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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 76: debated on Thursday 4 April 1985

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Northern Ireland

Planning Applications (Representations)


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what proposals he has for facilitating representations on applications for planning permission by the owners or occupiers of contiguous land.

I recently introduced a neighbour notification scheme in Northern Ireland. Under this scheme the occupiers of land adjoining a site which is the subject of a planning application are notified of that application and given the opportunity of making representations before the application is decided.

Will the Minister do his best to ensure that this welcome and desirable reform is given statutory force as soon as practicable, especially in the light of his disclosure last night that there is a bottleneck in the draftsmanship department of the Northern Ireland Office?

I shall certainly ensure that we get ahead and provide a statutory base as soon as possible. We are talking about an interim scheme. Work on the amending Order in Council has begun, but we will obviously want widely to consult right hon. and hon. Members about the precise terms of the legislation.

Do the new notification procedures which the Minister mentioned cover the farming community and tenants of dwellinghouses, and, in particular, the tenants of Housing Executive dwellings?

For very good reasons the procedures cover occupiers rather than owners.

Is my hon. Friend the Minister, like me, encouraged to hear the right hon. Member for South Down, (Mr. Powell) welcoming a measure introduced at the behest of the Northern Ireland Assembly? Will my hon. Friend go one step further and consider site notification?

As my hon. Friend knows, we are also looking at site notification and experimenting in that direction. As for encouragement, I am always encouraged by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell).

Is there not an anomaly in the general law here? Is it not true that if someone is refused planning permission for his own property he can appeal, but that if something horrendous is happening next door, such as the erection of a fish and chip shop or a petrol station, he has no right of appeal? Should not the new provisions being applied to Northern Ireland be extended to the general law in this country?

We are also considering the whole question of third party appeals. It is often the case that the things that we do in Northern Ireland could well be transplanted elsewhere.



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 on the current security situation.

Since I last answered questions in the House on 7 March, one soldier, two police officers and one civilian have died in incidents arising from the security situation in the Province, making a total of four. As the House will be aware, two of these deaths occurred yesterday morning when a car bomb exploded outside Newry courthouse. The Provisional IRA has claimed responsibility for all these brutal murders. The House will want to join me in expressing abhorrence and extending deep sympathy to the families of all who have died.

So far this year a total of 120 people have been charged with serious offences, including 15 with murder and 11 with attempted murder; and 54 weapons, 2,160 rounds of ammunition and 3 lb of explosives have been recovered.

May I join the Secretary of State in his condemnation of yesterday's atrocity and in extending our sympathy to the bereaved? As it is human nature to slip into predictable routines, could certain individuals be given the duty of alerting their colleagues to the dangers of following fixed patterns? Those individuals could perhaps regard it as their task to suggest variations in those routines.

It is certainly a principle of good security policy that that policy and its procedures should be varied and kept under review. There are a number of legitimate questions arising out of what happened yesterday that need investigation.

The whole House will wish to join in the sentiments expressed by my right hon. Friend. Will he confirm that the SAS and other undercover security forces are active in the frontier area, and that those forces will be increased in and around Newry and South Armagh in the light of yesterday's events?

I can confirm that the General Officer Commanding has at his disposal in Northern Ireland specialist Army units which he deploys to meet operational needs throughout the Province. My hon. Friend will understand why it would not be sensible for me to go further than that.

I join the Secretary of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux) in offering sympathy to those who have been bereaved. Yesterday saw the death of the 10th member of the RUC to be murdered in my constituency in the past five weeks, and a civilian was also murdered. Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will give further consideration to more security measures in the Newry area, which in the past nine months has been the subject of continuous bombings and murder attacks? We appear to be getting nowhere, despite all the assurances. However, will the right hon. Gentleman assure me, the House and my constituents that a firm security policy will be adopted and maintained in the Newry area?

There is a firm security policy, but I share the hon. Gentleman's feelings of outrage about what has been going on in his constituency. As I said to the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Molyneaux), I agree that security policy and the emphasis on deployment in different parts of the Province need to be constantly examined and should be examined again in the light of what happened yesterday.

Does the Secretary of State agree with Ulster Members that the present security policy has been proved to be a failure, and that it ensures only that the constituents of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Nicholson) and other hon. Members are put into coffins — the coffins of good Ulster, decent British citizens?

