I beg to move,
That the draft Appropriation (No. 2) (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, which was laid before this House on 8th May, be approved.
The order is being made under paragraph 1 of schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974. The order provides the balance of the money necessary in 1985–86 for the services provided by Northern Ireland Departments and certain other public bodies. On 7 March the House approved a total of £1,323 million as "a sum on account". Today I seek the balance of £1,733 million, making up a total estimate for 1985–86 of £3,056 million. This is the figure which appears on the front of the Estimates volume which is available from the Vote Office. It is this Estimates volume which gives full details of projected expenditure.
The draft order also appropriates an additional £4 million to cover excess expenditure in the 1983-84 financial year in class VII, vote 1, which covers protective services such as the fire service, and class X, vote 2, which covers non-contributory social security benefits. These two "excess votes", as they are termed, have been examined by the Select Committee on Public Accounts which has raised no objection to them being voted. Details of the excess expenditure are set out in the "Statement of Excesses" pamphlet which has also been placed in the Vote Office.
Before dealing with the detail of the Estimates, I think it is appropriate to reflect upon the broad economic prospects. The United Kingdom as a whole is about to enter the fifth year of continuous economic growth. Recent economic indicators show that Northern Ireland continues to share in this revival. The trend for total industrial production has been upward since mid-1983 with output in 1984 3 per cent, above the level for 1983. Manufacturing production also rose by 3 per cent, in 1984 following a similar rise in 1983. As I have said before, the recovery in manufacturing has been fairly broadly based with most sectors showing some improvement. The most recent employment figures for the Province are also encouraging. Although the trend is still downwards, the rate of decline has fallen significantly. In the second half of 1984, total employment actually rose by over 4,000. However, last year as a whole there was a net decline of 660. This compares with declines of around 3,100 in the year ended December 1983 and 14,500 in the previous year.
Unemployment at around 21 per cent, remains the major economic problem in the Province. As the population of working age continues to rise, the trend in unemployment remains upward. Nevertheless, there was an overall decrease of 1,370 in the unemployment figures published on 31 May compared with the previous month, plus a decrease of 500 in the seasonally adjusted unemployed.
Recent surveys of the Province are in general agreement that investment and future employment prospects present a more cheerful picture than we have seen for many years.
Turning now to the Estimates, class I covers agriculture, fisheries and forestry and provides for expenditure of £73 million in the current financial year. The basic aims of this expenditure are, within overall United Kingdom priorities, to help create in Northern Ireland the conditions for efficient production, processing and marketing of the products of this very important industry and to maximise the sector's contributions to the development of the · regional economy. The major constituents of the ongoing agriculture programme are £15 million for education, research and development. Some £12 million is for direct agricultural support; £27 million for administration and miscellaneous services, including support to the industry by way of advisory and veterinary services; £18 million for drainage and forestry; and £5·5 million for continuation of the milk consumer subsidy which enables a higher wholesale price to be charged by the Milk Marketing Board for milk for the liquid market while ensuring that Northern Ireland consumers pay about the same retail price for milk as their Great Britain counterparts.
While on the subject of milk, I again emphasise that I recognise the serious concern in the farming industry in the Province. The right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) and other right hon. and hon. Members have been pressing the case of the particular difficulties facing certain categories of Northern Ireland producers. I want to assure the House that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are still in consultation on this question. I can say no more at the moment.
I should perhaps add, for the information of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley), that it is from vote 3 of this class that we will provide a grant for the new dredger for Kilkeel harbour. I know that our decision to approve this project was welcomed by the fishing industry, and hon. Members will be interested to know that the contract has now been let at a figure of almost £400,000 over the next two years.
While on the subject of fisheries, the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) has drawn my attention to the concern being expressed by Mourne fishermen about the scallop beds close to the Northern Ireland coast which they fear may be overfished when the beds elsewhere in the North Irish sea are closed. We are fully aware of this concern and, as promised to those who made representations last year, the scallop fishery is being closely monitored with a view to having scallop beds closed if stocks are endangered. I recognise that the right hon. Member may have other points to raise on this subject, and I will listen with interest to his remarks.
Class II, votes 1 and 2, provide for the activities of the Industrial Development Board. More than half of the £22·7 million sought in vote 1 will be directed at infrastructural developments such as factory building, site and estate developments, and £3·6 million has also been earmarked to underpin the IDB's efforts in promoting Northern Ireland as a location for inward investment. In vote 2, some £62 million is being sought for selective assistance to industry. Hon. Members will be aware that the creation and support of viable employment in Northern Ireland is a major element in the Government's economic strategy for the Province, and that we are committed to the provision of adequate resources to maintain securely based industrial projects in Northern Ireland.
Under class II, vote 3, some £93 million is being sought to provide support mainly for the Local Enterprise Development Unit, the small firms agency, the aircraft and shipbuilding industries of Shorts and of Harland and Wolff, •and for assistance under the standard capital grants scheme. Of that amount, £16·7 million has been provided for LEDU, £32·6 million for Harland and Wolff, and £6·6 million has been allocated to Shorts. Right hon. and hon. Members will be aware that Shorts has been successful in winning three highly competitive contracts since the beginning of the year. They will keep Shorts in the forefront of the aerospace industry and increase its share of defence work on the aircraft aerostructures side of its business. All those contracts should provide a secure base for employment at Shorts.
We have had the disappointing news about Lear Fan. The decision by the company to cease trading was taken in the light of further setbacks to the aircraft's certification programme and the recent steep decline in the market for executive turbo-prop aircraft. When the company ceased trading the Government's remaining commitment was $4·79 million and, obviously, that amount will not now be paid. Both the Government and the major private sector consortium involved in the project were released from their remaining funding commitments. The Department of Economic Development appointed a receiver on 28 May 1985 to secure the company's assets in Northern Ireland, and to represent the Government's interest in the assets and technology in the United States of America.
The total amount invested by the Government in the project has been some £56 million over five years. Private sector investment has been almost $100 million. I must emphasise that the failure of the project cannot in any way be blamed on the Northern Ireland work force and, indeed, their loyalty and contribution to the project is to be praised. If the project had succeeded, it would have brought very welcome high technology and employment opportunities to Northern Ireland.
Finally on the industrial sector, I should like to pay tribute to the progress made by the Province's two job promotion agencies, the Industrial Development Board and LEDU. In the year to 31 March 1985 both exceeded their targets for new job promotions. The IDB achieved 5,267, of which 4,719 were within home industry and 548 from new inward investment. Of the total of 5,267 new jobs, almost 3,400 were in companies with headquarters outside Northern Ireland.
I put that on record because, with the failures of De Lorean and Lear Fan, it is important to recognise that two thirds of the new jobs in Northern Ireland promoted by the IDB this year have been jobs in which the base owning companies are outside Northern Ireland. We want more gilt-edged companies of that type in the Province — those which are established in various countries, and whose efforts in Northern Ireland are part of a chain, not an experiment taking place in Northern Ireland and no other country. That is part of our policy and my determination at present.
LEDU achieved its best ever performance, with 4,009 jobs in the financial year 1984–85. That is an increase of 550 over the previous year.
Class II, vote 4, also makes provision for the development of tourism. The sum of £5·5 million is allocated to it. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) is extremely interested in that, and let me know of his interest before the debate. Indeed, at Question Time the right hon. Member for South Down and I paid tribute to tourism as an important factor in the earning of wealth and the provision of jobs. Some 10,000 full-time jobs are provided by tourism at present in the Province.
Class III, vote 1, totals £24·2 million. That includes £12 million for 1984–85 deficit support for the gas industry, £6·3 million for conversion scheme assistance and £5·8 million for other costs, of which the main element is redundancy payments. The £6·3 million for conversion grants assumes that substantial progress can be made this year in implementing the rundown programmes of the smaller gas undertakings. As already announced, the Government will pay the full cost of conversion to the cheapest alternative method of domestic energy.
