§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Hugh Rossi)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 26 November, be approved.I should first like to welcome back to the Opposition Front 'Bench the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), who spent a long time in the Province, and like all of us who have spent time there has formed a warm affection for the Province and its people. We look forward to the right hon. Gentleman once again participating in our debates.
The order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The draft order provides for the Appropriation of the autumn Supplementary Estimates of Northern Ireland Departments. I shall indicate some of the general features of the Estimates before drawing the attention of the House to some of the major items which they contain. More detailed information can be found in the Estimates volume itself, copies of which have been placed in the Library, and in the explanatory memorandum which has been circulated to right hon. and hon. Members for Northern Ireland constituencies, Opposition spokesmen on Northern Ireland affairs, and others who have participated in recent Appropriation order debates. I hope that these have been found to be useful.
The first general objective of the draft order is to provide additional cash to allow for the effects of inflation on those Votes, mostly relating to demand-determined services, which are exempt from cash limits controls.
This, as hon. Members will be aware, is one of the principal purposes of Supplementary Estimates. The draft order also includes provision for the main 1980–81 Civil Service pay awards, for which no provision was made in the main Estimates. The cash now included allows for a 14 per cent. increase in earnings over the year, and consequently some reduction in manpower has been necessary to accommodate the actual settlements which have emerged.
Thirdly, the draft order provides for the reallocation, within and between Votes, which Departments usually find necessary as the year progresses but which this year assumed unusual proportions.
In that connection, hon. Members will recall the reallocation of Northern Ireland's public expenditure resources announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on 6 August last. It was then proving to be quite impossible to respond to the greater demands which were 940 arising on the industrial and energy fronts without incurring some reduction on other programmes, despite the addition of £48 million to Northern Ireland's budget from the United Kingdom contingency reserve fund. The considerations which dictated the reallocation of resources were the need to create and sustain employment in the productive sector of the Northern Ireland economy. I trust that the House accepts the correctness of our pursuing this course.
There are a number of points on the figures quoted in the autumn Supplementary Estimates and in the schedule to the draft order which it might be helpful to mention at this stage. A simple addition of the net totals of the 1980–81 main Estimates and the autumn Supplementary Estimates would overstate the total amount of cash that Northern Ireland Departments will actually spend this year on voted services. This is because the conventions which govern the presentation of Estimates to the House do not always permit savings or reductions to be shown. The explanatory memorandum lists the services on which such savings are expected to arise, and Northern Ireland Departments will, of course, take account of these planned savings in the day-to-day management of their voted expenditure.
It is also important to note that not all the public expenditure additions and reallocations announced during the summer are reflected in these Estimates. The principal reasons for this are that some of the services concerned are not borne on the Vote, and some are undertaken by the Northern Ireland Office and as such are outside the scope of the draft Appropriation order.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
A matter of debate arises on the point to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred. Will he make it clear whether there have been any transfers from the Northern Ireland Vote to other Votes, or whether the reallocation between Votes, to which he has just referred was exclusively from the Northern Ireland Office in the direction of the Northern Ireland Vote?
§ Mr. Rossi
The reallocation has taken place between Northern Ireland Departments, mainly from the education Vote and the environment Vote to the Votes of the Department of Commerce, which deals with industry and energy matters.
Turning to details of the draft order, I should like to direct hon. Members' attention to the additional provision sought for services administered by the Department of Commerce. As the Department with the primary responsibility for the maintenance and creation of jobs in Northern Ireland, its Votes are the main destinations of the resources that were made available from the contingency reserve and from other Northern Ireland programmes.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
I apologise to the Minister for intervening, especially as he may intend to return to the agriculture Vote. He will be aware, however, that we have been attempting to arrange a meeting between the officers of the Ulster Farmers Union and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Minister of Agriculture. I do not expect the Under-Secretary to reply, but perhaps one of his colleagues will tell us later whether it has been possible to arrange that meeting. It is rightly considered to be of great importance in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Rossi
That point has been noted. My hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate is responsible for agriculture matters and he will deal with that subject.
In Class II, Vote 2. Sub-head A1, provision is sought for an additional £13.1 million to enable a loan of £14 million to be made to De Lorean Motor Cars Ltd. in respect of its project at Dunmurry, which could employ up to 2,000 people. That loan assistance is necessary due to increases in costs, mainly resulting from inflation, which have occurred since the project began and which the Government were contractually bound to provide, to enable the company to bring the car to market launch in the early spring of next year.
Under Sub-head A4 of Class II, Vote 2, the increase in the provision for industrial development grants similarly reflects the decision taken during the summer to reallocate funds in favour of Northern Ireland's economic programmes. The intention in this case is to enable the Department of Commerce to sustain its commitments to firms under existing agreements and to enable it to enter into new agreements relayed to the maintenance of employment. Hon. Members will appreciate the crucial importance of putting the Department of Commerce in a position to accommodate the higher level of expenditure required for the grants.
Under Sub-head B2 there is a provision of £8.2 million for assistance to Harland and Wolff Ltd., the Belfast shipbuilder, which at present employs more than 7,000 workers. That amount is needed to bring the Estimates provision into line with the total figure for assistance—£12.5 million—approved by the Government for the support of Harland and Wolff this year and announced in the House on 1 July. The yard would have to close without the support and that would have resulted in a far larger drain on public resources.
Class II, Vote 2, Sub-head D1, includes provision of £4.7 million to meet claims that have already been received from eligible manufacturing companies under the Northern Ireland scheme of standard grants towards the cost of capital equipment. The increase in the provision being sought takes account of claims being submitted more quickly because of cash problems in industry, and the change by some companies from the purchase of equipment to leasing arrangements, which qualify for capital grant rather than the selective industrial development grant. Certain re-equipment projects that might previously have qualified for the higher, selective rate of grant are now generally assisted by standard capital grant. Those grants, unlike the selective industrial development grant, are not employment-related.
I turn to energy. Under Class II, Vote 3, provision is sought for a grant of £20 million to the Northern Ireland electricity service. Hon. Members will be aware that the service depends heavily on oil for electricity generation. The rises in world oil prices in the past year have caused major financial difficulties for the electricity service and, without Government intervention, would have necessitated tariff increases well in excess of those introduced in the rest of the United Kingdom. In response to that situation, a major review of future electricity supply arrangements in Northern Ireland is being undertaken. The additional provision now sought will compensate the electricity service for holding the differential on industrial and domestic tariffs between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
942 While the subsidy does not have quantifiable employment effect, it protects industrial and other electricity consumers from the major increases in tariffs which would otherwise have been necessary. As such, it is an important means of helping Northern Ireland industry to cope with a major factor affecting its competitiveness and I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will recognise its value to the Province.
Still on energy, under Class III, Vote 1, provision totalling £8.9 million is sought for funds to facilitate the orderly rundown of the gas industry. Right hon. and hon. Members will recall that the Government's energy statement on 23 July 1979 indicated that financial support would be made available to assist the orderly rundown of those gas undertakings that decided to close, and that the position of consumers needing to convert their appliances would also be taken into account. Under Sub-head A1, provision is sought for £7.1 million towards deficits incurred up to the end of March 1980. Under Sub-head A2, £1.2 million is sought for assistance to gas consumers faced with the cost of conversion to other fuels, and. £0.6 million towards the cost faced by the Housing Executive in converting its properties.
Moving on to the Votes of other Northern Ireland Departments, right hon. and hon. Members will have noted that an additional £9.2 million is being sought in Class V, Vote 1—housing services. The main increase in the housing Vote is in Sub-head A1, which provides for payments to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The increase is attributable to greater expenditure on the maintenance of the excutive's housing stock, resulting in a revised estimate of the housing grant, and to the continuing high level in the take-up of house improvements grants. The cash for the increase has been found from within the Housing Executive's capital expenditure programme, which is not financed from voted moneys.
In social security, the draft order incorporates the higher rates of benefit payable from 24 November 1980. The largest increases in provision sought as a result of this uprating are for supplementary benefits, for which an additional £4.3 million is included in Class X, Vote 2, and on child benefit and family income supplements, for which an additional £9.2 million and £1 million respectively is included in Class X, Vote 3. The increases reflect the application of national policy to the Northern Ireland social security system, based on the long-established principle of parity between Great Britain and Northern Ireland in these matters.
I have referred specifically to the aspects of the draft order which I think are of prime importance. I am sure, however, that right hon. and hon. Members will wish to raise other matters and I am grateful to those who have given me advance notice of the points that concern them. I and my ministerial colleagues who are present will attempt to answer as many questions as possible at the end of the debate; those questions which remain unanswered will be dealt with in correspondence later in the usual way. I commend the draft order to the House.
§ Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)
May I first thank all those hon. Members—including those who spoke last night on the draft Education (Northern Ireland) Order 943 1980—who seemed to be passing votes of confidence in me. I hope that I shall be able to live up to all the things that have been said about me.
I know full well what a difficult task we have before us in Northern Ireland, but I also know what an interesting task it is and how nice and hospitable are the vast majority of the people in Northern Ireland. I am looking forward to renewing some of my old acquaintances and renewing a lot of friendships that I made during my sojourn in Northern Ireland.
But before I start on the main part of my speech on the order, I should like to make the strongest possible protest, on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland, at the way in which the Prime Minister has treated the people of Northern Ireland. The complete insensitivity shown towards the people of Northern Ireland over the last two days has amazed me. I think that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, on many occasions throughout yesterday and today, has made representations to the Prime Minister to make a statement to the House.
The communiqué refers to the "extremely constructive and significant" meeting that the Prime Minister had with Mr. Haughey in Dublin on 8 December. The House will recollect that the Prime Minister refused the request to make a statement to the House and played down the importance of the meeting. It will not have escaped your notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that those on the other side in the talks are not treating the matter so lightly. I understand that the matter is to be debated in their Parliament tomorrow.
I trust and hope that the Prime Minister has taken note of this and will show the same consideration to this House—and to the people of Northern Ireland, who matter most—by explaining the meaning of some of the phrases used in the communiqué. From my experience, I feel that there are one or two phrases in the communiqué that are open to a good deal of misrepresentation and will cause unnecessary fears among the people of Northern Ireland. Some of the phrases in the communiqué should have been looked at a little more carefully—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)
Order. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that we are on a reasonably narrow point. There are 32 heads under which he can address the House. It does not seem to me that he is choosing any one of those heads at the moment.
§ Mr. Concannon
I am only reiterating what happened yesterday at Prime Minister's Question Time, when—
Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am sure that everything that happened yesterday is of great interest, but today we are discussing the matters in the order that is before the House.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the order that is before the House, there are many matters that were mentioned in the communiqué from Dublin.
Are you really saying that we are not to be allowed to discuss those matters in that context? I draw your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to page 5 of the order, where it says that there is a large sum of money to be expended on "Information Services". It is about time we 944 had some information. The matter of gas is also related to this question. I should like you, Sir, to give us a ruling now on whether we are to be permitted to discuss, under all these headings, the new proposal of the British Government to have joint studies with the Irish Republic in order to bring about some overall policy between the Republic and the United Kingdom on these issues.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
On the main point, the hon. Gentleman is restricted to discussing the increase that is contained in the order. Apart from that, I do not think that I can help him at the moment.
§ Mr. Concannon
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that one of the reasons why a statement has not been made is that the Prime Minister said that hon. Members would be able tocross-examine my right hon. Friends as they wish."—[Official Report, 9 December 1980; Vol. 995, c. 1183.]I understood that a further reason was that, this being a Northern Ireland day, it was one of the days on which we would be able to cross-examine the Ministers as we wished.
A good deal of the communiqué relates to matters of security, housing, energy and cross-border studies within Northern Ireland. I should like to support the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in asking for a ruling now, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If we are not allowed to raise these matters, all the reasons for the Prime Minister's refusal to make a statement are open to question.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept what I have already said about this order. When we get to order No. 3, he may find that he is on better ground.
§ Mr. Concannon
I should like to take the matter further, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If the debate on the order now before the House lasts until 10 pm, we shall then have only one and a half hours in which to debate order No. 3. If we had known that these matters related to order No. 3, I think that the Opposition would have asked for an extension of the time allowed for the debate on that order.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
The business of the day has been organised in a particular way. It is possible for the right hon. Gentleman to ensure that there is plenty of time in which to discuss order No. 3 if he manages to say what he wishes to say on orders Nos. 1 and 2 in a reasonably brief period.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister, when presenting the Estimates at the Dispatch Box, specifically referred to the question of energy. Energy in Northern Ireland, as anywhere else, means coal, gas and electricity. According to the communiqué—supplemented by what the Prime Minister said yesterday—the whole question of energy was discussed, including electricity and a gas pipeline. Surely it must be in order to discuss these matters in that context.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
If the hon. Gentleman will look at Class II, Vote 3 of order No. 3, he will find that it is included in what I have already said.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not have this matter clear in my mind and I should like you to clarify it. It will be useless for my colleagues to stay in the House today if we are not to be given the opportunity to deal with the matters that have 945 been mentioned in the communiqué and are part of the order. You have ruled, Sir, that under order No. 3, which has to do with terrorism, we could discuss these matters, but surely the point is that it is not only the question of security that is mentioned in the communiqué. There is some mention of all the matters which come into the order. Therefore, surely we are entitled to mention them and to deal with them under this order.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
As I have already indicated, the hon. Gentleman will have his opportunity when we get to order No. 3; and when we get to it is a matter that is within the control of hon. Membets. If the hon. Gentleman can relate the matters in the communiqué directly to the natters which are in this order, that will be in order as will.
§ Mr. Concannon
Thank you for your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If we are allowed a little latitude, I trust that on certain parts of the Votes we shall be able to slip in a question or two to the Ministers. I trust that they will be available and willing and ready to answer those questions, or to send us a letter some time next week.
I should like to pay my tribute to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. John), for the work that he has done on behalf of the people of Northern Ireland. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), who has been involved with Northern Ireland for three years, which is well above the norm for the job.
I shall be devoting most of my speech to economic natters—Class II, Vote 2. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde will, when he replies, deal with welfare, health and other services. Agriculture and various other areas were fully debated on the last occasion, and I am sure that during this debate, in view of the communiqué and what was said about cross-border studies and so on, agriculture and other areas will again figure largely in our discussions.
In the debate on the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, the Minister said that it would be necessary to redistribute public expenditure resources in Northern Ireland to take account of new demands which had emerged. He referred to theneed to shift the balance of resources in the direction of the economic programmes including industrial development.That was the position that was taken in the very early days of the Labour Government, when the level of unemployment was much lower than it is today, but I hasten to add that that figure gave me no joy. I always thought that it was too high and that it was a tragic waste of human resources. On my office wall in the manpower Department I had two charts which were updated regularly. One gave the figures and the percentages for unemployment in both Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The other chart gave the figures for unemployment around the Province. I do not know what has happened to the charts or what has happened to the wall, but I have a sneaking feeling that either the charts were put on the floor or that the roof of my office had to be raised.
The priorities for expenditure in those days were jobs, houses arid energy, which were always fought for by the Northern Ireland Ministers, and, on hindsight—but only on hindsight—with a great deal of success. The Treasury Ministers of that day treated Northern Ireland with sympathy and understanding. They accepted our 946 arguments that increased public expenditure on the economic front was necessary, and we were sheltered from the various cuts, except on the odd occasion when we had to make a token cut.
On 18 July, the Minister said that the programme should belooked at now in the Eight of demands that are now coming upon the industrial development sector. There has been a substantial increase in interest this year, as against last year."—[Official Report, 18 July 1980; Vol. 988, c. 1916–17.]The Minister quoted the figure of a 29 per cent. increase in first-time visits to Northern Ireland by potential investors, and he said that the Government were prepared to support traditional efforts to create and maintain employment.
That pledge of support by the Government seems to have come too late for the Province, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde pointed out in the same debate, the unemployment figures had reached 73,000 or 12.7 per cent. of the population for Northern Ireland as a whole. There were depressing figures for Strabane, Newry, Dungannon and Cookstown. In that debate, various guesses were made about future unemployment in Northern Ireland, including one from an often consulted firm that by 1982 about 85,000 people would be out of work in the Province. To my amazement, and to everyone else's amazement, the figures for November 1980 have already rocketed to 91,686—15.9 per cent. of the working population—the highest total ever recorded in Northern Ireland.
We have to ask—no, we have to demand—from the Government their intentions for employment in Northern Ireland, and we have to ask how this order will help to stop the figures continuing upwards instead of bringing down this tragic and unacceptable level of unemployment.
In a part of the United Kingdom that has the worst housing stock, what sense does it make to have over 20,000 unemployed construction workers—7,000 more than a year ago? Labour Members warmly welcome any increase in the provision of funds for the impoverished housing services sector in Northern Ireland. However, we wish to spell out in clear terms that this additional sum is simply not sufficient to make any noticeable impact on the grave and worsening problems in the Province. It has been argued by Ministers that public expenditure per head on housing in Northern Ireland continues to run at a higher level than in Britain, despite the cuts. To say that one and a half times as much is spent on housing in Northern Ireland is no justification for making meagre additions to the housing budget. It is widely recognised that the need for funds is probably four times as great in the Province as it is in the rest of Britain.
Recent housing surveys in Northern Ireland and in the rest of the United Kingdom show graphically that there is a wide disparity in housing needs. The surveys demonstrate conclusively that housing standards at the bottom of the scale, both in Northern Ireland generally and in Belfast particularly, are still substantially behind those in the rest of the United Kingdom. Those figures show that Northern Ireland today is still in the position in which England found itself 15 years ago. Today, about 14 per cent. of the houses in the Province are unfit to live in, whereas only 4 per cent.—that is 4 per cent. too much—of English houses share that same dubious distinction.
The Housing Executive has made some progress in reducing the number of houses that are unfit to live in. The 947 figure was 20 per cent. in 1974, but the cuts of last year have interrupted that process. Unless adequate finance for housing is made soon, the ageing and deterioration of the housing stock will inevitably lead to an upsurge in the level of unfitness. Any savings that are made in the housing budget in the short term are no more than false economies which will have serious ramifications for the future of the housing stock in Northern Ireland.
If the House has any doubt about the poor state of housing in Northern Ireland, let me dispel that doubt by passing on a few statistics from those recent housing surveys. They show that 24.2 per cent. of households in Belfast have no inside flushing toilet. The highest comparable figure for England is 11.1 per cent. in Liverpool. In the whole of the Province, 15.4 per cent. of households have no bathroom, whereas the figure for households in England in 1979 was 4.7 per cent. In addition, one in every five households in Northern Ireland lacks at least one basic amenity compared with the lower figure of one in every 10 households in England. All the evidence in those housing surveys points to one incontrovertible conclusion: housing needs in Northern Ireland far outweigh those on the mainland. There can, therefore, be no rational argument in favour of parity in expenditure or cutting the housing budget, as was done last August.
I should also like to express my deep concern about the future funding of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Of necessity, house building is spread over several years. New houses on which preparatory work starts in 1981 would normally not be paid for until 1983–84. The Housing Executive needs to know its budget probably three years in advance in order to plan its programme. At present, with cuts in the housing budget and now this grant to fund primarily the increased deficit of the executive for 1980–81, there is no indication that additional funds will be made available to enable a substantial house-building programme to go ahead. If the restoration of adequate funds is delayed for too long, the professional and technical resources of the building industry will be in disarray and the housing stock of Northern Ireland will become even more a relic of the past than it is at present. Further, all the ground that was gained by the executive over the last 10 years will be lost. Housing conditions will quickly deteriorate to a point even lower than the present unacceptable level.
In his introduction to the 1980 annual report of the Housing Executive, the executive chairman, Mr. Brett, outlined a programme of investment for the next 10 years. He said that if the housing stock was to be preserved in a state fit for people to live in, 5,000 homes would need to be built each year and at least 1,200 rehabilitations would have to be performed annually in housing action areas.
This Vote of £9 million, and the chopping around of the Housing Executive budget, to which we have been witness this year, would suggest that the necessary programme that has been outlined is no more than a pipe dream. Our message is clear. Much more money must be allocated to housing services in Northern Ireland in the near future if sufficient shelter is to be provided for the people in the Province in the next decade and beyond. The Government are creating a problem that will have dire, long-term consequences for all the citizens of Ulster.
948 At present, there are 20,000 people on the waiting lists for a home in Northern Ireland and an equally significant number of people are waiting to be rehoused. Every day, families in need, living in overcrowded conditions, have to face up to the fact that they cannot have a new home, even though their need is recognised by the housing authorities. More than two-thirds of the pointed applicants on the Belfast waiting list are in genuine and urgent need of rehousing. Will the Minister tell the House when he envisages that the housing sector budget will be sufficiently improved so that those and many other people in the Province may have a real prospect of decent homes and conditions in which to raise their families?
Further, will the Minister inform the House of his intentions concerning the future financing of housing services? If this paltry figure of £9 million is to set the precedent for future Supplementary Estimates, it is a matter of concern to the House.
One also has to consider the reallocation of resources in Class II, Vote 1. Why has the provision for factory building to be cut by £5.2 million and industrial development publicity by £700,000? One must consider carefully the reallocation of resources because, in my view, the answer to Northern Ireland's economic problems is not to cut public expenditure in line with the rest of the United Kingdom and then to try to reallocate what is left for the various reallocation Votes. The result will be increased unemployment in certain areas, but mainly in construction.
The most effective way to start to bring down unemployment, if it is not too late, is to increase expenditure and to make a bigger and broader effort to attract and to hold on to existing firms. In my experience, it was much easier to hold on to the jobs in Northern Ireland than to try to find and pay for the jobs to come into Northern Ireland. They complemented each other. It had to be done. At that time, one seemed to be running very fast just to stand still.
There will be those who say "Yes, but Northern Ireland already receives an additional 35 per cent. per capita over and above the rest of the United Kingdom." That 35 per cent.—one can consider this with some sympathy—can now be accounted for in various ways. Water costs and the electricity subsidy are accounted for in the overall figures. I think that I am right in saying that these are not covered in the figures for the rest of the United Kingdom.
The other additional amounts consist of the higher numbers in receipt of unemployment benefit—unemployment is at present running at twice the rate of the rest of the United Kingdom and is rising fast—and family income supplement. Many of those in lower paid jobs have to depend on family income supplement, and quite a few are possibly too dependent on social security. Most public housing costs in Northern Ireland are higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Will the Minister explain how the order fits into the overall strategy on economic policy? Will he also explain the Government's economic policy for Northern Ireland? All the evidence of the past 18 months points to a lack of policy.
Will the Minister also enlighten us, as the Prime Minister will not, on paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 of Monday's communiqué as it implies that there will be new and closer co-operation on energy, transport, communications, cross-border economic developments and security? It was agreed that further improvements in those and other areas 949 should be pursued. There must be some thinking on these lines on both the economic and employment fronts. I know that I am probably asking a lot, but Opposition Members have to ask questions so that they may have full and ready answers.
Will the Minister give us some idea of what these talks on closer co-operation will mean to the economy of Northern Ireland? Surely the studies on economic developments in the cross-border areas will have an effect on the agricultural vote. Farming represents a sizeable chunk of industry in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. John Bruce-Gardyne (Knutsford)
I was looking forward to hearing front the right hon. Gentleman the view of the Opposition on the largest single item in the Votes before the House tonight, namely, the incremental subsidy to Mr. De Lorean. As the Labour Government launched that curious venture, I should like to hear the official Opposition view on its progress.
§ Mr. Concannon
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that he is asking the right person about this matter.
Northern Ireland Ministers do not carry only one brief or portfolio. They are possibly a little lucky in that respect, because they can view the picture in its entirety—much more so than if they were the head of just one Department. If the hon. Gentleman is pursuing the theme that this venture was bad for Northern Ireland, I stick to my view that it was good for Northern Ireland. The atmosphere and confidence in Northern Ireland at that time helped considerably in bringing the De Lorean project to Northern Ireland. One can say that it was partly political. Admittedly it was.
If Mc hon. Gentleman is quibbling about the £50 million, I assure him that from the day of that announcement Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom and its taxpayers started reaping the benefits of that decision. Perhaps the Department of Commerce did not, but I think that the future figures for Northern Ireland will prove that.
One has only to consider the damping down of what was happening in that area at that time and the confidence of the people. They had Ministers who were prepared to take a chance on bringing jobs into that area. I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman represents an area with 25 to 30 per cent. unemployed. If he does, he will have been chasing Ministers to get the De Lorean project into his constituency. That was possibly one reason why some people quibbled about this venture.
No one denies that it was a risky venture, but it was something for which we had been looking for a long time. There is a great chance that the De Lorean factory will succeed. It will have to ship 30,000 cars to America. That will revitalise the Belfast harbour or whichever harbour is used. It has already had the spin-off effect of additional work being brought to Northern Ireland. If anyone wants to complain about bringing additional work to Northern Ireland, let him stand up and tell me that the 16 per cent. rate of unemployment there is acceptable. I never accepted 10 per cent. That is why I think that every Department of Commerce Minister—I include the Minister of State, who, I know, races around on the self-same job—would be chasing all the footloose jobs around the world. They would bring in any sort of job that would give confidence to the people of Northern Ireland.
