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Public Expenditure

Volume 86: debated on Thursday 14 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what are his proposals for public spending in Ulster for the year 1986–87.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his autumn statement on Tuesday that the planned total of public expenditure in Northern Ireland in 1986–87 would be 4·52 billion. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will announce the detailed allocations to Northern Ireland programmes as soon as decisions on these have been taken.

Has not the high provision of public expenditure in Ulster on education and housing and in many other areas over the years enabled successive Governments to avoid securing a full political settlement? Is it not fair to say that for decades the people of Ulster have been bought off by public expenditure which has been out of proportion to public expenditure in other parts of the United Kingdom, such as the northern region?

The hon. Gentleman referred to housing and education. The average teacher-pupil ratio is still one more in Northern Ireland than anywhere else in the United Kingdom. I agree that the housing situation is not satisfactory. The figure for Northern Ireland is 10·4 per cent., compared with 6·4 per cent. for the United Kingdom.

I have the figures. If the hon. Gentleman will listen, I will give them to him. The rate of unemployment in Cumbria is 12·8 per cent. In Northern Ireland it is 20·5 per cent. Nobody wants deprivation or unemployment anywhere. However, it does not help for an hon. Member to blame other areas, when those other areas are sharing the problems of the present time.

Does my hon. Friend accept that many hon. Members would argue that the expenditure levels are about right? Is he able to provide the House with details of both internal and external expenditure for the Province? Will my hon. Friend accept from me that there is considerable admiration for the work that he has done during the last 12 months in the Province?—[Interruption.] I can say that with absolute honesty and with no prejudice whatsoever. There is great admiration for what my hon. Friend has done and is doing in the Province.

I am trying to withhold my blushes from my hon. Friend, with whom, obviously, I have had no contact over a long period of time. I am sure that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) will agree that what we all want, both in his area and in Northern Ireland, is internal and external investment in new, high technology industries which will provide employment and prosperity both in his area and in Northern Ireland. During the past year the first Japanese and Hong Kong firms have come to Northern Ireland. Furthermore, about one in eight people are now employed by American-owned firms. I hope that both in Workington and in Cumbria—

Very well, I shall deal with the region. I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman. Both in Cumbria and in Northern Ireland there is a need for investment, prosperity and less unemployment. There is a need in those areas for public expenditure.

Will the internal allocation of these sums be influenced by, or be the subject of, consultation, under formal arrangements, with the Government of the Irish Republic?

The decision about the money going into the Northern Ireland block will be made by Northern Ireland Ministers.