asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many detainees have been released from Long Kesh in 1975.
Fifty-three persons have been released from detention since the beginning of 1975, 50 of whom were detained in Maze Prison at the time of their release. Of the 53, I released 38 by executive action and the remainder were released by the Commissioners and the Detention Appeal Tribunal.
Is the Minister satisfied with the rehabilitation system?
Last year, while my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was responsible for all the detailed work, I set up an independent resettlement association. I believe that the work it has done has been a precursor to what I hope we can do under the Gardiner Report, which made certain recommendations.
Does the Secretary of State remember the figures he gave last year about the proportion of released detainees who returned within six weeks to their former criminal activities? I believe that something like one-third of those released went back to terrorism. Has the right hon. Gentleman any assurances to give to the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland that that proportion will not be a feature of releases this year?
The vast majority of those released last year were released by the Commissioners and not by me. Even so, this is a judgment I have to make. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will read carefully the statement I have made about releases. There must be a genuine, sustained cessation of violence.
Will my right hon. Friend indicate what his policy will be if the cease-fire continues in the foreseeable future? Does he intend to release detainees, and, if so, at what levels?
I have made it abundantly clear in three statements to the House that if there is a genuine, sustained cessation of violence I can move quickly. If I know that during a cease-fire arms are being moved, that explosives are coming into the Province and that there are knee-cappings, kangaroo courts, and all the other apparatus, that will inhibit what I hope to do. I have to make a balance. It is not easy, but I hope to do it correctly.
Reverting to the rehabilitation of released detainees, can the Secretary of State give the number of detainees who have been helped by the scheme? Will he tell us how much money is available for their rehabilitation and whether any of these men have been successfully employed?
The total grant made to the independent body was £15,000. I do not have the precise number—I can give it to the hon. Gentleman—but many people have been helped to obtain jobs. I regard it in many respects as a pilot scheme on which to work. I hope that we can do more. I should say that in some instances those coming out of the Maze do not wish to be helped.
My right hon. Friend keeps referring to a "genuine, sustained cessation of violence". He seems to believe that he has switched off the violence from the Provisional IRA in relation to the truce. The violence at the moment is emanating from the Loyalist community. If that violence continues, will it mean that no Republican detainees will be released?
Obviously, in the judgment I make I shall take into account where the violence comes from. I do not have the full details. They were coming through as I came to the House. I understand that today a number of Catholics—I put it that way—in Northern Ireland have received Valentine cards and that on the backs of the envelopes were the letters "SWALK", which we all knew of as children. Those letters contained bombs, which have caused injuries to people in Northern Ireland. A bomb has been placed in a Catholic area. Do these people want peace, or do they just want the situation to be perpetuated for ever?
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what are the latest unemployment figures for Northern Ireland expressed as a percentage; and how they break down for the areas to the east and west of the Bann.
The latest unemployment figures for Northern Ireland are for 13th January 1975. Total unemployment on that date was 6·7 per cent. (males 8·1 per cent.). Unemployment is measured by employment office areas, some of which straddle the River Bann. The best estimates which can be made are that the area east of the Bann has total unemployment of 4·5 per cent. (males 5·5 per cent.) and the area west of the Bann has a total of 11·9 per cent. (males 14·6 per cent.).
Does not my right hon. Friend think that those disturbingly high figures, especially the shocking disparity between the eastern and western areas of Northern Ireland, will, unless remedied, constitute an ever-present threat to my right hon. and hon. Friends' hard-won peace? Will he take urgent steps to redress this neglect in past years of the area west of the Bann and preferably employ measures of public enterprise?
I thank my hon. Friend. I agree with him that this situation is completely unsatisfactory. In fact, it has existed in North Northern Ireland for a considerable period. I can tell my hon. Friend that, for example, 1,500 training places west of the Bann represent half of the total for the Province in an area containing 30 per cent. of the working population. Enterprise Ulster has helped to create 860 jobs, and the Government are putting a great deal of time, effort, intervention and money into Northern Ireland. I hope that we may have the support of all right hon. and hon Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies for this policy.
I welcome and support the right hon. Gentleman's comments about assistance to the area west of the Bann. However, he has now been responsible for the former Ministry of Commerce for nine months. In that period, has he uncovered any evidence of a policy in the past to direct employment to certain areas of Northern Ireland on the ground of political expediency?
