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Northern Ireland (Loans) Bill

Volume 87: debated on Wednesday 27 November 1985

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Order for Second Reading read.

10.17 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This is a technical financial measure which simply increases the current limit of £1,000 million on the total amount of loans that may be outstanding from the national loans fund to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. I shall briefly explain the need for the Bill, but if right hon. and hon. Members have questions to ask, I shall be glad to reply if I have the leave of the House to speak again.

All expenditure on transferred matters in Northern Ireland is financed out of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. The fund has two parts—a current account and a capital account. The current account is used for all the expenditure voted by Parliament in appropriation orders, together with certain other standing services, and is funded mainly by Northern Ireland's share of United Kingdom taxes and the grant in aid. The capital account—which is all that I am asking hon. Members to consider tonight—is partly financed by borrowing from the national loans fund, and it is with that borrowing that the Bill is concerned. The money borrowed is for on-lending to public bodies outside central Government for authorised capital expenditure. The principal recipients are the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the Northern Ireland Electricity Service, district councils and voluntary schools. The House is I am sure fully aware of the importance of such investment to the economy and life of Northern Ireland.

The Northern Ireland (Loans) Act 1975, which the Bill amends, originally provided a ceiling of £800 million on loans to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, with provision for an increase of £200 million by order. It is the invariable practice in the case of loans from the National Loans Fund to impose such a ceiling, with the intention that Parliament should periodically have an opportunity for debates. As hon. Members are of course aware, loans from Votes are often different in this respect, since the annual Estimates procedure provides the necessary control.

The Bill has only one clause, apart from the short title. It sets a limit of £1,700 million on the total sums which may be outstanding in loans, and provides that the amount by which this limit can be raised, by order subject to affirmative resolution, may be £300 million. Any lending which brought the total of outstanding loans to more than £2,000 million would have to be preceded by further primary legislation in this House and in the other place.

These new limits are intended to ensure a debate once in the lifetime of a Parliament. The last such debate was on the Northern Ireland Loans (Increase of Limit) Order 1984, which took place exactly 52 weeks ago to the night, and the House will be interested to know that the initial limit in the Bill expected to last until the middle of 1990, and if the House then consents, the further limit is expected to last until 1992.

I make two points. Loans to Northern Ireland with which the Bill is concerned are not in any sense a subvention, since a full rate of interest is paid on them; rather they are a very proper use of resources to which Northern Ireland people themselves contribute by such means as the purchase of national savings bonds and certificates, premium bonds, and United Kingdom Government stock. Secondly, the Bill does not of itself authorise expenditure; it merely enables funds to be made available for capital expenditure which has already been approved.

Accordingly, although this is a technical Bill, it is part of the mechanism through which essential investment in Northern Ireland is financed, and I commend it to the House.

10.22 pm

I am sure that the Minister, in preparing to present the Bill to the House, will have familiarised himself with the proceedings on 28 November 1984 and that he will be in a position to respond to certain questions which were addressed to him on that occasion.

This debate has a certain paradoxical character following immediately upon the Northern Ireland agreement debate. It was a custom of the ancient Greeks to attach to each tragic trilogy a comedy in which the themes of the tragedy were treated again in a hilarious form. But it so happens that the Bill illustrates some of the methods by which the proceedings have been kept alive that led to the intergovernmental agreement to which the House has just, unwisely as will presently appear, given its approval.

I invited the hon. Gentleman, who was then much more green in office than he is today, to test this proposition when the occasion arose. He will remember that I asked him, rather than putting the parliamentary draftsmen to work upon a new Northern Ireland loans Bill, which is what the House has before it now, not to do anything at all. I pointed out to him that no disadvantage or loss whatever would be suffered by any interest in Northern Ireland if he did that. Indeed, there would be no alteration in the financing of those expenditures in any real economic sense.

I invited the Minister of State, when he had had time to familiarise himself with the background to this legislation and with the fictional character of the Northern Ireland Loans Fund and the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, to make a simple experiment: to float the notion, which would surely be popular in certain quarters, that no such legislation was necessary and that the Northern Ireland Loans Fund, like the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, was a superfluity. I adumbrated for the Minister what his experience would be when, on arriving in the Northern Ireland Office the following day, he tried out this idea upon it.