I can also tell the House that industrial and commercial consumers will receive grant of 30 per cent, of the least-cost conversion or replacement. In setting the rate at 30 per cent., consideration was given to the fact that many industrial and commercial consumers would be able to claim tax relief in relation to capital expenditure, thus effectively reducing the net cost to the consumer. In addition, some industrial and commercial consumers may be able to apply for energy conservation grants. They will be advised on this by fuel technologists from the Department of Economic Development's industrial science division.
I should also say, because the matter has been raised from time to time by right hon. and hon. Members, that churches, which as charitable organisations do not pay rates, will be treated as domestic consumers. Therefore, the Government will cover their full costs of converting to the cheapest alternative appliances for central heating.
The £5·8 million for redundancy payments is a broad estimate of what might be required in 1985–86 if reasonable progress is made. The payments to individual workers will show considerable variations depending on the age, length of service and wages of employees. The Government will underwrite redundancy terms to the level of those paid by the British Gas Corporation — a significant enhancement over statutory redundancy terms. Employees aged over 50 can also participate in the local government superannuation scheme for early retirement benefits in addition to their redundancy lump sums.
I have previously spelt out the reasons why the Government could not support the rescue plan prepared on behalf of the gas industry joint working group. I very much regret that this had to be the decision, but, facing facts frankly, I had no alternative. I had to ask myself whether the proposal, as put to me, would lead to a viable gas industry; or whether heavy and ever-increasing demands on Northern Ireland's limited public expenditure resources would continue to be made in support of gas. This £12 million per annum subsidy covering only 2 per cent, of the energy produced in the Province has risen from £2 million a year in 1974 to 1980, to £10 million a year from 1980 to 1984, to £12 million a year now.
The plan would be viable only if gas consumption in Northern Ireland increased 10 times over, and this at a fuel cost one third to one half higher than that of solid fuel. Domestic central heating by gas in the Province would have to increase from the present 3 per cent, to 50 per cent. We also considered that costs of more than £70 million were underestimated. It is as well to remember that all the gas pipes in Northern Ireland are such that one fifth of the gas put in on production does not come out on completion —four times the leakage rate of Great Britain. They would need replacement if the gas industry were to continue.
Gas has had a question mark over it since 1977 at least, and a decision had to be made not to close the gas industry, but to say that the ever-rising subsidies would end and that we would pay for the rundown. Interestingly, one private gas company at Portadown, believing that it can continue to run at a profit or at least not at a loss, is continuing.
Turning to electricity, £95·6 million is being sought in the Estimates for payments to the Northern Ireland electricity service to compensate for the Government's present policy of pegging Northern Ireland electricity tariffs to the level of the highest in England and Wales. This necessitates a large subsidy from within the Northern Ireland public expenditure block. The burden is considerable and one which the Government view with increasing concern. There is a need to reduce NIES costs — in particular, fuel costs. Hence the recently announced plan to convert Kilroot power station fom oil to coal firing. The conversion is a major capital expenditure programme, involving some £94 million, which will take the station out of service in the years 1986 to 1988. After the station is recommissioned in 1989, we anticipate reductions in fuel costs of £25 million to £30 million per year. It will pay for itself within three to four years and represents significant public expenditure savings. It will be one of the most versatile generating stations on earth. It was originally oil-fired. It has switched to coal but remains capable of returning to oil and can switch to lignite in the future. It can be a tourist attraction as one of the most versatile electricity generating stations in discovered space. We are always looking for ways to increase morale in the Province.
We are also conscious of the contribution which local lignite might make to reducing generating costs elsewhere in the Province, and we are seeking detailed information on the planning, design and costings of a minemouth power station which will enable decisions to be made. The prospects for involving private sector investment in the development of lignite-fired electricity are also being examined.
Some other items will be dealt with by the Under-secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), when he replies. They are his responsibility and he knows much more about them.
Roads and transport are covered in class IV of the Estimates. Northern Ireland has an excellent road system which is an important factor in the development of the Province's economy. There are about one third the number of cars per mile in the Province compared with the rest of Great Britain. That is an attraction to people moving around the Province as well as an advantage to industry and commerce. Some £22 million has been provided for new construction and £56 million for operation and maintenance, within an overall budget of £98 million.
In his statement of 12 December, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State reaffirmed housing as the highest priority among Northern Ireland's social and environ-mental programmes. Since the strategic approach to housing was agreed in 1981, total gross expenditure on housing services in Northern Ireland has grown from £325 million in 1980–81 to £545 million in 1985–86. Allowing for inflation this is a real increase of 22 per cent. A farther review of the housing strategy undertaken in 1984 confirmed the validity of the switch in emphasis made in 1983 towards improvement and maintenance and concluded that for the future the main issues to be addressed concern housing conditions rather than overall supply. That is reflected in the provision which has been made for housing services in 1985–86. The Housing Executive's capital and revenue budgets for 1985–86, totalling over £500 million, make provision for expenditure of £78 million on the rehabilitation and improvement of the executive's existing housing stock. Only — I am sorry; I mean over—£52 million is for maintenance.
Knowing how carefully my words are noted, I shall be careful when I start a sentence with a four-letter word. What we spend on one thing we cannot spend on another. A Government who have increased the amount by 22 per cent, have nothing to apologise for.
In gross terms some £42 million has been made available to housing associations for 1985–86, of which £26 million has been allocated to general housing association work to fund the completion of work already on the ground and a programme of 1,250 new starts.
In class VI, vote 1, over £78–6 million is sought for water and sewerage services throughout the Province. Of that amount, approximately £25 million is required for capital works. A major problem identified by a recent review of the future needs of the water service was the wastage of water with the percentage of water unaccounted for at some 30 per cent, of the total supply. An intensified programme of waste detection is expected to be fully under way by the end of 1985. We need to do that or to build another reservoir. The water leakage is almost as acute as the gas leakage, but I am told that it is easier to deal with. The gas leakage will not interest us in the future.
Class VIII of the Estimates seeks a total provision of over £614 million for education, libraries and arts. Some 37 per cent, of this provision relates to the payment of school teachers’ salaries.
The cost of nursery education is provided for in class VIII—a total of over £3·5 million this year. I know that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley is concerned about this matter and intends to speak about it tonight. I shall listen with interest to what he has to say, and my hon. Friend will, of course, reply.
In class VIII, vote 2, where total provision of £106·5 million is sought for higher and further education, I am particularly pleased that provision has been made to start the development of the Magee campus of the university of Ulster. The capital cost of the project will be in the region of £6·5 million at today's prices. The full plan, which is to be implemented in three distinct phases, will provide approximately 750 additional places for higher education in Londonderry and will bring the total capacity of the Magee campus to 1,000.
Class IX provides for health and personal social services. A net total of £642 million is sought to maintain the services already provided, and to allow for their further development. The largest single element in vote 1 is the revenue expenditure of the health and social services boards, estimated at £521 million.
Finally, in class XI, a net total of £18·3 million of the £23·1 million is required to service Department of Finance and Personnel's central management functions such as resources control. The balance is to provide for the running costs of the Exchequer and Audit Department and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I thought it right to go into some detail on Lear Fan and the gas industry, but generally I have tried to outline briefly the main features of the draft order, and to expand upon some of the main policy issues underlying the provision sought. I know that, as usual on these occasions, right hon. and hon. Members will wish to express their views on these and a great many other matters. I shall listen with great interest to the points raised by hon. Members, and my hon. Friend will reply.
I wish to examine class V, which deals with housing, and to raise some matters that have affected my constituency for a considerable time.
The availability of renovation grants is causing concern. Many people find it difficult to qualify at one of the so-called entry points and that suggests to me that the conditions are too rigid, lack imagination and require a rethink.
