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Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and for giving me the opportunity to address this House for the first time. I start by congratulating hon. Members who have just concluded their maiden speeches. I hope that, after six hours here, they enjoyed the experience, and I hope the House will forgive me if the microphones pick up the mild rumbling of my stomach at this late hour in the evening.
I should like to thank my predecessor, Quentin Davies, for his long record of service. He worked hard for the people of south-west Lincolnshire, and played a crucial role in securing the future of Grantham hospital when it was under threat. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I report to the House the shocking truth about Mr Davies's recent ordeal. Three years ago he was kidnapped by a brutal and unscrupulous gang. As a political prisoner, he was spared no indignity. He was even forced to sign a statement hailing the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) as
"a leader, who is entirely straightforward, who has a towering record, and a clear vision for the future of our country".
Last week, Mr Davies suffered the final humiliation-exile to the House of Lords. We can only imagine his anguish as he protested his belief in a fully elected second Chamber and his scorn for titles and other baubles. I hope that the House will join me in sending our condolences to the newly ennobled Lord as he starts his life sentence on the red leather Benches.
I feel immensely lucky to be representing south-west Lincolnshire in Parliament. Nowhere in the country is there a town more lovely than Stamford, but living in a place of ancient beauty creates its own challenges. Stamford's residents have to work out how to preserve their town for future generations, while finding a way to live and work and have fun in the 21st century. I would not presume to tell them how to strike that balance-but I can think of no place better equipped to run its own affairs without interference from regional commissars in Nottingham and planning gauleiters in Bristol.
North-east of Stamford is Bourne, a small town that boasts two great secondary schools, Robert Manning technology college and Bourne grammar. Together, they demonstrate that selective education, where it is well established and accepted by parents, can provide children of all abilities with superb teaching. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has also invited outstanding selective schools to become academies.
At the northern tip of the constituency is Grantham. The first thing one sees on approaching the town is the magnificent spire of St. Wulfram's, but it is not church architecture that has made Grantham world famous. It
is not even Sir Isaac Newton, who grew up nearby in Woolsthorpe manor and discovered gravity while snoozing in its orchard. Grantham achieved global celebrity because of Margaret Thatcher. Thirty years ago, she smashed through the glass ceiling in this House, and gave us all a master class in true grit. I pay tribute to her today.
Traditionally, Grantham was an engineering town. I believe it can be so again if we learn from the mistakes of the past. In 1905, Richard Hornsby and Sons of Grantham invented the revolutionary caterpillar track. By 1914, Hornsbys had only sold one caterpillar vehicle, so they transferred the patent to the Holt Manufacturing Company of California for $8,000. Thanks in part to this patent, Holt became Caterpillar Inc. and went on to dominate the global market in construction and mining equipment. What haunts me about that story is that none of us is surprised by it. We have ground-breaking research, brilliant design, even watertight patents, yet the conversion of that technological potential into orders and jobs often passes us by. If we are to restore our economic fortunes, we must change that. I spent the best part of 10 years running a small business, making paintbrushes and rollers. I will not pretend that I made a huge success of it, but it did help me understand the challenges facing modern manufacturing. I am determined to help others who make a living by making things.
Thank you for your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would like to conclude with a few words to Labour Members. We disagree about much and will have fierce battles in the years to come, but I will never forget what they, and their recently departed colleagues, did for gay women and gay men such as me. I would not be standing here today if they had not passed legislation to extend full equality and respect to everyone in Britain-and thereby entrench a change in culture and attitudes that my own party has now embraced. This was the Labour party at its best: brave, principled and humane. I thank and salute it, and hope that some day in this place I will have the chance to do something as good.
Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am honoured to address the House for the first time, on behalf of my constituency of Belfast East, where I have lived all my life. I want to thank the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) for his speech, particularly his words about the importance of equality and respect, and I congratulate all those Members who made their maiden speeches today. I only wish that they had set the bar slightly lower for those of us who have to follow.
In preparing for today I read the maiden speech that my predecessor, Peter Robinson, delivered here in 1979, when the troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height-a fact that was reflected in his remarks to the House on that occasion. While our political perspectives are distinctively different, I want to pay tribute to him for his 31 years of dedicated service to the constituency as Member of Parliament, and particularly for his contribution in recent years, as First Minister, to making Northern Ireland an immeasurably more stable and peaceful place than the one to which he referred in his maiden speech. I wish him well as he continues in that important role.
It is a convention to introduce one's constituency to the House in a maiden speech, but perhaps I could also briefly introduce my party, as the first Alliance party
member to be elected to the House. Alliance was formed in 1970 by people from across the traditional religious and political divide who were committed to healing the deep-seated sectarian divisions in our community. They recognised that there was much more that united the people of Northern Ireland than divided them; that any change to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland required the consent of those who live there; and that power sharing would ultimately form the basis of any political agreement.