I stick to my proposition that we started reaping the benefits of the De Lorean project on the day that the 950 announcement was made. People employed by De Lorean are not included in the 91,000 unemployed. They are earning wages; they are not on social security; they are paying their taxes and making their contribution to the economy.
The Minister, who took over one of my jobs—commerce—has tackled the job with gusto and has to my knowledge followed up every lead. Probably I was more fortunate than he was, in that the Treasury at that time had no boffins chasing after monetarist theories and was particularly helpful to me in my job in Northern Ireland.
I know the frustration of trying to sell Northern Ireland. It reminds me of the story of the gentleman who tried to sell caravan holidays on the Normandy beaches in 1944. Sometimes we felt that frustration keenly. It all depended on what was happening in the world, and in Northern Ireland.
An industrial performance location in Northern Ireland has a lot to offer the investor, private or public. Can the Minister give the jobless some hope? Will he give a progress report on the 29 per cent. increase in first-time inquiries? Are those inquiries slowly turning into jobs? Ministers have been in office for 18 months. They must know how significant jobs are in Northern Ireland. I am sorry that I have to dwell on this subject. However, there are 91,686 reasons for doing so. I should have thought it impossible to do so much damage in 18 months. Factories and companies have left Northern Ireland or have cut back to next to nothing. When I was in office, I thought those companies were so well established that they were part of the Northern Ireland scene. Carrickfergus, which was a busy little town on the side of a loch, must be a ghost town. It is easier and cheaper to maintain existing jobs than to chase after new jobs. I plead with Ministers to tackle the problem more effectively. If it costs a bit of money to keep hold of a job and to keep people in work, it is well worth it and cheap at the price.
Industrial decline has an effect on energy. It makes nonsense of energy forecasting and planning. We all know what Kilroot means, or meant, to Northern Ireland. Energy projections were made as far ahead as the year 2000. They were based on various assumptions but did not take account of the recession. In addition, we face the problem of the interconnector. Was that subject discussed with the Irish Government on Monday? I hope that the Minister will enlighten us about anything that was said. If the matter involves security, the Minister need only say so.
I hope that no one will question the electricity tariffs. At one time, the price of energy and electricity was a bone of contention, particularly as regards industrialists and possible investors in Northern Ireland. One had to try to reduce the exorbitant prices. A factory in Belfast paid a very different price from that paid by a factory in Manchester. I was repeatedly asked whether I could do something about it. The cost to industrial users can be kept down to the rate found in the rest of the United Kingdom by means of subsidies. That is the only way to induce people to come to Northern Ireland.
Class III, Vote 1, involves the gas industry. That has always involved a tricky decision. One could agonise over it. If the Labour Party had taken the decision that the Government have taken, we should have paid for the conversions. The Labour Government did not consider paying 50 per cent. of the conversions for domestic consumers and 30 per cent. of the conversions for 951 industrialists. Perhaps the Minister will tell us why the Government took that decision and whether they did so for any reason other than that of saving money.
I hope that the Minister will say more about Northern Ireland's energy requirements. As regards the major review of electricity arrangements—as explained in the explanatory memorandum—I hope that the Minister will consider the total energy requirements of Northern Ireland and will come forward with an energy policy that covers the whole field of energy supply.
During the past 10 years, one bone of contention has been that of energy supply and cost. It would be to the advantage of the House if the Minister were to say something about that. Perhaps he will enlighten us about some of the economic measures mentioned in the communiqué. Indeed, I should be delighted if he did so.
I shall leave my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde to tackle some of the other problems. I thank those who have generously complimented me on the work that I did in Northern Ireland. I commiserate with the Government Front Bench. Ministers have had 18 months in office and are coming to the end of their stints. I do not know who will be the continuity man to the end of the Government's period of office, but, whoever he is, I wish him no harm.
§ 5.5 pm
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
When the debate began there was an exchange, Mr. Deputy Speaker, between you, the Opposition Front Bench spokesman and me. It concerned the relationship between this debate and certain matters that arise from the Dublin summit. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is sitting on the Front Bench. I understand that he will not take part in the debate, although he is the only person who can tell us anything about these matters. Hon. Members, particularly those who represent Northern Ireland constituencies, find themselves at a grave disadvantage.
The communiqué issued in Dublin covered a broad spectrum. Section 6 of the communiqué states that special consideration will be given to the totality of relationships within these islands. The communiqué then covered a range of issues, including new institutional structures, citizenship, security, economic co-operation and measures to encourage mutual understanding.
Many of those subjects are included in the order before us. I do not understand how a Minister can give a proper answer to the debate if he is unwilling to tell us how Northern Ireland will be affected by the proposed joint studies or who is to take part in those studies. Today, the Secretary of State informed me that Ministers are to take part in them. Therefore, they should know something about them. As a representative from Northern Ireland, I feel that I and all hon. Members are entitled to know how the joint studies will be set up and which parts of the Northern Ireland economy will be involved. We also have a right to know what the Secretary of State has in mind.
I shall relate many of the subjects covered by the order to that communiqué. Because it is important to Northern Ireland. Section 4 acts as an introduction to section 6. It tells us that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Republic are inextricably linked and that the full development of those links has been strained by the division and dissent that exists in Northern 952 Ireland. I take it that that refers to people in the Unionist community because they dissent from unity with the Irish Republic. They have been called the dividers of Ireland. The group which met in Dublin accepts the need for proposals and policies to achieve peace, reconciliation and stability. Joint studies will cover the total responsibility of what we are discussing today.
I turn to Class I of the order, which deals with agriculture. Agriculture is Northern Ireland's basic industry. The industry employs more people than any other. It employs about 55,000 people or 10 per cent. of the work force. Another 3.5 per cent. of the work force is employed in ancillary industries. Agriculture is the most important industry in Northern Ireland. However, it is a diminishing industry. It has come under immense pressure and is coming under even greater pressure.
About 20 years ago, 50,000 holdings were in operation. The number has been reduced to 32,000. Because of the pressures on agriculture, only 16,500 holdings are capable of providing full time employment for their owners. These figures were supplied by the Ulster Farmers Union. It is clear that the agriculture industry is under intense pressure.
The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said that it was easier to save a job than to create one and that some of the money spent on creating jobs should be directed to the preservation of jobs. Let us consider the money that is being used to create jobs at the De Lorean plant. I hope that the project is a success because it is essential. The project is needed to provide employment. It is not in West Belfast but in South Antrim. Both sections of the community are benefiting from the employment at De Lorean. I hope that it will continue.
The money that is needed to guarantee or secure one job at De Lorean could be used to save jobs in the farming community. In that way we could save a large number of jobs in the farming community—far more than the jobs that are being created by the De Lorean project. I understand the divisions and I know that industry must be served. However, the House must take into account that Northern Ireland agriculture is important. It has been a viable industry and there is a market for its produce. It needs to be supported.
I attended a meeting of farmers in Fivemiletown the other evening. The farmers' spokesman said that he and his colleagues joke about the Minister responsible for agriculture in Northern Ireland. They call him "The no-money Minister". Every time that he goes to their meetings, all he can say is that he is sorry and that he sympathises with their important case but that he has no money to give them. I understand the burden that is upon the Minister. I understand how he is limited in finance. However, is he prepared to preside over the ruination of a large part of the farming industry, especially intensive farming?
Some action could be taken and some money could be made available to the farming industry if the Minister took certain action. There are a number of less favoured areas in Northern Ireland, according to EEC criteria. I asked the Minister:in view of the completion of the Northern Ireland survey in relation to the possible extension of the area covered by the EEC less favoured areas directive, if he will ensure that application is made to the EEC for the extension so that further areas of Northern Ireland which are suitable only for the production of cattle and sheep might be included."—[Official Report, 4 November 1980, Vol. 991, c.530.]953 The EEC provides a grant for less favoured areas. If an application is made and processed before 1 January, such areas will qualify for that grant. However, the Minister is not prepared to make such an application. He says that he will wait until the survey covering the whole of the United Kingdom is complete. I protest in the name of Northern Ireland farmers about that iniquitous decision. It is a scandal. EEC money is available. It is being held back because the survey is not complete in England.
Agriculture in England and Ulster cannot be compared. It is of a different type and involves a different system. It is a ridiculous decision. Northern Ireland could benefit and part of the industry could be saved. Yet the Government have made a deliberate decision. They have said to Northern Ireland "Join the queue, and when the survey for England is complete we shall be prepared to make an application". I press on the Minister the urgent need to change that iniquitous decision.
Steps have been taken by all the parties to see the Minister. I understand that the leader of the Official Unionist Party raised this matter in the House. I was absent, but a colleague told me about it. We should have a decision today. The Minister responsible for agriculture in Ulster must agree to meet a deputation of hon. Members and farming representatives so that we can discuss the case. Ulster politicians disagree about many matters, but there is no disagreement about that.
The Minister responsible for agriculture in Northern Ireland does not attend the Brussels meetings. On 30 October, I asked the Secretary of State for Northern Irelandhow many times since coming to office the Minister in the Northern Ireland Office responsible for agriculture has attended the EEC Council of Ministers, along with the Minister of Agriculture, in order to promote and protect the interests of Northern Ireland's agriculture industry.
It is vital that when Northern Ireland matters are discussed at Brussels the Minister responsible is available. The Secretary of State's answer was:The promotion and protect, on of the interests of Northern Ireland agriculture in the EEC are the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. My right hon. Friend is always fully briefed on Northern Ireland agricultural matters. In addition, when there is a particular Northern Ireland interest at the Council of Ministers, my right hon. Friend is accompanied by a senior official from the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland."—[Official Report, 30 October 1980; Vol.991, c.365–66.]So the Minister is not there.
If the Minister of Agriculture is sitting at the Brussels table and a matter comes up that affects Northern Ireland, how much weight will he place on the representations of a senior official? But if a Government colleague who knows the situation in Northern Ireland is there and says "We cannot wear that. This is a decision that will be detrimental to the future of agriculture in Northern Ireland", we can be sure that the input at Brussels will be a proper input, Even though the Minister is small in stature, I know that he carries a fairly heavy clout. I want him to be there—not all the officials from the Northern Ireland agriculture office, Dr. Young and the lot of them. With all their influence, they do not have the power to persuade the Minister. The Minister would be more persuaded by a colleague who would tell him in no uncertain terms that certain matters could not be worn in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland depends largely on beef and daily herds. It is sad to report that one-third of the breeding herds 954 there have now vanished. That means that agriculture is in a serious situation. In France, there has been an 8 per cent. rise in the breeding herds. While our farmers are going to the wall, Continental farmers are finding an easy market in our country. I understand that it is not easy to build up the strength of the breeding herds. If they are lost, they are lost for many years. I ask the Minister what he intends to do about this problem.
I pointed out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that matters would be made easier for members of the fanning community in Northern Ireland if they could spread their taxes over a five-year period. I received the answer that on no account would he consider that. Had that spread been made, it would have considerably helped the industry.
The Minister will know the sad position of the poultry industry, which has almost gone. He will know also the sad position of our pig industry. At that meeting the other night, I was informed by those who should know that if it continues to decline it will produce only enough to supply the home market. When that happens, the writing will be on the wall for the pig industry.
We should like a clear statement from the Minister tonight about what steps he will take to save agriculture in Northern Ireland, especially the pig industry and intensive farming. We want to know what his policy is to be and what role he will play in the joint talks. Those of us who follow the news know that 40,000 enraged farmers marched in the South of Ireland last Saturday, protesting about the sad condition of their industry. We certainly do not want to be linked with another waning agriculture industry. The time has come for the Minister to tell us what he will do.
One item in Class II is expenditure on subsidies to electricity tariffs. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what role he will play and what help subsidies will give the people of Northern Ireland.
There is one matter which I must underline, because it affects my constituency. When will a decision be taken about the Kilroot power station? Has the decision already been taken or has it been postponed? With respect to the right hon. Member for Mansfield, we in Northern Ireland are somewhat against him, because he made a decision about the gas industry but delayed telling us what it was. Perhaps it was a good political achievement, in that when it was announced he did not have to carry the burden.
We want to know the decision about Kilroot. Is there to be a conversion from oil firing to coal firing? One deputation goes to the Minister and gains the clear impression that there is to be no conversion and that the station's present extent is to be the final extent, for a long time. Then, other deputations to the Minister get an entirely different message, to the effect that the decision has still to be made.
Will the Minister go for the large EEC grant that is available? Is he aware that if he does he will create a great deal of employment in Northern Ireland for the conversion? Does he realise that GEC in Larne or some other heavy engineering firm will be able to get a sizeable contract? Is he prepared to tell us today what he intends to do, or will he again put the matter on the long linger and not tell us what the future of Kilroot is to be?
There is a further matter. The contractors who were building Kilroot were under contract, as were their employees. What compensation will they receive? This is an important matter concerning a contract which was 955 signed, sealed and delivered but which is now being cut off in the middle. It would be a crying shame if the contractors got compensation and the employees did not. Will the Minister act on the representations that have been made to him to set up an umbrella organisation over which he can preside and meet all the contractors and representatives of the trade unions? They can get together and be in on the severance negotiations on the termination of the contract. These men, who were assured that they had jobs for five years, have now had those jobs cut off. They need a promise of help. The Minister must not drag his feet but must come up with an answer.
Under Class III there is a reference tothe orderly run-down of the gas industry".I laugh at that expression. I do not think that even yet the Minister can lay on the table a blueprint and tell us "This is how the industry will be run down." The right hon. Member for Mansfield rightly said that compensation of 50 per cent. and 30 per cent. for consumers would not do. Is it a fact that those who continue to use gas, by going on to bottled or liquid gas, will receive no compensation? We must have a clear decision from the Minister. It would be very unfair to say "Go on to electricity and we shall give you some compensation, but if you keep your gas appliances and have them adapted for use with bottled or liquid gas you will receive nothing." That would be a wrong decision, which would have to be opposed in the House. The Minister should tell us exactly what he will do.
Those who use gas in Northern Ireland are usually the poorer people. It is said that the Government will give compensation to people on supplementary benefit or family income supplement. But some people do not receive the benefit or supplement because they are just over the line, by a few pounds or even a few pence. Therefore, they will receive no compensation.
What isthe orderly run-down of the gas industry"?Surely it would mean everyone receiving full compensation. If people are changing to electricity, through no fault of their own, they should be helped by the Government to buy the necessary appliances. It is dangerous to have only one energy source—electricity. Evidently, the Government want to put all our energy eggs in the one electricity basket. We already have over-capacity.
The interconnector has been mentioned. The Dublin Government say that it is not their fault that we do not have it. The Minister says that it is not his fault. Whose fault is it? If we cannot have one interconnector, let us have four or five. If the IRA blows one up, let us keep the supply going. The Republic needs light. I am all for giving that dark country light. Therefore, we should go on with this important job. I hope that the Minister will tell us something about that matter.
Why can we not have the pipeline? I am sure that the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) will deal with this matter. I see no reason why, now that the facts are on the table, the Minister should continue with his decision. He should stand up like a man—I believe that he is a man—and say "I made a mistake" or blame his officials or his counterpart across the way. I do not care who the Minister blames. If he wants to blame me, let him do so, but let us have that gas pipeline. That is what is important to the people of Northern Ireland.
956 Under Class IV, I should like to ask the Minister why the Heysham-Belfast roll-on/roll-off service is to be closed. The unions tell me that night after night some of the containers have to be left on the quayside. They say that enough work is being supplied for that service, yet it is to be axed as well. I do not understand that. If there is plenty of work, and some of the commodities sometimes have to be left on the quayside, surely that service can be kept going. I should like the Minister to make a statement about that.
I see under Class VI that there is a small amount for sewerage and related services. Can the Minister comment on that? The schemes that were proposed for the rural districts, essential schemes for sewerage, water and other services, should have been proceeded with. Why should there be such a drastic cutback in the elementary amenities to which every family is entitled in the twentieth century? Will the Minister tell us what he proposes to do about the matter?
I should like to dwell on teacher training and the controversy about it, but I have spoken for long enough. I wonder when the Minister will be able to tell us what decision he has made and the basis for it.
Class XI includes the expenditure of the Central Secretariat, including the expenses of information services. Today, all Members of the European Assembly received a large package from the secretariat. A certain Mr. Blaney is to initiate a debate in the Parliament next week on the H-block protest, the hunger strikes. What is happening about them? The Secretary of State told us today that a high-ranking official of the Northern Ireland Office had been in the Maze prison. We are told that he is there to read Hansard to the men concerned, that he is there to read the Minister's written reply to a question.
I understand that the men do not like their diet. I do not know how they will like this diet. I saw in one of the newspapers a cartoon of the Prime Minister saying to the Prime Minister of the Republic "Let us eat words." The men will have these words to eat; the meaning of the answer is to be explained to them. That is a very dangerous exercise, but I do not think that anyone in Northern Ireland will accept that that is all that is happening. They will say "There is more in that than meets the eye. He is not just going in to read Hansard." I understand that the official will not only read Hansard but will answer questions on Hansard. This is nothing to do with the Dublin summit but is to do with a written answer. I say that this is the beginning of negotiations.
There are two things that can bring us out of the present trouble in Northern Ireland. One is the presence in the community of proper deterrents. It is well known in the House that in my opinion one of those deterrents should be capital punishment. We do not have it. The only other deterrent is proper imprisonment. Destroying that means telling the people that there will be no deterrent whatsoever. When we have no deterrent, that is the green light for the IRA to conquer, and that is just what is being given.
The information service tells us that of course the men are not getting political status. Nobody believes that the Government will ever say that they have political status. It can be called by whatever name the Government like. Let us say that we get the men off the hunger strike. Then, as time rolls on, there will be another hunger strike. This time it will be not for political status but for an amnesty. And so it will continue. The time has come for the 957 Government to give us the right information. What is happening? What are the Government about? Let them tell the people of Northern Ireland honestly and straightforwardly what they are doing.
§ Mr. Harold McCusker (Armagh)
Under Class II, Vote 3, and Class III, Vote 1, I wish to raise the question of the energy crisis in Northern Ireland. There can be no doubt that there is a crisis. It has already been mentioned in the debate, and concern has been expressed on both sides of the House. I am sorry to add to the torrent of depressing statistics given by the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), but I must do so to put the matter in perspective.
In a reply given to me on 27 November by the Minister responsible for the Department of Commerce in Northern Ireland, I was told:Domestic coal prices in Northern Ireland are towards the top end of the range of mainland prices. Piped gas in Northern Ireland costs two to four times as much as in Great Britain … Domestic electricity costs 24 per cent. more than the average in Great Britain.I may need to repeat those figures to get them home to the House. People are paying four times more for their gas in Northern Ireland than is paid on the mainland. They are paying a quarter more for their electricity, and they are paying the top rate for solid fuel. Those are domestic prices.
On the industrial front, we learnt this week of a survey carried out in the British Isles and published in the latest edition of Utility Newsbriefs, a specialist monthly bulletin that regularly publishes tables of energy prices. The survey showed that light engineering users in Northern Ireland pay 4.72p per kilowatt hour of electricity. In the North-East of England, a comparable region, they pay 3.51p per kilowatt hour—a differential of 34 per cent. Is it any wonder that light engineering in Northern Ireland finds life extremely difficult? The survey also shows that commercial premises in Northern Ireland pay 4.49p per kilowatt hour. In the North-East of England it is 3.40p per kilowatt hour—a differential of 32 per cent.
Domestic users are paying substantially more across the range of fuels available to them, and industrial and commercial users are paying 30 per cent. more. It gives little consolation to me or to engineering and commercial undertakings in Northern Ireland to know that the Government hope to peg those prices. They do not intend to reduce the differential, only to peg it. It is a wonder that industry and commerce manage to exist ins Northern Ireland.
We must set the statistics against the background painted for us by the right hon. Member for Mansfield—namely, 16 per cent. unemployment and household incomes three-quarters of the national average. Let us compare two households, one in England and one in Northern Ireland. The net income in England is £100 per week, and the net income in Northern Ireland £75 per week. The household that is £25 worse off has to pay 25 pet cent. more for its electricity, the top rate for coal and four times as much for gas.It must be obvious that if it was possible to offer Northern Ireland comparable rates—the North-East of England would be comparable to Northern Ireland in social and industrial terms—that would be a boon both to individual households in Northern Ireland and to industry and commerce, which are struggling to survive.
958 I wish to deal with two issues tonight, electricity and gas, and will spend most of my time discussing gas. It is obvious that the only way to improve the energy situation is to talk in terms of parity. It does not matter whether Kilroot is converted to coal or whether phase 2 is built. That will give only temporary relief. The only way that Northern Ireland can achieve a fair deal is for the Northern Ireland electricity region to become part of the United Kingdom generating system. We should then have our electricity tariffs in line with the various regions on the mainland. If there is a 1p or 2p differential, we shall accept that in the way that it is accepted on the mainland.
How can it be justified that someone in Durham obtains electricity one-quarter cheaper than someone in Lurgan, Portadown or any other town in Northern Ireland? When examining the electricity position, we should not consider further subsidies but push ahead with the North Channel electricity interconnector.
Let no one tell me that I am arguing an integrationist line and that it is an umbilical link. The press and parliamentary reports in Dublin during the past year show that the Dublin authorities are pushing for the interconnector. They want it to be between the Republic and Great Britain. They know that there will be only one connector. If they have it, we shall not have it. If we want to bring down the price of our electricity to reasonable levels and to reduce our over-dependence on oil, we must be linked to a generating system that is predominantly coal-based. The interconnector must be built.
It is a tremendous disadvantage to have Mr. Gaston as the chairman of the Northern Ireland electricity service. Two or three years ago he had the nerve to ask people in Northern Ireland who were advocating an interconnector "Do people in Northern Ireland want to be dependent on Scotland for their energy?" The answer is "Yes." If his aim is to keep the Northern Ireland electricity service as a little home-grown electricity industry that he can preside over, dominate and charge whatever he wants, it is time that we got rid of him. I hope that he has changed his attitude to the interconnector. If he has not, he should see Mr. Colley, who is faced with the same attitude.
In a report in The Irish Times on 1 September, Mr. Colley is reported as saying:when you do your sums, you will find that the kind of capacity and money needed to supply our requirements is enormous.
The Irish Times continued:If the cross-Border interconnector were restored he would use it, not simply as before, for the convenience of a two-ways stand-by arrangement, but actually to supplement from Nothern Ireland's surplus the Republic's growing needs—a proposal which will meet with some resistance within the ESB.The electricity supply board in the Republic wants to have its own little empire and safe jobs. Mr. Gaston should be told that there is a job for him in the electricity industry in Northern Ireland—on a par with the various area chairmen in Great Britain.
That is the only way to bring down the price of electricity. We should not be lumbered with massive subsidies thrown in our face by Conservative Members who wonder why the Government are pouring more money into Northern Ireland. We are entitled to energy on the same basis as the remainder of the United Kingdom. That does not mean that the North-South interconnector is not important. It is important. The Dublin authorities say that it is costing them £9 million a year while it is down. I suppose that we could benefit by a figure comparable to that. That would be useful. I do not know what the figure 959 would be, but we would have a substantial benefit of millions of pounds over the years that it has been down. It must be reinstated.
When the Minister met the Minister responsible for energy in the Republic, I wonder whether Mr. Colley was as blunt with him as he was with me when we discussed the issue.
He laid the blame fairly and squarely at the Minister's door. A heavy responsibility lies at the Government's door. I told Mr. Colley that a heavy responsibility lay with his Government also. Although the pylons were blown up in Northern Ireland, the bombs that blew them up were made in the Republic. If the interconnector is ever to be reinstated—and it should be reinstated urgently—it will require joint action and determination by both Governments.
However, the pylons have been blown up on the Northern Ireland side of the border. I drove along the border a few weeks ago and saw the damage. It will not be repaired by taking Mr. Gaston's attitude, which in the past has been one of "Softly, softly. Let us try to slip the boys in to fix it up and the terrorists will not see us." When I heard that, I thought that the man was an absolute fool. Could he really believe that he could slip teams of engineers into South Armagh in the Crossmaglen area to reinstate the interconnector and slip them out again and that all would be sweetness and light? It was only when I heard the story about the £30,000 that I began to understand. Against that background, it would be possible to slip the boys in, give the boys a backhander and slip them out again.
I am not abusing privilege when I name the person who is alleged to have been most actively involved in the blackmailing attempt. He was named in the Dublin Parliament last week. It is common rumour in Ireland that Cardinal Tomas O'Fiach, that distinguished constituent of mine, was involved in trying to set up the £30,000 deal. I am not using the protection of the House, because he has already been named in the Republic. Journalist after journalist approached me and demanded that I name him at Westminster. At first I said that I would not do it. I said that it would not be fair to do so. However, I started to put two and two together.