That is not a worthy comment at this time. I do not believe that the security policy has failed. It is given a high priority and attention, as must be right in the circumstances of the Province, and we defend it robustly against attacks and criticisms, as is also our duty. The hon. Gentleman makes no constructive suggestion. I am always open, as are the Chief Constable and the General Officer Commanding, to constructive suggestions, particularly from elected representatives in Northern Ireland.

On the general background to the security situation in Northern Ireland, and acknowledging that, from time to time, it is perceived to be in the national interest that we should humbug the Americans, will the Secretary of State constantly recall the old wartime adage "Careless talk costs lives", and realise that words that are seen to be flannel in other contexts can be misunderstood in certain different places, with disastrous consequences?

I have spent a large part of the last week or so trying to explain in the United States of America the complexities of the situation in Northern Ireland and Ireland, and trying to discourage the idea that there is a single key that will turn a single lock and solve the problem.

I welcome the condemnation of terrorist outrages by the Catholic hierarchy and the splendid statements of Catholic priests, which are so seldom publicised. Is my right hon. Friend aware that many Catholics on both sides of the water would be grateful if we could have an end to all equivocation in these matters, and an appeal from the Catholic church to Catholics to join security forces and replace those Catholics who have been murdered doing their duty?

It is desirable that representatives of all Churches should underline to those who listen to them that the role of the security forces in Northern Ireland is basically to protect the simplest human right of all—the right of the citizen to go about his daily lawful occasions in peace and security.

May I be associated with the Secretary of State's sentiments about yesterday's atrocities? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the allegations of torture by Paul Caruana, held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, have a dramatic effect on the minority community and their feelings about the security forces? I do not expect the Secretary of State to comment today on the details of the case, but will he guarantee that the detailed questions asked by Amnesty International will be answered in time?

Mr. Caruana's allegations are being fully investigated through the normal procedures. An investigation has been conducted by the RUC complaints and discipline branch. Its report was forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who decided, after careful examination of all the evidence, including the medical evidence, that the prosecution of any of those involved was not warranted. The RUC is now following the usual procedures and submitting its report to the Police Complaints Board for consideration.

In the widely reported discussions which my right hon. Friend is having with Irish Ministers about security in the Province and the possibility of a consultative role for Irish Ministers, is he also discussing the possibility of a consultative role for himself and his colleagues in security arrangements in the Republic, particularly in areas close to the border?

We discuss all aspects of security cooperation with the authorities in the Republic. That discussion continued under different Irish and British Governments long before the current dialogue with the Irish Government stemming from the recent Chequers communiqué. I agree that in practice — in terms of money, arms, explosives and policing — our security effort depends to a considerable extent for its effectiveness on a matching effort by the Republic.

I do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to comment on the facts of the Caruana case, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) referred, but will he declare clearly that the rule of law is one and indivisible and that it cannot be preserved by invoking Satan to cast out Satan? Will he assure the House that the report by the Police Complaints Board will be made public? Will he then make a statement to the House on the recommendations in the Bennett report and to what extent they have been implemented?

The security forces—both the police and the Army — in Northern Ireland operate under the rule of law. That is what distinguishes them from an army of occupation operating under military law. The normal procedures of investigation, and review of that investigation, by independent bodies — the DPP and the Police Complaints Board — are being followed in the Caruana case. The Bennett report has often been discussed in the House and everyone agrees that the situation has markedly improved in recent years. The case will continue to be followed through in accordance with the usual procedures.

Broadcasting Authorities


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he last met the broadcasting authorities in Northern Ireland; and what subjects were discussed.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
(Mr. Nicholas Scott)

My right hon. Friend would not expect to have formal meetings with the broadcasting authorities, which are not responsible to him. However, he met both the BBC's Northern Ireland governor and the IBA's national member for Northern Ireland socially during February.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. When he next meets representatives of the BBC and ITV, will he convey to them the worrying anxiety felt throughout Britain and Northern Ireland about the filming of IRA funerals at which rifles are fired? Is my hon. Friend aware that it is grossly offensive and thoroughly unhelpful? People are sickened when the BBC interviews IRA terrorists who threaten our country. Should not both the broadcasting authorities respond more actively and responsibly?

