Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a great pleasure to speak in this Budget debate, and I do so as the first Conservative MP representing Leigh since 1880—140 years ago. The last Conservative representing Leigh to speak in a Budget debate was Richard Assheton Cross, who was Benjamin Disraeli’s Home Secretary. I cannot promise to match during my time here his impressive achievements—or indeed his impressive beard.
To speak of a more recent incumbent, it is only right that I pay tribute to my predecessor, Jo Platt. I think I might have made history by being the first person to apologise to a defeated opponent in a victory speech, because Jo is genuinely lovely. I have known Jo since she was elected to Wigan Council in 2012, for the Astley Mosley Common ward, and I cannot ever recall a bad word passing between us. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing her well.
I should also like to pay tribute to Andy Burnham, who did so much to help the families of the victims of Hillsborough. He also, much to his credit, spoke generously about the role the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mrs May, played in resolving that matter.
Leigh is a proud northern town with a strong local identity, rooted originally in coalmining and textile manufacturing. Indeed, my own family worked in those mills and mines several generations ago, and I am proud to say so. Though the mines and mills are long gone, the proud identity remains, and it is my firm belief that we can again become a prosperous and wealthy town if this Government invest in and deliver for the north. And I believe they will—I intend to make sure of it.
I welcome the creation of the £4.2 billion local public transport fund, and I particularly welcome the commitment to improve transport links between Liverpool and Manchester, as my constituency lies almost exactly halfway between those two great cities. It is long overdue. On that note, I do hope that funding can be found to reconnect Leigh to the national rail network, with a new station at Kenyon Junction—the first railway junction to be constructed in the world. Furthermore, the good people of Golborne would dearly like to see their station reopened.
I welcome the commitment to spend £700 million on new strategic road schemes, and hope that money can be found to complete the Atherleigh Way bypass to ease the terrible congestion affecting the whole constituency, but in particular the town of Atherton and my home village of Lowton, where at Lane Head the poor air quality can at times reach levels worse than parts of central London. As the Prime Minister might say, we need to get bypass done.
I welcome the proposals to push for the development of brownfield sites. For too long, Wigan Council has sought to develop precious greenfield sites in the teeth of opposition from local residents. It is time to regenerate our town centres, and I think that the Chancellor’s decision to exempt businesses with a rateable value of £51,000 or less from business rates will be a massive boost towards reaching that objective. There is much more that needs to be done to bring Leigh town centre up to scratch, but this will be of great assistance.
Leigh is the town that invented the spinning jenny, helping to kick-start the industrial revolution. When people go shopping at Leigh market or go to the pub to celebrate the victories of the greatest rugby league team in the borough of Wigan—Leigh Centurions—they should be able to do so in a town centre they can be as proud of as any other in the north. I appreciate that I may have upset several Opposition Members with that comment, particularly Yvonne Fovargue. She may be willing to intercede on behalf of a team that begins with a “W”, but I remind her that, while it is indeed an excellent team, Warrington does not lie within the confines of the borough.
When the Chancellor eventually visits for a drink to celebrate a victory by Leigh Centurions—made all the sweeter by the freeze on beer, wine and spirit duties—I do hope that he might visit via Tyldesley, which I hope, in years to come, will be the location of a line connecting Leigh to the excellent Metrolink system, which in due course would be a natural upgrade to the existing guided busway. While in Tyldesley, I hope that the Chancellor will visit neighbouring Astley, home to the Lancashire mining museum, which features the last standing pithead in all of Lancashire. I am sure that he agrees that such places are a vital part of our cultural heritage and must be preserved.
And now, I shall ask the Chancellor not to spend money on something: the Golborne spur of HS2, which affects thousands of people in my constituency, including my own family. As the Secretary of State said, it would cost between £2 billion and £3 billion, while delivering very little for that amount of money. There we go, I have just saved the taxpayer between £2 billion and £3 billion—not bad for my first speech.
I suppose I had better bring my speech to an end, for as I have set out my perfectly reasonable list of demands I have noticed the Treasury team turning an increasingly ashen hue. I reassure them that I am not an unreasonable individual. I do not expect everything I have asked for—not at once, anyway. To quote a former Chancellor, I have a “long-term economic plan” for my constituency of Leigh.
People across my constituency welcomed the Chancellor’s Budget yesterday. Let it be the first step towards restoring prosperity to towns such as Leigh, and delivering on the promises we made to those who voted for us—many for the first time in their lives. May the votes they have lent to us be treated with a lasting legacy—a legacy worthy of the name.