asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will bring forward proposals to bring life back into the city of Belfast.
I am very much aware of the problems which Belfast faces as a result of severe unemployment and acute social deprivation, together with the many physical scars of the recent civil unrest. In addition, Belfast, like most other British cities, has inherited a legacy of roads, houses and infrastructure designed to meet needs quite different from those of today.The Government have already demonstrated their determination to improve the appearance of the city and to rejuvenate its social and commercial life. Tenders have been invited from consultants for a new shopping complex for the city centre, and a range of other current and potential initiatives is now being pursued. Special efforts are being made in the most deprived areas under the Belfast areas of need programme. I have also set up a working party to consider what is required to make the centre of Belfast a lively centre of social entertainment for citizens and visitors.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply, but can he at this stage give an indication of what amount of money the Government have allocated for the revitalisation of the city of Belfast? Has he any idea of how the money will be used, and of any projects and priorities?
At this stage we have allocated over £17 million to help with the social, economic and physical problems of the city. I am pleased to say that the new Lord Mayor of Belfast is very closely involved in this drive and is personally involved in the development.
Since this Government and their predecessors, and the planners, have torn apart areas of Belfast more so, perhaps, than the provisional IRA, and dispersed closely-knit communities in the Shankill, Ballymacarrett and other areas, may we have an assurance that action will be taken by the Government to rebuild the houses, schools and factories in those areas for the same number of people who previously lived there? The people of Northern Ireland will not be satisfied with the original answer given by the right hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman is harking back to what happened in the past. He must admit that the 10 years of troubles have certainly left their scars on the city of Belfast. There are now plans to build 5,000 new homes in the redevelopment areas that we have designated in Belfast.
De Lorean Motor Company
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the financial arrangements entered into with the De Lorean company for the manufacture of cars in Northern Ireland.
The financial arrangements entered into with the De Lorean Motor Company consist of the provision of equity and loan capital by the Northern Ireland Development Agency and of grants and loans by the Department of Commerce for Northern Ireland. It would not be appropriate to give the details now, as these remain confidential between the parties concerned. However, I understand that the company will have to file information in the United States which will become publicly known, and I intend to consult the company about the extent to which the Government may, by agreement, make known the basis of the assistance provided in Northern Ireland.
But it is intolerable for the Minister of State to spend at least £52 million of taxpayers' money and refuse to tell the House the total extent of that expenditure, how much has been given by way of grant, and how much by loan. Will he say here and now specifically to the House, and therefore to the taxpayer, just what involvement he has entered into and how open-ended is the commitment to Mr. De Lorean in the event of his company requiring more money for this somewhat doubtful project?
I am in continual consultation with quite a number of companies througout the world. Many of the negotiations are extremely delicate and are treated as confidential. If I were now openly to go against the confidentiality of one firm without that firm's permission I should put at risk quite a few other projects that I have in mind.The hon. Gentleman mentioned £52 million. He is responsible for that figure, because it is not a figure I have mentioned.
Will the Minister inform the House approximately how much per job is to go into the company?
That is impossible at present, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. I am delighted to have secured this project and I hope that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, especially in those areas where it is needed, will also welcome it.When I have the agreement of the company, I shall publish the figures, but I shall do so only with the agreement of the company, because I do not want to put at risk any of our other negotiations with many other companies to come and bring jobs to Northern Ireland.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there are many thousands of people, particularly in Belfast, who welcome the enthusiasm and endeavour that he has put into attracting the industry to Belfast? It has given hope to thousands of people who had no hope before. Does he deprecate the view of those who are trying to knock this project—those in the media and those on the Conservative Benches? It appears that there are many people who do not want to see this much-needed undertaking in Belfast.
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks and for giving me the opportunity of doing so. I have wondered whether as a result of all the bashing that we have taken in Northern Ireland we are frightened of success. This is one of the worrying aspects, in my view. But we have to make this a success, because the prizes for Northern Ireland are so great.
If the Minister is not to give figures—I am sure that he is right in not wishing to publish them—will he at least tell the House what percentage of the total equity is provided by the parent company?
Again, I cannot do that now, because the company spent considerable amounts of money before even coming to Northern Ireland. I ask the hon. Gentleman to await what I shall do with the consent of the company when the opportunity arises. If I do otherwise, I shall be putting at risk many other negotiations that we are pursuing at present.
