HC Deb 14 November 1963 vol 684 cc474-86

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. F. Pearson.]

10.4 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

Dr. Jeremy Bray.

Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to intervene before the hon.Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) has started his speech. The hon. Member originally chose as his subject the question of the Economic Council for Northern Ireland. This was clearly out of order, because there was no Ministerial responsibility here and the matter was within the competence of the Parliament of Northern Ireland.

I should like to know whether, under the heading that he is now proposing to address us, it will be possible for him to raise this matter. If he is permitted so to do, I should like to know whether hon. Members representing Northern Irish constituencies will have an opportunity to speak.

Mr. Speaker

The opportunity that the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) or any other hon. Member has will depend upon the concession allowed by the Minister who is to reply. At the moment, all I have done is to call Dr. Jeremy Bray, who has the Adjournment.

10.5 p.m.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Middlesbrough, West)

I hope to give adequate time to hon. Members from Northern Ireland to participate in the debate and I understand the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is also agreeable to allow time for all who wish to speak to say something.

Mr. Speaker, I sought your permission to raise the question of economic assistance to Northern Ireland, today of all days, to show the deep feeling and sympathy which we in the North-East—I am a Member for a North-East constituency—have for our fellows in Northern Ireland who suffer from the same difficulties as we do. Unless, in the regions which face difficulties, we all stand together in putting our case to the Government, we are very much weakened. I believe that we do not damage the cause of Northern Ireland by pleading the cause of the North-East and we do not damage the cause of the North-East by pleading the cause of Northern Ireland.

I should like to ask the Government this question. What is the significance to Northern Ireland of the appointment of the Secretary for Industry and Trade? This is presented to us as a great new departure in the outlook and organisation of the Government. Clearly, it has implications for Northern Ireland. We should like to know what they are. I understand that the Secretary of State has already seen the Northern Ireland Minister of Commerce and is to visit Northern Ireland shortly. Perhaps this will lead to a brightening up of the economic planning and co-operation between the Westminster Government and the Northern Ireland Government, which certainly needs a great deal of attention. The policies of the Westminster Government are projected with a lurid lucidity on to the Northern Ireland scene and it is stimulating to an Englishman to see the reductio ad absurdum of the outlook of hon. Members opposite. First, there is the most unhappy business to which the hon. and gallant Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) has already referred—the build-up and the breakdown of the Northern Ireland Economic Council. The trade unions bent over backwards to meet every requirement of the Northern Ireland Government, only to have their proposals brushed aside on a misunderstanding of the status of—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

The hon. Gentleman is now getting on to a subject which is outside the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. He is, therefore, out of order.

Dr. Bray

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

There are many other aspects which lie well within the responsibility of the Westminster Government. There has been yet another in the succession of overseas economists asked to rub two sticks together and produce an economic plan in six months, without any indication of the provision of resources which will be needed from Westminster for the development of Northern Ireland. I wonder what is wrong with Ulster economists, anyway. Do they know too much, perhaps, or is their point of view unacceptable to the Government?

The Secretary of State will no doubt wish to see existing industries in Northern Ireland thriving. Only yesterday the Chancellor of the Exchequer said this in the House: Nothing gave me more personal satisfaction last year than developing a scheme of aid from surplus capacity, which has linked the surplus capacity of this country to overseas needs and has given greater aid than the balance of payments position would otherwise have made possible."—(OFFICIAL REPORT. 13th November, 1963; Vol. 684, c. 200.] That is an admirable scheme for which Members on this side of the House representing the North-East and Scotland have pressed.

At the same time, it was announced yesterday in Belfast that cuts in the manufacture of steel-making machinery, which is so much needed in Asia and Africa, would result in a 40 per cent, redundancy at the Wellman Smith Owen Engineering Corporation in Belfast, involving the dismissal of over 200 men, 120 of whom are highly skilled engineers. I understand that the chairman of that firm is the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts), and I have given him notice that I intended to raise this question tonight in this debate. I know the difficulties of the steel plant manufacturing industry from experience in my own constituency. But surely this is the kind of waste which the Chancellor of the Exchequer was taking pride in avoiding. Why has this happened in Northern Ireland, and at a time when we were told that we had new machinery available under the Secretary of State?

The Secretary of State will also wish to see new industries thriving in Northern Ireland, yet the Benson Report, a kind of secondhand Beeching, has recommended cuts which will mean not only the unemployment of 1,500 railwaymen, but cutting railway services to such places as Omagh, Ballymena, Lurgan and Portadown, which another plan, Sir Robert Matthew's plan for the Belfast area, had just recommended as growth points for the Secretary of State's new industries in the area. The Government may be able to close down "TW3", but there is nothing they can do about the Ulster Unionists.

