§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. John Patten)
I beg to move,That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 16th February, be approved.The order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The purpose of the draft order is to appropriate the 1982–83 Spring Supplementary Estimates and the 1983–84 Vote on account of Northern Ireland Departments.
Part I of the schedule to the draft order describes the supplementary provisions sought. Those amount to some £62 million. The Spring Supplementary Estimates represent the final adjustments to the spending plans for 1982–83. Those, together with the main Estimates for 1982–83, which were approved by the House in July last year, and the Autumn Supplementary Estimates, which were approved in December, bring the total voted provision for expenditure by Northern Ireland Departments for this financial year to £2,581 million.
Part II of the schedule gives details of the services for which the Vote on account of £1,139 million for 1983–84 is required to enable services to continue in the Province until the 1983–84 main estimates are debated and, we hope, approved—usually in July. I should point out that the sums required on account are not indicative of expenditure plans for 1983–84 but are based on a standard and perfectly normal calculation of 45 per cent. of the total provision for the current 1982–83 financial year. It is important that this crowded Chamber should realise that. However, the final Estimates for 1983–84 will be framed within the total already determined by the Government and set out in the White Paper on public expenditure that was published last month.
Before I deal with the various services in the order I should like to comment on Government policy as it is reflected in the provisions of the order. First, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced the plans for 1983–84 he emphasised the basic strategy that underlies the Government's policy in Northern Ireland. Moreover, he reaffirmed that our overall priority in Northern Ireland was the protection of property and the attainment of peace in the community. I know that all hon. Members present will share those aims. That overall priority is amply reflected in our allocation for law and order and the protection service programme in the Province.
Given that overriding priority, we must not sit back and let economic and social recovery and change happen by themselves. Therefore, the Supplementary Estimates demonstrate our second priority, as do our plans for the financial year 1983–84 for which the Vote on account is required, which is industrial development and regeneration by the provision and protection of viable long-term jobs, leading to sustained growth.
As the House knows, the Government have determined national policies that are aimed at controlling inflation and public expenditure, especially public sector borrowing. Northern Ireland must operate within the national stategy. The newly formed industrial development board and the local enterprise development unit are in the forefront of the difficult and trying task of stimulating job creation. The industrial development board is engaged in deciding how 960 best to develop its strategy for the future. I am certain that the allocations to the programme will ensure that the funds necessary to sustain our drive to provide and protect viable jobs will be available to those who wish to make use of them.
I have already referred to the industrial development strategy that we are pursuing. A substantial part of the additional provision now being sought for 1982–83 is for that purpose. However, should also like to remind the House briefly about the success of the Government's substantial programme of special training and employment measures. The primary aim has been to provide comprehensive training and work experience for young people and to attempt to offer those who cannot find jobs a real alternative to the dole queue. We believe that it is only right to devote considerable resources to programmes of training and work experience for school leavers arid for other young people who might otherwise have to wait some time before getting any work experience. One has only to visit such places as Strabane to see how desperately needed such programmes are. The youth training programme is now operational in Northern Ireland—a full year ahead of the rest of the country. In 1983–84, we expect to spend about £55 million on it. the programme represents a major development in youth training in the Province, which will form a bridge between school and work.
What is the use of all the money spent on youth employment and youth work experience and what are all the endeavours of the industrial development board worth in the face of the destructive activities of terrorists in the Province? Just as terrorists murder and maim people, they murder jobs that already exist in the Province and they murder jobs that might come to the Province but which are inhibited from coming by the image of the Province. The terrorists maim the lives of thousands and thousands of young people who do not get the employment that they would otherwise have. Terrorists from both sides of the divide bear a heavy responsibility for the murder of jobs in the Province in that way.
Our third priority area in Northern Ireland is housing.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)
How many new jobs does the Minister expect to create and how many existing jobs does he expect to save with the extra money that is being provided for the industrial development board?
§ Mr. Patten
Those are matters with which my hon. Friend the Minister who is responsible for the Department of Economic Development will deal with at some length in his winding-up speech. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait until my hon. Friend deals with that matter.
The increased provision that is now being sought for housing must be seen in the context of the substantial increase in resources that have already been allocated to housing this year. Those increases flow directly from the priority that the Government have afforded to housing in Northern Ireland as a deliberate act of policy. The House will know from statements by successive Northern Ireland Ministers that housing conditions in Northern Ireland, especially in some parts of Belfast, are among the worst in the United Kingdom. However, there has been a major drive, which began under the Labour Administration, to alleviate the Province's housing problems.
To give effect to that priority, the Government and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive have agreed on a 961 physical strategy that calls for enhanced levels of activity on new house building, improvements to the existing stock and house renovation grants. The high levels of expenditure on maintenance and support for the voluntary housing movement, which is extremely important in Northern Ireland, will continue.
As we are not yet at the end of the first year of the strategy, it is too early to measure its effects, but those of us who travel around Northern Ireland have seen the impact on the ground, especially in west Belfast. I witnessed that impact in the lower Falls road area last week where the standard of new housing provided by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive is of extremely high quality and compares well with that found on this side of the water. There is a significant increase in the number of schemes on site for the provision of new and improved homes. That high level of physical activity is reflected in increases in expenditure. Total expenditure on housing in Northern Ireland, including capital works that are not funded from the Vote, will show an increase of some £50 million over 1981–82.
Against that background, the Supplementary Estimate seeks an increase of almost £9 million for housing services. The major requirement for the increased provision are the housing grant, which meets the difference between the Housing Executive's rental income and approved revenue expenditure, and support for the voluntary housing movement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already said that those high levels of expenditure will continue into 1983–84 to sustain the drive towards better housing conditions. I am sure that the House appreciates the benefits that that will bring, not only to housing, its quality and the quality of family life in the Province, but to the Northern Ireland construction industry.
I should now like to deal with the major items in the draft order one by one. I shall do that against the picture that I have already painted of our three expenditure priorities. It has been said that making a speech on the highly technical appropriation order interesting is as difficult as setting a list from Crockford's Clerical Directory to music or making a laundry list into an interesting screenplay. That may be the view of some hon. Members, but the programme is of extreme importance to the people of the Province and I make no apology for speaking at some length and in some detail about the Appropriation order and its provisions.
On the subject of the economy, it is right to underline the continuing emphasis on agriculture. The provision sought in Class I, Vote 2, relates to the EC calf premium scheme under which Northern Ireland farmers are expected to benefit to the extent of between £8 million and £9 million in both the current financial year and in 1983–84. Of that, more than £6 million will be paid in 1983–84. The provision required is only a token, because the amounts to be paid will be received from the European Community. I am pleased to inform the House that special aid to Northern Ireland agriculture, which operated in 1981–82 and in the current financial year, will continue in 1983–84. A total of £12 million will be allocated, mainly to the beef, milk, pig and poultry sectors and will assist the seed potato growers, about whom there is considerable anxiety in Northern Ireland—the hon. Member for 962 Londonderry (Mr. Ross) is worried about them—and improve the quality of grassland, which we discussed in the debate on an Appropriation order in December.
In addition, farmers in Northern Ireland will benefit by about £3 million in 1983–84 from the Northern Ireland agricultural development programme and by about £1 million from European Community aid for the feeding stuffs project. Altogether, the Northern Ireland farming industry will continue to receive special assistance in 1983–84 from national and Community funds amounting to at least £22 million, or about the same as was available in the current financial year. I hope that that aid, together with improved returns from the market, will further strengthen confidence in the industry and enable Northern Ireland farmers to obtain reasonable incomes in 1983–84. I stress the words "reasonable incomes" in view of some newspapers headlines in the Province during the past two weeks that were discussed at Question Time today.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
Has the Minister considered the suggestion by the trade unions of building a grain intervention store? That would have advantages for many other industries.
§ Mr. Patten
My hon. Friend the Minister of State is considering those matters. We take seriously the suggestions of the trade union movement in Northern Ireland. I have already demonstrated in my introductory remarks about housing the boost that additional housing activity can give to the construction industry in Northern Ireland, where it is much welcomed.
The supplementary provision of £634,000 for Class I, Vote 5, on forestry, is required for the purchase of land, together with increased salaries expenditure and the cost of additional projects.
Dealing with industry, I draw hon. Members' attention to the highly technical nature of the net additional requirement of about £20.5 million under Class II, Vote 2, which deals with general support to industry. Part II of the Estimate provides the necessary subhead details. Hon. Members will recall the establishment last September of the industrial development board as an arm of the Department of Economic Development with the absorption into that board of the functions of the former Northern Ireland Development Agency. Under the rules of Government accounting, the agency's debt to the Consolidated Fund must be extinguished by an appropriate payment to the Fund by the industrial development board. The provision of about £5.5 million at subhead A9 is for that purpose. A similar position arises from the decision to restructure the package of financial assistance for the Lear Fan project, which was mentioned at Question Time. Details of the revised scheme have been given to the House, and are recorded in the Official Report for 8 December 1982.
One element of the revised package provided for additional loan funding and for the waiving of repayment of earlier loans, and £14 million of the additional £18 million provided under subhead Al for loan assistance relates directly to the Lear Fan project. The waiving of the repayment of earlier loans can be achieved technically only by paying to the company an amount of grant equal to its indebtedness so that it can pay off Government loans. The provision made at subhead A3 for that purpose has no public expenditure significance.
The additional funding of about £6.8 million required under Class II, Vote 3, is attributable mainly to the effect 963 in Northern Ireland of the Government's decision to abolish the four-month moratorium on the payment of capital investment grants. Again, that has provided a welcome cash injection for the manufacturing sector, and has provided some benefits to the construction industry.
Under Clause II, Vote 5, a token Supplementary Estimate of £1,000 is being sought simply to draw attention to three new areas of expenditure that will be funded by the switching of projected savings from other areas within the overall labour market vote. The new services are youth community projects, the job splitting scheme and employer-based schemes. The provision of £800,000 for youth community projects at sub-head A8, and of £1.9 million for employer-based schemes at sub-head C8, form part of the overall youth training programme within which we have expanded the range of schemes available further to enhance the opportunities for 16 and 17-year olds to be trained in a working environment.
Employers in Northern Ireland are playing an active role in supporting the youth training programme by undertaking and managing programmes for full-time trainees. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are very grateful to employers in Northern Ireland for playing such a full and wholehearted role in the schemes. The programmes will meet fully the criteria for the youth training programme by providing a combination of training and work experience in a realistic environment—the workplace. They add into it the necessary element of further education. The Department of Economic Development is funding both the allowances to trainees and the costs of training. The introduction of the youth community projects scheme is intended to give 17-year olds the opportunity to gain realistic work experience.
The new provision of £70,000 at sub-head A9 for the job splitting scheme parallels the arrangements already operating in Great Britain. I commend the scheme to employers in the Province, who may find some advantage in the arrangements. I hope that they will encourage it. We hope to encourage them to support it by providing their initial expenses. We shall offer a once-and-for-all grant of £750 for each job split in that way. Applications under the scheme will be accepted until 31 March 1984 and we hope that employers will take the opportunities that it presents.
The necessary funding for the new services and for increases in other support arrangements to counter unemployment has been found by switching resources from other sub-heads in the Vote, as detailed in part II of the Estimate. We must continually review services and provisions and reassess our position.
The key workers' scheme and the training on employers' premises scheme have received fewer applications than expected, which reflects the economic difficulties faced by industry. The temporary short-time working compensation scheme has been drawn on to a lesser extent than was originally forecast, and there have been fewer applications under the job release scheme to facilitate earlier retirement in the Province. Those schemes are all demand-related and it is difficult to forecast the exact take-up in such schemes. We have also made savings in capital expenditure and in the operation of Government training centres without a reduction in activity. That is good news. The changeover to new management training arrangements has also provided some savings this year. However, at the same time we have increased the 964 resources for the major counter-unemployment measure—the action for community employment scheme—by about £2 million, and have given an additional £250,000 to the young workers' scheme. The additional provision for Enterprise Ulster has enabled redundancies to be avoided. The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) expressed anxiety about the scheme.
Energy matters are discussed in Class III of the Estimates. Negotiations with the Republic of Ireland on the terms under which natural gas from the Kinsale field could be made available to Northern Ireland are continuing. There are, however, a number of areas of difficulty and these require further exploration before a final decision can be taken and agreement reached. The proposals that have been discussed already provide that the delivery cost of the gas from the south to the north should be met partly by a capital contribution of £5 million towards expenditure incurred by the Republic of Ireland in constructing a pipeline from the field to the border of the United Kingdom. Provision for this amount was included in Vote I to cover the eventuality of agreement being reached and some payment being made in the present financial year, but I must report to the House that it would be unrealistic of me at this stage to suggest that the prospects of such payment are other than slim before the end of this financial year.
Moving from the economy to environmental matters, the House will see that in Class IV, Vote 1—Roads Services—an additional provision of £3.4 million is being sought, partly for new construction and improvement and partly for operation and maintenance.
A sum of £1.3 million is required for additional expenditure on the construction of roads and bridges, which increases the estimated provision for the whole of the year to £28 million. These funds are needed largely to meet the costs of the final resurfacing of certain roads throughout Northern Irelard and to enable a number of priority works to be started. The high quality and the good network of roads in the Province is something of which I feel the Government can be proud. Indeed, it is something that is envied in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Abnormal weather conditions during the winter of 1981–82, however, not surprisingly caused severe damage to the road network in the Province and therefore we have had to increase the volume of maintenance work. Consequently, there is an additional £2.1 million included to supplement the maintenance programme so that the cost of making good the worst of the effects of that winter can be defrayed. So the estimated provision for operation and maintenance is increased to £38.7 million.
I have already referred to the housing programme generally, which I think has been a marked success, particularly in urban areas in the Province, in recent years. However, a net increase of nearly £9 million is being sought in the provision for housing services and this can be attributed to three things. The first is an increase in the annual housing grant payable to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The grant is, of course, payable to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to meet the difference between its rental income and approved revenue expenditure. The second is the increase in the level of renovation grants, and that will surely be welcomed by all Members of this House who hold seats in Northern Ireland. The third factor is additional support for the voluntary housing movement.
965 The Housing Executive has been faced with an unprecedented increase in demand for, and the costs of, repairs and maintenance and it has had to take positive action to keep expenditure as close to its budget as possible by in recent weeks excluding all but emergency repair work.
§ Mr. Soley
How on earth can the Minister describe his housing policy as a marked success when it would take at least another 500 new starts in this year to keep pace with the present level of unfitness and when half the construction workers in the Province are unemployed? How on earth is that a marked success?
§ Mr. Patten
I have already pointed out to the House the increased amounts spent on housing in recent years. I would ask the hon. Gentleman, who I know has visited Northern Ireland on several occasions in recent years, just to reflect on the difficulties of rebuilding, particularly in dense urban areas, and of rehousing those who have to move out of redeveloped areas sometimes into temporary accommodation before being moved back into their own properties. These difficulties are made even greater by the fact that the policy of the responsible Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), has been to stop large-scale new developments, to stop the building, in most circumstances, of large housing estates, and instead to go in for what people in the Province seem to want—the rehabilitation and rebuilding of areas within the communities within which individuals live. I believe that particularly in Belfast we can see the success of that policy.
§ Mr. Soley
We all know what the difficulties are, but what the hon. Gentleman is claiming to be a marked success is, in fact, a deterioration in the overall standard, because we are facing an unfitness level such that to keep up with the present level of unfitness would require 500 new starts. How does the hon. Gentleman answer that?
§ Mr. Patten
This really will not do. The hon. Gentleman has only to look at the censuses for Northern Ireland in 1971 and 1981 to see the considerable improvement in the housing stock that occurred during that period, thanks to the efforts of both Labour and Conservative Administrations. To take just one example the proportion of people in Northern Ireland in 1971 who had to share a bathroom was 27 per cent. of the total populatin. That had been reduced by 1981 to only 9 per cent. and the percentage is decreasing fast. Great strides have been made.
Returning to the Housing Executive and some of the problems which it has been facing, I must point out that there is always a gap in time between placing orders for repair work and accounts falling due. Consequently, despite the efforts of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the corrective action it has taken, there is a need, I am afraid, for increased funds this year. We accept that the nature of maintenance expenditure creates unexpected difficulties for the executive. None the less—and I wish to emphasise this—we feel that its system of financial planning should be reviewed so that it may be able to predict more accurately in future the level and costs of maintenance demands in the Province, particularly in urban areas.
966 As far as house renovation grants are concerned, an additional £2 million is being sought. These grants form an increasingly important part of that element of the Government's housing strategy, which is aimed at reducing levels of unfitness in the housing stock—the point just raised by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley). The level of expenditure on grants is an expression of the Government's commitment to the principle of self-help, which is needed to supplement high levels of direct works by the public sector agencies. The increasing demand for grants indicates the success of this policy and is reflected in the need for increased provision.
I should like to turn now to the subject of housing associations, where an additional provision of £5.4 million is being sought to meet the increased cost of schemes already on site which have progressed more quickly than planned because of the exceptionally fine summer weather last year, and to respond to the public demand for participation in the equity-sharing scheme that is operated by the Northern Ireland Co-ownership Housing Association.
The voluntary housing movement, like the voluntary sector generally in Northern Ireland, has an enormous capacity, some of which is developed and some of which seems capable of being infinitely further developed. As soon as the voluntary sector is asked to do something in partnership with Government it seems to respond.
It has demonstrated an ample capacity to respond to increases in resources, which it spends to great effect in refurbishing inner city areas in Belfast and in providing suitable accommodation for different groups such as the elderly, the disabled, the mentally handicapped and other groups whose housing, whether refurbished or newly built, requires specialist provision and particular forms of management. It is gratifying to know that the movement has pushed ahead with such projects. The Government are matching voluntary efforts with resources.
One of the movement's outstanding successes has been the pioneering work of the Northern Ireland Co-ownership Housing Association. It has been in the vanguard in the United Kingdom as a whole in promoting part ownership and part rent housing schemes for those unable to take the full step to home ownership. The co-ownership scheme as pioneered in the Province has demonstrated a strong, heightened desire for home ownership. I am sure that no one would disagree with the contention that there is nothing wrong with the desire to own one's home. Demand continues at a high level, and the construction industry has responded quickly to the stimulus. It is expected that by the end of the financial year about 2,000 applicants will have benefited from the scheme.
Hon. Members will have noted that, for the first time, some provision is being sought for Northern Ireland's share of the costs of the national exchange scheme and the national mobility scheme, which were extended to the Province in October 1982. The Government expect the schemes to make a valuable contribution towards mobility of public sector tenants, and will also help waiting list applicants.
Other areas of social expenditure must be considered, such as education services. The supplementary provisions totalling £2.9 million sought in Class VIII, Votes 1 and 2, relate mainly to increased costs arising from the awards made in 1982 to school teachers and further education teachers. But provision is also being sought in Vote 2 to fund the increased number of further education lecturers 967 needed to meet the needs of the expanding youth training programme—that must be a good thing—and the latest recommendations of the University Grants Committee.
I know that hon. Members are aware of the importance that we attach to the youth training programme, and the education contribution to that is significant and substantial. The education services are now providing 3,500 full-time places in addition to offering educational support through day release schemes to other participants in the programme.
It is important that such resources available to the education service in the Province should be spent wisely. That is not to say that the money already being spent is not the pursuit of providing some of the best education in any part of the United Kindgom. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made that point from time to time, both in the Province and in this Chamber. At the same time, we must ensure that money is put to the best possible use where it is most effective, which is in the classrooms.
The Government will continue to press those directly responsible for school provision—the five education and library boards and the voluntary school authorities—to examine carefully and urgently the rationalisation of existing school stock where that appears to be necessary because of demographic trends. Forgetting the deathless prose, we must consider which schools must be closed and in which areas.
It is now almost two years since the Department of Education and Science published its planning paper called "Schools and Demographic Trends." It asked school authorities to initiate immediate consideration of how the school provision for which they were responsible could be rationalised—such as by school closures, school amalgamations and by paying careful attention to the rural areas and areas served by poor transport facilities. I can only delicately describe the response to that request as disappointing. That is the strongest language that I shall allow myself to use. Last November the Department wrote again to school authorities pointing out that the effects of falling rolls continued to be a serious problem for many schools. It asked them to give further and urgent consideration to plans for the rationalisation of school provision. We are convinced that that is absolutely essential if the high standards of education in the Province are to be maintained.
§ Mr. Patten
I do not deny that there has been some rejigging of the provision. However, part of that has been caused because there are more schools in the Province than are required. Considerable Government expenditure is being wasted—I choose my words carefully—in providing schools that simply are not needed. Under no circumstances can we imagine that, with the present demographic trends in the Province, all schools existing today should exist next year or the year after that. To use a coal mining analogy, do we say that every coal mine open today must be kept open tomorrow?
We cannot have schools that are too small and do not provide an adequate number of forms to enable pupils, especially sixth formers, to develop. Part of the answer to 968 the problem is that rationalisation has not taken place sufficiently quickly. If it had, resources could be switched to classrooms where they were really needed.
The Government remain convinced that rationalisation is essential. In the primary sector most schools have already experienced the effects of the fall in the number of births. While there has been some sign of a slight upturn in those numbers during the past two or three years, it is too early to make with any confidence predictions about any substantial increase in primary school enrolments in 10 or 12 years.
We shall continue to attach importance to the provision of adequate numbers of teachers in Northern Ireland. But it is essential that the school authorities attach equal importance to the use of those teachers in the best possible way. That is only common sense. There is no doubt that small schools require proportionately more teaching resources than larger schools. Where larger units can be achieved by rationalisation, there will be not only more efficient use of teachers, but better opportunities for children.
I wish to deal now with health and social services—
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell
Is there any provision in the Supplementary Estimates for implementing the recommendations of the Thompson report?
§ Mr. Patten
That is being actively considered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. He will write to the hon. Gentleman with a full answer in the usual way.
The provision that the Government are making for health and personal social services in the coming year will not only meet forecast pay and price increases but will allow for some expansion of services. Health and social services boards are being asked in addition to secure efficiency savings amounting to 0.5 per cent. of their budgets, and these savings, I emphasise, will not be taken away from them but will be redirected into new and necessary developments in the services. From new money and savings, about 1.5 per cent. should be available for developments and growth in services. This will be used to bring new facilities into operation and to expand provision for community care for the elderly, the handicapped and children at risk or in trouble.
We are putting considerable emphasis on the effective use of these substantial resources and the efficient management of the services which they include. We have had a thorough review in the Province of the structure and management of services. It is nearing completion. Its essential aim is to delegate day-to-day decisions to the operational level, involving clinicians in particular, rather more in management decisions, freeing chief officers to concentrate upon policy, planning and monitoring and at the same time to reduce management costs. That is not something that we are simply asking the four health and social services boards in the Provinces themselves to do; we are also asking the Department of Health and Social Services in the coming financial year to pay equally stringent attention to efficiency savings.