I shall outline some of the difficulties that I have faced in dealing with constituents’ problems. We seem to be getting different interpretations from the Housing Executive in different areas. More important, we are getting different interpretations from different grant officers in the same areas.
It is not acceptable to be informed by the Housing Executive grants department and its officer that they have learned a lot in recent years. One would expect that, but constituents are having to wait 12 months or even 24 months for approval for a renovation grant for a house that badly needs renovating. That causes serious concern.
Many houses which do not meet the so-called entry requirements badly need improvement. The owners cannot afford to carry out the work but unless they are in receipt of supplementary benefit or other state benefits they do not qualify for assistance at the higher rate. I have never understood how or why we have developed a system whereby people have to be in receipt of state benefits to be able to renovate houses, as I should have thought that people on such benefits would be in no position to consider renovating their dwellings.
I should make it clear that this is a personal view, but I have long believed that the system lacks proper balance. Many people who do not qualify for grant aid are encouraged to improve their houses, when, if they had the choice, they would opt to build new ones instead. I ask the Minister seriously to consider adopting a more balanced approach to renovation and new building so that those in a position to choose can set the cost of renovation against that of building a new house, including whatever size of grant is available. The difference between the two amounts would then be less than it is now, thus allowing people more realistic alternatives than they have at present.
The problems of Orlit houses, of which there are many in my constituency, were being discussed in the House long before I joined its ranks, but we are still nowhere near solving the problem and alleviating the plight of the tenants, many of whom have had to accept continual increases in rent. I ask that every effort be made to ensure that progress is more rapid than it has been so far. I believe —I have argued this with local officials of the Housing Executive and I do not think that many disagree—that where possible the Housing Executive should sell the houses to the tenants at a price which reflects the condition of the houses. I believe that that would be more attractive both for the potential purchasers and for the Housing Executive. Many tenants of Orlit cottages in my area have told me that they do not want their houses to be pulled down and they do not wish to move elsewhere. They are content to stay in their present homes. I do not believe that sufficient consideration is given to that fact.
There is also growing dissatisfaction not just in my constituency but throughout Northern Ireland among Housing Executive tenants who keep their homes in an excellent state of repair but are awarded no consideration for that. That can no longer be acceptable to the vast majority of responsible citizens. Many estates in my area were built a very long time ago and require modernisation and rehabilitation, including rewiring and better heating systems. The tenants rightly insist that they should be given consideration, and I agree.
Tenants on some estates in Armagh city such as the Folly in Dobbins Grove and the Orangefield estate are angered when they see tenants who wreck the kitchens and bathrooms in their accommodation being transferred by the Housing Executive to new houses in other areas. When I am asked by tenants who have looked after their homes how the Housing Executive can justify neglecting them, yet helps tenants who have wrecked their houses, I find it impossible to justify.
Houses on an estate at Sinton Park in Tandragee are supposed to be equipped with a so-called kitchen-dinette. In fact, it is nothing of the sort, being too small to be of any use to the tenants. That estate requires modernising and improving.
I protest strongly on behalf of tenants living in houses on the Greenpark estate in Markethill. Their doors and windows are rotten and people have to stuff up holes, in the windows and elsewhere, with polythene. A rehabilitation scheme for that estate has been postponed for another 12 months. That is totally unacceptable to the people who live there, and I find it intolerable.
In Killylea there is an estate of old people's dwellings, and other houses in the main street, and Eskes Park which to this day have not had their roofs or walls insulated. Nor do they have proper heating systems. That, too, is an unacceptable state of affairs. The walkways to the houses are dangerous, yet we expect old people to walk on them. I cannot understand how contractors have been paid for some of the tarring that they are supposed to have done there. It is difficult to see what supervision the Housing Executive exercised before payment was made for that work.
We require a change of emphasis in the Housing Executive's policy, particularly to the rural areas. Northern Ireland does not end at the suburbs of Belfast. Other areas outside the main conurbations need improving. People who have been paying their rents as honourable and honest citizens are now demanding what they should have received years ago. "We want our homes brought up to an acceptable level. Why should others have had their houses improved, while ours have remained in this condition?" they are rightly asking.
Houses on the Mourneview estate at Tandragee have caused me to have much correspondence with the Under-secretary of State for Health and Social Security in recent months. That estate was built many years ago, before the motor car became popular, when most of the tenants, used bicycles or walked. Tandragee council—long before the Housing Executive came into existence—constructed a green area in front of the houses so that people would have a pleasant aspect. That was all very well then, but today every household on that estate has a car. Some have two and I know of one that has three.
That area of what was green grass has been trampled on to such an extent that in the winter it has to be seen to be believed. The children from neighbouring estates find it an excellent track for their BMX bicycles. They tear through the mud and the residents have difficulty getting to their homes. The footpaths have been allowed in recent years to get into an atrocious state, with the flagstones so unbalanced as to be dangerous.
The Department of the Environment roads service informs me that it does not propose to spend money on the estate because such expenditure would result in no traffic benefit to the area. Meanwhile, the Housing Executive is willing to pay 50 per cent, of the cost of making improvements. The Department says that such improvements would not benefit through traffic, but the roads service cannot wash its hands of its responsibilities unless they are clearly defined as a Housing Executive responsibility. I should be quite happy for such improvements to be made the responsibility of the Housing Executive because it might be prepared to solve the problem. It is unacceptable that people should be asked to live in out-of-date accommodation.
Although I have said a few harsh words about it, at this stage I should like to say a few words in praise of the Housing Executive. It has tried to respond to the requests that have been made for housing repairs. Its response could have been better, but there has been an improvement.
Rates offices have been centralised throughout Northern Ireland. The rates office in Armagh city was closed and removed to Lurgan. Most of the people in the area would have gone to Armagh to pay their rates bills. Either they decided to pay them within the allotted time and to accept the discount that was offered or they decided to pay their bills outside the time limit and by waiting long enough, hoped that it would amount to more than the value of the discount.
Lurgan is not very far away but it is far enough away not to tempt anybody in the Armagh district to jump in his car and go to Lurgan to pay his rates bill. So they now pay their rates bills by post. One of my constituents paid his rates bill by post three days before he would have lost his discount, but the Post Office decided not to deliver his letter for four days. Therefore, he lost his discount. It ought to be possible for the postmark to be taken as a verification of payment having been made before the expiry of the discount period. May I ask the Minister of State seriously to·consider that point?
The Minister of State referred eloquently to the excellent roads system in Northern Ireland. The Armagh county council left as an inheritance to the people of the county of Armagh a roads system that was second to none. But that cannot be said today. The main roads have deteriorated seriously. The byroads have gone beyond the stage of deteriorating; some of them are beginning to break up.
There are all sorts of problems. I do not propose to deal with them at any length, because that would take up so much time that I might deprive another hon. Member of the opportunity to speak. However, I am seriously concerned about road conditions in Northern Ireland as a whole, and particularly in my constituency. I am also concerned about minor roads and voiced my concerns about them before I became a Member of Parliament.
One road in Armagh was first known as the road to nowhere. Now it services a housing estate, but it has never been finished. It was designed as a link road between the Markethill road and the Portadown road, and was supposed to cross the Hamiltonsbawn road. That road was never completed to a point at which it could at least provide some assistance. Thus, I hope that the Minister will seriously consider the fact that the road needs to be finished.
We have a good industrial estate on the Hamiltonsbawn road. It needs to be serviced and needs further work to be done so that more jobs can be brought to the Armagh city area. If there are no roads to such estates, we cannot expect industrialists to give them serious consideration. The Minister must give that point top priority in future.