As the proposed vehicle uses a French engine, as the French engine makers put it into their own car, which is not selling, and as the planned output equals that of Porsche and is six times that of Lotus, can the Minister continue to say that the project has been thoroughly vetted and is soundly based? What provision has been made for the losses to be shared between the public purse and the private promoter?
That is pessimism in the extreme. I do not expect losses. I expect success. For the people of Northern Ireland this is a great opportunity. I do not think that it would be wise to go any further into the matter. The opportunities are there in Northern Ireland for numbers of firms. All sorts of pessimistic papers can be waved at me, but I am not filled with pessimism about this project. I am going forward with success in mind.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I intend to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible date.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to hold discussions with the various political groupings in Northern Ireland.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to meet the leaders of the main political groupings in Northern Ireland in the immediate future.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the political situation in Northern Ireland.
The political situation has not changed much in recent months. Since I last reported to the House, I have had informal discussions with the leaders of three of the Northern Ireland parties, and I hope that I shall soon be able to meet their counterparts in the other main parties.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that, although the security situation in Northern Ireland has eased considerably, there do not seem to be—at least to me—any parallel political developments alongside that relaxation? Did my right hon. Friend notice that at last weekend's national conference of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt) is the leader, a resolution was passed that I am sure caused a great deal of feeling among everybody who is interested in this situation? Can my right hon. Friend comment on that and any similar developments that he has in mind?
My hon. Friend is right. We are making good progress on the security front. Certainly, we are introducing more social reform. We are active in promoting industrial investment in the Province. But we are not making the same progress in political change. The first three matters are well within my own orbit of operations.On the fourth, political change, I must get the parties in Northern Ireland to be prepared to talk together and eventually work together. I am now going through the second major round of political talks with the parties. I still have to meet the Democratic Unionist Party and the Official Unionist Party. I hope that thereafter we shall be able to make some political progress.
I must call first those hon. Members whose Questions are being answered.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of my hon. Friends feel that his statements on Tuesday were not conducive to the kind of political settlement that he now says he has in mind? May I also suggest that many of my hon. Friends feel that we ought to inject some democracy into Northern Ireland before we talk of giving additional seats to that part of the United Kingdom?
I am sorry if my hon. Friend feels strongly about what I said on Tuesday. I referred to the fact that most of the people in question in Northern Ireland were being charged with offences—and I repeated that at least four times towards the end of my statement. Secondly, I am concerned about security in the Province and about law and order. I am sorry that the prison officers' dispute is tending to affect law and order and that solicitors and barristers feel slighted by what I said on Tuesday. If they do, I am sorry, but no slight was meant.As for political progress, my hon. Friend must recognise that within Northern Ireland there are still 26 district councils electing 526 district councillors. Therefore, because the Macrory gap between the district councils and Westminster is not filled, there has to be direct rule of the Province, administered by a Secretary of State and four Ministers.
My right hon. Friend acknowledges that the recently introduced emergency order has caused political trouble in Northern Ireland. Is he contemplating any emendations to the order so as to ensure that in some way or other the magistrates actually see the prisoners?
As I told my hon. Friend the other day, I am prepared to consider his suggestion of prisoners being visited. I have also quite clearly stated that the order is just as distasteful and repugnant to me as it is to the lawyers in Northern Ireland. As soon as the prison officers' dispute is at an end I shall take urgent steps to rescind that order.
Does not the Secretary of State agree that those who say that an urgent political initiative is needed in Northern Ireland at present to avoid a political vacuum are quite right? One way is to close the Macrory gap, as he suggested. Will the Secretary of State invite Sir Patrick Macrory to update and review his recommendations of 1970, as he has agreed that he would not have made the same proposals if he had known the circumstances that followed in later years?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that Macrory's view would have been different if he had known that Stormont would be abolished. However, it is too soon to call for that kind of review. I would rather hold consultations with the rest of the political parties before I take the hon. Gentleman up on that.
Is the Secretary of State aware that we agree with his recent statement in Socialist Commentary, where he said:
Is he further aware that he can count on our co-operation in the fulfilment of that objective?"we want to see established in Northern Ireland a new elected regional authority that can take responsibility for the great majority of those matters which affect the daily lives of the people who live there"
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. Although qualifications and reservations were omitted from that short statement, generally we are in league. But the matter has to be dealt with on the basis of acceptability to this House, and the major parties in the House have said that if there is to be a regional authority, on which I concur, it has to be on the basis of partnership between the sections of the communities in Northern Ireland.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there has been a radical alteration in the political situation? Yesterday we saw the introduction of the Bill providing for extra seats in this House. Last Saturday there was the resolution at the SDLP conference which was a direct result of what was known was to be presented yesterday. Does not my right hon. Friend think that we are drifting into a position of integration and that the Unionists have no need to concede anything because under direct rule they are getting everything and the minority nothing in a political sense?