I recognise the widespread offence that is caused by the televising of funerals which are turned into propaganda exercises by the paramilitaries. However, it would be wrong for the Government to try to prohibit the reporting by the media of such funerals. The media must use their own editorial judgment about such matters, just as the security forces have to use their judgment on the ground when paramilitary displays take place at such funerals. I am sure that those responsible will have noted my hon. Friend's remarks.

Will the Minister also discuss with the authorities in Northern Ireland the disquiet felt by my colleagues and I and many others about the investigative follow-up by the BBC in the aftermath of a number of sensitive security issues? I believe that that has virtually prejudiced any prospect of a police or UDR man getting a fair hearing or a fair trial in any subsequent action.

If the authorities in Northern Ireland deny what I am saying, perhaps the Minister will ask them why they refused to give me a transcript of one particular incident?

If the hon. Gentleman would care to write to me about that incident, we shall see whether there is an opportunity to raise it. The best way to handle these matters is for elected representatives and members of the public to make their views known direct to the broadcasting authorities.



asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what plans he has to reduce unemployment in the Province.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave yesterday to his written question.

Is not the Government's record on unemployment in the Province absolutely disgraceful? When the Government took power in June 1979 there were 59,600 people unemployed in the Province. In February this year the number had risen to 122,157 — an increase from 10·3 to 21·2 per cent. Does the Minister agree that the additional 6p tax on cigarettes announced in the Budget will lead to further job losses in the tobacco industry in the Province?

The rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland was increasing before 1979, when the Labour Government were in power, and that applies also to Great Britain. However, no one here welcomes unemployment in Northern Ireland any more than does the hon. Gentleman. Between 1960 and 1983 unemployment rose by 84,000, but the actual drop in the number of people employed was only 6,000. Therefore, 78,000 were accounted for by increased personnel in the Province, a birth rate 50 per cent. higher than in Great Britain and women wishing to return to work—

The hon. Gentleman may say that, but if he speaks to the parents in the Province he will find that they notice when they have more children.

The actual increase in the rate of unemployment has decreased tremendously in recent years and we all look forward to the time when employment increases. In 1982 unemployment was increasing by 1,100 a month, in 1983 by 600 a month and last year by only 200 a month. However, between July and December last year there was an increase in employment in the Province of 4,100.

Does the Minister agree that it is important that new products should be found to create new job opportunities in Northern Ireland? Is he aware that Antrim Creameries in Ballynure has successfully produced a new product which it wishes to market as a cheese spread? However, under present food labelling regulations, because it has a fat content of less than 10 per cent., the product cannot be marketed as such. Will the Minister endeavour to have the food labelling regulations changed as quickly as possible so that new jobs can be created?

I agree that it is vital to find new products to replace those lost with the decline of the old industries. I shall investigate the matter of Antrim Creameries. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I know from a recent visit, the Milk Marketing Board is active in that area and products from the MMB and farms in Northern Ireland are being sold throughout the world.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I am the chairman of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, which recently had two opportunities to visit Northern Ireland to study industrial and commercial development? Is he further aware of how impressed we were with the efficiency and enterprise of all workers in the Province? Does he accept that while there may be a lot of nuts in Noraid trying to make the Province as dangerous a place as New York city, Ulster is certainly a good place in which to invest?

I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren). Twice he has been to the Province with the members of that Select Committee, and I have had the privilege of meeting him and his fellow members on each occasion. Undoubtedly, employers in Ulster, and employers from outside who have invested there, pay tribute to the conscientiousness and reliability of the members of both communities working in the factories of Northern Ireland. The more that that can be made known in Britain and throughout the world, the better. We must do our best to build up tourism in that beautiful Province. Great opportunities exist there. Hon. Members who take all possible steps to publicise the advantages of Northern Ireland, in relation to sport and in many other ways, do a great service to the Province.

The Minister will be aware of the parliamentary answer that he gave me last week containing the unemployment figures for each of the 17 constituencies in Northern Ireland. Has he noted that the two constituencies whose unemployment figures exceed all others are Foyle and Belfast, West? Does he draw any political conclusions from that, for example, about the relationship between the rate of unemployment and violence? Does he agree that special attention should be given to the unemployment problems of those constituencies? Why is his Department making cuts in the valuable work of the youth and community workshop in Derry?

