Oral Answers To Questions
I give a cautionary word to the House. Long supplementary questions cut out opportunities for other hon. Members.
Enterprise Zone (Belfast)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give a progress report on consultations on the proposal to establish an enterprise zone in Belfast.
The matter was debated in the Northern Ireland Committee on 16 July. Apart from seeking the views of hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies, I have also contacted the main political parties in the Province, the Belfast city council and 25 industrial, professional and trade bodies. There is widespread support for the idea of an enterprise zone in Northern Ireland and I have received a number of representations on the boundaries of a zone and other matters. I am considering these comments.
Will the Minister examine the possibility of spreading the advantages a little more thinly over the Greater Belfast area? If that idea is rejected will he examine the possibility of enlarging the zone from the proposed 100 acre to 500 acres as suggested by his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so as to include existing companies such as Mackies?
During the debate a number of hon. Members suggested that the zone should be extended to 500 acres although I understand that the average size of an enterprise zone in Great Britain will be about 250 acres. I am considering those representations.
Has the Minister received representations from Carrickfergus borough council about the possibility of a zone in the Carrickfergus area in view of the near close-down of Courtaulds there?
I have been in contact with Carrickfergus district council on this matter and I expect to receive its views in the near future.
Is not the idea of a limited enterprise zone nonsense? Is the Minister aware that it has certainly not received much support in Northern Ireland, bearing in mind that the whole of Northern Ireland is a depressed area which needs massive support from a Government who are engaging in savage cuts? Does he realise that a major factor is the high overdraft rate in Northern Ireland, which is I per cent. to 1½ per cent. higher than in the rest of Great Britain?
Not to Mr. De Lorean.
There was an announcement yesterday extending the amount of Government support to the Northern Ireland economy. We have calculated the cost of extending an enterprise zone to the whole of Northern Ireland and the cost of the rating concession alone would be about £56 million. That is almost precisely equal to the support recently announced for Harland and Wolff and De Lorean.
Has the Minister received any representation from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to the effect that Northern Ireland should forgo the proposed zone in view of its hyper-inflationary nature? If he has, will he reject that plea and instead concentrate his mind on the constructive suggestions which have been made today? Is not a single zone of 200 acres too small to affect the economic infrastructure of the city of Belfast? Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider that aspect?
The proposal is not supposed to transform the entire position in Belfast. It is proposed to revitalise one area of Belfast in which there is considerable urban dilapidation. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who addressed the Northern Ireland Committee on this subject, can make his own views known.
Is the Minister aware that those who criticised my speech in support of the Government in the censure debate are now dismayed to discover that the Government intend to spend more and not less in Northern Ireland?
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to restructure the board of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
Is not the Minister aware that since the Housing Executive was set up it has managed to provide fewer than 5,000 new dwellings a year? Is not that a far smaller number than was provided by the former housing authorities in Northern Ireland? Would it not be wise to restructure the board of the Housing Executive so that it might more fully reflect the opinions of the electors in Northern Ireland?
A majority of the members of the board of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive are members of district councils. As the hon. Member knows, since the Northern Ireland Housing Executive came into existence the building programme in his constituency has been exceedingly large. Looking at the number of houses built in Londonderry and comparing it with the numbers in towns of approximately the same size in North-West England, one sees that Londonderry is about five times better off.
Will the Minister confirm what he said just now, which was that the majority of the board of the Housing Executive were members of district councils? Will he give the House the breakdown of the board of the Housing Executive?
Five of the eight members of the present board—because there is one vacancy—are members of district councils.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if his Department is satisfied with the security forces' liability to protect the community of Northern Ireland from bombs left in stationary vehicles; how many bombs have exploded while in stationary, vehicles; and how many people have been injured or killed as a result so far in the current year.
Neither I nor the security forces can be satisfied so long as anybody is killed or injured through terrorist violence, but the security forces make every effort to prevent the use of car bombs and to detect and disarm them when they are planted.So far this year, 19 such devices have exploded in stationary vehicles. Two people have died as a result and 24 have been injured. A further seven devices have been neutralised by the security forces; I would like to pay tribute to the Army's bomb disposal teams whose courage and skill continue to save lives.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that very full and detailed reply. However, does he agree that the security position in the border areas of Northern Ireland is far from satisfactory and that little or no improvement has occurred during the past 12 months, despite the valiant efforts of our security forces? Does he also agree that there appears to be an assassination campaign against leading citizens in these areas, not least in Fermanagh? I remind right hon. and hon. Members of the dreadful and horrific car bomb explosion in Lisnaskea recently. What additional action can my right hon. Friend take to protect leading citizens from this campaign of assassination?