I ventured to enlighten him that the resistance to any such proposition on his part and the desire to preserve the Northern Ireland Loans Fund and the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund was part of a very much bigger context in which the affairs of Northern Ireland were, as far as possible, to be kept separate from those of the rest of the United Kingdom so that in due course, when matters such as that which we have been considering during the last two days had proceeded several stages further, it might the more conveniently be possible to hive off Northern Ireland into that all-Ireland state which, in the first article of the Anglo-Irish agreement, the Government have said that they are ready to introduce in the fullness of time by means of the necessary legislation.

I hope that if in due course the Minister of State takes my advice he will obtain the leave of the House to recount his experience when he makes this experiment in the Northern Ireland Office. I hope also that he will verify that there is no practical effect upon the financing of expenditure, capital or otherwise, in Northern Ireland which results from the maintenance either of the Northern Ireland Loans Fund or of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund but that they are purely a means of maintaining an artificial distinction between the financial mechanism of the Province of Northern Ireland and the financial mechanisms of the rest of the United Kingdom which enable right hon. and hon. Members from other parts of the United Kingdom to offer the criticisms and observations which it is their duty to make.

I hope that we can look to the Minister of State for a contribution along those lines.

10.27 pm

The right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) has suggested that perhaps the most interesting characteristic of the Bill is that it marks a distinction between the financing of this part of the United Kingdom and the financing of the Province. He has suggested that the Bill will make it easier for the Government ultimately to hive off the Province. That is a mischievous interpretation of the Bill. It is utterly unjustified by the facts.

Above all, the Bill emphasises the commitment of this Government and this Parliament to the Province. The Bill once again extends the finance which this country and this Parliament give to Northern Ireland. It is a burden that we willingly undertake. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for South Down is making sedentary interventions. I shall give way to him if that is what he wants me to do.

The hon. Gentleman evidently did not listen to the Minister's speech. He pointed out that the Bill imposes no real burden upon the rest of the United Kingdom.

The right hon. Gentleman must not be too sensitive. I listened carefully to the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, but I was concentrating upon the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I thought that that was more to the point.

The right hon. Gentleman said that this is a mischievous measure: that it is designed to enable the United Kingdom Government to hive off the Province. But the right hon. Gentleman is being mischievous, for that is wholly and utterly untrue, as are many of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches in the House. He starts off with a false premise and he comes to a false conclusion. Contrary to the continuously expressed view of the Ulster Protestant majority as it is represented here, this House has continuously supported the Province, as has Her Majesty's Government, whose policy is enshrined in the accord. To try to give a twisted and perverted interpretation to the accord is to give no credit to the right hon. Member or to the Government's intentions.

The right hon. Gentleman prattles on constantly about loyalty and unionism. Those matters are reciprocal. Her Majesty's Government and the other peoples in these islands have consistently supported the Province for the past 10 or 15 years by money, lives and men. That is our intention and it is emphasised in the Bill. The obligations are reciprocal. We recognise our obligations, but I must ask whether the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Ulster Protestant Benches recognise theirs. I think not, because if, as I suspect may be the case, we see a concerted attempt by the Ulster Protestant majority in Northern Ireland to frustrate the accord's purposes, people like myself will be exceedingly reluctant to support any further financing for the Province. In the end, loyalty is reciprocal. The right hon. Gentleman calls upon us to show loyalty and a sense of unity, and I say to him that the converse is also true.

If the hon. Gentleman refers to the speech that I addressed to the House about an hour or two ago, he will find a complete refutation of his observations. He will find that there is no obligation implied by membership of the United Kingdom to be governed by laws which are made separately for different parts of the United Kingdom without the consent of those parts of the Kingdom. While I am on my feet, I might as well tell the hon. Gentleman that I represent the Catholics in my constituency as well as the Protestants. This is not the Protestant Unionist party; it is the Unionist party.

What the right hon. Gentleman said in the first part of his intervention was obvious poppycock. These matters are seamless. We cannot pick and choose as between a constitution. This Parliament has expressed its view as to the propriety of the accord—

Order. We have finished with that motion. We have just had a Division on it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address himself to the Bill whose Second Reading we are considering.

I listened to the points you made, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should not dispute with you for one moment, but the Bill, about which the right hon. Gentleman addressed a few remarks with which I disagree, fortifies and emphasises the commitment that this Parliament and country have to the Union. It demands of Opposition right hon. and hon. Members a reciprocal obligation. That is the point that I am making.

The right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to misrepresent the Bill as being a part of a process of hiving off the Province. That is wholly and utterly untrue, and I regard such a contribution as being totally mischievous.