Unfortunately, it was an idea ahead of its time and the past 40 years have been marked by failed attempts to realise those aspirations. However, now, with a functioning Assembly, based on those same principles and endorsed by the overwhelming majority of people, the quality of the original idea has been proven. Importantly, however, those people also offered a vision of a better future for all the people of Northern Ireland. In doing so, they gave hope to people such as me, growing up in circumstances where both vision and hope were in short supply.
The work of tackling prejudice in all its forms is still critical if we are not only to maintain progress but to create an open, welcoming and diverse community in which diversity is respected and celebrated, and in which we can fully realise our potential, both economically and socially. I thank my constituents for endorsing that commitment to a shared future when they elected me. I look forward to serving them in this new role and will endeavour to live up to the trust that they have placed in me.
Stretching from the River Lagan, through the terraced streets of the inner city of Belfast East, outwards to the suburbs and the beautiful Castlereagh hills beyond, my constituency is home to Parliament Buildings and so has provided the backdrop for many dramatic moments in political life in Northern Ireland. It is also a constituency with a rich cultural, sporting and industrial heritage and, as a result, there are many famous names associated with it, such as C.S. Lewis, Van Morrison and George Best, to name only a few.
Perhaps the most famous name of all associated with Belfast East is not that of a person but that of a ship, the Titanic, the ill-fated White Star liner that was at the time the largest and most luxurious ship ever built, and is surely now the most renowned. She was constructed at a time when Harland and Wolff was the largest shipyard in the world. Gustav Wolff was a partner not only in Harland and Wolff but in the east Belfast-based Belfast Rope Works, one of the largest rope works in the world. Among his other enterprises, Gustav Wolff also found time to serve as a Member of Parliament for East Belfast, so I have quite a lot to live up to.
That industrial heritage marked out the east of the city for many years, but with the decline in shipbuilding and manufacturing it also cast a huge shadow over my constituency. Our experiences in that respect were not dissimilar to those of many industrial cities. However, our difficulties were compounded by the ongoing violence and political instability, which hampered the economic rebalancing that was required. Thankfully, with the changed political fortunes of Northern Ireland, there are huge opportunities for regeneration and growth and the site of that shipyard remains a significant economic
driver. Once fully occupied by the shipbuilding industry, it is now the largest waterfront redevelopment site in Europe: Titanic Quarter. When completed, it will transform the 185-acre site into a new mixed-use maritime quarter, with the potential to create upwards of 25,000 new jobs over the next 15 years. The Titanic signature project, set to open ahead of the centenary of the Titanic in 2012, will allow east Belfast to showcase and celebrate its linkage with Titanic to the growing number of tourists visiting the area. That anniversary offers my constituents something more significant than merely an opportunity to reflect on past glory-it offers inspiration and opportunity for a future generation.
What made the constituency a world-class centre of industry, innovation and imagination was not its factories, its rope works or its shipyard, but its people. Their creativity, resourcefulness and hard work remain our most important resource today and are the key to unlocking the potential of the constituency, particularly for those young people growing up in disadvantaged communities.
Today's debate about economic issues and challenges is a fitting context in which to introduce my constituency to the House, as it was once an economic powerhouse, which I believe it has the potential to be again. The challenge that faces us is how we realise that potential in the current economic difficulties. A very sizeable proportion of my constituents are employed in the public sector and severe cuts to public expenditure will have a disproportionate effect there. That is of concern not only to those directly employed in the public sector but to the many others whose small businesses depend on it to stay afloat.
The Government have indicated that they do not want to divide the country or to target the most vulnerable with the cuts that are ahead. However, to a degree the country is already divided economically, with regions such as Northern Ireland lagging behind others, despite our best efforts. To avoid widening that gap, we must be sensitive to regional differences, and to the particular challenges faced by Northern Ireland as we emerge from years of conflict. To do otherwise would risk the best opportunity for growth that we have had for a generation. If the proposed cuts are too deep and too swift, and are not balanced by job creation, there is a serious risk of simply moving many of my constituents out of productive public sector employment into the welfare system, which will do nothing to protect public services for the vulnerable, to generate growth in the private sector or to raise aspirations, dignity and confidence.
In closing, I fully recognise the enormity of the challenges ahead. I believe that my constituency has the potential to play a significant role in the economic recovery not just of Northern Ireland, but of the UK as a whole. I simply ask that the Government, as they formulate their plans, exercise caution and wisdom, so that we in Belfast East have the necessary support, space and opportunity to play that role to the full.
Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to give my maiden speech. Some Members may know that I am a skydiver. I am happy to tell the House that this is far more terrifying than two miles of air and a hardstop.