The interconnector runs from Tandragee to Maynooth, passing close to Crossmaglen. It was blown up outside Crossmaglen. Two or three years ago Cardinal O'Fiach was working in Maynooth and he had close connections in Crossmaglen. That is his home town. It was perhaps a natural thing for him to do.
There is an even more sinister aspect. The same journalist approached me and asked me whether I would like to name a prominent member of the staff of the Northern Ireland electricity service who might have been involved. I said that I could not believe that. However, I was given a name. I shall not use it because I have no proof. The name meant nothing to me. However, I checked it and I found that there was a prominent member of the electricity service who might be involved in this type of work.
One has to start putting two and two together. There is talk of a softly, softly approach. There is talk of slipping the boys in, getting the interconnector re-established and paying the boys off. What an incredible proposition if there was anything in it.
§ Mr. McCusker
I am not naming the cardinal for the first time. He has been named already in another Parliament. That is on record. The other person has not been named anywhere else. If I obtain evidence that proves the allegation, I shall have no hesitation in naming him.
We need a joint approach by the two Governments to reinstate the interconnector. The work that is necessary must be done and, if necessary, there must be protection. If we took the same attitude to the railway line that runs between Belfast and Dublin, there would no longer be a line. The Provos have been trying to close it for 10 years. They have tried to do so year after year. They have used threats, bombs, intimidation and the destruction of vehicles. However, a determined Government wished to keep the line open and it was kept open. The same attitude must be taken with the interconnector. Let us get on with it and forget about the £30,000 deal.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)
If the link-up with electricity and gas is between the Republic and Great Britain, is it not a fact that all responsibility for maintaining the link across the border will rest upon this place and upon Her Majesty's Government, whereas if it runs through Northern Ireland the responsibility will be placed upon the Irish Republic? Is not that a good reason for ensuring that the link-up is between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. McCusker
That is precisely why we are fighting so hard to get the interconnector across the North Channel.
It has been suggested that the gas industry is running down. We are told that money is being used to ensure that there is an orderly rundown. I have never accepted that the industry is running down. I am glad that the right hon. Member for Mansfield is in his place. He was much maligned when it was suggested that he was instrumental in closing down the industry. He merely shelved the decision, if we are to believe recent press reports.
On 2 October the Northern Ireland Economic Council stated:The public expenditure costs of a gas pipeline could be substantially lower than costs to the public purse of closing down the gas industry.It has made that assertion repeatedly and has backed it up with hard facts. That is the view that is set out in the detailed Coopers and Lybrand report. The Department of Commerce came to the same conclusion when the right hon. Member for Mansfield was a member of the Labour Government. I hope that he will confirm that. Fortunately, someone in the Department of Commerce began to question why the Department should take the rap for a political decision.
One of the most sickening aspects of the discussion that took place on sustaining the gas industry in Northern Ireland was that I had to listen to individuals with Northern Ireland accents damning those who were opposed to them. Clearly, the message was brought home to some of them, because they decided to wash their hands of the matter.
The report that the right hon. Gentleman shelved came to light last week. Apparently it was produced as a result 961 of the setting up of a working party at the request of the right hon. Gentleman. It came to three broad conclusions. It stated that natural gas, if it were to be available to Northern Ireland at prices similar to those in Great Britain, would provide substantial direct benefits to consumers. Secondly, it stated that a large part of the disadvantages suffered by the people of Northern Ireland could be attributed to the fact that the Province did not have, access to natural gas enjoyed by other regions of the United Kingdom and that the magnitude of the benefits that were likely to be available meant that the costs of piping and distributing gas to the Province were unlikely to be prohibitive. Thirdly, it concluded that it could prove to be a profitable exercise over a 20-year span.
That secret report is dated October 1978 and was pigeon-holed early in 1979 by the right hon. Gentleman. I can understand why he did that. Negotiations were taking Place at that time, and the report might have been a useful card to play. It was a card that I tried to play. I am convinced that I was dealing with honourable men when I tried to make my deal prior to the 1979 election. I doubt whether my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) is able to say that he was dealing with honourable men in 1979. If subsequent events are anything to go by, that must be so. If the Labour Government had been sustained, or if they had won the 1979 election, we might have had the pipeline.
It is good to know that the Department of Commerce backed the case for the pipeline. It is interesting that within a few weeks of coming to office the Minister made a quick decision to stop the project. It may be that he hoped that we would all go away. In fact, we commissioned a report from Coopers and Lybrand, a firm that has been used by successive Governments to evaluate such projects. It concluded that it was a viable proposition and would be beneficial to Northern Ireland.
I submitted the report to the Minister in July. He implied that within a matter of weeks he would give me his decision. That meant that he was not prepared to consider it. It was an indication that he would hold it for a few weeks and then say "We do not accept it." However, in October, after three months had elapsed and after some prompting, I received the Minister's response. He rejected the conclusions set out in the Coopers and Lybrand report.
The Minister gave me his reply on 7 October. That was his considered reply. It was only after that that I learnt that the body of which I am chairman was still paying Coopers and Lybrand to produce statistics that had been, requested by the Department of Energy before coming to any conclusion, and that the statistics had not been provided to the Department. We were still supplying those answers while the Minister was writing his answer to me. In fact, the Minister rejected the Coopers and Lybrand report before the Department of Energy in London had received the further information that it requested to enable it to make the decision. That shows how much thought was put into the matter.
We replied on 27 October and covered some of the points. The Minister came back to me on 6 November and we had a meeting. We discussed the decision to kill off the gas industry in Northern Ireland—a decision taken in July 1979, 14 or 15 months before the meeting.
We were confronted with a series of arguments about finishing the industry off that did not exist in 1979. One reason really shook us. The Minister's letter stated: 962Rate of increse of transfer price of natural gas. The consultants assume that the basic transfer price of 23 pence per therm would increase by 3% per annum in real terms, both being oil-related figures. We would not dispute the base figure, but the Government's view based on most recent assessments is that oil prices will rise by 4% per annum in real team between now and the end of the century.That was a world premiere. No one had been told that before. We learnt it in Belfast. The Minister told us that we were the first to know that the Government had reassessed the situation and that the energy costs would be based not on a 3 per cent. per annum increase in real terms but on a 4 per cent. increase. Professor Christopher Foster, an acknowledged expert in the field, was taken aback. He had never heard of that before. It added £30 million to the sums, which altered the balance of the argument.
As a result, I put down a question last week and received the reply yesterday. I asked the Secretary of State for Energywhen and why he revised upward his estimate of future real growth in energy prices to the end of the century from 3 to 4 per cent. per annum".He replied:My Department keeps prospects for energy prices under continuing review. In the case of oil there are considerable uncertainties both about the levels which prices might reach by the end of the century and the path which will be followed."—[Official Report, 9 December 1980; Vol. 995, c.538.]There is no confirmation there that the Government have a fundamental decision about raising their estimate. It is rather the reverse. The answer suggests that there could be all sorts of variations and one could come to all sorts of different conclusions. It was not even an argument put forward in July 1979 when the decision was made.
Another argument pulled out of the hat concerned the cost of storing natural gas. It was said that if we were to get natural gas in Northern Ireland we should have to have a substantial storage capacity and it would cost 5p per therm to store it. Gas is sold to domestic consumers in London today at 16p per therm. In Northern Ireland we should have to store it in vast quantities which would cost 5p per therm. The House will not be surprised to know that that adds another £14 million or £15 million to the sums. It is once again applying to Northern Ireland conditions that do not apply in any other gas region in the United Kingdom.
We managed to winkle out one of the real reasons—the negative effects on the electricity supply industry. When the Government worked out their sums there, they added a further £51 million. Before we left the meeting in the Department of Commerce, the Minister was producing figures like a magician pulling white rabbits out of a hat. Millions of pounds were floating all otter the place.
Those were the justifications on which the Government decided to kill the gas industry in Northern Ireland, depriving consumers in Northern Ireland of their rightful share of a national resource in the North Sea, as we are told it is called. The decision will also throw another 1,000 people on the dole. As the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said, it will put all our energy eggs in an oil-based basket. We know the consequences of that.
I still hope that the Minister will reconsider the decision on the North Channel. However, even if he does not, the industry can still be saved. The Republic has a supply of natural gas off Kinsale Head. The Minister was probably told last Friday that there is much more in that field than anticipated. The Republic's Minister for Energy says that there is enough in the field to meet the expected needs of 963 both the greater Dublin area and the greater Belfast area, which are the only two real markets for premium-priced gas in Ireland. The Minister in the Republic is keen to sell it. He knows that he will get a premium price in Belfast, and the Republic needs the money. I hope that this Government's Minister will seriously consider the proposal and will not resort to the old arguments. He should not start from the premise that we shall not have that gas.
He should not be hell bent on killing off the industry.
Unfortunately, the Minister has shown that he can find arguments to prove anything. If he starts from the premise that we can do something, perhaps we shall have a bit more success. That suggestion would make some sense of the communiqué issued from Dublin, for I do not understand the communiqué. Ulster Unionists have never objected to co-operation with the Republic along the lines that I have suggested. All that we have ever wanted is to live at peace and to trade with our neighbours. As the Minister knows, the trade balance is to their advantage by about 2 to 1. We do not object. That is the natural consequence of sharing an island with them. We want that situation to continue. We believe that it could be extended to this suggestion. I hope that the political implications from the meeting yesterday will not spoil the case for this sort of cross-border co-operation. It is the right sort of cross-border co-operation, as is the electricity interconnector.
The Minister should tear up the draft proposal to close the gas industry in Northern Ireland and give it a fair wind until all the possibilities are explored. Local exploration is taking place. Companies are drilling at this moment in Cavan and Fermanagh. One company has a licence for the Rathlin Basin. Irish Bridge, a local Belfast, concern, is interested in obtaining a licence for North Antrim. These companies are investing their own money in exploration. They are hoping to find gas or they would not be spending tens of thousands, if not millions, of pounds. Although they would be pleased, none of them expects massive gas finds. The finds will probably be only moderate—gas which could be exploited locally in a premium domestic market but which could not be exported. Those companies are only now beginning to wake up to what the Minister is doing. If he has the town gas industry killed in Northern Ireland by this time next year and moderate discoveries of gas are made, what can they do with it? They want the Minister to hold on. The wording of the order should perhaps be changed from £9 millionto facilitate the orderly run-down of the gas industryto £9 million "to hold and sustain the gas industry", until such time as the Minister can make a proper evaluation of the options open to him.
§ 6.8 pm
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
The speech of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) deserves careful attention. I fully support what he said about the need to see the interconnector re-established. I was greatly heartened by his remarks about the sort of co-operation that Northern Ireland would like with the Republic. I hope that they will be heeded by the Government. They were extremely constructive.
I shall essentially confine my remarks to the Class II appropriations. First, I want to congratulate Harland and 964 Wolff and Short Brothers and Harland. This year, to my great delight, I was able to find both their annual reports in the Library. I have commented before that they were not there. Conceivably, my words will have reached those who run the companies.
However, there are essentially three nationalised industries, at least in terms of my remarks this evening, and I was very disappointed that, if those two companies, which depend so heavily on taxpayers' money, felt that we in the House should know about their trading abilities and financial arrangements, the third industry—the De Lorean car company—did not see any such need.
Although I may well be told by the Minister that De Lorean's financial structure is different from those of Harland and Wolff and Short's, without the vast amount of taxpayers' money that has been put into the company it would not currently exist or be contemplating bringing forward cars for sale next spring. Will the Minister have a word with Mr. De Lorean and tell him that it would be useful, even if we cannot have his report and accounts, at least to have a progress report on this costly venture?
Will the De Lorean DMC12 be shown at the New York motor show, or is it there this month? Some months ago the Minister told me in a parliamentary answer that it was planned to show the model at the New York show this year. Will that promise be fulfilled? Will the car also be available in Western Europe and the United Kingdom when it finally comes off the production line?
Is there any danger that either the DMC12 or its derivatives—we have heard Mr. De Lorean outline details of a passenger car that he has in mind—will compete with the Jaguar XJ40, which is one of the new models that British Leyland hopes to build if it is fortunate enough to get the £800 million to £1,000 million that we are told its corporate plan envisages? It would be incredible if taxpayers were asked to fund two competing car designs. In no way would that be the sort of competition that we in the Conservative Party so strongly advocate. Is there some co-ordination, co-operation or communication about Mr. De Lorean's proposals and British Leyland's intentions?
As I explained in our debate on the Industry Bill a few days ago, this country is in the curious position of having two nationalised car companies, two nationalised aircraft companies and two nationalised shipbuilding companies. Apart from British Aerospace, they are all making large losses. It is possible to argue that the circumstances of each of these companies are so different that the apparent contradiction of competition between them when they are all owned by the British taxpayer is not in fact a contradiction, because there was no other reasonable way of creating a structure that made sense. However, we on the Conservative side must think seriously about how far we intend to allow this strange competition to develop. Harland and Wolff is one of the possible victims of this type of competition.
The order adds another £8.2 million to what the company is to receive, although I am not sure—and I did not receive the explanatory memorandum—whether the £8.2 million is subsumed within the £42.5 million that the company has already received or whether it is an additional sum. I am told that it is the former.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister comment on a sentence in the 1979 annual report which qualifies the trading loss of £24.4 million by stating that the figure is contributed to by 965the failure of several of our major subcontractors to deliver components and complete their contractual obligations within stipulated timesand that thisresulted in helping to create the very serious trading loss"?If that is the case, is Harland and Wolff covered by penalty clauses? If so, have they been invoked, and how much of the money has been recovered? Who are the major subcontractors which have put the company in this plight?
In the annual report, the chairman points out that the company has picked up two new orders from the BP Tanker Co. Ltd. for two ships of over 100,000 tons and orders from other shipbuilders for two engines. He says also that employment is running at 7,542, with a deficit for the year of £43,296,000 and an adverse balance carried forward of £105,875,000.
The company is in a difficult, if not totally unviable, economic position. My hon. Friend said on 1 July 1980 when he spelt out the details of the money that would be provided to the company that the Government stood behind the company's liabilities. What are those liabilities how? I am aware that there are unsecured loans covered by the Department of Commerce, which has agreed to advance to the company such sums as are required for carrying on its business up to a maximum of £90 million. However, it would be helpful to know exactly what liabilities the Government believe they might be facing.
Will the Minister say something about cc-operation between British Shipbuilders and Harland and Wolff, which, according to the annual report works smoothly? I have already mentioned competition between Harland and Wolff and British Shipbuilders. I remember, when the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill was going through the House in 1977, the then Government telling as that it was better for Harland and Wolff to be free and flexible in negotiating in world markets. But does that argument still stand? How does co-operation betweem these two nationalised corporations work smoothly? What co-ordination of effort is there, and has there been any thought of installing a common director on both boards?
I turn now to the answer given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on 13 November, when he described the diversification set-up which had been agreed upon. The concept of an independent diversification review was first mooted in July this year. In his November statement, my hon. Friend spelt out the terms of reference of the team which is to look into the possibilities of diversification for Harland and Wolff.
One of the members of the team is in fact the new chairman of the company. As I have not yet had the chance to do so, perhaps I may take this opportunity to wish him every success in his very difficult task.
The diversification envisaged in the terms of reference is clearly of far-reaching proportions. Yet I must say to my hon. Fried that there have been many other occasions when those running Harland and Wolff have been persuaded to look at the possibility of diversifying into other industrial activities. Indeed, a paper produced by the Northern Ireland Office in 1975, in outlining the problems facing the company as long ago as 1967, stated on page 8 that the problems of the yard were diagnosed as being of an organisational and commercial nature; management was untidy, there was a lack of effective budgetary control, the marketing side needed strengthening and energy was being dissipated on diversification.
966 I also well remember Mr. Dennis Wrangham, when he was chairman of Short Brothers and Harland, being advised by a Government report that that company should consider diversification.
I remember him saying to me that anyone who thought that one could diversify from being an aeronautical engineer one day to being a motor engineer, a civil engineer or a machine tool engineer next day did not really understand the nature and complexity of engineering. He said that the only way in which Short Brothers and Harland could diversify would be to buy companies in other diversified industries but that to turn its own talents in those directions was really beyond it—the cobbler should stick to his last.
With Mr. Wrangham's words ringing in my ears, I pass his comments on to my hon. Friend. While I wish the team success in looking at the possibilities of diversifying Harland and Wolff's activities, I think that my hon. Friend may find that Harland and Wolff's real future will continue to lie in shipbuilding and in creating engines for ships, and that if the cobbler departs from his last it may well be the last effort of that company.
Five years ago, Harland and Wolff employed a work force of about 9,000. That figure included manual workers and staff. It had an order book in double figures. Today, it employs rather more than 7,000. So far as I know, its order book consists of the two new ship orders referred to in the annual report. My hon. Friend may be able to tell me about other orders of which I am unaware. The company is also building two large marine engines. If it required a work force of 9,000 when its order book was in double figures, it is difficult to see how 7,400 people can be required when the order book is as thin as it is at present.
It seems to follow from that either that the yard is still grossly overmanned—I use those words with care, bearing in mind the very responsible speech of the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) from the Opposition Front Bench, whom I also congratulate. He and I have often crossed swords in the past, but I wish him every success in his new appointment. I use my words with care because to hear the figures that he gave of the present unemployment situation in Northern Ireland is to make anybody who speaks of overmanning think and think again before using such words.
Nevertheless, it seems to me inescapable to recognise that Harland and Wolff is still overmanned and that, unless the company is able to pick up a rather larger share of the current shipping order book in the United Kingdom, further redundancies are inevitable. Of course, the diversification plans may bear fruit which I at least cannot imagine. I hope that that will be the case. But if that is not the case—I recognise that there is a slump in shipbuilding throughout the world—is it not possible for Harland and Wolff to do rather better in picking up new orders than has the case?
As I have said, the company has picked up two new orders this year. Yet up to September this year 78 ships had been ordered for the United Kingdom. Bearing in mind that those ships total over 1 million gross registered tonnes, for Harland and Wolff to have picked up only two of the orders, albeit for big ships, seems an unreasonably small proportion of what was available.
It is a matter not only of ships that were ordered for United Kingdom registration but of the ships that were ordered by the Ministry of Defence or by other public 967 sector organisations. There, no less than 12 new ships were ordered, but none, alas, is to be built by Harland and Wolff. In addition, there are to be 42 naval refit contracts, but none of those has gone to Harland and Wolff.
There may be very good reasons why the company should be ignored. It may be that some of the problems so skilfully outlined in the Northern Ireland Office paper to which I have referred—the problems of slippage in programmes, low productivity, delivery dates that are not met and poor management—are still, five years after that paper was written, bedevilling the company in the way it operates. But time is running out for the company and, indeed, for those who manage it if that situation still exists.
I wonder, therefore, whether closer links between the company and British Shipbuilders might produce a rather better share of what is available than the current situation, in which, as I have said, two nationalised companies apparently compete with each other for the comparatively small number of orders available.
Lastly, I refer to the engine side of the company. I profess no expertise in marine engineering or, indeed, in shipbuilding overall, but I cannot help wondering whether the engine side of Harland and Wolff will be able to survive for long on two orders. At a time when fuel economy and energy conservation are occupying the minds of shipowners, as of almost everybody else in the Western world, one wonders whether there is not a great opportunity for somebody to put a good deal of research and development into marine engineering towards producing an engine with the kind of economy figures that would attract those who are to build the next generation of ships.
Today, the concept of nuclear-powered merchant ships seems to have passed from the scene, but only 10 years ago the world was excited by the project. Yet we all know that the price of oil is escalating. It is rising bit by bit, month by month and year by year. It therefore seems to me that energy conservation for ships, as well as for everything else, is now a matter of priority. To have the expertise that Harland and Wolff possesses in its engine sheds and yet not to give it either money for research and development, or, better still, the contracts to do the research and development into more fuel-efficient engines would seem to be wasting the abilities of the company.
What I am trying to ask my hon. Friend is whether we need have what seems to me to be wasteful competition between two nationalised industries. Is there not a prospect of Harland and Wolff getting a rather larger slice of the orders placed by Government Departments? Are we really using the facilities and the expertise which that company possesses in terms of looking forward to the future? We should recognise that one day the recession will be over, the slump in shipbuilding will be over, and if we have sown the seed corn right we shall undoubtedly reap as good a harvest from that great company as from British Shipbuilders.
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
In recent weeks, there has been some controversy in the House as to whether the Government were using underhand methods to announce decisions of major economic importance. Even at this stage, I cannot say with any great degree of accuracy whether they have engaged in such a tactic.
968 The one thing that I do know is that when the matter reaches the Floor of the House via the Opposition, and the Government are challenged on why they announced a 6½ per cent. maximum increase for public sector employees or the increase in firemen's wages by way of written answer, we can be certain that the usual channels will be called into operation and a debate will take place which will be resolved one way or another—in all probability in the Lobbies.
That is what Parliament is about. It is about a Government and an Opposition, with the Opposition having some say in how the government of the country is carried out. However, that does not occur in Northern Ireland. Those in control of the decision-making in Northern Ireland will issue a statement from Stormont Castle or go to a small rural area and make an announcement of major political and economic importance. Elected representatives from Northern Ireland constituencies have no say whatever, nor do they take part in any of the debates, until there is a fait accompli.
When decisions are taken, Northern Ireland Members must resort to the written question procedure in order to ask the Minister what it is all about. Sometimes he courteously forwards a statement about the decision that has been taken. If we do not resort to the written question procedure, we must wait for a month and ask an oral question on the Floor of the House.
Alternatively, we can interpose our objections in what are called "national debates", but, although it is not said aloud, hon. Members from Scotland, England and Wales look askance at any intrusion by a Northern Ireland Member into such debates. As the attendance in the House tonight reveals—I saw it this afternoon—there is an exodus from the Chamber when the subject of Northern Ireland is debated. [HON MEMBERS: "Particularly by the Labour Party."] I accept that this applies to all parties, and it has done so throughout the years that I have been a Member of the House. Therefore, it is only on an occasion such as this that Northern Ireland Members have the opportunity of going into many of the aspects relating to the economic situation as it affects the Six Counties.
Northern Ireland is allegedly part of the United Kingdom, but during the debate on the Queen's Speech Northern Ireland Members—I was one of them—were dying to be called to put forward their point of view. I am certain that no other part of the United Kingdom could, or would, wish to compete with Northern Ireland in relation to unemployment, but we must wait for a debate such as this to put our points of view. Of course, by the time this debate occurs the decisions have already been taken. The decisions that have been taken have brought nothing but tragedy and distress to the people of Northern Ireland during the past few months.
The hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) recently asked a question about the De Lorean car project, and the Secretary of State used that opportunity to announce a mini-Budget in relation to what was happening in Northern Ireland. He said:I am now able to make the following statement about public expenditure in Northern Ireland in the current financial year, and in particular about further assistance to the De Lorean Motor Company.He added:I intend to reallocate £50 million within the Northern Ireland public expenditure programme in the current financial year".He said that the Government would 969increase the resources available to the programme…by £48 million".It should be remembered that no Northern Ireland Member could query this. One could do so by way of a written question but he would get no great satisfaction by using that method. The right hon. Gentleman continued:Of the £50 million reallocated, the main reductions are £24 million from environmental services and £10 million each from education and from health and social services. This reallocation is equivalent to 2 per cent. of current expenditure."—[Official Report, 6 August 1980; Vol. 990, c. 85.]If that is equivalent to only 2 per cent. of current expenditure in Northern Ireland, I can only say that that reallocation has had devastating effects on employment in Northern Ireland, as well as on the housing programme. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) has already alluded to this. Housing in Northern Ireland is among the worst that exists anywhere in Western Europe. It is unparalleled in any other part of the United Kingdom. It brings with it distress and despair for thousands of families who have been waiting for a home for years. In my own constituency, and in the city of Belfast generally, houting is a total and absolute disaster.
Yet we are told that there is to be a £24 million reduction from the Department of the Environment budget. But before we reach this debate we find that those cuts have already taken place. The Northern Ireland construction industry has been brought to an absolute standstill and has brought unemployment in its wake. Architects, engineers, tradesmen and labourers have swollen Northern Ireland's unemployment.
Let us analyse the effect which those cuts have had. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield rightly said, it is easier and more desirable to retain a job in Northern Ireland than to wipe it out of existence in the hope of attracting another job. What effect did the £10 million reallocated from education have? It meant poorer services, fewer school meals, fewer books and poorer nursery school facilities, all of which related to jobs. Can the Minister say how many jobs have been lost as a result of that £10 million reallocation?
Another £10 million has been reallocated from health and social services. That meant fewer facilities for the disabled and old-age pensioners, fewer home helps and poorer transport facilities for old people who must travel to hospital for treatment. It has affected all the things that are so necessary in order to making living worth while for those old people. How many jobs were lost as a result of that?