The difficulty of my job in Northern Ireland, especially as regards the employment situation there, has directed my mind to the present and the future and not to an analysis of what happened in the past. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have grappled not only with problems west of the Bann but also with those affecting the shipyards, of IEL, of Coleraine and of many other parts of Northern Ireland. I am concerned about unemployment in Northern Ireland wherever it appears. We want to eradicate it.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government's intervention in industry in Northern Ireland is to be welcomed and that in his help to IEL, to Hughes Bakery, to Ben Sherman and not least to Harland and Wolff he is pursuing positive Socialist intervention policies? The support they are getting in Northern Ireland makes rather ironical the letters sent by the titular Leader of the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland to the newly-elected Leader of the Conservative Party. If they accept Socialist policies, ought they not to consider on which side their bread is buttered?
I should not like to intervene in the events which have been taking place among members of the Conservative Party or to comment on what the Leader of the Unionst Party has raised with the new Leader of the Conservative Party. To deal with these problems, the Leader of the Unionist Party and his colleagues have come consistently to the Government to seek Government aid. The Northern Ireland Finance Corporation, which we hope to tailor into a development corporation, is the forerunner to the new proposals for industry of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry. We welcome that.
May we take it, then, that the congratulations of the Prime Minister to the new Leader of the Conservative Party imply wholehearted acceptance by the right hon. Gentleman of the capitalist principle? Does the Minister of State consider that the employment statistics for Northern Ireland, especially west of the Bann, are in any way comparable with or on the same basis as statistics for Great Britain, or is the comparison vitiated by the entirely different conditions prevailing in the Province?
I do not accept that last comment. The Department of Manpower Services is altering the assessment and creating a travel-to-work area record of the situation, which then will bring the compiling of statistics into line with those of the remainder of the United Kingdom. The fact remains, however, that unemployment in Northern Ireland is higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom.As for the Prime Minister's congratulations yesterday to the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), that was yesterday and we will wait for what my right hon. Friend has to say in the future. Let me direct this question to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). [HON. MEMBERS: "This is Question Time."] I know that the right hon. Gentleman does not want me to ask him this, but I pose the question to the House. Does the right hon. Gentleman, together with his Unionist colleagues, support the Government's intervention policy to save employment in Northern Ireland?
I want a little help from the House. We have devoted 10 minutes to only two Questions.
Royal Ulster Constabulary (Complaints)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent complaints he has received about the conduct of the RUC involving criminal acts; what investigation he has made of these complaints; what action he has taken; and if he will make a statement.
From 1st August 1974 to 31st January 1975 my right hon. Friend received four complaints alleging criminal acts by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. They were passed to the Chief Constable for investigation in accordance with the procedure in Section 13 of the Police Act (Northern Ireland) 1970, and reports of the investigations have been, or will be, submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of an advertisement which appeared in the Irish News last month, inserted by a Roman Catholic Priest, the Rev. Dennis Fall, in which he listed a number of reasons why the Roman Catholic community should not support the Royal Ulster Constabulary? He made a series of very serious, slanderous remarks against the RUC including one alleging that 4,000 Roman Catholic people had been picked up by the RUC for brutal treatment. He also said that the RUC was employing a black-heat room in Ballykelly and torturing people in it. He went on to assert that the RUC was not responding to the sectarian murders which had taken place in the Portadown, Armagh and Dungannon triangle. Does not the hon. Gentleman think he should answer those very serious charges against the RUC, since they have caused great concern among the rank and file of the RUC?
The advertisement in the newspaper to which the hon. Gentleman referred is without foundation. The RUC has made a very determined effort to hunt down sectarian murderers and has had considerable successes since Christmas. As far as I know, members of the RUC are not the least bit disturbed by advertisements of this kind, and they do not show signs of being so in the future either.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in addition to the great difficulties of a political nature which confront us in Northern Ireland, we are not helped by sectarian attitudes between the two communities? Will he agree, further, that any hon. Member of this House who engages in sectarianism is only exacerbating a difficult situation and failing to grapple with the real political problems which are at the root of all the trouble in Northern Ireland?
I agree with those general statements of principle by my hon. Friend.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the RUC is doing a magnificent job in extremely difficult circumstances and that very few other police forces about the world could deal with the situation which it faces in a similar manner?