The answer to the second part of that supplementary question is that we have cut back only where all the places have not been filled. The figures show that 77 vacancies exist in the Foyle area. It is highly expensive to have places in community and other centres involved in youth programmes that are not filled. We are relating demand to supply.

The answer to the first part is that I am aware of the high rates of unemployment in Belfast, West and in Foyle. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I have been concerned to assist with the continuance of employment, for example, at Molins and at other works. Clearly, a decline in violence would help to bring other employers in. I am making arrangements to meet people in May from West Belfast, including priests and the bishop of the area, to see what can be done by way of co-operation between the Government, trade unions, employers and the people of the area to improve employment prospects.

Is the Minister aware that a certain hypocrisy is shown by Opposition Members when we debate unemployment, in that the creation of jobs is not encouraged when leading members of the Labour party associate with members of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA, who are blasting jobs out of existence in the Province?

There is a degree of truth in that, although many Opposition Members would not agree. To invite members of Sinn Fein to this House and to speak to them here undermines the whole issue of confidence in the Province. Nor is it helpful to the Republic of Ireland.

Her Majesty's official Opposition will not be distracted by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Rev. William McCrea), and I assure him and the House that, as we have said on many occasions, the Opposition have no truck with and do not support violence in any form. It is hypocritical of the hon. Gentleman to seek to distract attention from the important issue of unemployment.

With the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren), I compliment the efficiency and enterprise of the workers of Ulster. I spent yesterday with trade unionists and industrialists there. Does the Minister share the widespread feeling that I found yesterday that Northern Ireland is a low-wage, unemployment economy? If so, does he acquiesce in it? If not, what steps does he propose to change that sentiment, which is abroad in the province?

I am sure that every hon. Member welcomes the hon. Gentleman's frank statement about Sinn Fein and violence in the Province. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren). The Government do not lay down the wages that are paid throughout the economy — that is done by agreement between employers and workers. It is difficult for employers and employees to have a high-wage economy in view of the fact that firms in Northern Ireland have to compete with firms in Southern Ireland, which are near the increasing markets of Europe and because of the costs of energy and transport. I share the hon. Gentleman's desire that we should develop full employment with good wages and good conditions in factories to encourage other people to come to the Province.

Short Brothers, Belfast


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any plans to meet representatives of Short Brothers, Belfast.

I have no immediate plans to meet representatives of Shorts, but I keep in regular contact with the chairman of the company.

Should not the right hon. Gentleman change his mind and meet representatives of Shorts to receive the congratulations of workers and management because the Government have finally followed the American military establishment and the commercial world in ordering a high-quality product from Shorts? Will the right hon. Gentleman encourage the management of Shorts to ensure future high quality work by continuing to engage a large number of young apprentices and giving them the proper training that is required to keep the firm in the forefront of this technology?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was delighted that the contract for the RAF trainer went to Shorts. I was especially delighted because there was no need for any special pleading or special subsidy in that regard. [Interruption.] I can tell the House from certain knowledge that the contract was clearly awarded on merit, simply because Shorts beat the competition. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's point about apprentices. Since becoming Secretary of State, one of the most heartening sights that I have seen is the apprentice shop at Shorts. I have seen how engineers of the future from both communities in the Province are working together.

The words of the Secretary of State are slightly hard to swallow for one who was involved with one of the three other contenders for the contract. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the wings for the Short 330 and 360 are made in my constituency, where there is unemployment of 17·3 per cent. When the right hon. Gentleman sees Sir Philip Foreman—I congratulate him on his success — will he remind him that any crumbs from his table will be gratefully received in the Isle of Wight?

The hon. Gentleman is a graceful loser. We have unemployment of between 21 and 22 per cent.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not think it strange that the Liberal party spokesman for Northern Ireland has done his best to ensure that Northern Ireland does not get jobs for the Shorts aircraft industry? Does he further agree that the best encouragement that can be given to the work force at Shorts is for him to announce that the will not proceed with the privatisation of the company?