I said in my original reply that none of us could be satisfied so long as anyone was killed. I take issue with my hon. Friend about what has happened over the past year. I have a more detailed answer to give about the security situation later, and I will not anticipate that. I say at this stage merely that I do not agree with my hon. Friend. The disposition of forces is, first, a matter for the security force commanders. In any case, it would not be appropriate to give details in the House.
Can the Secretary of State say whether it has been possible to identify the source of the explosives used in these indiscriminate attacks?
Not always, although it is known that some of the explosive definitely have been manufactured in the Republic.
Will the Secretary of State take it from me that all right-thinking people in Northern Ireland are with him when he praises the work of the bomb disposal squads? They are doing signal service in protecting lives in Northern Ireland. However, will he tell the House, in view of 19 bombs which have done serious damage, how many people have been arrested and charged with these crimes?
I cannot link arrests for these crimes directly, although I have some figures to give the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) in reply to his later question. I am grateful for his comments about the Army's bomb disposal squads. They deserve our utmost praise.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the total sum owed in non-paid rents and rates to the Housing Executive.
At 30 June 1980 the amount due to the Housing Executive in respect of unpaid rent and rates was £10¼ million.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the highest figure of arrears in rents and rates ever stated by the Housing Executive in its short history? What steps are being taken by his Department to ensure that the 28,000-odd people who apparently are making no attempt voluntarily to pay their arrears are compelled to do just that?
Although I agree that the figure is far too large, it is also true that, as a proportion of the weekly collectable rents, the figure has fallen in the last two years. We have set up a central body to chase those who are in arrears, and there will be further administrative improvements in the debt-collection process by the end of the year.
Has the hon. Gentleman read the recent report of the low pay unit about living standards in Northern Ireland, wherein it is stated clearly that in Northern Ireland, especially in certain parts of Belfast where the majority of housing is under the control of the Housing Executive, it is because of high rents, high energy costs—including gas and electricity—and high levels of unemployment, that these people, not involved in any political protest, find themselves unable to pay the high rents demanded of them? That is why there is such a deficit.
Although power costs, including the cost of electricity, are high in Northern Ireland—and they are in the rest of the United Kingdom—rents are lower, and there is a very effective rent rebate system. It must be remembered that those who do not pay their rents increase the burden on the vast majority of tenants of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive who do.
Earlier the Minister referred to the house building programme in Londonderry. How many eviction orders have been sought in the courts by the Housing Executive for the non-payment of rent on the West Bank in Londonderry? Of those eviction orders granted, how many have been executed?
I cannot give that information without notice, but I shall give it in a letter to the hon. Member.
Since average earnings in Northern Ireland are about £9 a week less than in the rest of the United Kingdom, will the Government, in view of their statement of cuts yesterday—assure the House that rents in public sector housing will not be increased, and abandon the policy of the previous Government of bringing rents in Northern Ireland into line with those in England and Scotland?
Yesterday the Government announced an increase in the amount of money available for public spending in Northern Ireland. But plainly, there has to be a relationship between rents in Great Britain and those in Northern Ireland.
Is the hon. Gentleman really surprised at the level of rent and rate arrears that he has announced when last year there was a downward trend? Does he accept that the Government's policies and the cash squeeze imposed on the Northern Ireland Housing Executive will lead almost certainly to arrears rising again? Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that every effort will be made to enable debtors to pay off their arrears without undue pressure or threats from the authorities concerned?
We shall seek to reach voluntary agreement with those who are in arrears. I am not surprised by the figures because in real terms they reflect the improvement that took place in the last month of the previous Administration.
Order. I shall call the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross), the Liberal Party's Northern Ireland spokesman. However, I cannot do the round of all the parties on every question and I shall not try to do so.
Is the Minster able to give us the percentage of annual or weekly income that is expended on rates in Northern Ireland? The average for the rest of the United Kingdom is about 7½ per cent.
The Northern Ireland differential for rents is a slightly larger figure.
