|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
All elections have their memorable moments. My favourite from that by-election was in Wednesbury two days before polling. The pedestrian precinct was the scene of hard campaigning by the Conservative and Labour parties. In one corner was the shadow Chancellor,
The scene was far more familiar to Mr. Kemp than to me. However, I dutifully passed on the papers for Mr. Kemp to sign, until one woman took from her shopping bag a certain item of ladies underwear that she insisted on Mr. Kemp signing. Totally unfazed, he did so and handed the item over. As he did so, a television reporter thrust a microphone in the woman's face and asked, "Does this make you any more likely to vote Labour in the by-election?" She looked him in the face and said, "Yes." I wondered at that point what hope the Tories had, when their shadow Chancellor was outfaced by a combination of a soap star and an item of ladies underwear.
I follow in the distinguished footsteps of the previous Speaker of the House, Betty Boothroyd. Much has already been said in the House about Betty in tribute to her for her performance as Speaker for so many years. My own perspective of Betty is as one of her constituents for many years. I can vouch for the love, trust and respect for her in the constituency--not just for the way in which she put West Bromwich, West on the map, but for the fact that she held her surgeries, despite her onerous duties in the House, and was always available for constituents who had problems.
West Bromwich, West lies in the heart of the black country. It consists of a number of small industrial towns, principally Oldbury, Tipton and Wednesbury. All those towns have a strong sense of community and a fierce civic pride. In my constituency were the forges and foundries when Britain was the workshop of the world.
Black country people have a reputation for being plain spoken, hard working and tough. They also have fierce footballing loyalties. That presents a difficulty for me, because the geographical spread of the constituency means that one section is passionate about that erstwhile footballing giant, West Bromwich Albion, and another is equally passionate about another former footballing giant, Wolverhampton Wanderers. As a representative of the entire area, I give my support even-handedly to both, but I retain my passionate loyalty for my boyhood club, the humble Cheltenham Town. Happily, that seems to upset nobody in the constituency.
Over the past 50 years, the original population has been joined by people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Caribbean. They have brought with them their distinctive work ethic and have enriched our local culture with their cultures and traditions.
The local economy is still heavily manufacturing based. About 40 per cent. of jobs are in manufacturing--20 years ago, the figure was much higher. Then we had the 1980s and the early 1990s. Monetarism and the prevailing Government belief that manufacturing did not matter left the black country devastated. We still have a legacy of high unemployment, derelict land, deprivation and ill health.
Since 1997, low interest rates, steady economic growth and the new deal for young people have started to turn that around. Unemployment in the constituency has dropped by almost a quarter, and most significantly of all,
The other great blight on our community is crime and the fear of crime. The huge majority of law-abiding citizens in my constituency demand action against the small number of yobs who disfigure our estates and cause fear totally out of proportion to their numbers. As a resident of the constituency, I share that anger. I made it clear in my campaign that I would fight to clear our streets of such fear. I welcome the Government's commitment to increase police numbers. I want to see those extra police on the streets in my constituency.
I want the police to be given backing in law to take the necessary measures to rid us of yobs. In my former capacity as deputy leader of the local council, I pushed for the use of anti-social behaviour orders. I am pleased to say that we now have nine in the borough and they are working, but they are not enough. I welcome the toolbox of measures for the police to use, as outlined in the Queen's Speech. I am sure that my constituents will welcome powers to ban drinking in public places and the option of curfews, if the local community feels that that is the most appropriate way to deal with the problems. There must be more money for crime deterrence, prevention, closed circuit television, school security and home security, particularly for pensioners. This is the message from the streets of West Bromwich, West: it is time to call time on crime.
So far, I have dwelt on the problems in my constituency, but there is another side. There is the pride and community spirit that has led to a network of tenants, residents and community groups. Those groups have enthusiastically embraced Government regeneration initiatives. The Tipton challenge partnership, which created 800 new jobs, trained 3,000 people for other jobs and built more than 600 new houses, now has the pioneering Neptune health park, which groups a wide range of medical services under one roof. The famous Tipton Harriers athletic club hosts the Tipton sports academy, which can rival any sports facility anywhere in the country.
As someone who has worked for the co-operative movement and is committed to the principles of co-operation and mutuality, I am proud of the role played by such organisations in sustaining services to the local community. In addition to the traditional range of services provided by local co-op societies, we have a food co-operative which provides healthy food to many who would otherwise not be able to access it. We have a housing co-operative that is pioneering new tenant management techniques. I want the Government to promote that form of enterprise to empower local communities.
Local building societies have played an enormous part in local regeneration. The Government must recognise that the loss of mutual organisations to economic predators can potentially deprive us and our deprived communities of some of our most vital allies in the campaign against social exclusion.
However, community spirit is not enough. We need investment in our public services to make lasting progress. The Government's commitment to raising educational standards is working in my constituency. Educational standards are improving. Investment in schools and the literacy and numeracy hours are paying dividends. Our GCSE and standard assessment test results are improving. My constituency cannot cope with the £24 million of potential cuts outlined by the shadow Chancellor.
The announcement in my constituency yesterday by the Deputy Prime Minister of funding for the new metrolink across the constituency will be a huge boost for local people. The existing line, which runs from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, has clearly demonstrated that people will switch from cars to public transport when it is available--15 per cent. of people have switched from cars. The new line from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill will liberate many people without cars and will be a huge contribution to environmentally friendly transportation.
Our local industry is diversifying. We still have many of the traditional metal-bashing companies, but we also have the companies that I visited during my campaign, such as FreeCom, which employs more than 100 people to design websites. Another such company is Advanced Electric Logistics, which is a European leader in audiovisual repairs.
A recent survey in February listed West Bromwich, West as the best area outside London to which companies should relocate. I represent a constituency where things are happening. Traditional industry is changing to meet the demands of a high-tech economy. We have a work force who are becoming better educated and trained. We have an improving transport network.
I am proud to have been elected to represent that constituency. The people of West Bromwich, West have shown a great resilience in the face of past adversities. They have shown a will to work together to overcome them. I welcome this opportunity to work in the House with the people and the Government to rid our streets of crime, create new jobs and give my constituents the quality of life that they deserve.