UK Economy (London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:02 pm on 10th March 2004.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister, Shadow Minister (London) 3:02 pm, 10th March 2004

London is a world city. Make no mistake, if its economy fails, the UK economy will fail. There is no doubt that London faces intense competition from a range of countries. I disagree with Chris Bryant because I do not believe that competition comes only from Europe. Increasingly, it is coming from further overseas. My medium-term sights are not on Paris or Frankfurt as financial centres, but on cities that have featured in my working life, such as Shanghai and Bombay. They will be the competition in the future, and that is something that the Treasury and Chancellor should pay considerably more attention to than has been the case hitherto.

I congratulate Harry Cohen on introducing such a timely and important debate. By my calculation, he is the sixth longest-serving London Member of Parliament and, indeed, one of the five slightly more senior, as is my hon. Friend Sir Sydney Chapman. Like me, the hon. Gentleman has the interests of the capital close to his heart. Since I have been an hon. Member, he has introduced similar debates.

Like all of us here, the hon. Gentleman has an eye on the general election. I want to take this opportunity to plug our own excellent local candidate in Leyton and Wanstead, Julien Foster, who requires a mere 19.2 per cent. swing to secure the seat from the Labour party at the next election. If the hon. Gentleman is a little complacent about such matters, I wish to point out that I am just old enough to remember a time when Leyton was a Conservative-held seat. That was at the famous 1965 by-election. I was only three months old. My mother told me that I cried all day, but I am sure that that had nothing to do with the fact that Labour had been defeated.

I shall return to the excellent debate. The historical importance of London goes back some 2,000 years. That makes it unusual. For example, Berlin was a small town in as recently as 1750, and cities such as Chicago barely existed 170 years ago. Therein lies a real problem. I refer to the sheer dominance of London and, to that extent, I accept what Pete Wishart said. Today, London is the political, commercial and cultural centre of our nation. Many from outside the capital city cast an envious eye over London's successes without perhaps appreciating some of its failures and problems, and wish at times to bring it down to size.

In opening the debate, the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead rightly said that London is the historic seat of democratic government and the monarchy in this country. I also agree with his comments about the large working population and the fact that that brings with it a lot of choice and innovation. London has a unique importance as a city and is the main driver of the UK economy. His message to the Minister was clear, and I think that I speak on behalf of all London Members who have contributed when I say that we hope that the Government will stand and deliver.

The Minister may have entered the debate with a somewhat heavy heart, but she will have realised from the contributions made on both sides of the Chamber that there is a great deal of unity among London Members on a number of these issues. I suspect that one of the usurpers, the hon. Member for North Tayside, might think that the debate constitutes a lot of whingeing from London Members, but he should hear what we say about Scottish Members in the Tea Room when we have discussed these matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet wisely recognised the deep disparities in wealth between areas and even within districts in London. Ms Buck, my constituency next-door neighbour, rightly outlined the crucial importance of Crossrail. The investment here in infrastructure projects, and Crossrail in particular, will benefit the nation at large. Indeed, I think that she said that it would prospectively generate very large tax revenues. Likewise, she emphasised the importance of employment and unemployment issues, child care provision and affordable housing for key workers, whether in the public or private sectors.

The hon. Member for North Tayside acknowledged how highly centralised the UK has become, and London is at its core. He also raised the notion of redistribution of much of the economic wealth that London creates. He is right to an extent when he says that London is a victim of its own success, particularly on issues of infrastructure, be it transport, health or education. I am not sure that I have all the answers, and I do not necessarily ask the Minister to produce them, but I will be interested to hear what she has to say on the hon. Gentleman's interesting and important contribution.

Mr. Coleman made the case strongly for London housing the deepest pool of our qualified labour. He was right to point out that relocating much of our labour stock is easier said than done. Equally, he rightly recognised that about 65 per cent. of homelessness in the UK as a whole is in the capital.

The hon. Member for Rhondda re-established his new Labour credentials, in so far as they ever needed re-establishing, with admirable aplomb. Seriously, he made a relevant and focused speech on a number of issues, and I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in response.

London's role as a global trading centre provides a great historical focus for Britain's outward-looking approach. It is often said that 55 per cent. of our trade is with mainland Europe—the European Union nations. Indeed, that is often used as an argument as to why we should join the single currency, but I say forcefully that the logical corollary is that 45 per cent. of our trade is with nations outside the EU. Often, they are the largest-growing and fastest-growing nations and will be the trading partners for the future.