10.33 pm

The Minister introduced this measure as a technical and financial amendment. For the obvious procedural reasons which prompted you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to rise to your feet about a minute ago, my remarks are an attempt to make many of the points that I wanted to make in the debate over the past two days. I was unable to do so, and I shall be guided in how far I can go now.

I regarded that debate and the financial ramifications of this debate as possibly the most serious two days that I have sat in Parliament for the two and a half years of my membership. That is not to belittle this Tory Government's attacks over that two-and-a-half-year period on the miners, local councils, public ownership, health, housing or living standards. Most of the speeches to which I listened over the past two days, especially from my colleagues, seriously underestimated the effects that that measure will have.

I repeat the intervention I made to the Minister shortly before he sat down in the last debate. That agreement offers no solution to the partition of Ireland 60 years ago, to the economic problems, to which this debate is paramount, to housing, poverty and to mass unemployment.

Raising the fears and suspicions of Protestant workers will lead to an increase in the poison of sectarianism and increase the risk of civil war. Belfast could become Beirut and Northern Ireland could become Western Europe's Lebanon. That is emphasised by a passage from the UDA magazine Ulster:
"It is now generally believed we are heading towards open conflict in less than 10 years, when the future of Ulster for the coming centuries will be decided. Indeed, we may find it necessary to precipitate this crisis and take our destiny by the horns. The die is cast. There can be no turning back. We must prepare ourselves for the final conflict, a battle which we cannot afford to lose."
This is a financial debate. All the aspirations, fears, suspicions and all the sectarian divide that characterise Northern Ireland find their breeding ground in the conditions of unemployment, bad housing and poverty. We do not escape from those problems by discussing whether the Minister should be allowed a maximum of £1·7 billion with the offer of a further £300 million by order as a subvention to Northern Ireland.

The Anglo-Irish agreement, which is, in a sense, an attempt to deal with some of the political consequences of the Bill that we are discussing, has been hailed as a historic breakthrough which could lead to a solution in the north. It is no such thing. It is a cosmetic exercise which is doomed to failure—Elastoplast politics being applied to political gangrene.

The idea that an intergovernmental conference of blue Tories from Westminster and green Tories from Dublin could help to bring about stability is pure fantasy. If the conference made recommedations about the RUC, the UDR or the courts, there would be massive Protestant reaction. If, on the other hand, it offered nothing for the Catholics in terms of jobs, homes or economic measures, it would be seen as a talking shop and eventually would collapse. The entire agreement is a flimsy construction—

Order. The hon. Member heard me reproach other hon. Members for going beyond the limits of debate relevant to the Bill. I hope that he will bring his remarks more closely to the provisions of the Bill.

With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the advice that the Clerks have given you—

Order. I hope that the hon. Member will observe the remarks that I am making.

We are discussing, within the confines of an economic debate, the conditions of the economy in Northern Ireland. The primary reason why 1 million Protestant workers and half a million Catholic workers are perpetually at each other's throats is that nothing is on offer to unite them. In other words, nothing offers them conditions better than the conditions they suffer at present. They see nothing on offer that would give them a better life.

This measure seeks to increase the subvention to Northern Ireland from £1·490 billion in the last financial year to £1·7 billion in this financial year, with a possible £300 million more by order. Considering what was said in the earlier debate, it is clear that those sums are inadequate to deal with the levels of unemployment, poverty and bad housing with which I shall deal in detail later.

This has nothing to do with the subvention from the Government to Northern Ireland of £1,400 million. The Bill is simply a borrowing requirement, and relates to whether we should borrow directly from the Treasury or have our own Consolidated Fund. It is nothing to do with money being switched. It makes not one penny difference which way we do it. It is a matter of choosing how we do it.

It is an alternative, whether it is an increase or the same thing in different words. It is a large amount of money to try to deal with social and economic conditions. My contention is that, in view of the severity of those conditions, the Government's political and economic attempts to solve them are inadequate and. inevitably, will lead to increased tension and sectarianism within the community. That is the argument that I am trying to develop.

The subvention has risen over the past 16 years from £74 million in 1961 to £1,491 million in the last financial year. The additional cost of maintaining the Army in Northern Ireland has risen from £1·5 million in 1969 to £121 million today. During those 16 years, 2,500 people have lost their lives—

Order. I am sorry to have to reproach the hon. Gentleman again, but the money that is provided for in the Bill is for spending on domestic purposes and is not intended to be used for defence. It is out of order to refer to expenditure on defence in the context of this Bill.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. Are we allowed to discuss bad housing in the Province?