It must not be forgotten that 35 per cent. of Northern Ireland's employable population work in the public sector. The Government are abolishing jobs in education and housing in the public sector. Their actions have led to a serious deterioration in morale among the teaching profession. A sword of Damocles is hanging over the heads of teachers, who fear that there will be further redundancies.
I am as concerned about the labour-intensive services of the Department of the Environment. I do not need to read the statistics. I know many of the labourers who were working in the construction industry between May and July. Their employment was not all that secure, anyway, under a Conservative Government, but now they are standing in the dole queues. Their jobs have been taken away and they have been added to the unemployment total of 91,000.
970 Even that figure is not the correct level. It could be increased by many thousands. Many do not register as unemployed because they know that it is a waste of time. There are no jobs available. If there were prospects for them, they would register. It has been stated reliably by trade union sources that the real unemployment figure for Northern Ireland is between 110,000 and 120,000. That should make every hon. Member think about the tragedy of the situation.
Northern Ireland has suffered violence for the past 12 years. We shall be discussing that later, but how can there be anything other than social discontent and the possibility that the disaffected young will be drawn into paramilitary organisations when we have such appalling unemployment figures?
The people of Northern Ireland want to work. The story is put around that Northern Ireland Members always complain about high unemployment levels but that many of our people are unemployable. I have never accepted that. The truth is that nearly 9,000 people in Northern Ireland who are in full-time employment are also receiving family income supplement. That is an indication that they want to work. They are working for wages which, by the Government's own standards, are below the poverty level. The Government are having to pay social security supplements because employers are not paying sufficient wages.
Since the creation of the Northern Ireland State, earnings there have been only 75 per cent. of earnings in the rest of the United Kingdom. I have heard Conservative and Labour spokesmen claiming that one man's high wage is another man's redundancy. Can anyone tell me how to apply that logic to Northern Ireland, where earnings are only 75 per cent. of those in Britain? No industry in Northern Ireland has wages that are so high that the employer is forced to make men redundant. Wages are high in other parts of the United Kingdom. But the Low Pay Unit has repeatedly proved that Northern Ireland is the lowest paid region in the United Kingdom.
There has been an attack on the construction industry. The documentation is available for all to see, from the Ulster architects, the builders' federation in Northern Ireland and other bodies. They have all written to every Northern Ireland Member appealing to us to use our influence with the Minister to ensure that the Government rethink their disastrous policies.
A document was sent to all Northern Ireland Members by the Housing Executive. I have never been a wholehearted supporter of the Executive, and I have always had doubts about it. However, I put on record that the current chairman, Mr. Brett, is one of the most forceful, dedicated and concerned chairmen that the executive has had. He is not afraid to speak up when he thinks that Ministers are acting in a way that is disadvantageous not only to the Housing Executive but to the homeless in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Brett referred recently to a speech made by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who said:I know how disappointing it is for anyone in the public services to be asked to postpone a desirable project because it cannot be afforded.Mr. Brett's reply to that was:It is not just desirable projects in the housing field which we are having to cut. We are also having to cut, postpone and abandon projects which are genuinely a matter of need. Who is to tell a family which has been for years on a waiting list living in overcrowded conditions in a condemned house that it is merely 971 desirable that they should have a better home, but that they do not really need one so they cannot have it? Who is going to tell an ailing pensoner that it is merely desirable that she should have hot water or an inside lavatory, but she doesn't really need those things?In speaking in such terms, the chairman of the Housing Executive helped to illustrate that in applying such cuts to the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland the Government are ensuring that if they continue the policies on which they appear to be hell bent there will be no industrial base left on which to start rebuilding the economy when the world comes out of the recession. The base will have been smashed and there will be nothing left on which to build.
The hon. Member for Knutsford asked a pertinent question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield about the De Lorean project. The hon. Gentleman was given a written answer on the project and figures of £50 million, £48 million and £14 million have been mentioned. They all tie up somewhere. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield was a Minister, his Government tried to attract the De Lorean project to Northern Ireland, but it was on the basis of extra expenditure—not money being taken from other Departments. The then Labour Government provided extra money for the Northern Ireland economy, particularly in my constituency, because of its awful and appalling unemployment figures.
It is no exaggeration to say—it has been said already—that in some areas there are figures of 25 per cent. and 30 per cent. unemployed. Indeed, in Ballymurphy, Turf Lodge, New Barnsley, parts of Andersonstown and parts of the Lower Falls there are pockets of unemployment of up to 50 per cent. That was the motivation behind the Labour Government in trying to attract to that area an industry which would soak up some of the unemployed.
It was not meant simply to soak up the Catholic unemployed in West Belfast, because there were many unemployed Protestants there as well. But since that time it would appear that the Government have had to fulfil the small print in the agreement that was made between the previous Labour Government and John De Lorean. The Government could not get out of that commitment, so they said that they would live up to the agreement that was signed, but they have done it by depriving other parts of the Northern Ireland economy.
The agreement was never intended to create unemployment among nurses, people in education or people in the Health Service. It was not intended to create unemployment in the construction industry. None of these things was intended in order to try to create employment in De Lorean. That was never the intention of the Labour Government in arriving at the undertaking in the first place.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
The hon. Gentleman has explained to us what was not the reason. Will he dwell on what was the reason? In other words, will he tell us precisely how much unemployment in West Belfast has been soaked up in this enterprise?
§ Mr. Fitt
When the question was raised previously in the House, I said that I was disappointed that the project had not gone ahead much faster. I am uncertain as to the 972 number of people employed in the industry. The original figure was to be 2,000. The sooner we arrive at that figure, the happier I shall be. It would be less than honest of me if I did not say that I was disappointed with the slowness of the uptake of employment in De Lorean. I wish the project well. If it does not prove to be a success, taxpayers' money will have been spent to no avail and a further mood of despair will overtake the people who live in the adjacent area.
I repeat that I wish the project well, and I do not want to say anything that would detract from its success. But, as one who represents West Belfast, with the highest figure of unemployment, I do not want to see people thrown out of employment purely and simply to create jobs in De Lorean. If that is the way in which the economy in Northern Ireland has to be run, it does not show any great degree of foresight.
The cuts that have been announced and implemented by the Government have led in Northern Ireland to a feeling almost of despair. The level of unemployment in Northern Ireland now is much worse than it was in the hungry 1930s. The level of unemployment in the hungry 1930s ought never to have been tolerated. Some of us recall what it meant and the emotions that it raised. Yet in 1980, half a century later, in Northern Ireland, with about the same employable population as in the 1930s, we have over 100,000 unemployed. Is it any wonder that there is such despair and tragedy in Northern Ireland?
In the Estimates that we have before us, we are told that the Government have reallocated £50 million to the industrial sector. I have asked the Government how many jobs will be lost in education, in health, in the social services and in the construction industry, so I must also ask how many jobs have been attracted by the reallocation of the £50 million. If the Government were able to give us some figures, we might be able reluctantly to accept the position, but I have not seen any great upsurge of employment anywhere in Northern Ireland. I have not seen any factories opening, but I read daily in the local press in Northern Ireland that there are further redundancies and further projected redundancies and short-time working. If the Government have spent the £50 million in the industrial areas in order to try to create employment, they have not met with much success so far.
At the same time as all those people have been thrown into unemployment and forced to have recourse to the social security system, the Government have chosen to abolish the Supplementary Benefits Commission, thereby adding insult to injury. It is a kick in the teeth to all those who have been forced out of employment and who have had to rely on the social services.
The people working in the Supplementary Benefits Commission in Northern Ireland were a humane and compassionate little group of people. I knew them. Given the regulations under which they had to work, they did what they could to make life just that little bit more bearable for those who relied on them.
Mr. Higgins, the last chairman of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, said before he retired:Last year in Northern Ireland we would have spent £1,600,000 on extra payments, and most of these extra payments went to families with young children and were needed for the purchase of clothes and shoes for children. Now these will disappear completely in the coming scheme.We no longer have a Supplementary Benefits Commission which can sit down and go into all the aspects 973 of a claim. We do not have a compassionate arid humane approach to all the individual cases which occur not only n Northern Ireland but also in the rest of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) referred this afternoon to the high cost of energy in Northern Ireland—of heating, coal and so on. Under the new supplementary benefit regulations, there is a maximum that can be awarded to my claimant in receipt of supplementary benefit. That maximum is £4.35. There are many homes in Northern Ireland which cannot be heated for £4.35 a week, yet under the new regulations promulgated by the Department that is the maximum.
People will, therefore, suffer from the cold this winter. There are old people in Northern Ireland who will not be able to pay for the heat that they require at their age. We have heard a good deal in the House over the years about hypothermia. I am fearful that we shall have deaths from hypothermia in Northern Ireland this year because of the Government's niggardly approach to the heating allowance.
We heard recently that the Government were making same money available to the Youth Opportunities Commission in Northern Ireland. However, whatever they make available will be a drop in the ocean, because there are 21,000 people under the age of 19 on the dole in Northern Ireland. They have no hope and no prospect of obtaining employment in the foreseeable future. That is not the answer. Those youngsters want the prospect of a job. There are no openings or opportunities for them in Northern Ireland. The Prime Minister said recently that the unemployed from one region should go to another region to seek employment. That was a daft statement. Can anyone say where in Britain the unemployed youth from Northern Ireland will find a job? Is there any prospect of their finding jobs in Britain? Even if there were prospects, would not that cause almost racial tension between the unemployed in Britain and the people from Northern Ireland seeking jobs? They would not take kindly to some Paddy from Belfast taking a job that they could do.
In their mad pursuit of a monetarist policy, this Government are in danger of creating racial tension—racial tension between Welshmen and Englishmen and people from Northern Ireland and people from England—simply because those people are in desperaie search of employment, which is not available.
The Minister spoke of the high cost of energy and electricity in Northern Ireland. He said that the Northern Ireland electricity authority should be made competitive—but competitive against whom? It is not in competition with the gas industry or the coal industry. Coal can only generate electricity; it cannot be used to put on lights in the house. So, the Northern Ireland electricity authority is in competition with no one. It is a virtual monopoly. All hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies would like the Minister's comments on that.
Recently, there has been considerable controversy in the city of Belfast about certain statements that have been made—statements that are almost as good as the communiqué from Dublin. No, that is not so; the Dublin communiqué really takes the biscuit. Statements have been made to the effect that the EEC will give £100 million to the city of Belfast and that the Government simply have to fill in a form. I presume that the Department of the Environment will get some of that money and start a new 974 building programme in Northern Ireland, that the Department of Health will re-employ people whom it has laid off during the past year and that the Department of Education will do the same.
There is much confusion. I do not believe that we shall get anything like £100 million, and it is unfair for Ministers or anyone else to build up hope in the hearts of the people in Belfast, in particular, that the EEC fairy godmother will plough £100 million into helping dying Belfast. In his reply, the Minister should tell us whether there is any truth in that statement and whether there is any hope. Have the Government any plans to put forward to the EEC regional committee? If not, are they in the process of drawing up such plans, or when will they put forward such plans? I have serious doubts that the Government intend to do so.
§ Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)
Not long ago, Mr. Roy Jenkins visited Belfast and he mentioned that matter during his speech at Queen's university. Although he mentioned the figure of £100 million, he said that, contingent upon it, plans would have to be submitted by Belfast city council, and £200 million mould have to come from the Government to supplement the £100 million in order to carry out the projects that were being considered.
§ Mr. Fitt
The hon. Gentleman represents a rural constituency, but he is not so slow, as can readily be seen. So the Government are alleged to have to tell the EEC that they are prepared to put £200 million towards rebuilding Belfast, and they will then receive £100 million. I do not live in Disneyland, and I do not live in a dream world. I do not think that the Government will put £200 million into Belfast. But the Government should say that. I realise that if the Government put £200 million into Belfast, regions in other parts of the United Kingdom would ask why Belfast should get the money. They would say that they need it also. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield would like some of that money for his region.
In view of the tragedy of unemployment in Northern Ireland, and in view of the despair, the distress and the social deprivation, people should not be led to believe that money will be put into the area if the Government have no intention of doing so. Over the past three or four months the Government have increased the unemployment figure by 30,000 in pursuit of their policies. No other Government since the creation of the Northern Ireland State have succeeded in increasing the unemployment figures by that amount in one year. They have certainly got themselves into the "Guinness Book of Records". If I had any say in implementing Government policies, I would be ashamed of that record.
I have illustrated what I see as a serious and continually deteriorating situation in Northern Ireland. I ask the Government not to talk at Stormont, not to read the newspapers and not to talk to university academics but to go into the streets of Belfast. They should not simply go there for 10 minutes—I know that there is a security problem, and sometimes I cannot go there—but they should spend some time there and try to see more of those areas of deprivation and poverty. It might make them start to change their policies on Northern Ireland.
§ 7.8 pm
§ Mr. Johm Bruce-Gardyne (Knutsford)
I thought that the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) was slightly 975 unfair in one or two of his remarks. First, he was critical of the fact that the House was not given an opportunity to debate these matters in a more timely manner. I think that Northern Ireland Members are privileged in that respect. We never get a chance to debate United Kingdom Supplementary Estimates. Northern Ireland Members have a full day, in prime time, to discuss Northern Ireland autumn Supplementary Estimates. Northern Ireland Members are extremely privileged, and I wish that we could share that privilege.
The hon. Gentleman was also a little unkind in the way that he described the reply given to me by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State before the Summer Recess. I challenge anyone reading the hon. Gentleman's remarks to grasp the fact that included in the reply was provision for an additional £48 million from the Contingency Fund. There was no mention of that anywhere.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I bow to the hon. Gentleman's view on that, but I shall read his remarks carefully because I did not hear him mention it. All we gathered from the hon. Gentleman's remarks was that there was a transfer of resources within the Northern Ireland Office, and on that matter I have a good deal of sympathy with the line taken by the hon. Gentleman.
That brings me to the one subject on which I wish to comment briefly—the well-known saga of De Lorean Motor Cars Ltd. I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, West that to the extent that there was written into my right hon. Friend's reply to me before the Summer Recess a transfer of resources from the environmental and welfare budgets to finance the latest tranche of lollipops for Mr. De Lorean. It was probably a poor bargain for Northern Ireland. However, it would appear that my right hon. Friend did not have much choice in the matter.
I have said before, and I say now, that the contract entered into by the Labour Government with this American gentleman was a scandal. It seemed a scandal that this American gentleman should be equipped with more than 70 per cent. of the equity in the project for 4 per cent. of the original investment. It seemed a scandal that the contract should be drawn up without any apparent awareness by the Government that Mr. De Lorean had been obliged to notify potential American investors not to invest in his project unless they were prepared to lose their entire initial minimum investment of $25,000.
What we did not know until the summer was that, not content with writing this incredible contract with this American gentleman, the Labour Government also wrote in, in what the hon. Member for Belfast, West referred to as small print, the provision that Mr. De Lorean was to be entitled to unlimited and open-ended accumulated subsidies for any increase in inflation or any change in the exchange rate—any change in the weather, for all we know—that might take place during progress on the project. That was the background to the latest £14 million addition.
I have taken the view throughout, and I have not changed it, that my right hon. and hon. Friends would have been better advised to have cancelled the contract on taking office and to have faced by way of compensation whatever consequences might have ensued. Like 976 Concorde, we are told that it is cheaper to go on than to stop, when in reality it is cheaper to stop at any time than to go on.
§ Mr. Concannon
The hon. Gentleman fails to understand the situation in Northern Ireland. He talks of compensation only in money terms and fails to appreciate the effect on confidence, and so on, in Northern Ireland. Would he have been prepared to take the consequences that could have flowed from cancellation of this project at that time? Everyone in the House and in Northern Ireland was absolutely delighted when the contract was entered into. The confidence that abounded in Northern Ireland showed itself in the statistics on terrorism and everything else. That is why I said that the taxpayer started to get his money back from the day that the contract was announced. There is more to this problem than money compensation.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because I was coming to the next aspect—employment. We all recognise the gravity of unemployment in Northern Ireland. I listened with interest and sympathy to what the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Belfast, West said about unemployment. What has the De Lorean project contributed to solving that problem? I understand that the latest figure for recruits to De Lorean is 488. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, when he replies, will no doubt correct and bring the figure up to date. However, that is the latest figure that I have seen. I understand that the project was supposed to be in full production by now, employing 2,000 people. It is employing nowhere near that number. I wonder when it will do so.
The taxpayer is so far committed to the tune of £67 million. When my right hon. Friend explained the £14 million tranche in the summer, he revealed that there had been what he described as a slippage of three months in the production programme. I understand that at that time the car was due to go into production in October. I understand that it has not yet gone into production. We are now talking of full production beginning in the spring. So it drags on.
Meanwhile, the price of this remarkably pricey vehicle is rising hour by hour and day by day. I understand that the American dealerships were contracted on the basis that the car would sell for $18,000 on the United States market. We are now told that it is to be $25,000. There is quite a difference. Therefore, there must be a substantial difference in the car's market appeal.
That is not all. The De Lorean machine was not to be one of the most economical vehicles on the road. That is a not insignificant consideration when, even in the United States, petrol prices are rising and are likely to continue to rise sharply. Unfortunately, this vehicle's petrol consumption, as it approaches the point of series production, is not remaining stable. It is increasing. Will my hon. Friend, in reply to the debate, give the latest miles per gallon figure for this great car? I gather that it is falling significantly.
I was delighted to hear from my right hon. Friend in the summer that apparently this £14 million injection on top of the £53 million that had gone before was the full extent of our commitment to Mr. De Lorean and that it had been agreed that that should be in full settlement of the original concord. However, not many weeks passed before I read in the Daily Express: 977'I am looking for cushioning,' he admitted. 'We need some extra funding in case of a sudden crisis like a strike in a key supply industry.'I think that right hon. and hon. Members on both Front Benches have proved extremely handsome and downy cushions for Mr. De Lorean, but I am alarmed to hear that he has come back for more. I should like an assurance that the ultimate limit has now been reached. I am fascinated to see that he is also producing 100 gold-plated versions of the car in time for this year's Christmas market. They are to cost $85,000 apiece.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I shall not say "No." I do not see why I should. I should at least get some of my money back. I make only one stipulation. Even if that car is for the American Christmas market, I suggest that every gold-plated vehicle should have the initials "OHMS" stamped on it. That would make it clear to whom potential purchasers owed their enjoyment.
We need some up-to-date information from my right hon. and hon. Friends. The information that has been circulating recently in the press is distinctly ominous. That is not surprising, because such news has been on the horizon from the beginning. I part company with the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon). He claims that this great adventure had a miraculous effect on morale in Northern Ireland. I am sure that he is right. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman knows that this hyper-expensive project was rejected by every Government in the world. I should be interested to hear if the right hon. Gentleman can name one Government that considered it. Even well-known soft touches such as the Southern Irish and the Puerto Ricans turned it down. We did not. A hyper-expensive project was introduced that had only the remotest of prospects of being successful. Its fortunes depended on market changes and on the commercial environment. Optimistic forecasts were made at the time of the contract. What has happened? We are light years from success.
Although the project may have inspired confidence when the contract was signed, such confidence ignored the damage that was to be done. The project has contributed little towards solving the problems of unemployment in Ulster. Such confidence ignores the damage that will be done when the shutters go up, as they inevitably will.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross (Londonderry)
I rise to speak on the problems of agriculture and on the smaller of the food-producing areas covered by the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture—namely, fisheries. The document before us shows that pay awards have increased the needs of the Department by about £20,000. That gives me an opportunity to raise the problems of fishing and, specifically, the problems that face the salmon fisheries off the north coast of Northern Ireland and in the Foyle estuary.
This is no light matter. It concerns many people. It has consequences for sea and game angling and for the tourist industry. Since 1920, the failure of successive Governments to establish an international boundary to seaward of Lough Foyle has had serious implications. That draws attention to the problems involved in the neighbourhood agreements as regards fishing across the 978 international boundary. As the £20,000 concerns wages, it draws attention to the need for proper protection. The migratory fish—namely, salmon and sea trout—are under severe pressure. The Minister responsible for agriculture in Northern Ireland is an angler. I do not need to spell out the problem. He is well aware of the difficulty and of the fighting that is going on. An enormous amount of salmon poaching takes place on the approaches to the rivers on the north coast.
The Minister knows that during the past year blows have been struck. He is aware that there have been shooting incidents and that many salmon nets that go far beyond the legal limit have been found. He also knows that tugs of war go on between protection and poaching vessels. Nothing has been done. If the amount of attention now being given is anything to go by, nothing will be done by the Minister, although he is supposed to protect those salmon fisheries off the north coast.
As the Minister is an angler, he does not need to be told about the problems. Many people largely depend on the industry for their livelihood. Indeed, not only fishermen but those involved in the tourist industry depend on it. I hope that the Minister will tell us what steps he intends to take next year to ensure that an effective system of policing will be introduced on the north coast. He might need the assistance of his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but something needs to be done.
The Minister has to deal with another cross-border body as regards the Foyle estuary and the River Foyle. The Minister knows the situation. If anything, the situation there is more serious. At one time that fishery was the richest salmon fishery in Europe. The salmon are now disappearing. There is no possibility of any major improvement being achieved without tremendous effort.
Many representations have been made to the Minister and to his predecessors by anglers, commercial fishermen and myself. Unfortunately, most of the commercial gain from that fishery accrues to the Republic and, as a result, nothing effective is being done. The Minister and those who are affected know that. I wonder whether the whole system has been written off.
Will the Minister tell us what the prospects are? We do not want any woolly answers. We would prefer to be told the truth, as we should then know where we stand. As the Minister knows, some people on the north coast are trying to build up a tourist attraction in the form of sea fishing. Large sums of money have been invested. Those people want to know whether to continue to invest or whether to cut their losses and run. It is not fair to make promises and to encourage people to invest if they are only to have the rug pulled from under their feet because the Government do not want to defend that which it is their duty to defend.
Fisheries form a minor part of the business of the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture. Its major concern is the farming industry. It has had a disastrous year. I have never known a Government to be less willing to pull some chestnuts out of the fire. This year, the small fanner who depends on the dropped calf and milk producers have found that the price of a calf has fallen by about £30 a head. Suckling sales did not get any better in October and November. On 1979 figures, they fell by £30 per head. In real terms, that in turn showed a drop of £30 on the previous year. Calves cannot be produced at present prices. The Minister knows that. The problems tie in with 979 our membership of the Common Market and the common agricultural policy—just one more of the many problems that flow from that membership.
The pig and poultry industries are in steady decline. Between August 1979 and August 1980, the sow herd was down by 9 per cent. and poultry numbers were down by about 20 per cent. That is a reflection of the high feed price. Ministers have been pressed about that for a long time. The serious consequences of the high feed price in Northern Ireland has been pointed out to them. Many possible solutions have been put to them but nothing has been done.
The pricing system for milk has been changed. That matter has been taken up with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Apparently he said that it was the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the Milk Marketing Board for Northern Ireland told the right hon. Gentleman on 7 October that that could not be so since the price of liquid milk was determined on a national basis. However, the different percentages of liquid milk sold in Northern Ireland and Great Britain militate against the Northern Ireland producer to such an extent that he is selling his milk at a much lower price than that which applies in the rest of the United Kingdom. The farmers' unions say that even in the rest of the United Kingdom the price does not cover overheads and expenses.
The position is made much worse because all this year's increases in the retail price of milk went to the distributor. None of it went to the primary producer. I admit that the distributor has his problems. However, the man who looks after the cows, has a high investment and is faced with severe problems should receive a certain amount of the increase. All that the housewife knows is that the pint of milk on her doorstep is costing her much more money. She believes that the farmer receives the increases, but the farmer has seen not a penny of it. No reasonable person believes that all of an increase should go to the distributor and none to the man or woman who does the work on the farm. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has tried to wash his hands of the problem and to give it to Northern Ireland Ministers. How on earth can that attitude be squared in the two Departments?
An even more serious problem exists. A certain amount of money has always been made available for agricultural research and development. A certain amount of money is supposed to be floating around in the EEC which could come to Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) referred to the marginal land survey. I asked some questions in November and received interesting answers. I was told that in Northern Ireland about 44 per cent. of land was classified as marginal. In England the figure is 12 per cent., in Scotland 78 per cent.—which is just as one would expect—in Wales 56 per cent. and in the Republic of Ireland 55 per cent.
I was also told that although the Government had agreed to undertake the survey of marginal land in Northern Ireland and although it had been completed, no commitment was made that the less favoured areas would be extended or that the necessary extra public funds would be made available.
From that, and from the foot-dragging that is taking place in extending the less favoured areas in Northern Ireland, I can only assume that the survey is nothing more 980 or less than a whitewash job. I believe that the Government have already made up their minds that the areas will not be extended and that the money will not be made available. I believe that the Government regard the survey as a way of keeping farmers quiet on the issue for another few months. The Government may as well come clean and explain what they intend to do. The farmers' unions will soon realise that they are being told a fairy tale and that there is nothing at the end of the rainbow.
