Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 8th March 2017.

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Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Labour, Wrexham 4:53 pm, 8th March 2017

Let me make some progress.

I recently saw an example of the problems in our economy, and I want to talk about the difference between investment in the economy in the south-east of England and failure to invest in the economy in the rest of the country.

I recently had the great pleasure of going to Belfast. I flew from Manchester airport and I caught the excellent mini-bus from Wrexham station to the airport. It is really good, but holds only about 12 people. It got me there well. When I came back, I flew to London City airport, and from there I seamlessly drifted on to the docklands light railway, which came through investment in the local economy. I then moved seamlessly on to the Jubilee line, and I was here in 45 minutes. Wrexham is a 45-minute drive from Manchester airport, but can we get a rail connection to Manchester airport from north Wales, where some of the best businesses in the country are based? In the present system, that is absolutely impossible, and the reason for it relates to the 1980s, to where we need to look back.

In 1985, I was a newly qualified solicitor. I ran my own business and employed 12 people, so I do not need lectures from the Tories. When I started off, we had wonderful institutions such as the Halifax building society, the Leeds permanent building society and Northern Rock—do Members remember them? They were all destroyed by demutualisation. Not only were they the main lenders to house buyers—to young people who wanted to start up new businesses; they were great regional institutions. The Halifax building society was an incredibly important regional institution. In the 1980s, those institutions were destroyed, and all the power was sucked into the south-east of England and the City. Now we have about three banks in the country from which everybody borrows. That is at the root of the problem we face.

Mr Osborne talked a good game: he talked about devolution and about the northern powerhouse—I was pleased to hear that. I am delighted to see that the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse has just arrived. He obviously got word that my speech was coming. It is really good to see him; he must come to Wrexham. If he does, I will look after him very well, as he knows. What we want in Wrexham, in north-east Wales and in Cheshire—David Rutley is no longer in his place, but would benefit from this—is a local functioning infrastructure system that supports our local businesses.

As we have heard in the Chamber today, Germany is at the top of the list as the most efficient economy in the G7. Germany has lots of regional centres: Hamburg, Munich, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart—I could go on. All those regional economies have regional banks, Sparkassen, which are required to invest in their local economies. I live in Wrexham, and if there were a Sparkasse there, I could pay my salary into it and I would know that the money was being invested in my local economy.

We need a fundamental reassessment of how to support local areas. Let me explain why. The private sector does not invest in this country’s regions. There is a market failure, as my hon. Friend Rob Marris says. He made an excellent speech, and I am grateful that he is coming forward with sensible, radical economic thinking. We need new institutions through which local people can choose to invest in their local economy, because the present system is not working.

The only way of getting money from this Government—I am afraid it was the same with the Labour Government—is to go to the Treasury with a begging bowl and say, “We want some public investment in services in our area.” I have been an MP for 16 years and I have done this every year. It is very unsuccessful. It was announced today that over the next four years £200 million would be invested in public sector projects in Wales. Not one penny piece has been invested by the UK Government in transport projects in north Wales, although we have major businesses such as Airbus, and just over the border is General Motors, which needs Government support over the next few years in order to preserve jobs and be efficient. It is virtually impossible to get money from the Government, and it is virtually impossible to get private sector investment. That is because we do not have the institutional framework that enables us, if not to receive money from the Government, to borrow the money. I saw that in the 1980s in the north-east of England, where I was brought up.