft could be of tremendous assistance in military operations. It could be used for technical and strategic work as well as for transport purposes.
It could also help in the civil field. Because of the small space needed for landing and taking off, it could help to solve the problem of aerodromes which normally must be situated miles away from the centres of population. This aircraft could land in small areas in the centre of a town, or at any rate close to the centre. The noise problem would be minimised because the plane can land in a small area. Clouds and low visibility would present no problem because the aircraft could come in over the clouds and then come down vertically to land without the danger of hitting mountains or high buildings.
Britain leads the world in this field of research, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation to consider carefully future work and development on this research project. I know that the Government have been giving support to the Hawker, which is a smaller, slower plane which uses one engine for take-off and for forward flight, but I suggest that there is plenty of room for a companion scheme for a multi-jet vertical take off aircraft.
I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the financial support which is given to Messrs. Short Brothers and Harland. I ask him to consider whether it is sufficient, or whether more money could be found for this vital research programme 855 in which we lead the world and where time is of the very essence of things.
I add a word or two to what has been said about the Belfast, that as, the aircraft which until now has been known as the Britannic. This is a completely new development which will help our troops and strategic forces throughout the world to be completely mobile and independent of supplies built up in various areas and will enable them to be transported with their full equipment. It will enable troops to fly with all their equipment in planes that have been designed specially to meet the needs of the Army, with a 12 ft. square fuselage. This is larger than any other aircraft being developed anywhere else in the world today.
I ask the Government to consider whether their present order for ten of these planes is sufficient, considering the number of planes required in each squadron. I urge them to take into consideration the number of planes that are normally out of commission at any one time, or the number of planes being used for research purposes. They must realise that ten are totally insufficient and that at least 20, perhaps more, are needed if our forces are to become truly mobile by the mid-1960s. The Government should reassess the needs of the Army and Air Force for military freighters, because if they do not place orders soon, they will not have these aircraft when they are most needed.
When will the Government be making an announcement on the chairmanship of Short Brothers and Harland? When will the successor to Sir Matthew Slatterly be appointed, because this job has been vacant for some time and an announcement is overdue?
The Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) has already dealt fully with the Northern Ireland textile industry. I wish merely to draw the attention of the Government to the fact that York Street, the closure of which has recently been announced, is situated in my constituency. I am aware of the problems facing the linen and textile industry, the rope making industry, the light engineering industry—such as the Serocco firm, which manufactures fans—and I frequently visit their factories. I know the difficulties they face in meeting the new and 856 increased transport costs which have recently been announced.
In the face of these difficulties, I must say a word about the success the Northern Ireland Government have had in their efforts to meet the unemployment problem, not only in shipbuilding and textiles, but in the rest of Northern Ireland's industries. The struggle for diversification, which has gone on since the war, has met with considerable success and that has already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Belfast, North.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) said that some of these firms had closed down, but I ask the House: is it surprising that out of 162 new firms, there should be a few failures in a developing economy? We should not allow the few failures that have occurred to blind us to the succes of the Northern Ireland Government, backed by the Imperial Government, in this problem of diversification and in the task of helping the people of Northern Ireland.
Some time ago the problem seemed to be within sight of solution, when the unemployment figures went down from 9 per cent. to just over 7 per cent. However, events of the past few months have cast a cloud of gloom over the atmosphere, and the recession in the shipbuilding industry and the problems of the linen trade have put back that solution.
I support the request that has been made by my hon. Friends that the Government should consider, as a temporary measure, some tax concessions for Northern Ireland, and, equally, for other areas suffering from heavy unemployment. I ask for these concessions to be made as a special stimulus, for a period, until the unemployment figures in Northern Ireland fall to the national level.
I also consider that, as a special emergency measure, relief should be given to employers from their National Insurance contributions, and, perhaps, there could be some relief of Profits Tax. The payroll tax, which has received attention in today's debate, seems inappropriate to Northern Ireland's conditions. The payroll tax was introduced by the Chancellor as being a measure designed to encourage the economy of labour. Obviously, economy of labour is not one of the necessities 857 of Northern Ireland. Therefore, I urge the Government to consider this matter very carefully and, in next year's Budget, the Chancellor should bring in permanent measures to exempt areas of high unemployment, such as Northern Ireland, from this tax.
The Government might also consider some other special incentives, to apply for a limited period, in order to solve this horrible unemployment problem, to meet the shipbuilding recession and to help to allay the anxiety facing the people of Northern Ireland, including the 10,000 men being laid off by Harland and Wolff and the 2,000 men being laid off in the linen industry. Perhaps rating concessions could be made to new industries in Northern Ireland. Such a step would encourage firms, particularly those who are large employers of labour, to go to Northern Ireland.
These concessions—the payroll tax and rating concessions—would encourage firms to go to Ulster and to other developing areas in the United Kingdom, including Wales, Scotland and the North East Coast. Such measures would help to distribute industry more efficiently and would be better than any of the suggestions that have been made by hon. Members opposite.
I also support the suggestion of increased expenditure on public works. Could not the money at present being spent on National Insurance payments to the unemployed be better spent by subsidising loans for increased public works and investment, such as for the dry dock that has been mentioned? Perhaps the money could even go towards providing an atomic power station, which would solve Northern Ireland's power problem.
A new sense of urgency is necessary and a new appreciation of the gravity of the situation is required. Manpower is perhaps our most important national asset, and it is disgraceful to see so much manpower being wasted in Ulster.
The shipping freight rates—from Liverpool to Belfast—appear to be too high. British Railways are making profits out of this shipping service, although they are making a loss on the rest of the railway services. An inquiry is under way and I hope, as a result, something will be done to introduce more competition in this shipping ser- 858 vice. Hon. Members will realise that something needs to be done in order to stop firms, faced with growing freight charges, from closing down their Northern Ireland factories, or curtailing the amount of work being done in them, and transferring that work elsewhere.