I should be very sorry if my hon. Friend, and indeed the House, felt that we were rapidly moving towards integration. That is not so. Regarding the extra seats, Scotland and Wales are likely to get their own devolved Assem- blies and will keep their parliamentary seats on the same percentage thereafter. This compounded the difference between Northern Ireland and England, Scotland and Wales. In fairness and equity, it must be admitted that there has been injustice and it ought to be remedied. Therefore, we intend to give Northern Ireland equal parliamentary representation with Scotland, England and Wales. I do not believe, as some people do, that the extra seats will all be Unionist seats. Of the 17, it is quite likely that four or five could be anti-Unionist seats.
Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity in the near future to have further talks with the Republican Clubs, the workers' party representatives, who in recent weeks in a by-election in my constituency showed, by defeating the present chairman of the SDLP, that they have more support than the SDLP has in the Roman Catholic community?
It is very difficult for me—and, I am sure, for my hon. Friends—to understand how political parties mushroom in the spring and die at the first frost. They are always growing and dying. The hon. Gentleman will know that at the last local government elections eight major parties stood and only four withstood the storm, four being wiped out. Since then, the Republican Clubs Party has begun to grow in strength, the Irish Independence Party has come on the scene, and, naturally, they are going for the same electorate as that led by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). Therefore, politically in the Catholic population there is certainly competition among the parties.
When will my right hon. Friend accept that the Irish prisoners of whom he speaks so scathingly are really prisoners of war? When will he take a real political initiative to bring about a phased withdrawal of the troops in Northern Ireland, in accordance with the wish of the majority of British people?
I am sorry to inform my hon. Friend that I do not agree that those in Her Majesty's Prison Maze should be regarded as political prisoners or as prisoners of war. As far as I am concerned, they are criminals. They have been guilty of criminal acts. They have killed, murdered, bombed and massacred and have been responsible for major terrorism in the Province in past years. Now, because we are treating them as criminals and they are being sentenced to gaol, much of the terrorist activity in Northern Ireland is on the wane.
Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1975 (Cases)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many cases have been instituted under the provisions of the Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1975 on each side of the border, respectively, and with what result.
Prosecution under the extra-territorial legislation is a matter for the legal authorities in whose jurisdiction the suspect is located. Three persons have been charged in Northern Ireland under the Criminal Jurisdiction Act, and I understand that one person has been convicted in the Republic of Ireland by virtue of certain provisions of the Irish Criminal Law (Jurisdiction) Act.
Is the Secretary of State aware that his reply means that there has been virtually no progress under this Act? Does he not agree that those figures illustrate that it is not any inadequacy in the law, or in the administration of justice, but the lack of a will to co-operate which holds up progress towards a settlement in Northern Ireland?
One of the problems is that the Act deals only with cases since June 1976. I hope that he will not damn the co-operation that is building up. Co-operation is forthcoming. For example, Captain Nairac's death is now subject to court proceedings in Northern Ireland and the Garda are helping in the North at present.The main difficulty is that there are two jurisdictions responsible for the operation of the Act, and, if a suspect is located in the South, it is difficult for the RUC to interrogate that suspect; they are allowed to attend but not to interrogate.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the ideal situation would be a proper extradition treaty, and will he continue to press for that?
Of course, the hon. Gentleman knows quite well our position. We have signed the Council of Europe's convention on the suppression of terrorism. The Republic and Malta have not yet done so. However, I think that they are likely to sign an associated agreement—perhaps with reservations. But the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that extradition is really the best answer to the problem.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for what percentage of children under the age of 5 years there is now nursery provision.
About 43 per cent. of all children between the ages of 3 and 5 years receive some playgroup or educational provision, mostly 4-year-olds in primary schools.
I am sure that the whole House welcomed the report about preschool education in Ulster. Will the Minister use his best endeavours to ensure that existing and future nursery education are integrated so that there is at least a basis for integration in the earliest stage of primary education?
We have said that nursery school places will be doubled between now and 1983. As in other aspects of education in Northern Ireland, those facilities will be at the disposal of every section of the community. Indeed, we want to encourage integration, where possible.