In 1983–84 I shall be starting a series of accountability reviews with the chairmen and chief officers of the boards to discuss progress and the problems that they face, on the basis of a newly developed set of performance indicators at which we are looking. All that is not to stifle the boards' activities or over-emphasise efficiency; it is to ensure, in a more systematic way than perhaps hitherto, that the 969 taxpayer receives value for money from the sizeable investment which is made in the health services in particular in the Province. Over £400 per annum is being spent on health and personal social services for every man, woman and child in the Province.
I have described at some length and in some detail most of the main objectives of Government policies across the economic spectrum. I have highlighted, where I can, some of the positive indicators for the future. However, industry, commerce and agriculture do not exist in a vacuum. They are not immune from the effects of political trends or the state of security, although both those issues are not the subject of this debate.
This is an important order, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)
It is hard to find words that have not been used before to describe the state of the Northern Ireland economy. However, whatever we say, the Northern Ireland economy has been a damning indictment of the Government's economic policy and an awful warning to the people of this country should we continue down that road.
The Minister said rightly that the paramilitary activities had sought at times to undermine business confidence in the Province. That is true. We all know that some of the paramilitary groups set out with that as one of their aims. I agree with everything he said not just in describing it, but in condemning it.
However, the Government's economic policy has destroyed far more jobs than all the paramilitary groups together. We are talking about a male unemployment rate of 26.7 per cent.—a quarter of the male work force. How on earth can any Government justify that? How on earth can they say that they have an economic policy that is working?
We are in danger of becoming repetitive if we continue to say that the Northern Ireland economy is in a critical condition. I am not the only one who stands at the Dispatch Box from time to time and says that. The Northern Ireland CBI said it again recently. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Northern Ireland Committee have said it and issued a useful document showing a way out of the troubles. The SDLP has said it, and at various times in the past the Unionist parties as well as parties representing the nationlist community have spoken to me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) and other hon. Members who have gone over there and said that the Northern Ireland economy was in dire and terrible straits.
We are talking about virtually 21 per cent. of the insured working population being unemployed, and 30,000 more people being on the dole than are working in manufacturing industry. Whether or not the recovery is coming, either in the world or the British economy, even Ministers have at times acknowledged that they cannot be sure that Northern Ireland will ever be able to pull itself out of the recession given the damage that has been done to its economy, particularly in the past four years.
Speaking in the Northern Ireland assembly about a month ago, Lord Gowrie, said:The ultimate answer tothe Province's economic 970weaknesses does not lie in ever increasing public expenditure. It lies in promoting basic structural change, achieving a fair settlement of political difficulties, getting the cancer of violence out of the system, attracting investment and activity and thus reducing gradually our over-dependence on a level of public spending which in the long term is very damaging to sustain."—[Official Report, Northern Ireland Assembly; 16 February 1983; Vol. 5, p. 334.]There are elements of truth in what he said. What is fundamentally missing is any sign of significant attention being paid to how public expenditure can be used to pull an economy out of recession at a time of rapid technological and structural change.
The Minister directed most of his remarks, as Lord Gowrie has done at other times, to the problem of public expenditure. We all know about the problem of public expenditure on law and order, but the one subject to which Ministers never pay any attention, either when they are dealing with Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom as a whole, is the incredible burden of mass unemployment on public expenditure. It is a failure to do anything about it which is the damning indictment of the Government's economic policy.
We all know that pouring money, whether public or private, into certain areas of the economy will not necessarily help. We know that it is more difficult than it has been in the past to identify such areas, but we know that we need to pour money into areas that do not suck in imports but which encourage new technology. There are a number of ways of achieving that. One way of achieving it without sucking in imports is to boost the construction industry. That is why I am critical of the Government's approach to the housing problem. I shall return to that subject later.
Compared with Lord Gowrie's consulting-the-crystal-ball remarks, the Under-Secretary with responsibility for the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland launched into a flight of fantasy and optimism which would make Dr. Pangloss look like a pessimist. He spoke to the Northern Ireland chamber of commerce and industry and said:there are genuine signs for cautious optimism about economic recovery over the next 12 months.He put the "cautious" bit in there and we are grateful for that small mercy. He continued:The commercial outlook is brightening and over the past 12 months there has been no less than a 19 per cent. increase in private sector housing starts—in fact the best figure since 1973. In the past year the registration of new cars and vans has gone up 23 per cent. and retail sales are bouyant with many shops breaking their highest records at Christmas.I do not quibble with some of that. What is missing is recognition of the underlying problem, which goes much deeper, particularly with retail sales. Although retail sales may show what is to come, they may also show a desperation level in the economy, where some people are able and willing to spend, particularly redundancy money. It does not necessarily indicate an improvement in the economy.
He went on:We all know the world was plunged into recession"——
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)
The hon. Gentleman is probably aware—he certainly should be—that the level of retail sales in the Province has increased sharply partly, we hope, due to recovery and partly due to the fact that it is much more attractive for those who live in the Republic of Ireland to come north of the border to do their shopping 971 for certain items. Surely the hon. Gentleman accepts that the reason why it is more attractive is the success of the United Kingdom Government's policy in making it so.
§ Mr. Soley
I am grateful to the Minister for drawing my attention to something that I had omitted to mention. Of course, much of that increase is due to the recent Budget in the Republic, but it has more to do with the economic problems there and with the distortion of the economy of the whole of Ireland by previous economic policies over most of this century than with anything that the United Kingdom Government have achieved in the Northern Ireland economy.
The optimistic survey goes on:We all know that the world was plunged into recession by rocketing oil prices.Is it not amazing that one of the few countries in the Western world that is self-sufficient in oil and which does not have, as the French do, a £12,000 million oil import bill per annum is still struggling in the doldrums and is in a worse position than its major competitors? That is all despite our oil wealth. The oil price rise that caused the problem in Britain about 10 years ago initially and began to get progressively worse should have been cushioned by our use of oil reserves that came on tap a few years ago. However, it was not.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. David Mitchell)
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has missed the point of what I was seeking to say during that speech, which was that throughout the world countries and people had to use the money that they would have used for purchasing the products of our consumer goods producing factories to buy oil and energy simply to keep themselves going. That pre-empted the resources that should have been available for purchasing the products of the Western economies. That is why the world went into recession. Our customers did not have the money. Whether we had the money is irrelevant to the export trade of this country.
§ Mr. Soley
The Minister is missing the fact that the oil price rise hit the previous Labour Government some time ago, and that his Government have used the oil wealth to subsidise mass unemployment. That money has not been put into productive investment as it should have been, as Norway and a number of other countries have done. We have misspent that wealth. The Minister continued:Prices are now falling and soon world demand will begin to grow. When that happens Ulster's industry will be in a lean"—I do not know what the hon. Gentleman meant by "lean"; I think that he meant emaciatedefficient and competitive form in which to go out and grab its share of the market.I suppose that the hon. Gentleman is trying to encourage it. However, it has to do so from a base to which it has been lowered, and from which it is difficult to compete effectively. He went on:I have a feeling that business investment will rise later this year as shrewder entrepreneurs prepare for increased production.Hope springs eternal.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
Before the hon. Gentleman refers to that as hope springing eternal, may I draw his attention to the fact that three days later a CBI survey in Northern Ireland showed exactly that fact?
§ Mr. Soley
The Minister also knows that the CBI in Northern Ireland has been banging on his door pleading 972 with him to do something more to stimulate the economy in Northern Ireland. Does he deny that? I am sure that he does not because he knows that it is correct. It is not as if that speech was just one burst of optimism. In another speech on another day, this time speaking to the Institution of Structural Engineers, he said:There is no doubt that the construction industry has come through a difficult period but by improving its efficiency and increasing productivity it has shown its resilience and is now in much better condition to take advantage of an upturn in the economy. Indeed it is possible that the construction industry may itself lead the improvement out of recession.If only the hon. Gentleman had listened to us when we said that a year or two ago—indeed, more than that. However, he did not listen to us and he is now saying, "Yes, we ought to use the construction industry to pull us out of the problem." As I said when I intervened in the Under-Secretary of State's speech, half the total construction work force is out of work. The Minister went on to say:I would not like to suggest, however, that things have stood still over the last few years.They certainly have not. They have gone backwards under the Government. The hon. Gentleman then said:As all of you will be aware, the housing programme is top of my list of priorities".Goodness knows what it is like to be at the bottom. He continued:in the current year well in excess of £400 million will be spent on housing.I have said that a number of groups, including the CBI, the SDLP, and the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, have produced economic programmes to arrest decline. That does not happen, and the other political parties do not knock on one's door, unless there is serious and desperate concern about the state of the economy. The order fails to face up to that in its inadequate use of public resources. The SDLP has said that it is willing to serve on an expanded Northern Ireland Economic Council. The Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions recommends increased public expenditure on key areas accompanied by an approved planning framework. I recommend that as a fairly good basic philosophy for recovery.
The failure of the Government's approach is that the percentage of public expenditure remains high precisely because of the rise in unemployment and the fall in the gross domestic product. That is the Government's problem. They have that problem in abundance in Northern Ireland. The lesson that is writ large for Northern Ireland will be the lesson for Britain as a whole unless we pull out of this absurd experiment.
I have argued that there is a need to put public expenditure into certain key areas. I have said that construction and housing is one of them—it comes under Class V in the order. I shall not dwell on this matter. We have dealt with housing in Committee. We shall have another opportunity to discuss it later this Session. However, the Minister said that there had been great successes. That will not be impressive in Northern Ireland. Housing has been improving; it had to. It started from a low level. The Housing Executive has been doing a marvellous job. I have great respect for it. Many of the developments are extremely good. However, we all know that simply to keep pace with the unfitness level it would need to make another 500 starts this year. There is no sign of that.
973 If we were to get on top of the housing problem in Northern Ireland, we would need to aim for 10,000 starts per annum. Although I would not anticipate being able to reach that aim in the immediate future, if we started aiming at that, we would begin to pull the economy out of the recession without sucking in imports. That is crucial. We can do that by renovation and repair. I welcome the additional £13 million for the housing associations and the voluntary organisations. That is good, but it is inadequate.
We should do more on energy conservation in housing in Northern Ireland, which is particularly important. Energy conservation schemes not only save energy but can produce enough employment without sucking in imports. The raw materials are produced and fabricated here. That produces work in this country. In doing that one also effectively subsidises the fuel bills of people who are already being clobbered by high energy costs in Northern Ireland when they have on average a 10 per cent. lower income rate.
The Minister cannot get round that argument by saying, "We are doing more to sell houses." We know what is happening. The so-called right to buy has become "forced to buy". Why has that happened? Because the rents in the public and private sectors have been going up so fast that they have meant the lowering of the interest rates for the person with a mortgage. It is now more economic to buy because of the lower interest rates and the increased rents. Under the Government, in Northern Ireland as well as in other parts of the United Kingdom, the private and public rented sectors have become increasingly heavily burdened while the person who owns his own house—I am not against home ownership, which I am happy to extend, even in a public way, if it is not in a housing stress area—does not have such a burden. One cannot claim that it is fair massively to subsidise the person who buys his house, as the Government are doing, at the same time as people in the private and public sectors are being clobbered with increased rents. That is totally unacceptable and putting people increasingly into debt in Northern Ireland.
I refer now to Class II, which deals with selective assistance to industry. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), in his speech to the Northern Ireland chamber of commerce, said:People now recognise that the smaller firm is the seed corn of tomorrow's successful business and that their diversity strengthens the local economy. Since small businesses have their roots here they will grow in time of prosperity, and dig in if recession strikes but will never disappear back to some overseas base.We have all learnt that lesson in recent times. Many hon. Members have been struggling for years to find ways of helping small industries. I do not think that the Government are making a sufficient effort. I welcome some of the Minister's comments about Enterprise Ulster and I wish to look at the small print. I am suspicious when the Minister says that the Government are safeguarding jobs. The difficulty is in identifying success. Hon. Members must remember that job preservation and creation save public expenditure in the long run. Since it takes about three years for a new small firm to find its feet, identifying success is a problem. Perhaps we ought to take more risks by giving public money to new firms, with 974 adequate safeguards during that three-year period, to see whether they can survive. That will help the development of new technology as well as jobs, and that is important.
Between 1973 and 1980 Enterprise Ulster gave employment to more than 10,000 people. Fifty-four per cent. of the people who took part in the schemes gained regular employment.
The reduction in the Enterprise Ulster budget has reduced the number of projects and there were 400 redundancies in 1981. At the end of March 1981, 351 work schemes were in the pipeline, but by March 1982 the figure had fallen to 285, with 54 completed during the year. That is why I and others outside the Government's ranks are not content with their performance. The percentage of leavers placed in employment dropped from 36 per cent. in 1980–81 to 19 per cent. in 1981–82. That is a failure of Government. The Enterprise Ulster annual report made sad reading. It noted the effect of redundancies and uncertainties about its future. That is the real criticism of the Government. Uncertainty about its future reduced morale to its lowest ebb. When an organisation of such enterprise, initiative and long-term importance makes such points in its annual report, it is a sad reflection on the Government's commitment to supporting small industry and new innovative ideas in order to get the economy moving again.
Although I welcome the Minister's apparent assurance that there will be no more redundancies, Enterprise Ulster needs an assurance that it has a future and that the Government will stand by it, safeguard it and, if possible, expand it. Nothing would do more for morale than if the Minister were to give that assurance now or at the end of the debate. As long as the Government fail to do that, there will always be an underlying suspicion that they are not prepared to use public money in a sensible, planned way to resume growth in the economy.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
As the hon. Gentleman is fully aware, the life of Enterprise Ulster has been extended for a further three years to the end of March 1986.
§ Mr. Soley
I am glad to hear that repeated. Will the Minister tell the House whether he will increase in a planned way the resources available during the next three years? Those involved would then recognise that their jobs were valuable to the economy as a whole. Will the hon. Gentleman consider that in his reply?
The general aim should be to fund employment in new technology and not in ailing plants. I suggest that some of the industries should be linked with agriculture, given that it is such an important part of the economic base.
I welcome the statements of the Minister on cross-border co-operation, and I am glad that he was willing to meet Mr. Peter Barry, Eire's spokesman on economic affairs, to discuss further economic co-operation in the eastern border region. I hope that that is a successful meeting and brings further meetings. That could generally assist economic development. I emphasise—I appreciate that Ministers resist this—that there should be an economic assessment of the needs of the island of Ireland. It is nonsense to have two competing and overlapping economies in a country with a population of 5 million. Positive links could be made between the universities and colleges, on the one hand, and industry, argiculture and new technology, on the other, and that could be done across the border. That would be a useful way forward.
975 The Minister defended the Government's performance on education as if it was something to be proud of. It is not. I do not criticise the fact that it is necessary, at times to consider falling rolls and whether schools should close. Those are difficult decisions which must be faced, but that is not the problem. The problem is that the Government have not sufficiently funded certain key areas. I told the Minister that the amount spent on books and practice materials has dropped by between £3 and £9 per pupil compared with 1979. Falling rolls and closing schools must not be used as an excuse for failing to keep that amount up to scratch. Ministers frequently state at the Dispatch Box how good the Northern Ireland education system is. It is good, but it will not remain so if the Government whittle away its base. If books and practice materials are not provided to teachers and schools at the previous level, let alone at a higher level, standards will decline.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
The hon. Gentleman made that point in an intervention. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was well aware of the increased expenditure which the Government have provided for education. He wanted to be certain of the facts. The Government are spending more than ever before per pupil. Recurrent expenditure per pupil is 20 per cent. higher this year than it was two years ago, and will increase further in 1983 and 1984. That is a considerable achievement. The responsibility of the area boards and other school authorities is to manage those resources according to the needs of the pupils and the individual schools. They have discretion.
§ Mr. Soley
I shall take a close look at those figures. I shall want to establish whether it is a real or a paper increase. The Minister does not deny that there was a drop in expenditure of between £3 and £9 per pupil on books and materials between 1979 and 1982. However he dresses that up, he cannot pretend that it will lead to better education. If only books were concerned, it might be possible to say that the money was going into something else, but we are talking about books and practice materials which are basic to work in the classroom. If the Minister wants to kid the House that that will maintain or improve education standards, he will have to come up with a much more convincing argument.
In addition, school library provision has dropped by 51 per cent. in Belfast and 89 per cent. in the south-east of Northern Ireland. Such a massive drop underlines once again the Government's total failure to maintain standards in education. As I have said, the Government have failed badly, because they are practising an economic policy that is irrelevant to the needs of the country as a whole and profoundly and deeply damaging to the economy of Northern Ireland.
§ 5 pm
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
It cannot be said that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) does not try. His speech proves what a diligent reader he is of the speeches of Northern Ireland Office Ministers. Indeed, as I listened to him I made a private note to put him on the distribution list for my speeches so that I may get a slab or two written into Hansard with his assistance. But he has a more difficult task to attempt.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North has often told us that he believes that the best future for the people 976 of Northern Ireland lies in an all-Ireland state. As he believes that that must come about with consent, because therein those involved have perceived a better future and better prospects for themselves, he must persuade them that the massive addition which he demands to the already heavy expenditure incurred by the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland will be forthcoming from the semi-bankrupt state on the southern frontier of the Province. Next time the hon. Gentleman speaks, perhaps he will address himself to the task of commending that improbability to the people of Northern Ireland.
It has already been said that this debate is ill-attended. I would go further and, greatly daring, say that it is a scandal that a whole day should be devoted to passing this order. I would not say that, of course, if I thought that such an allocation of time derived from a conviction on the part of the managers of Government business that six or seven hours ought to be devotee to debating on the floor of the House certain detailed and important matters concerning Northern Ireland. However, that is not the case. It is not that the Whips Office or the Lord President of the Council thinks it would be a good idea to devote to the Province another six or seven hours of time at this stage in the parliamentary year. The Under-Secretary of State reminded the House that the order was laid before us under the 1974 Act. It is part of the operation of maintaining, as far as possible, a separation between the rest of the kingdom and a province which, financially, politically and economically, is an integral part of the United Kingdom. That is why these triennial charades are conducted, however we Northern Ireland Members may try to make the best we can of them in the interests of our constituents and the good administration of the-province.
Earlier, the Secretary of State said that, above all, the Province needed stability All who represent Northern Ireland would echo a fervent "Amen.". But, what stability can there be in a Province whose form of government has to be renewed annually by the House? Could one imagine any other part of the United Kingdom being governed on an annually renewable lease? Yet it is in order to maintain the Province on an annual basis in a state of maximum insecurity and instability that we go through this procedure.
The Under-Secretary of State referred to sums paid out of the Consolidated Fund. I could not help grimacing, when I remembered that of course it is a different Consolidated Fund—and that we go through all this charade simply because we are determined that the representatives of one fortieth of the population of the United Kingdom shall not be able to take their share with the rest in debating and eventually voting the financing provision for the whole United Kingdom, of which the provision for Northern Ireland is an integral part, as indeed it is an integral part in all the statements that we received from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in past and future months.
Those in search of stability for the Province should ensure that Northern Ireland escapes as soon as possible from that deliberate formal separation, which is paraded before the House in these debates three times a year.
On such occasions it is only right that we should benefit as much as possible from the work done on our behalf not only by the Comptoller and Auditor General but by the Public Accounts Committee. It is good news that the PAC's programme is gradually being altered so that we may hope to receive its comments earlier on the 977 animadversions of the Northern Ireland Comptroller and Auditor General upon the relevant appropriation accounts. As it is, however, though we have before us the appropriation accounts for the year ending March 1982 and the comments of the Comptroller and Auditor General on them, we do not have the benefit of the PAC's deliberations on those comments. However, that should not be a reason for failing to hark back to some matters that have excited the anxiety of that Committee and of hon. Members.
I wish to refer to the important issue of arrears owed to the Housing Executive. On these we have not only the comments of the Comptroller and Auditor General, but those of the local government auditor. He refers to tenants' rent arrears as well as to arrears in the context of the house purchase scheme, to which I shall refer later. I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State responsible is present, because I wish to draw his attention to what the. local government auditor said, the humane and understanding nature of his comment being not of the type one usually associates with auditors' reports. He said:The main cause of increasing arrears … is the difficulties many tenants, particularly those eligible for but not claiming rebate, face in paying rent.Those words will strike an echo in the minds of all who represent Northern Ireland constituencies. It is a constant cause of frustration to us to know that many of our constituents who are Housing Executive tenants and who are experiencing difficulties and even falling into arrears, are entitled to benefit by the extensive scheme of rent and rate rebates. I ask the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), to urge the Housing Executive to find much more effective ways than hitherto of ensuring, as far as humanly possible, that all those tenants who are entitled to claim rebate do so and enjoy the advantage. When one receives an application from a constituent in difficulties, one constantly finds on examination of the circumstances that he is entitled to rent and rate rebates but that his entire family budget has been distorted by failure to claim them. I simply cannot believe that there is no way in which the Housing Executive, as a good landlord and an arm of the state, cannot ensure far more adequately that such rebates are enjoyed. We should thus have before us a much more realistic figure for arrears, which could then be tackled through an analysis of the component causes which lie behind it.
Another form of arrears excited the criticism of the Public Accounts Committee, in its report published last June on the accounts for the year ending 1981. It said:We will expect the Comptroller and Auditor General to keep under review the performance of the Scheme"—the house purchase scheme—and, in particular, the level of any deficits incurred.The Committee said that it would expect to see evidence that every effort was madeto effect a substantial reduction in the remaining £l million of arrears.It was with some dismay therefore that, in studying the Comptroller and Auditor General's latest report, I found no reference to this important matter. I hope that the Minister concerned will make it a subject of inquiry and that the Public Accounts Committee will continue to keep up the pressure, not with the desire of hounding 978 individuals in arrears, but because the whole phenomenon of arrears in the finances of the Housing Executive is an unsatisfactory feature.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the real reasons for the lack of uptake of the rebates is a lack of communication at local level between the Housing Executive and its tenants? Has not that lack of communication been made a great deal worse by the fact that we no longer have rent collectors going around? Surely it is no excuse for the Government to say that they cannot send out rent collectors because of the lawlessness of the areas. After all, the Government are equally responsible for the lawless condition of the state.
§ Mr. Powell
My hon. Friend may well be right in saying that the disappearance of the rent collector, like the disappearance of the bobby from the streets, has represented a loss of communication between Government and the governed. But that is no reason why we should not try to replace him or why the Housing Executive should not be asking itself why so many of its tenants are not claiming the assistance and the money which is their right and which is there available for them. I hope that that will not need further emphasis.
