(By Order) Orders read for consideration of Lords amendments.
To be considered on Thursday 27 July.
(No. 2) Bill-- (By Order) Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question--[23 May] --That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Debate to be resumed on Thursday 27 July.
[Lords] (By Order) Order for further consideration, as amended, read.
To be further considered on Thursday 27 July.
[Lords] (By Order)
[Lords] (By Order)
[Lords] (By Order)
Orders for consideration, as amended, read.
To be considered on Thursday 27 July.
[Lords] (By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 27 July.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Tom King) : Since I last answered questions on 22 June there have been four deaths in Northern Ireland arising from the security situation. In addition, the Provisional IRA has claimed that it murdered the business man abducted in county Louth on 16 July.
The security threat remains at a high level, but the resolute efforts of the security forces continue to yield results. So far this year, 161 people have been charged with serious offences, including 18 with murder and 31 with attempted murder. More than 200 weapons, almost 27,000 rounds of ammunition and approximately 600 lbs of explosives have been recovered in Northern Ireland. I understand that the Garda Siochana has recovered 60 weapons, approximately 15,000 rounds of ammunition and a substantial quantity of explosives. The House will be aware of recent arrests which flowed directly from the close international co-operation with the Irish, French and United States authorities, and for which we are most grateful.
Mr. Duffy : The Secretary of State should be congratulated on his humanity and political courage in announcing the release of 19 paramilitaries on licence over the next nine months. Can he offer any hope to the families of those not included? Does he think that a similar move by the Republic in respect of Portlaoise might be helpful, and will he consider mentioning that to the new Irish Foreign Minister, Mr. Collins, when he next meets him?
Mr. King : I think that that was a two-part question. In response to the first part, I hope that hope is offered to other families by the actions that we have proposed in respect of these prisoners. Those familiar with prison matters will know of the significant impact of the Christmas leave arrangements, and we are examining the matter carefully to see whether that approach can offer further possibilities. I should like to think that there has been a significant impact from that and from our announcements about releasing some people on licence. I take a very sympathetic view towards some of the young people who got caught up in such activities early in their lives and who are serving substantial sentences. I have a very unsympathetic view of those who re-offend and become re- involved. They cannot expect the same sort of sympathy. I shall not answer the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, in which he invited me to advise the Irish Government on their prisons policy, although I note that there have been some comments in Irish newspapers.
Column 503Obviously, every case is different. I know how difficult the cases are and I know that the Irish Government are aware of our approach in these matters.
Mr. Bellingham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent arrests in America, France and Dublin may represent a fresh resolve in those countries to combat terrorism? Does he also agree that the recent murder of Mr. McAnulty--presumably because he refused to pay protection money--was particularly vile and evil? Is it not heartening that that incident was condemned by so many people in South Armagh, including Thomas O'Fiaich?
Mr. King : That illustrates clearly our common interest in defeating the evil of terrorism. That gentleman was abducted in the Republic and almost certainly murdered in the Republic, and his body was then dumped north of the border, to cause maximum difficulties for the RUC and the Garda in the investigation of and prosecution of those responsible for the crime. I certainly join my hon. Friend in condemning that appalling crime. I welcome too, the very rapid condemnation that came from all concerned. The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon), Cardinal O'Fiaich and a whole range of other people were outspoken in their disgust at that murder.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about the value of international co-operation. I have had to stand at the Dispatch Box for long enough being jeered at by people who said that no one would co-operate with us, especially the Irish Government. I had hoped that some of those people, who were so ready to criticise, would be prepared to stand up today and admit the value of that co-operation and the real contribution of the Irish Garda, not only in arrests, but in the speed of the transfer of information to the French authorities. We are also grateful for the speed of their reaction.
Mr. Molyneaux : In view of the 50 per cent. increase in serious terrorist offences in the frontier zone covered by 3 brigade in the year since that brigade was formed, will the Secretary of State consider increasing the numerical strength of all arms of the security forces in that zone?
Mr. King : I do not recognise the statistics that the right hon. Gentleman has chosen to quote. However, I would have hoped that, in response to what I have said, he would feel able to pay tribute to the valuable co-operation, which has undoubtedly contributed significantly to the saving of lives of his constituents and many others. One cannot over estimate the value of that co-operation, which is important if we are to defeat the evil of terrorism that is a threat to people north and south of the border.
Rev. Ian Paisley : Will not the Secretary of State admit that it is the duty of every democratic Government to co-operate in the fight against terrorism? No democratic Government should think that they are going out of their way or should get laurels for so doing. Is the Secretary of State aware of the serious concern of ordinary individuals in the neighbourhood about the removal of the Army post at Lacky Bridge which was promised to widows who visited the Prime Minister some 11 years ago? Did the Royal Ulster Constabulary agree to the removal of that Army post? If so, is it the beginning of the removal of other posts in that border area?
