Orders of the Day — Export Control Bill
Mr Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West, Labour)
I congratulate Mr. Liddell-Grainger on his excellent and interesting maiden speech. I am sure that he will be a major asset to the House. It is a measure of his worth that, having been allocated an office in the yellow submarine and finding out that I, a fellow new Member, had not been allocated an office, he immediately and kindly offered to lend it to me if I needed it to meet constituents. I salute him for his generosity and look forward to his future contributions.
I am the newly elected Member for Wolverhampton, South-West in the industrial heartland of the west midlands. I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate. Before the House is a Bill radically to reform the United Kingdom's export control regime, principally in relation to defence and military matters but also in relation to objects of cultural interest. I propose to make some remarks about the former. I am delighted that the Bill will implement the recommendations of the Scott inquiry; no doubt Lord Scott of Foscote, as he now is, will follow its passage with interest. I am only sorry that, next month, it will be three years since the original White Paper was published.
The indiscriminate peddling of weaponry around the world is a major evil. There must be strict controls on the export of military equipment and know-how; there must be no export of items for torture nor of instruments of repression. Until now, our controls have been based on legislation dating back as far as 1939. It is a tribute to our predecessors that the old legislation continued to have relevance for as long as it did. However, the Bill brings us into the modern age, as it encompasses the computer revolution and new technology which even one of my heroes, Alan Turing, could barely have envisaged in 1939.
I commend the Government for introducing the Bill. I am particularly pleased that there will be annual reports to Parliament on its operation. However, I hope that clause 9 can be tightened further and that the provisions on the negative resolution procedure can be revisited.
In making my first speech about defence-related matters, I am following something of a local tradition. One of my predecessors, Herbert "Billy" Hughes, who represented what was then Wolverhampton, West, made his maiden speech on defence matters. He represented the seat from 1945 until 1950, then became the distinguished principal of Ruskin College for almost 30 years. In the House in 1945, he was presciently concerned about a possible atomic arms race.
Herbert Hughes's erudite successor also made his maiden speech on defence matters. Enoch Powell represented Wolverhampton, South-West from 1950 until February 1974, and subsequently returned to the House in October 1974 as the Ulster Unionist Member for Down, South. In 1950, Mr. Powell was concerned about the size and ethnic composition of our armed forces.
Many Members will recall Mr. Powell's successor, Nick Budgen, who represented the constituency from 1974 until 1997. For benefit of the curious, I might say that his maiden speech concentrated on inflation. Mr. Budgen was a colourful character of the old school—mostly a Conservative, except at the odd time when the Whip was withdrawn. His manifest contributions to the workings of the House earned him the accolade of "Back Bencher of the Year" on one occasion.
Like me, Mr. Budgen was a lawyer; like me, he opposed the death penalty, as Mr. Powell interestingly did before him and as Jenny Jones did after him. Jenny Jones represented the constituency ably in the last previous Parliament. Through her work in the House and the Council of Europe, she, with others, persuaded hon. Members to vote to restrict further the rare circumstances in which that ultimate sanction, death, might possibly still be allowed.
It was as a delegate to the Council of Europe that she really made her mark, bravely upholding the cause of human rights and democracy; she continues that struggle while her term of office there lasts for a few more months. She was in Albania last weekend, monitoring the second round of elections. I pay tribute to her hard work in the Council of Europe, in the House and on behalf of her constituency.
The constituency is wholly urban, and lacks the golden beaches of Redcar, which were mentioned earlier, and the Butlins of Bridgwater. Wolverhampton was proud to become a city last year. It took us only slightly more than 1,000 years to get there after our founding by Lady Wulfruna. The city is perhaps unique in terms of its representation in Parliament. It has three hon. Members who are sometimes styled as the three musketeers. My hon. Friend Mr. Turner, who is sitting beside me, was born and raised in his constituency and still lives there. The same is true of my hon. Friend Mr. Purchase. I complete the set, as I was born and raised in the constituency that I am now proud to represent, and I still live there.
My constituency is home to the venerable Wolverhampton Wanderers football club—the Wolves—which is currently in the first division. Although the Molineux stadium is one of the finest in the country, the team, alas, is not. After 40 years, we are still waiting for renewed success. It took us more than 1,000 years to achieve city status, but I hope that we will not spend so long outside the premier division.
Soccer is by no means the only sport in Wolverhampton. We have cricket on the green at Tettenhall, one of the oldest swimming clubs in the country, and lots of field hockey and rugby. At Aldersley stadium, we have cyclo-cross, shooting and, above all, athletics. The freedom of the borough was recently awarded to Olympic champion Denise Lewis, who was raised and went to school in the constituency, which also boasts Dunstall park, the only floodlit, all-weather race course in the country. I confess that I was there last week, but only to use its excellent conference facilities.
There is not only sport; we are also a literate lot in Wolverhampton. Headquartered in my constituency is the United Kingdom's largest regional newspaper, the Express and Star, which has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the country and is a local institution that sells almost 300,000 copies a night, six nights a week. Like many midlanders, it has a fine tradition of embracing new technology. For example, it was the first daily newspaper in the country to publish colour pictures.
We are also a centre of learning, as we are home to the university of Wolverhampton, which has an admirable record of tackling social exclusion. Less than a quarter of its students are admitted through the traditional means of entry and it is now the sixth largest university in the country.
Perhaps student numbers are so high because we are such a friendly city. Northerners feel comfortable coming that far south, and southerners are happy to venture that far north, as hon. Members will doubtless discover when they flock to Wolverhampton on their summer holidays in a few weeks' time.
Of course, student numbers might be high because of the fine local ales. The constituency is the home of Banks's, the largest independent brewer in the country, which is sadly now facing a most unwelcome takeover bid. Many hon. Members will know its excellent beer. For those who do not, I suggest a short trip downstairs to the Strangers' Bar, where it is on sale.