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1.49 pm

Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North): I am very grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate, especially as I am London-born and represent a London constituency. I congratulate the other hon. Members who have managed to catch your eye during the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to give their maiden speeches.

I pay tribute to my two Conservative predecessors in the old Ilford, North constituency, the most recent of whom, Mr. Vivian Bendall, gave service to the people of my area for 19 years. The other, Mr. Tom Iremonger, served a similar length of time, from 1954 to 1973.

As one of the 101 Labour woman Members elected to this Parliament, I feel that I am following a happy tradition, in that both previous Labour Members for Ilford, North have been women who won seats from the Conservatives, and both had distinguished records of public service.

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Mabel Ridealgh, who entered the House at that other landslide election in 1945, was a national representative of the Co-operative Women's Guild and a member of the National Council for Social Service and the citizens advice bureau.

Millie Miller won her seat at the October 1974 general election and, by the time of her premature death in 1977, had become an extremely popular and well-loved Member of Parliament in the House and the constituency. She was the first Labour woman to lead a London borough, Camden, from 1971 to 1973. She was also a former mayor of that borough and of Stoke Newington. I am following in her footsteps in more ways than one, in that in May 1994, when Labour took minority control of the London borough of Redbridge for the first time in 30 years, I was elected as the first woman Labour mayor of that council and the first Labour mayor for 26 years.

Such is the respect and affection accorded to Millie Miller nearly 20 years after her death that an annual memorial lecture is still held in the constituency. Over the years, several of my right hon. and hon. Friends have paid tribute to her memory by delivering that lecture, including my right hon. Friends the Members for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and for Livingston (Mr. Cook), my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) and the late, much-missed former Member for Barking, champion of women's rights, Jo Richardson.

It is my particular privilege to represent the area where I have lived for nearly a quarter of a century. I only ever wanted to stand for Ilford, North and when I was selected, 18 months ago, it seemed almost an impossible dream, as the notional Conservative majority in the new constituency was more than 14,000. Indeed, as recently as February of this year, the BBC political research unit listed Ilford, North as "Conservative--very safe" and predicted that my predecessor, Mr. Bendall, had

and that his position seemed

    "secure indeed."

It was also my aim to become a Member of Parliament before I was 50--an ambition now fulfilled with only a few weeks to spare, as I reach my half century on 29 June.

As well as including the northern part of Ilford in the London borough of Redbridge, the new Ilford, North constituency incorporates parts of Woodford formerly in the old Wanstead and Woodford seat, represented in the past by such distinguished gentlemen as our great wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill; Patrick Jenkin, now the right hon. Lord Jenkin of Roding; and the new hon. Member for North-East Hampshire (Mr. Arbuthnot), who found another seat. They all gave long and valued service to that constituency.

Ilford, North, bordering on Essex and rising from part of the ancient great forest of Essex, enjoys the advantages of its situation in a London borough, with access to the centre, but also has the benefits of a pleasant environment, with two country parks and other open green space within easy distance.

Among other things, my constituency is famous for being home to a large number of licensed London taxi drivers. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) told a story about taxi drivers knowing the passenger's address. A lot of them know my address and know where I live because it is in the

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constituency. A considerable number of them are from the Jewish community. Ilford, North has one of the largest Jewish populations in western Europe.

Indeed, my first meeting with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was at the annual meeting of Jewish Care in November 1994, during my mayoral year. The warmth of his reception as the keynote speaker on that occasion showed me that Labour values were striking a chord with the Jewish community: family and community values, support for the individual within the community, the right of everyone to justice, freedom and opportunity, and the duty to act as responsible members of society.

In a letter to the Board of Deputies of British Jews before the general election, the Prime Minister wrote:

I am proud to represent this community in London and all the diverse groups that have made their homes in the constituency. As a Londoner, it is my special pleasure to have been elected as a supporter of a new Labour Government committed to restoring a voice for London, with a Londonwide, democratically elected authority--if supported in a referendum.

It was my good fortune some 25 years ago to work for the genuinely popular Greater London Council in the research library, now part of the London research centre. I pay tribute to the work of the staff of the research library and its successor--members and officers who have served the people of London over the years. In the early 1970s, the research library was part of the Department of Planning and Transportation, and it is obvious to me from my experience of working in that sphere, and from representing a constituency with eight Central line stations--and hence a large number of Underground commuters--that a strategic authority for London is desperately needed, particularly for planning and transportation matters.

The people of Ilford, North expect a Labour Government and an accountable London authority to improve their lives, restore respect for London and Londoners and renew London as a proud city of Europe and the world, reinvigorated and ready to play its full role in the new millennium as a worthy capital of this great country.