Ulster Countryside Committee
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland why the annual report of the Ulster Countryside Committee to 30 June 1978 was not signed until 20 November 1979 and not published until last month; what action he proposed to take on its principal recommendations; and if he will make a statement.
Staff changes in the secretariat, drafting consultations with the Countryside Committee and a printing dispute combined to produce a regrettable and unreasonable delay in publication. The Government have nevertheless made progress on a number of the recommendations such as the review of legislation. But we have not been able to meet the committee's request for a substantial increase in the number of staff engaged in countryside conservation.
While noting the Minister's very proper censures and trusting that arrangements will be made for this lapse not to recur, will he ensure that special attention is paid to the recommendations of the outgoing committee of two years ago on areas of outstanding natural beauty and on consultation over planning decisions in rural areas?
De Lorean Car 4
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the application for financial assistance to the De Lorean Car Co. Ltd.
Yes, Sir. As I explained yesterday in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne), the extra funds available for industrial assistance and energy in 1980–81 will include up to £14 million by way of repayable loans towards the cost of bringing the De Lorean DMC 12 project to market launch. Detailed negotiations with De Lorean on this point are in progress.
Is not the private enterprise contribution to this project a somewhat nebulous £13 million? Is not the taxpayer already contributing about £53 million? Does not an additional £14 million, allied to savage cutbacks in social services and education, suggest that the taxpayer is getting an extremely bad deal when he will not even own the car at the end of the day? The car will be owned by the De Lorean research partnership. Does not the right hon. Gentleman begin to believe that this looks like the biggest rip-off since the South Sea Bubble?
We decided that we had to honour the commitment entered into by the previous Labour Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member—
No. I had just left.
No, the hon. Gentleman had not. I have checked that. I refer to the commitment to launch the DMC 12 car, which we must remember holds the prospect of 2,000 jobs in West Belfast
Of course, my right hon. Friend is, to some extent, the prisoner of the small print of an agreement that was negotiated by the previous Labour Government. That we accept. But does he realise that he is really the laughing stock, not only of the international motor industry but, for all I know, the criminal fraternity as well, on account of the scale of this rip-off? Would he like to confirm the rumour—I hope that he will be able to confirm the rumour—that this £14 million is, in fact, the very last tranche to be handed out, and that it is being done in consideration of an undertaking in writing from Mr. De Lorean not to ask for any more money, which will get him off the hook on which he was placed by the previous Government?
The company has agreed in writing that the provision of extra funds removes the obligation contained in the original agreement to consider further applications.
We accept that De Lorean needed financial assistance, but will the right hon. Genttleman accept that we totally oppose the method that has brought it about—namely, to fund De Lorean at the expense of education, which was cut by £10 million last year, and social services, where there is already too little provision? Will he accept that nothing short of massive Government assistance will rectify the serious economic imbalance in the Province? No rejigging of the existing Estimates will overcome these grave problems.
The hon. Gentleman appears to have overlooked that part of my statement yesterday which indicated that the Government are providing an extra £48 million from the Contingency Reserve towards Northern Ireland.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the undertaking that he has now extracted from this American gentleman will not in any way be vitiated by the fact that we announced last year that we were not giving any more money to Harland and Wolff and we now are? Will he deal with the rather alarming proposition advanced yesterday that we had to put up £14 million for De Lorean because the company employs Catholics as we had given £42 million to Harland and Wolff because that company employs Protestants? Does he accept that that is not acceptable from the British taxpayer's point of view?
There is no truth in the last part of my hon. Friend's question. We found that we had a commitment, which we have now discharged, to provide funds to bring the DMC 12 to market launch. An agreement has been signed, not by Mr. De Lorean but by the company, that releases the Government from the obligation contained in the original agreement.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that even those, such as myself, who were enthusiastic in their support for the undertaking at its beginning are now beginning to have deep reservations about the project especially as so much employment was promised that has not materialised? Yesterday the right hon. Gentleman linked a mini-Budget statement on cuts in education, health, social services and the environment and savage housing cutbacks with the De Lorean issue. Will he accept the opportunity given to him today to make a full statement on the savage cuts that he announced yesterday in Northern Ireland expenditure?
I made a statement yesterday. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to ask me questions about it, let him do so.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many representations have been made to him following the announcement of his intention to remove executive powers from the Northern Ireland Sports Council; and if he will now set up an independent inquiry before implementation.