As the Under-Secretary has pointed out that much of this education is carried out in primary schools, will the Government hasten the reconsideration of present policy regarding the admission of 4-year-olds, especially in the case of small village schools, where it is important to have suitable sizes of class throughout the years of attendance?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, in Northern Ireland there is probably a somewhat higher percentage of 4-year-olds in primary schools than in other parts of the United Kingdom. The Question relates to nursery education, and there we are trying to step up the numbers of places available. But, of course, where we can get more 4-year-olds into primary schools, we shall do so.
Is it not a fact that the Under-Secretary's reply is an admission of failure to provide nursery places for all the 26,000 infants, as promised by the Government four years ago, within this four-year period? Will he take steps to talk to the Churches about ending sectarian education?
All that the Government have to answer for, according to the hon. Gentleman, is failure on almost every subject. But the pre-school group of children in Northern Ireland is as well served as pre-school groups in any other part of the United Kingdom. However, we have admitted that we can improve that aspect of education, and we are hoping to double the number of nursery school places between now and 1983.
Building And Construction Industry
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will set up an inquiry into the building and construction industry in Northern Ireland with a view to improving its efficiency and providing greater stability and better opportunities for growth.
The Northern Ireland construction industry advisory council meets regularly under the chairmanship of a Minister, mostly to advise the Government on these matters. There are 23 members, nominated by professional and trade organisations, plus, of course, the relevant Government Departments.
Does the Minister agree that there is reason for concern that costs in Northern Ireland are much higher than in comparable regions in Great Britain—on average, 40 per cent. higher? Is that not a cause for an independent assessment? Do we need to examine the effect of a single authority in public sector housing on the industry? Do we need to look at the planning decisions and the availability of development land? The industry is not giving a good service to Northern Ireland.
Those are matters which we discuss and for which we have working parties within the group. Every professional group and trade group in Northern Ireland is represented in this committee. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we do some hard work, and some of our recommendations are worked upon and acted upon. I shall, of course, make sure that anything the right hon. Gentleman says in this respect goes forward to the next meeting of the group.
Does my right hon. Friend the Minister agree that there is an overwhelming case in Northern Ireland for public ownership of the building industry?
What I am concerned about in Northern Ireland is the creation of employment. If I were told that public ownership would create another job in Northern Ireland, I should consider it.
Will the Minister continue to look at the cement supply in Northern Ireland? Has he any further announcement to make about the supply of cement to the building industry?
This is one of the recommendations that came from the group on which we were working. The groups in Northern Ireland asked us to put forward a programme which would make us self-sufficient in cement. That is what is happening now. I have a further meeting with the Blue Circle Group and I shall probably be able to say more after that.
In view of the reply of my right hon. Friend to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. (Thorne), will my right hon. Friend look at the Labour Party's construction programme "Building for Britain", where he will find some extremely good proposals which could well be applied to Northern Ireland for the benefit of both the operatives and the employers in Northern Ireland?
I have looked at the document and will do so again on the recommendation of my hon. Friend. If there is any way in which Northern Ireland can lead the rest of the United Kingdom, we shall certainly do so.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the future of the gas industry in Northern Ireland.
I hope to make the Government's proposals known early in the new year, but I cannot commit myself to a date. All the relevant factors must be considered thoroughly first.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the continuing delay in giving access to natural gas to Northern Ireland is having a very detrimental effect on the industry and is putting in jeopardy the 2,000 jobs of the people employed in it? Can the Minister say what success he has had in discussing this problem with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy?
I shall answer the second question first. I am keeping the Department of Energy well informed. It is well informed of the problems of the gas industry—perhaps I should say the energy industry—in Northern Ireland.It has been often said that I am deliberately delaying giving access to natural gas in Northern Ireland, but I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that the decision I am being accused of prejudging would have been easier some time ago.
Will the Minister confirm that more than 1 million tons of solid fuel is used in Northern Ireland? It is one of our best markets in the British regions for selling coal. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that, whatever happens with the gas negotiations, that market will be maintained in order to ensure that British pits are not closed if markets are lost?
I can confirm that 1 million tons of coal is exported to Northern Ireland. I can also tell my hon. Friend that these exports were increased by 13·2 per cent. in the previous year.There is a problem in Northern Ireland, which has no indigenous resources of energy, and we shall have to look at that in the complete context of energy. The problem is causing us great concern.