In this connection, perhaps the cost of the National Insurance payments to the unemployed men could be better spent, not only in the ways I have described, but towards reducing the freight rates now being charged. Some of the money might equally be spent on technical training and promoting automation in firms such as Short Bros, and Harland, which produces fine computers and other advanced electronic equipment. That type of work can be done excellently in Northern Ireland and it is the kind of work, along with technical training, that is being encouraged by the Northern Ireland Government. It is for these reasons that I wholeheartily support the Motion.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Mr. John E. Maginnis (Armagh)
If I bring hon. Members down from the clouds to solid earth, I can only apologise. First, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) on his excellent speech. He put the case for Northern Ireland admirably. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor) drew attention to the fact that Northern Ireland receives a remoteness grant of £1 million which is to be reviewed next year. He asked that it should be increased to £3 million. I hope that the Government will consider making it £5 million, as this grant will no doubt play a large part in the future of Northern Ireland's agriculture.
I propose to deal mainly with two products—milk and eggs. I think that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Department—whom I am glad to see with us today—will agree that it would be disastrous to the majority of Northern Ireland farmers should anything happen to either commodity. Let us look, first, at the problems facing the milk producers. Ulster dairy farmers produce milk at a rate of 110 million gallons a year. Of this quantity, 40 million gallons are sold on the liquid market and 70 million gallons go to manufacture. Products 859 manufactured from about 50 million gallons of that 70 million gallons are exported to Great Britain and elsewhere.
That means, in effect, that the Northern Ireland dairy industry has to bear an annual freight charge of about £250,000. This depresses the price paid for milk for manufacture, and those lower prices in turn depress the pool price. A two-tariff system has been called for by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, which must be ready to go into operation on 31st July next.
According to the White Paper published in March of this year, the Government agreed to increase the price of milk by 0.8d. per gallon subject to a workable two-tariff system being devised by the farmers' unions. He also increased the standard quantities for the milk marketing areas by 21.6 million gallons which, in effect, made a further increase of 0.2d. per gallon. These increases were warmly welcomed by the Northern Ireland dairy farmers, but a large measure of complacency is now apparent about the new proposed two-tariff system, and I would ask my right hon. Friend to ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to look seriously at the situation in Northern Ireland.
The Minister's idea is to reduce the amount of milk which goes for manufacturing purposes so that a better price will accrue for milk sold on the liquid market. That is a good idea, but does he realise that the Minister of Agriculture for Northern Ireland has devised a scheme within the limitations—and I say again, limitations—of the remoteness grant by which farmers who do not sell milk to the Milk Board will receive payment on each cow in the herd provided that the milk is used to rear beef calves?
This will have a marked effect on the amount of milk sold to the Board, and many milk producers will now take advantage of this scheme and concentrate on beef calf rearing. Furthermore, a large amount of milk for manufacture is required, as many milk manufacturing factories have been set up to deal with surplus milk. This was mentioned by the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee), who said that not enough factories for dealing with agricultural products had been set up.
860 I will give an instance. In the last twelve months, a firm has transferred a substantial part of its plant from Great Britain to Northern Ireland simply because it was assured of substantial quantities of manufacturing milk. Such factories provide all-the-year-round employment, and if the Minister of Agriculture insists that Northern Ireland must work the two-tariff system the quantity of milk available for manufacture may well be drastically reduced. This would cause redundancy in the milk factories and add to our already serious unemployment problems. The Minister should look again at this proposal for Northern Ireland.
In my maiden speech in March, 1960, I gave a warning that the number of poultry in Northern Ireland would be drastically reduced following a reduction in the guaranteed price over a period of three years. The returns for 1960 show that this has happened. There has been a decline in egg production of about 12½ per cent. as compared with the decline in the United Kingdom as a whole of about 9 per cent. Northern Ireland poultry keepers hoped for an increase after 1961 Price Review, as it is almost certain that the operation of the new guarantee arrangements will mean a reduction in prices compared with the 1960–61 period.
It would be unwise to allow egg production to decline further, as a scarcity of eggs in the home market always results in higher prices for the housewife and affords an opportunity for foreign eggs to be imported. Poultry keepers in Northern Ireland have been perturbed by the large quantities of eggs imported recently, and I would ask my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to keep a close watch on the situation in future. The sale of eggs to Great Britain has been worth about £16 million annually to Northern Ireland, and any reduction in price caused by imported eggs would seriously affect Northern Ireland poultry keepers.
It has been said that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, but that is not strictly true when comparing agriculture in Northern Ireland with that in Great Britain. Measures devised by the Government to support and guide United Kingdom farmers as a whole quite often have an adverse effect on Northern Ireland farmers. Special 861 consideration of our problems and needs is always required, and I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend will give that consideration and be ready to devise special remedies when required.
I turn now to the problem of the Common Market in relation to milk. The average price received for milk in the United Kingdom from 1960–61 was 3s. 1d. per gallon. This was higher than the price in any Common Market country during the same period. It is interesting to compare the United Kingdom price with that in the following Common Market countries: Belgium, 2s.; West Germany, 2s. 7d.; Italy, 2s. 4d.; and the Netherlands, 2s. 6d. All the Common Market countries are producing a surplus of milk, and in 1959–60 their production rose by 60.4 million tons compared with a rise of 48.5 million tons during the period 1950–54.
Producers' prices for eggs were consistently higher in the United Kingdom, the only exception in the Common Market being Italy, where the price was 1d. per dozen more in 1956–57 and 1958–59 and 2d. per dozen more in 1959–60. The prices in the other Common Market countries in comparison with the United Kingdom price of 3s. 8d. in 1959–60 were: Belgium, 3s. 5d., France, 3s. 1d., West Germany, 3s. 6d., the Netherlands, 2s. 5d.
