§ 10.35 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. John Concannon)
I beg to move,That the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 21st November, be approved.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
I suggest that with this we take the following order:That the Financial Provisions (Northern Ireland) Order 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 21st November, be approved.
§ Mr. Concannon
I shall deal first with the Approriation Order which is being made under Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974.
At the end of July the House approved an Appropriation Order which appropriated the main Northern Ireland Estimates provision of £618 million for 1974– 75. The Autumn Supplementary Estimate requires an additional £32 million bringing the total estimates provision to date for 1974–75 to £650 million. The draft order now before the House provides for the issue of the additional amount now required from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund and for its appropriation to particular services. Full details of the services concerned are contained in the Autumn Supplementary Estimate, copies of which have been available in the Library for some weeks.
Some of the additional sums required, as I shall indicate, represent increases in 914 real expenditure, others are the result of price or pay increases.
In Class III, No. 2, an extra £2.3 million is to be paid into the Northern Ireland National Insurance Fund which bears the cost of, amongst other things, unemployment and sickness benefits. The estimate is based on revised figures supplied by the Government Actuary and takes into account the increase in the rate of contributions which came into effect from 5th August 1974. In Class III, No. 4, additional provision of £3.5 million is required for non-contributory benefits. This is because supplementary benefits, old persons' pensions and attendance allowances were increased with effect from 22nd July 1974.
Of the additional provision of £12.4 million required in Class III, No. 5 in respect of the hospital and community services provided by the health and social services area boards, £9.9 million is for pay increases and £2.6 million for price increases.
Class V, No. 6, Agricultural Assistance Schemes, provides a sum of £1.5 million to be paid as beef subsidies under the beef marketing subsidy scheme. This scheme was introduced to maintain equality of trading conditions between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. As no provision was made for this expenditure in the main Estimates for 1974–75, it was necessary to advance the sum required from the Northern Ireland Civil Contingencies Fund. The purpose of this supplementary provision is to repay the advance. This item of expenditure represents a real increase in public expenditure.
In Class IX, No. 4, transport services, the provision of £1.7 million is mainly concerned with grants for Aldergrove Civil Airport and grants to bus operators to help maintain passenger services in the Province. Part of the additional provision is due to inflationary pressures and part represents a real increase in expenditure.
A grant of £800,000 to Enterprise Ulster to cover pay and price increases is by far the largest item in the extra £900,000 provision sought in Class X, No. 2, employment and training services.
The Government's decision in August this year to double the rate of regional employment premium to employers in areas of high unemployment including 915 Northern Ireland requires a supplementary provision of £5.1 million for Class X, No. 3. This constitutes a real increase in public expenditure.
Finally, the House may recall that its attention was drawn to a printing error in the Appropriation Order considered in July which did not, however, affect the total sum appropriated. Article 6 of the draft order corrects this error.
I shall now turn to the Financial Provisions Order. Capital expenditure on certain services, and lending by Government in Northern Ireland are subject to specified limits on total issues. These limits are increased from time to time. The most recent increase was made by the Financial Provisions Measure (Northern Ireland) 1974, but a review of the present limits has indicated that some of these may be reached during the present financial year or early next year. The provisions of this order extend these particular limits to cover estimated expenditure until 31st March 1976. It also introduces a formula for the calculation of capital available to the Northern Ireland Civil Contingencies Fund.
Article 3 and Schedules 1 and 2 would increase by a total of £34 million the present statutory limit on issues from the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund for certain categories of capital expenditure by government. The items of expenditure concerned are grants under the Development Services Act, expenditure for industrial development, and grants and loans to industry. An increase in these statutory limits does not of course, mean that Departments can incur expenditure on these services up to the new limits without reference to Parliament. Within these limits, the approval of Parliament must be sought through the submission of Estimates and the consequential grant of Supply.
Article 4 seeks to increase from £450 million to £600 million the amount which may be outstanding from the Northern Ireland Government Loans Fund. The fund is a major source for borrowing by local authorities and other public bodies in Northern Ireland, and it is estimated that some £460 million may be outstanding from the fund by the end of this financial year. The National Loans Fund is the main source of borrowing for the 916 Northern Ireland Government Loans Fund.
Article 5 deals with the introduction in Northern Ireland of a formula for calculating the maximum capital that may be available to the Civil Contingencies Fund. Under this formula, the maximum capital available, including the permanent capital, would be 2 per cent. of authorised supply expenditure for the previous financial year. The proposed formula would automatically take account of inflation. Under it, the maximum capital available to the fund in 1974–75 would be £12.5 million. A similar formula was recently introduced in relation to the United Kingdom Contingencies Fund.
Schedule 3 provides for the repeal of Section 33C of the Exchequer and Financial Provisions Act (Northern Ireland) 1950. The purpose of this repeal is to remove the separate provision for the control of capital expenditure on school meals contained in this section, because the enactment of the Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, which give effect to the reorganisation of local government, has applied Section 33 of the 1950 Act which covers various items of expenditure on schools, including school meals. The order does not itself vote or appropriate any additional expenditure. That requires further legislative stages.
Both these orders represent customary and necessary steps in the financial cycle, and I commend them to the House.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
Yet again, a limited number of right hon. and hon. Members are scrutinising, late at night in strictly limited time, millions of pounds of public money. We labour under a sense of powerlessness. My right hon. and hon. Friends have repeatedly complained, as I have, that our present procedure for conducting Northern Ireland legislation does not enable the Commons of the United Kingdom to do its duty to the public purse and the public weal.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
I concede that it is not a matter against any particular administration. Our remonstrances. 917 although echoed in every quarter of the House, have so far got us nowhere. The Leader of the House has murmured about improved procedure and an Ulster Grand Committee, but we still await his proposals. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition gave him a needed nudge today at business question time.