Does the Minister recall that the chairman of the Northern Ireland Labour Party has just said that, if Ministers continue to dither over the gas pipeline, they will have to accept full personal responsibility for the destruction of the gas industry in Northern Ireland?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman knows how the gas industry is organised in Northern Ireland. I do not run the gas industry in Northern Ireland. That is done by seven or eight local councils and a few private enterprises. Furthermore, it covers only one-third of the population of Northern Ireland.Many people have been to see me about this matter. It is important, and it is not an easy question to answer when we have a surplus of energy in Northern Ireland. If one is providing another source of energy which will only add to that surplus, some of the industries there will also suffer.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that, whether in Northern Ireland or in this country, the national considerations concerned with fuel energy are likely to be that natural gas will be increasingly used as a feedstock. To some extent it is a waste to burn natural gas in people's fires. Is that not a consideration that the Minister should bear in mind? There will be changes of policy in this country as well as in Northern Ireland and we ought to use coal for heat-creating purposes rather than waste it up chimneys.
This is another of the problems I am facing under this review. We do not have to provide energy just for next year. I shall have to think about the supply of natural gas in the year 2000 and what will be happening to the gas industry then.All the questions thrown at me today—and I hope that the people in Northern Ireland will read and study this—show that the problem is not an easy one to solve.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the number of British troops killed and wounded in Northern Ireland in each of the last five years and so far this year.
I will, with permission, publish full details in the Official Report. In summary, the number of deaths has dropped from 58 in 1973 to nine so far this year, and woundings from 278 to 25.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, although that information will be regarded as good news by both sides of the House, British troops were sent to Northern Ireland in large numbers and these men have died in order to buy the time in which politicians could create a political settlement? Does he recognise that, although there has been a welcome improvement in the security situation, we are as far as ever from procuring a political settlement in which Northern Ireland can live at peace without a veritable army of occupation? How many more soldiers' lives does he think have to be lost before the politicians in Northern Ireland play their part?
Despite the fact that the so-called political solution has not been found, the security forces, with determination, courage and skill, have managed to get on top of terrorism in Northern Ireland. The figures that I have just given are an indication of how well they have been doing their job. In the past year or so, nearly 1,000 troops have been withdrawn. As the situation improves and in keeping with security in the Province, we shall have to consider step-by-step withdrawal. However, I will not condone the precipitate withdrawal which the hon. Gentleman has suggested. Indeed, that is just the language that the Provisional IRA love to hear. They are his friends in Northern Ireland. He is giving them joy and causing despair among the people. During the past weekend the Social Democratic and Labour Party, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt), has suggested that withdrawal is desirable and necessary but that it must be in keeping with a political solution.
Is the Secretary of State aware that he will have the full support of the Conservative Party for what he has just said? Is he aware that what the deputy leader of the Liberal Party has been urging involves much more than a withdrawal of soldiers from Northern Ireland? It would involve the removal of Northern Ireland as an entity from the United Kingdom. Is not it also somewhat naive of the deputy leader of the Liberal Party to link demands for political settlement to the killing of British soldiers? Is that not just what encourages the terrorists?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The policy enunciated by the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe)—he is, I think, on his own in his party in doing so—is a policy for despair. We are not prepared to accept that.
Allied to the presence of the British Army in Northern Ireland and the fact that, so far as anyone can see at the moment, there is no possibility of a political solution being found, would my right hon. Friend take it from me, with all honesty, that the proposal to increase the number of seats in Northern Ireland will make it all the more difficult to find any sort of agreement? Will he accept that, contrary to what he said earlier, the seats will be created within the city of Belfast and will almost inevitably go to Unionists unless there is deliberate gerrymandering? In that situation when politicians are desperately trying to find a means of success, would my right hon. Friend consider implementing PR for the elections to this House?
My hon. Friend will have a full opportunity to express his point of view on the Second Reading of the Bill and in Committee. He will also be aware that, during the course of the Speaker's Conference, Mr. Speaker ruled that the method of election would be ruled out of the Conference's deliberations. Therefore, PR was not discussed in the Speaker's Conference and is not before us in the Bill.
If the people of Cornwall were under attack by a terrorist organisation of which the object was, by violence, to detach Cornwall from the rest of the United Kingdom, does the right hon. Gentleman think that the Government or the House would withdraw the assistance of the Army from those people?
In those circumstances the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), as the Member for a constituency there, would be clamouring for military assistance. No doubt those in his area are pretty well ashamed of what he has been saying recently.
Following are the details:
|ARMY DEATHS AND WOUNDING IN THE REGULAR ARMY ARISING FROM TERRORIST ACTIVITY SINCE 1973|
|1978 (to 31st October)||9||25|
Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is satisfied with the operation of the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976.