Later this evening we are to consider a rates order; but it will be out of order in the scope of that debate to refer to the major question of rate reform which is, nevertheless, within the terms of the Appropriation Order in respect of the Department of the Environment.
The regional rate for the Province, which was struck this year, was struck upon a basis provisionally proposed by the study of the matter in a discussion paper published in January 1983. I suppose it indicates commendable promptitude that the Government, in striking the rate in March 1983, should have implemented proposals that were put forward as a basis for discussion as recently as January. The result was an average rate increase in Northern Ireland of approximately 4.3 per cent., the percentage forecast by the Secretary of State in a written answer on 22 February.
It is worth noticing that the increase in the rate charge in Northern Ireland has this year been well inside the rate of depreciation of the currency under inflation; but perhaps more important for ratepayers in Northern Ireland is to be aware that the new system is not in fact producing a higher burden than would have been produced had the old system continued for a further year.
Speaking for my hon. Friends and myself, we do not deplore this somewhat accelerated demise of the old system. Under the old system, an area and population corresponding as nearly as possible to Northern Ireland and its people was identified in England and Wales. An assessment was then made on the basis of what rates such people in such a part of England and Wales would be paying. Having done that some five or six years ago, we have lived on annual upgradings of the figure thus struck. I think that we are well free of a system not merely so slipshod as that but so difficult to justify to the ratepayer.
The system now proposed, and already being implemented, is to identify the Northern Ireland equivalent of the rate-borne expenditures in England and Wales and then to relate to those expenditures the rate burden which results from them in England and Wales after account has been taken of the various Exchequer contributions. Given the situation we in Northern Ireland 979 are in, this would seem the logical way to approach the objective of equity for the Northern Ireland ratepayer. However, as matters stand at the moment, I do not think the ratepayer will understand either the beauties or the benefits of the system, used to assess his present rate burden—or, at any rate, that greater part of his rate burden which is represented by the regional rate. I am going to suggest that the Government should see that the rate demand is accompanied in future by an appropriate explanatory document.
Hon. Members who pay their rates in this country are accustomed to receive with their rate demand a detailed analysis of the expenditure that has resulted in that burden. As a ratepayer in Northern Ireland I can assure the House that there is nothing whatsoever there that corresponds with that information. The answer admittedly cannot be given in Northern Ireland in the form in which it can be given to a ratepayer in this country; but at least the ratepayer in Northern Ireland can be told how the calculation has been arrived at and what are the elements of expenditure which entered into that calculation. I hope therefore that the Government will accept that from now on, under the new system—if this is to be the new system—of assessing rates for the next few years, we shall have a proper explanatory document accompanying the rate demand, which sets out and endeavours to rationalise the manner in which the rate is being arrived at.
I should have thought that a fairly warm welcome for the new system of rate assessment; but that said, I have to add that no method of assessing the rate burden in Northern Ireland will be satisfactory until there is again genuine elective local government in Northern Ireland on those subjects to which rate-borne expenditure relates. As long as we have a complete separation between local elective representation and the levy in Northern Ireland of a rate, we cannot, by definition, have a satisfactory system of assessing and collecting rates, nor one which in the long run is tolerable in any democratic country. What we have at the moment breaches the essential link between the elected person's responsibility for levying taxation and his responsibility for administering the services which that taxation goes to pay for.
It was no part of the intention of this House in its legislation for Northern Ireland in 1972 and 1973 that the Province should be deprived of the local government that the rest of the kingdom enjoyed. This House simply took over the results of a transfer which the Stormont regime intended and initiated from the county and other local authorities to itself. It was the predecessor administration before direct rule of the Secretary of State which had absorbed into itself the functions and responsibilities of both tiers of elected authorities in the Province. That is how we have carried on since 1972—virtually destitute of local government for either minor or major matters.
The question of rate levying reminds us of how much our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland are deprived through the absence of local government. They are deprived in the first place of local government as it affects the environment. That is all too well known to the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Basingstoke and his customers on this side of the House. It was my good fortune two or three weeks ago to be able, with the hon. Gentleman's assistance, to prevent those responsible to him at the Department from removing the Mourne granite kerbstones at Warrenpoint, a thing that I had been promised by one of his predecessors would not occur. 980 Between the two of us, we had it stopped; but it is a reminder of the absurdity of attempting to administer a province without elective local government that he and I were the only people who could, with proper responsibility and authority, concern ourselves with that important matter.
§ Mr. Soley
I always feel for the right hon. Gentleman at times such as this. He referred in his opening comments to the position of Northern ireland in this respect, but he never faces the fact that no British Government have ever treated Northern Ireland as a normal part of the United Kingdom. I hope that one day he will recognise that fact—indeed, I think that at one level he does—and join me on the road towards a united Ireland where I hope that he will have an exciting new career in an all-Ireland Parliament.
§ Mr. Powell
It might be exciting, but the logic of doing so does not follow from the first part of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. Certainly, this is a standing complaint of ours. It would be a standing complaint of any other part of the United Kingdom, if it were not treated and administered in all relevant respects like the rest. The way to deal with that problem for Northern Ireland, however, is not to pitch the Province into another state, to which the majority of its inhabitants have no intention of belonging, but to deal with Northern Ireland in financial and other ways precisely as we deal with every other part of the United Kingdom. Sooner or later, not just the logic—people are often impervious to logic—but the fairness, justice and unique practicability of that will dawn on an Administration of one political complexion or another. In that faith and in that conviction I live.
§ Mr. Butler
I support the right hon. Gentleman's basic premise that the matters to which he refers should be the responsibility of locally elected representatives, but he knows what my question to him will be. If for the time being at least it is not possible to give the powers enjoyed by district councils in Great Britain to equivalent bodies in Northern Ireland, assuming that that were the policy of any Government, and in the absence of a first tier of local government, as the right hon. Gentleman may or may not wish, surely it would be preferable for the granite kerbstones at Warrenpoint to be raised not in this House but in an assembly in Northern Ireland with, one would hope, power being devolved to a Minister responsible to that assembly and elected by the local people of Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Powell
I had indeed hoped, if not anticipated, that one of my more intelligent pupils would carry me further by asking that very question. There is a very swift answer. Even if rolling devolution ever started to roll and encompassed not merely matters which could even now be devolved to the existing district councils and which are the responsibility of the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Basingstoke, but also health and education, the justified complaint of Northern Ireland ratepayers would still be no different from what it is today; for the boards through which those services are administered would themselves need to be made democratically 981 responsible for raising the funds to finance those services. Thus, mere devolution to a Northern Ireland destitute of local government, even if it were made in the form that none of us expects to live to see—that of rolling devolution—would not meet the justifiable indignation at the consequences of the lack of local government.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
The mention of kerbstones reminded me of car parks. As the Minister of State expressed some sympathy with the object of entrusting the district councils with more powers, I am emboldened to refer to my correspondence of some years with successive Ministers of various parties in charge of the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment, suggesting that district councils might be allowed to run car parks. The Department of the Environment, however, insists on running them itself. I wondered whether I might enlist the right hon. Gentleman on my side in this cause.
§ Mr. Powell
The hon. Gentleman does not even have to ask: I have been on his side since long ago. I was astonished at the phrase used by the Minister of State when he referred to it not yet being possible for matters such as car parks and kerbstones to be administered by district councils. As we and the Under-Secretary of State well know, the district councils are capable of taking those responsibilities tomorrow if the House is prepared to entrust them with the administration not only of these but of other important matters—I apologise for the digression into which I have been tempted by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison)—and in my assertion that this is possible I pray in aid the actions and personal enthusiasms of the Under-Secretary of State himself in relation to planning control.
Decisions on planning applications might be regarded as more problematic and sensitive than either car parks or Mourne granite kerbstones; but the Under-Secretary of State has publicly announced that he will not only consult the existing district councils but implement their decisions.
§ Mr. Powell
The Under-Secretary of State shakes his head and I understand why he does so, as I have pointed out to him the constitutional impropriety of that if he meant it literally. Nevertheless, he will not deny that he is relying virtually 100 per cent. on the district councils for the implementation of planning control. Thus, the Minister of State's notion that there is some impediment to giving the ordinary environmental functions to district councils right now is not shared by his hon. Friend. It may be argued that a 1 per cent. risk of abuse or unreasonableness exists or that sometimes general policy must be taken into account; but throughout the United Kingdom the Secretary of State for the Environment always has the power for just those reasons to call in a planning case and deal with it himself, and I assume that that would be so when these matters were in the place that they should be in Northern Ireland with the district councils.
This brings me to the composition and powers of all the boards, and in particular of the education boards, on which I have been conducting a running fight for a year or so with the Minister answering for education in Northern Ireland. 982 I found education boards in my constituency were taking certain policy decisions not only with which I disagree, but with which I found it likely that the Minister would disagree, only to be told, to quote from his letters, that those matters wereeffectively the responsibility of the Boards … a matter for each Board to decide … in the allocation of finances.In one instance, the Minister went on to say, he was "disappointed" that the Southern board had made a certain decision but that, none the less,I do not think I would be justified in intervening.For all administrative decisions in the United Kingdom, there is, or perhaps I should say there should be, responsibility to an elected body. I do not think that that definition of our democracy would be challenged in the House. Where Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office accept responsibility, this responsibility is discharged to the House; and when the assembly, the "Mickey Mouse assembly", to use words spoken earlier today, commenced its operations, a state document was placed before it by the Secretary of State making it clear that his responsibility, and that of his Ministers, to the House was in no way altered, diminished or compromised by the existence of the assembly.
What happens, then, where decisions are transferred, or devolved if that is not an incorrect word, by Ministers to non-elected boards? There is no responsibility to the electorate for those decisions. This is a matter directly linked with what I was saying earlier about rating and local government. My constituents will be paying, through rates and taxes, for the provision of education in the respective parts of my constituency where they live. When a decision is taken by the Southern education board or the South-Eastern education board, and my constituents come to me and say that they think it is a bad decision, and I think that it is a bad decision, and I discover that the Minister thinks it is a bad decision, what are my constituents told? They are told that the board can do what it likes. The board, which is not elected, has been allowed, without responsibility to any elected body, to allocate sums provided by the local and national taxpayer and no one responsible to the public is going to answer for it.
Whatever the 1972 Northern Ireland Education Order says, that is an intolerable state of affairs anywhere in the United Kingdom. I am referred by the Minister in question to the terms of that order, which brought the education and library boards into existence. There was a phrase in the explanatory note to that order when it was made that clinches my point. It says:The principal change made is to establish five education and library boards in place of the existing eight local education authorities and sixteen library authorities which will cease to exist not later than 1st April 1973.What we have done in the case of these major responsibilities of democratic local government in the Province is not to transfer them to Ministers responsible to the House—that might be open to criticism, but at least it would be constitutionally valid—but to transfer them to boards unelected and undemocratic in character, for which responsibility is not taken by Ministers responsible to the House within the limits of the finance which they allocate.
I have said before, and I will say again if necessary in other debates, that that is a state of affairs not to be tolerated in the United Kingdom, which has to be remedied by restoring democratic responsibility—not the right just to chatter but real democratic responsibility, 983 founded upon taking responsible decisions and raising a rate. That is what must be restored to the representatives of the people of Northern Ireland.
I have one other matter that I wish to use the opportunity of this debate to raise, and that also falls within the scope of the Department of the Environment. If is the matter of concessionary fares.
§ Mr. William Ross
Before my right hon. Friend gets too far away from the flagstones of Warrenpoint—
§ Mr. Ross
—would he turn his attention for a moment to the fact that even if it were now a matter for local councillors, it would be very difficult for the constituent concerned to know which local councillor to go to because he probably has a choice of five or six in his electoral area? Would it not be far more satisfactory if there were one person responsible for the area concerned?
§ Mr. Powell
My hon. Friend exposes me to a dangerous temptation. It might not have been immediately perceptible to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it was instantly so to me, that he was drawing me on to the subject of proportional representation, and hoping that he would excite my indignation at the spectacle of no identifiable representative existing for an identifiable group of electors—one of the inevitable consequences of the system of proportional representation which, so far, this part of the kingdom has refused to accept, but which it has been happy enough, under the influence of certain delusions, to impose upon the one fortieth of the population of the United Kingdom that is situated in Northern Ireland.
I shall not respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) except to venture to say that if we are to have responsible, elected local government in Northern Ireland, as we need it and should have it, let us have it in the same form in which it is insisted upon in this part of the United Kingdom, where each elector in each place knows who to go to on the council to whom he can say, "If you do not put this right, you do not get my vote next time." That is impossible under proportional representation. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry with that will allow me to return to the matter of concessionary fares which I promise you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is the last section of my discourse, for concessionary fares, like so many things, relate back to the absence of local government in the Province.
My hon. Friends and I, as the Minister knows, have been exercised for a long time by differences between concessionary fares in Northern Ireland and concessionary fares in various parts of the rest of the United Kingdom. The Minister has replied to us by producing a statement of the average concessions, if one can imagine that, on the mainland, and saying that, taken as a whole, we are not that much worse off in Northern Ireland. I am afraid that we do think—at least in one major respect—that we are worse off, and we believe that, in that respect, there should be a change. In most places on the mainland where there is a concession for persons of retirement age, the concession is available for women at the age of 60 although not for men until the age of 65. We believe that there is no justification for withholding that form of concession from our constituents in Northern Ireland. The argument from deficiency of income in retirement, that 984 underlies the principle of concessionary fares must, exhypothesi, apply just as much to retired women over 60 as to retired men over 65.
The anomaly of the comparison made by ourselves and by the Minister between circumstances on the mainland and circumstances in the Province comes about because these are matters that, here on the mainland, are decided by local authorities. If Mr. Livingstone decides that the inhabitants of greater London are to travel free in certain circumstances, or in all circumstances, that is a matter to be settled between the majority on the GLC and the ratepayers in London, provided, of course, that the central Government are wise enough to allow the impact of that local government decision be painfully felt by the ratepayers. Thus in various parts of the United Kingdom, acting upon democratic responsibility and under pain of the financial consequences, different provisions have been made for concessionary fares on public transport.
In Northern Ireland, there is no means of doing this. Since the responsibility lies with the Minister, there is no one who can bring home to the ratepayer the consequences of a particular concession, saying, "You have to pay for this on the rates but I am sure that you would wish retired women over 60 to enjoy the same fare concessions as retired males over 65." That would be a matter, as it probably should be, between the elected representative and his electors and between the elected majority party and the electorate.
The absence of local government is not an inevitable absence, as the Minister of State seems to think. However, in the regrettable but immediately remediable absence of local government in the Province, we say to the Minister—we hope for a favourable policy decision from him—that this is a really glaring anomaly against which many complaints by retired women have been brought to our attention and which the hon. Gentleman should put right, and we take this opportunity of saying that if there are to be concessionary fares for the retired, they should be made for all the retired. Whatever the definition on which it is decided that people are retired, the concessions should apply to them all.
I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is to your relief that I here announce that, lush though the pasturage is that is disclosed, not, of course, by the Supplementary Estimates embodied in this appropriation order, but by the Vote on account which covers everything, I shall exercise a self-denying ordinance and sit down.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I hope that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) will forgive me if I do not follow his remarks in too great detail except to say a word about concessionary fares. I was lucky enough a few years ago to introduce a private Member's Bill on concessionary travel for the elderly, people who are sick and other categories, notably handicapped people. At that time, the research carried out by myself and supporters of the Bill—it was an all-party measure—showed that there was tremendous support throughout the country, particularly among pensioners, for some form of concessionary travel.
The right hon. Member for Down, South is right in saying that in Britain it is left to the local authority to impose the form of structure it wants or to adopt no form of structure at all. The right hon. Gentleman should have added that over half, in fact nearly two thirds, of that 985 support in Great Britain comes from the rate support grant. It amounts to 57 or 58 per cent. This leaves the local authority to find about 40 per cent. There is no doubt that Northern Ireland has a special case for a generous form of concessionary travel covering special categories that should be worked out and harmonised.
I have described Northern Ireland as a special case because, apart from the longer distances that people often have to travel from one community to another in remote areas, there is also the inevitable comparison to be drawn with the Republic where, until recently and maybe still today, completely free travel is enjoyed by pensioners on trains and buses. It would not be right, in my view, for pensioners and others in similar positions in Northern Ireland to be disadvantaged.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister of State for missing most of his opening remarks due to an urgent telephone call. I wish to raise with my hon. Friend an issue relating to energy. I refer particularly to Class III expenditure on page 6 of the Appropriation order. The two items in Class III relate to subsidy for restructuring the gas industry and a further sum of expenditure on subsidies to electricity tariffs. It seems to me that these two sums, particularly the latter one, are likely to be an ever-increasing burden on the Exchequer. Only the other day, on 28 February, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy was answering questions about the cost of generating electricity in the United Kingdom. The difference in the figures is remarkable. The comparative advantage of nuclear energy over fossil fuel energy has grown to the extent that according to a report to which my hon. Friend referred:a new PWR is expected to produce electricity at 2.61 pence per kilowatt hour over its lifetime compared with 3.88 pence per kilowatt hour for a new coal-fired station. Therefore, the PWR is expected to produce electricity at only two thirds the cost of a coal-fired station."—[Official Report, 28 February 1983; Vol. 37, c. 9.]A couple of years ago, when a similar question was answered by the then Minister, the cost of nuclear generation was slightly less than that of coal. Today, as we see, it is markedly below the cost of coal. It seems to me, with exciting new projects ahead in nuclear generation, the sooner that Northern Ireland is coupled up to nuclear generated electricity the better.
The supplies of gas on which the customer relies at present are drawn from a declining and reducing source. There is no indigenous coal in Northern Ireland. There is only peat, which is of a rather mediocre quality.
§ Mr. Farr
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) for his helpful intervention. I 986 was, of course, aware that there are dubious reserves of coal in Northern Ireland. They have been analysed at different times, without any positive result. I view the proven reserves of coal in Northern Ireland as I view the proven reserves of oil in the sea around the Republic of Ireland. They both exist as figments of the imagination, but they would take a long time to come to fruition. Even if there were substantial quantities of first-class quality coal, the fact remains that the picture is changing. Nuclear energy is becoming cheaper, safer and more readily available. Fossil fuels, for one reason or another, are becoming more expensive and less satisfactory. From the figures that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave in answer to the oral question at the end of last month, it would seem sensible and prudent to consider some form of nuclear generation for future supplies of electricity for Northern Ireland.
I want to say a word about the cost allotted to expenditure on the Northern Ireland assembly, on page 7, of £1,260,000. Again, it is my fault, because I should have been in the Chamber when my hon. Friend was speaking. Perhaps he has already said how this figure was arrived at. It is a significant item in this Appropriation measure. After all, it is the second biggest item in Class XI. It would be strange to accept this measure tonight without some form of analysis of the figure of £1,260,000. Does it include the salaries of the assemblymen? I assume that it does. If the answer to that is in the affirmative, does it include the salaries of those assemblymen who do not take their seats? Again, if the answer is in the affirmative, if they do not take their seats, why are they paid and why are they allowed to be a drain on the taxpayer?
If the £1,260,000 includes the salaries of the assemblymen, and if they do not take their seats and adopt a highly negative attitude—from this side of the Irish Sea one might almost call it a "dog in the manger" attitude—why should they be subsidised by the British taxpayer?
§ Mr. John Patten
Perhaps I can set my hon. Friend's mind at rest. He is right to say that the order makes it possible for salaries to be paid to employees of the Northern Ireland assembly and to assemblymen and women who have taken their seats. No one who has not taken his seat is being paid.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
Before the hon. Gentleman accepts that reassurance, will he also obtain from his hon. Friend as assurance that such members taking their seats nominally at a later stage might not be entitled to retrospective payments for the period during which they had not attended?
§ Mr. Farr
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Perhaps if I were to ask my hon. Friend through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, something along the lines of, "Would he give an assurance that any assemblyman who takes his seat at a late date will be in receipt of a salary only from the date he took his seat?", I might receive more appropriate information through you.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
It is not a matter for me. I would much rather not answer that.
§ Mr. Patten
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing us to put my head into the noose. Members of the Northern Ireland assembly, under the Northern Ireland Act 1982, should they not sign and not attend, will not he paid for that period, but should they come to the assembly for the last 20 minutes, as the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) suggested, in an uncharacteristic seated intervention, they would be permitted to receive their salary for the whole of the period that they were elected.
§ Mr. Farr
I come now to a more general point about the £1,260,000 that is being spent on the Northern Ireland assembly. The feeling is growing among Conservative Members that the sooner the character of the Northern Ireland assembly changes the better. We know that the Northern Ireland Bill went through the House after some very dubious manoeuvres by those who were in charge, and that it eventually reached the statute book. I and some of my hon. Friends have watched the happenings in the Northern Ireland assembly with growing concern, ever since it came into being. Some of us endeavoured to say at the time that we were hatching what might turn out to be a bad and rotten egg. I hope that, instead of blithely approving a sum of more than £1,250,000 for the Northern Ireland assembly, we shall be given an assurance that the Government have not completely closed their mind to a radical change in the format of a Northern Ireland assembly in the fairly near future, so that it may adopt the role—so badly needed—of a major local government organisation.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is not in the Chamber at present, told those of us who questioned him about this matter during the debates that after a year or so of operation the Northern Ireland assembly, its structure, mechanics and purpose and where it was going, would be discussed in the House of Commons. I remind my hon. Friend the Minister that Conservative Members are anxious about that Bill and that we look forward to an early debate with great relish.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
I rise to respond to the specific point whether the Government's intention is to bring forward a measure to alter the assembly's nature and to change it into a body that is essentially suitable for local government. The answer is a categoric no. Our intention is to do everything possible to encourage the assembly to work, to encourage those who believe in constitutional arrangements to take their seats and to move forward to the next stage of devolution.
§ Mr. Farr
I am interested to hear my hon. Friend's intervention. However, I remind him once again that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State repeatedly said that the fears that were felt by many Conservative Members will be not only taken note of but that the future role and powers of the Northern Ireland assembly will be carefully analysed after it has been in operation for a year or two. That is all that we are asking for. I do not think that on reflection my hon. Friend will disagree with that.
Agriculture in Northern Ireland is a matter of fundamental importance. I was lucky enough to receive an encouraging reply from my hon. Friend the Minister of State this afternoon to a question in relation to farm incomes in Northern Ireland. The figures that he gave were startling. They showed that Northern Ireland's farm incomes have risen in a substantial and welcome way in the last 12 months for which figures are available. 988 However, they started from a low base. There is real poverty and difficulty in Northern Ireland and there are terrible problems in making ends meet among some small stock farmers, notably in pigs and cattle. I hope that that improvement will not blind my hon. Friend to the fact that while some categories may have done fairly well, there is real poverty in sections of the agriculture community in Northern Ireland. If he is not aware of where that is I am sure that those hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland will write to him and point them out.