It can readily be seen from these figures that between the United Kingdom and the Common Market there is a great gulf fixed, the bridging of which will not receive my support unless adequate safeguards are obtained with regard to our agriculture industry. There is no sound reason why this Government should throw overboard arrangements which have benefited our farmers as a whole and, as emphasised by the Prime Minister, are best suited to the interests of this country.
I sincerely hope that the Government will give due consideration to these points so that the words of George Bernard Shaw, that the country is a healthy grave, will not prove true but, rather, Northern Ireland will become a better place in which to live and work.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
I had not expected the privilege of catching the eye of the Chair quite so early in 862 the debate, or even at all, since I had the honour of opening the last Northern Ireland debate. I will not keep the House long, because I know that there are still several of my hon. Friends who would like to speak, but I cannot help returning the compliment to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills). He was kind enough to say that I had the brow of a prophet. Whatever may be the truth of that, there is no doubt that he has the tongue of Demosthenes.
§ Captain Orr
My hon. Friend set an extremely high standard. It is common practice to congratulate someone who introduces a Private Member's Motion. In this case, our congratulations to my hon. Friend are in no way formal. He was extraordinarily lucid and constructive, and our congratulations are genuine and warm.
Both the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) and the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish)—I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Bermondsey is not in his place—referred to relations between the Government of Northern Ireland and the trade unions. It was suggested that, because the Ulster Government did not recognise the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, labour relations were bad. The hon. Member for Bermondsey said that it was silly not to recognise the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and that, perhaps, failure to recognise it arose simply from the fact that the Irish C.T.U. had its headquarters in Dublin.
There is a good and substantial reason for the present position, but it is one which is very difficult to explain to those who do not understand. There are in Ireland as a whole about 500,000 trade unionists, 200,000 of them being in Ulster. There are 100 unions in Northern Ireland. Of those 100 unions, 80 are British-based, with registered offices in London or Edinburgh. Sixteen are Ulster-based, with offices in Belfast. Only four have headquarters within the Irish Republic.
This means that 95 per cent. of trade unionists in Ulster are affiliated to unions based in the United Kingdom, and the majority are affiliated to the British T.U.C. In many of our important industries, in shipbuilding, engineering, municipal 863 transport, and so forth, the wages structure is negotiated nationally on a United Kingdom basis. In others, for instance, agriculture, gas, electricity and the like, the wage structure broadly follows the British one.
It is very difficult to understand why the Northern Ireland trade unions, or the branches of British trade unions in Northern Ireland, chose, in 1959, to affiliate to the Irish C.T.U., with its headquarters in Dublin. The constitution of the Irish C.T.U. lays down specifically that there shall be a permanent majority in its control for those unions which are Irish based, that is, based in the Irish Republic. Of the 19 members of the executive committee, ten, according to the constitution, must be members of Irish-based unions.
The difficulty is that, if the Government of Northern Ireland were to recognise the Irish C.T.U., they would be recognising a body which is not only foreign-based, but foreign-controlled. It would be an impossible thing to ask the Government of Northern Ireland to do because the aim of so many, and probably those in control of the Irish T.U.C., would be to do away with Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. It would be ludicrous to suggest that the Ulster Government could recognise that body.
It would be a mistake to lay too much emphasis on this in considering the question of labour relations in Ulster. In fact, the Ulster Government are very concerned that they should have the closest possible co-operation with the trade union movement. Their relationships with individual unions are fairly good. There are very close relationships between all the Government Departments and the two biggest of our trade unions, the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions and the Building Operatives' Union. There is close co-operation, not only at the lower levels, but at Ministerial level.
Indeed, it goes further than that, because the Northern Ireland Prime Minister has seen a number of deputations during the last eighteen months or so. On 19th August, 1959, he saw a deputation from the Northern Ireland District Committee of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions. 864 to discuss employment prospects at Short Bros, and Harland Ltd. On 14th September, 1960, he saw a similar deputation. On 19th September, 1960, he saw a deputation from the Northern Ireland District Committee of the same union to discuss employment prospects in the shipbuilding industry.
On 2nd December, 1960, he met Mr. Matthews and Mr. Barrett, the national president and general secretary respectively, of the confederation for a general discussion on the shipbuilding and aircraft industries. On 21st April, 1961, he met a deputation from the Northern Ireland District Committee of the Confederation to discuss the employment situation in the shipbuilding and aircraft industries.
Although there is this very important constitutional difficulty in recognising the Irish T.U.C., I do not think that it is fair to say that necessarily the relationship between the Government of Northern Ireland and the trade unions is bad. The trade unions ought to consider the matter again. It might be possible to devise a better type of machinery. I cannot see why it is not possible for the British T.U.C. to set up a Northern Ireland committee directly under the T.U.C. which would enable the British-based unions in Ulster to have a joint body for consultation with the Northern Ireland Government.
§ Mr. Lee
There is such a body. The Northern Ireland unions have a centre in Belfast. I have been to it and discussed certain matters there. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that there is a comparatively small number of unions based on Dublin. Why is not there recognition? I do not want the Prime Minister merely to meet deputations. I want consultation and representation on production boards, and so on.
§ Captain Orr
The difficulty is that the Northern Committee is a committee of the Irish T.U.C. It is not possible to recognise a committee of the Irish T.U.C. and at the same time to refuse recognition to the Irish T.U.C. itself. We are here concerned with a very simple problem and I should have thought that it was not beyond the wit of the British T.U.C. to find a solution to it.
There is one other matter with which I wish to deal shortly, and that is the 865 problem of the payroll tax. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North, in his extremely interesting and constructive approach, drew attention to the fact that what is basically wrong in Northern Ireland is that the capital incentives to new industry have not been sufficient. Therefore, we must look to fiscal policy for a longer-term incentive, a better way of applying public money to the problem in the long-term. My hon. Friend produced six sensible methods of dealing with this matter which are certainly worth examination.