Yes, Sir. I shall not however be completely satisfied until the objectives of the Act are fully realised.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but how can he give it confidently? In answer to 48 Questions tabled by me about the operation of the Act as it applied to municipalities, Government Departments and the Armed Services, including the Royal Ulster Constabulary, only the Ulster Defence Regiment was able to say that, of its total recruitment last year, 3 per cent. were Catholics. The Department made clear that all the others either kept no records or, for other reasons, did not know. Therefore, how can the Minister have any idea whether the Act is effective or ineffective?
We certainly have an idea of its effectiveness. If my hon. Friend found out that I was keeping records of who was Catholic and who was Protestant, I think that he would be the first to complain. That is not the way I act in Northern Ireland and I certainly do not intend to do so.I am very pleased at the response to this legislation and by the signatures to the declaration of intent which over 80 per cent. have signed. Within a month of my decreasing the qualification as to the minimum number employed from 25 to 10, 35 per cent. of those eligible signed the declaration.
Does not the Minister agree that this fair employment agency cannot act except when there is a breakdown on figures? Surely if people sign this agreement they are under an obligation to be able to supply figures.
Those concerned are under certain obligations, but these will take time to percolate through the system. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that in certain factories and establishments over a period of years the only people employed come from a certain area. One can be 90 per cent. sure of people's denomination just by knowing where they live in Northern Ireland.
European Monetary System
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he is having with leaders of industry and commerce in Northern Ireland about the possible implications of the United Kingdom joining the proposed European monetary system.
I am in close touch with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other colleagues on this matter, and I will, as always, ensure that full account is taken of Northern Ireland's interests. However, I have not discussed the specific implications of joining the European monetary system with leaders of commerce and industry.
As many experts think that it is probable that there will be a substantial dislocation of trade in Northern Ireland if the Republic joins the EMS and the United Kingdom does not, would it not be wiser for Ministers to give some thought to this problem now?
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I have given a great deal of thought to this matter. But I think that it is too soon to involve the industrial and commercial leaders in Northern Ireland, because the terms of entry into the EMS are still very unclear.
In addition to the advantage outlined by my hon. Friend, does not the Secretary of State agree, too, that there is every possibility that the Province would get even more Community resources and aid than at present?
It is difficult to say because we do not know whether the Irish Republic will join or whether the United Kingdom will stay out. These are all hypothetical questions at this stage and much of the future in this respect is unclear.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent representation he has received about conditions in the H-blocks at the Maze prison; and if he will make a statement.
Over recent months, I have received various representations from individuals and interested organisations about conditions in the cell blocks where the protest against the refusal of special category status for convicted prisoners is taking place.Some 330 prisoners are still fouling their cells as part of their protest. The cells are cleaned regularly but are promptly dirtied again. I must continue to make it clear that neither this bizarre protest in the prison, nor any other form of protest action, will deflect us from our determination to phase out special category status and to treat all convicted criminals alike.
In view of the representations which Members of this House have received, especially the allegations of maltreatment, including beatings and deprivation of adequate food, and the fact that the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to consider certain complaints, will my right hon. Friend conduct an urgent inquiry into this matter and allow an all-party delegation of Members of Parliament to visit the prison to see conditions for themselves? Failure to do so will lead to further allegations of a massive cover-up.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend thinks like that. He must understand from my original answer that the conditions referred to are self-imposed by the prisoners and could be put in the class of self-inflicted wounds. It is a propaganda exercise, not about the conditions in the cells but about the abandoning of our policy of ending special category status. I keep under review the question of visits to the prisons but at present, while this propaganda exercise is being perpetrated, I do not intend to give the prisoners concerned that satisfaction.
Will the Minister of State discourage even piecemeal attempts to extend any degree of special status to convicted criminals?
There is no piecemeal attempt. There is nothing piecemeal about this at all. I can only repeat, and shall go on repeating at every opportunity, that we are not going back to special category status. These prisoners are criminals, and will be treated as such.
Tuc And Cbi
asked the Prime Minister when he intends next to meet the TUC and CBI.
I meet representatives of the TUC and CBI from time to time, at NEDC and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.
Will my right hon. Friend discuss with the TUC and the CBI the severe misgivings which they have both expressed about the European monetary system—misgivings which must surely have been intensified by today's increase in the minimum lending rate, which is surely a foretaste of the sort of policies that would be necessary if we were to join an EMS or, indeed, pursue policies parallel to it?