Let us examine the possibilities for EEC money being made available for structural measures in Northern Ireland. I recall the meeting of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and myself with the Minister of Agriculture when we sought a further meeting with him, the Ulster Farmers Union and the Secretary of State. The Minister of Agriculture was willing to meet us on that day. However, the brakes have been on ever since. Many problems have arisen and excuses have been made about why such a meeting should not take place. Structural measures should have come up for discussion in Brussels this week but they were not reached. The Greek Minister spoke for one-and-three-quarter hours without a break. It seems that there was no willingness by our partners in the EEC to make progress. Other important items, including the New Zealand butter and sugar regimes, were not reached either.
Every week the difficulties experienced by Northern Ireland farmers increase. Every effort seems to be made not to reach a decision. I am certain that there is nothing for the Northern Ireland farmer under this Government. There is nothing for the United Kingdom farmer. Everyone is being told "Hang on, old horse; you will get corn tomorrow." However, tomorrow is a long time coming. It will not come this winter. Farmers will be expected to pull in their belts and soldier through. I hope that they can soldier through well enough to survive.
For the first time in my life, in my constituency two farmers have gone broke and are bankrupt. Only people who have lived in the farming community know how farmers survive in hard times. They tighten their belts, live on their savings and wait for better days. They survive by living poor and dying rich. They survive by spending little money on themselves and by constantly improving their holdings. Most of their income in good years goes into farm improvements. In bad years they cut down on the amount of money spent on improvements and live on the residue. That is why farmers rarely go bankrupt. The fact that some have got into grave trouble this year shows how serious is the position of the farming community.
In truth, I think that the farmers of Northern Ireland have had all that they will get this year. They have had a totally unrealistic increase in the hill cow and hill sheep subsidies. I believe that the truest measure of the abilities of the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture is that this year it managed to get rid of the Agricultural Trust, which was doing a perhaps minor but nevertheless useful job, but the Government could not even get the dogs legislation off the ground after two or three years.
There are problems which are related, though only indirectly. They have come about because the Housing Executive, rather than the Department of Agriculture, is now responsible for housing on farms. I took the problem of a constituent to the Minister in charge of the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland. It worries me a great deal. I believe that with a little thought and rewriting of regulations it could be dealt with.
981 Before a dwelling on a farm can be considered for a grant under the different criteria applied to farmhouses, the farm must be viable—that is, it must now have an income of about £3,300 a year. In the circumstances of my constituent, the income was estimated at £2,000 a year. There may well be potential for that income to increase, because it was the case of a widow left with a small family. When the family grew up, one of the children started to farm.
The matter has wider implications. In Northern Ireland there are many small farms with part-time farmers who now find themselves falling outside the criteria because the income from the farm is below the viability level.
There is also the problem that on many farms more than one generation live in the farmhouse. Many of the farmhouses on the smaller farms are not of a reasonable standard and should have been condemned many years ago. They are occupied only because the owners live on the land. Many of the houses cannot easily be brought up to a proper standard under the housing authorities' regulations. We have long passed the time when someone should take a long, hard look at the social and economic problems that result from those regulations. If we do not repair those farmhouses, they will eventually get into such a state that the people concerned will leave, the Countryside will be depopulated and the land will go back to the wilderness, as much of it is not very good to begin with.
I see no reason why a way cannot be found, within the regulations, to meet the needs of that small group, to raise their standard of living and try to keep a reasonable number of people within the countryside. The depopulation of the countryside goes on apace. We must do something to try to keep viable communities in the remote areas.
There is a second problem related to farmhouses and the grants. I know of one case—no doubt there are more—of a farmer improving a house for his son and going beyond what the Housing Executive said was necessary for the size of his family and so on. In other words, he exceeded the cost limits and the size of the house. It was said that he did excessive demolition. If he had done only that, a way might have been found to pay the unfortunate man a grant, but he also took off the roof and raised the level of the house. One of the reasons why he had to do that was that the floor of the house was below the level of the farmyard. It had to go up, which meant that the ceilings had to go up, and then the roof had to go up. The farmer was left only with the shell.
The other reason for taking off the roof was that there was a certain amount of woodworm in it. The executive said that there was no need to remove it and that perhaps the timber could have been treated. A firm that does treatment work was called in to advise, and its advice was that the roof timbers could have been treated. It said that the work would have lasted a long time and, therefore, it was unnecessary to remove the roof.
Here I find a great difficulty, because I understand that the person who wrote the report was an employee of the firm that would have had the job of treating the roof. I cannot see that there is not, to say the least, a clash of interests. Has the matter been brought to the Minister's attention before? If not, will he give some attention to it? If what I have said is correct, it is time for a truly independent survey of roof timbers where such questions will arise.
982 We need to look at the cost limits, questions of excessive demolition and so on when dealing with older dwellings. The end result of the application of the present standards is that we always wind up with a job that is half done. On strict hygienic grounds. what is done is adequate, but because of the limits we end up with a dwelling that is not as comfortable, as well designed or anything else as it would be if a certain amount of elasticity were allowed in the application of the present regulations.
I turn now to the SPED scheme. The Minister is aware of the problems there. The scheme was established mainly to help those members of the security forces who had to leave their homes because they feared for their lives. In the autumn I took up with the Secretary of State the fact that a number of members of the security forces who had applied for help under the scheme had found that no money was available. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making available £200,000. The money was welcome, and has done a good job. It has relieved the position for the moment. But how on earth did the scheme run out of money?
It is vital that those who serve the folk of Northern Ireland, and who have to move as a result of their activities against the terrorist organisations, should be protected so far as possible. Some people who had to leave their homes and go to other parts of the Province were unable to sell them at a reasonable price. They had to pay high bank interest or high rents when they had good homes 40 or 50 miles away that they could not live in. I should like the Minister to give an assurance that what happened will not be allowed to occur again and that steps will be taken to ensure that those who have to move are protected financially as well as in every other way.
I turn to the question of the information services. Within the past few weeks, the Northern Ireland Office has published two booklets on H-blocks. In a written answer on 2 December, I was told:A total of 15,000 copies of the booklet were printed. Copies have been sent to the news media; British information posts abroad; all Members of the House of Commons; some Members of the House of Lords; British Members of the European Parliament; appropriate diplomatic missions in London; and to interested organisations and individuals.There was an enormous improvement in the second booklet compared with the first booklet. The first was produced in black and white, which did not convey the conditions in which the potential suicides and their friends lived, and which they had created. The second booklet was produced in colour and was much better. When the third booklet is published, I hope that it will include pictures of the victims of the prisoners. A total of 15,000 copies does not seem enough for the job that must be done in Britain alone, never mind elsewhere. We should not take in isolation a group of people who are quietly committing suicide for their own ends and show the public that position without providing the background to that group of murderers.
To give only a narrow view allows great holes to be picked in the information provided by the Northern Ireland Office. If the job is to be done—and it must be done comprehensively and well—it cannot be done with the sort of money that is being made available.
If the Government intend to still suspicion in the House, the Prime Minister, when she eventually answers a question that I have tabled, should say that she intends to publish the minutes of the meeting that she had in Dublin on Monday. People will then be in a better position to form 983 a judgment about what was said and about the long-term future for Northern Ireland within the policies that the Government are enunciating. Nothing could be worse than to find doubt and suspicion not just creeping in but blazing like a forest fire in Northern Ireland because of the differing stories coming from different places.
The information services need to be expanded. They need to be comprehensive. The Government need to remember that emotions are inflamed in Northern Ireland by information which, whether or not accurate, is looked upon as misinformation. The Government should also remember that, especially in Northern Ireland, people act not on what is necessarily the truth but on what they believe to be the truth. The people of Northern Ireland believe that a great treachery and betrayal of their future interests took place on Monday. The Government have much to do if they are to return to the position that they once occupied in the minds of the citizens of Northern Ireland.
I turn to Class VIII relating to expenditure on community services, arts, youth museums, sports and allied services. The sports facilities are provided mainly by councils in Northern Ireland. I am sure that the Minister is not unaware of the delicate, dangerous and explosive position that has arisen in Londonderry during the past few months because of the city council's proposal to open a Gaelic pitch in the Waterside area of the city. The Minister knows as well as I do that that was first mooted for a totally different area in May 1979. He is also aware that the present proposals mean a change of use from two soccer pitches to one Gaelic pitch. That change is taking place in the heart of a loyalist community. It has cost a great deal of money—unnecessarily so, because the soccer pitches were only recently finished.
The Minister is aware that the officials from the council who reported on the suitability of the site produced an adverse report. He is also aware of the enormous amount of protest from local residents. As a result, all the fancy stories about good relations in the council chamber in Londonderry have been blown away. The Minister knows that I and other Unionist members of the council long ago warned him and his predecessors that the supposedly good relationship was only a facade which hid the real position in Londonderry. It worked only because some people within the council were trying to do their best for their city. Those efforts to look after the interests of the city and to keep peace, quietness and good neighbourliness have been blown away. They have been buried under the avalanche of SDLP arrogance and bigotry. The SDLP trampled over everyone's susceptibilities. It went into that area with that proposal knowing that it would cause trouble. It was told by many people, both in public and in private, of the inherent dangers.
Because of this festering sore in the city, I ask the Minister to hold a public inquiry and try to get the majority grouping on the council to see sense before the position is completely out of control. I am concerned about the position that has arisen and has been kept going by the SDLP on the Londonderry council.
§ Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East)
I find it difficult to resist the temptation—no, the duty—to follow on directly from where the hon. Member for Londonderry 984 (Mr. Ross) left off. He referred to the Gaelic Athletic Association. The House will be aware that a considerable amount of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money is provided to fund that organisation. It has been a sad and sorry spectacle on our television screens during the past few weeks to see the banners and flags of the GAA in the forefront of the protest being carried out on behalf of the murderers and gunmen in the Maze prison in Belfast.
It is obvious to everyone who reads the Irish News that advertisements are placed almost every day by that same so-called sporting orginasation in support of what some term as the brave men in the Maze prison. Those who read the news columns in that paper will be aware of the news articles about resolutions passed by that organisation, which discriminates in its membership against the security forces. I call upon the Minister to review the decision taken some time ago to continue to fund the GAA. Following a court case involving Magherafelt district council, there was a break in payments to the GAA. We have now reached the stage where the House must express its views forcefully to the Government. The Government should not continue to give money to an organisation that acts in a political, indeed paramilitary, fashion. They must stop doing so immediately.
I shall contain my remarks within Class II, Vote 2, which relates to the Department of Commerce. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) made some critical but low-key remarks about Harland and Wolff. Others have been more scathing in their attacks on the company and the finance that has been made available to it. The hon. Gentleman referred to Harland and Wolff's work force numbering about 7,000. It was about 22,000 in the 1960s and 10,600 in the mid-1970s. It has been scaled down significantly over the years. If it is further reduced, the yard will no longer be a viable proposition for shipbuilding. However, it is one of the largest employers of labour in Northern Ireland. The company's activity is a significant factor for the welfare of the local community.
The worldwide recession has had its effect on shipbuilding, which is unprofitable throughout the world. However, there are factors that are peculiar to Northern Ireland that have made Harland and Wolff's task more difficult. It has been faced with high energy costs. The cost of its supplies is significantly larger than the costs that British shipyards have to meet because of high transportation charges.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North talked about slippage and missed delivery times. There are many reasons for that. It seems that the Minister has recognised them. For example, there are difficulties when a change is made from building large ships to building gas containers and small ferries. There are many difficulties in adapting the yard and the work force to undertake that different type of work. There were difficulties with buckled steel. These problems can set back delivery dates. The change of design for the ferries caused difficulties. The Minister took all these factors into consideration. He recognised that the company has an important position within the community, that it had had great difficulties in the past and that it would be worth while to support it.
Harland and Wolff is working at about one-quarter of its capacity. That does not mean that its overheads are one-quarter what they would be if the yard were working at full capacity. They are substantially more than that.
I received a letter from the Minister dated 4 October 1979 on work that might come from the Ministry of 985 Defence. The hon. Gentleman told me that he had received an assurance that Harland and Wolff would be on the Ministry of Defence tender list for ship repair work and Fleet Auxiliary construction. Few of us will forget the Cebate that took place in the House in April, after which I tabled an early-day motion to the effect that the yard had been misled by the Minister because the Government had shelved the proposition that was based on various tenders from the company.
The Minister was hurt and offended. He wrote to me to tell me that my reference to all tenders for such ships being shelved was not true. I based my remarks not on something that I pulled out of the air but on a letter that I received from Lord Strathcona, the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, who wrote:The shipbuilders' tenders have now been evaluated and in the light of that evaluation it has been decided to review the Royal Navy support tanker requirements in order to determine whether they can be met more cost effectively. The review is in hand, but since it has not yet been completed it has been decided to allow the current tenders to lapse.What is the present state of MOD tenders? What conversations has the hon. Gentleman had with the Minister of State about work from the MOD? It is clear that we need to get more orders for Harland and Wolff. I am sure that the Minister has lead the substantial document that was published after the study group, which was chaired by the Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, entitled "The Royal Dockyards: A Framework for the Future". There is a reference in that document to meetings being arranged at which representatives of Harland and Wolff would be present and at which they would consider what work presently carried out in the dockyards could be undertaken by commercial contractors. Has any progress been made in that area?
Has the Minister received a progress report from the review team that is considering diversification? I am sure that we all wish the team every success in its job. However, shipbuilding yards are made for building ships, and I cannot see any great prospect for diversification.
Has the Minister made any further progress on the issues that he raised in his written answer on 1 July, when he introduced the subject of the funding and financing of Harland and Wolff and its share capital? What is his view of the improvement since 1 July? He said that his Department would undertake reviews.
What position has been reached on Short Brothers' corporate plan? Is the Minister in a position to make a statement on that company's future?
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) referred to unemployment. Many of us are concerned by recent reports from two companies in Northern Ireland, namely, Euroware and British Enkalon. Is the Minister able, to give us some idea of the future prospects for those companies so that my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North can take whatever steps he feels necessary to assist British Enkalon and I can do likewise for Euroware?
Class V deals with housing. I cannot do other than agree with the lion. Member for Belfast, West about the appalling housing situation. The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said that about 20,000 people were on the waiting lists. About 4,500 of those families are in my constituency of Belfast, East, which is probably the largest number in the Province. It is frustrating weekly to have to tell people in much need that there is little prospect of their obtaining a house.
986 Selection for housing in Northern Ireland is on a points system, but four priority groups take precedence. The highest priority group is for people who have been intimidated, had their house burnt down, flooded and so on. There are also other very important groups, such as those who for health reasons must move to other accommodation. In my constituency, those in the second, third or fourth priority groups seldom, if ever, get a house, never mind those on the points list. There is virtually no chance for people not on the A1 priority list.
Old-age pensioners and people with heart complaints have to live upstairs because they cannot get ground floor accommodation. People with chest problems are living in damp accommodation. People are lb, ing in statutorily unfit housing and need urgently to be moved. They cannot get housing because they are in the third group. There is great need—need even assessed by the points system—but there are no houses available.
The Government's answer in my constituency is a handful of houses. The housing stock in Northern Ireland must be urgently reviewed. There will increasingly be more statutorily unfit houses, but houses are not being built to replace them.
The Minister has set up a group to look at housing need in the general area of south and east Belfast. I do not know whether the review body was set up to silence certain hon. Members who had been kicking up dust about the housing needs in their constituencies, but we are still awaiting its report. Can the Minister expedite the process and ensure that there is comfort in the report for the thousands of people who are in great need and hardship and have little prospect in present circumstances of getting accommodation?
The hon. Member for Belfast, West referred to other effects that the Government's cuts are having on Northern Ireland. He dealt with health and social services. In my constituency we are under the Eastern health and social services board, which has taken a decision to cut the transport that enables old-age pensioners, the mentally and physically handicapped, the blind, the deaf and the dumb to attend day centres for one evening a week. Different classes are run throughout the week and at weekends for different groups. Transport is stopped for all evenings and weekends. Those people in the greatest need, who are least able to defend themselves against the Minister's decision, are virtually prisoners in their homes.
I do not believe that the Minister is hard-hearted, but his policy is causing great concern and hardship to people greatly in need. If the cuts have come to the stage where old-age pensioners, the blind, the deaf, the dumb and other disabled people have to suffer, they have gone far too far. The time has come to stop them. I had a meeting with the Minister. He told me that it was up to the board to administer the cuts in the least painful fashion. If this is the least painful fashion, I dread to consider what will happen when the next cuts come—because come they will. Who will then be affected—people in hospital beds or geriatrics? What about the Ulster hospital at Dundonald? The Minister had a programme to open a geriatric unit there in January next. Reports from the doctors suggest that it will not go ahead. Again, the old and infirm will suffer.
Will the Minister please reconsider before it is too late and have some sympathy for those most in need?
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me rather earlier than I expected. I shall be brief. Other hon. Members are anxious to contribute and have been waiting for some time.
I wish to draw attention to De Lorean Motor Cars Limited. I have been raising the matter for a considerable time, not only, as the Minister once said in a reply to a parliamentary question from me, since just after May 1979. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) will testify that I was asking questions when he was in office. The answers that my right hon. Friend gave were far more comprehensive than those from the present Government.
Everyone endorses the idea of providing jobs in West Belfast. No one can grumble about the principle of providing jobs in an area of high unemployment. The idea is principally to provide jobs for Catholics, although I know that in Northern Ireland such distinctions are not made. However, that is the underlying notion. It is a worthy notion. If there is a pool of high unemployment among Protestants or Catholics, it is a worthy aim to try to remedy the problem by providing jobs.
However, I understand that the Fair Employment Agency in Northern Ireland has already found that people have not been employed on a fair basis, Catholic against Protestant. The original aim does not seem to have been quite carried out.
I also want to question the amount of expenditure for the number of jobs that have resulted, which is far and away too high. Other methods of providing at least that number of jobs and probably more would have cost less. The cost yardstick that is applied in the remainder of the United Kingdom has been thrust willy-nilly to one side in the case of De Lorean. From listening to the debate, it appears that it would have been vastly preferable to have spent the money to provide service buildings and housing and assist the construction industry, which is in an extremely difficult position. However, the main question is whether the £67 million is value for money. Can we honestly say that it is going to an area of high unemployment to provide secure, fixed jobs for a worthwhile period?
I should like to examine some of the background which is important in considering the development of the venture. The private contribution to De Lorean Motor Cars Limited was $11.2 million, with $6.9 million spent on research and development, making a total of around £9 million. In addition, it is claimed that a sum of $15.5 million was spent on research and development by the De Lorean partnership—roughly around £7 million. That is a tidy sum of money. Why is it, therefore, necessary for a part of that £67 million—we do not know quite how much—to be spent with the Lotus car company on developing the car, when £7 million has already been spent on this wonder car, which is the reason why the project was embarked on in the first place?
On close examination of the venture, it was discovered that it would not fit into an engineering context, and the contract had to be placed with Lotus Cars. Unfortunately, that contract was not made available in the Library, and the details of, for example, the development of the car were described as matters for the company management.
I asked whether details of the arrangement between the company, the Department of Commerce and the Northern 988 Ireland Development Agency could be placed in the Library, and I was told that the agreement had been concluded on the basis of commercial confidentiality. When the Government enter into expenditure of this magnitude, the country's elected representatives should be given enough information to ensure that they can carry out adequate scrutiny.
The main cause of concern is that the ownership and the rights of the De Lorean car do not rest with the organisation that receives the money—De Lorean Cars. I have tabled a number of questions aimed at eliciting information, and if I am, therefore, wrong it is because of an absence of information or a misinterpretation of the answers that have been provided. The taxpayer is therefore providing all the kit, the equipment, the factories and the research and development finance, the last through a contract placed with Lotus Cars. However, the ownership of the car ends up not with the taxpayer through directors on the board of the De Lorean car company but with the De Lorean research partnership.
I should be interested to discover who is in that partnership, but the Minister has said that it would be inappropriate to list the 134 individual partners, and the De Lorean car company is apparently a single general partner. When £67 million of public money is going into a venture such as this, it is not unreasonable to list those involved in the research partnership who are being provided with the design, the ownership and the development of a motor car which they will own, whereas, if the worst comes to the worst—I hope that it does not—and the car company goes into liquidation the taxpayer will be left with nothing.
Sometimes when one is critical it is thought that one does not wish a project well and that one wants one's remarks verified by a lack of success. That is not the case with me. I want the company to succeed, but there are matters that cause concern and we have a duty to raise such matters when they are genuine. A common view is held on the Labour side of the House and is shared by one or two Conservative Members that the project should be subject to closer scrutiny.
My concern is that the project was started on the basis of what appears to be insufficient evidence. There was no detailed technical assessment of the venture,. After the commencement of the venture one of the firms of consultants called in by De Lorean to examine the project was Booze Hamilton. I am concerned that the man in charge of new projects at Booze Hamilton is a vice-president of the De Lorean car company. That does not seem the best basis on which to secure an objective assessment of a new project. That sort of factor needs examining in great detail to discover whether that is the basis upon which new projects are examined. If it is, we should overhaul it so that we do not go in that direction again.
Is scrutiny of the company regarded as adequate? Are the civil servants who put the project forward, for instance, still involved in scrutiny and management? Are they exercising sufficiently tight control? Are there regular reports? Answers to parliamentary questions that I have tabled indicate that there are regular reports, but what provision is made to ensure that the House is provided with adequate information?
There is always a difficult line to be drawn between providing information and not breaching commercial confidentiality. Clearly, one or two items must come 989 within the sphere of commercial confidence, but when there is so much information that it is deemed imprudent to provide on this ground people begin to suspect that commercial confidentiality is being used not genuinely to protect some important financial position but simply to fob off those who, like myself, are seeking information.
What is the current position of the project? Production is very much overdue. I have asked the Minister whether the new Tellus carriers, the new automatic wonder carriers which are to be an integral part of production, have yet been installed. I understand from reading magazines, in which this project is reported—that is apparently what the Minister did when he started on it, and I am getting information from where I can—that these carriers are crucial to the build-up of production. The Minister said that the question whether the carriers were installed was a matter for the company.
In a project such as this, we deserve more information about the process leading up to production. For example, why was it found after all the expenditure that it was not possible to produce the vehicle for the Birmingham motor show last October? There is supposed to be a pilot production plant in which people are being trained. Why is the car so much overdue when I understand that the building work was carried out with speed and efficiency?
We want information of that nature, and I hope that the Minister will give us a progress report and tell us whether production, overdue though it is, has started, whether the distribution set-up in the United States is satisfactory, whether the target number of dealers there has been reached and whether all the factors necessary to begin production have yet been achieved.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
Did the hon. Member see the interview given by Mr. De Lorean just before the Birmingham motor show in which he gave no indication, when pressed by the interviewer, about when we could expect to see the vehicle in production? Will he express to my hon. Friend the Minister the concern that he obviously feels at this lack of information by Mr. De Lorean about when the vehicle might appear?
§ Mr. Cryer
I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's question. I have asked the Minister when production will start.
I should like to know what happened to elastic reservoir moulding. That was another wonder process which was an integral part of the operation. In reply to questions, the Minister said that research and development were Proceeding satisfactorily, but I now understand that that Drocess has been dropped. How close has the scrutiny been if in one month the Minister can say that research is proceeding satisfactorily and, the following month says that it has suddenly been brought to a halt? That suggests a certain lack of scrutiny.
Indeed, I recall that during the previous Northern Ireland Question Time the Minister had to admit that he had not been in the factory at all. I do not expect him to go around every factory—
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Giles Shaw)
I am glad to intervene in this incredible garbage, and I should like to make it clear that I have visited the factory many times. I indicated at the last Question Time that I had not visited the production line within the last two or three weeks. I visited it last Tuesday.
§ Mr. Cryer
I am grateful to the Minister, but in answer to a question at the time he said that he had not visited the factory recently. I do not want to misrepresent the position.
The Minister described my comments as "incredible garbage". That worries me a little. If I am right, if £67 million has been expended on this project, if the ownership of the car is not in the hands of the company to which the £67 million has been allocated and if it is in the hands of the De Lorean research partnership, that is a cause for concern. Overdue production is a cause for concern. The fact that a contract with Lotus Cars was necessary, when it was supposed to be such a wonderful car, is a cause for concern. The vagaries of this production and the fact that there has been such a lack of information are causes for concern.
