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6.24 pm

Mr. Mike Wood (Batley and Spen): As the first Labour Member for Batley and Spen and someone who has lived there since 1976, I cannot believe that any hon. Member is unaware of my constituency's precise location, but perhaps for the record I should fix its geographical location at the very heart of West Yorkshire, with a northern boundary that is co-terminous with both Bradford and Leeds.

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My constituency is a mix of keenly independent- minded towns that pay no deference whatever to their more powerful northern neighbours, interspersed with attractive countryside that still shows the scars of an industrial past. Batley made its name and its wealth in the last century as the centre of the heavy woollen industry and from the manufacture of a specialist product called shoddy: the bringing together of used rags and woollen cloth to produce quality overcoats and carpets--an early example of recycling that brought an influx of workers from Ireland and, later, from the Indian sub-continent. Both those communities are now settled and form the core of the town's diverse and industrious population.

The Spen valley is the centre of the wire-drawing industry--a process whereby metal rods are transformed into rolls of wire--and until recently was a major producer of asbestos products, resulting in much long-term illness and death for workers and their families.

The last of our many pits, Gomersal, closed in the 1970s, more than 15 years before my immediate predecessor achieved passing fame by defending certain groups of miners during the Conservative Government's ill-conceived and malicious assault on one of the most efficient industries in the world. As a direct result of that disastrous policy, applications have been made in my area for opencast mining development, with all its attendant environmental and health problems.

Mrs. Peacock held strong views on issues such as law and order and abortion, and liked to be thought of as an independent-minded Yorkshire woman. I wish her the peaceful and thoughtful retirement that she deserves.

Over the years, we have suffered more than most at the hands of the boundary commission. The first Labour Member for Batley and Morley, Ben Turner, travelled at his own expense and by a circuitous route to Moscow in the early days of the Soviet Union. Granted an interview with Lenin, he informed the great man that he appreciated the scale of his problems but could not condone his methods. In the House he was hardly less forthright, and was a consistent advocate of a minimum wage.

A contemporary of Ben Turner's was Tom Myers, the first Labour Member for Spen Valley. Tom for a short while replaced Sir John Simon, and his work is recognised in the name of my office premises in Cleckheaton: Tom Myers house. Constituents still call occasionally and ask to see Tom--or, to be more exact, they think that I am Tom. Recently the Co-op bank demanded his endorsement on a cheque and took a fair time to accept as sufficient justification for his absence the fact that he had been dead for 50 years.

No introduction to my constituency would be complete without mention of and tribute to Dr. Broughton, who, after working as a Batley general practitioner, served as its Member of Parliament, to equally good effect, for more than 30 years. It was a tragedy not only for him but for his country that, while he was on his death-bed, the Callaghan Government fell for the want of the single vote that he would loyally have provided had his illness allowed.

Mine is a constituency with many fine museums, some of national note, and a rugby league side in Batley Bulldogs that would also have national standing if its effort received more ample reward and, indeed, more financial backing.

We are steeped in history, as reference to one short period will show. Dr. Joseph Priestley, one of this country's foremost scientific minds, was born in Birstall

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and spent his formative years in the area. He is noted for his discovery and isolation of oxygen--not, as so many school essays are supposed to claim, its invention. As a minister of religion he held radical views that even now would not endear him to the establishment, or even to many Labour party selection meetings. As an open supporter of both the American and French revolutions, he was a target of Government agents. To the shame of this country, a great reforming mind was lost to America.

Government agents also infiltrated and eventually undermined the working-class movement centred on the Spen valley that became known as the rise of the luddites. They were highly skilled and literate workers responsible for putting a fine quality hand finish on local woollen cloth. The machinery that threatened their jobs also threatened their families. That, combined with employers whose idea of industrial relations involved threats to ride up to their saddle girths in luddite blood, precipitated a violent conflict.

While mortally wounded in a local hostelry, a youth called Booth was tortured to obtain the name of the luddite leader. The vicar of Liversedge, the Rev. Hammond Roberson, an active supporter of local industrialists, in an effort to obtain the confession, assured the lad that he could keep a secret. With his last gasp, Booth assured the cleric that he could, too, and he took the luddite leader's name to his grave.

Hammond Roberson was a dinner companion of a local curate, the Rev. Patrick Bronte who, a year after the public hanging of the Spen valley luddites at York, brought his new bride to live at Hightown. It was there that Charlotte's sisters Emily and Anne were born. It was in the Spen valley that the famous novelists received their education.