We discussed with the TUC on 30th October the proposals for a European monetary system. It was a useful and valuable discussion. The TUC set out the kind of conditions that it thought would need to be observed if we were to join, and we shall continue to bear those and other representations in mind, including the evidence that the Expenditure Sub-Committee is now taking.
Does the Prime Minister recall that the last time the minimum lending rate went up, in June, to 10 per cent., the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the House that he expected it to come down within—at most—a few weeks? What went wrong this time?
Yes, it certainly was our expectation at that time that MLR would come down within a matter of weeks, and I regret very much that world conditions have prevented it from doing so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It may have escaped the notice of Conservative hon. Members that there has been a certain turbulence in the position of the dollar, and a general rise in short-term interest rates. The increase in the MLR reflects that but goes a little further, because we are determined to keep inflation under control. I hope that we have the right hon. Lady's support in that.
As the American rate went up 1 per cent. to 9½ per cent., the Prime Minister can hardly claim that the cause of the increase to 12½ per cent. is what has happened to the dollar. Why does he not accept cause and effect—namely, that the reason that MLR has gone up to 12½ per cent. is that he is borrowing far too much and trying to take far too much out of the economy for Government spending, and that those who will bear the increase to 12½ per cent. are the home owners and the small businesses—the very businesses that are trying to expand and make more jobs, which he also wants?
I partly agree with the right hon. Lady—that it is our borrowing requirement that determines to some extent the level of interest rates. But the corollary of that, as the right hon. Lady has always said, is that we should cut down public expenditure—items such as education and the social services. As is well known, old age pensions and child benefit are going up next week. Perhaps the right hon. Lady would care to choose which of those she would like to reduce.
Given that the pound is rather too strong to suit our international trade convenience and that it is difficult to understand why a rise of 2½ per cent. in the MLR will assist in stabilising the turbulence of which my right hon. Friend speaks, will he tell us whether this change has anything to do with conformity to a possible European monetary system, or whether it is in order to enforce, by indirect means, the 5 per cent. wage policy?
The change does not enforce a 5 per cent. wage policy, because we are in a period of free collective bargaining. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If we were not, I promise that some of the settlements would be a lot different from what they look likely to be. We cannot enforce anything there.But I am sure that my hon. Friend will have studied what I have said consistently on many occasions. We have three legs to this tripod. We intend to use them all to keep inflation down. The country will have to make up its mind whether it prefers these short-term mea- sures, as I trust they will be short-term, in order to keep inflation down to prevent unemployment from soaring, or whether it is ready to let inflation rip. The Government are not ready to do that. I have said more than once, and say again, that we shall take all the necessary measures.
The Prime Minister told the House last week about the three-legged stool. He told us that if the leg of pay policy were weakened the other two legs would have to be strengthened. But surely his principle of carpentry is wrong. If that one leg is weak it is that one that should be strengthened. Otherwise, the stool will collapse. Therefore, in talking to the CBI and the TUC will the Prime Minister discuss with them, particularly in the context of the Ford pay claim, the fact that the Ford company in America has a very sophisticated profit-sharing scheme, whereas in Britain there is no way in which the Ford employees can share in the increased profitability of the company in the past year?
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I dare say that in logic he is right but, alas, logic does not always cover all political decisions. Let me add that when it is strictly applied one always comes a cropper.I am still waiting to hear from Ford. I cannot really believe it when its spokesman says that it does not know what effect the impact of the proposed wage settlement would have on the price of its cars. It seems to me very unlikely that a company of that size should take decisions about pay without knowing in advance how they will feed through to its prices.
European Community Heads Of Government
asked the Prime Minister when he intends next to meet the Prime Ministers of other EEC Governments.
I shall be meeting EEC Heads of Government at the European Council in Brussels on 4th and 5th December. I shall also be meeting Signor Andreotti in London on 22nd November and President Giscard d'Estaing in Paris on 24th November.
Apart from telling the Prime Ministers of the other EEC countries by what recondite reasoning putting up interest rates brings inflation down, will my right hon. Friend tell them that the majority on the Labour Benches and the party we represent are opposed to joining a European monetary system that will mean an erosion of our economic sovereignty? Will he ensure that we have a free vote on this matter, and that all relevant documents that will assist us to make the decision are made available in the interests of open government?