I do not think that the Minister is being reasonable in his attitude to this type of questioning. He is accountable to the House, and I have a reasonable right to raise these matters. I have not raised them in a dramatic or trivial manner or suggested that the project be written off. I have made it quite clear that the underlying principle of providing jobs in areas of high unemployment is a desirable one. The only question I ask is whether this is an effective way of using the money involved and whether at the end of the day, with all the information at his disposal, the Minister believes that the project will be successful. I hope that it is. However, certain matters are causing deep concern. Whatever the Minister's views about my comments, I shall continue to raise these matters, and I hope that the information which he gives will be better than it has been in the past.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)
I should like to speak briefly about the milk industry in Northern Ireland. Some hon. Members may ask why I am speaking in this debate. The reasons are quite simple. The first is that I have a deep affection for Northern Ireland and the second is that for some time I had the privilege of being a Minister over there and handled the problems of the dairy industry and agriculture generally. As chairman of the Conservative Back Bench committee on agriculture and food, I feel that that committee should be concerned with the whole of the United Kingdom and the problems that are experienced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
As I see it, the problem is fairly simple. In Northern Ireland, 20 per cent. of the milk that is produced goes towards liquid milk for domestic consumption and 80 per cent. for manufacture. Because of pricing arrangements, the milk producers over there are at a real disadvantage compared with England, Wales and Scotland. The present difficulties are causing real harm to those producers. That is something which must be rectified by the Government. I would be dishonest if I did not mention that.
In case my hon. Friend the Minister gets too worried, I should point out that I am not suggesting that more money in total should be spent in Northern Ireland. What I am saying is that the arrangements for the carving up of the cake are wrong Dairy producers have been neglected this year. We need to boost the unsatisfactory returns for manufacturing milk to levels that are broadly acceptable to producers.
I used to have a considerable say in these matters and the Government of whom I was a member helped, through standard quantities, remoteness grants and in other ways, 991 to alleviate the difficulties of the producers in Northern Ireland. The difficulties are not the fault of the producers; they are caused by various factors. We need to act fairly quickly.
In 1978–79 and 1979–80, producers received from the United Kingdom supplements to market returns that were described as milk aid. They brought Northern Ireland producer prices nearer to those in England and Wales, and the aid totalled £11.8 million in 1978–79 and £10.7 million in 1979–80. The special aid is even more necessary this year because of the rise in the costs of milk production in Northern Ireland. The costs of fuel, labour, fertilisers and other factors are rising.
I have been in touch with the Milk Marketing Board in Northern Ireland and I understand that the price there is at least 1p a litre less than the price paid to producers in England. The price in England is unsatisfactory and that in Northern Ireland is even more unsatisfactory.
I support the Government's constraints on public expenditure, but I criticise the method that they have adopted in regard to priorities in Northern Ireland. We have heard about the De Lorean car project and we know that the Belfast shipyard is receiving enormous sums to keep it going. Yet dairy farmers are getting no special aid. That is where the Government have gone wrong. I understand that the size of the cake must be reduced, but it should be cut up fairly and at least some money should go in special aid to dairy producers in Northern Ireland.
It is far better to back success stories than projects that drain away money, and agriculture in Northern Ireland is a success story. Its small, family farms are a model. I wish that we had such farms in Britain. The Northern Ireland farms are efficient, well organised and well run, but they need our support and extra money for milk. Much of the stability of Northern Ireland is in the rural areas and it is important to retain that stability and to keep rural farms viable. Unless action is taken and the decision to end special aid is reversed, many more producers will leave the industry.
I have another interest in the debate. The Milk Marketing Board in Northern Ireland has said that it will export liquid milk to Glasgow and Liverpool. I do not doubt that the board will do as it says and that competition will affect producers in my constituency. I do not blame the marketing board and farmers in Northern Ireland. If they cannot sell their milk in Northern Ireland and get the price or aid that is required, they must look round for other outlets and markets. That is what they will do, and that is the threat. I was told about it when I spoke to the chairman last week in the House of Commons. It is a very serious matter. I do not want to see it happen.
It is right that Northern Ireland dairy producers should have a share of the aid and help that is going to Northern Ireland as a whole. While it may be necessary to cut back on the shipyards and on the car manufacturers, and perhaps somewhere else, for heaven's sake let us be fair in these matters and back what is a success story in Northern Ireland—its agriculture.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
The De Lorean project has been mentioned several times in the 992 course of the debate, perhaps not surprisingly, and I confess that I am very much perplexed by a good deal of what has been said.
It was stated that it was the object of the previous Administration—indeed, they almost boasted that it was their objective—to soak up the unemployed in West Belfast. If that was the object, why did they not think of putting the factory in West Belfast and not in my constituency in South Antrim? That would be an obvious and very elementary question to ask.
The hon. Member for Keighly (Mr. Cryer) does not need to apologise to us or to the House for participating in a Northern Ireland debate. We on these Benches have always welcomed the participation of hon. Members representing all the other parts of the United Kingdom. We would reciprocate and claim the right to meddle in, if that is the right term—I would be more constructive and say contribute to—the debates affecting other parts of the United Kingdom. But I was somewhat startled by his assertion that the Fair Employment Agency, of which we heard something in times past, had already, even at this early stage, discovered that the work force was not fairly or evenly balanced.
If that is so, and the agency has so reported, I wonder what would have happened if the factory had been sited in West Belfast, where it was presumably intended to be sited, and the work force had been predominantly Roman Catholic. Would that have been regarded as an unfair balance in the work force?
Whether people like it or not, the factory is in South Antrim. Indeed, it is well inside South Antrim, because the nearest constituency is not that of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) but that of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford). But, given that it is situated in South Antrim, with the next nearest constituency that of Belfast, South, is the Fair Employment Agency complaining because the work force broadly reflects the composition of the population in the area in which the factory is physically sited?
If that is the agency's attitude, how does it propose to remedy the matter? Will it "bus" workers from another area, namely, West Belfast, or will it find some other way of controlling artificially the recruitment of the work force of De Lorean?
It would be the view of most Northern Ireland Members that indigenous industry in Northern Ireland should be maintained and, if possible, expanded. I suppose that all of us in times past have subscribed to what was then the fashionable belief—that the multinational companies were the answer to all our problems. While we were and are grateful for the contribution made by those industrial giants, we now have to be realistic and face the fact that in the future jobs in Ulster are more likely to be found in agriculture and, with one or two exceptions, in Ulster-based industry.
Two of the largest employers of labour in Northern Ireland are Carreras and Gallaher, and it must be gratifying to note that they are prepared to stand on their own feet and not depend on public funds to sustain them. Members of Parliament and members of the Government can in return do them a service, and do a service to their employees, by persuading the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to resist the efforts of the anti-smoking enthusiasts to hamper and hamstring the tobacco industry. I make that plea as the leader of a non-smoking 993 parliamentary party, with no vested interest in tobacco manufacturing other than to ensure that real and secure jobs are sustained and maintained in Northern Ireland.
It is possible that some of the money that is mentioned in Class II will have been spent in a genuine attempt to encourage and sustain relatively small local industries and companies. One such industry is the paint manufacturing industry. My impression is that it asks for little or nothing in the way of subsidies or propping-up measures. There may be a small grant here or there, but it is not significant. Government Departments in Northern Ireland could do much to safeguard the interests of such industries and companies. They could, for example, take a more realistic and modern approach to the required standard of paint that is supplied for use by Government Departments and public agencies.
It will no doubt startle the House to discover that in many cases the standards were drawn up by the Defence Department shortly after the Second World War—35 years age. It will not surprise the House to hear that there have been great strides in paint technology over the last 35 years, but, nevertheless, in many cases the Northern Ireland Departments insist on that outdated standard, which is generally known as the DEF approved standard When I asked for an explanation for the retention of this requirement, the chief architect at the Department of Finance simply replied that he was mandated to retain the DEF approved standard. By whom was he mandated, and for what reason?
The net effect of that obsolete standard—it is obsolete in the sense that only 40 per cent. of the leading manufacturers in Great Britain make any attempt to comply with it because it is considered to be nonsensical—is to make it impossible for Northern Ireland paint manufacturers to tender for contracts to be carried out within Northern Ireland and to tender for contracts placed by Northern Ireland Government Departments and agencies. Consequently, the contracts go to companies outside Northern Ireland.
Does that make sense in the present situation? I hope that Ministers will take immediate steps to remove this obsolete and nonsensical restriction, which is proving to be damaging to local suppliers.
§ Mr. John Dunlop (Mid-Ulster)
I think I owe the Chair an apology. Earlier, I rose to leave the Chamber on an undertaking for one of my hon. Friends, and I was called by the Chair to speak. I should therefore like to apologise to the previous occupant of the Chair.
In his speech, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) reminded me that I was a representative of a largely rural constituency, and he expressed astonishment that I seemed to have even a modicum of intelligence, even though that is so.
I wish to speak briefly about Class IV, which deals with roads, lighting, car parks, and so on. Has the Minister any information about the construction of the Strabane bypass? One of the worst bottlenecks in the whole of the United Kingdom is the main road between Omagh and Londonderry, which goes through the town of Strabane. On many occasions it has taken me between half an hour and three-quarters of an hour to traverse less than half a mile of road, because of the bottleneck of traffic. If a large Vehicle is loading or unloading in the main street, all the traffic is held up until that operation is finished.
994 In the spring of 1979 a public inquiry into this matter came down on the side of a bypass rather than what was described as a throughpass. The scheme was to run a road through the centre of the town and to build a bridge across the main street—a most harebrained scheme. Is there any provision for road maintenance and the beginning of the Strabane bypass, which is the number one priority for traffic between Omagh and Londonderry?
I turn now to lighting. It seems that there is a campaign now to save energy. Street lighting in the town in which I live has been considerably reduced over the past few nights. Some lights were erected in the street in which I live. I think that that was part of a security exercise, advised by the special branch, because a Member of Parliament lived in a road which was always in total darkness.
The three lights that have been erected have not been lit for several nights. I had to grope my way down the road and try to find my way into my entrance in total darkness. There is only one light in the road leading to that, which is the main road that leads to Coleraine and other towns. I should mention one of the monumental anomalies that has occurred in our little country. When my wife was driving me to Aldergrove airport to come here on Tuesday morning, I noticed that every light in the main street of Moneymore was ablaze, and for more than half a mile down the road from Moneymore to Magherafelt every light was blazing at full power. That is the kind of contradiction that we face.
If the Department is trying to save energy by leaving us in semi-darkness at night, why is the whole region lit at full power in daylight? That cannot be a large energy saving.
Many hon. Members have mentioned housing. The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) dwelt long and particularly on housing. I enter a plea for the Royal British Legion Housing Association in Northern Ireland, which is in considerable difficulty. In a letter to hon. Members it states that in Great Britain the number of dwellings approved for associations is likely to drop from 43,000 in 1979–80 to only 12,000 in the coming year. That is a tremendous drop.
One of the organisations which should have sympathetic consideration from the Government in the allocation of funds for housing is the Royal British Legion Housing Association, a laudable organisation for which many people work in a voluntary capacity. It does not cost the country or the taxpayer any money. It should be encouraged in its work. I appeal to the Minister to consider this matter and to assure the people who are working so hard in this section of the community that they will receive sympathetic and helpful consideration in the building of houses, organised and helped along by the Royal British Legion Housing Association.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
The House might have been surprised when it listened to the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) hold forth on street lighting on one of the three major Northern Ireland days. However, the hon. Gentleman's speech acts as a salutary reminder to the House that, although district councils in Northern Ireland are considered to be capable of providing sports facilities and of clearing rubbish, they are not thought worthy or capable of seeing to street lighting. 995 Hon. Members are the only elected persons who carry responsibility for that important, but comparatively minor, service.
The Queen's Speech declared that the Government were looking for opportunities to involve local people and locally elected representatives in the affairs of Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Mid-Ulster has pointedly reminded the Government of a direction in which they might turn. It is not a difficult direction and does not present insurmountable problems.
I shall make two brief financial observations and then comment at greater length on the affairs of the Housing Executive. I intervened in the Minister's introductory speech and asked a question that might not have been clear. If so, that was my fault. I shall put the question again in the hope that the Minister will clarify the point. There was an important virement in the Northern Ireland Vote in the middle of summer. The major sum of £50 million, plus £48 million, was added respectively and rearranged. After considerable investigation, it is still not clear whether the whole of that arrangement comes within the Northern Ireland Estimates that are now in the order before the House or whether the ambit is wider—namely, the Northern Ireland programme as it is featured in the Government expenditure Blue Book. Obviously, that includes expenditure that falls under other heads in the total Votes. I gather that the Minister has understood my point. I should be grateful if he would clear up that matter.
The case of De Lorean has been ventilated more than once. Three speeches were made on that topic: by the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), by the hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) and by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). The right hon. Member for Mansfield defended the initial decision taken by the Administration to which he belonged. He said that Northern Ireland and, in particular, De Lorean had started to reap benefits at the very moment that the announcement was made.
It is clear that much—but not all—of the money expended on the De Lorean project was expended in Northern Ireland and has accrued to the benefit of Northern Ireland. As it was part of a transfer payment within the United Kingdom, I do not see how it can be denied that it has produced a net increase, which nobody could quantify precisely, in the volume of demand for goods and services in Northern Ireland. To that extent, it has so far proved beneficial. Even if the hon. Member for Knutsford were present he would not, I think, dispute that.
There is another side to this issue, which was sharply pointed out by the hon. Member for Keighley, namely, whether the demand for goods and services—and particularly the demand for employment—is likely to be of a stable and lasting character. For it would very much diminish any benefit which is conferred upon the Province if the result were that, quite suddenly, these operations had to be terminated and a further rearrangement in the pattern of employment had to be sought and painfully brought about.
De Lorean illustrates an important principle which is involved in the use of public money in providing employment and assisting the economy of Northern Ireland. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said that he believed that in future stable employment in Northern Ireland was likely to eventuate 996 not so much in the large and spectacular projects but in the development of Ulster-based industry and output. Whether that is so, I do not think that it can be disputed that the use of public money in highly speculative and major products carries a risk, not merely for that public money but for the very people and interests in the Province which it was intended to serve.
Speaking as a Northern Ireland Member, I say that Members such as the hon. Members for Knutsford and Keighley, who have drawn attention to the grave reasons for anxiety in this project, have spoken not against the interests of Ulster but in the general interest. If the hon. Member for Keighley reads my remarks in Hansard, I hope that he will send a copy of his speech to the Comptroller and Auditor-General for Northern Ireland. Many of the matters which he raised and the questions which he put are matters which it would be proper for that servant of this House, as he has now become, to pursue. We are entitled, through the Exchequer and Audit Department, to an acid examination of the puzzling features in the De Lorean story.
I turn to the Housing Executive and its relationship with the Department of the Environment. I understand that, apropos, the Under-Secretary of State intends to intervene in the debate when I sit down. I am sure that even the Minister understands the wreckage of disappointed expectations and broken promises with which the Province is littered as a result of the administration of the Housing Executive in the last two or three years. I shall refer exclusively—because I can speak from constituency knowledge—to the programme of improvement of rural dwellings. I have no doubt that what I shall say under that head finds its application in other branches of the housing effort in Northern Ireland. All over my constituency, as, indeed, all over the rural parts of the Province, are blocks of houses—sometimes only two or four and sometimes a dozen or more—which were good and satisfactory when they were provided about 50 years ago, and in some cases only 30 years ago, but which are desperately in need of improvement in order to provide the merest basic facilities which would be taken for granted.
In almost every case during the past three years—and probably I could go further, to the last five years—the occupiers of those groups of houses have been given to understand, with more or less precision, that they could shortly expect schemes to link their houses to main sewerage, to provide them with mains water and to add inside toilet and bathroom facilities to bring them up to the minimum tolerable standard.
Up to the end of last year, those of us who were in constant correspondence on this subject with the Housing Executive actually believed that we were able to hold out definite dates and definite prospects to hundreds of our constituents living in these circumstances.
It has been a devastating 12 months. First, we learnt at the end of last year that the whole programme was in the melting pot. In the melting pot it remained until the spring of this year. In the spring of this year, the news came through that the total expenditure which could be possible in the next year or two under this head had to be retrenched. Nevertheless, a programme—admittedly reduced, but a specific programme—would shortly be fixed, and we could then do our duty as Members of Parliament and in a sense, as go-betweens between the Government and the governed, indicate to those who had to be disappointed that we should not forget them and to 997 those who had reason to expect improvements sooner that they could look for a definite date when that big upheaval in their life, but an upheaval to which they had been looking forward, was to be expected.
But what has happened? There was an even bigger seismic disturbance with the remodelling of the Northern Ireland Estimates in the middle of the year. Since then, as the Minister knows, in repeated meetings with both him and the Housing Executive, my hon. Friends and I have been endeavouring to discern the glimmerings of a programme. I must say that we are less concerned with the total size of that programme than with there being a specific and definite programme, not just for one year but for two or three years ahead, which is definite in that it could certainly be brought within the scope of the finance that is likely to be available.
We had not succeeded in satisfying that curiosity, either from the Housing Executive, which appears to be always on the point of, but never quite achieving, the act of putting in its plans to the Department of the Environment, or from the Minister himself, when suddenly, on 20 November, there came a news release to us all from the Housing Executive. Whatever deficiency there has been in the production of housing by the Housing Executive under its new management, one must be uninhibited in paying tribute to the production of news releases. Occasionally, I think, there is a day in the week when we do not get a news release from the housing centre in Adelaide Street, but there cannot be many such days in most weeks.
This was a speech by the chief executive, and I think many of us would be glad if our speeches were given the same publicity and distribution as the chief executive and the chairman of the Housing Executive seem effortlessly to achieve. During the course of his speech, the chief executive said—and the words are in quotation marks:Where existing stock is concerned…work to unimproved cottages and special capital schemes should be given priority.We can all say "Amen" to that. He continued:A programme of cottage improvement including the use of the 'packaging concept' over a 3 year period should bring the dwellings at least up to the '9 point fitness' standard.Without going into the details of the technical terms 'packaging concept" and "'9 point fitness' standard", he is saying that in the view of the chief executive of the Housing Executive a programme of three years which the executive regards as having priority and which is presumably regarded as practicable, else I imagine he would not be talking about it, should be sufficient to bring up to that minimal but acceptable standard all the houses which require it in the Province, and that that should be given priority.
What does that mean? Does it mean that there is such a three-year programme and that that programme has been submitted to the Department of the Environment? If it has been, what is the Department of the Environment doing about it? if it has not been, why is the Housing Executive talking about it?
This is exactly what hon. Members representing constituencies in Northern Ireland want. It is exactly what they need, to be able to reassure those constituents who have lived for 10 or 15 years with increasingly definite, but always disappointed, promises that they will be given decent living conditions at last—in year one, year two or year three.
998 The priorities and choice can be defended, though most of us would wish to have the chance of arguing in favour of the schemes within our knowledge which are particularly urgent and of particular long standing. But neither from the Housing Executive nor from the Department of Environment, so far, comes there any answer.
The Minister from time to time, and perhaps with some justice, alleges that he is still waiting upon specific proposals from the Housing Executive. You will not be surprised to learn, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that quite frequently the executive informs us that it is waiting upon decisions from the Department of the Environment. But this is not an evenly balanced, two-way equilibrium.
I am sorry that I should have to say at a more humane hour what I was saying to the same Minister at a later hour early this morning: that the Housing Executive, though it is called a housing authority, is not a housing authority in the sense in which that term is used in Great Britain, for it is the instrument of the Minister and nothing else. It is responsible to no one but the Minister, because it is not elected, it is not responsible for raising its finance, it is not answerable to anybody and its members are not answerable to the electorate. So everything that the Housing Executive does or does not do is the responsibility of the Government, who are responsible for it to the House.
The Government may very well, and justly, say "We have devolved"—blessed word—"the administration of this job, the doing of this job, to this peculiar structure, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive." So be it, but still the responsibility for omission and commission remains with the Government.
What I want to bring home to the Government in this debate, if I can, is that if there is still, after so many years and after the chopping and changing of the past 12 months, no known programme or improvement which over the next three years, or however many years it is, will remove that blot upon the housing face of Ireland, it is the fault of the Government, and it is the business of the Minister concerned to set to work and see that such a plan, agreed with the Treasury, capable under the worst likely conditions of being carried out, is fixed, is known and is set about. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able, when he follows me, to say that he is doing just that.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Philip Goodhart)
It may be convenient if I intervene now to try to deal with some of the points relating to the Department of Education and to the Department of the Environment.
I begin with two education matters. The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) spoke of the need for a quick decision on the interim report of the Chilver committee. The closing date for representations was the end of November, and my noble Friend the Under-Secretary will clearly want time to give the representations the most careful consideration.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) referred to what he called the damaging effect of the amount of reallocations to education in Northern Ireland. Some desirable projects have had to be deferred, but no teachers have been made redundant. It is worth remembering that in the last year of the Labour Government, when Opposition Members had responsibility for education in 999 Northern Ireland, the pupil-teacher ratio was higher in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain. Currently, the pupil-teacher ratio is lower in Northern Ireland than in Great Britain, even though it has improved in Great Britain also.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) and the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) referred to a matter that falls between education and environment, namely, the controversy about the Gaelic football pitch in Londonderry. The hon. Member for Londonderry called for a public inquiry into the matter. There are certain problems from a planning point of view because no change of use is involved. The land is in recreational use already and planning permission for a change from one sport to another is not necessary. There is general agreement that it would be wrong to use the planning machinery of the Province to solve purely political problems. While recognising the strong feelings that have been raised by that issue, I must point to the difficulties involved in calling for a public inquiry on planning grounds.
The hon. Member for Londonderry also referred to certain problems faced by his constituents, especially his farming and semi-farming constituents, in relation to improvement grants—
§ Mr. Peter Robinson
Before the Minister moves too far away from the point relating to the Gaelic Athletic Association, I wish to remind him that I suggested that no more grant aid should be paid to what is essentially a political, if not paramilitary, as well as sporting, organisation.
§ Mr. Goodhart
No doubt my noble Friend, when he reads the debate, will note the hon. Gentleman's views on that subject. We have discussed the matter in the House before.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
As the Gaelic Athletic Association is the regular recipient of public funds, will my hon. Friend say whether any progress has been made in persuading it to end its ban on membership of those who have served in the Royal Navy, the Army and the police?
§ Mr. Goodhart
I have heard of no progress in removing that obnoxious part of the organisation's constitution. That part existed when the Stormont Government gave some assistance to the GAA.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I do not understand the Minister's argument when he says that the planning machinery should not be used for a political decision. In the Ballymena area there was a similar application. It went from the planning authority to a public inquiry. The Minister is still sitting on the report of that inquiry, but it appears that the independent inspector found in favour of the objectors. There was a similar application in Lame. The Minister granted a public inquiry, but the GAA was not prepared to attend the inquiry because it knew that it had no case. Surely, the people of Londonderry are entitled to the same day in court as the people of North Antrim.
§ Mr. Goodhart
There is a difference between the Ballymena and Londonderry applications. In Ballymena the land in question is not already being used for sporting 1000 purposes. It is not already a football pitch, which is the position in Londonderry. There is a potential change of use in Ballymena, while there is not in Londonderry.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am sorry that the Minister did not care to inform himself of the facts. The area in Ballymena was marked on the plan and approved for recreational purposes.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am aware of that. I have visited the site. A football pitch does not exist at present although a football pitch could exist on the site. A football pitch exists in Londonderry. That is the vital and decisive difference for the planning authorities. It makes it possible and desirable to have an inquiry in Ballymena but impossible, even though desirable, to have a similar inquiry in Londonderry.
I move to the less contentious area of improvement grants for the farming and semi-farming constituents of the hon. Member for Londonderry. The essential purpose of the grants is to enable sound older dwellings that are deficient in certain respects to be improved. It is not intended that there should be lavish improvements in the standard of the relevant houses. We administer these improvements with a fair degree of flexibility. We shall consider the individual cases that the hon. Gentleman brings before us.
When it is proposed to use an improvement grant as only a part of a major reconstruction, a fairly rigid line is drawn. It is worth remembering that in the course of the past five years the use of improvement grants in Northern Ireland has increased rapidly from a take-up of about £2.9 million to £29 million. I have no doubt that the grants will continue to be of great benefit to the people of Northern Ireland. It is worth remembering that one-fifth of all improvement grants in the United Kingdom are taken up in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Wm. Ross rose—
§ Mr. Goodhart
I shall not give way. There is another speech still to come as well as two more orders.
The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) reminded us of the number of individual houses, an issue that was taken up most forcefully by the hon. Member for Belfast, West. I remind hon. Members that, even after the 4 per cent. reallocation in the summer, public expenditure on housing services in Northern Irelandstill exceeds £310 million a year. That is a substantial sum in its own right and on a per capita basis it is almost 70 per cent. ahead of expenditure on housing in Great Britain. I fully appreciate that we start with more rundown, dilapidated and inadequate housing in Northern Ireland than elsewhere, but it is wrong to believe that the Province is falling still further behind.
The figures of actual starts and work in hand do not suggest that we are falling behind. In fact, they suggest that we are catching up quite rapidly. As we know, the number of housing starts in Great Britain fell quite sharply in the first nine months of 1980, compared with the first nine months of 1979. Indeed, that has been a general trend throughout Europe and in North America. In Northern Ireland, however, the number of public sector starts in the first nine months of 1980 rose by 300. Prior to this year, on average one in every 35 houses in the public sector in the United Kingdom was started in Northern Ireland. This year one in 18 starts in the public sector is being made in Northern Ireland. If one looks back at the housing statistics 1001 over the past 10 years, one can see that the slice of the national housing cake going to Northern Ireland has never been larger than at present. I have no reason to believe that the allocations for next year will change that picture.