Northern Ireland Ministers have received 109 letters about the Government's decision to remove executive functions from the Northern Ireland Sports Council. A further inquiry into this matter is not likely to add to the information available to the Government.
Will the Minister agree, having had all those representations, which have come from extremely able people in all walks of life, that it was a precipitate decision to wind up the executive powers of the Sports Council, a decision which does not relate to the rest of the United Kingdom? If there is not to be an inquiry, will he at least reconsider that decision?
We shall have further discussions with the Sports Council. As the Liberal Party has encouraged successive Governments to cut bureaucratic costs and to preserve capital programmes, it is rather unfair of the Liberal Party's Northern Ireland spokesman to attack my noble Friend.
Is it not a fact that the majority of the representations that have been received are in support of the council retaining its executive powers?
The majority of the representations are in favour of the Sports Council retaining its present powers. However, the council's administrative costs are very high in relation to the costs of sports councils elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Will the Minister go further and spell out those people who have made the representations? Is it not true that all the sporting bodies, almost all the district councils, including the Belfast city council, and all the political parties have opposed the Government? Why do the Government not take on board this strong representative body of opinion and agree to an independent inquiry? If it backs the Government, the problem, I am sure, will go away. If not, it will not go away.
All the information is available to the Government at this moment. All that is needed is further consultation on this point. There have been representations by many sporting bodies. These follow an energetic campaign on the part of the Sports Council to stimulate those complaints.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will introduce proposals to bring Northern Ireland building regulations in line with those in England and Wales—outside Inner London.
Building regulations in Northern Ireland are kept very closely in line with those in England and Wales.
Will my hon. Friend agree that the Northern Ireland building regulations could be considerably simplified without compromising safety, as could the other three sets relating to other parts of the United Kingdom? Is not the time now propitious to have consultations with the relevant Ministers in Wales, Scotland and England to try and unify and simplify the regulations so that one set is applicable throughout the whole of the United Kingdom?
With regard to language, these are statutory instruments that have to be expressed in a certain way. We are constantly looking at ways to simplify and streamline the contents of the regulations. I am closely in touch with the review that is taking place in England and Wales. It is my intention that those in Northern Ireland should comply with the others, making due allowance for local differences.
While welcoming the support of the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) for the contention of my hon. Friends and I that there should be common legislation for the United Kingdom, will the Minister ensure, in any case in future, that when there is amendment in any part of the Kingdom, there is not the previous time lag that has occurred of a year to 18 months in adjusting the regulations in Northern Ireland?
We are looking at this problem and trying to ensure that the time gap is reduced as much as possible.
Is there any point in discussing building regulations when the Government, through their cuts announced yesterday, are to reduce the number of houses available in Northern Ireland for the homeless? Will the Minister apologise for his statement made to a news conference last night when he said that Northern Ireland's per capita figure for public expenditure is 35 per cent. higher than in Great Britain? This is a misleading statement—
Order. This question is about building regulations.
I am happy to reaffirm the statement I made last night to which the hon. Gentleman made reference. It is accurate. The current expenditure in Northern Ireland on housing is one-and-a-half times more per capita than in Great Britain.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many staff were in post in April in the Northern Ireland Sports Council; and how many will be in post in September.
On I April, the Sports Council for Northern Ireland employed 38 people full-time and six people part-time. I cannot say at this point how many staff will be in post in September.
In the light of the Minister's earlier statement that he will have further discussions on the matter, will he give an undertaking not to pre-empt the result of those discussions and ensure that the staff is not reduced until the discussions are completed?
There is clearly a need for economy in this sphere, as elsewhere, in Northern Ireland. It is the hope of the Government that the staff of the Sports Council will be at a lower figure in September than it is now.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress he has made in his talks with the political parties in Northern Ireland on his latest constitutional proposals.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he will make a statement on the proposals for constitutional reform.
Since Parliament debated the Government's proposals I have met each of the four main parties at least once. Further meetings are planned during the summer. Concurrently, I am seeking the views of the smaller parties, and of business, trade union, Church and other community and interest groups in Northern Ireland. In this way, we hope to move towards our goal of finding an acceptable means of transferring responsibility to locally elected representatives in Northern Ireland. In the light of my discussions, the Government will consider what recommendations should be put before Parliament.