If the hon. Gentleman catches my eye, I shall take his speech as it goes along.

My reason for mentioning the 2,500 who have died and the 27,500 who have been injured—which, incidentally, translated into mainland Britain terms gives a death total of 90,000 and an injury total of 1 million—is that those injuries and deaths flow from the inadequate economic position of the majority of ordinary working people in Northern Ireland.

This measure is designed to increase, by a small amount, the Government money going to Northern Ireland. Surely, in arguing that that money is insufficient, I am allowed to describe the social consequences of that insufficiency. I shall give more detailed figures for unemployment and housing as my speech progresses.

In addition to the Government's estimates of the economic cost of Northern Ireland, one part of which we are debating now, the New Ireland Forum estimated that between 1969 and 1982 the additional security cost for compensation for deaths, injury and damage to property was £5,255 million, to which should be added the economic cost, such as lost output, of £3,680 million. For southern Ireland, the estimates totalled just over £2,000 million. That is a total over those 11 years of £11,000 million—which at today's prices, and adding the four years since 1982, must mean that the economic cost—and tonight's measure forms a part of the procedures to pay that cost—has risen to £16,000 million.

I contend that in a rational, sane, Socialist, united Ireland, freely and voluntarily federated to a Socialist Britain, much could have been done with £16,000 million to give hope of real jobs for the youths of the north and the south and to repair, renovate and modernise those inadequate homes—as common on the Shankhill road as they are in the Falls road area. What could have been done to lift the tens of thousands of people out of the helplessness and despair of poverty to which capitalism in the north and south of Ireland is increasingly condemning this generation? Capitalist division not only costs lives but brings poverty to hundreds of thousands of people, even though resources exist to guarantee a good future.

On a capitalist basis there is no attraction for the Protestant population in the north in reunification. Despite the subventions to the north, despite the money which has been given in similar measures, the workers in the north look to the south and see even lower living standards than they enjoy themselves. That is even when their region has the lowest living standards in the United Kingdom. They see that welfare provision in the south is even more abysmal.

The green Tories of the south have no real desire for reunification. Their speeches are about as honest as those by SDP members who called for Socialism at Mayday rallies. It is a diversionary tactic to try to deflect the anger at the economic mess over which they preside.

The last thing that the green Tories of Fianna Fail or Fine Gael want is a united Ireland with a million disaffected Protestants in the north—a minimum of 10 per cent. of them with access to shotguns or firearms—and a half million Catholics expecting a better deal, which they will not have as a result of tonight's vote.

The crisis-ridden capitalist system north or south cannot offer the one thing that could evaporate sectarian fears and make them irrelevant—a better life for all workers. For that, we need working-class unity with a political expression of its own. We need a party of labour, based on the trade unions, trades councils tenant and other community organisations as an alternative to the orange and green Tories of the north.

Much of our last debate was about constitutional issues. This debate is about economics in the north of Ireland. It is the poorest area of the United Kingdom. In 1984, the average manual wage was £134.20. In Great Britain, it was £152.60. Prices of basic purchases are 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. higher in the north of Ireland than on the mainland. That is despite the years of subvention.

In real terms, there is 35 per cent. unemployment. According to official figures, areas such as Derry have 29·8 per cent. unemployment and Strabane 39·1 per cent.

The same calculation can be made for the towns and cities of Northern Ireland as can be made for Birmingham, Coventry, Liverpool or London. We must add the make-work youth training programme and the women who are not allowed to claim benefit because they have not paid a full stamp. We must take into account how the Government have artificially reduced unemployment figures.

The troubles in the mainland's inner city areas are surely the direct result of the Government's economic policies. Liverpool in particular—

We cannot discuss unemployment in Liverpool or in any other British cities. This is a debate about expenditure in Northern Ireland and we must discuss Northern Ireland.

I am supporting my hon. Friend in his comments about poverty in Northern Ireland's inner cities. I am comparing them with my constituency, where unemployment is 30 per cent.

My hon. Friend makes a genuine point. We cannot divorce the anger of youth in Brixton, Tottenham, Toxteth and Handsworth from their social conditions. Similarly, the ideas of racism that take hold of white youth in our inner city areas are bred from their social and economic conditions. The same point holds for Derry, Strabane, Belfast and other towns and cities in Northern Ireland where unemployment in real terms is more than 50 per cent.