Failing devolution, a regional assembly or other more satisfactory arrangements for the government of Northern Ireland within the Kingdom, the case is strong for an Ulster Grand Committee. The Scottish Grand Committee meets in Edinburgh as well as at Westminster, and I foresee that an Ulster Grand Committee could meet at Stormont as well as here. That would be an educational experience for some of those serving on the committee, but it would also demonstrate the interest of the House in the welfare of our fellow subjects across the water. But that is for the future—not too distant, I hope. Tonight, all we can do is put in our probes and seek elucidation. I follow the order of the Estimates and put some questions to the hon. Gentleman.
I propose to start with the dissolved Assembly and proceed thence to the defunct Executive and ask why the travelling expenses of Assembly men were so heavily underestimated. From £15,200 to £65,900 is quite a jump.
I was also attracted by the mention of expenses relating to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, to which I am devoted, as I know is the Under-Secretary of State. Ulster and, indeed, Ireland as an island have given much to the Commonwealth. Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen from Northern Ireland constituencies are welcome members of the CPA. I am not clear whether there is a Northern Ireland branch at this moment. What are the expenses incurred? Can it be that the offices of the Executive staff are being maintained as if the Executive still existed? What is the position of its accompanying civil servants?
Northern Ireland has had more than its share of the United Kingdom's agricultural depression. The £1½ million beef subsidy under Article 5 staved off disaster. Will the Minister tell us about cattle shipments to Britain? Northern Ireland depends heavily on her agricultural exports to keep up domestic prices which, 918 on average, are about £3 lower than in Great Britain. In particular, are better roll-on roll-off facilities being provided for the transport of cattle?
The expenditure on security arrangements includes an increase of almost £200,000 for Aldergrove Airport and an additional £500,000 under the security staff grants scheme. Is this increase of 35 per cent. in the estimate for security staff attributable to a rapid recruitment of additional officers—one understands the need for them—or to higher rates of pay and to the proportion of the Government's contribution?
It would be helpful if we could be given an estimate of the number of full-time security staff at present employed by businesses in Belfast and other centres and be told what assistance is given them to provide security for their premises whether by tax, rate relief or otherwise.
The £50,000 grant to the Belfast Harbour Commissioners appears somewhat unusual. Is it related to one of the cross-Channel ferries? To what use is the grant being put? Are the Government acting to continue the much valued Belfast-Heysham steamer service?
There appear to be estimated savings of £420,000 on expenses relating to tourism. In my view, tourism should largely be for private enterprise and private initiative, but I hope that Government encouragement is not flagging. Terrorism and tourism go ill together, but both these phenomena are now, alas, almost universal. One may be as safe in the Ulster Museum as in the Tower of London and find as much tranquillity in the glens of Antrim, the Mourne Mountains or round the lakes of Fermanagh as anywhere in England, Wales or Scotland. For example, what part is being played by the Ulster Office in making known the beauties of the Province? Will the Minister tell us something about that? It seems that the Ulster Office is there, but we do not hear very much about its activities.
The estimate for capital expenditure at Aldergrove Airport is to go up by almost £300,000. That reminds me of a recent criticism of the passenger handling facilities by the local manager of British Airways, who said that £10 million was necessary to bring them up to scratch. Does the Minister agree?
919 More than £1 million is provided for bus operators. The problems of those who carry passengers and freight in times of guerrilla war are immense. Trains can be, and have been, held up for days by terrorist bombs on the line. Buses are often hijacked and destroyed, or seriously damaged. I understand that, out of 300 city buses, some 100 have been destroyed. All the rest have been damaged at least twice. About 10 members of the staff have been killed. One wonders how the bus operators carry on, but they do, and they deserve our admiration and support.
Ulster trade union leaders and the trade union rank and file members have given a responsible lead in the present troubles. I do not, therefore, cavil at the raising of the grant to the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Council of Trade Unions from £12,000 to £20,000, but I think the House might like to know whether this higher grant is intended for a specific purpose.
The sum of £5 million is allotted for selective employment premiums. The rate of the regional employment premium was doubled in the summer Budget, and this £5 million represents the additional amount for the rest of the year for Northern Ireland. What discretion is given to the Northern Ireland Department of Commerce in the distribution of these sums to different parts of the Province?
An increase of £3 million in supplementary benefits recalls an oral Answer which the hon. Gentleman gave on 28th November 1974, when he said that 5,247 tenants were still on rent strike. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the deductions are still being made from benefits claimed by such persons in respect of their debts?
Turning to the Draft Financial Provisions (Northern Ireland) Order 1974, according to Article 4 the limit of loans in Northern Ireland goes up from £450 million to £600 million. I should like to know the reason for this steep increase in the borrowing estimates. The Minister may wish to reply to the criticisms which have been heard from some quarters in Northern Ireland of the extent of Government borrowing in recent years. Is it true that some of the nationalised bodies, such as the electricity board, are drawing very heavily on Government loans?
