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Mr. Molyneaux : I hope that the Secretary of State will persuade Mr. Collins to endorse the view set out on 9 May this year by a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, now the Foreign Secretary, when he said of terrorists :
"They are professional killers. No political solution will cope with that. They just have to be extirpated".
On a day when we have all been greatly saddened by the
Column 452pictures of the funeral of the young airman and his baby daughter, would it not be appropriate for the right hon. Gentleman to give an assurance that there has been and will be no change in the position set out by his right hon. Friend? Does he agree that it is vital that that assurance is given today in view of certain ugly reports which were circulating this morning in Belfast?
Mr. Peter Robinson : When the Secretary of State next speaks to the Irish Foreign Secretary, will he inform him of the steps taken by the Government to appease the Irish Republic in relation to photomontages of suspects? What measures are available to members of the security forces to identify quickly those who might want to kill them and other people?
Mr. Brooke : Notice of the subject that the hon. Member has raised was given some little time ago, and it has therefore been the subject of discussion between us. It remains the case that those going out on patrol go out armed with knowledge in terms of the photomontages of which the hon. Member speaks.
Mr. Mallon : Can the Secretary of State inform the House what firm decisions have been taken by the Anglo-Irish conference to promote cross- border economic co-operation? What efforts have been made by both Governments, working through the conference, to maximise EC funding, especially from the EC structural fund?
Mr. Brooke : At the last meeting of the conference, the Irish side and our side specifically discussed that matter. A working party of officials on both sides of the border is working for exactly the purposes that the hon. Member mentions.
Mr. Leigh : When my right hon. Friend next meets the Irish Foreign Secretary, will the two of them reflect that no newspaper image could have been so poignant as the pictures published today of a tiny coffin being carried in dignity from an RAF plane? Will they conclude that the only victim of such mindless terrorism is innocence and not national resolve, and will they redouble their efforts to co-operate to defeat terrorism?
Mr. Brooke : Everyone in the House must have been moved by those pictures. As I said, I hope that among those who support the terrorists there are those who ask themselves whether their aims can ever be justified by the murder of a baby in that way.
Mr. McNamara : I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his first Question Time as Secretary of State. The issue of the administration of justice is continually raised at the intergovernmental meetings. At the last meeting, the role of the UDR was discussed and the question of the Guildford Four was raised. Can the Secretary of State inform the House whether, at the next meeting, he will discuss the case of the four members of the UDR known as the Armagh Four, the circumstances of whose convictions have raised considerable concern and doubt on both sides of the border and in both communities? Will
Column 453the right hon. Gentleman announce that he is setting up a separate, independent investigation to examine the soundness of their convictions?
Mr. Brooke : As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mr. Parry), that issue is not specifically one for the conference, but of course it may well arise within it. I have said that I am happy to look at new evidence or new factors put to me which might lead to the matter being referred to the Court of Appeal. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words in welcoming me.
2. Mr. Cran : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether the transaction for the acquisition of Short Brothers plc by Bombardier of Canada has been completed ; and if he will make a statement.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Richard Needham) : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met M. Laurent Beaudoin, the chairman of Bombardier, on 4 October 1989 when he visited Short's to mark the completion of the sale of Short's to Bombardier. There are no plans for a further meeting with the chairman in the near future.
Mr. Cran : My hon. Friend will be aware that before privatisation of Short's the Government placed high priority on the company's long-term future. What steps are being taken to ensure that priority is upheld? To what extent is Bombardier investing in Short's? If that information is regarded as commercially sensitive, why is that so?
Mr. Needham : I do not think that it is regarded as particularly sensitive. The total sum that the Government put into the Short's- Bombardier takeover was £750 million, and Bombardier put forward an additional £30 million. Bombardier, together with Short's, now represents perhaps the best hope for the aerospace industry in Northern Ireland and in Europe in the 1990s. Bombardier has brought a considerable amount of work to Short's with its new regional jet and will continue to bring more work to Northern Ireland. We have obtained guarantees from Bombardier that it will stay in Northern Ireland and that work will continue there. This marriage must be the possible news for Short's and it must give immense confidence to the people of Belfast to see Short's on such a sound and potentially prosperous footing.