Meanwhile, I note that it has become fashionable and, indeed, customary in speaking or writing about housing in Northern Ireland to ignore the fact that over the past 10 years there has been a very high level of violence which has disrupted the housing scene and, as the right hon. Member for Mansfield freely acknowledged, made it mare expensive. If it were not for the threat of the bomber, we should be able to manage our housing stock more effectively than we do at the moment. If it were not for the continued threat of sectarian violence, I have no doubt that we should get better value for money when it comes to housing contracts.
Sometimes the impact of terrorism is very direct indeed. One of our success stories in Northern Ireland housing has been the co-ownership association, which in the past year has been able to help some 700 families to own or to own part of their awn housing. The association might have been able to help even more people if it had not been burnt out of its offices. I pay tribute to the way in which it got its work on stream again so quickly.
I turn next to comment on two curious aspects of the housing scene that have been touched upon by hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Mansfield and the hon. Members for Belfast, West and Belfast, East wondered how long it would be before the housing lists were cleared up. One of the strange factors is that, while the housing lists are certainly long and contain many urgent cases, there is still a substantial level of perfectly usable and habitable housing property standing empty because it is unpopular.
Earlier this week I had to deal with a letter written by a constituent of the hon. Member for Belfast, East to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. There is no doubt, on the face of the letter, that the constituent is in severe housing need. However, she recently refused two offers of rehousing because she does not wish to leave the immediate area in which she now lives.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West rightly referred to the low level of pay in Northern Ireland and its effect on housing. It is curious that, in spite of the undoubted prevalence of low pay, the take-up of the generous rent ebate schemes offered by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is running almost 50 per cent. below the level one would expect. We hope that the hon. Member for Belfast, West will join the campaign we intend to launch in the near future to try to ensure that all those who are eligible for rent rebates understand that fact and take up their entitlement.
I turn next to the point made by the right hon. Member far Down, South (Mr. Powell). I agree wholehearted with him that over the past 18 months, and certainly before that, the story of rural cottage improvement has been a sorry one. As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Province is littered with broken plans, if not with broken promises. I hope that by this time next year I shall be able to stand at the Dispatch Box and point to the existence of a substantial scheme involving 600 cottages over three years. However, I fully appreciate that after all the words that have flowed on the subject it is improvement and work, not more words from me, that are now needed.
§ Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)
Once more our appropriation debate has taken place against a backcloth of increasing unemployment and economic stagnation in the Province. Every time we have this debate, I or one of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members state that fact. The only difference tonight is that the position is worse and that the problems facing the Province loom larger tonight than they did last time, just as they will loom even larger the next time round.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) spelt out the unemployment figures—91,686, or 15.9 per cent. of the registered unemployed. That is a record, but of course it is worse than that when one considers the part-time workers and many of the women workers who are not registered. In the textile industry, for instance, where they were employed in abundance, the figure is very much higher. The Minister should be aware of that and I hope that we shall have a response when he replies.
The great question that must be asked is "What are the Government doing to meet this problem?" On the one hand, apparently, they are being generous with loans and grants in the order. But, on the other band, as expressed in Class II, Vote 2, much of the increase comes as a direct result of cutting specific grants for modernisation and reorganisation of industry itself. This is at a time when, more than any other, Northern Ireland's industry needs to be given an injection of activity and energy so that it does not lag behind the rest of the United Kingdom in the provision of up-to-date machinery and plant.
The industrial sector in Northern Ireland already has more than its fair share of problems, not least the problem of energy which has rightly been touched upon tonight, without having these additional burdens placed upon it by the order.
We are entitled to ask—and we certainly intend to spell it out—why there are to be no more loans this financial year for industrial modernisation and reorganisation. Why were the interest grants on borrowing for industrial modernisation cut by half? Why is there a cut of more than 10 per cent. in the financial assistance to the Northern Ireland Development Agency? Why is there a decrease of more than 50 per cent. in grants for firms in inner urban areas and a cut of 40 per cent. in loans available for firms in inner urban areas?
I suggest that the Government's obsessive determination to test their already discredited economic theory is working daily to the serious detriment of the people of Northern Ireland.
Before turning to the particular Classes and Votes that I wish to spend time upon, I should like to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield, who graphically spelt out some of the problems facing the Housing Executive in Class V. He effectively slapped down the Minister of State, who argues from time to time that the housing situation in Northern Ireland is not as bad as we paint it. He sometimes refers to London by way of evidence.
§ Mr. Rossi
I do not think that I have ever said that the housing situation in Northern Ireland is not had, nor have I denied the descriptions that the hon. Gentleman may have given. What I have said is that if one looks at some of the London boroughs, with which I am very 1003 Familiar—and I have compared them—one finds that a number of London boroughs have housing deprivation as great as that in many parts of Northern Ireland.
I do not think that it helps Northern Ireland's case to say that its problems are that much worse and that it is being that much more badly treated. That is not the case. If one takes the position in terms of scale and magnitude, compares the populations in the London boroughs that I have in mind—some 3 million-plus people—and compares those people living in deprivation with 1½ million in Northern Ireland, not all of whom are living in deprivation, one gets a different perspective on the situation.
Despite the London problem, we are spending some 35 per cent. more per capita in Northern Ireland than we are in London.
§ Mr. Pendry
I am glad that the Minister intervened and got that off his chest. I have a table before me, which he can certainly have and which compares dwelling conditions in Northern Ireland and England. If one takes dwellings lacking in internal wcs, the figure in Northern Ireland is 15.7 per cent. and in England, 6.3 per cent. If one compares a particular city with Greater London, the figures are 24.5 per cent. for Belfast and 3.5 per cent. for Greater London. For houses without a bathroom—
§ Mr. Rossi rose—
§ Mr. Pendry
Perhaps when I have given several other figures the Minister will wish to dwell on them. For houses without a bathroom, the figures are 23.2 per cent. for Belfast and 4.5 per cent. for Greater London. In Belfast, 26.2 per cent. of dwellings are without wash hand basins, whereas the figure for Greater London is 6.8 per cent. I could go on. Of course, within those figures certain parts of London will be worse than areas in Belfast, but the point that I am making is that speeches from Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office which try to play down the terrible housing conditions in Northern Ireland do no good to the Northern Ireland Office. That kind of talk gets out of perspective the problems that we are trying to ram home to the Government.
§ Mr. Rossi
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for again giving way. It does not help solve the problems in Northern Ireland if one compares Belfast with Greater London and quotes a figure of 15 per cent. against one of 3 per cent. for deprivation. If one takes Greater London, with 10 million people, one includes all the outer suburbs with modern private estates with extremely good housing conditions, which waters down the percentage. Of course, that is included in one's statistical figures for unfit properties.
However, if one takes Hackney, Islington or Tower Hamlets, one will find unfit houses of 20 per cent., 15 per cent. and 14 per cent. respectively. Those are the measures that one must use if one is trying to make a fair comparison of housing deprivation between inner city situations.
§ Mr. Pendry
The point has been made. Those who read the Official Report will perhaps get the message that the Minister was wearing his London hat rather more than he was wearing his Northern Ireland hat.
I return to the debate. As a former agriculture Minister for only a few months, I should like to refer to the 1004 problems involved in Class I, Vote 1. It would be repetition if I were to go over the ground that has already been covered so clearly by the hon. Members for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). They spelt out the problems of marginal land and less favoured areas extremely graphically. I hope that the Minister will reply to those specific points.
The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) hoped that the Minister would announce when he will meet the Ulster Farmers Union. I am not here to bail out Ministers, but the sooner they meet the Ulster farmers the better. If the National Farmers Union moved a vote of no confidence in the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and approved it, as the Ulster farmers did in respect of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, there would indeed be a U-turn. The sooner the Minister meets the Ulster farmers to talk about the problems facing the agriculture industry, the better. I can tell him that confidence in that industry is at an all-time low. Its ability to get on with the job has been impaired by the Government. I happen to believe that the Minister is a good one—I say that in the context of a Conservative Administration—but the sooner he gets over there and meets the farmers, the better.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) for being out of the Chamber during most of his speech. That was unavoidable. However, I am told by my right hon. Friend that he has been a consistent critic of both Governments. I have found that the hon. Gentleman is more often right than wrong, and I back most of his comments. I return to our plea that a public body should be set up to co-ordinate the provision of all forms of energy to industrial consumers. I hope that the Minister will deal with that matter.
If the present rate of increase in unemployment in the Province continues, one-quarter of the work force will be out of work before next September. That is a sobering thought. The financial help offered by the order pales into insignificance against the wider economic stagnation in the Province.
The fact that loans and development grants are being increased by such substantial amounts is clear evidence that the Government's economic performance in Northern Ireland has to date been woefully inadequate and is a recognition of the failure of their policies to bring about a natural regeneration of the Province's economy.
Can the Minister give any guarantee that any of the increases in development grants or money for industrial loans will lead to an expansion? What does he believe will be the result of the measures? Will they abate some of the problems, especially unemployment, that are so prevalent in Northern Ireland?
Class II, Vote 2, includes the cut in financial assistance for the Northern Ireland Development Agency. It is a reduction in the amount available for grants and loans in selective assistance. At the end of last month, the Under-Secretary revealed that the agency would no longer have a specific role in setting up and operating State industries. Nor will it any longer be directly involved in the rescuing of firms, under the direction of the Department of Commerce.
The withdrawal of such help from State industry and the reduction in encouragement to further State industries will damage the Northern Ireland economy. Passing the buck to private enterprise, as the Government are doing, is not 1005 good enough. Private industry faces far too many problems already without being expected to take the brunt of industrial expansion.
The authoritative report by Mr. Quigley, who headed the Department of which my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield was in charge some time ago, stated in 1976 that the only hope for the Province, with its special problems, lay in maintaining the level of public expenditure within the context of a strong role for the state, leading, subsidising and directly involving itself in State industries. The Northern Ireland Economic Council has argued that the region is a special case arid that the dangers of pushing back the public sector are much greater in Northern Ireland than anywhere else.
In Class II, Vote 4, the amount required for the expenditure of the Department of Manpower Services on employment services for the seriously disabled, industrial rehabilitation, industrial training and so on totals £1,000. That means that no money is being made available to increase training facilities at a time when the number out of work in Northern Ireland is multiplying by the month. The total pay award to staff at industrial training centres, which is the purpose of the Vote, has been funded mainly by money originally allocated for redundancy payments in the shipbuilding industry, which have been less than expected.
Hidden behind the token allocation in the Vote is a decrease of £1.8 million, which means that the Government are saving on the, Vote. The savings are going into the pool for industrial loans. Will the Minister spell out where the savings are being made?
Is the standard of training to drop? Will fewer people from the register of long-term unemployed be retrained? Or does the Minister intend that the school leavers are to receive a more inadequate service—it is woefully inadequate at the moment—than prevails at present? Does this apparent indifference by the Government to the provision of training mean that the State-subsidised training centres are to be run down? Perhaps the Minister will assure the House on these points when he replies.
As the House will know, the Minister of State—I hope that he will not he dashing to the Dispatch Box again after my reference to him; perhaps he is not even listening—reveated Government plans to transfer the cost of industrial training to the employers, and he aims to have a total transfer of costs by 1982–83. So, at the same time as Northern Ireland employers face a hefty rise in the level of employers' contributions, they are being asked to accept the burden of training and to provide all the additional resources that that will entail. This represents a graphic disincentive for firms in Northern Ireland to train their own work forces. How does the Minister plan to help small firms with the training? These firms are the least able to stake the training contributions asked of them.
The Minister will, I am sure, be aware that his anouncement was received with strong reservations by the employers' organisations, which are fearful that it will result in firms having to meet even higher costs at a time of unprecedented economic problems. There were, of course, criticisms also from the trade unions, which claim that it will result in a decline in training in the Province. In my view, the only way in which uniformity of training can he preserved is through a State-funded scheme. Only through such a scheme will it be guaranteed that we shall have adequately trained labour for small, struggling firms. 1006 The lack of funds for training in the Vote can only serve to reinforce the downward tendencies in Northern Ireland's industrial scene.
On Class VIII, Vote 3, I welcome the provision of £8,000 in capital grants to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to enable the provision of recreational facilities on housing estates. That is a move in the right direction. However, this appears to be financed—perhaps the Minister will tell me if I am wrong—by the cuts in the present provision of funds allocated to museums and the arts.
On the Opposition Benches, we also applaud the move to improve recreational facilities on housing estates. Very often these estates are deserts, and certainly they have very few leisure activities. We hope that it will not be too long before the Minister will be improving on this small financial provision, so that community recreational facilities can be further improved and fostered. However, it is clear that that allocation is the result of a passing thought on the values of social and community interaction through the media of State-financed facilities, for in this Vote the Government are removing support from the museums, thus decreasing their capacity to purchase new items. They are further slicing an already tailored budget to the Northern Ireland Arts Council.
As a result of the reallocation of resources last August, the provision for grants to district councils for sports and leisure services is omitted from the Vote. This has the effect that grants will be cut in this area by £0.9 million. This cut has already had a disastrous effect on the rolling programme of facilities for sport and leisure. I sometimes wonder what the Government have against sport and leisure. During the year, the cut has resulted in a complete freeze on all new projects by both district councils and voluntary sports clubs. The moratorium introduced in Northern Ireland in July has still not been lifted. Consequently no building of new sports facilities has been able to start.
Indoor sports centres which are badly needed at places such as Whiterock in Belfast, Newry, Coleraine, Derry, Lisburn, Ballymena and Cookstown have been deferred indefinitely. Perhaps the Minister will give us some indication that that trend will stop.
That type of cut, in conjunction with the Government's peremptory treatment of the Northern Ireland Sports Council, has seriously curtailed the development of sport in the Province. Those unpalatable consequences are all the more serious in Northern Ireland, where the high rate of unemployment, especially among the young, and the low morale of those young people mean that the temptation to become involved in violent activities is increasing rather than decreasing because of the Government's measures.
Class VIII, Vote 3 decreases the grant in aid of the Arts Council by £300,000. I greet such a depletion in resources with despondency and despair, and I hope that that view is shared by other hon. Members. It means that the agreed revenue grant for the current year will be cut by £72,000 and that, contrary to the understanding of the Arts Council, the Government are not now able to give a separately negotiated grant in the current year for the running of the Grand Opera House in Belfast, which opened in September. The decrease in funds will undoubtedly have a debilitating effect on the provision of theatre and arts services. In an area where leisure facilities are of great importance to the stability of the community, it is 1007 remarkable that the Government can so brazenly lop off such a vital sum of money from an important and widely supported body.
I should like to focus here on the financial cloud hanging over the opera house. Despite the unwelcome news of the financial resources being cut, the council went ahead and opened the opera house. Not to have done so—I am sure Ministers realise this—would have entailed substantial cancellation fees and the loss of substantial related income from the box office. As an emergency measure, the Arts Council has decided to divert funds to cover the operating deficit this year. But what about next year? Will the opera house—a glowing achievement in Belfast, and an undoubted centre for culture and entertainment—be allowed to close because the Government reneged—that is a strong word, but I believe it is the right word—on their undertaking to negotiate a separate grant for its future operation?
I am about to refer to the Secretary of State, so I wish that he would look less bored. He and the Minister responsible for the Department of Education were present at the opening of the opera house. At that time, the chairman of the Arts Council in Northern Ireland spoke directly to them. Hon. Members who were not fortunate enough to be there might like to hear some of the words that were spoken. The chairman said:We have accepted with as great a grace as we could muster the severe blow that your decision dealt us … We confidently hope … that when you are planning for the next financial year and the ones to follow, you will be able to fulfil the understanding that always underlay this venture.Those were sober words, but it is clear from this appropriation order that they have not struck home. If they have struck home, will the Minister confirm that the grant for the opera house will be reinstated in the next set of Estimates for Northern Ireland? If not, will he make a statement on his Department's view of the future of the opera house and the arts in general in Northern Ireland? One broad theme stands out: the arts, sport and leisure services in Northern Ireland are under heavy attack, and the very survival of publicly financed facilities is now in serious jeopardy.
I turn now to Class VIII, Vote 4. As always, the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) raised some important points.
I note with alarm that no supplementary sum is made available for Class VIII, Vote 4, which normally refers to the provision of funds for the education and library boards. As if that news were not bad enough for the education and library boards, it seems that the Government have squeezed £6.2 million out of the resources available under the reallocation of funds announced in August.
These facts can have only one consequence for the education service in Northern Ireland. Without more money, as the hon. Member for Belfast, West said, jobs will go, the provision of books and equipment will be hit and the standard of education will be in jeopardy.
Therefore, we must put some pertinent questions to the Minister. I come first to the question of nursery schools, which we debated last night. The provision of nursery places during the past two years has been a drop in the ocean compared with the level of need. Some 38,000 nursery places are needed if all 3-to-4-year-olds in Northern Ireland are to receive adequate nursery education. There are just over 5,000 places at present.
1008 The passage of the education order last night means that the obligation of the boards to provide nursery education will be reduced to a discretionary power. Despite what the Minister said last night, I believe that there will be a downward trend in the number of nursery places in Northern Ireland.
The nursery system is already suffering from the reallocation of funds. All capital expenditure programmes have been halted. The Minister shakes his head. Perhaps he will pass a piece of paper with the information to his hon. Friend when he replies to the debate. Most nursery assistants in the north-eastern education board area are already receiving redundancy notices. The pressure on the boards to make savings may result in other boards adopting a similar mode of action. The future of nursery education, if it has a future after the order that was approved last night, has never looked so grim.
As regards the provision of books, on which the hon. Member for Belfast, West touched, few will dispute the importance of having up-to-date textbooks for the purpose of teaching in both primary and secondary schools. So far this year, three of the education and library boards have made no increase in the book allowance because of the Government's cash limits. The other two boards have increased theirs in line with inflation.
Northern Ireland is well down the field compared with other education authorities in mainland Britain when it comes to spending on books and teaching materials. For example, a survey by the National Association of Schoolmasters showed that an authority in mainland Britain spends £29 for each primary school child. In Northern Ireland the figure is between £11 and £14. The figure for secondary schools in mainland Britain is £58 per head compared with between £30 and £37 in Northern Ireland, depending on the board.
The fact that there is no supplementary allocation for education and library boards in the order books bodes ill for next year. It is unlikely in the extreme that the boards will be able to bridge the disparities in the provision of books which I have outlined, given the stringent cash limits. It would seem more probable that the disparities will grow ever wider next year and the year after unless action is taken urgently.
In the same Vote there is provision for teachers, particularly substitute teachers. Some £400,000 has been saved on the employment of substitute teachers, but that has done nothing to save educational standards in Northern Ireland's schools. The sum involved is paltry compared with the harm that the cut in supply teachers will have on the education of youngsters in the Province.
Following the circular sent round by the Department of Education in mid-October, the employment of a substitute when the class teacher is absent for less than four days has been stopped. Instead, in all schools with three or more teachers, classes must double up for any period of absence of less than four days by the teacher. The saving is marginal, but the effect on three-teacher schools is devastating, for teachers can face the prospect of classes of up to 50 children of varying ages for more than half a week if just one of their number is absent. This petty saving means that headmasters no longer have the power to call in substitute teachers. As a result, parents in one area have been told to keep their children away from school.
In the hunt for yet more spending cuts, the Department of Education and Science has pressurised education and 1009 library boards into cutting back on the provision of school meals. During the passage of the Education Bill in 1980, the Secretary of State for Education and Science clearly stated that the Government's intention was not to attack the school meals service.
In Northern Ireland, the education and library boards are directly responsible to the Under-Secretary of Stats. I do not know which Under-Secretary is responsible, but he cannot be sitting on the Front Bench. If he were, he would be listening. Indeed, the Minister is in the other place, and that is why scant regard is paid to the question of school meals. The intermediaries of local government cannot be used as a scapegoat in Northern Ireland, as is the case in Great Britain. In Great Britain, the Secretary of State can argue that local authorities are doing the dirty work. In Northern Ireland, the Minister is responsible for the cut in the provision of school meals.
The price of a school meal has leapt from 40p to 50p a day. A considerable number of jobs has been lost. Approximately 700 kitchen staff have been made redundant. Not one of the 700 staff appears on the unemployment register. There has been a 25 to 30 per cent. reduction in the hours of the remaining staff, the "Guiness Book of Records" should have a special supplement for Northern Ireland. It would be a best seller. The Government have broken an incredible number of records in Northern Ireland.
Such a supplement might spell out to those who want to listen the problems that face Northern Ireland. Ministers seem to be lethargic about those problems. They spend too much time doing other things and do not move round the Province1 as their predecessors did, uncovering problems and trying to solve them. I am sure that there will soon be a reshuffle in the Government. I bet that there is a queue of those on the Government Front Bench who want to give up first. Before Ministers give up, I hope that one of them will have the guts to stand up and fight his corner and that of the people of Northern Ireland. At present, 1 would not like to bet on who that will be
§ 10.7 pm
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Giles Shaw)
At the conclusion of an appropriation debate, it is, traditional to answer some of the questions that have been raised. If I am unable to do so or if time does not allow me to do so, I hope that hon. Members will agree to correspondence.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) asked whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would meet the office-bearers of the Ulster Farmers Union. Indeed, that point was also raised by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley). I assure him that my right hon. Friend and I have met the UFU on several occasions. I also assure him that we are willing to do so again. I am in the process of writing to the UFU and I shall invite it to meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the same time. I understand that that is what the UFU wants.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde also referred to the Arts Council and the grant for the opera house. As a result of the reallocation exercise this summer, the Arts Council in Northern Ireland was advised that no additional funds would be available to meet any deficit on running costs for the Grand Opera House. However, Lord Elton has indicated to the Arts Council that he accepts in 1010 principle that some additional funds should be made available next year to help with the running costs of the opera house. The exact level of Government support for the project has not yet been decided.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to the money in the order. A total of £10 million of the £48 million addition from the contingency reserve was used to finance the services of the Northern Ireland Office. The balance of the £48 million, with the £50 million which was reallocated internally, is being used for services, voted and non-voted, for which the Northern Ireland Departments are responsible. I believe that that is the answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question about the order and its remit.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) asked about the abolition of the Supplementary Benefits Commission. I apologise for being absent during his contribution. I remind him and the House that the reason offered in the report on the reform of the supplementary benefits scheme is:The Government believe that it is essential to revise the present legal structure and that issues of policy should be decided by Ministers in Parliament rather than by a non-elected body such as the Supplementary Benefits Commission.That is a significant reason, which has led to comparable decisions here.
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) asked about the salmon fishery on the north coast, among other matters. I fully understand the ravages that have occurred in that fishery due to illegal fishing and poaching. I also understand its importance as a recreation facility and important amenity for the local population. We have difficulties in controlling the problem I have undertaken to meet the Minister responsible for fisheries in the Republic, Mr. Power, to see whether we can find ways and means to strengthen the controls applied to that fishery. I shall try to do that as soon as possible.
In this debate, as in its predecessors, the majority of hon. Members have made contributions around four or five common themes. It is right that I should devote most of my remarks to the main themes which illustrate hon. Members' anxieties.
One theme was energy. It was referred to by most speakers, including the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon). The hon. Member for Antrim, North chided me severely for having taken a decision on the second stage of Kilroot in relation to electricity generation. I assure him and the House that no decision on the second stage of Kilroot has been taken. If my comments to different delegations have been interpreted variously, I am not surprised. I understand that any word in any communiqué or statement by any Minister, be it in the North or the South, is capable of manifold interpretation.
Electricity supply is the subject of a departmental working groups which has concluded the first stage of the preparation of a report which we expect to be in Ministers' hands shortly. The group has the wide remit of examining the generation and distribution of electricity throughout the Province. That will form the basis of important decisions which will be laid before the House in due course.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
I am sure that the Minister would not want to misrepresent me, but when he reads Hansard tomorrow he will realise that I did not chide him by saying that he had made the decision. I asked him to tell the House tonight what the decision really was, as some delegations 1011 that went to him came away with the notion that he had made a decision and others came away with the notion that he had not. I did not chide the hon. Gentleman on that, though I chided him on other things.
§ Mr. Shaw
I shall be "bechide" myself with anxiety if I get it wrong for the third time.
I turn to the question of gas, which featured in many contributions, notably that of the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker). He and I have had a number of discussions about gas. Indeed, we have had a number of exchanges of letters about gas. I think that the hon. Gentleman and I can at least come to one superficial conclusion: that this matter, affecting about 3 per cent, of the Province's energy requirements, has absorbed an enormous amount of his time and mine and the time of the Government.