920 Schedule 1 to the order raises to £40 million the limits on Government payments for industrial development and for the attraction of investment to Northern Ireland. The Minister of State recently announced the trade figures for Northern Ireland for the year 1973. He paid tribute to the export achievements of Northern Ireland industry. I think we should all like to do that. In real terms there was an increase of 18 per cent. in sales outside the Province and the value of total trade increased by 34 per cent. This is remarkably encouraging in these times of disorder. All hon. Members salute the workers of Ulster in all sectors and at all levels of the Northern Ireland economy.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)
Since the Northern Ireland situation was not adequately explained on the last occasion when agriculture was debated in the House, I intend to devote my remarks this evening to Class V of the Draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1974.
First, I should like to draw attention to Class V 3. I understand that this grant relates to the brucellosis eradication scheme, and the decrease in appropriation in aid is an indication of the drop in the value of the carcases of cattle slaughtered under the scheme. It is a matter of regret that due to the present beef situation there was a decrease of £92,000 in the value of the cattle slaughtered under the scheme.
I should like to couple with that item 6, providing a sum of £1,500,000 for increased expenditure in respect of the beef support scheme in Northern Ireland, and specifically the scheme which was introduced in lieu of the extra £10 per head in the calf subsidy. That scheme paid out £1.76 per cwt. It lasted for only a very short time. Eventually the extra £10 calf subsidy had to be introduced in any case. I should not like hon. Members to think that I object to the farmers of Northern Ireland receiving an extra £1,500,000, but I ask the Minister whether this amount was actually paid out under the scheme, or whether some lesser sum was actually paid.
Arising directly from that, we have recently had a new régime introduced for beef. I draw attention to the fact that in the first week of the scheme, the Northern 921 Ireland average price was £11.58 per cwt, whereas the price in Great Britain was £15.97 and the United Kingdom average was £15.52. If we add to that the headage payment of £2.27 per cwt. and the Northern Ireland variable premium of 80½p, we arrive at £14.65½, which is far below the target price of £18 laid down for that week.
On the second week, unfortunately the market price in Northern Ireland dropped to £11.36. The price in Great Britain was £16.27, and the United Kingdom average was £15.47. When to that is added the headage payment of £2.27 and the variable premium of £1.30, we discover that the average price for Northern Ireland was £14.83.
In the first week, we were £3.35 below the target price. In the second, we were £3.62 below it. I need not say how serious this is for the beef farmer in Northern Ireland, especially considering that the beef farmer on this side of the Irish Sea grossed more than £18 per cwt. in both weeks.
I suggest to the Minister that Northern Ireland needs to be treated on a separate basis from the rest of the United Kingdom if we are to get the result out of the new beef regime at which the scheme is aiming. I know that we have the additional payment of 70p per cwt. which has been paid in full in the first, two weeks, but when we are so far below the target price, 70p does not go very far. It will need to be raised by a considerable amount.
One problem which confronts us is the practical difficulty of exporting our cattle from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. We are grossly overstocked at present, and we have had very serious shipping problems. One of the cattle boats, which plies out of Londonderry, was broken down for some weeks. It has recently returned and is now doing two runs a week to Glasgow carrying about 440 head on each run. The second boat plies between Belfast and Birkenhead, doing three trips a week and carrying about 460 head a trip.
In addition, we have recently introduced for an experimental period a roll-on roll-off means of transport in containers. But here there are grave difficulties because I understand that in the long run a new container will need to be designed, and I 922 was wondering whether there was any possibility of aid being given towards such a design.
In addition, is there any possibility of allowing cattle to be taken on this roll-on roll-off not to Birkenhead or Liverpool but to Stranraer, which means a considerably shorter crossing? I am aware of the difficulties with lairage and the 10-hour waiting period which the veterinary people demand, but, since the cattle would not have to be off-loaded, why should not they be transported another 20 or 30 miles before going into lairage for their rest period?
Finally, on beef, I wish to draw attention to the problems of the suckling herd, which is the primary source of beef cattle. The farmer engaged in suckling seems to have been forgotten in all this melee about beef. If he goes out of business, there will be even more serious problems for the beef producer. If there are no calves, obviously there cannot be beef on our tables.
I should like to draw attention to the prices paid in the principal suckler markets over the last three years. In September and October, 1972, the average prices were respectively £81.75 and £77.98. In September and October, 1973, they were respectively £90.25 and £80.92. In the first four weeks of the markets this year, the average price was £35.16, and even with the extra £10 per head calf subsidy, it is still only little more than half last year's average.
I need not say how serious this is for the suckling farmer, for he is normally a small farmer. There are a few large herds, but with the increase in stock there are increased problems, although basically these are small farmers living in the foothills who cannot keep their cattle over winter, who find it difficult to sell and who have sold this year at disastrous prices. I hope to hear tonight that some aid will be extended to that section of the farming community.
Class V2 shows an increase in appropriations in aid of £77,500, which I understand arises from the increases in the value of sales and services, mainly from the colleges run by the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. What extra money and extra courses will be available to the budding farmers in Northern Ireland? I know that much has been done, but a great deal more remains 923 to be done because the day of farming as a way of life is over. Farming today is a harsh business and it has to survive in open competition with the world. If farmers are to survive, especially with the remoteness from the market which exists in Northern Ireland, it is essential that they be well trained and capable of carrying out the farming task for the benefit of this nation.
Class V4 contains the sum of £23,400, which I understand is the United Kingdom share of the deficit of the Foyle Fisheries Commission for the year which ended on 30th September. The Foyle Fisheries Commission is rather a mule in Northern Ireland, because it straddles the border. From its past history, in fact, one should say that it is a jennet rather than a mule. It faces serious problems. It is not the most popular body among the angling or the commercial netting community. I know, having fished with a rod and netted with a commercial net in my time. No one seems to like it. That might be an advantage in some circumstances, but it is certainly not an advantage for the Foyle Fisheries Commission.