The measure states that housing is the main area of expenditure. It is important to recognise that this money and the money pumped in, in previous years has still not got to grips with bad housing in Northern Ireland. The latest figures in the Library for an across-the-board comparision are for 1978. I know that there have been improvements since than, but in 1978 the percentage of houses with no inside toilet was 3·5 per cent. in London, 6·2 per cent. in Birmingham, and 24·2 per cent. in Belfast. The percentage of houses with no exclusive use of a bath or shower was 5·7 per cent. in Birmingham, 10 per cent. in London, and 23 per cent, in Belfast.

Sectarianism, like racism, finds its most productive breeding ground in such conditions of despair. However, poverty in Northern Ireland is non-sectarian. An earlier survey, conducted in 1976, shows that the percentage of houses without an inside toilet was 79 per cent. in the Shankill area and 55 per cent. in the Falls area. The percentage of houses without hot water was 81 per cent. in the Shankill area and 57 per cent. in the Falls area. Although some redevelopment has taken place, living conditions remain bad for many Protestant and Catholic workers alike. Marginal advantages for Protestant workers largely evaporated by the 1970s and certainly by the mid-1980s, when the misery is now common to both communities.

It is difficult for me to refer to the central question of partition, which I should have liked to raise during the debate on the Anglo-Irish agreement. In setting aside most of my notes that relate to that subject, I reject the argument that the division was a concession 60 years ago to the wishes of the majority population for home rule. In 1886 Randolph Churchill said that when Gladstone came to suggest Home Rule, the Orange card would be played. The economic, industrial and political importance of Northern Ireland lay in its deep water ports for the British Navy. That is why the north-east coast was retained rigidly by the ruling class of today. That is why we are debating this measure tonight.

The Anglo-Irish agreement, and this Bill which gives a slight increase in economic assistance to Northern Ireland, will never be able to solve the basic problems which afflict both communities. Even the Army admitted in a leaked document in 1979 that its methods, when set within the social conditions of Northern Ireland, would continually recreate new generations of republican activists. Despite the years of economic subvention, there have been 16 years of military presence, during which Army patrols, internment without trial, non-jury Diplock courts, supergrasses, plastic bullets, and draconian public order legislation have all be tried, mainly against the Catholic population. The Army has searched 310,000 houses in Northern Ireland since 1969. Bullets cannot solve the political and economic problems of Northern Ireland. This is not to say, as was said earlier on, that I am a supporter of individual terrorism. The methods of the Provisionals in the north of Ireland have pushed many Protestant workers into the arms of the reactionaries from the Orange order and the UDA.

You may not be aware of this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but last Saturday, in the streets of Belfast, the Protestant paramilitaries were openly recruiting. The methods of the Provisionals have provided an excuse for successive British Governments to set up a repressive state apparatus, much of which costs money. More importantly, it has been used against industrial struggles at a later stage on the mainland.

Most of all, the methods of the Provisionals have cut across the task of building a powerful and united working class opposed to exploitation and repression. Workers throughout Ireland want the simple things about which this measure, in part, talks. They want jobs, decent homes and the end of poverty, repression, sectarianism and violence. Those objectives can be achieved not by passing the Bill but by reconstructing the political and economic foundation and basis of Ireland, north and south, and of Britain itself.

The only agency that can reconstruct the economic face of Ireland and Britain is the working class. There was a spontaneous revulsion of workers in Derry, Newry and other towns that led to partial general strikes and demonstrations against sectarian killings in 1975. In 1976 there was a rebirth of Labour movement organisations such as the trades councils, and the formation of a trade-union organised "Better Life for All" campaign. The workers' organisations crushed the attempt of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) to repeat the Ulster Workers Council lock-out in 1977.

The mood of most workers is still against the paramilitaries, but the trade union leaders of 1985 have so far failed to build on the growing stirrings for class unity by creating a party of labour. That task now assumes a crucial urgency. A Socialist alternative to both the previous debate and the Bill, with all its inadequacies, is not just another or a different approach to the problems of the north. It is the only realistic alternative.

The common miseries and common class interests of the workers in the north provide the only material basis for a challenge to the ideologies of unionism and nationalism, and for the unity of Catholic and Protestant workers. Socialist policies—the public ownership of major industry under workers' control and management—would establish the framework for a planned recovery from the devastation of monetarism, not only in the north but in the south and internationally. It would facilitate the lowering of the retirement age, the shortening of the working week and other measures to end unemployment.