Does not my right hon. Friend understand that he has the warm support of many people for the round of discussions that he has initiated? Have any representatives of political parties refused to take part in discussions with him? If the answer is negative, is not that in itself an encouraging start at least?
My hon. Friend is right. No one has refused to come and speak to me. Everyone has accepted my invitation so to do. This is encouraging. It shows that political parties and others are anxious to make progress.
In view of the fact that even the majority in Northern Ireland have probably more in common with Southern Ireland than with mainland Britain—
Come and see us.
I have been.
Come again, then.
Order. Will the hon. Gentleman talk to all of us rather than to the right hon. Gentleman behind him?
Will the Secretary of State consider, as an alternative strategy, the possible unification of the whole of Ireland? I know that it is difficult. Will he consider it?
I think that the premise on which the hon. Gentleman's question was based was dealt with by the comments behind him.
While wishing my right hon. Friend well in his discussions, will he bear in mind, in considering the constitutional future of the Province that, contrary to what has been suggested by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), opinion polls of repute show that about half the Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland support the union with Britain and are content for their laws to be made in the Parliament at Westminster?
The hon. Gentleman is right. All the indications that we have show that the majority of people, whatever their religion, wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. As I, and successive Government spokesmen, have frequently said, so long as that is the wish of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, so it will be.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is the total amount of Government aid provided for Northern Ireland; and if he can give the comparable figures for Scotland, the Northern and the North-West regions of England.
On a basis similar to that previously used for such calculations, the total subvention to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund in 1979–80 is estimated at £944 million. Comparable figures for other regions of the United Kingdom are a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, as I mentioned earlier, public expenditure in Northern Ireland per capita is 35 per cent. higher than in the remainder of the United Kingdom as a whole.
I do not think that the answer to the question gave me what I asked. I thought that my hon. Friend might have gone to the Chancellor and got the answer for me. Is my hon. Friend aware that I believe that it is a good thing to give responible Government aid to depressed areas? Would he care to ask the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) whether he would support the same amount of aid going to other areas of the United Kingdom as is given to Northern Ireland?
The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has no doubt heard the second part of my hon. Friend's question and can answer it himself. On the first part of the question, I have asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the comparable figures, but they are not readily available.
Following the review of expenditure in Northern Ireland, completed yesterday, will the Minister seek to allocate some of the available funds to the Belfast dock employers so that Belfast dockers can have the same degree of security of employment and be put on the same footing as their counterparts in Great Britain?
I am afraid that I am not able to do so this year. I have had long discussions both with the employers and the dock workers. They are aware of the position. I hope to make some funds available to them next year.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what improvements have been made in the last two months to cross-border security, including action to block some roads.
In the past two months eight more roads between County Fermanagh and County Monaghan have been closed. The security forces are continuing intensive efforts to prevent further terrorist attacks along the border and to apprehend those responsible for previous incidents. The extensive and increasing co-operation between the security forces on either side of the border is paying substantial dividends I shall consider additional closures or other measures if the Chief Constable advises me that they would be of real operational value and would not unduly interfere with legitimate traffic.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the action that he has taken since my last question on this subject. Is he aware of the growing concern about the numbers of assassinations of people on the so-called "hit list"—not all being prominent citizens, but many being supporters of law and order and of the union with this country—and the feeling that those assassinations are greatly facilitated by the open cross-border routes?
Everyone in Northern Ireland is concerned at any assassination. There is considerable concern about the way in which terrorists can move to and fro across the border. Closing roads is one way of stopping them. I am sure that the increasing co-operation between the security forces in Northern Ireland and the Republic is the most effective way of putting an end to this traffic.
Gas Supplies (Cessation)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will now state the amount of compensation he is prepared to pay both in the public housing and private housing sectors for the change over from gas when the gas undertakings in Northern Ireland cease their operations.
Grant-in-aid will be paid towards the reasonable cost of providing replacement appliances of an approved type. The rate of grant will be 100 per cent for households in receipt of supplementary benefit or family income supplement; 50 per cent. for private domestic consumers and 30 per cent. for industrial and commercial consumers.Arrangements for Housing Executive tenants are still being worked out but will be no less favourable than for other domestic consumers. I shall, in due course, make a detailed announcement setting out the conditions of eligibility for grant and the manner in which payments will be made.