The Foyle system has been described as the richest salmon fishery in Europe. It produces between 60,000 and 100,000 salmon per annum—sometimes more. That has to be set against the total production of the rest of Northern Ireland of about 30,000 salmon a year. These salmon are worth between £250,000 and £300,000 a year to the Northern Ireland economy. This considerable sum is a great help to many of those engaged in the salmon industry.
The system faces the most serious problems of water abstraction for industry, especially from the River Faughan, which I fear will be extended to other rivers. It also faces problems of water abstraction for human beings, which has had serious consequences for the tributaries of other rivers. It has had the problem of salmon disease over the past six or seven years which has taken the gravest toll of fish life in the entire system and has cut down the number of salmon running into the rivers. In addition, there is salmon netting on the high seas. I trust that that is a matter that will be considered constantly whenever the industry is being considered.
924 I draw to the attention of the House the problem of boats which are left on the beaches and river banks in the Foyle system. At the moment there is no legislation governing the safety of the boats. They are left unlocked. This year three children aged 10 or 11 years lost their lives just outside Londonderry. They took out a boat, fell out of it and drowned. It was a most distressing case. I visited the parents. The lost children were two brothers and a friend who lived nearby. Surely some regulations could be introduced by the commission or by another responsible body to ensure that boats are not left lying around. They are a temptation not only to poachers but to adventurous children. Such children will always get into trouble even when it is thought by adults that it is impossible for them to do so.
I do not want to try to run away from the fact that in salmon fishing and game fishing in Northern Ireland there is a tremendous social facet which cannot be ignored. Salmon fishing in the Province is cheap. A salmon licence for the Foyle system costs £3 a year. There are many miles of salmon fishing open to the general public. I hope that that policy will be preserved in future.
I draw the Minister's attention to the activities of the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland. It has taken over some stretches of river and immediately raised the cost of licences far beyond the pockets of the local population. That is deeply resented. I trust that that will be taken into account in future activities within the scheme.
The Foyle system would appear to have had a deficit this past year of £46,800. I understand that there is an accumulating deficit apart from that. That is remarkable because the Northern Ireland Fisheries Conservation Board manages to break even each year. It covers a larger area but it does not have the same number of salmon. It does not have the same sources of income although its total income is about £100,000. The Foyle Fisheries income in 1972 was £37,000 yet it ended up in debt. Why should this be so?
In July 1973 two Canadian experts carried out a survey on the fishing 925 stocks in the Foyle system. They presented a report but it has not been published. I think I speak for the anglers and netsmen in the Foyle area when I say that I want to see the report published quickly. I should like to see full public discussion and any difficulties that exist to be acted upon by the commission and the Department.
Finally, I draw the attention of the House to Class V, No. 5, which deals with forestry. I understand that there is a constant downward trend in the amount of money that is being spent on private forestry in Northern Ireland. The owners of private woodlands were provided with a grant of £26,000 by the Department for the year ending March 1971. The next year they received £20,000. In 1973 the figure was £19,000 and for the year ending 1974 it was £17,000. Apparently in the figures before us there is a decrease of £5,000 in the grant available to private forestry.
The amount of private afforestation is a fair barometer of the income and prosperity of farming. When farmers are making money, they tend to plant trees. When they are not making money or when profits are small, they stop planting trees. Tree planting is a long-term investment. It is an investment for other generations. When the farmer who planted the trees is dead, someone else will live to enjoy the benefits. Tree planting is a process that should be encouraged by every means. The country has a great need for trees, and perhaps this aspect of farming has not been treated as well as it should have been treated.
Since the planting of trees is a long-term prospect and not a very profitable exercise to the person who plants the timber, I wonder whether the Minister would perhaps convey to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few thoughts about capital transfer tax in regard to private woodlands. It is a serious matter for private woodland owners that capital transfer tax should apply to them, since tree planting is something from which they get no real benefit in their lifetime but which will benefit the country as a whole. It is in every sense of the phrase a growing investment.
I understand that in terms of profitability, the value of products sold from forestry has increased by a sum of 926 £165,000 this year. Afforestation in Northern Ireland is proceeding at a rate of 5,000 acres per annum. I suppose that that figure cannot be stepped up to any great extent, but I should like to see more encouragement given to private afforestation. There are many small plots of land which have no use for agriculture but which could be used to grow excellent timber. It is certainly better to grow timber than to grow rush or scrub, which are of no benefit to man or beast.
There is much more I could say about the difficulties of agriculture at present, but I think I have raised a few questions which require an answer. The farmers of Northern Ireland would like to have some idea of what will be done to improve the lot of the beef farmers. They would like to know what is to happen in future about their transport problems. They would also like to know whether there is any possibility of a relaxation in veterinary requirements in terms of lairage for transport across the sea and whether there is a possibility of getting cattle into Stranraer rather than Birken-head or Liverpool in a roll-on roll-off system of transport.
§ 11.14 p.m.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)
I wish to refer to a few points and I hope that the Minister will be able to help those in Northern Ireland who are affected by the problems which I shall outline.
I agree with the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) about the present situation facing agriculture. I wish to emphasise the plight that besets farmers —and certainly Lord Donaldson recognised their plight—and to suggest that something needs to be done because beef producers have suffered a great deal in the past year. It is no use their relying solely on the benefits which the Minister for Agriculture brought back from the Common Market. If farmers are to pull through a tough winter, they will need a bigger subsidy.