Mr. Colvin : Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that Short Brothers has been undercapitalised historically and that the welcome merger with Bombardier will provide its highly skilled work force with the tools to get on with the job of making the world's finest aerospace products? Does he accept that Bombardier's interest in Northern Ireland demonstrates the enormous advantages that both the Province and his Department can provide for inward investors to the United Kingdom who seek a springboard in Europe post-1992?
Column 454to enormous interest problems for a long time. The fact that the Government were prepared to invest such a vast sum illustrates their confidence in the future of Bombardier-Short's. I recently visited the company and saw its work, which is at the forefront of technology. The activities not only of Short's, but of Harland and Wolff and STC in Belfast should give real encouragement for the future. Not every hon. Member realises how fast Belfast is changing for the better.
Mr. A. Cecil Walker : What price was obtained by the Industrial Development Board for the Lear Fan factory and what was the price for which it was subsequently sold to Short's-Bombardier? Will the Minister provide grant aid for the new purchase price?
Mr. Needham : The IDB sold the Lear Fan factory to Wilson's for £650,000. The sum paid by Bombardier-Short's to SRC Composites was £1.1 million and there was no grant aid from the IDB as part of the price.
Mr. Brooke : I should like to see substantial responsibilities devolved to elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. Progress depends on the willingness of local politicians to talk and work together.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Will the Secretary of State be announcing any plans in the light of the Government's intention that care for the disabled should be provided in the community? Will there be an extension of powers, perhaps to directly elected local health boards, or does he intend to restore such powers to local government?
Mr. Brooke : Conversations have been going on in Northern Ireland about whether there are further powers which might be distributed to local government. However, the hon. Gentleman asks a rather larger question.
Mr. Riddick : To reassure the people of Northern Ireland that power resides wholly in the hands of the Northern Ireland Office, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that if any changes are made in the structure or role of the Ulster Defence Regiment, those decisions will be taken after discussions within and between the Northern Ireland Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Cabinet, and that such decisions will not be taken as a result of pressure from the Dublin Government?
Mr. McGrady : Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating those local government officials and councillors who succeeded in attracting to Newcastle, County Down yesterday the United Kingdom tourist convention, which was devoted to the promotion of tourism and, therefore, of job creation in Northern Ireland? Will the Secretary of State equally condemn the action of certain small-minded Unionist councillors who withdrew from that seminar and who added insult to
Column 455injury for his ministerial colleague, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wiltshire, North (Mr. Needham)? Does he agree that that action was detrimental to the promotion of tourism and jobs in Northern Ireland ?
Rev. William McCrea : Does the Secretary of State accept that the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland desire to have a devolved Government in Northern Ireland and that the present direct rule is wholly unacceptable and undemocratic? Although the Secretary of State has said that he is waiting for others, perhaps he will tell us what steps he is taking to bring devolution to the Province.
Mr. Brooke : When I became Secretary of State, I invited the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland to tell me how they saw matters. All of them accepted that invitation, so I had the opportunity to talk to all of them. As they have all indicated that they are prepared to talk further, I envisage that we shall soon be having a second round of talks.
Mr. Needham : New arrangements for the funding and delivery of the youth training programme are being introduced in the year commencing April 1990 which are designed to enhance the quality of training and the cost- effectiveness of the programme. Community workshops will be included within the programme, provided that they meet the standards and criteria for which the arrangements provide.
Mr. Beggs : Will the Minister acknowledge the excellence of training provided in many workshops in Northern Ireland? Will he accept that that training has helped many young people to gain qualifications and, ultimately, employment? Will he acknowledge that considerable alarm is felt by those who manage the workshops as a result of the haste with which the changes in block funding are being introduced? I appeal to the Minister to consider deferring for one year the implementation of his Department's proposals on block funding to enable his officials to do their homework properly and to enable those who manage the workshops to plan and arrange for a successful transition.