I do not agree with the hon. Member's last point. If Shorts could be successfully privatised—this is still an "if"—that would be a considerable tonic for the private sector in Northern Ireland. It certainly was unfortunate that the official Liberal and Labour party spokesmen seemed to be against the fact that Shorts won this defence contract. That does not in any way diminish our pleasure.

In order not to mar a joyful and, I should have thought, unanimous occasion, will the right hon. Gentleman, if he meets representatives of Shorts, extend to them the warm congratulations of those on the Labour Benches on the successful outcome of the Tucano project? Will he assure them that the Government will not, by any doctrinaire privatisation manoeuvres, destroy the company's successful progress, dismember the enterprise and endanger the employment of those who work there?

There will be nothing doctrinaire in our approach. I am delighted that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) rejoice in Shorts' success.

Maze Prison (Special Category Prisoners)


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many special category prisoners remain in Her Majesty's prison, Maze, or elsewhere; and how many prisoners are held at the Secretary of State's pleasure.

There are 162 special category prisoners, all of whom are in Maze compound prison. Sixty-one persons are currently detained at the pleasure of the Secretary of State.

Will the Northern Ireland Office seek the fullest possible particulars of the extent to which prisoners convicted of terrorism do or do not return to paramilitary activity afterwards? In the light of such particulars, will the Secretary of State review the position of the young offenders held at his pleasure?

We are engaged now in the procedure of reviewing all those serving indeterminate sentences, as the appropriate time in their sentence is reached. The prisoners have the chance to put in written representations, and their cases are eventually discussed by a life sentence review board before being considered by Ministers. Already under that procedure 10 young prisoners have had dates fixed for their release, as well as three life sentence prisoners. That procedure will continue.

My hon. Friend has put his finger on a very important matter. In coming to these decisions, the possibility of re-offence, and thus the safety of the public, has to be at the forefront of our minds.

The Minister is no doubt aware that the process that he mentioned for the setting of release dates for young prisoners held at the pleasure of the Secretary of State has been welcomed by representatives of all sides of the community. In the light of that, will he do his best to speed up the process?

We have to consider each of the cases very carefully on its merits, bearing in mind the time that the person has served, the degree of involvement in the original crime, and the behaviour of the prisoner while in prison. The final, and in many ways the paramount, consideration has to be the likelihood of re-offence.

Sdlp (Security Forces)


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has recently discussed with leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour Party their attitude towards the security forces in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement.

I have had a number of recent discussions on security issues with representatives of the Social Democratic and Labour party. I have made clear in particular my hope that the constitutional representatives of the minority community will take full advantage of the various opportunities that exist at local and provincial level to make their views known on policing matters to the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is unlikely to be a stable security position in Northern Ireland while the minority community neither supports nor even recognises the security forces, and if that view is also the reflected view of the leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour party? Will my right hon. Friend encourage the SDLP, if it wishes to be viewed as a constitutional party, and if its members wish to be viewed as constitutional politicians, to offer its support and recognition to the security forces? Then we could discuss other matters which are of security interest to it and to the Province.

It is true that many members of the minority community serve in and fully support the security forces, as the casualty figures show. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is highly desirable that the representatives of the minority community should, in word and in deed, make their criticisms where they think criticisms are justified but, having done that, should join in understanding and proclaiming the fact that the security forces exist to protect the rights of the citizen, Catholic and Protestant, throughout Northern Ireland.

Will the Secretary of State, in replying to questions about the SDLP from the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), take account of the well-known antipathy of that hon. Member to the SDLP and his well-known capacity for distorting the views and attitudes of that party? Will the Secretary of State tell his hon. Friend to find out what the position is before putting forward his views on our position with regard to the security forces and before making definitive statements in this House?

I remind the Secretary of State of what I have said very often — that we fully support the security forces in impartially seeking out anybody who commits a crime in Northern Ireland. We have said that repeatedly, but we have gone on to mention the sort of community confidence that is required to deal with the security situation in Northern Ireland. It must be the community confidence that applies in every democratic society. It must be based on consensus about government, which is the basis of order in any democratic society.

I thought that my hon. Friend's question was helpful in intention and in effect. I am familiar with the attitude displayed by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). I hope that he will encourage his friends in Northern Ireland to take advantage of the opportunities which exist, and other opportunities which might be brought into existence inside the Province, to express their views in groups and places where those views can have influence.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the SDLP would also enhance its constitutional status if it were to take part in the workings of the Assembly and express those constitutional views there?