I deeply regret that the decisions announced last July are clearly not acceptable to the hon Gentleman, but I must remind him, as he continually seems to suggest to the House that—I think I quote him directly—the Government are killing off the gas industry, just how vigorous an industry it is. Is it making money? It is not. Is it gaining customers? It is not. Is it increasing its market share? It is not.
The gas industry in Northern Ireland has, for reasons that the hon. Gentleman and I fully understand, been in significant decline and is costing the taxpayer, both in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, a significant amount of money. If it were not for the fact that the Government have been offering to underwrite its debts, the question of killing off the gas industry would not arise. I very much doubt whether consumers would be able to pay the full market price of the fuel currently supplied through the town gas undertakings.
The context in which we took our decisions is that the indigenous industry is in severe decline. That must be common ground between us. The question of what then happens is a matter that we have debated widely in the House. The hon. Gentleman rightly says that the present exchange of information on the Coopers and Lybrand study produced facts and figures which were new—new, indeed, since July 1979, when the first formal statement of the Government's intention was made to the House.
I beg the hon. Gentleman to understand that it would be fatuous if the Government used old data when new data were available. We must be able to uprate the actual cost of energy, based on oil in large measure, as the oil prices vary. He would be the first to criticise if the Government sought to justify their action on data that were obsolete. It is inevitable that there are these changes in some of the data, which I know he found difficult to accept when we had our most recent discussion on the matter.
§ Mr. McCusker
The hon. Gentleman sought to show that the industry in Northern Ireland was moribund and on its last legs. It is, but why? It is because it has been denied access to the resource that regenerated the gas industry here. It has only 3 per cent, of the market in Northern Ireland because people there are being asked to pay 90p or 100p per therm. The hon. Gentleman's Government are having heartburn about asking people here to pay 25p per therm.
§ Mr. Shaw
The hon. Gentleman is right, in that the industry has run down because the price of the fuel on 1012 which it exists has exceeded the willingness of its consumers to pay. But, if it is a question of what the Government should do about it, the decision taken last July stands, in that it related to the construction of a gas pipeline between the mainland and Northern Ireland.
Since then, as the hon. Gentleman will know—I acknowledge his interest in the matter—there have been comments from the Government in the South about the supply of gas from the Kinsale field. That led to a meeting between me and the Minister for Energy, Mr. Colley, in Dublin last week. The hon. Gentleman and others are most anxious that I should give the House information on that matter. I can say that we had a most useful exchange of views. Mr. Colley gave me a clearer insight into their proposals for developing gas extraction from the Kinsale field and their plans for its distribution. We have agreed that the next step is for the South—
§ Mr. Shaw
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. We have agreed that the next step is for the Republic to provide more detailed information on such matters as price, quantity and timing of any supply that might be on offer to Northern Ireland so that we can complete our evaluation within the next few months.
I wish to make two points clear to the House. First, although the information that I had from Mr. Colley was new, it would be wrong for the House to adduce a firm prospect of supply until all the details have been properly evaluated. There is much work to be done. Secondly, such supplies, if they materialise, will not necessarily be an alternative to the existing operations of all gas undertakings in Northern Ireland. They would not totally avoid closure in all cases. Work that is in hand on the preparation of the rundown scheme must continue, but I undertake to the House, the hon. Member for Armagh and others who raised the issue that I shall make another statement when we have evaluated the prospect of supply from the Republic. It is not by any means the lifeline or panacea that has been suggested in the press. I guarantee to examine that prospect with the greatest possible care and speed, because I understand that it is an extremely important matter.
Apart from energy, the most common theme raised by hon. Members concerned industry, unemployment and the difficulties that face companies in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Member for Mansfield, who opened the debate for the Opposition—
§ Mr. Wm. Ross
Before the Minister strays from the subject of gas, will he say something about the report by the Department of Commerce?
§ Mr. Shaw
As far as I am aware of its origination, the report was one of many documents, about 30, that were exchanged between the Department of Commerce and the team conducting the review. Whatever its individual characteristics, there can be no doubt that the report that the working party produced subsumed both that document and many others in its final recommendations to Ministers. As an individual document, it does not have the relevance that hon. Members and the media seek to ascribe to it.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Will the Minister comment on the queries raised by a number of hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), about 1013 compensation? Is it not a fact that those who intend to continue with bottled gas will not receive any compensation?
§ Mr. Shaw
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, who raised the matter during the debate. The compensation terms that have been published indicate that a scheme will be designed for approved appliances and approved fuels. We are still considering the details, and no decision has been made on the question of bottled gas. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall endeavour to reach a decision as soon as possible.
I turn to the question of industry and, within it, the question of several of the Province's major industries. I must accept that the present conditions in which industry in the Province finds itself are extremely difficult, whether it be new, indigenous industry or well-established industry'. We know full well the reasons for that. In large measure they stem from the substantial inflation in our domestic economy and from the substantial decline in the markets for most products for which the industries in Northern Ireland are competing. The severe reductions, especially in man-made fibres, were referred to by a number of hon. Members.
The right hon. Member for Mansfield made a specific reference to the rate of industrial development. At the commencement of the year, the rate of industrial development as measured by new jobs and interest in establishing companies in Northern Ireland was running high. It was running higher than in the previous year by a substantial percentage. However, that has not continued in the last quarter, and I expect that the rate of job creation will not be much larger, if at all larger, than last year's rate. It may be slightly lower than that. The House will understand that the climate within which new investment is brought to the Province is now so difficult that it is not surprising that job creation in the current year is at a lower level than that of 1979. If it is around the 1979 level, that will be no mean achievement, in my humble estimation.
Against that background, there must be greater stress upon indigenous operations. I accept the comment that jobs saved are perhaps easier than jobs created and, no doubt, less, costly. I assure the House that the schemes of the Department of Commerce to help viable companies—companies that can demonstrate long-term viability but are in short-term difficulty—remain available. They are being used significantly.
My hon. Friend the Member for New bury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson) dwelt in significant measure upon Harland and Wolff. It is true that the shipbuilding industry, and within it Harland and Wolff, is facing great difficulties. I cannot answer in full the comments of my hon. Friend, because he is touching on commercial confidentiality in talking about penalty clauses. The Government are seeking to encourage the company in searching for new orders.
The market in which the shipyard competes, the large bulk tanker or carrier market, has shown some sign of improvement in recent months. My hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman will be the first to recognise that the crucial factor in a market that is extremely competitive is reliability on price and delivery. It is essential that I use this opportunity to emphasise that the yard seeks to impose upon itself the discipline of improving its practices, 1014 improving its delivery prospects and guaranteeing that quoted prices will be the prices on delivery. That is up to management and men.
There are signs of improvement from the initial indications of steel-working productivity. However, every industrial relations hiccup is another threat to the company's reputation and to the attempt to say once again that Harland and Wolff is not only in business but in the business of guaranteed deliveries and a recognition that performance is the sine qua non in its tender. I hope that all hon. Members, especially those whose constituents are working within the shipyard, will do all that they can to encourage the attitude that I have described among those who operate in the yard.
My hon. Friend was critical about diversification. Although the cobbler should stick to his last, that would be an admirable thing if lasts, or, indeed, shoes, were in demand. However, the fact remains that we cannot allow time to pass without seeking other possible alternatives to establish viable undertakings. That is the remit of the diversification team, which I hope will report initially in the late spring of 1981.
The hon. Member for Belfast, East referred to Short Brothers. I confirm that the 1980 corporate plan has, of course, been approved. The uprating for the subsequent year is in the hands of the Department and is being carefully examined.
The other major industrial company that has been mentioned is De Lorean. I apologise to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) for somewhat roughly interrupting him. I know that his interest is genuine, but it sometimes tries us to find somebody who suggests that he is a friend of the company and wishes it to succeed asking questions or raising issues that appear to undermine the company's confidence. Let us be quite clear. The company is at the moment engaged in the final run-up to bulk production. The hon. Gentleman asked for further details. Bulk production will be commencing by the end of this month. There will be deliveries into the United States in February and March.
My hon. Friend the hon. Member for Newbury asked me when the car would first go on show. It will not be at the United States motor show but will be at a trade show in Los Angeles on. I believe, 6 February. Thereon, orders will be processed.
I say to the hon. Member for Keighley, and in absentia to my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), that the dealerships, which still number 350 in the United States, are still very keen to obtain the units which they have ordered, for which they have paid a deposit and through which they become shareholders in the enterprise. We have recently conducted a small sample survey among them, bearing in mind that the price, as both hon. Members indicated, is inevitably affected by the movement in the pound-dollar relationship, and they have all shown that they are still extremely keen on taking up their options, which would indicate to us that the rate of sale of 20,000 units per annum is still initially a rate that can be aimed at.
The position on De Lorean is that the company is on stream for its spring launch, and I trust that hon. Members—even those who are most sceptical of the costs involved—will sincerely hope that a return may ultimately come to the taxpayer in the form of units sold to customers who enjoy using the product.
1015 Last but not least—indeed, I regard it as the most important issue—I come to agriculture. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) made an eloquent plea on behalf of dairy farmers, and the hon. Members for Londonderry, Antrim, North and others were most anxious to make certain, if certainty was required, that the Government gave to the farming industry its due share of attention, investment and encouragement.
It is inevitable in a year when Government expenditure has been under severe pressure that the agriculture industry, too, should not be immune. Hon. Members are well aware that we have had to take painful decisions over support systems and grant-aid. However, I wish to emphasise that the agriculture industry in the Province still enjoys a substantial level of support. A number of schemes are available and improvements have been made.
Since the Government came to office some 18 months ago, the devaluations in the green pound have eliminated a major cause of concern in the agriculture industry. There have been positive MCAs of 10 per cent. There is a beef cow premium now of £12.37 per cow, a variable beef scheme of £35 per cow, which is above the market rate, and intervention buying of beef at the rate of 800 tonnes per week currently. There is a 20 per cent, increase in the hill compensatory allowances and an increase of 75p for hardy hill sheep. There are also in negotiation through the EEC plans for the structures of agricultural support, including the £8 million improvement to the intensive livestock sector spread over four years and the £37 million scheme over 10 years for the development within the less favoured areas.
Those are solid achievements in respect of agriculture. I recognise that the industry feels that it is not enjoying the rate of support that it would wish to have, but I am bound to say that in severe economic difficulties the agriculture industry in Northern Ireland is far from forgotten.
May I also remind the hon. Member for Antrim, North, who was highly critical of our lack of attendance at Brussels, that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible for negotiating these matters in Brussels. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have been delighted that the matter was handled by, with, from and within the United Kingdom and that a United Kingdom Minister should be the man to speak for Northern Ireland on these issues. He speaks with a strong voice for Northern Ireland on many matters. I know full well that he is well briefed by what my right hon. Friend and I have to say to him, but he is no slouch when it comes to standing up for Northern Ireland,
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Scottish Minister accompanies the said Minister when he goes to Brussels?
§ Mr. Shaw
I can assure the hon. Member for Antrim, North that my right hon. Friend recently received an invitation from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture to accompany him to Brussels when there was an opportunity to do so. I have little doubt that my right hon. Friend will take up that invitation.
Agriculture, therefore, enjoys a commitment which I honestly lay before the House from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and from other Ministers. I 1016 accept that at the moment it involves extreme difficulty, such as is encountered by anyone operating in an industrial capacity in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Peter Mills
I accept all that my hon. Friend has said about the tremendous aid that is being given to other products, but will he answer the question about milk aid? That is the crucial issue in Northern Ireland now.
§ Mr. Shaw
Milk aid represents a major contribution for the Northern Ireland dairy industry towards producer returns. It was not available for the current year. The position for next year is still under discussion. Whatever that decision might be, however, the fact remains that we must look within the milk industry for improvements in and the development of the marketing technique and improvements in the relationship between producer costs and consumer price. My hon. Friend knows that at its present price level milk is already suffering from consumer resistance. Distribution, however, is showing itself to be more competitive in trying to sell milk through shops.
These are all ways in which the market will have to change. I beg hon. Members and farmers in Northern Ireland to understand that it will not be sufficient to rely only on the past practice of producing to a price and seeking Government support for the deficit on cost. Changes in marketing practice may be required, not just because the Government are seeking to reduce expenditure but because the consumer preference has changed.
We must develop higher added-value agricultural products to lay a more profitable foundation for Northern Ireland agriculture.
§ Mr. Shaw
My right hon. Friend and I have sought to discuss whether it would be possible for Northern Ireland to proceed on its own on the matter of LFAs. We have concluded, however, that there must first be an agreement on whether land throughout the United Kingdom will be included in the LFAs. It would be wrong for the United Kingdom to make a piecemeal approach to the Community on this issue. I assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that the commitment to conclude the regrading of the LFAs by walking the land and examining it with care is being undertaken vigorously. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has agreed that it should be concluded by, if not before, the end of 1981. That in no way means that he or the Government have any commitment about what then happens, but at least the effort will be put in to make sure that the regrading takes place.
The right hon. Member for Down, South made a most important point about De Lorean when he asked whether there was a considerable risk that the company might not be stable in the longer term. Many hon. Members may feel that. I emphasise strongly that in looking to the future of Northern Ireland industry, whilst I accept that smaller companies—I hope that many will be encouraged to set up in business—will provide a significant contribution, to establish a concern that might employ, say, 1,000 people involves taking a significant risk. The lessons we have learnt from man-made fibres and other industry that is under severe pressure indicate that the cycle of a whole industry may be relatively short in terms of human years.
While that is no excuse for the Department of Commerce not looking for stable long-term industry, I believe that it is incumbent on all hon. Members to 1017 recognise that things will not be the same in the future as they have been in the past. We are looking for industries which may develop and disappear. New industries will follow, and they will also have a significant span of life.
There is one respect in which De Lorean is important. Northern Ireland has a number of significant industries built around the motor car. It has Goodyear, Michelin, Autolite and General Motors, all making components for motor cars. It now has one, I hope major, assembly plant as well. It will, therefore, have a motor industry.
Northern Ireland has an aerospace industry, both in components and in the manufacture of whole aircraft, to which we hope to add the Lear Fan development on the very frontiers of the technology involved in aerospace. Likewise, it has a major shipbuilding industry to which, hopefully, through diversification we might add other ancilliary enterprises which utilise these skills.
It is in that way that we look to find new catalysts around which the industries of the future will grow. Both for industry and agriculture, we must travel hard and hopefully.
§ Mr. Robert J. Bradford(Belfast, South) rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
If the hon. Gentleman wishes lo speak on this order, I remind him that he will not be able to receive a reply from the Mimister. But, of course, he has every right to speak.
§ Mr. Bradford
I should first like to explain my reasons for this uncharacteristic and unorthodox behaviour. It is a matter which relates to the altitude of the Chair, which will be the subject of a discussion in another place at another time. I apologise to both Front Bench spokesmen for this unorthodox approach.
My speech will not unduly lengthen the debate. I had intended to contribute earlier, but that was impossible for reasons beyond the remit of the debate. I shall, however, try to contract my remarks in the interests of the business which is to follow.
I want to address myself to three classes in the order. The first is Class II. I appreciate that the Minister's reply will come in writing, and I shall be happy to receive it. I wish to ask the Minister responsible for commerce whether he is in a position to confirm that Short Brothers and Harland will receive the important Canberra refurbishing contract, which will accrue £7 million to the company if the contract comes its way. I should like the Minister to confirm in writing, if he can, that Short's will obtain that contract.
Before moving to Class in, which forms the main burden of my contribution, I want to make a general point about the: reallocation of money in the middle of the financial year which has taken place in Northern Ireland. I feel that it is quite wrong and injudicious to tamper with financial allocations to Departments in the middle of the financial year, for two reasons: first, because it creates such uncertainty in the respective Departments and, secondly, because it causes great havoc with the current programmes in the respective Departments.
The greatest iniquity is that the money was reallocated on the pretext that new jobs would be created in Northern Ireland. Because I doubted that, I asked the Secretary of State 1018how many new jobs have been created by the diversion of the financial allocations from each Department since the date on which the freeze on public expenditure for the purpose of job creation was announced in Northern Ireland".I was told by the Under-Secretary:It has been made possible for us to provide £7 million to Harland and Wolff …£14 million in the form of a repayable loan to …De Lorean …and £20 million to the Northern Ireland electricity service to enable it to hold down its tariffs."—[Official Report, 13 November 1980; Vol. 992, c. 453.]The reply added that in the first 10 months of this year about 5,800 new job opportunities had been created in the Province. That answer confirmed my worst fears. The money diverted from each Government Department did not create a single new job. It was used to finance old Government debts. The claim that new jobs would emerge was sold to the people of Northern Ireland. The reply that I received was spurious.
The De Lorean project did not create a single new job. The electricity payments are needed only because the Government refused to link Northern Ireland with the national grid, and Harland and Wolff has not been given a fair share of Ministry of Defence orders. The simple conclusion to which most sensible people in Northern Ireland come is that the Government, by their ineptitude, created the need to rob all the other Departments in Northern Ireland to pay old debts rather than to create new jobs.
We deplore the lack of clarity in the future housing programmes in the Province. We are almost in mid-December and we still do not know what programmes are to be initiated for 1981–82. Presumably, some time in the new year the Government will get around to informing the people of Northern Ireland where they can expect new houses to be built and rehabilitation programmes to get under way. It is improper for the Government not to have decided earlier where new programmes will be initiated and in what conurbations renewal will rake place, Is there any end to the Government's ineptitude upon ineptitude? Ministers may well ponder these details. The people of Northern Ireland have received a shoddy deal in housing.
The diversion of £12¼ million from the Housing Executive and of £3 million from housing associations has caused great hardship. Not one justification of those diversions has manifested itself in the past three or four months.
I turn to the effects of the diversions. First, there is an effect in terms of industrial and commercial contraction. I do not want to go over some of the details that have already been given about the effect on the construction industry, but we have about 20,000 jobs undermined in the industry. Lest the Government nod their head in a sort of holy horror, I remind them that I asked the Secretary of State recently how many jobs had been lost in the construction industry in Northern Ireland from the announcement of the freeze on public expenditure. I paraphrase the reply. It was that between 10 July and 9 October, a mere few weeks, the number of persons registered as unemployed in the construction industry increased by 3,791. The reply stated that the so-called freeze or moratorium affected the construction industry only marginally. So the loss of almost 4,000 jobs is a marginal effect upon the construction industry. The construction industry has about 55,000 people, so we are talking almost in terms of the entire percentage of the 1019 unemployed in Great Britain. That is what is called a marginal effect on the construction industry in Northern Ireland.
We look at all the attendant disciplines and professions which are related to the construction industry. We take note of what the quantity surveyors say. They say that about £300 million will be needed in the current year if the construction industry and the attendant professions are to maintain their work levels.
We listen to the chartered accountants. We also listen to the consulting engineers. They tell us, quite simply, that if the current level of public spending in terms of construction is not maintained they will lose more than half of their consultants in Northern Ireland. One company stressed that just by going south it could not only stay in business but get a subsidy for undertaking work in Northern Ireland if that work could be and was obtained.
I wanted very much to relay to the House in detail the views of these very important and very responsible people. They make one point which I will leave with the House, and it is this. If all the expertise in the consultants, the engineers and the chartered surveyors is allowed to dissipate and disappear, it will not return to the Province. When there is an upturn in the economy and when buildings can get under way—remember that we are talking of 80 per cent, of all the building in Northern Ireland being done within the public sector context—the expertise will not be there to take advantage of that upturn. So much for the consequences on the construction industry and the attendant professions.
I turn now to the social consequences. They will be dire for the elderly. The Minister responsible for housing has been very assiduous in pursuing housing for the elderly and has tried to help even within the restrictions of the moratorium and the cutting off of funds. He is well aware that Northern Ireland shares a dreadful problem with the rest of the United Kingdom—the care of the elderly. If the Government's own statistics are to be believed, Northern Ireland requires 9,000 sheltered dwellings—I hope that that figure has been noted—by 1985. We have currently 900 in the Province.
Compared with the rate of progress in the rest of the kingdom, that is a very poor figure. The consequences for the elderly will be dire unless the housing association role is restored to its full potential. Because the housing associations deal mainly with the elderly, the financial allocation to them should be a matter of serious consideraton. From time to time the Minister has done his best to reassure my colleagues that he has not missed this important point.
I put a figure on what the associations will need in the coming financial year. They have a programme that could absorb £30 million. Hon. Members who are realistic will appreciate that they will not receive £30 million. But it is clear that if the awesome figure of 9,000 sheltered dwellings by 1985 is to be tackled with realism, we shall have to strike for a figure that is close to £30 million.
Last year, the housing associations were given about £15 million at the outset, but that was reduced by £3 million. It is clear that for the next financial year we are talking in terms of not less than £20 million, if the home ownership associations are included. If we exclude the home ownership associations, the least the housing associations should receive is about £15 million. Only in 1020 that way will the housing problem of the elderly be tackled with realism and in a way that will give some assurance to the thousands of elderly people in Belfast, particularly East and South Belfast. I ask the Minister to consider the figure of £20 million if the home ownership associations are included and £15 million if they are not included.
I turn now to the dire consequences for the inner city dwellers. My constituency is, of course, an inner city constituency, and it evidences the great need for renewal and redevelopment. Whatever the global figure offered to the Housing Executive may be, I suggest that the Minister should determine that some of that money will be spent in rehabilitation. That is the most cost-effective way of spending money on housing. That is why I push the housing association programmes and why I suggest that the Minister should encourage the executive, as a matter of policy, to undertake rehabilitation as opposed to new building in green field areas. There is no doubt that redevelopment is needed within the inner city of Belfast.
The Minister for Housing and Construction has visited a number of areas in my constituency, including some of the most atrocious little homes. They are not atrocious because people want them to be so. They do not have any option. The houses have no slates, no drains and no inside toilets. If the Housing Executive is not given a realistic amount of money to enable it to transform the inner city of Belfast, without wanting it to be so, the blame will have to be laid at the door of the Government.
I suggest two programmes that should be shared with the executive as a matter of Government policy. They should embark on rehabilitation—which is cost-effective—alongside the housing associations. They should also embark on a comprehensive programme of new building in the inner city area.
I should like to ask the Minister a simple question. How much will the Housing Executive receive as its global figure? Will he, as a matter of Government direction and directive, state that rehabilitation must play a large part in the Government's future programme? Will he also encourage them to undertake redevelopment in the inner city?
I do not want to indulge in parish pump politics, because the hour is late, but the Secretary of State would do well to listen to what I am about to say instead of explaining the niceties of this peculiar situation to the Leader of the House. Certain areas in my constituency have received promises of action on renewal for five years, but nothing has taken place. When will Annadale flats figure in a refurbishing scheme? When will the Department of the Environment accept that there is no longer any reason to delay the Flush Park flats scheme, despite the little quibbles about the heating programme? The Housing Executive is prepared to proceed immediately with that scheme without introducing a revolutionary heating scheme. My constituents are prepared to take what is being offered, unlike many other parts of Northern Ireland where the people appear to be suffering from compensationitis and "Gimme, gimme, gimme".
As I said, my constituents are prepared to take what is offered by the Government. But what will it be? Will it continue to be zero? If so, we are all in a sub-zero gain situation. I hope that the Government's conscience is such that it will afford them some peace and sleep at night if they continue to ignore the just demands of my constituents in Annadale and Flush Park.
1021 Finally, I turn to Class XI, Vote 7, which refers to the flow of information. When are we to get information about the dialogue between the Government and the hunger strikers? Presumably, part of the agent's business is to inform Members of Parliament about the ongoing dialogue.
Ten clays ago, I asked the Secretary of State when he would issue a directive to his office to cease all communications with the Provisional Sinn Fein. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was not aware of any conversations and that his office was not indulging in any talks with the Provisional Sinn Fein. But we now know that a leading civil servant has entered the prison and is explaining the minutiae of the right hon. Gentleman's reply. That did not suddenly hop out of a bush or emerge out of the blue. Talks have been going on with Sinn Fein for some time under some pretext or umbrella
The Secretary of State may think that he is indulging in a nice, cosy little subterfuge. In 1974, the then Administration tried the same tactic and it was exposed and destroyed. Exactly the same will happen to the nice, neat little subterfuge being indulged in by the present Administration. The Government should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This debate is primarily on a matter affecting Northern Ireland Members. One would have thought that a Northern Ireland Member who attends throughout the debate and rises continually to be called would be called before an English Member who has not been present all the time. I should like to record my regret that a Northern Ireland Member was not called to make his speech until after the Front Bench closing speeches.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I was not in the Chair earlier. I have only just come into the Chamber. If the hon. Member had been in the Chamber at about 9 o'clock, before the commencement of the wind-up speeches, he would have been called. It is always the practice of the Chair to call hon. Members who are in the Chamber before the wind-up speeches. I can only assume that the hon. Member was not in the Chamber when the wind-up speeches began.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (No. 3) (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, which was laid before this House on 26 November, be approved.