Mr. Needham : I acknowledge that many of the workshops have done good work in training young people in Northern Ireland. It is because we want to ensure that that quality is provided in all workshops that we have introduced the proposals. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have appointed management consultants to help the workshops and the providers of training through this period and I am perfectly happy to talk to those involved in the workshops about the proposals. Nevertheless, it is important that we introduce into the workshops a system puts more emphasis on qualifications, that we incorporate a bigger competitive element than we have at present and,
Column 456most importantly, that we achieve greater involvement of employers. I do not want to go back on the time scale that I have set, but I am, of course, happy to talk to the providers.
Mr. Bennett : Does the Minister agree that the system in Northern Ireland has been working very well and has been encouraging responsible dog -ownership and discouraging irresponsible dog-ownership? Will he recommend that Ministers responsible for the mainland of the United Kingdom introduce that system throughout to the whole of the United Kingdom instead of simply having it in Northern Ireland?
Mr. Bottomley : I brought the Minister responsible for rottweilers to Northern Ireland to consider that system and other things, but she was moved and became Minister for Health. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be able to see the information about the experience in Northern Ireland. However, the system there is not necessarily applicable here.
7. Mr. Gow : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland whether he has any proposals to re-establish local government in Northern Ireland on a basis close to that of local government in the remainder of the United Kingdom.
Mr. Gow : Does my hon. Friend recall the commitment given in the 1979 Conservative party manifesto which stated that in the absence of devolved government we would seek to set up a regional council in Northern Ireland? Why has that commitment been abandoned, and why does my hon. Friend continue to withhold from the people of Northern Ireland the inestimable benefits of the community charge?
Dr. Mawhinney : The commitment has not been withdrawn. We have fought succeeding elections on a manifesto committing the Government, along with the other major constitutional political parties in Northern Ireland, to seeking a form of devolution for the Province. That remains our position.
Mr. Maginnis : Does the Minister agree that he was somewhat inaccurate in his reply to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow)? Has he not in fact changed the democratic structure of local government in the proposals for the composition of health boards after March 1990? Will he at least concede that if he goes ahead with that plan
Column 457the new health and social services councils will be accorded powers similar to those vested in Select Committees of this House?
Dr. Mawhinney : It is and remains part of the Government's desire and intention to give the people of Northern Ireland a greater say in the decisions that affect their lives in a whole variety of ways. However, the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question does not follow from the original question.
Mr. Bill Walker : Will my hon. Friend look again at the reply that he gave to our hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) about commitments to devolution? I recommend that my hon. Friend the Minister to read the statements made by our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland who has very clearly declared views about the instability which would result from any form of devolved government in any part of the unitary parliamentary system. The Minister should bear in mind the impact of his thoughts in Ulster on politics in Scotland.
Dr. Mawhinney : I am aware of the strength of my hon. Friend's views because he has expressed them before at Northern Ireland Question Time. However, I must remind him that it is, and has been for a long time, part of the Government's policy and commitment to seek to have arrangements in Northern Ireland which command widespread support across the community and which give local people a greater say in the decisions which affect their lives.
Mr. Ashdown : I congratulate the Secretary of State on his new appointment and wish him well in a very difficult and demanding post. Can the Under-Secretary of State assure the House that if the Government were to give thought to increasing the powers of local government, which would be very welcome, he would ensure that that would in no way jeopardise the Government's commitment to speedy implementation of devolution, which is the Government's publicly stated aim in the Anglo-Irish Agreement?
Dr. Mawhinney : First, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State would wish me to express his appreciation of the right hon. Gentleman's kind words. In Northern Ireland we are seeking arrangements that command widespread support across the community. If any arrangements are introduced that do not command that support, they will not work. That is the Government's basic position. Nothing that might take place in future with respect to local government will get in the way of the Government's long-standing commitment to devolution, which predates the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
8. Dr. Godman : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many credit unions have been established in each of the past 20 years ; what is the approximate size of membership of each of these credit unions ; and if he will make a statement.
Column 458in Northern Ireland and their membership ranges in size from under 200 to over 12,000 with an average of approximately 1,200.
