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Ian Lucas (Wrexham): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate and to record my pleasure at the contents of the Gracious Speech. It is an especial pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). Lichfield is a beautiful cathedral city, which I know well and visit often to meet close personal friends.
I am also pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband) because I was born in Gateshead in south Tyneside. I owe a great deal to that town and community, which reminds me of the community that I am now proud to represent: Wrexham.
Labour has delivered for Wrexham, which has progressed greatly in the past few years. In preparing my speech, I was interested to read the maiden speech that my predecessor, Dr. John Marek, made in 1983. He said that unemployment in Wrexham stood at 20 per cent. The town was in the middle of momentous change. The coal and iron industries--the rock on which the community was built--were about to be fatally undermined by a callous and short-sighted economic policy. In 1983, my predecessor remarked that the people of Wrexham wanted to work but that no work was to be found.
Much anxiety has been expressed about the low turnout at the general election. It has been said that voters believed that Governments are all the same and that politics does not affect people's lives. I disagree. The people of Wrexham have now been given the chance to get on; previous Governments did not give them that chance. Governments change lives, for good or ill. Politicians must not hesitate to make that point and urge our electors to remember how things were and how they have changed through Government action.
The events of the past four years show that when a Government build the right foundations, Wrexham people are ready to seize new opportunities and compete in a changing world. Unemployment was 20 per cent. in Wrexham in 1983; it was 3.3 per cent. in May 2001. That is testament to the people of the town, who have shown themselves ready and willing to adapt, learn and work in a transformed economy, and to a Government who have created a stable economy in which business and industry can thrive.
As someone who has run a small business, I know the importance of stability, low interest rates and the ability to plan ahead. I also know, however, that the biggest asset of any business or town is its people. That is where Wrexham shows its mettle. The town has a strong civic
My first constituency engagement after my election was a community litter pick, which was enjoyable. It introduced me to an interesting lady who was well over 70. She spoke not with a Wrexham accent, but a southern African accent. While picking litter with her, we chatted about the length of time she had been in Wrexham. She said that she had been there for four months, and that she was there with her daughter and her granddaughter, who was four years old. She said that they had arrived in Britain from Zimbabwe four months earlier with seven suitcases. Their farm there had been taken away from them. They had arrived back in Britain and come to Wrexham because her late husband had fought in the battle of Britain and had had a friend who lived in the town.
As a result of that connection, the British Legion in Wrexham welcomed this lady. The local authority found a flat for her in the town and the British Legion decorated and furnished it. That is how Wrexham treated one asylum seeker. That shows what Wrexham is like to the outside world, and it shows the strength of its community.
Wrexham knows, however, that, in the modern world, it must continue to progress and to change. It knows that skills development and a willingness to learn hold the key to more prosperity. Colleges in the town are now working with industry to develop the work force Wrexham needs to attract the best industries and build further prosperity, because people there understand that prosperity is the key to attacking the problems of poverty and drug-related crime that still exist in the community.
I worked with teenage drug addicts, as a lawyer representing them. I remember one 14-year-old who had committed 23 house burglaries to feed a heroin habit. I also remember the face of his mother who always came with him to court. Crime has many victims in many different guises. I welcome the work carried out in towns such as Wrexham to help those victims, and I welcome the measures in the Queen's Speech to make those who profit from their misery pay proper penalties.
The work of my predecessor, Dr. John Marek, has played an important part in dealing with constituency problems in Wrexham for the past 18 years. This was very evident to me as I knocked on doors in the town. I heard from many people about his diligence and about the work that he had carried out on their behalf. I can best pay tribute to him by striving to uphold the same standards.
I would like to end on a personal note. I sought election to this House because I believe that it can change our country for the better. I hope that I have the skills to contribute to bring about that change. If I have, it is because I have benefited from those who have taught me and argued with me over the years. I thank them; they know who they are. But above all, I wish to thank my parents, who have supported me and given me the chance to get on. For me, being a Labour Member of Parliament is about striving to give all people the chances that I have had.
In the short time remaining to me, I would like to focus on the economy. I am concerned about some of the contributions that I have heard tonight, and about some of the ways in which the economy was debated during the election. There is too much complacency about the UK economy. People seem to forget that the problems in the international economy, particularly in the United States, but also in Japan and Germany--the world's three largest economies--will inevitably impact on the UK economy. The UK economy is not as well placed to meet those challenges as is often made out.
