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7.52 pm

Ms Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): I congratulate the hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr. Donaldson) on his interesting and fluent speech about his constituency and Northern Ireland. We wish all the Northern Ireland Members well in their aspirations for the peace for which we are all looking.

First, may I publicly thank the voters of Amber Valley for electing me as their Member of Parliament? I feel honoured and humbled to have received the votes of nearly 30,000 people--55 per cent. of the local electorate--and, incidentally, against a Treasury Minister who was fighting on the failed policies that were put forward again this afternoon by the shadow Chancellor.

I enjoyed talking to a lady in Heage church last Sunday. She said, "I didn't vote for you; I'd never vote Labour, but isn't it exciting?" That is exactly my mood and that of the nation--it is exciting to be carrying out the change for which people have been yearning. It is exciting to be here discussing a Queen's Speech that implements our promises to the voters: our pledge to govern for the many, not the few; and our programme to build a dynamic economy with opportunity for all.

One of my first objectives is to put Amber Valley on the map. Most non-locals could not even guess where it is--braver people usually congratulate me on my beautiful Welsh constituency. Much of Amber Valley is beautiful, as those who have visited the National Tramway museum or who watch "Peak Practice", set in Crich, alias Cardale, will know. However, Amber Valley is in golden Derbyshire. If people want to remember that, they should imagine canvassing in one of my towns, Alfreton, and finding that they are building up further the massive majority of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), whose voters shop in our towns. He is a Derbyshire man through and through and he is my neighbour. I must put Amber Valley on the map.

I pledge not to follow the example of the former hon. Member for Basildon and mention my constituency in every sentence, but I am acutely aware of the problems of anonymity. Those were identified in an analysis by the

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Amber Valley Partnership, which brings together local businesses, councils, the police and other agencies within Amber Valley. Our good communications in the heart of England are not sufficient to attract the businesses and tourists we should like. The outside world needs to know who and where we are. We are north of Derby, south of Chesterfield and we are a gateway to the Peak District national park. Our main towns are Ripley, Heanor and Alfreton, and there are a number of smaller towns and villages. Since the closure of the last pit at the end of the 1960s, the economy has developed a diverse industrial base, with headquarters of a number of famous organisations, such as Thorntons chocolates, Denby pottery, Bowmer and Kirkland, the Derbyshire building society and substantial textile and tourism industries. We need the encouragement to industry and help for our small firms, fairness at work, job opportunities and new skills that Labour's economic policies will bring.

A national minimum wage is a central part of our economic strategy if we are to move to a high-skill, competitive economy. Incidentally, it is an issue on which I campaigned for many years and it was one of the great divides between me and my predecessor. Phillip Oppenheim served the constituents of Amber Valley from the constituency's foundation in 1983 for 14 years. He freely admits that he was surprised to have been there for that length of time. He will be remembered in the House not just as an Employment, Trade and Industry, and then Treasury Minister but as captain of the parliamentary rugby XV and the owner of Vom, parliamentary dog of the year. Unfortunately, Vom scooped far more than his fair share of my local television coverage. People are warned never to compete for air time with children or animals and I certainly came second best to Vom.

One of the few issues on which I agreed with my predecessor was animal welfare. Our agreement was a source of relief to me during my election campaign, because it was the only subject on which I received an antagonistic postbag--it was from the pro-fox hunters. I hope that it is of some comfort to Phillip Oppenheim that the defeat of his party has almost certainly paved the way for the abolition of hunting. I think that he will feel pleased about that.

I also pay tribute to my predecessor's new-found talent as a newspaper diarist since the election. I have some dispute with him about his description of our meeting in the pub, but I have been fascinated by his insights in The Sunday Times into the difficulties faced by his party in recent months. I look forward enormously to the publication of his parliamentary novel. I understand that it is in the hands of the publisher of the former hon. Member for South Derbyshire so I can only assume that it is a political bonkbuster. As a new girl, I am not sure whether that counts as unparliamentary language. My predecessor has thus provided me with some entertainment, even if I have usually disagreed with him.

I am proud to be the first woman Labour Member of Parliament to represent my area and to be here with so many good women Members as part of a dramatic shift in the gender imbalance in public life. I hope that we shall have an impact on the welcome review of parliamentary procedure announced in the Queen's Speech.