Dr. Godman : Does the Minister agree that many of those credit unions have been established in communities characterised by high unemployment, poverty and debt? Surely the time has now arrived for the repeal of the infamous Payments for Debt (Emergency Provisions) Act 1971? As there is no comparable legislation in mainland Britain, is not Northern Ireland being discriminated against by the retention of the PDA?
Mr. Needham : I do not agree. The Payments for Debt (Emergency Provisions) Act 1971 is important in being able to ensure that debt does not rise to totally unacceptable levels in Northern Ireland. However, I support the hon. Gentleman's view about credit unions, which play an excellent role in assisting those who are trying to save, in offering loans at low interest rates and so helping people to avoid getting into debt.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : The Government have no plans at present to issue a White Paper on local government in Northern Ireland. Any legislative proposals arising from the consultative paper on local government published last November will be issued in due course as a proposal for a draft Order in Council.
Mr. Corbett : May I congratulate the Minister on succeeding where so many of his predecessors have come to grief? Where they brought discord, he has brought harmony among virtually all the chairmen of local authorities who are opposed to the privatisation of council services.
Mr. Bottomley : The hon. Gentleman may do that, but he would be wrong to do so because I was not in post last November. What happens in the future will be determined by our actions and, no doubt, by local authorities.
Mr. Clifford Forsythe : Will the Minister assure the House that, in any future local government proposals, he will drop the suggestion, made in the recent local government consultative paper, that the chief executive should act as a paid informer for local government? Will he assure the House of that, because it would be completely unacceptable to councils and will cause nothing but untold trouble in the council chamber?
Mr. Bottomley : The proper reply to that is that the responses to the consultation are being considered. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that those who know that wrongdoing is going on should not declare it, I think that he and I are on different courses.
Mr. Peter Robinson : Has the Minister noticed that several meetings have taken place at the invitation of the Lord Mayor of Belfast at which all the Northern Ireland parties in the House were represented? Is he aware that, at that meeting, there was unanimous opposition to the Government's proposals on privatisation and compulsory competitive tendering, and there was a fairly unanimous
Column 459view that some further powers should be given to local government, which presently has a consultative role? If the groundswell of opinion of parties represented in the House were that we should move in that direction, would the Minister include that in the new consultative document?
Mr. Bottomley : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney)--the Under- Secretary of State--have said that if various parties across the country can agree on things, that makes it far easier for the Government to consider the proposals that come forward. Most people look with interest at what the Lord Mayor has managed to achieve. I do not think that many others have brought that many people together in such a harmonious way, for a long time.
Mr. Harry Barnes : In any plans for the change of local government in Northern Ireland, will the Minister consider developing plans that will fit in with devolved government there? If the Government are frightened of moving towards majority rule, will they protect the rights of minorities by producing a Bill of Rights?
Mr. Bottomley : That question goes beyond my competence. Most of the things in the consultative paper, especially competitive tendering, which is slightly different from privatisation, can fit in with any form of local government responsibilities.
Ms. Armstrong : I am sure that the Minister will know that the result of similar legislation in England has been difficult times and increased debt for the long-term unemployed. What will he do to ensure that the long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland do not suffer in a similar way?
Mr. Needham : What we are trying to do for the long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland is find jobs for them. There are three legs to the stool of our proposals. I consider it entirely right for us to suggest that people may have to change their aspirations to find work. We all agree, however, that long-term unemployment inevitably leads to disillusionment and demoralisation, and that it is important to ensure that people move as quickly as they can to be assessed and to go on to the job training programme, Restart or ACE--action for community employment. I believe that those measures form a worthwhile part of our package.
Mr. Colvin : How many of the long-term unemployed have been provided with work building the security fence around Short Brothers? Is my hon. Friend happy that the fence will provide the security that the company requires, following the break-ins earlier in the year?
Column 460the head of household is prepared to take low-paid employment? Will he undertake to review the regulations that deny benefit to a person who takes a low-paid and initially temporary post because those regulations currently require the post to be permanent for a family to continue to receive income support?