Despite the words of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), is the Secretary of State not aware that the perception in Northern Ireland is that the SDLP does not support the security forces? Does that not lead to a situation in which that evident lack of support means that people whom the SDLP claims to represent are unwilling to come forward to give evidence in cases of murder, even when those murdered are leaving mass?

I hope that everybody in Northern Ireland, regardless of community, will encourage people who are witnesses of crime or have evidence that could lead to the prosecution and conviction of criminals, to come forward without fear.

Notwithstanding the views of the SDLP, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is satisfied with the levels of overtime currently being worked by members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand this. It is a mistake, which is quite often made in Northern Ireland, to suppose that overtime is a measure of the effectiveness of the police force. Indeed, too much overtime is obviously not a sign of a healthy and effective force. A much better measure of police activity is the man hours worked. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the figures for the year just ended show that police man hours worked in Northern Ireland were up to 23·8 million in 1984–85 compared with 23·3 million in 1983–84—a substantial increase.

A26 (Antrim-Ballymena)


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he is in a position to report on the progress of the public inquiry into the proposed dualling of the A26 between Antrim and Ballymena.

The inquiry closed on 19 March this year, and I now await the inspector's report.

Because the inquiry has lasted considerably longer than the three days confidently predicted by the Department at the outset, will the Minister now look at ways of compensating objectors because of the additional legal costs involved, bearing in mind that the delays were caused by the Department in the presentation of its evidence and, 'on some occasions, by the non-presentation of its evidence?

I realise that the length of the inquiry—I think that in all it sat for 16 days over a couple of months —raised certain problems. We shall consider as rapidly as we can any claims as soon as we have received the inspector's report.

Ancillary Health Workers


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will indicate the number of ancillary workers currently employed by the Eastern Health and Social Services Board in Northern Ireland.

At the end of last year 6,451 ancillary workers were employed by the Eastern Health and Social Services Board.

Will the Minister confirm that the Eastern Health and Social Services Board budget has been slashed by the Government to the tune of £4·6 million? Will he tell the House what that will mean in terms of job losses? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that if we get the 600 job losses that have been speculated about in various newspaper reports, that will mean the cancellation of new services, a reduction of beds and longer waiting lists? Would that not be regarded as a serious blow to the people of Northern Ireland?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's question is based on something that is not true. The budget of the Eastern Health and Social Services Board will be going up next year, on the figures for this year. Therefore, I am afraid that what the hon. Gentleman referred to cannot qualify as a cut.

Youth Training


asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many youngsters leaving the youth training programme go on to full-time employment.

Since the youth training programme began in 1982, 9,552 — 53·3 per cent. — of the young people who have left the programme went directly into employment and 393 — 2 per cent. — returned to full-time education. The figures for the last six months were 2,768–55·8 per cent. and 164–3 per cent. Information is collected only with regard to trainees' immediate destinations on leaving the programme, so those who experienced any delay in entering full-time employment are not included in the employment figures.

Is that answer not a warning to young school leavers in Northern Ireland that the Government's youth training programme there has about the same success rate as the programme in the rest of Britain and offers no real future for young people? Why does the Minister not propose a real training programme, on trade union rates of pay, with an allowance of at least £55, and a guarantee of a job at the end? Does the Minister accept that the fall by a third in manufacturing employment under the present Government in the past six years, to a level that is half the real rate of unemployment in Northern Ireland, shows that the Government do not care for the youth of Northern Ireland and cannot offer them a future?

Over 16,000 young people and adults are in training in Northern Ireland, out of a population of 1·5 million. That shows how concerned the Government are about the matter. Three out of five of those who join the youth training programme either obtain employment immediately afterwards or embark on higher education. That shows that the programme is a great advantage to those who take part in it.

Prime Minister



asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 April.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is travelling to south-east Asia for an official visit.

Tomorrow is the end of the tax year. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there will be no special Easter eggs for any over-zealous tax inspectors who take too many second looks at the books of small business men?

I can happily give that assurance. There is no question of tax inspectors being offered bonuses for increasing tax revenue from small businesses.