One of these is the payroll tax. I am not one of those who condemn the idea of a payroll tax out of hand. If a tax of this sort is used flexibly, and is used to exempt areas of high unemployment—not only the development districts but, possibly, taking up my hon. Friend's idea, special development and high priority development districts; and certainly to exempt Northern Ireland from it—it might, as part of the permanent machinery of government, be capable of providing, not mobility of labour, but mobility of industry in the long term.
I have always welcomed the Government's promise to consider the special position of Northern Ireland when considering a payroll tax as a long-term measure. Of course, this year, we shall be talking about it on the Finance Bill. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the Clause in the Finance Bill which allows the proceeds, if the tax is imposed at all, from its collection in Northern Ireland to be paid into the Northern Ireland Exchequer, and he said that that was a Gilbertian situation. It does sound silly. Perhaps the Northern Ireland Government might act as an agency for the Imperial Government in collecting the tax, proceeding to pay it back again, but there is a practical difficulty in this.
If it is done through the National Insurance scheme, since the two National Insurance schemes are reciprocal, there is great virtue in the face value of the two insurance stamps being identical. None the less, we would welcome a provision in the Bill that would allow, at least in substance, that the tax does not apply to Northern Ireland, but we can discuss that further when we come to the Committee stage of the Finance Bill.
Several hon. Members have drawn attention to the fact that this is a very old problem, and, of course, it is. Dur- 866 ing the time that I have been a Member, I remember the problem being discussed. Time and time again we have had high hopes that the problem was well on the way to solution. At the time of the appointment of Lord Chandos's Development Committee, we thought that the back of the problem would soon be broken, but then came the credit squeeze and the need to control inflation in the economy. Time and time again, we have had the same sort of disappointment.
The difficulty is that, although the two Governments, between them, have made tremendous efforts to overcome this problem, although they have provided more and more employment, and although the result has been very creditable to both of them, the problem remains. We are, perhaps, too virile a people. Our birth-rate keeps going up, and has kept on doing so, so that the problem is simply not overtaken, but we cannot go on explaining that to the people who are suffering from insecurity of employment.
There is a rising tide of frustration, and in some quarters a rising tide of anger, which is being directed more and more towards Her Majesty's Government rather than the Government of Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Bermondsey wondered why hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies in this House were so loyal to the Government and to their friends in the Conservative Party. Of course, the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the reasons are obvious. Had it not been for the maintenance of the Union and the keeping of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom the problem would have been catastrophically worse. It is because we have trusted our friends on that subject that we have maintained our loyalty.
But if ever there should come a conflict—which we should all deplore—between our devotion to Ulster and our desire to see her fully employed, and our loyalty to Her Majesty's Government and our friends here, our loyalty to Ulster would come first.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
I am delighted that I am able to take part in this debate, as I was afraid that I would not be called to speak. I note 867 that a number of other hon. Members who also wish to speak, and so I shall be brief.
I wish to answer some of the comments made by hon. Members opposite about our problems in Northern Ireland to which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) referred when moving his Motion. I have never advocated the exaggeration of one's problems. It is not a good thing to shout, "Woe, woe, I am undone," because one never gets done up again. That is what hon. Members opposite have been doing. We are conscious of the fact that in Northern Ireland we have a problem created by the unemployment situation, but we are not destitute. Although we have not an affluent society, we are not yet a slum area, and we do not wish to be treated as such.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has carefully defined the problem. After the war the unemployment figure was 30,000 or 40,000. We created many more jobs and have solved the problem twice over, but still we have 30,000 or 40,000 unemployed. In that respect we have been rather like Alice and the Red Queen, who ran and ran but did not get away from where they started. We are realising that we must run even faster if we are to get anywhere. That is the reason for this debate, because we want more support from the Government in London to help us to run faster. Possibly some of the jet planes which are made in Belfast might assist in that direction.
I am exceedingly proud to be connected with a family firm which manufactures linen. One of the troubles regarding unemployment has been a reduction in the number of people employed in the textile industry. Much of that reduction has resulted from the textile industry becoming more efficient over the last 15 years. My family's factory is a relatively small one, yet we were the first to introduce modern looms. We now turn out more cloth than we did ten years ago and yet we employ 30 per cent. fewer people. I do not know what people expect who say that such family firms should expand and invest more money. I know of another family firm which produces a product 868 called Moygashel, a name well known in this country, and there are a number of other similar firms which are expanding in the same way.
It is sometimes forgotten that last year was a record year in the shipyards, when more ships were launched and of a greater tonnage than any other yard in the United Kingdom has launched. But suddenly orders have come to an end and more than half the berths will be vacant, and because of this urgent action is needed.
Last year it looked possible for us to break the back of the unemployment problem, but this year we have "run and run" and are still where we were and we still need a great deal of help. I support the plea that we should be treated as a special development area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) said so often, What is good for the United Kingdom as a whole is bad for Northern Ireland. In this House, and especially in the Chamber which stood before this one was built, the woes of Ireland have often been heard. I do not want to keep repeating them.
We had a Budget about a month ago which, while excellent for the country as a whole—and which I welcome—was thoroughly bad in one respect for Northern Ireland. Almost every provision in it which hits at anyone hits at Northern Ireland most. We have less than our ration of Surtax payers and a large proportion of people on small incomes, and we have many small companies which will feel the Profits Tax increase.
Oil will be more expensive. Dozens of farmers in Northern Ireland will find that their oil bill will go up £100 a year. That £100 will come straight out of the farmer's pocket. We depend on oil more in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. It comes straight from the refineries, but coal has to be shipped to us. The cost of oil affects the transport problem. We are still facing a big drift from the land to the towns and, as a result, there will be an increased rise in costs for those travelling to the towns.