Captain Orr

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but we should like to debate the railways of Northern Ireland if we thought that it would be in order in this House to do so. This also must be a matter entirely within the competence of Northern Ireland.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is entitled to speak about conditions in Northern Ireland, of which the state of the railways would be one.

Lord Robert Grosvenor (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The railways of Northern Ireland are, I think, within the competence of the Northern Ireland Government.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Yes, but that does not preclude the hon. Gentleman from referring to the railways in so far as they may receive some assistance from the Government here.

Sir Knox Cunningham (Antrim, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Benson Report, a report to the Government of Northern Ireland about an industry there, namely, the railways, which is under the sole control of Northern Ireland. With respect, I ask you to give a Ruling that it is not in order to refer to this in this House.

Dr. Bray

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I do not propose to develop the point, so perhaps we may avoid wasting further time on it. If hon. Members opposite will read the report of the debate on 22nd November last year, they will find these points referred to in their own speeches.

Surely it is highly relevant that these matters should be discussed in relation to the question of the location of industry for which the Secretary for Industry and Trade in the Westminster Government has responsibility. There must be this interplay between the two Governments. That is the kind of cooperation which there must be in order to solve the enormously difficult problems which Northern Ireland faces today. If the Secretary of State has responsibility for holding the balance between the different regions of Great Britain, that responsibility should include Northern Ireland.

Would it not be sensible for the Home Secretary to continue to exercise oversight and responsibility for constitutional and general matters relating to Northern Ireland, economic affairs being handed over to the Secretary of State for inclusion within his oversight of regional affairs in this country? He would be able to act more effectively in the interests of Northern Ireland. This seems even more obvious when we consider the instruments of regional policy which we have available, the provision of capital grants, training, and the provision of markets.

Mr. Stanley R. McMaster (Belfast, East)


Dr. Bray

I shall not give way, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me. I am anxious to allow an hon. Member opposite to speak, and the interruptions have already wasted about five minutes.

The markets which we are anxious to provide for Northern Ireland can be organised only by the Secretary for Industry and Trade. We want this provision to apply not only to the aircraft industry and the shipping industry, the provision of markets for which has already been a question frequently raised in the House and not dealt with very well, as Short Bros, know to their cost. The provision of markets must be expanded vastly and on a systematic basis so that industrialists have a chance to establish themselves in Northern Ireland and grow in the confidence that they will be able to sell their product.

We need to take a hard look at the products which can be manufactured in Northern Ireland and, having made a decision, ensure that they are manufactured there. The fiscal means are available. Government purchasing contracts provisions are already adequate for this policy, but there are no signs of it.

What of the "brain drain" from Northern Ireland? We have a more rich supply of high-quality manpower coming to this country from Northern Ireland than, perhaps, from any other part of the world. It would be only sensible, under the tremendous expansion of higher education under the Robbins Report, for the Westminster Government to finance a college of advanced technology in Belfast. If this reversed the "brain drain", so much the better.

If it stimulated Northern Ireland's industry, so much the better. If it brought more highly trained people to this country, so much the better. There will be a tremendous strain on our construction industry under the Robbins programme, so why not allow part of that load to be borne in Northern Ireland where construction work is needed and where the talent produced by a college of advanced technology is also needed?

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Stratton Mils (Belfast, North)

On behalf of my colleagues from Northern Ireland constituencies, I say at once that we welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) in initiating this debate. The only thing which he did not tell us—and I might be forgiven if I give expression to it—was who put him up to it! That is the big question hanging over this debate. The hon. Member touched on many matters. Perhaps one of the least important was the incorrect pronunciation of Ballymena which was different from the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark), who represents that area, would have it pronounced.

One thing which has come more and more to the fore in our debates on Northern Ireland and its economic problem is the fact that we have been cursed by escapism. This applies throughout the political scene in Northern Ireland. There is the attitude that someone else will solve our problems with a simple solution—the idea that the British Government will be able entirely to solve our problems or the flow of American industry will provide the solution. Now I believe that we have come up against the cold reality of the facts.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West ever goes to the pictures. If he does, perhaps I can express what I mean in this way. We must now end the world of fantasy, the world of Billy Liar and of Walter Mitty, and come back again firmly to reality. Others may help, but the solution to the economic problems of Northern Ireland must come essentially from our own efforts. It will not come from the clouds.

