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Mr. Skinner: The hon. Gentleman was one of Thatcher's stooges.

Mr. Howarth: I was, indeed, one of the noble Lady's supporters, but I spoke my mind, as I will continue to do.

As today's report from Switzerland reminds us, the Government have inherited an unrivalled economic situation, in which Britain is performing better than our European partners. Primarily because--under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major)--we rejected the European social chapter, a golden inheritance means that the new Government will not be able to blame their predecessors for deterioration in the United Kingdom's economic position. They are now in charge and will have to take the decisions, and the Opposition will hold them to account for their stewardship.

8.18 pm

Miss Melanie Johnson (Welwyn Hatfield): I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I also thank the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) for his comments on Aldershot and Farnborough--I know the area a little. I shall not, however, debate the more controversial comments in his speech. As a retread, he can risk making such comments, but, as a new Member, I do not think that I can risk doing the same.

Hon. Members will readily remember my predecessor in Welwyn Hatfield--David Evans. He was widely renowned for his plain speaking, and for the prominence that he gave to it. He often sought and quoted the advice of his wife Janice and it is sad in some ways, although not of course in others, that he is not still here for we could have had the benefit of his plain-spoken advice on the contenders for the leadership of the Opposition--a subject on which he certainly would have had firm views.

Mr. Evans could be personally very charming. I saw that for myself on election night when he congratulated me on my victory in Welwyn Hatfield and recorded how much he had enjoyed being a Member of Parliament--he will miss that. I am already obeying his injunction to enjoy being a Member of the House. I am a firm believer in diversity and my own style will be a little different from his. As a mother of three, I can assure the House that my children will help to keep my feet on the ground. Along with my constituents, my children will want to

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know what I have been doing here and what benefits it will bring. I hope that I shall never have any difficulty accounting for my time here. They can all be critical and exacting commentators.

One of my earlier predecessors as Member of Parliament for Welwyn Hatfield was Helen Hayman, now Baroness Hayman, an Environment Minister. Baroness Hayman was very young when she became a Member of Parliament in 1974, 23 years before I did. Indeed, she is only a few years older than I am. As a young Member of Parliament with children, she will be remembered for her protest about the problems of breast feeding in the House of Commons. Women now have further problems of a day-to-day kind, notably the lack of toilets for them. I share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Ms Mallaber) for the fact that there are so many more women in the Chamber. In a way, we are lucky to have the problem of the lack of facilities available to us. It is right that there should be a better balance of women in the House. I was fortunate to have Helen's support and help throughout my campaign. She is still fondly remembered by many in the constituency for a particular virtue that I can only hope to emulate in time: great effectiveness as a local Member of Parliament.

Welwyn Hatfield has made at least two notable contributions to areas of our life as a nation. Welwyn Garden City recently celebrated, in 1995, its 75th anniversary. The garden city is a vision of how towns could and should be. As the second garden city, it was built with the needs of the people in mind--that they should be able to work and live close by, that their homes should be generous and good to live in, that there should be green spaces, shops and a strong sense of community.

The garden city concept still has a huge amount to recommend it. In Welwyn Garden City, that concept was impressively realised and the homes and environment that it provides are still much treasured. It provides a great example of what the effective implementation of a long-term plan can achieve in terms of enhancing the quality of life in following decades.

The other main town in the constituency is Hatfield, which was perhaps best known in historical times as one of the first watering holes north of London along the Great North road. Hatfield has links with the Salisbury family that go back many centuries. More recently, the Commission for the New Towns has had a hand in the development of the town.

Welwyn Hatfield has many successful businesses and many of the small and medium businesses on which the country's wealth will depend. It could also claim to be the pharmaceutical capital of the United Kingdom, with Roche, SmithKline Beecham, Schering Plough and Serono all situated in Welwyn Garden City itself. The pharmaceutical industry is a major contributor to our economy. My constituency is also home to the university of Hertfordshire, a place of learning where business and research are productively brought together.