The House knows that the quality of Northern Ireland's agriculture produce is first-class, but what about its presentation? Are Northern Ireland producers associated with Food From Britain? I hope so. The other day my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food launched a massive multi-million pound scheme in London called Food From Britain. All the specialist food products that Britain produces so well were on display there. That expensive organisation, backed by new Government legislation, has been established to sell British food abroad. I hope that the authorities in Northern Ireland are aware of its potential. I am sure that they must be.
§ Sir Peter Mills (Devon, West)
Perhaps when my hon. Friend was looking around the international food fair at Olympia the incredible stand with the most wonderful food from Northern Ireland escaped his notice. That had some of the best food exhibits that I have ever seen and it shows that Northern Ireland is participating in the scheme. Moreover, is it not a fact that years ago Northern Ireland gave the lead in much better marketing and exporting of food products than Britain?
§ Mr. Farr
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. I am relieved to learn that Northern Ireland is playing a prominent role in the Food From Britain organisation. However, I am still convinced that there is an opportunity for Northern Ireland producers to expand their role. Northern Ireland has a great potential for producing different foodstuffs—not just the traditional ones—expecially in the west, where the climate tends to be a little more temperate. There is money available and I hope that the Government will ensure that it goes where it is needed in Northern Ireland.
The House is voting upon an impressive sum of money tonight. I do not suppose that there will be a vote against it because everybody realises that it will be money well spent in Northern Ireland and that it is going where it ought to go. However, I hope that not a penny of the sum that we are voting tonight is spent upon entertaining any of the members of the European Parliament. They seem to envisage that the red carpet will be laid out for them, that there will be different departmental officials available and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be there to meet them. I hope that that will not be the case. It would not only be a great waste of taxpayers' money but entirely against the wishes and desires of hon. Members on both sides of the House. With those few words I welcome the order.
§ 6.6 pm
§ Mr. Gerard Fitt (Belfast, West)
As I listened to the Under-Secretary of State presenting his Estimates this afternoon in such an earnest way I was almost convinced 989 that the Government have been and are trying to do what they can to attack the problems of poverty and deprivation that exist in Northern Ireland. However, I am a realist and after he had sat down I asked myself what are the facts of the case in Northern Ireland. Why are the econony and housing so bad there?
It is an unmistakeable fact that when the Government took office in 1979 the unemployment figure for Northern Ireland was 61,000. There was no fiddling of the books or new arrangement of statistics then about which we hear so much in the House now. That figure was completely unacceptable to both the trade union movement and myself. The figure that we heard in the House today, after all the juggling with the figures, is over 120,000. The trade union movement in Northern Ireland does not accept that as being the optimum figure because there are many people in Nothern Ireland who are unemployed who do not qualify for social security benefits and who, therefore, do not think that it is worthwhile to sign the unemployment register. The figure of 120,000 can be inflated. I have had detailed discussions with the trade union movement and I have read its document "The Trade Unions' Alternative". I am sure that the Minister will have read that too and I hope that he will pay some attention to its recommendations. It accepts that the figure is now 180,000—three times the figures when the Government took over in 1979. No Government can be proud of that but it is a fact of life from which we cannot escape. The figures are inescapable.
We also heard from the Minister about the effect of the oil price increase and how there was a recession all over the world. In his defence, the Minister said that foreign countries that did not have oil were paying so much more for their oil that they were unable to buy our exports. We had oil and did not have to import it from anyone else at grossly inflated prices, so we did not face the same problems as our competitors.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
The point is that there is work for our factories when there are customers for our goods, and our customers stretch the length and breadth of the world. They did not have the money to buy our goods. That is why we have had recession and fewer jobs. It is nothing to do with our oil.
§ Mr. Soley
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is clear that the Minister's reason is just another myth that he puts about and that the explanation that he has just given does not explain why the slump here started earlier, lasted longer and was worse? The fact is that we used our oil wealth to finance our mass unemployment.
§ Mr. Fitt
That is exactly what has happened. The overall profits from North sea oil have amounted to £40 billion. A large proportion of that money has been used to pay people to sign the unemployment register. By anyone's standards, that is a sheer waste of money and manpower. One would have thought that Tories would have thought that more than hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House.
990 It is not true that manufacturing industries in Northern Ireland have been inefficient and unable to compete, or that people in foreign countries paid an increased price for oil and could not afford to buy our exports. I shall never forget that it was 28 July 1980, about a year after the Government came to power, when they cut expenditure in Northern Ireland by £50 million. The £50 million was taken off education, health and social services and the Department of the Environment which is responsible for house building in Northern Ireland.
That cut had nothing to do with manufacturing industry. It meant that home helps and council employees were made unemployed and that there was a cut in the number of school teachers. That was the direct result of the Government's cut in public expenditure. Not only were those people then thrown on to the dole queue, they are still there. None of them has had a job since 1980. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that they will get one in the foreseeable future.
Further still, the cut in public expenditure led to a deterioration in the standard of service provided for the aged, the sick and the terminally ill. The cuts therefore had a double effect.
According to the Government, 120,000 people are unemployed. I prefer the figure that was given in the trade union document published last month. The figures can be updated, but of the 180,000 people that the trade union document said were unemployed, 20,000 are under 19. I will try to get more accurate figures from the Government in the next few days.
Many thousands of people under 25 are unemployed. That is the age at which disaffection with the Government, the system and the establishment becomes most obvious. I have no doubt that in my constituency of Belfast, West and other areas where Sinn Fein candidates were elected at the recent elections, the majority of people aged under 25 voted for them. I am convinced from what I was able to see at those elections and from what I was told that that is true.
Irrespective of what Ken Livingstone tells us, I do not believe that Sinn Fein has any policy to attack the unemployment problem or to erase some of the terrible problems that are associated with it. Sinn Fein's record, in association with the IRA, is one of creating unemployment by blowing up industrial establishments and causing explosions at what it calls economic targets. Those economic targets are places where men and women are trying to do a day's work.
Sinn Fein cannot claim to have any answer to the problems, yet people under 25 voted for a Sinn Fein candidate. They did so for many reasons, including the overlap of attitudes that we witnessed during the hunger strike. A major factor in their choice was that they did not see the system under which they were living doing anything for them. It appeared to them that the system would not provide them with a job. Indeed, there seemed to be no hope of their getting a job, and, in West Belfast especially, they were living in appalling housing conditions, being thrown up against a wall when the Army decided to have a search on the Falls road and taken to Castlereagh and interrogated. Each of those elements drove those young people to vote for Sinn Fein, which has absolutely no policy except that of destruction.
It is understandable that those young people voted as they did. I do not know whether they have gone for ever. It may be that they are utterly alienated and will never 991 return to a civilised political atmosphere. Such people may have left school at 13 or 14. The British Army has been there since 1969. Those young people's earliest memories are of poverty—the poverty that their parents experienced and then the poverty that they suffered when they were forced to sign the unemployment register. Many of them have never had a job, and they cannot envisage the possibility of a time when they will have one.
I know that the Minister will say that there are many youth training schemes. I do not decry them—indeed, I warmly welcome them—but I have seen young people who have availed themselves of training services, after which they are still unemployed. Although we have the new youth employment schemes and other forms of assistance to create outlets, I cannot forget the youth training schemes that were initiated by the Labour Government in the 1970s which young people went through and at the end of which they still had no job. That creates a great deal of frustration and anger and it is one of the reasons why young people voted for Sinn Fein candidates.
When Sinn Fein candidates win votes from a section of the community such as that, they are bound to be given more verve to carry on. If they say that they are supported by a young electorate, they can say that those young people have voted not only for their economic and social policies—non-existent as they are except in the imagination of Ken Livingstone—but for the Armalite.
The Government must be aware of the problem of unemployment in Northern Ireland. I know that Ministers do not like to associate street disturbances with unemployment, but it is a fact of life in Northern Ireland. It was a fact of life in major cities in Great Britain last year and the year before. I hope that the problem in English cities never reaches a proportion similar to that of Northern Ireland. However, unless the Government reassess their economic policies and their outlook on Northern Ireland, we can look forward only to more frustration and disaffection, leading to a continuation of the tragedy.
I attended a meeting last year with economic experts, trade union representatives and a Minister. Their assessment was that in the 1990s there would never be fewer than 30,000 or 40,000 people unemployed in Northern Ireland. We must accept the figure, because there is no hope of getting away from it with this Government's economic outlook. We have had to live with such numbers for many years, but they are still unacceptable.
I need not speak at great length to impress upon the Minister the urgency of doing something to create employment, especially for the young, who will be the future population of Northern Ireland. One cannot disregard or push aside older people, because they have suffered unemployment for many years, but the young are an especially worrying problem. May I give the Minister some advice about the measures that he announced to cope with unemployment? The local enterprise development unit is not being used to its full extent. There is great potential in that organisation and many of those employed by it are dedicated to attracting industries to the more deprived areas. Many of them live in such areas and can see the deprivation that surrounds them. They are motivated by a sincerity that one does not see in all Civil Service departments. The local enterprise development unit should be given much more scope.
992 The Minister convinced me, within the ambit of Tory doctrinaire political thinking, that he is trying to cope with the housing problem. However, he will have received documents from Shelter in Northern Ireland, which is closely involved with all housing problems. Its latest estimate is that Northern Ireland needs 50,000 more houses. It draws attention to the fact that once people enter hostels for single people in Belfast, they do not leave them until they are carried out in a box. I have not heard of a single person who has been taken from a hostel and given Housing Executive or local authority accommodation. Those people, many of whom contributed to society when they were in a better position, have become a forgotten race. It is unfair that once they are resident in such hostels, society seems to forget about them. Will the Minister consider their plight?
Many hon. Members have talked about the European Community, and we have heard repeatedly about the fantastic sums of money that Northern Ireland will receive from that organisation. I hope that I live to see the day when we receive it. We have heard of an integrated operations plan, which means that about £40 million of EC money will be given to Belfast. However, there has been a hold-up, because Germany has objected to the plan. People in Ireland, especially in the south, refer constantly to EC money, but there is no such thing. Since the formation of the EC, two or perhaps three countries have been net contributors while the other six or seven have been net beneficiaries. At present the net contributors are Germany and the United Kingdom, while every other member is a beneficiary. German and British money will be used if and when the integrated operations plan is accepted and begun in Northern Ireland.
Germany has probably objected to the plan because it has great political problems. There are 2½ million people unemployed there, and some Germans must ask, "Why should we give our money to the EC kitty only for it to be given to part of the United Kingdom?" There must be constraints upon any German leader, but I believe that the German Government agree that the money should be paid. I hope that our Government can impress upon the German Government the terrible housing problem in Northern Ireland and thus remove German objections.
Some hackles have been raised by the European Parliament's proposal to hold an inquiry into Northern Ireland. Many objections would be raised to the plan by the majority of people in Northern Ireland, who, for many historic reasons, may believe that it is another knife to be stuck in their backs. I understand that, but they do themselves less than justice by protesting so vehemently. If there were such an inquiry, the Government might be acquitted of the charges that are levelled against them and might come out of it in a good light. It would be wrong to reject the proposal, because the question will be asked, "What do they have to hide?" I mentioned the £40 million that Northern Ireland is supposed to receive from the Community. The Government could say to the Commission, "If you speed up the provision of that money, we shall allow you to conduct an inquiry."
§ Mr. John Patten
What does the hon. Gentleman believe the Government have to hide? During the hunger strikes there were more foreign journalists and television crews in and around the Maze prison than any other 993 Government would have allowed. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is nothing to hide in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Fitt
I cannot be sure about that. I have serious reservations about whether an outside source can contribute to a reduction in violence, but if the EC countries believe that they can do something, what would they ask about? The political position, with the assembly and the House, is obvious. Perhaps some EC countries see it as one way of having a go at Britain because they have never regarded us as a great European nation. Britain is not the most loved country in the EC. However, the Government must not put up barricades and obstacles to the inquiry, because they may be vindicated. We all know of the number of soldiers and policemen who have been killed. Yesterday in Armagh there were more murders, and there may be more in another county tomorrow. No EC Government could have dealt with the security problem better than this Government or the previous one.
I sometimes wonder what the position would be if we had German soldiers in the Falls road under an EC banner, or if we had the French police. We all saw how the latter acted against rioters in 1968 and 1969. I do not think that there is any EC nation whose army would be more acceptable on the streets of Northern Ireland than the British Army. I hope to see the day come very soon when it will be unnecessary to have any soldiers in any part of Northern Ireland. I only hope that I live long enough to see the departure of the soldiers from the streets.
Coming to education and teacher training, we know that there has been great controversy with the Catholic Church in relation to colleges and the order of teachers who will be allocated to the training colleges, and I have had correspondence about this. I sat in the Select Committee on Education of this House and I listened to Bishop Cahal Daly put forward what I regarded as an unanswerable case for an increase in the number of students. When we take into account the number of Catholic children who are attending primary schools and the population basis and effects, I do not think that the Catholic Church is making unjustifiable demands. I listened to the bishop that day, and I was not influenced by the fact that I, too, am a Catholic. He put forward what I regarded as a very substantial case for increasing that figure of 31 per cent. to 40 per cent. I ask the Minister, for the sake of the whole community in Northern Ireland, to get rid of a problem which, the longer it goes on, the more it divides people.
§ Mr. William Ross
Is the hon. Gentleman now saying that he adheres to the view that all Roman Catholic children in Northern Ireland should be taught by Roman Catholic teachers and, if so, is he prepared to allow the same freedom to Protestant parents and teachers?
§ Mr. Fitt
This is something that we have always had to take into account in Northern Ireland—whether we have integrated education or segregated education. There are many people on this side of the water who believe that it is very important to allow young children to be taught together because from then on they would probably have less to disagree about. I think that there is some truth in that, but segregated education is not a big factor in the problems of Northern Ireland. Catholics in Northern 994 Ireland by and large would give some sort of allegiance to the idea of a united Ireland. Protestants, on the other hand, by and large would want to maintain the links with Britain and the United Kingdom. It is political rather than religious.
I can only put forward my own case. I was educated by the Christian Brothers. It was a Catholic school. Maybe I am wrong and maybe others might see me in a different light, but I do not believe that I am a Catholic bigot. It is because I am not that I find myself somewhat in political isolation at the moment, but it was a stand that I had to take. So again I urge the Minister to have a look at those figures.
A week or so ago we were all lobbied by pensioners and people from Age Concern. I have had documentation from Age Concern in Northern Ireland and it is very concerned about the heating allowance for old people. It is pointed out in the documentation it has sent to us that it knows that old people deliberately deny themselves heating by gas, electricity or coal because they cannot afford it. When people get to that time of life that is when they really need heat, and because of the high cost of energy in Northern Ireland old people are denying themselves something which is essential to their well-being.
I urge the Minister to look at the plight of these old people. We are coming to the summer now and hoping for warmer weather, but I hope that the Minister will give some consideration to paying a heating allowance to people over a certain age when we come to the winter again.
§ Mr. William Ross (Londonderry)
There are not many speakers in the debate and we therefore have quite a long time to cover the ground. My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) referred to the lush pastures which confronted him. I must say that the longer this debate goes on, the lusher and more extensive those pastures appear.
I listened with care to the remarks of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), who has now left the Chamber, and of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), both of whom, I think, would glory in being described as Socialists. I listened to them waxing indignant, as so often before, at cutbacks and alleged cutbacks in Government expenditure, social services, and so on, on this side of the Irish Sea. As often before, my astonishment became greater the longer I listened, because they seem intent on trying to get Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom, where there is a high level of social services, a high level of public expenditure, and into a country that is incapable of providing such services on anything like the same level.
If that is the extent of their Socialist conscience and their concern for the poorer people of Northern Ireland, I must say to both of them and to the Labour party that if the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North was speaking for it that attitude is not acceptable to anyone who really cares about the welfare of the poorer people of Northern Ireland. Not only have we no political or constitutional desire to enter an Irish Republic in an all-Ireland context; we have no wish to enter it for the reasons that they claim to uphold in this House—concern for the elderly and the poor and the welfare of those sections of the community.
It astonishes me that hon. Members, being aware of the social deprivation—they certainly talk about it often 995 enough and at great length—insist on trying to get Northern Ireland into a situation in which that social and economic deprivation can only increase and the welfare of the people they represent can only be greatly diminished.
Perhaps the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North thinks that there would be some saving in British public expenditure if the border ran up the middle of the Irish sea instead of round the Six Counties. The experience and history of Irish emigration show that all those people who lost economically by the withdrawal of the social services at the level to which they have been accustomed all their lives would, because they have a perfect right to do so, come to where those social services exist. It could not be good for the welfare of Ireland as a whole or for that of this country to have a large number of British citizens coming to live in Great Britain, if the unhappy day should ever arrive when the desires of the hon. Members for Hammersmith, North and for Belfast, West were realised.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South spoke of the need for local government in Northern Ireland. When Stormont existed there was no suggestion that county councils, district councils and corporations did not have enough to do. When Stormont vanished, my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) warned the House of the dreadful mire Northern Ireland would be in because of changes in local government. From the day that the new district council areas were established and the new local government structure introduced, there have been problems with kerbstones, drains, housing and so on. Every hon. Member representing a seat in Northern Ireland finds his surgery and postbag full of problems that belong with local government.
If the Government wish to carry out the manifesto that they put before the people in 1979, they should establish the structure of local government that the Stormont Parliament intended to exercise. It is no use the Minister saying that there is no change in policy. The Government changed their stated electoral position within six months of taking office. There is no reason why they should not now retreat—indeed, I would call it an advance. The people of Northern Ireland should have the power to care for all the small items that now plague hon. Members and Ministers, especially the Under-Secretary. There is no reason why that should not be done. The structure is there, and so are the people. Although some chopping and changing of the Act establishing the assembly might be necessary, it would lead to more efficient administration in Northern Ireland.
If that were done, the delusions of proportional representation would have to be faced. That system was established to break the mould and obtain moderate consensus politics in Northern Ireland. The plain truth is that it has not worked. PR does not promote the Alliance party; it promotes sectionalism. The sooner that that is understood, the better. The majority of the population of Northern Ireland, as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, are people of moderate views. While the violent and the extreme may succeed for a time under the first-past-thepost system, in the longer term the more moderate views will prevail. The first-past-the-post system should be restored for all elections as soon as possible.
Those remarks were simply a preface to what I have to say. I was incited to make them having listened to other speeches.
An unemployment difficulty arose in my constituency this week, when 170 people in the Monsanto factory at 996 Coleraine lost their jobs. They are a minute drop in the vast bucketful of unemployed in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole. Those job losses are in addition to the already large number of unemployed in that area. We must wonder whether the man-made fibre industry in Northern Ireland will exist in a few years.
The factory was going like a bomb—[Interruption.] That may be a bad description, but I assure the House that the factory was working fiat out. The job losses occurred because the ownership of the factory is being transferred to a company based in Italy. We all know the background to the Italian man-made fibre industry. It has increased its capacity throughout the years, despite over-capacity in the world market. The factory in Coleraine provided acrylic fibre for the United Kingdom market, the European market, Morocco, South Africa and a number of countries in the middle east. The United Kingdom and European markets were reasonably profitable, and the company could survive. However, other parts of the market made losses.
When the factory is sold and the deal completed, the Italian company will control 25 per cent. of the acrylic fibre production capacity in Europe. That one company will be dominant. That should concern the entire House. There is no doubt that if the Italians face difficulties with their markets they will look after their fellow countrymen first and protect their jobs. Those dependent on the Northern Ireland company will find themselves in a difficult position.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his Ministers have received a copy of the textile industry's plan for action, which was published this month. It might help the understanding of the House if I quote what it said about the Italian man-made fibre industry. It states:The Italian man-made fibre industry has been subsidised and refinanced over the past 7 years to an extent which has allowed it to remain in business in spite of continuous losses which in some years were in excess of 50 per cent. of turnover. We estimate that this intervention has amounted to some £1,500 million over the period. It is quite impossible for even the most efficient free enterprise to compete in such a situation. It is quite clearly the responsibility of the Government to insist that: the Commission should act to correct it.A Government who, during the past seven years. have spent £1,500 million to keep their people working in the man-made fibre industry will not worry too much about 300 people in the Coleraine factory. It is a matter for Government action and concern. The industry was efficient. It cut down its work force to about one third of its previous level for the same level of production. It should have some future rather than go down the drain to join the remainder of the Northern Ireland production of man-made fibre.
The people of Northern Ireland and the industrialists of the United Kingdom have no cause to fear fair competition. The people of Northern Ireland are worried about unfair competition. The House must do something to give the industry a base for the future. The feedstock, which is mainly oil in one form or another, carries a tax which is higher than that prevailing in the rest of the EC. The Budget will be presented next week. Perhaps the Minister could draw the matter to the attention of the Chancellor to see whether something could be done to improve the economic and competitive position of our industry. It is the cost of the fuel and feedstock that matters to our manufacturers. If other people use unfair competition, I see no reason why we should not tilt the 997 balance and make it worthwhile for them to produce acrylic fibre in our country rather than theirs. What matters is not that we have oil, but the cost of that oil to our manufacturers.
The House will be aware that on "Panorama" next week there will be an investigation into what it called "Britain's wasteland"—Northern Ireland. It is an investigation into how Government and British money has been spent there. I should like to help the producer of that programme, Mr. Peter Taylor. Many things can be said about public expenditure relating to any part of the United Kingdom. I should not want Mr. Taylor to feed the people of Great Britain with falsities. I should like him to give the whole picture rather than a small part of it.
As so often happens in the case of Northern Ireland Members, I have a copy of a confidential report from the Northern Ireland Office to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It was written some time ago to help defend British Government policy with regard to Northern Ireland. It points out that, of the total identifiable public expenditure for the United Kingdom in the year 1979–80 per head of the population, Northern Ireland received £1,637 compared with £1,107 for England, £1,302 for Wales, £1,366 for Scotland and £1,155 for the United Kingdom as a whole. I thought it might be wise to bring Mr. Taylor and his team up to date. I should not like them to use old figures. However, unfortunately, the public expenditure figures for each component nation of the United Kingdom are not available for the current year, although they are available for previous years.
For the year 1981–82 the percentage of public expenditure in Northern Ireland had fallen slightly from 4 per cent. to 3.9 per cent. The figure per head was £2,245 for Northern Ireland, £1,455 for England, £1,876 for Scotland and £1,712 for Wales. The figure for Northern Ireland is still slightly higher than those for other countries but Northern Ireland is in the middle of a terrorist war. Other parts of the United Kingdom do not have the social and economic deprivation and problems, some of which arise from that terrorist war, which have been referred to earlier.
