Ruth Jones – 2020 Speech on the Economy and Jobs

Below is the text of the speech made by Ruth Jones, the Labour MP for Newport West, in the House of Commons on 20 January 2020.

I commend the hon. Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) on her maiden speech and thank her for the measured and thought-provoking way she delivered it. I also thank her for explaining to us the familial links between Members for her constituency—that was very helpful.

I am delighted to be able to speak in this important debate on jobs and the economy. It is my privilege to represent Newport West, my home and birthplace. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve all the people who live there, and I will work hard in the many days, months and years ahead to ensure that their voices are heard in the House.

Over my life to date, the nature of employment has changed fundamentally, as has the type, scope and size of industry in my constituency. The closure of the coal mines and steel works saw a massive and destructive loss of jobs in south Wales, but Newport West is now home to groundbreaking companies such as Airbus, the Rutherford Cancer Centre and the Catapult compound semiconductor cluster, which is the only one of its kind in the UK. As such, I welcome the Government’s commitment to making the UK a global science superpower and investing in research and development. I encourage any relevant Minister to come to Newport West: I will take them to visit those businesses so that Members can see the industry-leading work taking place in my constituency. Importantly, it will give Ministers the chance to learn about these success stories and inspire them to replicate Newport West’s success throughout the UK.​

Furthermore, I welcome the Government’s move to ensure that investment in industries such as computing are prioritised. Additionally, if investment in hubs in world-leading universities is promised, I recommend that the Minister visit the University of South Wales campus in my constituency to see the fantastic work being done in the field of cyber-security. It is a hub where businesses and university students learn from each other, providing cyber-security services to companies worldwide.

The Government propose in the Queen’s Speech to bring forward an employment Bill, and claim that they will protect and enhance workers’ rights.

Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)

My hon. Friend is making an outstanding speech about the importance of so many things. Over the weekend, the Chancellor made some controversial comments about the possible lack of alignment between Britain and the rest of the EU after Brexit. Does my hon. Friend—like me, the Confederation of British Industry and many major British trade unions—have deep concerns about the Chancellor’s rather rash statement?

Ruth Jones

Absolutely. I thank my hon. Friend for intervening because he made an excellent point. We well know that workers’ rights are not a priority for the Government. In fact, from what has been outlined so far, it seems they will attempt to proceed with no input at all from the trade union movement. I regret that and urge the Government to think again. I hope Ministers will remember that those people whose job is in a workplace that is represented by a trade union work in a safer, better-paid workplace. I encourage the Government to keep the trade unions involved in any plans they may make to change the current settlement on workers’ rights. It would be beneficial not only to the Government but to people in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England if the Tories worked with the trade union movement rather than against it.

The Government cannot be trusted to improve the settlement for workers on their own. They celebrate high employment rates at every opportunity, but in reality the figures mask high levels of people in insecure work, under- employed and on low pay. In other words, there are thousands of people on zero-hours contracts working a few hours a week, unable to make ends meet and often having to get a second or even a third job. As in-work poverty soars, the reliance on food banks continues to increase. At the same time, many people are losing their homes. In-work poverty is the moral disgrace of our age. Around one in five people in working households now live in poverty. That is the legacy of 10 years of Tory austerity.

We now live in an increasingly unequal society. In my constituency of Newport West, the average household wage in Marshfield is double the average household wage in Pill—and those areas are only six miles apart. We must make every effort to level up wages and create a more equal society. The Government can improve the working lives of millions of people in the UK if they take sustainable and effective action on the living wage, and they must take enforcement action against those businesses that refuse to pay it.

Just days ago, a number of my constituents lost their jobs at Liberty Steel in Newport. Many others in Stocksbridge, Rotherham and Brinsworth had the same ​devastating news. Only a few weeks before that, the Orb steelworks in Newport was mothballed. It was the only plant producing electrical steel in the whole UK. This is madness. I know that the thoughts and sympathies of the whole House will be with the people who find themselves out of work and facing an uncertain future. There is never a good time for someone to lose their job, but the situation is particularly hard coming so soon after Christmas. With those job losses in mind, I urge the Government finally to take real action to protect and defend the UK steel industry. Steel remains vital to the ongoing security and independence of the UK manufacturing sector, while providing good jobs for thousands throughout the country. I welcome the Government’s commitment to the jobs of the future, but I encourage those on the Treasury Bench to remember the jobs of today.

This is the second Queen’s Speech debate in my time in the House—and I have been here for only nine months. As I approach the first anniversary of my time in the House, I pledge to hold the Government to account for the promises they made to my constituents and people right across the country. I accept that the Government have won a majority, but they must now deliver on their pre-election promises. I will be here day in, day out to ensure that they do.