I congratulate those hon. Members who have spoken before me. I was particularly encouraged by the words of the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long). When I served in the Royal Air Force, Belfast was a name perhaps to strike terror into our hearts, but I am very encouraged that today, with the Alliance party, the hon. Lady is healing divisions and has a positive story to tell.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) on a very charming speech, and I am sure that he suits his constituency very well. Having lived there for a number of years, I know that it is a charming place and I congratulate him on his win.
It is a great honour to enter this House and I am grateful to the people of the historic constituency of Wycombe for sending me here. I very much look forward to serving them. Throughout my campaign, I was strictly forbidden to quote Disraeli, as he fought the constituency at least three times I think, and lost. Today, as we are in coalition, it is my great pleasure to use this perhaps well known quote from a campaign speech in High Wycombe:
"I am a Conservative to preserve all that is good in our constitution, a Radical to remove all that is bad. I seek to preserve property and to respect order, and I equally decry the appeal to the passions of the many or the prejudices of the few."
Wycombe is a constituency of astonishing diversity and contrast and yet unity in adversity. From the wealth and beauty of the Hambleden valley, through the tougher areas of the town-some Conservative Members do represent constituencies with pockets of severe deprivation-to the affluence of Tylers Green and Hazlemere, from the stoic Buckinghamshire traditionalists of old Wycombe to our large ethnic communities, Wycombe is a microcosm of contemporary Britain. I am proud to represent an area that defies expectations and encapsulates contemporary Britain.
The most consistent theme of my candidacy was, above all, the tribute to my predecessor, and I feel I can scarcely do him justice. Paul Goodman enjoyed the respect and admiration of all sections of the community, his parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the House and his party. He set out aspiring to Sir Ray Whitney's qualities of shrewdness, courtesy, unselfishness and kindness. I know that Paul surpassed his own aims and that this House will miss him. Paul's top priority was Wycombe hospital, and I have to say for the benefit of the Bucks Free Press that it will be my top campaigning priority. I mean that sincerely; no other issue compares to it, in terms of its ability to create anxiety and concern.
As a trustee of a charity for economic education, I would like to give what is perhaps an alternative perspective on the cause of the banking crisis; I hope that Members will indulge me. I should like to put to them a proposition that is uncontroversial: around the world, the system of money is a product of the state. Our monetary system is characterised by private banking, with a fractional reserve controlled by a central bank, which determines monetary policy and has a monopoly on the issue of legal tender. A Monetary Policy Committee sets interest rates.
"our national circulating medium is now at the mercy of loan transactions of banks".
In the other place, in the Banking Bill debate of 5 February 2009, the Earl of Caithness explained eloquently the base of 19th-century judicial decisions-and yes, our system of money has evolved since then-that enabled that situation to take place. He called it
"the fault which has led to every major banking and currency crisis during the past 200 years, including this one."-[ Official Report, House of Lords, 5 February 2009; Vol. 707, c. 774.]
The Bank Charter Act 1844 ended the practice of banks over-issuing notes, but it left them virtually unmolested in their ability to issue deposit currency to be drawn by cheque. That loophole haunts us today. Unlike the situation in respect of any other commodity, in the case of money, price controls do not drive the product off the market. Artificially lowered interest rates increase the demand for credit, and decrease the supply of savings, but the legal privilege granted to banks means that they can meet demand by extending credit that is unbacked by real savings. There is a good argument to say that that causes the boom-and-bust cycle, the misdirection of resources in the capital structure of production, and over-consumption by consumers. That is the biggest problem that we face today.
We could talk about the moral hazard of having a state-backed lender of last resort and state deposit guarantees, and of the socialisation of the cost of failure; I only wish that I had time to touch on the accounting rules on derivatives. Perhaps that is for another day. My political hero, Richard Cobden, spoke on the subject. He held
"all idea of regulating the currency to be an absurdity",
Today, money is a product of the state. The Bank of England controls the price, quantity and quality of money. Perhaps if we were talking about any other commodity, there would be far less confusion over and questioning of the cause of the crisis. If money is a product of the state, we should ask ourselves, "Is this a good idea?"
In the coalition, we have a Government ideally suited to be conservative to preserve what is good, but radical to change all that is bad. If we are to have a once-in-a-generation, fundamental review of the role of government, let us also examine government's role in the system of money and bank credit.
Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): Congratulations on your tenure in your post, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) on his lesson; I am sure that those in the financial services across the world will read Hansard with interest tomorrow. I particularly congratulate the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles). The equality issues that he raised at the end of his speech are ones on which the House is stronger when it works together, and I will welcome the opportunity to take those matters forward with him.
It is an honour and a privilege to stand in this great Chamber of democracy and represent the people of Edinburgh South. My constituents have placed tremendous faith in me, and I will certainly be putting their views, hopes and aspirations forcefully.
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