Column 504further removals of vehicle border checkpoints of that kind. Those are operational matters ; the decision was taken by the security forces and has been implemented. We are certainly keen to ensure the best possible protection for everyone in the Province against the danger of terrorism.
On the value of international co-operation--I am not talking just about the Irish Government, but about the United States Government, too--it is no good saying, "Keep a checkpoint", and ensuring that we stay as we are. It is also important to find the terrorists and to discover their lines of supply. It is important to stop any technical developments that may be a direct threat to all the security forces in Northern Ireland, and to the hon. Gentleman's constituents, in the battle that we fight. I would have hoped to hear him, too, pay some tribute to the value of international co- operation.
Mr. Mallon : Is the Secretary of State aware that senior officers of the Ulster Defence Regiment are using a public relations and information video which is explicitly critical of my party? Does he agree that no section of Government information services should be used in such an overtly party political way? Will he assure the House that that video will be removed from use?
Mr. King : I have no knowledge of the video to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but in general I do not dissent from the proposition that he has put forward. I shall certainly have the matter looked into.
Mr. Tom King : The agenda for the next meeting of the conference has not yet been finalised, but I expect it to include security matters ; recent and forthcoming events ; the scope for greater cross-border economic co-operation ; the progress made on fair employment ; and other matters.
Mr. Canavan : What is the likely effect on the British-Irish talks and on Britain's reputation throughout the world when the British soldier who killed an innocent young man, Aidan McAnespie, is simply given a token fine and returned to normal duties, and when the British Government refuse reasonable demands from respectable organisations such as Amnesty International for a full judicial inquiry into that disputed killing and into the SAS killings of three unarmed people in Gibraltar?
Mr. King : I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman bothered to study the facts before seeking to make such outrageous allegations. He may not be aware that the matter was investigated, not only as the absolute requirement on which I insist and as the absolute practice, by the RUC in a full criminal investigation, but on this occasion by the deputy commissioner, now the commissioner, of the Garda on behalf of the Irish Government. On this exceptional occasion, they wished to investigate, too. As no evidence was forthcoming, on either side of the border, that the incident was anything other than an accident, I am appalled that the hon. Gentleman chooses to raise the matter in this way.
Mr. William Ross : As Mr. Haughey has just made it plain that he is not very much in favour of summits of any sort, does the Secretary of State consider it advisable to follow his admirable advice and example?
Mr. King : The Taoiseach said that he found meeting the Prime Minister twice a year, on the occasions of the normal European summits, to be a perfectly satisfactory arrangement. That is sensible because we now have a close working relationship. Here we go again. On the very day when any sensible person can see, before his or her eyes, the obvious benefits of co-operation in the fight against terrorism, there is a deliberate determination not to do anything except to frustrate co-operation. The backwoodsmen are coming out from the Opposition Back Benches with their reactionary views.
Mr. Gow : What objections do Ministers in the Irish Government have to conferring modest additional powers on the 26 district councils, to setting up a regional council with widely devolved powers over local matters and to legislating in this House for Northern Ireland in the same way as we legislate for the rest of the kingdom?
Mr. King : These are internal matters for the Republic. In the Dail yesterday, the Taoiseach made it clear that matters relating to the administration and government of Northern Ireland are primarily for the parties in Northern Ireland to determine. Although I have some sympathy with looking further at some of my hon. Friend's ideas on giving greater powers to local authorities, I must advise him that the behaviour of one or two councils--Belfast is one--does not encourage one down that route.
Mr. McNamara : The Secretary of State sounds remarkably demob-happy this afternoon. We do not dissent from many of the opinions that he has expressed. Although I did not intervene on the previous question to comment on his important statement about international co-operation in the fight against terrorism, I am sure that hon. Members of all parties will warmly welcome it.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman about the Anglo-Irish review. We do not know how many further intergovernmental conferences the right hon. Gentleman will be attending, but he mentioned a number of important items that are likely to be on the agenda, not least economic co-operation on both sides of the border. Does the Secretary of State think that both Governments might consider issuing position papers or Green Papers so that there can be a general informed debate on both sides of the border among people who might not otherwise want to be associated with the Anglo-Irish review, but who should at least know what is going on so that there can be input from all sides?