At first the payroll tax proposal sounded absolutely catastrophic, but now we have had the details we see that what might have been our worst enemy may 869 turn out to be of great help to us. That will be because those in the rest of the United Kingdom will have to pay and we may get a positive relief from it.
There are, however, problems arising out of the fact that often what is good for the United Kingdom is not good for Ulster. One which is always cropping up is concerned with the balance of payments of the South of Ireland. Since the 'thirties they have had a high protective tariff barrier while exports to this country have enjoyed Empire Preference. Small manufacturers of furniture in Northern Ireland can sell to only a small area around their factories free of tariff and the area across the Border is cut off. The hinterland in which they can sell is cut in half. They have to compete with their opposite number over the Border who can sell freely with no tariffs against them on both sides of the Border.
In practice, this means that a manufacturer in Monaghan can sell north and south of the border, but a manufacturer in Portadown can sell only in the north. It is not surprising that the manufacturer over the border does better when he has preferential treatment. If we want to sell shirts, for which we are famous in Northern Ireland, we have to pay a 30 per cent. tariff in Southern Ireland, but shirts made of Japanese cotton come into the United Kingdom from there in competition with those we make.
This system hits many small industries very hard, but when we complain the answer is that the balance of payments between the United Kingdom and Eire is favourable to the United Kingdom and it is to the general good. That general good is reflected in hard times for people trying to sell across the border.
It is the same with milling. Proprietary brands of flour come in from the south freely and we cannot sell back freely. We find many small industries affected in this way. When we are trying to sell linen we find that the English and many other markets are pushed out by cheap State-subsidised linen from Iron Curtain countries. We complained about that and the Board of Trade told us that the amount of trade coming from the Iron Curtain countries is small and the balance of payment is favourable to the United Kingdom as a whole. The amount of linen coming from the Iron 870 Curtain countries may be small in millions of pounds but it hits a particular area of Northern Ireland extremely hard. These are all cases where what is good for the United Kingdom as a whole its not necessarily good for Northern Ireland. I ask most particularly that we should be treated with other areas of high employment as a special development area.
When we were debating the economic situation of this country, we heard during the debate and before it a great deal about increasing production and expanding industry and about exports. We also heard it said that Western Germany could expand because it had a pool of labour drifting over East Germany. There is a pool of labour in Northern Ireland and the facilities in Northern Ireland could be utilised to expand the United Kingdom economy. The facilities are there if only we could persuade the people—and the barrier is as much psychological as material—to come there. And if the Government here would also say that they would definitely help them.
As to exports, in Northern Ireland there is no question of whether we should export or not. Every single firm exports. We know all about exports. In my family firm the smallest department is the home department; the American department stands out, and the Scandinavian department and the Australian department stand out. That can be said of every single firm in Northern Ireland. The men in those firms know how to write a label for the dispatch of goods to Venezuela or Zanzibar, the clerks know how to deal with shipping forms and the salesmen know how to travel about the world and sell things. If we are to export, then Northern Ireland can probably expand our export trade faster than anyone else. To the Chancellor of the Exchequer I say as we say in Northern Ireland, "We are the boys to help you, if only you will give us the chance."
§ 3.27 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Dennis Vosper)
My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) made a realistic intervention, as, indeed, did all his colleagues, in a debate which, I think, is useful and which comes at a very opportune moment. My hon. Friend the Member 871 for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) explained the reasons for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. G. Thomas), who is not at the moment in the Chamber, seemed to think that the reason was unfortunate, but I think that the prevention of crime and the overcrowding of prisons is a matter of great public concern. I am happy to say that, despite the many problems of Northern Ireland, this is not a serious problem in Northern Ireland, where, I understand, there is plenty of room to spare in the prisons of that country.
I would take up, at the outset, one point made in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North, and pass it on to my right hon. Friend in his capacity as Leader of the House. That is his request for a day or half a day's debate on the affairs of Northern Ireland, although I would have thought that the present time was not very opportune for increasing the length of the Parliamentary Session. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be particularly disappointed at missing this debate when he hears of the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North. I think that every hon. Member who heard it will agree that it was a particularly valuable contribution.
May I say to those hon. Members who feel the absence of very frequent opportunities of debating the affairs of Northern Ireland, that hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies make up for any such lack of opportunity by the very frequent occasions on which they approach Ministers of all Departments about any matter which in any way affects Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West and the hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) both suggested that there should be a Minister in the United Kingdom Government for Northern Ireland affairs. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is, in fact, that Minister. He is a senior member of the Cabinet and is able to command the attention and respect of his Cabinet colleagues with no little result. I myself, having had a little experience of this, cannot conceive that a less senior Minister, acting wholly in the interests of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom Government, would 872 serve as effectively the interests of Northern Ireland. A comparison has been made with Wales, but there is a great difference in that case, because Wales has not a Government of her own.
It is just over a year since I took part in a similar debate, when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) ended his speech with a plea for greater consultation between the two Governments. During the year which has just elapsed visits to Northern Ireland have been paid by my right hon. Friends the Minister of Transport, the Minister of Aviation, the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In a somewhat humbler role, I spent a week there last August. My hon. Friend the Civil Lord of the Admiralty has been there, and is shortly to go there again, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Aviation has also been there as, indeed, in different capacities, have my right hon. Friends the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance and the Secretary of State for War.
Furthermore, Lord Brookeborough has been over here on a number of occasions, and has had discussions not only with the Home Secretary but with the Prime Minister. Finally, on 17th March of this year there was a meeting in London in which Ministers representing the relevant Departments of both Governments took part. I shall refer to that later. I mention the fact now because it was a meeting on those lines that speakers in the previous debate a year ago seemed to have in mind. My first point, therefore, is that co-operation between the two Governments has been close and continuing.
