Assembly (Running Costs)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give the estimated costs of running the Northern Ireland Assembly in the current year.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that support for the Assembly came, perhaps reluctantly, because many of us thought that it was the last chance for the Northern Ireland politicians and people to learn to live together and work out their constitutional future? Will he now tell the political parties of Northern Ireland that the Assembly represents the last constitutional chance for them to do that, and that the patience and purse of the British taxpayer are not inexhaustible?
I would hesitate to say that anything is a last chance. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right Much patience is needed, and also a very clear sense of purpose. Since the constitutional parties have such a responsibility for helping to create political stability, I hope that they recognise that that includes a responsibility to listen and to consider concessions in return for concessions.
What steps are taken to ensure that reimbursement is not claimed inadvertently for the same expenditure by Members of the Assembly who are members of other Assemblies and bodies?
The claims made in respect of Members of the Assembly are rigorously scrutinised, and I am sure that the inadvertent possibility to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is covered in that scrutiny.
Will my right hon. Friend review the whole question of the usefulness of the Assembly before the next elections to that body?
Yes Sir. I have learnt to respect the efficiency and thoroughness of some of the scrutiny work carried out by the Assembly, but it has not yet succeeded in the main task set for it by this House, which was to work out proposals for the devolution of powers which would command widespread acceptance.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the time will have to come when he must say to the Northern Ireland Assembly that, since it has not accepted the challenge put to it by this House, other circumstances will have to prevail and the Assembly cannot continue?
We are not at that point. I hope that the Assembly, through its Report Committee or in other ways that it thinks proper, will continue on the main task that I have described.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if rugby came into being by changing the rules when someone handled the ball, the Government may have to change the rules under which the Assembly is currently asked to operate?
We are not at that point yet.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent discussions he has had about the constitutional future of Northern Ireland.
asked the Secrtary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on his discussions with party leaders in Northern Ireland.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement about recent ministerial conversations with political parties in the Province.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what recent consultations he has had with representatives of political parties in Northern Ireland.
At my request, my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) has met representatives of the Ulster Unionist, Social Democratic and Labour, and the Alliance parties privately to explore and clarify their positions. He has also had an informal discussions with the Northern Ireland Assembly Devolution Report Committee. His conclusions will help me to assess how best progress can be made towards new devolved arrangements for Northern Ireland.
Instead of pussyfooting around with an expensive and relatively powerless Assembly with representatives from only six counties of Ireland, is it not time that more radical steps were taken to set up some form of all-Ireland parliamentary body? Is any progress at all being made towards that end in the talks between the British and Irish Governments, or is the British Prime Minister afraid of a few Unionist Members who represent only a minority of opinion within Ireland as a whole?
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister perhaps has a keener sense of the point of Parliaments than has the hon. Gentleman. It would be for this House, or the Westminster Parliament, and, I suppose, for the Dail on the other side of the Irish sea, to decide whether the Parliaments wanted such an organisation.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the impatience expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), which my right hon. Friend appeared to echo, is matched by the frustration felt by the majority parties in Northern Ireland at his refusal to countenance the normal operations of democracy, namely, rule by the majority? Could not a useful role be found for the present Assembly by making it an upper tier of local government and allowing the proper processes of democracy to take place within it?
I am perfectly ready to consider any suggestions—that one or others—which appear to command widespread acceptance. By "widespread acceptance" we must mean acceptance across the division between the communities. The House would think me foolish if I suggested some new proposition without being convinced that it had that widespread acceptance.
Leaving aside the immediate question of the Assembly, will my right hon. Friend tell us the extent to which, in his deliberations with representatives of political parties in Northern Ireland, he has come across an awareness that, ultimately, it is only through compromise that social harmony can replace social discord?
That awareness is scattered across various pronouncements and pamphlets which appear at different times, and I always welcome it. We need to bring together those hints of greater understanding and a greater willingness to listen to others into detailed and practical discussions.
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that during the war Winston Churchill, as Prime Minister, offered to reunify Ireland. He made an offer to Dublin without consulting Stormont. Defence considerations were then dominant in his mind and are now dominant in the minds of the British and American Governments. Were the Republic to be persuaded to join NATO, would not the British Government's objection to reunification almost certainly completely disappear?