Rev. William McCrea : Will the Minister tell the House whether it is true that the Government are considering the reintroduction of the old unemployment relief scheme to help the long-term unemployed in the Province?
Ms. Mowlam : The Minister has just told us that it is too early for him to assess the impact of the Social Security Order (1989). May I tell him that it is not too early for the long-term unemployed in Northern Ireland? They are already feeling the impact.
What measures will his Department use to assess the impact of the order? Surely he can let us know this afternoon how much money has been expended on loans since its introduction, compared with the amount spent on single payments before it was introduced.
Mr. Needham : As the hon. Lady is well aware, the order deals with effects on the long-term unemployed. The reason why it is too early to assess its impact is that we have no knowlege of it at present. Let me repeat, however, that it is vital that the unemployed get back into Restart, ACE or some other form of training. The order offers them a spur, which is crucial to stop the demoralisation that long-term unemployment brings.
11. Mr. McCusker : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will indicate the appoximate dates on which he proposes to introduce to Northern Ireland (a) the community charge, (b) the privatisation of water services and (c) the privatisation of the Northern Ireland electricity service.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. John Cope) : There are no present plans to introduce to Northern Ireland the community charge or the privatisation of water services. The Government propose to privatise Northern Ireland Electricity in the first half of 1992.
Mr. McCusker : Why should the people of the most deserving region of the United Kingdom be denied the inestimable benefits of measures whose passage has been so hard fought over the past few years so that Scotsmen, Englishmen and Welshmen could gain from them? Why should the people of Northern Ireland be denied those benefits--if there are any benefits?
Mr. Cope : There are certainly many benefits for Great Britain, but we recognise the differences in the Province. That is why the time scale is different. With respect to local government which we have already discussed this afternoon, only about 10 per cent. of the services that in
Column 461Great Britain are carried out through local government are currently carried out through local government in the Province.
Mr. Jim Marshall : I am sure that the Minister will accept that fuel costs in the North of Ireland are among the most expensive in the United Kingdom. One of the consequences of privatising Northern Ireland Electricity will be a further price increase. If that is so, what action do the Government propose to reduce the impact of that privatisation on domestic budgets and on industrial costs?
Mr. Needham : The Lear Fan factory was sold by the Industrial Development Board to F. G. Wilson Ltd. in 1988 to meet that company's expansion plans. Wilson, after deciding to expand elsewhere, sold the factory to SRC Composites Ltd. in spring 1989 for the manufacture of composite components. After the IDB refused financial assistance for this project, SRC sold the factory to Bombardier-Short's.
Mr. Wall : Is the Minister not concerned that, in essence, the factory and its equipment were resold for three times the value placed on them by the Government and the receiver? Will he ensure that when factories and equipment are sold in future, there is a clawback clause so that the IDB can share in the profits that are made? Will I be allowed to make the same sort of profit when I sell the dispatch box back to the Minister?
Mr. Needham : The original valuation carried out by the valuation and land office in Northern Ireland, which has great experience of industrial properties in Northern Ireland, valued the factory at £650,000, for which sum it was then sold to Wilson. As the hon. Gentleman knows, Wilson sold it, together with the autoclaves, jigs and tools that were later destroyed, for £3 million to SRC, which was one of the reasons why the Government had doubts about SRC. The factory was then sold by SRC for £1.1 million, which included additional amounts spent on it by SRC in the interim. In my judgment, that was a fair valuation. Of course, if it had been possible to see into the future and to realise that Bombardier-Short's would have the use of the factory and what was in it once it had merged, that would have been a good answer. However, we did not know it at the time. The sale was carried out according to a proper valuation on advice by the VLO and the receiver. I am perfectly happy about the way in which the contracts were decided.
Mr. Needham : The reason that we did not give grant support, as I wrote to the hon. Gentleman, was that having looked into the background of the company, we found, on advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that it was an Iraqi-backed company that may well have had connections with the making of ballistic missiles. Under
Column 462those circumstances, there was no question of the IDB giving support. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would congratulate the Government and the IDB on their precipience in finding that out.