We have every confidence in the RUC to carry on the policing of the Province under the general arrangements which are made. I might say that at least half of the members of the RUC are new to the constabulary since the trouble started. It is to a large extent a new force compared with the one which existed in 1969.
Eec Development Funds
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what funds have been allocated to Ulster by the European Economic Community for industrial development since the United Kingdom entered that Community; what estimates his Department is able to make of the likely Ulster share of the regional development fund over the next three years; and upon what firm commitments the estimates are based including the formula or agreement for sharing the United Kingdom allocation with the regions of the Kingdom having an entitlement.
Just over £12 million has been paid or committed from Community funds, some £2½ million of which is loan, for purposes broadly related to industrial development in Northern Ireland. As the information is in tabular form I will, with permission, circulate it in the Official Report. Draft regulations for the Regional Development Fund are under discussion. The Government's aim is fully to utilise the United Kingdom quota according to our regional policy requirements.
Will the Minister say whether the United Kingdom Government have full control over the allocation of funds to Northern Ireland? Further, will he say whether these aids to industrial development in any way prejudice existing Government aids such as fuel subsidies and rate relief for new industry?
These are matters for discussion within the Common Market, but it is the policy of the United Kingdom Government to allocate regional aid in accordance with their priorities and to secure the continuance of our present policies.
When the United Kingdom provincial Parliament debates the distribution of the regional fund, will it not be a slight curiosity that those from the Province of Ulster should be underrepresented when it comes to voting on the actual distribution of the fund?
That is slightly wider than the Question on the Order Paper. If the hon. Gentleman will table a Question to the appropriate Minister, I have no doubt that it will be answered.
Following is the table:
Subventions from EEC funds for purposes related to industrial development in Northern Ireland:
|1. European Social Fund||8·262|
|2. European Farm Fund (FEOGA)||1·278|
|3. Regional studies||0·028|
|4. European Investment Bank (loans)||2·650|
Provisional Sinn Fein (Talks)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement about the recent discussions which his Department has had with the Provisional Sinn Fein.
I have reported regularly and openly to the House on 14th January, 5th February and also last Tuesday on the actions of myself and my officials.With regard to the incident centres which I announced on Tuesday, I have decided that they will be set up at North Belfast, West Belfast, Armagh, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Londonderry and Newry. I repeat that, if developments occur which seem to threaten the cease-fire, these incident centres will act as a point of contact in either direction with Provisional Sinn Fein, which I de-proscribed last May. This is their sole purpose. They will not take complaints from the public. They will not in any way interfere with the work of elected representatives or of the security forces or of any other organisations.
Will the Secretary of State tell the House to what extent, during the discussions which his officials have had with representatives of Sinn Fein, those representatives have accepted that there will be a continuation of the Province of Ulster within one United Kingdom?
The matter has never been discussed. As I reported to the House, we explained Government policy and we discussed practicalities. As I have often said, the future of Northern Ireland is for the people of Northern Ireland. There is to be a Convention later this year.
Is my right hon. Firend aware that the statement which he made to the House on Tuesday is causing a great deal of confusion in Northern Ireland? Does he realise that spokesmen for the Provisional Sinn Fein movement have been taking every opportunity of which they can avail themselves to try to indicate to the people in Northern Ireland that they have been given a responsibility for the policing of the areas in which the centres have been set up? Further, is he aware that my constituents in West Belfast and constituents in other areas of Northern Ireland are bitterly resentful that this should even appear to be so? Will he give, through me, to my constituents an understanding that in any talk about policing or law and order in the areas concerned the elected representatives will be listened to before the Provisional Sinn Fein spokesmen?
I shall always be pleased to meet the Leader of the SDLP to discuss policing. That is a most important matter in Northern Ireland. There is no question of policing being passed on to anyone else. The Army has not withdrawn from the areas in which it is involved and the police have not withdrawn from other areas. I have made the situation clear. I cannot be responsible for statements that are made by anyone else.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Provisional IRA is investigating the incidents in Belfast and passing on information to the security forces? I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman as he is the only Secretary of State who has encouraged the police forces of Northern Ireland to take over law and order, but will he assure the House that he will endeavour to involve the police in the areas in which the incident centres have been set up? Does he agree that there is still a long way to go in involving the police?
