I was pleased to take part in the Finance Bill debate today. You can read my full contribution below:
My constituency is not one of those that has the prospect of playing host to a freeport, or indeed being very close to one, but it is a subject of interest to my constituents for a number of reasons. I want to set out briefly what those are and why it is so important that the Government are pressing ahead in this direction.
My constituents are part of outer London, a part of the country which for many years and many generations has had an enormous economic pull factor, including for people like me. I grew up in the south Wales valleys. Following the disappearance of a lot of the heavy industry that was there, and despite a huge amount of effort by the Westminster Government and significant investment by what was then the European Economic Community to develop things such as roads, it is a place that has taken a very long time to see a significant financial and economic regeneration. While I remain sceptical, as many in the House are, about the tax situation of freeports in general, it seems very clear that they are a fantastic opportunity to play a big part in the economic regeneration and levelling up of parts of our country that have really struggled.
As a Conservative politician, it seems to me clear that a policy that is about ensuring people have access to work, a policy that is part of a wider agenda of raising people’s earnings and addressing things from child poverty to health inequalities, which still blight some parts of our country, and a policy that is very much about setting the principles of what we want to see as our economy develops, rather than taking a laissez-faire approach—we want to see the wealth not simply created, but spread and shared—is absolutely the right way forward. Freeports can be a significant part of achieving that.
It is absolutely right, as we have heard from a number of Members, that we have a balanced approach to the use of freeports. I think the port of Tilbury was the last of the UK freeports, but they are in common use around the world, The feedback is clearly very mixed about their economic impact. However, it is very consistent that they act as a draw, as a focus for a local economy, that helps to contribute to creating jobs and opportunities. As a country, we need to do that in places that have simply not had the opportunity for that in the recent past.
My constituents, who have significant concerns, for example, about the pressure on land to be released for housing to provide homes for the people who are currently being drawn in large numbers into our capital—contributing to significant housing waiting lists and significantly rising house prices, sometimes meaning that the children of people who have grown up and live locally are simply not able to settle in that area—see a direct benefit, too, to the whole country having the opportunity of economic levelling up. I therefore see this as a direct benefit to my constituents. It is important to the medium to long-term future of our country, and it is absolutely an inherent and appropriate part of the regeneration and levelling up strategy that we have for the whole of the United Kingdom. I absolutely 100% support this direction of travel and I commend it to the House.