By far the largest amount of public expenditure went to England, which received £68 billion. If one wants to save public expenditure perhaps the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North would like to get rid of England from the United Kingdom rather than Northern Ireland. For year after year the people of Northern Ireland have had these figures thrown at them. We shall probably have them thrown at us again from the television screen next week. That would be appalling. The figures should be set in their proper context of the Province's economic and social conditions compared with those in the rest of the United Kingdom. If one breaks down the figures for the United Kingdom as a whole, one soon finds that London is the only place that makes money. The reasons for that are well known to everyone.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
I should like to encourage my hon. Friend to believe that the information that he has put at the BBC's disposal will be used in the programme on Monday night, but my experience of the producer is that he fixes an idea in his head and disregards all the uncomfortable and awkward facts that would get in the way of that preconceived idea.
998 I should not want to hold out any hope that the corrections and valuable information that my hon. Friend is prepared to put at the BBC's disposal will be used to give a balanced picture.
§ Mr. Ross
My hon. Friend knows that a balanced picture rarely comes Northern Ireland's way. While it is difficult to convert those whose minds are fixed on doing as much damage to the Province as possible, one lives in hope that if that gentleman does not make use of the figures perhaps his overlords in the BBC will be made to take note of them. Ministers will no doubt bring them to the attention of the BBC so that a more balanced picture may be set before the people of the United Kingdom.
One could continue and refer to the fact that British Leyland has received £2.5 billion since 1975 and during the same period the British Steel Corporation, depending upon how it is counted, managed to get rid of £2.4 billion to £3 billion. That is a fair bit of money to spend on a relatively small percentage of the United Kingdom population. Each part of the nation is interdependent upon every other. The sooner that is recognised and put over to the electorate, the better for us all. The false figures with which we are bombarded by the enemies of Ulster should have no place in the thinking of the people of this nation.
I want to deal with education. The House will have listened with interest to the exchange between myself and the hon. Member for Belfast, West. I noticed that he did not get round to answering my question. However, I hope that as money for education is evidently in short supply this year the noble Lord Gowrie who is in charge of education will make it his business to bring to the attention of the Catholic bishop in Londonderry the fact that there is a mixed primary school in the village of Ballykelly—which suffered so grievously just before Christmas—where Roman Catholic, Protestant, Army and formerly Air Force children have been educated happily and well together. It is deplorable that the local Catholic parish priest has applied for permission to build a sectarian school in the village.
Everyone wishes to have children educated together and good relations fostered, and I hope that it will be brought to the good bishop's attention that the priest's proposal will do nothing to improve community relations or to maintain the good community relations in the village. I hope that the bishop will reconsider the matter. As far as I can discover, the parishioners have no particular wish to be faced with the expenditure, however small, of building a new school when there is a perfectly adequate one operating in the village.
We cannot afford such a school at present. The Government have had the breathtaking effrontery to offer the entire Northern Ireland education system £600,000 only for new building projects in the coming financial year. Any of the education and library boards in Northern Ireland could easily spend that amount of money on new build. I made a number of inquiries of the boards and was told that the north-eastern education and library board has put four new projects to the Department for approval. One is for a new school but the others are all urgent. The board drew my attention to the fact that the Ballyclare high school has 30 mobile classrooms and that the Magherafelt high school, although it is not at the tender stage, is in the same general position. In the western education and library board's area there is the Limavady primary school, on which work is supposed to begin towards the end of the 999 year. There is also the Omagh special school. A school building for Sion Mills and regional libraries for both Londonderry and Omagh are on the stocks.
As well as that, there is the Government's rationalisation programme, which was pressed upon us so clearly and thoroughly by the Minister. Rationalisation and getting rid of the small schools may look well on paper, but there are two problems. First, it is clear that the money to implement it does not exist. If it did, there would be more than £600,000 for next year. Secondly, education in the rural areas is not only a numbers game. A numbers game may make sense in the larger conurbations such as Belfast, but it makes no sense in the country areas. Distance is the predominant feature there. It is difficult to transport small children to and from the schools.
The Minister complained at the lack of progress in closing schools. He could do that only if he did not understand the resistance and fears of the people in those rural communities. I speak for the rural communities, where the problem has been much greater. The Minister also referred to the demographic trend, which is that fewer children are being born. However, we have no idea whether that trend will persist for five, 10 or even two years. The situation could change rapidly. The problem is that, once one closes a school, it has gone for ever; it will never reopen. It takes the heart out of many of the smaller hamlets and rural communities and destroys the possibility of a viable community in the more remote areas.
Some parents do not trust the small schools and transport their children to larger ones. We must face that social problem. We must convince the parents that small local schools are worthy of support because if all the children go to them they become a much better prospect. Of course, it is the wealthier section of the community that can afford to take the children elsewhere.
Apart from future rationalisation, there is the problem that for the past two years since the document was issued there have been no improvements on the smaller schools, which is a danger. By withholding the money for those programmes the Government are assisting in achieving their desired aim—the closing of the small schools. They are in a dreadful state. Only the most vital work is done. It is impossible to teach and do a reasonable job in such conditions. One example is Bellarena. The case has been made that it is still a viable unit, although it is small, but no money has been made available. It should be allowed to go ahead with its improvements. The matter should be sorted out this year.
The north-eastern board area has 350 mobile classrooms altogether. I do not know what the Government intend to do about that. To say that £600,000 will be sufficient to deal with it is nonsense. The figure for new starts last year for both of the controlled and voluntary sectors was £1.3 million. For both sectors this year the figure is £600,000 each. They are having an equal share of the misery.
Last year the voluntary sector had 11 new starts. This coming year it has six. Last year the controlled sector had 24 new starts for various projects. This year it does not know how many it has. That means two things. First, the controlled sector, which is the state sector, does not know how many new starts it will have, so it cannot go ahead with tendering. Secondly, the amount of money available is so small that all those starts will be late in the year. The work cannot start until the winter. Limavady primary school is aiming for October or November. That is the 1000 middle of the winter. Not much money will be spent before the end of March. The £600,000 means that the programme will come to a stop for a number of months. The trouble for future years will build up on top of that. There is a cumulative effect. To try to chop us back to that extent when the work is so badly needed is to store up the problems for the future. Those problems will be harder to resolve.
I refer now to the sums expended on insurance for schools. It is the practice that the controlled sector of schools is not insured against vandalism, fire damage and so on. That means that whenever there is damage through vandalism or whatever the money that is needed for replacements or repairs has to come out of the board's money for the year. No extra provision is made.
The schools in the voluntary sector are insured. Figures have been given to me in the past few months showing the cost of insurance against the cost of carrying out the repairs. It is clear that there is a saving to the public purse through not insuring the schools. However, the voluntary schools are insured. The interesting thing is that they are reimbursed 100 per cent. by the boards for that insurance.
If the voluntary sector is getting what is in effect extra money over and above that which is going into the controlled sector—that is the only conclusion that one can draw from the facts as I understand them—there is a good case to be made for increasing by a like amount the insurance money to the controlled sector. That would go a long way towards resolving some of the difficulties that we face in the controlled sector. If by doing so we can convince the voluntary sector that the Government will meet the cost of repairs in the same way as they meet the cost of repairs in the controlled sector, we may be able to get rid of the cost of insurance in the voluntary as well as in the controlled sector.
I hope that Northern Ireland Ministers will take a careful look at the possibility that I am outlining to them. I may have got some of it wrong, but I think that the Ministers will find that my general thesis is correct: if money is that tight, why throw away £200,000 or £300,000 a year?
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell) is still with us. He will not be surprised to hear me refer to housing grants. It seems that he and I are always corresponding on that matter. In a debate in the Northern Ireland Committee a week or so ago I referred to the definition of farmhouses with regard to grants. I have since written to the Minister asking about the possibility of creating another point of entry to the improvement grants for such dwellings. I have made a few more investigations since then, because the agricultural sufficient employment test, which is the only point of entry for houses just over the limit, concerns the Minister as well as me. I asked the Minister in the Northern Ireland Committee to consider a more reasonable system, or whether another point of entry could be evolved. I wrote to him suggesting that an entry point based on a percentage of farming income for the specific individual could be used as another point of entry.
Paragraph 63 of the first: report from the Agriculture Committee on investment aids contains some interesting material. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will examine the report so that his officials can devise a scheme to use those investment aids. An EC directive states that farmers could draw up to 50 per cent. of their income from non-farm work in the less favoured areas. That is an avenue that the 1001 Minister could profitably explore, because this problem is causing both of us considerable concern. We should try to resolve the problem as soon as possible for the benefit of my constituents and those of all Northern Ireland Members. However, I have no doubt that the Minister will examine the relevant paragraph and speak to me about it.
The Minister is always willing to listen to what I have to say and to read the many letters that I send him on the problems of demolition and rebuild. Is he making any progress on that front? I raised that matter 10 days ago, and if I have the opportunity I shall raise it 10 days hence. I should like this matter to be examined as expeditiously as possible. It is just as reasonable to subsidise building a new house as it is to subsidise a tenant paying rent or a tenant who buys.
I find nothing wrong with the principle that I am setting forth, if only to improve the quality of housing in the rural areas. Hon. Members hear much about the poor quality of housing in Northern Ireland, especially in Belfast. They forget that bad housing also exists in the rural areas, especially among the small farmers and owner-occupiers. That problem must be resolved. It is as important as the problem of urban slums. With the exception of a small part of Londonderry, I am fortunate that the bad areas of housing in my constituency have largely disappeared. My problem is the low quality of rural housing, especially in many parts of the west of Northern Ireland. It must be resolved, although it will be difficult.
I wish to deal with the repairs procedure of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. The Government have been quietly sliding over the fact that the Housing Executive made a complete mess of the repair programme for this year. It got its sums wrong, thereby causing enormous difficulties.
In the Northern Ireland Committee, the hon. Member for Basingstoke said that many problems were thrown up at the time of the assembly elections when canvassing took place. When hon. Members canvass this year the same problems, still unresolved, will be waiting for them. When I canvass in my constituency, the problems come back to me. The Housing Executive has got its sums wrong and there is no area in which it has got it sums more wrong than in that of repairs. When the Minister replies to the debate, will he say how the £6 million deficit, which the Housing Executive was heading for at the beginning of the year, arose for the repair of houses? My understanding is that it arose largely in the city of Belfast. If that is so, why did those involved get it wrong and why do my constituents and those in other parts of Northern Ireland have to suffer because Belfast made a mess of things? If my area can get it right, or nearly right, why cannot Belfast get it right? Why has the work not been completed? Why cannot we have a proper standard for house building and repair so that our constituents and tenants are satisfied when it is completed?
I wonder whether Belfast knew what it was doing, whether there was vandalism or whether there was a specific reason for that upsurge in the cost of repairs in that part of the Province. If the cost has not arisen in Belfast, will the Minister tell the House how the deficit arose and how we got into this mess? When my constituents return to me for seven weeks and say that there is a seven to eight week freeze before they can get repairs done, I get fed up. I feel sure they get angry.
1002 I must leave aside the failure of the Housing Executive to solve the problems, for such failures will persist until we have proper responsible local government in control of housing in Northern Ireland. The councils should be prepared to take responsibility for ensuring that the work is done and the people living in their houses are properly cared for.
I do not wish to speak for too long—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Ross
If the Government Whip is incapable of getting a sufficient number of Conservative Members to keep the debate going, I will continue for an hour or so.
There was recently a debate in this House on the common agricultural policy. Northern Ireland has waited many years for an extension of the less favoured areas. Hopes have been raised and expectations created, but there has never been any commitment by the Government to provide money for an increase in grant levels that would result in an extension of the less favoured areas. If the Government are not prepared to make the money available and to give a commitment, it is about time they said so. However, if they are prepared to give a commitment, again it is about time they said so. The expectation may be founded on sinking sand. It is unfair and morally wrong to lead people to believe year after year that there will be some salvation and then at the end of the day, when the Commission accepts the extension, to say, "We are spreading the current money over an increased area." The increased area must have a commitment to that section of farming.
The CAP debate was on a telling motion. I do not think that I need rehearse the argument. I am sure that those who were present or who read the reports of the debate will recall that there was nothing in that motion about the level of farmers' incomes. The only commitments were to ensure that the consumer had cheap food and that the processor made a profit.
The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Patten), who opened the debate today, talked about a reasonable level of income for farmers. That sounds good; it is a wonderful term. But what does it mean? When the Minister replies, will he tell the House what a reasonable income is? What percentage is it of the average industrial income in this country? How much more than that does the farmer need in his pocket every year to spend on machinery, improvements, new stock and all the things that he needs? The Minister talks about a reasonable level of income, so surely someone somewhere in the Department of Agriculture or in the Government has some idea what that means, either in relation to an acre of land or to industrial incomes. Many farmers would be delighted to hear what it was, so that they could see how far short they had fallen.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
Perhaps I can give the hon. Gentleman a rest. He has been talking for a little while, and it is only fair that he should have a break. I am glad that he has come to the subject of farm incomes and I look forward to his saying a little more about them. However, while he waits for the Department to give that definition—perhaps some time, perhaps never—could not he give the House his definition of a reasonable income?
§ Mr. Ross
I am not in a position to do that. I did not coin the term. To give a definition of what farmers feel is a reasonable level of income, I would have to ask the 1003 Ulster Farmers Union, which is closely in touch with all its members. I shall send the UFU a copy of my remarks, and I am sure that it will then let the Minister know what it considers to be a reasonable income.
In reaching that reasonable income, the less favoured area extension is a very necessary measure, but it will not wholly overcome the problems caused by remoteness of market and the high cost of stock feed in Northern Ireland. The less favoured areas are not necessarily hill areas, as the Minister knows. The characteristics that make an area less favoured are those that will limit the production of food for various reasons. For example, soil and drainage may be poor, the area may be remote, sea crossings may be involved or there may be steep land or other environmental considerations. Therefore, Ministers will see that there are several problems to concern them. The objective of the less favoured area measures is to increase the level of profit of farming in those areas, while maintaining a viable population. I wonder whether those two statements are contradictory. Money can be used to improve the soil. The level of fertility can be improved and much can be done about drainage. Also, better roads and cheaper services, such as telephones and electricity, can help with remoteness.
The Minister responsible for the environment in Northern Ireland is also responsible for areas of natural beauty and for their tourist applications. If society is to preserve those areas of outstanding natural beauty, society as a whole—rather than the agriculturists or graziers who live there—will have to pay for the special conditions laid down for farm buildings and other housing that may be erected. If there is to be a viable population that is not necessarily connected with agriculture, there must be a change in the planners' attitude towards those areas. One of the aims of farmers is to increase in size, become more efficient and thus have a lower proportion of the population dependent upon it. That leads to all the problems of education and so on that have been mentioned.
The question of sea crossings may be dealt with in the same way as the Scottish islands were dealt with. I refer the Minister to paragraph 21 of the report, which deals with that problem in Scotland. When I read it, I wondered whether the road equivalent tariff system which is to be used for the Scottish islands might be considered for Northern Ireland. The problem of transport in Northern Ireland should concern us all. If something is done to lessen that burden, we may begin to get somewhere.
I think that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North raised the possibility of building a grain intervention store in Northern Ireland. That may help, but there is still the problem of transporting the grain to it. In addition, it will not bring the price of the grain down to the level that we used to enjoy when we obtained it from North America. That affects the cost of food production in this country. No doubt the Minister responsible for agriculture in Northern Ireland will have read the book written by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body). I do not agree with everything in that book, but he certainly raised several questions to which the Government, farmers unions and farmers should address their minds. The hon. Member for Holland with Boston simply asked how much longer we were prepared to go on paying for an increase in the level of production, and what we would do with the food when we had it.
1004 In Ulster, the system of small farms is slowly but surely disappearing. The cheap grain has gone. However, I must still assume that the Government wish to maintain food production in Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom at some level. But we have never been told what farmers are expected to do. The Government are no more prepared to commit themselves on that than the Minister is to tell me what a reasonable income is.
Farmers cannot assume that the Government will maintain and increase food production, regardless of economic considerations and the cost of production. Thai: is what the motion on the common agricultural policy 10 days ago meant. I just hope and pray that the farmers, and their representatives in the farmers unions, will consider what is inherent in that, even if Ministers at the Northern Ireland Office and at national level are unwilling to state it in cold black and white. I also question whether it is wise or morally just to mislead farmers in the way that they have been misled by this and previous Governments over the level of food production wanted in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Loughborough)
I hope that the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) will forgive me if I do not follow him down all the various paths that he trod of Northern Ireland politics. Hon. Members would be here for longer than they would choose if I were to attempt that task. In addition, the hon. Gentleman's deep knowledge of Northern Ireland affairs is such that I could not hope to match his detailed points.
I am glad to have this opportunity to make, in a sense, my maiden speech on Northern Ireland affairs. However, I regret that I must begin with some apologies. First, I am sorry that I was unable to hear the speech made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), because, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), I was at our party's committee dealing with Northern Ireland affairs. There we met the director of the Province's industrial development board and discussed the problems of industrial development in Northern Ireland with him. Therefore, I regret that I was unable to hear the opening speeches.
I must also apologise to the House because I shall have to slip away after my speech due to a previous engagement elsewhere. Nevertheless, I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the debate. It will come as no surprise to those who take part regularly in debates on Northern Ireland when I say that I come to this subject relatively fresh, and that what I have to say is said unashamedly as an outsider.
I do not profess a deep and long-standing knowledge of Northern Ireland affairs, although anyone who is involved in British politics must be interested and concerned about what is happening there. I have had such an interest throughout my adult life. Anyone who is relatively young in politics must recognise that Northern Ireland has been a continuum, going along in the background of British politics. No one involved in politics can afford to ignore that.
This debate is an ideal opportunity for someone coming to the problem from such a background to make his opening comments. The debate ranges broadly over every subject in Northern Irish politics. It is an opportunity for hon. Members to speak on any issue involving public 1005 expenditure in Northern Ireland. As we know from our procedures in the United Kingdom as a whole, that means in practice anything to do with politics in the Province.
Anyone coming to Northern Irish affairs for the first time must obviously begin by expressing concern about the continuing toll of loss of life and damage to property. It has gone on throughout my political life and represents the failure of Government in one of their most basic duties. Thomas Hobbes said that without Government, life is "nasty, brutish and short."
§ Mr. Dorrell
No, Hobbes said that about the total absence of government. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North is leaping a long way from the position in any part of the United Kingdom. One of the basic purposes of Government is to allow every citizen in any part of the country to go about his lawful business without fear for his own safety or for the security of his property. The task of Government to maintain law and order in the areas for which they are responsible is one of high trust, which no Government of the United Kingdom over the past 15 years can claim to have discharged in all their territories with the success that they would have preferred.
I become impatient with those on the mainland of the United Kingdom who, after looking at Northern Ireland, say that we should cut ourselves off, that we should withdraw our troops and that the Northern Ireland problem is one for the Irish. Northern Ireland is—and until it chooses for the position to be otherwise, will remain—part of the United Kingdom. It has chosen by democratic vote on many occasions to remain so. It makes no more sense for my constituents in Loughborough to say that we should withdraw our troops from Northern Ireland than it would for constituents in Belfast to say that we should withdraw our troops in the event of a breakdown of law and order in Loughborough. That would be a grave dereliction of our duty. If the maintenance of law and order is one of the basic tasks of government, then the time that citizens need Government most is precisely when law and order is in danger of breaking down. That is exactly the position that pertains at times in parts of Northern Ireland.
I very firmly believe that the United Kingdom Government have an inescapable duty to try to ensure a return of civilised standards of life and security in the Province, just as they have to maintain them through the rest of the United Kingdom. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench will continue to regard it as an important part of their job to explain the need for that policy, not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the rest of the United Kingdom, so that all citizens understand beyond peradventure the need for it to continue. I hope also that they will continue what I know have been considerable efforts on the part of the ministerial team in Northern Ireland and sympathetic Back Benchers in the House to try to ensure that those who interfere in the affairs of Northern Ireland from outside the United Kingdom, particularly from North America, understand the truth of the position.
I well remember visiting New York at the time of the hunger strikes in Northern Ireland. I was being driven through the streets by an Irish-American taxi driver who said that, while he did not profess to have a great 1006 knowledge of Northern Ireland, he did not feel that all that was being put about by IRA sympathisers was true. I told him that it was not true. I told him that there was no easy solution for the British Government as long as it was recognised that the majority community in Northern Ireland is Protestant and that the majority community had repeatedly shown through the ballot box that it did not wish to leave the United Kingdom. The taxi driver told me that he did not know that. He said that he, as an Irish-American, thought that it was a case of the British Government holding down the Province against its will. It came as a surprise to him when I said that in repeated referendums people had voted to stay in the United Kingdom. That should come as no surprise to anyone in North America, particularly to Irish-Americans in New York. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench have made it part of their job to try to ensure that that depth of ignorance is removed from North America. I hope that those efforts will continue, because they can be of major importance in bringing back law and order to the streets of Northern Ireland.
An unavoidable question for an hon. Member to ask is, what can we, in the House and in Government, do about the problems pertaining in Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Dorrell
Indeed, the problems are covered by the order. As I said at the beginning of my speech, everything that the Government do in Northern Ireland is covered by the order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bring himself to talk about the responsibilities of Northern Ireland Departments. Police and security matters are not within the scope of this order.
§ Mr. Dorrell
I accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure you will agree that my points about the importance of understanding the issues in Northern Ireland are the proper responsibility of every department of government in Northern Ireland, whether paid for out of the Consolidated Fund through the Northern Ireland Office or through the individual departments of government in Northern Ireland.
Since the troubles began in Northern Ireland, all the departments of government have tried to remove the legitimate causes of concern that have led to a growth in terrorism in recent years. Anyone who is concerned with the evolution of government, whether it be in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom or indeed any part of the world, must accept that no Government will ever be perfect. There will always be causes of unrest. There will always be things to which individuals in a community object, or that people think are being done wrongly and unjustly. I do not believe that anyone can argue against the proposition that Governments of both parties over the past 10 to 15 years have made a serious attempt to deal with some of the problems that clearly existed in the late 1960s. That is not to say that the people who were responsible for government until the abolition of Stormont were wrong but simply that problems existed then—that is not a controversial statement.
Serious attempts have been made by Governments of all political parties in the Province to try to deal with those 1007 legitimate causes of concern in the Community. One cannot rebuild the basis of consent that is the bedrock of a free society without a consensus in the community that the organs of government are working for the purposes and the interests of the whole community.
§ Mr. Soley
I really cannot let the hon. Gentleman continue that line of argument without intervening. I welcome him to the debate, but I suggest that he studies the Irish election results in 1918, the way in which the border was drawn in 1920, how the majority came to be where it is and why the Unionists felt so insecure in the following years and chose, unfortunately, to discriminate against the minority. Having done that, if he re-reads his comments today he may reach a very different conclusion.