Hatfield has played a crucial role in British aviation--home of de Havilland, the Hawker Siddeley and the 146, which was partly the subject of Helen Hayman's maiden speech. It was the place where the world's first jet airliner--the Comet--was designed and tested. I hope that it will be possible to keep the last flying Comet in the United Kingdom for the de Havilland museum--a matter currently in the hands of the Ministry of Defence.

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At its peak, British Aerospace, as it became, employed about 10,000 people and many others worked in local allied businesses. In the late 1980s, jobs were lost and finally the works closed. It is a story with which many will be familiar. Aviation was Hatfield's business and the closure of British Aerospace was a cruel blow. It hit the local economy at the same time as the recession, which was exacerbated by Tory policies. The centre of Hatfield was badly hit and still suffers from the effects. Many of the workers took retirement and others moved to find work, often only to be made redundant again. Some took insecure and low-paid work, becoming part of Major's 11 million who have experienced at least one period of unemployment over the past five years.

As is always the case, in security and unemployment are scourges of family life: they uproot people, create poverty and chaos and shatter expectations. The problems particularly hurt young people who would otherwise have joined the works and become apprentices. Unemployment for 16 to 19-year-olds is now twice as high and nearly one quarter of unemployed people are under 25. One third of manufacturing jobs in Hertfordshire have gone over the past decade. Welwyn Hatfield's sometimes apparent prosperity hides great variations--the massive changes that it has undergone, the uncertainty, the insecurity and the lack of a sense of future under the last Government.

The people have made a decisive choice, which is why we now have a Labour Government. The sense of hope and opportunity, of change for the better, is almost tangible--a taxi driver said that it was like a breath of fresh air. As I talk to my constituents, I know that what they want us to build is an inclusive society in which people have a place.

The measures in the Queen's Speech are crucial. It is essential to give young people opportunities for work, training and education and to ensure that no one is without for too long. Young people gain much more than a job or a course; they gain a senses of belonging, of being part of something and of being able to contribute--of being a stakeholder. The measures will give young people security, dignity and optimism; they will use resources, not waste them, and we shall all reap the benefits.

We also need the stability that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is working to establish; it will help my constituency a great deal. The British Aerospace site in Hatfield is still the key to its future and the future of business and investment in the area. A huge site now awaits development. The confidence and interest of business has been lacking over recent years. Long-termism, investment and stability will form the base on which Labour's partnership and dialogue with business will build prosperity in constituencies such as mine. Welwyn Hatfield has a high proportion of people with professional and managerial qualifications. It also has many people who need the opportunity to update their skills. Flexible welfare-to-work programmes, including training, will be very welcome.

In conclusion, let me say that Welwyn Hatfield has played a prominent part in a number of areas of national life; it has also suffered much over recent years. It has much to offer and is delighted now to have new hope for its future under a new Government. The people of Welwyn Hatfield have done me a great honour. As their

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Member of Parliament, I intend to devote much of my energy to living up to the standards which, I am sure, they will expect of me.

8.28 pm

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to join the throng of those making their maiden speeches this evening. I congratulate the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson) on jumping that particular hurdle shortly before me.

Unlike the makers of some of the previous maiden speeches, I am in the happy position of being able to pay a warm tribute to my predecessor with no ambiguity at all. For more than 20 years, Sir Keith Speed gave valuable and diligent service to the House, to the then Government when he was a Minister, and to the people of Ashford. He served with great distinction in the Conservative Government but, as some hon. Members will remember, he resigned on a point of principle relating to cuts in the Royal Navy. The Navy, in which he was proud to serve, was one of his great lifelong loves. It was a brave decision and one for which many in Ashford hold him in the highest regard.

Sir Keith has the advantage of having not only the respect and affection of the people of Ashford, but a physical monument in the shape of the Ashford International rail station--the first stop on the channel tunnel link after emerging from the tunnel. He fought long and hard to have the station placed not in the middle of nowhere but in the middle of the town of Ashford, and it now provides a springboard on which the future prosperity and growth of the town will be built. That one decision, largely the result of Sir Keith's tenacity, will provide a strong base for the area's future growth and I am sure that the whole House wishes him a long and happy retirement.