I do not expect the privilege of serving the area for as long as Dr. Broughton or the opportunity to confront and contradict world leaders as did Ben Turner, but I am confident that in this Parliament, as part of this Labour Government, I shall see the advent of Turner's long-sought minimum wage. I will have the opportunity to vote for regulations to stop further environmental destruction by opencast mining, and I will be part of the process that will introduce the long overdue ban of the import and use of asbestos.

Today, we debate the Bank of England Bill, which has been headlined as the Bill that will allow the Bank of England the freedom to set interest rates--not an idea that I welcome wildly. Of course, it contains far more: new faces and new freedoms balanced by new responsibilities and accountability, as one would expect from a Government determined to position this country to meet the challenges and take the opportunities that the new millennium will bring. As such, it has much to recommend it to my constituents and to people throughout Britain. I am proud to be able to lend my support to the Bill today.

6.31 pm

Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle): It gives me great pleasure to be the first to congratulate the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mr. Wood) on his excellent maiden speech, to which the House listened with close attention and much pleasure. He spoke in a most interesting way about his constituency and some of its famous figures of the past. He also paid tribute to his

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predecessor, Elizabeth Peacock, who is a great friend of mine. The only point on which I would venture to disagree with him was his suggestion that she might be looking forward to a quiet retirement. Knowing her as I do, and admiring her tremendous rigour and the bonny way in which she fought for her constituency and, in particular, for her miners, I am sure that quietness is the last thing she has in mind and that she will continue to play an active role in public life. We hope to hear from the hon. Gentleman often. From his closing remarks, it is obvious that he is a man of idealism, and will make a great contribution to our discussions.

Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed some astonishment that the introduction of independent monetary control by the Bank of England was announced four days after the general election without having been in the Labour party's manifesto. Even The Guardian of 7 May said that there was no democratic legitimacy for the proposal. One wonders why this dramatic announcement, now encoded in a Bill, should have been made with such a roll of drums so soon after polling day and before the House of Commons reassembled. There are four main reasons.

The first was explained by Lord Healey in his usual helpful way, when he said that the idea of an independent central bank was a gimmick to be used as an apologia by failed Chancellors to shuffle off their failures on to the Bank of England. As has been pointed out, there have already been five increases in interest rates since polling day. Apart from the introduction of university charges, they are the most unpopular things that the new Labour Government have done.

One can see that it is in the short term politically helpful to the Government to be able to say that it is the responsibility of other people. I doubt whether that will work for them, because in my constituency surgery on Saturday, nearly half the people who came to see me with their personal problems mentioned higher interest rates on their mortgages as a particular blow. None of them blamed it on the Bank of England. None seemed to have got the message. They seemed to feel that it was the responsibility of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Perhaps every effort will be made by the spin doctors as time goes on to prove that those matters are no longer the responsibility of the Government.

The second reason for the change is that every Labour Government have produced a sterling crisis leading to the devaluation of the pound: 1931, 1949, 1967 and 1976. By surrendering control over monetary policy, the Chancellor no doubt hopes that, in the next crisis, the independence of the Bank of England will provide him with an alibi.

Thirdly, the Chancellor and his senior colleagues must hope that the change will provide him with a defence against his Back Benchers, who will not always be as supine and cringing in their parliamentary behaviour as they have been so far. When things start to go wrong on the economic front, as undoubtedly they will in the nature of things, and when unemployment starts rising, as undoubtedly it will at some point in the cycle, I hope that Labour Back Benchers will not allow themselves to be bought off with the excuse that the measures causing unemployment are not in the control of the Government but are the responsibility of the hard-hearted people on the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England.

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The fourth, and in many ways most important, reason for the change is to prepare the way for Britain to enter a single European currency managed by a European central bank that will be wholly independent of any form of democratic control. When one tells people--even sophisticated people in the City of London and in business--that the proposed European central bank will be subject to no democratic control or influence, they express disbelief.

As some hon. Members were not here in the previous Parliament during our interminable discussions of the Maastricht treaty, it might be useful if I read out the relevant extract of article 7, which explains the exact position of the proposed European central bank. Article 7 states, in part:


That is what the Maastricht treaty imposes upon us. So much, therefore, for accountability and transparency.

Some people have suggested that, as long as the minutes of the European central bank are published and we know who has taken the decisions, there is accountability. I see that the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Dr. Vis) wants to intervene. If he enters the House, it will be easier for me to give way and I shall most certainly do so.


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