My hon. Friend's Motion is quite correct when it speaks of the United Kingdom supporting the Northern Ireland Government in their efforts to further the economic development of Northern Ireland. I ought to say at once that the Government accepts my hon. Friend's Motion. With an unemployment rate of 7.3 per cent. no one would wish to disagree with a Motion in these terms. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) when she says that she could not be happy with the present situation. No one can be happy with the 873 situation as it is at the moment. Although the rate of unemployment is slightly better than it was a year ago the potential fall in the employment position in the shipbuilding industry more than offsets any satisfaction which might otherwise be felt.
In reply to the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) I would say that the Government do not accept as inevitable a high rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland. The fact remains that during the sixteen years which have elapsed since the war there has been a rate of unemployment round about the present figure. It must be a matter of some disappointment to both Governments that after a long period of slow but steady economic development there should now be this sudden appearance of a setback.
I propose to deal first with the efforts which have been made during the last few years—which have been considerably successful—and then with the short- and long-term problems which face us. The causes of the comparatively high rate of unemployment have been enumerated in the House on a number of occasions. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) intervened today to analyse them at some length, and in the light of the present situation the decline in employment in the two or three major industries, together with a steady increase of the employable population, seem to stand out.
Economic development is a matter for the Northern Ireland Government, but a number of aspects of the economy are dealt with by the United Kingdom Government for the United Kingdom as a whole. It would be helpful if I said a word about the financial relationship between the two Governments. Speaking in the Northern Ireland Parliament last week Lord Brookeborough said:I am satisfied that the existing financial relationship"—which he went on to explain—is extremely favourable to us and that it would be unwise to make any fundamental change in it.I know that my hon. Friends understand the nature of this relationship, but it is important that the House as a whole should also do so. In the first place, so long as the general level of taxation in Northern Ireland is the same 874 as it is in Great Britain the Imperial contribution is fixed at an amount which leaves the Northern Ireland Government with sufficient revenue to undertake the same level of expenditure as the United Kingdom undertakes in Great Britain.
Secondly—and this is important—where there is special need the United Kingdom Government agree to a higher level of expenditure in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain, such as more favourable aids to industry, relatively greater expenditure on public works—anybody who has been to Northern Ireland in recent years must have seen plenty of evidence of this—the subsidy on industrial coal, and the remoteness grant of £1 million a year for agriculture, which has been referred to in several speeches. This extra expenditure by the Northern Ireland Government is reflected in a correspondingly lower Imperial contribution.
Thirdly, in the realm of National Insurance and in the social services there are intricate relationships which in the forthcoming financial year are expected to involve the British Insurance fund paying £5 million to the Northern Ireland fund and about £7½ million being paid on account of the social services from the United Kingdom Exchequer. It is these financial arrangements, particularly the one of special need, which enable the Northern Ireland Government to make considerable industrial inducements available.
I want to say a few words about the inducements, because they have figured in the debate. First, all investment in manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland qualifies automatically for a grant at a fixed rate of 33⅓ per cent. under the Capital Grants to Industry Acts of the Northern Ireland Parliament. Secondly, new industrial undertakings in Northern Ireland and substantial expansion of existing ones are eligible for grants under the Industries Development Acts of the Northern Ireland Parliament.
These Acts are designed primarily to attract new industry, but to qualify for grant the undertaking must be likely to create extra employment. The grants are discretionary and there is no fixed rate. The normal grant is 33⅓ per cent., although grants of 40 per cent. are quite common.
875 Thirdly, the Northern Ireland Government build factories in advance of specific requirements in areas where more employment is particularly needed and then set about finding buyers or tenants. The rents charged for the factories, which are owned by the Northern Ireland Government, are very low in the early years. Under the Northern Ireland Aid to Industry Act, 1953, the Government contribute £¾ million a year towards the cost incurred by manufacturers in acquiring coal. In 1958, these contributions amounted to just over 15 per cent. of the costs of the firm.
These inducements are not new, but they are considerable. I am not satisfied that they are always fully known in this country. During the last year it has been said—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South said it today—that the United Kingdom Local Employment Act has eroded the advantages of these inducements. In fact, the Northern Ireland measures are still more favourable than the United Kingdom measures in the following respects.
First, in Northern Ireland firms invariably receive a grant for purchasing equipment, but under the Local Employment Act here it may only be a loan. Secondly, the grant under the Local Employment Act in this country for building a factory is at the fixed rate of 85 per cent. of the difference between the actual cost of the factory and its market value when completed. In most cases this is thought to be appreciably less than the Northern Ireland rate of 33⅓ per cent. or more. Thirdly, there is no subsidy on industrial coal in Great Britain. Therefore, it seems that the advantages offered to industrialists in Northern Ireland are still better than those offered in the development areas in this country.
This is the general financial relationship which enables the Government of Northern Ireland to offer attractive terms in their all-important attempt to diversify industry. The theme of the debate has been that we must continue to diversify industry in Northern Ireland. In addition, Northern Ireland benefits by sharing in the agricultural support policy. We must remember, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for 876 Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lieut.-Colonel Grosvenor) said, that agriculture is still the major industry in Northern Ireland.
In this respect, when I spent a week there in August I was much impressed by the enormous effect that the Farm Improvement Scheme has had on the agricultural economy over there. I would think that the scheme has been of more value to Northern Ireland than it has been to the United Kingdom as a whole.
Similarly, the Small Farmer Scheme, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South referred, and which was introduced two years ago, suits Northern Ireland conditions very well. Over 32,000 applications have been received. That is not far short of half the total number of holdings in Northern Ireland, and 9,000 farm business plans are already in operation under the main scheme.
I appreciate that there remain those farms under 20 acres to which my hon. and gallant Friend also referred and which are not helped under either of these schemes. This is a matter to which I believe the Northern Ireland Government have been giving some consideration. I suppose that it would be within possibility that they could produce some scheme out of the £1 million remoteness grant. That grant, not available in this country, makes it possible for the Northern Ireland Government to introduce schemes which are not available here.