The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), need not look so worried, as I shall now deal with class I. I know how proficient he is on agriculture, as I have heard him reply in the past in the House. Farm capital grants are important to our farmers. Indeed, it would be fair to say that in Northern Ireland we have in the past used the grants available to improve and modernise our farm buildings. But even more importantly, improvements to our grasslands by re-seeding, shoring and cleaning out drains have benefited the whole agriculture industry. When the grants were drastically cut last December, there was some alarm. Of the £40 million saved from those cuts in the United Kingdom, £14 million will come out of money that would have gone to Northern Ireland. That shows the importance that Northern Ireland attaches to the grant system and the use to which it can be put.
Some counties require an on-going drainage policy. County Fermanagh is an excellent example of where such a policy has improved the land and subsequently the livelihood of farmers in that area.
I am very concerned that areas that have been substantially improved in previous years will now deteriorate. The view now appears to have entered Government thinking that the removal of hedges has been in some way uniform throughout the United Kingdom, but that is not so. Anyone who has been to Northern Ireland will know that conservation has always been of paramount importance to Northern Ireland farmers. We have not been guilty of damaging conservation, and could not be accused of that. The Minister's colleagues may not be as aware as he is of the different circumstances prevailing in Northern Ireland. We need an on-going policy of improvements to grasslands in Northern Ireland.
If agriculture is to develop, research and development must continue to receive the necessary support. There must be no diminuition in the current standards. We would be opposed to the reduction of any of the current services offered by our experimental stations, veterinary research laboratories, plant breeding stations and many of the other services. Major companies presently take part in some of the work carried out by Government Departments, and while such a policy should be encouraged where feasible, it should never be considered to be capable of taking over from what currently exists.
Production of beef in Northern Ireland provides great support not only for the farmer but for ancillary industries, mainly in the boning of beef. Agriculture in Northern Ireland must look towards preparation and marketing to give the housewives what they wish to buy. That aspect has been sadly lacking over the years. However, that requirement now seems to be recognised. If we are to survive in the comparative market of the large multiples buying the highest quality at comparative prices, there is much to be done on marketing. We still have a great deal to learn if we are to compete effectively with the continent. To that end, I urge the Government to maximise their efforts in helping our firms to initiate new ideas, evolve new markets and adopt new ideas to the benefit of the industry.
One requirement has been sadly neglected for some time—cold storage and blast freezing facilities. Due to the large supply of cattle available in the autumn, intervention is required to stabilise the market, but intervention is of little consequence if there is no storage space. I understand that the stores are now almost full. If that is true—I have no reason to suppose otherwise— that does not hold out much hope for the coming season. We experienced problems last autumn but, thankfully, we coped. We may not be so successful this year.
I ask the Minister to give serious consideration to providing alternative facilities. I fall short of saying what we said 12 months ago, when we requested that freezer ships should be made available. But that is something that the Minister must seriously consider, because that facility may be required this year in view of the additional cow beef that has filled our cold stores. The Minister should not hope for the best—he should prepare for the worst.
Since I came to the House two years ago, I have repeatedly said that some way must be found to bring to Northern Ireland at a realistic price the grain that is currently housed in costly intervention storage in Europe. It should not be beyond the scope of our Ministers and officials to negotiate within the CAP a way in which grain could be shipped to Northern Ireland, stored and sold to Northern Ireland farmers at a price no more or less than that in any other part of the United Kingdom. Such an initiative would immediately stabilise the intensive sector and would be of great help in creating further employment in the ancillary and support industries that supply it. I urge the Minister to take the necessary initiative to ensure that the problem is seriously considered.
I apologise to the Minister for not having been in the Chamber to hear his opening remarks on milk quotas. Like many other hon. Members, I was taken by surprise by the speed with which the previous debate ended. The issue of milk quotas has caused those of us who present the Northern Ireland agriculture case a great deal of concern, and we have spent much time trying to find a solution to the problem.
The problem was created by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. When quotas were first introduced 14 months ago, Northern Ireland should have been awarded 65,000 tonnes in recognition of its dependence upon the milk industry. That would have placed Northern Ireland farmers in an interim position between the Republic of Ireland and the remainder of the United Kingdom.
That is the background to the position. However, now the dairy farmers of Northern Ireland are at a serious disadvantage compared to their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom. Not only did they not receive the 65,000 tonnes that we were awarded, but we were manipulated out of the commitment by a jumbling of figures to suit the requirements of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
The Minister introduced throughout the whole of the United Kingdom a milk cessation scheme whereby fanners could, if they wished, sell their quota back to the Ministry and go out of production. That extra quota could then be redistributed. In England and Scotland the scheme received a favourable response, but not in Wales, where in many ways the position of the farmers is similar to that of those in Northern Ireland. The target set for milk quotas has almost been reached on the mainland, but not in Northern Ireland, because the scheme there was a flop.
When the Minister of Agriculture made his announcement offering the scheme as a solution to the difficulties in Northern Ireland, he did not heed the warnings given by myself and other hon. Members that the scheme would not work. It never had a chance to work, because in Northern Ireland the farmers have no alternative. They cannot turn to cereals as farmers in other parts of the United Kingdom can. It has been suggested that other choices are available—we could grow rape, flax, peas and, unbelievably, caravans.
In Northern Ireland, we depend mainly on the grassbased sections of milk, beef and, to a lesser extent, sheep, those involved cannot sell their quota and go out of production. Our dependence on this sector is now more pronouned than ever. The dairy produce panels set up with the approval of the House to help farmers in the United Kingdom as a whole and to investigate their appeals is now working to the detriment of one part of the United Kingdom.
The same legislation and criteria should be used throughout the United Kingdom. Recently, the Minister announced that dairy farmers in England, Scotland and Wales are to receive 100 per cent, of their exceptional hardship awards, but in Northern Ireland they are to receive only 36 per cent. In England, Wales and Scotland, the small producer of 200,000 litres is to receive an extra 11 per cent, over the next 12 months, but in Northern Ireland, he is to receive nothing.
Such treatment is unacceptable to Northern Ireland. It is wrong that a farmer living in England, Scotland or Wales should be 11 percent, better off than his counterpart in Northern Ireland, who is in the same circumstances but who, because he farms in the Province, will not receive equal treatment. Northern Ireland farmers have been told to cut milk production by 1 per cent, from 1 April, but small farmers in the rest of the United Kingdom are 11 per cent, better off.
It was fair 14 months ago to equalise the hardship, and the Government have a duty now to ensure that all citizens receive the same benefit. There is no difference in being an exceptional hardship case in the county of Armagh, part of which I have the honour to represent, and being an exceptional hardship case in the county of Devon. Hardship is the same wherever one happens to live. No justice or fair treatment has been accorded to Northern Ireland fanners on this issue. Tonight I am asking for that —nothing more or less than equality will suffice.
I want to refer to a matter that has just been dealt with by the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) in regard to the Department of Agriculture. Lord Lyell, who is responsible for agriculture, advised us that expander cases in Northern Ireland would receive 49 per cent, of tribunal awards. In Scotland they will receive 57·5 per cent, and in England and Wales 65 per cent. If the outgoers quota is used exclusively for exceptional hardship cases and additional quota is not transferred from Great Britain awards of 36 per cent, will be granted.
The Secretary of State for Agriculture announced on 7 May that exceptional hardship cases in England and Wales would receive 100 per cent, of the tribunal award. Small producers in England and Wales will be restored to their mean level of production in 1983 but again, unless quota is transferred from Great Britain, small producers in Northern Ireland will receive absolutely nothing.
It is all very well for the Minister of State to come to the Dispatch Box tonight and tell us that he cannot make further comment. What are the dairy farmers of Northern Ireland to do? Lord Lyell told the Ulster Farmers Union on 2 May:
I would wish to register my most sincere sympathy with all those who still do not know how they stand for 1985–86. I can only assure you that I am doing everything I can to get a fair settlement as quickly as possible.
