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8.8 pm

Ms Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside): I congratulate the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) on their excellent maiden speeches. They displayed their dedication and sincerity concerning their constituents. I look forward to hearing more from them.

I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for permitting me to make my maiden speech during this important debate. It is a subject of critical importance to my constituents. At the outset, I should like to say that I fully support the Government's commitment to full participation in Europe. That commitment, combined with our domestic policies, will be of great benefit to my constituents.

I am privileged to have been elected to represent the Riverside constituency, which is renowned for its campaigning characters. My immediate predecessor, Bob Parry, was well respected in the House and in Liverpool and beyond, and I thank him for his dedication to Riverside. Bessie Braddock is still remembered, loved and revered as a champion of the people in part of my constituency. Eleanor Rathbone was elected for my constituency in 1928. She was a suffragette and one of those who began the campaign for family allowances. Her legacy is of great benefit to the whole country.

My constituency draws great strength from its diversity and its many communities. As a Labour and Co-operative Member, I applaud the community-based regeneration that has been carried out by, for example, the Eldonians in Granby, Toxteth and Dingle. Much of that has been supported by European funding. Riverside is a major area of Irish settlement with all the richness of culture that that has brought us. It has two cathedrals, and I applaud the work of the late Archbishop Warlock and

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Bishop David Sheppard in bringing communities together. It also has the Liverpool mosque and the historic Princes road synagogue.

Riverside is rich in arts. It has the Royal Liverpool philharmonic orchestra, theatres and the Liverpool institute of performing arts, which was so splendidly opened by Sir Paul McCartney a short time ago, and Liverpool is now the headquarters of the North-West film commission. All those features have great economic potential.

Of course, Liverpool has two excellent football teams, and they dominate the city. It is not possible to mention football in Liverpool without being aware of the shadow of Hillsborough. I shall continue the campaign until the truth of what happened is out and people know what really occurred on that dreadful day.

The economy of my constituency faces great difficulties. Long-term unemployment started when the transatlantic trade began to decline. It has the second highest level of unemployment in the country with over 27 per cent. male and more than 19.8 per cent. overall. Riverside ranks as one of the poorest areas in Europe and qualifies for objective 1 EU funding because its unemployment is 70 per cent. above the European average while its GDP is 77 per cent. below it. That is why about £630 million has been allocated by Europe for regeneration in the area. That money will generate £1.5 billion to regenerate the economy.

European assistance is critical. It was EU economic assistance and regeneration that started to target support, to intervene, to forge partnerships with the private sector and to lever in resources to consider needs and develop opportunities. That money has been used for investment and training, and has involved communities and been used to devise strategies. It has given birth to the innovative Merseyside special investment fund which has involved hard work with small and medium-sized businesses to develop the real regeneration in the economy, which is business.

I am pleased that the Government's new policy will build on what European funding has started to achieve in Riverside. Our policy for a north-west region development agency will give us the means to use those European funds even better. It will provide a focus and develop strategies to link that funding to private and public-sector funding in a better way than before. The new Ministry that has been created by the Government will enable transport, environment, training and job creation issues to be looked at as a whole to make maximum use of that vital European funding.

We have reached a critical point on European funding. The enlargement of Europe is on the agenda and that means that there is a question mark over the future of objective 1 funding for Liverpool. Although that money is already having an impact on Riverside, there is still much work to do. I am confident that the Government's attitude of full participation in Europe and stressing the importance of employment in all European policies will ensure that Merseyside in general and Riverside in particular will continue to benefit from objective 1 funding after the reassessment that is already in progress.

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There is commitment in Riverside, and Merseyside local authorities, together with business, already have a European office in Brussels as part of a north-west presence and are working hard in Europe to bring funding here. That is important and I am confident that our Minister for Trade and Competitiveness in Europe will work hard for Riverside to ensure that it continues to get that funding.

When I stood for the constituency, I had the honour to be proposed by Margaret Simey, who is now in her 90s, and who campaigned with Eleanor Rathbone for women's suffrage. She has campaigned for social reform, has been a Liverpool councillor and chaired Merseyside policy authority in the troubled 1980s. When she supported my candidature, she spoke about her passion for justice. I share that passion, and that means that I will work for Riverside to build strong communities and to develop a strong society. That means developing our economy and ending social exclusion. The only way that we can do that is to build a strong local economy and a strong region and link them to Europe through national policies. That is the only way to secure economic regeneration and social justice.

8.17 pm

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I am pleased to deliver my maiden speech in this important debate on the future of our country and our continent. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt) and the hon. Members for Harlow (Mr. Rammell) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Ms Ellman) on their maiden speeches. They delivered excellent speeches and I am sure that we shall hear more from them.