Such polices would make possible a minimum wage of £115 a week, a crash house building programme and all the other socially necessary improvements to repair the destruction of recent years. The creation of a compaigning, Socialist party of labour in the north, combined with the breaking of the coalition by labour in the south, could lay the basis for the revitalisation of the working class through the island.

With the workers' movement taking on the bosses in tandem in the north and the south, there is a real possibility that the unification of the forces of labour would be created. Such a movement would challenge for the first time—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it order that Tory Members should laugh and treat as a joke what my hon. Friend is saying about the serious problems in Northern Ireland? Is this not a disgrace?

The Chair deprecates sedentary interventions of any kind. I hope that the House will give the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) a fair hearing.

The movement that I have described would need to be built against the ravages of the Government and of capitalism both in the north and in the south of Ireland. Such a movement would challenge, for the first time, the very existence of both sectarian states. posing the alternative of a united, Socialist Ireland in a voluntary and free Socialist federation of Britain and Ireland. It would be not a bond of exploitation, but a free and fraternal associaton.

Sectarianism, strife, death and destruction have plagued Northern Ireland for 600 years. Poverty, unemployment and bad housing have increased dramatically in the past decade or two. Workers' unity and Socialism could consign those problems to their final resting place—the dustbin of history.

11 pm

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), I sat in the Chamber today from 2.30 pm until 9.15 pm, but, even though I represent the oldest Irish community in England, I was not afforded the opportunity to give reasons or state a case for going into the No Lobby after the debate on the Anglo-Irish agreement.

I supported the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery)—

Order. A number of right hon. and hon. Members were disappointed at not having the opportunity to participate in the earlier debate. We cannot continue that debate now and I trust that the hon. Gentleman will address himself to the Bill before the House.

I wanted to explain the reasons for my vote because the press and the media can get the wrong angle when reporting why hon. Members go into the Aye or the No Lobbies. I was trying to make it clear why I went into the No Lobby.

The hon. Gentleman cannot do that on the Second Reading of the Bill that is now before us. He must seek another forum and another opportunity to do so. I must ask him to address himself to Second Reading.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am supporting the increase in the allocation of moneys for Northern Ireland and I wish to deal with social deprivation which my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East mentioned in his contribution. In the amendment which was tabled to the motion in the previous debate—

Order. There is no amendment before us. The House is debating the motion that the Bill be given a Second Reading. The hon. Gentleman cannot seek now to discuss an amendment that was tabled but not selected for debate in an earlier debate, the proceedings of which the House has concluded. The hon. Gentleman must address himself to the motion.

I fully support the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East and the large allocation of moneys to improve the disgraceful housing conditions and to reduce the massive unemployment and poverty that unfortunately exists.

The Minister may have been to the press conference of the Town and Country Planning Association yesterday and seen the exhibition. He will have heard the claims that it is necessary to demolish the Divis flats. Housing is one of the major problems in Northern Ireland as it is in many of our inner cities. I hope that the Minister will accept that money should be injected into a proper housebuilding programme and that he will consider the demolition of the appalling Divis flats.

The Divis originally consisted of 12 seven-storey deck access blocks plus a 19 storey tower block built on the Sectra system. The Divis housed 795 flats and 2,833 inhabitants or bed spaces. Unemployment is more than 80 per cent. and by any stretch of the imagination that is horrendous. It is no wonder that there are problems among the young people who are roaming the streets with nothing to do. That is why they get into all sorts of mischief and trouble. It is estimated that 75 per cent. of the community is living below the average weekly wage in Northern Ireland and that some families, exist on the disgraceful amount of £20 a week. The Divis complex was described as Europe's youngest slum in 1971, even before construction was completed.

Those who live in the flats have experienced many problems. They have suffered damp-related illnesses such as bronchitis, asthma and influenza. There are those who have suffered from rat bites and hepatitis. Young children and babies have been known to fall from the balconies of the flats on the higher storeys and some have been drowned in the open sewers that are close by. There is 24-hour surveillance by the British Army cameras on top of the tower. The landlord of the Divis flats is the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I understand that it wants to refurbish the slums, while 90 per cent. of the community want the complex to be demolished and replaced by decent housing.

When the Minister replies, I hope that he will take up some of the issues that are raised in the press release and set out in the information that has been made available to hon. Members who are interested in Northern Ireland. The information has been provided by those who are not necessarily opposed to the Government's policies. The source is the Town and Country Planning Association.

