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8.37 pm

Mr. Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East): I am grateful and deeply proud to have this early opportunity to make my maiden speech in the House as Member of Parliament for Wythenshawe and Sale, East. I am full of admiration for all my hon. Friends who, having unseated their Conservative opponents, have none the less made generous remarks about their opponents' contributions as Conservative Members of Parliament. Like the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), whom I congratulate on making his maiden speech, I face no such challenge because my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Wythenshawe since 1964 was Alf Morris.

Before speaking of the quality of Alf Morris's political career, I first wish to note its quantity: he served his constituency and the House for a total of 33 years. Although I am 20 years older than the youngest Member of this Parliament, I was still at primary school when Alf Morris was first elected to Parliament. In October last year, The Times contrasted Alf Morris's

with the

    "Sharp young blades at the Labour Party Conference."

Members on both sides of the House would agree that Alf Morris is in every sense a gentle man, but he is also a considerable blade in his own right. In 1969, he won first place in the ballot for private Members' Bills and, famously, introduced the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill. The then Labour Secretary of State for Social Services is reported initially to have "hit the roof" when he heard about the Bill. However, the measure soon commanded all-party support and it received Royal Assent just days before the 1970 general election.

Later, Alf Morris became the first Minister for Disabled People. He has always been a tireless campaigner for disability rights and equality and, indeed, for all his constituents.

In Wythenshawe, Alf Morris is respected for his political contribution. Above all, people there love him as their friend and champion, and it is my privilege--indeed, my challenge--to seek to fill the void that he leaves.

Northenden and Baguley, two of the nine wards which make up the constituency, are recorded in the Domesday book of 1086, but the modern story of Wythenshawe began in 1926, when Manchester council took over the Tatton estate and started to make plans for the first municipal garden city in Great Britain. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson) spoke eloquently of the vision which lay behind garden cities.

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As the result of an ambitious pre-war and post-war house-building programme, the local population grew to 100,000 by 1964, when most households had members employed in local industry and in the public services. More recently, however, the area has suffered the effects of mass unemployment and it now has levels of social and economic deprivation equalling those of any inner-city area. Nevertheless, I know that the strong local pride, spirit and common sense will ensure the regeneration of Wythenshawe and the creation of a sustainable future for the local community.

The eastern part of Sale is also now part of my constituency. Indeed, I am the first ever Labour Member of Parliament to represent the people of Sale in the House. Sale has much to be proud of. It has a vibrant and improving town centre. It has access to the Metrolink tram system, which is revolutionising the public transport system in Greater Manchester. It also has a top-class rugby union team, which was narrowly beaten by Leicester in this year's cup final at Twickenham.

My constituency is also the location of the brightest hope of the north-west region--Manchester international airport, which was much in the news today. In 1929, Manchester was granted a licence to create the first municipal airport in Britain. In 1933, by the narrowest of margins--56 votes to 55--Manchester council voted to borrow £179,000 to finance the building of a runway and associated services at Ringway. Much has happened since. This year will be the start of a £172 million investment programme, which will include the construction of a second runway and lead to the creation of 50,000 new jobs in the local economy--including 15,000 on the site of the airport.

My primary goal as Member of Parliament for Wythenshawe and Sale, East will be to do all that I can--in partnership with the airport, other local businesses, the local authority, the training and enterprise council, schools and colleges--to ensure that as many of those new jobs as possible go to local people.

As for the runway protesters, suffice it to say that the legal and democratic process has been followed and the inevitable evictions have begun. In short, it is time for them to go home. As they leave, perhaps they will reflect with me on the airport's £17 million environmental package, which will ensure mitigation of the environmental impact of the second runway and will create, among other things, new hedgerows, ponds, woodlands and wildlife.

My constituency will benefit greatly from the economic policies outlined in the Gracious Speech. They are realistic, but capable of creating the real change that Britain needs. They will encourage a stable framework of low interest rates and low inflation while promoting long-term investment and sustainable growth. Most important they will bring practical benefits to my constituents, to the many thousands who have experienced redundancy and feel insecure in their present jobs, and to the thousands more who feel excluded from the workplace altogether.

The policies outlined in the Gracious Speech leave behind the hands-off deregulated free market dogma that has characterised economic policy for the past 18 years. That dogma is replaced by policies which link prosperity

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with fairness, encouraging improvement in skills and education, to make the United Kingdom economy more competitive. They include a minimum wage guarantee to help the low-paid and a programme of training and job creation that will end long-term unemployment among the under-25s. Most important, Britain's economic future will be one in which everyone can contribute--our collective skills, imagination and energy combining to create a better future for all our families and communities.