§ Mr. Dorrell
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that I would reach a different conclusion. I deliberately eschewed comment on what happened before the abolition of Stormont. As I said, whatever went wrong before then—and all Governments make mistakes—I do not think that the House would now deny that serious attempts have been made since the abolition of Stormont to deal with some of the problems that existed before then. I have chosen my words carefully. No one would argue—I am sure that the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North would not argue—that things were perfect at that time, but I do not believe that many hon. Members would now deny that serious attempts are being made to deal with the problems that remained after the abolition of Stormont.
That is the important point. Where there is terrorism and a breakdown of the essential consensus that is the basis of a free society, there is a denial, as there has been at times in Irish history, that Governments are interested in the real problems of parts of the community. My point is that that is no longer the case. The Government are making genuine attempts to deal with indisputably real problems and I believe that that is widely recognised in the Northern Ireland community.
In recent months the Government have tried to build a consensus on that recognition in order to cut the ground from under the men of violence so that the community can go forward on the basis of local consensus about the proper development and form of society in Northern Ireland. In seeking to do that, the argument inevitably tends to centre around the form of institution necessary to build that consensus and make it work.
§ Mr. Richard Needham (Chippenham)
I am interested in my hon. Friend's argument and I am sorry that I did not hear the earlier part of his speech. Does he agree that it is vital that the Government should be seen to be careful and even-handed in their approach? For example, the Minister of State has been carefully considering the matter of dog licences in Northern Ireland. Although it is an important matter, it is essential that the Government do not do anything that might destroy the consensus by forcing on the people of Northern Ireland something that may benefit farmers in one section of the community but perhaps create hardship for dog owners in another.
§ Mr. Dorrell
I agree with my hon. Friend that we must seek to build on that consensus. It is perhaps an illustration of the fragility of the consensus in Northern Ireland that an issue such as he mentioned may be thought to imperil it. In England, it would seem absurd to suggest that dog 1008 licences might imperil the consensus on which a free society is based. That very fragility of the consensus in Northern Ireland is the basic problem facing anyone interested in the affairs of the Province.
As I said, anyone interested in rebuilding the consensus tends, perhaps inevitably, to turn first to the institutions. I suggest that perhaps the time has now come to turn our attention away from the great issues and institutions towards some of the more mundane issues covered by the order.
In considering the great institutional debates that have gone on in Ireland, depending which view of history one takes, since the time of Oliver Cromwell or even earlier, we must recognise that we are only human and mortal and if there were a perfect solution to the problems one of the great men who went before us might have stumbled across it.
It may be more sensible to accept that some questions have no answers and one can deal only with little bits at the edges and to apply our minds to dealing with some of the other questions to which there are more obvious answers and more specific steps that Governments can take to deal with specific problems. That may ultimately be more productive than endlessly arguing about the type of new Jerusalem we are trying to build.
There is the precedent of Henry Kissinger—again, not a perfect man—and his achievements in the middle east. He realised that it was impossible for an American Secretary of State at that time to envisage the end solutions to the problems of the middle east, but he saw specific things that could be done to reduce the size of the problem and to nibble at the edges of it.
Perhaps we could take the same approach in Northern Ireland. Instead of trying to redraw the whole thing from scratch on a clean sheet of paper, we could try to deal with some of the less ambitious issues. Again, it is perhaps an illustration of the size of the Northern Ireland problem that one regards the problems of social and economic development as less difficult to solve than the institutional problems. Nevertheless, I believe that that is now the case.
The House might be well advised to turn its attention to some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) when he described the problems of unemployment and social deprivation in parts of Northern Ireland. He said that unemployment in his constituency had increased threefold since 1979. In absolute terms, unemployment in my constituency is nowhere near so high as in Belfast, West, but it has also increased threefold in the past four years, so the problems that the hon. Gentleman described are not unknown to Members in other parts of the House.
I missed the speech of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North but I understand that his approach was that the problems of Northern Ireland were to some extent caused by unemployment and social deprivation and could be solved by a substantial increase in public expenditure. I take issue with that analysis. I do not believe that economic problems can be solved simply by throwing money at them. The last time that I spoke in the House—I do not generally indulge myself to such an extent—was in the debate yesterday on public expenditure in the United Kingdom as a whole. As the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) reminded the House on that occasion, it is oversimplistic to imagine that economic 1009 problems can be solved by massive increases in public expenditure without reference to the impact of that on the real economy that one wishes to stimulate.
§ Mr. Soley
The hon. Gentleman will have to read my speech tomorrow. That is exactly what I said. I said that there was no point in simply throwing money at the problem because so much depended on how the money was used, and I called for it to be used in very specific ways. I understand that the hon. Gentleman could not be present to hear my speech, but it is dangerous to start taking apart a speech that he did not hear.
§ Mr. Dorrell
I entirely take the hon. Gentleman's point. I am not trying to take apart a speech that I did not hear. I am pointing out the dangers of regarding public expenditure alone as the solution to the economic problems of the Province. If the hon. Gentleman accepts that, I am happy to climb aboard his ship, although it will be interesting to see exactly what limitations he sought to place on the role of public expenditure in Northern Ireland.
An aspect of public expenditure that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest and I discussed earlier today and which illustrates the role of public expenditure very clearly is the way in which the industrial development board is working in the Province. It would be very easy to see the role of the industrial development board as being a money-dispersing machine trying to stimulate industrial projects in the Province.
It is interesting that that was precisely how Mr. Tate did not see it, and when I pressed him closely on whether the availability of finance was the chief problem facing local business men, he said that it was not. Finance is available, sometimes through the IDB, but more usually from commercial sources of finance, for a project that has a real chance of being economically viable and providing jobs. For such projects, availability of finance was not the main cause of the problem. There are other problems, most particularly those concerned with the overall economic problems that this country and the developed world face. The problems are much more to do with overall recession than with cash availability in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Tate emphasised that there is a large number of local entrepreneurs in the Province who have the management expertise and the willingness to take the risk, but, against the background of the recession that we face, do not have the realistic prospect of making a return on their investment. He emphasised that the best way to provide for the industrial rebirth of the Province was to engineer circumstances in which the economy of the whole of the United Kingdom could expand. He saw no reason why, particularly bearing in mind the strength of the local entrepreneurs and the availability of finance locally, Northern Ireland should not be well placed to benefit from an expanding United Kingdom economy.
I am struck in politics by how often one comes back to the fact, whether we are discussing the affairs of Northern Ireland or of some of the groups that are disadvantaged in my constituency, that many of these problems can only be solved by a restructured and healthy British economy. There is no more a local solution to the problem of Northern Ireland than there is a local solution to the problems of Loughborough. Those problems are, in 1010 reality, part of the whole problem of how we can make our economy expand and provide the wealth and opportunities that we want for our people.
That in itself is only a small part of how we make the world's economy expand again. It is cloud-cuckoo-land to imagine that we can get our economy expanding against a background of the deepest world recession this century. The most effective thing that the Government can do to improve the outlook for Northern Ireland is what my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been doing through his work in the interim committee of the IMF and on the international monetary scene to get the world's economy expanding. It is by that means that we can provide the resources necessary to solve many of the social and economic problems of the Province.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. David Mitchell)
I wish to intervene because a number of points have been raised concerning the matters for which I have responsibility in the Northern Ireland Office. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) took housing as one of his themes. Therefore, perhaps it might be appropriate if I say a few words on that subject. I am glad that the hon. Member is taking such an interest in housing. I know that he has recently visited Belfast to see the housing conditions there for himself. He and I share the common purpose of trying to improve the housing conditions for the people of both Belfast and Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member does not do the Province a service by underplaying the progress that has been made. It is right that he should examine, analyse and probe, but if his analysis and probing show that there is an improvement, it lends credibility to his argument if he accepts that that is so.
The hon. Member spoke about the need to keep pace with unfitness, and suggested that we were 500 short in the number of starts. There are over 500,000 houses in the Province and to know within 500 the precise level of unfitness is a degree of fine tuning that is not realistic. It will not be until next year that we shall have a fitness housing survey giving us the up-to-date circumstances. The hon. Member may be right but he may not be, and one cannot fine-tune to that extent.
I accept that we need to see maximum progress in dealing with the serious housing problems. The hon. Member went on to call for 10,000 housing starts. We have made rather more progress towards that point than the House recognises. Starts last year by the Housing Executive were 4,600. The Housing Executive, with the housing associations, also rehabilitated 1,100 houses. A rehabilitated house will not be an unfit house, so we are making some progress, and it is right to add that number to the overall figure.
There is also the private sector, and some 4,500 starts were made there. That is a 19 per cent. increase over the figure for the preceding year, for which I might expect hon. Members to be pleased. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North, as he shares my interest in housing, might have applauded the success that we have achieved. Those figures add up to 10,100. The hon. Member asked for a programme of 10,000 starts, but, taking the public and the private sectors together, we are 100 over that benchmark. I am never satisfied, but rather more progress has been made than we are sometimes given credit for.
1011 The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North took a view, with which I do not agree, about housing sales, which he says are worsening the problem, particularly in the areas of housing stress. The waiting list in the Province is the difference between the number of houses and the number of families. Who owns the houses makes no difference to the balance of the equation of the number of the houses and the number of families. It makes no difference to the shortfall in the number of houses whoever owns them, whether they are owned by former tenants or the Housing Executive.
§ Mr. Soley
The Minister cannot get away with murder. He knows that it makes a difference to the possibility of transfers within an area so that in a housing stress area a person who is unable to buy cannot transfer because the better properties are sold first. Therefore, that does nothing to help the worst housing condition areas. The other point that the hon. Member has missed is that the whole thrust of my argument about housing is that that is the way to use public expenditure effectively to rejuvenate the economy and take half the construction workers off the dole.
§ Mr. Mitchell
In this matter the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We are talking about the problem of homelessness and of those who are on the waiting list. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that the waiting list has come down from 30,000 in 1979 to 24,571, which is a substantial reduction. I have reason to believe that it has fallen further since those figures where worked out.
I do not accept the argument that making available to people in Northern Ireland the opportunity of becoming owner-occupiers by the purchase of their Housing Executive houses will in any way diminish the supply of housing or make the position of those on the waiting list worse. I was astonished when the hon. Gentleman went on to say that we were forcing people to buy houses from the Housing Executive. No force is being applied. There is attraction. If the hon. Gentleman does not know the difference between force and attraction, that is perhaps one of the reasons why he is a Socialist and I am a Conservative. I want to see an economy in which people can exercise their free choice. They are exercising their choice because the cost of mortgages has fallen as Government policy has successfully reduced interest rates. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome an additional option that might not otherwise have been available. People who would not have been able to afford it can now, with lower interest rates, encompass the thought of becoming an owner-occupier.
The hon. Gentleman asked about rents. This year, we have increased rents roughly in line with the rise in the cost of living. If we had failed to do so, we would, in effect, have been diminishing the rents in real terms. The balance has not been tipped this year by rents, although this may have been the case last year. It has been tipped because of the significant reduction in the cost of the mortgages. I would have thought that the extra choice available to people in the Province would be welcomed by all hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman talked about an increase in rents simply leading to increased debt. I have to say to him that 70 per cent. of the Housing Executive tenants are not in arrears. It is not a black picture overall. Both the hon. Gentleman and myself are aware of street after street in 1012 Belfast where houses have not had money spent on them in repairs and maintenance for years. To discover the reason, one need look no further than the fact that most of the houses in that condition are let at a rent of under £1 per week. When a landlord is not receiving adequate rental income, one cannot expect him to maintain houses in a decent condition. I do not want to see the Housing Executive get into a position where it is not receiving the necessary income to enable it to maintain its property properly.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) put some probing questions. He asked about housing arrears and explained that the local government auditor gave as the main cause of arrears the fact that those who were eligible for rebates did not seek them. He asked me to take steps to ensure a bigger take-up by those eligible for rebate. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) made the same point. I can give that assurance. I agree entirely. Both the executive and I have been seeking over the past year to encourage an increase in the take-up. The right hon. Member for Down, South may be mildly reassured when I say that we have succeeded in increasing the figures from 19,000 to 41,750, more than double. I am never satisfied, but it is significant progress.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
When officials of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive write to those tenants who are in arrears, would it be possible to point out to them that they might be entitled to a rebate if they have not already claimed one?
§ Mr. Mitchell
My hon. Friend makes a helpful suggestion. I shall certainly draw it to the attention of the chairman of the Housing Executive.
The right hon. Member for Down, South mentioned the reference by the Public Accounts Committee to the deficit in the Housing Executive's house purchase scheme. The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The Comptroller and Auditor General uncovered a substantial number of mortgages under the home loan scheme where there was debt. The matter was raised by the Public Accounts Committee. The Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland has set up procedures to monitor the executive's performance in recovering mortgage arrears and is keeping the position under review. I should explain, although it is only perhaps part of an explanation, that the executive was the lender of last resort during this period when building societies in particular were reluctant to be involved. There is perhaps a disproportionate element of those who would have difficulty in funding the continuing purchase in this group. I have given the assurance to the right hon. Gentleman who, as usual, has put his linger firmly on a sensitive point.
The right hon. Gentleman then raised the rate increase in the Province and the changed system. He suggested that rate demands should be accompanied by a statement setting out the basis on which the rate was arrived at. I shall look into that suggestion. It would undoubtedly be more possible now to do it that it has been in the past. My recollection is, however, that it took me half an hour with a wet towel round my head to understand it myself. It may take some considerable explanation to arrive at a form of words readily digestible by the public. It is, however, a constructive suggestion. We shall see what can be done.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of concessionary fares. He drew the comparison with Great 1013 Britain, stating that most places provided concessions for women at 60 years of age. I am not sure that this is true. My understanding is that there is enormous diversity across the length and breadth of Great Britain. It varies between places where there is free off-peak travel to others there is no concession. It is difficult to state dogmatically that the position in Great Britain is better than in Northern Ireland. We have tried to achieve provision on a standard basis throughout Northern Ireland on the average of the multi-mix that exists throughout Great Britain. If we were to reduce the age for women receiving the concession to 60, this would cost approximately £400,000. We should perhaps consider whether it is right to incur expenditure for that purpose with the consequence, presumably, that the rates would have to be put up by that amount next year.
Against the background of the substantial pressures on my budget, not only for kerbstones in Rostrevor but for a multitude of other matters, especially priority for housing, I am not sure that I would wish to spend the £400,000 on the concessionary fares. It is a matter that we can consider. It is necessary, however, to recognise that it represents £400,000 less for some other deserving expenditure in Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) also asked for concessions to be given to the disabled and pensioners. There is clearly concern on both sides of the House. I shall bear these views in mind when taking up the question of the cost and the appropriateness of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest, in an intervention in the speech of the right hon. Member for Down, South, raised the question of car parking. He asked whether it was self-evident that car parking must be a function of Government in Northern Ireland. I have been considering the matter, and it seems to me that we should be doing more to privatise it. Where it is viable to do so, I am seeking to move in that direction, particularly in the case of multi-storey car parking. On the other hand, we should consider offering district councils the opportunity to manage and run car parks in their areas on an agency basis. I have asked officials to consider the matter and report to me. So my hon. Friend and I are thinking along the same lines. Indeed, it was something that he said to me earlier that prompted me to look into the matter more closely.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I warmly thank my hon. Friend for what he just said. It marks a great step forward in a long journey. I hope that the plan that he has announced will come speedily to fruition, and that whether by privatisation or through the agency of district councils, this function will be transferred from the Department of the Environment.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I have not announced a plan. I said that I have set in hand an investigation to see whether it is a practical proposition.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I should not wish my hon. Friend to be too enthusiastic. One has to assess the implications.
The right hon. Member for Down, South referred to planning, and suggested that the Department of the Environment was now simply rubber-stamping the views of the district councils, following the consultation 1014 procedure. We take considerable cognisance of the views of district councils, and the consultation is a genuine part of decision making. However, the decision making still rests with the DOE. It is not true to say that we simply rubber-stamp the views of the district councils. In many DOE activities, including roads and planning, we are trying to make consultation much more genuine and effective, having a bigger impact on our decision-making process, but it is not true to say that we have transferred planning as a function to the district councils.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
The point I was making was that if, for example, the hon. Gentleman finds that in 90 per cent. or 95 per cent. of the planning propositions, road propositions, submitted to local authorities their advice is what he himself would accept, that is prima facie evidence that district councils are perfectly capable, subject to the normal relationship with the central Government Minister, of exercising these functions.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The right hon. Gentleman's line of thought is interesting. However, we have introduced a further step. Where there is disagreement between the district council and the local planning official, we have now made arrangements that the district council can ask to have a particular planning application taken back to the planning directorate for further examination. It is fascinating to recall that in the majority of cases when this has occurred the planning directorate has found in favour of the district council rather than the planning service in the locality. I make no criticism in any way of the planning service in the locality because it is doing a good job. However, there have been changes in emphasis and in the way in which we view planning applications. It takes time for that to become apparent. It is interesting that to this extent the views of district councils on planning are being further implemented.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) drew my attention to the Shelter report in connection with the needs of single persons. He referred to people in hostel accommodation as the forgotten people. He asked me to look into the matter. I accepted his invitation, and I shall write to him. In this connection, we have to take continual stock of whether the balance of housing provision is right. The Housing Executive is aware of the considerable numbers of pensioners and single persons who are wanting accommodation. It tends to say that it should build, not single-person accommodation, but accommodation with two bedrooms for the reason that flexibility is important, and that although the people now on the waiting lists are single, in due course they may be young married couples. It is better to have a mix of population, rather than a costa geriatrica. I take on board what the hon. Gentleman has said.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West also raised the question of EC money for housing, and asked me to clarify the position. When the integrated operations concept was first thought of, the Commission, asked both Naples and Belfast to co-operate in developing the idea, and turning it into reality. We got together and analysed the problems in Belfast and the priorities that we should use to deal with them in an integrated operation, and it was clear that for us housing was the overwhelming priority. So we made it a major part of the integrated operations document. I took the documents to Brussels and handed it over to Sgr. Giolitti, the Commissioner. I also saw our former 1015 colleague, Commissioner Christopher Tugendhat, who was very helpful, and Gaston Thorn, the President. As a result, there was considerable analysis and assessment of the best way to proceed.
It was accepted that housing was so important in Belfast that we should try to do something in advance of whatever might or might not develop out of the new concept of an integrated operation coming from the Commission. We still have a long way to go in developing a practical programme. Thus the idea of housing as a separate application to the EC for finance was developed.
I think that we were on the right lines. We got the full agreement of the Commission. That was a major undertaking. By hammering on the door, and with the cooperation of the Belfast city council, we persuaded the Commission. The only difficulty was that when the proposal went to the Council of Ministers for ratification, the West Germans had some misgivings. They thought that once they started to put up money for housing, they would find themselves rebuilding Athens, Madrid and heaven knows where else. I very much regret that view, but I would be less than human if I did not recognise its basis. It was not in any way an anti-Belfast feeling. It was a recognition of their unease of going down that road. Since then I made further representations to Senor Giolitti in December. He showed a great deal of sympathy and was anxious to do all that he could to put the scheme on the road successfully. As a result, further attempts are now being made to try to find some way, perhaps by funding an urban development programme in the Belfast area—which would ease the pressure on our budget elsewhere—to help Belfast and the inner urban areas.
I am at the moment operating on the assumption that we shall be able to provide Belfast with funding of one sort or another during the coming year and I hope that I shall not be proved wrong. I say that because I know that many people are anxious and some have jumped to the conclusion that because the integrated operations concept, as opposed to housing, has not turned itself into cash, Belfast is not getting its share of the EC regional fund. I assure the hon. Gentleman that Belfast has received £54 million over the past two years from the EC regional fund for roads, sewerage and for environmental improvements. That is a significant sum of money. We shall be linking the MI and M2 later this month or next and that project will be part-financed by the EC. However, the integrated operations concept is an experiment in which we were asked to participate within the EC and it has changed as it has proceeded. Senor Giolitti does not talk about new expenditure and a new programme but about a means of making the existing regional aid more qualitative, improving the way in which it is spent by relating one project to another, rather than having quantitative increase in the resources allocated.
I hope that that may help to set in context what has happened because there has been too much raising of hopes in Belfast. It was thought that there was a pot of gold waiting to be picked up by us. There is not, but we have been picking up everything that we can get. One additional amount that is available is 2 million units of account for studies and we are applying for some of that money for Belfast and indeed some for a difficult assessment of the future development of a site in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
The hon. Member for Londonderry raised several pertinent points. He asked me to consider farm grants and 1016 explore the possibility of a redefinition of the way eligibility for them can be gained. I shall consider that. He also raised, not for the first time, the question of a replacement subsidy in rural areas. I recognise the weight of his argument and the fact that he has highlighted a genuine problem. I have asked my officials to assess whether we can move in the direction that he wants and he knows of that. However, there are considerable problems of principle involved.
It would be difficult to use the grants system on the basis that grants are available if a house is in sufficiently good repair that additional money will put it in apple-pie order for the future and at the same time to use the money on the basis that a house is in such bad repair that it should be demolished. That cannot be part of the same grant scheme. We may have to see whether a different approach is necessary and I shall write to the hon. Gentleman as soon as I have news for him.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about the Housing Executive's repairs. He said that they were still not up to the standard that he would wish to see. Last year the Housing Executive asked me for £42 million for repairs—a substantial increase on the previous year. I considered the matter against the background of the Housing Executive's need to keep its stock in good condition and its introduction of the new concept of planned housing repairs instead of simply response maintenance. We have spent vast sums of money on response maintenance. There were 400,000 applications for 198,000 houses in a year. I took the view that that was not a rational way to deal with the proper repair and maintenance of houses. We have begun the concept of planned maintenance, taking a street or houses where, for example, we know that the window frames are rotten, and we repair the lot. In that way we can ensure that houses are put in good condition with a viable life in front of them.
We anticipated that we would see a significant cutback in response maintenance demand, but we did not. The hon Gentleman put his finger on one reason and that was that during the elections for the assembly candidates clearly aroused interest. There is a direct link between the assembly elections and the flood of applications for additional response maintenance over and above what was expected by the Housing Executive.
I have written to the chairman about that. Obviously. there are worries about the extent to which expenditure overran the sum provided. The £42 million is a substantial sum and was the full amount asked for. It should have been the right assessment. One understands if it is not, but it is the purpose of proper financial control to see that one lives within a given budget. That budget was exceeded and that: is a cause for concern. I know that the chairman is looking at ways to strengthen financial control within the executive to see that that does not recur.
The hon. Gentleman said that his constituents are complaining about the difficulties and problems of housing repair delays because of the seven-week moratorium. That is now over. Housing repairs are going ahead. If he has a constituent with a particular problem he can write to me about it and I shall look into the matter closely.