Her Majesty's Government can help. They can help with an increased rate of public investment. A dry dock has recently been announced and there is a massive road and housing programme. It is interesting that in 1962 thepublic capital expenditure per head of population in Northern Ireland was £23 while in the rest of the United Kingdom it was only £19. The increased public investment in central Scotland and the North-East announced in the White Paper today is welcome. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State to the Home Office will give us an assurance tonight that public investment in Northern Ireland will not fall behind public investment in those areas as our social super-structure is of vital importance.

Her Majesty's Government can also help with public contracts, particularly in our aircraft factories and shipyards and, above all, by bringing about buoyant economic conditions throughout the United Kingdom which is Northern Ireland's best tonic.

I turn to the question to which I alluded earlier, namely, how can we help ourselves? Are we to give more incentives to private enterprise? My feeling is that we have very nearly reached the end of the road in giving incentives to private enterprise. How much further are we to go? Are we to follow the cornflake manufacturers and to give away a Rolls-Royce with every packet if one brings a factory to Northern Ireland?

I should like to see a small experiment made in State training. There would be no harm done in looking into this matter. A few pilot schemes might be started. A vast labour training scheme is under way in Northern Ireland, and this is made all the more important and necessary when one realises that about 65 per cent, of the unemployed in Northern Ireland are unskilled or semiskilled workers. Therefore, one of the top priorities of the Northern Ireland Government is a vast labour training scheme.

Above all—and the hon. Member dealt with this very fairly—there is the new attitude to regional planning which has been forced into this Chamber from both sides of the House and which we in Northern Ireland are also looking at afresh. The hon. Member touched on the Northern Ireland Economic Council and was, very rightly, ruled out of order. I would merely say—

Dr. Bray

Is the hon. Member in order in saying anything about this?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is not in order. I have ruled it out of order and it is quite out of order for him to refer to it, even obliquely.

Mr. Stratton Mills

I was merely complimenting you in passing, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on having ruled it out of order. I will leave it there.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West referred to the economic planners who were being brought in from outside Northern Ireland, little realising that Professor Wilson is from Bally-money, part of County Antrim, although at present lecturing at Glasgow University. But the Northern Ireland regional plan which is being prepared by the Northern Ireland Government in conjunction with N.E.D.C. will make a valuable contribution.

Above all, there is in Britain and in this House a new attitude of mind, to the value rather than the liabilities of a region such as Northern Ireland. It was well expressed by Captain O'Neil, the Northern Ireland Prime Minister, the other day when he said that regions such as Northern Ireland were not an awkward liability but could be a dynamic asset to the nation in sustaining our new growth rate aim. This essential point has come very much to the fore in our debates on areas such as Northern Ireland in recent years. We are potentially an asset and not a liability. The problem is how to throw aside the chains and fetters which hold areas such as ours until their labour and skills make a full contribution to the life of the nation.

Over the last two years, we have had many stones thrown at us by hon. Members on the benches opposite, but as an area we have very much of which to be proud. When one realises that 25 per cent, of our population in manufacturing industry are in jobs which have been provided since the war, one realises the fantastic transformation which has taken place in Northern Ireland industry. One realises also that although the unemployment rate is now about 6½ per cent., about 33,000 people, an expansion of industry is taking place which shows—I hate the expression and I apologise for it—11,000 jobs in the pipeline in existing industry and 8,000 jobs in the pipeline in new industry, making a total of 19,000 jobs in prospect which have been announced by the Northern Ireland Minister of Commerce.

The most important thing for us as an area is to believe that we have the solution of our problems within our own grasp. No one else will solve them for us. We will get help, we hope, from the Treasury Bench, but the solution must ultimately be ours.

10.24 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Mervyn Pike)

I will endeavour to keep in order in my reply to the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray), and I shall have to confine myself much more closely than he did to remain in order.

We welcome the fact that we could have this debate tonight. It has fallen very happily on a day when we have been discussing similar problems in other regions in Britain, and when we have seen the publication of two White Papers for the North-East and for Scotland. It dramatically underlines the fact that these two White Papers deal with regions of Britain where the unemployment figure is considerably lower than in Northern Ireland. It demonstrates the difficulty of the problem in Northern Ireland and it gives us this opportunity of assuring hon. Members in this House and our friends in Northern Ireland that we have their interests at heart. We are determined to continue all sorts of measures which have been proving so helpful over these years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) in her speech the other day—and I should like to congratulate her on it—gave figures of unemployment at present in Northern Ireland. I have them here. She said there was about 66 per cent, unemployment, and that it was as low as it is has been in recent times, and that the working population is larger than ever before. These are developments we want to see continuing.