Talking recently to people in my constituency, I have encountered two specific frustrations. First, there is undeniable evidence of a skills gap. There are skilled jobs to be done in the area, but too few people with the skills to do them. The second frustration is low aspirations among those without work. Young people, often in families in which there have been two or three generations without work, have given up looking, given up hoping. On both counts, we must wage a constant campaign to improve skills training and educational standards, and to encourage a sense of self-worth and confidence among those who have been excluded from the jobs market.

I welcome today's statement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and especially his decision to strengthen the regulatory powers of the Securities and Investments Board. I congratulate him on his wisdom in appointing Howard Davies as the new chairman, as in addition to his undoubted financial skill and other experience he is, like me, a devoted supporter of Manchester City.

For the past eight years, before my election to the House, I have been the national director of Church Action on Poverty--an ecumenical charity working and campaigning alongside people in poverty. In that role, I have learnt much about the causes of poverty and inequality in Britain and their impact on the health, education, family life and social fabric of our country. Yet in all that time I have never heard anyone living in poverty argue that all their problems would be solved merely by increasing benefits. More money would help many of them, but what people in poverty want above all is recognition, dignity, respect and a chance to make a contribution--to be heard, to be taken seriously and to be included in.

The late John Smith spoke much about re-connecting our divided society. The Prime Minister argues passionately that progress and justice should stand together. I agree strongly with both of them. The general election result confirms that the British people also want a cohesive society and that they believe that Labour is the only party that can deliver it.

On the morning of Friday 2 May, my constituents woke up to a new era, a new hope and a realisation that things could be changed for the better. They want to be part of that process of change and the policies outlined in the Gracious Speech will provide the opportunity for them to do so.

8.48 pm

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): First, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Mr. Goggins). I greatly enjoyed his speech and I share many of his aspirations. I certainly look forward to Ministers of his party keeping the promises that have been so carefully put together.

I am delighted to have been called to make my maiden speech in such an important debate. It has been a humbling experience today to listen to so many good

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speakers. There have been many splendid speeches, particularly by Labour women Members--I know that my wife would have been pleased to be here tonight.

I am delighted to be the first Liberal Democrat to represent Harrogate since 1906. The voters of the new constituency of Harrogate and Knaresborough have put a great deal of trust in me; I trust that I shall not let them down.

It is the custom in maiden speeches to pay tribute to retiring Members of Parliament. My constituency has two of them. Robert Banks represented the former constituency of Harrogate for about 23 years. He brought great dignity to the job and displayed immense integrity. He was immensely loyal to his party, and he was charming and personable--if at times somewhat distant from the constituency. I am extremely grateful to him for sending me today a letter of congratulations on my election, wishing me well in the new Parliament.

For the past 16 months, however, there has been a second Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough: Norman Lamont became the adopted or locum Member. He offered us the experience of his time as Chancellor, to the benefit of the constituency. I pay tribute to him for lending us his talents over these 16 months.

Another custom of maiden speeches is to quote the maiden speeches of predecessors. I could not find much in Robert Banks's maiden speech, but I was intrigued by the speech of the former Chancellor. It may interest hon. Members to hear some of it:

Funny how the years change people in this House--perhaps it is something in the water. Or perhaps there is truth in the idea that there are creatures of the night that change people's views over time.

I have listened to other hon. Members extolling the virtues of their constituencies, many of which are extremely fine. I can understand why two people wanted to represent my constituency. God first created Yorkshire; then, at its heart, he placed Harrogate and Knaresborough. Knaresborough is a beautiful and ancient town with a great history. It had one of the great hunting forests of the middle ages. It has a beautiful castle and the magnificent River Nidd runs through it. It is, in short, a vibrant market town.

Knaresborough has two problems, however. The first is the town centre: the uniform business rate has annihilated the small shops there. I hope that the Chancellor will reform the UBR to make it easier for small businesses to establish themselves in our town centres. Knaresborough is no exception in that respect.

Earlier today, a Conservative Member extolled the virtues of low pay and said that a minimum wage would mean the end of jobs. I reject that view. A number of companies in Knaresborough sell products competitively right across the world. They do so not by paying slave

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rates but by paying the highest wages to be found anywhere in the constituency. One of those firms buys chipboards from Japan and then re-exports them to Japan to be put in Japanese motor cars. It is an extremely competitive business and it pays very high wages.

Harrogate needs no introduction--its reputation precedes it. The splendour of its Victorian buildings, its parks and gardens, its 200 acres of stray surrounding and inside the town, its magnificent floral displays and its year-round attractions make it a must for visitors to Yorkshire.