No, Sir, that is not so.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland are British and proud to be so, and that no decision taken by anyone else will change the Britishness of the Ulster people? Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that the House must respect the supremacy of the ballot box, and that any politician wishing to defy the democratic wish of the Ulster electorate would make a mockery of all our battles for freedom?
Northern Ireland's status as part of the United Kingdom rests not on any perception of ours about the foreign and defence policies of the Republic, but simply on the wish of the majority of the people who live in Northern Ireland. I believe that their wishes are clear.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people on the mainland are asking why the Tory Government, and others before them, have set up ramshackle organisations in Northern Ireland which have cost a small fortune to run and why decent councils in Britain, which are being run well, are being demolished by the Tory Government while that in Northern Ireland never even gets rate capped?
The hon. Gentleman is taking me a little wide of the original question.
Will my right hon. Friend and his colleagues impress on the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume), the leader of the SDLP, the importance of that party's participation in the Assembly at the earliest possible time?
It is highly desirable that the SDLP should take its place in the Assembly, although I understand the present difficulties in doing so. We shall not reach the political stability in Northern Ireland which every right hon. and hon. Member here would like unless there is an unfreezing of attitudes, including the attitudes of representatives of both communities, towards the desires and anxieties of the island.
May I tempt the Secretary of State to be a little more cheerful about the prospects of progress and co-operation with the Republic? Does he agree that, whatever decisions fall to be made by Parliament, the initiative must come from the Government? Does he further agree that the Taoiseach and the Irish Foreign Minister have shown generosity and courage in an attempt to invite progress? Will he accept that the alternative to pessimism might not be optimism, but that it is at least hope?
I have not yet said anything cheerful or uncheerful about co-operation with the Republic. I was dealing with the proposal about a parliamentary tier, which surfaces from time to time. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman is a constitutional expert, I would expect him to honour my point, which is that if these things are to endure as parliamentary institutions, they must be parliamentary proposals.
Royal Ulster Constabulary
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what is (a) the current strength and (b) the total establishment of the Royal Ulster Constabulary; and if he will make a statement.
The full-time strength of the Royal Ulster Constabulary on 30 April 1985 was 10,802, and the authorised establishment on the same date was 11,000. This represents a significant increase in the size of the force in recent years, increasingly reflecting the police's primary responsibility for all aspects of law and order in Northern Ireland, aided where necessary by the armed forces. I should like to take this opportunity to pay the warmest possible tribute to the courage and professionalism of the officers of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and their growing success in controlling terrorism.
I also would like to congratulate the RUC and its Chief Constable on how they protect the people of Northern Ireland. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that there are enough police to protect the people of Northern Ireland and the police themselves? What is the RUC's present policy on overtime, which seems to be needed quite a lot?
As I said in my original answer, the size of the RUC has been increasing steadily. More operational hours are being worked now than at any time except during the hunger strikes; more operational hours were worked in the past 12 months than in the previous 12 months. That reflects the primary role of the police. I and the Chief Constable are anxious that overtime should be at a level which helps the working of the RUC. Too much overtime can cause damage. By increasing the numbers, we can decrease the amount of overtime worked by officers.
Has there been some success in increasing the recruitment of members of the minority community into the RUC?
The Chief Constable's report for last year shows a small but significant improvement. The RUC and the Chief Constable are determined to do their best to secure a continued improvement.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the latest security situation in the Province.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current security situation in Northern Ireland.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the current security situation in the Province.
Since I last answered questions in the House on 4 April, two civilians have died in incidents arising from the security situation in the Province.The security forces' efforts to defeat terrorism continue, and since the beginning of this year a total of 171 people have been charged with serious offences, including 20 with murder. 89 weapons, 3,327 rounds of ammunition and 2,222 lb of explosives have been recovered. The bulk of the explosives—about 1·5 tonnes—was found near Dungannon on 25 April. By denying the terrorists the use of that murderous material, the security forces undoubtedly prevented them from inflicting a great deal of destruction and suffering on the community, and I echo the earlier commendation of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the negative effect on security in Northern Ireland of such events as the visit of the Irish Premier to Londonderry, especially in view of the apparent acquiescence of the Northern Ireland office in that context?
