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7.58 pm

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness): I congratulate my fellow maiden speakers the hon. Members for Guildford (Sue Doughty), for Greenock and Inverclyde (David Cairns) and for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), and my hon. Friends the Members for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) and for Fareham (Mr. Hoban), who in their own way all gave very informative, lucid and erudite speeches.

It is a great honour and a privilege to deliver my maiden speech as the new Member for Boston and Skegness. I am in fact only the third Member of Parliament to represent the Boston end of the constituency in 64 years. My immediate predecessor was Sir Richard Body. He made Whips nervous, but represented the people and the surrounding areas of Boston for 35 years and, prior to that, the people of Billericay. Amazingly, he made his maiden speech on 6 May 1956.

Sir Richard was a great parliamentarian—a man of great vision, tenacity and expertise, particularly on the issues of Europe and agriculture. The great thing about him was that he was never afraid to voice his views, however unfashionable, awkward or unpopular they were at the time. He has invariably been proved right. Let us hope that in this Parliament we have more hon. Members willing to speak their minds than in the last. Sir Richard is held in great affection in the constituency. He always stood up for working men and women. It will be an enormous challenge to follow a man of such integrity and conviction.

Since the boundary changes of 1995, Boston is now linked in a new constituency with Skegness, which my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir P. Tapsell) looked after so ably for so many years. The change creates two very distinct and diverse parts of the constituency, which is approximately 15 miles wide by 30 miles long. One boundary hugs the Wash and contains some of the best agricultural land in the United Kingdom, although let there be no doubt that even with top quality arable land, those involved and employed in agriculture are suffering severe hardship as incomes evaporate and prices are squeezed. It should be understood that this appalling agricultural depression extends to those involved in tangential and associated businesses which are nevertheless fundamental to the local economy.

There are pockets of severe rural poverty and deprivation, the likes of which I have never seen before. I will, with all the necessary and appropriate local and

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national bodies, endeavour to assist those who have been left behind by economic growth. I shall be an assiduous advocate on behalf of farmers, packhouse owners and their employees, to create a level playing field allowing them to compete on equal terms with both their European and global competitors. There is great nervousness about the enlargement of the European Union and potential cheap imports of agricultural produce, with associated concerns about quality control and standards.

However, the constituency is not only agricultural. There is a thriving and hard-working fishing fleet, a successful port and many manufacturing businesses. There is also a plethora of small, dynamic entrepreneurial businesses exemplified by the razzmatazz of Skegness. Many of those small businesses are in tourism and the holiday trade and employ no more than one or two people. We must ensure that the resilience of the business men and entrepreneurs is not undermined by excessive regulation from home and abroad. There are also some very large, high profile and successful tourist businesses in Skegness, such as Fantasy Island and Butlins, which are well-known and cater all year round for a vibrant and lively tourist trade.

Underlying this energetic and vigorous business atmosphere is a real sense of community. Nothing assists people more as they go through life's vicissitudes than a sense of community. The best example of this is the Skegness lifeboat, whose brave crew, when called to do so, risk their lives to save others.

During my campaign in Skegness, I encountered a little old lady in a little old bungalow who, when asked how she would vote, informed me that she had always voted Labour, but oh no, not this time. She was going to vote for that good-looking young man and vote Conservative. I straightened my tie, puffed out my chest slightly and with great pleasure informed her that I was that good-looking young man. She replied without hesitation, "No, no, not you, I mean William Hague". So, if my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) is ever looking for female company, I know a little old lady in a little old bungalow.

There are 70 to 75 villages and hamlets in my constituency. Some of the larger ones, such as Burgh Le Marsh, Friskney and Wrangle, may be familiar to those who know Lincolnshire, but one of them has a particular history—Wainfleet. William of Wainfleet was not only Bishop of Winchester, but Lord Chancellor to Henry IV. He also founded Magdalen college, Oxford. In the spirit of European co-operation, Wainfleet provided in 1359 two warships for the invasion of Brittany. Today Wainfleet contains one of the few highly successful family-run breweries that are remain. It is called Batemans and real ale aficionados will be familiar with the name. It is a local business that I am delighted to support.