I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Nicholas Baker. In view of the hurly-burly of the general election, many hon. Members may be forgiven for being unaware of the sad death of Nicholas Baker one week before the election. Although Parliament had been dissolved, I understand that, technically, he died while in the service of the House. Nicholas was elected in 1979 and was a most assiduous and diligent constituency representative. I got to know him 15 years ago, when he was the parliamentary vice-chairman of the Conservative party's foreign affairs forum. I was at that time deputy chairman of that organisation. He maintained a close interest in the forum and in foreign affairs in general right up until his death. In fact, just two months before his death, he published a pamphlet on Britain and the third world, under the auspices of the Conservative political centre.

Nicholas served in government as a parliamentary private secretary, as a well-respected whip and latterly, before being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, as Immigration Minister at the Home Office. Sadly, his multiple sclerosis was overtaken by the onset of cancer and, in the end, his passing was a blessed relief both to Nicholas--an intensely religious man--and to his devoted wife Carol. I am sure that the whole House sends Lady Baker and Nicholas's two children the warmest good wishes for the future.

Nicholas Baker bequeathed me a constituency that must rank among the most beautiful in the country. The little Hovis delivery boy wheeling his bicycle up the hill on our television screens has a misleading Yorkshire accent, for that is Gold hill in Shaftesbury, the ancient Saxon market

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town in the northern part of my constituency of North Dorset. Although my constituency has traditionally based its economy on agriculture, which is still important today--the market at Sturminster Newton is the largest calf market in England--North Dorset's economic base is as modern as any in Britain.

Our largest private sector employer, Cobham plc at Wimborne Minster, is a major aerospace contractor. It is currently undertaking a significant part of the rebuilding of the Royal Air Force's Nimrod fleet and constructing the Phoenix battlefield reconnaissance aircraft for the Army; and it is a world leader in fuelling and refuelling systems for military aircraft. At Blandford Forum, my largest public sector employer is the rapidly expanding headquarters of the Royal Corps of Signals--the Army's computer department, at the leading edge of modern warfare.

It is the prosperity and security of Britain's engagement with our European partners that create the economic framework for all that activity. As the Prime Minister goes to Amsterdam, he asks us in this debate to take note of many and various documents; but the message he must take from the House is that Britain is a proud and independent nation which has much to contribute and much to gain from the European Union, but that it totally rejects the concept of a centralised European super-state, a European Government or a European nation. The sort of federal solution that we created in Canada, Australia and India would be neither relevant nor beneficial in modern Europe.

Lest I am accused of shifting from long-held and positive views on Britain's role in Europe and adopting a Euro-sceptic stance, let me tell the House that I believe that there is more that unites Conservative Members on the basic principles of our European engagement than might occasionally divide us on the detail. I cannot say as much of those on the Government Benches, for, as the Prime Minister goes to Amsterdam, I fear that the prosperity of my constituency, of the people of this country and of the whole of Europe is threatened.

Our prosperity is threatened by a resurgence of dirigiste, old socialist ideology in the form of the Government's commitment to the social chapter, the proposed Amsterdam employment chapter and the whole concept of adopting the European social model in our employment practices--labour market practices which have led to uncompetitiveness in continental Europe, to ever-increasing unemployment and to a 35 per cent. increase in business failures in Germany in the past two years. One cannot wonder that inward investment in Britain has grown and unemployment fallen when one compares, for example, employers' non-wage costs: for every £100 of direct wage costs in Germany, the employer has to add £31 of social costs; in Britain that additional sum averages less than half that figure, at only £15.

Speaking to fellow socialists in Sweden last week, the Prime Minister said:

Many Conservative Members could find comfort in that statement, but we immediately part company with the Government on the draft Amsterdam treaty, which

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proposes to incorporate protocol 14 of the Maastricht treaty--the social chapter--in the treaty itself, thereby ending Britain's opt-out. That move is supported by the Government and was an election pledge, repeated today by the Foreign Secretary. We cannot envisage what employment benefit would accrue to the United Kingdom from the new employment chapter. It would create an employment committee in Brussels to consult the social partners; and it would create incentive measures, funded by the Community budget, to provide financial assistance to the unemployed--it all sounds to me like old Europe, old Labour.

The basis of Britain's success in Europe is the very competitive nature of the single market. A rigid framework of employment laws imposed right across the continent would destroy that competitive spirit, both here and elsewhere. If the Prime Minister truly believes what he said in Malmo, he can agree to neither the social chapter nor the employment chapter.

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