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Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech on the final day of debate on the Queen's Speech. It was a pleasure to listen to the maiden speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) and for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), and by the hon. Members for Plymouth, Devonport (Alison Seabeck), for Worsley (Ms Keeley), for Blaydon (Mr. Anderson) and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). I wish them all the best in their parliamentary careers. I would like to add my own tribute to those that have already been made to the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) for his excellent work, both in Northern Ireland and in the Principality.
I count it a huge honour to be elected as the new Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire. I am only the second Member to represent the constituency, which was created before the 1997 election, when it was won by Jackie Lawrence, and again in 2001, for the Labour party. Jackie retired at the end of the last Parliament. She and I were opponents in the election held four years ago, and we both fought robust campaigns. The more that I saw of her during that election, however, the more that I was struck by the sincerity and humanity with which she carried out her duties as a Member of Parliament. She entered Parliament for exactly the right reasonsto improve the lives of Pembrokeshire peopleand served her constituents well during her eight years as an MP. Her parting remark to me on election night in 2001 was, "Best of luck with your parliamentary career, Stephen, just not here in Pembrokeshire." I am afraid that I have disappointed her, but it was typical of her integrity and grace that not only did she send her congratulations after my win on 5 May but, last weekend, she welcomed my family and me to her home, where she passed on some excellent advice on being a Member of Parliament and treated us all to excellent home-made scones. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will join me in wishing her all the very best in retirement.
Preseli Pembrokeshire, with much justification, can be described as one of the most beautiful parliamentary constituencies, containing as it does much of the Pembrokeshire coastal park with its 185 miles of footpath running alongside scenes of spectacular beauty. The coastline is important to Pembrokeshire. We are surrounded by the sea on three sides, and that has been the source of our comparative economic advantage throughout our history. Even today, after whaling, fishing, oil refining and defence-related industries have all flourished and then declined, the sea is still important to our local economy.
We have two ports: Fishguard, with its ferry service to Rosslare in Ireland; and the port of Milford Haven, which is the UK's fifth largest port, with major oil interests, a remnant of the fishing industry, and an Irish ferry from Pembroke dock. As I speak, construction is under way on two major liquefied natural gas terminals near Milford Haven. When completed, those could provide 30 per cent. of the UK's natural gas needs, which will be shipped into the nearby port of Milford Haven. Not surprisingly in an area of such outstanding natural beauty, the liquefied natural gas development is not without controversy, and some specific issues need
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to be addressed. The LNG investment, however, will bring a vital injection of economic activity to west Wales, which could provide a substantial long-term pay-off for many years to come.
As well as our coastal heritage, Pembrokeshire is also home to Britain's smallest city, St. David's, with its picturesque streets and beautiful ancient cathedral. St. David's was a site of huge importance in early Christendom. It lay on the intercontinental route that took Irish pilgrims through Britain on the way to Rome and sometimes Jerusalem. Still today, the A40 trunk road, which leads from Fishguard through Pembrokeshire towards the M4 corridor is recognised by the EU strategic trans-European network, which links western Ireland with mainland continental Europe.
Travelling along the single-lane A40 through Pembrokeshire can be a slow and frustrating journey, however. Upgrading the A40 to a dual carriageway is certainly overdue. Local business needs it, local people want it, and while I am a Member of this House I want to do whatever I can to make the case for it, and, I hope, to persuade the rather Cardiff-centric Welsh Assembly of the need for investment in critical infrastructure in other parts of Wales.
In the heart of Pembrokeshire is the old town of Haverfordwestthe county town of Pembrokeshirewhich I am blessed to be able to say is my home town. I grew up there, in a street of council housing, which backed on to my old secondary school. Many of the houses in that street have now been bought and had small porches, kitchen extensions and other improvements added to them. I want to add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries), who said that no one should lose sight of what the Conservative right-to-buy scheme did for hard-working, working-class families in constituencies such as mine. Of course we need to provide an adequate rented sector for individuals and families who might, through different circumstances in their life, have to fall back on social housing, but the aspiration of the vast majority of people in this country is towards home ownership, which should be recognised as a key goal of housing policy.
There have been Crabbs in Pembrokeshire for many generations, and not just on our wonderful beaches. My grandfather was a baker in Haverfordwest at a time when, like other small market towns, it was full of independent traders, grocers, shopkeepers and tradesmen. In those days, there was no such thing as a small business sector; there were only small businesses. Times change, and today Haverfordwest has a Tesco, a Morrisons, a Kwiksave and an Aldi, and I am told that we will soon have a Lidl store as well. I am not a betting man, but I am willing to wager that not many of our long-suffering local farmers who still constitute a significant part of the local economy will see much of their produce on the shelves of that supermarket when it comes to Haverfordwest.