In view of that statement, does the hon. Gentleman not think that it would be better to secure the natural gas pipeline for Northern Ireland?
No. Following examination of the costs involved in the pipeline, together with the substantial amount of deficit financing involved in maintaining the system in Northern Ireland, the Government's conclusion was that the preferable option was to close the industry.
Has the Minister taken into consideration that Northern Ireland is the lowest paid region in the United Kingdom, that many thousands of families are living just above the supplementary benefit and family income supplement levels and that they will be forced to pay a higher charge than the unemployed? Will he undertake to have another look at this matter to see whether something can be done to provide for such families?
I fully understand the hon. Gentleman's point. However, we must recognise that, with people living on supplementary benefit, there is a clear obligation for a definable group. It would not be easy to extend partial cover, in addition to the rates announced, to particular groups without affecting the whole.
Does the Under-Secretary of State agree that his statement today is a statement of discrimina- tion against those who are just above the poverty line? As many wage earners in Northern Ireland who are holding their jobs by accepting very low incomes will now be saddled with 50 per cent. replacements costs, will he reconsider this matter?
I have already answered that question in reply to the hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mr. Fitt). The hon. Member for Antrim North (Rev. Ian Paisley) will recognise that that answer must stand. As regards reconsidering the matter, the proposals that I have announced today are the first of a series of proposals. There will be a fuller announcement in due course. I cannot promise a review of the grant payments offered.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the security situation in Northern Ireland.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about the security situation.
During the month since I answered questions in the House on 10 July, the security forces have continued, often unobtrusively but with unrelenting determination and patience, to pre-empt terrorist attacks and to pursue and arrest those responsible for criminal acts. Progress continues to be made, gradually but inexorably.In support of this, I remind the House that so far this year 309 people have been brought before the courts and charged with terrorist-type crimes, including 41 with murder and 30 with attempted murder. In addition, 125 weapons and more than 13,000 rounds of ammunition have been recovered. The past four weeks alone saw 29 people charged with terrorist crimes: four for murder and two for attempted murder. A number of important arrests have been made in the Republic of Ireland. I regret, however, that since 10 July three people have been killed, two of them soldiers. One soldier was shot dead on 19 July in front of his wife and parents-in-law in a public house in Londonderry. He was on compassionate, leave from the Army and had been visiting his wife who had given birth to a stillborn child. The second soldier was killed in an explosion at Aughnacloy on 27 July in which another soldier was seriously injured. The third person, a young civilian, was fatally wounded in South Belfast by a member of an RUC patrol. This case is under investigation and the RUC will be submitting a full report to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement about the killing on Sunday of Private William John Clarke of the UDR?
This murder, if that is what it was—I assume that it was—took place in the Republic of Ireland. I am afraid that I cannot give the House any further information.
Order. Although it is time for Prime Minister's questions, I shall call the other hon. Member whose question is being answered and allow extra time at the end of Prime Minister's questions.
In view of the grave concern felt by Ulster people, will the Secretary of State agree to the request that I have made repeatedly in the past, to the effect that the Northern Ireland Committee should meet at Stormont to discuss these matters as well as the grave economic, industrial and social problems?
The hon. Gentleman should address that request to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I understand that that cannot take place under our Standing Orders.
Areas Of High Unemployment
asked the Prime Minister if she will visit the areas of high unemployment in order to explain her policies at a local level.
I have visited many areas of high unemployment and my plans for the immediate future include other such visits.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on her smart outfit. Obviously I cannot say the same about her policies, which have created vast unemployment and inflation.
Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question.
Does the Prime Minister appreciate that she is creating disaster for this country, particularly for working people? Does she also appreciate that the day of reckoning must come? While she may win votes in the House, the real fight will take place elsewhere. Indeed, during the winter the Labour Party will be organising opposition to the very policies in which she believes. Is that not one of our democratic rights?
I recognise that the hon. Gentleman feels deeply about unemployment and the industrial recession. There is a world recession and unemployment is rising elsewhere. In fact, the recession has bitten more deeply in the United States. Industrial production there has gone down more rapidly and deeply than in this country. At this stage of the cycle, industrial production has not gone down by as much as it did at a similar stage under the previous Labour Government, in the six months to May 1975.
