Northern Ireland (Appropriation)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6th December 1973.

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Photo of Mr Stanley McMaster Mr Stanley McMaster , Belfast East 12:00 am, 6th December 1973

I should like first to endorse the point made by the hon. Member for Sal-ford, West (Mr. Orme) asking what future arrangements will be made for the provision of money for services in Northern Ireland.

The order provides for £31 million to be issued out of the Consolidated Fund and gives further power to the Minister for Finance to borrow about £16 million. Those are substantial sums and I shall therefore consider in some detail the items set out in the schedule.

Will my hon. Friend first deal with Class I? It is provided there that the salaries of the Central Ministerial Secretariats and other expenses, including expenses of the Information Service, shall amount to £35,000. Just how is that money to be spent? What proportion of it is to be spent abroad? My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware from the debate we have just concluded of the effort of the IRA to raise money abroad to support its campaign in Northern Ireland. I have seen evidence of its activity in the United States. I want to know what the Information Service is doing to counter that propaganda campaign and the efforts of subversive organisations in Northern Ireland to raise money abroad and to spread propaganda to the detriment of the people in Northern Ireland and this country.

What support do the services get from British embassies and consular services? Are they in any way covered by this grant and what additional moneys are made available? Are persons appointed to the embassies to deal with this campaign which is so damaging to the reputation of this country?

I move on to Class II. Various items are there set out and I note that £15,900 is allocated to public works. I note, too, that there is no increase in the appropriations in aid for the current year. We all know how the prices of building and land have increased in the last year. May we be told why there is no increase in this amount in view of those rising prices? What has been the effect of inflation? Does the absence of an increase mean that there has been a fall in the amount of work done under this head?

I move on to Class III under which my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) referred to the decrease in expenditure on the police services of £3,000. My remarks about public works apply equally here. With the increase in salaries one would expect there to be an increase under this head. Why has there not been one? I should like to delve a little deeper into the police services, which is probably one of the most important services to be covered by the order. I should like to be told about the effect of the moneys provided for police recruitment. We all know that the police in Northern Ireland are facing the most difficult task of any police force in the United Kingdom, indeed in the world. They have had to put up with heavy casualties over the past four years. Many have been killed carrying out their duties, some while on leave. Others have been seriously injured. If recruitment is to be increased so that the terrorist campaign can be adequately contained we must increase the inducement offered to men to join the force.

It is particularly necessary to obtain a balanced police force. One of the criticisms which led to the appointment of the Hunt Committee was that the force was not properly balanced when the disturbances started in 1969. What success have the Government had, as a result of the implementation of the Hunt Committee's recommendations, in restoring the balance? If members of the minority community in Northern Ireland are to be persuaded to join the police, and we understand the pressures against them, then surely we must be prepared to offer some inducement to these men to take on the tremendous risk to themselves, their families and relations. Great risk is involved in their public-spirited action in offering themselves as recruits for the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Can the Minister say a word about the control of the police? This is a matter of considerable concern in Northern Ireland. Both the SDLP—and I am sorry that we do not have a representative of that party here tonight—and the Dublin Government have suggested that control of the police should be vested in the new Council of Ireland. This is something which would be strongly resisted by the majority of people living in Northern Ireland. What are the Government's intentions about this vital matter?

I want to deal with one matter reported to me, and of which my hon. Friend is aware, namely that senior officers in the RUC will not at the moment, under a Government directive, be eligible for promotion unless they have served abroad for two years. We know the pressures under which the police are operating in Northern Ireland. We know how scarce senior and experienced officers are. What is the Minister doing about this? If he insists that all senior men must have two years' experience abroad then many of the top men in the RUC will not be eligible for further promotion. Can these men be spared? If they can be, are there positions abroad in which they can obtain the necessary experience? Is the police service in Northern Ireland to be deprived of these senior men, and what will be the effect on recruitment if this is so?

Much has been made of complaints against the police. What is the true history? How many complaints are received about the conduct of police officers in Northern Ireland as compared with complaints against police officers in other parts of the United Kingdom? Is the number of complaints rising or has it fallen? What is the true record about complaints against members of the RUC?

I should like to ask by hon. Friend what are the Government's plans for restructuring the police force. A great deal of anxiety has been expressed to me on this topic.

I asked my hon. Friend recently in the House whether the Government had any plans for restructuring the police force and he gave me a most equivocal reply, saying that we had an excellent police force which could be praised in any way, but he did not answer my question. I hope that he will meet the question square on and will tell the House whether any plans are afoot, and if so, what they are, to restructure and reorganise the police force.

Perhaps he will add a word on the standard of morale. I had the opportunity recently to speak to the new Chief Constable, Mr. Flanagan—my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell was with me—and I was pleased at the confidence which Mr. Flanagan expressed in the morale of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. I should like to know what my hon. Friend thinks on this point.

I do not want to go through each provision of this order because my hon. Friends have points to make on Classes IV, V, and VI, but I should like to ask about one detailed accounting point about Class VI, 3, in respect of improvement of livestock, diseases of animals, and so on, for which there is an allocation of £353,100. This represents an increase of £602,000 over the previous year. Does this mean that there was a negative sum of £300,000, or is there a misprint in the order? These two sums do not tally. I cannot understand how his figure is arrived at. Perhaps my hon. Friend will look into the point.

With respect to Class VII, for expenses of the Ministry of Commerce in respect of industrial development services, I have a particular interest because part of the money will probably be allocated to my constituency. Some of my constituency's problems have been mentioned. Many hon. Members know that East Belfast is a heavy industry area and I wonder whether my hon. Friend will say whether any of the allocation of money for the expenses of the Ministry of Commerce on industrial development is to be allocated to Harland and Wolff which I believe needs further assistance to complete the modernisation of its yards—or is the money to come from an additional fund?

On the same topic, perhaps my hon. Friend will say something about the other great industry in my constituency, Short Brothers, which employs many people from my constituency and others. What progress is being made by that firm? Is it seeking further Government assistance or is it a viable concern? My hon. Friend has taken a great interest, and Ministers have visited the factory. Perhaps my hon. Friend will say something about it because those employed in the aircraft industry show anxiety because of the cloud over the industry with the present crisis of oil and fuel and the likely effect this might have on employment in Queen's Island, Belfast.

What plans have the Government for dealing with the oil crisis? We in Northern Ireland are 90 per cent. reliant on oil for the production of electricity. That is much higher than the national average. A new power station is being built and others are planned. These new power stations should be capable of burning either oil or solid fuel. Have the Government carried out research into the cost of making the power stations dual purpose, so that Northern Ireland will not suffer if the current shortage of oil continues for many years? Oil is vital to the economy of Northern Ireland.

On Class VIII I wish to refer to the repercussions on housing services of the shortage of oil. Many hon. Members have visited Northern Ireland and seen the imaginative slum clearance that is taking place. The old slum houses are being replaced by modern blocks of flats. Many of these are to be centrally heated by oil-fired boilers. If oil is not available, what will be the effect on the persons who are rehoused in these blocks? Will my hon. Friend deal with the heating arrangements—