A principal reason why Pembrokeshire is such an attractive place for the food discounters is that our per capita GDP is so much lower than the UK national average. GDP in Pembrokeshire is less than 70 per cent. of the EU's 15-member average, which qualifies us for
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objective 1 status. We are currently in receipt of structural funds through that programme. I do not want to be too controversial today, but I am more than a little sceptical of the long-term success of EU structural funds in closing the wealth gap between regions. The targets for the EU cohesion and structural funds have consistently not been met.
Objective 1 did, however, provide an important opportunity for many stakeholders in west Wales to focus like never before on what needs to be done to improve the region's economy. My fear is that that was a missed opportunity. Many business people in Pembrokeshire tell me that they do not feel that the business community was actively involved in the objective 1 programme, and that the process was dominated by public sector bodies. I believe that small business is the backbone of the Pembrokeshire economy and I want to do whatever I can while I am a Member of the House to provide a voice for the hard-working men and women who comprise that sector.
I greatly value the commitment in the Queen's Speech to reducing burdens on businessbusiness regulations. The small business community in my constituency is looking for action, not more words, from this Parliament.
Ed Balls (Normanton) (Lab): It is a great honour to make my maiden speech in this House on this, the final day of debate on the Queen's Speech, to follow the thoughtful speeches of my right hon. Friends the Members for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) and for West Dunbartonshire (Mr. McFall) and to follow a series of excellent maiden speeches, not least that of the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb), which together show that we can look forward to a number of thoughtful and constructive contributions in the debates of this House in the years to come.
This is the first maiden speech by a Member of Parliament for Normanton for 22 years. Bill O'Brien, my predecessor, was a hugely respected MP, whose commitment to improving the lives of hard-working families in our area is beyond question. Almost everyone I have met in our constituency has a personal story to tell of how Bill has helped them, a friend or a family member. I know, too, that he is widely respected in the House for his parliamentary experience, for his detailed knowledge of mining and local government matters and for his wisdom. I have been told by many hon. Members how they have turned to Bill for advice and support during their parliamentary careers.
I also want to mention Bill's family and in particular his wife, Jean, who has also served for 22 years, as an MP's spouse. It is my considered view, speaking from some personal experience, that the role of the MP's spouse is not always fully appreciated at a political level. I want today to set the record straight: Jean O'Brien has consistently been by Bill's side, a tower of quiet strength and dignity. I am sure that all hon. Members will want to wish them a long and happy retirement from the Commons and to thank Bill for his commitment to public service.
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I have had the privilege of speaking to many hundreds of voters in the past year about issues that directly affect their daily livespensions, skilled jobs, plans for a new hospital at Pinderfields, out-of-school child care and the need for more police and community support officers on the beat. All those issues I will be actively pursuing in the coming months. As we have talked, time and again I have heard and felt first hand the powerful traditions that run deep through Normanton.
My constituency forms an arc around the north of the city of Wakefield, running from Sharlston and the town of Normanton in the east, through Altofts, Stanley, Outwood and Wrenthorpe to the north, and then round to Ossett and Horbury in the west, all linked together by the M62 and M1 motorways, which intersect in the constituency. It is a constituency united by a strong industrial tradition in manufacturing, railways and coal mining, and by a long-standing civic, trade union and co-operative tradition. In our district, the Co-operative party is our conscience, and I look forward to participating actively as a member of the Co-operative group of Labour MPs.
Most important, Normanton boasts a historic Labour tradition, with the longest continuous Labour representation of any seat in Englanda continuous representation, that is, since 1885, when the Liberals stood aside for 12 working-class Lib-Lab candidates. We are proud of Normanton's Labour tradition, matched only by the Rhondda valley in south Wales, and if I may be so bold, long may it continue.
We are now in a time of great change, as the revolution of globalisation transforms communities such as ours, but these challenges of technological change, foreign visitors and new investors are, for us, nothing new. Few constituencies can boast visitors as distinguished as Queen Victoria, Prime Ministers Gladstone and Disraeli and US President Ulysses Grant, all of whom visited our area in the mid-19th century, Normanton being, for passengers travelling north to south in the pre-buffet era, the restaurant stop of choice.