I should add that Ashford International station provides what may be one of the more vivid illustrations of a key economic fact in this debate. By catching a train there, one can be in Paris in two hours. Those considering siting their businesses in Ashford should know that one can put in most of a morning's work there and still get to Paris in time for lunch. Even in the era of the new puritanism, I hope that that will act as an attraction for some inward investors.

I shall break with tradition at this point by paying tribute to my predecessor's predecessor, now the noble Lord Deedes, who is a revered local resident. As I take my first faltering steps as Member of Parliament for Ashford, I am conscious of having not just one but two pairs of beady eyes watching my every move.

In many ways, Ashford is a suitable symbol for the two strands of this debate, because its economic health depends on its excellent links with Europe. Indeed, the importance of maintaining a consistent and friendly relationship with the other countries in the European Union is visibly expressed every week by a column entitled "Bonjour Europe" in our local paper, the Kentish Express. I am aware that some hon. Members, even on the Conservative Benches, might regard such a column as somewhat suspicious, but it expresses a reality--that jobs, prosperity and investment are all more likely when we are part of a large free trading area and when we run a free enterprise, low-interference economy.

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From my constituency, I can produce not just a living example of that, but a living French example. Two weeks ago, Mr. Olivier Cadic moved his business from France to Ashford. His reasons, as quoted in the local paper, were that he moved


    "do not alter their taxation and employment laws in line with Britain's. If they do not their firms will want to move to Britain."

That is a lesson for us all: do not watch what they say, watch what they do. French businesses are moving to this country--not, in Mr. Cadic's case, because he is targeting the British market, but because it is easier for him to sell to France from Britain than to sell to France from France.

We all know about the big multinational companies that have moved to this country because they have found it such a congenial place for inward investment over the past 18 years. What is significant is that small business men with no immediate ambitions to become Europewide or global players are now moving to Britain because of the employment and taxation laws that have been established over the past 18 years. I would argue that that is more convincing than the various league tables and comparative economic statistics with which we can all have fun. The case that I have cited is that of a real business man taking a real decision and--most importantly--creating real jobs in this country, in Ashford rather than in Paris.

That is surely the heart of the economic debate that we as a country need to have. How can we best create more jobs? We all know that prosperity is not only a goal in itself, but that jobs are the best welfare policy that one can have. A party which poses as compassionate while organising the economy in a way that will make job creation more difficult will not only disappoint its supporters but let down the country.

In the spirit of non-controversy that one is expected to observe in a maiden speech, however, I will merely ask the Government to apply a simple test to each of the measures in the Chancellor's forthcoming Budget and ask, "Does this measure make it easier to create jobs?"

I ask the Government to apply that test to the minimum wage, about which we have heard a great deal in today's debate. If it means anything and is set at a realistic level, it will make it more difficult for unskilled people to find work and it will make it especially difficult for young people to find the first jobs which are vital to getting them into lifetime employment.

I ask the Government to apply that test to the windfall tax. However and to whomsoever it is applied, it is designed to take money away from companies. Some of that money might have gone on dividends, and a small proportion might even have gone to fat cats, but the vast bulk would have been spent on investment which would have created jobs. A windfall tax will make it more difficult to create jobs.

It is important for Conservative Members to recognise the mandate that the Government have been given, at least for those policies in their manifesto. However, I would argue that it is even more important for the Government to recognise that they have gained such an enviable economic inheritance that they should pause to consider what is going right in this country before rushing to change everything.

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On Europe, it is clear that we should engage in constructive dialogue and preserve a full trading relationship, but it would be mad to say that being positive about Europe means being positive about the unemployment levels prevalent in too many continental countries and even madder to sign up to the very policies that have made their unemployment higher than ours.

I hope fervently that the new-found prosperity, both in my constituency and in the country as a whole, will not be put at risk. As a country we have huge potential, symbolised by the opportunities available to the people of Ashford. As a patriot, I hope that the new Government will not throw away those opportunities. This House and the British people will judge whether or not they do so.

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