In the constituency we have many dedicated and long-suffering education professionals who support an extremely successful grammar school system and also work energetically to drive up standards in primary and secondary modern schools. I will provide any support and encouragement to improve educational provision in Boston and Skegness, and there is much room for improvement.

My constituency has historically benefited greatly from European assistance. Indeed, much of it would still be under the sea if it was not for the land reclamation

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expertise exported from Holland. However, some of the contents of the treaty are not in the interests of my constituents or the country. I shall, of course, endeavour to follow the traditions of the maiden speech and not traverse the avenue of controversy. There are, however, several key issues that I must highlight.

There is an ever-increasing democratic deficit. All of us in the House are democrats, of whatever political persuasion. However, the deficiency is exacerbated by the treaty and is increasingly prevalent in the European Union. Not only has Ireland recently voted no in its referendum, but it seems that the democratic desire of the Irish people will at best be circumvented and at worst ignored. Such an attitude seems to contradict entirely the charter of fundamental human rights, which was also discussed at Nice. It appears that the EU wishes to give powers with one hand, and with the other to ride roughshod over people when they exercise those powers in an allegedly disagreeable manner.

I do not see what the charter can do for the United Kingdom, as we have a constitution that has evolved through history and served us well for the last thousand years. The charter must not be annexed to future treaties or made legally enforceable. The treaty is supposed to be fundamentally about enlargement, but instead it is integrationist, making it more complicated and difficult for countries to accede. I do not see anywhere in the treaty the necessary reforms to enable that to happen efficiently and effectively.

There seems to be a general acceptance in the House that the CAP requires fundamental and far-reaching reform, but I find no mention of it. Are we going to subsidise east European agriculture in the same way we have our own over the past 30 or 40 years? Instead, the treaty contains 31 new areas that will be subject to qualified majority voting. What do pension rights for judges have to do with enlargement? The extension of QMV allows no opportunity to stop any policy in those areas, irrespective of whether it is in the national interest.

There is a direct causal link between the ratification of treaties such as Nice and the poor voter turnout. It is not until we address this fundamental issue that the electorate will believe that they have an impact through the democratic process. I am not advocating withdrawal, but arguing forcefully that if Europe is to survive and succeed in the forthcoming years, it must become more democratically accountable—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his time allocation.

8.8 pm

Andy Burnham (Leigh): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds) on a self-assured maiden speech full of passion and conviction, and all the maiden speakers so far on the high standard that they have set.

Today's debate is about the new Europe, but I hope that a view from one of its oldest industrial heartlands will bring a useful perspective to our proceedings. I grew up in the Leigh area and it is with great pride that I take

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my seat as its fifth Labour Member of Parliament. I aim to give the House an authentic voice from my home area in the years to come.

For someone making his maiden speech, I am in the unusual position of already having made history in the House. On 26 October 1996, The Times reported:

I have always kept quiet about that, but today I own up as the naive researcher who made that historic call. I am relieved to say that it has not harmed the career of the right hon. Member on the receiving end, and I can only hope that my future contributions to the House will be less irritating than that one.

Many people of my generation in the north-west feel proud of their regional roots, but also feel part of Europe. They want Britain to play a positive part in creating a strong and united Europe and to enjoy the benefits that that would bring. The Bill will help that process. But I make a strong and heartfelt plea today that, in the drive to assist the emerging economies of Europe, we do not overlook the real need in the communities that were the cradle of the industrial revolution in Europe.

The spinning jenny was invented in Leigh by a poor weaver called Thomas Highs, but we were denied our place in the history books by an entrepreneur from Blackburn who quickly patented it. I shall fight for what Leigh deserves—although on reflection it would perhaps not be a good idea to annoy the Foreign Secretary in my maiden speech.