I do not normally involve myself in Northern Ireland domestic debates, although I try to participate in Northern Ireland questions and the general issues relating to the Province. I voted in the No Lobby in the previous debate because serious answers must be forthcoming to the problems of housing, unemployment, poverty and deprivation, and the wish of some to see a united Ireland.

11.7 pm

I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) for contributing to the debate. They sat patiently through the previous debate, which spread over two days. I am glad that they chose to participate in this debate. I was interested to hear their deep concern about the domestic issues of Northern Ireland and about the border. I do not wish to wander from the Bill, but I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Riverside that, with his interest in such matters as the Divis flats, we would welcome his participation in our debates on the domestic affairs of Northern Ireland as well as those on the political affairs. I am sure that he will wish to contribute to them in future and we shall welcome any participation that he wishes to make. The same applies to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East, who spoke with some feeling and compassion and displayed his deep interest in the problems of Northern Ireland as they affect the border and those who live in the Province and spend their lives there.

I shall direct my attention to the substance of the Bill, which increases the limit on loans that may be made to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund from the national loans fund. We note that the new limit will be £1,700 million and that there will be power to increase that to £2,000 million by order subject to affirmative resolution. The House will know that loans to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund have been made since 1950 and are used to finance on-lending for capital expenditure by such bodies as the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and the Northern Ireland Electricity service as well as the district councils.

A total of £920 million is already outstanding in loans to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. According to the Northern Ireland information service, the increase of £780 million under the Bill will provide enough for Northern Ireland's requirements for about four and a half years. The powers to extend the limit by a further £300 million will be adequate for about two further years. The Bill does not authorise any increase in public expenditure. It merely enables the approved expenditure in Northern Ireland to be financed.

I note with some interest that the source of this Bill was the Northern Ireland (Loans) Act 1975 to which the Minister referred. That Bill had a Second Reading on 28 November 1975. I do not know how many Members present now were in the House then.

That shows the right hon. Gentleman's longevity. He may be standing in a by-election shortly and we in the Labour party could offer him excellent advice on the techniques and procedures for reselection. We are expert at it. The right hon. Gentleman and others who were present 10 years ago will know that the terms of borrowing in 1975 were not entirely different from present ones.

Loans from the national loans fund are the most important source of long-term borrowing by the Department of Finance for Northern Ireland. The Department also raises money by the issue of Ulster savings certificates, and the more local savings can be attracted, the less will be the call in the national loans fund.

Hon. Members will note that the people of Northern Ireland invest in national savings such as the National Savings Bank, premium bonds and in British Government stock. Northern Ireland therefore feeds itself as well as drawing from the national loans fund.

We realise that this Bill enables expenditure to be financed at some future date and has little to do with how those loans will be allocated. It may be useful to consider where capital expenditure ought to be made in the Northern Ireland economy. My hon. Friends the Members for Riverside and for Coventry, South-East drew attention to the housing problems in Northern Ireland.

The explanatory and financial memorandum states that the loans will be made to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the Northern Ireland Electricity Service and the district councils. We welcome expenditure on housing and pay homage to the Housing Executive, which has done much to eradicate bad housing. The problem of housing is always present whether in the north of England, Liverpool, or Coventry. Some people are dissatisfied because they feel that they are badly housed. Therefore, we hope that some additional expenditure will be directed towards alleviating housing difficulties in the major cities of Northern Ireland.

We welcome the loans to the Northern Ireland Electricity Service as Northern Ireland has one of the highest levels of energy charges in the United Kingdom. No loans will go to the Northern Ireland Gas Authority because of the Government's decision to close down its gas industry—there has not been the corresponding link, which we hoped for, with the Kinsale gas field.

We hope that some of the £780 million in loans will be invested in Northern Ireland manufacturing industries and the creation of jobs. I know the Minister sincerely wishes to create jobs in Northern Ireland. We would like to see a sharper attack on unemployment in the Province and hope that some of the £780 million will be used to create jobs.

We welcome this debate. It may have been a little wider than intended. It reminds me, as a barrister, of the exciting events of a trial within a trial which we often have in the courts. Somehow, we have managed to have a debate within a debate today. I commend the Bill to the House.

11.14 pm

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to the debate.

It is one year ago today that, in the early hours of the morning, I replied to a speech made by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) on this subject. I was confused about how the money was transferred, though not because of what the right hon. Gentleman said. To use a phrase employed by the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), I was a green Tory in regard to the transfer of that money then. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman meant the phrase in that way, however.