I take it that my hon. Friend will want a free vote even if the Government come down against joining.I think that the subject of erosion of sovereignty is getting a little moth-eaten. The power of Governments to control their rates of exchange has been severely eroded in recent years. I should not have thought we had much control over the rate of sterling in the autumn of 1976, and I have not noticed that the American authorities have had much control over the value of the dollar during recent weeks. I beg my hon. Friend and others who think like him to consider whether a zone of monetary stability, irrespective of the merits of any particular scheme, would not have advantages that are denied when the speculators have a free run.
Regardless of what may be happening over the German pressures for the system of EMS, will the Prime Minister undertake to discuss with his colleagues the whole question of managed exchanges, as it is becoming clearer and clearer that since the breakdown of Bretton Woods the world may be facing monetary chaos by the middle of next year?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in every respect. Indeed, it seems to me that when the EMS was conceived the dollar was not in the difficulties that it has recently passed through. I hope that this will give us an opportunity of beginning discussions for a new world monetary system, although I would not want to advance that if my colleagues in Europe thought that it was merely a means of ditching their EMS which we may or may not decide to join.
Will my right hon. Friend also take the opportunity of discussing with his fellow Prime Ministers the fact that it is very inefficient and expensive for the Nine to insist that the European Parliament meets in rotation in different cities? Surely it is time that the Nine Governments reached agreement on one city whether Brussels, Strasbourg or Luxembourg.
That matter has been discussed in the past, but the powers of the European Ministers are limited in deciding the issue.
asked the Prime Minister when he expects next to meet the TUC.
I meet representatives of the TUC from time to time, at NEDC and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.
I wonder whether the Prime Minister will tell the TUC that his pay policy will be kept in respect of those who proliferate on the housing market—estate agents, property solicitors and the rest of the speculators who have just made a killing out of the 25 per cent. increase in house prices in a year. Instead of supplying us with this rickety three-legged stool that he keeps talking about, why does not he add another stave and call it controlling prices?
Talks are going on between the TUC and the Chancellor, and I should like to thank my colleagues who are conducting them and the representatives of the TUC for those thorough discussions. The question of prices will be covered in their debates. My hon. Friend will recognise that the elements about which we have been talking today all form constituents of prices. We shall certainly be ready to strengthen price controls if it seems likely that they would have the effect that my hon. Friend described. But if I may say so—indeed, my hon. Friend has said it himself on many occasions—we have had considerable success in keeping prices down as a result of our policies over the past 12 months.
When the Prime Minister next meets members of the TUC, will he tell them that the massive increase in MLR announced this morning is the beginning of the end of the pre-election boom which was so conveniently arranged in anticipation of the October election which did not take place?
No. I would not tell them that because I would not want to rub salt into the wounds of those who really thought that there was a pre-election boom. The simple fact is, and I hope that some day the hon. Gentleman will recognise it, that this country's position is such that the Government ought, whether there is an election ahead or not, to take the appropriate decision that will keep inflation down and prevent unemployment from soaring. Nothing will deter us from those objectives.
Does my right hon. Friend remember the answer of the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs in 1968 that it was impossible to control prices and that the Government must retain control over the part of the economy which they already controlled? Is that the policy of this Government?
I do not recall the exact occasion on which that was said, but certainly it is not impossible to control prices. The work of the Price Commission has reduced price increases, that would otherwise have taken place, to the tune of well over £100 million a year. A control is taking place and my hon. Friend may take it for granted that we shall use every means to prevent unwarranted price increases. What we cannot prevent, if industry is to remain healthy, are price increases that arise out of cost increases. Therefore, costs must also be kept down.
Will the Prime Minister tell us what the increase in American interest rates has been, what the increase in British interest rates has been and, in the light of what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has said, what has changed since the Chancellor made his statement some time ago?
I cannot answer about the American rates off-hand, but if the hon. Gentleman puts a Question down to the Chancellor I am sure he will receive a detailed reply. But it is known, even to the hon. Gentleman, that American rates have gone up during the past few months, which is the general point that I was making. What has changed are the fears of the market about certain consequences that might arise during the winter. Those fears arise out of a number of different considerations. They do not know which way to go. If we enter the EMS, will it make sterling weaker? [Interruption.] We know where we are going. The point is that the market do not know where they are going. Let us see the result of the vote tonight, and then see what the country has to say if it goes the wrong way.There are, as I think the hon. Member knows in his more rational moments, a number of uncertainties. The Government do not intend to be caught by those uncertainties and we are therefore taking steps in anticipation of them, in order to prevent their developing into reality.