Our area is renowned for its strong tradition in engineering and coal mining. The towns that make up my constituency—Leigh, Atherton, Hindley, Hindley Green, Lowton, Golborne and Bickershaw—grew up around the coal and textile industries, the decline of which has caused real need in those communities.

For 22 years, those communities have been loyally represented by my predecessor, Lawrence Cunliffe. Lawrence worked in the local mining industry and knew the area and its people well. He entered the House in 1979 and, while national developments made the following years bleak for Leigh, Lawrence always fought our case, and I know that I speak for many people in thanking him for his work on our behalf.

Only days into the job, I have been made painfully aware of the challenges that we face to stay competitive in the new Europe. Ingersoll-Rand has announced that it is considering relocating its manufacturing operation for portable compressors from Hindley Green to the Czech Republic, resulting in the loss of 250 jobs.

I am worried that an air of inevitability is growing around the loss of manufacturing jobs from Britain, with the use of vague terms such as market forces and globalisation. That is dangerous. As a country we need to work hard to keep jobs that are desperately needed.

Today, with other Labour Members, I met union representatives from Hindley Green. The work force is doing all it can to give the company positive reasons to stay, and I urge the Government to bring all relevant parties together to see if more can be done to keep those jobs in my constituency.

People in the Leigh area can be forgiven for having little confidence in this place. Until recently, it has delivered only bad news. Dr. Beeching put Leigh on the

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map—sadly, for making it the largest town in England without a railway station. Next came the closure of the mills and mines in the 1980s and 1990s, tearing the heart out of the communities based around them, and Leigh infirmary's accident and emergency unit was closed in the 1990s. The challenge I face is to restore people's faith in politics and show that Parliament does listen and deliver good news as well as bad.

The Leigh area now has its best opportunity for many years to make real progress. On 7 June, the country re-elected a Government committed to investing in the country's infrastructure and revitalising its former coalfields. After years of closures, new facilities are opening in the Leigh area—an NHS walk-in centre and a sure start scheme at Hindley. Millions have been invested in the fabric of our local schools, including £2 million at Lowton high school.

The Leigh constituency has perhaps benefited more than most from the working families tax credit and the national minimum wage. Parts of my constituency have objective 2 status and I want to ensure that funds begin to flow to help our local economy to compete in a new age. We are not stuck in the past, but understand the need to look to the emerging sectors of the service economy to bring jobs and prosperity.

One of the proposals driven forward by Wigan borough council is the Xanadu project, a major leisure and retail development close to the site of a former colliery. At no cost to the public purse, it will create thousands of new jobs and bring a new railway station to the Leigh area. The proposal has been the subject of a planning inquiry and the inspector's report is with the Government. It is argued that such large developments should follow the country's population centres, its major towns and cities, but that logic precludes an area such as ours, made up of small townships and communities, from ever benefiting from a major regeneration project. But that is exactly what we need—a catalyst for change. Xanadu would give this deprived former coalfield hope of a better future, and I urge the Government to bear that in mind when reaching their decision.

Some things in Leigh will never change. Leigh Centurions rugby league club has a proud history and will continue to be a strong source of civic pride and identity. After troubled times, the club is thriving again and on Sunday completed the Northern Ford premiership season as league champions. I hope that the House will join me in congratulating it and allow me to thank one of Leigh's greatest ever players, the former Great Britain star Mick Martyn, who did so much to help me to serve Leigh in Parliament. Like our town, Leigh Centurions have come back the hard way and earned the right to be promoted to the Super League, but that decision is out of their hands. I make a direct plea to the Super League to accept Leigh. Such is the importance of the club to our area that it would give it a real boost and instil renewed optimism for the future.

I joined the Labour party at the age of 15 to fight for a better deal for the working people of Leigh among whom I grew up. It will be with a great sense of personal fulfilment that I will work with the Government during the next few years to continue the improvements that they have started and to right some of the wrongs that we have suffered.

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8.16 pm

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