The right hon. Member for South Down and possibly the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) differ with the Government about integration and devolution. There has been a separate Consolidated Fund in Northern Ireland ever since 1921. It was established with a view to devolution. The Government still believe that Northern Ireland's special needs and problems can best be met by a devolved system of government. Not all right hon. and hon. Members accept that view, but every Government since 1921 have. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) does not agree but thinks similarly to the right hon. Member for South Down. Nevertheless, that stance has been embodied again in the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 and the Northern Ireland Act 1982. They provide for a defined area of public finance in Northern Ireland—control of the Consolidated Fund for Northern Ireland—to pass, on devolution, to the control of a Northern Ireland Assembly.

Does not the fact that a separate fund has existed since 1921 show conclusively that the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) is wholly wrong when he says that its purpose is to enable the Government to hive off the Province?

I take my hon. Friend's point, but I do not want to start a debate that we have had before—I am sure that I would be ruled out of order. The fund is essential if the search for devolution continues. A separate Consolidated Fund must remain available for devolution to a Northern Ireland Assembly. That has been the intention since 1921. I have no intention of frustrating the purposes of the 1972 and 1983 Acts by adopting the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion of abolishing the fund. Merging it with the United Kingdom fund would remove any possibility of control of finance being devolved to local administration in Northern Ireland without more primary legislation.

The hon. Members for Coventry, South-East, for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) and for Middlesbrough mentioned housing, which is the biggest draw on the Consolidated Fund. For the past six years, the priorities of expenditure have been law and order, industrial investment for jobs and housing, which is much worse than in the rest of Great Britain.

There has been a 67 per cent. increase in the housing budget, which this year is £545 million. That represents a 250 per cent. increase in cash terms, as against the inflation factor, since we came to office. The amount of unfit housing has decreased from 14 per cent. in 1980–81 to 10·4 per cent. in 1984. A great deal has been done for housing in Northern Ireland. I am not trying to make a partisan point here, because I am sure that a Labour Government would have made the provision of better housing in the Province a priority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry) asked about the Divis flats. It is two years or more since I was there, but we heard this morning on the radio an item about the possible demolition of the Divis flats. What is the Government's view?

The Divis flats do not come under my responsibilities in Northern Ireland.

The hon. Member for Riverside mentioned the Town and Country Planning Association exhibition and the leaflet produced. I replied to yesterday's debate, so I was unable to attend the exhibition. I should be grateful if a leaflet were passed to me so that I could study it. I shall reply to the hon. Gentleman on that point.

The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East is a zealous believer in Socialism—one could almost say a naive believer. I do not mean that hurtfully; the last thing I would wish to do would be to hurt the hon. Gentleman in any way. The problem of the Province is not the lack of so-called public enterprise, but the lack of private enterprise. About 70 per cent. of expenditure there is simply Government money being recycled. The hon. Gentleman talked about the working class. I was privileged to be born into the working class. There is nothing wrong with that, and nothing especially honourable about it; it is simply a matter of the dance of the chromosones in any bed at any time.

My experience of working class people in Northern Ireland—green and orange—is that they are delighted when we get investment from anywhere. We heard the welcome news this week that Du Pont will build its most modern Kevlar chemical plant in Europe in the constituency of the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume). It will provide 300 jobs. I wish that the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East would help us, not by smothering hon. Members with Socialist ideas, but by visiting America with us and encouraging American firms to invest in the Province.

Is not the Minister reinforcing my point? The fact that twice as many people are unemployed as are employed in manufacturing industry in the north of Ireland, that about a third of a million are employed in service industries, and that about 70 per cent. of expenditure comes from the Government reinforces the point that capitalism, private ownership and private enterprise have failed to guarantee jobs, decent homes and futures to the majority of the working class in the north, and I would argue equally in the south.

I must not be drawn into an argument with the hon. Gentleman, but I should say this: in a Socialist state, we could have 100 per cent. employment at any time, with work direction, wage limitation and conscription, which would remove 2 million or 3 million unemployed from the register. The important thing is to make goods at a price and with delivery conditions that people want. Whichever system is used, there must be some price mechanism. But I do not wish to argue with the hon. Gentleman or to give him nightmares that his ideas may be wrong in any way. It is getting late, and we all wish him a good sleep so that he can return refreshed to battle with us again tomorrow. We should miss the hon. Gentleman if he was not in the House with us.

Following that attempt at bipartisanship, I commend the Bill to the House and thank those hon. Members who have participated in the debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.— [Mr. Peter Lloyd.]

Committee tomorrow.