My hon. and gallant Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. Maginnis) referred to the fact that the grant comes to an end next year. They both hoped that it would be not only renewed, but would be at a higher rate. Discussions on this point are to take place and an announcement will be made before the end of the financial year. I will see that representations made go to the right quarter. Although agriculture has featured only to a small extent in the debate I make no apology for mentioning it, because it is the major industry. Anyone who has watched Northern Ireland agriculture over the last twenty years much recognise the expansion created by post-war policies.
Perhaps I might now refer to the work of the Board of Trade, which works in close co-operation with the Ministry of 877 Commerce in its task of steering industry. Special arrangements were made last April, and they were referred to in a previous debate, for the Ministry of Commerce to be notified by the Board of Trade of any firms interested in expanding who are willing to have their names passed on. Names of 65 firms have been given to the Ministry so far. I should like to be able to say with what success. That would be difficult in a debate of this nature but the operation has been successful.
Last year, as a result of the combined efforts of the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Commerce and the Northern Ireland Development Council, 16 new developments were announced which together—and this has been made public before—should provide employment for 3,400 people.
A further 1,100 jobs will be provided by the expansion of 13 firms already established in Northern Ireland. These were the developments during the year, but they are not yet fully effective in the matter of employment. This is a total of 4,500 jobs. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South said that the introduction of new industry into Northern Ireland was slowing down, but the rate for 1960 was double the average rate in the past few years. The opposite, therefore, happens to be the case.
Wherever possible, publicity is given to the facilities offered by the Northern Ireland Government, for instance, in the Board of Trade Journal, in the pamphlets accompanying the Local Employment Act, and in Ministerial speeches. Northern Ireland qualifies along with development districts in the rest of the United Kingdom for preference in the placing of Government contracts. A great deal of this is due to the great efforts of the Northern Ireland Government and it is utterly wrong to suggest that nothing has been happening in recent years to develop and diversify industry there. Those who have seen the industrial estates in Belfast, the houses, schools, road works and farms cannot for a moment support the view that nothing has been happening in Northern Ireland.
In recent years—and this will interest the hon. Member for Newton—the index of industrial production in Northern Ireland has risen somewhat faster than 878 the index for the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ Mr. Vosper
Not much, certainly, but the hon. Gentleman gave the impression that industrial production has been neglected by both Governments. The facts show the opposite.
I do not want this recital of improvements to be taken as showing any sign of complacency, but I want it to be understood that the economy is much more diversified than it was and that the numbers in employment have increased and not decreased.
Although I think that a long-term problem of diversifying industry remains, we are particularly concerned with the short-term problem created by the current difficulties of the shipbuilding industry and of other traditional industries of Northern Ireland. Because of the shipping depression, comparatively few orders are being placed anywhere in this country and, indeed, in the world as a whole, and competition for them is extremely fierce.
The difficulties which have been outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. McMaster) are not confined to Northern Ireland, as I know he understands. Of course, it is felt acutely there because Messrs. Harland and Wolff is the biggest shipyard in the United Kingdom and a very important factor in the employment situation in Belfast. No long-term forecast of employment in the firm can be ventured upon, because it is impossible to predict success in capturing new orders. The advice given to me, however, is that there is no reason at present to suppose that it will suffer a more prolonged decline than United Kingdom shipyards generally.
This is not a shipbuilding debate, but I must refer briefly, as other hon. Members have done, to the recent reports of the sub-committee of the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee. This made nine recommendations, of which six were addressed to the industry itself. I hope, again, that the hon. Member for Newton will have noted that fact. Of the remainder, one has been overtaken by Government action while the remaining two—scrap and build, to which reference has been made, and the placing of 879 Government orders—are under consideration. I can say no more than that today.
It has been argued in this debate to a small extent, and elsewhere, that temporary relief can be afforded by the placing of more Admiralty orders. But Her Majesty's dockyards are specifically equipped and organised to undertake repair work, and approximately 90 per cent. of all repairs and refitting modernisation are undertaken at these dockyards. Admiralty orders for new ships have in recent months been awarded on a competitive tender basis. Messrs. Harland and Wolff tendered for one "Leander" class frigate and for two fleet replenishment tankers. In both cases its prices were too high to capture the orders.
In fact, however, only 8 per cent. of the shipbuilding industry's construction comes from Admiralty orders and these, will to a growing extent, be put on a competitive tender basis. Messrs. Harland and Wolff will be invited to tender for those ships for which it has the necessary facilities. It has been invited to tender for a further guided missile destroyer, which is worth £7½ million. This is the type of vessel in which the firm is experienced, because it is building one now, and this should enable it to put in a realistic tender.
I would not want in this debate to repeat what has already been said about the contract for the new "Queen" liner, except to say that when I was in Northern Ireland last year many people felt that Messrs. Harland and Wolff would not even be invited to tender. That is not the case, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has made it clear that the contract will be awarded to the firm submitting the best tender. The industry has a great chance here, and I am sure that all engaged in it will take advantage of that opportunity, particularly in the light of the report of the sub-committee of the Shipbuilding Advisory Committee.
Two or three hon. Members have referred to the dry dock, which is not a new proposal. The United Kingdom and the Northern Ireland Governments have consistently taken the view that financial support from the Government for such a project in Belfast can be considered only if Harland and Wolff and 880 the Belfast Harbour Commissioners were to put forward a practical scheme to which they themselves were prepared to give considerable financial backing. I know that the hon. Member for Bermondsey thought that it should be Government enterprise, but that is not the view of either Government.