I am not sure that I follow the connection made by the right hon. Gentleman. The Prime Minister made clear the position about Dr. FitzGerald's visit to Londonderry. He is entitled to come and go there, if he wishes. We were informed of his arrangements, but the decision, timing and arrangements were his. We neither were asked for nor gave advice.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the whole House is full of admiration for the efforts of the security forces? Is he entirely satisfied with the co-operation that he gets from the security forces in the Republic, especially at senior officer level, when a fugitive is fleeing from the law? Do we get full cooperation in that eventuality?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his first remark. Yes, we get co-operation. As the Irish Foreign Minister said in London earlier this week, such cooperation is in the interests of both Governments. I should like to see it improved. The right summary of the position is that co-operation is good, but could be improved.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the anxiety of the Prison Officers Association and of others in Northern Ireland and elsewhere about the potential closure of Magilligan prison? Is he further aware that it is one of the few prisons in Northern Ireland which are fully following the Government's policy of integration in prisons? Will he assure the House that that prison will not be closed?
I am aware of that anxiety, which has been expressed direct to my Department. Certainly, it is part of our continuing policy to work for integration in prisons. The impact on the prison system as a whole in Northern Ireland of the prospective opening of the new prison at Maghaberry is still being considered.
Does the Secretary of State appreciate that if Sinn Fein were to make a significant advance in the local government elections next week it would be a setback for security? As the Government discovered only on 24 April that the advice given to the House on 30 November 1984 about the foundation stone of identification policy — the medical card — was completely wrong, what further steps does he intend to take to ensure that such a matter does not happen again and to correct the present problems?
I admire the hon. Gentleman's ingenuity in linking the question. As soon as the chief electoral officer drew our attention to the problem, we carefully considered what we could do. We came to the conclusion that it was not sensible to amend the legislation, for reasons of timing and substance, which the hon. Gentleman knows. Instead, we have given the maximum publicity to the possibility of exchanging the old medical card for the new, and have streamlined and accelerated the administrative arrangements for doing that. According to my information, that is proceeding quickly and well.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the call by the Labour spokesman for Northern Ireland, the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer), for the disbandment of the Ulster Defence Regiment is wholly irresponsible, causes only delight to the members of the IRA and all enemies of peace in Ulster, and in no way assists security in the Province? In acknowledging the debt that Ulster owes to the UDR, will the Government clearly affirm their support for the UDR as a crucial part of their efforts to fight terrorism? Would it not have been better for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to suggest that the loony Left of the Labour party should be scrapped instead?
The hon. Gentleman may be right, but I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman skated round that awkward recommendation in a recent Fabian Society pamphlet, and did not commit himself to disbanding the UDR. He knows perfectly well, as does anyone who studies such matters seriously, that the UDR plays an indispensable part in the security of the Province.
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is a mounting feeling in the South of Ireland that its major problems of law and order require it to spend less on policing the border and more on policing its own country? If there is no major improvement in relations between the North and the South of the island, is there not a real danger of a withdrawal of support for security in the North, which will have major implications for all the people of Ireland?
Mr. Barry has made it clear that the efforts of the security forces of the Republic along and behind the border are made, not from a desire to do the British Government a favour, but from a calculation—I would say an accurate calculation—of their interests, given that the provisional IRA is clearly and explicitly determined to end the system of government, not only of Stormont and Belfast, but of Dublin.
What recent evidence, if any, does my right hon. Friend have that terrorism in the Province is still encouraged and supported, not only with finance, but through training in terrorism supplied by such good friends of democracy as Colonel Gaddafi, Mr. Castro and Mr. Gorbachev, in ascending order of merit?
I had better confine myself to the first. There is evidence from publications in the Libyan press that the Libyan Government believe that it is part of the responsibilities of the Libyan people to keep the provisional IRA in a good state. We must take that seriously.
