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Mrs. Fiona Jones (Newark): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today in a debate on the Bank of England Bill. The Bill paves the way for a framework of stability, vital to economic growth, which we need to provide opportunity. I shall comment on the new clause in due course.

I take some pleasure--I am sure that hon. Members will sympathise with my desire--in relinquishing the somewhat unlikely title of virgin. As someone who has reached the age when life apparently begins and has accumulated two children along the way, it seems remarkably ill-suited. I had expected during the course of a career in politics to be called many things and have experienced more than the odd colourful insult. However, taking into account the over-zealousness of some journalists, and the occasional lapse in attention to fact on the part of most newspapers, I still had not expected the accusation in question.

Having endured through gritted teeth being dubbed a "Blair's babe", I am grateful at least to have the opportunity to relinquish for ever the title of being the last virgin in the House. However, a right hon. or hon. Member who has hitherto remained secretive may now wish to claim the title. No doubt confessions to the press will be eagerly awaited.

I am proud to make this contribution today at the beginning of the first full year of a Labour Government for almost two decades. We have the important task of laying solid foundations both economically and in terms of the way in which we shape society. What we do in this

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year and in the coming years will shape our future in the new millennium. The Government are setting policy to ensure long-term prosperity. We must ensure stability in monetary and fiscal policy as a precondition of high and stable levels of employment and growth.

My constituency has suffered many economic blows in recent years. It is vital for the people of Newark that we achieve the conditions necessary for industrial expansion. The constituency of Newark is in Nottinghamshire. As well as the town of Newark, which was besieged by parliamentary forces several times during the civil war, the constituency includes the smaller but equally pleasant market town of Retford. At the constituency's western extremity is the historic Southwell dominated by its imposing minster. In addition, there are a number of hamlets and villages between the main centres, stretching from the Lincolnshire border to Robin Hood country to the west.

My constituency has suffered for many reasons in recent years. The rundown of the mining industry was a great blow to many local families who had, for generations, made their living in the pits. The area has also lost many jobs in engineering over the years and sadly now the agriculture industry is not without its problems and many farmers, particularly on family-sized farms, are in a desperate position.

However, the area has good road and rail communications and, thanks to the enthusiasm and skills of local people, new businesses are growing up in the constituency, particularly in food processing and in the pine industry. That growth now requires a platform of long-term economic stability on which to build.

It is customary at times such as this to thank one's predecessor, and I do so with genuine sincerity. Richard Alexander represented Newark for 18 years. He was well respected by his constituents, and by his local party, which in itself is quite an achievement. I well remember Richard Alexander's determination and courage when he took a stance against pit closures because he felt that they would do so much damage to the economies of constituencies such as Newark. Richard Alexander was committed to public service and I sincerely hope he finds some way of continuing that service in the future.

Today, Newark boasts a hostelry called the Lord Ted. It was given its name in recognition of another of my predecessors, Ted Bishop, later Lord Bishopston. Sadly, Ted is no longer with us, but his family took great delight in my being returned as the Member for Newark, because he was a great campaigner for women's rights and equality, long before it became fashionable to be so. I understand from his family that he would have been greatly pleased to see a woman representing Newark, and to see so many women Members in the House--although whether he would have been inclined to call them "babes" is a different matter.

Continuing on the theme of my predecessors, undoubtedly the most famous was William Gladstone, whose first seat was Newark. Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to speak for five hours, as Gladstone did during his Budget speech in 1853.

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5 pm

In addition to sharing the privilege of representing such a fine constituency, Gladstone and I share a common birthplace, for we were both born in Liverpool. I grew up in comfortable but humble surroundings on a typical Liverpool housing estate. My family were committed to the Labour movement. That was in many ways fortunate because it meant the poverty that I witnessed did not make me despondent but inspired me instead to contribute to finding a political solution, to put hope and opportunity in place of deprivation and misery.

In poor families everyone suffers, but women--especially mothers, who face the day-to-day challenge of putting food on the table for a family--are particularly ground down by the pressures of life. They become old before their time and experience little pleasure in a stressful existence. Everyone has a right to more than that.

As a youngster I learnt my politics from two people: my father, who, like many others, joined the movement in 1945 believing that we could indeed change everything, and his friend, our then local Member of Parliament, Eric Heffer. They were bound in friendship by their strong belief in compassion for others, Christianity and socialism. I am for ever grateful for their influence.