Mr. King : In response to the hon. Gentleman's first point, I knew that, whatever my aspect at the Dispatch Box, somebody would read something into it. If I sound enthusiastic about the progress that we are making in international co-operation in the fight against terrorism, perhaps some hon. Members will understand just how important were the arrests made during the weekend. I cannot overstate that, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about it.
I am ready to support sensible discussion on making political progress by means of background papers and so
Column 506on, but we have made it clear that the first stage must be discussion with elected people within Northern Ireland to establish the most promising areas for development.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Dr. Brian Mawhinney) : Arrangements for the introduction of top-up loans for Northern Ireland students are proceeding in parallel to those in Great Britain.
Mr. Barron : Does the Minister share the view of the Secretary of State for Education and Science that student loans are excellent and offer good value for money? If so, what does he think of the estimate of the Government's consultants, Price Waterhouse, that the scheme will cost £100 per debtor to administer, and the estimate made by Dr. Nick Barr of the London School of Economics that it will take 100 years before the cost of the scheme is recouped?
Dr. Mawhinney : Of course, I agree with my right hon. Friend. As the hon. Gentleman takes an interest in these matters, he will know that those views are not shared by the Department of Education and Science.
Mr. Harry Greenway : What proportion of the extra 200,000 students in higher education now, compared with in 1979, come from Northern Ireland, and how much does the average student in higher education in Northern Ireland borrow?
Dr. Mawhinney : There has been an increase in university students in Northern Ireland and my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the participation rate in Northern Ireland universities is 20 per cent., compared with 15 per cent. in Great Britain. That is a reflection of the high standing of Queens university and the university of Ulster.
Mr. Beggs : I congratulate the Secretary of State on the confidence that he exhibited at the Dispatch Box today, which may be due to the recent success, but one swallow does not make a summer. Perhaps, there are promises of promotion in the wind. However, the right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on his performance so far. Is the Minister aware of the widespread concern in Northern Ireland that many able students may not benefit from higher education because of the freezing of the student grant and the introduction of the loans scheme? There is particular concern among medical students, who study for 45 weeks of the year for five or six years, with little time to work in the holidays to earn additional income. I hope that the Government will reconsider the scheme and encourage the thrifty use of grants rather than introduce students to the burden of debt and the further anxiety that that would entail.
Dr. Mawhinney : We are the only developed country with no system of top-up loans alongside grants. The Government have a responsibility to find a balance between benefits to students and the cost to the taxpayer. In 1984, the latest year for which figures are available,
Column 507support for students in the United Kingdom cost about £750 per annum. In France it was £180 ; in West Germany, £70 ; and in Japan, £30. If that does not represent a disincentive in those countries, I fail to see why there should be any disincentive in the United Kingdom or in Northern Ireland.
Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that the loans scheme will be particularly welcome to students who do not receive the full assessed parental contribution? Does he also agree that since graduates can look forward to much larger incomes than the community at large, it is only right that they should repay to society part of the benefits that they are getting from their university education?
Dr. Mawhinney : My hon. Friend is right on both points. About 120, 000 university students receive no grant at all because they are means- tested out. About 50,000 receive no mandatory grant and about 160,000 receive only partial grants. All those students stand to benefit from the introduction of top-up loans. My hon. Friend will agree that the introduction of those loans at a nil real interest rate is a further incentive.
Mr. Flannery : Does the Minister realise that the introduction of loans will be a disincentive to entering higher education? The last time that Britain had a loan system was before the war. We do not have to follow blindly countries such as West Germany, because we have about £100 billion from North sea oil. Will not many young people be detered from becoming students? If they become students will they not leave their studentship in debt? It took me four years to pay back my debt.
Dr. Mawhinney : I know that the hon. Gentleman finds facts uncomfortable, but nevertheless the fact is that loan schemes do not act as disincentives in other countries. The hon. Gentleman fails to make an argument for why this country should be any different.
Ms. Mowlam : Is it not difficult for the Minister to accept facts? Does he accept that the study by Dr. Barr mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) stated clearly that when students complete a three-year course they will have a minimum debt of £7,000? Does not the study by Price Waterhouse which was commissioned by the Government show that when half the students graduate by 1995 they will either default or defer on their debts? Is that opening up higher education and increasing access, or will it achieve the exact opposite?
Dr. Mawhinney : Norway has a default rate of 1 per cent. and Sweden and Japan a default rate of 2 per cent. Although there is no loan system at present, the statistics show that the projected levels of borrowing outlined in the White Paper are less than the exact borrowing figures in countries that have loan schemes. The hon. Lady's information and facts simply do not impress me.