The dairy farmers of Northern Ireland deserve not sympathy but action, and action needs to be taken immediately. We are in an intolerable position when we discover that the Minister who will be answering tonight can make no statement about further progress on the matter while the rest of the United Kingdom gets full information. There is no equality between the rest of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) should be well briefed so that he can give some satisfaction to the people of Northern Ireland.
I wish to protest at the limitation on the time available for the debate. Why can we not have proper time to discuss matters that range from Dan to Beersheba? It makes me thank God doubly for an Assembly, where we have time to discuss some of the matters that should have been dealt with in the House tonight. We have a deplorable state of affairs.
When I arrived at the House today I had a telephone call from a lady in County Antrim who told me that she could not get any satisfaction from the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland or from the Department here. Therefore, she sent to Mr. Andriessen, the Commissioner for Agriculture in Brussels, a long telex which cost her £60. This is a serious matter because the dairy farmers do not know where to turn. They may have 100 or 120 cows and they are being told that they will have to cut back. They do not know how they will make ends meet. Mr. Andriessen replied to this lady. She got no reply from the Prime Minister or from the Secretary of State for Agriculture, both of whom she had written to. She was ignored by them but the Common Market Commissioner replied. He said that he had instructed
"my services to get in touch with the United Kingdom so that further details and a proper explanation be obtained of the way that hardship quotas and other special case quotas are now being determined in Northern Ireland differing from the rest of the United Kingdom".
The alarm bells are sounding in Europe because of the way in which the Secretary of State dealt with the 65,000 extra tonnes that we should have received last year.
What is happening is deplorable. It is so bad that it would be impossible to believe if Lord Lyell had not appeared before the Northern Ireland Agriculture Committee to confirm in person what I am saying tonight. He said that the only answer lay in the permanent transfer of quota from Great Britain, but that there was very strong opposition to this from producers in England, Scotland and Wales. In other words, those producers are not prepared to stand for equalisation and Northern Ireland has to be put out on a limb.
Northern Ireland's prime agriculture industry has to suffer because the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has ceased to be the Minister responsible for the whole of the United Kingdom. He has become responsible only for England and Wales. He is doing something for his own fanners but nothing for farmers in Northern Ireland.
It was obvious to the Agriculture Committee that that would be so. Indeed, we put it to Lord Lyell that a political decision would have to be taken to transfer quotas from producers across the water.
I am sure that the leader of the Official Unionist party will not mind me saying that he has received correspondence from the Prime Minister on the same subject. I have also written to the Prime Minister about the problem. Lord Lyell told us that the Secretary of State had been negotiating at Cabinet level and that we would have to leave it to him to fight the political battle.
Representatives of the Ulster Fanners Union came away from a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and immediately passed a vote of no confidence in him because he offered no change and no hope.
I appeal to Ministers to convey to Lord Lyell and to the Secretary of State that time is running out. In the past two weeks we have heard that producers in the Republic of Ireland have received an additional 58,000 tonnes. In England and Wales there has been a restoration of the 1983 levels of production and claims by essential hardship cases will be met in full.
It is time for Northern Ireland's position to be resolved. We must receive the full benefit of the European Economic Community award of 65,000 tonnes. It must be seen that we receive that award. Surely Ministers have learnt their lessons by now. There must be a permanent transfer of quota within the United Kingdom to protect the jobs of those for whom alternative employment is not available. There are no alternative jobs for farmers. We have a grass, land-based industry.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we can thank membership of the EC for our present position, and for having ruined our intensive sectors, thus making us so dependent on the grass-based sectors?
The hon. Gentleman knows my views about Europe. I warned the Ulster Farmers Union, but they went against me and said that Europe would be the greatest thing that ever happened. The leaders of the farming community in Northern Ireland campaigned to go into Europe. The farming community was warned about what would happen. What annoys me is that Europe has given us extra and we are not getting it. It is hard for the farmers of Northern Ireland to accept that producers in the Republic will be so much better off than we are. But how much worse it is now for those in agriculture in Northern Ireland to find that matters cannot be resolved on an equitable basis within the United Kingdom, that we are not getting our place as farmers within the United Kingdom, that we are being discriminated against. There must be a realisation of the inequities between producers in the United Kingdom.
Justice surely demands that quota purchased from outgoers should be used equitably throughout the country. The Government cannot say that the money is not available, because the money is available. They were to purchase 66 million litres, and they have been able to purchase only 12 million litres. They have £7 million in hand to pay for this. That money must be used to get extra milk quota for Northern Ireland. The money is available. A simple calculation shows that a total of £7 million is unspent. The Government must make that money available for milk quota.
I leave it to the Minister to reply on milk quotas when he sums up, and to give some hope to the farmers of Northern Ireland. I do not want him to say that he is sorry, he can do nothing and he has nothing to say to me, because that will inflict more misery and take away any hope that there may be in the hearts of the fanners of Northern Ireland.
There are many other agricultural matters on which I would like to comment, but many other hon. Members wish to take part in the debate and some have been waiting since 7 o'clock. I will, therefore, curtail my remarks.
I welcome the statement of the Minister of State that there is absolutely no criticism of the workmanship of the people of Northern Ireland in the De Lorean case or in the Lear Fan affair. These companies coming in and making a botch has caused a reflection to be cast across the world suggesting that there is something wrong with Ulster workmanship. There is nothing wrong with Ulster workmanship. I welcome this statement by the Minister, and he needs to go on repeating it, because no reflection can be cast on Ulster workmanship.
I welcome the progress that has been made in Shorts and in the Shipyard, and I welcome the jobs that are coming to Northern Ireland. There is a lot of work to be done, and the IDB and those responsible need to get their skates on and get at this job with all their might.
I wish to ask some questions on class IV, the Department of the Environment. Can the Minister give the House a recent updating in regard to Ballintoy harbour? I thank the Minister for what he told me about the Kilkeal dredger. I want to say that I was not going into the constituency of any hon. Member. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) and I at a meeting in Stormont were asked to bring this matter to the House. As chairman, I was asked to do this, and that is why I did it. When hon. Members came into my constituency at the time of the discussion of the barracks at Ballymena, I did not protest. If hon. Members come in and help my constituency to get better and more jobs, more power to them. It is the same if they come into Shorts in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). Nobody will hinder me. When representations are made to me as chairman of the committee in Stormont to raise matters in the House, I will raise them.
I welcome the fact that the Minister gave us the report, but we had already had it from the chairman of the fisheries board in Northern Ireland who came and told us what had happened. Nevertheless, we welcome the announcement today.
I want the Minister to tell us about the updating of Ballintoy harbour. Extensive works have been done there, but the project has developed into a fiasco resulting almost in the closing of the harbour because of the way that the work has been carried out. Will he also say what progress has been made on Rathlin island harbour and on the Ballycastle harbour project as these are very important to my constituency?
Class V deals with housing. I want to ask the Minister to start an investigation into why houses of the same age and of the same construction and size in one area in Northern Ireland get more done to them when they are being rehabilitated than the same type of houses in other areas.
I refer to Cookstown and to Ballymoney. There, two estates are made up of exactly the same type of house, but the political connotations are different. One is Republican and the other Unionist. One is Roman Catholic and the other Protestant. A tenant goes to the estate office and is told, "We are sorry, but you are not getting a new window here and a new door there and you will not have this or that fixed. At the end of the day, people in Ballymoney found that inferior jobs were being done on their houses and less money was spent on them although their houses were in a worse condition than those in Cookstown.
I have had the Housing Executive on this job, because the only way to deal with the Housing Executive is to take its representatives to an estate and allow the tenants to get at them. That is my policy. I allow them to say what they have to say to the Housing Executive in the presence of their Member of Parliament. I got promises galore that all would be well. However, I was summoned back and the tenants told me that they were getting nothing and that the Housing Executive representatives had gone back on their agreement. I say to the Minister that what is fair must be done in Northern Ireland.