In the course of visits to areas of high unemployment during the recess, will the Prime Minister confirm that the control of the money supply is the beginning, the middle and the end of the Government's economic policy? If so, and if the money supply is not under control, what is left of her policy?
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can have read the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry entitled "Monetarism is not enough'.
The Prime Minister will doubtless have seen the disturbingly self-confident assertion by the Japanese in The Times this morning to the effect that they intend to lead the West in the application of high technology by the end of the 1980s. Will she seize every opportunity to emphasise, not least where our unemployment is associated with a deliberate decision not to adapt to and adopt this technology, that this kind of obstruction is self-defeating and that we must do everything in our power to follow the same course as the Japanese?
I accept that the Japanese are making immense strides, not only in research and development in technology, but in the speed with which they get it translated into industry and with which those working in industry accept the new equipment and operate it to the peak of efficiency. If we wish to compete, we must do the same.
As the steeply rising unemployment level is the worst problem facing the country and the Government, why has not the right hon. Lady and her Government brought before the House, before Parliament departs for the recess, fresh proposals to restore the £170 million cut that they made in the Manpower Services Commission budget? When will they carry out and bring before the House an expanded programme to deal with this problem?Will the right hon. Lady now tell us, when the Government have failed to bring forward a programme before the departure of Parliament for the recess, how soon those proposals will be announced to the nation?
Already, about 324,000 people are affected by and benefit from special employment and training measures. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has given an undertaking that if the youth opportunities programme is not sufficient it will be enlarged, so that every school leaver has the offer of a place by Easter 1981.
But what about the long-term unemployed? What about the cuts that the right hon. Lady's Government imposed on the programme of the Manpower Services Commission? What about the necessity of mounting a bigger programme to deal with the much heavier unemployment that we shall face? When will the Government bring forward those measures?
Dealing with long-term unemployment depends on getting British industry competitive. The right hon. Gentleman conspicuously failed to do that during his term of office in the previous Labour Government.
Will my right hon. Friend take steps to sweep away even more of those stupid rules and regulations that inhibit small firms, especially in rural areas, from taking on unemployed people?
We shall certainly do our best to sweep away many of the remaining regulations. My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer did a good deal for small businesses in the last Budget, and our policy on enterprise zones will be of particular advantage to small businesses starting up in them. However, I do accept that many of the other controls and regulations should go.
Does not the right hon. Lady accept that the Government have a duty to create jobs in high unemployment areas such as Scotland, or does her devotion to the principle of mobility of labour lead her to join those who advise the unemployed of Scotland that their best chance of getting a job is to move to areas such as the prosperous South-East?
If the hon. Gentleman had either listened to my speech during the censure debate or if he had looked at the amount of regional assistance that has been given, he would know that the question is superfluous. During that debate I made an announcement about Inmos and other firms. We are trying to do two things. First, we are trying to move investment to areas where there is a reservoir of skilled labour. Secondly, we are continuing to operate the employment transfer scheme, which the hon. Gentleman's Government also operated.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 7 August.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Later this afternoon I shall attend the memorial service for Sir Seretse Khama at Westminster Abbey.
Some time today, will my right hon. Friend urge her Ministers to take every possible opportunity to put across to the electorate the point that by its actions this week the Labour Party has shown that it is totally opposed to council house tenants being allowed to buy their own homes?
What my hon. Friend says is very true. Millions of people in this country will have the opportunity to buy their own council houses when the Housing Bill becomes law—a chance that they would never have had if the Labour Party had been in power.
Will the Prime Minister give thought to the fact that in Calderdale unemployment is rising more steeply than in the rest of Yorkshire and in the rest of the country? Will she assure my constituents that the textile, carpet, machine tool and confectionery industries will receive urgent help to stop them from further decline? Otherwise there will be litle manufacturing industry left in the area.
Textiles are already protected under the multi-fibre agreement, and we have about 400 quota agreements with several other countries under that agreement. There is a world recession, added to a number of other problems, and it is not possible for any Government to guarantee everyone a job. We shall have to work our way up steadily, and try to create new businesses and new industries using the latest technology, but no Government can do that alone.
While I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her decision to abolish the Clegg Commission, will she give her whole attention in the coming year to the terrible problem of the unacceptably high levels of wage settlements in the public sector?
