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Lord Whitby tells London how to get on with the Chinese – Lords maiden speech in full

Lord Whitby tells London how to get on with the Chinese – Lords maiden speech in full

🕔08.Nov 2013

Former Birmingham city council leader Mike Whitby has delivered his maiden speech in the House of Lords, enlightening peers about the “sophisticated” campaign he led to bring Chinese investment to the West Midlands.

Here is the full text of what Baron Whitby had to say (as officially reported by Hansard):

My Lords, it is truly an honour to speak for the first time in this noble House. I begin by thanking your Lordships warmly for your generous welcome and the staff of the House who, despite my regular pestering, have been remarkably kind and understanding. I would also like to thank all those people who have helped me on my life’s journey to this point, not least my sponsors and noble friends Lord Baker and Lord Edmiston, my family and friends, who have guided and loyally supported me throughout, the people of Harborne, who elected me, and my political friends and colleagues from both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties, who entrusted me for eight years with the leadership of the largest metropolitan authority in the United Kingdom.

During those years a considerable amount of my time and energy was focused on developing and nurturing a sophisticated political relationship with Beijing and several of China’s powerful cities.

We structured a campaign of engagement and business development between Birmingham and China, a programme which used civic links to build bridges into China and reinforce them with formal twinning between several major cities. The results have been impressively tangible.

The Greater Birmingham City Region exports £2.7 million-worth of goods to mainland China, far more than the south-east region. We make up almost a quarter of all UK trade with China and are the only region in Britain that has a trading surplus with China itself. That success is due in no small part to Jaguar Land Rover exports, which increased 74% last year on the previous year and are already ahead by a further 24% this year. As a proportion of Jaguar’s total sales, China is now Jaguar Land Rover’s largest global market.

Despite the collapse of MG Rover in 2005, manufacturing is still taking place in Longbridge. Most importantly, however, the new Chinese owner of the brand, SIAC, has invested heavily in research, development and car design, creating 400 engineering jobs.

The MG magic, quintessentially British, still has its heart in Birmingham, and the new MG3 was recently launched from Longbridge in September. The combination of British design and Chinese production is a powerful example of the bilateral benefits of Chinese investment. The former premier of China,

Mr Wen Jiabao, when visiting MG in Birmingham in 2011, received from me the first MG6 from the production line and commented:

“The relationship between Birmingham and China should be the model for the relationship between the United Kingdom and China”.

Noble Lords will appreciate that my blushes were similar in hue to the Chinese flags fluttering proudly alongside the union flag.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dobbs on securing today’s debate, which follows on from the recent highly successful talks between Chancellor George Osborne and his Chinese counterpart, vice-premier Ma Kai, as part of the economic financial dialogue between Britain and China. I welcome the Government’s bold decision to reform the UK’s visa application system.

During my administration in Birmingham we increased tourism from 29 million visitors in 2005 to 33 million in 2011, generating more than £5 billion of economic improvement while supporting 60,000 jobs. We are already a major destination for Chinese business visitors and tourists and expect to double the number of Chinese visitors over the next decade.

The city region already attracts 7,375 Chinese university students, according to the latest statistics. However, the challenge is that 83 million Chinese tourists left China last year, the biggest tourism market in the world, spending £63 billion between them. The United Kingdom saw just a fraction of those visitors, with only 180,000 coming to the UK. I believe that with sensible and sensitive visa arrangements we can dramatically improve our student visitor economy.

The Greater Birmingham City Region is currently undergoing transformational transport infrastructure projects such as New Street station, new metro lines and the extension of the Birmingham Airport runway. Connectivity is essential to the growth of our regional economy and point-to-point airline routes which connect you to the growth nodules of the world, and in particular to China, are imperative.

I ask the Minister to encourage his Government colleagues to support direct flights between the City of Birmingham and Chinese cities when such opportunities are presented as the runway extension is opened in 2014.

In my case today it is not “for whom the bell tolls” but rather how quickly the clock ticks. I once again thank my noble friend Lord Dobbs for instigating today’s debate, which affords us the time to reflect upon the wealth of opportunities China has to offer and how the success of Birmingham and the greater Birmingham region with China has complemented the United Kingdom’s growth agenda.

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