Maiden Speech

 

It is truly an honour to be representing the constituency of Aberavon, where we are surrounded by the stirring spectacle of the upper Afan valley and the gentler rural beauty of Margam and Skewen. Looking out from our magnificent Aberavon beach, we survey the Celtic sea and, further, the Atlantic ocean, symbol of my constituency’s long, proud, and productive engagement with global trade and industry. It is hardly surprising that Aberavonites have drama in their blood when one considers the drama of the landscape in which they are born. Anthony Hopkins and Michael Sheen are just two of the local lads made good, but perhaps the most famous of Aberavon’s sons is Richard Burton, who is said to have mused that “the Welsh are all actors, it’s only the bad ones who become professional.” I am of course relieved to say he is not on record as having said the same thing about the Welsh and politicians.

I was born about 30 miles to the north-east of Aberavon in Tredegar, as was my father. My mother is of course from another country altogether known as north Wales. They have always worked tirelessly to combat injustice, and their dedication to public service has inspired me throughout my life.

When I left south Wales as a young man, I took that spirit of public service with me. I have been lucky to have lived and worked in Brussels, St Petersburg, Sierra Leone, Switzerland and a number of other exotic foreign lands, including England. Having returned to my roots, I am very proud to describe myself as a global Welshman. I believe that Wales is a nation with the ability to punch far above its weight, and I hope I will have an opportunity to contribute to that worthy cause.

I must take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor Dr Hywel Francis. He is, as the House will know, a noted historian and respected parliamentarian. His work on the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004 was truly life-saving.

In Aberavon we like to connect our proud history to our promising present and ambitious future. It is in that spirit that I wish to join those calling on the Ministry of Justice for the posthumous pardon of Dic Penderyn, a miner and son of Aberavon hanged in 1831 for his part in the Merthyr uprisings.

Since the time of Dic Penderyn it is the steel industry that has come to shape the landscape, the economy and the hopes of Aberavon, and the Port Talbot steelworks is the beating heart of our community. Sadly, that plant is now at the centre of a serious dispute due to the unjustified action of Tata Steel in proposing changes that would greatly weaken the workers’ pension scheme. I must therefore take this opportunity to urge Tata Steel to return with urgency and good faith to the negotiating table, and to exhort the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to engage with the management of Tata in Mumbai and Europe, for I fear that if Tata does not act rapidly now, we will see the first strike action in the steel industry in 35 years.

The topic of today’s debate is devolution and growth and, as we know, this Government claim to be focused on creating the conditions for sustainable economic growth by rebalancing the British economy and broadening our manufacturing base. I therefore wish to use the platform accorded to me today to urge the Government to understand that they must do more to support the British steel industry. To this end I call upon the Secretary of State to implement policies that will revitalise UK supply chains, reduce the cost of energy and reform business rate valuations to encourage, rather than penalise, investment.

I also call upon the Secretary of State to do everything in his power to enhance foreign investment, which can be guaranteed only by Britain staying in the European Union. The prospect of the UK leaving the EU is already casting a long shadow of uncertainty over the British economy. There is a real and present danger that our withdrawal from the EU would trigger Tata Steel’s withdrawal from the UK, and the impact of such a move on the lives of my constituents would be truly disastrous.

I was wondering whether anyone in this House might recall what a pro-European Tory looks like. Well, I have managed to find one, and he is Lord Geoffrey Howe of Aberavon, no less, and he said:

“We have done best when we have seen”

Europe

“as an active process which we can shape, often decisively, provided that we allow ourselves to be fully engaged in it, with confidence, with enthusiasm and in good faith.”—[Official Report, 13 November 1990; Vol. 180, c. 463.]

It is with that attitude that I, as the representative of Aberavon, will strive always to get the best deal for my constituents. My realistic vision of that deal includes the green jobs created by such projects as the Swansea bay tidal lagoon, the creative innovation coming from the Bay Studios and the cutting-edge research coming from Swansea University’s Bay Campus. Funded by the European Investment Bank and made possible by the Labour Government in the Welsh Assembly, the campus is an inspiring example of the tangible work that government can do to catalyse regional economic development for the future. That is a future for which I shall fight relentlessly.