Orders of the Day — Economic Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th March 1974.

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Photo of Mr William Craig Mr William Craig , Belfast East 12:00 am, 18th March 1974

I have the privilege of representing the largest industrial constituency in Northern Ireland. It has within it such well-known firms as Harland and Wolff, Shorts, and Rolls-Royce. Many hon. Members will know that my predecessor assiduously championed the interests of those industrial firms. I shall be no less assiduous, but I shall not make the same mistake as he made of losing sight of the wider interests and following foolish policies.

As well as the industrial structure, I have within my constituency a seat of a so-called Government and with it the attendant battalions of bureaucrats, so in many ways my constituency represents a real cross-section of Ulster opinion. It is a constituency that has suffered much adversity. It has suffered economic adversity and the adversity of war, at the hands of both Nazi terrorists and Republican terrorists. It is a constituency now suffering under the traumatic experienec of the collapse of law and order, and of constitutional and political stability. It is these circumstances that must undoubtedly influence the attitudes that my colleagues and I will adopt to many Government policies.

It is necessary to say, because of some maliciously-minded people and some who are misinformed, that I am not here as a Protestant. I am here to represent the Ulster Loyalists who wish to preserve their British birthright. My approach to the decisions of this Parliament will be governed by that and will have nothing to do with religion in any shape or form. It is a pity that one has to make such a declaration, but I wish it to go on record where I stand in this respect.

Because we wish to preserve our birthright within the United Kingdom we are naturally concerned about the parlous plight in which the country finds itself. The hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) did not exaggerate the difficulties that concerns us all. People all over this land are tired of Governments coming and going, each claiming to have inherited an economic crisis of magnitude. We are tired of the continual problems of balance of payments and of the value of the pound. Ordinary people all over the land are beginning to wonder whether the promise contained on a Bank of England note has any meaning at all. Many feel that the value of the money in their pockets has been too often sacrificed, because Governments have not had the answer to serious problems such as unemployment. Instead of their admitting that they have no answer, the pound has been sacrificed.

The immediate concern of this Parliament will he a first-aid programme. In thinking of first aid, I hope that we do not make indiscriminate use of the tourniquet. We in Ulster have enjoyed industrial relations second to none—a proposition that is a matter for agreement among all concerned. Industrial relations cannot be legislated for, although legislation has a contribution to make. In this first-aid programme, wages and prices must receive attention. They cannot be legislated for either. We have just experienced the folly of trying to legislate for a section of the community, knowing full well that we should not have their consent.

In Ulster, our wages have lagged substantially behind the national average. I believe that our level is about 75 per cent. of the national level. We hope that no first-aid programme will stand in the way of evening up that imbalance. I was pleased to learn that the Government are speaking in terms of a commission that can hammer out these inequalities.

There are other areas in which regional needs must be given priority. For instance, we in Ulster have lagged behind in home ownership, where the gap is much more sizeable than the gap in wage levels. It seems right and proper that some preferential treatment should be given to those regions which are lagging behind in home ownership, because it is important to the health and well-being of any community, and particularly of Ulster. One would like to hope that there could be preferential treatment for building societies and interest rates in Ulster. These are the things that my constituents are considering today, in the midst of war, and I hope that they will not be lost sight of in the national crisis.

As we look at economic problems on a national basis, we are concerned about Europe. We agree that renegotiation is necessary and that the people of the United Kingdom need to be consulted. We cannot afford a long protracted period, because, if we are to have realistic economic policies, we must know quickly where we are going and whether we are going on our own or with Europe. We in Ulster plead that an early decision should be taken in the matter of Europe.

By and large, I have been thinking in terms of first aid. What the whole country wants is a real breakthrough. The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Maudling) set the tone for what is necessary in reaching a breakthrough, but I do not think that it is to be achieved just with a national Government. If we are to achieve it there must be a real broadening of the power base, a broadening not in any artificial, contrived sense or by the adoption of any gimmicky phrase such as "the power-sharing concept" in Northern Ireland. Indeed, we have been somewhat amused, if not disgusted, at the way some hon. Members urge this upon Northern Ireland and yet throw up their hands at any idea of such a coalition structure here.

The power base can be broadened in the national interest and in the regional interest. I believe that devolution will not only help to meet the needs of the region but can broaden the power base here. I think that we could with benefit look at the constitution of Western Germany. We could look at the structure of its second house where regional governments of different political complexions have a real say in shaping national policies.

Many people think that this Parliament is a Parliament of despair. I hope that this will be a Parliament that can create the bridgehead for a real breakthrough and that the Government, from whatever party they may come in the days that lie ahead, will be a Government that do not think of themselves as a caretaker Government. The last thing that the United Kingdom can afford in its present plight is a caretaker Government.

We from Ulster will play our part in helping to support a worthwhile Government. There will shortly be a debate on Northern Ireland affairs. None the less, it is necessary to make a brief reference to the problem that confronts us in Northern Ireland, because that problem will influence how we vote today, if there is a vote, or on subsequent occasions. No group of Members has a more distinct mandate than we the Members from Ulster. Our mandate says quite clearly that we must not give any support to the Sunningdale agreement; we must not prop up the undemocratic form of administration that now exists in Northern Ireland. Our duty is to tell this honourable House that there is not the necessary consent in Northern Ireland for the present form of Government.

We can only say to hon. Members here that if we are to be governed differently from other parts of the United Kingdom it will be necessary to get the consent of at least a majority in Northern Ireland. At present one can say emphatically that about 60 per cent. are opposed to the Northern Ireland Executive and will give it no support in any shape or form, and that 27 Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly have withdrawn and will not return to take part in the business of the Executive.

Shortly we will be presenting on behalf of the citizens of Northern Ireland a petition which will effectively declare that there is not the necessary consent for the present constitutional formula. Failing agreement, we, as British citizens, claim the right to be governed in exactly the same way as other citizens in the United Kingdom. It is not within the British tradition or the traditions of this great House that Ulster should have lower standards of democracy.

I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State say today that it is not the Government's policy to say, "Stand and deliver." I can remember, too, the right hon. Gentleman who now leads the largest Opposition party saying something to the same effect in Dublin. He said that if agreement could not be reached Ulster would have to be fully integrated within the United Kingdom political entity. We come from Ulster, where our politics are mixed with blood, sweat and tears, and the policies that are presently being pursued in Ulster have nothing to offer us in the future but blood, sweat and tears.

We hope that we shall be able to bring before the House proposals that will cause a dramatic rethinking of the whole situation, but as we pursue the needs of our own people we shall be ever mindful of the needs of the whole of the United Kingdom, and on issues that affect the wellbeing of the whole of the United Kingdom we shall give our support without party political consideration, but on matters involving confidence we shall have to consider very carefully and decide whether we shall give our support on the basis of what is right for Ulster.