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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate and to follow on from some exceptional maiden speeches by other hon. Members, even if they have set the bar unreasonably high.
It is, of course, traditional in such speeches to pay tribute to predecessors, but in my case it is a genuine pleasure to do so. Despite serving only a single term, Chris Kelly left his mark both locally and nationally. Speaking to people across Dudley South during the campaign, it was clear to me that Chris’s independence of mind and determination to stand up for his principles were greatly valued by his constituents, if not always by the Government Whips.
Chris’s work as founder chairman of the all-party group on combating metal theft helped to secure changes to the law, banning cash payments and introducing an effective licensing scheme for scrap metal traders. The resulting fall in metal theft, seen clearly in the west midlands in particular, is a fitting legacy for his tireless work in this area. Chris is steeped in the value of family businesses, and was a strong voice in Parliament for family firms. I know that many Members will wish him well, now that he has returned to work for his family company.
As a Dudley councillor, it is a particular honour for me to represent the community in Parliament. Despite its name, Dudley South does not actually cover the town of Dudley—perhaps something for the Boundary Commission to reflect upon—but is made up of a number of towns and villages in the south-western part of the black country. At the southern end, Brierley Hill and Wordsley includes much of the world-famous Stourbridge glass-making quarter, while in the eastern quarter, Netherton was at the heart of the black country’s nail-making and then of the chain and anchor-making industries. The town still takes pride in having produced
the anchor for the Titanic, which was the biggest in the world at the time.
I hear some amusement from my hon. Friends and it may seem like an odd boast, but whatever criticisms people have made of the Titanic, I have never heard anybody say a bad word about its anchor.
Between the two towns is the Merry Hill centre, one of the largest indoor shopping centres in Europe. While Merry Hill is a major employer and its success is vital to our local economy, neighbouring town centres are still struggling to adapt and to define a role in the world of online shopping and out-of-town retail parks. It would be remiss of me not to mention the nearby quarry just between Kingswinford and Pensnett should house builders be looking for bricks to meet the Government’s new house building programme or—dare I say it—should the Opposition need further supplies of large pieces of high-quality stone.
Dudley South is an industrial area. We are proud of our manufacturing heritage and of Dudley’s role as the birthplace of the industrial revolution. We are an outward-looking area. As the workshop of the world, the black country’s sights have never been restricted to our shores or to any political boundaries. For people in Dudley South, like much of the rest of the country, Britain’s place in the world is not just about prestige, influence or tradition; it is about jobs, business and creating the prosperity that our communities need. That is why it is so important that we have strong trading relationships right across the world.
Whether Britain remains in the EU or we leave it will rightly be decided by the British people—that referendum is long overdue—but whatever the result, it is vital that more is done to facilitate free trade with countries around the world beyond Europe’s borders. A strong European internal market cannot be a justification for tariffs or barriers that make it more difficult for my constituents to do business outside Europe. Even the largest and most successful of markets cannot barricade themselves off from the rest of the world.