I have always willingly given support to the police. In general, the security forces are the only bodies responsible for security in Northern Ireland. I must make it clear that anyone who has any information—for example, information concerning today's bombings—is entitled to pass it on to the police. That has nothing to do with the incident centres that I have set up.
Bomb Damage Compensation
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied that Government compensation for bomb damage to property is being used for purposes for which it is intended.
Compensation for bomb-damaged property is payable under the Criminal Injuries to Property (Compensation) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971. This provides that any person having an estate or interest in the damaged property who suffers loss from that damage may obtain compensation for his loss. There is no requirement in the Act that the recipient shall apply the compensation for any particular purpose. But all aspects of the administration of the Act are naturally kept under constant review.
Will the Minister confirm or deny recent reports in the Press that under present compensation arrangements for bomb damage the British taxpayer has subsidised the IRA to the tune of £5 million through protection rackets from property owners or through property owners absconding south of the border? If that is true, will he amend the Criminal Injuries to Property (Compensation) Act to stop that scandalous situation?
Obviously I have seen the reports in the Sunday Telegraph, but I have no evidence to confirm those reports. Fraud and extortion are criminal matters which the police will investigate if evidence is given to them. Section 4(1) of the Act reads:
The Act is constantly under review."the amount of compensation may be reduced by such sum as is just and equitable having regard to the general conduct in the circumstances of the person suffering loss, including, in particular, his conduct as respects any precautions which might reasonably be taken by him or on his behalf to avoid loss."
Is my hon. Friend aware that a report was issued on Sunday of last week on this subject which suggested that the family of a person who was the owner of 26 betting shops had received compensation amounting to several thousand pounds arising from the loss of his life and that the compensation given to the wife of a soldier who lost his life at about the same time compared most unfavourably? Has my hon. Friend any comments to make on that disparity?
The Question concerns compensation for property damage. I am afraid that my hon. Friend will have to table another Question on the matter he has raised.
Housing Executive (Cottage Sales)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many labourers' cottages in Northern Ireland have been sold to sitting tenants by the Housing Executive; and what was the average price in 1973 and 1974.
The Northern Ireland Housing Executive advises that 348 cottages were sold to sitting tenants up to 31st December 1974. The average price was £594 in 1973 and £767 in 1974.
Is the Minister aware that the houses were built more than 50 years ago at a total cost of £150? Does he realise that there were no facilities in them and that facilities were subsequently provided at the expense of the tenants, who have remained virtually the same families throughout? Is he aware that the houses are being offered for sale this year at £3,000? Taking into account all inflationary factors, how can people be convinced that there is nothing wrong when in 1974 they were offered for sale at approximately £700 and they are now being offered for sale at £3,000?
The average figures which I have given cover a wide range. In 1974 prices ranged from £170 in some cases to £2,700 in others. We are ruled by the district valuer's assessment.
Will the Minister seriously consider as a matter of urgency the decision to sell cottages to sitting tenants? Many of the families have lived in the cottages for two or even three generations. They have certainly bought the cottages by now. Many of them would wish to keep the cottages in their families.
That is the position despite the remark of my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). Will the Minister please urgently consider this matter?
The Housing Executive has put its review policy to me for a decision. I hope to make a decision upon that policy in the near future.
Is the Minister aware that when the Housing Executive offered these houses to sitting tenants it made the proviso that they must be brought up to proper standards within two years, but that when the sitting tenants said "No, we will continue to be tenants. Will you bring up the houses to the proper standards?" the Housing Executive said "Certainly not"?
The rehabilitation of these houses is a matter of great concern. The Housing Executive has put to me some new proposals which I am considering. I think that in the interim my announcement on 13th January will help in this respect.
Public Ceremonies (Firearms)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what instructions he has given regarding the apprehension of persons unlawfully discharging illegal firearms at public ceremonies in Northern Ireland.
Local commanders must decide what action is appropriate in the circumstances.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that if it appears that those who publicly commit criminal offences are not being brought before the courts, that is an invitation to others in other ways to break the law?
I agree, but I feel very strongly about this matter. It is a matter for interpretation by the commander on the ground. He knows the law that he has to interpret and the emotive situation at funerals. When I investigated what happened in Newry, I was told that vehicle check points were put around the town when there was a big funeral to check people carrying arms into the town. No shots were fired over a funeral last year. However, either that night or the following night people came in and fired shots over the grave long after everybody had gone. Most of the funerals have been for the IRA. But there was one in Northern Ireland, at the time Mr. Tommy Heron was buried, when 30,000 people were present, an oration was delivered by the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) and shots were fired over the coffin. It happens both ways. I understand the situation in Northern Ireland. On that occasion, with 30,000 people present—it was the Protestants on that occasion—it would have been extremely foolish to have gone in with soldiers to try to do something about it.