I resent the fact that in my constituency Republican housing estates get preference over Unionist estates. They should all be dealt with in the same way. Instead, Republicans destroy their properties, they refuse to pay rent, they go on rent strikes and, when renovations are to be done, the Housing Executive says that their houses are in worse condition and that work on them must be done first.
Good tenants in Housing Executive property must be given some incentives. I understand that the Government believe in incentives, as I do. A good tenant who keeps his house well, does the odd repair without fuss and keeps it in good repair should be given some incentive. I am disgusted by the way that some of these rehabilitation jobs are done. Tenants are put out for a few weeks, but they are brought back before the jobs are finished. Other tenants are kept in their houses and have to endure all the inconvenience. I went into a house the other day where the occupants were going to bed after performing a balancing act over the rafters of the floor. That was a rehabilitation job. That is not fair to anyone, and the Minister should see that it does not happen.
Class VI deals with historic monuments, and I have two questions for the Minister. The first concerns the Walker monument in the city of Londonderry. Incidentally, I congratulate the Minister on calling it "the city of Londonderry". Because we have murdering thugs as members on the council, is the planning for that monument to stop, with the project being called to a halt?
I want also to ask the hon. Gentleman about the monument to the Rev. Hugh Hanna that used to stand at Carlisle circus. What has happened to it? Why has the monument not been restored to its rightful place now that the roads in the area have been sorted out?
While my hon. Friend talks about monuments, will he give the Minister the opportunity to tell us what is delaying the cleaning of the Carson monument which is on the route to my hon. Friend's offices and which he must see and deplore every day, as it is turning green and corroded?
I thought that my hon. Friend would speak in the debate and I knew that he, as chairman of the committee in Stormont, had made representations about that matter, which is why I did not mention it. We could not get a better trio than Walker, Hanna and Carson and, therefore, I trust that those three names will stick in the mind of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bath and that he will remember that that monument of Carson needs a bath. Perhaps he will look after that for us.
Regarding class VIII, I register my strongest protest against the decision that Northern Ireland will have something less than the rest of the United Kingdom in that we are not to have a Provincial library or copyright privilege for our central library. It was proposed that we should have a Provincewide reference library and a copyright privilege. Only one library in Ireland has that copyright privilege — the university library in Dublin. Why should a library outside the United Kingdom have that privilege when it is denied to the people of Northern Ireland? Wales, Scotland and England all have their own national library. Why should Northern Ireland not have one to serve the entire Province? I regret that it has been refused to us. Will the Minister tell us why?
I wonder whether the Minister will tell us what is happening about hospitals at Downpatrick. All hon. Members have deputations with them about that. I hope that the Minister will update us on that.
Class XI vote 4 deals with the expenditure of the office of the Northern Ireland Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. Will the Minister take on board the fact that a small leaflet is needed to state clearly how many cases have been brought since the two offices came into existence? How many cases have been sifted through, tried and a verdict given? What was the religious discrimination and what were the numbers? Those numbers are vital to show that the vast claims of discrimination simply do not stand up. It is time that the facts were published so that everyone knows what is happening.
One of the classes refers to the contributions to local revenues. I think that I can deal with this matter in class IV vote 6. The Minister knows what has happened as a result of the Northern Ireland local government elections. I do not want the Government to think that the problem will go away. Sinn Fein is wholly unacceptable to the people of Northern Ireland. To have to sit on a council and have councillors shouting, "Up the IRA", and calling our security forces murderers, and to know that Sinn Fein has killed our kith and kin is something that we shall never accept. The Government need to get that into their mind. If they think that in two or three months, or a year, the position will settle down, everyone will shake hands and work together, they are wrong. If the Minister thinks that he can push Sinn Fein down our teeth, he has another think coming. The Government need to get that into their mind and heart. What they have seen so far is only a Sunday school picnic. Our people are enraged at what has happened. The Minister and the Government will not sit with Sinn Fein, discuss business with them, or have them on deputations, yet they would force the elected representatives of Northern Ireland to sit with them. It cannot be done. I hope that when the Minister replies, he will clarify the statement that he is reported to have made, on which there has been great comment, that he would have to recognise the chairman of a council even if he was a member of Sinn Fein. What is the Government's thinking on that? If a council such as that in Omagh sends him a deputation led by a Sinn Fein chairman, will he receive it? If he goes to Omagh, will he be received by a Sinn Fein chairman?
Those are urgent matters, and the House had better understand the feeling of the people of Northern Ireland. I cannot express it strongly enough. I have already expressed it to the Minister in person. This cannot be swept under the carpet, and it will be opposed by the people of Northern Ireland. In Enniskillin—I regret that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) is not here tonight — the official Unionists were prepared to vote into office an SDLP man to keep Sinn Fein out of the chair, but the SDLP said, "We will not even run for office. We will let Sinn Fein have the chair." We know what the end of the story will be. I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but at the next general election, we shall see the real pact between the SDLP and Sinn Fein. I believe that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) said in the House that we are seeing the forging of another all-Republican pact. The House must be warned about it and about the feelings of Ulster people.
It may seem a poor response to the witty and informative speech with which the Minister of State introduced the order if he is obliged once again to listen to a litany to which he has already on three separate occasions made some reply. All of us hope — that hope is reinforced by the absurdly limited time for this debate—that this will be the last occasion when we must reap the absurd fruits in procedural terms of the old determination to maintain a separate financial organisation and Consolidated Fund for Northern Ireland.
It would be unreasonable to expect Ministers to anticipate what we believe the Government will say if, later this month or at the beginning of July, they must once again excuse the renewal of direct rule. Equally, I am sure that Ministers will understand that right hon. and hon. Members on this Bench, who were returned to the House to bring about the end of that colonial status of direct rule under which the Province labours, would be falling if they did not mark their purpose again by formally voting against the order.
As a result of a communication between us, the Minister of State anticipated one point that I shall raise this evening. I am grateful to him for recognising that the Northern Ireland Office and the fisheries division of the Department of Agriculture are alive to the risks to the scallop fishermen on the Down and Antrim coasts. Something went wrong somewhere.
In the early months of 1984, it was proposed that the entire northern part of the Irish sea should reasonably, for conservation reasons, be closed to scallop fishing for four months from June to October. That was accepted by the Northern Ireland fishermen and their representatives. However, when the order was made, it excluded from the ban the coastal scallop beds of the counties of Antrim and Down. That is an extremely serious matter, for there are fishermen in the smaller ports of those two counties who are dependent for a considerable part of their livelihood upon the special scallop fishery to which their fishing methods are adapted off their own home ports. If, during this close season, which does not apply off Mourne and Antrim, part of the fishing effort of the remainder of the Irish sea proves to be concentrated, as is feared, upon those beds, there may be disastrous consequences from which those resources may take years to recover.
I hope that when the Minister replies, he will be able to reiterate more precisely the pledge which was given by the Minister of State that the Government will stand ready, if there is any evidence of incursion into those fisheries, to extend the ban which exists in the remainder of the northern Irish sea. I believe that I caught an affirmative indication. I shall look forward to hearing it verbally when the Minister replies.
The other matter that I wish to raise concerns the Minister's responsibilities for the Department of the Environment. One of the few functions—I hope that it will soon be widely extended — of the existing local authorities in Northern Ireland is the disposal of refuse. I am not for one moment suggesting that that function should be taken away from them. We should be looking for functions that can be given to, not taken away from, district councils. I am not the only Member representing Northern Ireland who has been disturbed by the evidence of the sporadic efforts of the different district councils to solve their problems of tipping and rubbish disposal in apparent isolation from what other councils may be doing and without any connected plan or forethought as to what the demand in future years will be.