Will the Minister admit that, although he thought that the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) had skated round the issue, that was not the impression created in Northern Ireland? Would it not be advisable for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to withdraw his statement, because it would be an insult to the entire British Army if, because some people had acted wrongly, an entire regiment was so slurred? Does he recognise that it is not the Protestant involvement in the UDR which causes concern, but the fact that it is a regiment of the British Army?
I am not interested in helping the right hon. and learned Gentleman out of the problems created for him by his party. My opinion chimes with that of the hon. Gentleman.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in the final analysis, the answer to the security problem is to bring together the two halves of the community, and that that can be greatly achieved through sport? Does he agree that the excellent marathon run last week was a demonstration of the way in which people who wish to work together can do so?
The Belfast marathon was clearly a great success. It attracted people not only from all over Ireland and the United Kingdom, but from many parts of Europe. The more people, whether sportsmen or others, who visit Northern Ireland to see what is happening there—the difficulties and the opportunities—the more satisfied the people of Northern Ireland will be, because they suffer greatly from the impression given in the media.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that Dr. FitzGerald's recent visit to Derry posed no problems for security in the area? Why does he not say that the Prime Minister of the Republic is welcome to visit any part of the United Kingdom at any time?
I said that Dr. FitzGerald was free to visit Londonderry or any part of the United Kingdom at any time —
—but I also said that the timing and the programme were, naturally, matters for him.
Will my right hon. Friend talk urgently with the local radio authorities in Northern Ireland, because radio stations are causing great difficulties for the security forces by interviewing IRA terrorists, who threaten Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
This matter has been discussed often, and I have no statement to make on it today.
In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that people should visit Northern Ireland, did he notice that Geraldine Ferraro, the former Democratic vice-presidential candidate, went there last week and joined the growing number of people who express their opposition to the mass show trials, without juries, using informers who are subject to inducements by the Government to give evidence to get convictions? Is he satisfied that that form of justice should be maintained anywhere in the United Kingdom?
I noticed that Mrs. Ferraro joined a number of people, including the right hon. Gentleman, who choose to spend a few hours in Northern Ireland and go away making definitive pronouncements about the conduct of the judiciary and judicial affairs. I do not understand the view that because evidence comes from an accomplice it should be disregarded, regardless of its merit. In the system that operates in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and federal cases in the United States, it is for the court and for the court alone to judge whether such evidence is justifiable. That is the right approach.
Does the Secretary of State agree that not only Mrs. Ferraro but many other people come to Northern Ireland on these bucket-shop trips and go away experts—including some hon. Members sitting not too far away from me? Will the Secretary of State wholeheartedly add his support to the UDR, which has suffered much over the past 15 years in Northern Ireland? Is it not time that he brought security back to the people in Northern Ireland and solved the problem after all this time?
I gladly repeat my tribute to the UDR, which is an indispensable part of security in Northern Ireland. It is an excellent thing that right hon. and hon. Members and friends from other countries should visit Northern Ireland. I simply plead that they do not come just for a few hours and then release a draft statement pontificating about matters which they have not had a chance to study. They should come with a balanced programme, see a wide range of people, and stay a day or two. I am sure that then they would be far wiser.
Is the Secretary of State at least persuaded that the most effective method of improving security is to win the hearts of the people of both traditions for a system of law enforcement which they can see is manifestly fair? Is it not clear that if that can be achieved the roots of paramilitarism will wither? Whatever the reason why the UDR is perceived as sectarian, is it not the case that doubts about whether it can now perform an effective role are entertained not only by the Fabian Society but by senior RUC officers and officials of the Security Committee?
It is true, as the Chief Constable made clear in his recent annual report on the security forces, that they need the support of as wide a section of the population as they can achieve. While the Army, including the UDR and the RUC, are, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, active and energetic in trying to bring that about, there is a responsibility on the elected representatives of the minority community and on their friends in the House to play their part in this process. I have made my position on the UDR clear and I have nothing to add.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what initiatives the Government have made to increase tourism in the Province.
Government initiatives in support of the Northern Ireland tourist industry include an expanded programme of marketing and promotional campaigns at home and abroad by the Northern Ireland tourist board and the provision of grant assistance by the Department of Economic Development to encourage the development of tourist amenities and accommodation in the Province.