Does the Secretary of State agree that when a minister of religion is asked to take a funeral service he is not responsible for what happens there? Will he assure the House that on that occasion I immediately dissociated myself from the shots that were fired over the coffin?
I fully understand that. I was trying to show my understanding that ministers of religion are in a peculiar position.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a further statement about the implementation of the report of the Gardiner Committee on civil liberties in Northern Ireland.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about his attitude to the Gardiner Committee's report on civil liberties, human rights and measures to deal with terrorism in Northern Ireland.
I would refer the hon. Members to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) on 30th January and to what he told the House on 11th February.—[Vol. 885, c. 287–8, Vol. 886, c. 212–13.] The Government are examining the committee's recommendations and the effect on the Emergency Provisions Act and my right hon. Friend will be making a statement in due course giving the Government's views.
Has the Minister noted the powerful criticism of the continuation of special category status for convicted prisoners which is contained in this most valuable report? The special category status was introduced in 1972 in a vain attempt to win a lasting cease-fire. Would it not be right to reconsider the continuation of special category status if the present cease-fire should unhappily break down?
My right hon. Friend will be replying to one of the cardinal points in the Gardiner Report. It was much easier to start than to stop this. One of the major problems that the Government must face, apart from political considerations, is the physical issue of accommodation. We are now dealing with about 1,100 special category status convicted prisoners in Northern Ireland. I ask the hon. Gentleman and the House to take that factor into account.
The Gardiner Committee said that the policy, pursued by both Governments, of holding detainees as political hostages was contrary to social justice. What comments has my right hon. Friend to make on that matter?
We noted what the Gardiner Committee's report stated. The Government will want to consider that matter. But the Gardiner Committee also said that detention was a matter for political decision. My right hon. Friend looks forward to a sustained cessation of violence which will end detention.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in his statement on Tuesday about the cease-fire the Secretary of State said that he would sign no more interim custody orders? Does not that mean, or may I make the assumption, that he is disregarding the proposal in the Gardiner Report for revised detention procedures?
My right hon. Friend said that he would not do so if there were a continued, sustained and genuine ceasefire. My right hon. Friend is judging the matter against the current situation. The longer-term views of the Government on the Gardiner Report will depend on the outcome of the current situation.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the more positive proposals in the Gardiner Report relates to the implementation of a Bill of Rights for everyone in Northern Ireland? Is it the Government's intention to try to implement that recommendation as speedily as possible?
The Government will certainly look at that aspect of the report.
Bearing in mind the Gardiner Committee's proposals, the legacy of inadequate prison buildings and the compound system in particular, what is the Minister's view on the assertion that it will be possible to evacuate existing Government premises and start building quickly, possibly within a few days?
One of the problems is obtaining planning permission for creating new accommodation. No Government can ride roughshod over people and land. Inquiries have to be held. The normal procedure must be gone through. Apart from the cost, this logistic problem faces the Government.
Does the Minister agree that this report is of considerable importance in both the short and the long term? Will he urge his right hon. Friend to arrange an early opportunity for this House to debate it?
We will certainly facilitate that suggestion, because we understand the importance of the report, but we would like to have a debate within the context of an improving situation.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that as the person who was fairly criticised in the Gardiner Report for a decision that I took at the time, but in different circumstances, I accept that criticism? I realise the difficulties facing the right hon. Gentleman in the present situation. However, I should like the House to know that I fully understand the new position and hope that we can debate it and help to achieve a new situation.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. It is only fair to point out that at the time he introduced the special category status my right hon. Friend and I, from the Opposition Front Bench, supported his action because we believed that they were politically necessary. We are now moving into a new situation. I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman has said.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he can now announce the date for the constitutional Convention election.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he can now say on what date he will hold the forthcoming constitutional Convention on the Province.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will now announce the date of the Convention election.
The date on which the elections should be held is still being considered. I intend to give about a month's notice of the election.