The Leader of the House will know that yesterday, after they had fixed their rates, many shire counties discovered that the rate support grant was again to be cut from the level of which they had previously been notified. What advice are the Government giving those counties about how they should accommodate the new cuts?

It has always been made clear, and local authorities have always understood, that the initial RSG figure given to them by the Department is an estimate and is subject to change in the light of council spending plans.

I hope that that carefully prepared answer will be gleefully accepted in the shire counties which are to be penalised. Apart from that answer, which the right hon. Gentleman read with such precision, can he comment on the absurdity of rate legislation which, simply because the GLC has fixed a rate lower than the statutory maximum, requires cuts in shire county allocation? The figure for Lancashire has fallen by £4·2 million, the figure for Cleveland by £1·3 million and that for Kent by £3·25 million. How will the right hon. Gentleman explain to those counties that their grant is to be cut simply because the GLC has levied a rate lower than that which the Government anticipated?

The hon. Gentleman describes a set of situations on which I cannot confidently comment — [HoN. MEmBERs:"Oh."] I will commit the great solecism in this House of refusing to comment on what I cannot comment on accurately. There is no doubt that the shire counties will contrast their own prudent financial management with what is happening in many other areas of the country, including that covered by the GLC.

The right hon. Gentleman fails to grasp the essential point. What he describes as prudent financial management in the shire counties has resulted in the shire counties receiving further cuts in RSG.

I have indicated to the right hon. Gentleman that I will not follow him down that path because I am not certain of my ground.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I understand that to save overtime, no searcher dogs were used in the VIP departure lounge at Heathrow today before the departure of the Prime Minister to the far east? Will he look into this, bearing in mind the fact that the country is concerned about the Prime Minister's security above all things and would not mind paying for the overtime required?

My hon. Friend is right to underline the great national concern that our leaders and the Prime Minister should always have the utmost security in their movements when undertaking national duties, but I have no doubt that the necessary standards have been fulfilled.

Although the Lord Privy Seal is right not to comment with confidence, or even without confidence, on the detailed figures of the cuts imposed on local authorities, how does he expect local government officials or elected members to cope with the constantly changing barriers against which the Government place them?

The right hon. Gentleman must know that the rate support grant figures are always issued on a provisional basis. On this occasion they have been revised, and revisions must be expected.

Will my right hon. Friend take time during the recess to consult his right hon. Friends on what new initiatives the Government might take to patch up our quarrel with Argentina, bearing in mind that the conflict started nearly three and a half years ago? Does he agree that, while it is all too easy for both countries to blame each other, there would be considerable long-term benefits for Britain and the Falkland Islands in having proper diplomatic and commercial links with Argentina and its new democratic Government? Would that not be in the interests of the long-term future of the region?

I accept that it must be in our ultimate interests to restore satisfactory relationships with Argentina, but that will be the consequence of a detailed and closely argued process of negotiation. We are at the beginning of that now, and we shall have to fight our corner.


I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave a few moments ago.

Is it just coincidence that almost every time I hit the jackpot at Prime Minister's Question Time she does a bunk to the far east or somewhere else? In the Prime Minister's absence, will the Leader of the House ensure that approporiate Government action is taken to compensate Scottish football fans after the Government's intervention to switch the venue of the Scotland-England football international from Wembley to Hampden? Will they compensate the Scottish football fans, including some of my constituents, who have spent hundreds of pounds in non-refundable deposits for hotel bookings in London, only to discover that the great dictatorial referee in Downing street has blown the whistle and moved the goal posts from London to Glasgow?

I have a lively sympathy with the hon. Gentleman with regard to his discovery that I am here to answer his questions rather than the Prime Minister. I no more wish to answer his question than he wishes to ask it of me, but we are chained together by circumstance. As I am sure he will realise, my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport asked the Football Association to reconsider the date of the international. The change in the venue was a judgment of the Football Association and the Scottish Football Association. But I have left the worse news until last. Although there is much sympathy, there is no question of the Government accepting any liability such as the hon. Gentleman suggests.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 April.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, at its conference in Inverness last weekend, the Liberal party voted to remove all United States bases from Britain? Does he agree that this is yet another example of a glaring inconsistency in the policy of the alliance on a critical issue? Apart from offering sympathy to the Social Democratic party for its curious bedfellows, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to reaffirm the Government's support for the other Alliance—NATO—which is the ultimate guarantor of the peace and security of British people?