I welcome the increase in tourism and the benefit it brings to the economy. Will this initiative to alleviate the serious unemployment problem in the Province be continued? Are there any plans to increase the sailings between Liverpool and Belfast?
Like the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Perry), who is interested in the passage to and from Great Britain and Northern Ireland, we welcome the increase in tourism. There has been an 8 per cent. increase in the number of tourists coming into Northern Ireland and the number is now approaching 1 million. That helps employment—about 8,000 people are employed in the tourist industry in Northern Ireland. I know that the hon. Gentleman is very interested in and concerned about Northern Ireland. I welcome his support for saying that Northern Ireland is a good place to visit, in particular because his constituency is so close to the Province As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said, if only people would spend two or three weeks in Northern Ireland instead of a few hours there, more sense might be spoken in the House.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the tourist attractions of Northern Ireland are very considerable and that not least among those attractions is the warm welcome that tourists receive from at least 99 per cent. of the population? Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the opportunities given to the Northern Ireland Tourist Board by our missions abroad to bring this home to foreigners, who, in large numbers, already spend time in Northern Ireland, are adequate?
May I underline what was said by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the hospitality of both communities in Northern Ireland. I am eight pounds heavier than when I first went there on 10 September 1984, which demonstrates that wherever one goes in Northern Ireland some of the best food in the world is offered to visitors. My healthiness at present depends in more ways than one upon what happens in Northern Ireland. As for my right hon. Friend's second point, there are now tourist board representatives in Scotland, West Germany and the Republic, and 350,000 visitors from the Republic came to Northern Ireland on holiday last year. We are examining whether the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is spending its money effectively and what more we can do to help.
While sympathising with the Minister's encounter with Ulster pride, is it not the case that those who spend a holiday in Northern Ireland and experience not only the beauty of the country but the friendliness and peaceability of the inhabitants obtain a much truer insight into the truth about the Province than those who, with preconceived political notions, flip over and back?
I can only agree with the right hon. Gentleman about holidays in the Province. It is beautiful. A great deal has been done to the loughs and harbours to make it even more attractive than before. Anything that any right hon. or hon. Member can do to encourage other people to come to the Province will be of advantage to all concerned.
Can the Minister tell the House what positive steps he and his hon. Friends have taken to encourage touring sports teams to come to Northern Ireland, bearing in mind the teams which have cancelled their visits because of threats by the IRA and the INLA?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are doing all that we can—and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), similarly—to encourage teams to come to Northern Ireland. It was undoubtedly due to the Government's encouragement that there was the recent excellent snooker result involving the Province.
Republic Of Ireland (Talks)
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has any pains to hold discussions with the leaders of the Republic of Ireland.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he next plans to meet representatives of the Irish Government to discuss matters relating to Northern Ireland.
I meet representatives of the Irish Government from time to time but I have no firm plans for a meeting at present.
In view of the dismissive attitude of the Prime Minister to the Forum report, when she voiced the trilogy "out, out, out", will the Minister consider the extension of the friendly attitude which we are assured exists in Northern Ireland to the Republic in order that the political set-up in the whole of Ireland may be discussed? For instance, when talking about British justice, will he try to justify to the Prime Minister of the Republic just how the supergrass trials fit in in any way, or do any good whatsoever, to the political situation anywhere, especially in Northern Ireland?
I believe that peaceable citizens are now living in greater security in Northern Ireland because in the past people have been correctly, according to the courts, convicted of terrorist charges as a result of the evidence of their former accomplices. Therefore, I should have no difficulty in explaining to Irish Ministers, if I met them, or to Mrs. Ferraro or to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the system by which supergrass evidence in trials of this kind is tested by the court, and not before it comes to court, is correct.
Is the Secretary of State willing to comment on the merits of an Anglo-Irish parliamentary tier and its bearing on relationships between the two countries and on the problems of Northern Ireland? May I press him further? Is he aware that there is no possibility of such a tier being established unless he and the British Government positively discuss it with the Irish Government and set it up? The House of Commons has no mechanism for doing that on its own.
