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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Conservative, Great Grimsby 5:45 pm, 16th March 2020

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is with great pride that I stand in this place and speak about the town of my birth, and now the town of my constituency, Great Grimsby. I am equally proud that I am the first woman from my party to represent the seat. Indeed, I am the first Conservative MP to serve the constituency since Sir Walter Womersley in 1945.

I would like to acknowledge the work of my immediate predecessor, Melanie Onn. Melanie served as MP for four years. Even in that short time, she progressed to shadow Front-Bench positions, first as shadow Deputy Leader of the House and then as shadow Housing Minister. Melanie was hard working and diligent in her service of Great Grimsby.

I must also mention the Labour politician who served Grimsby for longer than anybody else: Austin Mitchell. Austin was a Member of Parliament for 38 years and is a politician whom I admire greatly. He once said that if you pinned a red rosette on a donkey, the people of Great Grimsby would vote for it. Well, I did not wear a red rosette and nor am I a donkey, which proves that Austin Mitchell was not always right. Austin was a constant campaigner against the common fisheries policy and the damage it inflicted on the fishermen of Grimsby. It is that part of his work that I will be particularly proud to continue now that we have left the EU.

I would also like to say a sincere thank you to my hon. Friend Martin Vickers, who encouraged me to stand as a councillor and then as parliamentary candidate. He continues to be a valued adviser and a huge support.

Great Grimsby has a long and proud trading history. The town was well known as a trading port in the 800s and was particularly renowned even then for the quality of its fish and its fishing fleet. By the 1100s, the town had become one of the richest trading ports in the country. In 1201, the burgesses of the town bought it from King John, and it gained its first town charter in the same year. I am very proud to say that Great Grimsby was able to send two of its burgesses to start up the model Parliament in 1295. In recognition of that, our coat of arms and the name Great Grimsby are part of one of the stained glass windows in St Stephen’s Hall.

The enrolled freemen of Grimsby, who were created at the signing of the first town charter, ran the town until 1831 and are still an important part of its functions today. They are the beating heart of Freeman Street and continue to work with the council and MPs to ensure the town’s positive future. It is important to recall how the freemen encouraged economic success in the 1300s. They reduced or abolished taxes for local businesses. There was, for example, “No Keyage on loading or unloading ship,” “No Stallage on erecting a stall in the market,” and “No Anchorage on dropping anchor”. I encourage the Chancellor to emulate our forebears and bring a free port to Grimsby.

For centuries, trawlermen from our town set off into the North sea to catch the fish to feed the nation, including through two world wars. Those trawlermen then had to suffer the cod wars with Iceland, together with crippling oil price rises in the 1970s. As a nation we joined the Common Market and then the EU, which gave rise to the common fisheries policy. EU trawlers had access to our waters, and our own fishermen became subject to smaller and smaller quotas. All of that resulted in the decimation of the fishing industry in towns such as Grimsby. But now we have left the EU. My constituents will be watching the Government, and me, very closely over the coming year to make sure we negotiate a deal that means we are able to build a UK fishing industry fit for the 21st century.

Great Grimsby is not merely a town that looks back to its history. Our key Lincolnshire location on the bank of the Humber estuary and facing the North sea means we are home to the largest centre for seafood processing and cold storage, and we have become the UK’s largest centre for the maintenance and operations of our new offshore windfarms. Many of my constituents work at the Port of Immingham and Grimsby, the UK’s largest port by tonnage. We hope to be at the forefront of the new emerging technology in carbon capture and storage. I was particularly delighted to hear the Chancellor’s announcement of a £800 million infrastructure fund for carbon capture and storage clusters. Where better to place a cluster that will capture and store 16 million tonnes of carbon dioxide than off the coast of Grimsby?

As my hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches know, small businesses are central to the life of our towns and our country. If we are to encourage the regeneration of our town centres, our local businesses are key. I therefore welcome the announcement to help small businesses cope with the potential extra costs of coronavirus by refunding statutory sick pay. The retail, leisure and hospitality businesses in my constituency will also welcome the extension of the 100% business rate relief in 2020-21. I am particularly pleased that the Chancellor has decided to freeze fuel duty for another year. My constituents, especially those who run logistics companies, will greatly appreciate that step.

To be elected to represent my hometown is the greatest honour of my professional life. It is an honour that has come to me because of how the people felt treated by politicians in the past. We know that they have lent us their vote and I am well aware that they voted for change. I will work tirelessly to see that that change happens.