Orders of the Day — European Communities (Amendment) Bill
Mr Andy Burnham (Leigh, Labour)
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I congratulate 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 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.
"The mobile phone has finally breached the last bastion of low-tech tranquillity: the House of Commons."
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 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
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. 8.16 pm