I must hold to the answer that I have given on this. If there is to be some new form of parliamentary arrangement between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, its solidity, endurance and life will depend on that being a genuine parliamentary initiative. Governments can then facilitate and discuss it to the extent that Governments have to. But the impetus must come from Parliament.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that discussions with leaders in the Republic of Ireland are certainly not helped by Americans such as Mrs. Ferraro coming over to the Province and stirring up sectarian hatred for cheap political gain?
I do not want to be unjust to Mrs. Ferraro; she did not do that. She was rather careful in her comments. My criticism is that she did not spend long enough in the Province for her comments to be valid. It would be going too far to make the accusation that my hon. Friend makes.
Will the Secretary of State accept that it cannot and should not be beyond the wit of Her Majesty's Government to reach agreement at this historic time, following the report of the New Ireland Forum, to resolve with the Irish Republic the manifold problems that have separated us in the past? Will he give us an assurance that any discussions he is having with his counterparts in the Government of the Irish Republic are not being placed on the back burner and will be pressed vigorously and resolutely to an agreement?
The dialogue between ourselves and the Government of the Republic that was mentioned in the communiqué after the last Chequers summit is continuing, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and we are putting the necessary energy and good will into that.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what progress he has made in achieving equality with other regions of the United Kingdom for small dairy farmers in respect of milk quotas.
My right hon. Friend has continuing contacts with his agricultural colleagues, but it is not yet possible to announce what relief can be given to small dairy farmers in Northern Ireland.
Following the announcement by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food earlier this week that small dairy farmers in England and Wales would be brought back to the 1983 levels of production and that hardship cases would be met in full, will he assure me and the House that small dairy farmers in Northern Ireland will receive the same treatment, to which they are entitled?
I know of the hon. Gentleman's anxiety and that of many other hon. Members about small dairy farmers in Northern Ireland. The outgoers scheme has not been taken up in Northern Ireland to the same extent as in the rest of the United Kingdom, and that has created a problem. However, we are planning an early meeting of the three territorial Secretaries of State with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about that very problem.
asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will meet representatives of the textile industry in the Province to discuss renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement.
The multi-fibre arrangement is principally a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade and there will be a debate on the matter this afternoon. If I receive any requests for a meeting I will of course give them full consideration.
I welcome the Minister's response, but will he recognise that the matter concerns not only the rest of the United Kingdom but has specific implications for job opportunities in Northern Ireland? Will he use his influence with his right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade to have such an agreement speedily implemented, for the good of all the textile industry?
I realise, as does the hon. Gentleman, that the percentage of people employed in the textile and clothing industries in Northern Ireland is three times greater than in the rest of Britain, and that is an important matter. If the hon. Gentleman is staying longer this afternoon, I suggest that he tries to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, in the debate on the multi-fibre arrangement.
Does the Minister not realise that that answer is not acceptable to those who work in the textile industry in Northern Ireland? Does he not recognise that it would be socially intolerable to increase the existing pressures on employment in Northern Ireland through non-renewal of the multi-fibre arrangement? Will he give the House an assurance that he is prepared to fight his corner with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry?
Obviously, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I put forward the views of Northern Ireland. But, as the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) knows, the decision is made by this Parliament and not just by Northern Ireland. Indeed, those hon. Members who are integrationists want the decision to be made by this Parliament. Consequently, this afternoon's debate will be the decisive factor.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 May.
This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House I shall be having further meetings later today.
If it is true that today the Cabinet decided to abolish or phase out the state earnings-related pension scheme, how can the Prime Minister justify 11 million people being swindled out of their right to be able to spend their retirement in comfort and dignity? How many of those 11 million people who will be adversely affected by the Cabinet's decision believed the pledges that were given at the time by herself and her colleagues to the effect that the scheme would not be touched?
The hon. Gentleman must contain himself in patience. Today the Cabinet completed its consideration of the social security review. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will now finalise the Green Paper, which is to be published following the Cabinet's decision. He hopes to be able to publish it and accompany it by a statement to the House soon after the Whitsun recess.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 May.
