Lord Ian Wrigglesworth’s maiden speech

It is a tradition for LDV to bring its readers copies of our new MPs’ and Peers’ first words in Parliament, so that we can read what is being said and respond. You can find all of the speeches in this category with this link. Last Thursday, Lord Wrigglesworth made his maiden speech in the House of Lords during a debate on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. His words are reproduced below.

My Lords, it is a great honour and a great pleasure to address your Lordships’ House for the first time. I do so with some trepidation as it has quickly become apparent that I have a great deal to learn about the workings of your Lordships’ House, not to mention its myriad nooks and crannies. However, that learning process has been made easier and more pleasant by the warmth of welcome from the staff and from all sides of your Lordships’ House, particularly from so many old friends and colleagues, and also by the excellent induction programme provided by officers of the House and by my noble friends.

I am also grateful to my two sponsors for their support and encouragement. In one sense it was my noble friend Lord Rodgers who first got me into all of this. It was in his victorious by-election campaign in my home town of Stockton-on-Tees way back in 1962 that I cut my political teeth. That process was aided and abetted later in that decade by my noble friend and former student flatmate Lord McNally, with whom I was actively engaged in student politics, among other things. It was a great honour and pleasure later in my life to represent Stockton-on-Tees in the other place. I thought it might be wise, before speaking today, to look up the maiden speech that I made nearly 40 years ago. I have to tell noble Lords that the only thing it reminded me of was my age.

The north-east and its history have been responsible for moulding my politics and my attitudes from my earliest days. From up there, Leeds and Manchester are down south. The scourge of unemployment has left an indelible scar on me and many others over the generations, not least on the first noble Earl, Lord Stockton, who, as Harold Macmillan, served as the town’s MP between 1924 and 1945. The region has been transformed in the past few decades and has many vibrant new industries, but it is profoundly depressing that, after all these years, the unemployment rate still remains the highest in the United Kingdom. I have spent most of my life trying to do something about that, serving on bodies such as the Northern Development Company, the Northern Way, the NewcastleGateshead Initiative, as chairman of the Northern CBI and latterly as deputy chairman of the advisory panel for the Government’s regional growth fund. I am sure that if it had not been for these, and the work of many other bodies such as One North East and the new LEPs, things would have been worse than they are today.

When my electorate passed a vote no confidence in me in 1987, I started a new business career in London and the north-east. After a few years of working in industrial property, a partner and I launched UK Land Estates. It has become one of the biggest investors and developers of industrial and commercial property in the north-east with more than 2,000 businesses now as tenants. I declare an interest in that company and in my own business, the Durham Group. Until last year I also had the pleasure of chairing the Port of Tyne. It supports some 10,500 jobs in the region and contributes £0.5 billion to the region’s gross value added. During my time it has grown to become the largest trust port in the United Kingdom by turnover and profit, overtaking the likes of Dover some time ago. It is one of the major trading gateways of the United Kingdom, connecting United Kingdom businesses to five continents via the major European ports.

That brings me to the subject of today’s debate, introduced so ably by my noble friend and fellow Northumbrian Lord Shipley. The north-east region is the only United Kingdom region showing a balance of trade surplus. A large proportion of that surplus is in the £7 billion of exports handled by the Port of Tyne. Most significantly, it is the fourth largest import/export terminal in Europe. The main reason for that is that virtually all the vehicles exported by Nissan from the United Kingdom are shipped through the Tyne. As my noble friend said, the Nissan plant at Sunderland is the largest and most productive vehicle-manufacturing facility in the United Kingdom. It is now producing more than half a million cars a year, 80% of which are exported. It directly employs 6,400 people plus many more in the supply chain. Since it came to the United Kingdom in 1986 it has invested £3.5 billion in the plant and is investing more today. Its contribution to the north-east and to the national economy is massive. It is not surprising, therefore, that Nissan has said that Britain’s membership of the European Union is very important to it and that it wants to see the United Kingdom remain part of the single market, with its uniform standards and tariffs. I believe that its views very much reflect business sentiment across the United Kingdom. The most recent Chambers of Commerce survey showed that most businesses think that withdrawal from the EU would be bad for Britain, and CBI surveys reflect the same views.

All my business experience tells me that confidence is the most important ingredient in any investment or spending decision. I have worked in two banks, served on the boards of many companies—large, small, public, private and co-op—and I sometimes think that the political community does not understand the vital importance of confidence in business decisions. Nothing undermines confidence more than uncertainty, and there is uncertainty at the moment over our country’s future in the EU. If that uncertainty increases, confidence will be damaged, but the consequences will not be immediate plant closures; instead, decisions will be taken to build the next model in Spain and not in Swindon, Solihull, Halewood, or Sunderland. That will lead to the plants gradually declining and the jobs decreasing. And who will suffer? The national economy, of course. But most directly it will be those 6,400 people at Nissan, and others like them. Even more tragically, it will be those without jobs, whose hopes will be dashed and whose families will continue to suffer. Talk of referenda and other issues in Westminster is all very well and may be unavoidable, but I hope that we will never forget the potential consequences for many vulnerable people.

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