There are huge imbalances in the UK economy between consumption and manufacturing output, between the service sector and the manufacturing sector and between different regions. A slowdown is already taking place in our economy. The monetary data, the manufacturing output data and the gross domestic product growth data show that. We have a weakening economy that is not well placed to meet the challenges, particularly in the light of the present uncompetitive exchange rate.
I am concerned that, even in these early days, the new Government have made exactly the wrong decisions and the wrong noises to meet that challenge. In interventions made many hours ago, I questioned Labour Members about whether the remarks from Her Majesty's Treasury, talking up the pound when it was falling towards a more competitive level, were sensible: answer came there none.
I am worried for those working in the manufacturing, agriculture and tourism sectors in particular. They face problems because of the uncompetitiveness of the pound, but the Government's first words, albeit sotto voce in briefings to the press, undermined the markets' reaction to the pound, which was easing the pressure on those industries.
I hope that the Government will change their mind about the way in which they brief the press and realise that they must support the Monetary Policy Committee to achieve a rebalance in monetary policy. That is crucial for those sectors of our economy that are under pressure.
I return to a matter that is not directly referred to in the Queen's Speech, but which was mentioned in briefings related to it and in speeches made today--the Chancellor's proposal that the economic theme for this Parliament will be competition and productivity. He made welcome announcements about how policy will change in the Department of Trade and Industry and the Treasury in order to promote competition and, thus, improve productivity.
We welcome many measures in the package, but three omissions represent a real problem and the Government must focus on them if they are to reach their productivity goals. The first is education. Investment in education is the key to improving productivity and making our nation competitive, but it was not the centrepiece of the Chancellor's announcement. Secondly, the need to simplify regulation and the taxation system is also important, and the hon. Member for Sevenoaks
The third omission is a debate about Britain joining the euro. If there is one measure that would change the way in which British industry and the British economy had to face up to competitive pressures in the world and promote its own productivity, it is joining the euro.
Countries in euroland are already achieving a massive improvement in their competitive position. Although that is yet to come through to the macro data, there is huge and unprecedented merger activity in euroland, which is sowing the seeds for a competitive rejuvenation of those countries that are members of the euro. The economic rationale is price transparency and the competitive pressures that that unleashes, but if Britain is on the sidelines we shall not receive the micro-economic benefits that are the foundations for macro-economic success. The Government are determined to make this Parliament the one in which British productivity picks up, but they are making serious errors on core aspects of the policy changes necessary to achieve that.
I return to how the House debates and holds the Government to account on economic policy and shall introduce the debate on the euro in my remarks. Often, we are lectured by Eurosceptics in the House that joining the euro would undermine parliamentary sovereignty and that, somehow, monetary policy being decided by the European central bank would completely change the historical position of this place. That argument is nonsense on stilts, as any analysis of UK monetary policy over the decades would reveal.
There has never been a vote in the House on interest rates or the exchange rate. As the minutes of the MPC show clearly, day-to-day setting of monetary policy is very technical, and the House is not equipped to hold the Government properly to account in such a way. Moreover, the international capital markets hold all Governments to account for their monetary policy and how it is implemented. The gnomes of Zurich and the red braces wearers in the City hold the Government to account on monetary policy, not the House. However, the House should hold the Government to account on fiscal policy, but it has failed to do so for decades.
The last time the House voted against a spending request from the Executive was in 1919--it was for a second bathroom for the then Lord Chancellor. I referred to that anecdote several times in the previous Parliament, and I shall come back to it. If hon. Members are interested, they can read my booklet called "Making MPs Work for our Money". I am not trying to get commission, because it is available free on my website--www.edwarddavey.co.uk. It can be downloaded free of charge, and I recommend it to new Members. In that paper, I have tried to set out how the House could reform itself to ensure that it holds the Government properly to account for fiscal policy. That requires radical changes.
In its various reports during the previous Parliament, the Select Committee on Liaison nudged the House in that direction. I ask new Members to read its report and join in the historical mission for this Parliament to reform the way in which we hold the Government to account for economic policy.