In my constituency of North Down I am greatly concerned over the subject of housing, and indeed there is a desperate shortage of houses and accommodation generally throughout Northern Ireland.
The only way to release skilled building labour and financial resources for a crash building programme is to curtail 927 the capital investment programme in other directions and to prevent the building of office blocks, which profit few except the speculators. This is essential. I have been demanding this for some time, though my demands have fallen on deaf ears when I have addressed them to the Government in the past.
North Down is a growth area. It has long been a reception area for people on the Belfast emergency and redevelopment lists. No one objects to people coming from Belfast into North Down. New people are welcomed into my constituency. Unfortunately, however, the local people are pushed to the wall. They get no resettlement grant to take up residence in their own area, whereas the grants act as an incentive to people from outside the area.
Persons on the emergency and redevelopment lists in Belfast are not awarded points. They do not need them because they receive priority over local people in North Down. There are houses lying empty in Craigavon. It is essential that people should be enticed to go there, because North Down cannot cope with the great number of people who are coming into what is obviously a very attractive area. I hope to deal later with the subject of tourism.
There are thousands of people in North Down who desperately need rehousing, particularly young married couples and the elderly. There are few houses for them. They are largely dependent upon relets, which in many areas are few and far between. In North Down very few houses have been built recently. I do not intend to allocate the blame for this state of affairs. I am not interested in laying blame. I want to see the houses built.
The Under-Secretary most kindly came to Bangor about six months ago to see the Bloomfield Road estate there. We appreciated his visit. It showed his concern for the people of that area. However, I recently received an incredible reply to a parliamentary Question. I think that it came from the Under-Secretary. It alleged that there were only 1,505 applicants at present on the waiting lists for houses in the North Down area. But I know that at present there are nearly 1,200 applicants in the New-townards district alone. I do not know 928 who provided the Under-Secretary with that reply and how he was able to reduce the number of people waiting for houses in North Down to 1,505. In the Bangor area—without turning attention to the 'Ards, Hillsborough and the Saintfield area—where people are also waiting for houses—at least another few thousand people are on the waiting lists.
Even taking the Government's obviously incorrect estimate of 1,505 applicants, it will be 1980 before they are all housed, for the public sector building programme will not exceed 300 houses a year until 1978. That is a paltry, miserable figure. I do not believe that the Minister can accept it as being otherwise. It is a shame. It bears no relation to the grave problem. It is a very human problem. I cannot think of anything more important—apart from the ending of the IRA terrorist campaign—than the people having decent houses in which to live.
In the course of the year I have received close on a thousand letters from people with housing problems, some of them with no adequate place in which to live. I have seen some of these houses. They have damp walls, leaking roofs, rotting floorboards, no inside lavatory, no hot water and no bathroom. Very often I noticed that the chimneys are not operating properly so that people, particularly the elderly, cannot keep a fire going.
The relative affluence of the North Down area has tended to disguise the fearsome conditions in which many people are living. The Government must build forthwith sufficient houses in North Down, because this is an emergency. They are needed by the local people as well as by outsiders. An essential short-term measure is the construction of one-bedroom flats.
I emphasise that point because there are so many young married couples who are told that they cannot have the accommodation because they do not have the points, even though they are living in crowded conditions at home. They do not have the points because they do not have the children. It virtually means that these couples would have to live in sin and have a number of children in order to acquire the points which would enable them to be given the accommodation when married. In this day and age 929 young married couples should not have to face married life in the home of the husband or wife's parents, because in such conditions, even with the best will in the world, there is bound to be tension, and perhaps rows.
I heard of a case only a few days ago where nine people are living in a three-bedroom house, and one of those bedrooms is a box room. The father is ill. He has a sister living there who is also ill. A brother living there is married with a child. All the furniture is in the bedrooms and these people have virtually to climb over it to get into bed. I know that the Minister will have sympathy in this case, and I mean that sincerely because I think he is sympathetic to such cases. But sympathy is not enough. I also want Government action, and that means that money must be provided and the workers found to erect the flats. This will mean cutting through the red tape of planning procedures.
§ Mr. McCusker (Armagh)
Is my hon. Friend aware that lack of money is not the obstacle? The obstacle is the sheer inability of the housing executive to build houses. The Government can pour all the money they like into the housing executive, but unless the executive starts to improve we shall not get more houses.
§ Mr. Kilfedder
I agree with my hon. Friend, but I must stress that in Northern Ireland there is a shortage of building workers and the reason for the shortage is that much of the available labour is involved in building office blocks. I am not certain who will occupy these offices. Some of them are lying empty. Even if they are occupied they will benefit only a few people—and some of them will be speculators. The money and labour involved in this activity should be diverted to a house-building programme.
My hon. Friend mentioned the housing executive. I do not want to lay blame on anyone. The executive is too large, and, as in all bureaucracies, the buck gets passed from one man to the next. In North Down local officials try to be as helpful as possible but they are restricted. Applicants must have sufficient points before they can be provided with accommodation. I hope that the Minister will announce tonight that he will see to it personally that there will be a crash build- 930 ing programme in Northern Ireland—and "crash" is the right word.
When people are moved into new housing estates, they are often far removed from their relatives and from shops. I hope that the Government will introduce transport fare concessions for old-age pensioners and the chronically ill. There is a desperate need for such concessions. People who are no longer living in the centres of towns and who no longer have their relatives around them have to travel considerable distances to see their relatives. It is expensive to do so, and the fares will increase in the coming months.
