My purpose is to draw attention to the need for Newport, Gwent, to be granted city status, especially in view of its growing economic, social and cultural importance in Wales.
In March 1991, I will have represented Newport in this House for 25 years—a great honour and privilege. It is a town with a population of about 130,000. It is on the eastern seaboard of Wales, and that favourable geographic position has helped to make it an important centre of commerce, industry and communications. The progress of the town has been helped by an enlightened borough council. Major inward investment has enabled the industrial base to be diversified. Private sector investments in the pipeline now exceed £600 million.
A wide range of local, national and international companies have achieved success in Newport. They include A. B. Electronics, Inmos, Standard Telephones and Cables, Monsanto Chemicals, Marconi, Alcan, IMI Santons, the Avana confectionery group, J. Compton Sons and Webb, an important textile organisation, and Crompton Parkinson, a battery manufacturer. Newport remains a major centre for the steel industry, personified by the great Llanwern works.
Public and commercial confidence in the borough has been further advanced in recent years, with several major inward investments, including the Trustee Savings bank, the Patent Office, Panasonic, Newbridge Networks and Bisley Office Equipment. The town is also the centre for the administration of justice in Gwent; Crown, county and magistrates courts are all there. The business statistics office provides central Government with most of its trade and industry statistics, and the passport office serves about one third of Britain. It is my contention that conferring city status would help maintain the momentum of this considerable progress.
Newport has an enviable position in this country's communications network. The M4 and M5 link Newport with London and the midlands. The town has main rail routes to London, the midlands and north and west Wales. On the InterCity express, London is a mere one and a half hours away. Newport docks can accommodate vessels of up to 40,000 tonnes deadweight and they provide a worldwide import and export facility.
Newport has long been established as the commercial and retail centre for the whole of Gwent and major new developments in this area are under way.
The Newport centre provides one of the finest leisure, entertainment and conference centres in Britain. As part of the town's economic development strategy, £43 million is committed to the regeneration of the Usk river front, with a view to realising commercial, leisure and residential development opportunities.
An unusual feature of the Newport skyline is the giant transporter bridge. It is basically a suspended ferry and there is only one other bridge like it in the whole of Britain. Newport boasts a first-class museum, art gallery and central library. Tredegar house is a magnificent example of a 17th century country mansion. Two years ago it provided the site for the royal national eisteddfod of Wales. That event proved to be one of the most successful examples of this great annual national festival, which has been held for many years.
Newport has actively fostered international links. It is twinned with Heidenheim in Germany, with the city of Wuzhou in the Peoples Republic of China and with Kutaisi in the Georgian republic of the USSR.
I have tried to give a brief outline of present-day Newport, but it has a long and colourful history which can be traced from the sites of ancient Celtic settlements through the occupation by the Romans, who built the headquarters of their second Augustan legion at Caerleon. Under the Normans, Gwynllwg, the forerunner of Newport, flourished as a port and market town. A major castle was constructed early in the 12th century to defend the crossing point over the River Usk. The castle became the centre of the lordship and traders settled close to its walls for protection, thus founding Novus Burgus, or New Town, which later became Newport.
Unfortunately, during the uprising of Owain Glyndwr in 1402, much damage was done to some of the principal buildings. Nevertheless, the borough's first charter had been granted in 1385 and the title of mayor was adopted in 1476. Newport's cathedral, St Wooles, stands on the site of St. Gwynllyw's church, which was established in 500 AD. It was designated a cathedral in 1921 on the creation of the diocese of Monmouth.
One of the most notable events in Newport's history was the Chartist uprising in 1839. It was led by John Frost, a former mayor of the town, and the Chartists marched down Stow hill fighting for their right to vote and protesting about the desperate economic and social conditions of the time. My predecessor, the late Sir Frank Soskice, a former Home Secretary, was so impressed by the event that when he retired from the House he took the title Lord Stow Hill. Last year the borough celebrated the 150th anniversary of the uprising and the town's central shopping centre has been named John Frost square.
In the 19th century, Newport grew rapidly and its port flourished, exporting millions of tonnes of coal mined in the valleys of Gwent. The town also became a major centre for the steel industry, which it still is, but now its industrial structure has been diversified and it has a much larger industrial base. My case has the full backing of Newport borough council, which, within the last few days, officially communicated its view to the Secretary of State for Wales.