4. Mr. Ashdown : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what provisions the Government are making for the impact of 1992 on the economy of Northern Ireland ; and if he will make a statement.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Viggers) : The Government have promoted and supported a wide range of measures intended to inform Northern Ireland business of the challenges and the opportunities which arise from the creation of the single European market.
Mr. Ashdown : As the Secretary of State's ebullience at the Dispatch Box appears to be a feature of questions, may I say that if he were not to be at Northern Ireland questions in the future, I and many hon. Members would want to express our admiration for the way that he has done his job over the years?
Does the Minister agree that there is widespread anxiety in Northern Ireland, and in Ireland as a whole, that closer integration following 1992 may cause problems for the Irish economies, as they are positioned on the peripheries of the European Community? That may be exacerbated by the Channel tunnel if there is no infrastructure to back it-- [Interruption.] Would it be worth while--[ Hon. Members :-- "Question."]
Mr. Ashdown : As the constitutional parties appear reluctant to discuss political matters, but keen to discuss economic matters, could the Government facilitate a round table discussion on how Northern Ireland might face the challenges and opportunities of Europe in 1992?
Mr. Viggers : I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's gloom. Northern Ireland has many attributes, including the availability of a young, well-educated work force, the quality of its infrastructure and telecommunications and the quality of its environment, all of which have been recognised by a number of prospective inward investors. We have persuaded inward investors from inside and outside Europe to invest in Northern Ireland, and I think especially of Montupet of France and Daewoo from South Korea.
We had useful discussions with the Republic of Ireland at a round table meeting during the Louvain conference in Belgium in September 1988. I was thinking of suggesting a further conference along those lines.
Mr. Kilfedder : Although business progress and prosperity are important in Northern Ireland, is the Minister aware that the cost of living is higher there than in the rest of the United Kingdom, as exemplified by Northern Ireland's high cost of transport, food, bread and electricity? That makes life difficult for many people in Northern Ireland- -particularly poor, old age pensioners. What improvements will be made before 1992?
Mr. Viggers : The hon. Gentleman would want the record to be complete. Some items are much cheaper in Northern Ireland than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I am thinking particularly of housing. The hon. Gentleman's point about bread is well taken. Recently, there was an in- depth study of that issue, and I believe that the hon. Gentleman has a question about it on the Order Paper, albeit to another Minister. I share his view that the high price of bread in Northern Ireland should cause us concern. We encourage the availability of competitive bakery products, to ensure that the consumer has the best choice.
Mr. Hume : Does the Minister agree that the major economic impact of 1992 on Northern Ireland will be the five-year strategic plan funded by the EEC, which is already the subject of detailed discussions between the Government and the authorities in Brussels? When do the Government intend to let the Northern Ireland public and local interests know about the specific projects contained in that plan, so that there can be proper and thorough public discussion and consultation?
Mr. Viggers : The Northern Ireland regional development plan was submitted in March to the European community and--bearing in mind that Northern Ireland is an objective 1 region in Europe, and therefore will be given a degree of priority--we have made further proposals. One area of priority is support for port, airport, rail and road facilities, to ensure that Northern Ireland does not miss out in 1992.
Mr. Nicholas Baker : What substantial extra provision for hospitals, industry, schools and so on, will the Government need to make for the impact of 1992 on Northern Ireland's economy if Northern Ireland accepts its share of the 3.25 million Hong Kong Chinese that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) wants the United Kingdom to admit under his misguided proposals?
Mr. Viggers : If my answer were to go into great detail, I suspect that I would be out of order. A notable contribution to Northern Ireland's economy has been made by the immigrant community, particularly the Indians and Chinese. We make no secret of the fact that we welcome inward investment in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Viggers : There has been a considerable switch of emphasis away from standard capital grants and the availability of standard grants to selective financial assistance, which takes the form not only of the aptly named selective financial aid within the Industrial Development Board but a range of marketing schemes--particularly the 40/30 and the 40/60 schemes available from the IDB and the Local Enterprise Development Unit. Northern Ireland's best companies are excellent at marketing, but others must be encouraged to sink more effort into marketing outside Northern Ireland.
Mr. Hayes : Is my hon. Friend greatly encouraged that unemployment in the Province continues to fall? Will he continue to convey loud and clear the message to potential investors that, despite the troubles, the Province is still the most law-abiding part of the United Kingdom, that it is a great place in which to invest, and that it will offer great opportunities to all in 1992?
Mr. Viggers : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, and I endorse them all. We are delighted that unemployment has fallen so much. At 104,000, it is still far too high, but it is way below the headline figure of 134,998 in October 1986. We have persuaded inward investors that Northern Ireland is a good place to do business, and those already there like it very much.