Yes, we certainly have to give our attention to that. It is obvious that comparability as a principle has not worked well. Obviously there are times when various comparability awards amount to more than is available from the taxpayer to pay them. Comparability is only one factor in determining public sector pay awards. The real determining factor is what the tax- payer can afford to pay. We shall conduct matters in that way in the future.
Looking beyond 7 August, to the time when the right hon. Lady takes her standing ovation at the Conservative Party conference, will she then pause to reflect on the sheer misery that she has created in thousands of homes throughout the United Kingdom as a result of the additional unemployment caused by her Government's policies? Will she then give further thought to the requirement upon her Government to halt the flow of fugitives from depression from develepment areas such as the Northern region? If she cannot do that, will she then tender her resignation?
If there were an answer to unemployment in a free society it would have been found long since, and the right hon. Gentleman would not have had to experience 1·6 million people unemployed under his Government. May I remind him that while his right hon. Friend the Shadow Leader of the House was Secretary of State for Employment, unemployment rose by 90 per cent. in Swansea, by 103 per cent. in Aberdare, by 128 per cent. in Neath, by 145 per cent. in Llanelli, by 98 per cent. in Cardiff, and so on.
Will my right hon. Friend try to find time in her busy schedule to consider the question of the computerisation of the Inland Revenue? Bearing in mind that this is an extremely complex matter, will she, nevertheless, consider the fact that no other country with a viable computer company capable of doing the job would dream of giving it to a foreign company?
I understand both the complexities of the matter and the sensitivities of the House. We are still considering it, and we shall make an announcement as soon as we have reached a decision.
asked the Prime Minister if she will make an official visit to Beckton.
I have at present no plans to do so.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that in Beckton there are many families, with small children, living in tower blocks? Does she not agree that the sale of council houses by the GLC, or the forced sale of council houses by any borough council, must inevitably reduce the opportunity for such families to move out? Does the right hon. Lady think that this policy would have gained the approval of St. Francis of Assisi?
No, Sir. I do not accept the assumptions upon which the hon. Gentleman's question is built. To give people the opportunity to buy either the house in which they live or, if they have held the tenancy of a council house, another house, will bring joy to many, and it will introduce them to the ownership of property which Labour Members have experienced for many years. It will give them a chance to buy their own homes in small estates. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on the many Labour Members who have large estates.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 7 August.
I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier.
Will my right hon. Friend consider extending the Government's practice of allowing private enterprise to compete for the provision of non-medical services in the National Health Service to local authorities? Does she agree that by so doing and by allowing local authorities to contract out such services as refuse disposal to private enterprise, she would be helping local authorities to reduce further the extravagance which still exists, particularly in Labour-controlled councils?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I hope that a number of public authorities and local authorities will consider contracting out more services to the private sector. It gives them a much greater degree of flexibility than they would have if they did it all through the public sector, and it can often be done more economically in the private sector.
As the right hon. Lady's policies have been so disastrous in the fields of local government, employment, inflation and industrial policy, may we end on a happier note by congratulating the right hon. Lady on her Cabinet's decision about teachers' pay? Does she agree that it would have been extremely dishonourable if the Government had sought to abandon and breach an agreement that had been made and had repudiated an arbitration agreement? Will the right hon. Lady tell the House now what adjustment she will make in the rate support grant in order to enable the Cabinet decision to be properly carried into effect?
The answer to the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question is "None." All these claims have to be met within existing cash limits. If some people take out more for themselves, that will cause, as I have frequently warned, greater unemployment elsewhere.With regard to that particular arbitration, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is about the only compulsory arbitration that there is in industrial relations. It can be set aside only—and the wording is very specific—if national economic circumstances "require" it—not "justify" it; not "advise" it; not "if there are clear and compelling reasons". It is only if national economic circumstances "require" it. We felt that national economic circumstances did not require it. Had we taken the view that they did, it would have meant setting aside quite a number of other claims which have already been settled.
Why does the right hon. Lady not accept my congratulations with a more pleasant spirit? I was congratulating her Government on not taking dishonourable action. Will she repudiate the scandalous stories in the press that she wanted to take that dishonourable action but was turned down by the so-called "wets" in the Cabinet? Can she say when the next revolt is likely to take place and what is likely to be the subject matter?
I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was wanting to congratulate me. When did he do such a quick U-turn? It was pretty nifty footwork.