Since 1926, Harrogate has been a spa town, and thousands of people have come to take the waters there. At one time, five crowned heads of Europe were taking the waters in the town. Generations of British aristocrats have visited it, too. Today, Harrogate is a different place. It has a vibrant economy and unemployment stands at 3.5 per cent. But it was devastated by the recession. It was a devastating blow when the Ministry of Defence pulled out and RAF logistics relocated to the former Prime Minister's constituency. It was also a terrible blow when ICI, National Power and many other large corporations pulled out, leaving thousands of unemployed people in their wake.

We have recovered, but let no one think that places such as my constituency do not need the same care and attention as other parts of the United Kingdom merit.

Today, crowned heads of Europe no longer come. Indeed, if they read the British press, they would feel themselves unwelcome. But hundreds of other people do come. They come not to take the waters but to sample one of Europe's finest conference and exhibition centres. I am fairly sure that there can be few Members present this evening who have not visited Harrogate for a conference or an exhibition. Last year, the Harrogate international centre, which is wholly owned by the borough council, brought more than £100 million into the local economy and underpinned some 7,500 jobs.

That brings me to the main issue to which I wish to draw attention. I listened carefully to the Gracious Speech, for proposals that might right the 18 years of Conservative attacks on local government. Sadly, there was little evidence, especially in terms of spending commitments and capital commitments. Much of local government has been devastated in that time.

Over the past 18 years, local government has been all but dismantled by neutering its ability to raise revenue and to invest in capital projects, be they infrastructure, inward investment or economic regeneration. Since 1979, local government capital spending has been cut more savagely than revenue or anything else in Parliament's history. Between 1979 and 1995, while prices went up by 145 per cent., local authority capped spend went up by 64 per cent. The net revenue rise over the same period was 183 per cent. and, in the past two years, basic credit approvals to local authorities declined by 40 per cent. Even if we include the iniquitous capital challenge, which I hope the new Government will get rid of, there has still been a cut of 30 per cent. in basic credit approvals to local authorities over the past two years.

Reduced capital spending is short-termism and leads to inefficiency and poor provision of services in local authorities. No private sector business could survive, given the previous Government's approach to accounting. As a party, we believe in investing in the nation's future

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and applying the golden rule, which is simply: we should borrow only to invest; we should not borrow to support revenue spending.

To invest in the future of my constituency, by the millennium, we must build a new exhibition hall. It is the biggest business that underpins our economy and we need that facility. We have planning permission--the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions granted it only last week. We have a revenue stream generated by a successful business to fund the £7 million required, but we cannot borrow and the private finance initiative does not work for us.

We have no objection in principle to private sector investment or to private sector operation if it is in the public interest, but there are many examples of where public investment and public operation are in the best interest of local communities, and that should not be denied on dogma.

The previous Government's obsession with the PFI has had a serious impact on local authority investment projects. Why is it right that the private sector, which would have to charge some 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. more in terms of interest rates, should be given jobs, when the public sector could do the work itself? Why should that cost be passed on to charge payers?

I should like to present some challenges to the new Government. Central Government must allow and promote increased capital investment in the whole of the public sector and in particular in local government, which has been harshly dealt with in recent years. A long-term view is essential. Local authorities should also have the ability to ensure that there is local accountability for investment and that that is not wholly reliant on Whitehall or Brussels. Priority must be given not only to obvious social and customer demands, but to investment that yields a financial return and that can ultimately reduce public spending. Local authorities must have some ability to make proper business investment decisions and to finance through borrowing where the additional revenue earned or cost savings more than match the cost of borrowing.

There are increasing opportunities for local authorities to attract external funds, often capital grants from central bodies or Europe, but there is often a requirement for matching funds and for relevant facilities to be publicly owned. That is right, but local authorities should be less reliant on external "lotteries" for grants and have the ability to access borrowing on a self-financing basis. Government policy should help local authorities to attract such grants. Surely it is a disgrace that, at the end of this century, we ask some of the poorest people in Britain to pay a lottery tax to repair, maintain and provide public facilities.

Where services in the public arena are better provided by the private sector, for example, the development of town centres or of other local authority buildings for commercial retail uses, improvements in current PFI rules to allow private sector-led development are required. I welcome the review that is in hand and, in particular, the Paymaster General's recent statement:

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    We have all wasted millions of hours on getting PFI projects together. Sadly, however, the Paymaster General also said that Departments should not expect any increase in their capital budgets. If that is the case, local authorities are lost. If they are not allowed to borrow, and if there is to be no change in the current rules, investment in capital projects in constituencies such as mine will simply stop. That is a major task, which I hope that Ministers will tackle.

Being the Member for the new Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency is a great honour. The previous Member was somewhat silent, but over the next five years I aim to draw to the attention of the House the needs of my constituents.

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