I am happy to affirm the Government's commitment to the NATO Alliance and to say that all parties which affirm their support for NATO cannot have it both ways. They cannot want the Alliance and its nuclear implications, but deny that Alliance the nuclear bases.

Will the Leader of the House answer more sympathetically the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan)? If the Government so arrange sporting fixtures that it will cost sporting fans a great deal of money, and if they take the responsibility for changing the dates, they must take some responsibility for compensating those people for the many hundreds of pounds that they have lost. We will not have this. The Government must take either one line or the other.

The right hon. Gentleman is advancing a most contentious proposition: that the Government should undertake financial responsibilities and liabilities in this instance. This would be a major policy departure. It is simply not on.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 April.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many Conservative Members who, since 1979, have been urging rate reform? Is he further aware that we very much welcome the initiative of our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in this matter? However, can he say when a fairer system that will better reflect people's ability to pay will come before the House? Indeed, will it come during the lifetime of this Parliament?

That would be a fairly fundamental reply to let slip out on a Thursday morning before we depart for Easter. I accept at once the good wishes that my hon. Friend conveys, but this is a very tangled problem and the sooner it can be dispatched the better. However, it would be just as well if we got the answer right rather than produced it quickly.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 April.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Will my right hon. Friend find some time today further to consider the newspaper report in last Sunday's Observer about substantial ballot-rigging in the Transport and General Workers Union, which apparently led to the election of Mr. Ron Todd as the general secretary? Will he reflect upon the fact that our trade union legislation which passed through the House last year, is very important in the light of this ballot-rigging, and will he further reflect that no Labour party spokesman has condemned this action, taken by one of its major paymasters?

My hon. Friend has very generously asked me to do not much more than reflect, and I am very happy to reflect on all the various aspects of the issue that he mentioned. I join him in saying that I believe it underlines the considerable importance that we might attach to the postal ballot provisions in our recent trade union legislation.

Why have the Government, against the advice of their own quango, Playboard, made massive cuts in urban programme funding for holiday play schemes? Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that without safe, constructive play, school holidays for many children will spell boredom and that for many parents, particularly working parents, they involve the worry that, instead of playing safely, their children might end up either in hospital or the juvenile court? Will he reinstate these important funds?

I have no authority to reinstate these programmes, but I shall of course draw the attention of the relevant Secretary of State to the point made by the hon. Lady. However, I suspect that these and all other public spending provisions have to be carefully assessed against need and value for money.


asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 4 April.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Did the First Lord of the Treasury, for whom my right hon. Friend is replying, know of— I cannot believe that she can have approved of—the discontinuance of the £10 paid every year since the reign of Henry VII by the Exchequer to a certain university — not mine? Should not a Tory Government cherish harmless anomalies and pleasant traditions?

I must admit that that is not even a technical knock-out. I have been floored in round one. I have not the faintest idea of what it is to which my hon.

Friend refers. I know that it is of national significance, otherwise the words would not be on his lips. I shall see that my right hon. Friend is informed of it the moment that she returns from the far east.

Will the right hon. Gentleman care to tell the House how many right hon. or hon. Members have had their phones tapped since the Prime Minister was elected in 1979?

Clearly there would be little point in tapping the right hon. Gentleman's telephone. I asked him whether he could tell us how many hon. Members have had their telephones tapped since 1979.

As I understand it, undertakings have been given in the House by previous Prime Ministers, and have since been reinforced, that no hon. Members have had their telephones tapped.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noticed that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) and I have been here throughout Question Time, including Northern Ireland Question Time, but we did not reach the highly topical question on political discussions on Northern Ireland. A considerable number of hon. Members who had not tabled any questions were called more than once. We waited and stayed behind precisely for those highly political questions. They were not reached because hon. Members who had not tabled questions, and others, were called many times.

There is always a difficult balance to strike, but the hon. Gentleman is well aware of the fact that I seek to balance questions between Northern Ireland Members and those from the rest of the United Kingdom. I am sorry that we did not get as far as the hon. Gentleman's question. If he had risen on question No. 6 he would probably have got in, but he did not do so. His question was No. 17.