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I have a number of distinguished male Labour predecessors. The Amber Valley constituency was formed out of parts of the old Ilkeston and Belper constituencies. Ilkeston was well served for many decades by George Oliver and Ray Fletcher, who, in his retirement, was still campaigning in his wheelchair to save Heanor memorial hospital. I am sure that some hon. Members will remember him.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd), I also lay claim to part of the seat held by one of Belper's most famous sons, George Brown. I do not intend to dwell on his more colourful side but will merely refer to his maiden speech, made during the debate on the Bill to nationalise the mines. He spoke of the problems with the private mining industry. That argument continues today after the closure of most of the pits.

As I look around my constituency, I sometimes feel as if someone is trying to scoop off the surface of Derbyshire and despoil its natural beauty. I was heartened by the commitment made in yesterday's Adjournment debate on opencast mining by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Departments of the Environment, Transport and the Regions that he would review the current guidelines in line with our party's policy to ensure that the burden of proof was placed clearly on the contractors to show that opencasting was of clear benefit. I hope that the review will take place quickly, as Derbyshire county council has a number of outstanding applications for opencasting before it and there are more in the pipeline.

Some applications can be of benefit in restoring contaminated land, but I do not wish to do again as I did a few weeks ago and stand in a place like Stanley village in my constituency with a man in his 60s who showed me the unspoilt green views which he had looked at since his childhood but which are soon to be torn up for the sake of an amount of coal equivalent to what would have been extracted in just a few weeks from one of the old deep pits. Let us take more rational economic decisions than that in the future, because the decisions on mining have created such problems in my area.

We have a fine heritage on which to build. The men of Ripley at Butterley Engineering in Amber Valley built the steel structures for the wonderful St. Pancras station from which I travel to Derby. There is a virtually identical building in Bombay. It is a magnificent building. That firm is still going strong, but it desperately needs help with our European market and it needs a stable economy to secure its orders.

The traditional skills learned over many years in firms such as Butterley are no longer learned on the job in the same way. In South-East Derbyshire college we have one of the most extensive modern apprenticeship schemes in the country. The RightTrak scheme, sponsored by Amber Valley borough council and the training and enterprise council, provides opportunities for learning for many more people. The Government's emphasis, as reflected in the Queen's Speech, on using new and imaginative ways for reskilling throughout life must be the way forward. As an adviser to the Northern college in Barnsley, which has pioneered methods of attracting adult learners from deprived communities, I am delighted at the inspired choice of that college's principal, Bob Fryer, to chair the Secretary of State for Education and Employment's advisory group on encouraging access to lifelong learning.

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The most inspiring part of the election campaign for me was the enthusiasm of some of the youngest members of our society. The toughest questioning sessions that I found were those held in our sixth forms, from an environmental forum with teenagers and, above all, in the junior schools which ran mock elections. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor may like to know that at least one of our junior schools had its own budget for each campaign team. He will like this--it consisted of 25 sheets of paper, because they went a bit mad with their posters on the copying machine.

If the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has any problems answering questions on how to cut class sizes, on why children should do more homework and on what is wrong with selection at 11, I can introduce him to primary school election candidates who can answer those questions for him fluently. Some of them were far more on message than most of us candidates.

If a school of five to 11-year-olds can discuss those questions and run an election campaign with only three spoilt ballot papers, we should never underestimate their potential; they are our future and our hope. We have a responsibility to put our policies, stated in this Queen's Speech, into practice. We cannot afford to let their enthusiasm fade as they turn into teenagers. We cannot afford to let their hopes die if they see that there is no work and no opportunity. We cannot be diverted by privatised utilities which cannot bear to see a dent in their fat profits. We must stick to our economic policies which are based on fairness, stability and equipping the country for the new millennium.

On 8 June in Amber Valley we will be commemorating the 180th anniversary of what has been called the last revolution in England when half-starved working folk from Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire marched to overthrow the Government. Unfortunately, the Pentrich rebellion ended in a rout after just 12 hours and its leaders were executed or transported. We have managed a peaceful change of Government by peaceful means, but the pace of change over our first 12 days, rather than 12 hours, has been exhilarating. I will be commemorating the Pentrich rebels by celebrating the change that we will bring to improve the lives of my constituents and others dramatically. Let us keep up that change, implement the Queen's Speech and prepare the next steps that will take us into the 21st century secure in the knowledge that we will not let down the younger generation.

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