I turn to the question of hospitals in North Down. The Minister should persuade the Secretary of State to visit the Newtownards Hospital, where he will find a workhouse built in about 1860 or 1870 still in use as part of that hospital. That is an indictment of all those responsible for the health services in Northern Ireland. The doctors and nurses do their best in the circumstances, but we need a proper hospital service in North Down. Bangor Hospital has no casualty department. There is a lack of medical staff coverage, and doctors must be enticed there.
The population of Bangor is, I think, about 45,000, and it is rising rapidly. Yet there has been no casualty service in Bangor Hospital since 1972. The only service available is that provided at the Ards Hospital and the Ulster Hospital at Dundonald. If someone has a heart attack in Bangor, or is knocked down by a car or shot by a terrorist, he cannot be treated in Bangor Hospital. Ambulances are few and far between, so he may have to be taken by taxi to Newtownards. Between 11 p.m. and 9 a.m. there is no X-ray service available at Newtonards, without certain lengthy procedures being adopted, and someone with a serious injury would have to be taken on to the Ulster Hospital.
That is not good enough for an area the size of Bangor and Newtownards. I know that the matter does not come under the Minister's Department, but something should be done to make it financially rewarding for doctors to take up posts in Bangor Hospital, which is a fully equipped hospital. What is more, something should be done to provide 931 enough doctors, so that they do not have to work longer hours than their counterparts have to work in the Belfast hospitals. I hope that we shall have some satisfaction on that.
We need a new hospital wing at New-townards. I go as far as to say that we need a new hospital in the Lower Ards, because the Ulster Hospital at Dundonald deals largely with the East Belfast area and it does not have the necessary accommodation. As I understand it, there are not enough geriatric beds in the Ulster Hospital for all the people who need attention. Will the Minister look into that, too?
I come now to a matter which may look insignificant but which is of great importance to the people of Donaghadee, that is, the drinking water supply. For years I have complained about the water in Donaghadee. Donaghadee is the only part of the Ards peninsula which suffers from water which has an obnoxious smell and an unpleasant taste. The water discolours clothes when they are washed in it, and only last week I was informed that the father of a young baby was told at the clinic at Newtownards that on no account was the child to be given any of the Donaghadee drinking water.
It is remarkable—almost like a Wild West scene—to go into Donaghadee and see the water wagon bringing water round to the residents, or to see them go with their plastic containers to a tap just on the outskirts of Donaghadee to get decent water.
This has gone on too long. I see that the Minister agrees with me, and I am glad of that. Why should these people suffer? I live only a short distance outside Donaghadee, and the water I have there is perfectly all right, or —I had better not go too far—it is reasonably good. I want to know why the Ards mains water cannot be piped into Donaghadee so that the people there need not have to use the water from the local reservoir. I understand that in the summer there is a growth of algae in the reservoir and then chlorine or some such substance is put in the water in an effort to make it drinkable.
I want the Minister to make a personal visit to Donaghadee, as a Christmas treat, and to taste the water. Perhaps 932 he will then be able to tell his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade that it ought to be bottled and exported as something peculiarly Irish. But we do not want it in Donghadee.
That brings me to tourism. Although we are living in Northern Ireland in virtual war conditions, it is right that we should think of the future. It is not just a question of the future, either. We are still able to attract people to Bangor, a most delightful resort, as the Minister is now aware.
Will the Minister do something about the pier at Bangor? It is in a dangerous state, and it has been so for a long time. In the past, Government officials or Ministers have come to view it. They look at it with amazement, they express their condolences to the local residents, they go back to Stormont, and that is the last we hear of them. Will the Minister assure me—if he gives this assurance I shall be satisfied—that he will go and look at it himself and see what can be done to rectify it?
Perhaps at the same time the Minister might turn his attention to the other tourist attractions in North Down and see what can be done to restock the rivers in North Down, because many people come there for the fishing. In addition, the beaches need to be cleaned. We have Enterprise Ulster allegedly employing the unemployed, but the beaches are still dirty with old mattresses, tin cans and empty beer bottles littered along the shore. They should not be there.
My last point concerns oil and mineral rights off the shores of Northern Ireland. Can the Minister tell us in his reply whether any exploration is planned off North Down, Antrim or Londonderry for oil? I am told that there are rich oil deposits, particularly off Antrim. I think it is essential that money should be spent on this, because money is being spent on searching for oil in what is known as the Celtic Sea and some attention should be paid to the Ulster Sea.
Will the Minister also deal with the allegation by the Irish Republic that it has territorial rights to the sea around Northern Ireland and to the mineral rights and oil rights there? This is a fantasy. None the less, can the Minister give a rebuttal to the Irish Republic, so 933 that we can turn our backs on them and hope that from what I believe to be the rich deposits off the shores of Northern Ireland we can finance a prosperous Northern Ireland for the years to come?
§ 11.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
Prior to the contribution by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) I had been of the mistaken impression that my constituency was the most neglected in Northern Ireland, but at least I am now aware that we have hospitals and water in West Belfast. I certainly reinforce seriously all the complaints and the objections which have been raised by the hon. Member concerning the serious problem of housing throughout Northern Ireland.
In North Down there is certainly a serious problem, but it is nothing as compared with West Belfast and County Fermanagh. I think that the whole population in Northern Ireland were astounded when they read recently the report by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and saw the immensity of the problem which we have in Northern Ireland.