1.57 pm

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): Today, we have heard six and a half maiden speeches. The hon. Members for Romford (Mrs. Gordon), for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) and for Ilford, North (Ms Perham) all made generous comments about their predecessors. I envy the hon. Member for Ilford, North for managing to get the seat that she always wanted. Many of us have been desperate to represent particular seats, but it never worked out that way. I also congratulate her on her honesty about her age--perhaps that is a sign of new Labour.

The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Colman), who is not in the Chamber at the moment, paid a semi-generous tribute to his predecessor, whereas the hon. Member for

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Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) paid his predecessor a distinctly ungenerous tribute, in language which I believe he will come to regret. Moreover, I am sure that his trenchant views on the future of London will have been noted by the Whips--as one would expect of new Labour.

Conservative Members have appreciated the tributes paid to Michael Neubert, John Gorst, John Marshall, Dick Tracey, Norman Lamont, David Mellor and Vivian Bendall. My party has recently had a traumatic experience, and we shall miss them all.

I do not know whether it is fair to call a speech by a retread a maiden speech, but we were all pleased by the return of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark). We revelled in his description of Kensington and Chelsea as an inner-city area--he is back with all the style for which he is famed. I am sure that we all welcome him back to the House.

London is a success, and it is a Conservative success.

Mr. Raynsford: Rubbish.

Mr. Ottaway: The Minister has only to look at the opening words of his London manifesto, which states that London is one of the world's greatest cities. The Conservative party made it one of the world's greatest cities.

London is one of the most important commercial centres of the world. It has the largest foreign exchange markets and the leading shipping market, it straddles the time zone and speaks the universal language of commerce. London's economy is equal to that of many nations.

London is a financial capital. Each day in London more franc transactions are carried out than in Paris, and more German mark transactions are carried out than in Frankfurt. It is a capital city built not only on our historic financial institutions, but on tourism, fashion and the arts, for London is a cultural city as well. It is a magnet for Europeans who come to enjoy our restaurants, theatres and galleries and our heritage. All those people are in London to have a good time. It is no surprise that, for the first time since the 1960s, London in the 1990s is again regarded, according to a poll by Newsweek, as

In London, the cultural heritage of our nation meets the challenge of enterprise head on. We may have 20 museums, two opera houses and five orchestras, but we also have the most up-to-date technology and six competing fibre-optic networks. Countless European companies have chosen to locate their headquarters in London. They are keen to have a share of the most advantageous marketplace in the world.

That mixture of culture and business makes London the most exciting place on earth. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) quoted Dr. Johnson's saying:

In the fine borough of Croydon, I am proud to represent a part of London.

London's success did not happen by chance: the Conservative Government made it happen. It is a Conservative success and we are entitled to take the credit

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for it. Whatever Labour Members may say, they cannot deny that they opposed most of the key decisions that led London to be the success that it is today.

The Government's contribution to the debate so far is the paper entitled "A Voice for London", which was published last year. The entire tone of that document was given to knocking London, exaggerating problems that exist and conjuring up some that do not. Yet again, the Labour party was playing politics and performing for the focus groups, when jobs, inward investment and the future of our capital were at stake.

Anything that has enabled London to thrive has been done in spite of the Labour party, which has nit-picked, found problems and talked London down. Now that Labour is in government, it proposes so-called solutions, which we shall criticise in a constructive manner. One thing that Labour cannot deny, however, is the success of our policies, which helped London to turn itself around.

London and the United Kingdom are a target for inward investment. Companies from around the world have located their headquarters in London, not just because they are attracted to our working practices and our good industrial relations, but above all because they find their own countries uncompetitive. It is no surprise that the UK is now the only European Union country in the top 10 of the world competitiveness league. For example, a German firm based in Frankfurt would pay twice the cost for a telephone call that it would pay in London. Its work force is rigid and expensive to hire. What is the Government's response? They sign up for the minimum wage and the social chapter.

Over the past 18 years, we have worked to build on London's strengths, not to undermine them. We encouraged the development of a cultural partnership between London's key players. Central Government, elected local government, business and the community are now working together to make London a success in a way that would have been inconceivable under the old GLC. That approach has been duplicated at a local level right across the capital. Public and private sector partnerships are being set up to promote and regenerate the local communities.

Docklands must be one of the largest and most successful regeneration projects anywhere in the world. The Conservative Government managed the development by removing sites from Labour local authorities that had failed to recognise the area's potential. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, redevelopment began. The results are remarkable. The number of people employed in the area has more than doubled. There is new transport infrastructure, new housing and new leisure sites.

There were problems and delays. After all, many said that the project could not be achieved. Conservatives, however, were determined that it would be. We would not stand by and see the potential of the area and its inhabitants overlooked.

Greenwich was not included. In 1979, when the land was taken from the control of the local authorities, the Greenwich peninsula, so jealously guarded by the local authority, was left untouched. Nothing happened, and that was Labour's contribution.

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