During her busy day, would my right hon. Friend care to reflect on the fact that at the Endeavour school in Middlesbrough handicapped children who are confined to wheelchairs are being abandoned by their teachers at lunch-time, in connection with the dispute, and that so-called professionals are causing great distress to both parents and children?
I believe that the information that my hon. Friend has given about the school in his constituency is correct. I understand that for a time the head teacher was trying to cope on his own but was unable to do so. I am amazed that the teachers should have taken this action, and my sympathy lies with the children, many of whom are in wheelchairs, and with their parents.
Is the Prime Minister aware that a very warm welcome awaits her on her visit to Scotland tomorrow? As we have just passed the 10th anniversary of her pledge to abolish the rating system, will she recognise that no announcement of temporary relief—however welcome—will be a substitute for redeeming that pledge?
As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, we have made some provision for temporary relief on domestic rates in Scotland—as was announced some time ago—amounting to about £90 million. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State hopes to be able to make a further announcement to the House next week, which will help with commercial rates. We are also studying the longer-term reform of rates, and we hope to be in a position to make an announcement about that when the studies have been completed.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that one of the reasons stated for the loss of the Bosporus bridge contract was the time taken to put together an aid and trade project? Is she further aware that although she returned from her highly successful visit to Sri Lanka three and a half weeks ago, we still await the result of the aid and trade negotiations on the Samanala Wela dam?
When I was in Sri Lanka I announced a further aid package of £20 million for Sri Lanka, following the £115 million aid package that was given to enable the building and completion of the Victoria dam. My hon. Friend asked about the Bosporus bridge. The contract went the other way because the rival consortium gave heavy aid, not only for the bridge, but for the road contract. We are still in contact with the Turkish Government and hope that we can rescue something from that contract.
The Prime Minister had what she quaintly called her rates summit at Chequers six weeks ago. Was it there that the decision was made to rush through a panic Bill for Scottish commercial rates relief, or did the decision come later, without the benefit of a seminar, but with the benefit of the knowledge that the right hon. Lady was going to a Scottish Tory party conference that is on the warpath?
The relief that has already been given to domestic ratepayers in Scotland has been very welcome, particularly bearing in mind that of the 17 per cent. average increase in domestic rates in Scotland this year, two thirds is attributable to council overspending. Overspending councils are to blame. Even if the right hon. Gentleman does not like it, the ratepayers of Scotland will be pleased if further relief were given from those high-spending Labour councils.
The Prime Minister knows that she is talking nonsense. The Comptroller and Auditor General has said that by far the biggest reason for increases in rates in Scotland and elsewhere is the withdrawal of Government support for local authorities. Is the Prime Minister aware that she is engaged in a U-turn and is to give back to Scotland the £1,000 million that she has taken away from local authorities there in the past five years?
I stand by the statement that of the 17 per cent. average increase in domestic rates in Scotland this year two thirds is attributable to council overspending. The offset of 8p in the pound to domestic ratepayers at a cost of about £90 million has cancelled out the increases which are directly attributable to revaluation. There is also great difficulty because of high-spending Labour councils. It is they who cause the trouble. The right hon. Gentleman should remember the example of Edinburgh.
May I—[Interruption.]—refer the Prime Minister to the report by the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Audit Commission? Will the Prime Minister take up these matters with that body so that she does not mislead the House with her recital of figures that are not based upon reality?
My right hon. Friends are, of course, considering the Comptroller and Auditor General's report, which will not always favour the viewpoint of the right hon. Gentleman. In the meantime, perhaps he will acknowledge that two thirds of the increase in domestic rates in Scotland is attributable to council overspending and that the overspenders are Labour-controlled.
As we commemorate our momentous victory over Fascism—a victory that could never have been won without both our American and Russian allies—is it not a matter for regret that the 40th anniversary should have been marred by the trading of insults between the two super powers? Will my right hon. Friend and Great Britain take an especial lead in seeking in the months ahead to bring closer together the United States and the Soviet Union, so that we may together win the peace as we so victoriously won the war?