There is a function here for the Department of the Environment. It is a function that the Department would have even if we in Northern Ireland possessed, as we hope to possess, a full system of local government—that is, of co-ordination and stimulus. The district councils ought, each in their respective areas, not merely to be encouraged but to be required to provide the Minister with a forecast of the expected disposal requirements of coming years and their intentions for coping with their problems. There should be a survey of the manner in which the total requirements of the Province in coming years can be met without any breach of planning requirements or damage to amenities.
At present, the district council picks upon a site, causing widespread alarm and dismay in the area, and puts in a planning application for its use as a tipping site. After many months, a decision is rightly taken that it is not a suitable site and the same blight lands in another place.
It is absurd that that should be going on simultaneously in one district area after another, and it is only the Minister and officials in his Department, with their oversight of local government and environmental functions, who can deal with that problem.
I know that it has been brought to the Minister's attention, but I hope that he will tonight say that he will not allow district councils to prevaricate, but will insist by a given date on having an intelligent and intelligible plan for the next 10 years of refuse disposal throughout the Province. The matter needs to be looked at Province-wide and on that scale.
As the Minister with responsibility for the Department of the Environment is to reply and as housing has been mentioned more than once, I cannot resist returning to one point which was touched upon by the Minister of State when he referred to the change in emphasis which had taken place in the activities of the Housing Executive. The emphasis has changed from new building and addition to the total stock to improvement, maintenance and the improvement of the distribution of existing stock.
Year after year, we have called for — and then welcomed—that change of emphasis. I know that it has the full support of the Under-Secretary and it is, therefore, a cause of dismay to find in one's own constituency that the Housing Executive is apparently still contemplating vesting large areas to create new and, in some cases, massive estates. Will the Under-Secretary put in hand an inquiry to see what sites for new building are being acquired by the Housing Executive outside Belfast and how those acquisitions are related to the policy of the executive, as it has been expounded to the House in successive debates? Some of us suspect that the Housing Executive, or certainly some of its departments, may be failing to respond to the general policy of shifting the emphasis from the creation of new housing estates to the maintenance and improvement of existing houses and the facilitation of transfers so that families match the accommodation much better than they do at present.
I know that I am appealing for something which is close to the Under-Secretary's heart, and I hope that he will emphasise that when he replies.
The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) has announced that the House will again be divided. I regret that, if only because it separates him and his right hon. and hon. Friends from Conservative Members who wish them well.
Northern Ireland is fortunate in the devotion and energy of the Secretary of State and his ministerial team. If I pay a particular compliment to the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), it is because I wish to speak about tourism, which falls within the purview of the Department of Economic Development and is a subject in which my hon. Friend takes a keen personal interest.
Expenditure on the development of tourism in the last financial year is recorded in class II, vote 4. The fact that a surplus of over £213,000 is to be returned is indicative of prudent administration. The Minister of State said that in the present financial year there will be expenditure of £5·5 million. The question is whether we are getting value for that money.
In 1967, about 1·8 million tourists visited Northern Ireland. Then came the troubles. A low point was recorded in 1981, with only 588,000 tourist visitors. By last year, there had been a remarkable change for the better—to 908,000 tourists, an increase of 6 percent, on 1983 figures and 27 per cent, up on the 1982 level. There was also last year the highest occupancy rate of hotel bedrooms—40 per cent.—since 1973. I saw that the Minister of State was quoted as predicting that the 1 million tourists mark will be passed this year, although, as that will not take us back to the pre-troubles level, we cannot rest content.
Northern Ireland is fortunate in Sir John Swinson, who was reappointed chairman of the tourist board in 1983. He and his officials have been busy promoting Northern Ireland in London, Birmingham, Scotland and West Germany—the earnest anglers from Germany love the Fermanagh lakes.
Northern Ireland has been receiving about 52,000 tourists a year from North America, many of whom come because of their roots in Northern Ireland. It is estimated that 20 million North Americans, 850,000 Australians and no fewer than 200,000 New Zealanders consider themselves, as I do, to have ancestral origins in the Province. It was wise of the Northern Ireland tourist board to carry out a promotional tour of Australiasia last October. It is also gratifying that more Members of this House are visiting Northern Ireland.
Many new visitors to the Province express surprise at the tranquillity of the matchless countryside and at the normality of Ulster life. Terrorism is there, but terrorism is almost worldwide in what Churchill described as this terrible 20th century. The British are insular and inclined to think that they are the only people who have troubles, whether it be unemployment or terrorism. Other countries much favoured by holidaymakers — France, including Corsica, as well as Italy and Spain — are also and perhaps worse plagued by the men of the bomb and the bullet. Statistical comparison shows that Northern Ireland is much safer than New York and we should do all that we can to encourage further growth of the tourist industry by bringing out the true position of Northern Ireland. Due regard must at the same time be paid to natural amenity, historic monuments and archaeological sites such as the one in the constituency of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) which I understand is to be the subject of a public inquiry.
I repeat that we cannot rest on our oars. I suppose that the fact that only 300,000 visitors come from Great Britain results from the concentration of our media on the killing and the violence. That figure compares with 350,000 from the Irish Republic. Tourism figures in the cross-border studies and co-operation with Bord Failte makes sense. I conclude by quoting Mr. De Valera, no less, who described Ulster as the province that every Irishman loves most next to his own.
I shall seek to follow your grave consign, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall limit my comments to one aspect of the Minister's opening remarks and not seek to equal the interesting, in-depth speeches of hon. Members who have gone before me.
I wish to deal briefly with the scrapping of the Lear Fan jet project, which the Minister described as disappointing news. The Minister told the House that the 4·79 million dollars outstanding would not now have to be paid. Great effort has been made to distance this matter from the De Lorean affair, which was the subject of a previous debate, but it is right and proper that the House should also discuss the Lear Fan affair in some depth, and I shall seek to do so, albeit briefly.
The Lear Fan jet was to be made almost entirely of a lightweight carbon fibre, powered by two turbo-prop engines coupled to a single rear propellor and designed to fly at speeds of up to 400 mph using less fuel than some cars; but the project has now been scrapped. It is significant that the announcement of the decision came not from the Industrial Development Board but from Lear Fan Ltd. in Los Angeles. In a written answer to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Arnold) about the Lear Fan company's decision to cease trading, the Minister said:
I understand the directors took this decision because of continuing delays encountered in obtaining certification of the Lear Fan 2100 aircraft and the steep decline in the market for executive turbo-prop aircraft which had resulted in a serious deterioration of the long-term prospects of the company." —[Official Report, 3 June 1985; Vol. 80, c.86.]
However, I suggest that the Lear Fan project collapsed because of the inability of Lear Fan to get an airworthiness certificate. Thus, the second reason given by the company is as redundant as those workers who are still at the plant in Carnmoney in Northern Ireland.
The Minister is to be congratulated on being forthright with the House in saying that £56·28 million had been lost to the Exchequer. Lord Lyell—whom the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) described as being the Minister responsible for agriculture—referred to the losses in a statement that he made in the other place on 19 December 1984. He thought that the Government exposure was $24 million. That was obviously wishful thinking, because the proper figure given tonight by the Minister is £56·28 million.
As with the De Lorean affair, the Lear Fan issue raises a number of questions. Most of my questions relate to the administration of the former Minister of State, the present Minister of State for Defence Procurement, to whom I have given notice that I should be raising matters within his jurisdiction.
Why, in the first place, were the contracts for Lear Fan entered into in dollars, which meant that, with a strengthening dollar, the transaction across the exchanges cost us more than was necessary? Is it right that the Government should have used taxpayers’ money in dollars rather than in pounds? What chances are there of recovering as much as possible of the nearly £57 million that has been poured into the venture? Is it a fact, as stated in the press, that the Industrial Development Board's directors nominated to advise the Government recommended the Government to pull out of the Lear Fan project a year ago and to salvage what money could be recouped? If so, why was that advice not heeded?