§ Mr. William Ross
Perhaps I am jumping the gun, but there is a further point. My constituents were complaining because they thought that the overrun occurred mainly in Belfast. Will the Minister say whether their assessment is correct or whether the overrun was spread evenly across 1017 the country? Furthermore, it does not matter whether there is a moratorium because the repairs are still there; there are just more of them.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I have asked for information about the breakdown of the overrun of expenditure between one part of the country and another. I do not have that to hand and I shall write to the hon. Gentleman when I have it.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the matter of areas of outstanding natural beauty and the needs of farmers and others. I have just published a discussion document which covers that. It has two main areas on which it is homing in. One is the fact that we use the description of an area of special control both for the area round a town where one is inhibiting building and development to prevent an urban sprawl from one town to the next, and for areas of outstanding scenic beauty such as the Mourne mountains, the Glens and the lakes of Fermanagh.
It is muddling to have one term used for two completely different concepts. Therefore, one of the ideas that I have advanced in the consultative document is that we should rename the areas of special control around towns as green belts. I believe that people will identify with that as a more appropriate phrase. I see that hon. Members are shaking their heads. This is a consultation document. I shall be interested to hear their views—that is the purpose of consultation.
Concomitant with the new name green belt, is the worry of a few district councils about their size. They fear that the size of green belts is disproportionate to the size of the town. If one looks at a map, green belts are like a series of cores with quite large circles around them which bump into each other. They are almost like a string of doughnuts across the map of Northern Ireland. One must ask whether we are applying light control in the green belts because they are so large and because it would be unreasonable to apply tighter controls.
Hon. Members and the public should be asked whether it would be better to have much smaller green belts which are genuine and in which only extremely limited development that is essential for agricultural purposes is allowed. That would release a much larger area for our normal rural policy which allows a much more generous approach to development for a variety of reasons and purposes.
The other aspect was raised by the hon. Member for Londonderry when he said that there is a problem with areas of outstanding natural beauty. That is the other area of nonsense. We use the terms "area of outstanding natural beauty" and "area of special control" for an area of outstanding natural beauty that is so outstanding that we refer to it as an "area of scenic beauty". That makes the concepts extremely muddling and difficult to understand, but is what I inherited when I arrived at the Northern Ireland Office. It is not satisfactory.
If one examines the map, one finds that the statutory areas of outstanding natural beauty and the areas of special control, the best of which are of scenic beauty, are not statutory but administrative. There is a case for bringing the two categories together. Perhaps one should extend the areas of scenic beauty a little and shrink the areas of outstanding beauty. Much of Northern Ireland is of outstanding natural beauty, but much of it is good rather than exceptional and it would be right to be extremely rigid 1018 in the areas that are genuinely outstanding and not to try to sweep up half of Northern Ireland in areas that should be subject to such strict control. If that view, which is in the consultation document, were to prevail, the hon. Member for Londonderry would find that many of the problems of his farming constituents would be resolved, as they would find themselves in normal rural areas.
I am conscious of the fact that I have delayed the House for some time, but several important points have been raised. Moreover, they relate to the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland, for which I am responsible. I hope that what I have said has been helpful.
§ Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) will have been greatly encouraged and assisted by the Minister's explanation of the degrees of outstanding natural beauty. At my time of life I have settled for being an ancient monument. We wish the Minister well in his patient endeavours to get more of our money from the EC for development in Northern Ireland, but we are as cautious as he has been and will believe it when we see it.
Although the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who has responsibility for health and social services in Northern Ireland is absent, I want to touch on his decision in January 1983 about the review of the structure and management of health and social services in Northern Ireland. Although the final decision was made in January, it will be implemented on 1 April 1983. I accept that the matter has been under consideration since 1979, but the interval seems to have been taken up with what has been called consultations. I wonder how real those consultations were. One gets the impression that it has been a one-day operation. Many of the bodies and individuals believe that there was little response from the DHSS either in the form of immediate comeback or in adoption of the more sensible suggestions.
I do not dispute the fact, as the Minister has said, that the whole exercise was complex and took much longer that expected. Most of us who have been caught up in such operations, especially in the Health Service, understand that such matters can become drawn out. But was not the complexity and delay in the consultation stage a good reason for taking a little longer over implementation? The Health Service dispute, which was not the fault of Ministers, Departments, boards or the elected representatives of Northern Ireland, held up negotiations and discussions with hospital staff. I should have thought that there was some justification for proceeding with a little less haste.
The Minister admits the undesirability of dealing with the eastern board in two stages, and he will know that most people in the board area are worried about that two-stage operation. There was a curious decision to place a civil servant at the top level of the eastern board. The words used in an official announcement were that the civil servant would live with the board as a lodger for about a year. I hesitate to describe a senior civil servant as a cuckoo in the nest, but it is an extraordinary development that leads me to ask whether the initiative came from the board or whether the idea was put into its head by the Minister. The proposal could be seen as a lack of 1019 confidence, or self-confidence, in the staff of the board. Any such suggestion is unacceptable, because my experience of the board points the other way.
Will the Minister give an assurance that, in the event of Muckamore Abbey hospital being transferred from the eastern board to the northern board area, in which it is geographically positioned, care will be taken to ensure as little upheaval as possible in that transfer? Both the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State will be sensitive to the needs of the 800 handicapped patients in that hospital and, almost as important, to the needs of the parents and friends of those patients. Reassurance for patients, parents and friends can best be supplied by the administrative and medical staff of the hospital. If they are to perform that task, they must feel secure. The need for security must be common to staffs of all the boards, and I hope that that fact will be borne in mind at all stages of future negotiations.
While the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) was reading quotations from the speech of the Under-Secretary of State, I was studying the speech of the Minister with responsibility for health and social services. As would any public representative, I have studied the passage headed "Loss of District Identity". To avoid that loss of identity, the regrouping of teams may be of some help. I fear, however, that the grouping of former districts into larger units may have the opposite effect. For example, how will the services be brought nearer to the customer by—and this is an example—amalgamating the districts of Newtownabbey, Carrickfergus and Larne into one rather unwieldy area? I should have thought that that was a move in the opposite direction.
I shall finish this part of my remarks by making one request of the Minister in which I am sure I shall have the wholehearted support of all Members who represent Northern Ireland when they are here in the House. We should be supplied with a "who's who" of the new structure. Such information would be of great help to us, but it would also benefit the departments, the boards and their staffs, because we could then on a personal basis know with whom we were dealing. We would be able to put faces to those rather anonymous titles of chief or deputy chief administrative officer which make no sense at all to the elected representative. This would do much to avoid a lot of the disturbance and misunderstandings which are bound to be associated with the kind of changes contemplated by the Minister. I am not condemning the changes or objecting to them on principle; I am simply saying that some disturbance and misunderstandings are unavoidable in this kind of operation.
Despite all the handicaps which have been described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) in another context earlier today, we who contribute to real decision making where the decisions are made, in the House of Commons, will continue to do our best in this matter of reorganisation on behalf of those whom we represent.
I want to raise only one other matter. It comes under Class XI(1). Provision is made for over £1¼ million for the Northern Ireland assembly. I shall not be tempted to catalogue the defects of the assembly; we have done that on another occasion. Nor will I attempt to forecast its future—not that that would be a very difficult operation after the Secretary of State's reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Armagh (Mr. McCusker) earlier today, because it is quite clear that the Secretary of State will not 1020 permit progress to be made without the consent of Mr. Hume, and Mr. Hume will not consent without a promise of a united Ireland, in which there would be no place for any assembly anyway and no excuse for paying an extra £1¼ million for the half year or whatever it is.
The £1¼ million which we are today providing for the assembly is of rather more immediate relevance. This has been touched upon by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), who expressed the hope that none of this money would be misused to provide entertainment and facilities for the so-called investigators from the European assembly. The point was also touched upon by the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). I support the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Harborough, but we have not yet, unfortunately. received a satisfactory assurance from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
Earlier today I gave the right hon. Gentleman an opportunity to reinsert the words left out of his reply to my private notice question on 24 February. The Times of 25 February supplied the omitted sentence, which it reported as beingto the effect that the Government would not give the committee"—that is, the EC committee—any assistance.We have to ask why those words were omitted from the prepared and circulated text of the Secretary of State's reply to my question.
There is another crunch issue, particularly in relation to this £1¼ million for the assembly. On 1 March the assembly debated the proposed visit of the representative of the European assembly political affairs committee. Perhaps here I could correct those who have said, "Let them come, we have nothing to hide." I agree that we have nothing to hide, but it is inaccurate to say, "Let them come," because, as I understand it, there will be only one. The usual pattern is that only one representative is appointed by the political affairs committee. It is usual for him to produce a report. That report will be amended by the other members of the political affairs committee., who will not have set foot in Northern Ireland.
On 1 March, the Northern Ireland assembly, at the end of a two-hour debate, unanimously carried a motion condemning the investigation, and decided to offer no co-operation.
Given the ambivalent attitude of the Government to cooperation, what will the clerks of the assembly and the clerks who serve the statutory committees do if they are approached by the European representative for information and assistance? The clerks' salaries are paid from the money that we are voting tonight. Will they be required to co-operate, or will they be permitted to remain aloof and loyal to the members of the assembly that they serve?
I think that most hon. Members would agree that the EC representative may be capable of travelling to Northern Ireland, provided that his passport is in order, but he should be given the status of tourist, and no more than that. The Government cannot, with any credibility, condemn the visit and the meddling and then provide facilities to enable the offence to be committed. The Government must give a lead. If they say that the internal affairs of the United Kingdom are not the business of the EC, they should follow that through and direct that no co-operation be made available to those who can do no good, but can certainly do a great deal of harm.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary had no need to apologise for detaining the House. We listened to his speech with pleasure. In my hon. Friend we have a Minister who clearly has gained a great knowledge of the problems of the Province. He tackles them with deep sympathy for the people, and we honour him for that. I repeat my thanks to him for making a little progress in the matter of car parks. He told me that he did not have a plan, but I hope that he will soon reach a decision. If I return to the matter this time next year, perhaps further progress can be recorded.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) for what he called his maiden speech on Northern Ireland matters. He spoke with characteristic charm and modesty. He apologised—and I join in that apology—for spasmodic attendance at the debate. As he explained, we were both attending an important meeting about the economic progress of the Province.
The debate has been ill-attended. The Official Unionists have been in their place, but I have not seen any members of the Democratic Unionists. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) must feel a little isolated in his splendour on the Opposition Front Bench.
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said that it was not so much the neglect of right hon. and hon. Members of the affairs of Northern Ireland, as the way in which we conduct those affairs in this place. I agree with him that as much legislation as possible for the Province should be taken as part of United Kingdom legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Needham), who paid us a fleeting visit, gave us an instance of what I mean when he referred to dogs. That is to be found in Class I, Vote 1—expenditure by the Department of Agriculture on educational, research and development services including expenditure on dog control.We discussed that subject in the Northern Ireland Committee. I remember well the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) who discussed Catholic and Protestant dogs. In many ways it was a helpful debate. The Minister took many suggestions away with him, and I should like to thank him for his courteous letter in which he said that he had digested what had passed in the Northern Ireland Committee.
It is urgent and important that stock in Northern Ireland should be protected from savage dogs. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Belfast, West has returned; the sound of dogs must have brought him in. The hon. Member for Londonderry always speaks with authority about agriculture. I have had the pleasure of visiting him on his farm. He would be the first to recognise the urgency of this problem. The cost of dog licences is too low. It is too low throughout the United Kingdom. There is no reason why the people of Northern Ireland, who are poorer and generally harder pressed than people in the rest of Great Britain, should be expected to pay more for dog licences than people on this side of the water. The legislation should have covered the Kingdom as a whole.
The subject of how we legislate brings me to the Northern Ireland assembly. It is the subject of Class XI, Vote 1:For the expenditure of the Northern Ireland Assembly £1,260,000.1022 I am not sure that we are receiving value for money. I know that the presiding officer, the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) receives money for his value. He was here briefly tonight but he has gone about his other business. I suggest that in time we should quietly let that body disappear or adapt it to fill the Macrory gap in the system of local democracy—it was not Sir Patrick's fault—which would be all to the good. We could then develop Committees of this House and the other place to deal with Ulster matters. Those Committees could perhaps meet not just at Westminster, but at Stormont.
I agree with what the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) said about the central function of Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies. There will be more of them in the next Parliament and that is only right and just.
The industrial development board is comprehended by Class II for expenditure by the Department of Economic Development. I want to refer to Part 1, Class VIII, Vote 3. It concerns expenditure by the Department of Education on libraries, museums, arts, youth, sports and so on. I should like to refer to the Northern Ireland Sports Council in relation to the Gaelic Athletic Association.
I have corresponded on that matter with Ministers many times. I have corresponded also with the Gaelic Athletic Association. Ministers have replied to me, but the Gaelic Athletic Association has never replied to me. It is a matter of concern and of justice that public money dispensed through the Northern Ireland Sports Council should not go to a body that denies membership to those who have served the Crown in the Army, the Navy or the police. Perhaps that is the position on paper and the unjust ban is ignored. However, as public money is given to the Gaelic Athletic Association in Northern Ireland, and as that rule is still in the constitution of that association, I should be glad to know from the Minister who replies whether that is merely on paper and is ignored, or whether that unjust discrimination continues. That must influence our attitude to the expenditure of public money.
The executive of the industrial development board, which is an important organ of Government policy in the province, is part of the Department of Economic Development. It has its own independent advisory board under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir Desmond Lorimer. I have just had the privilege of meeting the vigorous chief executive, Mr. Saxon Tate. He would be the first to say that unemployment cannot be cured by the IDB alone. It has been in existence since 1 September 1982. Its arrival means the transformation of the system of Government support of industry. It is entirely right that the board intends to pay much more attention than in the past to local Ulster enterprise and place less reliance on flamboyant aliens.
I am not sure how far the draft strategy for 1983–84 has got and whether it is before the Minister. I understand that the board is engaged in informal and confidential consultations with the local enterprise development unit, which has survived the reorganisation, the Northern Ireland Economic Council, the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry. After all those consultations have taken place, when will we hear from the Minister what the draft strategy is to contain?
1023 The arrival of the industrial development board means a move away from the former bureaucratic control to commercial and business-like control of this important work. When I say a change from bureaucratic control, I do not mean to criticise unduly the work that was done before the Department of Commerce, because wherever I went in the Province I heard tributes to the Department of Commerce from industrialists and business men. However, civil servants are not the best people to advise ailing firms or encourage investment in the Province.
The executive of the industrial development board prepared a document for a committee of the Northern Ireland assembly, which states:Northern Ireland's image is a major impediment to any industrial development strategy. It discourages overseas investors from establishing new operations here; it places doubts in the minds of export customers about the ability of NI companies to maintain supplies; and it generally makes conducting business here that bit more difficult because of the problems of persuading managers, engineers, salesmen and other specialists to visit or live in the province. The IDB is, therefore, paying close attention to the preparation of a sustained public relations programme to counteract the impact of this adverse image on business life".That is commendable. The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce produced a film about the better side of Northern Ireland. Agencies within the Northern Ireland Office—I acknowledge the work done by the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott)—and other bodies are working on the projection of Northern Ireland. I trust that there will be full co-operation in all these efforts and that overlapping will be avoided.
Hon. Members could do a great deal without any public expenditure to convey to foreign investors and those in Great Britain that Northern Ireland is worthy of their attention. The Province has great natural beauty. The people of Northern Ireland are hospitable and industrious. The trade unions are responsible and have a record of industrial harmony unequalled in most comparable countries. In addition, there is an admirable road system. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) forecast the linking of the M1 and the M2. I wonder sometimes why there is an M1 and an M2 in Northern Ireland and why the motorways are not numbered in serial as they are in England, Wales and Scotland. Furthermore, Northern Ireland has a first-class school system.
§ Mr. Enoch J. Powell
The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) referred to the contribution that hon. Members can make. I am sure that he is right. However, one of the difficulties is that hon. Members are seldom, if ever, invited to support those who are making approaches to potential investors in the Province. I am not speaking about trips to the United States of America to explain to them what is not their business. I am thinking of the activities of the Northern Ireland Office inside the United Kingdom, where so often the evidence of hon. Members, especially an hon. Member who represents an area where a business might be established, would be authentic and could be useful. My experience is that although one makes repeated suggestions, that is available, the offer is never taken up.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
What the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said will have been heard on the Treasury Bench. More hon. Members should go to 1024 the Province, and that is quite easy because it is now possible to travel free within the United Kingdom for a public purpose. Their constituents will listen to them and so the idea will spread that Northern Ireland is not quite as it is portrayed in some of the more depressing programmes of the mass media.
The right hon. Member for Down, South referred to the United States of America, to which I went with my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) to meet the press and prominent people. I was struck by how much more dangerous New York city was than Belfast. I am not trying to minimise the horrors that occur almost daily in Northern Ireland, but when we were in New York city a policeman was murdered within the city limits every day of our stay. I do not say that that happens every day of the year, but it happened when my hon. Friend and I were there.
§ Mr. John Patten
Does not my hon. Friend agree that we should pass on a message to our friends in the United States of America about the excellence of the physical conditions in prisons in Northern Ireland? The very good regime that exists in prisons in Northern Ireland is often, sadly, misunderstood and contributes to the bad image of the Province unfortunately held in the United States of America.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I know that that has been the subject of vigorous publicity on the part of the Northern Ireland Office. That publicity has had an effect in the United States of America, but there are those who will believe only what they want to believe. Indeed, there are those nearer home who make the most virulent attacks on the Northern Ireland prison service. However, that service deserves our admiration. In one of the Catholic newspapers in this country the most extreme allegations have been made, not so much about the treatment of prisoners in Northern Ireland as about the treatment of visitors to them. I wrote to my noble Friend the Minister of State, who I understand has some responsibility, desiring that some reply should be made to those allegations. I think that Father Faul—a well known name—and Father Murray were concerned in some of those distortions. It is important that a proper reply should be given to such allegations, whether they are made at home or in the United States of America.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I have heard my hon. Friend make that point before in the House. It is true, and more should be made of that when replying to the allegations that are unjustly levelled against the Administration and the prison service.
I do not wish to detain the House, as I am sure that other hon. Members wish to speak. However, I have tried to enumerate some of the advantages of Northern Ireland. It is up to us all to make those attractions known to potential investors in the Province. Of course, one of Northern Ireland's attractions is the splendid school system. That is the subject of Class VIII(1). It is remarkable that, when 1025 there is so much stress on the children of the Province, their academic results should be in general superior to those of children on this side of the water.
Could it be that, owing to a happy change of Government in the United Kingdom, the Province was spared the wholesale comprehensivisation of the secondary schools? Will the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North say that that is pure coincidence or will he attribute it to the way in which the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams), who now calls herself a Social Democrat, insisted, against the wishes of parents, that grammar schools should go comprehensive and that there should be no local option in this matter? The right hon. Lady now calls herself a great moderate but she, more than any other member of the previous Labour Government, wrecked the secondary school system on this side of the water. Fortunately, Northern Ireland was spared that disaster. I submit that that is probably the reason. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North shakes his head. Does he wish to intervene to contradict me?
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
The hon. Gentleman says that I am wrong. To what factors does the hon. Member attribute the superiority of academic results of Northern Ireland children?
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I did not put it down to one factor but I suggested that there was a connection. My guess is that this was the dominant factor. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North says that there is no time to intervene to explain to me where I am wrong. There is time, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to explain what those other factors are. Does the hon. Gentleman wish further to intervene?
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
I shall listen with great interest to what the hon. Gentleman has to say.
When I think back to 1972 and compare Northern Ireland then with how I see it now, I realise that, despite the continuing horror, it is now a very much more normal Province. That is not to gainsay anything my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough, in what he called his maiden speech, said on the security of the Province and the safety of the population being fundamental to its economic revival and economic progress, but we should recognise that there is much more normality in Northern Ireland—I will not put it any higher than that—than there used to be. Those who visit the Province regularly will recognise that to be true.
I offer these thoughts to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the hope that more of them will study Northern Ireland and visit that wonderful Province so dear to the hearts of many of us. They will then be all the better placed when they talk to potential investors, whether they be from this country or from the continent of Europe or from the United States, to convince them that here is a place where they should be prepared to live and to put their money.
§ Mr. Soley
With the permission of the House, I wish to intervene for a few moments not to answer in detail the points of the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), but to say to him that if he wants explanations he should start by looking at the size of schools, population structure, family size and structure, and stability in the inner city areas. All of those are infinitely more important than the other matters that he raised, although I have no doubt that the comprehensive system is basically good, and I should like to see it introduced in Northern Ireland. But that is not the main purpose of my intervention at this stage.
I wish to put it on record that despite interventions from two Ministers—we are about to have an intervention from a third Minister—I am not confident that we will convince the people of Northern Ireland that we are taking their economic problems seriously enough.
I do not wish to trade insults with Ministers about who cares most. I fully accept that they care deeply about the problems of the Province, but the debate today did not give the feeling of urgency necessary to put some life back into the Northern Ireland economy before it collapses altogether. Male unemployment in Northern Ireland is now 26 per cent., with all that that implies for the economy, for the stability of society and, not least, for recruitment to paramilitary organisations, especially from the younger age groups. The situation is deadly serious and deadly dangerous. I hope that the Government will give thought to that.
It is increasingly sad to hear the Official Unionist party and the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), aided by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison), desperately trying to persuade the Conservative party and the Government to treat Northern Ireland as though it were just another part of the United Kingdom. They are down to quibbling about whether roads there should be called the M1 and the M2 and about draft dogs orders and the like when it has been self-evident for donkey's years that no British Government and no major British party have been prepared to treat Northern Ireland as a normal part of the United Kingdom.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Could not that be the explanation as to why Northern Ireland is troubled as it is today?
§ Mr. Soley
No. I have given the answer to that many times before. The sad fact, as we all know, is that after the division was made in 1920, the Unionists exercised their responsibilities in a way that led to the present problems. No one regrets that more than I. As I have said more than once in the House, if the Unionists had behaved differently at that time and taken the minority community with them into government, into the economy and into the social structure of the nation, Northern Ireland might just have worked. But it has not. The evidence stands out glaringly not only in the political but in the economic sphere. It has become a distortion on the face of Ireland.
§ The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Adam Butler)
This has been a memorable debate. There is clearly a great deal of ground for me to cover and I have no doubt that those who took part in the debate and others interested in Northern Ireland would like me to respond in as much detail as I can.