So far, Harland and Wolff and the Harbour Commissioners have failed to do that and I noticed quite recently that Lord Brookeborough has expressed doubts in the Northern Ireland Parliament as to whether this project would in fact be the best way to spend £4 million if that amount of Government expenditure were available to relieve unemployment in Northern Ireland. There are doubts about whether the dock would attract sufficient work, and it would not provide a great deal of additional employment, considering the high capital cost. I must leave that position in those words, and the initiative rests with the people in Northern Ireland.
I want to refer to Short and Harlands. It is generally accepted that in the long run the best solution for this firm might be a merger with one of the two big aircraft groups. Meanwhile, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East said, the firm has been without a chairman for a long time and I am, therefore, pleased to be able to respond to my hon. Friend's question by saying that, with the approval of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Aviation, Mr. C. E. Wrangham is being appointed chairman of this company, of which 70 per cent. of the shares are held by Her Majesty's Government.
Mr. Wrangham was, until recently, deputy-chairman of Davy-Ashmore Ltd. and has wide commercial experience. He also has considerable knowledge of the aircraft industry, having served as Director-General in the Ministry of Aircraft Production in the last war. The Government are confident that this appointment will be most beneficial to the affairs of the company. Meanwhile, the Government will try to direct suitable work to Short and Harlands when that can be done without unacceptable penalties in terms of time and money.
Work on the 10 Belfast freighters is in hand for the Air Ministry, but I cannot hold out hope that that order will be increased, because to order aircraft 881 which are not needed would not be a satisfactory way of relieving unemployment. The orders from the Ministry of Aviation during the last year to Northern Ireland total £31 million, a not insignificant contribution. When I visited Short and Harlands myself, in August last year—and many Ministers have been there since—I was given to understand that the firm had high hopes of obtaining orders for civil contracts. That is clearly a matter for the firm, but it must be a matter of some disappointment that none has so far been secured. I must make some reference to the SC1, built at Government expense for research purposes, but no production orders, for the moment anyhow, are contemplated.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West spoke very interestingly about the textile and linen industries. I share the general disappointment about the proposed closure of the York Street Flax Spinning Company. That is a grievous blow, but I do not think that I can add to what the Minister of Commerce for Northern Ireland said recently, when he referred to the fact that a total of £6 million of Government aid had been given to the linen industry. There is an impression that this industry had not benefited from the general assistance, but that is not so.
So far, I have dealt with those industries which give rise to particular anxieties, but what I have said must strengthen the determination to diversify industry still further in order to provide the balanced economy required. Over the next five years, the Northern Ireland Government expect to spend about £44 million on the promotion of industrial expansion and, as Lord Brookeborough said recently, new developments are expected to find some 10,000 new jobs. The new British Enkalon factory at Antrim should eventually employ 2,000 people and is a most welcome development. Even with all this, I accept that a serious problem remains and recognition of that fact prompted the recent discussions to which I shall refer in a moment.
There are one two other matters to which I should refer at this stage. I should like to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West that the Government will certainly support the 882 Bill to deal with coal, to which she referred.
There has been reference to the Common Market. I undertand that no representations against integration in Europe have been made by the major industries, but the position of the agricultural industry is well known, and I assure my hon. Friends that is very much in mind and that those interests will be safeguarded.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West also pursued the question of imports of textiles from Eastern European countries. As she said, this is a matter which the Board of Trade recognises, but the quotas are very small and I cannot hold out much hope that much more can be done in this direction.
There has been reference to the payroll tax, but I do not think that it would be helpful to refer to this in the short time at my disposal. My hon. Friends have made representations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Reference to this was made during the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, and I have no doubt that there will be further discussions in the weeks that lie ahead.
I should like to conclude by referring to the recent talks. Before I do that, I hope that everything that I have said, and everything that has been said in this debate, makes it clear that the economy as a whole is more broadly based and less vulnerable than it was. It is disappointing, therefore, that these successful efforts should now be met with the crisis in the shipbuilding industry. This was very much in the minds of Ministers when they met on 17th March.
I am not in a position to say much about the discussions which, as usual, must remain confidential. They have not been divulged either to members of the Northern Ireland Parliament or to Members of this House. That is in keeping with Government discussions at this stage, but I think it follows that the suggestion for a study group was one of those proposals.
Nevertheless, two important developments came out of this meeting. First, the United Kingdom Government agreed to the renewal for a further period of five years at an estimated cost of £16 million of the Northern Ireland legislation on the capital grants to industry which was 883 otherwise due to expire next year. In many quarters it may have been taken for granted that this legislation would be renewed, but this was not necessarily the case and the renewal indicates confidence in this method of dealing with a high and persistent rate of employment.
Secondly, it was agreed to set up a study group. Hon. Gentlemen opposite were rather unkind in their references to it. It was welcomed by my hon. Friends, and I am sure that it has a contribution to make. The terms of reference have been announced. My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North would like some assurances about the meetings of this group. I cannot give him those specifically, because it is customary to leave this to the chairman and members of the committee who have either not been appointed or whose names have not been announced, but what he said will come to their notice.
No easy solution is available to the study group. As I think one or two hon. Members have said, it will be concerned with long-term proposals, and I think that it would be a mistake to hurry the study group unduly if it is to find an acceptable solution.
I hope that the picture I have painted is not one of unrelieved gloom because, in fact, it is one of considerable progress which anyone can see if he visits the development estates in Belfast or the countryside beyond it. It is a story of success in attracting new industries and modernising the old. It is against this background that the world-wide depression in the shipping industry casts a shadow which cannot easily be removed.
It is, therefore, all the more important in the Government's opinion that the present industrial policies should be continued and if possible intensified. Any contribution which the study group can make to this operation will be welcome to both Governments and to my hon. Friend who proposed this Motion so confidently.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House views with grave concern the high and persistent rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to reaffirm its determination to support fully the Government of Northern Ireland in their efforts to press forward towards a balanced economy and to provide full employment.