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Springtown, Londonderry(Manpower Training Centre)

Volume 888: debated on Thursday 13 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the operation of the Department of Manpower training establishment at Springtown, Londonderry.

Yes. The opening of the training centre at Springtown in January 1973 provided a substantial addition to the 300 training place available to the Londonderry area in the centre at Maydown. 179 apprentices have received their first year off-the-job training in the new centre and a further 303 people have been trained in a variety of skills. Some 177 apprentices and 101 other people are currently in training at Springtown.

Is the right hon. Gentle-aware that two young boys—their names have been submitted to the Department of Manpower—from Strabane, which is only half an hour's bus journey from Londonderry, were intimidated, abused and finally hounded out of the Springtown centre and now have to attend another centre in Ballymena, which entails their taking lodgings and also incurring an expense of about £2·80 to go home each weekend? Will he ensure that such episodes do not occur again in that area, and that such conditions will be done away with in that centre?

The Government deplore the actions involving these two young people. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I wrote to him on 18th February, and we have had a full investigation into this intimidation. Despite this investigation, the Department was unable to identify those responsible. I know that the boys are attending another centre at the moment and that the hon. Gentleman has raised the question of travelling allowances. This is a difficult problem, but we are considering it.

In view of my right hon. Friend's concern—which we recognize—about employment prospects in Northern Ireland, and against the background of his previous remarks, will he say what immediate steps can be taken to alleviate a situation in which, in some areas, 25 per cent. of the male population are unemployed? Does he consider that a Bill of Rights containing an anti-discrimination provision relating to employment would help him to overcome this problem?

Last Monday I visited Strabane, where there is over 26 per cent. unemployment. We obviously deplore this, and I want to do somthing about it. As for Government training, there are 10 times as many places, in ratio, in Northern Ireland as in any other part of the United Kingdom, so a great deal of industrial training is taking place. As for a Bill of Rights, the Fair Employment Bill will cover this point in regard to employment and I am sure that the House will give it its full support.

For the benefit of his back benchers, does the Minister agree that the only reason that these two boys were hounded from that training centre is that they are Protestants? If one is to ask loaded questions about religious balance and the effects of it in Northern Ireland, does my right hon. Friend not agree that we must take account of the whole situation? I am not prepared to list a number of establishments, because I fear the effect that that would have in them, but does not my right hon. Friend also agree that we in this House should set an example to the people of Northern Ireland and not involve ourselves in this type of discussion?

I think that the hon. Gentleman knows from my actions in Northern Ireland, as the Minister responsible, that I deplore discrimination, whether from the Protestant side or from the Roman Catholic side. I do not defend this incident in any way; I publicly deplore it. It is to eradicate such incidents that we want to move forward, and I think that the Fair Employment Bill could be the basis for that process.


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he it: satisfied with the present level of recruitment into the Royal Ulster Constabulary; and if he will make a statement.

Since 2nd September 1974, when my right hon. Friend announced a plan for the extension of policing in Northern Ireland, the overall strength of the regular force has increased by 145 and that of the reserve by 1,807. Applications are still being received in encouraging numbers.

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with this improvement? What steps is he taking to accelerate it?

I am very pleased with the rate of recruitment. We are carrying on an advertising campaign directed towards attracting people to the force, and we are keeping the terms and conditions of service under constant review.

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that in recruitment to the RUC efforts are being made to see that both communities are contributing, and that recruits are not coming purely from one community, whether or not by omission?

We do not keep statistics on which communities members of the force come from. We should like many more of the minority community to join both the reserve and the regular force, but we appreciate many of the difficulties which they face.

What discussions has the hon. Gentleman had with leaders of moderate Catholic opinion since the beginning of February to try to increase the proportion of Catholics joining the force?