May we assume that the delay may be due in part to the difficulty of finding and obtaining the services of a chairman for the Convention? If not, may we be given the name of that person in the fairly near future?Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the referendum on the EEC may now take place in June? Does he therefore accept that it would be desirable to separate the two polls as widely as possible?
I had no problem in finding an excellent Ulsterman to be chairman and shall announce his name shortly. I am aware of the problem of time and am also aware that the new register comes into force at the end of this month. I shall announce the date of the election at the appropriate time.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the new register will be published within the next two or three days? Is he further aware that at present there is a political vacuum in Northern Ireland which should be filled as soon as possible since it is necessary to know who is speaking for Northern Ireland? Is it not vital that the Convention elections should be held at the earliest opportunity?
I have not noticed any political vacuum in Northern Ireland. There may be a vacuum in the sense that I have not announced the date of the convention. I shall announce it at the appropriate time and give a short period of notice, because I shall have to publish the order which will dissolve the Assembly. Indeed, I shall publish two orders. I am aware of my responsibilities.
If the Secretary of State cannot announce the date—and we understand his difficulties—will he at least announce a deadline?
I can get plenty of deadlines in Northern Ireland without bringing in one myself.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many houses are blocked up in the Belfast area; and what plans are in hand to recover these and make them habitable.
There are about 3,000 blocked-up houses in the Belfast area outside current or proposed redevelopment areas. The Housing Executive has already taken steps to bring some of its own houses back into use and has further rehabilitation schemes in hand.However, the major part of the problem lies in the areas of older housing owned by private landlords or owner-occupiers. The Housing Executive is considering acquiring the blocked-up houses in two carefully selected pilot areas with a view to repairing and letting them. In addition, the executive is purchasing blocked-up and empty houses for families on the emergency housing list or families displaced from redevelopment areas which it cannot otherwise rehouse.
Is the Minister aware that the figure he has given is not very acceptable to groups which have taken this problem as seriously as he has done and which estimate that there are about 8,000 blocked-up houses? Will he also accept that these houses depreciate the value of nearby property?
I mentioned a figure of 3,000 houses in proposed redevelopment areas. There are a further 6,400 dwellings which have been closed in these areas under the housing and planning legislation. I do not accept the situation and would like to see every house inhabited. I am not a proud chap, and if the Opposition will back me in future housing legislation I shall take over these dwellings in order to rehouse people.
Are these houses subject to Government compensation? Will my hon. Friend say how much compensation has been paid as a whole for each year from 1969 to the present day?
My hon. Friend is referring to compensation of a different kind. I shall write to him giving the figures for which he asks.
Firearm Certificate Fees
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will reduce the proposed new level of firearm certificate fees.
Is the Minister aware that the recent increase has multiplied fivefold the cost of these fees—in some cases from £1 to £5 and in other cases from £2 to £10? Is he further aware that this step has changed the licensing system from one which was formerly based on merit and need to a system based entirely on the ability of one's bank account to afford a licence?
I would not go so far as to agree with the hon. Gentleman that the purchase of a firearms certificate depends on the size of one's bank account. The object of the increased licence fee is to cover the substantially increased administrative costs arising from the investigations carried out by the RUC into firearm permits and licences.
Ben Sherman Shirt Company
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the Ben Sherman Shirt Company and what financial aid it is receiving from the Government.
Last November the Ben Sherman group, which employs about 600 people in the Londonderry area, told the Government that it could not continue without financial help. As closure would have doubled the number of women unemployed in Londonderry, it was decided to support the group temporarily through extra-statutory payments.The Department is now seeking to acquire the assets of the group so that a new company financed wholly by the Government can carry on. Negotiations have been prolonged for legal reasons. Assistance to date has cost about £350,000; it cannot continue indefinitely. In any case, if the company is to be made viable it can only be on a reduced scale; two of the four factories will have to close.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Ben Sherman Shirt Company is using British taxpayers' money to produce a shirt which costs £1·80 and is forcing competitors in Northern Ireland out of business? Is he also aware that the shirts are selling in Liverpool at £1·20 and that on 160,000 shirts there is a net loss of £100,000? Does he agree that there should be a Government representative on the board of the company?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman on the last point that the Government will have full control of the company when we have the assets. As for the unfair competition instanced by the hon. Gentleman, on which he brought a deputation to meet me, I can assure him that the matter is being looked into and I shall write to him.