During the five short months of existence of the Executive this was something on which every member of that body concentrated his mind. We recognised that there was a serious housing problem, and yet we were not fully aware just how grave it was. The inquiry had only then been commissioned and we did not have the findings of the report, but we were well aware of the very bad housing problem.
I think I should say this—[Interruption.] Hanging is important, and the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maguire) was here yesterday for that debate, or so I understand from the voting record. I would think that housing in his constituency is just as important. I would have hoped that he would be here tonight to avail himself of the opportunity of catching the eye of the Chair and so putting before the House the problems which affect his constituency.
In the Northern Ireland context many of my political colleagues represent constituencies there in the Northern Ireland Assembly, and they do not now have a voice in the Assembly as such. I 934 would hope that those who ware elected to represent constituencies would at least find themselves able to come to this House and raise these matters.
Can the Minister tell me why there has been a hold up in the building programme in Belfast West? I recognise that the area has suffered from terrorist activity, but I hope that the Government have not decided to wait until there is an end to such activity before they build houses there. There are many acres of land, not particularly in Republican areas, which are readily available. There has been reference to the needs of commerce. Here, again, there are many sites in Belfast West's industrial area where commercial development could take place. Business could be directed to the area. There is land for the homeless and land for shops and industry.
While we have a housing problem we also have an unemployment problem. I recognise that the construction industry employs skilled labour. Surely a crash programme could be mounted to train people in the necessary skills. It would not take so many years. It would at least take people from the office blocks and the dole queues, which is important. I have paid tribute over the years to the achievements of the Northern Ireland training services. I feel sure that there are training places available for plumbers and bricklayers and the other ancillary trades so necessary if we are to speed up the housing programme.
It is the duty of this House to pay the same attention to these problems as was paid to them by the Northern Ireland Assembly. This is the only place where the voice of the people of Northern Ireland can now be heard. I support what has been said about the way in which these orders are being dealt with tonight. Northern Ireland's problems are of such importance that they should be of concern not only to Members from Northern Ireland but to all hon. Members. I plead with the Minister to see the Northern Ireland housing problem for the tragedy that it is and to exert every effort to make certain that active steps are taken in such areas as Belfast West and Fermanagh and South Tyrone to improve the situation.
Some have said that there seem to be houses lying empty in Armagh. It is not 935 the duty of the Government to build houses in areas where tenants cannot be obtained. It is up to the Government to build houses where the people are, not to get the people to shift themselves all over Northern Ireland to suit the whims of some civil servants who have drawn up some grandiose plan.
For historical reasons we are an insular society. People wish to live in the area in which they were born, where they have family connections, and priority should be given to those people. The Minister said that he had taken into account the findings of the report made by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, but he will have to do much more than take it into account. He will have to show what urgent steps he is prepared to take to deal with the problem.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford (Belfast, South)
The announcement of the increase in the sum to be issued from the Consolidated Fund will be received very favourably by the people of Northern Ireland. The statistics issued by the Department of Trade will also be received favourably, in that 4,500 people have been given jobs in the first three-quarters of this year, representing an increase of 600 jobs compared with 1973.
The unemployment figure for Northern Ireland is 6.1 per cent., which is very high. I draw to the attention of the House two industries which are facing crises. If those crises are not dealt with, the unemployment figure will rise substantially.
The first is the textile industry, particularly the shirt industry. Northern Ireland has about one-third of the shirt industry of the United Kingdom. It also has a considerable number of clothing and finishing factories. The shirt industry is under a grave threat. About 50 per cent. of all the shirts bought in the United Kingdom are foreign, and that represents a 50 per cent. increase in four years. We have permitted an important industry which is largely sited in Northern Ireland to suffer drastically from foreign imports.
Some of those foreign imports can be produced for one-third the cost of producing them in Northern Ireland. For example, imported shirts, which are on 936 sale for about £2.60, are imported for a little over 60p. They are produced for 60p. The cost of producing a comparable shirt in Northern Ireland is £1.40—that is, without profit. In Londonderry, Belfast and Antrim the shirt industry is gravely threatened and, unfortunately, many factories face closure. This is a grave problem.
Consumer expenditure on clothing is rising by 6 per cent. a year. Yet British manufacturers had a deficit of £154 million in 1973. I have mentioned that some of these cheap imports are being sold at prices comparable to those of shirts made in Northern Ireland. That means that someone somewhere is making a killing, as it is known in the trade. Someone is making an exorbitant profit, and I would like the attention of the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection drawn to the situation. We are importing shirts at 60p each and selling them at between £2 and £3. This is posing a death threat to the Northern Ireland shirt industry.
§ Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the problem facing the shirt industry in Northern Ireland is also facing the British manufacturing and making-up industry in the rest of the United Kingdom, including my constituency in Cheshire and also Lancashire? Will he join other hon. Members on both sides of the House in representations to the Government to try to get a curb put on the import of cheap goods, particularly from the Far East?
§ Mr. Bradford
I agree with my hon. Friend. I understand that about 60,000 people in the United Kingdom are involved in the shirt and clothing industries. The jobs of a considerable number of them are threatened by these uncontrolled imports.
Whilst imports have reached 50 per cent. of the total market, the Government have not recognised that we have a dumping problem on our hands. I do not know what constitutes a dumping problem if the holding of 50 per cent. and more of the total market by cheap imports is not dumping. I know that all kinds of intricate procedures have to be gone through to prove that there is a dumping problem, but by the time we prove by those procedures that we have such a problem in Northern Ireland and the 937 United Kingdom as a whole, many concerns will have gone out of business. An added difficulty for Northern Ireland is that if the shirt industry there fails completely, there is no alternative employment for the people thrown out of work. We shall have no means of absorbing them back into employment.
