UK Economy (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:48 pm on 10th March 2004.

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Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Labour, Rhondda 2:48 pm, 10th March 2004

The extremity of my brevity will be noticeable. Some hon. Members might feel that I have got a cheek taking part in the debate, not least because I represent a Welsh constituency—I see two hon. Friends nodding in agreement. However, I dissociate myself from the truculent attack on London that we heard from the Scottish Nationalists. It is wholly unhelpful, futile and economically naive to attack London from an ideological position, rather than trying to build a stronger UK economy, in which we rely on one another.

Sir Sydney Chapman referred to poverty and wealth in London as being cheek by jowl. For many years, people in the Rhondda used to say, "We didn't have any cheek; we just had the jowl." That is one of the economic problems faced by somewhere such as the Rhondda, which is geographically isolated not only from London, but from the Welsh capital city of Cardiff. Yet the ties that bind the Rhondda to London's economy are significant. London is a gateway for tourism for the whole of the United Kingdom, because the vast majority of international travellers come through London and are bound always so to do. We must ensure that those tourists do not visit only London, because if they have seen only London, they have not seen the United Kingdom. London cannot take the benefit that it would like to if people do not visit the north-west and north-east of England, south Wales, and especially the Rhondda.

Similarly, the financial services industry, which is the backbone of the London economy, weighs heavily on the people of the Rhondda. The Treasury Committee recently produced a report on the transparency of credit card charges. I urge hon. Members to read about the devastation that irresponsible marketing by credit card companies can inflict on a community such as the Rhondda, where people end up sleepwalking into debt that they will never be able to repay. As we learned last week, light-touch regulation of financial services is in danger of being featherweight. If there is no regulation of the financial services industry, or so little that consumers are not protected, the people of the Rhondda, who have higher personal debt than many in Cardiff or London, will suffer significantly.

I am wearing a Burberry tie, partly because Burberry products are made in the Rhondda, as well as in London. Economic decisions taken by the big houses in London affect what is left of the manufacturing industry in south Wales, yet the "man from Del Monte" attitude is often brought from London or international businesses to United Polymers or Chubbs in the Rhondda, which are told, "I know it costs £1.5p to make it this year, but next year we want it for 95p." There are better ways of enforcing productivity gains in the UK than that heavy-handedness.

Of course I want London to prosper, as any sane British person would, but my biggest worry is that it will be difficult if we remain exiled from the euro. London is the most expensive city in Europe, which is partly because we are still exiled from the single currency that is driving down prices throughout the rest of Europe.

Our financial services industry is likely to be threatened if we remain outside the euro. Trade and inward investment, which is growing in countries that have adopted the single currency, is being hit in the United Kingdom. If we do not join the euro our jobs will be threatened.