The debate has been memorable for several reasons. It is a matter for some regret—in my position I should not use stronger language—that the number of Members from Northern Ireland constituencies present today has been rather smaller than is usual for these debates. I shall not point fingers in any direction, save to note that three members of the Official Unionist party have taken part in the debate. Although I believe that the Northern Ireland assembly has an important part to play in the developing constitutional and political life of Northern Ireland, this Parliament is this Parliament. There is a role to be played in this House by all who have been elected to it and we should appreciate it if they could join us on these occasions.
Despite the comparative emptiness of the Chamber, it was clear that those who took part appreciated the importance of Northern Ireland to the United Kingdom in many ways—economically, socially and politically. Yet apart from an intervention from the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell), who I think is now the SDP spokesman on these matters, there was no speech from either the Liberals or the SDP.
Although some might argue that there are no votes in Northern Ireland for Great Britain parties, it is failing to accept a responsibility towards one part of the United Kingdom that a party that has been around for some time and another one that is aspiring to power—indeed two parties that are arguing about who should be Prime Minister—cannot bother to take part in our debates on Northern Ireland. This is an insult to the Northern Ireland people, and I wish that the hon. Members representing those parties were present to hear me say this. It would at least have been a contradiction of what I am saying. Their behaviour is not good enough.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
Given the Minister's interest in Northern Ireland and that of his colleagues, to which we all pay tribute, it will not have escaped his notice that a place called Darlington marked one of the low points in Northern Ireland's history, and that the same might apply to the absentees.
§ Mr. Butler
I thank the hon. Member for that interesting fact.
I found the debate memorable for another reason. I should not wish to misrepresent the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), but he said that a day was too long to debate these matters. He went on to explain his reasons, and we know the basis of his thinking, but I hope that he did not think that it was wrong to have three-day-long or part-day debates on Northern Ireland affairs during the course of the year.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell
It is absurd for Northern Ireland Members to have so much more of the time of the House in the process of passing the Consolidated Fund legislation. It is unreasonable, and there are legitimate complaints on the part of the rest of the House, that those who represent one fortieth of the electorate should not take 1028 their opportunity in chance with their colleagues in the days that are set apart for the debates on the Consolidated Fund.
§ Mr. Butler
I do not need to remind the right hon. Gentleman that there are days set aside for debates on Welsh and Scottish Affairs and I know the point that he was making—that he does not see why the finances of the Province should be treated in a different way. He seems now to be saying that there should not be debates confined to Northern Ireland matters but that Northern Ireland Members should have the opportunity only of raising matters of finance, Consolidated Fund matters, on the few occasions during the parliamentary year when the House sits up all night and debates subjects suitable for such a debate.
When the right hon. Member said that he objected to the form of government having to be renewed annually, this was—I hardly dare say this to him because his command of the English language is better than mine—an unusual expression. We are debating sums of money to do with matters that are transferred in the Province. For instance, I should be right in saying that all or most of those matters to be dealt with by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget next week will be applicable to Northern Ireland, in that we have a common tax regime, and standard benefits operating throughout the United Kingdom, and pay standard national insurance payments. We are talking about the sum of money voted as a block grant but then apportioned as the papers in front of us show. That is what we are about and I do not feel that that can legitimately be described as a form of government.
I have had occasion in mock seriousness to congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop) on introducing, on every occasion that we have debated the draft Appropriation order, the Strabane bypass. Today I lament the passing of the Strabane bypass as a subject for debate. Instead we have had introduced the granite kerbstones at Warrenpoint.
§ Mr. Butler
I knew that my hon. Friend's interest extended to car parks in Northern Ireland, but I had not appreciated that it extended to the Strabane bypass. It is not a departmental responsibility of mine. For those who have an interest in the Strabane bypass I suggest that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell), who is temporarily not present, should write, at appropriate length, explaining the position.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
When hon. Members last discussed the Strabane bypass in the Northern Ireland Committee—it was raised by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Dunlop), who is much missed today—I expressed my interest as someone who tries to drive through and around Strabane. This interest is, I believe, common to all Northern Ireland Members and to many others who travel in the Province. If my hon. Friend has some news that he can convey from his hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, who has just returned, because of the importance of this issue, I am sure that the House will be grateful.
§ Mr. Butler
I must apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) if I have 1029 slighted him in suggesting that he did not have an interest in this important matter. The best solution is that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke should ensure that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest is brought up to date on this matter. It is not a frivolous matter. The reason for the Strabane bypass being introduced in debate after debate—one day we even discussed the lighting in some small streets in a comparatively small village in, I think, County Londonderry—and the reason for the granite kerbstones at Warrenpoint being mentioned is that these matters are at the moment the responsibility of my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke as a member of the United Kingdom Government. I wish to deal with that issue in a moment.
I should like first to clear my list of memorable occurrences during the debate. The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley) appeared to be short of a speech, although, by leave of the House, he made an important statement at the end of his comments. The hon. Gentleman spent at least half his time quoting speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke. I must admit to some jealousy. The subjects with which my hon. Friend dealt were, I thought, my responsibility. They were, however, admirable speeches and formed the best part of the speech of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North.
The final piece of memorabilia came from the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North when I thought I heard him say that Northern Ireland should be treated not as an abnormal part of the United Kingdom but the same as other parts. We know, however, that his party does not intend that. It wishes, against the express desire of the majority of the community in Northern Ireland, to push the province into a united Ireland. If that is treating Northern Ireland like other parts of the United Kingdom, it seems to me a total contradiction.
§ Mr. Butler
What the hon. Gentleman's party wishes to do is not to treat it as part of the United Kingdom at all, but to push it into a united Ireland. That is firmly on the record.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Was it the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Soley), or someone else in a leading position in the Labour party, who suggested that social benefits in Northern Ireland should be paid through Dublin so that when the recipients received them with a Republican stamp they would feel grateful to the Republic?
§ Mr. Butler
I am not sure where that suggestion comes from, but I am reminded that during the course of this debate it was said by at least one hon. Gentleman that with the present economic difficulties in the Republic of Ireland it was hardly likely that it would be able to carry the economic burden of the north. However, I shall not trespass further on that ground.
§ Mr. Butler
I thank my hon. Friend for putting me right.
I was moving on to the other point that was raised in the debate about whether the economy of the south could ever stand the economic cost of the Province, as the United Kingdom does at present. A consequence of good government by the present Administration is that the United Kingdom economy is basically sound, inflation is down, and interest rates substantially lower, whereas the economy of the south is not in a very happy state at present. That is reflected in the countless dozens of citizens who are coming north from the Republic to do their shopping—to the benefit of the Northern Ireland economy. Places like Newry are almost boom towns. Despite the high unemployment in Newry, at least the retailers are benefiting from that circumstance, and that circumstance arises from the juxtaposition of a strong economy and a weak economy.
I said that I would revert, not to Warrenpoint granite kerbstones, but to what followed from their introduction to our debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest reminded the House of the Macrory report. That is significant when it comes to the responsibility of district councils. As the House knows, it was not the result of direct rule or of any decision taken by the Westminster Government; it was one recommended by the Macrory report before the introduction of direct rule that removed these powers from district councils. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, the Under-Secretary of State, believe that we should be looking for ways to increase their present responsibilities, even in small ways. I shall give two examples. They may not seem of great significance in the overall constitutional and political picture, but in the case of the draft dogs order, which I hope will be laid before the House before long, if it has not already happened, I hope that the House will approve an amendment that I have tabled since we debated the matter in the Northern Ireland Committee, that the district council should be responsible for the administration of the dog control scheme. I am particularly glad that that was recommended by several hon. Members during the debate and it has also been welcomed by the local councils.
§ Mr. Butler
I remember a speech of the hon. Gentleman that I have quoted from time to time to my friends to demonstrate the wit and the tone that he brings to our debates, and which at the same time underlines what are real problems. We know that it was done extremely cleverly, but it had a moral behind it.
In a draft miscellaneous provisions order that I have in the Department we have to consider the licensing of slaughtermen. Again, I hope that it will be possible to leave that responsibility with the district council, despite arguments that it should be taken away. There is a need, where possible, to strengthen the district councils in their responsibilities rather than vice versa. Having said, that we are still living in the shadow of Macrory, overtaken by direct rule. Instead of a first tier of local government we have direct rule, with Departments being run by the Secretary of State with Ministers responsible to him and we know how that works out in practice. That is why I was happy to agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South when he voiced the need for locally elected representatives to carry as much responsibility as possible. I am glad to reaffirm my support for that basic principle.
1031 In the absence of a fully integrated arrangement, presumably with a first tier local authority, I asked whether we should not try to see whether the assembly can work. I have been impressed with how, within its limited opportunities, the assembly has started on its work. It is not easy. There is always the frustration of knowing that the formula that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State laid down and which was approved by the House, of 70 per cent. plus evident cross-community support, is impossible to reach without the participation of the SDLP or others representing the minority community to a greater extent than does the Alliance party. I know that the Alliance party is essentially non-sectarian but to some extent it represents the minority community. Nevertherless, the assembly, and particularly the committees, have set about their tasks in an extremely responsible way. They have challenged Ministers and questioned policy. They have questioned civil servants and have called for evidence from a range of witnesses. It is my view, and I think it is also that of my hon. Friends who appeared in front of their respective committees, that there is a real influence at work. They feel democratic pressures arising from the deliberations and the conclusions of the committees. Already they have had some effect on the way that Government have addressed themselves to policy. That is entirely helpful. As I have said before, I regret the continual obstruction and destructive criticism when what is required now is constructive criticism and sympathy for what the assembly is trying to achieve.
I shall say a little more about constitutional matters as the subject has arisen several times in regard to the visit by Members of the European Parliament to Northern Ireland. Those Members of the European Parliament who wish to come to Northern Ireland to improve their knowledge about it, whether in groups or singly, should be encouraged. When they arrive, they should be given as much information and shown as much as possible. We should draw a careful distinction between them and the members of the committee who are apparently demanding the right to investigate and report on an internal matter which is the responsibility of a national Government. We have drawn the line there. Both my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made that clear. The distinction is important.
Perhaps an even more contentious matter is that I hope that, if the leader of the Greater London council goes to the Province again, he will examine all the aspects there, instead of meeting just one party which does not deign to take part in constitutional affairs.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene, as I have not taken part in the debate. He mentioned Mr. Livingstone. As I am a member of the Council of Europe, I have an interest in the Minister's earlier comments. If the committee from the European Parliament wishes, is my hon. Friend prepared to make facilities for discussions available to it in London or elsewhere? How will he play that difficult ball?
§ Mr. Butler
I would be wise to refer my hon. Friend to the clear statements that my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have made on the issue.
Education is not one of my responsibilities, but I should like to repeat to a slightly fuller House what I said on a 1032 previous occasion. In contrast to the changes that are levelled against the Government, we are spending more than ever before, per pupil, in Northern Ireland. For example, current expenditure per pupil is more than 20 per cent. higher this year than two years ago and it will increase further in 1983–84.
I admit that resources are limited. If they were not, we could respond to the demands that have come from all parties to spend more on capital projects. However, the fact remains that resources are limited and priority in the education budget must be given to maintaining support for the classroom and the teaching force. That is a continuing restraint on capital expenditure and it may have an effect on such things as books. However, I understand that these matters are the responsibility of area boards and the school authorities.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—not my noble Friend the Minister of State, as was said earlier—who has responsibility for such matters, will study carefully what has been said in the debate and respond appropriately.
I must make the same comment about health. The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) asked whether the introduction of the new management structures could be deferred. The review of management structures was started in 1979, since when there have been negotiations with interested parties. My hon. Friend is anxious to make speedy progress to reap the benefits associated with a more efficient management structure, and to remove much of the uncertainty that has adversely affected staff morale. The Government wish to introduce the new structure on 1 April 1983, but the detailed implementation will proceed progressively thereafter.
The hon. Gentleman sought an assurance that, if Muckamore Abbey hospital is to be transferred from the administration of the eastern board to that of the northern board, care will be taken to avoid upheaval for patients and staff. That is clearly important. He also asked for a "who's who" of the new structure. My hon. Friend either heard or will read about that suggestion, and I shall ensure that he gives it attention. I am sure that he will be happy to make such a directory available to hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North talked about economic co-operation between Northern Ireland and the south. He said that he was pleased to hear that I would meet Mr. Barry to discuss economic co-operation. That may have been a slip, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met Mr. Barry, who has responsibility for foreign affairs. The Ministers whom I might expect to meet are those with responsibility for industry, energy, employment and agriculture.
§ Mr. Soley
That is rather puzzling, because a Northern Ireland information service document dated 24 February states:Mr. Butler indicated he would welcome an opportunity to attend a meeting at the invitation of the Committee, with Mr. Peter Barry TD, the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, or any other Sothern Minister.Perhaps the Minister wishes to correct that.
§ Mr. Butler
That document refers to an invitation extended to me and to a Minister from the Republic by the east border region committee to discuss a limited cross-border co-operative exercise. Such a meeting would not be held under the auspices of the Anglo-Irish Intergovernmental Council. I said that I should be content 1033 to accept the invitation from the committee. However, that is different from the matter that I mentioned, which dealt with economic co-operation and organisations that may be established.
§ Sir John Biggs-Davison
Will my hon. Friend clarify this? What is this organisation? It is not part of the Anglo-Irish Council arrangement. What is it?
§ Mr. Butler
This is an organisation consisting of two district councils from the Republic of Ireland and two district councils from Northern Ireland which have got together voluntarily in order to carry out cross-border work, largely in the area of tourism. They have one or two ideas that have been supported by EC funds, amongst other things, and as far as I can establish they are carrying out a useful function.
I ought to refer also to the document put out by the Northern Ireland committee of the Irish Congress of Trades Unions, to which the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North referred in his speech. I too have read this document with some care and in no way do we reject it. There are some things which clearly we are not going to agree with the Northern Ireland committee about. Equally there are some where I think where we probably see pretty much eye to eye. In any case, my right hon. Friend hopes to meet the Northern Ireland committee in the comparatively near future and will be discussing with it the various points made.
The document is a valuable contribution to the whole debate. Where it is lacking is in its dependence on the expenditure of money as the way out of all Northern Ireland's problems. I sometimes feel that that is the only way forward that the hon. Gentleman and his party have. This is the suggestion in that document and it has been said in different ways in this debate. Indeed, it was picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) in his speech, I understand—it was the only one I did not hear—when he said that the problems of Northern Ireland cannot be solved just by throwing money at them. That is a very sound comment.
In industrial development we believe that at the moment we have a sufficiency of funds to carry out the work of the industrial development board and of LEDU, as well as any other activity in this field. What we are lacking is potential investors. If they were queuing at our door we might be anxious about funds and we might be wondering whether more funds could be made available. That is not the reality of the situation today. The IDB is entirely satisfied that it has sufficient funds in its budget to meet the needs of prospective investors and for the other work that it is carrying out.
I shall return to industrial development in a few moments, but I should like to pick up the question of support for agriculture, which my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough introduced and which was followed up by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross). Agriculture incomes in Northern Ireland are at present on average two thirds below what they were in 1977–78 in real terms. In opening this debate my hon. Friend did not say that he considered these were reasonable—he was wise enough not to say that. Indeed, he was wise enough, as I shall be, not to attempt to define "reasonable". He said that he hoped that with a continuance of good market prices and with the aid that the Government were continuing to 1034 provide, supported by the aid that will come from the Community, farmers should not only regain confidence but be able to profit from reasonable incomes during 1983–84.
I want to stress the point that the level of special aid to Northern Ireland agriculture during 1983–84 will deliberately be left the same as in 1982–83, despite a sharp improvement in incomes. Confidence must be built up. The industry is of considerable importance to the Northern Ireland economy. I have said—and I chose my words carefully—that the level of aid from national funds and from the Commission will be at least as good as for 1982–83. Depending on the outcome of the price review, there may be more money available for farmers in the Province. Nobody pretends that everything in that garden is rosy. There are considerable difficulties in the pig and poultry sectors. We gave help to the potato sector by introducing a stock feed scheme. It was a reaction to the real needs of the seedsmen, whose case was presented to Ministers by the committee of the assembly and the Ulster Farmers Union.
Some of the problems in the pig and poultry sectors are similar to those being experienced by equivalent producers in Great Britain. However, there is the special disadvantage in Northern Ireland of the stock feed price differential, which can be as high as £10, £12 or £15 a tonne. That places considerable strain on the finances of intensive livestock producers. However, the aid goes a long way towards closing the gap. I am considering the possibility of obtaining intervention in Northern Ireland. It is not possible under the present rules, but circumstances may change. There is no need to build an intervention store because there is at least one accredited store—and there are a number in different centres—that will be available if intervention grain becomes available. We are investigating what support we can give to those industries.
The hon. Member for Londonderry asked about the less favoured areas. He wanted to know whether the Government intend to put money into those areas, and asked us to commit ourselves one way or the other. An application was put formally to the Commission on 13 December. Certain questions were asked about details affecting Great Britain, not Northern Ireland. It is evidence of the Government's attitude that the questions were answered within two or three weeks. The case is now before the Commission again, and we hope that it will process it quickly. I can say no more about funds than I have said on previous occasions, which is that the Government are not committed to putting in money. We must see whether the Council of Ministers agrees to the extension of those areas.
I have dealt with the problem of dog control raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest. I want to deal with the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough about membership of Food from Britain. We are playing our full part. A past president of the Ulster Farmers Union, Mr. Joe Patten, sits on the council. He is suitably qualified to represent the Province. We recognise the importance of improving the marketing of our produce.
The industrial development board attaches great importance to the food processing sector, where there has been considerable progress during the past year or two. There has been massive investment in processing equipment by a number of companies, and the pigmeat sector has demonstrated that it can take on work. It is 1035 supplying substantial quantities to chain stores in Great Britain as well as selling further afield. It is an area where there is a concentration of effort which, I believe, is paying off.
One or two hon. Members have raised the subject of energy. The Department is working on its consultative document, which we hope will be available shortly. It will pull in the work of the Northern Ireland electricity service which was made public some two or three weeks ago. I hope that it will allow all those involved to make a proper contribution to the subject. In the meantime, we are not wasting time. I have authorised a design appraisal for the conversion of phase one of Kilroot from oil to coal because the electricity service has identified it as bringing about the best savings. Phase two deals with the building of a new coal-fired station. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough doubted whether we had coal or any comparable fuel other than peat in the Province. We have identified deposits of some 100 million tonnes of lignite. The company that is likely to become the licensee and the Department are proceeding with investigatory work and fuel consultancy analyses as to when and how this fuel should be used and what its most economic and effective use for the Province's economy will be.
I come now to industrial development. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest referred to "image" once again. We must continue to treat that subject seriously. I reject absolutely the ridiculous suggestion made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North who said that Government policy had accounted for more job losses than the paramilitaries. That is not the way to look at the problem. The image created by the paramilitaries has, without doubt, put off a high proportion of would-be investors from setting up in the Province. That is proved by the fact that so much investment has continued to go to the south where this problem is not perceived to exist.
The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), who unfortunately is not present at the moment, drew our attention to the other equation in this matter—the fact that high unemployment can give encouragement, and lend reinforcement, to the paramilitaries. He suggested that Ministers did not like to associate street violence and unemployment. In no way does every unemployed person become involved in street violence. That too would be a ridiculous assertion, but there can be no doubt that the paramilitaries draw some strength from those who are unemployed. There is no doubt that unemployment causes frustration among the young who are drawn into the type of activity in which the paramilitaries indulge.
I can say without hesitation that Ministers are conscious of the benefit that would flow in that regard, if no other, from an improvement in the economy and particularly employment.
The strategy document of the industrial development board will be made public in its present form, an abbreviated form or a modified form before the end of the financial year. It will show the emphasis that the new board is giving to the industrial development effort. Those emphases will be seen to be similar to what they have been in the past. Perhaps there will be a greater emphasis on developing indigenous industry. Certainly it is something to be encouraged to the ultimate, but not over-encouraged.
There will be an emphasis where necessary on rescue operations where future viability exists, but in no way would the industrial development board seek to ignore inward investment. Although my hon. Friend the Member 1036 for Epping Forest suggested that all inward investors were flamboyant aliens—we may have some knowledge of the investor to whom he refers—most investors come soberly and because they have assessed the advantages of Northern Ireland, which my hon. Friend outlined, and which we all know are there in regard to industrial relations and so on. They come because they believe that they can exploit what Northern Ireland has to offer.
§ Mr. Molyneaux
The Minister referred to the publication of the strategy document. He seemed to suggest that the full document would be available to Ministers and that there would also be an abridged or popular document. Will the full document be available to Members of Parliament, because only by having the full facts will we be able to make a judgment? Will the Minister confirm that the main document will not be suppressed or censored and that an abridged or popular document will be issued as well?
§ Mr. Butler
The industrial development board is required annually to provide the Minister with a strategy document. That requires approval. It has been approved, as I have said tonight and at Question Time today. The industrial development board is now considering whether to publish that document in full or a document that accurately and comprehensively reflects what is in the document. Therefore, it may be phrased in a slightly different way. I am not sure what is in the board's mind at the moment. I believe that it has still to consider that point. What is important is that a document will be published and will reflect accurately what is contained in the strategy document that has been put before me and which I have approved.
I have announced tonight that I have formally issued the guidelines to the chairman of the industrial development board, Sir Desmond Lorimer. Arrangements have been made to distribute copies to Northern Ireland Members of Parliament and the various bodies representing the interests of employers and unions in the Province. Copies of the guidelines will be placed in the Library of the House and will be made available to the Members of the Northern Ireland assembly. I am planning to issue a press statement tomorrow.
Now that the strategy is approved, and with the guidelines, I hope that we shall have a clear definition of the role of the board and its executive to enable the new organisation, in co-operation with the local enterprise development unit, to promote a strong competitive industrial base in Northern Ireland. That is what we are seeking to achieve. I do not doubt the concern of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North. It is impossible not to be deeply anxious about the economic situation in the Province. I have not sought to hide from anyone that the present levels of unemployment will be difficult to reduce with any speed, but I am confident that the United Kingdom economy is behind us, in the best potential shape that it has been in for some time. Inflation is the best it has been for 13 years and interest rates are substantially down. There are signs of recovery in the United Kingdom economy as a whole and of an economic recovery in America. Those signs are important to the United Kingdom, but are even more important to Northern Ireland, because that is its main source of investment. We have the right machinery for promoting industrial development in the industrial development board, and the 1037 local enterprise development unit. I was challenged that the Government were not doing enough in that area. The local enterprise development unit has shown a substantial increase in performance throughout the past year and its budget has been increased by 30 to 40 per cent. More inquiries are coming forward for industrial development both from within the Province and overseas. This gives one reasonable grounds for optimism about the future.
I commend the order to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Appropriation (Northern Ireland) Order 1983, which was laid before this House on 16th February, be approved.