Appropriation (Northern Ireland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:02 pm on 22nd June 1989.

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Photo of Mr Harry Barnes Mr Harry Barnes , North East Derbyshire 10:02 pm, 22nd June 1989

My approach to the appropriations is similar to the approach that I would have taken if there had been time to call me in the debate on direct rule, although what I want to say now is different from what I would have said in that debate.

I see Socialism and democracy or aspects of Socialism and democracy as essential in resolving major problems faced by working people, whether they be Catholic, Protestant or of any other denomination or loyalty. Democratic and Socialist solutions seem to me to be appropriate. I see Socialism and democracy as interlinked concepts. Socialism without democracy becomes bureaucratic abuse. Democracy without Socialism, as we experience it throughout the United Kingdom, is shallow and inadequate. Just as devolved government with a Bill of Rights could allow the healthy development of nonsectarian politics in Northern Ireland, we need an economic and social transformation in Northern Ireland on Socialist and democratic terms, with the democratic and participative transformation of the economy, or at least we need to do what we can about nudging it in that important direction.

How can the Protestant and Irish working class co-operate and aid one another if they are expected to be passive recipients or victims of the economic process? If they are expected to be victims of a system that operates cut-throat enterprise activities and a cut-throat enterprise culture, those are not the conditions and circumstances in which the co-operation that is required in the Province can be nurtured and extended.

The voting patterns of hon. Members from Northern Ireland on the Government's enterprise culture initiatives is likely to prove instructive. It is something that in future we might look at closely in terms of debates concerning appropriations.

Let us look at the economic plight of Northern Ireland which these appropriations and Government policy do nothing to improve. Like Wales and the north-east of England, Northern Ireland is an area of industrial decline, shipbuilding and textiles being at the centre of the loss of its manufacturing base. Northern Ireland has shared little in the claimed recovery of the British economy, having a low GDP per head of the population. It is not seen by overseas investors and many others as an attractive area for capital location, and has little inward investment.

There was a rise of foreign investment in the 1960s, especially from the USA, with movements at a peak in the mid-1970s, with transnationals concentrated in mechanical engineering and textiles. Following the 1973 oil crisis, energy costs soared in the Province and areas such as artificial fibres went into terminal decline. Previous gains were often lost. In 1981, transnationals accounted for 23 per cent. of manufacturing jobs; by 1983, that was down to 16 per cent.

Bombardier—a most unfortunately named firm to come to Northern Ireland—is being given Short Brothers, with Government funding, without appropriate public control of the equity that is being provided. Most of Northern Ireland's economic problems rest on a change of direction in the United Kingdom economy, and perhaps in the world economy, away from closures, contractions, mergers and movements of high finance and corporate headquarters to the south of England, away from tax and benefit cuts which open up the inequality gap, and away from the enterprise culture.

Economically, socially and politically, Northern Ireland needs something like the popular planning models that are recommended in a publication by the Transport and General Workers Union, which calls for a regional development bank to co-ordinate investment and target funds, with local authorities drawing up structure plans in association with their communities and trade unions, conducting job audits of the impact of total public sector activity and identifying business opportunities. Local projects would be integrated into an overall strategy, supported by community education and training programmes, with roles for bodies such as trade union resource centres similar to the Belfast unemployment centres project under the EEC's anti-poverty programme.

Essential for such measures of economic democracy is a context of political democracy, a devolved government with a Bill of Rights giving some scope for socialist policies, and interests which require that conflicts of race, gender, religion, sectional interests and sectarianism are overcome. Economic and political aspects of Socialism and democracy are appropriate to handling the problems within Northern Ireland. Those are the principles that I would have propounded in the earlier debate, had time been available. I have given some indication of what economic and social advances can be made within the Province. I would associate them with similar political developments of a constitutional nature that are required.