The second industry in Northern Ireland under grave threat is the building industry. A great deal of attention has been paid to the public sector, and I want to concentrate my remarks on the private sector. The Federation of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors has stressed the immediate need. It rightly points out that there are three basic problems.
First, sufficient finance has not been available for the purchase of homes in the private sector. Secondly, the level of interest rates involved in house purchase is very high. Thirdly, because of the political unrest there has been a great fall in the number of homes built and sold.
Between 1969 and 1973 4,000 houses per year were completed in the private sector. In 1974, well under 2,000 houses were produced in the seven best building months of the year—that is, excluding what the building trade calls the winter months. This is a serious situation. Many young people who cannot acquire public sector houses, because of the points system referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), have no alternative but to try to purchase houses. Yet such houses are not available for the three reasons that I have mentioned.
We face the great difficulty of small subsidies and the high cost of repairs in the public sector. If private housing subsidies were raised from the present £385 to a level which would encourage young people to buy, the building industry in turn would reap the great benefit of a boost in demand. If more loans were made available and repayments were made easier, the result would be an improvement in demand which would also help to save the building industry. If more people were encouraged to own their own property, there would be less political tension in some areas, because they would have a vested interest in checking unrest in those areas.
938 I shall not take up any more time. I simply reiterate the needs of the two industries which I have mentioned which are facing a great crisis at this time.
§ 11.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Concannon
I think that we should rechristen the debate the Consolidated Fund debate. We have done a better job that we did in July when I presented the main Estimates.
These are Supplementary Estimates. Hon. Gentlemen will recognise that a great deal of what they have said relates to future policy which will go in the estimates for another year. Much of what has been said does not come within my responsibility. However, I assure hon. Gentlemen that any points with which I cannot deal tonight will be answered in writing by the various Departments concerned.
There has been a great deal of talk about housing. I should be only too pleased to debate the housing situation in Northern Ireland, because I agree with almost everything that has been said about it.
After a late sitting here last night. I went back to Belfast this morning. I chaired a two-hour meeting of the Construction Advisory Council, which takes in practically all elements in the building industry—trade unions, architects, and so on—with housing very much in mind. However, some of the matters raised by hon. Gentlemen would not have universal favour with the council. After that meeting I met a deputation from the Roden Street area of West Belfast—I have met similar deputations from other areas at other times—on the subject of housing.
No one can visit Northern Ireland without being struck by the housing situation there. I shall take to heart some of the points made during this debate. It is not an easy situation. The point was made that more money should be provided and more workers found. There is a limited pool in Northern Ireland from which to find these workers. There is a continual effort to draw on this pool of labour. The fire service, the police and the Army continually try to draw on it. However, I am fully aware of the housing situation. One has only to be in my Department for one day, and to see the deputations and the wretched housing conditions of the people living in Northern 939 Ireland, to feel ashamed of the council's housing stock.
My job is not to make excuses. My job is to find a way to deal with the housing problems in Northern Ireland and to make sure that the people are rehoused in the sort of accommodation in which they can reasonably be expected to live.
I find there is one difficulty concerning the Roden Street area. There used to be 1,000 houses in that area, but we cannot now build to the same density. Now we can build only 370 houses, and with the best will in the world some people will have to move. This is one of the problems. Although I think that people have a perfect right to state their preference and to live in the area they prefer, the difficulty lies in trying to fit everybody in. With my background, I must obviously be sympathetic to people living in such conditions.
I assure hon. Members that I did not volunteer to discuss this matter so late at night. Consultations are proceeding between the usual channels to find better ways of dealing with problems such as these. I should have been in serious trouble with the Opposition if I had not brought these orders before the House, but it had to be done by a certain time and this was the only time offered to me. I had to accept that offer. I should have been in more serious trouble had money not been made available by means of these Supplementary Estimates.
The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs Davison) raised the question of the travelling expenses noted under Class I on page 3 of the Appropriation Order. There was an underestimate here due to a decision of the Assembly, before that body went on its way. The original Estimates were based on Members' travel from their constituencies to Stormont. The Assembly decided that travelling expenses could be claimed in respect of travel within the constituencies. This made a difference to the Estimates.
The hon. Gentleman also questioned me about the rent strikers and supplementary benefits. Once a person draws supplementary benefits, he virtually comes off the rent strike because the money is deducted from his supplementary benefits.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about regional employment premium. Regional 940 employment premiums are payable on the same basis as those paid in the development areas in the rest of the United Kingdom. The rates are uniform throughout Northern Ireland and the premiums are payable by the Department of Manpower Services.
Provision was made in the Estimates for membership subscriptions to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, for secretarial and other expenses in connection with membership, and for expenses relating to annual and regional conferences. The total amount set aside for those purposes was £4,000.
I was asked about the rôle of the Ulster Office. In recent years, it has been very active throughout Great Britain in publicising information on the industrial and economic side of life in the Province and, to some extent, it has been successful. British customers have been reassured that their orders will be fulfilled on time—
§ It being one and a half hours after the commencement of Proceedings on the Motion, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business).
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 21st November, be approved.
That the Financial Provisions (Northern Ireland) Order 1974, a draft of which was laid before this House on 21st November, be approved.—[Mr. Concannon.]