The Labour Government elected in 1945 achieved much but left much unfinished business. Together with the job of modernising their accomplishments, that leaves the current Government with a formidable task. We need to achieve an environment that makes everyone--no matter how poor, disabled or down-trodden by their circumstances, by their life--feel that when they open their front door somewhere outside is an opportunity for them. We must reform and modernise the welfare state, but those reforms must empower those who are able to do so to attain the goals of which they are capable, while allowing those who are less able to live in comfort with respect. Socialists expect nothing less from a Labour Government.

When asked about political issues, the President of a country some distance from here, anxious to exhibit the depth of his political knowledge, remarked, "It's the economy, stupid." Indeed, the economy is the cornerstone on which every nation must base its future aspirations. Without a successful and vibrant economy, we cannot provide hope, opportunity or, indeed, welfare. The Government have made it clear that we want a stable and competitive pound over the medium term. Economic stability is critical for business, and that encompasses low inflation, which has to be delivered. By charging the Bank of England with operational responsibility for setting interest rates to meet the Government's objective, a more credible framework for monetary union has been established.

I now come to the clause that we are considering. I have a reservation about the relationship between Select Committees and the Government. Although I accept entirely that there is a consensus in the House that there must be accountability at all levels, I am very concerned that we should allow a Select Committee to take on this responsibility in isolation. If Select Committees are to go in that direction, it cannot be done in isolation.

It is interesting that hon. Members mentioned John Maynard Keynes. Over the past decade we have heard much about why so-called fat cats should be paid so much money and have so many advantages in terms of cars and

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houses. It makes me wonder whether we will be able to attract anybody to come before the Select Committee and be interrogated.

It may be appropriate for me to thank hon. Members for their patience. It is certainly appropriate for me, on behalf of all the new Members who have made their maiden speeches in the past months, to thank the experienced Members of the House, who have sat through many speeches with much patience and good humour.

Sir Peter Lloyd (Fareham): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Newark (Mrs. Jones), and congratulate her on her maiden speech. I greatly enjoyed listening to her and, judging by the cheer that she has just had from the whole House, everybody in the Chamber did too. I agreed with much of what she said about new clause 1, but I particularly enjoyed listening to her obvious positive concern about her constituency.

Newark is my wife's home town. She retains an enormous affection for it and, over the years, through many visits, I have come to share her affection, so the hon. Lady is extremely lucky--[Laughter.] Well, that is true as well, but the former came first. The hon. Lady is very fortunate in her constituency, and from the way in which she spoke, her constituency is lucky in her.

I thank the hon. Lady for her kind and generous remarks about her predecessor, Richard Alexander. He was, indeed, an excellent constituency Member and he was a great friend of many of us on both sides of the House--a friendship that he built up in his quiet and effective way during his 18 years in the House. We miss him very much. Although it is nice to welcome the hon. Lady, we regret that he is not here, and we are glad that she has put those remarks on record so that we can all share them. We wish the hon. Lady a very successful and happy career in the House, and we certainly look forward to hearing her speak again.

I shall make a few discordant remarks about new clauses 1 and 3. As a member of the Treasury Committee, I voted against the recommendation that is now encapsulated in the comparatively pussycattish new clause 3. For the same reasons, I do not support the rather more tigerish version that is new clause 1. I shall say briefly why. I fear that any vetting for professional competence will be superficial and will inevitably sound rather pompous. What will the Select Committee do to test competence? Will it count the number of degrees that the candidate has, assess his or her performance in previous jobs or evaluate the learned papers that he has published? The Select Committee is not well placed to do any of that and it should not try.

How will the Select Committee vet independence? Will it look to see whether the candidate is an old friend of the Chancellor or shadow Chancellor? What is the difference between--to use words that were used earlier--an old friend and an old crony? I do not know. Will the Committee check for whom the candidate has worked? Will there be a character assessment? Would holding strong views pro or against economic and monetary union, or firm monetarist convictions, be seen as limiting the candidate's independence? Some might think so. I do not, but it is arguable, and from some of the things that have been said this afternoon, others think so, too. If the vetting procedure is to be just a formality, those questions do not matter, but then why bother with the process at all and take up everybody's time?

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If the procedure is to be genuine and serious, the Select Committee will have bitten off a harder task than it suspects. I fear that candidates with good, conventional academic records, who do not know anyone and who have no strong opinions on the economy, will be better placed than others who do. Moreover, I suspect that some good candidates who value their privacy may not want to put themselves in the way of public procedure that can delve into their career and character.

Candidates certainly should not be asked, as thehon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Radice), the distinguished Chairman of our Select Committee, suggested, to explain why they should be appointed to the Monetary Policy Committee. That is a matter for the person who appoints them--the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


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