One visitor above all left his mark: the Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, who stopped for lunch in August 1871, heard about the local colliery at Hopetown, arranged a visit and caused such a stir that the pit shaft was renamed Dom Pedro and became known as the Don. The emperor also visited the Normanton iron works, was shown a special rail and immediately ordered a batch to be sent back and used in the expansion of the Brazilian railway.
To us, globalisation is nothing new, and well over a century later the same strengths that made my constituency an industrial leaderour strategic location, our manufacturing expertise and our skilled work forceare now the key to our future prosperity. It is the task of the Wakefield Way steering group, on which I serve, to ensure that we exploit those advantages to the full. We want to see the Wakefield district established as a key logistics cluster, and a centre of industrial and manufacturing expertise.
We also have to be honest about the weaknesses that we must address. We still have too many people trapped on incapacity benefit, who want to work but need extra help and support to return to work. Compared with other parts of Yorkshire, we have skills shortages
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alongside low levels of qualifications in the adult work force. It is both an affront to social justice and a real economic threat that so many 16-year-olds in my constituency still leave school without a proper qualification. I therefore welcome the measures set out today by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this Queen's Speech debate on science, skills, employment, housing and regional policy, which will really help us in that task.
We are able to debate today how our wider economic policy can build on stabilityrather than, as used to happen, how we can avoid stop-gobecause the Labour Government have put in place a new British model of monetary and fiscal policy for our country and taken the tough decisions to establish and entrench economic stability. Twenty years ago, the Wakefield district was labelled a "high unemployment area", with one young person in every four unemployed for more than six months as a result of the devastating loss of manufacturing jobs and the closures of the pits. It was not a price worth paying. Today, because of our economic stability, our district has an unemployment rate, not above, but below the national average. The new deal has cut youth unemployment from a peak of 3,300 young people out of work in 1984 to just 130 today20 in my constituency. It is because of the proactive and forward-looking approach that Labour has taken to economic policyBank of England independence, the symmetric inflation target and the two fiscal rulesthat, for the first time in a generation, my constituents are benefiting from what is close to a full employment economy.
That stabilitythat prudencehas been for a purpose. We have shown that a Government committed to progressive goalsincreasing investment in our public services, introducing a national minimum wage, lifting 1 million children out of povertycan also deliver the lowest inflation for 30 years, the lowest mortgage rates for 40 years and record levels of employment. Some said that a Labour Government could not run a stable economy and pursue progressive goals. The present Government have proved them wrong.
At this point, I must confess that, yes, as a young economist working in opposition back in 1994, I wrote that truly immemorable phrase, "post-neoclassical endogenous growth theory"but there was a penultimate draft from which that infamous phrase had been excised, and it was not I but a rather more distinguished Member of this House who wrote in the margin, "Put back the theory." From 1997, I was proud to serve the Labour Chancellor and the Labour Government for seven years as economic adviser and then chief economic adviser to the Treasury. I was privileged to chair the International Monetary and Financial Committee Deputies during a period in which Britain, under the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, have led international efforts to reform the international financial architecture and meet the millennium development goals.
I know that those opportunitiesall the opportunities that my family and I have hadwere made possible only by the achievements of the Labour party in government. My grandfather, a lorry driver, died from cancer soon after the war, when my father, the youngest of three boys, was only 10. My fatherfrom a
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widowed family in a working-class community in Norwichwas able to stay on at school at 16 and get a scholarship to university. All the opportunities that he and we have been able to enjoy were made possible only because of the welfare state that the Labour Government created in 1945, reflecting our core belief that opportunity should be available for all, not just for the privileged few.
I am now able to be in public service once more, as a Member of this House and as Labour's ninth MP for Normanton. My Labour predecessorsBenjamin Pickard, William Parrott, Fred Hall, Tom Smith, George Sylvester, Thomas Brooks, Albert Roberts and Bill O'Brienwere all coal miners, every one of them. They were Labour because the adversity they suffered taught them not selfishness, but solidarity. However insurmountable the obstacles seemed to be, they never settled for second best for themselves or anyone else in their struggle for full employment and social justice. I hope that, in the coming years, I shall be able to demonstrate the humility, hard work and commitment to public service for which previous Normanton MPs are known, remembered and honoured, and thus enable my constituency's historical traditions to live on renewed in this century. We owe it to our predecessors, as we owe it to our families and to future generations, to complete their work and, on the platform of stability that we have built, secure an economically strong and socially just society of which we can be proud.
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