Of course, in Great Britain, as the hon. Gentleman has said, fresh measures are being taken for economic growth in areas for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Industry and Trade is now responsible, and, as the House is aware, there is a separate Government in Northern Ireland with responsibilities in these matters.

Nevertheless, I attended last week a meeting between the Minister of Commerce in Northern Ireland and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and Trade, where they agreed that their Departments should continue to keep in the closest touch both on development district policy and in the regional development field. The Board of Trade will continue to give Northern Ireland equal status with development districts in the task of steering industry to areas of the greatest need.

The responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary as the main channel of communication between the two Governments is, of course, untouched, and he will continue to take the keenest interest in the Northern Ireland affairs.

As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, West and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) have said, the fact that there is to be more public investment at present in the development areas causes some anxiety in Northern Ireland as to whether Northern Ireland will lag behind. The hon. Gentleman mentioned figures for public investment in the last year. I have the Hall report of the figures for the last six years, showing that over the last six years there has been proportionately a higher investment in public works in Northern Ireland than in this country. So I would say to him that Northern Ireland has a very good start over the development districts we have been talking about today and which are the subject of the two White Papers.

Northern Ireland has a very good start, and its lead will go on continuing. Not only has Northern Ireland a good start in public investment, but I would remind Northern Ireland that it has also got a good start in the know-how for inducing industry to come into Northern Ireland, and may well be able to teach us and the rest of this country how to induce industry to go to development areas.

I should like, in the time available to me, to give some of the figures which demonstrate the extent of the aid which has been given to Northern Ireland, the extent of the economic aid which Northern Ireland receives from this country. Apart from the depreciation allowances, which, since the last Budget, have applied to Northern Ireland as well as to the rest of the country, Northern Ireland's expenditure on investment in industry is generally increasing.

In 1962–63, provision for industrial development programme estimates totalled about £14.075 million and in 1963–64 the figure is £17.255 million. This is a considerable increase in the amount of aid. Under this programme there is Government factory building including advance factories. In 1963-64, the provisional estimate is £5.4 million. Under the Industries Development Act assistance is given towards the initial cost of new development and there is no statutory limit imposed to the amount or the form which help takes.

At present, the Northern Ireland Minister of Commerce is anxious that this aid should keep well in advance of the aid that is given in this country. On 3rd April he made this announcement: Our rates of grant are already higher than those in Great Britain, and we intend to keep ahead by increasing our assistance for suitable new projects. The estimate for this assistance in the 1963–64 Estimates is £3.5 million compared with £1.4 million in 1962–63. So hon. Members representing Northern Ireland can rest assured that they are still well ahead in this matter.

Under the Capital Grants to Industry Act, grants up to a statutory limit of 33⅓ per cent, are given—in practice they are given automatically—for annual capital expenditure on buildings and plant. The estimate for 1963–64 is £5.1 million against £4.3 million in 1962–63. Grants at a high rate can also be given towards the cost of transferring plant and key workers to new factories and other expenditure incurred in establishing them.

As recommended in the Hall Committee Report, a new scheme has been introduced, estimated to cost £500,000 over five years, which will provide grants for firms wishing to provide professional consultants to advise them on means of improving their efficiency. Other special assistance includes de-rating of 75 per cent, on industrial premises, and a fuel subsidy on coal which is being extended to oil and petroleum.

Also, Government training centres are provided, and training fees are given to firms, and also a maintenance allowance, for training at these and other centres. There are also housing subsidies and the

industrial enterprise fund which will be established, which it is understood will be used mainly for encouraging management training. Management training is of particular importance for an area like Northern Ireland where more and more new industries with all the responsibilities for training people in new skills are being established.

These are some of the aids which the Northern Ireland Government have received to enable them to extend their industries and the scope of their industrial life. In addition, we have the construction of the large new dry dock in Belfast which my right hon. Friend announced in August. Since we last had the opportunity to speak about this, we have been considering the matter further, and discussions have taken place and consultants have now been instructed to prepare detailed surveys and estimates of its cost. I understand that the work on the survey is in progress.

There is also the Short and Harland scheme. I am informed by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Aviation that in regard to the sub-contract for part of the work on the VC10 promised to this firm, although it has not been formally entered into, preparatory work is already in progress, and the position and prospects of the firm were recently—on 29th October, I think—the subject of a speech in the Northern Ireland House of Commons by the Minister of Commerce.

In the time available I cannot elaborate on this, but—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-six minutes to Eleven o'clock.