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Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, in the light of the fact that the Secretary Generalship is one of the most onerous jobs in the world, does my noble friend agree that five years is about as much as any one person can physically cope with?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, as we well know, individuals vary in their constitutions. I can only say that any man who has as much energy as Dr. Boutros Ghali at present, and who can contemplate another five years in office, has nothing but my admiration.

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Lord Mayhew: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that her careful answers this morning will have encouraged those who think that Dr. Boutros Boutros Ghali should be re-elected?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I often find myself having to tread rather narrowly along a very fine line. I certainly do appreciate what Dr. Boutros has done; indeed, I believe that his efforts to reform the UN need every encouragement. But, on the other hand, we also know that we need those who have not paid their dues to do so and then, perhaps, the UN could do an even better job.

Northern Ireland:

Long-term Unemployment

11.31 a.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have responded to the Donnison Report on long-term unemployment in Northern Ireland, published in June 1996 by the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action; if so in what terms; and if not, when they expect to do so.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Baroness Denton of Wakefield): My Lords, the Government welcome Professor Donnison's report as an important and interesting contribution to the ongoing debate on long-term unemployment in Northern Ireland. The relevant recommendations will be addressed as part of the Training and Employment Agency review of policy towards the long-term unemployed. That review will be the subject of widespread consultation in the autumn. It would be inappropriate to respond further at this stage.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I welcome what the Minister has just said about the Training and Employment Agency. Does the Minister agree that the consultation that she mentioned should include other government departments and the voluntary sector? Would the Minister further agree that the existence of a large pool of long-term unemployed people has serious implications for recruitment into paramilitary organisations, for street violence and, indeed, for fair employment?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I am pleased to be able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that there is already a format for consultation between officials of all departments; it is not something which is just for the economic department. As the noble Lord knows, voluntary organisations come under the Department of Health and Social Services and are very closely involved in the discussions.

I would not like to impute that the long-term unemployed are part of the paramilitary organisations. However, I would suggest that the best possible cement for peace in any circumstances is the provision of jobs. I can confirm that the Government continue their efforts

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to attract new jobs to Northern Ireland because stability of the workforce in the Province means that we must attract new jobs so as to take the final small hurdle as regards equality of employment in the Province.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the real key here is long-term investment which, in turn, depends on long-term stability? Does she also agree that the disgraceful scenes recently in Drumcree have been a hindrance to a policy which has, by and large, been successful? Further, as this is the last occasion when I shall be asking her a question, is the Minister aware that she has the continued support of all sides of the House as regards the extremely successful way in which she has attracted inward investment into Northern Ireland?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, as so often, I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williams. The hesitation in confidence in the economy of Northern Ireland created by the senseless violence that we saw in the past few weeks is to be much regretted. It is to be hoped that we can build and reassure. I am pleased that inward investors have taken the attitude of, "Let's wait and see", rather than walk away. We are grateful for that fact. I also take pleasure in thanking the noble Lord and, indeed, your Lordships for the confidence and support expressed by the House regarding the many troubles that the Province still has and the Government's determination to resolve those problems. I hope that the noble Lord's comment that this is the last question he may ask of me does not indicate that he knows something about my future of which I am unaware.

Lord McNally: My Lords, will the Minister agree to read the Hansard report of last night's debate on Manchester? The point was then made that the United Kingdom freely donates or contributes billions each year towards jobs, employment and stability in Northern Ireland. That is a magnificent act of commitment by the United Kingdom as a whole, but one which needs to be realised by both communities in response.

The Minister said that the provision of jobs is the key to peace. Both communities--and, in view of recent events, the Unionist community in particular, given the billions that it receives--should realise that peace is the key to jobs. Indeed, should they not be given a very strong message about the nature of the commitment of the United Kingdom and about the response that we expect from them?

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I should point out to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. The Government's commitment towards working to see through the troubles in the Province is absolute; indeed, that is recognised by the people in Northern Ireland. We are fully cognisant of the fact that the friendship that we have also seen from other parts--for example, from Europe and North America--has made a difference to our ability to build a successful future. We continue to

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work towards that aim. I hope that the resolution that came out of the talks last night will play a part in helping that process move forward.

Business of the House:

Statement on Defence Contracts

11.35 a.m.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I trust that your Lordships will allow me to say a few words about some information that has only just been conveyed to me. I have in front of me what seems to be the text of a Written Answer from the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. I do not know whether the noble Lord has yet seen the response, but it relates to the contracts which are being placed for defence equipment.

As I understand it, it was announced by way of Written Answer yesterday in the House of Commons that the total amount involved is to be £4 billion. However, I now have a copy of the Written Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, giving details of such contracts. It appears that the Government have decided to buy a Storm Shadow missile from British Aerospace; they are buying an advanced air-launched anti-armour weapon, Brimstone, from GEC Marconi Dynamics; and they are buying 21 Nimrod 2000 aircraft from British Aerospace.

Of course, they may be absolutely right decisions; I do not know. However, it seems to me that this is a major issue upon which Parliament ought to have had the opportunity at some stage to express a view. I am afraid that I have been protesting rather vehemently over the past few weeks about the way in which the Government are presenting business to the House. But if ever there was anything which should be dealt with by way of a Statement from the Dispatch Box rather than by way of a Written Answer surely, I must suggest to the Government, issues of this magnitude--especially given the composition of this House encompassing as it does people with immense expertise in such matters; indeed, far more than I--should be dealt with in that way.

The House has not yet adjourned. The House of Commons may be in Recess, but this House is not. Therefore, I do not see why the Government should not take the opportunity today--perhaps after the debate on the Recruitment and Assessment Services, or, if possible, before that debate--to make a Statement here in Parliament so that those who know more about the issue than I do can question the Government as to the rightness or wrongness of those particular decisions.

In fact, I should point out that we had a defence debate in this House as recently as 12th July. I really do not think that governments should announce contracts of this magnitude and importance to the Armed Forces and to the Crown by way of Written Answer in this House after the House of Commons has gone into Recess. As the noble Viscount the Leader of the House is present in the Chamber, I must ask him whether some time could be made available during the course of today so as to give us the opportunity to discuss the matter and, indeed, to question the Government.

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I now understand that the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, has received his Written Answer. I am not quite sure how I got a copy of it; but, however I received it, I am grateful for having done so. Having had, so to speak, a taste of the feast in the Written Answer, I think this House ought to have an opportunity of scrutinising the menu with a little more particularity than it has so far.

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