We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
It is a pleasure and an honour to serve under your chairpersonship, Dame Cheryl, and I congratulate Emma Little Pengelly on securing this debate. It is third time lucky for her, and also for the House, because the speech with which she opened this debate was passionate, well-informed, comprehensive, and very moving in parts. I, for one, learned a lot from it.
I am proud to represent the party that helped broker the Good Friday agreement, and the current Government’s cavalier approach to preserving that agreement in the Brexit negotiations worries me. As hon. Members have said, the Good Friday agreement is the foundation of peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland, as well as the Republic. The absence of the devolved Government in Stormont is another issue that many hon. Members have mentioned. Labour’s approach rests on increasing local, regional and national democracy, and the lack of resolution to that problem clearly undermines efforts to improve innovation and the economy of Northern Ireland.
I will begin by outlining Labour’s approach to industrial strategy and innovation. It is not a top-down approach; as my hon. Friend Stephen Pound said, that is not the right approach. We aim to provide support for a devolved Administration and local councils to make decisions in support of their industry and their workers. We have talked a lot in recent months about the differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, but there are also many similarities, particularly with my home region, the north-east of England. As Jim Shannon likes to point out every time he intervenes in one of my Adjournment debates, there are many similarities between our regions, particularly our economies and the investment in making and building things over the centuries. The hon. Member for Belfast South spoke movingly about that in the context of Northern Ireland, as well as the years of deindustrialisation and under-investment in infrastructure and education that have left Northern Ireland with some significant economic challenges.
The legendary Harland and Wolff shipyard was recently saved from collapse because workers staged a nine-week sit-in in protest to show that it was still viable, but those who took redundancy face an uncertain future. Wrightbus has also been mentioned—a company that had been operating since 1946, but which closed its doors in September, threatening 1,200 jobs. It was recently bought by the Bamford family after going into administration, although we still do not know what its workers’ fate will be, particularly as the Government propose a Brexit deal that would place trading barriers between that company and the rest of the UK. Sammy Wilson and the hon. Member for Strangford emphasised the negative impact that would have.