Is it true that there is a legal possibility on the other side of the Atlantic that the Lear Fan company might be able somehow to close down the present operations, lose for the British Exchequer £57 million and open up again with other backers? In short, is it still thought that the Lear Fan jet is a marketable commodity?
I read that Mr. De Lorean is seeking to resurrect his car project in the United States and therefore, in a sense, begin where he left off in Northern Ireland. I doubt whether that is so; and if I do not believe in miracles, I can believe in the gullibility of some people elsewhere in the world.
Why did the Government take a 5 per cent, equity stake in Fan Holdings Incorporated, which in turn owned Lear Fan Ltd.? What was the value of such a parsimonious holding? Why were the original interim loans waived in favour of royalty payments of up to $33·75 million?
We see here the shades of the De Lorean affair: a plan for a jet aircraft that had no prospect of obtaining an airworthiness certificate, yet the British Government bartered away taxpayers' money for royalty payments on an aeroplane that was destined never to fly.
Why was the original loan, which might have been recovered by the receiver in different circumstances, turned into a per capita employment grant to be secured against the achievement of the original Northern Ireland employment target of 1,250? By means of this debate I draw the attention of the receiver to the novelty of a situation in which a loan was to be converted into a grant on the achievement of an employment target of 1,250. That employment figure was never achieved, so £9·07 million could be recovered by the Exchequer.
Why did Her Majesty's Government waive their right to recover the original grant, and upon what financial criteria was this decision based? If additional assistance was to be linked to an increase in the number of employees above 1,250, why was that assistance given when there was no — I repeat no — increase in the number of employees above that figure? In fact, the number of workers employed on the Lear Fan project never rose above 560. If the Government had decided that no financial assistance should be provided unless it was linked to jobs, why did they agree to extend a bank guarantee totalling $15 million to 31 December 1986 and to provide additional public funds up to a maximum of $30 million in what they described as "a predetermined ratio with private sector money"? It was a question not of throwing good money after bad but of throwing good taxpayers' money after private investment capital and relying upon the judgment of the private investor to get it right. That is a matter that the Government and the Industrial Development Board ought to take on board. It is not sufficient simply to say that private money should be added to any particular project, because that, too, might not be backed up by expertise. Where was the expertise on carbon fibre, on aviation fuel consumption or on private jet market research? The British public are entitled to be told the criteria for such an investment.
I was as much surprised in this case as I was in the case of De Lorean to see who were the people who influenced the Government of the day. The greatest enthusiast for the scheme was the wife of the inventor. She had no financial, commercial or aircraft expertise that was worthy of the attention of the British taxpayer. Even Mrs. Lear had to confess in 1981 that the company was over its budget and behind schedule. What was the Government's response? They appointed a new chairman who was an independent oil operator and a banker from Denver, Colorado. Where was his aircraft expertise?
The Government announced that any new funding of the Lear Fan project was to be by way of a secured loan, the security being the premises in Northern Ireland which, in a sense, belonged to the taxpayer and which were meaningless in terms of collateral. Even then the Government hinted that such a loan would be set off against further grants. These are all matters for the Public Accounts Committee, which looked very carefully into the De Lorean affair and threw light on a number of coiners that required light to be shed upon them. It must be the same here. Any analysis of this project shows clearly that there has been a waste of taxpayers’ money, a waste that has been brought about by Government incompetence, ignorance and mismanagement. The only good thing to be said is that it cannot be laid at the door of the present Minister, who was not in post at the time. But it can be laid at the door of the Government of whom he is a member.
If the Minister cannot be held responsible for the financial arrangements made by his predecessor in 1982, he does hold some responsibility for the wayward fashion in which announcements have been made concerning the cessation of trading of Lear Fan. The Opposition sometimes offer the Government a fair wind —to borrow a phrase from my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock)—if not an entirely bipartisan policy when we deal with Northern Ireland matters. But we categorically condemn the Government for the cavalier, inopportune and, quite frankly, callous way in which important announcements concerning employment are made out of this House, out of the reach of the probing questions of Members of Parliament, out of the reach of those who are seeking to do their duty by their constituents, by whom I mean those who live not only in Northern Ireland but in the United Kingdom as a whole.
The Minister touched briefly upon the closure of the gas industry in Northern Ireland. Perhaps, through the usual channels, there may be an opportunity to discuss that matter. But the announcement was made on a "Long Good Friday"—to borrow the title of a recent film— and we have not yet had the opportunity of a full debate on the whys and the wherefores.
The announcement of the collapse of the Lear Fan project was leaked in a Sunday newspaper over Whitsun, and followed by a response to a written question from the hon. Member for Hazel Grove. To his credit, the Minister sought to inject a new reality into the project with his statement on the Floor of the House on 19 December 1984, when he declared that with new money available from private sources he hoped that the original agreements would be implemented quickly so that the work in Northern Ireland factories could be restarted as soon as possible. The fact remains that £57 million of taxpayers’ money was poured into a project that was to yield not an aircraft manufacturing plant in Northern Ireland, but a plant to manufacture component parts. The real essence of the whole investment was that the manufacturing was to be done in Reno, Nevada.
I associate myself with the Minister's statement tonight — which he also made in response to the written question — and the statement of the hon. Member for Antrim, North that there is no reflection on the work force in Northern Ireland. There is nothing wrong with that work force. Like their counterparts on the mainland, they have lost their jobs, in one sense through clumsiness and incompetence, while those on the mainland have lost their jobs through the ideological bludgeoning of the Government. They have been exemplary in their standards of work and in their loyalty to their project. But loyalty, like patriotism, is not enough.
While conceding that it was a high-risk venture, little comfort can be garnered from the Minister's words that, had it succeeded, it would have contributed greatly to employment in and the economy of Northern Ireland. We all wish such projects well, but we must be alert to the dangers. It is that alertness that no doubt prompted my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), to ask the former Minister to
give a clear assurance that the Government are fully satisfied that they are getting all the information they need, especially of a technical and financial nature, to enable them to judge the future prospects of the company as well as the aircraft?"
The Minister responded:
Yes. The financial and technical monitoring exercises that have been carried out are satisfactory. We are getting all the information that we need."—[Official Report, 23 February 1984; Vol. 54, c. 968.]
I doubt whether that information was available, and whether the Ministers and officials whose salaries we shall be voting tonight knew the difference between anhedral and dihedral wings.
Who checked out whether the Federal Aviation Administration would even give an air worthiness certificate because of the new technology involved? Who analysed the priorities of the Lear Fan company from a commercial standpoint and perceived that they were wrong, first, to get the certification, secondly, to produce the jet, and, thirdly, to market it? The potential market for an eight-seater private jet should have been tested and known and the prospects of getting an air worthiness certificate should have been thoroughly assessed before the taxpayer put even his financial little toe into the water.
The high risk lay in the fact that the aircraft was unlikely to receive, and has not received, an air worthiness certificate. One has to draw the parallel with De Lorean in that the same receiver is being used as in that case. His first duty is to secure the fixed and floating charge on the company's assets in Northern Ireland, and his second is to represent the Government's interests in the assets and technology of the Lear Fan company in the United States.
As we debate this order, we call into question not the Government's good faith, but their competence. They were singularly incompetent in the handling of the Lear Fan proposal, and they have done the taxpayer a disservice in the way that they have approached a technical problem, which should have been examined in much more depth.
Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind
exceeding small; Though with patience He stands waiting, with
exactness grinds He all.
In the cases of De Lorean and of Lear Fan, He has ground exceedingly small and revealed the great difficulties and weaknesses in Northern Ireland for those who were looking for high investment and technology with little success.
I have taken on board the Minister's remark that two thirds of the work that had come to Northern Ireland had come from firms outside the Province, but that is no excuse for the incompetence with which this matter has been handled. It should be noted by the House, and no doubt it will be noted by the country.