Column 510on the Government's discussions with the Republic on co-operation in the sphere of tourism? Does he expect that the Government will encourage further co-operation between the Province and the Republic in agriculture?
Mr. Viggers : I made a statement on tourism some two weeks ago in which I explained that there is indeed co-operation between the Government, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and Bord Failte . It would be foolish of us not to co-operate, bearing in mind that only one in 15 of visitors to the Republic go up to Northern Ireland and it would be easy to encourage more to do so.
I have no further announcement to make on tourism co-operation, nor am I in a position to comment on agriculture, which is outside the remit of this question.
Mr. Viggers : Since the announcement on 7 June of heads of agreement whereby Bombardier of Canada will acquire Shorts, good progress has been made on the necessary legal documentation. I am pleased to inform the House today that approval to the terms of the transaction has been given by the European Commission. It is our intention to complete the transaction in September.
Mr. Cran : Does my hon. Friend agree that the public purse facilitated--quite rightly--the takeover of Shorts by Bombardier, in the form of sales worth £762 million, and that the quid pro quo is that the House and the taxpayer are entitled to know how much Bombardier will contribute towards investment in the company? Can my hon. Friend tell us the amount specified in the corporate plan? If he cannot be specific, why?
Mr. Viggers : The details of the agreement between the Government, Shorts and Bombardier are matters of commercial confidentiality. I can, however, tell my hon. Friend that Bombardier will be making a substantial investment in Shorts--supported, of course, by Government assistance. The cost of the transaction, some £750 million, has been projected by some as the cost of privatisation, but I think that my hon. Friend will realise that the reverse is true. All but £115 million is the cost of the company in public ownership and the cost of outstanding contracts. That sum will go to support further investment in Shorts.
Mr. A. Cecil Walker : Is the Minister aware of the deep public concern in Northern Ireland about job losses that have occurred at Harland and Wolff since privatisation? Can he give us any assurance that such job losses will not occur in the privatisation of Short Brothers, and can he give us any guarantee that jobs there will be secure?
Mr. Viggers : The long-term future of employment at Shorts will depend on the profitability of the company and on its ability to deliver, on time, high-quality products that people wish to buy. I believe that the deal between Shorts and Bombardier is the best possible framework for that to happen.
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there are no plans for further redundancies at this point. Let me draw to his attention the fact that when Bombardier acquired
Column 511Canadair it acquired a loss-making company with 5,000 employees ; it now owns a profitable company employing 6,500. We hope that the same will apply at Shorts.
Mr. Viggers : I cannot answer that question precisely, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, having visited Bombardier in Montreal last month, I am very impressed by the fit between Shorts and Bombardier. I will write to the hon. Gentleman on the details.
Mr. McGrady : While all the communities in Northern Ireland welcome this vast investment in Shorts, it is important that both communities share in that prosperity. Is the Minister aware that the rate of recruitment from the Catholic population fell from 17 per cent. in the second monitoring period in 1983 to 14 per cent. in the third monitoring period of 1984? That trend is not welcomed by those whom we represent. Will the Minister ensure that the new company adopts proper recruitment procedures based on fair employment principles?
Mr. Viggers : The new company will indeed respect the application of fair employment in Northern Ireland. I can update the hon. Gentleman's information by telling him that the latest available figures for 1988 show that 19 per cent. of Short's recruits were Catholics. [Interruption.]
7. Rev. Martin Smyth : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has yet considered implementation dates for the Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1989 ; and if he will make a statement.
Rev. Martin Smyth : In so far as we have combined health and social services boards has the Minister any plans to implement those stages faster in Northern Ireland than they have been implemented in the rest of Britian, especially in the light of recent changes?
Mr. Needham : We start three years behind the Act here, and we shall implement it as quickly as we can. We look to implement sections 9, 10 and 11, except (4) and section 12 by the end of this year. We shall implement section 4, except (b), sections 5, 6, 8 (1) and section 11 (4) as soon into next year as we can. We shall have to consider with the Boards the cost implications of remaining sections.
Mr. Bill Walker : Is my hon. Friend aware that in the rest of the United Kingdom disabled people are looked after substantially by local authorities? If Rangers can sign a Catholic football player, is it not about time that we gave Northern Ireland the same local government as the rest of the United Kingdom?
Column 512community care and we shall continue to operate an integrated system which works satisfactorily for the community in Northern Ireland.
Mr. Tom Clarke : While congratulate the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) on piloting such an important Act on to the statute book, will the Minister offer inspiration to the rest of the United Kingdom by ensuring that the Act is properly and fully implemented and in so doing that community care ceases to be community neglect?