I believe that it is in the interests of the Western Alliance and of the Soviet Union that there should never be conflict between us. To achieve that we have to be prepared to defend our way of life at a rate that will deter any aggressor, and in the meantime to enter into discussions with the Soviet Union on how best to reduce the large stores of weaponry, which we all want to see diminished.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 May 1985.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.
Is the Prime Minister aware that some of my constituents were heroes in the last war and fought for a country fit for heroes to return to and live in? Is the right hon. Lady further aware that those same heroes are now unemployed? Is she aware that in Maesteg 24 per cent. of the male population are out of work and that if a colliery closes at St. John's, Maesteg, 45 per cent. of the male population will be unemployed? If the right hon. Lady has a message for the Tory party conference in Scotland tomorrow, could it be that she will join the ranks of the unemployed?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are as anxious as any other and Conservative Members are as anxious as Opposition Members to increase the number of jobs that are available. That increase will not come merely by sharing out the number of jobs among more people, which would mean lowering wages as we increased the number of employed persons. I do not believe that overmanning is the answer to our problems. The answer lies in the private sector increasing the number of small businesses and thereby increasing the number of businesses that can expand and take on more people. There is no other answer in the long run to getting more jobs.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 10 May.
Does my right hon. Friend welcome the forthcoming Local Enterprise Week? Does she look forward to a reduction in interest rates as a further encouragement to new businesses?
Yes, I welcome the Local Enterprise Week, which is being run by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment with responsibilities for small businesses, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier). I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) is running a meeting to further the objectives of the week. Its purpose is to help those who are able to start up in business on their own by ensuring that they obtain all the expert advice that is available to them. I hope that meetings in Bolton and elsewhere will be successful.
Does the Prime Minister recall that during the passage of the Elections (Northern Ireland) Bill it was decided that the foundation stone of stopping personation by Sinn Fein at local government elections should be the medical card? Is the right hon. Lady aware of the exchanges that took place between my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) and the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott), on 28 November 1984, when it was alleged that all medical cards would be sufficient for this purpose? Is she further aware that at the end of April it was discovered that only medical cards issued after 1973 would be valid and that this has resulted in anything between 15 and 20 per cent. of the electorate being disfranchised? What steps does she intend to take to ensure that this does not happen again? Does she agree that the officials and Ministers responsible should be removed from office?
I am aware that the validity of medical cards has been a source of some concern for those who represent Northern Ireland seats. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland answered a question on the issue before I entered the Chamber to the effect that he is taking every step possible to ensure that valid medical cards are available.
asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 9 May.
Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to welcome the proposed privatisation of British Gas? Will she explain why this future private monopoly cannot be broken up according to region and function?
I join my hon. Friend in welcoming the decision further to privatise, and to privatise the gas industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy considered whether the gas industry should be broken up either by region or by function. He came to the conclusion that it would take far too long to break up by region and that that would be far too expensive. He recognised, too, that that could have an adverse effect on the price of gas in some areas. For these reasons he decided that it would be better to go ahead by privatising the gas industry as a whole.
Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to congratulate the membership of SOGAT, the country's largest printing union, which has recently voted by a majority of nearly 4:1 to retain its political fund
The SOGAT members vote exactly as they will on whether to retain their political fund. They have an opportunity to vote and we insisted that there should be a vote. How they use their vote is a matter for their decision. I shall be only too delighted if more trade unions believe in giving their membership the right to vote by secret ballot. This advance has come about only as a result of the Government's actions.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with the leader of the National Association of Head Teachers that the NUT's refusal to meet the Secretary of State for Education and Science was ill-judged? Does she further agree that the country is entitled to expect an honourable profession not merely to seek to increase its pay by striking, to the sufferance of children, but to come forward with sensible proposals for a restructuring of its profession' so that a wise, overall solution can be achieved?
Yes, it is disappointing that the NUT will not take part in any meeting with my right hon. Friend. It has said that it wants an improved offer in Burnham and will discuss only this year's pay offer. My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to say that we need a restructuring of the profession, proper appraisal provisions and proper contracts of service. Then we can, perhaps, have a much more fundamental talk about the whole pay structure.